Book One: Embers

by Sue Kelley

Part 8
Chris blinked at Vin's repetition of his name. "Sorry...guess my mind wandered for a minute."

His friend looked at him out of the corner of his eyes but didn't say anything. He didn't need to. The silence spoke for both of them.

Sighing, Chris looked at the dashboard clock again. He fumbled for his cell phone, first hitting the speed dial for Buck's cell phone, then Ezra's. No answer from either number. Then he punched in Buck's home phone; getting the machine, he disconnected. He'd already left a half-dozen messages of the "Where are you, call me now!" variety on both men's answering machines. But, just in case, he called Ezra's condo once again, with no answer.

He felt the vehicle show down and looked up at Vin's soft curse. "Looks like we got a problem," the sharpshooter said simply.

Up ahead were flashing lights, and a man in a bright rain slicker waving an orange beacon. He came trotting up to the truck and Vin rolled down the window. "Sorry, guys," the man said breathlessly. "Bridge is out. You'll have to double back to Highway 98 and take the detour through Terrytown."

"How far is that?" Chris snapped.

The man shrugged. "Thirty miles, maybe more. But it's the only way. This rain we've been having, the river is close to flood stage and they've closed down all the bridges except the one below Terrytown."

Chris fell back in the seat. "Damn."


"Mr. Wilmington?"

"How is he, Doc? Is he going to be okay?" Buck started to stand up but the doctor waved him back down and perched on the seat opposite him.

"He's in pretty rough shape. We've got him on IV fluids and oxygen, he was having some trouble breathing. And he's in a lot of pain." The doctor frowned. "When did this supposed food poisoning occur?"

Buck had to think. "Saturday night."

Doctor Baker looked puzzled. "I just don't understand--his initial labwork is very strange. It doesn't jibe with the food poisoning that was reported at that restaurant. Unless...was he sick before?"

"No, not sick," Buck admitted. "But he was...on an assignment. A long one, and he doesn't always eat or sleep real well when he's..."

"...undercover?" the doctor asked.

Buck glanced at him, surprised. The doctor shrugged. "I did my internship at Walter Reed in DC. We got a lot of FBI, CIA agents there, worked with the Occupational Stress Center at Quantico."

Buck hesitated. "He does some undercover work," he finally admitted.

The doctor seemed to understand Buck couldn't go into many details. He looked back down at the clipboard he held in his hands. "Well, as I said before he's in pretty rough shape--nothing we can't clear up given time and treatment." He looked back up at Buck. "Which is part of the problem. He really doesn't want to let us do anything. He's pretty out of it but anytime we try to touch him he gets very agitated. I don't know if he's delirious or does he just really not like doctors?"

Buck closed his eyes. He could hear Ezra's voice in his mind, "Sometimes I wake up and I don't know who I'm supposed to be or who I can trust... I'm afraid I'm going to say something that will blow my cover or yours or someone else's..." Ezra had been drunk that night, one of maybe three times Buck had ever seen him that way, and exhausted--he hadn't used any of his multi-syllable words and the poker mask of his face had disappeared to be replaced by real fear.

"Mr. Wilmington?"

Buck opened his eyes at the doctor's voice. " mind wandered."

Dr. Baker looked at him keenly. "You're not feeling well yourself, are you?"

"No...I'm okay." Buck straightened up. "Let me see Ezra, I'll try to get him calmed down some." The doctor nodded and started to stand up. "Oh, and Doc?" He waited until the younger man looked at him before he grinned. "Ezra really doesn't like doctors...or hospitals. If you want to keep him in here, you're going to have to let me stay with him...'cause otherwise, he'll be out of here before you know it."

The doctor looked skeptical. "He's not in any shape to leave under his own power."

Buck grinned even wider. "That's never stopped him before. Trust me on this one, doc...or if you don't, call over to Four Corners or Mercy General...they can tell you about Ezra Standish...he's famous for his escapes!"



Waves of it, rolling through his belly. His legs cramped up, his head pounded--even his eyes hurt.

Strange people, people he didn't know, surrounding him, touching him. Unfamiliar voices in a clamor around him. Bright lights overhead, searing his tender eyes.

The pain stabbed through his stomach again and he heard his own voice moaning, protesting. He bit his lip to keep from saying anything. He didn't know where he was, something was wrong...this might not be a safe place...

Someone touched his shoulder. He twisted away, trying to escape the touch as well as the agony in his own body. Another voice spoke...quiet, soothing.


The voice of a friend.

A voice that meant it was safe. He wasn't alone.

"Easy, Ez...just try to relax. You're goin' to be okay. They're going to give you something to help the pain..."

He stiffened. The hand slipped from his shoulder down to grasp his hand. "It's okay, Pard, you hear me? I'm right here. Just relax and let go. I'll be here."

Waves of soothing darkness beckoned, warmth spread up from his hand to his whole body, pushing aside the pain, the fear. The voice said it was safe. He could relax...

Ezra slid into the comforting darkness.

Northern Colorado

Chris Larabee knew Hell. He'd been there before.

Hell was coming up that rainy road and seeing the burning hulk of his own pickup.

Hell was seeing the small, badly burned body strapped to the stretcher and rushed to the waiting ambulance.

Hell was seeing the filled black body bag being carried to the coroner's wagon. Knowing that the bag contained his wife, his love.

His soul.

Hell was four days sitting next to his dying son in the Burn Ward. Hell was hearing him scream from the pain of his burns. Holding him as he took his last breath and finally slipped away from the agony of his body.

Leaving behind Chris Larabee, an angry, bitter man, lashing out at the world around him

His sojourn in Hell had been a long one. Only gradually had he started the climb back to life.

And now he was in Hell again.

Helpless in this vehicle, a hundred miles and hours from where he needed to be. Not knowing where two of his men were.


Two of his family.

He prayed to a God he'd long since turned his back on.

'Let them be okay.'

He glanced at the clock on the dash.

Ten twenty two.


Buck napped fitfully, trying to curl his six-foot-four body into a comfortable position in the plastic-seated chair. Every few minutes he'd wake, to focus bleary eyes first on Ezra's still figure in the bed, and then on the small arsenal of machines surrounding him. Nathan, Josiah, or even Ezra himself would know what they were for. Buck recognized the heart monitor only because he'd asked a nurse what the leads on Ezra's chest were for. Either because she was very nice or because she'd succumbed to his charm--he suspected the former because, hell, he just didn't feel well enough to be charming-- she'd explained that Ezra's heartbeat and breathing had both been irregular when he was admitted and pointed out the machines that were monitoring each of them. The same nurse had come in later to start an IV in Ezra's hand, commenting that Standish's veins had "plumped up" enough to do so. For a few minutes all Buck could think of was some hot dog commercial where the motto was "they plump when you cook 'em." He'd laughed. The nurse had given him a rather strange look and left, but she'd reappeared a few minutes later with a glass of orange juice and a blanket for Buck, and reassured him that Ezra was stable at the moment and that he should go down to the cafeteria for something to eat. Buck accepted the juice and blanket but shook his head at the cafeteria. Not only did he not want to leave Ezra-- sedated or not, he wouldn't put it past the ornery cuss to disappear the minute his back was turned--but his stomach churned uneasily at the mere thought of food.

Now he opened his eyes again. His vision was still blurry. Pushing the blanket aside, Buck hauled himself to his feet and stepped into the bathroom. He turned on the tap and splashed cold water on his face and neck. He filled the plastic cup with water and drank, trying to eliminate the taste in his mouth. His face in the mirror was pale, grayish, with circles under his eyes and harsh lines around the mouth. Shaking his head, he turned off the light and returned to the chair.

He studied the figure in the bed. Ezra had been restless when they'd first settled him in this room, obviously in pain and fighting the sedation. Over the last few hours he'd quieted, but now he seemed to be rousing again, shifting uneasily in the bed and moaning. His free hand came up to swipe at the oxygen tube under his nose.

Buck caught the hand. "Leave it be, Ez." He leaned closer to the bed, still holding his friend's hand. "Ez? Can you hear me?"

Ezra mumbled incoherently.

"Come'n, Ez," Buck coaxed. "Wake up for a minute for me."

Eyelids fluttered and for a second Buck was sure they'd open. But they didn't. Ezra sighed and moved his head on the pillow, then seemed to slip into a deeper sleep.

'Damn.' Buck knew Ezra needed rest, but he was worried about the other man. Seemed like if Ezra would just wake up for a few minutes, Buck could be sure he was going to be okay.

With a final squeeze he placed Ezra's hand on the bed. He leaned back in the chair, winced, changed position and tried to find a comfortable way to sit. His whole body ached and he was getting a horrendous headache.

He needed to get up. Move around. Maybe find some coffee. Surely that would help fight this groggy, tired feeling. And he needed to call Chris. He really needed to call Chris. Larabee would be pissed if he knew Ezra was in the hospital and Buck hadn't called. He was going to be pissed anyway that Buck waited so long to call.

On the other was late. Buck didn't know for sure what time it was, but he knew it was well after eleven--shift change at the hospital. Chris and Vin might already be asleep. Both of them tended to be early risers and being on vacation at the cabin wouldn't change that. 'Vin's probably been gettin' up before sunrise to get after them fish.'

Buck stood up, then quickly dropped back down into the chair as a wave of dizziness and nausea crashed over him. His head pounded in time with his pulse. Suddenly even the dimly lit hospital room seemed too bright, the beeping monitors too loud. The tall man squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his hands against his temples.

Slowly the pain receded slightly. He dropped his hands but kept his eyes closed. 'Just need some rest. Just a little rest...'

Part 9


The smoldering wreckage of the truck. Flares. Red and blue emergency lights eerily marking the familiar landscape.

A closed body bag being carried to a long black station wagon.

Adam, his small body bandaged, first crying, screaming in his agony, then unable to support...drifting away.

Grief welling up, rage taking over...yelling something--something at Buck. Buck's face going white and still, his eyes closing...

The body bag in front of him. Opening it. Ezra staring up at him.

Buck's face, white and still, the eyes closed.



Larabee snapped awake, eyes staring around wildly until he recognized his surroundings. Recognized that they were on a multi- laned freeway and the lights of downtown Denver glowed in the distance.

He glanced at the dashboard clock. Almost midnight.

"You shouldn't have let me sleep," he growled.

Tanner shot him a sidelong glance. "Didn't need two of us to drive," he pointed out quietly. "Where do you want to go first?"

"Ezra's place, I guess. It's the closest."

Vin nodded. "We'll find 'em, Cowboy."

"We'd better," Chris grumbled under his breath. He sighed. "I should have made them come with us."

Vin quirked his lips. "You got some secret super power I don't know about? No one was goin' to make Ezra spend his vacation in 'uncivilized surroundings'." He imitated the undercover agent's drawl. "And I ain't never seen you make Buck do anythin' he didn't damn well want to do anyway."

Chris couldn't help the smile that briefly crossed his face. "No. Buck does what he thinks is right. Always been that way." He wondered- -again--why Buck had suddenly changed his mind about accompanying them, then realized with a sudden chill he might never know. 'Damn it, you two'd better be all right.'

His cell phone rang. Chris grabbed it up off the dashboard and fumbled it to his ear. "Larabee," he snapped.

"Chris. Travis here. We found them."


Chris busted through the entrance of Lakewood-Saint David's Hospital, Vin hot on his heels. A uniformed security officer moved to block them. "Visiting hours are over--" he started.

Chris didn't stop. "Which way to room 4712?" he demanded.

"Visiting hours--"

Vin scrabbled in his pocket and yanked out his badge, forestalling Chris from simply decking the man. 'He's just tryin' to do his job,' he reasoned to himself. Waving the identification in the startled man's face, he repeated Chris' words. "Which way to room 4712?" His voice was soft and menacing.

The guard blinked, looking from the long-haired man to his glowering companion. He shuddered at the feral look on both of their faces. 'Hell they don't pay me enough to get in the way of guys like this-- '

He pointed down the hall to the left. "Take the first set of elevators to the fourth floor, turn right when you get off and follow the signs." He moved toward the phone on his desk. "I'll let the nurses station know you're on your way up."

There was only one nurse on duty at the big round Nursing Station on Four East. She hesitated when she saw the two men storm off the elevator, but she didn't try to stop them. Instead she pointed down the hall directly across from her position. "Third door down on the right," she said quietly. Vin nodded his thanks. Chris ignored her but moved swiftly in the indicated direction. Vin lengthened his stride and reached the door a half step before his friend. A red and white sign posted at eye-level proclaimed "Warning! Oxygen In Use." Aware of Chris hovering impatiently behind him, Vin carefully eased the door open.

The only light in the room came from the half-panel over the bed. Vin could see Ezra asleep in the bed. The Southerner was much too pale. IV's fed into both hands and a tube in his nose delivered oxygen. Thin wires running from one of the monitors next to the bed disappeared under the plain hospital gown, and something that looked like a white plastic clothespin was clipped to his left index finger.

And next to the bed--his tall body folded awkwardly into a typically uncomfortable-looking hospital chair--Buck Wilmington slumbered. His level of exhaustion was apparent when he merely stirred at their entrance but didn't open his eyes.

Vin felt Chris relax for a split second, then tense up again. The sudden anger rolling off him like steam, Larabee dodged around Vin and yanked Buck out of the chair, shoving the taller man against the wall and shaking him. "Where the hell have you been?" he yelled when Buck's eyes snapped open.

Vin winced at the look on Buck's face. He started forward, then hesitated. If it had been anyone else on the receiving end of Chris Larabee's ire he might have interceded or at least tried to calm Chris down, but Vin never interfered between Chris and his oldest friend. Their relationship went back too many years, had too many layers, too much history, for Vin to feel comfortable getting in between them. Instead he moved around the bed as Ezra moved his head restlessly on the pillow. "Go back to sleep, Pard," he whispered reassuringly. "It's okay."


Buck Wilmington didn't know what the hell was going on. One minute he was dozing restlessly in that cursed chair, the next minute he was flying through the air and slamming into the wall. He forced open his eyes to see very familiar icy green ones staring menacingly at him. "Chris?" he asked, feeling muddled. "What are you doing here? Somethin' wrong?"

"Is something wrong?" Chris hissed. "Ezra's in the one could find you two all day long...I thought you were dead, you stupid bastard!"

In all fairness to Buck, he had no idea that Hoyt or his men had been released or that he and Ezra had been in any danger from anything other than food poisoning. Besides, his head was pounding and having his old friend slam him into a wall wasn't helping any. Sometimes Buck got real tired of being on the receiving end of Larabee's bad moods.

Larabee's face wavered in front of him and suddenly Buck was transported back to another time, a dark time in both of their lives. He couldn't help it, he threw up a hand to protect his face.

A shocked Chris dropped him as if scalded. He stepped back, staring at Buck in horror. "Buck, I--" he started.

Vin was rapidly regretting his decision not to get involved. He was almost as shocked as Chris at the way Buck reacted. He'd never seen such a look on Wilmington's face before--lost, hopeless. Chris must have known the look, though...he backed away from Buck and held his hands out pleadingly. "Buck, I--" he started.

Buck shook his head, blinking rapidly, trying to clear his vision. The room was spinning around him. He could hear Chris saying something but he couldn't make out words over the buzzing arising in his ears. He felt himself falling forward and everything went black.

Chris jumped forward to catch him. He gently lowered his friend to the floor, pulling his head into his lap. Buck's eyes were closed and he didn't respond when Chris anxiously called his name. Vin started over to them, only to whirl around, drawing his weapon, as the door slammed open. The nurse who had been at the desk rushed in, stopping short as she found herself confronted with Vin's gun. The sharpshooter quickly slid it back into his shoulder holster. "Sorry, ma'am," he muttered sheepishly.

Dixie Dunn had been a RN for over thirty years, including three tours of duty in Viet Nam. Her eyes didn't even flicker as she said, "Don't you ever point that thing at me again, Blue Eyes. What the hell is going on in here, anyway?"

Vin blushed.

The door slammed open again. Two uniformed cops burst in, weapons drawn. "Freeze! Denver PD!"

The sudden silence that followed was broken by a soft southern voice from the bed. "Gentlemen, what...has transpired while... I have been sleeping to have to such extreme circumstances?"

Part 10

Marcus Hoyt considered himself a generous man, an educated man, a patron of the arts and a believer in the sanctity of Life. He attended Mass regularly at the local Catholic parish and gave large donations to anti-abortion groups. He endowed scholarships at the private University he had attended (although he'd not actually graduated). That his money was obtained by selling large numbers of illegal arms to people who in turn used these weapons to kill other people, was not something that he let bother him.

After all, it wasn't like he knew any of the people that were killed by his guns. He considered himself a businessman, an entrepreneur. The salesman who had sold him his sports car, after all, never worried that he might kill someone while driving it.

He made it a practice to avoid blood on his own hands as much as possible. Therefore, when he was arrested and first realized someone in his organization was actually working undercover for the federal government, his first thought was bribery, not murder. Government employees were notoriously underpaid--surely some low-level clerk (for he was convinced the "mole" was an accounting clerk he'd obtained a few months before from a temporary agency) would be glad to take a hundred grand or so and forget anything incriminating he might have seen.

And then his defense attorney--a high-powered, over-paid, under- ethical slippery snake--somehow managed to find out the names of the two undercover agents. Ezra Standish. Buck Wilmington.

Better known to Hoyt as Edward Steen and his bodyguard/assistant, Brian Jakes.

Rage coursed through Hoyt, the kind of red-blood rage that can only come through betrayal. He'd taken Steen in, treated him as a friend-- no, more-- taken him into his home. Brought him into the close circle he considered family.

And Jakes--Wilmington--had spent time with Sarah. A lot of time with her. Taken her out even. Hell, he'd made a play for her! And the innocent girl had fallen for the tall, smooth-tongued bastard. She'd left to return to Paris practically broken-hearted at leaving him.

'There's a special Hell reserved for a man who uses an innocent girl.'

Bribery was no longer an option. Steen and Jakes--Standish and Wilmington--had betrayed family. They would pay the ultimate price for that betrayal.

Hoyt picked up the phone. He punched in a number he'd memorized a long time ago. After three rings it was picked up. He spoke to the voice on the other end. "I have a job for you."


Dr. Craig Baker got a break around midnight. Sighing in relief, he slipped off to the resident's lounge and made himself comfortable on the bed in the corner. It had been a fairly quiet night so far-- the only serious case being the ATF agent with food poisoning--but with the rain-slicked streets and low visibility, a spate of car crashes was likely before morning.

He frowned as his muscles slowly relaxed, thinking about Agent Standish and his earlier phone conversation with Dr. Murray at Four Corners Medical Center. She'd bluntly told him to "count his blessings" he only had one worried partner to deal with, mentioning that when any of ATF Team Seven were hospitalized under her care, she had six anxious men to deal with. "Wilmington won't give you many problems, except for flirting with every nurse on the floor," she'd assured him. "He's actually one of the more laid-back of the bunch, especially if you don't try to make him leave his friend. And since it's Standish you're trying to treat, you don't want him left alone. Not for a minute, I don't care if you think he's in a coma! The man is a slippery eel. I swore the next time I had to admit him I'd put him in restraints."

Trusting her word, Baker had left instructions that no one was to disturb Agent Wilmington with any comments about visiting hours or leaving patients to get their rest. He'd peeped in on the two men just before heading to the lounge and they were both sleeping. Wilmington didn't look good but if he was getting over that food poisoning too--

He shook his head, feeling sleep creep over his mind. Those blood tests on Standish. The results were different from what he'd expected. And what was with that erratic heartbeat? He'd treated five others who'd dined on fish at Duchienne's that night, and none of them had presented with an erratic pulse. The lab work looked different, too...

He drifted off then, to confused dreams interrupted some unknown time later by the persistent squealing of his pager.

He was needed in room 4712. STAT.


The doctor arrived at the same moment as two orderlies pulling a stretcher. By this time, Buck was coming around, muttering and making sporadic attempts to sit up. He was so weak that it didn't take much for Chris to restrain him.

Dr. Baker knelt next to Wilmington, checking his pulse and respiration. He grinned. "Told you you needed to get something to eat," he scolded gently. He beckoned for the orderlies to place the downed man on the stretcher. "Take him down to ER."

"I don't need--" Buck started faintly.

"Shut up, Buck," Chris snapped. The harsh lines that had been marring his face since the call from AD Travis that afternoon had eased since finding his friends and hearing both of them speak. Chris looked directly at the doctor. "What's wrong with them?"

Baker grinned. "You must be Chris Larabee. I'm Dr. Baker. Your friend Dr. Murray at Four Corners mentioned you'd probably be turning up soon."

"You're busted...Chris," Buck wheezed.

"Hey, I'm not the one lying on a floor," Chris returned, squeezing his friend's shoulder. He eyed the doctor again. "Well?"

"I would guess Mr. Wilmington here is suffering from mild dehydration, exhaustion, and probably hypoglycemia. But we really need to get him down to ER to check him out. Depending on what his tests show, we'll either hook him up to an IV for some fluids for a couple of hours, and then send him home for some rest, or check him in for the night."

"I'm not--" Buck started.

"Oh yes, you will," Chris cut him off. "I'm going with you." He looked over at Vin. With a flicker of an eyelid the sharpshooter assured his friend he'd stay with Ezra. Standish had slipped back to sleep, apparently not even really noticing who all had been in the room with him. Dr. Baker studied the monitors, spoke with the nurse in low tones and then turned to follow the stretcher, walking into one of the uniformed officers. He stepped back and looked at Chris.

Once the two officers had realized no one was in immediate danger, they had holstered their guns. The oldest one--a grizzled veteran-- nodded at Chris. "Larabee."

"Sgt. Hamilton," Chris returned. He cocked his head. "What're you doing here, Sergeant?"

"We've been assigned as protection for Agents Wilmington and Standish," the older man returned smartly.

Chris raised his eyebrows. "Oh, you have? Who made that assignment?"

"The Watch Commander," Hamilton returned. There was something in his face that said he didn't like Chris much, or the assignment either. His eyes fell on Buck and his lips twisted in a scornful gesture.

Chris hesitated. He looked at the younger officer. "Who might you be?"

"Tim Patton, Sir." Hamilton's partner couldn't have been more than six months out of the Academy. He was so young you could practically smell the green on him. And from the look of hero-worship Chris suspected he'd heard stories of Larabee and Wilmington and their career in Denver's Major Crimes Unit. 'Obviously didn't hear any stories from Hamilton or he'd have a different look on his face.'

Aloud, Chris said, "Patton, you stand guard outside this room." He nodded toward Vin. "Agent Tanner is in charge. You talk to him if you have any questions."

"Now, wait a second--" Hamilton started.

Chris just looked at him and the older officer fell silent. "Hamilton, you're with me." His voice said there wasn't room for argument.


Five minutes after everyone left Ezra's room the nurse walked back in again, carrying a cup in each hand. She placed one on the bedside table. "He ruptured a blood vessel in his throat," she told Vin. "That with the oxygen is going to make his throat mighty sore. But he can't have any liquids by mouth yet. If he wakes up again see if you can get him to eat a few ice chips." The she handed the other cup to Vin. It was coffee, hot and strong, and he accepted it gratefully. "You look like you could use this."

"Yes, ma'am," Vin said thankfully, taking a sip. "Been a long day." He waved his hand around at the bank of monitors. "What's wrong with Ezra, 'zactly?"

"He was severely dehydrated when he came in, electrolyte imbalance. That's why the IVs in both arms. According to your other friend he hasn't been able to keep anything down for three days. Ruptured a blood vessel--apparently from the constant vomiting--that could have been bad but they cauterized it down in ER." She frowned. "He's been showing an erratic heartbeat--it'll speed up and then drop to way below normal, but he's been stable for the last couple of hours. He's on quite a bit of pain medication and he's sedated, so when he wakes up again he may or may not make any sense." She smiled. The smile took years off her face and Vin was suddenly reminded of his friend Nettie Wells. "My name's Mrs. Dunn," she winked. "But I let boys with beautiful blue eyes call me Dixie." The smile widened at Vin's blush and she started for the door. "Just hit the call button if you need anything."


Chris stood in a corner of the exam room, careful to keep out of the way of Dr. Baker and the two nurses who were tending to Buck. He had learned a long time ago that he'd be evicted from a hospital room if medical personnel thought he was interfering; not even the "Larabee Death Glare" as his men teasingly called it would change that. He had no intention of letting Buck out of his sight. The icy fear that had gripped him when Buck had passed out in Ezra's room eased a little as he heard his friend haltingly answering the doctor's questions. He winced as it took the nurse three or four tries to hit a vein for a blood sample, and then to get an IV started. "You're not quite as dehydrated as Mr. Standish, but you're pretty parched," Baker informed him.

"Least you're not one of those cut-down...things," Buck said weakly.

"Nope," Baker responded. "Close though." He was listening to Buck's chest, then took the stethoscope from his ears and looked at the nurses. "Tell the lab I need those results STAT. Keep the fluids going, and let's get him on 2 liters of 02 to start via nasal canula. And get him on a cardiac monitor."

Chris stiffened at the last words. Baker went on, to Buck this time, "How's that headache?"

"How' know?"

"Cause I'm the doctor," Baker grinned. "We'll get you something for it. It'll make you sleepy, too, which is a plus. You need to rest, so just relax and let the medication do the work, okay?"

Buck's eyes shifted until he could see Chris. Larabee nodded at him, stepping close to the table now that there was some room. "Go to sleep, Buck. Everything's under control."

Buck's midnight-blue eyes stayed glued to his for a moment, then he nodded slightly and his eyelids flickered closed.

The nurse glued the circular patches to Buck's chest. Baker fiddled with a knob on one of the machines and a screen above the bed flickered on, with a series of green lines and blips on it. He watched the screen for a few minutes and then nodded, stepping away from the bed and beckoning Chris to follow.

"How is he?" Chris asked anxiously.

"I think he'll be fine. As I thought, he's just dehydrated and exhausted. He wouldn't leave Mr. Standish after he got here, not even to get something to eat. I'll know more after we get his blood work back from the lab, and I think we should admit him for the night-- or what's left of the night--but he should be feeling a lot better in a few hours."

Chris nodded, feeling relief course through him. He thought of something and frowned. "Something wrong with his heart?"

Baker shook his head. "Not as far as I can tell...but Mr. Standish has had a very erratic heartbeat since he's been admitted. Since they supposedly were exposed to the same toxin I thought I should take the precaution. If his heart stays stable for a couple of hours we'll take him off of it."

Chris nodded again. "How's Ezra doin'?"

"Well, that's a somewhat different situation." Baker frowned. "He's stable at the moment, but his blood work was very unusual. I treated some other people who'd eaten at that restaurant and their blood work didn't look anything like his. And as I said, he's had an erratic heartbeat, which is not characteristic of the toxin that was reported in that shellfish." He shrugged. "He might be just exceptionally sensitive to it, he might have been getting a virus or something beforehand--Mr. Wilmington said he was pretty run-down--or we might be dealing with something else. Right now we're treating his symptoms- -the dehydration, the pain, and an electrolyte imbalance--and we'll just have to see how he goes on." He smiled at Chris' concerned look. "I wouldn't worry too much--he's stabilized over the last couple of hours." Then he frowned in turn. "What's the reasoning behind having police guards?"

Chris hesitated. "Possibility of a threat," he finally said. "I'm guessing that's why our boss sent them over. Can you put Buck in the same room with Ezra?"

Baker made a face. "You must not have looked around that room-- we don't have double rooms in this hospital. When they remodeled last year they made all the rooms singles. I can talk to Admitting--see if they can put him next door or across the hall from Mr. Standish." A frown crossed his face. "How much risk is there of trouble?"

Chris smiled, a cold, feral smile. "That's my job to worry about. Is there going to be any problem with someone stayin' with them at all times?" His voice implied there had better not be.

Baker raised his hands in surrender. "From what I understand from Dr. Murray, it wouldn't do me any good to say there was a problem," he grinned. "But in all actuality, I wouldn't have a problem with it anyway. And I'll make sure the floor nurses know not to say anything. But I would like you to talk to our Security...if there's a threat they need to be involved in planning how to address it."

Chris nodded. "No problem."


Comments to: by