It was late afternoon and he still was on the couch when he heard the door open. He reached instinctively for his gun and brought it up, aimed at the doorway to the living room. Suddenly, there she was. Her blonde hair looked like sunshine and her eyes held hope and promise. She was smiling at him and his heart leapt at the sight of her. He dropped the gun and he staggered towards her. She caught him as he stumbled and they both fell to the floor, laughing as they went. He held her tight, never wanting to let her go again.

Hesitantly, he asked, "Would you consider being my wife, Diana. I love you so much. I don’t ever want to be apart from you again. Please say yes, Darling!"

She looked at him, mischief sparkling in her eyes. "Why Mr. Wilmington, I believe that I am already married. Now, how could I consider such an offer in my state." Then she smiled and took his hand between the two of hers. "I will file for divorce as soon as he is arrested. I want only you, Sweetheart, from now until the end of our days. I love you, Buck Wilmington."

They kissed right there on the floor, sealing the agreement and binding their hearts together. Diana helped Buck up from the floor and held him under the shoulder as they slowly moved to the couch. They sat on the overstuffed piece of furniture and talked for hours. Buck told her everything. He told her about his mother and his childhood. He told her of the love his mama had bestowed on him and how she had fought to keep him fed and clothed. He told Diana that his mother was a prostitute and that he had no idea who his father was. She smiled at him and said his mother sounded like someone she would have loved. Diana told Buck what she could remember of her mother. She had died when Diana was only three but she remembered hair the color of honey and soft gentle hands and a voice that was forever comforting. She said her dad had raised her and she had loved him as Buck did his mother. When he died of cancer when she was seventeen, she was terrified of the world and she tried to do anything her uncle and aunt wanted her to do. She didn’t want to loose them too. Buck told her about Chris and Sarah and little Adam. How they had taken him into their family and showed him what love and marriage should be. He told her of the guilt he felt when Sarah and Adam died and how he had fought so desperately to save his friend from self destruction. He told her about Team Seven and every member of it. She could see the light in his eyes as he proudly told her about the youngest, his JD. He couldn’t wait for the two of them to meet. She in turn told him about her marriage, how she had learned the truth about her husband, and how she felt so impotent in changing things. She cringed when she mentioned Cybil and he laughed nervously.

Buck looked deeply into her eyes and sighed. She was the best thing that had ever come into his life and he was ecstatic despite the threats and warnings he had received in the past two days. He leaned forward to kiss her warm inviting lips and he saw the look of ardor in her eyes as well. Suddenly, Diana’s eyes grew wide with fear and Buck turned slightly to see the cause just as the blade began its downward arc. The shift in his body brought the knife into his shoulder blade instead of his heart. He fell forward from the force of the thrust but he quickly recovered. Diana was with him and he had to protect her at all costs.

As the attacker struggled to pull the knife from his left shoulder blade, Buck fought to get to his feet. He stood up and turned to see Simon, Taylor’s body guard, leering at him. He saw the right arm go up and as the arm started down, Buck felt his knee give out. He stumbled backwards. Suddenly, Diana was between the two men, fighting with every ounce of strength she had to protect the man she loved. Buck watched as Simon’s arm came down. He saw Diana’s two hands grasp at the muscled arm. He saw the tungsten blade change direction ever so slightly and slice deeply into Diana’s slender neck. The blade cut her jugular vein and blood spurted, dark red. It covered Simon’s hand, the knife, Diana’s neck and blouse. Buck regained his footing and caught her as she fell.

"Diana!" He cried out her name and she turned an already pale face to him, her eyes reflecting the pain and knowledge of her death. She tried to speak but it was too late. She slumped against him and he felt her blood on his hand, the last bit of her warmth dripping down onto his arm.

Simon took advantage of Buck’s diverted attention and he struck again. The knife dug into Buck’s chest, just below the collar bone. He barely noticed the pain as Diana breathed her last and died in his arms. As Simon pulled the knife out of the ATF agent’s body and prepared to strike for the last time, Buck roared with the pain in his heart. He struck out at Diana’s killer with the only weapon he had, his hands. They found their mark and he tightened his grip around Simon’s neck. The lanky agent’s thumbs pressed harder and harder against the windpipe and he watched as Simon’s face turned first red and then blue.

Simon still held the knife and he tried to kill the man who was killing him. He drove the knife with all the strength he had left into Buck’s left side. The razor sharp knife sank deep into Buck’s body, through the ribs and into his lung. He didn’t feel the pain but he instantly lost his breath. With all he had left, he tightened his grip around Simon’s throat and sensed the life go out of the man who had destroyed his world. As Simon’s body released life, Buck slid into the dark oblivion of unconsciousness.

Ezra Standish drove into the hidden back gate just as the sun was setting. His body was tense, his mind fighting the sensations of doom that raced faster and faster as he neared the small house. He had tried to concentrate during his meetings with Chris Larabee and the other members of Team Seven. He and the others worked out every detail and by the afternoon, all were satisfied with the plan. Ezra had tried to explain to Chris and JD why Buck had stayed behind. He didn’t want to say anything to Chris about Diana and how Buck felt about her. He said that Buck had volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on Taylor, that they were afraid he would flee. It was a small part of the truth but it was truth. The whole team was heading for Aspen and the hotel suite that night to be ready for the raid the next morning. Ezra couldn’t wait for the dark of night. Deep inside, he knew with a certainty that the ladies man they all loved was in mortal danger. Ezra excused himself and made straight for the garage. He sped towards Aspen and beyond to Mount Massive where John Taylor had his secret compound.

He parked by the back door and as he entered the guest house, he noticed the pry marks. His hand shook as he pulled out his gun. He took a deep breath and steadied himself and then, quietly, he searched the house. He turned the corner of the living room and came upon the grisly scene. Blood was everywhere. Buck’s mingled with Diana’s and covered the thick shag carpeting. Simon lay on his back, his lifeless eyes still open. Diana was by Buck’s feet, her rent open neck telling Ezra immediately how she had died. Buck’s hands still gripped Simon’s neck. Ezra moved as if in a dream to Buck’s side. Slowly, hesitantly, he reached out to feel for a pulse. Finding a weak, thready pulse in his neck, Ezra pried Buck’s fingers loose and then disengaged his body from that of the other two. It was then that he noticed the knife buried in Buck’s left side. Gently, using all his strength, he picked up the long body and carried it to his car. As carefully as possible, he placed Buck in the passenger seat. He touched the knife but thought better of removing it. Blood was still slowly oozing out of the wound. Ezra then went back into the house and carried Diana’s body to Buck’s bed, covering her with a blanket. He dragged Simon’s body to a closet and stuffed it inside. He quickly threw a throw rug over the blood stain and ran back to the car. He raced as fast as he could go out the back way and to the nearest hospital in Snowmass.

Chris Larabee and JD Dunne ran into the hospital, demanding to know where Buck Wilmington was. They had been enroute to Aspen when Chris’s cell phone had rung.

"Chris, it’s Ezra. Buck’s been hurt bad. I have taken him to St. John’s Hospital in Snowmass. Is JD with you by chance?"

Chris was stunned. Anxiously, he asked, " Yeah, he is. Ez, how bad?"

"He has been stabbed three times. The blood loss is substantial and his left lung has collapsed completely. They are worried about the pressure on his heart. Get here as soon as you can Chris. He’s in surgery right now but he should be out soon. Chris, … never mind. Just get JD and yourself here as soon as you can."

"We should be there in an hour, Ezra. I’ll call the others. They are close behind us in the surveillance van. Tell him to hang on, Ez."

The two men were told the room number and given directions. As they came out of the elevator, JD pointed to a numbering sign and the two proceeded down the hall to Buck’s room. They had each expressed relief when they weren’t directed to ICU. They found the right room and quietly opened the door. Sitting beside the bed was Ezra, the suave con man. Tear stains were evident on his cheeks.

"Is he going to be all right, Ez?" JD rushed to his big brother’s side. He noticed that an oxygen canula circled Buck’s head and that pillows were propped against his left side but the blanket covered all the bandages.

Ezra looked exhausted, Chris thought, as he lay a hand on the shoulder of his undercover agent. "How is he?"

Ezra turned red rimmed eyes up to Chris and then back to Buck’s quiet body. "The surgeon says he should be all right in a few weeks as long as he stays quiet and doesn’t move around too much. They corrected the collapsed lung and his heart has returned to normal. He’s lost a lot of blood though and he can’t afford to tear open any of the wounds. He actually had two wounds in the one lung."

"What happened, Ezra? Where did you find him?" Chris asked quietly. He didn’t want to awaken Buck. Obviously, the man needed rest.

"Let’s go outside and get some coffee. JD, can you stay with him?" It wasn’t really a question for he knew nothing could tear the young agent away from his best buddy. Ezra arose and he and Chris went to the cafeteria, bought two cups of coffee and sat down at one of the back tables.

"Okay, Standish, out with it." Larabee wanted the whole story and he wanted it right now.

"This is my fault, Mr. Larabee, all my fault. I should have insisted that Buck return to Denver with me. I knew Taylor was out to kill him and yet I let him stay." Ezra buried his head in his hands.

Chris waited a few minutes and then, growing impatient, he prodded the man beside him. "He’s a grown man, Ezra. There must have been some reason why he wanted to stay."

"Yes, there was a reason but I still should have brought him home. Now, it’s all gone, everything. I am not sure he will ever fully recover, Chris."

Confused with the undercover specialist’s last comment, the leader of Team Seven asked, "What happened?"

"I feared for his life and thus I went back early. I drove in through the back gate, the one I told you didn’t have a camera on it. I noticed pry marks as I entered the house and then … The three of them lay amidst the blood. Diana Taylor, Buck and one of the bodyguards, Simon I believe was his name. The other two were dead and I put them in the bedroom. Then I sped Buck here for medical assistance. There was so much blood, I couldn’t tell how much was his. Diana’s throat had been slashed. I suspect most of the blood was hers but the chest wound on Buck had bled quite a bit too." He took a sip of the hot coffee and closed his eyes. The grisly scene was still fresh in his mind.

Chris studied the man before him. Ezra Standish was always in control of his emotions. It’s what made him an excellent undercover agent. In over three years since Chris had taken a chance on the con man, he had never seen the man as torn up about a case as he was now. Many of their cases ended with death and injuries but Ezra had never shown how upset he was before.

"Ezra, why don’t you start at the beginning and tell me what happened to Buck that made him so desperate to stay. He’s listened to reason before, why not this time?"

"Because, Mr. Larabee, this time he could see no alternative. I should have pulled him out after the first night but he assured me he could handle the situation. He made me a promise to leave her alone while we were at the estate and as far as I know, he did. But when Taylor left for parts unknown and then the accident happened…"

"Hold on a minute, Standish, what accident?" Chris had not been told of an accident. His anger was mounting not only with Buck, whom he believed had disregarded all of his rules, but with Ezra as well, for he seemed to have turned a blind eye to all Buck was doing. Chris wanted answers and he wanted them now! He had one man lying wounded in a hospital bed and two other people dead. The rest of his team was supposed to go into the enemy’s territory tomorrow and he didn’t want any more of them dead or wounded.

Ezra stood and began pacing. He had no choice but to tell Chris about Diana Taylor. As much as he wanted to protect Buck from Larabee’s wrath, he couldn’t let his teammates go into a situation without knowing the whole truth. He stopped, shook his head silently, and then looked Chris in the eye. "I want you to know that I am as much to blame as is Mr. Wilmington and I believe that Mr. Wilmington was set up as it were. Of course, Taylor didn’t plan the accident but he did plan on other things. Buck doesn’t even know about the set up. I learned of it just before I came back to Denver two days ago. Taylor was laughing about it, wanted to brag to someone and thus he chose me. It didn’t seem to bother him that Buck was my friend and associate. He told me that it was his intention to see just how long a ladies man could resist the charms of his sultry wife. The sadist laughed at the way Buck was handling the situation because no matter what had happened between Buck and Diana, he was planning on ridding the world of them both. Of course, when Taylor said it, I thought it was merely a test of my friendship with him. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that he was serious. And then to return and find them both left for dead on the carpet, I am the one that you should castigate, Mr. Larabee."

Chris pushed his chair back so quickly, it fell, clattering its way to the wall. He stood, nose to nose, with Ezra. Coldly, he spat out, "If you don’t tell me the truth right now, Standish, I’ll go wake up Wilmington and pry it out of him! NOW!"

Ezra gulped and with a slight shudder, he began the tale of Buck and Diana Taylor. He left nothing out. He told Chris about the first night, the promise Buck had made to him, the accident, the convalescence, and the time the three of them had before Taylor got back. "He really loved her, Chris. I have never seen him so involved with a woman and I believe that she loved him. They were so perfect for each other and he refused to leave her even for three days. I don’t believe that any amount of coaxing or protesting could have made him leave her behind. He told me she was the other half of his soul, Chris. If you have to chastise him for his deviations in the federal guidelines, I would hope that you would take into consideration the fact that he did keep his promise to me. One’s heart cannot always be governed by one’s head or by the rules set by men."

Chris Larabee didn’t know what to think. He had never, in all the time he had known Buck Wilmington, seen the man truly ‘in love’. He had loved women before, been seriously involved with a few (he could count on one hand the women who fell into that category) but he had never heard his oldest friend talk about a woman being part of his soul. He, himself, knew that feeling for Sarah had been that part of him. How could he fault Buck for breaking rules to protect the woman he loved? But, at the same time, he had put not only his own life in danger, he had put Ezra’s in danger also and had compromised the assignment. It had to be addressed and dealt with. Not now, however. There would be time when his heart had healed some, along with the external wounds.

"I don’t know if I can help him but I’ll talk to him. Not about the assignment but about her…. death, Ez. He’s going to be torn to shreds if he really felt that way." He looked up at his undercover specialist and saw concern. "Don’t worry, I’ll watch my temper, okay, Standish?"

"Yes, that’s just fine. I believe that you are the only one who can assist him at this juncture. Thank you for listening to the whole account before passing judgment."

"I want you to know, Ezra, that your conduct, as well as Buck’s, will have to be analyzed and dealt with. This isn’t over by a long shot. But, right now, there is something more important at stake." Together they made their way back to Buck’s hospital room and quietly entered.

JD met them near the door. "What’s going on, Chris? Buck woke up but he won’t talk to me. What the hell happened to him?"

Chris put his hands on the young man’s shoulders and steered him towards the door. "Let me handle him right now, Son. Go outside with Ezra and he’ll tell you what happened. Buck and I need some time alone."

JD looked into Chris’s eyes and saw no anger only remorse and sadness. He nodded his head and left the room with Ezra.

Chris sat by the bed and took Buck’s hand in his. He noticed the hand tremble slightly at his touch. His heart constricted for the man who had been at his side for so long. "Talk to me Buck. I know you’re awake."

A tremulous voice whispered, "Go away, Chris. Just leave me alone."

"Can’t do that Pard. You might as well face me and tell me what happened. I know about you and Mrs. Taylor. Ezra told me but only ‘cause he was so worried about you. He’s kickin’ himself for letting you down."

Buck turned his head to face his old friend. Tears ran freely down his face. "None of it was Ez’s fault. Don’t take it out on him!"

Chris wasn’t a patient man, never had been. However, he knew instinctively he had to wait for Buck to proceed or he would simply clam up and bury it deep inside him like he always did. Chris reached up and put his hand on Buck’s shoulder.

"I failed everyone, Chris. I made Ezra a promise and I broke it. I put his life in jeopardy. And you, I let you down by breakin’ every rule in the book. Ez tried to get me to leave after just one meetin’ with the madman but I refused. I told him I could handle the situation." He laughed, the sound one of a man about to die. "Yeah, I handled it just fine, didn’t I. And Diana. Ah hell, Chris, that was all my fault and now, she’s dead. I killed her, just as surely as if I had cut her throat myself."

"That sounds like a lot of malarkey to me. Goddammit, Buck, ya fell in love. Yeah, ya broke the rules but ya didn’t let me down. Ezra’s not mad at ya, he saw how good the two of ya were together. As for her, she wouldn’t have been with ya this afternoon if she didn’t want to be. She was a grown woman with thoughts and feelings of her own." Chris squeezed Buck’s hand. " Tell me what happened this afternoon, Pard?"

"I let desire get to me and then I felt guilty about lying to her. I told her everything, Chris. I wanted her to know what was gonna happen tomorrow so she could leave. She told me she needed time and I let her go. A while after I got back to the guest house, she showed up. She agreed to … marry me. I couldn’t think straight, I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t hear him come in, he was behind me before Diana noticed him. Then it was too late. He stabbed me in the back and when I got up and faced him, he raised the knife to finish me off. I stumbled on my bad knee and then….. Diana was between us, trying to protect me. She diverted the knife away from me, all right, right into her neck. I don’t remember much after that, just kind of a red haze and then everything went black. I woke up here and Ez told me she was dead. He said I musta killed Simon with my bare hands. Oh God, Chris, I ruined it all and now she’s gone!"

Chris instantly moved to the side of the bed and pulled his oldest friend into an embrace, trying to give comfort when none was to be found. They stayed that way for a long time, Buck shuddering with unwept tears.

"In time, Pard, it will get better. I know it hurts like nothing else but in time, it’ll get better. And ya know ya got six brothers who’ll be there to turn to when ya think ya can’t go on. Seems to me, I had me a tough mean son of a bitchin’ brother about five years back. He got me through all of the terrible times. I’ll make you a promise tonight. We’ll get the bastard for ya tomorrow, Big Dog. I swear that to ya. Right now, though, you have ta rest. Ya lost a lot of blood. So, lay back and sleep. I’ll send JD back in." He eased the lanky man back onto the bed. He stayed beside him until Buck’s breathing evened out. Then he silently left the room and sought out Ezra and JD.

"Can we still take him as planned, Standish?"

Ezra looked up to see his boss standing before him, a look of fierce determination on his face. The southerner thought for just a second before answering, "Yes. He hated Buck from the very first time they eyed each other. He didn’t send a killer after him because he found out we are ATF. He sent the murdering bastard after Buck to eliminate someone he could never be. He’ll think Diana found Buck’s body and took off. That’s all the thought he’ll give to it. He’s a pompous vindictive monster who thinks he can do anything he wants. Buck’s, Diana’s or Simon’s death won’t mean a thing to him."

Chris nodded. "Are the others here yet? We need to change some plans."

JD made his way back to Buck’s room. He had a big cup of hot chocolate in his hand. He didn’t know if Buck would talk to him but now that he knew the whole story, he was prepared to deal with Buck’s grief. He opened the door to room #410 and as he rounded the corner he ground to a halt. The bed was empty, the IV dripping onto the sheets. He dropped the Styrofoam cup and turned on his heel. He was out the door in seconds.


Buck parked the Jaguar by the back gate. Ezra had left the gate keycard in the car which Buck still had his keys for. He leaned his forehead against the steering wheel and tried to get his breath back. He was dizzy and weak but he had knew his gun was in the house and he only needed to stay conscious for a few more minutes. He opened the car door and pulled himself out to stand , weak kneed by the side of the sports car. He limped forward, forcing his injured knee to hold his weight by sheer will alone. He slipped the keycard into the gate and slowly made his way inside the guest house. He found his gun in the living room where he had dropped it. He fought the nausea that attempted to overcome him as he bent over to pick up the gun. Blackness gathered at the edge of his vision but he refused to let it stop him. He grabbed one crutch from the living room floor and then made his way to the mansion. All the lights were on in the huge house and he was sure that John Taylor was inside.

He leaned against the bricks just outside of the den. He realized that his body would give out soon and he had to act quickly. He pressed himself off the wall and stood before the French doors that opened into Taylor’s personal refuge. He used his shoulder to bash the door in and gained entry. He moved as fast as he could and stood just inside the hallway door, waiting for the first of the body guards.

A big man raced into the den and Buck brought his gun down on the back of the body guard’s head. The man fell, unconscious. The ATF agent waited for the second bodyguard and was not disappointed. As the man came running in, he again delivered a blow to the head with his gun and the second guard also fell in a heap. Buck waited again but nobody came . He carefully made his way around the downed guards and hobbled down the hall.

"Taylor!" he screamed. The object of his wrath appeared from the library. The older man stood before him, a cold smile on his face. Buck raised his gun and aimed it at the bastard’s heart. "This is for Diana, you bastard! You took her from me. Now, you’ll pay."

Taylor raised his hand, stalling Buck for a moment. "Diana’s dead? And you think I killed her?"

"Oh God, don’t pretend like you don’t know, Taylor. She wanted me and you couldn’t stand it so you tried to execute both of us, admit it. She warned me you would have us destroyed but I thought I could protect her. I loved her and you had her killed, you worthless piece of shit! I’m gonna kill you, Taylor." Once again he aimed the gun at the tall man before him. Sweat poured down his face and his head spun dizzily. He instinctively knew he had only seconds before he passed out.

Buck blinked rapidly, trying to get the sweat out of his eyes. He swallowed hard and put a second hand up by the gun to stop it from trembling. Blackness crept into the sides of his vision and he shook his head to clear it away.

"I wasn’t the one responsible for my wife’s death, I assure you Mr. Williams. I will admit that I hated you. Something about you irritated me from the first moment I laid eyes on you. Don’t think that I didn’t know how close you and my wife were becoming. My guards informed me of your every move. Even as dim witted as they are, they could see the two of you were falling in love." Taylor moved slightly to his left and Buck fought to keep the gun trained at his chest. "As soon as Edward and I closed the deal, I was going to eliminate you. I’ll admit that. But I would never have hurt Diana. I didn’t love her but she was beautiful and one doesn’t destroy a work of art."

Buck looked hard at the man before him. Could it be true? And if he hadn’t killed her, than who had ordered the hit? Cybil! Her words to him as she left the bathroom came flooding back to him. ‘You’ll pay dearly for this.’ "Cybil," he said softly, the truth now clear in his mind.

"You called, dear Benjamin." He heard the voice behind him and then he heard the gun being cocked. He turned his head slightly and his arm came around, still holding the gun. The bitch who always got her way, stood about ten foot behind him, smiling. He saw her finger begin to close on the trigger. He knew she would get the shot off before he could. In the seconds before she fired, he was aware of the blackness closing in on him and just as she fired, he collapsed. He heard the gun go off and the bullet creased his skull as it whizzed past him. The bullet slammed into the chest of John Taylor. The arms dealer fell heavily to the thick carper and his daughter ran to him.

"Daddy, are you okay. Oh, my God, what did he do to you. I tried to stop him Daddy, I really did. Please forgive me. Don’t die, Daddy. I need you. Who’ll take care of me now? NNOOOOOO!!!!!" Cybil wailed as she held the lifeless body of John Taylor. She rocked the body that had held her when she cried, had caressed her when she needed encouragement, and had hugged her when she had been particularly good. Her father was gone now and it was the fault of the detestable man on the floor in front of her.

Buck moved, and her attention was drawn to the man she despised. As her senses came back to her, she realized only she could punish the killer of her father. No court of law would ever convict him. She had to make sure he would never reject another woman or try to take a father’s life. She gently laid her father’s body on the hard wood and stood, her gun still in her hand. Stiffly, she made her way to stand over the man she had come to hate. She glared at him as he tried in vain to regain his feet. She raised the gun slowly and aimed it at the back of Ben Williams head. Buck fell back to the floor. Physically, he was spent. He gave in to the blackness and knew he was taking his last breaths.

"I told you, you would be sorry for denying me what I wanted. Nobody refuses me what I want, Ben." Her expression was ice cold as she began to squeeze the trigger.


The gun went sailing from Cybil’s hand as the bullet went through her wrist. Shocked, she grabbed her right wrist with her other hand and then saw her blood staining her blouse. She held up her hand and stared at it like it belonged to someone else. She held it out for Chris to see. "Look what you did! How could you?"

Josiah rushed forward and took Cybil firmly by the arm He led her away into the library. As soon as Josiah had her detained, Chris raced the twenty feet to where his friend lay. Gently, Chris turned the scoundrel over and held him close. He didn’t need to say a thing. He knew his men were handling all that needed to be done. JD rushed to Buck’s side also and the two best friends of ATF agent, Buck Wilmington, willed him to remain breathing.

As soon JD yelled for Chris, they knew where he had gone. Arming themselves, the other six members of Team 7 made their way to the estate of John Taylor. They crashed the gate, sending two guards scattering. Vin jumped out of the suburban before it came to a stop. He raced around the back and found the broken patio door where their injured team mate had gained entry. Chris and Josiah barged through the front door as another body guard opened it to see what the commotion was outside. They heard a woman crying and raced towards the sound. As they rounded the corner into the hallway, they spotted Cybil standing over Buck’s prone body. Chris didn’t hesitate. He shot as the raven haired daughter of John Taylor squeezed the trigger of her gun. Having notified the authorities on their way to the home of the arms dealer, an ambulance arrived shortly after the ATF agents. In a matter of minutes, the paramedics were attempting to stabilize Buck. Quickly, they assessed his wounds and inserted a needle in his hand to allow the life saving fluid in the IV bag entry into his system. Buck was pallid, the blood covering the side of his face making his complexion look even whiter. One of the paramedics was applying pressure to the bullet wound to curtail the bleeding. The other was tending to the stab wounds which had begun bleeding, the stitching breaking with Buck’s movements.

Agent Sanchez was turning his prisoner over to the Colorado State Police. They would take her to the lock up in Snowmass. As the female trooper and Josiah led Cybil Taylor past the wounded agent, the vile woman looked down at Buck. She sneered at the prone man.

"At least Simon did one thing right. The tramp who betrayed my father is dead even if you aren’t. I almost hope you make it so that you have to live with that the rest of your life. I’m glad she’s dead, you bastard!" She spat at Buck’s prone body.

Josiah cringed. Maybe Buck couldn’t hear her but he wasn’t going to take the chance. He shoved Cybil as hard as he could and she stumbled and fell ten foot away from where the paramedics fought to save the life of his brother. "Get her the hell away from him!" he rumbled as the trooper bent to pick up the raven haired prisoner.

Chris looked up and saw Josiah looking back at his friend. He shook his graying head and moved away with the troopers and Cybil Taylor. Chris couldn’t remember the last time he had heard the oldest of his agents swear. He looked around and mentally counted his men. JD and Nathan were with him, watching every move the paramedics made. He knew Josiah was enroute to the awaiting squad car. He turned his head slightly and saw Vin and Ezra standing near the body of John Taylor, talking to three other troopers who would be taking the report on the shootings. Taylor was not yet in a body bag and Chris gazed at the body of the man who had hurt his friend so deeply.

"Let’s move." The paramedics started to move their patient, followed closely by JD and Nathan.

Chris remained where he was. Buck was going to have to answer some tough questions and perhaps face dismissal for his actions, not only for what he had done tonight but for his actions during the entire undercover assignment. Chris remembered the all encompassing pain he had endured right after Sarah’s death and he knew that Buck would not care what anyone decided about his career. His oldest friend, the man who had stood by his side when he married Sarah, had just lost the woman he had found to love. Nothing could take away the pain of that and he prayed that Buck would fight to live. He hadn’t but Buck had been there, right beside him to pull him through that hopeless period of his life. He and the other five would do the same for the loveable ladies man.

"Vin, Ezra, let’s go. We need to be with Buck at the hospital."

Forty-seven days later, Buck walked into the offices of Team Seven of the ATF. He had been cleared of all charges in the shooting death of John Taylor. AD Travis had found Buck and Ezra negligent in their obligation to the department and had punished them in accordance with what he thought was fair. Agent Standish had been suspended for three days without pay. Agent Wilmington received a formal reprimand and a thirty day suspension from duty. It had been served while Buck recovered in the hospital.

Buck was still on crutches. He had undergone two surgeries just to repair his broken kneecap and damaged tendons. The blood loss and the added head injury had him in critical condition by the time the ambulance reached the hospital in Snowmass. He had spent three days in intensive care before being moved to his own room. Buck had not only received physical therapy but he had received counseling, ordered to go by his boss Special Agent Larabee. The therapist had begun right away and by the time Buck was ready to leave the hospital, he was feeling less guilt and dealing with his loss as well as he could be expected to.

Buck had not spoken to the team’s undercover specialist since the shooting had taken place. He didn’t know what to say to Ezra. He wanted to ask Ezra to forgive him for his stupidity and for breaking the promise he had given the con man. He wanted to apologize for everything that he had done, especially putting Ezra’s life at risk. He had practiced what he would say to the Southerner but when he stood in front of his friend’s desk, the other five agents gathered around, he was tongue tied. He stared at the stained linoleum that covered the floor. He cleared his throat four times and still nothing would come out.

Ezra, seeing Buck’s problem, simply said, "I never thought I would see the day that Buck Wilmington was speechless."

The others smiled. Buck had gathered them so that they could witness his apology to Ezra. Circumstances changed rapidly, and instead of witnessing Buck say I’m sorry, they encircled the tall man for support. Ezra stood and moved to stand directly in front of the ladies man. He put a reassuring hand on Buck’s shoulder.

"I’m sorry you lost her, Buck. She was indeed an angel. As for the remainder of your quandary, no apology is required. I and the rest of your compatriots are simply glad you could walk into our humble abode today. Welcome back, Mr. Wilmington."

Buck looked up and into the green eyes of the man before him and half smiled. "I’m so sorry Ezra. I made you a promise and broke it. How can you ever trust me again?"

Ezra moved beside the tall mustached agent and put his arm around his shoulders. Very softly, he declared, "You are my friend and friends forgive and go on. I know for a certainty that you will never betray me again. You can back me up anytime, Buck, anytime at all." Then for all of the others to hear, he said, "But you do owe me three days salary, Mr. Wilmington."

Buck smiled broadly and nodded. "No problem, Ez."


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