DATES, DARES AND DANGER by Debra M. and Monica M.

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As he rounded the corner Ezra forced himself to slow down so that in his haste to get away he did not loose all sense of direction

As he rounded the corner Ezra forced himself to slow down so that in his haste to get away he did not loose all sense of direction. But while he may have slowed his physical travel through the dark and deserted streets, he could not slow down the internal dialogue that raced through his mind. He could not help but feel like a coward for leaving his friends behind. Mixed with that was relief that he was free, even though he knew that it was very likely that he could have one of the men after him.

The southerner kept his eyes peeled for anyone that might be able to help him. He was afraid, but not at the point of panic. He kept reminding himself that his priority was to get J.D. and Vin free as well. Even as he concentrated on that fact, Ezra berated himself for being the first one out of the window. He should have let the freshman go first. After all, J.D. had handled a similar situation very well back when he had to leave his friends behind to escape the school taken hostage and get vital information to the authorities outside. Ezra could not think of one valid reason why he should have been the one to go out of the window first except that maybe he had selfishly put himself first. His guilt colored his perception of the events so he did not recall that it was Vin who had motioned him to go out the window first.

He paused as he reached an intersection, his head sweeping from side to side as he looked down the new street and tried to decide which direction he should take. Ezra had simply been following Vin as they made their headlong flight from the murderers, so he had no idea which direction he needed to take. He did not like the idea of heading back toward a murder site, but it was where Nathan and Josiah would be expecting them. He only hoped that all of the drug dealers had come after them and that none had remained behind only to have Nathan and Josiah stumble upon them.

Going only with a hunch, Ezra turned left at the intersection, intermittently walking quickly and jogging. His eyes were in constant motion as he searched for any chance of help and also kept watch behind him for any sign of pursuit. When he reached another side street, the sophomore turned down it and launched into a run. His eyes had caught sight of a police cruiser just passing slowly through the next intersection. When he made it to the corner, Ezra saw the cruiser still traveling slowly, obviously searching for something. Running in the middle of the street behind the vehicle so as to make himself more visible to the officer, Ezra chased after it. Somewhere in the back of his mind was a mild amusement at the fact that he of all people was chasing a cop car. But that was soon drowned out by relief as the cruiser came to an abrupt stop and the driver door was flung open.

Ezra continued running forward as the officer stepped out of the car and faced him. The southerner slid to a halt when he recognized Officer Clint Larabee. A new type of fear took hold of him then, one born completely out of his adolescent desire to stay out of trouble. And while he could clearly see relief written across the cop´s face, Ezra could not help but fear the repercussions that would come from his actions this night. Then guilt again flooded him as the first thing Clint called out to him was, “Where´s Vin and J.D.?”

For once in his life, Ezra did not even consider a way to lessen his culpability as the words just flowed out in an uncharacteristic rush. “They´re trapped in a warehouse back there. I heard shots. I had gotten out of a window and I just ran. I don´t know what happened. I don´t know if…”

“Ezra!” Clint stated the name firmly but without accusation. He only wanted to get the boy´s attention focused on him and not all the what ifs that must be racing around in his head. It worked as wide, pale green eyes snapped up and met the cop´s stern yet reassuring eyes.

“You´re safe now and you´re going to help us make sure that Vin and J.D. are safe too. Once that´s happened we´ll talk about everything and figure out the whys and whats then. But only then, do you understand me?” Clint waited until he got a nod from the teenager. “Right now, I want you to sit in the car, catch your breath and tell me exactly where J.D. and Vin are.”

Ezra did not protest as Clint took his arm and led him over to the passenger door of the cruiser. The boy sat down but left his feet and legs outside the car. The cop was a bit worried about how pliable the southerner was. It reminded him that no matter how mature Ezra often appeared and attempted to be, at this moment he was a scared fifteen year old in shock at the situation he found himself in. The cop was eager to know where Vin and J.D. were, but he needed good information and the best way to get that was to give Ezra a minute or two to calm down and realize that he was safe. Not wanting to crowd the teen, but still wanting to let him feel his presence, Clint stepped back a bit as he reported his location and that he now had one of the missing teens and would report as soon as he learned anything further about the other two.

He did not expect for Ezra to stand up abruptly and step over to him. “I can show you where they are now.” The southerner had gotten a hold of his emotions, pushing them aside so that he could do whatever was necessary to help his friends.

“I just need you to tell me, Ezra.”

“What are you going to do? Leave me here?” the sophomore asked, a little of his regular sarcasm creeping into his drawl, though the still wide eyes belied his fear at being on his own again.

“No, Ezra, I´m not going to leave you alone. There are a couple of other units in the area…”

The teenager did not let Clint finish that train of thought. “No! We have to go now. Didn´t you hear me? They were being shot at! Now let´s go!” With that, Ezra got back into the police cruiser and slammed the passenger door shut, motioning for Clint to get into the driver´s seat.

Mumbling about the days when kids were not so stubborn and actually paid attention to their elders, the officer quickly did just that. He did not want to put the teenager back into harms way but he knew that time was of the essence. He reported in again as he threw the car into reverse and began following Ezra´s directions back the way that the teen had just run.

When he reached what Ezra said was the final turn and that the warehouse was at the end of the short alley, Clint brought the cruiser to a halt. But the southerner did not wait for it to come to a complete stop before he jumped out and ran over to the window he had escaped from. He heard Clint curse and call for him to stop, but Ezra had to know, had to see if anything had happened to two of the best friends he had ever had in his life. It was a new kind of fear that propelled the young man, one that had nothing to do with his own safety. But before he could reach the window, the cop caught up to him, grabbed him and pulled him to a stop.

“What do you think you´re doing?” Clint demanded of him.

“I need to know if they´re alright. They´ve got to be alright.” Once again Clint found himself amazed at the amount of vulnerability the southerner could show at times. He was usually so determined to shut everyone else out of his world, to keep them at arms length. But the walls Ezra had erected around himself were not foolproof. He had let his six friends in and it was obvious that he cared a great deal about them. Clint could understand that since he had found himself thinking of the five other boys as an extension of his and Chris´ family just as he had always thought of Buck. The fact that he had come to think of Ezra, the one who caused him the utmost irritation, in that manner was no small amount of consternation for the cop.

“They will be. But we have to do things my way, Ezra. Trust me.”

Before Ezra could comment that he trusted no one but himself, both of them whirled around at the sound of someone else entering the alleyway. The southerner was amazed at the speed with which Clint drew his gun. But Felipe, who stood frozen with his own amazement at finding the kid he was after in the presence of a cop also had his own gun trained on them. Clint took the man´s moment of surprise to step in front of Ezra, shielding him as best as he could.

“Put your gun down!” Clint ordered the other man.

“You put your gun down!” came the echo back but in English heavily accented with Spanish.

“That´s not going to happen,” Clint answered as he took one slow step forward. He wanted the guy´s attention on him and as far away from Ezra as possible. “You know it and I know it. There´s no way this can end well for you. You´ll get the best deal if you put down your gun.”

“Don´t come no closer! I´ll shoot the kid, if you take one more step.”

“The only way you´re going to hurt him,” Clint growled out, “is if you shoot me first. And you know what happens to cop killers in jail, don´t you?”

“I ain´t going to no jail, man!” Felipe´s words were firm, but the hands holding the gun wavered slightly.

“There´s no way you´d get away. There are at least three other units in the area. So don´t be stupid. Just put your gun down.” Clint again took another step forward.

The gunman shook his head and started to speak, but any sound he made was drowned out by the loud blaring of a car horn and the racing of a high performance engine. As the Hispanic youth whirled to face the new threat, Clint reached out and pushed Ezra to the ground before he launched himself in the direction of the distracted man.

Clint saw the young man shoot wildly at the rapidly approaching car and he heard the squealing of the brakes, but he focused solely on getting the gun away from him. He kept a firm grip on his own weapon as his shoulder slammed the youth to the ground, jarring the gun from his hands. The cop climbed over the sprawled form, kicking the other´s weapon away, even as he regained his footing and trained his gun on the young man trying to get back to his own feet. “Stay down!” Clint ordered. “Hands behind your head!”

Cursing in a mixture of Spanish and English Felipe complied. Clint glanced over to where Ezra remained on the ground. The southerner had been smart enough to roll toward the wall of the alleyway and was now sitting up. “Stay right there, Ezra, I mean it!”

The teenager leaned his back against the wall and ran a hand through his hair as he nodded. Seeing that Ezra was actually going to comply, Clint tried to get a look at the car that had driven so rapidly upon them, but the headlights were shining brightly in his eyes. When both the passenger and driver side doors opened, Clint shifted his weight, still covering his prisoner, but giving himself the freedom of movement to prepare for anything the newcomers might try.

Relief flooded the cop when he heard his son call out, “Dad, you alright?”

Clint nodded, and now secure in the knowledge that he did not face additional dangers from the car, Clint reached for the pair of handcuffs on his belt. Kneeling down, with one knee applying pressure to the small of the man´s back, the cop reached up and snapped the cuffs on his right wrist, pulling the arm out and then to his back. Holding firm to the one cuffed arm, Clint holstered his weapon and with his free hand grabbed the other wrist and pulled it down to meet the other where he could finish the task of cuffing him. Standing up the cop moved out of lunging range of the man on the ground and faced Chris and Buck.

“What do you two think you were doing?” he demanded.

Buck tossed him a sloppy grin. “Aw, come on, Clint, we stayed in the car, like we told you we would.”

The cop shook his head and returned Buck´s grin with a warning look. “That was a dangerous stunt you pulled. I know you could see that he was armed.” Clint took in both the junior and his own son, “We will discuss this at length later.” The sound of police sirens rapidly approaching caught all of their attention.

“We called it in,” Chris stated wryly, “just like we told you we would.” The senior´s eyes were drawn to where Ezra was getting to his feet. “Where´s Vin and J.D.?”

Guilt flooded Ezra´s sage green eyes as he looked away from Chris over to the warehouse window and then down to his feet. But it was Clint who answered for him, “We think they are being held inside by two others. Ezra escaped through that window there.”

“You left them?” the accusation in Chris´ tone was clear and the southerner actually flinched away from it though he kept his gaze on the ground.

“He got help,” Clint clarified. Turning back to his prisoner, the cop read him his Miranda rights as he helped him to his feet and then over to the police cruiser. Buck opened the back passenger door and Clint eased Felipe into the car, slamming the door shut. The officer radioed in the update to the situation. Once finished with that and still hearing the nearing police cars, he faced his son again. “I´m going in to the warehouse. Don´t even think about the idea of going with me. You´re staying here with Ezra and Buck and when Hicks and Coffey arrive you will do exactly as they say. Do you understand me, Chris?”

Twin sets of stubborn green eyes met and gauged each other. But despite his strong desire to do anything to help his friends, Chris knew that he had to give in to his father in this situation. Unable to verbalize his capitulation, he only nodded. It was enough for Clint who nodded back in return to him and then to Buck and Ezra. Drawing his weapon once again, he carefully pulled himself up and into the window. Catching the eyes of all three boys once again as he turned in the windowsill, Clint then dropped into the warehouse and out of sight.

+ + + + + + +

Forced to sit on the floor, Vin ensured that he sat between J.D. and the two men holding them captive. As every minute past, Vin felt a compelling need to act. The unmistakable tension blanketed the room like a rancid stench and it was only fear of deadly reprisal to J.D. and himself that kept him immobile. He felt J.D. shift slightly beside him and once again felt the younger boy tremble but his eyes never left the two men that stood between them and possible safety. Especially now as their arguing became more intense. He watched for any chance of distraction or an opportunity to plead for their release.

They had once again reverted to speaking Spanish, however Vin easily followed their conversation. The shorter man, who Vin had determined was named Ramiro, moved nervously and constantly. This alone was irritating the other man, who was, without a doubt, in charge. Yet this did not deter Ramiro who continued to implore his boss to leave and leave straight away.

Both men went silent immediately at the sound of a blaring vehicle horn following by a gunshot outside the warehouse. They drew their weapons to the ready and put their backs to the nearest wall. Vin stood quickly pulling J.D. with him. He readied himself and met J.D´s eyes willing him to stay as calm as he could.

“Don´t move!” Tito ordered at them before he turned back towards the other side of the warehouse and strained to hear anything further.

“Is it Felipe?” Ramiro asked worriedly beside him.

“Maybe,” Tito replied his brow furrowed in deep concentration.

“What do we do?” Ramiro panicked.

Tito didn´t reply. Instead he moved to the edge of wall and called out to Felipe. The response was silence and Tito waited half a minute and called again. Still there was no answer and Ramiro cursed.

“I don´t like this, Tito!” Ramiro whined.

“Shut the hell up!” Tito snapped, turning and shoving Ramiro violently.

Ramiro glared angrily but said nothing. Tito scowled in deep thought for a few seconds then looked up again at Ramiro as they both heard the approaching police sirens.

“I knew it!” Ramiro whined again.

Vin was the first to detect the movement in the darkness outside the perimeter of light that lit the room they occupied with their two captors. Anticipation curled in his gut and then a rush of hope as he made out a cop´s uniform. That hope turned cold with dread as he saw Tito about to turn and move toward the cop. He needed to stall and he desperately spoke up.

“You should run!” he spoke aloud instantly gaining both men´s attention. “Before you get trapped.”

Tito´s eyes narrowed menacingly and Vin held his breath as he watched the Hispanic decide whether to kill them first or take his advice and run.

“Get them,” Tito demanded to Ramiro, nodding to the two boys. “We´ll make for the car and then find Felipe.”

Clint Larabee silently moved across the warehouse floor towards the source of light. He quickly identified Vin and J.D. standing close together almost in the corner of the lit room. He then gauged the threat to them. Two Hispanic young men argued in Spanish, their bodies turned sideways to his approach. He froze in his movements as one began to move toward him before his attention was drawn back to the young Texan. Clint took advantage of the precious seconds and covered the remaining distance.

“Police!” he yelled. “Put down your weapons!”

The two armed men recovered from their shock to level their weapons at the cop. Neither fired but eyed each other desperately.

“You put down yours, cop!” Tito sneered.

“I can´t do that,” Clint replied stepping closer to the boys. Tito countered by moving also closer to the teens who were cornered between the walls and now three armed men.

Any relief Vin felt at recognizing Officer Larabee as the cop faded as the tense standoff unfolded before him. With no room to maneuver, Vin gripped J.D. tightly and prepared to either push the both of them to the ground or move behind the cop. Clint took another wary step toward them and Vin gently pushed J.D. toward him. The younger boy reacted too eagerly and ran the short distance to the cop.

J.D´s sudden movement set in motion an action from Larabee and reaction from the treacherous drug dealer. While Clint yelled for no one to shoot, he still managed to keep his gun trained on both armed men while he caught J.D. with one arm and pushed the boy behind him. Tito responded by yelling for Ramiro to cover him as he ran and grabbed Vin.

+ + + + + + +

Buck looked around worriedly when he realized that Ezra was no longer next to him and Chris. The sophomore had kept his distance from the older teens after Clint had disappeared into the warehouse. Chris had started toward Ezra and Buck could read his clear intentions to get some answers out of the southerner. So the quarterback was grateful when Officers Coffey and Hicks arrived on the scene. Despite the circumstances, Officer Hicks greeted the older boys warmly since he had known them for quite some time. Coffey was a new addition to the department but he had already heard all the stories about Officer Larabee´s son and his friends. Neither of them seemed surprised that Clint had entered the building on his own. Still, Coffey left Hicks to get the statements from the boys as he searched the perimeter of the building.

Hicks had questioned Ezra first, drawing out as many details as he could from the teen. The sophomore started his tale with his arrival with Vin and J.D. to the restaurant. Buck and Chris exchanged looks of surprise at the news that the three boys had been so very close to them. But they said nothing as they listened to Ezra tell how they had run from the restaurant and gotten turned around and finally called Josiah and Nathan. He told them only what he knew about what J.D. had seen and then being chased to the warehouse they stood in front of. Then he spoke of escaping out the window and waiting for the others to join him only to hear someone enter the warehouse and fire a shot at them. Finally he admitted to running even after hearing two more shots being fired. After that the southerner had fallen silent.

At the news of the gunshots, Buck could feel Chris tense, but Hicks had turned his attention to them then and questioned them about their part in everything. Together they told him about their involvement in the search and how they had happened on the scene and had decided to act. It was when they had finished their part of the story that Buck noticed that Ezra had wandered a bit away from them. Unfortunately Chris realized that as well and took the opportunity to go after Ezra and get some answers to questions that had been bothering him. Seeing that Officer Hicks was involved in reporting in, Buck hurried over and joined his two friends.

“What were you guys thinking?” Chris questioned as he grabbed Ezra´s arm and swung the younger boy around to face him. “How could you do something so stupid?”

Buck sighed as Ezra did not answer but just kept his gaze locked on the ground at his feet. The junior could practically feel the guilt oozing out of Ezra, but he knew that Chris was probably not sensing any of that. Right now Chris was entirely focused on the safety of Vin and J.D. Buck knew him well enough to know that Chris was relieved that Ezra was safe as well, but that because his other two friends were still in danger he was incapable of showing that. And matters were not helped by the fact that Chris and Ezra, even in the best of times, never saw things eye to eye.

Buck stood nearby, ready to intervene if he needed to, but he really wanted the two of them to work things out on their own. He did not want to see Chris verbally beat Ezra up over something that had ultimately been out of the sophomore´s hands. But Buck wanted to see Ezra stand up for himself. If there was one thing that the lanky junior had learned about his oldest friend it was that Chris only respected those people who were capable of standing up to him.

Ezra shrugged out of Chris´ grip and started to walk away from him, ignoring his questions. Buck shook his head as he knew that had to be the worst possible thing the southerner could have done.

“Don´t turn your back on me, Standish,” Chris threatened, again grabbing the boy´s arm in a tighter grip.

When he could not shrug free of his grasp this time, Ezra finally looked up to meet Chris´ eyes. Anger flared hotly in his own eyes as he stated with clear enunciation but still in his slow drawl, “I don´t answer to you.”

“Well who do you answer to? Your mother? If something has happened to Vin or J.D. do you think that she or your stepfather can get you out of having to answer for running away and leaving them?” Chris shook Ezra slightly as he spoke and then released him as if no longer even wanting to touch him.

Buck winced at the words, knowing that now Chris had done the worst possible thing. Ezra kept a lot of things about his family life private. None of them knew anything about his real father and what had happened to him. The only thing they really knew was that Ezra´s relationship with his mother was incredibly complicated and something he had proven to be the most defensive about though he was most often the one complaining about her the most.

And indeed, Ezra´s anger caught Chris off guard, “I don´t need anyone to protect me! I didn´t run away!”

“You didn´t?” the senior´s tone was incredulous.

The southerner shook his head, struggling to find the means to explain the conflicting emotions he had felt ever since he had left Vin and J.D. “I did leave them, but I wasn´t running away.” He exhaled in frustration as he knew he was not going to get Chris to understand. “You weren´t there! You have no right to judge my actions! I´m not a coward! If there had been any other way, I never would have left them!”

The intense senior took a step closer to Ezra, a physically intimidating presence even as his eyes bore into the southerner´s. “Do you really believe that?” Accusation and doubt were evident in Chris´ voice.

The sophomore straightened, not backing down from the older teen. “Does it matter? You´ve obviously already made your mind up about me.”

“Convince me,” Chris stated flatly.

Buck stepped forward then, ready to intercede now that he thought things were going too far. But he stopped himself when Ezra´s posture relaxed a bit as he seemed slightly taken aback by Chris´ persistence. Buck looked over at the senior, but his attention was fully focused on the sophomore in front of him. Buck began to wonder if maybe Chris had a different agenda than the one he was presenting to Ezra, so he again waited to see how things would play out.

Defiance again flared in the southerner, “I never would have gone out the window if I had known that it would mean leaving them behind. But you believe what you want to believe!” With that Ezra turned from Chris and stalked over to Officer Hicks and after a short discussion was allowed to sit in the passenger seat of his cruiser.

“What was that about?” Buck asked.

Chris turned a thoughtful gaze on his old friend. “I lived it, Buck. You think I don´t recognize the signs of someone drowning in guilt? Like he said, it doesn´t matter what I believe. But he´s got to know for sure that he wouldn´t have left them. I think he does now. He might hate me, but he feels better about himself.” Leaving a speechless Buck, Chris walked over to his father´s patrol car and leaned against it, ignoring the prisoner within.

The quarterback could not help but watch Chris with a mixture of admiration and sadness. He admired that Chris had reached a place where he could see that he had carried the guilt over his mother and sister´s death too heavily and for too long. And he admired that the senior had acted to insure that Ezra did not get bogged down in his own guilt about leaving Vin and J.D. However, Buck felt a sadness that Chris had to play the bad guy in order to get Ezra to see that. But he knew that it was probably the only way that anyone could have gotten the point across to the sophomore. Ezra would have closed himself off if they had tried to confront his feelings of guilt directly. Buck sighed once more as he moved to join Chris at Clint´s cruiser. He just could not understand why it always had to be one step forward and two steps back with Chris and Ezra.

His thoughts returned to the situation at hand, though as Coffey returned. He and Hicks had a quiet discussion as the three boys looked on. Finally Hicks walked over to Chris as Coffey reported in. The officer told Chris that they were going into the warehouse since they had not heard from Clint. The cop´s son nodded, his thoughts now centered on his friends and father and the hope that they would all be exiting the warehouse safe, sound, and soon.

+ + + + + + +

Vin instinctively struggled until the cold muzzle of the gun was placed against his neck. He went limp as his eyes searched and for a brief second held Clint Larabee´s. He took strength from the steely resolve that filled the cop´s green eyes and despite the fact that his heart was beating so wildly in fear he trusted in Chris´ dad just as he implicitly trusted his son.

“Easy!” Clint urged as they moved into another, yet more dangerous, standoff.

“We´re leaving now,” Tito declared. “And we´re taking him with us,” he continued, tightening his hold on the Texan.

“You´ll never make it,” Clint replied coldly. “There´s two units outside and another on its way.”

“Then you tell them to back off!” Tito yelled angrily. “They come near us and we kill the kid!”

“You don´t want to do that,” Clint replied bringing a well-trained calmness to his stance.

“You don´t tell me what to do!” Tito barked.

“I´m not telling you what to do,” Clint replied calmly. “I´m saying we can stop this from escalating out of control... we can do a deal but not if you harm the boy.”

“What kind of deal?” Ramiro asked intently ignoring Tito, who immediately told him angrily to shut up.

Clint Larabee looked from one perpetrator to the other and saw division between the two and decided to try and work that to his advantage.

“I´m no lawyer,” Clint stressed flicking his stare from one to the other. “But I know the system. You will have to face some heat for what happened earlier but it will go a hell of a lot easier in front of a judge if you drop your weapons and let these boys go.”

“I´m in charge here, not him!” Tito sneered, demonstrating by digging the gun barrel further into the sophomore´s neck making him involuntarily cry out.

“Then act it,” Clint retorted. “You let the boy go and put your gun down and we can work this out right now. It's your one chance.”

The two men burst into a flurry of heated Spanish and Clint tensed and lined up his weapon for a lethal shot on the man holding Vin. He risked a glance at Vin to try and reassure him. The teen´s return look relayed his complete trust in him and indicated his readiness to move at his command. It was a huge risk and Clint kept replaying his course of action through his mind as he waited for the outcome of the fierce arguing. He could take the one holding Vin and then move to protect J.D. and hopefully with the shock of seeing his friend taken out, the remaining man would hesitate and he could wound and disarm him.

“We´re leaving with the boy!” Tito announced. “Tell your cop friends to back off!”

Clint´s cheek twitched at the outburst and he once again appealed to the more reasonable one. “Release the boy and lay down your weapons. It´s your only chance!”

Ramiro winced at the cold determination in the voice and the harsh stare directed at him from the cop. He looked once again at Tito, his eyes imploring him to capitulate. Tito´s return manic and deadly stare filled him with desperate fear. As sweat gathered on his forehead he felt a gnawing numbness fill his being. He mind flashed him an image of his lifeless body on a warehouse floor as blood pooled around him. He didn´t want to die. Not for Tito. And definitely not for some set up drug deal he was opposed to from the start.

Just as he felt like he couldn´t draw another breath without a burning ache in his lungs, there was a loud crash further down the warehouse. In the brief light that filtered through, Ramiro saw two more cops disappear into the darkness. Tito also saw and heard the other cops, and began screaming at the cop in front of him to tell the others to back off. Ramiro´s instinct to survive overtook him and he acted without any further thinking. He saw Tito´s eyes open with complete shock as he tackled him. As he, Tito and the boy all hit the floor, Ramiro had already dislodged Tito´s gun from his grip.

“Vin!” Clint roared and he reacted to the sudden move before him. In one fluid movement he shoved J.D. to the floor and moved to cover the two drug dealers who were now fighting on the floor for control of the remaining weapon between them. Vin rolled out of the way, then scrambling to his feet, ran towards J.D, throwing himself over the other boy as he huddled on the floor.

Clint kicked the discarded weapon across the floor as he trained his gun on the struggle before him. Both men had their hands on the gun as they fiercely fought for supremacy. Clint heard Hicks and Coffey announce their presence as they ran into the room. Coffey immediately went to protecting the boys and Hicks drew alongside Larabee yelling at the fighting men to drop the weapon and freeze.

With two guns leveled at him Tito was distracted for a split second and it was all Ramiro needed to grapple the gun from his grip and roll towards the wall. Hicks yelled again for the weapon to be dropped and Ramiro threw it aside and raised his hands. Clint kept a constant eye on him while Hicks moved in and roughly turned Tito face first into the floor and began cuffing him. The he swapped positions with Coffey as the other cop then moved in to apprehend Ramiro.

Clint walked over to the two boys and helped them to their feet.

“You boys ok?” he asked with deep concern.

J.D. nodded mutely but Vin´s electric blue eyes locked with his and he stated resolutely. “We will be, sir.”

Clint smiled faintly in admiration. The Texan was so much like his son at times it was disconcerting. He grabbed each of them by the shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. “Come on, the others will want to know you´re ok.” And with that he led them away.

J.D. did not need any further urging to leave the warehouse and the two men who had threatened their lives. As he, Vin and Clint walked through the side warehouse door that had been forced open, he paused and blinked as numerous cruiser lights created momentary disorientation. Then he heard Buck´s voice calling to him and he grinned happily as Chris and Buck rushed over toward them. Finally feeling safe he succumbed to Buck´s boisterous hug and verbal firing of questions.

In contrast, Vin and Chris´ reunion was more subdued. Whilst they asked the obvious questions, the unspoken looks and gestures were more telling. Then Vin looked past Chris and noticed Ezra hanging back a little. He shot a silent question to Buck and received an answering look that confirmed what he already suspected. Chris and Ezra had once again been using their special kind of communication. Determined to find out what happened as soon as he could, for now he brushed past Chris and walked the few steps to Ezra.

“You ok, Ez?” he drawled softly.

“I´m fine, Vin,” Ezra assured. “Are you alright?” he continued, his expressive eyes searching for a positive answer with rare unconcealed emotion.

“Yeah,” he replied easily with a full smile.

“And J.D?” Ezra queried flicking his gaze over to the younger boy who was trying to blurt out as much of what had happened as possible in one breath to Buck.

Vin followed his gaze and nodded. “Yeah I think so. It was a bit hairy there for a while but …”

J.D. suddenly noticed the two other boys looking at him and broke off his diatribe to bounce up to them.

“Hey Ezra!” he exclaimed, interrupting Vin.

“J.D,” Ezra replied warmly. “I´m relieved to see you´re alright.”

“I knew you´d get help, Ezra. I just knew it,” J.D. gushed.

“Ya did real good, Ez,” Vin added poignantly and the southerner blinked at both of them in surprise. His uncomfortable demeanor was heightened by Chris and Buck moving closer to him so that he was surrounded.

Vin recognized his roommate´s uneasiness to both the heartfelt praise and being hemmed in and he quickly stepped in to change the mood. Grinning, he reached out and shoved the southerner affectionately. Ezra´s jaw dropped briefly and they all laughed at his reaction. Then he revealed a dimpled smile and gave Vin a good-natured shove back.

Clint had once again radioed in and returned to the boys in time to witness Ezra´s unusual speechless moment and then the display of unique bond of friendship that existed between all the boys. As they became rowdy, he spoke up.

“Alright, boys,” he began, immediately receiving all their attention. “You´ve all got to go to the station and make statements. Officer Coffey will transport Ezra, Vin and J.D,” he informed them. He turned to his son. “Chris, you and Buck follow them in Buck´s car. I´ll meet you there.”

All of them acknowledged Clint´s words immediately with nods and verbal agreement, all of them relieved that for the moment, they were being spared any lectures.

They all stepped back as Officer Coffey and Hicks brought the remaining two felons out of the warehouse. Tito was placed into Larabee´s cruiser with the already confined Felipe. Ramiro was secured into Hicks´ cruiser.

Once the boys had climbed into remaining cruiser, Officer Coffey slid into the driver´s seat as Clint approached. He grinned to himself as he noted Ezra had seated himself up front again.

Bending down he spoke through the window. “Don´t take your eyes off any of them for a second,” he teased the younger cop.

“There is no reason for concern, Officer Larabee, I will assist Officer Coffey in assuring that the two troublemakers in the back cause no other problems this night.”

Clint blinked incredulously. Vin, however, rolled his eyes and retorted, “Ezra, you´re the only one of us who´s ever been handcuffed and put in the back of a police car.”

The southerner´s smug and unrepentant grin was quickly wiped from his face when he saw a wicked gleam light the cop´s green eyes. Desperately he reached over to close the open window, but it was a roll up and the teenager could not react fast enough to stop Clint from reaching through and mussing up his hair and giving him a pat on the head, much to the amusement of the other three people in the car. Finally Ezra swatted Clint´s hand away and rolled the window up all the way.

The officer smirked as he watched Coffey drive off with the three boys. As irritating as some of them could be, it was good to see them acting like themselves after the night´s activities. But then with all that the seven of them had already been through, Clint wondered if there was anything they could not handle together. The cop´s lean frame gave a slight shudder as he considered what else the seven could get into.


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