No Excuse

by Hombre

Main characters: Josiah, Ezra and Vin

Notes: Sorry Josiah fans but your man doesn't come out in a very good light in this fic. I was just thinking about the story Josiah told JD in Achilles about the boxer killing a man during a fight and I was also reflecting on our preacher's drunkenness and the tussle he had with Guy Royal in The Collector. I've combined it with a sample of his behavior from Penance and come up with the following fic. If you do enjoy it then I would love to hear from you but if you are an irate Josiah fan who is after my blood, I don't wanna know!

"Mr. Sanchez? May I be of assistance?" Ezra asked kindly as he saw the glowering, pale profiler.

"No. Fuck off."

Ezra gasped in disgust at the rude, snarled answer that had snapped out of the profiler's mouth like a whip. Ezra actually flinched in reaction to it as if he'd been hit. He couldn't abide foul language, a fact he regularly alerted his friends to.

"Well, if that's your attitude, I will not attempt to alleviate the gloom which has so obviously descended upon you. I was only offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to bend if you required it. There was no call to be quite so vulgar. A simple no thank you would have been sufficient and much more pleasant." The undercover agent frowned as he sniffed the air suspiciously before looking at Josiah accusingly. "Have you been drinking? Drink never solved anything as Mr. Larabee can no doubt testify," the dark-haired man preached, unaware of the bad feeling he was evoking in the profiler.

Josiah sat and fumed as Ezra lectured him until the big man finally lost his temper and shouted furiously, "When I want your advice, I'll ask for it and it'll be a cold day in Hell before that happens, Standish." He pushed himself to his feet hastily and moved to within inches of the smaller man and stared down fiercely at him.

Ezra seemed to shrink in stature even more under the shadow of the much taller man towering over him. He looked up at the profiler and leant back slightly with bent knees to try and put some space between them. He couldn't seem to get his feet to step back from the man so the best he could manage was to cower beneath him.

"Just shut up Ezra, or I'll shut you up myself," Josiah promised as he clenched a fist behind his back out of sight and took a long step backward.

Ezra sighed in relief as he was given some space and answered meekly, "I was only trying...."

"Well don't," Josiah interrupted angrily as he tensed noticeably.

In an attempt to both apologize and calm the man down Ezra unwisely opened his mouth again. However, before he could even utter the first letter of the word sorry, Josiah's massive fist hit him square in the face with awesome power that made the undercover agent's world go black. Ezra didn't experience flashing lights, stars, or anything like that, just sudden blackness.

The green-eyed man's head rocked back from the tremendous blow with blood pouring from both his nose and a large cut on his cheek. His head thudded back hard against the wall behind him before his knees gave way, sending him crashing to the floor.

Vin walked into the room after hearing the raised voices and was just in time to see the side of Ezra's skull rebound off the floor as it connected with the hearth.

"What the hell is goin' on?" he asked as he saw the blood on the fallen agent's face and Josiah standing over him threateningly with a bloody, raised fist. "Back away from Ezra now, Josiah," the man instructed as he put out his arm with the upright palm of his hand facing Josiah. He automatically reached for his gun with his other hand but let it drop back to his side when he remembered that he was dealing with a friend and not a criminal. He moved closer to the profiler but kept his arm outstretched, ready to fend the man off if need be.

"Butt out Vin or you'll get the same treatment," Josiah yelled as he continued looking at Ezra's unmoving body, which was lying sprawled at his feet.

"Dammit Josiah, why'd you hit him?" Vin asked as his eyes flicked quickly to Ezra to see if he was anywhere near regaining consciousness. The sharpshooter saw that the man was still out cold so he took a long stride forward and moved to stand between Ezra and Josiah to make sure the profiler didn't try to hurt the fallen agent further. Vin didn't even dare bend to see if he could find a pulse in his injured friend's neck. He just stayed perfectly still while awaiting Josiah's next move as the air in the room seemed to throb with the tenseness of the situation.

"God, yer as bad as him. Interfering bastards," Josiah snapped as he sent a fist flying toward Vin.

The long-haired man ducked that blow as he tried to keep Josiah away from him but he couldn't avoid the sucker punch that followed close behind. It hit him on the cheek and sent him flying sideways to land sprawling on the couch. As he hit the piece of furniture with the small of his back, the breath was forced out of his lungs with a loud whooshing sound. He put a hand up to his face and shook his head to regain his senses as he saw the tall agent approach him once more looking set to kill. He scrambled to his feet untidily and swayed alarmingly as he backed away a few steps while trying to recover from the stinging, jaw-rattling blow.

"Yer as irritating as a flea on a hound, Tanner," Josiah shouted as he pounced on the smaller man.

The two men brawled and Vin got in a few blows but felt as if he'd broken his knuckles when they hit the solid muscle on Josiah's body. It was just like punching a brick wall. He didn't want to fight the man but he wasn't just going to stand there and let Josiah beat him to a pulp. He knew that he didn't stand much chance of staying in one piece against the much bigger man though and that belief was swiftly proved.

Josiah suddenly reached out and grabbed Vin's hair and pulled him upright at arms-length as he sent one more fist into his friend's face. It hit Vin's jaw and both men heard the bone crack loudly. The profiler let go his hold and watched Vin fall to the floor in a boneless, unconscious heap. He stared at the sharpshooter for a moment and then flicked a look at the unmoving form of Ezra before leaving the room unsteadily but fast.

+ + + + + + +

Chris walked into the living room ten minutes after the fight and nearly tripped over Vin's body.

"Jesus cowboy! What happened to you?" The blond knelt down and saw the rapidly swelling face of the sharpshooter. "Nathan?" he yelled over his shoulder. "Get in here now, will ya?" As he turned back to look at Vin again, he noticed Ezra lying flat out by the wall near the fireplace. "Dammit. What the hell have you two been up to?" he wondered aloud.

Nathan arrived in the doorway and Chris turned to him worriedly. "I think they've been fighting, Nate." Chris couldn't think for the life of him why the two men would have been brawling though. Neither man was prone to bouts of fisticuffs, especially with friends, but he couldn't see how else the two men had come by their injuries.

"Have you checked Ezra yet?" the medic asked as he looked over at the smaller agent and saw his very bloody features. He looked around the area where Ezra lay and then took a quick look at Vin before deciding which man needed treating the most urgently.

"No, I haven't. I only noticed him there after I'd called you," Chris replied as he checked Vin's body carefully for injuries.

"Okay, I'll be back to look at Vin in a minute. Let me know if you find anything seriously wrong with him though." The medic strode quickly toward the undercover agent and dropped to his knees beside him. He could see the man's nose was bleeding profusely and Nathan attempted to stop the flow. "Jesus, he's been hit damned hard, Chris." Nathan leant down closer when he spotted something strange and he frowned as he examined a mark on Ezra's face. His frown deepened as he said, "I don't think Vin hit Ezra or, for that matter, that Ezra hit Vin, Chris."

The black-clad man looked over at him in confusion. "What? How do you make that out?"

"There's an imprint on Ezra's skin that looks just like the pattern on Josiah's ring. I think Josiah would be the only one of us able to have hit with such force too. Surprised Ezra's head is still on his shoulders," the medic explained. "I saw Josiah leave a little while ago and he seemed in an awfully big hurry. The fact that he didn't say good-bye was odd but I didn't think anything of it at the time."

Chris frowned worriedly as he took in what Nathan had just said. He looked down at Vin and then across at the undercover agent as he compared injuries. "How is Ez?"

"I think he was knocked out with a single blow to his face. He then hit his head on the wall and again on the hearth as he fell. There's some blood on the wall roughly at the height where his head woulda been when he was standing and also on the floor here. Musta been a hell of a punch as I said 'cause he's bleeding badly. He's broken his nose and is gonna have a real bad concussion. May even have a skull fracture for all I know so we're gonna have to watch him closely in case of complications. People have been killed with the sorta forced used on him, Chris."

Buck and JD walked in at that moment and the ladies' man sucked in an astonished breath at the sight before him. "What's goin' on, boys?" he inquired incredulously as he looked first at Vin and then at Ezra.

Nathan looked up grimly. "Buck, come and sit with Ezra, will ya? Let me know if his condition changes at all 'cause he may have internal head injuries. I'm guessing that he had a real bad disagreement with Josiah's fist. Keep this pad over the cut on his head to try and stop the bleeding, will ya?"

"Sure, Nate," Buck agreed, not wanting to ask any more questions. Nathan had enough to deal with by the look if it. He hurried over to his injured friend and gasped when he saw the amount of blood that already surrounded Ezra's head. JD trailed along in the tall man's wake and sat in the corner out of the way as he flicked his eyes worriedly between the two injured men.

The medic stood up after turning Ezra onto his side and watched as Buck took up residence. He made sure the ladies' man obeyed his previous order before walking swiftly toward Vin. Chris moved aside and watched nervously as the medic worked. Nathan gently examined Vin's face and then turned his attention to the rest of the man's body. The more he looked, the more injuries he found and he shook his head anxiously.

"Nate?" the blond asked after a while.

"Broken cheek, jaw and ribs and he's gotten a hell of a lot of cuts and bruises. Done some damage to his eye too by the look of it. Took one hell of a beating. Should think he came into the fight after Josiah had already hurt Ezra. Vin's taken the brunt of Josiah's anger by the amount of injuries he's got and he's gonna be black and blue by morning."

"Shit! What the hell's Josiah's problem?" Chris ranted as he stood up and prowled round Vin's body anxiously. He couldn't tear his eyes away from his friend's battered features.

"Well, he musta been real pissed to have done this," Nathan said, knowing Josiah had a bad temper when upset or irritated. He looked up at the blond and shook his head in mystification at the profiler's violent actions.

"Nate?" Buck called from his vigil beside Ezra.

"Yeah?" the medic asked as he looked over quickly toward the ladies' man. He could tell from Buck's scared tones that all was not well and his heart skipped a beat. How did Buck manage to put so much emotion into just one word? the medic wondered fleetingly.

"Ez just puked. There's blood in it," the ladies' man said worriedly as he wiped his friend's mouth and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Okay, stay with him. Hopefully the blood is from where his nose was bleeding earlier, Bucklin. Call an ambulance Chris while I get my bag, will ya?"

Chris nodded in confirmation so Nathan ran out and reappeared with his first aid equipment. He walked straight over to Ezra to start the man on oxygen.

"Jeez, his brain sure musta rattled round in his skull," he muttered as he looked at the man's pupils after he'd turned Ezra gently onto his back. He then noticed that blood was seeping from the man's ear and saw a small patch of the red liquid on the floor where his ear had been resting. He knew Ezra hadn't been bleeding from that part of his body when he'd checked before. "Shit."

"Nate?" Buck said anxiously as he looked over at JD quickly to make sure he was alright. The youngster looked pale and stared unblinkingly at the undercover agent and the ladies' man could see the terror in his face. Buck sighed and turned his attention back to the medic. "What's wrong, Nate?"

Nathan didn't answer straightaway and Buck knew better than to repeat his question. Nathan would answer when he was good and ready and not before. He never wasted time talking when he had an emergency on his hands and this was no exception. The medic probed Ezra's head again gently and scowled angrily at what he discovered.

Nathan finally looked up worriedly and said, "Reckon he has got a skull fracture and he may be bleeding inside as well. Need to get him seen to fast."

"Jesus Christ," Buck said as he kept a firm grip on Ezra's hand.

"I'm gonna find Josiah," Chris stated after getting off the phone to the emergency services and hearing what Nathan had said.

Buck shook his head immediately and looked at his oldest friend seriously. "No pard. Enough people have been hurt already. Don't want no more fighting. Yer coming to the hospital with us and when we've all calmed down we'll go find him. Hopefully he'll be in a better frame of mind by then too."

While the other two men talked, Nathan sat down beside Vin and bandaged his jaw as best he could and then strapped the man's ribs tightly. The four men stayed beside their wounded friends until the welcome sound of the ambulance's arrival had them swiftly moving aside to let the paramedics deal with the multitude of injuries.

+ + + + + + +

Chris wandered up and down outside the hospital. He couldn't bear to be inside and Buck had promised to come and get him when any news was known. He looked at his watch for the umpteenth time and could feel himself getting angrier by the minute. He lit a cigarette and blew out a large cloud of smoke and then clenched his jaw angrily as he went back over what he thought had happened. He rolled the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger nervously and eventually lost his grip and dropped it on the ground.

"Shit!" he grumbled as he bent down to retrieve it but flinched as a voice called from behind.

"Pard? Doc's here to tell us about Vin and Ez," Buck yelled from the hospital's doorway.

Chris straightened up and trod on the smoking cigarette butt hastily before running to meet the tall agent. Buck put a hand on his shoulder and herded him along to the waiting room.

"Doc?" Chris growled as soon as he stepped inside the room.

The doctor looked at the simmering blond and said quietly, "They're both still unconscious. We've wired Mr. Tanner's jaw and strapped his ribs and hope he'll wake soon. We had to take him for surgery because he had a detached retina in his left eye so we'll have to wait until he wakes to see how successful that operation has been. Mr. Standish, as you know, had a tremendous blow to his head and we discovered that he had a contusion on his brain, which meant he too had to have surgery. He was bleeding badly in his skull and although we've managed to stop it we'll be keeping a very close eye on him in the near future. We admit to having grave concerns about his welfare. He's in a critical condition and I can't even say that he's stable at this point."

"Shit!" Chris said forcefully as he turned on his heels to go and see the two injured men for himself.

He followed the doctor along to Ezra's room first and was shocked to see just how sick the man appeared. The undercover agent's head was swathed in bandages and his face was a mess. His features were so disfigured that the blond could hardly recognize him and he had to avert his gaze when he began to feel nauseous. How could one punch cause so much damage? he wondered angrily. Chris stayed with his friend for another couple of minutes before heading to see Vin. The blond stepped into the room and stood just inside the door with downcast eyes. After seeing Ezra he felt apprehensive about visiting Vin but he eventually looked at his friend nervously and winced when he saw the injuries that the long-haired man had got. The sharpshooter's jaw was still swollen and very bruised from the little that Chris could see of it. Because of the operation on his eye, the man was lying face down on a special pillow and the blond couldn't help but wonder how being in that position affected the man's other facial injuries. He walked to the bed and reached out a hand and stroked the back of Vin's head gently as he tried to remain calm, but he wasn't successful.

"Godammit, Josiah Sanchez. You'll answer for this," Chris promised as he ran out of the room at speed.

Buck had been waiting outside the room and he scowled as he ran after his friend, knowing that there was trouble brewing.

+ + + + + + +

Chris found the profiler at work sitting at his desk and staring into space like a zombie. It was the last place that the team leader had expected him to be after what had happened. The black-clad man stood beside the seated agent and scowled furiously. The blond didn't even bother asking if Josiah had indeed been responsible for the attacks. Nathan had said he thought that Josiah had done it and that was all the blond needed to know. Chris pulled no punches and started his verbal assault straightaway. "Josiah? What the hell's the matter with ya? Ez and Vin are both in the hospital, you know? Getting injured on the job is one thing but hurting fellow teammates is something different and I won't tolerate it. What have you got to say for yerself? It had better be fucking good too."


"Don't you care that you hurt them? Ez could die and you broke Vin's jaw and he could lose the sight in one eye. Why in Hell's name did you hit them?" Still no response and Chris could feel his body literally heating up with the suppressed fury that he was trying to keep a lid on. "Say something before I give ya a taste of yer own medicine," he managed to snarl eventually through gritted teeth.

"Sorry," Josiah mumbled.

"Sorry ain't good enough. What the hell made ya do it?" Chris shouted, feeling his control slipping.

"Just heard that my sister died," the profiler whispered.

Chris pursed his lips as he studied the mournful man before him. "I'm sorry to hear that Josiah but that's no excuse for what you did. I know I'm not one to lecture you after what I did to Buck when Sarah and Adam died but I thought you'd know to behave better." The blond could smell alcohol in Josiah's vicinity and he asked furiously, "You been drinking? Did that contribute to what ya did? If I had my way I'd have you arrested for GBH but as it ain't my call I'll have to wait and see what Vin and Ez wanna do. If Ez dies though, I swear you'll pay, Josiah. You'll pay." Chris felt a hand on his arm and Buck pulled him back with a slight shake of his head. "Leave it, Chris. I'll talk to him. He's hurting and having you ranting at him is the last thing he needs right now, pard."

Chris looked into his oldest friend's eyes for half a minute before nodding and leaving the room feeling ready to burst. He knew he should feel sympathy for the man at a time like this but all he could see were the images of Vin's swollen face and the pool of blood that had been left behind when Ezra had been moved from the floor. Chris went out onto the sidewalk and took a deep breath as he began pacing back and forth to try and rid himself of his pent-up rage. He didn't want to go back to the hospital in such a vile mood.

Back up in the office, the ladies' man studied the tall agent thoughtfully. He knew that Josiah hadn't heard one word that Chris had said to him about Vin and Ezra's condition. "I'm sorry about yer sister, pard," Buck eventually said as he took a seat next to the profiler and rubbed his back in a circular motion.

The profiler raised a shaking hand to his face and sighed. "Thanks, Buck. I'm sad but happy if you know what I mean. Sad she's gone but glad she's been released from the torment she suffered all these years."

"I understand, pard. She didn't have much of a life, did she?"

"No, she didn't," the man replied with a sad shake of his head. "I don't know what came over me earlier when I hit Ez. He was only trying to find out what was wrong but I wasn't in the mood for talking and I snapped. Then Vin came in and saw what I'd done to him and I lost it totally. I'd drunk a lot of whiskey in a very short time on an empty stomach, which didn't help my mood. Are they gonna be alright?" Josiah asked, confirming Buck's earlier observation about the profiler not listening to what Chris had told him.

"Vin's gonna be in a lot of pain when he wakes up and we've gotta see how well his eye mends. If it mends. Ez is likely to remain unconscious for the foreseeable future. He's real sick and they don't yet know if he's gonna recover, pard."

"Shit! What's wrong with him?" the profiler asked as he turned an anguished look on his friend.

Buck grimaced and answered quietly in what he hoped was a non-accusatory tone, "Well, you punched him real hard and he hit his head twice more as he fell, Josiah. He's got a fractured skull and he had a contusion on his brain as well as quite bad bleeding. It's touch and go, pard."

"I've gotta go see them. I can't believe I hurt them so bad, Buck. I only hit Ezra once. Only one punch, I swear. Oh, Jesus Christ," Josiah said in alarm as he put his head in his hands and shivered. God, what have I done? he asked himself.

Buck looked at the man critically and pointed out, "One punch can kill just as well as a whole heap of 'em, Josiah." He sighed at the quandary they were all in and wondered how the rest of the team would treat Josiah when they saw him again. He already knew that JD had taken things badly. Buck said, "Look, maybe it's not such a good idea to go to the hospital right now, pard. Let things calm down a bit and wait for Vin and Ez to wake up."

Josiah disagreed immediately. "I have to apologize whether they can hear me or not. I know it won't fix things but it'd be a start and I have to do somethin'."

"What about yer sister?"

"I'm leaving tonight to get all the arrangements sorted for her funeral, Bucklin. Need to see Ezra and Vin before I go 'cause I can't leave with this hanging over my head."

"Okay, I'll take ya, pard," Buck agreed as he patted Josiah's arm reassuringly.

The tall man looked at Buck with a frown. "Bucklin? How did you know it was me that hit them if they ain't awake to tell you so?" the big man asked distractedly, his mind finally starting to function properly.

"You left a tell-tale sign, pard. Yer ring left an imprint on Ezra's face. It may even mark him for life 'cause it was quite deep."

"Oh," Josiah replied as he looked down at the heavy ring on the middle finger of his right hand. Quite a lethal weapon for something so innocent, he thought to himself as he stood and followed Buck out of the office.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah walked into the waiting room reluctantly and saw Chris waiting for him. He came to a dead stop and just stared at the blond in something close to terror. He'd never felt that way with Chris before but he knew the man was justified in his fury toward him. The slender man looked less angry but Josiah still couldn't quite read his mood.

"Josiah? You okay?" the blond asked as he moved to stand near the taller man.

Chris had always assumed that Josiah could cope with anything that was thrown at him and it shook the blond when he saw how vulnerable his friend looked right now. The big man had his tantrums and black moods, as they all did, but this was entirely different. Well, he's just lost his sister. How do you expect him to act? he asked himself. He decided to wait until a more suitable moment before asking the man any more questions about the fight with Vin and Ezra. Chris was still furious but he could tell that the profiler was on the verge of despair.

Josiah finally nodded in answer to Chris's previous question but remained silent as he shifted from foot to foot anxiously.

Chris narrowed his eyes critically and studied the older man worriedly. "Vin's awake. Do ya wanna see him?"

"If he'll see me," Josiah said quietly with a quick nod and a shrug of those massive shoulders.

"Wait here and I'll see what he wants." Chris patted the profiler's arm and then walked along to Vin's room where JD was keeping the injured man company. The blond smiled encouragingly at the youngster before moving to stand beside Vin. "Cowboy? Josiah's here. Are you up to seeing him? Just let me know if you don't want to 'cause after what he did I'll understand if you say no."

Vin reached out his hand awkwardly and squeezed Chris's arm.

"You sure?" the blond asked.

Vin tightened his grip on Chris's arm once more in agreement.

Chris stepped outside and beckoned Josiah in. The tall man moved toward him and stood just inside the door and looked awkward. His actions resembled that of a nun who'd inadvertently walked in on a nude male and didn't know where to look for the best. He winced as he saw the bruises on the side of Vin's face that was nearest him and felt his heart jump in shame. I did that to him. Dammit, I really hurt him, Josiah growled to himself as he dropped his eyes so that he was looking at the floor.

He felt JD's eyes on him and could almost feel the anger that emanated from the youngster. The profiler looked quickly at him and bowed his head in shame again. The young man probably wouldn't say, nor do, anything, he rarely did in these sorts of situations, but the look in those wide, hazel eyes conveyed all that needed to be said. The big man knew he'd lost JD's respect.

Josiah finally took a deep breath and spoke softly to the sharpshooter because he was the person he'd hurt physically. "Vin? Look son, I know you can't tell me what you think of me, but I feel real bad about my actions. Just wanna apologize to ya in person," Josiah said when he eventually raised his head to look at his injured friend. He flicked another quick look at JD before turning abruptly and leaving the room, unable to say any more. He bumped straight into Buck who was waiting patiently outside for him in the hallway.

"Josiah? Everything okay?" the mustached man asked as he put out a steadying hand.

"I'm alright. I want to see Ezra," the big man whispered without meeting Buck's gaze. "Must see Ezra."

"He ain't awake, pard."

"I know, but I still wanna see him," the tall man pleaded.

"Come on then. He's this way." Buck put a hand on the profiler's elbow and led him to Ezra's room. Josiah stumbled along beside him totally devastated by what he'd done to Vin. His mood was definitely not going to improve when he saw Ezra.

Josiah entered the room and moved to the bed and looked down at its still and silent occupant. "Oh, shit. I'm sorry, Ezra. I wish you could hear what I'm saying, son. I regret with every fiber of my soul what I did to you." He reached out a hand and lay it softly on Ezra's bruised and cut cheek. "I'm so sorry."

+ + + + + + +

Chris had stayed with Vin after Josiah had left and he could tell that the sharpshooter was desperate to ask something.

"You wanna know why he did it, don't ya?" the blond asked. He saw Vin wriggle slightly in answer so he said, "His sister died."

Vin sighed loudly and groaned. He knew how much the profiler had loved his sister and the sharpshooter could understand how Josiah would have lost his senses at being informed of her death. Josiah was well known for his occasional bouts of depression and anger when things hadn't been going right in her life. Vin fidgeted in frustration as he thought of his friend's distress and he wished he could have said something to the man to ease his worries.

Chris looked across at the sharpshooter worriedly. "Vin? Quit moving about. You'll upset yer eye," he reprimanded quietly. "Save yer strength, cowboy. Josiah will be back at some point and you can talk to him then, if that's what yer fretting about."

The blond kept talking softly and the sound of his voice finally lulled the injured sharpshooter to sleep. Chris sighed in relief when he realized that the man was resting, so having achieved his aim he stood and looked out the window as his friend slept peacefully.

After a while, JD stood up and moved to the door having been silent since Josiah had left.

"Kid? You okay?" Chris called softly when he caught the movement out the corner of his eye.

JD shrugged and didn't answer so the blond walked toward him so that they could talk without disturbing Vin.

"Why did he do it, Chris? Why did he hurt his friends? I just can't understand it."

The blond put out a hand and rested it on the youngster's shoulder, knowing he hated it when there was any infighting in the team. "He just wasn't thinking about what he was doin', kid. It's hard to think clearly when yer given bad news and you can snap real quick with little or no provocation. He was upset and struck out at the first two people he saw. Wouldn't have been right whomever he turned on but with it being friends it makes it seem even worse. He didn't mean to do it but just reacted badly to the situation."

"You ain't condoning what he did, are ya?" the boy asked quietly but defiantly.

"No, 'course not but I can understand why he acted as he did. I'd be a hypocrite if I said anything else, wouldn't I, what with my track record an' all? It don't mean that I ain't real angry with Josiah though. I coulda killed him this morning but I know he's real sorry for acting like he did. I know being sorry don't make matters right but things are done in the heat of the moment that can't always be put right. Just gotta learn to live with them and hope that those you've hurt don't cut you outta their lives altogether. I dare say there's gonna be a whole heap of shouting and anger before this is over, believe me, kid."

JD looked up at Chris and shook his head, still unable to comprehend the profiler's behavior. The youngster really didn't know how to treat Josiah at all but at the moment all he could feel toward him was hate. He didn't like working with people when there was friction and he knew things were going to be tense for quite some time to come. "I need some air. I'll be back later," he said, suddenly needing to be alone.

"Okay but don't be long. If you wanna talk some more you know where I am." Chris watched JD leave and shook his head at the consequences of Josiah's actions.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah sat in the church after the funeral and stared at a statue of Jesus on the cross. He heard hushed footsteps approaching him but he didn't look round to see who it was. His gaze was transfixed and it didn't look as though even an earthquake would have shaken him from his reverie but eventually he blinked and became aware of a presence beside him. He turned fractionally and saw the priest who had conducted his sister's service sitting quietly by his side.

"Hello Father," he acknowledged.

"It looks as though you've gotten something on yer mind besides your sister's death," the small, bald man observed.

"That I do Father, that I do," Josiah agreed solemnly as he ran a hand over his face. "Not sure that even the good Lord will absolve me of my sins this time."

"His forgiveness is assured if you truly feel remorse, my son. Can you tell me what has brought you to such despair?"

Josiah looked at the man beside him and sighed. "I hit two friends and hurt them badly, Father. Ezra....," Josiah gulped and clenched his fists. "Ezra's still unconscious and I broke Vin's jaw. Ezra just caught me at a bad time and I know that's no excuse for what I did to him but I'd only recently received the call about my sister. He wouldn't leave me alone, he just kept talking to me and I suddenly felt this overwhelming, uncontrollable urge to shut him up once and for all. I only punched him once but I nearly killed him just the same, Father. Vin came in after I'd knocked Ezra out and I turned on him too, hitting him over and over again. I've never been so outta control and I think I was sorta shocked at what I'd done to Ez and that contributed to my rage when I tackled Vin."

"Grief is a powerful emotion and we are capable of many things while in its grip."

"Yes, I know, Father. I just hope it hasn't resulted in the death of one of my friends. Ezra's suffered many life-threatening injuries before and survived. I would hate to be the one who ended his life," Josiah said in despair. "Hopefully Vin will recover fully but he's such a gentle, caring soul underneath his streetwise exterior that I fear I may have irrevocably ruined our relationship. He's had to endure so much tragedy that I feel ashamed to have contributed to the multitude of misery he's suffered in his young life."

"If he's as gentle and caring as you say and if he's truly your friend he will find it in his heart to forgive you. I will pray for the recovery of both your friends, my son. I'm sure God will see fit to answer my call."

"I hope you're right, Father. I really do."

Josiah left the church after another quiet hour of contemplation and decided to phone home and see how his two friends were. He got through to Chris but was unprepared for the angry blond's outburst when asking after Vin and Ezra's wellbeing. Chris had only just come back from the hospital and it had stoked up his anger again.

"Chris? How are they?" the profiler inquired when the blond answered his phone.

"How the fucking hell do you think? Vin might be allowed home tomorrow but he's in a hell of a lot of pain. Ez is still dead to the world, almost literally. You're a damned fool, Josiah. You'd better hope I've heard some good news about them before you get back or I can't be held responsible for my actions."

The profiler was silent as his heart began pounding fit to burst right out of his chest. He felt he was losing his grip on his emotions and he took a deep halting breath to fend the feeling off.

"Josiah? You there?" Chris called when he heard only silence.

"Ye...ah," the man said with a huge hiccup in the middle of the word. He couldn't hold back the tears any more and let them flow. He'd managed to keep control all through the funeral service but this tirade was one step too far for his fragile emotional state. He leant back against the wall and sobbed mightily.

Chris frowned as he heard the man crying. You and your big mouth, Larabee! You know what today is, don't ya? The blond sighed as he rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger and said apologetically, "Josiah? I'm sorry. Was it yer sister's funeral today?"

"Yeah, just finished. I'm sorry, Chris. I've just been sitting in the church thinking about what I did and I don't know what to do to make things right," the profiler admitted haltingly.

"No, nor do I," Chris agreed, not knowing what else to say. "When ya coming back?"

"Next week. Got to sort through her things first," Josiah replied as he finally began to calm.

Chris sighed again because he knew from experience what an unpleasant task that would be. "Look, I'm sorry, Josiah. I know what yer going through and I just don't like seeing you make the same mistakes that I did. It reminds me of what I did all those years ago and I'm angry with myself for what I did to Buck then as much as I'm angry with you for what you did to Vin and Ez. Try not to dwell on things too much, will ya? Keep in touch and we'll talk about things again and try to sort somethin' out when you get back."

"Sure. Don't know what can be done though. I'll speak to ya later and I'm truly sorry for what I did, Chris."

+ + + + + + +

Chris arrived at the hospital the next day to collect Vin and take him home. He wandered along to the sharpshooter's room and walked inside to find his friend sitting on the bed waiting for him. The blond took up position next to Vin before looking across at him.

"Hey Vin. How ya feelin'? Look a bit pale still. Are you sure you're okay to go home?"

Vin picked up a pencil and paper and began writing. Although he could talk, it was only achieved with a lot of pain and difficulty. I'm okay. Just hurts, Vin wrote.

"What about yer eye?" the blond asked anxiously as he studied the man critically.

The sharpshooter admitted, Can't see properly. Makes me disorientated 'cause there's like a big black blob in the middle of everythin' I see. Even have to write these notes with my bad eye closed or else I wouldn't be able to see the paper properly.

"Well, it's still early days, cowboy. The doctor said you wouldn't get full sight back for a few weeks so try to be patient," Chris replied reassuringly.

How's Ez?

"Not good, buddy," the black-clad man answered sadly.

Vin scowled at the unwelcome news but scribbled something else on his pad. And Josiah?

"Feeling bad and rightly so. I lost my temper with him a bit yesterday when he phoned to see how you both were."

Vin reached out a hand and patted Chris's knee.

The blond looked up and cringed. "I know, I know, Vin. You don't always agree with my methods but I couldn't help myself. When I saw what he'd done to the two of you, I simmered until I exploded. I tried to keep my temper but I couldn't. Just exploded on the wrong day and yelled at him right after the funeral." Chris shrugged in shame as he remembered the man's reaction to his tirade. "He was crying and I don't think I've ever known him cry before. Think it was worse hearing him on the other end of the phone being so upset and not being able to comfort him. Anyway, I spoke to him again this morning and we've come to a kinda understanding now, I think. I hope."

Vin grimaced and patted Chris's back before writing another note. The blond took it and read the shaky scrawl Tell him I ain't angry with him, will ya? I don't want him thinking I hate him.

"Sure, I'll tell him, cowboy," the black-clad man said. "I s'pose that means you don't wanna press charges against him for what he did?"

No way, cowboy.

"Well, I'll have to see what Ez wants and I'll have to go with his wishes, whatever your opinion," Chris pointed out seriously.

He'll feel the same as me, Chris, Vin wrote with certainty.

Chris grimaced and fixed Vin with a sad look. "If Ez dies I won't have any choice but to arrest Josiah for murder. You know that don't you, Vin?"

Yeah but Ez'll pull through. I know it.

"Hope yer right son, but things don't look good at the moment." Chris sighed and shook his head as he prayed that Vin's wish would come true. "Ready to go home then?" the blond asked with a bleak smile, knowing there was no more to be said on the topic.

Vin nodded so Chris helped him outside and settled him in the front seat of the Ram. He then drove back to Vin's apartment where Buck was waiting for them.

"Hello Vin. Got everything set up here for ya and I'll be staying until yer feeling better," the tall agent said as he greeted the injured man warmly with a gentle bear hug.

When he'd been freed from the embrace Vin pulled out a pen and paper from his pocket and wrote, Sure glad to be home. Thanks Bucklin.

"Yer welcome," Buck said as he read the shakily written note. "Just let me know if you want anything."

"Right, I'll leave you in Bucklin's capable hands and see ya later," Chris said, glad at least one of his men seemed to be on the mend. How long is it gonna be before Ezra is released though, I wonder? If he survives to be released, perhaps I should say.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah returned to Denver a week after his sister's funeral. He headed to the office and went through to see Chris. He wanted to find out about Ezra before turning up at the hospital. He'd been pleased to have made peace with the blond during several phone calls in the past week but was still a bit apprehensive about meeting him face to face.

"Chris?" he said as he stood outside the blond's office nervously.

The blond looked up and smiled. "Hey Josiah. How'd it go?"

The tall man shrugged and didn't answer.

"I'm sorry. You're hardly likely to say it was good, are ya? Do ya want some more time off or are you okay to come back to work?"

"Yes, I'm ready. It'll keep me occupied rather than being sat at home brooding. How are Vin and Ez? Has he woken up yet?" the older man asked hopefully. He'd phoned the hospital the previous day and had been dismayed to be told that Ezra was still very sick.

"No, I'm sorry, Josiah. There's no change in his condition from when you last saw him. Vin went home, as you know, a few days ago and Buck and JD are staying with him in rotation. The doctor is more hopeful about his eye and his sight really seems to be improving every day."

Josiah sat down opposite the blond and wiped his eyes wearily. "God, what an unholy mess! How the hell do I put things right? I've never hit anyone with such force before, Chris. Knowing that I have that power terrifies me. How could I have been so stupid to nearly kill two friends?"

"Quit torturing yerself, Josiah. Vin knows that yer sister died and he don't hold what you did against ya. Can't speak for Ezra though." Chris looked across at the profiler and saw how close to tears he was. The blond decided on a bit of empathy about his own experiences again to try and put his colleague at ease. "I know all about letting yer emotions take over yer life, Josiah. I nearly killed Buck, as you know, when Sarah died. Somethin' else takes over and you lose all control and perspective. It is frightening to discover what yer capable of in those situations. It took me a long time to come to terms with what I'd done. I didn't see Buck for ages afterward, I couldn't face him and I knew he didn't want nothing to do with me. We shouldn't have let the situation ride for all that time though 'cause it didn't do neither of us any good."

"I need to see Ez," Josiah said as if he hadn't heard what Chris had been saying to him. The blond knew he had though when Josiah asked, "You sure Vin is really not mad at me?"

"I'm sure, Josiah. If anything, he's real worried about ya. He was pretty insistent that I tell ya that he weren't angry with ya."

"Well, he's more tolerant than I'd have been in the same situation. Look, I'll see ya later 'cause I really need to go and see Ez," Josiah said as he rose shakily.

"I'll take ya if ya like. I'm due to take over from Nate right about now," Chris said as he looked quickly at his watch and realized he was actually very late.

The two men left the office together and arrived at the hospital where they wandered through to Ezra's room. Josiah sat next to the undercover agent while Nathan talked quietly to Chris to update him on the injured man's condition. The profiler picked up Ezra's hand and sat staring at it as he listened to the quiet voices behind him. His mind drifted back to the day he'd hurt his friends and he scowled.

"What a fool. Damn fool!" he muttered to himself as he raised his other hand to wipe his eyes.

He sat silently beside the bedridden man for hours just holding his hand. Every so often he reached out with his other hand and rubbed the back of Ezra's with the palm of his own in the hope of getting some response.

"Josiah? Drink this," Chris said as he put a strong coffee on the table next to him after nudging Josiah's shoulder gently.

"Thanks." Josiah lay Ezra's hand back on the bedclothes but saw the fingers close into a fist and open again as if seeking the embrace they had just lost. "Ezra?" the profiler said quickly as he stood up and grabbed Ezra's hand tightly again.

Chris turned round and walked to stand beside Josiah when he heard him speak to the injured man. He saw the undercover agent swallow slowly and heard a low groan escape the man's mouth. "Ezra?" the blond called and touched his friend's cheek softly. "You in there?"

Another groan sounded quietly and Ezra laboriously opened his eyes as if he had ten-ton weights on his eyelids. He blinked slowly and stared at the ceiling for a minute before moving his eyes to look at Chris and Josiah in confusion. He squinted at them briefly before closing his eyes with a sigh. He hadn't the energy or the inclination to stay awake any longer.

"Ezra?" Chris called but received no response. Chris put a hand on Josiah's shoulder and patted it. "Go and get some rest, Josiah. Why don't ya come back tomorrow? Looks like he's on his way back, don't it?" The blond handed over his vehicle's keys as he said, "Take the Ram 'cause I expect I'll still be here when you come back."

"Okay. See ya later." The big man nodded before leaving the room after taking one last look at Ezra. The priest's prayer had been answered by the look of it and Josiah couldn't hide his relief, although he would never truly be happy until he'd discovered whether Ezra was brain damaged or not.

Josiah started home but diverted to Vin's apartment, hoping he'd be welcome. He climbed the stairs and knocked on the door as he continued wondering what sort of reception he'd get. He knew the longer he left facing the sharpshooter, the harder it would be in the long run. Best to get it over and done with as soon as possible, he thought to himself. At least he had some good news to convey at the same time, which might ease the situation. Despite Chris's assurances that Vin didn't bear him any malice the profiler still couldn't believe that it was true and his stomach turned over and over as he waited on the doorstep.

Buck opened the door and smiled broadly. "Hey pard, good to see ya," he said before turning and yelling over his shoulder, "Vin? Josiah's come to visit."

The profiler walked through to the living room behind the ladies' man and looked at the sharpshooter apprehensively. Vin lifted a hand and waved enthusiastically and Josiah smiled. He switched his gaze to JD, who was also there, but the youngster wouldn't look at him.

JD was a problem he'd have to sort out later but at the moment Josiah needed to make peace with Vin. "How ya feeling, Vin?"

Vin nodded and put his thumb in the air. He was still very bruised but his eye was no longer covered and he looked less pale than when Josiah had last seen him. The sharpshooter shifted on the seat to try and ease his aching ribs and hoped his friends couldn't tell how much pain he was truly in.

Josiah studied the younger man from head to foot and then looked at Buck, who smiled calmly back at him. "Ez woke briefly. I thought you'd like to know," the profiler informed the three men as he stood in the middle of the room nervously, still not feeling quite comfortable.

"Hey, how about that?" Buck said in pleasure as he slapped Josiah's back boisterously. "That's a weight off our minds, ain't it?"

"Not half as much as mine," Josiah said quietly. "Just hope he's not hurt mentally or nothin'. Never forgive myself if I hurt him like that and I swear I'll turn myself in to the cops if that happens."

Buck patted Josiah's shoulder as the upset man sighed and ran a hand through his short, graying hair anxiously.

"Take a seat before you fall on the floor, pard," Buck said kindly. "You look kinda wobbly standing there."

The profiler smiled weakly and looked back at the sharpshooter. "Why ain't ya mad at me, Vin?" he asked as he sat beside his friend.

The long-haired man still relied on other forms of communication rather than talking because his face hurt continuously. Vin took a piece of paper and a pencil from the table beside him and began writing an answer to Josiah's question. He then handed the page over with a small smile when he'd finished. You had yer reasons for losing it and I ain't gonna add to yer pain 'cause I know ya feel bad enough already. I'm real sorry about ya sister, Josiah. I know how much you loved her.

The tall man looked up with tears in his eyes and gazed into the calming, blue pools that stared back at him unblinkingly. They seemed to convey a thousand messages in just one look. "Thanks, son. Just hope Ez is as understanding. God, I hope he's gonna be alright."

Vin reached out a hand and patted Josiah's knee and smiled encouragingly when the profiler met his gaze again. Josiah turned round and faced JD who sat on the floor nearby.

"Son? I think I need to apologize to you as well."

"Ain't me you hurt," JD replied quietly.

"Not physically but definitely emotionally by the look of it. I'm sorry, kid. Without sounding big-headed, I hoped that you previously had some respect for me, as I have for you, but I'm aware that's probably no longer the case. I hate myself for what I did and I know I've made things awkward for everyone concerned. I really want to begin to build bridges in our relationship particularly, JD. I've really enjoyed having you as a friend, son. You've kept me young and I don't want to lose you. Can you find it in yer heart to forgive me so we can start over?"

The youngster looked at the much taller man and knew that he was being totally sincere. JD still felt muddled emotionally but he was willing to start anew seeing as Vin seemed to have already forgiven the man. How can I hold a grudge when the very man he hurt has let it be known that he doesn't hate him?

"Okay, Josiah. I can't just wipe away what I'm feeling at the moment but I'm willing to try to repair the damage."

"That's all I ask, son. I hoped you'd agree to give me a second chance. I hope all the guys will give me a second chance. I betrayed you all big time and I have appreciated you not shunning me totally. I know it will be hard for you to trust me again but thank you for letting me try to rectify matters." The tall man stood as soon as he finished talking and left the apartment, hoping he really could put things right.

+ + + + + + +

The next day, as arranged, Josiah returned to the hospital and was glad to hear that Ezra had woken on several occasions during the night although he had been very groggy and tired each time. Chris met the profiler outside Ezra's room and took him to one side before allowing him to see the injured man.

"Josiah? Ezra knows the reason for his injuries and I also told him that you'd hurt Vin. He's asleep at the moment but when he's awake his mental state fluctuates between confusion and total understanding so whether he understood what I told him is anyone's guess." Chris could see his words were making Josiah anxious so he continued talking to try and ease the man's fears. "The doctor has assured me that it is an entirely natural reaction after the injuries he suffered so don't worry if he don't know who you are or what yer talking about, okay? Ez also don't seem to be able to stay awake for very long at a time so he'll probably fall asleep in the middle of a sentence. Just wanna tell you all this before you see him so you know what to expect, okay?"

"But he is gonna be alright, ain't he?" Josiah asked worriedly. Chris's words had frightened him and he wanted to be told the truth about whether Ezra would fully recover.

"Yeah. He'll improve slowly but it's gonna take time," Chris said as he patted Josiah's back reassuringly.

Josiah nodded and stepped inside Ezra's room with a heavy heart but was pleased to see that Ezra was now awake and seemed in one of his lucid periods.

"Josiah?" the undercover agent said sleepily as the tall man entered his room.

"Hello Ezra," the profiler said as he looked at Ezra's battered features. Although his face was no longer swollen, it was still covered with a large, dark bruise, which looked exceedingly painful.

"I'm sorry to hear of your sister's passing," Ezra said as he swallowed slowly and rubbed his eyes while coughing softly.

Josiah clenched his jaw, knowing he didn't deserve the man's sympathy after what he'd done to him. "Thank you, son." He took a deep breath as he walked forward and ran his fingers over Ezra's cheek carefully. "I'm so sorry for hitting you. I know you were only trying to help me and I behaved appallingly. I hurt you real bad and then harmed Vin when he attempted to protect ya."

"Please don't say any more, Mr. Sanchez," the injured man said as he raised a weary hand and waved it slowly to get the man to stop talking. "I can't actually remember the incident so I really have nothing to forgive you for, do I? It never happened as far as I'm concerned so let's leave it at that, shall we?"

Josiah sighed deeply and bowed his head. His two injured friends may have forgiven him in their own way but he knew he would never forgive himself.

The End

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