by KellyA

Part 24

They all tried to concentrate and fill out reports but their thoughts would ultimately return to the missing member of their group. Chris walked into the break room to throw away another ignored cup of coffee. He found four of his agents sitting around the table. He made his way quietly over to the sink dumping out the cold coffee. Nathan appeared in the doorway, a strange look on his face. "Nathan, what's wrong?" JD asked, fear causing his mouth to go dry.

Nathan stared at the five men, still unable to believe what he was about to tell them.

"Nathan, Ezra's not..." Vin suddenly asked as Nathan's appearance brought fear to everyone's soul.

"No, no I called the hospital Ezra is still critical but he's alive. It's just..." Nathan didn't know how to continue, how to tell the others what he himself found hard to believe. "Josiah managed to track down Mrs. Standish's cell number. I just got off the phone with her. She's up in Vail."

"That's great! She'll be here soon then," JD exclaimed, not understanding Nathan's downcast appearance.

"No, she won't, JD."

"What do you mean, 'she won't?'" Chris asked.

Nathan pulled out a chair and sat down. "I told her that Ezra had been seriously injured and that she should come. She told me it was impossible right now as she was, and I quote: in the midst of a business venture and could not break away," Nathan mocked, clasping his hands in front of him to try and siphon off some of his growing anger at a woman who could care less about her son. "She did tell me to keep her informed but said it was his own fault for taking such a dangerous and demeaning job." At that point, Nathan had hung up on the heartless woman wanting to reach through the phone and strangle her.

Everyone was dumbfounded. How could Ezra's own mother refuse to see him when he was in such serious condition? This was another page of Ezra's life opened up to them. A life they believed was that of a pampered and privileged rich kid. Instead it was looking more like the story of 'Oliver Twist'. They were all silent and disbelieving. Each of the men had been loved growing up. Evidently, that was not the case with Ezra.

The six ATF agents tried to go about their duties, but a dark mood had fallen over them like a cloud. All anyone could think of was the solitary figure laying in a hospital bed, alone and fighting for his life. Larabee left without a word to anyone. Vin also abruptly disappeared.

Part 25

Tanner managed to slip by security and locate Ezra's room. He entered the darkened room hearing the beeps and blips of the monitors. A florescent light above the bed gave Ezra a sallow appearance. Vin pulled a chair up to the bed and laid his hand on the unconscious man's arm. "Hang in there, pard. We need you," he whispered.

A nurse poked her head in. Vin was prepared to fight to stay with his friend. The nurse looked at him, smiled and left. Vin settled back, listening to the air being forced into Ezra's lungs and the rhythmic beat of his heart. He put his head down on the bed and was soon asleep.

Vin woke when two forms, one wearing hospital scrubs, rushed into the room hiding behind the door.

"Hey boys!" Vin said.

Buck and JD jumped at the sound of Vin's Texas drawl. "Shit Vin, don't do that!" Buck said. The two agents approached the bed and looked down at their pale friend.

"Buck, why are you wearing hospital garb?"

"Hey, we had to find out what room he was in didn't we?" Buck and JD found places to settle. They listened to the life music of the machines keeping their friend alive.

A few moments later Josiah walked smoothly in as if he were invisible to the hospital staff. How anyone could miss a man of his size was one of life's mysteries yet to be solved. Vin figured the serene agent gave off an aura of calmness so people didn't see him as a threat. Usually what people don't foresee as a problem they ignored, or maybe they just realized the large man was not someone to hassle. Josiah smiled at the sight of the three agents.

Nathan was the biggest surprise. The highly ethical agent walked in wearing a doctor's jacket and carrying an empty clipboard. He stared abashedly his four friends.

"Ain't it illegal to impersonate a doctor?" JD had to ask. He couldn't believe that Nathan would do anything outside the lines.

"Only if you're caught, JD," Nathan quipped, quickly removing the jacket and sticking it in a closet.

Buck looked out the window the lights of the mile high city seeming to hang in mid air. He could just make out the dark outline of the distant mountains. Everyone looked up at the darkly dressed agent who slipped in. Larabee smiled at the sight of his five men surrounding the seventh member of their team. They really were a team and a family. He went up to the bed and laid the back of his fingers against Ezra's face for a moment.

Part 26

The next morning the shift nurse entered the room to find the six men sprawled in various states of disarray about the floor and furniture. She made her way to the patient and checked the monitors and various tubes that entered Ezra's body. Chris watched through hooded eyes.

"How's he doing?" He quietly asked.

The nurse flinched, and then turned to the blond leader who sat slouched in a chair with his hands resting on his stomach.

"Well, everything seems stable and his fever has come down some. I'm going to talk to the doctor about taking him off the ventilator to see how he does. I don't suppose I could get you all to leave." She glanced around the room.

Chris gave the nurse a dubious smile.

"Didn't think so," she quipped, a smile coming to her face.

Doctor Richards entered, not hiding his annoyance at the blatant disregard for hospital rules. He glared at Larabee, who only matched his deadly stare until he turned away. The doctor checked over his patient and found a marked improvement in his vitals. He wondered if the presence of these men could have had something to do with it.

The doctor and nurse expertly removed the ventilator tube, and then waited to make sure that the young agent was breathing on his own without any problems. Ezra was still comatose, but he seemed to be coming out of it. Doctor Richards spent the next fifteen minutes doing various checks and making several notations on his chart. The six men stayed out of his way, not wanting to push their luck.

"So, how's he doing?" Larabee finally asked.

"Better. I think I can upgrade his condition and move him out of ICU this afternoon, as long as there are no complications."

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The doctor saw that the agents did not intend to leave Standish's side. He released an exasperated sigh and left.

Ezra was moved to a room on the general floor, followed by his entourage of concerned friends. Night was once again blanketing the city. Buck stood silently at the large pane window staring down at the headlights that moved slowly through the congested city streets. He turned when JD came bouncing through the doorway carrying two large pizza boxes.

"JD, you just saved my life," Vin said, snatching one of the boxes. Buck smiled and his mouth began to water at the smell of hot cheese and pepperoni. JD and Vin began doling out pieces of pizza.

"I couldn't take anymore egg salad sandwiches from the vending machine," JD complained. "I found a pizzeria right down the street."

First, Ezra thought he smelled pizza, and then a distant buzzing sound slowly morphed into muffled voices. He couldn't discern to whom the voices belonged. He had been floating in a tranquil sea of blackness, but now he was starting to feel heavy. He wanted to go back to floating as the heaviness was increasing, and a dull ache was building in every part of his body.

Larabee sat quietly, reading a book, at Ezra's bedside. A soft moan escaped Ezra's lips and Chris looked up. He stared at the slack face of his agent and was about to return to his book when Ezra winced. Chris put the book down and leaned over the stirring man.

The dull ache was escalating into unadulterated pain. Ezra tried to return to his blissful oblivion, but it eluded him.

"Ezra, can you hear me?" Chris softly called, laying a hand on the agent's forehead and rubbing his thumb across the furrowed brow. Buck hung back by the window still feeling guilty about his part in all this. If he had taken Haddon's threat serious this might all have been avoided.

The unmistakable voice of Larabee cut through Ezra's fog. What was Larabee doing here and where was here? Under the lingering smell of pizza, the clearly identifiable odor of disinfectant assailed him. Ezra groaned. He was in a hospital. Lord, he hated hospitals. He tried to force his eyes open and managed a half lidded response. He licked his parched lips then felt his head gently lifted and an ice chip placed in his mouth, and then just as gently, he was eased back down. He tried to move his head, but pain shot down his arm and across his chest causing him to inhale sharply.

"Easy, Ez, take shallow breaths and try not to move," Nathan said. He grabbed the buzzer at the side of the bed. He could tell that Ezra was in a lot of pain.

"Where am I?" Ezra finally managed to vocalize, though his southern drawl was thick and raspy, making each word fight to come out of his mouth.

"You're at Denver General," Josiah answered.

"Hey, pard, welcome back," Vin said.

"Good to see you, Ez," JD cheerfully piped in.

Ezra tried to open his eyes a little wider. Why was everyone here?

The nurse entered and smiled when she saw that Ezra was awake.

"I think he's in some pain," Nathan told her.

"I'll go get the doctor and see about administering pain medicine."

"What happened?" Ezra woozily asked when the nurse left.

"You were shot," Nathan explained. "That leap from the building busted your rib and punctured a lung."

"We thought we were going to lose you, pard," Vin explained.

Ezra wrinkled his brow in confusion then everything started coming back to him-two men in ski masks, the gunshot, the ultimate dive into a dumpster.

"Buck?" Ezra tried to rise, the reassuring and steady beep of the heart monitor escalated.

"I'm right here, Ez." Buck jumped into the agent's field of vision to reassure the distraught man.

Ezra let out a breath and relaxed back in the bed. He was surprised at the fear that had hit him. He hadn't been sure if Buck had been hurt or not. "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Ezra absently remarked.

"I'd say it was a pretty good one," Josiah said. "You and Buck are still alive."

"Ez, I'm so sorry," Buck said.

"For what?"

"We found a note referring to the threat Haddon made on you," Chris supplied. "Apparently he was trying to get a little pay back."

Ezra brought his unrestricted hand up and rubbed his forehead. He then looked at the six men surrounding his bed. "What's everyone doing here?"

"Waiting for you to come back to the land of the living," Nathan good-naturedly chided. Everyone smiled at the Ezra's bewildered scowl.

"Ah Ez, we called your mother," JD began.

"She won't come," Ezra sadly proclaimed.

JD looked toward Buck who shook his head.

The nurse returned and administered some pain medicine into Ezra's IV. As the pain drifted away so did he, unable to fight the battle to remain conscious. Sleep once again claimed him, body and soul.

Chris watched as Ezra's eyes closed and his breathing evened out. He shifted his focus to Josiah, who stared down at Ezra's inert form. "Josiah."

Sanchez raised his blue-gray eyes.

"I want everything you can find out on John Haddon, especially the men who work for him." Josiah nodded, then reached down and pushed some unruly hair off of Ezra's brow. He couldn't explain the feeling he had for the maverick agent. Ever since Ezra's mother refused to come to see him, Josiah was overwhelmed with a feeling of fatherly love for the young man.

"If these men tried once before they might try again," Chris said. "I want someone with Ezra at all times."

Everyone nodded their agreement.

Part 27

Late the next day the six ATF agents met at the hospital, which was fast becoming a second home. Ezra was more alert. The pain medication dulling the ache in his shoulder and ribs.

"Ezra, do you know who might have tried to kill you and Buck at the warehouse?" Chris asked. They had already done some checking, but Chris wanted to see if there was anything more that Ezra could add.

Ezra was propped up in the bed trying to choke down what the hospital passed off as food. "My money would be on Tom Lowe and Rick Casco. Both men are hired guns who Haddon has used in the past." He pushed the plate of food away only to have Nathan push it back under him.

"Well, that would fit, neither of them are in custody at the moment. Haddon probably hired them from jail. I doubt Haddon wants you around to testify," Josiah added.

"I know Haddon is probably pissed at being conned by Ezra, but we have all kinds of taped information that will probably put him away for ten years without Ezra's testimony. Why risk a murder rap?" Buck asked.

Ezra looked up at Chris. "It might have something to do with some other information that I obtained."

Chris's brow arched. "What information?" Ezra had a way of making something serious sound like just a minor inconvenience.

"I gained access into his office one night and overheard a private conversation. Haddon was involved with the murder of those government officials last year."

"Holy crap," Buck exclaimed. "No wonder he wants you dead."

Chris wiped his hand down his face and glared at his injured agent. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because the lawyer I talked to during debriefing told me to keep it quiet, for this reason. Apparently, Haddon somehow found out that I knew."

Everyone grew quiet when Dr. Richards entered the room. He stopped and shook his head when he spied the six agents. "Don't you guys have homes?" Sheepish looks appeared on several of the agent's faces. The doctor went to Ezra's bedside to check his vitals.

"We need to know when Ezra can be released." Chris said. "His life is in danger and we can't protect him here. We don't want any trouble coming to the hospital."

Dr. Richards turned to the blond leader and saw that the man was serious. He looked down at the chart, then back at the monitors. "Well, I'd like him to stay another three days, but if you can assure me he will be taken care of I guess I can release him tomorrow."

"We'll take care of him, doc," Nathan assured, snapping a look at Ezra that caused the undercover man to shut his mouth. "Just give me all his medicines and instructions. Nathan grinned at the ornery glare that Ezra gave him behind the doctor's back.

"I can take care of myself, thank you very much," Ezra drawled.

"You don't have a choice," Chris countered.

"C'mon Ez, stop being such a stubborn cuss and let us help," Buck pleaded.

"I'm glad you're volunteering to watch over Ezra at your place, Buck," Chris said, slapping his friend on the back.

"I'm what?"

"Hey, cool," JD said, jumping to his feet.

"Good Lord!" Ezra exclaimed.

"I think it's the least you can do Brother Buck," Josiah said.

Buck bowed his head in resignation, looking like a petulant child. "Sure why not," he finally conceded. Buck looked into Ezra's face and saw that he was not at all happy with the situation. For some reason this brought a smile to Buck's face.

Part 28

The next morning found Chris and Buck at the jail waiting to see Haddon.

"Are the arrangements made to have Ezra released from the hospital this afternoon?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, Vin's with him now, and we'll all meet at the hospital around one and take him to our place."

The two men looked over when a uniformed officer escorted John Haddon into the holding cell and left

Haddon stood confidently and glared at the two agents sitting on the table in the center of the room. "And what can I do for you gentlemen," Haddon asked contemptuously.

Buck and Chris regarded each other with similar grins and walked over to the older man.

"It's simple, call off your men," Chris calmly asked.

Haddon stared into Larabee's cold blue eyes and swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. He would not let these men intimidate him. How could someone like Larabee be a Fed? The man looked more dangerous than he was. Haddon still fumed over being duped by Standish. During his twenty odd years in the gun business, he had disposed of two undercover agents and derailed numerous indictments. The Feds had tried for years to dredge up any incriminating evidence and he had come to believe he was impervious to their legal onslaught. Standish had fit in so flawlessly. He never suspected the man of being anything other than what he portrayed.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Haddon sneered.

"Oh, I think you do."

"Your undercover made a fool of me. He deserves whatever he gets."

Buck corkscrewed Haddon's arm behind his back and slammed him against the wall.

Chris came up alongside the arms dealer and snarled, "Call off your men."


"If Ezra dies I know people in prison who will make your life a living hell," Chris menacingly whispered into the older man's ear.

A half smile appeared on the visible side of Haddon's face. "If your undercover has an unfortunate accident before testifying, I won't be in jail long enough to care."

Buck spun Haddon around and delivered two blows to his stomach sending the man his knees. Haddon choked and gagged. "You'll all pay for that."

Buck grabbed Haddon by the shirt and hauled him to his feet prepared to administer more punishment. He needed to take out his own guilt on something, and Haddon was the perfect recipient. Chris grabbed Buck's arm. "Enough, let's go."

Buck released his grip and Haddon sunk back to the floor, laughing as the two agents left.

Part 29

"Okay, easy Ez, just take it a step at a time," Nathan assured as he maneuvered himself under the agent's uninjured shoulder. Ezra kept his eyes down to watch his feet, feeling very unsteady.

They had transported Ezra in Chris's truck, backtracking and taking side streets all the way. The doctor had medicated him to make the ride more comfortable, but his shoulder still throbbed and ached from the strain. Ezra still couldn't take deep breaths without discomfort and it was leaving him exhausted. Vin remained by the truck keeping an eye on the area as Josiah and Chris followed everyone else inside. Buck and JD raced ahead to get the door.

Ezra's senses were dulled by the medication, all except his sense of smell. He stopped in the doorway and wrinkled his nose as an inexplicable odor offended his olfactory sense. His eyes focused and then went wide. "I am not stepping foot in there. I'm sure I haven't been vaccinated for whatever might be growing or dying in there."

"Sorry, JD forgot to take out the garbage," Buck explained, catching a whiff of week old trash.

"Me? It was your turn," the young agent countered.

Nathan smiled. Every time he stepped foot in Buck and JD's apartment, Rain made him take a shower before she would let him near her.

The six men stood in the door way and gazed upon a scattered field of empty pizza and Chinese food boxes. The garbage can was coughing up styrofoam containers and two hastily tied garbage bags lay on their sides next to it. Clothes and dirty laundry covered the mismatched furniture. There was a dark stain on the rug, which Buck and JD had tried to hide with a table. A pair of boxer shorts tacked to the wall hid a fist size hole.

"C'mon Ez, I've been in here before and lived," Chris remarked as he stepped in, his foot immediately sticking to the tile floor of the entrance way. He glared up at Buck who just grinned guiltily and shrugged.

"Hey, sorry, the maid hasn't been in today," he sarcastically replied to everyone's disgusted looks.

Nathan started to feel Ezra getting heavier. "Chris, we need to lay him down."

Buck rushed to his room and opened the door. "In here." He quickly threw clothes and magazines under the bed. Chris smiled when he got a look at the voluptuous and scantily clad women on the covers of the magazines.

Chris helped Nathan get Ezra to Buck's bed and lay him gently down. "JD, get me some water. He needs to take these meds before he goes to sleep," Nathan said.

Nathan placed a hand on Ezra's brow feeling the slight fever

"Is he okay?" Buck asked concern languished in his deep voice.

"Yeah, the trip was just a little too much for him," Nathan explained. "We need to keep an eye on him and watch that pneumonia doesn't set in." He was surprised how worried he was about the undercover agent. It wasn't so long ago he wanted him off the team; afraid he would get one of them killed. Instead, the cocky agent had saved his and probably Buck's life.

JD returned and handed Nathan the glass of water, and then with Chris's glaring persuasion, they managed to get Ezra to take his pills before he drifted off.

Josiah pulled the covers up to Ezra's neck, and then grabbed a chair and settled in. "I'll stay with him awhile."

Chris, Nathan, Buck and JD quietly left the room. Vin was out in the living room debating whether he wanted to sit down bad enough to touch the rumpled clothes on the chair.

"I want two men here at all times," Chris said. "Until we catch the shooters, or after the trial, Ezra's life is in danger."

"You really think Haddon will try again?" Nathan asked.

"I have no doubt. He has too much to lose," Chris replied.

"Hey, anyone want to stay for dinner?" Buck asked, trying to clear the kitchen counter of yesterday's meals. Nathan, Vin and Chris gaped at Buck in disbelief and laughed as they walked out.

Part 30

Ezra slept most of the next day, only getting up to take his medicine and get a little bite to eat. He vaguely remembered seeing each of the six agents at one time or another during the course of the day. Late the following day Ezra woke feeling better than he had in a long time. He carefully made his way out of the bedroom and into the living area, noticing that someone had cleaned. He smiled when he heard Buck singing in the shower.

"Ay, Ez how you feeling?" JD asked from behind his computer terminal. He watched as Ezra moved stiffly toward the kitchen.

"Better, Mr. Dunne, thank you." Ezra looked toward the glass doors that opened onto a small private patio. He had been cooped up for several days and really needed some fresh air.

Buck came out of the bathroom toweling his hair. He searched the living room hoping to see Vin so he could go out on his date. The sound of pots and pans clanging together turned his attention toward the kitchen where JD was searching for something to munch on.

"Where's Ezra?" Buck had noticed that the agent was no longer in bed.

JD nodded toward the sliding glass doors. "He's been out there for the past hour, just staring up at the stars." JD leaned over the counter. "Figured he might have wanted a little time to himself."

Buck looked at the clock on the wall then back at the solitary agent. He let out a breath and headed toward the patio.

"You know you probably shouldn't be out here, pard," Buck quietly admonished as he stepped out onto the small brick patio.

Ezra's eyes were closed, but a smile creased his handsome face. "Oh, I think if Haddon's men knew where I was, it wouldn't make much difference."

Buck frowned, grabbed one of the plastic chairs, and sat down. He studied the southern agent, who was still very pale with dark circles accenting his eyes. It stayed quiet for a moment, neither man knowing what to say.

"Ah...I guess you've seen a lot of the world?" Buck haltingly asked. He knew that Ezra had attended boarding schools all over the world.

"Yeah, a bit." Ezra opened his eyes and focused on a bright star that shined just above a distant mountain peak.

"Lord, I've barely been out of Colorado, you sure are lucky," Buck added.

Ezra's face fell at this statement and he slowly turned his head, wincing slightly at the pain it caused. "Mr. Wilmington, did you have parents growing up?"

Buck rubbed the back of his neck, taken aback by the question. "Yeah, my mother mostly, but my father was around from time to time."

"And you and Mr. Larabee have been friends for a long time."

"Almost half my life, I guess." Buck didn't understand where this conversation was going, but he saw the sadness in Ezra's green eyes.

Ezra looked inside the apartment to see JD planted in front of the TV. Keeping his eye on the young man he asked, "You and Mr. Dunne are close."

"Yeah, like brothers," Buck quietly replied.

"You Mr. Wilmington are the lucky one." Ezra turned his attention back to the distant star just above the mountain peak.

Buck turned in his chair seeing that Vin had joined JD on the sofa, he looked back at Ezra and bowed his head. When Buck first read Ezra's file he had been envious of all the different schools, in different countries, he had attended. Now he recalled that those schools had changed almost every year or two. How could anyone make or keep friends when they moved so much? The schools were private, with the students living on the campuses. Did he even see his mother and father? Thinking back to Maude, and how she had refused to come and see Ezra in the hospital, Buck started to think that the private and expensive schools were a convenient way to get a child out of the way.

"I don't want your pity, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra angrily exclaimed. He
had noticed the look on Buck's face, one he was all too familiar with.

"It's not pity, Ezra."

"Well, whatever it is, I don't want or need it." Ezra started to get agitated. He wasn't use to someone giving a damn about him without wanting something in return. He struggled to stand, grabbing his injured arm. Buck was immediately at his side.

"C'mon, you should be inside resting," Buck exclaimed.

Ezra took a step back and his head swam.

Buck reached out and grabbed his arm to steady him, suddenly worried. He heard Ezra's labored breathing from the exertion. "Are you okay, Ezra?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I wish everyone would stop asking and leave me alone!" Ezra pulled out of Buck's grasp and walked back into the apartment. He headed for the kitchen to get a glass of water, ignoring the looks from Vin and JD.

Buck followed, motioning for the two men not interfere. He entered the kitchen noticing how Ezra's hand shook holding the glass of water.

Ezra managed to get his medicine down and take some more water, but as he went to put the glass down his knees buckled causing him to slam the glass on the counter, shattering it. Buck grabbed Ezra before he fell.

"C'mon on pard, it's back to bed for you." He didn't get an argument.

Vin and JD watched from the sidelines as Buck helped the weak undercover agent back to the bedroom. He returned a few moments later. "JD, get a hold of Nathan, I want him here to look at Ezra!"

"What about your date, Buck?" Vin asked.

Buck looked up at the clock. He could still make it. He looked toward the bedroom. "I'll call and tell her I can't make it. Something more important came up."

Part 31

JD managed to catch Nathan at the office and tell him what had happened.
Twenty minutes later, Buck and JD heard the sound of screeching tires and spraying gravel. JD opened the door to let Nathan in, surprised to see Chris right behind him. Nathan went directly to the bedroom.

"What happened?" Chris demanded, hoping that Buck wasn't the cause. He had been at the office when Nathan received the call and insisted on driving the ex-medic over.

"It's okay, Chris," Buck quickly explained seeing the worry on his friend's face and fearing for his own life. "It was just that he was breathing rather hard and was a little unsteady. I just thought it would be a good idea if Nathan had a look at him."

Chris ran his fingers through his sandy blond hair and took a deep breath. He was glad everything was okay; he would have hated to hit Buck in front of everyone.

Nathan came out a few moments later seeing the others gathered around the kitchen table.

"Well, how is he?" Vin anxiously asked, sliding a beer toward the medic.

"He's okay, probably just over did it a little." Nathan plopped down in an empty chair.

"Hey, Buck, what did you two talk about on the patio?" JD innocently asked.

Chris turned stone, blue eyes to his dark haired agent. "He was outside!"

Buck slouched down in his chair. "He needed some fresh air is all."

Chris downed the last of his beer to put out the sudden flare of anger; maybe he would have to hit Buck after all.

"What did you two talk about?" Vin asked, hoping to avert any confrontation. He was glad that someone could get the close-mouthed agent to open up.

"Nothing much, just about family and how lucky we all are," Buck sadly explained.

They all knew that Ezra did not consider himself a part of their family, but they hoped to change that in time. Each of the six men had seen something in the solitary agent, something that made him a part of them. Despite the fact that the seven extraordinary men were as different as night and day, they shared some inexplicable bond, one that crossed the boundaries of time and space. Josiah believed they were fated to be together to share one destiny, and although they all had scoffed at the theory, deep down they knew it was true.

Part 32

Three vehicles pulled into empty slots in the underground parking garage of the Federal courthouse. Vin exited the passenger side of Chris's truck. He quickly scanned the garage area then nodded and stepped aside to allow Ezra to slide out. Ezra held his still bound arm and Vin grasped his upper arm to help him step down from the truck.

JD, Nathan, Buck and Josiah soon joined them and surrounded the threatened agent. Ezra rolled his eyes at the overzealous display.

"Really Mr. Larabee, is all this subterfuge really necessary?" Ezra quipped. He couldn't get over all the fuss and concern. He kept telling himself it was only because he was a key witness, but something deep inside kept nagging him that this wasn't the only reason.

"Yes, it is!" Chris retorted, coming around the back of the truck. "Haddon's not going to give up that easily." Chris came up to Ezra and laid a hand on his shoulder, looking the man right in the eye. "And I'm not going to risk losin' the best damn undercover, or a good friend."

Ezra's face flushed and everyone bowed or turned their heads to try and minimize his sudden discomfort at Chris's statement. "And I thoroughly appreciate the effort," Ezra smoothly replied. His lips twitched as if holding a smile at bay.

"Great, when this is over you're buying the first round at Inez's," Buck broke in, throwing an arm across Ezra's good shoulder.

Ezra smiled and looked at his friends. The word still sounded strange but that was what these people had become. "It would be my pleasure, Mr. Wilmington."

Chris took the lead. "Alright, let's move and stay sharp."

The seven agents moved cautiously toward the elevator, keeping
Ezra within their protective circle.

Screeching tires caused everyone to turn around, weapons ready. A black, non-descript van came speeding down the aisle. Its side door was open and a man dressed all in black sat within holding a semi-automatic.

Tom Lowe and Rick Casco were desperate. They had used all their resources trying to find the undercover. They ran out of time, and Haddon was running out of patience. They had little choice but to try and kill the agent at the court house.

Chris grabbed Ezra by the arm and shoved him forward toward the elevator. Chris, Vin, and Josiah kneeled and took aim at the fast approaching van. JD and Nathan took up positions behind a pylon.

Buck saw the other hit man taking aim on the undercover agent from the passenger side window. He leapt toward Ezra pulling him down at the same time feeling a bullet rip through his upper thigh. Bullets ricocheted off the cement walls and everyone hit the floor at the same time.

Ezra bit back the scream that wanted to erupt when his shoulder hit the cement floor. He desperately needed Buck to get off him as his weight was pressing down on his injured shoulder.

The agents returned fire as the van raced past. Vin's shot struck a tire and the van swerved out of control, slamming into another vehicle. They ran toward the disabled vehicle. Chris grabbed the stunned driver as Josiah and Vin pulled the two hit men out of the van, throwing them to the floor and quickly relieving them of their weaponry.

"Hey, Chris! Ain't that the judge's car?" Vin asked over the prone body, of Rick Casco. He had his knee on the hit man's back to keep him down. Chris looked over to see the front end of the van, which was firmly imbedded in the trunk of a black Seville.

"Damn, didn't the judge just buy that yesterday?" JD added, shoving the driver toward Chris.

Chris smiled. "Boys, you probably just added ten more years to your sentence." Chris hauled Tom Lowe to his feet.

"Buck! Please get off me," Ezra hissed. His eyes were squeezed tight. He exhaled as Buck rolled off to the side. Ezra didn't even care about the cold floor beneath him as the waves of pain slowly ebbed away. He opened his eyes and focused on the piping above him as he tried to even out his breathing. He suddenly realized that Buck was still on the floor next to him. Ezra turned his head to see Buck's face scrunched, and his eyes shut tight and then he saw the blood. "Shit! NATHAN!"

Nathan appeared at their side and pulled off his jacket to apply pressure to Buck's wound. "Easy Bucklin, you're going to be okay," he assured.

"Buck, say something," Ezra pleaded.


"Why'd you go and do that?" Ezra angrily exclaimed.

Buck opened one eye to look at the distraught southerner.

"Figured one bullet per person was the limit."

Ezra laid a hand on the larger agent's shoulder and smiled.

Part 33

The solitary figure stood just outside the indoor lighting of the ATF building. He pulled the collar of his coat up against the cold wind that blew up and down the corridors between the buildings. Ezra had just finished giving the last of his disposition for the Haddon case. Buck was back at work, milking his injury for all its worth with the ladies. Ezra watched the street lights flicker on as darkness began to shroud the city. He could grow to like this city, it had a certain charm and character he found endearing. He looked at the government building thinking of the six men he worked with and then thought he'd spend the weekend unpacking.

The blond leader stepped up beside him, zipping up his dark leather jacket. The two men stood silently for a moment.

"Seem to remember you offering to buy drinks," Chris said.

Ezra smiled and turned to face a man he had come to respect more than anyone he had ever known. He owed this man his life. "Why haven't you asked me why I ran?"

Chris licked his lips and watched the traffic lights change, releasing their impatient and eager captives to continue on, until the next set of lights. "Figured you'd tell me in your own good time."

"This might be a good time."

Chris nodded and the two men walked across the street towards the saloon.