The Bonds Of Brotherhood


Disclaimer: The characters of "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM, Trilogy, etc. No copyright infringement is intended and they are used here without permission.

Note: This is the April 2005 ATF birthday fic. Romanse, Tracey, Lady Viper and Diana all requested an ATF fic. I tried to include everything we discussed. I hope you enjoy. Happy birthday!

Size: Approx. 270K

1. - 10. | 11. - 16. | 17. - 22. | 23. - Epilogue


"Your papers are all set and you're free to go as soon as your ride arrives," the beautiful blonde told the man staring out the window.

Nodding his head to show he'd heard, the still-healing agent remained where he was, not really aware of what was going on around him and not caring. If he were being honest with himself, he was finding it difficult to care about anything, to feel anything. He had accepted the help the doctors and nurses offered because he had little other choice. He had accepted the companionship of his friends because he, again, had little other choice. He was going to spend the rest of his recovery time out at the Larabee ranch because he just didn't care anymore.

Watching the woman you love. the woman who gave you reason to hope for a future that once was only a dream, choose a husband who doesn't love her over a heart willing to cherish her forever could strip the desire to live from any man, even more so a man who so closely guarded his heart.

As he waited for his ride to come, his mind traveled back to several weeks before, to the moment he knew he'd lost his heart.

He stood beside her as they looked over the city below. They were due back shortly, should have been back, but traffic seemed to have had other ideas. Tired of sitting in the car going nowhere, he had turned off onto a little-used road. They both had been surprised when the dirt track ended at the top of a rise. He heard her breath catch in her throat.

Turning, he could easily read the amazement in her eyes and felt his own breath catch as the wave of her dark hair fell half-across her face, accentuating her beauty in the golden glow of sunset.

"It's beautiful," she breathed.

"Yes, it is," he agreed, unable to take his eyes off of her.

Turning, she saw that she was the object of his attention and blushed. Rather than say anything, though, she stepped out of the car, walked around to the front and leaned back on the hood.

He followed and took up a position beside the woman who had stolen his heart. Allowing his hand to come to rest on the hood behind her, he allowed his eyes to seek the horizon. It wasn't long before he felt her warmth lean against him. Wrapping his arm around her, his hand came to rest on hers. He felt the cold metal band of her wedding ring, but forcibly shoved the thought of he husband from his mind.

"I can almost see our future from here," she whispered softly before turning toward him and lifting her head for the first of what was to be many passionate kisses.

"Ready to go?" a soft voice from the doorway asked.

Releasing a heavy sigh as the vision shattered, he managed to nod his consent.

A frown marred the handsome face of the hazel-eyed blond in the doorway as he suppressed a sigh of frustration. Chris had been there since his friend had been brought to the hospital after the explosion and had his suspicions of what might have caused the despair and depression, but he also knew that he and the others would have to find some way to help heal the broken heart.

Stepping further into the room, Chris lifted the overnight bag from the hospital bed. With the bag in his grasp, he crossed the room and rested a hand on the slumped shoulder, offering comfort and support by squeezing it slightly. "C'mon," he said softly. "Let's get you home."

With a nod of agreement, the injured man turned and followed, eyes downcast, unable by the weight of heartache and shame to look up. Sinking into the wheelchair provided by the hospital, he let his hands rest in his lap, his mind and heart floating in a sea of loss, longing only for the escape his drug-induced sleep would allow.

A bubble of silence surrounded the two men as they proceeded through the hallways toward the exit, though one was too hurt to notice and the other too concerned.

Reaching the exit, Chris set the brake on the chair, knowing the bullet wound, cracked ribs, strained knee tendons and moderate concussion would make it difficult to stand. As he took a closer look at the newly released man, Larabee realized that his friend was suffering less from the physical wounds than he was the ones to his heart and his self-confidence.

When Chris had the chair set, he instructed, "Stay here. I'm going to bring the car around to pick you up." His only response was a slow blinking of the almost empty eyes.

A heavy sigh escaped the depressed man as he watched Chris walk away. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the effort of his friends, but he couldn't help wondering if they stood by him out of pity. After all, he'd been willing to throw everything away for her, the case, his career, his home, his friends - family. He was willing to walk away from it all, but when push came to shove, she chose her husband over him. How could the others ever trust him, knowing what he'd almost done, knowing what he'd been willing to do?

Stopping the truck in front of his friend, Chris slipped it into park and opened his door. His heart clenched slightly at the sight of the dejected man before him. He hoped that a change of scenery would help the wounded agent open up and purge the poison eating at his soul. "Come on," Chris encouraged, "Let's get you in."

With some effort, the two men managed to settle into the truck and set out on their way. It wasn't long before the injured man was sound asleep, the effort of leaving the hospital combined with his emotional state and pain relievers overwhelmed him. Unfortunately, his sleep was not the peaceful oblivion for which he had been hoping, but a tangled conglomeration of what had been, what might have been and what currently was.

Concern shot through the blond man as he watched his friend's head begin to toss and turn back and forth. When his passenger's breathing became harsher, Chris began slowing the truck, wanting to stop before waking the agitated sleeper. As he pulled over to the side of the road, a cry sounded loudly in the cab. Reaching out, Chris jerked back as, at the faintest touch, the sleeping man came awake, arm lashing out as if warding off an attack. "It's OK," Chris soothed. "It's just me. You were dreaming."

Closing his eyes, the startled man deliberately slowed his breathing. When he once more had control of himself he opened his eyes and rested his head back against the headrest.

Seeing Ezra was calmer, Larabee turned his attention back to getting them out to the ranch. He suspected his passenger wouldn't fall asleep again on this trip.

He was wrong.

Within ten minutes, the other man was once more sleeping. This time, however, he slept peacefully.

Pulling the truck up as close as he could to the front door, Chris parked the car and turned it off. Pocketing the keys, he exited the truck and walked around to the other side. Opening the door, he softly called, "Hey. We're here." He was rewarded with blinking eyes.

As he helped his friend out of the truck, Chris couldn't help but regret his insistence that the others not be at the ranch when he brought their injured teammate home. Still, the two somehow made it into the house and to the guest room. With assistance, the injured man was quickly fed his next dose of pain medication and put to bed.

Leaving the room, Chris turned back to take one last look at his resting agent. "Sleep well, Ezra," he whispered as he turned off the light and closed the door.


Josiah bit back a grin as he heard rather than saw the splash behind him. Closing his eyes and doing his best to control his amusement, he finally managed to turn and look at his friend. When he turned around, he found the need to take a deep breath in order to try and keep his control. "Are you alright, Vin?" he asked of the young man who was even now lifting his foot out of a rather deep mud puddle.

Biting back the curses that flew to his lips, Vin shook his foot, knowing it wouldn't help. "That's the seventh puddle since we started this hike," he observed, frustration evident.

Nodding his head sagely, Josiah listed, "Seven puddles, three pieces of gum, one gopher hole, two bits of mud and ... er... deer droppings."

A blue glare was shot at the older man as the teenagers they were with could be heard giggling at the Texan's misfortune. "That wasn't funny," Vin informed. "B'sides, the droppings were elk, not deer," he finished, setting his foot down on solid ground. Fortunately the hiking boots were waterproof.

"Looks like you have a real talent for stepping in it today," Josiah intoned, eyes twinkling merrily as he kept his tone serious.

Vin tried to maintain his glare at his friend, but couldn't help the laughter that bubbled up. His laughter increased as the five teens and Josiah joined in his amusement. "Guess I do at that," he offered.

Several of the teens in Vin's building had been asking him to take them on a hike. Today had seemed like an ideal day since Ezra was coming home from the hospital and they had all been banned from the ranch with instructions to "Do something safe." Though he trusted the five teens he had brought out here and had no doubt they wouldn't cause trouble, he was also aware that this was a particularly difficult weekend for Josiah.

Though he had said little, it was obvious to his team that Josiah was really hurting for Ezra right now, even more so than the rest of them since he looked upon the undercover agent as a younger brother, almost a son. Vin knew that wasn't all of the heartache the man was bearing, however. Today was Hannah's birthday and for the first time in many years, Josiah wouldn't be there for her. Sanchez had received a call the day before letting him know that Hannah had fallen ill with the flu and the sisters felt it best that Josiah put off his visit until she was better. With no sister to visit and no Ezra to tend, the Profiler had been left at loose ends for the weekend and had easily agreed to helping chaperone the hike.

For Vin, focusing on helping Josiah right now provided a certain amount of relief for him as well. He was aware, through his contact with Ezra while Standish was undercover as well as some of what he had said in the hospital and in their discussions, that Ezra had fallen hard for their suspect's wife. What Ezra had been through with Petra Covington was far too similar to Vin's own affair with Charlotte Richmond. He knew eventually he would have to talk with Ezra about it, would offer what help he could, but for now, he was happy to stay away from that particular wound.

Hiking in the woods with these youths was proving to be a fun experience. None of them had spent much time in the woods but all were curious to learn as much as they could. That being the case, they were constantly asking questions and stretching Vin and Josiah's knowledge to the limits.

The group had been traveling for most of the morning and had journeyed quite far in the backcountry when one of the teens called out that they had found something.

Making his way over to where his young charge was standing, Vin took a look at what the youth had found and froze. "Josiah," he called softly. "Why don't you take the teens out the way we came in?"

"What's going on?" one of the boys asked.

"Yeah. We can help you," offered one of the girls in the group.

"Thank you for your offer," Josiah told them, holding up his hand for silence. "But this is something that we need to deal with."

"We're not babies; we can help," insisted yet another teen.

"It involves out jobs," Vin said, stopping all protests. The kids knew what he did and how serious it could be. "Does everyone remember how we marked it?" When he received affirmative nods all around, he indicated to Josiah that he needed to have a few words with him. "You all head back to the first marker."

As the kids moved off to find the first sign they'd left, Josiah took a step forward and cursed softly. Though the kids might not have recognized what they found, Josiah knew immediately. It was a still and showed every sign of being recently used. Given the size of it, Josiah knew a fairly large amount of alcohol could be processed. "You sure you want me to go with them?" Josiah asked softly.

Looking at the surrounding area and the fresh footprints, Vin nodded. "Call it in. They may still be around. I'll keep an eye out until you get back. Tell the kids to stay at the car."

Meanwhile Tanner stayed at the site, hiding as best he could, which, given his background as a Ranger sniper, made him virtually invisible. He hadn't mentioned the fresh tracks to Josiah, knowing that the other man would have never let him stay if he had.

Keeping all his senses on high alert, the Texan heard the sound of the crunching and swishing of dried leaves coming from the far side of the clearing. He stilled himself even more as he saw the faint outline of the men traversing the wood. As they stepped into the clearing, Tanner's eyes narrowed. He recognized one of the men but couldn't place him.

"I think this should be the last batch from here," one of the men said.

"Why?" another of the men asked. "We're getting better yield and quality here than at any of the other stills."

"Yeah," a third man, the one that looked familiar, agreed as he dropped the large container he'd been carrying.

"It's too much in the open," the first commented. "With the weather getting better, there will be more people in the area hiking, that means a higher chance of discovery."

The second man glared at the first but eventually relented. "You're right. Are we going to tear it down and bring it with us?"

"It's good equipment," the leader agreed thoughtfully. "After we bring this in, we'll come back and tear it down. Some of it we can ditch, most of it should be reusable." The man looked around the area a bit and then nodded his head as if coming to some sort of decision. "Alright. Let's get the rest of this packaged up to go. Once we've stashed it, we'll come back for the rest.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah led the suddenly quiet teens back along the path they had marked on their trip out. It took perhaps half the time to return to the parking lot that it had taken to get to the still site. Yet, to Josiah, it felt an eternity. He didn't like the idea of leaving the sharpshooter out there alone, especially if the owners of the equipment should return. Yet, there was really little choice. Though he had some skill at camouflage, Vin was better at it.

Moving to the van he had borrowed to bring them all out that morning, Josiah unlocked the doors and motioned the kids into the vehicle. "I'm going to need you to all stay here."

"What are you going to be doing?" one of the teens asked.

"I'm going to call my team and then head back to backup Vin." Seeing approval in their eyes, he smiled at the teens.

"What should we do?" Another of the teens asked.

Josiah's hand paused as he was opening his cell phone. He honestly hadn't thought about the teens beyond getting them to safety. Still, if he left them here, they could direct the others along the path they had taken. "Do you think you can give the other agents directions to where we were?"

"Yeah," one of the teens said. "We'll tell them where to go and the markers we left."

"You just make sure Vin's OK," one of the girls said.

"Yes ma'am," Josiah smiled. Then, opening his phone, he quickly dialed Buck's number. Stepping away from the van to talk, he counted the rings. On the forth ring, just before voice mail picked up, the sound of someone answering and a phone being juggled came across the line.


"Hand me that wrench, JD," Buck ordered from his position under his truck. Since the team was under orders to do something safe this weekend, the two men had decided to work on their vehicles. They had finished changing the oil on JD's motorcycle and cleaning it up. Now they had moved onto Buck's truck. The last of the oil had just drained from the truck when the faint sound of a phone ringing reached their ears.

"It's yours, Buck," JD informed, having checked his own phone.

With a soft curse, Buck fumbled to reach the device in his back pocket. He bit back another curse as his elbow scraped along the drive. Eventually, with some clever wiggling, he managed to free his phone and flip it open on the third ring. By long habit, he hit the receive button on the forth ring and brought it up to his ear, nearly dropping it when his already abused elbow hit the underside of the engine. Unable to stop a curse at the pain he felt shooting up his arm, he eventually growled out, "Wilmington."

A sigh of relief sounded across the connection. "Thank God," Josiah whispered.

Buck's brow furrowed as he slid out from under the truck. "Josiah?" he asked, worried by the tone of his friend's voice.

"We have a situation," the Profiler said.

With those words, everything shifted. Buck Wilmington, ladies' man, easygoing friend and weekend truck mechanic disappeared and ATF Agent Buck Wilmington appeared. Rising to his feet, his face became serious.

JD saw the transformation in his friend and immediately his own demeanor changed. The energy that usually saw him in constant motion became focused on finishing the oil change. He had a feeling they would need to be leaving soon. Taking the wrench in hand, he slid under the truck. Within minutes, he was out from underneath the vehicle.

Glancing at Buck as he walked around to the front of the engine, JD felt his own face grow even more serious. Whatever was going on, it couldn't be good. Cracking open the first quart of oil, he began pouring as he listened to his friend's side of the conversation.

"He did what?" Buck asked. "No... No... Josiah, I think you need to stay and guide us... Hell, I don't know... Alright."

Whatever was going on, it couldn't be good. The next phrases caused his mouth to go dry as he cracked open the second quart of oil.

"I'll call Chris... What do you mean no... Alright... Alright! I understand. Travis then... Yeah... OK... I'll have JD call him... Yeah, Kid's here... Alright... No... No... Let one of them call their parents... Yeah... Watch your back." With that final caution, Buck flipped his phone closed and looked up to find JD's serious brown eyes locked on his own.

"What happened?" He asked, his voice completely professional.

"Vin and Josiah took some kids from Vin's building on a hike. They came across a still. Josiah says it looks large-scale," Buck explained.

"Why doesn't he want us to call Chris?" JD asked.

"Ezra," Buck replied. "Last thing he needs to worry about is us out there. So, I'm calling Travis. Josiah suggested having him get in touch with Team Four."

"The MacDougherty case?"

"Yeah. Chances are it has nothing to do with their case, but then again..." Buck let his voice trail off.

"With Vin's luck, it's probably them," JD said, bringing a small smile to Buck's lips.

"Yeah," he agreed. "You go ahead and call Nathan. Get him heading out. Sooner we get there, better I'll feel."

"Who's going to tell Chris?" JD asked as he pulled out his own cell phone.

"I think we should leave that to Travis," Buck advised.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan smiled as he leaned over to pick up Raine's plate. They had a late lunch together and he had offered to clean up. Placing a soft kiss just behind her ear as he straightened, he felt his heart warm as she smiled up at him.

"When you are finished with those dishes, maybe we should discuss dessert," Raine offered, smiling at the man she loved.

Nathan's eyebrows rose in expectation and curiosity. "Now that sounds like an offer I can't refuse," he replied, heading out to the kitchen.

As he set the plates on the counter, his cell started ringing. With a low groan, he pulled it from his pocket, catching sight of Raine leaning against the doorframe; he could read the mix of disappointment and understanding in her eyes. "Jackson," he responded, eyes locked with Raine's.

Raine watched Nathan's face darken in concern. She could see the tension that had been missing up until that point reassert itself as his shoulders tensed.

"Got it," Nathan said into his phone. "I can be there in twenty minutes... No... We just finished..." Brown eyes filled with apology and begging forgiveness. "Yeah...OK... See you then."

"Work?" Raine asked.

Nathan felt love flare. Raine's voice was understanding, not accusing, something he was thankful for every day. "Yeah," he admitted, leaning forward and kissing her gently. "Vin and Josiah stumbled across a still. It looks pretty big."

Raine reached up and returned the kiss. "You go," she said. "And be careful!"

Nathan offered a knee-weakening smile as he replied, "Always."

+ + + + + + +

Orin Travis was outside in the garden taking orders about where to plant certain flowers when the phone rang. "I'll get it!" he volunteered, ready for a break.

"No, dear," Evie said, already moving toward the door to the house. "You just get those mums in the ground."

Orin sighed and turned his attention back to the hole he was digging. He loved his wife dearly and would do almost anything for her, but gardening was not something he enjoyed. Right now, he decided, he would even retire for an excuse to get up out of the dirt.

"Orin, it's for you," Evie said as she walked up to him carrying the cordless phone.

Looking at the serious look on her face, Travis knew it was work related and it couldn't be good. Maybe planting mums wouldn't be such a bad thing. "Travis," he snapped into the phone as he took it from his wife. "Yes... No... I see... Yes... I'll call him and be there as soon as I can. What about... Oh, I see... No, I agree totally... Goodbye." With the final work, he hit the disconnect button and looked at his wife.

From the time she had picked up the phone and heard the serious tone of Buck's voice, Evie knew her husband would be leaving. She had set his keys out on the hall table along with his billfold and cell phone. She also brought out the strong box in which Orin kept his gun. A shiver ran down her spine as she prayed he wouldn't need it. After more than forty years of marriage, Evie was as adept at reading a situation as her husband and knew he would need to go. When he had finished his call, she took the phone and informed, "Your keys and things are on the hall table. Go in and change your pants and shirt before you go. I'll make sure to hold dinner for you."

Orin looked at his wife, who he swore grew more beautiful every day they were together and kissed her gently on the cheek. "You are an angel," he whispered.

Blushing slightly at his words, Evie smiled and pushed gently on his shoulder. "You go," she instructed. "The boys need you."

With a nod of thanks, Orin headed into the house, his stride determined. There was a slight bounce in his step that was missing most days. It was a bounce Evie remembered from the early days of their marriage and knew it meant he was going into the field. She could only pray that he and the others would be safe.


Vin's attention was drawn away from the group talking in the clearing by the subtle sounds of someone attempting to move stealthily through the dry leaves that carpeted the ground. Glancing around, he was able to identify Josiah. He felt tension crawling across his shoulders as a shadow detached itself from a tree behind the Profiler.

As the shadow approached Josiah's unsuspecting form, Tanner rose up and made his way as stealthily and quickly as possible toward friend. Throwing a glance over his shoulder at the clearing, the Texan moved forward and reached the enemy shadow at the same time the man in question lifted his arm to strike at Josiah. Knowing he would be just a moment or two too late, Vin called out a warning. "Josiah!"

The Profiler heard the call and turned in time to see his attacker. Raising his arm to block the blow, he almost succeeded in protecting himself. The thick branch the attacker had in his arm reached over Josiah's hasty block and struck the agent on the temple. The force of the blow was enough send Sanchez into the blackness of unconsciousness.

Though he was just moments too late, Vin was able to take down Josiah's attacker. Unfortunately, his warning cry had drawn the attention of the men in the clearing and he soon found himself in a three on one situation. His training and skill helped him hold his own against his attackers and even gain the advantage over two of them, but after a day of hiking, he was wearing down.

Though he had successfully blocked many of the blows, he could feel the bruises forming along his ribs and his thigh. Those injuries were sapping his strength and making it more difficult to move. He had to end this soon and could only pray that their help would be arriving at any minute.

The last of the men standing was the one who Vin had determined was the leader of the little band. He was also the best fighter. Focusing all of his attention on the man in front of him, he failed to notice the one behind him, the one who had attacked Josiah, get to his feet. His senses alerted him to the new threat a moment too late and the branch that had taken down Josiah now came into contact with the back of Tanner's head, sending him crashing into oblivion.

Looking down at the two unconscious men and their own wounded comrades, the man with the branch asked, "So what are we going to do with them, boss?"

"Find out who they are, Colin" the boss ordered.

Colin bent down and expertly removed the wallet from Vin's back pocket. He whistled a low whistle as he read the insides. "Vin Tanner, ATF," he said simply.

The boss nodded. "And the other?"

Moving to the larger of the prone strangers, Colin repeated the process. "Josiah Sanchez, ATF."

Anger colored the boss's face as he kicked the unconscious agent who had fought so well. He thought over what needed to be done. The two men had obviously seen them and heard them talking. That wouldn't do. They couldn't have the ATF coming down on them, not now, not when they were so close to closing a deal that would set them up for some time to come.

A small, evil smile curved the boss's face as he came to a decision. "I think," he said, looking at each of his men, all of whom were now standing, "that we will allow Mr. Tanner and Mr. Sanchez to deliver a message to the others for us." He watched as his men returned his smile.

+ + + + + + +

Vin stifled a groan as he rose through the layers of gauze that seemed to enshroud him. Pain ripped through his head and it took several minutes for it to subside enough for him to begin evaluating his situation.

The first thing he noticed was that it was hot. Turning his head, he caught sight of part of the still to his back. Attempting to turn further, he felt rope dig into his arms and chest. Looking down, Vin saw that he was lashed to the still, his hands tied behind his back and feet tied in front of him. "'Siah," he said softly, his mind turning once more to his friend. Turning his head in the opposite direction, he spotted his friend also tied to the still, the graying head hanging forward, eyes closed, obviously still unconscious. The other item he saw is what froze his blood and caused panic to rise. It was a timer attached to a block of C-4.

Struggling against his panic, he breathed as deeply as the ropes would allow. A small hiss of pain escaped Vin as he leaned his head back against the still. "Not smart," he whispered to himself as he realized the exact location of the throbbing in his head. Now if only he could figure out why he was so hot.

After resting another moment, he tried shifting to bring his arms around to his side so he could look at the knots. It was when he was moving his arm that he realized the source of heat that was causing his discomfort. The still they were tied to was heating up. In fact, it was hot and, if Vin wasn't mistaken was slowly getting hotter.

This was not good. "The MacDougherty case," Vin groaned as realization of where he'd seen that man before. Team Four was working on a bootlegging case with a particularly nasty group of men. The gang never left a witness and the description of the one member was the only one the ATF had of any of the gang. All of that meant that he and Josiah were about to become permanent parts of the scenery. And what better way was there to get rid of both than to blow up the still with the witnesses attached? He and Josiah needed to get out of here and they needed to get out now.

Shifting as far as he could in the direction of his insensate friend, Vin wiggled until his legs were moved enough so that when he pointed his toes he could nudge Josiah. It was extremely uncomfortable, and with the temperature rising ever higher, he was already able to feel the burn beginning on his exposed skin. Catching sight of the timer, he cursed softly. They were running out of time, fast. There wasn't any other choice.

Pointing the toe of his boot, he tapped his friend's leg and called out his name. "Josiah!" There was no response. Putting what force behind it that he could, he poked Josiah in the leg. "Josiah! Wake up!" he called louder, wincing as the volume hurt his head and the world began to spin.

He was rewarded with a deep sigh.

Poking Josiah once more, he called, "Josiah! You need to wake up! We're in trouble!" Raising his voice had proven a mistake and the dizziness that had assaulted him now changed into a swirling pool of blackness that struggled to claim the wounded man.

In the thick blanket that had enveloped him, Josiah heard the faint whisper of a familiar voice. "... need to wake up. We're in trouble."

"Trouble," Sanchez mumbled. It took his addled mind several minutes to determine the meaning of the word. Once he did, he felt a surge of adrenaline lift him out of his stupor. He knew that voice, but couldn't quite place it. His mind wasn't sorting data properly. He allowed a portion of his mind to continue to work on the problem of to whom the familiar voice belonged, while the rest of him struggled to remember how to wake up.

Vin sighed in relief as he saw the signs of consciousness returning to his friend. Knowing he had few other options, the normally quiet Texan, continued talking and encouraging Josiah to wake up. "That's it. Come on. You can do it. Just open your eyes." He nearly shouted in victory as he saw the blue eyes open and blink once, but he was now in the clutches of unconsciousness and his voice was steadily fading. "Yes! That's it. Come on. I need you here with me. We're in trouble and need to get out... of... here," he finished as the comfort of oblivion enveloped him once more.

Josiah blinked in confusion and turned to face the voice. He knew this voice, knew it well. A person came into his line of sight, but he was blurry and, as Josiah blinked to clear his vision, would sometimes split and become two instead of one. For a brief second the face came into clear focus and he knew who the other person was and knew he had to get them both out of here. He couldn't let anything happen to this precious soul. "Kyle," he greeted, silencing the chatter of the other.


Chris stood in the kitchen preparing a meal of soup and homemade bread for Ezra. Nettie had dropped off the bread the day before. Larabee smiled as he remembered how his feisty neighbor had denied any attachment to the Southerner even as she pumped Chris for all the information he could give. As he set the butter on the tray as well, he wondered if Ezra had any idea how much he meant to so many people.

When he had finally made it to the hospital after Ezra had been injured, Chris had been terrified by the initial reports of his condition. The relief he felt upon hearing the doctor's report eased those concerns greatly. That relief began to fade as he spent more and more time with the Southerner.

At first, everything seemed to be going well enough. Ezra wasn't as feisty as he usually was, but then, he was running a fever that could easily explain the situation. After the fever was gone, however Ezra's spirits didn't seem to recover. That concerned Chris and, though he had done his best to encourage Ezra, the agent remained silent about what was bothering him.

Wondering if Vin might know something more since he had been Ezra's contact, he had asked his friend and teammate. Tanner had just looked at him with inscrutable blue eyes and informed Chris it wasn't his place to say, but he was working on it. Though he trusted Vin implicitly, he still worried about Standish and was grateful and worried when Ezra had offered no arguments to coming out to the ranch to continue his convalescence.

It wasn't unusual for the team to spend time at the ranch after a hospital stay. That thought caused Chris to pause in his preparations, suddenly concerned that the team had a routine they followed for injury recovery. Still, hopefully the peace and solitude would help Ezra open up and share whatever was eating at him.

+ + + + + + +

In the dim light the curtained windows allowed into the room, Ezra lay on the bed staring at the ceiling and not seeing it. He was having a hard time finding the energy to care or worry about anything. True, he had had his heart broken before, or thought he had, but that pain was nothing compared to this. Allowing his mind to drift, he recalled the first time he was aware enough to notice Buck's presence. The ladies' man had been there for him, offering Ezra a secure port in his storm, sheltering the battered soul in his big heart and offering a hand of friendship that had helped Ezra continue on when he couldn't find the path forward or back.

Buck had been there with a smile and an encouraging word when Ezra was ready to give up. The rogue always had a ready tale, though honestly, Ezra couldn't understand how more than half of them could be true. In fact, he was fairly certain several of them were physically impossible.

A small smile appeared on his face as the memory of Buck's upbeat talks, tales and encouragement wrapped around Standish like a warm blanket and filled him with that same warm comfort.

Comfort was precisely what Vin had provided. The Sharpshooter never pushed, never prodded, never judged. He was just there to stand beside Ezra and understand. Ezra knew Vin would understand the unseen hurt better than anyone else and that made him regret his own actions toward the Texan during and after his affair with Charlotte all the more. Never had Ezra thought to experience heartache like this, wasn't sure how to survive it. Yet his friend had continued on. He would have to ask Vin how he did it.

Each time Ezra had felt the pain of his loss, the Texan had been there with a smile and a hand of friendship. He would talk softly on neutral topics, never pushing, never asking. It was almost as if he knew Ezra wasn't ready and was standing beside him, holding him up. Ezra had accepted that gift and leaned on his friend when he lacked the strength to exist on his own.

Chris had been there as well. Never had Ezra felt safer than when Chris stood over him, a terrifying and avenging angel to others, but a fierce protector of those he claimed. While Chris stood guard, Ezra knew he had nothing to fear, that no one and nothing would hurt him. While Chris stood guard, Ezra knew he was safe.

The others had been there and all had been, or tried to be sensitive to him, but they weren't what he had needed. He had no doubt that before long, provided he could heal his heart, he would need the lively debates he shared with Nathan that kept his mind and skills so sharp.

Before long, he would need to once more see the world through eyes that had seen too much and still saw the wonder of everything. JD's exuberance could make even the most boring topic or event interesting.

Soon he would need the wise words and fatherly attention he so often spurned from Josiah even while desiring the other man's approval.

But all that was in the future. All that, he hoped, was in the future. Because he couldn't stay where he was now.

A soft knock sounded at the door to his room.

"Enter," he called, noting that his voice sounded flat and lifeless, but unable to care.

The door slowly opened to reveal Chris carrying a tray laden with dishes.

Sliding up into a sitting position, Ezra glanced over at the clock, astonished to realize it was already time for lunch. He was trying to build up the energy to say something when the smell of soup and warm bread reached him. Feeling tears prickle at his eyes, he swallowed, trying to regain control. She had served him that. She had made the bread especially for him and called it their secret. But then, they'd had so many.

"Brought you some lunch," Chris said softly, moving across the room to set the tray on the bed. Passing the tray over, he helped Ezra settle it before taking a seat in the chair. "There's a game on later today. Was wondering if you would be up to watching it with me?"

Ezra felt the concerned hazel eyes watching his every move as he stared at the food, wondering if he'd be able to eat any of it. He'd heard Chris' question, but really didn't care one way or the other. Since there really wasn't anything else for him to do other than sit and brood, he decided to accept. Looking over at the blond, he forced a small smile and assured, "That sounds most refreshing."

Chris smiled. Even if he was just being polite, at least Ezra was showing some interest in the world around him. The deep depression that had settled within his friend bothered Chris. He knew the others sensed it as well and couldn't help but believe Vin knew its cause, but the sharpshooter wasn't sharing. He trusted Tanner enough, though to not only help Ezra himself, but ask for either their or professional help if needed.

"Will the others be joining us?" Ezra asked, tired of silence and suddenly filled with a desire to see the others.

A smile appeared on Chris' face. "Nope," he informed. "It's just you and me."

"Oh," Ezra said, taking a spoonful of soup and discovering he was hungry. The hearty fare revived his spirit somewhat and he prodded, "And you trust them not to find trouble without your supervision?" His question caused Chris to laugh, a sound that comforted him more than all the words in the world could.

Chris laughed at the question. It was a running joke among the team that Chris wouldn't ever let any of them out of his sight because as soon as he did they got in trouble. "They're under orders to do something safe," he assured.

Ezra just stared at Chris in disbelief. "And you honestly expect them to obey this order?" he inquired.

Smiling, Chris nodded. "Nathan is with Raine. JD and Buck are spending the day working on the motorcycle and truck. Vin talked Josiah into going with him and several kids from his apartment building on a nature hike," Larabee explained. "So they're all doing something perfectly safe."

A raised eyebrow was the only response he received.


Josiah blinked at the young man next to him. He was trying to figure out what he and Kyle were doing here. Then he realized, he didn't know where here was. Alternating blinking and squinting his eyes to try to clear his vision, the pounding in his head almost defeated him. It was only the fear for his companion that forced him to focus.

Looking around, he determined they were in the woods. It took him only a minute to determine he was tied. Glancing to the side, he realized that they both were tied. It was then that he saw the block of C-4 with a timer; there wasn't much time left. He also noticed the extreme heat to his back. It felt like his skin was burning. Right now it felt like a bad sunburn, but he could tell it was getting worse and getting worse far too swiftly.

As that thought crossed his mind another thought entered it: where was Peter? Twisting his head to look at all the angles, he felt adrenalin begin to rush into his system. Was Peter on the other side of this contraption? Was he hurt? Missing?

Seeing Kyle staring at him with his wide blue eyes, Josiah couldn't help but take a deep breath, wincing slightly as the rope around his chest dug into his skin. He grew concerned as all the color drained from Kyle's face and the blue eyes rolled back in his head and the body slumped against the ropes. "Kyle!" he cried out.

Fighting the dizziness and nausea that assaulted him, Josiah pulled against the ropes with all the strength he could manage. It didn't seem to help. Looking over at the unconscious body next to him, Josiah swallowed back the bile that threatened, gritted his teeth and did his best to begin moving closer to the still form.

The rough ropes grated across his skin even as the hot metal behind him seared through the thin material of his shirt, causing him to cry out softly as he felt his skin burning. His attention, however, was not on his own discomfort or his own needs; it was focused solely upon the unconscious form.

Gritting his teeth, Josiah moved a few more inches to his side, ignoring the throbbing of his head that made it almost impossible to keep his eyes open. He had to get to Kyle. He had to get them out of danger. That was his only concern and goal right now.

Finally reaching the other man, Josiah moved his foot to bump the still form. "Kyle," he called, looking around to make sure there was no sign of whoever had done this to them. Seeing nothing, he called again, louder, "Kyle!" A small head movement was his only reward for his efforts. Bumping harder into the unconscious form, he called out, "Kyle! Come on, son. We need to get out of here. Your mother will be worried sick if we're late and you know what she can be like."

A soft groan was heard from the long-haired man as his head rolled to the side before slowly lifting upward. Eyes opened to slits and stared in his direction. "Jo... siah?" Vin's pain filled voice asked.

Josiah felt a small pang of regret at hearing his name fall from the lips of the young man in front of him. Shaking off his own concern, he decided Kyle's identification of him by his name rather than "Dad" had to do with the head injury he could see bleeding. "Yes, son," he assured. "We need to try and get out of here. Do you still have the pocket knife I gave you?"

Vin blinked at the profiler, puzzled. He was carrying a pocket knife in his back pocket, he always did, but he'd gotten it a number of years ago, long before he met Josiah. Pushing aside the annoying voice in his head berating him for not thinking of the knife sooner, he nodded. "Can't reach it," he said softly, the act of speaking causing his swollen lip to twinge in pain.

Nodding in relief, Josiah smiled as reassuringly as he could. "That's alright, son,' he assured. "If you can just try turning a bit, I'll do my best to reach it." He watched Kyle struggle to turn his body so Josiah could better reach the knife. Twisting himself as best he could, Josiah used his hands to feel where the knife was before gently slipping it out of the pocket into his hand.

A bead of sweat trailed down his face as the heat intensified. There wasn't much time before they would either be burned severely or the still exploded.

Doing his best to open the knife with his uncooperative fingers, Josiah let out a sigh of relief when he succeeded. "Just let me cut the ropes around my wrists and then I'll get us out of here," he promised, turning his attention to cutting the ropes that bound his hands. Silently he prayed he could keep that promise.


Pulling into the parking lot with only a minimum of squealing tires, Buck stopped his truck beside the only other vehicle there. Before the engine was idle, JD was out the passenger side door and approaching the youths he saw sitting in the van. Buck was at his side before he'd gone three steps.

"You the people Josiah called?" one of the teens asked, eyeing the two men suspiciously.

"Buck Wilmington," Buck announced, pulling out his identification and offering it for examination.

"JD Dunne," JD identified, following Buck's lead. "What can you tell us?"

Closely examining the identification, the youths exchanged glances before the one who had spoken first replied. "We were hiking in the woods when Vin saw something and told us to get out of there. Josiah brought us back here. We marked our trail," he informed.

"Marked it the way Vin taught?" JD asked, looking directly at the teen. When he received a nod, he looked up at Buck.

Buck turned his attention from the wooded area to JD. "I'll head in..."

"We both go," JD announced, his voice serious.

Buck held JD's eyes for a moment, reading there determination and confidence. "We both go in," Buck amended. "We find out what's going on, get Vin and Josiah and get out."

Turning back to the teens, JD explained, "Another friend of ours, Nathan Jackson, should be here soon. When he arrives, let him know that A. D. Travis is coming as well." Seeing the teens nod, the two men headed off into the woods, following the trail the teens and their friends had left earlier.

They were making good time, moving fluidly through the trees, keeping alert for any threat, but seeing none. Neither man could say how long they had been walking when they first caught sight of their friends. The scene upon which they stumbled, however, only caused them to move quickly.

In the middle of a clearing, Josiah and Vin were tied to a still. A fire burned under a portion of the still, heating it. JD and Buck could also see what looked to be a block of C-4 between Vin and Josiah on the side of the contraption.

Racing forward, they stumbled to a stop before the two bound men. Buck reached into his pocket and pulled out his own pocket knife. Reaching over, he made quick work of the rope tying the two men around the chest. "Josiah. Vin. Good to see the two of you. Are you hurt?" Wilmington asked quickly, struggling to help Josiah up. They didn't have enough time left to try and disarm the bomb, but possibly did have enough to get away.

"We need to get Kyle out of here," Josiah replied as he moved closer to Vin to make sure he was alright.

Buck shot a puzzled look at Vin who could only shrug, unaware of what Josiah meant. "Josiah, are you hurt?" he repeated.

"Huh? I was hit on the head. Kyle looks like he was beaten. We really need to get him to a doctor," Josiah insisted, struggling to stand on his own.

Still not understanding why Josiah was calling Vin by another name, Buck steadied the other man and helped him stand. "Why don't you let JD take care of everything here while you come with me? " he suggested, glancing over at JD and seeing that he had everything in hand with Vin. Seeing Josiah nod in agreement, Buck began moving off down the path, anxious to get everyone away from the area.

"Are you ok?" JD asked quietly, removing the rope from Vin's hands.

"Been worse," Vin replied, feeling the aches and bruising from where their attackers had beaten him.

Knowing his friend well enough to know that meant Vin could probably use help, but wouldn't ask for it, JD offered his hand and pulled Vin to his feet. When the Texan then swayed where he stood, Dunne slid his arm under Vin's shoulder and wrapped Vin's arm around his own shoulders. He worried slightly when his friend didn't protest the move, but knew they had to get out of there.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan pulled up into the parking lot, quickly shifting his car to park and turning off the engine. He noticed Buck's truck in the lot. Glancing around he saw no sign of anyone other than a few teens. Heading over toward the teens, Nathan was about to ask what was going on when another car pulled into the lot and Orin Travis stepped out.

Watching the older man approach, Jackson quickly nodded his greeting. "Buck and JD are here," he informed. "Most likely they headed out to find Vin and Josiah. I was just about to talk to them," he said indicating the teens, "to find out what they know."

Travis nodded at Nathan's report. "Good," he replied, turning to head over toward the teens. "I have Cavenaugh and the rest of Team Four coming out as well," he informed.

Before he could open his mouth to say anything else, the sound of a large explosion echoed in the clearing. The two men looked at each other as Nathan headed back toward his vehicle. "Call an ambulance," he shouted as he grabbed the first aid kit he always kept ready in the back seat.

"But," Travis began.

"Just do it," Nathan ordered, heading for the trailhead. Looking at the teens, he asked, "Vin mark the trail?" Receiving nods of agreement, he set off at a fast jog, praying his skills wouldn't be needed.


Buck slowly picked himself up from where he'd fallen on top of Josiah, protecting the man with his body. Taking a mental inventory, he determined that he wasn't hurt, though his ears were still ringing slightly from the loud sound. Squatting down next to his friend, he was relieved to see Josiah pushing up onto his hands and knees.

Offering a hand, Buck helped Josiah to his feet and then turned to make sure Vin and JD were safe as well. What Wilmington saw caused all color to drain from his face. Only the presence of Josiah's large hand steadying him kept him from falling back to the ground. "JD," he whispered.

"Kyle," Josiah said aloud, stepping forward to go check on the young dark haired man who had helped him and his son escape. Having heard the other man's whispered cry, he guided his rescuer forward toward the prone forms.

As they came closer, it became obvious that things were not all well with the two young men. JD was lying on top of the again unconscious Vin. That wasn't too bad until the six inches of metal protruding from Dunne's back came into view. There were other, smaller pieces of shrapnel imbedded in the young man as well.

"Oh, God," Buck gasped, falling to his knees beside his friend and reaching a hand out to check for a pulse, fearing the worst. His head fell forward in relief when he found a steady if somewhat weak pulse.

Josiah's eyes were focused only on his son. "Kyle," he said again, reaching out to stroke the long, wavy hair. Holding his hand in front of the injured man's nose and mouth, Josiah's eyes closed in a prayer of thanks as he felt warm breath caress his fingers. Looking down the boy's length for some explanation as to why he was unconscious, Sanchez winced as he saw the gopher hole into which Kyle had stepped and in which his foot still remained.

Moving down to the feet of both men, he extracted the foot that the hole had trapped and ran his fingers over the ankle and foot, relieved when he didn't feel any breaks. A noise behind him had Josiah turning quickly to see who was approaching. "Thank God," he breathed as he recognized his friend, Nathan Jackson. "Nate, we need you and we need an ambulance," he called out.

Nathan slowed to a stop and quickly evaluated the scene. JD was laying half on top of Vin with a lot of shrapnel sticking out of his back. It didn't appear that Vin was hit, but Josiah still had Tanner's foot in his hand as if he'd been checking it over. "We're going to have to get JD down flat as soon as we can," he announced, checking Vin over quickly to see if there were any injuries that could be aggravated by moving the young man. When he didn't find anything suspicious, he instructed, "Josiah get his feet and legs. Let's move him over a bit. Buck, I'm going to need you to slowly lower JD onto his stomach. All the shrapnel seems to be in his back."

"OK," Buck agreed.

Working together, they soon had the two unconscious men arranged next to each other.

"Ambulance is coming. I had Travis call them," Nathan informed, turning his attention to JD's injuries. He knew it would be best to leave the shrapnel in until Dunne was in a hospital where they could deal with the removal better than he could out in the woods. He was checking the lump he found on the back of JD's head when Josiah's words penetrated his consciousness and caused him to freeze in what he was doing.

"It's okay," Josiah soothed. "You'll be fine, Kyle. We'll get you all fixed up and have you home with Peter and your mother in no time."

Nathan's shocked brown eyes met Buck's puzzled blue. Swallowing several times, Nathan turned his attention back to JD and quickly finished with Dunne. Once he finished, he closed his eyes and gathered his thoughts before turning to face Josiah. "How are you doing over there?" he asked, moving closer.

"I'm fine," Josiah said, unaware of Nathan's close scrutiny. "Kyle's unconscious again, though."

The paramedics called out to the group they saw in the woods as they approached. As they came closer, they saw one man bending over another tending to some wound or another. When they reached the group, the man who had been giving care informed the paramedics of his findings. The men nodded and, after performing their own checks, loaded JD onto a backboard and then onto a stretcher they'd brought with them, the normal gurney being unsuitable for the terrain. They assured Nathan that they would call for another ambulance, but Vin chose that moment to rejoin them.

Assuring the others he was able to walk with some help, Nathan carefully helped Vin to his feet and slung Tanner's arm over his shoulders.

The group started to make their way out of the woods.


Buck, Nathan and Travis stood in the waiting room waiting for word on their friends. JD had been taken up to surgery to remove the metal shards from his body. Buck had wanted to follow, but Nathan and Travis had managed to convince him to wait until they had word on Vin and Josiah and then they would all head up together.

What none of them was looking forward to was the arrival of Chris and Ezra. To say Chris was upset at having been cut out of the loop would be an understatement. To say he was not happy about three of his men being injured when they were supposed to be doing something safe, would have been very accurate.

"Where are they?" Larabee demanded as he charged through the doors and made a beeline straight for Buck, Nathan and Travis. Ezra moved a little slower, but with no less purpose.

Nathan scowled at Chris and Ezra. "What's he doing here?" he demanded. "You're supposed to keep him resting at home," he informed Chris.

Buck saw things were about to escalate and quickly intervened. "Here comes Josiah and Vin's doctor," he said quickly, pointing to the man headed their way.

The doctor approached the group of men who were staring at him. He had already dealt with Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Jackson. He didn't like the looks of the blond man who had joined them, but knew the two men were anxiously waiting news on their friends. "Gentlemen," he greeted.

"What's going on with my men?" Chris snapped out. He subsided only when Travis clamped a hand on his arm in warning.

Stepping forward, Orin took control of the situation. "Thank you for coming to talk to us, Doctor. What news do you have?"

The doctor shot a wary glance toward Chris before turning back to address Travis. "First, the young one, the brunet, is in surgery and the last indication we had was that all was going well."

Travis could feel the tension in Chris rising and once more stepped in before the Team Leader could alienate the man. "And Misters Sanchez and Tanner?" he asked.

"Mr. Tanner has several very deep bruises, first and second degree burns and a twisted ankle as well as a concussion," the doctor informed. "As for Mr. Sanchez, well, there have been a few complications."

Nathan blanched at the announcement and asked, "The amnesia?"

The doctor nodded his head as he saw the blond whip around to face Jackson. "It appears he also has a concussion, but there have been a few complications with his case."

"Complications?" Chris asked, suddenly stilling completely.

"It appears his memory is blending past and present together. While it's not unheard of, it is a little unusual. Mr. Jackson knows and understands Mr. Sanchez' past better than I and should be able to fill you in on what exactly is merging together." Seeing the men before him nod in acknowledgment, he continued. "Mr. Sanchez also has first and second degree burns on his back and arms. The burns on both men have been treated here, but will need further treatment. The burns are very painful and will cause some discomfort. Combined with the headaches, dizziness and other effects of the concussions, they will both be in some pain. I would like to keep them here at least overnight."

"Done," Larabee agreed, wanting to speak with Nathan to find out what was going on and then find his men.

"Alright," the doctor said, not wanting to cross the angry-looking man. "They're both resting in their exam rooms right now. One of you can go back to see each of them. We should have their regular room number shortly. Then you can move there or to the surgical waiting room for word on your other friend."

"Thank you, doctor," Travis acknowledged.

Waiting until the doctor has left, Chris turned toward Nathan. "What does he mean about Josiah's past?" he demanded.

Nathan sighed. He didn't want to talk about this, had promised Josiah he never would, but it appeared he had no choice. "Let's go sit," he said, indicating a group of chairs.

When all were settled, Nathan looked each man in the face before beginning his tale. Looking at Ezra he sighed. "Chris, you and Orin have probably read most of the facts about this in Josiah's personnel file. When I first met Josiah he was married to a wonderful woman name Rose. Rose had two sons, Peter and Kyle. When Josiah and I met, both boys were in their late teens. Josiah and Rose had been married since Peter was 6 and Kyle 2. He was the only father Kyle had ever known. Peter remembered his father but only vaguely. To both of them, Josiah was 'Dad'."

Taking a deep breath, he continued. "Peter, Kyle and Rose all died in a car accident about five years before the team formed, only a few years after I met Josiah. They were driving out for a family vacation and Josiah was supposed to meet them as soon as he finished his current case." Clearing his throat and fighting off the tears in his own eyes, Nathan continued, "When he received the call, he tore out of the building and let nothing stand in his way. I followed after him and was there when he identified the bodies. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do and I could tell it was even worse for him. I thought for a while he would end up with his sister, but somehow he managed to pull through."

"A good friend can go a long way," Chris inserted softly, thinking of the times Buck had helped him and knowing Nathan would have done no less for Josiah.

"Maybe," Nathan agreed, with a nod. "Anyway, today when I arrived, Josiah was holding Vin and called him Kyle." The others waited for Nathan to continue; stunned by the information they were receiving. "When we got here I could tell he was confused. He knew that he was on Team Seven, that we worked together. He recognized JD and Buck and me, but he still believes Vin is his son."

"And I assume Mr. Tanner set him straight?" Ezra asked, feeling a twinge of discomfort at the thought of more lies. It was the lies he lived for his job that had lost him his heart. He had vowed to never lie to those he cared about; never again.

Nathan sighed and ran a hand over his face. "That's just it. When Vin tried to set him straight, Josiah became very agitated, to the point the paramedics thought they would need to sedate him. Finally, I convinced Vin to just go along with it until we could figure out what to do."

Chris dropped his head into his hands. This was not what they needed. "Any idea how long before things sort themselves out?"

"Unfortunately, there's no way to know," Nathan said softly.

"Great," Larabee groaned.

Travis sighed. "Chris, I can have your whole team stand down until you're healed. You're already down four sevenths."

Looking up, Chris let his eyes slide from Travis to Buck to Nathan. He could see the argument forming in the brown and blue eyes. "No," Chris disagreed. "We want a piece of them."

Frowning, Orin stared at Chris and finally sighed in defeat, knowing that if he agreed now he might be able to set the terms and thereby keep better control of his most unruly team. "Fine. Nathan and Buck work with Team Four. It's still their case." Seeing the protest forming on Chris' face, he held up a hand. "Someone is going to need to be there for the four who are injured and we already have one leader on the job. You handle your team and I'll see if we can work you in on the bust," he offered.

Larabee was about to protest when he saw the look in Travis' eye that meant this was the best he could expect. "Fine," Chris grunted. "We do it your way."

Offering a small smile, Travis nodded. "Good. I'll go talk to Cavenaugh and see if he can use Nathan and Buck. You see to your men," he ordered before leaving.

"I'm going up to surgery," Buck said, rising, his mind focused only on being there for JD.

"I'll see to Vin," Chris announced.

"I shall make my way to Mr. Sanchez," Ezra offered.

Nathan sighed. "I guess that means I get the nurses," he observed.

The four men rose and went to their appointed places.


Chris pulled back the curtain of the exam room and winced at the bruising and burns he saw on his friend's face, arms and side. What he could see of Vin's back was covered in a thick gel. Lines of pain creased the handsome face.

"You just going to stare all day or we going to get out of here?" Vin asked without opening his eyes.

Letting out a breath, Chris moved to the side of the gurney and reached out to touch Vin, pulling his hand back when he couldn't figure out a place to let it rest. "JD's still in surgery," he informed. "Buck's up there now. You get to spend at least the night here." Seeing the protest forming, Chris explained, "A precaution because you lost consciousness more than once and because they want to watch your burns."

A resigned sigh escaped the battered Texan. "Wanna know about the kid," Vin mumbled, his eyes opening a slit.

"He's in surgery and doing fine," Chris assured. "When they release you from here, you, Josiah and Ezra will be spending some quality time at the ranch with me."

A frown marred Vin's face. "'Siah think's I'm someone named Kyle. Any idea who that is?" he asked.

Chris sighed and sank onto the stool near the bed. He hated talking about his friends, especially the more painful episodes he'd read in their personnel files, yet Vin would have to know what was going on if he was going to be dealing with Josiah. He also knew he wasn't breaking any privacy clauses by telling Vin what Nathan had told him in the waiting room. There was no reason for him to reveal any more than that. "Josiah was married. The woman had two sons, Peter and Kyle. When he was hit on the head, his brain got a little scrambled and his past and present are bleeding together. He thinks you're Kyle."

"So if I'm Kyle, who's Peter?" Vin asked.

"Don't know, but Ezra is with him now," Chris admitted.

Vin's blue eyes widened slightly. "Chris," he said, his voice betraying some urgency, "'Siah already thinks on Ez as a son. Condition Ezra is in right now, he won't take too kindly to playing someone else. He's just now finding himself."

A curse slipped out of Larabee's mouth as he rose and left the curtained room. As he stepped into the hallway, he heard the two voices begin to rise in anger. Hurrying down the hall, he stepped into Josiah's cubicle and placed a hand on the irate Southerner. "It's alright," he soothed both men, easily reading the physical pain on Josiah's face and the emotional pain on Ezra's. "Tell me what the problem is and we'll see what we can do about it," Chris gentled.

Ezra took another step back and Josiah leaned back against the pillows on his gurney. Chris released a sigh of relief and was about to start a discussion when he noticed Nathan standing by the curtain looking upset. "Why don't you and I go for a short walk and let Josiah rest up for bit?" Chris suggested, placing a hand on Ezra's arm. Then turning to Josiah, he assured, "We'll be back shortly." Seeing Josiah nod in acknowledgment, Chris led the still recovering agent out of the cubicle, down the hall and to a secluded area where they could talk privately and without interruption. Only when they arrived at their destination did the men realize Nathan was with them.

"Are you okay, Ezra? What happened in there?" Nathan asked, concern evident in his voice.

Leaning back against the wall, Ezra focused his eyes on the ceiling, unwilling to look at his comrades. His jaw still clenched tightly in frustration and unexpressed emotional pain, Ezra explained, "He thinks I'm his son, Peter. When I explained that I was his coworker and friend and not his son, he insisted that I am in fact his son and to stop playing games. I then informed him that I was not playing games, he had a partial memory loss and I was, in fact, who I claimed to be."

"You couldn't just play along to keep him calm? I mean that's what you do, play roles." Nathan asked, looking down the hall, even more worried about Josiah. When he turned his attention back to Ezra he was met with an angry gaze.

Ezra listened to his friends and knew they didn't understand why he wouldn't just play along and pretend to be Peter. It was something he would not normally hesitate to do. But that had been before this last case, before he had allowed the lie of who he was to lead him into love, into an affair with the wife of their main suspect, before the lies he was living had destroyed any hope they might have had together. No. When it came to personal relationships, especially those close to the heart, he wasn't going to pretend to be someone else. Never again. He would not lose another person he cared for to his lies. "I will not lie to my friend," Ezra spat back, his voice breaking on the word friend as his control over his emotions slipped.

"We understand why you feel that way, Ezra" Chris interjected, trying to give the man a chance to gather himself.

"Do you?" Ezra demanded, staring into the hazel eyes of his leader. As he studied the eyes, he could see that Chris did in fact understand his reluctance to pretend to be something he wasn't with his friends, or at least part of it. He could feel his resolve begin to crumble as he turned from his Team Leader to Nathan. Nathan's apology was written large in his eyes and Ezra knew the medic had only been thinking of what was best for everyone.

Chris reached out and squeezed Ezra's shoulder.

"We'll try to limit your time with him," Nathan suggested, thankful for Ezra's agreement and forgiveness. "Why don't you go visit with Vin and I'll stay with Josiah until they get moved to their room?"

"Just one room?" Chris asked.

Nathan grinned. "They know us too well. JD will be moved to the same room after surgery. In the meantime Ezra can use that bed to rest," he advised, his look letting Ezra know that he wasn't willing to take any backtalk.

"Yes, Nathan," Ezra sighed, sounding very much like a reluctant child. He once more had firm control over his emotions.

"OK, then," Nathan said, fighting a smile. "Let's go visit our friends."