The Bonds Of Brotherhood


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


As the first stirrings of daytime reached out toward the Larabee ranch, one of the occupants of that house found himself caught in a world that made little sense to him.

"Everyone hold position and wait for my signal," Chris' voice instructed though the tiny earpiece.

Josiah shifted slightly, silently in his position. He wasn't comfortable where he was because he didn't have a clear view of what was going on during the meet. But he pushed aside those thoughts as he inhaled deeply and slowly exhaled. His position was every bit as important as anyone else's. They needed to keep an eye on the side entry to make sure no one left after the deal was set.

The noise of a large door opening caused the nervousness that had been swimming in his belly to reach out as tension in his shoulders. This was it. The deal was going down. Now all he had to do was wait and watch.

Everything was going smoothly until a gunshot sounded. Feeling his heart rate quicken, Josiah scanned his area, searching for anyone trying to get away.

As the gunfire continued, he spotted two forms headed toward the door, a man and a woman. The Covingtons if he wasn't mistaken. Checking to make sure there were not other threats, he stepped out far enough to allow himself to be seen while still allowing him quick regress if needed. "Freeze, ATF," he called out.

The two suspects froze and raised their hands. Reaching back for a pair of cuffs, he had only a moment to prepare as he noticed the cold smile on the woman's face and the man's eyes shift to something behind him. There was no time to bring his gun up as the body lunged at him.

While he was involved in a struggle with his assailant, he could do little as he noticed the couple turning to slink out another way. He just managed to subdue his attacker when he saw the man and woman stop.

Cuffing the suspect, he overheard the conversation. "I would suggest you cease and desist in your escape attempt," a cultured Southern voice recommended.

"I think not," Covington denied.

"It would be in your best interest to remain where you are," the first voice recommended, punctuating the command with the sound of a gun cocking.

The sound of a second gun being made ready to fire reached Sanchez's ears as he finished with his prisoner. Looking up, he saw the Covingtons facing his teammate, his friend. "I think not," Petra Covington purred. "My husband and I are about to go now and you'll do nothing to stop us."

Josiah saw all color drain from the green-eyed man's face as the pain of heartbreak flashed across. "No," the other denied.

"No?" Petra inquired an eyebrow going up.

Retrieving his gun, Josiah approached the group where they stood.

"Wrong answer," the cold-blooded woman informed, pulling the trigger.

"Ezra!" Josiah screamed as he watched his young friend crumple to the ground and the two suspects disappear.

Jerking upright in bed, Josiah leaned his head into his hands as he tried to catch his breath after the terror of the nightmare. His head was pounding, aching more than it had when he first woke up at the still with... A sharp pain slashed through his mind at the thought. The intensity of the anguish caused black spots to appear before his eyes when he opened them.

Closing his eyes quickly, he felt everything begin to dim and fade as the world slipped away and he fell once more into darkness.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stepped out onto the deck, surprised to find his friend sitting on the step, sipping coffee. "Mr. Tanner," he greeted formally, settling carefully into a seat nearby.

"Ez," he returned, staring out at the day and relishing the peace of the moment.

"I thought for sure you would be with the horses at this ungodly hour," Ezra observed, sipping his own brew.

A smile tugged at the corners of Vin's mouth as he casually informed, "Eight o'clock in the morning is hardly an ungodly hour. Besides, I already been to the horses and did everything Chris would let me."

"Yes, Mr. Larabee can be rather overprotective at times can't he?"

"Mother hen," Tanner grumbled with a smile, knowing it would bring a smile to Ezra's face as well. "Needs work on his nursing skills, though," he added wincing as he straightened his back.

"I take it he tended your burns this morning?" Standish inquired. His answer was a nod. "I understand."

"Morning, boys," Josiah greeted as he stepped onto the patio.

Vin turned to look at his friend and frowned. Shooting his blue eyes toward Ezra, he read the same question in the green eyes that met his. "You doin' alright? You're looking a little rough."

Sinking back in a chair, Josiah rested his head against the back and closed his eyes. "Had a strange dream this morning," he confessed. "I don't recall what it was about, but I woke up with a splitting headache." He took a sip of coffee and sighed. "Sure wish your mom was here to rub it away. She sure has the magic touch."

The Texan started at the statement until he remembered Josiah still thought he was Kyle. It wasn't Vin's mother to whom Josiah was referring, but Rose. Vin met Ezra's eyes and saw his own distress mirrored on the other face. They kept hoping Josiah would realize who they really were. It wasn't easy to pretend to be Kyle and Peter.

"Do you boys remember that camping trip we took?" he asked.

"Which one?" Ezra inquired with a resigned sigh. Both he and Vin had been able to get information about Josiah's deceased sons from Nathan and knew that camping had been a favorite pastime of the Sanchez clan.

"Rock River," Josiah said with a smile. "You were about ten at the time, Peter and loved being outside and camping. Kyle wasn't so thrilled with the idea." Cracking a mirth-filled blue eye open, he continued with a smile, "Of course, if I came home with poison ivy, poison oak and chigger bites, I probably wouldn't have been so keen on the idea either." He chuckled softly as Kyle's cheeks flushed and Peter smiled.

"Now that's not fair," Vin protested. "I got better about that."

Josiah laughed out loud. "I suppose you could say that. Don't recall you coming down with poison ivy or poison oak again, but you never did seem to get your feet underneath you."

Ezra couldn't help himself. He laughed at the thought of Vin being inept in the woods. If anything the sharpshooter was more at home there than he was in the city.

"Laugh it up," Tanner told the Southerner, his eyes narrowing and promising payback.

"Now, boys," Josiah soothed. "We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Kyle's strengths just happen to not be in nature. Or should I mention your little run-in with acting, Peter?" he asked, raising an eyebrow, knowing the last thing Peter would want to be reminded of would be his one and only role in a school play.

"That's quite all right," Ezra quickly piped up, knowing from the tone of voice that nothing good would come of such a tale.

"Okay then," the older man said, settling back and taking another sip of coffee as a quick burst of pain raced through his head causing him to wince. "Your mother and I have been looking at a plot of land in the woods," he began, feeling it was time to tell the boys of the retirement home he and Rose hoped to build.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee walked by the patio door and saw Vin, Ezra and Josiah all sitting outside. He made a mental note to take care of Josiah's back later and make sure Ezra took his medicine. His step faltered slightly as realized what his thoughts had been. If he didn't know better, Larabee would think he sounded like a nurse. Still, perhaps that was the best description for him right now. With nothing to work on, he had little choice but to focus on the four men under his care.

Continuing on his way, he stopped by the door of the room JD was sharing with Vin. Knocking, he called, "You up, JD?" He was startled a moment later when the door opened from the inside. Stepping into the room, he watched as JD slowly shuffled back to the bathroom's connecting door.

"Just finishing shaving," he informed Chris, his voice betraying his pain and exhaustion.

Moving into the room, the blond made his way to the dresser and the small tray he had left there. Moving over to the twin bed JD was using, he set the tray down on the small bedside table. "We'll take care of your cuts and stitches when you're done," he informed. His only reply was a grunt.

Turning toward the bathroom, he caught sight of the crosshatch which was JD's back. The ugly stitches made a bizarre pattern with the still-healing cuts. He swallowed and shuddered slightly as he thought about how close they had come to losing not only JD, but Josiah, Vin and Ezra as well. At times it seemed almost too hard to care about these other men, to allow them in, but he knew that in truth, it would be even harder not to. So he continued to open himself to the possibility of loss.

Stepping out of the bedroom, JD shuffled to the bed. He really hurt today and he knew it would be at least ten more minutes before the painkiller he'd taken kicked in and offered relief. Carefully lowering to the bed, he laid out on his stomach, arms at his sides and encouraged, "Let's get this done."

Peering closely at the face turned his way, Chris noticed the drawn look. "How long ago did you take your pill?" he asked.

JD sighed and opened his eyes, knowing his pain would show clearly there. "Ten minutes ago," he admitted.

"We'll wait then," Larabee instructed. "Doing this hurts and I don't want you in any more pain than necessary." He watched as his normally exuberant agent simply sighed and closed his eyes. "What is it?" he asked, concerned for the young man.

Keeping his eyes closed, JD hoped he could just ignore Chris' question. When he felt the penetrating gaze still on him, Dunne sighed again and opened his eyes. "It's stupid," he admitted.

"Nothing's stupid if it's how you feel," Chris encouraged, mentally smiling as he wondered how many times he'd heard that in the grief therapy he'd gone to after Sarah and Adam died, and he had chased Buck away.

Staring into the hazel eyes, JD read the honesty in the gaze. "I feel like I should be helping with the case." When Larabee only nodded, Dunne continued. "It's so stupid. I get laid up in the hospital, out for weeks all because of a few stitches. I know I'm not ready for the field just yet, but I could do other things, research, computers, even paperwork! I'm not incompetent. I can help bring MacDougherty down."

His head nodding in understanding, Chris contemplated his response as he noted the vehemence and anger in the brunet's words. "You don't trust Team Four, Buck and Nathan to do the job?" he asked.

Confused eyes blinked at the blond team leader for a few seconds as he processed the question. "Of course I trust them to do the job," he finally admitted.

"And they trust you to do yours," Larabee replied. He allowed a sigh to escape as he realized the young man wasn't following his train of thought. "JD, the case isn't ours. It never was. It's always belonged to Team Four, that's why Travis wanted me here, watching over the four of you rather than in the office. For this case, I'm not needed, not until the bust. The best place for me to be is here making sure you yahoos get healthy. That way we can get back to our own cases. I know you want to do anything you can to bring MacDougherty down, but do you want to do it because it's your job or because you want them to hurt like you hurt?"

The computer expert blinked at his boss for several minutes as he thought over the words. Finally, he sighed and relaxed. "I guess I wanted revenge," he admitted. "I do trust Team Four and Buck and Nathan to do the right thing, to do it legally and to bring him down."

"Good. So you need to focus on your job."

"Which is?" Dunne inquired.

"Getting better so I can get the lot of you out of my house!" Larabee teased, gratified to see a smile on the other man's face.

+ + + + + + +

Buck stood and walked over to the box that held all the research data they had requested from records. He pulled out another stack of papers and was on his way to his desk when Caitlin Jennings came in with a huge smile on her face.

The lone female member of Team Four made her way into Cavenaugh's office. A few moments later, the team leader stepped into the outer office and announced, "Conference room, now."

Dropping his reports and exchanging a hopeful look with Nathan, Buck headed off toward the meeting room. Taking a seat at the end of the table, he waited to find out what had drawn them all there.

"Go ahead," Cavenaugh said, nodding toward Jennings.

Leaning forward, her eyes dancing, Caitlin informed, "I got a call from one of my informants this morning. When I went to meet him, he said he'd heard about a group who was talking big about hitting the big time with illegal booze. It might not be MacDougherty, but with a buy the size they're talking about, there aren't too many others it could be."

"The meet's supposed to go down in two days," Cavenaugh inserted. "We have some work to do before then," he advised. Then leaning forward, he began laying out the plan of attack.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah woke up with a start as another pain lanced through his head and the name "Vin" echoed in his mind along with the image of a long-haired man with a startling blue eyes and a crooked grin. If he didn't know better, he would have thought it was Kyle.

"You okay?" a concerned voice asked as a hand rested on Sanchez's shoulder.

Leaning his head forward, Josiah pressed both palms against his forehead. "Bad dream, worse headache," he advised. He heard some noise, but couldn't focus on what it was. A few moments later, he felt a cool glass touch his arm.

"Got your pain meds and some water," Larabee informed. "Should help with the headache."

"Thanks," the profiler returned, greedily swallowing the pills. Knowing it would still be a few moments before they kicked in, he leaned his head back and kept his eyes closed. He heard Chris begin to leave the room. Suddenly needing to know, he cleared his throat and asked, "Chris?"

"Yeah?" the blond asked, turning slightly.

Cracking one eye open, Josiah looked at his friend and asked. "Do you know someone named Vin?"


"I've gotta call the guys," Buck said as he headed back to his desk.

"We've got work that needs to be done," Abram Cavenaugh said, walking over to the ladies' man and clapping him on the shoulder.

"Yes, sir," Wilmington agreed. Then, as Team Four's leader was heading off, Buck called, "Hey, Cavenaugh!" Seeing he had the man's attention, he asked, "Should I have Larabee come in? He wants to be part of this, too."

Abram smiled at the rogue. "Sure, but we won't need him until tomorrow. I'll want to get his opinion on the plan, too." Then, with a nod, he entered his office.

Turning to grin at Nathan, Buck reached for the phone and dialed Larabee's number.

+ + + + + + +

JD was walking out toward the deck where he was pretty sure he saw Chris and Josiah when the phone rang. Picking up the device, he greeted, "Larabee residence." Vin and Ezra stepped into the hall from opposite directions when they heard the phone ring and were now waiting to find out who was calling. "No way!" Dunne shouted, his eyes sparking in excitement as his whole body seemed to take on an energy that had been missing since the injury. "Sure... Yeah... This is great, Buck... Yeah... Yeah, I'll let him know. Thanks!" Hanging up the phone, JD let out a loud whoop and pumped his fist in the air, wincing when the stitches pulled.

"What is it?" Vin asked, stepping closer, tense with anticipation.

"Come on," the computer expert encouraged, pushing past his two friends and heading toward the porch. "I've gotta tell Chris and let every one know at once."

+ + + + + + +

Chris stopped and stared dumbly at Josiah for several minutes. In all the discussions he, Nathan, Buck, JD, Vin and Ezra had had about the profiler's memory loss, none of them had ever thought to ask what they should do when memories of the present began to return. Should Chris say "yes" and explain that the man Sanchez thought was Kyle was in fact Vin? Should he just say "yes" and leave it? Should he tell his friend not to worry about it?

As the blond struggled to come up with an answer, the door to the porch opened and the others walked out, JD leading the way. He couldn't remember the last time he was this relieved to have a conversation interrupted.

"Chris!" JD called in greeting, a spring in his step and excitement evident in every aspect of his frame.

Turning to look at his youngest team member, Chris tried to figure out what was happening. Looking past the brunet to Vin and Ezra, he could see they were as clueless as he was. "What is it, JD?" he asked.

"I just heard from Buck. They think they have a line on the MacDougherty gang. There's a meet set to go down two days from now."

Chris felt a spike of relief jolt through him at the words, finally seeing an end to this latest threat to his family. Taking a deep breath and pushing aside his emotions, Larabee slid into the role that was so much a part of him. "Any word on when they'll need me in?"

"Buck said that Cavenaugh wants to talk to you tomorrow, to have you go over the plans for the bust with him," JD informed, bouncing slightly in place.

With a nod, the blond turned to go inside. "I'll need to call him and Travis," he informed. Then, twisting slightly to face his men, he met each pair of eyes and stated, "The threat isn't over yet." Satisfied when he saw his team nod in acknowledgment, he continued, "It's just as dangerous now as it was before, maybe more so. We can't afford to relax until MacDougherty and his gang are safely locked away."

"Amen," Josiah said softly.

"Indeed you are correct, Mr. Larabee," Ezra agreed.

"Right," JD confirmed.

Vin nodded his understanding.

With one last look at the injured members of his team, he stepped inside and prepared to make a few phone calls. As he turned his thoughts to the job, Chris made a mental note to let everyone know that Josiah was beginning to recover his memory, and to find out what they should do about it.

+ + + + + + +

Picking up the ringing phone, Franklin greeted, "MacDougherty."

"The information has been passed. Events are in motion," came the brief message before the call was ended and a dial tone sounded.

Hanging up the receiver, the bootlegger leaned back in his chair, swiveled it until it faced out of his office window and smiled in satisfaction. It was almost too easy. In two days' time, his latest problem would be eliminated.

+ + + + + + +

Travis was sorting through papers when a knock sounded on his door. "Come!" he called out wondering where his assistant was. Setting the paper aside, he looked up and frowned in confusion as he saw the man he'd put in charge of investigating the inside leak.

"Sir," the man greeted.

"What is it?"

"Sir, our target has disappeared."

"Disappeared? How is that possible?" he asked, his voice rising in anger at the loss of their link to the MacDougherty gang.

"I'm not entirely sure," the agent admitted. "When there was no sign of movement in the house by ten thirty this morning, I investigated and found nothing."

Travis leaned back in his chair and clenched his jaws shut. This was not good news, not with a bust going down in two days. Fortunately, that information hadn't reached the ATF office until earlier that day. "Fine," he said, leaning forward to continue sorting through his piles of work while he thought of what to do. Glancing up at the agent, he instructed, "Write it up and go back to your normal duties." Turning his attention to his paperwork once more, Orin wondered how he would break the news to Chris.

+ + + + + + +

"There you are," Vin said, stepping into the barn and finding Ezra gently brushing his horse. "Been looking for you."

Ezra raised one eyebrow. "Any particular reason?" he asked.

With a one shoulder shrug, the Texan leaned against a nearby post. "Just seemed a little distant today. Thought you might want to talk about it."

Standish sighed and leaned up against his mount. "My whole life seems to have been one lie after another, one charade after another." Glancing over, he saw Vin nod. "Sometimes the lies were almost more real than reality," he admitted. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself for the admission to come. "I bought into the lie in the Covington case and discovered how devastating they could be."

Shifting to an upright stance, Vin stepped forward and moved within an arms-length of his friend, ready to offer what support he could.

Acknowledging the gesture with a nod, Ezra stared into the sympathetic blue eyes. "I thought I could do this," he confessed. "But I don't think I can."

Puzzling over the admission, Tanner finally realized his friend was talking about pretending to be Peter. He was at a loss on how to comfort the Southerner, however, since he was in the same boat. "Too fresh?" Vin inquired, referencing the emotional scars left from Ezra's affair with Petra Covington.

The green eyes sought out the open door and the mountains in the distance. "Everywhere I've ever been I've always had to wear a mask and hide who I really was. This team, this..." he paused seeking the right words. "This family," he continued softly, endowing the word with a reverence that he knew Vin would understand. "This is the one place where I don't have to pretend, where I don't have to wear a mask. Now..."

"Now you're worried what will happen when Josiah regains his memory and realizes we lied to him," Tanner completed.

The undercover agent turned toward his friend and nodded.

Vin allowed his own eyes to seek the outside and released a heavy sigh. "I don't know," Vin admitted. "It seemed like the right thing at the time, leastwise to everyone else." Taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it, he met the green eyes of his friend and admitted, "If we're really the friends... the family we think we are, we'll get through this together and come out closer on the other side."

Ezra searched his friend's face for any sign of deception but found nothing except truth and hope. Taking some of that hope into himself, he nodded and offered a small smile.


Josiah stood in the early morning light, staring out at the land around the house. His eyes picked up the incongruity of the men who were there to protect them from the MacDougherty gang and could only hope that all of the preparation going into tomorrow's bust would pay off.

What had drawn him to the front porch at this hour, however, wasn't concern for the upcoming demise of the bootleggers, it was the nightmares and dreams that had been plaguing him that had managed to chase away any hope of slumber.

Settling on the step, he rested his shoulder against the post and allowed his head to rest against the wood as well as he tried to recall the dreams.

Most of them had been of tense, dangerous situations involving various members of the team but usually Peter and Kyle. Sometimes they would get hurt, though most of the time they were fine. But what bothered him was that he always woke up calling them by other names, Vin and Ezra.

He had other dreams, more like memories, really, of when the boys were younger and the fun they had. When he woke up from those dreams, however, he felt a tremendous sense of loss. It didn't make sense. None of it made sense. He needed answers and he had to get them.

Yesterday he had asked Chris if he knew someone named "Vin". The blond had never answered him. Now, it was becoming imperative for Josiah to know. Unfortunately, Chris would be tied up most of the day preparing for the bust tomorrow. True, they might have some time to talk while Larabee tended his burns, but it wouldn't be enough time. Kyle and Peter weren't options for this conversation, and Nathan and Buck were both tied up with the case as well.

That left JD. A part of him hated to put the kid on the spot, but, honestly, he was the only option Josiah had at the moment. The fact that the young man was usually pretty easy going and loved to talk could only work in the profiler's favor. Of course, there had been times when Dunne was every bit as tight-lipped as their blond team leader. With any luck, this wouldn't be one of those times.

A twinge of guilt assailed Josiah at the thought of using his friend in such a way, but these dreams were too disturbing to continue. He needed to know the truth and he needed it soon.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was in the kitchen eating breakfast when Ezra entered the room. Watching the mostly asleep Southerner stumble to the coffee pot, he debated getting up and retrieving a mug for the man. After a moment of watching Ezra uselessly lift and drop his hand repeatedly on the counter in search of the mug that was less than an inch from where he started, Larabee just shook his head and headed over to assist. "Sit down, Ezra," he ordered softly as the bleary, green eyes turned toward him. Smiling at his normally dapper undercover agent, he gave a gentle push and watched as Standish shuffled to the table.

Pouring the dark brew, the team leader turned and walked back to the table, placing the coffee in front of Standish before sitting in his own seat. Looking at the younger man, he watched as Ezra lowered his head to his mug and inhaled deeply. A smile lit the blond's face as he saw the other man's eyes open wider and a slightly more alert look appear in them. At the first sip of the black nectar, a magical change seemed to come over the Southerner.

"Good morning, Mr. Larabee," Ezra greeted, his normal, alert tones.

A low chuckle escaped Larabee as he grinned at the change in Standish. "Morning, Ezra," he returned. With a shake of his head, he picked up the section of newspaper he'd been reading and turned his attention back to the article on the quality of the city's water.

With a puzzled look at his friend, Ezra shrugged, deciding whatever was amusing Chris was beyond his understanding. Taking another sip of coffee, Standish began to feel human again. Reaching out, he lifted a different section of paper and began reading.

+ + + + + + +

In the barn, Vin was finishing with Peso when he heard someone begin to talk. Startled by the fact because he'd heard no one else enter, he was about to announce himself when the words registered in his mind.

"I don't know what to do. I don't know who Vin and Ezra are, but I know they're important to me."

It was Josiah. Standing, he looked over toward where Sanchez' horse was kept and saw the older man rubbing the happy horse's nose.

"I feel so lost and I don't understand what all these dreams mean. I can feel the pain of loss. It's like a giant black entity waiting to descend on me and steal away all the light within me. But why? Why would I feel like that? I have my job, my team, my sons..." A sigh escaped the profiler. "I wish Rose was here. I could always depend on her to set things straight..."

The deep voice trailed off and Vin watched as the expression on his friend's face changed. Wishing there was some way for him to escape without being seen, Tanner knew he had two choices, announce his presence or sit quietly and listen to Josiah pour his heart out. Just as he decided to announce his presence, Sanchez began speaking again.

"Is that it? Is that what I've forgotten? Is Rose... Is she... gone? Is that why there's so much darkness in my soul? So much pain threatening? But... why would they hide that from me? Why would they lie to me? I can forgive much, but a lie like that... I don't know, old friend. Perhaps I'm just imagining things, borrowing trouble. I'll just have to find out."

As he listened to the footsteps walk away, Vin rested his head on the side of the stall as Josiah's words played through his mind, "a lie like that". That's precisely what he and Ezra had been doing, lying to him. He had known it was wrong to lie to the older man from the beginning and both he and Standish had never truly made peace with the decision, but the possibility of losing the relationship he had with the profiler was suddenly far too real.

Coming to decision, the Texan rose. He would tell Chris and Ezra what he had heard and stop the lies. They were only hurting his friend, his brother. The hurting needed to stop.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan cursed as he hung up the phone. They really didn't need this now, didn't need the problem, but wasn't it just like his team to make things more complicated than they needed to be?

"What's up?" Buck asked, walking over and perching on the corner of his friend's desk.

Rubbing his hands over his face, Nathan sighed, leaned back in his chair and looked at the other man. "Josiah's beginning to regain his memories."

"That's great!" Buck enthused, smiling. Seeing the serious look on the medic's face, his smile faded. "Not so great?"

"Not so great," Jackson confirmed. "It seems the memories are coming back as dreams and causing him to question what we've been telling him."

Nodding slightly, Wilmington asked, "And why is that so bad? Maybe his memory will come back intact."

A sigh escaped Nathan. "It most likely will," he confirmed. "Unfortunately, Vin overheard Josiah talking in the barn. It seems Josiah thinks we're hiding the fact that Rose is dead and admitted that sort of lie was something he couldn't forgive."

Cursing softly, Buck ran a hand through his hair. "Not good," he observed, knowing that Josiah's friendship meant every bit as much to Vin and Ezra as it did to him. The thought of losing it was unpleasant, to say the least. Meeting the brown eyes of the other man, he affirmed, "When the time comes, we let him know that Vin and Ez only did it because we asked them to."

Nathan nodded his agreement as a shadow of pain entered his eyes. "I'm the only one who really knew, though," he said softly. "I'll take the blame."

"Not alone," Buck asserted. "We're all in it together, just like always." Seeing acceptance in the other man's face, Wilmington rose and slapped Nathan on the shoulder. With a beaming grin, he added, "Besides, all I have to do is turn on that ole Buck Wilmington charm and he'd forgive us just about anything."

A bark of laughter escaped the medic. "You just watch out," Nathan teased, "or one of these days that charm of yours is going to land you in a heap of trouble we can't get you out of."

Buck laughed, nodded his head and returned to his desk. There were still plans to be made, but as he settled in, unease assailed him at Nathan's revelation. Had they been wrong to encourage Vin and Ezra to play along? Would Josiah understand or just view it as a betrayal? A sigh escaped the ladies' man as he tried to focus on the business at hand.

+ + + + + + +

"Daddy going on a trip?" an angelic little voice asked.

Looking over toward the voice, Franklin MacDougherty smiled at his little girl. "Yes, sweetie," he replied, walking around the bed to lift his daughter into his arms. "Daddy's going hunting tomorrow."

"You're a good hunter," she replied, resting her head on her father's shoulder.

A cold smile crossed his face at the words. He would never let his little angel know what sort of hunting he did. The coldness passed quickly, however, and he dropped a kiss on the small head. "Yes, darling. Daddy's a good hunter." Then pulling the little girl a short ways off so he could see her face, he stared intently into her eyes. "You're going to be good for Mommy, aren't you?"

"Yes, Daddy," the toddler replied dutifully. She was always good for Mommy, mostly.

"That's my good girl," he praised, kissing her once more before setting her on the ground. "Now you go play while I pack and we'll see if we can color some after dinner."


Watching his little girl go, Franklin had a small quaver of fear assault him as he thought of the possibility of leaving his angel fatherless. Shaking it off, his confidence once more asserted itself and he lifted the 9mm he had hidden under his clothes when she had entered. Running his eyes up and down the black barrel, his confidence in his own ability reasserted itself. Tanner and Sanchez were just one more problem, like every other one he'd faced. No problem had ever gotten the best of Franklin MacDougherty and this one wouldn't either.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah sat in the living room staring dumbly at the book before him. He hadn't had a chance to talk to JD and Peter and Kyle seemed to be avoiding him. In fact, had it not been for dinner, he wouldn't have seen them at all. If they were still young, he would assume they were planning another one of their adventures that always seemed to end up destroying some portion of the house, but they were too old for that now.

Something else was going on, but he didn't know what.

Looking up at the clock, a sigh escaped. He didn't want to go to bed, to try and sleep, but he was well aware that his healing body needed the rest. With a sigh, he closed the book and set it aside. Rising from the chair, he stretched and headed toward his room, determined that tomorrow he would get his answers and nothing would stop him.


Chris rolled over and slapped at the alarm, trying his best to silence the annoying sound that had roused him from his slumber. Releasing a sigh of relief, he peeled open one eye and stared at the numbers and groaned. Three thirty was still the middle of the night and far too early to be getting up to work on a bust. Pushing himself to a sitting position, he rubbed a hand over his face and hair as a jaw-cracking yawn found its way free.

"Who ever heard of early morning deals?" he grumbled as he threw the covers off. Forcing himself to stand, he shuffled toward the bathroom. "Criminals today have no respect for a good night's sleep," he muttered as he began his ablutions.

Stepping out of his room, dressed and ready, Larabee stopped in his tracks as the smell of freshly brewed coffee reached him. Closing his eyes and savoring the scent, he headed toward the kitchen.

As he entered the room, his eyes zeroed in on the coffee maker and the lifeblood which was its offering. Grabbing a clean mug out of the drying rack, he quickly poured himself a cup and sighed in relief as a shudder coursed through his frame at the strong brew. A soft chuckle caused him to spin around. He found himself facing Travis. "Orin," Chris greeted with a nod, heading over to take a seat at the table, the question of how the Assistant Director had gotten into his house written clearly on his face.

Smiling at the barely awake blond, Travis explained, "The men on duty let me come to the house and I remembered where you kept the spare key."

"Ah," Larabee acknowledged, taking another sip of coffee and feeling a slightly less violent shudder course down his body, helping him to wake up even more.

"Thought you might like it a little on the strong side this morning," Travis said, indicating the coffee.

"Almost as strong as Vin's," Chris observed, for once, grateful for the strong taste and uncaring if it ate through his stomach lining. "You're here awfully early," he stated, an unspoken question hidden in his words.

A smile graced the older man's face at the unspoken question. "Given Team Seven's history of disobeying doctor's orders, I figured these four might need a babysitter."

A smirk appeared on Chris' face as he acknowledged the truth of that statement. "Good luck," he said, lifting his mug in salute before downing the remainder of the brew. Closing his eyes and grimacing as yet another shudder coursed through him, he breathed out a blast of air. Opening his eyes, he met the amused eyes of his boss and nodded his thanks. "That should do it." Standing he held out his hand. When Travis took it, with true gratitude, he offered, "Thank you."

Orin smiled at the sincerity in the words. "I'll take good care of them," he assured.

"I know you will," Larabee assured, placing his mug in the sink and moving toward the door. Pausing, he turned back, his visage serious. "Josiah's remembering. We haven't been able to get in touch with his doctor to find out what we should do. Right now we're keeping Vin and Ezra out of his way and trying not to answer too many questions. It's frustrating him, but we don't want to tell him everything and cause problems. Hopefully he'll sleep in until after the bust."

A frown appeared on Travis' face as concern for the profiler filled him. "I understand," he assured, wondering if it was too early for him to call a few people and get some answers.

With a final nod, Chris left for the bust.

+ + + + + + +

"We're cutting it kind of close," Abram said to Larabee as Team Seven's leader approached.

"I know," the blond recognized. "But you were right to call it this way. It's going to be hard enough without having our men falling asleep in their positions."

A sigh escaped Cavenaugh as he nodded his understanding. "You ready?"

Snapping to attention, Chris offered a perfect salute and a "Yes, sir" before breaking into a grin.

Team Four's leader laughed aloud. "Now that is something I never thought I'd see," he admitted, grateful for the brief release of tension. "Wilmington and Jackson are over by the surveillance van," he offered.

With a nod, Larabee headed off to see his friends and make sure they were loose. It would also give Cavenaugh a chance to go over all the details and make sure everything was set.

Seeing the lanky form of his oldest friend lounging against the side of the van talking with Nathan, he made his way over and greeted, "Nathan. Buck."

"Hey, stud!" Buck greeted back, looking far too awake and jovial for so early in the morning. "Wishing you were in charge?"

Tilting his head to the side, Chris thought it over. It was true, he was normally more comfortable being in charge, but in this case, he was happy that responsibility fell to someone else. "Nah," he admitted. "It's Team Four's show and always has been."

The ladies' man nodded, content with the answer and glad his friend wouldn't have the extra pressure of leadership on him this time around. "Well,then, welcome back to life in the trenches," he teased.

+ + + + + + +

Vin watched as JD wandered into the kitchen. Five thirty in the morning was a little early for the computer expert to be up, but Tanner understood why the younger man was up. It was the same reason he'd risen at this early hour. Waiting for JD to take his first sip of coffee, the Texan decided to make his presence known, "Half an hour still before it starts."

Turning quickly, Dunne sloshed some coffee onto his hand. Cursing and then lifting his burned hand to his mouth he sucked the liquid off. "Geeze, Vin," he said once his hand was no longer being assaulted by the hot brew. "Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you?"

A soft chuckle escaped the long-haired man. "Sorry about that," he apologized, his smile still in place. Pushing a chair out slightly in invitation, he waited for his friend to sit. "Reckon you're up for the same reason I am," he observed.

"Worried about the guys?" JD asked, wanting to be sure his older friend really was worried and not just humoring him.

Tanner nodded. "Never sits right when I'm not there to watch over you guys, to have your backs," he replied, taking a sip of coffee.

Tilting his head to the side, the computer expert contemplated those words. Honestly, he had never really thought about it, but it did make sense. Vin always had their backs, always watched over them and they never worried about it. The few times the Texan hadn't been there to cover them, he had worried about it. "I'm sure they'd rather have you there with them," JD comforted, his voice showing his faith in his friend.

A smile graced the sharpshooter's face as he accepted the praise of his colleague. Uncomfortable with the praise, Tanner sought to change the subject. "Want to go help with the horses?" he asked.

The coffee mug paused halfway between the table and JD's mouth as large brown eyes looked up to meet blue ones. "I'm not supposed to do anything too strenuous because of my stitches and you're not supposed to be doing too much either," he advised.

The smile on the Texan's face turned mischievous and he said, "Well, what the docs and the guys don't know won't hurt us. Besides, I was just thinking of brushing the horses down. We can do that nice and slow."

Debating within himself, JD finally relented. He had been going nuts being so close to the horses and unable to do anything with them. "Alright," he agreed. "Just let me finish this coffee."

"Deal," Vin agreed.

+ + + + + + +










"Good to go."

"Fifteen minutes. Wait for my mark."


"Got it."




A smile crossed MacDougherty's face the 'all ready' given by his men. The perimeter guards had gone down far more easily than he would have anticipated. He knew there were just five men left. Tanner and one of the others had gone to the barn. That meant Sanchez and two others were in the house. Fortunately his plan had been flexible enough to account for the splitting of the group. They should be in and out before any of the non-targets figured out what was happening. Quick and clean. That was the way he liked things. That was what his men would give him.

Now they just had to wait and time it with the deal going down in town to make sure Larabee, Jackson and Wilmington wouldn't interfere.

+ + + + + + +

"Morning, Orin," Sanchez greeted.

"Josiah," Travis smiled, leaning back in the chair. He had been using Chris' den to do some work. He knew that he would pay for the early morning at some point and decided that he would use the time before then wisely. "How are you feeling this morning?"

Studying the older man, Josiah contemplated the question. "Physically, I'm healing," he admitted. "But there's something going on and no one will tell me what." Moving into the room, he took the seat opposite the Assistant Director, remaining on the edge of the seat instead of leaning back. Resting his elbows on his knees and wincing only slightly at the pull on his back, his eyes drilled into Orin. "Tell me what they won't. Tell me what's going on and I don't mean about the MacDougherty bust today."

Removing his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose, Orin let out a sigh. He had woken up some very skilled professionals this morning, seeking the information he wanted and ended up with nothing definite. One suggested that they tell Josiah the full truth immediately; another said that they shouldn't try to change Sanchez' reality, just play along; the third said he really couldn't say since memory issues tended to vary by individual.

Studying Team Seven's profiler, Travis came to a decision. Leaning forward and resting his forearms on the desk, he made sure he had all of Josiah's attention before he began. "You're right, we aren't telling you everything, but it is because we truly have your own best interest in mind. Right now it would do you more harm than good if we told you the full truth. But if, after the bust, when your team, your family is all here, you still think you need to know, we'll tell you. You will need them, though, so we will wait."

Josiah felt his heart seize momentarily at the Assistant Director's words. What could be so awful that he would need his entire support network here? "Rose," he breathed out feeling the dark cloud that had been hovering at the edge of his consciousness move closer. "It's Rose, isn't it?"

The grief in the blue eyes across from him pierced Travis through. He couldn't imagine how Sanchez had survived her death the first time around. The thought of losing Evie was beyond his abilities to imagine. "I can't confirm or deny that right now," he replied evenly.

Tears gathered in Josiah's eyes. "You don't have to," he replied, his voice rough with unshed tears. "I know... I can feel she's gone." With that statement, he felt the dull ache in his head intensify as grief overwhelmed him and he began to weep.

Rising from his seat and walking around to offer what comfort he could, Travis jerked around at the sound of a mug shattering in the kitchen. Reaching inside his coat, he pulled out his gun and took the safety off. Glancing at the other man, he saw Josiah had wiped the tears and was keyed into the sound as well. Had it been Vin, Ezra or JD who had broken the mug, the noise would have been accompanied by a verbal expression of frustration. Instead there was only silence. Moving toward the door, Travis turned once more to look at the profiler.

While Orin moved toward the door, Josiah had walked to the desk, retrieved a set of keys and had opened the gun case in the corner. Selecting a handgun of the same type as the one Travis was using, he looked over at the other man and mouthed, "Clip".

Seeing the request, Travis reached into his inside jacket pocket and retrieved his spare clip. He momentarily wondered how Sanchez would know he carried a spare clip, but dismissed those thoughts as he reminded himself that Josiah was the best profiler in the business. He watched as Josiah inserted the clip and moved to the other side of the door.

+ + + + + + +

The sound of a shattering mug woke Ezra from a sound sleep. Glancing at the clock, he noticed it was just a little after six in the morning. Suppressing a small whimper at the early hour, he tried to go back to sleep, but realized something wasn't right. Cursing his slow mind, he finally figured out there was a lack of cursing following the break. In fact, there wasn't even the sound of someone sweeping up the broken glass. There should have been a creak when the closet door was opened.

Suddenly awake and alert, Ezra rolled out of bed, hissing as his still healing wound pulled slightly. Moving as silently as possible, he crossed the room and retrieved his gun from one drawer and his ammunition from his kit. Making sure the gun was loaded and he had enough ammo, he moved stealthily to the door, opening it a crack and peering out into the hallway.


"Things can't ever be easy with you people, can they?" Cavenaugh growled at Larabee who had joined him behind a shipping crate.

Chris just grinned at his counterpart as a bullet imbedded itself in the crate next to them. "Gotta love it," he said aloud as he edged around the side of the crate, took aim and fired. He was rewarded with a cry of pain from the man who had been sneaking up on them.

Shaking his head, Cavenaugh leaned around his side of the crate, fired twice and gained a cry of his own from another of the suspects. As he ducked behind the crate once more, he looked at Larabee and shook his head. "I should have known," he admitted as he shook his head. "Only the presence of your team could turn a simple, well-thought-out bust into a running gun battle with no end in sight."

The blond head tilted to the side as he thought over Cavenaugh's words and what had happened. It was almost as if the suspects knew that they would be there. A curse slipped from Larabee's lips.

"What?" Team Four's leader asked, startled. "You hit?"

Chris leaned his head back against the crate and cursed himself for a fool. "The two selling. They're the ones that have been associated with MacDougherty, right?"

Abram nodded in confirmation. "They aren't in the inner circle and are the only two we have descriptions on."

Closing his eyes and praying he was wrong Larabee asked, "Isn't this bust a little big for MacDougherty to let them handle alone?"

Team Four's leader stared at the man in black for several seconds before his eyes widened at the conclusion he arrived at. A low, hissed curse tumbled out of him as he came to the same realization as Larabee. This deal was nothing more than a set-up. That could only mean that the real target was elsewhere and the only other targets MacDougherty had at the moment were recuperating at Larabee's ranch.

Taking a deep breath, Cavenaugh contacted his sharpshooter to see how they were doing. When the news came back that both of MacDougherty's men were dead and the others were pretty much down for the count, Abram looked at Larabee. "Take your men and go. I can't spare anyone right now, but we'll head out as soon as we can. I pray to God we're wrong about this."

Nodding his thanks, Chris moved to a crouch and replied, "So do I."

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked up from where he was tending Peso's hoof as the horses began to get restless. Glancing out the open door and then the window, he didn't see a single cloud in the sky and knew the problem couldn't be weather. If it were one of the guys, the mounts would be calling out a greeting. That left only two things it could be, varmints or a stranger. A bad feeling settled upon the Texan and he realized he would put his money on it being a stranger.

Looking over toward the stall across from his, he caught JD's eye. It was easy to see the young man had picked up on the change in atmosphere as well. Tipping his head toward the tack room, Vin indicated he would take that side of the barn. He saw Dunne nod in agreement and turn toward the other side.

Tanner had just opened the door to Peso's stall to leave when the first shot sounded from the house. His head whipping around, in that direction, he felt adrenaline begin streaming through his veins. He and JD were in the barn vulnerable and without weapons. They had no way to get to the house, except by going outside and right now they didn't know what was waiting for them out there.

Glancing over at his friend, the sharpshooter saw Dunne motioning. It took only a moment for him to understand. The computer expert wanted Vin to go up to the hayloft and look around from up there. Even knowing how much climbing the ladder would hurt his healing burns, Tanner knew he didn't have a choice. While climbing the ladder would be painful for him, it would be almost impossible for JD with the stitches in his back.

Nodding his understanding, Vin silently slipped from the stall and made his way to the ladder which led to the hayloft.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra peered down the hall, first toward the other bedrooms and then toward the rest of the house, but he saw nothing either way. He debated on what he should do. If he stayed, he could easily make a stand where he was, but concern about the others was urging him to abandon his secure location and ensure the safety of those important to him.

Closing his eyes and focusing on the sounds in the house, he tried to hear the men moving. They had already given away their location in the kitchen with the broken mug. Thinking of the layout of the house, he tried to mentally map their possible routes. First, there were the living and dining rooms. Then there would be the den. Would anyone be in the den? He wasn't sure.

If no one was in the den, the men would continue to move through the house to the bedroom area and into his territory.

A soft scraping sound caught his attention. Turning to look in that direction, he realized the sound came from the master bedroom. Chris was at the bust this morning and the others wouldn't invade his private space by going in there. That left only one conclusion for Ezra to draw - an intruder was in the room, trying for a flanking attack.

Adjusting his grip on his gun, Ezra prepared to move. One thing the would-be attacker obviously hadn't accounted for was that he was dealing with Team Seven.

Taking a deep breath and checking the hall one last time, he slipped out of his room as the sound of a shot being fired came from the other end of the house.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah and Travis exchanged looks. They had two clips between them. There was more ammunition in the house, but it was locked away in another room as a security precaution. While a wise and responsible thing to do, right now it worked against them. Neither man was in any shape to be running and dodging through the house as someone fired at them. That meant that every shot they took would have to count.

Glancing at the window on the other side of the room, Josiah quietly moved to it and pulled the curtains back. It would allow someone from the outside to see in, but it would also allow them to see out in case someone decided to approach from that direction. Looking back at his boss, Sanchez saw the nod of acknowledgment and approval from the older man. Sliding slightly to the side of the window, he took up a position there, while Travis continued to monitor the door.

Tension levels rose the longer the silence stretched. A small sheen of sweat appeared on Josiah's forehead as he waited for something to happen. This was never an easy time to get through - the time before the action began. Still, it was necessary.

Time continued to pass slowly until a soft sound reached them. It wasn't footsteps that announced their adversary, but the gentle swish of denim against denim. Gripping his gun more tightly, Sanchez ghosted across the room to take his position opposite Travis.

The two men waited, patient and tense, guns at the ready. Eventually a shadow moved into their line of sight followed by a hand holding a gun.

Realizing that the man walking would be within reach, Sanchez ensured the safety was on and altered his grip so he could use the butt of the gun as a club. Almost afraid to breathe, the profiler waited as each second seemed to stretch into an eternity.

His self-control paid off moments later when his target presented itself. With one quick, downward swing of his arm, Josiah connected with the man's head, dropping him like a rock.

Crouching down slightly, he reached out to drag the man into the den with them.

Unfortunately, the motion alerted the heretofore unseen second assailant to their location.

A single shot sounded. The bullet thudded into the door frame as Josiah sought shelter and safety in the room.

+ + + + + + +

JD watched as Vin climbed into the loft. He really wanted to join his friend, but knew that he wouldn't be able to climb. Taking a deep breath, he headed toward the open door of the barn. His goal was the tack room where he hoped to find something, anything, that could serve as a weapon.

Edging through the shadows, he was almost at his goal when a flash of light caught his attention. As he stood completely still, he waited to see if the flash repeated. Though it felt like eternity, JD was sure it wasn't more than a few minutes before he saw the flash again. A whispered curse escaped him. There was someone off from the house, probably with a scoped rifle. That could only mean that whoever was after them wasn't planning on any of them escaping.

He couldn't see the other side of the house from where he was, so he didn't know if there was another rifle on the other side of the house. What he did hope, however, was that whoever was attacking them, believed that all the men were in the house. If that were true, then he and Vin might be able to do something to help.

Determination settling more heavily within the young man, he continued to the tack room to see what he could find to use as a weapon.


Nathan took a lot of ribbing from his teammates about his driving. He rarely exceeded the speed limit, always signaled, never ran a yellow light and always paused for a full three seconds at a stop sign.

Of course, when they needed to get somewhere and get somewhere fast, that was a completely different matter. It was at times like these that the team turned to him to get them where they needed to be as quickly and safely as possible. And it was situations such as the one they were currently in that made Nathan thankful for those early days when he spent as much time doing amateur race driving as he did studying for school.

"How much longer?" Buck asked impatiently from the back seat.

"Soon," was Nathan's reply as he quickly wove his way between two other cars.

"Can't you go faster?" Wilmington encouraged, letting his fear get the better of him. He knew that Jackson was doing all he could to get them to the ranch as quickly as possible and that neither he nor Chris would be anywhere close to their current location if they were driving.

A gentle increase in speed was Nathan's only response.

In the passenger's seat, Chris stared ahead, worried about his men and Travis and wondering what they would find when they arrived. One thing he knew he didn't want, was to find out he was once more too late, to find out he had lost another family.

Glancing down at the speedometer, Nathan contemplated the possibility of pouring on a little more speed. They were already flying down the highway at about one-hundred ten miles per hour. Deciding against more speed as he saw their exit coming up, he swerved into the breakdown lane to get around a semi and slowed to about seventy-five miles per hour on the gently curving ramp.

Once he was on straight roads again, he picked up speed once more. "Ten minutes," he announced to his passengers, disregarding the fact it was normally a twenty minute drive.

"Stop at the end of the driveway and let me out," Larabee ordered as if suddenly snapping out of a trance. "If we are facing MacDougherty, we'll need to have every advantage we can. You two continue to the house."

"Chris," Buck protested before being cut off by a raised hand.

"I know my land," Chris explained. Then, meeting the blue eyes of his oldest friend, "I know the best places to hide and the best vantage points. They'll most likely need help in the house."

Staring into the intense, hazel eyes, Buck read his own fear and worry in them. Nodding his acceptance of the plan, he settled back and waited.

+ + + + + + +

JD spun around suddenly at the gentle sound behind him, letting out a breath of relief as he saw it was only Vin. "Vin," he breathed. "Did you see anything?"

The Texan nodded. "We got company front and back outside. Not really sure how many are in the house, but I do know that Ez, 'Siah and Travis won't stand a chance if they come out unless we do something about those guys."

Dunne's mouth thinned in a determined line. Pointing to the sawhorse nearby he informed, "All I found were those ropes."

Moving over toward the finds, Vin lifted each length of rope and balanced it in his hand. Turning to meet his friend's eyes, he said, "It'll have to do." Then, tossing one of the lengths to JD, he asked, "Think you can ride a horse?"

The doctor's warnings sounded in Dunne's head. He knew he wasn't supposed to be on a horse or doing anything strenuous for a few days at least. Of course, when it came to a contest between doctor's orders and his brother's lives, there was no contest. Locking eyes with the serious blue ones, he affirmed, "I'd walk through Hell barefoot if I had to."

Tanner nodded, knowing he would do no less. "Right, then let's see about getting a few horses ready. We can go out the back and work our way around back. I'll show you where they are."

"I know where the one out back is," he admitted. "I saw the sunlight glint off his scope."

"You know the way around?"


"Then let's go."

+ + + + + + +

Travis threw the headset he'd stripped off of the unconscious attacker on the floor.

Looking over at the Assistant Director's unusual show of pique, Josiah tilted his head in question.

"They changed their channel," Orin admitted as he moved toward the window to look outside. "Still can't believe they're blocking our cells and managed to cut the phone wires." Seeing no movement outside the house, he turned and saw the fear and worry in the profiler's eyes. Immediately, he knew what was bothering the other man. "They'll be fine," Travis assured. "The boys are the best we have."

"I know," Josiah agreed softly. "It's just..." He took a deep breath and sighed as he turned to glance out the doorway. "They're all I have left with Rose gone," he admitted softly.

"Not all you have," the older man advised. "You have your team and Raine, Mary and Evie and Nettie. There's Casey and lot more."

Josiah met and held the other man's eyes for several seconds before nodding his understanding. He was just about to say something else when a second shot was fired and a bullet tore through the wall beside him. Releasing a curse, he crouched, getting as close to the floor as possible. Turning to face the other man, he saw Travis had taken the same stance.

The safest thing they could do was sit here and wait, hoping and praying the others were having better luck.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stood outside the bedroom waiting. He had thought about opening the door and entering the room, but knew that in his recovering state he didn't have the strength to last long if things turned physical, so he had decided to wait and surprise the man inside. Unfortunately, the man inside seemed to have had similar thoughts since he had yet to make an appearance.

Though it seemed he'd been waiting in the hall for an eternity, Ezra knew it couldn't have been more than five or ten minutes. Still, waiting had never really been his style.

Reaching his hand out, he slowly turned the knob of the door and used just enough force to cause the door to swing open.

When nothing happened in response, he scanned the side of the room he could see before peering around the corner to take in more of the interior.

That was a mistake.

He just barely managed to pull his head back to safety as a bullet whizzed by his face. Crouching down, he moved as quickly as he could to another room, seeking shelter there. Hiding behind the door, he waited quietly and was eventually rewarded by the sound of footsteps.

Choosing his location, Ezra settled in to wait for this would-be attacker to open the door. That action might very well prove the last that man ever made.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan stopped the car at the end of the driveway and let Chris out. "Take care," he offered as Larabee pulled his gun and prepared to leave.

"Meet you at the house," he confirmed, closing the door and heading off at a slow jog.

+ + + + + + +

The two injured men hadn't been able to do more than get the bridles on their horses before surrendering to their limitations. Still, both were good enough riders that this short jaunt done bareback wasn't beyond their skill. Granted, the stitches and burns would make the ride painful to say the least, but it was necessary. The lives of their family depended on it.

Blue eyes meeting brown, Vin nodded that he was ready. When he received a nod in return, he offered his hand. JD took it and the two men mounted their horses.

Moving as quickly as they felt they safely could, JD headed toward the back of the house while Vin headed for the front. They had prey to hunt.