by Kris

ATF Universe


The name tugged at Chris’ memory, familiar, but was unable to place it. Josiah also had the feeling that he seen it, just not where. They went straight back to the ranch. First thing Vin offered to do was a perimeter check on horseback. Wanted to exchange the smog for fresh air, the city noise for the rustling of leaves.

As he finished saddling his horse Ezra entered the barn. “Vin, may I…”

Vin broke in with, "Already saddled yer horse.”

Ezra grinned, "But how?”

“Jus' knew.” Vin turned his head and his eyes connected with Ezra’s, the look touched the connection that was growing daily. Ezra opened himself to it and could almost feel it surrounding him.

Vin took the lead and they rode in silence a bit. Ezra indulged in this feeling of belonging. So foreign, yet almost like it might be right this time. Ezra also felt that the mantle of responsibility had grown tenfold. Ezra could now understand Chris’ position on trying to keep the others safe.

As if on the same wavelength Vin asked, "Did ya feel it? Chris is gonna try and pull back from us. He’s gonna try and do this on his own. Ya can see it in his eyes.”

Ezra nodded as the look he saw was defined. “He wants to keep us safe.”

“He’s blaming himself, retribution for somethin he’s done.”

“But we haven’t figured out who he is? He could have a connection to any one of us.”

“Yeah, but Chris can’t stop himself. He’s fierce in his protection of what’s his.”

Ezra nodded, but oddly comforted, as he automatically realized that he was indeed included. “We can’t let him to do this alone. We’ll shadow him.”

Vin nodded, "Yep!”

They grasped arms, blue eyes connecting with green, both showed the understanding that they knew what they were really protecting, everything.

+ + + + + + +

The flurry of activity alerted Vin and Ezra that the others must have struck paydirt. Chris was on the phone and scribbled down something and handed it to JD, who was on one of the computers. He added it to the other information he searching for. Josiah worked on the other computer as Nathan and Buck were manually going through all the hard copies of everything they’d gathered.

Vin made eye contact with Chris and saw the self damnation Chris had resting there boldly. Vin, bided his time, wanting first to hear what they’d found.

When Chris hung up the phone, all talking stopped, waiting to hear the latest. Chris started right in, "Judge knew who he is. A senator from Iowa. He spends a lot of time here, in this building as he is on one of those spending committees. His son applied to the ATF. Requested to work on our team, ‘member Josiah, about two years ago?” Josiah nodded. “Evidently he has a great deal of money.”

JD added what he just pulled off the net. “Justal was in Army Intel in the Viet Nam War. Not much credited to him, he was just one of many. His son, Steven, died last fall. During a bust, he was on a New York ATF Team. The inquiry proved that he froze and caused his own death. Seems his father rose quite a stink.”

Josiah was nodding his head, "Psych profile showed that Steven was not truly committed to police work and was there only to make his father proud. Now, the father seems to have become obsessed on avenging his son’s death.”

“But that doesn’t have anything to do with us. What in the hell has him trying to fuck with us?” Buck was angry.

Ezra sat down at JD’s screen and started some inquires of his own, while Nathan shared a discovery of his own. “Seems Justal has been at our ATF building daily for the past three months. Security records indicate he’s shown up on the same Saturdays we have. When questioned, no one seemed to have any idea where he actually spends his time.”

“Gentleman, it appears that Efrem Justal, on further scrutiny, bought his way onto the FBI Appropriations Committee, and, under the guise of studying specifically, ATF spending, has found a way to continue his stay in our fair city.” Ezra tapped more keys and would have continued but the phone rang and Chris picked it up and put it on speaker phone.

“Boys,” Travis’ voice boomed through, "I asked around, and a good source told me that Justal holds Larabee to blame for his son’s death. I remember him pestering me a great deal after his application was turned down. Explained that Team Leaders, in general, had to look out for members that fit their specific team make-up. I can definitely remember telling him that Team 7 was full, and wasn’t accepting applications.”

Buck interrupted with a laugh, "Like ol' Chris ever took an application from anyone. He scouted out his own team, amid controversy, as I remember.”

Travis coughed, "Yes, well that is true, but that’s not the standard. And before you all say it, yes it’s well known Team 7 is not standard in anything it does.”

Buck’s, "Okay then.” Brought nods and chuckles from most team members.

Travis’ voice took on a serious note, "Boys, my source tells me that he had overheard a few comments that indicated that if only Team 7 had accepted his son, he would still be alive. No one has seen him this last week. If he shows up I’ll contact you.”

“Thank you sir.” Nathan said before Travis hung up.

Chris slammed his fist against the wall. It hit him that this was all his fault, retribution, just like he’d told Vin, all, his family in danger because of him. He couldn’t put them in more danger, he’d have to do it alone.

His team knew him too well, they all recognized the mental withdrawal, yet their affinity was so complete they knew easily the reassurance that would reach Chris. Five men looked to Ezra, the man of eloquent words, and he nodded his understanding.

Ezra moved across the room and sat on the arm rest beside JD. The intensity of emotions that played about him had all men looking at him, even Chris. “Chris, we can’t let you do this alone. First, it isn’t your fault….you’re the leader, yes, but the actual Chris Larabee is not at fault. It’s the team he wants to suffer….you were not singled out. Then, there is something that is inescapable, it’s a fact that everyone here counts on you. Chris, you have that special quality, we’d all follow you anywhere. That same rare quality has pulled the best of what’s in us to the surface. Each one of us would gladly lay our life on the line for you. So, there is no risk that we wouldn’t take. Without you there is no us…….and if you don’t let us, we’ll do it anyway.”

Chris looked at each face and each communicated the same message as Ezra. Chris looked at what was truly his family and relented, "Together.” Tears formed in his eyes, and he turned his head as he fought the tears.

Josiah’s “I got it,” refocused their attention away from Chris, and Chris used it to reign in his emotions.

“Justal has leased a house on the north side.” Josiah triumphantly called out.

“Nathan call the Judge for the warrant. Okay, lets’ get our gear, we’ll hit it at dusk.” Chris commanded.

+ + + + + + +

With warrant in hand the team fanned out and covered all the exits. Chris and Vin entered the house after their knocked has produced no response. They covered each other as they made their way through the house, room by room, until they came to the study that still had a burning cigarette in the ashtray. “Perimeter check,” Chris said into his headset. One by one they called in all secure, until there was only Ezra left. When Chris had heard nothing, he called out, "Ezra, do you copy? Ezra, answer me.”

But it was Nathan’s voice that answered, "Chris, found his headset, but no Ezra.”


“Left side of patio.” Nathan retorted quickly.

Using all available lights they searched the grounds for any sign of Ezra. Vin found the scuffle marks of a fight and a few feet of dragging marks, but all disappeared. Then in the distance they heard a car start up and all sprinted for their vehicles. But they were too late, no sign could be found of what or where the vehicle was.

“Shit!,” Larabee yelled into the night.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra awoke with a massive headache, and had no desire to open his eyes. All he remembered was turning into a body then being clubbed on the head before all went dark. He could feel that his arms and feet were bound, as was his chest. He squinted, as to acquaint himself with the new surroundings. A deserted warehouse greeted him. As his eyes adjusted to the low lighting, he saw that he wore a vest that was filled with explosives and was wired to a detonator. “Well dammit,” Ezra said aloud.

“A seemingly mild response to the predicament you’re in.” A voice out of his visual range spoke out.

“I’ve found myself in worse.” Ezra replied calmly.

“Well Mr. Standish, I’m not surprised. When you play both sides, you can get your ass kicked. And when I think that son-of-a-bitch took you over my son, I just want to puke. But he’ll get his now.” Justal moved into Ezra’s line of sight and he recognized him from the photo he’d seen earlier.

Justal took out his phone and flipped it open, "Now that you’re awake, I can get things going.” He dialed and waited.


“Well, it’s the high and mighty Mr. Larabee himself. I’ve got Standish and I want you to come alone to retrieve him.”

“Want proof that he’s still alive.” Larabee barked into the phone.

Justal put the phone near Ezra, but he said nothing. He didn’t want Chris coming down here alone. Justal growled at him, "Talk you asshole.”

Nothing, Ezra remained mute. Chris was thinking to himself, hopefully he’s doing this to let us get a trace. Not cause he’s stubborn.

Ezra remained silent. Justal didn’t want to stay on the much longer so he took the toe of his boot and pressed it against Ezra’s groin. For each second that Ezra remained mute he pressed harder until the excruciating pain caused a yelp.

That was more than enough for Chris, who yelled into the phone, "Ezra!”

Justal squished a bit harder before he turned away. Into the phone, "Warehouse 19, five a.m. Alone and no tricks. Standish is nothing to me, so I’ll gladly kill him.” Connection ended, he turned back around to stare down at Ezra, whose only sound was the yelp. He was doubled over in agony, suffering silently.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was furious, he stomped out side. Ezra again, the fear squeezing his heart. Vin followed silently. Stood next to him and waited. “I could hear it in his voice, he’s planning on killing Ezra, no matter what.”

“Then it don’t matter if you go in alone.” Vin replied matter of factly.

Chris could read the same fear in Vin’s eyes as he himself had, knew he had to be part of getting Ezra back. Chris nodded.

Vin took a breath, least he didn’t have to fight that one. “I’ll climb up to the rafters to take him out.”

“Be careful. Half hour, my truck.” Chris went to get his stuff.

Vin went to change to all black, as he passed JD, he signaled with his eyes…follow. JD let himself into Vin’s room silently. Vin asked, "Get the trace?” JD nodded. “Okay, follow behind us….Chris wants to do it alone. I know we’ll need all of us. I’m going high, Chris is gonna confront him directly……….JD, night goggles are in the den. Can’t use your lights 'til you’re on the highway. Can’t let Chris know you’re back there.” JD nodded, no questions, complete understanding. He left to get the others ready.

+ + + + + + +

Quarter to five, Chris and Vin exited the truck from the same side so only one door would be closed. Vin stayed to the shadows, with one last shared look, they separated.

Chris Larabee knew it was a trap, but the asshole had Ezra, so it didn’t matter. Vin was climbing the side and would position himself close to the ceiling. He headed toward the center of the empty, dark warehouse, but before he was half way across he could see Justal.

He had Ezra on his knees, explosives wired to his chest and back. His mouth was taped shut. Chris took a moment to mentally smile, Ezra probably drove him to that. That simple reflection almost shattered Chris’s heart. He couldn’t let his emotions enter now, he’d crumble. He pushed those thoughts out and focused on the bruises and cuts the asshole had inflected on one of his team. With an urgent need to confront the enemy, Chris continued forward, moving like a feral cat.

Ezra had taken all this man’s crap, never speaking or raising an eyebrow. All through the insults, accusation and innuendoes, he had remained passive and calm. It wasn’t until this moment when Chris Larabee entered the warehouse that fear stood in Ezra’s eyes. His fear compounded when he spotted Vin on the ceiling. Tears welled at his helplessness in being able to warm them of the trap and futility of even being here.

Justal smiled, he could see that Larabee was pissed. Smiling broader, he figured this would cause Larabee to err, all the better. He wanted to see torment in that man’s eyes. Wanted him to beg. He kicked Standish, wanting to send the message that he was in control.

When Larabee was fifty feet away, Justal ordered, "You can stop right there.” He held out his hand, his thumb on the detonator button. He looked up, "Tanner, I know you’re up there, throw out your weapon and step out, or Standish exploding will be the last thing you see.”

Justal saw the gun thrown and could hear it hit the ground. Then he could see Tanner stand, he raised his gun and shot him. The body fell and hit with a thud.

All rational thought left Chris Larabee, the danger he carried charged the atmosphere of the warehouse. He advanced on Justal, "You fucking asshole. You harm my team, fuck with our lives, put us through hell because I didn’t let your son join my team? He wasn’t any good! Then, when you couldn’t buy his way on, you go to Travis and try to force his way on…….didn’t you get it, he wasn’t up to par. Then you go and get him on some other team and he’s killed his first time out. You killed him, not me. I recognized he couldn’t cut it.” Chris never stopped advancing, His eyes were wild. His eyes held the look a wounded animal gets when in pain and angry.

Justal jerked Ezra to a standing position, covering himself, using Standish as a shield. “Stop, or he’s dead. NOW!”

Chris slowed but didn’t stop, there was no control left in Larabee.

“You killed my son by denying him access to your team. You broke him. All he wanted was to be on Team 7. It was team 7 this, Magnificent 7 that. Everyone thought that Team 7 walked on water. But you were the asshole that wouldn’t give my son the chance to bask in all that glory. No you had to hog it all for yourself. So I wanted you to suffer the same way you made me and my son suffer. I watched your pain and reveled in it. I will continue, 'til each and every member of your team is dead and you’re left alone.”

That final threat to his family removed any last vestige of control that might have been lurking. Chris advanced, a feral tiger would instill less fear that the man approaching. Justal knew now that Larabee wouldn’t stop, so he pushed Standish to the ground, then raised his hand again and looked Larabee in the eye as he depressed the detonator.

His thumb didn’t make the final connection. A shot hit the detonator and it exploded into a million pieces. As the devise exploded, a second shot rang out and hit Justal right between the eyes, but not before he had squeezed the trigger of his gun, hitting Chris square in the chest. Blood gushed out as the armor piercing bullet passed easily through the safety vest.

A howl of a wounded wolf flooded the entire warehouse. Tears and sobs racked the tied and gagged Ezra, still lying on the floor. Ezra saw Larabee fall just before the dead body of Justal fell on top of him.

“NO, NO, NO, NO,” could he heard as Vin descended to the ground. The howling continued, alerting the others to move in. JD followed Vin down, but could not descend at the same speed as Vin. Vin’s howls of pure pain sent waves of his agony to the rest of the team.

Nathan reached Ezra as Vin reached Chris. Vin threw himself on top of Chris bleeding chest, trying to hold the hole closed with his hands, sobbing the whole time.

Nathan pushed the dead body off Ezra and took the gag off, his first words in a tear filled voice, "Chris?”

“Don’t know?”

Ezra yelled, "GO!”

Josiah moved in to Ezra as Nathan went to Chris. Still tied, Ezra was in agony, he couldn’t get to Chris, he was dying and he needed to hold him, touch him. His crying increased. Josiah, with JD’s help untied and diffused the explosives surrounding Ezra’s body. JD rested Ezra’s crying face against his chest as Josiah finished and Nathan worked on Chris.

Nathan almost had to fight Vin to get to Chris’ body. He checked his pulse and found one. “Vin, he’s still with us, help me!” Nathan ripped off his own shirt and pressed it into the gapping hole where the blood was pouring out from his vest.

They all could hear Buck yelling at the ambulances to move faster. The paramedics were out and taking vitals before Buck could begin another tirade. The medics were loading Chris and calling ahead for a cardiac team as Vin crawled into the back of the ambulance with them.

Buck went to a weeping Ezra and hugged him to his body. Whispering in his ear, "Come on, my friend, we need to get you to the hospital right away. For once again, it’s up to you to pull Chris and Vin up from the rages of hell. Chris thinks Vin and you are dead. Only your voice is gonna penetrate, so’s you can talk him back to the land of the living.

Lost green eyes looked up to Buck’s face. Connecting with brown eyes that had the wisdom of the ages mirrored there. Buck knew the secret of Chris’s survival lay within this special man. Green eyes begged for understanding as Buck guided him to the van. He explained softly, for his ears only, "Chris may have that special quality to lead, but you my friend, have an even rarer quality, you are the key to the connection. Your essence holds us together. Ez, when you speak the truth of the hearts, it breaks through all the barriers that exist. It travels to some primitive level.” Buck stopped for a moment outside the van. JD, Nathan and Josiah waited inside, but this was for Ezra alone. He held Ezra tight against him, "I hate to put it on you pard, but you are the only one that can rescue Chris and Vin out of the depths of hell, and the rest of us from a living hell.”

Ezra was scared, scared that Chris was already dead. Died without him there to hold him, to say goodbye. He wanted to hope, but hope was dangerous. If………….if Chris lived, he would replay all Buck said, but not until. Until then, he would live in his own room in hell, waiting for news on the most important person in his world.

JD knew that all his friends were in hell. Chris was gonna live, they all just didn’t know that. JD knew that his gift of gab was important now, he needed to deflect thoughts. Aloud he said, "So how did you all like the trick with Vin?”

Ezra took a temporary vacation from his room in hell to look at JD. He had seen Vin fall after hearing the shot. He furrowed his brows at JD.

That was enough of a response for JD. “Even though Chris didn’t know, we were following he and Vin. Vin knew cause he set it up….figured all would be needed. I figured that Justal would assume that Vin would be there, after all, he had been studying us. But he wouldn’t figure on me, cause you all protect me too much. I brought a life size dummy with me and followed Vin up. Vin had an extra gun and that’s what he threw down. I had a wig with me and we used Vin’s hat, and we stood the dummy up. After Justal fired the shot, that didn’t even get this far, we pushed the dummy over.” JD hung his head down a bit, "Just wish Chris had known that.”

Ezra looked at JD, whose courageous heart never paused, "JD I’ll tell him that as soon as we arrive.” Ezra reached over and squeezed JD on the shoulder. Buck closed his eyes and said ‘yes’ to himself.

As soon as Josiah pulled into the street, he took out the red light and turned on the siren and headed to the hospital code three.

+ + + + + + +

The Doctor came out of surgery, blood stains on his operating scrubs. Six pairs of eyes riveted on him, waiting for the news. “Honestly, I don’t know. We’ve stopped the bleeding, reconstructing the top layer of his lung. It went straight through the left corner of the heart. We’re replacing the blood loss as quickly as is safe, but he may of lost too much, not be strong enough to recover.” The Doctor looked worried, he rubbed the back of his neck, "Helen said to be completely honest with you all. If, and that’s a big if, he makes it through the night, we might be able to draw a more optimistic outcome.”

Vin asked immediately, "Doc can we….?”

Doctor Sterns didn’t let him finish, "ICU is already prepared to have two of you in at a time. The rest of you can wait in their lounge, they volunteered it, if you supply the coffee.” The Doctor tried to smile, but the fear in Larabee’s friend’s eyes, didn’t leave room for much levity.

Nathan stepped forward, "Thank you Dr. Sterns, we truly appreciate everything you and the hospital are doing.” Nathan put out his hand and shook the doctor’s.

To Ezra it appeared as Vin was planning on going in first. He stepped over to his side and whispered, "It’ll be a couple hours before he comes out of the anesthesia, then we can talk and some part might hear. We have to reach him.” Vin understood what Ezra was implying and nodded.

“Buck, why don’t you and JD go in first,” Ezra suggested as everybody just stayed frozen in place.

Buck looked at Ezra and said, "Thanks pard,” his eyes red from tears. He propelled JD ahead of him and they headed to the ICU to be with Chris. Ezra stood up as he said, “ I’ll go get the coffee, I think we’re in for a long night.” Vin and Nathan nodded.

Josiah said, "I’ll go with you Ez,” and fell in step beside him. They exited the hospital and headed for the market two streets over. “Ezra,” Josiah asked.

Ezra smiled, "Yes Josiah, I’m with you.”

Josiah took a deep breath, "You know it’s up to you again?”

“Yes, but it’s okay, I need to do it.”

“For the last few weeks we’ve all been running with our emotions on or near the surface. Hard to keep that up. You holding up.?” Josiah was concerned, Ezra had been running with his emotions exposed for over a week, he was afraid that his friend would crash.

“Thank you for asking Josiah. The answer is yes. I’m holding on because the state of my family is lying in the balance. We’ve gotten this far, I’m in it for the long haul. And if it means having to hang my feelings out on the line for all to see, then that’s what I’ll do…… I’ve found something worth the extra effort, extra pain.” His voice got tight, "I’ll be okay as long as there’s seven of us.” Ezra took off his sun glasses and looked into the older man’s blue-gray eyes and asked seriously, "Are you okay?”

Josiah was touched at the concern he saw in green eyes that asked for the truth. “I’m afraid. I need it to remain seven too.” Tears formed in Josiah’s and he didn’t wipe them away.

+ + + + + + +

The six men took turns spending the time with Chris. Until the doctors shooed them out to change blood flow and run some tests. Orrin Travis joined the six men in the waiting room. He wanted to be here, good or bad. When Dr. Sterns came out last he called Ezra and Vin over, "I think you should say your good byes. He’s growing weaker and you should prepare yourselves. I’m sorry.”

Ezra and Vin rushed to Chris’ room and to his side. Out in the waiting room four men looked as though they themselves had been handed their death sentences. JD started to cry, as did Buck. Josiah and Nathan sat, flanking their friends.

Travis went to Dr. Sterns, "Any hope?”

Dr. Sterns looked beat up, he hated to lose and especially a good man. He answered truthfully, "The medical profession is not yet an exact art so I can’t say with absolute certainty…..but I don’t think so. The blood loss was replaced, but the test results weren’t good.”

Travis looked thoughtful, "I’m afraid that we’ll be losing more than one good man tonight.”

Sterns looked at the men that waited, the entire hospital knew of their vigilance over their fallen. “Tonight, I’ll be hoping for a miracle.”

+ + + + + + +

Vin stood on one side of the bed and Ezra the other. Ezra looked down on the face that had become so important, and couldn’t see a future that didn’t include him. His eyes filled with tears as he said aloud, "Vin what…..?”

Vin’s own voice was raspy with tears, "I don’t know…..never wanted to be here, don’t know…… don’t know if I can….” Vin looked up, only to see the way he felt etched all over Ezra.

Ezra moved and paced about the room, anger at the unfairness of it all welling up. He directed his words to Chris, he knew that he had to reach Chris, "Did you know that my mother was never even aware that her young son had a full spectrum of emotions hovering beneath the surface. Never once did she realize that I fought a daily battle to keep those emotions under control. She made so many unthinking remarks that cut to the bone, but maybe she meant them, her way of telling me I wasn’t the son she wanted.”

Vin couldn’t help himself he had to interject, "Not yer fault she was fuckin' nuts.”

Ezra smiled through his tears, "Vin, that’s the very treasure I’ve just discovered, what a family really is.” His voice fell to a whisper, as though embarrassed, "When you all discovered that I carried….that I wasn’t……with you all, I don’t have to fight that daily battle. And you still took me into the fold.” Ezra turned and looked down at Chris, "You saw something that no one else looked for,” Ezra brushed Chris’ hair to the side. “The family love that finally found me….Oh lordy, I can’t lose it now. This is the first time that love fit.” His tears fell freely, hitting Chris too. “It’s like that love was always made for someone else. This one time it was tailor made for me, now….” The dam broke, Ezra sobbed. Vin went to him and held the man that had been so afraid to share any part of himself, but now, when he finally trusted, he was faced with fear of losing all he held dear, he could hold it no more. The great sobs racked his body, he would of fallen to the floor had Vin not been holding him. An embrace that understood his fear and sorrow.

Ezra looked at Chris over Vin shoulder, and called out to him, "Chris, please don’t go, we need you. Vin needs you,….I need you.” The desperation, naked in his voice.

+ + + + + + +

Chris struggled to keep two thoughts in his head. Where was he? He turned his head and he saw a bright light, a door. Good, the door was opening, now he’d find out where he was. The light got brighter and then he saw Sarah and Adam, he smiled, they waved. He looked around her for Ezra, he couldn’t see him. He looked for Vin, couldn’t find him either. Where were they? He looked back at Sarah, his Sarah. Her lovely face. He knew he could go with her, and he would, if only he could figure where Ezra and Vin were.

He heard something, he was sure it was Ezra’s voice. He looked again at the lighted doorway for Ezra, but his voice wasn’t coming from there. It was coming from the dark window across from the door. He paused to be sure, that sound….Ezra’s voice for sure, but it sounded strange……as though…..He was crying…….his Ezra crying? Chris paused again, straining to hear, he listened closely to Ezra’s voice, he wanted to make out the words…..

“Chris, please, we need you. Vin needs you, ….I need you.” A crying whisper that sliced through to Chris’ heart. “Chris, I had the ultimate betrayal, my mother on this case, but, you, Chris, are the reason I can handle it all. From that moment at the cabin when you discovered the reason you treated me the way you did….you have never broken the promise you made to me there. You’ve never wavered, never doubted me again…..Chris,” his voice was pleading, "Never…..never have I ever experienced that……a loyalty I never thought I was worthy of, only dreamed of. But, you in your intensely honest way gave me more in love and friendship and….” Ezra’s voice breaking with the tears, “……family than I had ever thought possible…….So listen hard here, I implore you to come back, please don’t take away the only security I’ve ever had. I…….need you,” Now crying unabashedly, he whispered lowly, "Chris, my heart is crying, reaching out to connect with yours, it would never be whole unless you’re here……

Chris hears another voice………..”Chris, my heart is out there too, you’re my connection….Ezra says it purty, but I feel all that too. You released me from my box of pain, and only you can keep me out.” Vin broke into sobs that doubled him over. Ezra caught him and whispered anguishedly, "Please Chris.”

Chris was elated, he’d heard his Vin too. Vin was with Ezra…..but where were they…..they were behind that dark window. They need him…..really need him. Hell, didn’t they know not to blubber like that ….Chris knew that he had to find the window…….but wait, that meant going away from Sarah, Adam……he looked back at them….Sarah was smiling, she waved as she mouthed, I’ll be here,… waiting, …go… they need you now….I love you. The door began closing as Chris mouthed…thank you, I love you too. Chris knew that right now, two anguished voices needed him….really needed him. He was a sucker for that. He’d have to go find them, knock some sense into them. He sighed, decision made.

+ + + + + + +

Amid the tubes and drip bags, both Ezra and Vin found a place to lay their heads on Chris chest and shoulder.

Ezra thought he heard something, so he held his breath, he thought that Chris had whispered softly, he was unsure if he was just wishing. But when the hand came up and rested on his cheek, Ezra took a breath, a breath of life. He strained to hear Chris’ words, "Ezra, I had to choose, Sarah was there, it’s just right now, this time, you and Vin needed me more. I couldn’t leave you here……..Sarah’ll be waiting……………….I needed to be here with you too.” His other hand squeezed Vin’s hand that held him tight. He felt Vin’s tears fall. He whispered to Ezra, "Ez, you and I gotta take care of Vin.”

Vin reached across Chris and met Ezra’s hand half way, squeezing hard, then they rested their still connected hands on Chris’s chest. They were going to be okay.

+ + + + + + +

In response to the changes in the machines monitoring Chris, the nurse rushed past the men in the waiting room to check on her patient. Her patient was covered by two men, she feared he had passed, but her patient’s hazel eyes opened and smiled. She caught her breath at the joy reflected there. She rushed out to get the doctor. As she passed by the waiting men she exclaimed, "He’s alive, he’s awake.” Four men rushed into Chris’ room, one walked.

Ezra and Vin hadn’t moved, still afraid they could lose Chris, trying to give him they’re very essence to continue.

Buck looked to the two, who he knew inside, were personally responsible for keeping his ol' pard here in this life. Their need of him was stronger than Sarah’s, Buck knew that Chris woulda had to choose between them, and only just discovered how strong the hold of real friendship could be.

He marveled at how the two friendships were so strong. That very friendship bond had anchored Chris here. Funny how most folks didn’t give enough credit to the love of friends. Just don’t realize how deep they can go, surrounding completely, the heart and soul. Buck looked over at JD, knowing that he had been kept whole today too.

+ + + + + + +

Their first day back as a whole team, open for new assignment, and they had to spend it in a staff meeting.

Vin teased all the way down in the elevator, that it was close enough to lunch time, and, "I’m hungry.” Vin smiled.

Bucked laughed, "Hell, you’re always hungry.”

Buck’s comment opened a chance for Nathan, "If you didna eat all the fast food, you’d wouldn’t be so hungry all the time.”

JD laughed then, "Worse…he’d starve.”

The good natured laughter was a salve to Chris’ heartstrings. It had been too dang long since he heard it last.

The elevator doors opened and each team member headed to their desks. Chris entered his office and saw the new picture frame on his desk. The picture was of the seven of them smiling, that morning they had left Montana. Chris brushed his hand across the photo tenderly. But it was the frame that made his breath catch. It was a plain wood frame with seven interlocking titanium links in a row across the top.

At the bottom, burned into the wood, "One Strong Chain, One Complete Soul” Tears welled in Chris’ eyes. He walked to the door of his office and stared out at his men, who each held the same picture in the same frame. Chris felt the green eyes reach out for him, and he met them without fear of having him see the tears that rested there. But the tears were mirrored in the green glistening eyes, both men turned their eyes to blue, whose tears had already spilled out and ran down his face.

But it was Buck that provided the answer of who did it. “Lordy, JD, this is where all your money went.” JD nodded. “Why?” Buck asked softly.

“I almost lost half of you, the other half was nearly destroyed by it. I needed to make a reminder, that together, is how this family, my family, works best.” JD said humbly.

Josiah hugged JD, "Thank you son.”

Nathan flashed him a smile that sparkled.

Buck ruffled his hair as he said, "Awesome JD, just awesome.”

JD then turned and looked at the family he’d almost lost. Their eyes all on him, showing him the deep level on which they felt his gift. JD smiled, his world was right where it should be. His smile grew with the happiness he knew he had given the others. He gave them Ezra’s salute as he turned to join Buck.

Ezra and Vin stepped closer to Chris, not willing just yet, to release the joy the gift had given them. Chris looked at the two men, thinking of all he coulda lost, and his heart stopped mid-beat, but his life lines caught him once more. Green eyes that held nothing back, eyes so dependent they begged leave of him to live. Blue eyes that revealed that invisible connection that had tied them together for the ages.

In a moment of utter simplicity, everything fell into place. By risking his heart, he won more than he could of ever hoped to. A life long journey that would no longer be traveled alone.

Three pair of eyes, green, blue, hazel, mirror to their souls, shared the intensity of emotion usually hid from the world with each other. Did it without fear, knowing complete acceptance and unconditional love. They each looked down to the frame in their hand, a concrete tangible of their successful journey into the heart.


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