Conflicting Details

by Kris

ATF Virtual Season

Hospital, 10:00am
Nathan entered Vin's room very quietly and without any fuss. Under his arm, he carried the printer from Chris's place. He nodded his head to Chris and the nurse, who was charting Vin's vital signs. He casually placed the printer on the end table in the corner and plugged it in. He walked over and stood behind Chris asking, "How's Vin"

The nurse answered, "Improving steadily." She smiled as she relayed that information.

Nathan slapped Chris on the back, "Great news."

JD entered the room on Nathan's words, "What great news?"

Again, the nurse answered on her way out of the room, "Your friend is doing much better."

JD returned her smile as he watched the door close behind her. He turned around and said to Chris, "That is great news. He'll be pissed that he's missing this investigation." JD opened up the bag he was carrying and took out the laptop and placed it beside the printer. He reached inside the bag, took out the cords and plugged them in. He smiled at Chris and Nathan before he let his fingers fly.

The room door opened quietly again and Ezra walked in. "Hope I'm not late," he said as he carried the coffee maker over to the corner that JD was working in.

For just a moment, Chris looked bewildered. Nathan explained, "Ezra thought it best if we came in separately and without notice."

"And if we plan on camping out here, we will need a higher quality coffee than provided by that dilapidated machine in the hall." Ezra smiled as he plugged it in, then from JD's bag, pulled out the coffee fixings and proceeded to prepare the brew.

JD signaled his connection to the home computer and Ezra slipped into JD's place. His fingers flew over the keys as he accessed the vid equipment. He nodded to Nathan that he was ready.

Nathan looked Chris square in the eyes, "Chris, you need to be brought up to speed. So, first you need to see an important part of the operation's tape." He stood and with his hand, indicated the laptop screen.

Chris went over, knowing that he couldn't avoid seeing it any further. Ezra hit play as Chris stood beside him. "This is one of the parts missing from the tampered tape." The tape rolled and Chris could make out the figure up and behind Vin. Ezra froze it and his fingers sent the message to enhance that frame. Chris saw the rifle aimed at Vin's back before he saw the face. As the face cleared, he too, was struck inarticulate at the sight.

Ezra held that shot as he explained more, "A.D. Mullins is the pressure behind the case against Buck." Ezra paused as Chris nodded his confirmation of that info. "I accessed his personal files," Chris's eyebrows raised at his temerity, but didn't say a thing. Ezra continued, "Before I was shut out, I copied all his files. What JD and I have pieced together, is the following: Mullins has access to all weapons confiscated in FBI raids and arrests. Oddly enough, the department has an ongoing investigation on the disappearance of these weapons. On the gize of investigating, they are stealing the weapons and are selling them, sometimes to the very people they were confiscated from."

JD added, "Street market value of the weapons missing from just the last four years exceeds sixty million dollars." JD couldn't hide the awe of that much money from his voice.

Ezra continued with the newly ascertained information, "Seems that some of the drugs confiscated from DEA raids have also been coming up missing. Working with the DEA on cross-jurisdiction busts seems to have gained him access to their evidence rooms and obviously he has the access codes. The drug records go back some five years. We have also come to the conclusion that weapons have been going missing for seven years, which coincides with Mullins getting the position. It was just a few weapons at first, but the enterprise must have proved exceedingly lucrative as it has increased steadily since."

"What we can't figure," Nathan said in his quiet way, "Is why Vin was targeted."

Josiah and a very subdued Buck entered the room. Buck's eyes first checked Vin, then strayed to Chris. Not meeting Chris's eyes, Buck averted his and sought out JD. JD beamed a smile at Buck and gave him a thumb's up. Buck walked carefully over to sit in the corner next to JD.

Chris quickly averted his eyes as the guilt assailed him on the knowledge that Buck did not set Vin up. Chris knew he would have to deal with that later. But right now they had to deal with the threat of Mullins.

"Mullins must really fear Vin as he made an attempt on his life here, was he mentioned in any of the files?" Chris directed the question to Ezra.

"No mention or hint of Mr. Tanner in any of the files. Both Mr. Dunne and I double checked each other." Ezra held his hands opened wide with an apologetic look.

"The tape will prove that he shot Vin. But he does know that his files were accessed, so they'll be wiped and without a warrant these can't be used in court." Josiah pointed out.

"But we have to get him for the weapons theft. Hell, we put our lives on the line almost daily to get those damm weapons off the streets. We sure as hell not gonna let him put those guns back out there." Nathan spoke angrily as he paced the floor back and forth.

"No, we're not. We are going to nail that bastard, and make all the charges stick." Chris was furious in his understated way. JD was elated, Chris was defending Buck, and this meant to him that the team would survive this.

Chris turned to Ezra, "We need to know when the most likely time of another weapons or drug pick-up. We want to catch him in the act. We need to apply a little pressure, so we'll get a search warrant for his office. But we let him think that Buck is off the case, in bad standing. Maybe the combination will make him reckless. Josiah..." Chris turned his attention to the quiet man next to Vin's head, "Make a profile on his most probable reactions. I want to stay a step ahead of him from this point on. Damm, if only we could figure what Vin could know about Mullins...." quiet words from the bed startled everyone.

"Mullins' whole team is a bunch of mercs. Recognize 'em from the old days." Vin's voice was just a whispered croak. But it was the best sound the six men had heard in a long time.

"Mercs?" JD asked after Chris had moved over to Vin's side.

"Mercenary soldiers." Josiah's tone said it all.

Vin whispered out some more, "Didna put it together till I heard you all talking, just didna have the strength to talk out at ya. Two of his agents recognized me the night before the bust......jus couldna place where from........sorry..." his voice faded as he fell back asleep. Chris stroked his head a couple of times before looking back out at the group.

"Ezra, find out about his team, I don't care what you have to break into, use my clearance codes, and if they don't work, steal the Judges. That whole team is going down. Nathan, go down to headquarters, get the Judge's secretary to locate him and get him working on the warrant....use a secure line only. Let him know that Vin's life is still in danger, but also tell him to put the word out about Buck's imminent arrest. And tell him to make doubly sure that the last part gets back to Mullins." Nathan smiled and Chris added, "Let the nurse know our patient is awake." Nathan nodded as he left.

Chris looked over to JD and Buck, "JD, you and me 'ill take turns guarding out front, Buck, it's best you stay inside here, out of site, so no fool'll try to arrest you."

Buck looked up at JD and nodded at him, telling him to go, he was okay. JD checked his gun, put it back in his holster, but left it unsnapped. He went and stood just outside the door.


Nathan smiled at Chris sitting outside Vin's door. He held up the box of Chinese take-out and motioned for him to open the door. As he walked in, both Ezra and JD had their guns drawn on him. Nathan just shook his head and said, "Okay, I'll bring Mexican next time."

Ezra put his gun away and stretched before raising to get his share of the food. He knew that with this motley crew, that he who hesitates, goes hungry.

After they ate the first meal they've all enjoyed since the shooting, Nathan shared first, "Judge said no problem, and he'll deliver it personally tomorrow morning on his visit to Vin. He was taking it personally downtown to file it, so no word of it can leak before hand."

Ezra took up where Nathan stopped, "Mullins met up with his eight man team in the Gulf War. They were selling scud missiles on the side. He got his position shortly after returning to the States. His team will do anything for a price. And gentlemen, I do mean anything. I trace these men to the bombing of that children's bus in Pakistan. I do not know how strongly they are attached to Mullins, but their self preservation is high enough that they'll take out the hospital if necessary. We must proceed carefully."

Josiah added his profile, "For Mullins, the money is only second, first is the power and position, he'll fight hard not to lose that. And he would do anything to insure that. Ezra's right, taking out the whole hospital could be done without a second thought. From Ezra's information, Chris is whom the team fears the most, due to his reputation of never backing down. For Mullins, it's Vin. Somehow his downfall will come back to Vin, and he will attempt to extract his retribution on him if we don't take him down first."

Chris immediately looked over at Vin, "We'll have to move him. That also means we can't leave him unguarded at any time."

"Just leave me a gun," Vin's voice croaked lowly.

Josiah's laugh boomed throughout the room. "Now, I do believe that the hospital has some sorta rule against that."

Chris walked over and placed his hand lightly on Vin's shoulder, "No harm will come to you, we won't let it." The statement was spoken like a vow.

Josiah spoke up again, very serious, his eyes on Chris. "Chris you must be at the search. I will stay and no one will harm Vin on my watch." Josiah's eyes scanned the room and added, "Buck will stay with me, he's not real mobile yet. He'll be sittin behind the door, like an ace in the hole. " Josiah's eyes rested on Chris again, and communicated all Chris needed to know.

The door opened and Janelle, the nurse was about to enter, but froze in her spot, frightened by the gun barrel inches from her face.

Chris and Nathan replaced the guns into their holsters, as Josiah quickly apologized with the truth. "I'm sorry ma'am, Janelle, Vin's life is in great danger from the same foe as earlier and we can't lose him now. We will be on guard until we can safely move him. We don't wish to endanger any of the staff here at the hospital."

Janelle, aware of the previous attempt on Vin's life, understood, but still had to remind herself to breathe. "I'll warn Elaine, the other nurse and..." Janelle paused, forced herself to relax and make some fast decisions. "...And I'll have Ossie become the only orderly in and out." Regaining her composure, she opened the door and signaled Ossie to bring in the new IV bags. They both went to Vin's side. "Now let me see how our patient is doing," she changed his dressings as the orderly set up the new drip bottles. After she finished she stepped over to Chris, lowering her voice, she told him, "We could possibly move him in the morning to a secure room used only by dignitaries. Let me check on that."

Chris's look lightened as he said, "Thank you Janelle, we all will appreciate that." She nodded and waited for Ossie to finish, as though protecting him.

Buck stood and seized up the last two egg rolls, "I'll go sit outside the door." He looked at Vin and smiled as he left the room.

Josiah and JD cleaned up after the meal and carried the trash out the door.

Nathan sat next to Ezra and couldn't help but notice the highlighted information on the screen. "What do ya have there?"

"The most likely theft that we could catch them at." Ezra announced it so calmly that it took Chris and Nathan a few seconds for the information to sink in.

Chris's head turned from Vin to Ezra, "What ya got?"

"Day after tomorrow, the evidence confiscated from the Vansel bust is scheduled to be destroyed. One hundred kilos of cocaine and fifty-seven automatic rifles. Tomorrow evening is the only realistic time to abscond with it. We could keep it under surveillance and possibly alert the IA boys. It could be the golden nail in their coffin."

"Good plan Ez, "Chris's expression conveyed his pride in Ezra, and Ezra treasured that moment. Chris smiled ruefully as he added, "Too bad we have to wait for morning to inform the Judge."

Nathan smiled mischievously, "not necessarily." He withdrew a card with a phone number. "I just happened to watch his secretary dial."

"Mr. Jackson, you do have hidden talents."


The day shift was coming in to relieve the night shift and their first order of business was getting ready for breakfast. Those aromas wafted through the air as Federal Judge Orrin Travis quietly stepped off the elevator onto the fifth floor. He saw Nathan Jackson standing alertly outside the door he was headed toward.

"Morning Nathan," he said with a quick nod of his head.

"Mornin Judge." Nathan opened the door for him.

He found the room surprisingly quiet, and for a few seconds wondered if the whole team was actually here. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim lighting, his eyes encountered the other six men in the room. He couldn't help but admire the loyalty this team had for one another. A quality that was not taught at any of the academies. This was due to the gift of one man's leadership and his innate ability to chose the right men to surround himself with.

Nathan turned up the lights and it was easy to see that all seven men were alert and ready for the coming days events. Travis reached into his breast pocket, pulled out the warrant and handed it to Chris. Chris leaned over and handed the document to Ezra.

Ezra opened and read it thoroughly before commenting. "Perfect, exact wording." He nodded to Larabee, their eyes connecting with some unspoken message.

The Judge was amused, oddly, he didn't feel slighted that the acknowledgment bypassed him and carried directly to the enigmatic leader. Travis sometimes felt that Larabee was the only authority that the other six men would heed in the entire agency. He sat down in the chair vacated for him by JD. He spoke to the room, but his eyes rested on the man lying in the bed. With the tubes and their attachments connected to him, but with eyes so alert that he wouldn't be surprised if he got up and joined in the search.

"I've arranged with IA for the entire surveillance of the evidence room at FBI headquarters. The tip has come through me, so, at least on paper, it can not be traced back to your team. I don't want to add to the list of grievances Mullins will have against you all. He has survived on reputation, and they were unsure themselves if they wanted to pursue it further." It was obvious to all seven that the Judge was disgusted by the lack of conviction their own IA had.

"The warrant is for 8:00am and backup will be ready and waiting if you need it. The warrant will be entered into the computer at 7:58. Called in a favor." The Judge almost smiled, "The information regarding the upcoming arrest for Buck Wilmington has already hit the water coolers."

Chris looked the Judge head on, "Thank you sir."

"No, thank you. A dirty agent is worse than an arms smuggler, and without your teams steadfast loyalty, this might have gone down as a raid accident instead of the assassination attempt it was." Chris couldn't squelch the twinge of guilt that assailed him.

The Judge nodded to the group and exited the room. Nathan followed him out and it was less than a minute later that he was opening the door again.

Janelle entered and immediately informed the team, "We have arranged to move Mr. Tanner. We are going up to the sixth floor and he'll be registered under the name Dexter." She opened the door and motioned the orderlies in to prepare for the move.

Ezra, JD and Nathan each packed up the equipment they'd brought in with them. They exited the room and took casual positions throughout the hall. Josiah and Buck seemingly meandered to the staff elevator and took positions on either side. Chris walked along side Vin as the move proceeded. Janelle keyed the elevator and the doors opened as Josiah and Buck entered with them.

JD and Nathan rushed up the stairs so as to be on watch and found that they couldn't enter the sixth floor stairwell. Ezra shook his slightly at them and he walked over to the elevator to wait for Janelle's return. The elevator doors opened as JD and Nathan dispiritedly returned from their mad dash. Janelle waved the key at them as she waited the doors on them.

When they arrived at the room, Vin's equipment had already been hooked backed up. Chris thanked Janelle for all her assistance as she left the room. After they got Vin comfortable, settled and Josiah had cased the floor, it was time to depart to act on the warrant. Ezra approached Vin and used his eyes to direct Vin's attention to his left hand. He ever so casually slid his extra gun to Vin who pushed it under his thigh. Vin's stare and minute nod conveyed his gratitude at not being left unable to defend himself. Ezra gave his two-fingered salute to Vin and followed Nathan, JD and Chris out the door.

FBI Building, 7:55am

The four members of Team 7 exited the elevator of Mullins floor. Ezra carried the laptop and with the newly acquired key, entered the first room on the left. He plugged in his computer and signaled JD that he was ready. Exactly at eight o'clock, Chris knocked and entered AD Mullins office. The back-up team exited the elevators and stairwells, taking their positions there.

Chris placed the warrant in Mullin's hand, "I need you to wait at the door." Chris's voice booked no argument.

Mullins dropped the paper on the desk, "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" He yelled it right in Chris face.

"Delivering the warrant. Again, I ask you to move over to the door."

Mullins grabbed at the paper and inspected it. JD and Nathan had already started to search the office. JD bent down and plugged in the computer cord. Mullins yelled at JD, "Leave that alone." And he make a move toward him.

Chris barred him with his arm and repeated himself. "For the last time, I ask you to move to the door. Do not interfere with the execution of this warrant." His voice, so cold it would have frozen ice, caused Mullins to shiver involentarily.

Mullins moved to the door in a huff as JD rebooted the computer. JD slowly began a rudimentary search throughout the files. Nathan placed memos and receipts procured from various drawers into boxes. Chris returned to the desk as Mullins waited impatiently by the door.

Ezra entered the room by slipping around Mullins. He headed straight for the computer and replaced JD at the keyboard. He took out a pack of blank disks and placed one into the A drive. He began systematically coping all the files contained on the hard drive. Just as the warrant ordered.

Chris removed the answering machine tape and encountered a locked drawer. He motioned a "key" movement to Mullins, who ignored him. Chris said aloud, "I can bust it open if you like." Mullins took out a small key ring and threw it at Chris's head. Chris reached up and easily caught it. He placed the entire contents of the drawer into a box.

When Ezra finished filling ten disks, he indicated to Chris that he had completed the files transfer. Chris nodded, he and Nathan covered their boxes, indicating that they were done. Chris signaled JD to come get one of the boxes and the four men left the office.

Ezra retrieved his laptop and locked the door behind him. The four of them headed for the parking structure. After loading the boxes, Chris relieved the back-up teams of duty and they left the parking lot in two cars.

ATF Offices, 10:15am

Ezra walked into Chris's office and placed the ten disks on his desk. "A complete copy of Mullins' files, obtained legally." Ezra touched two fingers to his forehead and turned to leave. Chris's words halted him.

"Good job, Ezra, you didn't miss a thing. You never conceded and continued in the face of great prejudice." He knew that Chris was actually referring to himself. "It would have gone down in the books as a blown operation, instead, it became a successful bust. And that's exactly how it will go down in my report."

Ezra nodded, his face giving nothing away, but he was soaking up Chris's validation of his work.

The four men spent the rest of the morning finishing the paperwork and logging all the items seized from Mullins office. They were about to break for lunch and head back to the hospital, when a call came in from the Judge. Nathan, Ezra and JD watched as Chris went from a deathly shade of white to an intensively blinding shade of red.

"Somethin wrong with Vin?" Nathan blurted out worriedly.

"No, but thanks to you Nathan, the Judge had some bomb squad members at the hospital and caught four men setting up two different bombs there." Before the barrage of questions started, he finished, "Both bombs were disarmed and the perps apprehended."

JD smiled and slapped Nathan on the back. "Hey smart move, Nathan." Chris nodded his appreciation but the anger still simmered at the back of his eyes at the effrontery of trying to harm any member of his team. His voice remained controlled as he said, "Let's go check on Vin."

Ezra wanted to get his own car over to the hospital, so JD opted to drive with him. Chris and Nathan took off and Ezra pulled out of the parking structure after them. They lost sight of Chris's truck as they pulled onto the freeway. After just a short bit of time, Ezra asked JD, "JD, check your rearview mirror and see if the green Dodge is following us." JD nodded his head as he began checking the view behind them. Ezra headed for the fast lane as he picked up speed. His newly tuned car was maneuvering smoothly and Ezra changed lanes several times.

"Ezra, that van is staying three or four cars back, but changes lanes each time you do." JD described for Ezra.

Ezra nodded as JD confirmed what he'd already suspected. "Okay, JD, tighten your seatbelt." Ezra picked up speed and continued to accelerate the Jag until it reached one hundred twenty miles per hour. He bypassed the hospital and traveled out of town and up into the mountains. He was headed for the ski resort areas. He finally slowed to eighty as he exited, sliding JD smack dab against the window. He continued up the curvy, narrow mountain roads. JD continued to up date him on their tails progress.

Ezra now slowed to sixty as they transversed the sinewy roads. Traveling faster than JD would of, he commented, "You know these roads well, don't ya?"

"As a matter of fact I do."

The van following them continued to catch up as Ezra pushed up to even higher elevations. Ezra could see that the van was going to attempt to run them off the road. "JD, they're going to try to ram us off the road, but I am going to go with it to throw them off. Then I'll push back. Hang on."

Ezra had no more than finished his explanation, when the van came up along side the Jag and moved in to ram them. Before actual contact, Ezra moved the Jag in the intended direction and increased his speed. Their pursuers, not expecting either move, focused on the Jag and not the terrain. As they came up along side to attempt the ram again, Ezra, unexpectedly rammed them instead. The force of the hit sent the van careening off the road and down the mountainside. Ezra pulled up and stopped the Jag along side the road. Both occupants jumped out of the vehicle to quickly look over the side. The van bounced and rolled it's way down and crashed with a powerful explosion at the bottom.

Ezra looked over at JD and asked, "Did you happen to get the license plate?"

With great exasperation, JD looked over at Ezra, thinking it was a little late, but said, "Yeah. I wrote it down on my shoe while we were on the freeway."

Ezra smiled over at him as he pulled out his cell phone and called Chris.


"Ah, Mr. Larabee, we....."

"Ezra, where in the hell are you?" Chris interrupted him.

Ezra tried again, "As I was attempting to inform you, a green Dodge van, license number 62623, just tried to cause permanent harm to our persons. But as it turned out, they can now be found at the bottom of Stone Canyon in their own funeral pyre."

"Shit. You both okay?" Chris asked as he handed Nathan the license plate number that Ezra had given him.

"Yes, Mr. Larabee, we are both fine. But my car has sustained some damage....."

Chris could hear JD's "some,..... oh shit, Ezra is that an understatement." JD sounded as though he almost had intended to laugh, but had thought better of it.

"Ezra, is it driveable?" Chris asked, though not as solemnly as he could of.

"Not on this curvy road. We'll have to be towed." Ezra saw that the fenderwell was too close to the tire for safe maneuvering.

"I'll have someone there in a short time. Then come on over to the hospital. Oh, and Ezra, try to see if you can stay out of trouble for just a short while." Before he could hear Ezra's sputters, he disconnected the call. He immediately set up the tow and returned to Vin's room.

ATF Headquarters, 6:20pm

With a lively step Ezra made his way down stairs to the parking garage. JD was still talking to Buck and Ezra used that time to get his blood flowing after the slow tow back here. He entered the lower level and was surprised that Cuervo was there and not at his food bowl. "Hey, there, cat," he called to her as he tried to continue on to find a temporary vehicle. She wound herself about his feet making forward motion impossible. He bent to hoist her up and it was at that moment when a shot rang out, slicing the air he had just been standing in. He rolled to his left with Cuervo in his arms. He had a gun in one hand and the cat in the other. A fusillade of shots against the wall behind him sent plaster fragments shooting in all directions. He worked his way back to the stairwell he had come from. Just as Ezra and Cuervo slammed the stairwell door shut a loud explosion shook the lower level and caused portions of the upper lot to fall and crash into the lower level. Alarm bells rang out.

Upstairs JD felt the explosion and quickly put in a call to Ezra. The phone rang and rang with no answer forthcoming. JD felt panic raising and dialed Larabee's number. As Chris answered JD spoke rapidly into the receiver, "Chris there has been a big explosion and now I can't reach Ezra. I'm gonna work my way down." Both men could hear the approaching sirens.

Chris said in a clipped tone, "We'll be there shortly."

Hospital, 6:45pm

Buck stayed behind with Vin. He hated feeling so helpless, unable to do his job.

Vin rasped softly, "I hate being stuck here too."

Buck smiled as he shivered, "Sometimes you're just spooky, Vin." Vin returned his smile.

Buck sat back resigned and began reading Vin the latest on the gun law changes. As expected, Vin closed his eyes, but surprised Buck by saying, "Was hopin for some of your how to attract females reading. This stuff is boring." Buck couldn't help the laughter that escaped in a loud guffaw. It looked like Vin was about to join in the laughter when instead, he silenced Buck with a light slap and he pointed to the door.

Buck barely had time to push Vin's bed away from the wall when the door was hit with a battering-ram. Buck rolled to his right, ignoring his collar bone and ribs. His gun was drawn and he began shooting as two dark-clad commandos entered the room. Buck shot one but the second one shot Buck, catching him in the shoulder. The force of the shot threw him hard against the wall. The second commando turned his gun on Vin, only to be surprised himself as he faced an erect Vin with gun steady in hand. He paused but a moment when he tried to pump a round into Vin. But Vin was ahead of him and got off two shots in the neck that pitched his attacker forward, crumbling to the floor. Vin listened for more, hearing none. Listened for some sign from Buck that he was still alive and found that the moan he heard from Buck was comforting. He wearily laid back in exhaustion.

ATF Building, 6:55pm

Ezra opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of the tilted stairwell. He looked down to his chest, expecting to see some fallen debris resting there and was pleasantly surprised instead. Cuervo was sitting there, relaxed as a cat can be and very much alive. He sat up and shook the dust and dirt from his hair, then checked for broken body parts. It wasn't until that moment that he heard the phone ringing. He pushed the talk button and announced, "Yeah? And what do you want."

"Hell, Ezra, just wanted to hear your voice," Nathan was elated to say those words aloud. Chris and Josiah were standing near enough to Nathan to over hear, both breathed sighs of relief. Chris relayed that information to JD. Who was being evacuated himself on the other side of the building.

"Mr. Jackson, it appears that we are unable to find a way out."

"Hold on....we? Who's with ya?" Nathan asked.


"Cuervo's okay," Nathan announced aloud and Josiah relaxed.

Chris said relieved, "I would hate to tell Vin otherwise." Chris started throwing rocks aside as he tried to make his way into the parking garage.

Nathan talked to Ezra, "We working our way in. JD's fine and is being evacuated as we speak. Seems most of the damage is concentrated to this side."

"Shots were fired at me before the explosion."

"Damm. Hang on while I update Chris." Nathan said absently as he looked for Chris.

"As if I have some where to go." Ezra replied to the unmanned line. He stood up to look out the little window in the door. Cuervo again tried to trip him. He heeded him immediately and bent down. A shot shattered the window in the following second.

"Nathan!" Ezra yelled into the phone.

Nathan responded quickly, "What's wrong?"

"Shots fired at me. Look out." Ezra broke the connection. He took a more serious look at the inside door. Discovering that the overly tweaked door needed some serious equipment to open it. Instead he had to be satisfied with plugging up the window with a piece of fallen concrete. Ezra readied his weapons and waited.

Outside Chris was working at double speed at the current news from Ezra. Josiah matched sling for sling. JD joined them after showing his badge to the local cops manning the barricade. Nathan returned with more firemen and an ambulance crew. The ten men worked in silence for the next fifteen minutes before an opening was created.

Chris stopped the firemen and approached the opening on his belly. He let his eyes acclimate first then slid in head first. After Josiah explained the potential hazard to the firemen, he too joined Chris inside the opening. Chris radioed to Nathan, "We are at a ninety degree angle from where we think Ezra is. We're proceeding carefully." Chris crossed the open space first and was met by a volley of gunfire. He rolled and rolled until he reached the side wall and hid behind some large debris. Chris hand signaled to Josiah on the count of three. Then he counted, as he stood, shots were fired again. This time Josiah waited and struck the gunman, sending him to the ground. Chris stood up and began pounding on the door.

"Ezra, Ezra can you hear me?" Chris yelled as he removed more debris from around the door. He yelled over his shoulder, "We need a crowbar."

Josiah ran to the opening, relaying Chris's request. Josiah returned to Chris with the crowbar and additional manpower. Nathan and JD joined him. Together they cleared the door and with the crowbar, they opened the door to an ever ready Ezra.

Ezra put his guns away and picked up Cuervo, "About time, we're hungry. This one here," Ezra indicated the cat, "Needs and extra large steak. For saving my life twice today."

Nathan broke their air of celebration as he exclaimed, "There's no answer from the hospital. Not Vin, Buck or the nurses station. Five men and a cat hurried for the opening.

Hospital, 7:40pm

Vin awoke due to the noises he began hearing. Some exited yells as nurses and orderlies were released from their captivity. Janelle wasted no time and she immediately headed for Vin's room. She feared the worst until she saw Vin's alert expression. She stared to approach him when he redirected her, "Buck's hurt on the floor, check him first."

Janelle nodded and went to Buck's side, completely ignoring the two dark-clad bodies on the floor. She sat Buck up and bellowed into the hall, "We need a suture cart in here pronto." Ossie responded to her call and all could hear the carts approach. On its heels were five men and a cat to check on their friends.

After assuring himself that Buck and Vin were fine, JD bent to take the stocking masks off the commandos. "Oh, my god, it's Mullins." JD was shocked. He took off the other mask and found one of his mercenaries.

"He came at me even though he knew I had the shot." Vin retold quietly.

Josiah said it would all come down to you, guess he was right." Chris stated grimly. "The ATF building was probably theirs too. Drawing us off Vin." Chris looked back at Vin realizing how close it came. "Where'd you get the piece?"

"Ezra." Vin's only word. Ezra earned all the smiles in that room, and one meow.

ATF Building, Three weeks later

JD hung up the phone and looked at Ezra. "Nathan said that Vin was up and walking today." JD smiled as he reported the news, "I could hear Vin growling, bring me some real burritos. So he must be feelin better. Josiah was just laughing." He got up and headed for Chris's office, "I gotta tell Chris."

Ezra smiled at his enthusiasm, but he figured that Chris called over there every hour himself.

As JD exited the office, he said over his shoulder, "Yes, sir." JD then turned to Buck, "Chris wants to see you."

Buck took a deep breath and headed in. As Buck closed the door behind him, Chris said, "Sit down, Buck." Buck sat silently, more reserved than the usual Buck.

Chris looked up at Buck, the guilt he was feeling, evident on his face. Chris knew there was no easy way to do this, "Buck, I'm sorry. It probably won't make you feel better, but I mean it. I think I knew the whole time that you wouldn't do it, but I was so scared and angry, I took it out on you. You can hit me if you want." Chris sat still, hoping Buck would hit him.

"Chris, it ain't that you hit me, shit, I got used to that after Sarah died." Then, with a wounded deer look, Buck said, "It's that you could ever believe that I would hurt Vin. Damm Chris, that would be like hurting my kin."

Chris rubbed his face several times with both hands, overwhelmed with the magnitude of hurt he'd inflicted on Buck. "Buck, I guess I've been thinking that you musta been jealous of Vin." Buck looked at him askance, Chris answered that look. "Shit, Buck, you and I were so tight, and I still care 'bout you like that, it's jus......." Chris broke off looking for lost words.

Buck supplied them, "It's just after Sarah and Adam died, you died and you blamed me. Thought it would of been different if you'd only been here." Chris looked over at Buck, surprised, hearing the same loss in his voice that matched his own. Buck continued, "Chris don't you think I've blamed myself a million times. Why do you think I let you pound on me when you were so drunk those first coupla months.......hell....I deserved it."

Chris looked at Buck's posture, a bent up, broken man and realized in that moment, that it wasn't Buck's fault. "Buck, it was never your fault. I coulda said no to the training. All you did was pick me up. If I'd only done the driving...." his voice broke off, looking back down that tunnel to hell.

"Chris...about that," the different quality of Buck's voice caused Chris to look up. "A coupla months ago, Ezra asked me a question...did we always go to the quarterly trainings. I told him yeah, we did. He then asked if I always drove, and again I had to answer yeah. Told him, hell I had to if we wanted to get there faster than a snail's crawl. So Ezra posed another odd question... do you suppose that it was a given that we went together, and that I drove......and that Sarah had been the target the whole time?"

Chris jerked up, "What the hell, Buck. You...."

"Whoa there," Buck interrupted. "Jus listen here a sec...Ezra said that he had read over the case file. He asked me if I had realized that you were on leave for six months, and it's possible that was the desired outcome so something could transpire and go undetected."

"Shit, if that was the reason, then I was the target," Chris stated flatly.

"No, Chris, you're wrong, if you had been the target, the Capt. would have reassigned your cases immediately. But with you on bereavement, they were still your cases. Open cases. By the time you returned to duty, your cases were old and really hadn't been worked on in your absence. I hardly work on 'em myself. Capt. knew I was the only hope you had to return to duty."

Chris sat back down and pondered Buck's words, Ezra's words. He remained motionless for several minutes, then he leaned back into the chair. "Hell, Buck, you both could be right." Chris thought on it some more. "I'll have to contact the old Capt. in Atlanta and see if I can get a copy of my old cases before the murder."

Buck got up and sat on the edge of Chris's desk. "Chris, Vin brought you back into the living world. I care about him as much as you. I'd protect him with my life, just as I would yours, ya gotta know it in your heart, pard." Buck just stared at Chris's eyes, then place one hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Chris gave a slight nod, and Buck smiled. He turned and walked quietly out the office, closing the door behind him.

The two men at their desks looked at Buck as soon as he exited the office. They both sighed in relief at the calm expression on his face.

"You appear in better spirits, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra stated.

His gentle nod matched hid genuine smile. He walked over to JD and cuffed him on the jaw and then playfully grabbed him round the neck. JD started to fight Buck until he heard whispered in his ear, "Thanks, friend." His voice serious, "Nathan told me that you never wavered and that you refused to allow a wedge to be driven between us. Thanks for that belief in me pard." JD just squeezed his best friend's arm in acknowledgment, but he savored the joy Buck's words really gave him. Buck ruffled his hair as he unhanded him. JD sat down and tried to look busy.

Buck walked over to Ezra, who was pouring himself and Buck another cup of coffee. Ezra handed one to Buck before he sipped his own. Buck looked at him and said, "Ezra, thanks for..."

Ezra put up a hand, halting Buck's words. "Understood."

"Ez," Buck's usual jovial voice was replaced by an intensity rarely used by Buck. Even more emphasized as he lowered his voice to say, "Ezra in those first few minutes, your expression gave me more hope than any other single action. I really mean thank you."

Ezra looked at Buck without any artifice and said, "Never a doubt, Buck, never a doubt."


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