Title: Almost Doesn't Count

Author: Sarah (jinx7985)

Universe: ATF

Characters: Ezra, Vin, JD, the others are there too, but not as much

Warnings: Language, Blood, Violence

Vin rested his elbow against the door of the car, his forehead against his palm. God, he was tired. The gentle movement of the car as it traveled the dark streets almost lulled him to sleep. A steady rain hailed from the sky, and the windshield wipers beat a soothing rhythm while accomplishing their task.

Ezra glanced over at his passenger, beating back his own exhaustion. Two nights in a row he and Vin had pulled stakeout duty together, and both nights were unbearably long. This wasn't even their case. Team 3 had requested help with surveillance after two of their number had been pulled away to review their big case going to trial involving a local arms dealer, and the prosecutor was ripping his hair out with the last minute details. It had been a big bust for Team 3, retrieving nearly 200 assorted weapons and preventing them from hitting the streets. No one wanted anything to slip through the cracks and be thrown out on a technicality.

The prosecutor was new to the Denver office, and even though the review was probably excessive, all the Denver ATF teams wanted to have a good working relationship with the prosecutor. After all, they would all be working closely together in the future, hopefully for a long while.

Team 7, only slightly less busy than Team 3, was volunteered to help out any way they could. Chris didn't know that that would entail a long-ass stakeout for all members of his team.

Nathan and Josiah had been on duty that day for 8 hours prior to Vin and Ezra, and Buck and JD had taken over, pulling the graveyard shift. The assignment was to watch an apartment building suspected of housing a local all-around thug, Patrick O'Leary, who had ties to bigger and better players in a Denver based gun trafficking ring. However, Pat was a slippery son of a bitch, and had only been seen twice since the stakeouts had begun a week ago by Team 3.

Team 3 had been keeping tabs on O'Leary since the man had recently made bail. O'Leary had been picked up for possession of a controlled substance, but had been granted bail. Team 3 was hoping to find something damning that they could use against the man in order to get him to roll on the bigger players.

It was a slow, painful process. For everyone. But at least after Buck and JD completed their current shift, Team 3 could take back the tedious chore, and Team 7 could go on with life. For Ezra and Vin, who were now released from their obligation to Team 3, the end hadn't come nearly quick enough.

Ezra stifled a yawn. It was just past midnight, and he was driving Vin back to his home in Purgatorio. Ezra decided that after that was done, he would just drive the bureau car to his home for the evening and return it in the morning, trading back for his Jag. Right now, he was too tired to drive back to the Federal Building just to swap the cars back. The thought of hitting his bed for a full night's sleep was just too good to put off any longer.

The bureau cars had been chosen because they were just ordinary enough that they would blend into the residential neighborhood where Pat O'Leary lived. Or was rumored to live; Ezra and Vin had had no sightings of him during their two shifts watching his apartment building.

Ezra let out a long breath and rolled his neck from side to side, trying to relieve the tension in his body. This car, while functional and practical for their needs, was in no way near as comfortable as the Jag. They drove in silence, not bothering with the radio, and enjoyed the quiet between them. They had found out earlier that day that this particular car only received the AM frequency, and with the weather as it was nothing came through except static anyway.

"Are we there yet?" Vin asked, his tone laced with humor. He hadn't moved from his position when he spoke.

"As insufferable as this day has been, it will end shortly I assure you."

Vin continued to rest his head on his hand, eyes closed, but he knew exactly where they were. They would pull up to his apartment building in the next couple of minutes.

He sat upright, remembering something. "Hey Ez, watch out up here there's a big ol' pot ho-"


Both men cringed as the car slammed through the pot hole. It was bone-jarring.

"Ouch." He turned to the Southerner. "I hate that thing.".

"Yep." Ezra had to make an effort to unclench his teeth after the impact. The hole had been flooded with this evening's rain, so he hadn't had a chance to avoid the obstacle. He never even saw it. But he thanked god they weren't in his car.

Ezra's thoughts focused on the run down section of town that Vin lived in, and if he hadn't been so tired he would have laid into the Texan for the quality of the streets in his ramshackle neighborhood. And Vin's choice for living in such squalor. As it was, Ezra just breathed and reminded himself that it wasn't Vin's fault.

Vin noticed the clipped tone of the Southerner. "I'm sorry Ezra, I forgot about it until we were…"

"It's fine Vin," Ezra replied. "It's just been a long couple of days and I, for one, cannot wait to be back to our own mundane cases."

Vin snorted. "You can say that again. At least when we're doing our own shit, it ain't so bad. We're helping ourselves. This just sucks."

"Well, I don't think Chris knew what he was offering when he agreed to help."

Vin half smiled. "Aww, that's right sweet of ya Ez. You never give him the benefit of the doubt," Vin teased.

"Well… I'm tired."

Vin held his smile and looked back out the windshield. His building came into view when they took the next corner.

The car had no sooner straightened out when a large obstacle slammed into the windshield and rolled off to the passenger side. Ezra immediately hit the brakes and the tires squealed as they suddenly stopped moving. The windshield was spiderwebbed and dented inwards just to the driver's side of center. The shattered safety glass held together in a web of light cast from the nearby street light.

"Fuck!" Vin yelled when the obstacle hit. His hands instinctively went to the dashboard to brace himself against the onslaught.

"Jesus Christ!" Ezra shouted at the same time. He jammed his wrist against the steering wheel when he tensed at the impact.

"Vin, you okay?" the Southerner nearly shouted as he undid his seatbelt and reached for the door.

Vin was already a step ahead of him and had his door open and was getting out into the rain.

"Jesus Ezra, you hit him!" Vin knelt down beside the crumpled form in the street, heedless of the rain. His jeans were instantly soaked from mid thigh all the way down to his feet. Vin looked around. There were no other cars around at this time of night, and there was no indication of where this kid had come from in such a rush.

"God is he alive?" The Southerner joined the Texan on the passenger side of the car, crouching down next to the unmoving form.

Vin reached out to the young man's neck. As soon as his fingers touched the young man's skin, the kid jerked and yelped. Both Vin and Ezra jumped in surprise.

"Help me please," the kid looked up with wild, pleading eyes.

"Hold still, we'll get help." Vin had already pulled out his phone and had started to dial.

"No, Jesus get me the fuck out of here!!" The kid tried to stand, yelping in pain as he did so. Ezra and Vin both reached out to hold him and prevent him from doing any further damage to himself.

Ezra took his hands away from the man's chest after he quit attempting to gain his feet, and stood up, putting his hand on the hood of the car to steady himself. He looked around, just as Vin had done, searching for what frightened this kid enough for him to risk further harm to get to his feet. Something scared him enough to attempt to continue his escape.

"Ezra!" Vin spoke harshly at his friend.

Ezra returned his attention to Vin, with a questioning look on his face.

"Are you hurt?"

Ezra followed Vin's gaze to the fender of the car and saw where the rain was washing the bloody handprint away. Then it clicked.

Ezra quickly stooped back down and rolled the kid enough to let the meager street light illuminate his unmoving form. "Jesus Vin, he's been shot in the chest." Ezra stood back up again, his body and senses on full alert. He drew his gun.

Vin looked at the man's chest. "God, more than once…" Vin's hand also went to his gun.

As Ezra scanned the immediate area, gunshots rang out. Ezra and Vin both took defensive positions behind the fender of the car, aiming over the hood towards the area that the gunfire originated. Another burst of gunfire exploded in the night.

"Fuck that's an automatic," Vin said as he fired several shots towards the origin of the gunfire. The shooter still had not shown himself. "Short bursts. Whoever is usin it is wingin it. I don't think they know how to use it right. Sounds like it could be an uzi." Gangs ran rampant in this section of Purgatorio, but there had never been gunplay with such a powerful weapon.

"Well, he's doing a damn good job for not knowing how to use the damn thing!" Ezra yelled at Vin. "We gotta get out of here!" Ezra chanced a glance at the kid laying unconscious next to the car in the poor light. "He won't last long like this."

Vin nodded his head in agreement just as more bullets sprayed through the night, hitting the car on the driver's side front panel. Ezra and Vin both took cover and reached for the kid. "Get him in the car Vin!!" Ezra yelled at the Texan, shoving the unconscious form towards Vin, while popping back up to return fire at their unseen enemy. Without a presentable target, Ezra was only hoping to keep their attacker from advancing.

Vin grabbed the limp body and half dragged, half carried him to the rear door of the car, opening it, and shoving him inside. Ezra continued to fire over the shattered windshield, and opened the passenger front door. Vin stood, the back door still open, and fired over the roof of the car. Ezra used Vin's covering fire to get in and crawl over the seat to the driver's side. He started the car and turned over to where Vin was standing and shouted amidst the gunfire "Vin get in the car!"

A pulse of gunfire hailed towards the car, spraying from the nose down the entire driver's side to the rear bumper. Bullets peppered the vehicle; metal screeched and pinged as it was pierced.

Vin caught a glance of the assailant at the end of the alleyway opposite them when he had opened fire. The muzzle flare gave away his darkened position. Vin fell back towards the ground taking cover behind the car's mass.

Ezra had ducked down when the hail of bullets came, the glass from the door windows shattering and raining down on him as he lay across the front seat, face down, head toward the passenger side, arms instinctively wrapped around his head. When the burst stopped, he looked anxiously in between the seats towards where Vin had stood a second before, seeing only an empty doorway, and panicked.

"VIN!" he yelled.

Vin poked his head up from where he had fallen and looked at Ezra through the open rear door. Ezra inwardly sighed in relief that his friend alive, and at least looked ok, then sat up and looked across the street. The kid had just changed out the magazine for a full one. He was staying in the shadows of the building next to him.

"Vin get in the fucking car!"

Vin rolled to his side and dropped to his belly, looking under the car at the assailant who had just slammed the new magazine home. The sharpshooter took aim and fired three times, hitting the man in the lower leg from his position on the ground.

Ezra reached for the gear shift and had his hand on it as Vin fired from under the car. The assailant shouted in pain, then made to release another burst of bullets.

"For Fuck's sake Vin, NOW!" As Ezra was yelling, Vin flung himself into the back seat on top of the wounded, motionless kid, taking aim through the now broken backdoor window, firing as Ezra slammed on the gas pedal.

The car tore out of the area as the retaliatory burst of gunfire slammed into the metal of the car. Ezra bounced the car off of two parked cars while making good their escape. Both passenger side doors slammed shut when they impacted the first car, and thankfully Vin was clear of them. They had slammed so hard that they would probably never be opened again.

The whole scene took less than two minutes.

Vin had his phone out, relaying the scene to the police on the other end, less than a minute after they lit out of the area. He reached over and felt for a pulse in the wounded kid's throat, and found a faint thready one, already weakening.

"Hurry Ezra, we're gonna lose him!" Damn, the kid looked so young.

Ezra said nothing, but nodded once. Vin held his hand on the wounded kid's chest, trying to stem the flow of blood.

Ezra drove as fast as he could, trying to get to Mercy General faster than anyone had a right to. Adrenaline flowing through his veins, nerves on edge, he took corners on two wheels. He laid on his horn when he came across the scant few cars on the road, crossing the yellow lines to get around them.

"Fuck! Ezra, I lost him!" Vin straddled the man and began chest compressions.

Ezra looked in the rear view mirror at Vin trying valiantly to save the life of a kid neither of them knew. "What happened?" he yelled, and started to cough.

"That son of a bitch shot him through the car door! He took one in the head!" Vin looked up at Ezra driving like a mad man. And coughing. Then it hit him.

"Shit! Ezra you hit?!" Vin slowed compressions on the mortally wounded kid who lay on the back seat beneath him. "Ezra!"

They were a block from Mercy. Another thirty seconds and they would be there. Ezra couldn't speak. He could barely breathe. He locked eyes with Vin in the rearview mirror.

Vin saw the Southerner fading. "Dammit!" he yelled, abandoning the kid in the back seat as he grabbed the steering wheel, cutting it harshly to the left as they flew through Mercy's parking lot, narrowly missing a parked car. "Brake Ezra! Brake!"

The car slid to a stop ten feet from the doors at the ambulance bay. It slid on the rain-slick surface and both the passenger side tires hit the curb hard enough to break the rims. The car rocked up off its driver's tires a good six inches before slamming back down onto terra firma.

The commotion caused several people to come running out of the emergency room. People were calling for help even before the car came to a rest on all fours.

Vin lay on the arm rest between the two front seats, hands still clutching the wheel. He look up at Ezra, who was painstakingly trying to draw enough breath. Vin reached up and put his hands on the Southerner's ribs, feeling for something, but hoping there wouldn't be anything. Then he felt it. A hole in his ribcage on the left side where a bullet had either entered or exited.

"Ezra? Oh God, Ezra?"

"Vin…" he rasped out, then started to cough again. Vin pushed harder on the bullet hole.

Ezra coughed so hard that he spewed blood at the windshield, the tiny droplets hitting the shattered glass in a macabre Jackson Pollock rendition.

"I… ca… breathe…" he rasped out. "Drownin…" he said as a question. Small rivulets of blood ran down his chin from the corner of his mouth and where the spewed droplets ran together.

The door to the car opened and hands removed the Southerner from Vin's grasp. Vin was still between the two seats on the armrest, and struggled to right himself. Hands pulled him into the backseat and many voices fired at him at once.

"Are you hurt?"

"Don't move."

"Wait, sir, let us help."

Vin ignored them all and worked his way over the now dead kid in the back seat of the car. He staggered into the Emergency Room, trying to follow Ezra, all the while insisting he was fine. And he was. He was a little roughed up, but he was whole, and had no holes in him that he wasn't born with. The blood that covered him wasn't his. It was that kid's. And Ezra's.



Chris rolled over and groped about in the dark for the cell phone. Fuckin thing was always just out of reach. When he did finally grab it, which was only on the third or fourth ring, he stared at the caller ID. Tanner. Or it could have said "Famen". His eyes were blurry. Glancing quickly at the clock, he read the time. 1:47 AM.

Instantly awake, he snapped open the phone. "What's wrong?" Concern laced his normally hard voice.

"Chris…" Vin's voice was almost a whisper. He couldn't get the vision of Ezra coughing blood onto the windshield of the mangled car out of his mind. He had been thinking about it so long that his remembrance was actually much more gruesome than the actual event was. And the more he thought about it, the more gruesome it became, the more blood he saw hitting the windshield in his mind's eye. The more blood he saw coming from Ezra's mouth. The more blood he saw coming from the bullet wound.

"Vin, what's wrong?" Larabee flung the covers back off of his pajama-clad legs, heading for the house phone to call Buck.

"You need to come to Mercy…"

Buck's cell was ringing.

"Vin, what happened?"

"Ezra…" He broke off.

"Stud Muffin Dating Service," Buck's jovial voice answered on the land line.

Chris swung the mouthpiece of the house phone's receiver towards his mouth to address Buck, but never took the cell away from his other ear. "Buck, get to Mercy. Vin and Ezra are there. I'll meet you there. Call Nate and Josiah." Larabee's words were rushed and ran together.

"Shit," Buck replied. "I'm on it." With that, Buck hung up.

"Vin, Vin listen to me. I'm on my way. Buck and JD will be there soon." Chris was pulling on jeans as he spoke.

"Shit Chris… He was drowning in his own blood."


"Jesus Buck, slow down!" JD yelled as they took a corner on what seemed like two wheels.

"Not now JD." Buck had one thing on his mind… Hospital, NOW.

"You don't wanna show up dead do you?"

Buck glared at JD. Kid had a point, but right now, that didn't matter. As soon as the phone call with Chris had ended, Buck peeled out of the parking space he was in while watching Pat O'Leary's place. The hell with the surveillance. In the middle of an impressive u-turn, he ordered JD to call Josiah and Nathan and tell them to get to Mercy NOW. JD did so without question. When JD had called Josiah, he said he would get Nathan, and for Buck and JD to just get to the hospital.

Ten minutes passed since Chris's phone call, and Buck and JD screeched into the hospital parking lot. Buck slammed the car into park before it stopped moving, coming to rest in a fire lane. He and JD were out and heading for the Emergency entrance.

A security guard started to follow the two, shouting after them "You can't park there."

JD turned around, never breaking stride, and continued backwards, yelling at the rent a cop "Then fucking tow it!" With that, he spun back around and kept pace with Buck. Buck never strayed from his course.

As JD and Buck got closer to the entrance, the two of them faltered in their step as they saw the destroyed Bureau Car. The windshield was smashed inward, and the driver's side was peppered with bullet holes from bumper to bumper. Both door windows were shattered, and both driver's side doors were open, revealing a limp, unmoving figure in the back seat, face up but obscured by a sheet. The sheet was soaked through with blood in several places.

Denver PD was on scene and taking pictures of the crime scene and of the body in the back seat.

"Jesus… That's not…?" JD let the question hang.

"It's their car JD." They walked up to the detective on scene. "What happened?" Buck asked him before reaching where the man stood.

"It's not them," Detective Paul Murphy answered Buck, holding his hands out in a placating gesture of surrender. He knew that was what Buck wanted to know, first and foremost. He had worked with these men enough to know how close they were. He could see the relief on Buck's face, and answered the next question before it was asked. "Vin's in the waiting room Buck."

"Thanks Murph." Buck turned and headed into the ER.

JD turned to the detective as Buck jogged off. "Murph, what do you know?" JD came close to Murphy so that the detective wouldn't have to yell and so that no one would overhear anything they weren't supposed to. This was, after all, a police investigation.

"Kid in the back is a banger, we think he's a Diablo, but we're not sure. There's no ID on him. He's young, maybe sixteen. Three to the chest, one to the head. Headshot was through the car door."

"How do you know he's a banger?" JD asked.

"We've seen him before. He's been down the station a few times for small stuff. We found this," he held out a plastic bag with a bloody bandana in it, "in his jacket pocket. It's Diablo colors. Course, he could just be some punk who was in the wrong place at the wrong time who liked this color." He held up the bag for emphasis.

JD nodded as the information was relayed. He snorted as Murphy stated the last bit. "Doubt it." He turned and looked towards the hospital. "What about Vin and Ezra?"

"Standish was shot through the door as well. Tanner wasn't hit." Murphy paused. "Tanner called it in as they left the scene. This happened in Purgatorio, near Tanner's apartment. I don't think he knew Standish was hit while he was relaying the information."

JD nodded once. He stuck his hand out and shook Murphy's. "Thanks Murph. Keep us posted."

"No problem kid."

JD turned and went to find Buck and Vin. He knew where they would be. But he also wanted to understand the situation and be able to tell the rest of the guys when they got here. He knew Ezra wouldn't be able to tell them anything right now.

And he wasn't sure what Vin would be up to discussing or relaying right now, no doubt shook up.


Vin sat in the waiting room of the ER, elbows on is knees and head down. His hair hung limply around his face. He had blood all over him. None of it his. He stared blankly at his hands, turning them over again and again, staring at the blood. I should really clean that off, he thought, but he didn't make a move to do it. He just stared…

Palm up. Turn over. Palm down. Turn over. Left hand. Right hand. Blood caked under his fingernails and seeped into his cuticles. When he straightened his fingers, the dried blood in his finger joints would flake. When he made a fist it would crack.

Ezra's blood.

It collected in the leather band of his watch. The Swiss Army watch face looked pink instead of white.

Ezra's blood.

Blood on the inside of the windshield, mingling with the shattered glass. Blood spewed onto the dashboard when Ezra coughed.

Ezra drowning. In his own blood.


"Vin?" The voice was gentle. Concerned.

Vin looked up into Buck's eager face. "Buck." His voice was flat. Distant.

"You ok?" Buck sat down in a chair next to him.

He snorted and the corner of his mouth quirked upward. "I'm not the one who got shot." His attention was returned to his hands.

"Want to tell me what happened?"

Vin shook his head. No I don't. I'm not ready yet.

JD joined them. He didn't say anything. He put a hand on Vin's shoulder. Vin nodded slightly, accepting the show of support and appreciating it more than JD could ever know. Vin couldn't put to words what had happened. It kept replaying in his mind, like a sick movie, but he still couldn't bring himself to speak of it. He hadn't even been able to tell Chris on the phone. Hell, he wasn't even sure at this point what happened. No, he couldn't talk about it right now.

JD took up the seat on the other side of Vin. They sat and waited for the others. They waited for news of Ezra.

They waited for anything.


Nathan and Josiah had arrived just before Chris. The three men walked into the waiting room and found a sad-looking ladies man, a somber kid, and a downtrodden, bloodstained sharpshooter fascinated with his hands.

Nathan had taken off right away to find out what he could about Ezra's condition. JD filled them in on what Detective Murphy had told him. Vin's eyes never left his hands.

When Nathan returned, he informed them that Ezra had taken a bullet to the side of the chest, which had exited out the front. His lung had been hit, and they were working to repair it, but the surgery would take some time. It had been a nasty wound. He had also taken another bullet in the left thigh, but that seemed to be the lesser of the two wounds. They wouldn't be sure of other damage until they were in surgery, so that was all the information that the nurses had.

"They said that the bullet that went through his leg went through the door of the car first," Nathan had explained. "It slowed the bullet enough so that it didn't exit. It was close enough to the femoral artery that he could have bled out if the bullet had been traveling at its normal speed." Nathan hadn't mentioned the severity of the chest wound. On one level, they all knew how severe it was, and there was no need to say so. Nathan kept his worries unvoiced.

An hour later found the six men occupying the surgical waiting room. They were moved there to better accommodate their number and to be nearer their fallen brother. Vin had taken time once the team had been moved to clean the blood off of his hands. His shirt and jacket were still covered and stiff, as were his jeans, from trying to save the young man's life.

All the men were silent, lost in their own thoughts.

A short, nasal laugh brought everyone's attention to Vin. He leaned back in the chair he was sitting in and closed his eyes. "I shoulda just got in the fucking car."

Chris looked at Buck, who shrugged one shoulder in response.

"What?" Chris asked.

"He told me to get in the car, but I had to be Johnny Sharpshooter and take another shot." He blew out a long breath. "Stupid," he said, almost in a whisper.

Chris was about to respond, but JD spoke first.

"It's not stupid Vin."

Vin glared at him.

"You're not stupid." JD was more adamant this time.

Vin shook his head, disgusted with himself.

"Vin, you weren't showing off or anything, you were trying to fix a fucked up situation and come out alive."

"Ezra almost didn't," he snapped.

"Almost doesn't count," JD snapped back, as if they were the only two in the room. For the moment, they were.

Chris, Buck, Josiah and Nathan sat back to watch as this played out. Let the two youngest straighten each other out for once.

"Shut up JD."


"I ain't in the mood."

"Who is?" he paused. "You think you corner the market on guilt? We've all been hurt before. It's no one's fault except the dicks who hurt us."

"Fuck off JD." The voice was low. Predatory. Mean. Not like Vin.

"Or what? You gonna kick my ass?" JD plainly asked. He sat back and opened his arms. He didn't balk at all. Buck looked like he wanted to intervene, but a look from Chris said it all. Let it play out.

"Vin, I talked to Detective Murphy. He told me what happened. You and Ezra gave that kid a fightin chance…."

"…didn't matter none…"

"…and you know that. Vin, cut the shit."

"That kid died JD! I stopped helping him when I realized Ezra was hurt the whole time!"

"You didn't kill him Vin!" JD almost yelled and stood up from the chair he had been in. "You didn't shoot Ezra, you didn't create the situation! You didn't put the gun in that kid's hands, and you didn't make either of their choice to run with who they ran with!"

"So it's his own fault he got killed, that kid, for being where he's from and doing what he thinks he has to…"

"Get your head out of your ass Vin!"

"If I gotta tell you to fuck off one more time JD…"

"You know what Vin, bring it. I'm sick of sitting here watching you play Pity Party cuz you think that maybe by getting in the car when all the shit was going down you could have prevented any of this from happening. That's stupid Vin. If you HAD gotten in the car, that kid with the fucking uzi would have shot the shit out of both of you. Then neither of you would be here, and guess what?" he made a face and mocked saying 'oh', "Even then it still wouldn't be your fault!" JD was standing, facing Vin, yelling.

Vin got out of his seat and faced off with JD. They stood less than a foot from each other. JD didn't flinch at all. The kid didn't move. No one else in the room did either.

"Truth stings, don't it Vin?" JD asked. He waited, letting his words sink in. When Vin seemed to back down a bit, JD threw them his ace. "Now, because you did play Johnny Sharpshooter, and you did shoot that kid, Murph was able to track him down when the kid went to a clinic for treatment. The clinic called in the gunshot wound."

Vin stood there as the words sunk in.

"Don't doubt yourself Vin. You and Ezra are both too good for that." JD started to turn away, then swung back around. "You tell me to not doubt my instincts, but it's fine for you to? Practice what you preach asshole!" JD turned and went back to his chair to resume waiting.

Chris stifled a chuckle. Around the room, smiles were hidden by hands and two year old magazines were found incredibly interesting.

Vin bowed his head and turned to leave the room. "I'm goin for a soda, you guys want anything?" His voice was light again. The message got through.


At 5 AM, a weary looking doctor came out to the waiting room. Six men lounged around on the assorted chairs and couches. Some slept. Others seemed in between a slight doze and alertness. He smiled to himself.

The doctor shook his head and cleared his throat. "Gentlemen…"


Ezra's room in ICU was only ever meant to hold two, maybe three visitors at a time. Not six. Not that that stopped them.

Ezra was asleep, resting after long hours in surgery. The surgery had been successful and the damage repaired, and blood and fluids were being replaced. The lung looked to be functioning properly with the repairs, so they would keep sedation to a minimum. The leg wound had been mostly tissue damage, and like Nathan had explained earlier, the door had slowed the velocity if the bullet, curbing the amount of damage that could be inflicted by the projectile.

The doctor assured them that Ezra would be fine with time and rest, but that he would be staying at the hospital for a few days—no bartering, no exceptions. Ezra was going to be in some pain, both from the surgery and from the bullets themselves.

Still sleeping off the anesthesia, Standish never woke while the rest of the boys were there. But all six of them talked to the southerner in turn, all expressing how happy they were in their own ways with a touch or soft words.

After a short while, the ICU nurse told them that all six really couldn't stay in the room much longer. They had bent the rules this far. Team 7 or not, not all of them could hold vigil.

"Guys, go get some rest," Chris said. "You look like shit."

"Pot and Kettle, Larabee," Buck said. "Vin?"

"Nah, I'm gonna stay."

"Vin," began Chris, "you're covered in blood. Go home and shower, then come back."

Vin glanced down at his blood stained clothes and nodded. "Guess I don't want to walk around looking like a serial killer fresh off the hunt." He smiled. A real smile.

"Hey Josiah…"

"Yeah Buck?"

"You think we can hop a ride with you?"

Josiah looked at him in askance.

"Well, junior here's ride is a crime scene, and JD told the security guard to 'Fuckin tow it' when I parked in the fire lane, so we're all kind of in need of a lift."

Chris turned to JD. "You told him to 'fuckin tow it'?"

"Yeah. We were in a little bit of a rush, and then, well I forgot about it. Buck probably did too. It was a Bucar anyway," he shrugged. "We'll get it back eventually. And even of we don't, no big loss."

"You're rubbing off on him Chris," Josiah mused.

Chris smiled, then cringed. "Wait, we lost one Bucar to a bunch of bangers, and another one got towed? Now I gotta explain that to Travis. Thanks a lot." He looked sharply at Nathan and Josiah.

"Hey," Nathan started, "Don't look at us. Ours went back whole."


Vin returned to the hospital forty minutes later. He walked into the room in ICU and saw Ezra's gaze traveling about the room, but still looking dazed. His body didn't move, his head lay still. But his eyes roamed.

Vin sidled up next to the bed. "Hey."

Ezra's glossy eyes focused on the sharpshooter. "Hey back," he rasped and then blinked slowly.

"How you feeling?"

Ezra opened his eyes and looked to be considering his answer. "Better."

"Liar." Vin smiled. He pulled the chair in the room up close to the head of the bed and sat.

"Better than before." Ezra closed his eyes again in a slow blink.

"You look better than before."

Ezra rolled his head slightly to his left to look at Vin, wincing slightly as he did so. "That bad, huh?"

"Bad enough," Vin paused. "But you'll be okay."

"This time," Ezra whispered.

"What?" Vin asked, puzzled.

"I said, 'this time,'" he repeated a little louder.

"I heard you Ezra. What do you mean?"

"This," he blinked slowly and looked around, "is getting to be too common an occurrence… with us." He winced again, slightly.

"One of these times," Ezra continued when Vin didn't reply, "I fear we may not be so… lucky."

"Luck?" Vin asked, startled. "How do you figure we were lucky?"

Ezra sighed. "Not dead…" Either of us.

"That's true," Vin smiled. "Even so, I don't know if I would call this a lucky situation."

"Could have been worse," Ezra replied, trying not to wince.

Vin watched Ezra's pain play across his face, and blew out a breath. "I'm sorry Ezra."

Ezra opened his eyes and looked into Vin's. "What for?"

"I shoulda got in the car. We coulda been outta there before that kid lit up the car…"

"Stop," he whispered as he closed his eyes tightly.

"Ezra, you okay?" Vin asked quickly. "You need me to get someone…?"

"Stop." He was more forceful this time. "Nothing would have changed the outcome. Just stop." He breathed in and out several times before he spoke again. He looked up at Vin. "Don't dwell on it. No one is at fault."


"VIN!" Ezra snapped. He winced immediately, and groaned.

"Ez? You need the doc?" Vin looked toward the door.

"No. Ugh. I just… overdid it." Ezra had tentatively laid his left hand on his stomach. "We'll call that one your fault," he said with a smile. Vin half smiled back. "Now stop it."

Vin looked at Ezra seriously. "Fine." For now. "The boys will be here in a while. Rest up. We don't want you lookin all bothered when they get here."


"I'll be here when you wake up. I still want to talk about this Ezra."

"The matter… is closed…" Ezra replied in a sleepy haze.

"We'll see." Vin sat back in the chair and kicked his feet up onto the end of the bed while Ezra slept. Vin wanted to tell Ezra how scared he had been when Ezra said he was drowning. How scared he was when Ezra coughed blood and it sprayed on the dash. He wanted to tell Ezra how everything worked out. How the shooter had been caught. How the only casualty was the kid they had tried to help. Ezra wouldn't like that, but that was just how it had worked out. Vin wanted to recount for Ezra how JD had put him in his place. Ezra would get a kick out of that. The tough Boston background was coming through more often now as JD came into himself more. And Vin wanted to tell him how much like Chris JD was when he got fired up about something. Yeah, the southerner would have to watch out for JD.

JD. Jesus, that kid had thrown Vin for a loop. The kid never stopped surprising him. He didn't back down once.

Vin could hear Josiah's booming voice wishing the ICU nurses a good morning. Yeah, the boys would be here soon. Vin would talk to Ezra later, when the Southerner felt better. When they had a moment.

When JD wasn't around to rip him a new one.