And Then There Was 6


by
Suzy


DISCLAIMER: Don't own them, just like to play with them!! The characters from the television program The Magnificent Seven are the property of Trilogy and The Mirisch Co. I am making no money from their use. This Story is created for entertainment purposes only, no infringement intended. Thanks also to MOG for creating the ATF Sandbox for me to play in. Not to be copied without permission from the author.

RATINGS: PG - violence, mild language

NOTES/COMMENTS: Thanks to Lyn for betaing for me. Blame Garth Brooks for the title and the putting the thought in my mind. Thanks for sticking with it guys this is the end.

WARNINGS: Keep your tissues handy – and try not to drip tears on the keyboard okay? I’ve tried and it doesn’t like it!!!


The young doctor stood outside the ICU window and watched the six frightened men as they crowded around their fallen comrade’s bed. If force of will was anything, their compatriot would survive. The medical profession had done their best, they had done all they could possibly do, now it was up to the man himself and god above.

He shook his head amazed that the man was still alive at all. When he had been brought in, it was with a paramedic straddling him on a gurney performing life sustaining CPR, his chest was a river of blood and mangled flesh, organs damaged almost beyond repair, he had been in surgery for close to six hours but still his workmates were waiting for his return to ICU.

Not one of them had left the hospital in that time, the frustration of his nursing staff was a testament to that. They had tried their best to comfort six worried, agitated men but they had paced and prayed, all waiting for their comrade to be restored to them. When he had accompanied the gurney carrying their friend down to the ICU he had been hit with a barrage of questions.

“How is he Doc?”

“Will he be okay?”

“When can we sit with him?”

“When can we see him?”

“How bad is he?”

“What the hell took so long?”

He looked into the pain filled eyes of the six men that surrounded him and saw the pain and concern mirrored in each of them, and knew that he couldn’t, no wouldn’t lie to them.

“I’m sorry gentlemen” he started, he watched the tears well in several eyes and seeing the pain his unthinking words had caused he continued quickly “he pulled through the surgery, barely, we lost him a couple of times, but we have done all we can for him. Now its up to him. If he has the strength to fight, the strength to stay here, he may just hang on” he spoke then asked no questions of them merely let them all file inside to be with their fallen comrade.

He watched as all of them touched him in some way, as if trying to give him some of their own strength to help him fight his way back to them. Tears welled in his own eyes as shaking his head he turned away, trying to give these strong brave vital men a little privacy with their friend.

JD Dunne stood at the base of the bed his hand resting on his friend’s foot, the fingers of his hand stroking unconsciously, as tears fell unheeded down his cheeks, his other hand brushing them absently away, unashamed of the emotion he was displaying in front of his other friends. He didn’t think he would ever be old enough to feel this pain. His newspaper boys hat crumpled in his hand, as he tried to stifle the sob that rose in his throat.

Buck Wilmington stood beside him knowing that if they should lose one of their number, none of them would ever be the same again. Their world would not be complete, their work together would be meaningless. His hand patting his unconscious friends leg absently, wishing that just this once he had the open emotions of the kid, as tears welled in his own eyes, listening to JD’s struggles to hold onto his emotions. Torn between comforting his housemate and staying with his friends he compromised and drew JD into his tight embrace, his eyes never leaving his fallen friends face.

Josiah Sanchez contented himself to stand by the bedside and quietly pray for the soul of his friend, watching as he struggled to draw air into damaged lungs, struggling to pump a heart that had seen too much pain, a soul that knew too much suffering. If only he knew exactly how much that the men who surrounded him needed him amongst them to make them whole, perhaps that would give him the fight he needed to remain amongst them.

Nathan Jackson the team EMT, had picked up the chart on the end of the bed as he strode into the room, his faith in his friends ability to revive sinking as he read the extent of his injuries, he placed a hand on his fevered forehead, brushing the stray lock of hair that had fallen forward back into place.

Vin Tanner had pulled up a chair and sat beside his friend. Taking his hand in his own he willed his strength to his fallen friend, the same way he had done the countless number of times that Vin himself had been in his position. He knew exactly why he had stepped between his friends and the bullets that were meant for them but that didn’t mean that the others had to like it. Hell he would do and had done the same thing himself, just not with such dire consequences.

Chris Larabee sat n the opposite side of the bed berating himself for the days events. He held his agents other hand between both of his, trying desperately to give some of his lifeforce to the cold hand of the man in the bed. He shook his head in awe of how he had selflessly given himself for his friends as the bust replayed over and over in his head.

“Dammit Ez” he spoke each of his men hearing the tears in his voice “Why weren’t you wearing your vest?” he questioned rhetorically never expecting an answer.

“They would have seen it” came the croaked answer from the bed, and all eyes in the room flew to his face.

“That’s no excuse” Chris tried to be angry with his undercover specialist

“Why Ez?” he spoke “You knew you weren’t wearing a vest” he paused lifting one hand to wipe the beads of sweat from Ezra’s face

“Why did you take the slugs you damn fool” he accused all the while the events of the day replaying in his mind.

Somehow he didn’t know how, the sting had gone badly wrong, he and JD had been caught out by their targets. Ezra had seen the man with the AK47 about to open fire on them, Chris and JD couldn’t, the southerner had done the only thing he could to save them, he had sprinted across the short expanse to lunge at Chris as the gunman had pulled the trigger, knocking him and the kid out the way, taking the six slugs intended for them.

“Couldn’t” he struggled knowing that had to explain his actions to them before he left them, he struggled to form the words with his parched lips “Couldn’t let them kill Mr Dunne” he paused hearing JD’s strangled sob “or you Mr Larabee. The others, indeed myself, would be left adrift without your admirable guidance” he gripped Chris’s hand weakly as his pain glazed eyes took one final look at the men he called family “They need you. Won’t miss me” he fought to finish as his eye’s closed and his head lolled to the side his jaw falling slackly open.

The others stood there shocked at his admission. Surely Ezra hadn’t meant that they would be able to go on without him. Lost in their own thoughts, they were startled when the machines around them started to beep. Each of them knew exactly what the noise meant, they were losing one of their number. Chris wasn’t about to let that happen, he shook his prone friend as the medical team raced in to try and pull him back from the brink again.

“Get these men out of here” one of the doctors called to the staff as they frantically tried to bring Ezra back from the dark painfree void he had fallen into.

They all started to file out wanting to give the medical staff all the room they needed but JD stood by the door sinking back into the corner.

“I’m not leaving him” he shook his head “Dammit he’s there because of me, you heard him he thinks he won’t be missed, I’m not leaving him alone” he spoke as he wiped the tears from his face looking pleadingly into the faces of his friends.

Buck stood beside his young partner a teary look of approval on his face “God Forbid he is dying, but if he is, he’s not gonna die alone” he spoke softly but firmly his eyes never leaving Ezra’s face as the doctors finally became less frantic in their movements. One by one the members of Team 7 stepped into the corner of the room watching the medicos and the struggle Ezra was fighting to hold onto his tenuous grip on life.

Buck watched his eyes filled with pain knowing that they were losing one of their number, his pain turned to fury however when he saw one of the doctors step back from the bed and start to strip his gloves from his hands

“Call it at…” he never got any further Buck’s large hands wrapped tightly around his throat stopping any further speech. The rest of the trauma team, had paused in their attempts to keep the ATF agent alive, now redoubled their efforts suddenly frightened of what these men’s reactions would be if they failed.

“You’re not calling anything” he spoke tears on his cheeks “Dammit keep him alive” he snarled through clenched teeth” calming as Chris’s hands came to rest on his shoulders trying to control his oldest friend

“Please” Chris asked quietly the liquid emotion in his eyes, as well as Buck’s death grip on his throat, prompting the frightened doctor to return to his patient as Chris folded Buck into his arms, both restraining and comforting him at the same time, hoping that they could save the conman who had so easily found a place in all their hearts.

“Dammit Ez don’t do this to us” Vin murmured as he slipped to the end of the bed placing a hand of comfort on his friends leg.

The quite blip of the machines surrounding Ezra started again, the six men who had been unconsciously holding their breaths began to breath again, the minutes seemed to last an eternity but slowly the wary medical staff stepped back from the bed one by one, each minute that passed making them more confident. It took several minutes and many more wary glances before the medico’s were confident enough to leave their patient. One of the nurses looked at the faces of the six men that had resumed their posts around the bed and thought for a split second to tell them that they couldn’t stay in the room, but thought better of it and left the room, wishing that she had friends as good as these men appeared to be to her patient.

“I’ll go and get some chairs” Josiah spoke as he watched the others, he knew that there was no way that any of them were going to leave Ezra’s side, one way or the other. Nathan followed him from the room each returning with two chairs, finding that Chris and Vin had taken up their original seats on either side of Ezra’s bed, each had carefully reached around the iv tubes and monitors attached to him to take his cold almost lifeless hand into their own warm hands, willing him to live.

Buck had turned his chair around and was sitting on it backwards, one arm resting across the back of the chair the other wrapped around JD’s shoulders as he knelt at the bedside, his head resting against the side of the bed almost as if he was praying.

“Someone should contact Maude” Josiah spoke, not wanting her there at all but knowing that if her son was dying she should be contacted at least.

“When we know something” Chris murmured his eyes never leaving Ezra’s pallid face.

Chris wasn’t aware of anything else in the room, just the shattered body that lay in the bed in front of him, the events of the day playing through in his mind.

The bust had started out simply enough this morning, they had all met that morning in the conference room, the only difference to their normal stings was that Ezra’s attire was drastically different, instead of his usual fancy designer suits he was wearing jeans and a tshirt proudly proclaiming him to be a fan of Shania Twain. His usual urbane sophisticated persona changed to that of a southern boy gone bad. The culmination of two months of hard work, Ezra and Buck had finally been accepted by the drug ring they had been trying to infiltrate. A drug ring responsible for some of the most lethal crack on the streets at the moment.

“Hey Nice Shirt Ez” Buck had called as he entered the room snickering at his friend but shaking his head at the fact that even in the casual everyday clothes that the rest of them wore, he still looked better than them.

“Why Thank you Mr Wilmington” Ez retorted unable to hide the smile in his voice “But when in Rome….”

“Cut it out you two” Chris had interjected enjoying the banter but needing to talk to his agents.

“Ez where’s your vest?” he asked one eyebrow raised in question

“Oh please Mr Larabee, where exactly am I supposed to secrete that particular object”

“Ez you know damn well I don’t like you operating without one” he started his traditional diatribe about the importance of his bulletproof vest until Ezra held up one hand in protest

“Chris” he spoke softly “You know that I wear it when I can unfortunately this time I am unable too, besides they don’t have a history of armed violence” he stated his green eyes searching his leaders eyes deeply.

“There’s always a first time Ezra” he answered him and moved on to the briefing.

Chris berated himself again and again as he had over the last hours, why hadn’t he insisted, he had had a bad feeling about this from the start, for god’s sake why hadn’t he insisted that the stubborn southerner wear his protective vest. It was his duty to keep his men safe and he couldn’t help but feel that he had let Ezra down in the worst possible way. It was not the usual organised crime outfit they were accustomed to, but at this meeting they had promised Ezra they would supply him with the name of the chemist responsible for the manufacture of the drugs.

Ezra and Buck had preceeded them to the designated meeting point in Buck’s pickup, a good vehicle for a down home red neck southern boy Buck had laughed earning a glare from the southern boy being forced to drive it. The others had all taken up stations around the area, Vin on the roof of one the nearby buildings, Chris and JD in long grass at the edge of the field Ezra was meeting his suppliers in. Buck had as instructed waited at the car for Ezra to return. Nathan and Josiah were similarly to JD and Chris belly down under a ramshackle building on the other side of the clearing.

All appeared to have gone smoothly to Chris until Ezra was halfway back to the pickup. He seemed to notice something and dropped the briefcase he was carrying, and ran directly towards Chris and JD. Chris had actually wondered what the hell Ezra was doing until he had leapt over both he and JD and they had heard the sharp retort of the automatic weapon. It had only taken two shots for Vin to dispose of the gunman and clamber off the roof to check on the health of their fallen member. Nathan and Josiah had instantly move to take care of the two drug dealers in the middle of the field as Buck had run to Ezra’s side. But it was too late Chris was already there rolling his selfless team member over, to reveal a tshirt sticky and oozing rivers of crimson blood in a thick trail to pool underneath his limp body. Chris knew something was dreadfully wrong and realised that Ezra was not breathing. His hands shaking he quickly began to administer CPR, knowing that his men would get help for them. Sure enough moments later Vin dropped to his knees on the other side of Ezra’s limp body and spoke.

“Paramedics are on their way Pard” he spoke softly “Let me take over” he spoke as he watched his best friends hands shaking uncontrollably.

Chris relinquished his life sustaining role to his best friend and took stock of his remaining team members.

JD had barely moved from where he had been seated during the whole operation, watching the scene unfold before him with eyes as big as saucers. Buck knelt before him talking softly to him trying to draw him back from the shock he knew that he was sinking into. Josiah and Nathan stood on the other side of the field guns trained on the two men that they had taken into custody their worried gazes frequently flicking to their friends. Nathan couldn’t take it any longer, he left Josiah with the prisoners and sprinted across the field to get to the fallen agent, using all his knowledge to try and stem the flow of blood from the bullet wounds marring Ezra’s chest.

Things had become a blur after the arrival of the paramedics, they quickly bundled Ezra up and transported him to Four Corners Mercy General, Chris travelling with his fallen comrade, holding tightly to his hand the whole way. He reached a hand up now to brush a stray lock of hair back from Ezra’s forehead, uncaring that his men, his friends could see the tears on his face.

Vin sat opposite him and watched his best friend falling to pieces before his eyes. He knew that Chris blamed himself for Ezra’s condition but God only knew he should be the one feeling guilty, he was the one that was a trained sharpshooter, he had had the position to stop all of this. He had seen Ezra stop in his tracks, he had known that he had seen something but even using his scope he couldn’t see what it was that had terrified Ezra so. Only after seeing the muzzle flare from the rifle did he realise what Ezra had seen and quickly put an end to that particular problem with one shot. Scampering down off the roof of the building he had run across the field radioing for an ambulance as he ran. Knowing that when he reached his friends, one of them was going to be in need of that attention.

Buck, sat beside the bed, realising now that he had done a very stupid thing threatening a doctor, but he would do it all over again, in a heartbeat, if he had to. The six weren’t about to give up on their seventh, why should the medical staff. He knew that if they did lose their seventh, they would in fact lose another. Oh not physically but emotionally. JD would never be able to pull himself back from the guilty depths he was sinking into. Buck knew that the guilt was pulling him down quicker than quicksand, but there was nothing he could do about it. He shook his head as he watched the minute movements of Ezra’s chest as he took tiny shallow breaths. He wrapped one arm around JD’s shoulder and tried to provide comfort for his partner and flatmate at the same time. He had died a tiny death when he had realised what Ezra was doing, finally seeing the muzzle of the AK47 in the shadows, just as Ezra launched himself at Chris and JD.

JD was not a praying man, but he was praying for all he was worth now, he knew that his friend had sacrificed himself for him and just as he knew that Ezra was going to be taken from them. His eyes glazed over as he realised that he had never told Ezra exactly how much he meant to him. He had never, well almost never, treated him like the baby the others did, he treated him as an equal and for that he would always be grateful. He felt Buck’s arm on his shoulders and relaxed a little against his best friend, knowing that Buck would not let Ezra be taken from them without a fight.

Josiah sat in the corner of the room watching his comrades carefully, even though his head was bowed and he was deep in prayer, he still watched over his friends. The loss of Ezra would undoubtedly bring about the end of the Magnificent 7. Not only would it reduce them to six, but nobody could ever replace the smooth talking, sharp dressing conman that had found a place in all their hearts. He was sure that some would try but nobody could ever take his place, for any of them. His demise would surely bring about the emotional end of at least two more of their team. Josiah could see Chris and JD sinking into the mire of self blame and guilt that he knew they would never escape from should he die. Sure they didn’t trust him at first, especially after he had run out on them on that first mission, but now they all trusted him with their lives and today’s events proved to them that Ezra took that trust very seriously.

Nathan sat at the end of the bed slightly away from the others reading Ezra’s chart and watching him struggle to survive. With his medical knowledge, he knew that, baring a miracle, it was only a matter of time until Ezra succumbed to the severity of his injuries. He also knew that there was strong possibility of him suffering some sort of brain damage due to the number of times he had physically died. He watched him silently, knowing that they had not always seen eye to eye but Ezra was part of his family and he could not imagine a life without him.

For three days, the men sat by their teammate’s side, only leaving the room when necessary, only moving from the bedside when Ezra momentarily lost his struggle to survive. The medical staff knew better than to let him slip away from them, finally placing him on a life support machine while they ran test after test to try and discover why he was not responding to treatment.

The other six sank slowly into a mire of self despair and hopelessness. None willing to voice the words that would bring about the disintegration of their family, but maybe it was time to end his suffering.

Watching from the corner of the room as Ezra was placed on the life support machine, Chris spoke wearily.

“Maybe it is time to call Maude” he murmured quietly, yet they all knew the unspoken message behind those words

“No” Buck spoke, his voice hoarse from disuse “I won’t let you do that Chris”

“Buck, don’t you think I want to keep him with us” he turned on his oldest friend

“Dammit he’s there because of me, but it’s not fair to keep letting him suffer this way” he turned to all of his friends “If he was a horse I would have put him out of his misery two days ago” he looked each of them in the face “Surely he deserves a little compassion” he paused “we owe him that much”

Chris turned and plunging his hands into the pockets of his jeans he walked silently from the room, he needed to get away from his friends and from Ezra’s suffering just for a few minutes to compose himself enough to speak to Ezra’s mother. He knew that while they didn’t have a close relationship, Maude did love her son in her own peculiar way and ultimately she would be the one who made the decision to let her son go and ease his suffering. He just didn’t know how Team 7 was going to let go of one of their own.

He walked out of the hospital doors and sank down against the outer wall of the hospital, shaded from the bright sunlight by overflowing garbage bins. He rested his head on his arms folded on his knees and gave into the emotions that had been building in him for three days, sobbing like a baby. He fought to control the emotions surging through him and get himself back under control before he went back in to face his men.

“want some company cowboy?” a quiet voice spoke from beside him, getting no response he sat next to him and spoke again

“you’re making the right decision pard”

“Am I?” he murmured “I should have made him wear his vest. I should have heard the asshole with the gun”

“What if’s wont bring him back Chris” Vin spoke softly, he turned his face from his best friend to watch an ambulance that had just reversed up to the hospital doors.

“He doesn’t deserve to be put through this pain Chris”

“Don’t you think I don’t know that” he spat “It should be me there and not him”

“And if he hadn’t done what he did, would you still be feeling as generous if the bad guy had shot or killed JD?”

“You know that I wouldn’t” he turned his steely gaze on his best friend

“Like I said what if’s won’t change things pard” Vin spoke softly “All we can do now is make it easier for him to let go if he has to”

“Guess I should go call Maude” Chris spoke quietly, making no move to go back inside

“It’s you that has to give permission Chris” Vin spoke softly knowing the torment that this would bring him

“She’s Ezra’s next of kin” his pained eyes flew to Vin’s face not really understanding what he had just heard, full of disbelief, he didn’t want that responsibility.

“I witnessed his living will about two months ago Pard, he gave you his power of attorney” Vin replied simply

“Damn, just when you think you have a person figured out they go and turn everything upside down” Chris spoke softly knowing that Ezra’s actions if not his words told Chris exactly how much the younger agent had come to feel like part of their family.

“I’ll get Josiah to phone Maude and to see if she wants to come out here before we do anything” Vin stood up to go inside but as he turned away a thought occurred to him and he knelt in front of his friend again

“He knew Chris that if anything like this should happen, you would do what was best for him, hell for all of us, he witnessed the same thing for me” he spoke quietly

“And I know that I sure as hell trust you to do what is best for me. I wouldn’t want to go on living by machine, and I know that its not how he wants us to remember him either” with that Vin stood and went back into the hospital room.

Chris sat there for a few moments, trying to regain some hold on his somewhat tenuous emotions. He could not believe the trust that Ezra had placed in him by giving him power of attorney, but he knew one thing, never before had he realised exactly how much the southerner had wanted to be part of the family. Sure he kept himself aloof and most of the time apart from the rest of the team, hell in a team of 7 there is bound to be one loner, but none of them ever doubted Ezra’s devotion to them, they just felt that he didn’t think that he fitted in, if only he knew he was the glue that held them together.

Feeling older than he had ever felt before, he rose to his feet, wiping his hands across his face, he tried to rectify some of the damage three days of tears and no sleep had done to his face. He walked into the building and pressed the button for the elevator to take him to the floor that ICU was situated on. As he walked out of the elevator, his feet almost as heavy as his heart, he saw Josiah talking quietly into his cell phone, knowing that he was calling Ezra’s mother he offered him a weak smile and walked towards where the other men were standing outside Ezra’s room.

“Why isn’t someone in there with him?” he frowned angry at the team for leaving him alone

“There is a team of surgeons, they chased us outside and have been in there for about ten minutes” Nathan spoke quietly from his perch leaning against the wall opposite the door

“Did they say what they were doing?” Chris probed

“Nope” Buck spoke “Just chased us outside and shut the door and the curtains behind us”

They waited silently for the next thirty minutes until the door opened and three surgeons walked out

“Would one of you gentlemen be Mr Larabee?” the first surgeon asked quietly

“That would be me. How is Ezra?” Chris spoke not wanting to know if it was bad news

“We believe we have found his problem. There is a shard of bone pressing against his heart, we believe that if we remove this piece of bone it will aid his recovery.” He spoke hesitantly

“And if you don’t” Chris asked sensing there was a but in there somewhere

All three doctors glanced nervously at Buck ”In his weakened condition there is no guarantee that he will survive the surgery, but if we don’t he will certainly not survive” the first doctor spoke again

The rest of the team looked at Chris and waited for his decision, Chris didn’t even hesitate

“What the hell are you waiting for?” he snarled at the doctors

“Your permission” they spoke “He is scheduled for surgery at 6am in the morning” they spoke and added “You may as well all go home and come back again in the morning

“We’re not leaving him” six voices spoke as one

“We didn’t think you would but we had to ask” they spoke shaking their heads as they looked at the exhausted men that surrounded them.

The doctors excused themselves and walked off discussing how surgery would happen in the morning. One by one six weary men filed back into the room, Josiah called Chris aside at the door of the room.

“Maude is in Europe and can’t make it back until the beginning of the month” he spoke softly

“I suppose we can expect nothing more from her can we” Chris shook his head at the lack of maternal nature from Ezra’s mother “Any wonder he doesn’t get attached to people” he shook his head and walked into the room resuming his seat by Ezra’s side.

JD had taken up a seat on the floor by Buck’s legs his head resting on his partner’s thigh, dozing fitfully. Buck, looking as bone tired as the rest of them kept his almost silent vigil occasionally stroking his partners troubled head. Nathan and Josiah both took seats against the wall their heads falling backwards to rest against the wall as they tried to catch some sleep. Chris and Vin managed to doze a little their heads resting against the bed, Ezra’s cool perfectly manicured hand clasped in theirs, both determined that he would feel human touch while he was suffering, if only so that he knew he wasn’t completely alone.

They spent an uneasy night knowing that this may be the last night they spent with the man who was so much a part of them. At 5.30am when the orderlies came to prep him for surgery the six were all on edge and wary.

“Can we have a couple of minutes with him please” Chris asked quietly entered the room.

The orderly looked at the men whose devotion to their patient had become legendary throughout the hospital and nodded “Just a couple of minutes okay” he backed out of them room and closed the door quietly behind him.

They all made their way to the side of the bed and stood around the bed all touching Ezra willing their strength to him.

“I know that you always feel like you are on the outside Ezra, and that is as much your fault as ours, when you are better we will discuss it further, but I want you to know that we will be in that surgery with you, you haven’t run out on us and we won’t leave you either.” He leaned forward and brushed Ezra’s hair off he forehead and placed a soft kiss there before backing away from the bed.

“Remember Pard” Vin spoke softly “You have to fight for the important things – and nothing could be more important than you coming back to us” he leaned forward and placed a kiss on his forehead

Josiah came forward and took Ezra’s hand in his “Brother, if prayers were clouds you would be floating on them now. I know you will be back with us soon” he kissed him and stepped back and Nathan took his place.

“You crazy southerner, what am I gonna do without you to complain about me doctoring you” he placed a kiss on his forehead

“Ez you gotta get well, whose gonna stick up for me with Buck if you are gone” he smiled and kissed Ezra on the forehead as well

“Dammit Ezra, who am I supposed to fight with huh” Buck spoke as he took his hand in his and squeezed it tight “The office will never be the same.” He spoke almost too himself “Besides you’ve gotta get well so I can kill you for doing such a damn fool thing as getting yourself shot” he placed a kiss on his forehead and stepped back. All of them looked at their friend and walked from the room to let the orderlies get on with their work.

They were all still standing outside the room when the orderlies wheeled Ezra out of the room, looking at them with sympathetic smiles on their faces and spoke to the rest of the team.

“There’s a much more comfortable waiting room up outside of the surgery if you would all like to wait up there” he spoke

“Do me a favour when he comes out?” Chris asked

“Sure” the orderly answered him

“Please have someone sit with him when he comes out of surgery, don’t let him wake up alone” The enigmatic team leader asked

“Sure thing” the orderly answered, eyeing Buck carefully to see if he was going to add any stipulations.

“Thanks” Chris thanked him wearily as all seven followed the orderlies to the elevator, each step drawing Ezra closer to end of the fight for his life.

Afternoon sun was waning and the shadows of night were beginning to fill the waiting room, fluorescent lighting flickering into life before the six saw any sign of the doctors again. Several of the nurses that had treated Ezra over the last few months had all come to lend their support and wait for any news, throughout the day. Each of them, seeing the stress the men they had come to know were carrying and trying to hide from the other.

Vin and Chris had unofficially become Ezra’s protectors and had split their time between pacing and sitting on the floor against the wall opposite the surgery doors. Vin just as concerned about his best friend as he was about Ezra. Buck sat in one of the seats his elbows on his knees, watching JD closely and worrying about both of his friends. JD, when not driving the others crazy pacing aimlessly back and forth stood by the window watching the outside world but not seeing anything.

Nathan had resigned himself to a long wait, he sat on one of the chairs his head resting against the wall behind him, his eyes closed but not sleeping. Too concerned about his friend to get any real rest. Josiah spent the day praying for his friend, knowing that if nothing else his prayers helped calm his own soul enough to allow him to help his remaining friends.

Two bloodstained doctors emerged from the room and were immediately confronted by Chris and Vin who were on their feet the moment the door began to swing. Buck and JD followed as soon as they saw the movement and alerted the dozing Josiah and Nathan on the way.

“How is he?” Chris asked hoarsely

“He’s very weak, but we have repaired the damage to his heart and removed the bone, the rest is up to him, it now all depends on him. The longer he stays unconscious the less optimal his chances of survival are.” Chris nodded slowly and chuckled to himself.

“Well now that could be a problem cos our Ezra is real fond of his sleep” the others chuckled softly under their breath. The doctors glad to see this release of tension from the men in front of them, this the first time they had heard anything other then sounds of sorrow and encouragement from them in the four days they had been there.

“He’s in recovery at the moment, we will be taking him back down to icu if you want to go down there and wait for him.” He spoke relieved that the news he had given them was well accepted. He waited until the men started to walk away from him.

“Gentlemen, you might like to get some rest and some nourishment before he wakes up” he paused “don’t want you to frighten him back into a coma, if he should happen to fight his way out of it”

The six of them took stock of their appearance, all unshaven, unkempt, Ezra’s blood still staining Chris and Vin’s jeans, they had taken the time to change from their bloodstained shirts into t shirts Vin kept in his car, but that was the only concession they had made to their appearance in the four days they had been there.

“We can do that” Chris chuckled, for the first time since his arrival there feeling optimistic, as they saw what the rest of the hospital had been seeing.

“He’ll be about an hour in recovery, go down to the cafeteria and have something to eat at least” the doctor stated as they both turned to return to the surgery.

“You want to go home and have a shower Chris, our place is closest” Buck spoke “I’ll stay here for him”

“I’m not going anywhere” Chris stated

“Like hell you are not” Nathan raised his voice “Each and every one of you is going down to the cafeteria and going to have something to eat”

“Yes Mother” Buck smiled feeling a great weight lifting from his shoulders with that smile.

The six men went to the cafeteria and each ate, eating more at this meal than they had in four days. They ate quickly, none really wanting the meal but knowing that they were quickly reaching the bounds of their endurance and needing to be there for Ezra when he woke. Each of them visited the bathroom on the way back to ICU and made some adjustment to their bleary eyed appearances, Buck even procuring an electric razor from one of the nurses stations. Still they managed to beat Ezra back to his room.

They were all surprised at Ezra’s appearance when he was returned to the ICU. He was so pale his skin appeared almost transparent under the harsh fluorescent lighting, his hair hanging limp and unkempt against the pillow, his face slack in his unconsciousness making him appear almost as young as JD. His lashes making dark crescents on his cheeks, small beads of perspiration covering his cleanshaven face, at Chris’ request one of the nurses shaved him everyday, each of them knew how Ezra worried about his appearance and didn’t want him to be concerned about anything when he finally woke.

Chris stood by the side of the bed and wondered just how long that Ezra would have to suffer this continued pain. The continued struggle to live was slowly taking away the Ezra that they all knew and loved, he knew that it would hurt him and he would live with the pain of having to do it for the rest of his days, seeing the recrimination in the eyes of his friends, but if Ezra slipped into the icy grip of death once more, he would give his permission to let him go. He owed him that much at least.

Vin watched the emotions play over the face of his best friend, turning his face away from the naked sorrow that he saw there, giving Chris time with his thoughts and looked at the faces of the others, thankful none of them were watching Chris. Vin knew that Chris had made his decision, he also knew that after the initial shock the others would agree with Chris’ decision, this was not fair to Ezra, keeping him suspended here in some sort of half life, wasting slowly away until he was no longer the vital if somewhat aloof man they all knew but a shadow of his former self.

They would not be deterred, as soon as Ezra was settled back in they all resumed their previous positions. The nursing staff, accustomed to the presence of their patients protectors, not only worked around the men when they needed to, but they started making their presence easier too, bringing coffee in for them when they were on breaks. The staff could see how much this was wearing on them but they knew from past experience that not one of these men would move from the hospital until their fallen friend was assured of life. The whole staff it seemed had decided if they couldn’t remove the men from the room they may as well make everyone’s job as comfortable as possible.

Chris sat in the chair beside Ezra’s bed his hand resting lightly over Ezra’s hand, and turned his attention to his other men. Vin sat opposite him, Ezra’s hand gripped in his as he laid his head against the edge of the bed, his eyes closed wearily, catching up on some of the sleep he had missed over the last week. Buck and JD sat beside Chris their chairs close together, JD’s eyes closed his head resting against Buck’s shoulder, Bucks arm gently looped around the young man’s shoulders. Buck himself had finally given into the exhaustion that had been dogging him for days, his own head resting against JD’s. Chris smiled as he recognised Buck’s devotion to his friends, especially the youngest member of the team.

It had been eight hours since Ezra had emerged from his surgery and it seemed for the moment at least he was holding his own. Josiah had excused himself to go and contact Ezra’s mother as he had promised her, to give her updates on his wellbeing and Nathan had slipped down to the cafeteria to get more coffee for each of the stubborn men. Chris turned his head back to Ezra and wondered for the millionth time if he realised just how much he meant to the team. Bone weary and feeling every minute of his age and then more still, he rested his head against the edge of the bed and closed his eyes for a short time, content that he was close at hand if anything should happen.

Ezra fought his way through inky black clouds, knowing that something was wrong, his mind was hazy and full of alarming questions. Why did his chest hurt so badly, why was it so hard to breathe, what was that horrible metallic taste in his mouth, and where the hell was that beeping coming from. He opened his eyes slowly waiting for bright light to assault his senses as it usually did when he awoke with a hangover. Sleep and pain glazed, his sea green eyes slowly took in his surroundings and the dimly lit room that surrounded him.

Suddenly and with a blinding clarity, that brought a sheen of perspiration to his skin, he realised that he was in hospital and remembered exactly how he got there. His eyes searched the room, seeking JD, making sure that he had succeeded in shielding him from the gunshot. His eyes took in the form of the large ladies man sleeping with the Kid as he called him cradled protectively in his embrace. God above only knew that if JD had been injured or worse, Buck would never recover from the loss.

Likewise if Chris Larabee had been killed the sharpshooter who held tightly to his hand even in his sleep would never be the same again, and probably Buck as well. Hell, every man in the team would fall slowly to pieces, himself included. His friends meant enough to him to sacrifice himself for their sakes, he had never told anyone exactly how much that their friendship meant to him. They had stood by him when no one else would and he would gladly lay his life on the line for any one of them, they were the family he never had and he would never tell them this but in his heart they were all his brothers. The ties of blood meant nothing to him, but these men were brothers to him in all the ways that mattered.

He tried to force himself to speak, but even as he opened his mouth he realised that his parched throat was not going to cooperate. He could feel himself sinking back into the black depths that he had fought his way out of. Desperate to let his family know that he was awake, he struggled to lift his hand from the bed. He felt as weak as a kitten and shook his head at the effort it took him to do this small task, but he lifted his hand and stroked the soft blonde hair of the man who rested exhausted against the edge of the mattress. Realising that his hand was held in Vin’s he turned his attention to Vin and squeezed his hand as tight as he could. Sinking faster and faster back into the swirling black depths that beckoned him he knew that he had not managed to attract their attention, but still a gentle smile curled his lips as he realised that his friends had stayed with him, confirming his fledgling belief in his new family, maybe he had found a place in their hearts, just as they had found a place in his.

Chris wasn’t sure what it was that woke him, but he woke to feel his hair being gently stroked by the man in the hospital bed. Surprised a wide and uncharacteristic grin crossing his face he spoke gently as he took Ezra’s hand in his and nudged Buck with his foot.

“Buck” he murmured as Ezra closed his fingers weakly around his own “Go and get a doctor. Now!!” he added as Buck watched him confused a pained expression in his eyes

“What’s happened?” he murmured expecting the worst

“I think he’s waking up” Chris spoke not taking his eyes off the sleeping agent in front of him. Chris’ voice had woken the sharpshooter who rubbed his fingers gently over the softly gripping fingers of the man who they thought would never wake again. Buck left quickly and returned almost instantly with a doctor in tow, Chris and Vin relinquished their position for just long enough for the doctor to examine his patient.

The six of them waited impatiently outside the door, their faces hopeful for the first time since they had arrived, what seemed a lifetime ago. As the door opened they all looked up into the face of the doctor who for the first time since they had made his acquaintance was smiling.

“It seems that our Mr Standish is awake gentlemen” he spoke “He seems lucid enough, if exhausted” giving them all a stern look “Don’t stress him or excite him, if he wants any liquid there are ice chips in a cup for him.” He warned them again “I don’t want to see any setbacks because you are killing him with your exuberance” he pinned Buck and JD with a harsh stare “Any stress and only one of you will be allowed in at a time” watching the men take in his threats he then added one last statement “Now go in and welcome him back, he’s a lucky man” he stepped aside and let them all file back in.

They were dismayed to find that Ezra’s eyes were closed when they entered the room, so all resumed their usual positions waiting for him to wake again. It didn’t take long they had all settled in to wait for him to wake, some dosing off, others just sitting there counting their blessings that their prayers had been answered.

“Gentlemen” came a hoarse whisper from the bed that caused every face in the room to flick to his face “Don’t you have anything else to do?” his words were almost a whisper and said with a gentle smile on his face as his eyes closed wearily again.

“Wouldn’t be anywhere but here with you, you damn southern fool” Chris spoke as he stood and gripped Ezra’s hand in his.

“Excuse me for saying so, but your personal grooming leaves a lot to the imagination gentlemen” he spoke

“Why Ez, is that all the thanks we get for sitting here with you for five days” Buck spoke his tone showing that he was not annoyed even if his face said that he was

”Waiting for you to get well, so I can damn well kill you for doing such a fool stupid thing.” He added for good measure.

Ezra’s eyes flew confused to the face of their leader knowing that he wouldn’t lie to him, not believing that he had been here for so long.

“He’s right Ezra, this is the start of your sixth day here.” Chris spoke calmly not wanting to distress him “We didn’t know if you were gonna make it, none of us could leave you” he stated his eyes telling Ezra that he was telling the truth.

“Did you apprehend the miscreants that inflicted this malicious injury on my person?” he asked

“You must be feeling better Ez, you’re back to your five dollar words” Vin pushed Ezra’s hair back from his face again, a wide grin on his tired face. “Yeah we got the dealers and Team 6 picked up the chemist for us” Ezra’s closed his eyes again, fighting the sleep that beckoned him to stay with his friends just a little longer

“Please go and get some rest” he spoke “I’ll be fine” he mumbled as he lost his battle to stay awake, and his eyes closed again.

The others relaxed now that they had spoken with their fallen comrade.

“Who wants he first watch with him?” Buck asked quietly knowing that now that he appeared to be getting well, they would not all stay with him all the time.

“Chris and I will stay” Vin spoke for his partner and himself, knowing that the both of them needed a little more time to assure themselves that Ezra was really fine.

“Buck and I will be back later” JD spoke wanting to spend some time with the man that in all probability saved his life.

“Josiah and I will take third then” Nathan spoke nodding his head

With the exception of Chris and Vin all left the room, their footsteps lighter than they had been all week.

Chris watched his men file out all glancing at their friend who now lay sleeping before them with a smile. He knew that they would all go home and sleep deeply and rest easily, content with the knowledge that they were a family again. Hell, he might be their boss, their team leader, but most of the time he felt more like Dad, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Think we should tell Ez about what Buck did?” Vin spoke quietly interrupting his musings

“Do you think he would believe us?” Chris answered with a laugh

“Well I guess not” Vin chuckled.

Both fell silent, watching Ezra sleep and getting a little rest themselves, knowing that as he continued to recover they would tell him of his close brush with death and indeed how they all felt about him. Never again letting him think that he wouldn’t be missed should he be taken from their ranks.

THE END

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