The echoes died slowly in the room. As the ringing in his ears began to fade to a tolerable level, Vin could hear muffled shouts and the confusion of the raid taking place. Lying where he was, behind pallets of shipping cases, he'd been relatively sheltered from the blast, which was a good thing, because he wasn't sure he'd be able to protect himself in the battle he could hear taking place. ATF, FBI, local cops and God knows who else were storming the warehouse. He could make out the shouts as law enforcement identified themselves, and the answering volleys of gunfire from the targets.
Sheltered as he was, he still realized he was in a potentially vulnerable spot with his back to an exit that someone might have intentions of using. He slid over against the wall, watching to see if in fact anyone who should be staying tried to leave. A moment later the door opened, but it was to allow someone in; someone he was immensely relieved to see. Nathan spotted him immediately and did a squatting run to his side. Vin decided under the circumstances it would be rude to point out how ridiculous the ATF man looked moving that way.
"You OK? Where are you hurt?" His medic training tended to supersede his law enforcement instincts more often than not, and this time Vin did grin just a bit.
"Had my bell rung but I'll be fine, which is more than I can say for the jackass that set off concussion grenades in here. What the hell happened Nathan? We were doing fine."
Nate cautiously looked above some of the packing boxes. It sounded like the shooting was over, and he could hear everyone shouting for positions and status. He reached down and helped Vin to his feet while speaking into his wireless mike. "I got Vin here, Chris – seems ok." He turned back to answer the sharpshooter, who was undercover for this job as a gun runner. "You got me. All the sudden we were hearing 'abort' over the mikes. One of the bureau guys said he heard the signal and next thing we knew they were charging in. Chris is chewing nails and spitting tacks right about now. You sure you're OK? Look a little dazed."
"Nah, I was back here more or less outta the way when it all hit the fan. How's everything?" He waved an arm at the scene in front of them. "I'm guessing Ezra's fit to be tied right about now. He was set to close the deal, and he is gonna be madder than a hornet." He looked up to see a puzzled look cross Nathan's dark features as he spoke into the mike again.
"Anybody got eyes on Ezra?"
There were a few seconds of silence. "Come on. Who's got Ezra?" Vin could hear the reply without needing a headset. Chris was shouting for a search to start. The undercover agent's name was being shouted out, and no response could be heard.
"Where was he Vin? Where was he when the first blast came?"
Vin shook his head for a moment, trying to bring back the memory. He pointed towards the small office in the corner. "Walking that way with Dennison. Shit." He started running toward the spot. Nathan tried to grab him, missing by inches. "Chris, check back north corner." Several agents, all part of his team, could be seen running to the area. It was JD's voice that was the first heard on the headsets.
"Damn, oh damn. Ez, Ezra can you hear me? Nathan hurry. Buck, get the medics in here."
Nathan skidded to a stop as he rounded the corner. Looking frantically, he saw JD kneeling beside the prone form of their fellow agent as Buck approached from the other side, shock and fear evident on his face. He closed the distance in just a few strides, and gently pushed JD away. "Need the room," was all he said.
Buck helped the younger agent to his feet, and pulled him away, barely hearing the whispered – "I think he's dead."
Nathan shook his head as he began to check the injured man. "No JD, but it's bad. Real bad. Where the hell is the ambulance?"
"Coming in now." Chris's voice was behind him. "Talk to me."
"Not shot, at least not that I can see, but – he's bleeding Chris. From his ears. Got flash burns on his hands and face. I'm thinking one of those damn grenades went off in his face. Shock wave sent him flying back too. Lot of blood from the back of his head."
The medics had arrived and rapidly had Ezra in a neck brace, moving him to a back board for transport. Nathan stayed by his side, refusing to let him go alone. Chris watched, quiet terror on his face as the ambulance pulled away. It had taken only minutes, but it felt like and eternity. And he knew the waiting game had only just begun.
He turned back and looked at the rest of the team for the first time. JD appeared to be almost leaning on Buck, drawing some kind of support from the proximity of his partner. Josiah was behind both of them, and Chris was relatively certain prayers were running through his mind right now. He hoped they'd be answered. Looking to his left he saw Vin for standing alone. The younger agent was stock still, staring down at the blood stains on the floor where Ezra had been. Chris said his name several times before finally getting through.
"Shoulda been with him Chris. He was alone. Shouldn't have been alone."
"Knock it off Vin. This is NOT your fault. You'd been with him you'd be on your way to hospital too. Wouldn't have made the least bit of difference to him."
"You can't know that. Maybe I'd have seen the grenade – got him out of the way some. Maybe I could have kept him from hitting his head when he fell."
"Maybe you could have been the guy falling. Maybe you could have been killed. You can't change what happened Vin. He's gonna need us, all of us, at our best. You have got to pull it together for him. Can you do that?"
Vin inhaled deeply and nodded. "For now at least."
Chris turned to see a couple for FBI agents walking toward them, anger evident on their faces. "Why the hell did your boy signal the op was compromised? What was he thinking?" Vin was held back only by Josiah's hand reaching out for him.
"We didn't compromise anything. It was one of your assholes who jumped the gun. Who was it? Who ordered us to be attacked?"
"You did – or rather your partner did. Our techs clearly heard him drop the code word. Screwed up 3 months of work. Knew we shouldn't have trusted Standish on this, the unreliable little SOB." Josiah let go of Vin, but before the young agent could make a move, he'd pinned the FBI man himself.
"I would advise you to avoid voicing another syllable about the best undercover man to ever work a case, or I will find myself with no option but to remove your head – understood?" Chris stepped up beside the two men. "I'd listen to him if I were you. He's got 4 more agents here who will be more than happy to help him if he has a problem doing it – not that he would." He gently pulled Josiah back a step, putting an arm out to block Vin from moving in. A quick glance toward Buck and JD showed them both to be ready to take up the battle. The bureau agent wisely took a couple of steps back before turning to leave. His partner spoke.
"This is not over Larabee. You and your men will answer for this, all of this."
"Name the time and place. Now if you'll excuse us, we have much better things to do." The men watched as the area was cleared before Chris spoke again. "OK – Josiah, I want you to take Vin to the hospital – no argument. Nathan said you were down when he came in, so I want you checked. Also want a couple of us there for when Ezra wakes up." He stopped himself in time to change the 'if' that was in his mind to the 'when' that was in his heart. "JD, you need to start taking photos of this area. Every inch of it. I want to be able to recreate the scene, close up. Buck, check out the area for physical evidence. Document it, but don't touch. I don't want the Fibs to be able to say we tampered with anything."
"What are you thinking?" Buck had known his friend long enough to know something was worrying him.
"Don't want Ezra taking a fall on this, especially when he's in no place to defend himself. Whether this was a bad call, a missed cue, or worse, they're gonna want to put in on someone, and you all know how most of the idiots over there feel about him."
"Still harassing him over old rumors that were never even close to being proven. They're just jealous 'cause he's the best there is at what he does." Chris smiled at the passion of JD's defence of their friend and colleague.
"Motive doesn't really matter now. Let's just make sure we get what we need."
An hour later Josiah sat alone in the Emergency waiting room. Vin was still being examined, after extended protests on the matter. And Nathan had not yet appeared with any word on Ezra, so Josiah waited with as much patience as he could summon. He tried with no success to banish the image of his friend lying bleeding on the floor. He knew the young man was stronger than he looked, and a good deal more resilient as well, but this. He had looked so pale, so broken.
His meditation was interrupted by familiar voices when he heard Buck and JD speaking in less that soft tones, followed quickly by Chris trying to shush them. They approached him quickly, but the questions died on their lips on seeing his face.
"No word on anyone yet. I'm sure Vin is fine; he was far too combative not to be. Nothing about Ezra yet. I'm sure Nathan – well, speak of the devil."
The others turned to see the team medical expert coming through the treatment area doors. The look on his face cut into each soul.
"He's alive," he was quick to reassure them, "and they expect he'll stay that way." The relief they felt remained tempered by the lack of joy on Nathan's face. "Beyond that, they just don't know yet. The bleeding at the back of his head looks to be pretty superficial. Long gash, lots of blood, but not deep. Still, he hasn't come to yet." He paused to gather his thoughts for a few seconds before coming forward with the news he knew would disturb them all, and quite possibly shatter the team. "He got burned badly when the flash went off."
"Didn't look that bad."
"Face burns weren't Buck – mostly first degree. But the eyes are a lot more sensitive – more vulnerable. There're still a lot of test to run, and it's too early to say anything for certain yet, but it seems right now" his voice cracked slightly "that the blast blinded him." He took a deep breath. "And it could well be permanent."
Ezra Standish awoke in a void. It was silent and dark, and he was completely lost. He had no sense of where he was or what had happened. He tried to calm himself, to think, to remember. No images came to mind. His last memory was leaving his house this morning. No, not his house, his alter-ego's house. He was on a job. An assignment. He was with Vin. Where was Vin? What was going on? Why couldn't he see anything? He could feel there was something on his eyes. Blindfolded? That couldn't be good. He flexed his fingers and started to reach for the covering.
He was unaware of the people sitting around him. Six anxious men, watching for any signs of recovery; a twitch, a deeper breath, the softest of moans. Anything that would give them hope. When the fingers on his hand started to reach out, Buck was in position to see them. He reached out to grab the hand, pulling back at the last second to avoid startling the semi-conscious man. Instead he spoke softly before making contact. "It's OK Ezra, we're here. We're all here." At the first word the others all began to move in closer. They were startled by Ezra's reaction when Buck did take his hand. He pulled free, screaming as best he could in the situation.
"Ezra, it's Buck. You're OK, you're gonna be fine. We're all right here."
"NO! What...who's there? Where…?"
"Easy Pard. It's Vin. I'm here. Chris, JD everybody. We're all right here."
"Damn it – answer me. Who's there? What's happening?"
Nathan smoothly moved the others aside. He clapped loudly beside the man's right ear, then left. No reactions. He tried to keep the fear from his face as he leaned over the bed, placing his face next to the patient. "Ezra!" he all but shouted in his ear, turning just enough so the breath wouldn't be felt. Still was no reaction.
The voice from the bed had softened, but there was a tone of panic creeping in. "Is anyone there?" Buck reached out and gently took his hand. Ezra started to pull away, but suddenly changed to gripping it in desperation. "Who – who is this? Please talk to me." An instant later a puzzled look crossed his face. "Am I talking? Am I? I can't…oh dear Lord. I can't hear myself!"
Buck squeezed the hand tighter, laying his other hand on Ezra's shoulder, trying to calm him. "Who is this?" He was at a loss to let him know. How do you communicate to a man who can neither see nor hear? How to get through to his friend? He looked to the others, seeing only lost looks coming back to him. Then he smiled. He took Ezra's hand and gently brought it up to his own face, guiding the fingers to brush against the moustache that had so often been the subject of the southerner's teasing. "Buck? Buck, is that you?" He placed Ezra's palm to his cheek and made an exaggerated gesture of nodding. They all let out a collective sigh as they could see a slight reduction in the panic. The confusion was still dominant, but they could tell he knew he was not alone.
Ezra reached with his free hand toward the bandages on his face but was stopped when the hand was lightly grabbed. Uncertain how to communicate his identity, Vin paused for a minute. He turned Ezra's hand to be palm up, and softly traced a "V" over the skin, repeating the gesture when there was no reply. "Vin?" He repeated Buck's nodding routine. "Vin – you're alright? What happened? Dear God – what's wrong with me?" All he could do was lay a comforting hand on his friend. It was all any of them could do right now, and all felt woefully inadequate.