The Good Life
by Leigh Richards
Disclaimer: This story is a piece of fanfiction containing characters which are the property of MGM, Trilogy, and CBS. I do not make any claims to these characters.
Author's Notes: This is a sequel to The New Law that was written last year, which can be found at Katie's Archive. It is set in an AU where the boys are Detectives. I found it languishing on my computer and decided maybe someone out there might like to read it. So happy reading. Thanks to Peta for going through this for me.
Ezra Standish stood watching as his roommate, Vin Tanner, sat hammering at the floorboard. This wasn't unusual for Vin, but it was odd as the other man had been hammering at the nail for a good five minutes longer than he should have been. His chiselled features concerned at the relentless pounding Vin was giving the nail.
"Vin?" Ezra queried as he yelled over the noise that Tanner was making.
"What!" Vin snapped, clearly annoyed at being interrupted, the muscle in his jaw ticking, a sure sign that the man was pissed.
"I think it's done," the southerner said, pointing at the nail.
Vin looked at the nail and started in surprise, his blue eyes swinging back up to Ezra's green ones, where the man stood in the doorway wearing a suit and shirt, indicating that he had just got in from the station. As the suit pants and a plain blue shirt that had made many a lady's heart flutter at the station, was marred with creases and crumples that would do them proud. Ezra was a gentleman who took care and pride in his appearance, a result of the prestige private school he had gone to in the south. He stared up at the southerner and back at the nail, as he traced the outline of it.
"Oh..." he whispered in surprise as he sat back on his heels, dusting his hands on his jeans.
"You okay?" Ezra asked as he found himself kneeling beside the other man.
"I don't know Ezra," the lost tone of the Texan sounding out of place, as he wiped his hammer on his white t-shirt.
Standish watched him as he contemplated this statement, clearly thinking about the implications. Vin sighed, rubbing a hand over his short hair so that it went spiky in areas. "It's this last case... it's got me on edge," he said, rising to his feet. Gathering the rest of his tools and putting them away, he had had enough renovating for one day.
"Why? We solved it," Ezra drawled, clearly confused as he tracked the movements of the lithe man in front of him.
"I know... it's just it's kids, Ezra!" he exclaimed, slamming his hand against the wall. "That sick bastard was killing fucking kids," he said harshly.
Ezra nodded, his eyes moving past the other man to look out the window, "I know Vin," he said quietly, as he ran a hand through his sandy brown hair.
"Do you! Can you imagine what it's like to be faced with that kind of evil?" Vin snapped, as he turned to face the other man, seeing something flicker behind Ezra's eyes. He inwardly cursed, saying out loud, "Damn it! Sorry Ez, didn't mean to bring up that," waving his hand apologetically at the other man.
"I won't break, Vin," he replied. He was getting tired of the kid gloves routine that all of the men were using with him. He glanced over at Vin who was looking at him, clearly disagreeing with the statement. "I get nightmares... but hey, who doesn't with this job, but I can handle talking about it now," he amended as Vin nodded.
Ezra let a small smile cross his features, yeah his nightmares woke Vin up during that time, and months after, now it was at least only when something reminded him of the dead girls, he could handle the talk around the town and the questions. The reason he could handle was due to Vin and the rest of the detectives at the station.
"It's not the case though, is it?" Standish questioned softly, seeing the other man wince and look over at him ruefully.
"Damn it Ez, you're getting as good at reading me as Chris!" he laughed as he walked over to lean his back against the window. He look around the bare bedroom he was renovating, deciding to let Ezra help him meant that they would finish soon, and then onto a new place, they hadn't spoken about it, but he knew that Ezra would help him renovate the new place as well.
"And...?" Ezra prompted, grinning at the other man, not letting him off the hook.
"It's not the case," Vin conceded as he continued to avoid the penetrating gaze of the other man. "I just feel as though I'm dying here in the city. There's so much evil, how are we meant to stop it..." Vin trailed off, his eyes met sorrowful green eyes and he shook his head slightly at the pain still evident in the other man. If anyone knew about evil, it would have to be Ezra, and he heard the other man shudder.
They stood there in silence, each pondering the essence of evil. It lasted so long that Vin wondered if Standish would ever respond, he turned his thoughts back to the other man.
The man had survived a serial killer that was targeting him, because he had forgotten his mother's murder. Correction, he had blacked it out. Ezra was about 12 when he found her dead from a morphine overdose, not something a kid should remember. Standish had blocked it out, repressed the violent memory, but it wasn't until he transferred to the Major Crimes unit that the killer Mark Diamend got serious. Killing the girls in the same manner as Ezra's mother, forcing the guy to remember.
Diamend had been watching the man for years, and in one week sent in so many photos of Ezra Standish, that he thought he would be sick. To find out that someone has been watching you, taking photos of you, it was a form of rape, a violation of the man's rights.
They had got Diamend, but not before the bastard had drugged Ezra and kidnapped him. He had followed, calling for back-up but even he had not been able to stop the injection of morphine that Diamend had shot into Ezra. He had fired a second too late, and he still battled with the guilt of that, even though he knew that Standish didn't blame him. He was pulled from his meandering by Ezra's soft southern drawl, that got thicker when he was emotional, like now.
"But if we weren't here, Vin... who... who would stop it, we fight the good fight," he stated confidently, determined to make the other man see, as the sorrow that was in the green eyes lifted slightly and he saw the courage of the man in front of him. And that just made him mad, that this man who had dealt first hand with evil, was trying to convince him that this was a good fight.
He felt his muscles tense and clenched his jaw as he said tightly, "I know it's a good fight Ez, but sometimes I just want to shoot the bastards, let them face their maker."
"But then how are we any different...?" Ezra countered smoothly.
Vin sighed heavily as the anger left him, leaving him feeling drained and he whispered tiredly, "I know, I get it," as he casually threw his head back and examined the ceiling.
"But...?" Ezra prompted, but seeing that the other man wasn't going to continue he paused, before saying, "Sometimes you need to get away and see the reason as to why we're fighting this fight, trying to protect the innocent," he concluded. As he saw Tanner nod from his position by the window.
As they both stood quietly contemplating it was a while before either spoke, neither wishing to break the peace the moment was bringing to each of them.
Finally the handsome southern man spoke. "Camping?" Ezra queried, remembering the last time that they had gone camping. As Vin tugged him towards the door, and onto the old wooden landing, which was almost finished apart from a coat of polish. Vin grinned, seeing the slight dread in the other man's eyes at the prospect of roughing it for a weekend in the wilderness.
"I don't know Ez, I was just thinking a trail ride or something..." he said laughing, his blue eyes sparkling with mirth as they walked down the stairs towards the kitchen.
The quiet of the house was broken by the loud horrific sound of a gunshot that echoed through the house. Ezra, who had spotted the man a fraction before he fired, was able to smoothly push Vin out of the line of fire.
Vin, losing his footing, tumbled down the rest of the steps coming to a stop in a crumpled heap at the bottom. Opening his eyes he saw a dark figure on the landing they had just left. He saw him raise his gun, and he couldn't bring himself to move, he froze as he stared down the barrel of a gun that could only end his life from this distance.
In the corner of his eye he saw that Ezra was raising his hand at the man. And he thought in an oddly detached way, that one does in moments of crisis, that he could see the shooter, there was no need for the man to point at him. This action however had gone unnoticed by the attacker. Who was totally focused upon him, so when they both heard the snapping sound of the spring he was relieved that that there was a hint of surprise in the eyes of the attacker. As he spun to look at the fallen figure on the steps.
Staring in obvious shock at seeing the derringer pop into his hand as Ezra fired smoothly, finding his mark, the attacker recoiled holding his chest, as he quickly stumbled back slumping against the wall.
He heard the harsh agonised gasp from the man then he fell sideways and out of Vin's line of sight. The hit-man was gone, dead, and it took a moment for the sharpshooter to process this thought.
His pain befuddled mind trying to catalogue the number of aches and pains in his body, deciding that none were life threatening, he looked back up the stairs and took in the battered figure who lay awkwardly on the steps. Rising to his feet was painful, his ribs protested at the movement. Clenching his teeth tightly against the white-hot agony the movements caused he staggered up the stairs to where Ezra lay on the steps, his eyes closed, his blue work shirt staining with his blood.
"Shit Ez," Vin murmured, frantically looking at the wounds and seeing with relief that there was only one gunshot wound and not two as he had feared there might be. The relief was short lived as he saw the extent of the wound in his abdomen on his left side.
"Ezra!" he said, slapping the man lightly on the face.
"I'm here," came the soft indignant reply.
"Thank god," Vin said as he saw that there was no exit wound. Ezra's breathing was getting increasingly shallow as he breathed in short quick breaths.
"Vin... thanks..." he gasped out painfully, "for everything."
"Hang on Ez," he whispered as he painfully pulled off his own white t-shirt in an attempt to staunch the blood that was freely flowing from the wound.
"You hold that Ezra," he said firmly, as he saw that the man was beginning to lose consciousness.
Ezra opened his eyes and looked at him groggily, making sure that the bloody weak grip held the t-shirt. He saw the green eyes look at him dully as they tried to focus on him, taking the small gun from his hand he rose gingerly to his feet, feeling dizzy as he tried to hurry down the steps to the phone. He swore and, grabbing the gun tighter, he saw Ezra's cell on the table. Vin quickly grabbed it.
His body protesting, he gasped, breathing hard as he gripped the table for support. He dialled the number. He felt oddly numb as he said the code. "1013 officer down, repeat 1013 officer down," he said, before making his way back up the stairs, kneeling beside Standish who was looking an alarmingly pale colour. His T-shirt was now a violent red and was lying on top of the wound, the other man obviously losing the will to stay conscious.
Vin moaned in despair as he placed his shaking hand on top of the wound. On top of Ezra's cold one, trying to will the man to hold on.
"Hold on Ezra," he whispered as he heard the wail of the emergency sirens in the distance. "You hold on."
The man shifted his cap slightly as he gazed across at the busy high school, his dark brown eyes seemingly lost in thought, a shadow crossed his handsome face. JD watched the kids leave and felt the same sadness form in his stomach on this day. It was never easy, but he liked to think that he was moving past it, getting through this day however he could, always seemed to be difficult. Chris had given him the day off without question; they didn't have any big cases, as they had just closed one, things were pretty quiet right now.
Even though he was closer to thirty than twenty he had been able to easily blend in with the young girls and boys, his youthful face having given him the freedom to move within their circles and cliques that dominated high school. It was why he was successful as an undercover agent in the schools. It was just never easy and today only served to take him back to the reason as to why he transferred out. He shook himself from his melancholy thoughts turning his back on the school he fired up his motorbike.
He didn't know where he was headed just riding sometimes in the open air felt good calming. It was one of the reasons he was also a fan of horses, he rode whenever he got the chance. Ezra the newest addition to their team loved to ride and the two men had found a common ground and went out whenever they could, Vin tagged along as well. It had become a regular event between the three of them, a way to unwind after a heavy case. Ezra still lived with Vin no one had made mention of the fact least of all JD.
It was clear to him at least that Vin and Ezra were developing a close friendship like brothers they all were, but Tanner was giving something to Standish which he had yet to experience before, a place to call home. It had been obvious on that fishing trip that they went on, Standish was a part of them - the missing part of their team that they didn't know was lost.
The three men were close and JD felt a part of the bond that they were forming. The three of them were the youngest in the crew and relatively close in age, which tied them together. Standish was becoming more like the man who had arrived that day so long ago, but there was still a deep sadness in his green eyes. Yet, he was hiding it more and the man that they had glimpsed on occasion those first three weeks was returning. JD knew all about sadness so heavy upon the soul that you wished someone would help take the load from you.
He roared along the road finally coming to a stop at his apartment. He headed down the stairs to his flat below street level. JD didn't mind that his window looked on stairs leading to his place.
He entered the kitchen grabbing himself a beer before moving over to the sideboard to pull out an old worn photograph. A young beautiful brunette and young man similar to him in looks, and him. The picture captured the moment between the three of them as they were all laughing. JD sank down onto his chair and took a long pull on his drink, all the while his eyes never left the picture.
His mind travelled back to that day so long ago in the boys' locker room, he had asked the boy - Matt to give it up let them have the name of his dealer, he could cut a deal. Matt had just shook his head saying "No Johnny," he had then bolted but not before Lucy had heard everything. He had tried to get them to trust him, to give them their supplier. Except, it hadn't been that easy. Matt's brother had been the supplier. Matt had called him saying he had shot Luke, his brother who had been his supplier, who had shot Matt's girlfriend, Lucy. It was clear cut self-defence for Matt, but when JD arrived he heard one lone gunshot that had sent him into a spin, Matt lay dead on the ground beside the two bodies, one his girlfriend and brother. His captain and fellow officers said that there was nothing that he could be done. He didn't force them to act he had no control over the situation. Except that wasn't how it seemed.
All the explanations that he heard of how he acted accordingly did nothing to ease the guilt that lay on his heart. He had caused their death, he had not given Matt enough options, and he hadn't made the boy see a way out. He rested his head back on the couch, as tears ran down his cheeks. It was then that he had decided to call it quits, he was too old for being a narc any more. To gain their trust and then to betray it all in the name of truth justice, the American way.
He had lost the desire to defend these people. So when the position opened up for a spot in the coveted Major Crimes bureau under the leadership of Detective Chris Larabee, he had put in his form and hoped for the best.
It had taken one interview with the man for JD to feel the fire to serve and protect to burn in his soul again. Yet, he did not hold much hope of receiving the job, partly due to the fact he had met Vin that day.
He was standing there in jeans a white t-shirt and a flannel thrown over the top. He didn't look like a cop. So he asked the man, who had just looked at him coolly with his blue eyes before a smile twitched his mouth.
"Neither do you kid," both had laughed.
In the end JD had lost to the other man, but three weeks later another position opened up and he had it, if he still wanted it.
He hadn't asked how the job opened up. All Larabee had said was a simply stated "Heard you were good."
Larabee had never asked about his days undercover, and none of the other men knew. It was classified and just listed as vice. If Chris gave any indication he suspected that he truth of it he never let on simply saying one time that he had heard that JD was one of the best they had in the squad in Boston.
JD had just looked at him and nodded. What could he say one of the best that had fucked up got two innocent informants killed? Yeah he was one of the best. His mouth twisted into an ironic smile as he thought on that.
The best all right, it was the American way.
He was brought out of his reverie by the loud thumping on his door, by force of habit he reached for his gun before answering the door. Staring in surprise he saw his partner Buck standing there.
"What you doing kid!" the tall lanky man exclaimed agitatedly, his blue eyes meeting the brown ones.
"I've been calling ya, Vin just called in a 1013, think it's Ezra" he said heading up the stairs.
JD stared at him stunned as he weakly leant against the door, staring blankly after the older man. Shaking his head he grabbed his jacket and followed his partner to his car.
Vin Tanner paced the waiting room of the OR impatiently, or as agitated as one could get with bruised ribs, that would make it hurt to breathe for the next week. But he needed to feel the pain to keep focused as he reminded himself of why he was pacing the hospital waiting room.
He heard a familiar voice call "Tanner!" turning he saw his partner making his way through the mess of people over to him. His frown of anger that pervaded his countenance made most of the people dodge out of the way, not wanting to be in the direct path of the blond man's wrath. Vin would have smiled but he was too angry and worried about Standish.
"Ezra?" Chris questioned, seeing the despair and anger that dominated his partner's expression.
"Gunshot wound to the abdomen, they are operating on him now," he stated, his eyes following the movements of the busy nurses.
"What happened?" Larabee asked his own blue eyes seeking the much-desired answer from his best friend.
"Shit I don't know, he just came home... I was doing that bedroom upstairs. He came up to talk... we go downstairs to see about dinner... bang he knocks me out of the way and I fall down the last few and he's lying there..." Vin paused, not sure why he stopped as he remembered the gun being pointed at him and not at Ezra, he had gotten hurt because of him. Turning away so the other man wouldn't know he was keeping something from him he continued quietly "bleeding and still raises his pea shooter and fires at the intruder hitting him square in the chest."
Chris listened and heard the guilt in the voice of the Texan. "You would have done the same Vin," he said quietly as the rest of team arrived all asking a million questions on how Vin was and how Ezra was doing.
Chris quickly brought them up to speed as he saw Tanner sink down on one of the plastic waiting room chairs.
Vin sighed heavily, he felt someone sit down next to him, seeing JD sitting next to him, not saying a word.
JD looked at his friend seeing the anguish that the normally reserved man felt, could this day get any worse, he thought brushing his hair out of his eyes. He tracked the movements of his partner.
Buck was just staring at him with a confused frown. Larabee patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. JD looked at him and grimaced. Rising to his feet, he paced the waiting room. He ignored all attempts that Wilmington made to draw him into conversation to distract him.
He looked back at Vin who had closed his eyes. He was so distracted by his thoughts that he walked straight into the ladies man, spilling hot coffee over both of them.
"Damn it JD! What is your problem?" Buck said angrily frustration and nervous tension finally reaching its limit.
Normally JD would have let it slide, he knew that the older man was just nervous about Standish, but he'd had enough, he was tired of being the whipping boy in this situation, and he needed a release from all this anger he was feeling."You!" JD retorted taking a step into the taller man so he was in his face. "You're my problem!"
"You been drinking kid! God damn it ain't even 3 in the afternoon!" Buck said disgusted stepping away from the smaller man. His anger evident in his stance.
"Yeah and so what! What are you my mother!" JD said his eyes pinning the older man.
"I'm glad I'm not, you'd be a major disappointment if I was," he retorted, but he was surprised by the sudden tight grip on his arm. Looking beside him, he saw Larabee standing there a warning simmering in his eyes. Buck looked at him sighing ruefully as he shook his head. Turning back to JD he saw that the younger man had already sat down beside Vin who was looking at him with concern.
"Aw hell, JD I'm sorry," he said to the younger man. JD looked up then, and he was surprised at the anger still evident in his eyes. But he just nodded and grabbed a magazine dismissing the other men.
Buck stared at him thoughtfully. Something else was up beside the fact that Standish was in the hospital, the kid didn't normally start drinking at 3 in the afternoon. Wilmington vowed he would get to the bottom of this, he looked back at his old friend and saw Larabee frowning at JD with a look of concern.
Vin had watched the argument take place between the two best friends with surprise. JD had hinted the day before to him that today was a bad day for him every year. But, he couldn't drag himself from the image of Ezra's body lying on the steps bleeding. He saw the black man return and walk over to him and press a coffee into his hands. He accepted the cup gratefully thanking Nathan who just nodded at the man before walking over to join Sanchez. They needed someone to gather the forensic evidence from his place, but no one could bring himself to leave.
Ezra's words kept echoing through his brain '"thanks for everything" - 'he was saying goodbye,' Vin thought bleakly his heart clenching at the thought. He raised his head to see the surgeon approach them. He was vaguely aware of the doctor informing that surgery went well but that he wasn't out of the woods. The words seemed to filter into his mind and take hold, and he found himself biting back a chuckle. He saw Chris looking at him worriedly. He just shook his head at the man as the words tumbled out, "He hates the woods, heck he's gonna be disappointed that he's still in them." He laughed even though it hurt.
"Vin?" Chris questioned trying to pull him away from the doctor and the other men who were looking at him like he had grown a second head.
"What!" Vin snapped, backing away from the blond man, only to bump into Josiah. It only served to aggravate his ribs and he gasped at the jolt of pain. As the man tried to steady him, he pulled away still backing away from them, desperately trying to create a distance. He saw Chris who was intent on following him and he raised his hands trying to keep the fortress that he had built since the nightmare began start to waver. He hated that his partner could read him so well, "Don't," he whispered brokenly, and turning away he fled the scene and five concerned friends.
"Chris, what the hell is going on?" Nathan questioned confusion and worry colouring his voice.
"I don't know," Chris replied watching the fading figure of his partner. "I just hope Ezra makes it... I get the feeling if he doesn't we'll lose two friends."
Vin awoke disorientated, unsure as to where he was, the roof was familiar but, glancing around he realised he was lying on Ezra's bed. Suddenly realising why he was there made him groan in agony.
Rising slowly to his feet he trembled as his body protested at the movements. He could remember arriving home after leaving the hospital, but everything seemed to fade into a blur after that. He wanted to call the hospital to see how Standish was but guilt is a marvellous thing and he couldn't bring himself to dial the number. He saw the 5 messages and knew that they were from the other men.
It wasn't a conscious decision but as he found himself gathering his camping gear together, he was in the car and headed onto the freeway, his cell phone lying on his kitchen table. He knew the other men would worry and be concerned, but right now Vin didn't care. He had been the target and he was going to be damned if he let anyone else get hurt because of him. He hadn't told Chris, he had left it out of his story, he knew that the man would be angry at his desertion.
The man resented it, but the only person who could tell Chris the reason for his rapid departure was fighting for his life in hospital. The thought made Vin unconsciously press his foot down on the accelerator as he sped away from his friends determined that no-one else would get hurt, he didn't want any goodbyes. No he would handle it; he had done so for years. He was gonna meet his maker some day, but he'd be damned if he let the other men join him there, a mirthless grin cracked upon his face.
Buck Wilmington paced back in forth in the interview room he stopped and looked back at his friend sitting at the table while JD leant against the wall, doing a very good impression of Vin that Buck almost did a double take. He could tell there was still something bothering his young friend, frowning he asked "You sure Nathan?" he looking at the man who sat quietly at the table. The tall black man nodded not looking at the man who stood in front of him.
"Yeah I'm sure Buck," the man murmured.
Wilmington swore silently. "I swear those two have targets on their backs," he muttered aloud seeing the slight smirk play across his younger partner's features. Before they darkened again.
"Did the guy have an accomplice?" Dunne asked raising his eyes to look at his friends, as he moved his brown hair out of his eyes and Buck winced at the pain he saw at them. JD must be going through hell right now he thought. Vin, Ezra and JD all close in age had formed a close friendship. They were all close, but he saw in the relationship between the three men a bond.
'Probably like me and Chris,' Wilmington thought. 'Hell Chris and I treat JD and Vin like they're our kid brothers needing protection and hell Ezra's that role to every single one of us.' No that wasn't it; the smaller man had been acting tense all week. With effort the tall lanky man pulled his thoughts back to the present.
"No, as far as we know the guy worked alone, just got out of prison where Tanner put him," Jackson responded leaning back in his chair and looking at the younger man.
"So that's it," Buck scoffed disbelieving shaking his head.
"Yep nothing to it," Jackson muttered angrily, "one hit wonder," he said looking at the two men. Sighing heavily he rose to his feet "Come on fellas, ain't nothing to do here, let's go see Ez." The two other men followed the black man out all of their expressions dark at thoughts of their companion.
They entered the hospital and walked towards the elevators that would take them to ICU. Buck sighed rubbing his face as he thought of Ezra's injuries.
"He'll probably still be out of it," he said quietly. As the elevator sounded, the three men waited patiently.
"Least the bastard's dead," JD muttered darkly as they exited the elevator not seeing the looks of horror on the other people's faces as they heard his words.
Buck stifled a laugh while Nathan seeing their looks was about to explain as the doors slid close. JD seeing the two men laughing their heads off frowned, then it dawned on him what had happened. He shook his head and made his way to see Ezra with the two giggling men in tow.
The blond haired man pounded the front door of Vin Tanner's house relentless. He had moved past concern and was heading into unconcealed rage.
"Ahh Chris," the tall heavily built man interrupted when the other man ceased his knocking for a moment.
"Yeah Sanchez," Larabee said not glancing at the other man, who stood on his left.
"Don't you have a key?" he asked stepping back as two cold blue eyes swung to look at him.
"Whoa easy," Josiah said holding his hands up placating the man, who stood staring at him, obviously pissed off. In the silence they could hear the cell phone ringing as it echoed through the house.
"Guess he didn't take his phone," the large man said watching as the lean figure in front of him pulled out his keys and then unlocked the door. Each man paused momentarily, their eyes seeing the red stain on the steps, due to Ezra's blood. Chris shook himself and strode into the kitchen snapping off Vin's cell phone before slamming it down on the table.
"Where the fuck is he?" he said angrily at the other man, as the cell phone rang. "Larabee," he responded, and felt his blood go cold, "I'll be there in 30 mins tops," he said glancing at his watch, as he quickly wrote down the address and hung up. Larabee glanced at Josiah who was standing there watching him worriedly.
"Found Vin's car out on Yellers' Pass," he said monotone as they headed out to his 4wd.
Sanchez sucked in his breath and closed his eyes; it looked like the team was slowly falling apart. He just prayed that Vin was okay, but he had the disheartening feeling that things were going to get worse between his friends before they got better.
He sighed heavily and watched as Chris threw the car into gear, while throwing the siren on. Josiah raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Larabee was tense and angry, Ezra still hadn't woken up, but they weren't expecting that for a day or two. He would awaken when his body was ready; right now Ezra held the answers that they needed.
Vin had kept something from them, Chris had known that last night. He had just filed it under stress and shock. But this confirmed it; Tanner had held something back last night. This only served to make Chris press his foot down on the accelerator unwittingly mirroring Vin's same actions along the same stretch of road.
"He looks so peaceful," Buck said softly as he gazed down on the southerner's slack features.
JD snorted, "Yeah you would too, if they pumped you full of drugs."
Wilmington swallowed looking away from the injured man to his young friend. "Something bothering you kid?" he asked quietly.
"Hell, no. Standish is in the hospital again, no my world is all flowers and sunshine," JD responded sarcastically flipping his brown hair back.
Buck's eyes narrowed as he scrutinised the younger man. "I didn't mean this kid," he began.
Only to have Dunne step back shaking his head angrily, "I ain't no kid, Buck, I've done my time I deserve to be a detective," he said icily.
Wilmington backed away in surprise. "I know kid. JD," he started again trying to ease the anger from the other man. But his cell phone rang, "Wilmington," he said flipping it open, he listened for a moment. "Fine, Josiah I'll let you know," he said. Turning to JD he stated, "Vin's car was found on Old Yellers' Pass," he saw Dunne nod as he gazed at the southerner reaching out to hold the cold hand.
"Yeah, not surprised sometimes I feel like escaping," his voice filled with such sadness that Buck frowned again. But a movement from Standish pulled his attention. Hurrying over to the bed as JD pressed for the nurses they both smiled as the green eyes fluttered open.
"Hey Ez," JD whispered softly as Wilmington smiled down at him. The southerner blinked again before his eyes drifted shut again.
"Looks like he'll be fine," Buck said sounding relieved, looking at the smaller man.
Dunne nodded his eyes sad. "Yeah, looks like it."
Larabee roared up the road to where a dozen emergency vehicles were spread out on the road with Vin's jeep in the midst of them. He saw a team of people leading a stretcher with a body bag on it up a hill. Chris felt himself stop in shock, as he tried to remember how to breathe, Vin couldn't be dead, he just couldn't be. Chris moved as if in slow motion towards the men, but stopped when he felt Sanchez grip his arm.
"Don't I'll go," Josiah said gently his heavy voice cutting through his haze.
Chris nodded, unsure of what to do.
It was frightening for Josiah to look at the man and see the grief in his eyes, and devastation. "Chris," he began only to see joy fly across the other man's face and suddenly the blond man was jogging over to one of the vans as a dishevelled figure was attempting to leave the ambulance crew. Chris arrived to see Vin slap one of the men's hands away.
"Sir!" he said exasperated at the man.
"I'm alright," he snapped. "I'm just tired and sore, see to the hikers," he stated his tone brooked no argument. Vin paused his blue eyes suddenly left the man who was still trying to check his head, to meet the very relieved blue eyes of his partner.
"Chris," he said simply.
Both men stared at each other, they weren't far apart but there could have been miles between them. And for the first time neither man could read the other.
"He's fine," Larabee stated firmly. "If he isn't I'll take him to the hospital," he said dismissing the other men, as he helped Vin to his feet.
The silence normally so companionable between them, was strained and tensed. "Some hikers got lost, missing since last night..." He trailed off as they passed the huddled grief-stricken group.
"Do we need to stay?" Larabee asked coldly, and then winced at how cold it sounded seeing something flicker across his younger partner's face.
"Nope, I already told the team my statement," he responded quietly. Vin wanted to tell Chris why he had left, but he just didn't have the strength so he was relieved when Josiah came over, and said that they could leave.
Vin nodded, he had already explained to the officers what had gone down. Now all he had to do was write his report. But as they hopped into Chris's car he knew that it wasn't over, but Vin just couldn't bring himself to care, he just couldn't be bothered any more so he just shut his eyes and let Chris drive them back to town.
Vin stood outside the window looking in on the figure that lay surrounded by machines and IV's. Closing his eyes he leant his forehead on the glass. He couldn't walk through the door. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see Larabee heading towards him. Neither man had spoken to each other since out necessity, but Vin knew that his partner wanted answers he just wasn't sure that the man would want hear the truth.
"Vin," Chris said halting beside the other man.
Turning Tanner looked wearily at the other man, Chris seemed to look at him surprised for a second before his own mask slipped over his face and he nodded for Vin to follow him.
Sighing heavily the smaller man glanced past Chris to look at the concerned expressions of his fellow detectives. He gave them a short tight smile as he limped by holding his ribs. As they arrived in the men's bathroom, he looked at Chris silently. Who just stared at him neither willing to speak, "You were leaving," Chris said harshly his eyes never leaving the other man's face.
"Just needed time to think," Vin said smoothly. He saw Chris look at him in disbelief shaking his head, before he turned away, as if to leave.
But then he swung around. "You planned it! I know you Vin! I looked in your jeep!" he said angrily.
"He was going to kill me, instead he got Ezra," he spat at the older man.
Chris just looked shocked. "I can't believe you," he muttered.
"What! Like you can talk Chris. What you have a monopoly on guilt or something. Like you're the only one who's been through hell?" Vin cried angrily blue eyes piercing the other man. Chris winced in surprise, but Vin continued brutally, "Jesus how selfish is that!" he stated seeing the familiar features of his friend harden.
"This isn't about me, you were leaving, were you going to tell anyone?" he returned stepping closer to the younger man who didn't back down.
"You god damn hypocrite! You've done the same, Least I don't lose myself in a bottle!" Vin said breathing heavily as he felt his ribs aching at the movement, not now damn it, he thought as his legs started to weaken and he gripped the basin behind him for support while keeping his eyes on his partner.
"Yah but I'm still here," he snapped looking away from his partner in disgust.
"Yeah right," Vin scoffed his stormy blue eyes meeting the ice blue of his best friend's.
"How can I trust you?" Chris retorted. "I need to know I can depend on you," he said quietly, seeing the pain that flickered through his friend's eyes at these words, and regretting it. "Let me know when I can," with those words he left the bathroom. Vin watched him go shaking his head slightly as he let himself sink down on the ground; it was for the good fight.
"I couldn't let you get hurt Chris," he whispered in the now empty room, 'I couldn't,' he whispered, no goodbyes. Except he had never felt so alone, never so unsure of what to do next.
Rising unsteadily to his feet he exited the bathroom, he saw that the other men were entering Ezra's room, he wanted to go to them, but found that he couldn't move that way. With a soft sigh of fatigue he headed out of the hospital. He didn't see Chris watching him leave in despair.
He didn't have to be close to Vin to see the guilt and agony his friend was in, with a last lingering look at where Vin had disappeared he headed in to greet the groggy figure who lay staring at them in confusion.
He smiled at Ezra who tried to smile but was unable to. The normally vivid green eyes seemed to be seeking someone before registering back on Chris who just gripped the weak grip of the man. Seeing that the man was trying to speak he leant forward.
"Vin okay?" Standish whispered painfully. Seeing the blond man nod. Ezra could tell Chris was lying but it was too much of a struggle to stay awake and his eyes drifted closed having used up his strength. Larabee raised his head to look at five very confused and anxious expressions.
"What'd he say?" Buck asked from his position as the foot of the bed.
"Wanted to know how Vin was," Chris said his eyes drifting back to the injured southerner.
JD gave a short harsh laugh, "And how is Vin, Chris?" he mocked his eyes hard. "He isn't here, so what happened huh?" he asked angrily.
"Hey settle down kid," Wilmington said trying to calm the younger man.
JD stared at him incredulously his eyes looked at him intently before looking past him at their leader. "Damn you all," he said storming past them. Buck stared after him confused.
"Go," Josiah, said looking at the ladies man, "Find out what's bothering him, and you Chris find Vin," Sanchez's tone brooked no argument, and both men trailed meekly out of the room. "I don't want none of you back here, till it's sorted."
Jackson added, "Ezra needs to get well, and that ain't gonna happen if he's worried sick about everyone else, his nightmares may return and we need Vin to calm him," Nathan added quietly.
Seeing the dawning understanding on the two old friends' faces. Tanner and JD had been the only two who could help the southerner through them. Now, both men were absent fighting their own demons.
JD heard the soft knock on the door and groaned, 'was it too much to ask to be left alone, couldn't he wallow in peace?' he thought. He rose to his feet carefully as avoided the bottles at his feet. Dunne opened the door and stared into the face of his partner. The nervous expression was a new one for the overly confident man and JD just stared at him.
"Gonna let me in?" Buck asked seeing the surprise on his friend's face.
"Umm. Yeah," JD motioned for the larger man to enter his apartment. He watched as Buck roamed his room before sitting on the couch. He saw Wilmington look at the three empty bottles on the table and saw the concern flitter across his face.
"What's going on...?" Buck asked after they had sat there in silence for a minute.
"Nuthing," JD replied shortly not looking at the man and grabbing another bottle to drink handing it to the other man.
"Come on," Buck implored frustrated at the young man in front him.
"What does it matter!" JD replied sipping his beer.
"It matters JD, it matters to me," Buck stated softly meeting the brown eyes that swung to his before they flicked away. 'Come on talk to me kid,' he urged silently.
"I'm fine Buck," he repeated not meeting the man's gaze.
"I've seen your 'fine' kid, and this ain't fine..." he retorted.
JD looked at him annoyed. "What's it to you Buck, I'm just another disappointment remember!" he snapped jumping to his feet and pacing in front of the other man on the couch.
"I didn't mean that kid," he said as JD whirled to face him.
"I'm not a kid Buck, how many times do I have to tell you that, I may look like one, but I'm not... I'm not," he whispered the anger leaving him feeling drained.
Wilmington watched him quietly. "No you're not a kid JD," he said softly. Dunne's eyes cut to him and he was surprised at the anguish he saw in them. "What is it JD?" he asked quietly.
"Oh Buck it don't matter now..." JD said turning his back on him and leaning against the back of his couch.
"Yeah it does, otherwise you wouldn't be so intent on getting drunk," he countered.
JD sighed heavily the defeat resting on his features as he turned back around and sank back down on the couch. Pulling out a photo between its folds he handed it to the other man. Buck stared at the picture; it was clearly taken not that long ago, it seemed to capture a great moment between friends. JD watched him as he stared at the photo before taking it back and holding it between his fingers as though it was glass.
"The girl's name was Lucy and the guy's Matt, they were going steady," he said quietly gently tracing their outlines. "He was a dealer in a school in Boston. And she was his girl - acted as a go-between." Buck listened as he saw the sadness darken his friend's features. "I was called in to get their supplier, getting them was pretty easy we had enough evidence," he stated quietly.
Buck stared at them in surprise. "You were a narc!" he exclaimed his voice sounding harsh in the small apartment.
JD just stared at him bemused by the surprise on his partner's face. "I said I wasn't a kid, but looking like one does have its advantages," he snorted.
"And its negatives, what happened?" Buck said trying to get the information from the young man who sat so dejectedly in front of him.
Dunne took a deep breath and closed his eyes, "I was trying to get them to roll over on their supplier," he said simply before he opened them again. Wilmington could see the pain clearly in them as a tear ran unchecked down the fine features of the younger man. "I just didn't count on it being their brother," he whispered his words taking him back to the past.
"I got a phone call from Matt... apparently his brother Luke had shot Lucy by accident when they confronted him about being a supplier, and how they should turn themselves in..." he spoke his Boston accent becoming heavier slightly. "He wouldn't go for it... And Matt called saying he shot Luke, because he shot at Lucy only now they were both dead." JD's eyes roamed around the room before looking back at the photo on his hand. "I arrived, called it in on the way there, ETA was about 10 mins... and I heard this one shot... it was night time so it echoed..." he whispered. "I reached the room... and they were all laying there blood staining the carpet... he shot himself rather than go to prison," he finished looking back at Buck who sat silent on the couch in front of him. JD watched him sadly. "If I had made him see there were other choices, to let me in on it..." He whispered his hand clenching around the photo that it held.
"JD," he said softly standing and sitting down next to him. His hand gently taking out the crumpled photo and smoothing it out he placed it on the table. "You listen to me kid," he said gently. "It isn't your fault, it was an accident you couldn't have known," he stated simply kneading the tense muscles in the shoulder under his hand.
JD jerked away stumbling to his feet .
"How can you say that!!" he cried not looking at the other man. "You heard what I said," he said spinning to look at the man.
Who rose to his feet as he answered, "I heard what you said and it was an accident."
JD just laughed bitterly and looked away. "Yeah right."
"Now you listen to me like I'm god," he said angry at the load of guilt that JD was carrying needlessly. "These things sometimes happen, you had no reason to know that Matt would confront his brother!" he said. "Or did you?" he asked.
JD shook his vehemently no, "Okay then, you remember all the good things about them, but it ain't your fault, sometimes it just falls down badly," he stated.
JD just stared at him silently shaking his head and turning away they were silent. Wilmington watched the slight figure in front of him. He saw the shoulders shake slightly, and he walked over and pulled him into a tight hug. He heard the mumbled words "I'm fine Buck," he laughed quietly and JD smiled at the rumble it created in his ear.
"I know you are kid," Buck whispered to the dark head leaning against his chest. Dunne coughed sniffling as he raised his tear stained face up to look up at the tall figure in front of him.
"I ain't no kid," he said trying to act angry. Buck just smiled and wiped the tears away. "I know you ain't a kid JD, but you're my little brother." JD grinned at him and tightened his arms around him, accepting the hug before stepping away. Handing the unopened beer to Buck he smiled as he sat back down.
The were silent for a minute before JD smirked and looked over at him "Like I'm God!!" As Buck shrugged laughing. "Seemed right at the time" As they both collapsed in laughter.
Chris paused in the doorway to Vin's home, the door was unlocked and he pushed it open warily. He stood in silence at the figure on the steps frantically scrubbing the steps. It was clear that Vin wasn't even aware that Chris was there. Larabee firmly shut the door, expecting some sort of reaction from the man who continued to scrub the steps. Carefully the blond man made his way up the steps and finally realised what his partner was doing and it made his heart break, Vin was trying to get rid of Ezra's blood that stained the steps.
"Vin," he said quietly. The man did look up then but there was no surprise just recognition that Chris would come.
"It won't come off," Vin whispered childlike his blue eyes seemingly bigger than the other man had ever seen them. This frightened Chris who knelt beside him.
"What won't?" he asked hoping to draw the other man's attention to him and not the step that his friend was staring at in sadness.
"His blood," he answered continuing to scrub the step, from where he was he could see that the stain was almost gone probably due to the brutal assault the man had launched on it.
"Yes it will," he returned, but stopped when angry blue eyes met his.
"It's my fault," Vin stated, as if it was a common fact. "No goodbyes, he was going to say goodbye," and in a blinding flash of intuition he could read his partner again. Vin felt responsible for the injury caused to Ezra, and Standish believing it to be fatal, had tried to eliminate the other man's guilt but hadn't been able to. Vin had tried to fight the guilt but he had known the shooter was after him and the fear of the same situation occurring had driven him away. So, there were no goodbyes.
"Aw Vin," Chris whispered sadly his eyes filling with sadness eclipsing the anger that he had felt.
"Useless," Vin muttered completely ignoring the man beside him, as he sat back down on the step.
"It will come off Vin," he stated confidently taking the brush from his friend and scrubbing at it.
"See?" he questioned the distraught man who was watching him in fascination.
Vin gave a small nod then his eyes swung up to meet Chris and he whispered, "I'm losing it ain't' I?"
Chris shook his head. "Hell... No," he returned. "It's going to be okay," he said pulling his friend into a gentle hug. Before Vin pushed him away.
"Sorry... I..." Vin began wiping the tears away. "I..." he stopped.
"It was for a good reason," Chris responded suddenly. "You protected your friends, you protected us that's not wrong," he said urgently.
Vin just shook his head at him disbelieving. "No, even you can't pretend you believe that," he laughed sounding harsh.
"Yeah I can Vin, you said so yourself... I've done it myself so I know that you left to try and protect us, even if it was the wrong thing to do, I can understand it," he countered as he smiled gently.
Vin sat looking at him thinking on his words. "You can depend on me?" he asked, and Chris silently kicked himself for those last words.
"Always," Chris said simply letting the other man see the truth in the statement.
"Always?" Vin questioned a smile playing at his lips, the first real one in days, as he looked sideways at his friend.
"Well okay, maybe not always, but at least you can count on me or one to back you up when you're lost," he said grinning.
Vin snorted laughing, "Aw hell don't make me laugh Chris it hurts." Chris just grinned at him enjoying his friend's laugh.
"Come on I could use a dinner, I haven't eaten for a while, and I know some other men who would like to see ya," Chris said helping the other man to his feet they walked down the steps.
Vin smiled as they met Buck and JD at the lifts. They all walked down the corridor in companionable silence. JD and Vin paused in the doorway of the hospital room, Josiah and Nathan looked up at him. He saw their concern and smiled at them, before his gaze registered the fact that Standish had restraints on. Angrily he walked forward and undid them as JD undid the ones on the other side. They raised fierce protective eyes at the two men. Nathan unconsciously took a step back at the anger he saw emanating from the two men.
"Nightmares," he said quickly.
Tanner closed his eyes berating himself for not being there. JD frowned and looked back at the pale man. They stood in silence Nathan looked back at Josiah as they left the room.
Vin slowly sank down on the side of bed, while JD took the free seat on the other side. Both men exchanged small grins, they would be here the next time the nightmares came. They both started when the man gave a muffled cry as he seemed to struggle with some unseen enemy.
Vin and JD held him down as Vin whispered urgently into the Southerner's ear. To Buck and Chris who stood against the wall watching it time seemed to pass slowly as Ezra opened foggy green eyes to look at them blearily.
"Vin," he whispered looking at the man who bent over him, before turning his head slightly to see the smaller man. "JD," he said gazing at them as he blinked before his gaze went back to his roommate "You okay?" he asked reaching his hand for his friend's, Vin caught the wayward hand and gripped it firmly.
"Now," he replied watching as Standish tried to decipher this while still being full of drugs. Green eyes flicked to Larabee who stood behind him, who just smiled at him making a befuddled expression cross the southerner's face and he looked back at Vin worriedly. "Camping?" he croaked.
Vin smiled his blue eyes finally lighting up, the man was going to be okay. "Thought maybe a trail ride," he laughed, he saw the slightly confused frown on Chris's face which only made his smile widen, and he saw Ezra give a weak grin.
"I can live with that," the green eyes slid shut and he fell back asleep a contented smile on his face. The grip hadn't lessened on his hand, and he looked up at JD seeing the relaxed features as he sat down into a chair.
Vin looked at him chuckling. "Looks to be a long night."
JD smiled nodding, his eyes sliding to Buck. "Yeah but I wouldn't trade it for the world," he said softly.
Tanner laughed then at a groggy reply: "Well, I wouldn't mind a softer bed, shouldn't you be going?" Ezra inquired blinking sleepily at them seeing the two men laugh, he relaxed seeing the tension gone from both features. They shared a smile, knowing the other men would come back to visit Ezra soon.
"No better place to be," both JD and Vin replied at the same time, watching as Standish breathing deeply settled into sleep.
"None at all," Larabee agreed from where he stood back with Buck.
"Nope, none at all," the ladies man agreed as they all waited for Josiah and Nathan to return with the coffees.
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