To Your Health
JD sat in the boat, the wind whipping the fringes of his hair that refused to be contained by his cap. He could feel the fiery fingers of anger creeping into his soul from the safe box in which he had tried to lock them. He glanced at the stony faces of his family and wished for the experience to face this mission as calmly as they appeared to be.
Taking a closer look, he realized that their studied calm was only on the surface. In each pair of eyes, he found his own anger reflected. In the eyes of his leader, he saw the fires of Hell. An instinctive fear coursed down his spine at the sight of those green eyes. He didnít envy Winston Garver.
"Ten minutes to arrival," Calder Robbís cool voice announced over his headset.
JD reached down to once more check his gun, all thoughts of anger and vengeance fading as his ingrained professionalism took over.
Winston Garver was not happy. The incompetent fools heíd hired had completely failed at even the simplest task. Two of them lay dead in his office now, victims of his temper and thirty-eight revolver. There would be no escape for him, not this time. He knew Larabeeís team and the others were coming for him, his son had let him know that much.
Glaring at the specks now visible on the water, an odd calm overcame him. If this were to be the end of his empire, it would also be the end of Standish and Tanner. Checking to make sure the chamber of his gun was clear, he stepped over one of the cooling bodies and headed down toward the cells.
Ezra clung desperately to the hand he felt in his own. It was the only constant point in his writhing world. His shallow gasps echoed in his ears for several minutes until the pain began receding and the familiar dull ache resurfaced.
Vin reached up and brushed the hair off Ezraís face, cursing his own frailty. They had decided that they needed to get back to the cot and Vin had somehow managed to get himself upright. He had then moved to aid Ezra, but on the short walk his knees had buckled as pain overcame him. Seeing his friendís predicament, Ezra had tried to catch Vin and aggravated his injuries. Speaking soothing words to the Southerner, Vin allowed the man to cling to his hand as long as necessary.
After several minutes, Tanner felt the desperate pressure on his hand ease and a few minutes later felt Ezraís hand move away from his. "You doing better?" he asked softly.
Ezra cracked an eye open and scanned the face of his friend. His heart warmed at the sight of concern and caring in the blue eyes as well as the earnestness of the question. What he couldnít abide was the hint of guilt he read in the blue orbs. "Much," Ezra assured, his voice weak-sounding even to his own ears. "Itís not my feather bed at home, but compared to that unyielding floor, I certainly canít complain."
Vin smiled. If Ezra was being that verbose he must be better. "Sorry about stumbling like thatÖ" he began before Ezra cut him off.
"Think nothing of it. You are, after all, my friend, my brother," he replied honestly thinking of all the times that soothing Texas drawl had penetrated his pain-filled world, of the encouragement and friendship Vin offered him, of the unconditional support he promised in facing his newest health challenge Ė a promise Ezra knew was not empty.
Vin smiled at the Southerner, reading the truth of Ezraís statement in the normally shielded green eyes and feeling his own resolve strengthening. He would ensure they both got out of this alive. Opening his mouth to respond to Ezra, his head turned toward the door as the sound of gunfire reached into their underground cell.
Chris let out a curse as he ducked behind a crate. They had been expecting some resistance from those on the island, but nothing quite this hot. Looking across the narrow gap to his right, he saw Nathan hunkered down waiting a chance to fire and move forward.
In the plans they had laid out, it had been agreed that Chris would take Nathan and Josiah to the cells while Buck, Calder and JD went to Garverís office. Buck hadnít been pleased with the plan, but when Chris pointed out that he would worry over JD if he wasnít with him and that Nathan had to go to evaluate Ezra and Vinís condition and Josiah and he would be able to carry them, Buck had reluctantly agreed.
Hearing Josiah fire to his left, Chris peeked around the corner of the crate, took aim and fired. Waiting a moment, they heard no further gunfire in their direction and moved forward toward the storm cellar doors and their imprisoned brothers.
Buck let out a curse as he turned to fire down the winding stairway. Calder was on point, JD in the middle and Buck and taken the rear. They were heading toward Garverís office and had encountered sporadic resistance but nothing organized. That was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because they were less likely to end up in a firefight; a curse because they could never tell from where the shots were coming.
Within minutes they achieved the top of the stairs and Garverís office. After a quick scan of the office area, JD pushed past the older men and headed over to the computer. Glancing at the screen he could see that Garver was trying to reformat the hard drive. He smiled as he stopped the procedure. Given some time and the right tools he should be able to recover the information. "Look for backups," JD advised as he began cautiously opening desk drawers, wary of booby-traps. "Heís not exactly the most computer-savvy criminal so he probably keeps them nearby."
Buck and Calder nodded, each beginning to search the room around them.
Vin had managed to get himself up on the edge of the cot when he heard the bolt slide on the door. Looking over he was in time to see Winston Garver enter the room, gun aimed and ready to fire. Forcing himself to his feet, Vin began moving away from Ezra, instinctively trying to protect the man from harm by drawing Garverís attention.
"Your friends have come for you," he hissed at the prisoners. "Itís a shame theyíre going to be too late to save you."
"Garver!" Ezra cried as he watched the gun raise and take aim at Vin.
The distraction was enough. Vin wasnít ready to die and certainly not at the hand of this madman. Lifting the only weapon he had, he threw the glass oil lamp at Garver before dropping to the floor, curled to protect himself from the sudden bold of pain from his most recent wound.
Ezra watched as the oil lamp sailed through the air. The chimney came loose and knocked the gun out of Garverís hand with its impact, but not before the man managed to pull the trigger, sending a bullet searing across Ezraís leg. As the gun dropped, so did the chimney, combining the tinkling of shattered glass with the solid thump of the gun and the startled cry of the man on the cot.
The still burning wick came loose of the base of the oil lamp, following just slightly behind. The base with itís half-full well continued onward, trailing oil. Upon impact with the figure in the doorway, oil splashed upward before the base dropped to the floor shattering. The wick of the lamp had traveled not quite far enough to reach Garver, but with the trail of oil, it was able to trace itís way along its fuel source until it began climbing up the leg of Winston Garver.
A howl of unadulterated rage tore from Garver as the gun was knocked from his hand. So angry was he that he didnít notice the flames that were quickly burning through the thin layer of oil and igniting his suit.
Vin looked upward as Garverís cry penetrated his pain. He watched emotionlessly as the flames began to eat through the expensive clothing, finally stopping the forward moving Garver as they reached his shirt and chest. A different cry, a cry of pain, was torn from the man who fell to the ground, writhing in agony.
Finally the agonized cries stopped and the flames died down. The stench of burnt fabric and flesh filled the room.
Vinís defiant and unremorseful eyes looked over to meet the green ones of his friend. He read there the same resolve.
"Justice," Ezra said simply, watching as Vin nodded his agreement.
"Vin! Ezra!" Chris cried as he suddenly appeared in the doorway, leaning back outside for a moment as the smell of burnt flesh assaulted him. Stepping into the cell, he prodded Garverís body, moving toward his friends only after determining the man was no longer a threat. As he reached the cot where Ezra lay, Nathan and Josiah came into the room.
Secure in the knowledge that they were now safe and justice had been exacted, both Vin and Ezra gave into their pain and exhaustion, falling gracelessly into unconsciousness.
"So Garverís still alive?" Vin demanded, anger flaring within as his blue eyes demanded answers.
Chris looked away from his friend into the cold green ice of Ezraís gaze. Releasing a sigh he admitted, "Yes, Garver is alive. But he was severely burned and will live in excruciating pain the rest of his life. He will also be standing trial on both sides of the border for murder, arms dealing, smuggling, kidnapping, and a host of other offenses all of which have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt."
"And the rest?" Ezra demanded.
"All Garverís men have been arrested and will be serving long sentences if the judge has any sense. Sam Advis was arrested as well. It turns out he had been informing his father of WCB activities for months," Chris explained, still wondering how the connection between Advis and Garver had gone undetected.
"How long will we be here?" Ezra asked, not protesting the floating feeling he was currently experiencing.
"Youíve got extensive internal and external bruising, are suffering from dehydration, and that bullet carved quite a path along your thigh. Youíll stay until the doctors say you can leave," Nathan commanded, his tone brooking no argument. He had been terrified by the condition of his friends in the cell. He knew that Garver was sick, but what heíd done went beyond anything he could have imagined. Then turning toward the Texan who he knew was about to protest, he added, "And the same goes for you." He watched as Vin closed his mouth and leaned back against his pillows.
"And Ben and I are going to make sure you follow those instructions," Calder tossed in, watching first protest and then resignation appear in the eyes of the injured men.
Vin looked around the overly full room, warmth filling him at the sight of his friends old and new. Not only were his brothers from Team Seven lounging in the room, but Calder Robb, Ben Hastings and Dennis Wright were there as well. After hearing what went on and everything that the men had done, Vin couldnít help but count the three men as his friends.
"Iíll be going back home soon to help wrap up the investigation from our end," Dennis informed the men. "But I want to let you know what an honor it has been to work with men of your caliber."
"Thank you," Ezra said sincerely as Vin nodded.
"Same goes for us, for all of you," Vin responded softly.
Sensing that the Denver Team wanted some time alone with their teammates, Robb stood, cleared his throat and said, "If you gentlemen will excuse us, Iím afraid Ben, Dennis and I have a bit of work to finish today." Then, saying their goodbyes, the three men left.
"Ez," Vin said softly waiting for the green eyes to meet his own.
Ezra turned to look at the Texan. He was comfortably relaxed by the drugs, but his mind was still sharp enough to understand Vinís meaning. He paled slightly at the thought of what Vin was asking.
"No matter what, Ez," Vin assured, hearing the restless shifting of the others as they waited impatiently to find out what the two injured men were talking about.
Ezra sighed and nodded. Eyes firmly fixed on the blanket covering him, he cleared his throat. "Prior to my leaving to come on this assignment, I had a doctorís appointment to confirm some earlier findings. I didnít want to say anything until I knew for certain what the results were. As we were flying out, I received those results." Glancing upward, he noticed all eyes upon him and read only caring and concern in each pair. Buoyed by the silent support, he glanced toward Vin and returned the small smile he saw. "I have been diagnosed as having diabetes." If he had expected an outburst or protest, he would have been sadly disappointed. Instead, the response he received brought tears to his eyes.
"Whatever you need weíre here for you," Nathan said softly, walking forward and resting a hand on Ezraís ankle, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"Anything," Buck said stepping forward to catch the Southernerís eyes. "You just name it."
Josiah said nothing, unable to find the words that would express his jumbled emotions. Instead he rested his hand on Ezraís shoulder and squeezed gently while looking the injured man in the eye, letting the emotions there speak for him.
"Weíve got your back, Ezra," Chris said softly, reaching over and giving Ezraís hand a quick squeeze.
JD looked at his friend. There was so much he wanted to say but could tell Ezra was becoming overwhelmed by everything. Seeing the tears gather in Ezraís eyes, JD decided his own affirmations could wait. "Guess itís a good thing I ate all those Belgian chocolates you had on your desk then," he offered with a smile, relief filling him when Ezra laughed softly. JDís smile broadened when the Southerner nodded his thanks.
The seriousness and tension broken, the inevitable teasing began.
Looking across the room, Ezra found Vinís eyes, smiled and nodded his thanks.
Ezra glanced down at his new purchase and smiled. He and Vin had returned to Denver the night before after what felt like an eternity recovering in Sandusky. They had been informed when the others picked them up at the airport that everyone was gathering at Larabeeís for a picnic the following day. Ezra had been a little hesitant to accept, wanting a day just to enjoy his home, but when he found out Nettie was bringing her apple pie, he quickly agreed.
This picnic would provide him with another opportunity as well. Tristan was much better than he had been and Ezra was more than ready to bring him home. Thatís where the new purchase came in. While convalescing in the hospital, Vin had turned on the television to a show about animals. In that show, they ran a brief report on special leashes for dogs that could be used in conjunction with a carís seatbelt, thus making it safer for dogs to travel in cars.
He knew it was still taking a chance, but Ezra had promised Tristan a ride in the front seat. With the new leash in his possession, Ezra decided today would be the day he kept his promise.
Warmth flowed through him at the memory of the promises his brothers had made to him. He was still awed by their support. While still in the hospital, Vin had managed to acquire not only books, articles and recipes for and about diabetes, heíd even convinced one of the nurses to have a specialist come in and talk to them.
Though he knew Vin had been serious in his offer of help, Ezra had still been surprised when just that morning the Texan had appeared on his doorstep at eight oíclock - a completely uncivilized hour to arise on a Saturday - ready to go to the gym for a workout. When they arrived they found the other five men already there.
Ezra chuckled softly at that memory. Next time he would have to be sure to have at least one cup of coffee prior to working out. He was quite sure heíd shocked several of the women there with his language this morning.
Pulling into Larabeeís yard, he saw that everyone else had already arrived. Parking, he exited his car and headed over toward the others. He hadnít taken more than a step when a blur came at him and jumped upon to him. He was assaulted by a wet tongue and horrible dog breath.
Laughter overflowed as he did his best to avoid Tristanís attentions. Glancing over, he saw the others laughing as well.
It was good to be home.
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