The November 2001 Challenge (The "Ezra's got a Gun" Challenge): offered by Bernadette (egorthemuse)  Start a story with -- "Ezra Standish pressed the gun harder against the suspect's left temple. An evil smile crossed his features as he pulled the trigger. He knew the chamber was empty, he had checked it himself.  The sound of a gunshot exploded around the room. Blood splattered across Ezra's face. He stood in shock, staring down at the man he had just killed. "Ezra!" Vin yelled at him, "What in the hell have you done?

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TITLE: Silent Echoes
CHALLENGE: November 2001|
UNIVERSE: ATF/AU
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra, Vin, Chris
RATING: PG-17 (Language)
ARCHIVE: Yes, Please
SPOILERS : None that I know of
NOTES: Occurs August 1999
AUTHOR: Q'Mar
EMAIL: marmaeve@aros.net

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belongs to Mirisch Entertainment Inc., with all rights and privileges thereof. This work is a work of fanfiction, for the amusement of the author and fandom who have nothing else to do since they arenít making any more episodes of the show. No money or other renumeration has exchanged hands, this is just for fun, guys!

 

Ezra Standish pressed the gun harder against the suspect's left temple. An evil smile crossed his features as he pulled the trigger. He knew the chamber was empty, he had checked it himself. The sound of a gunshot exploded around the room. Blood splattered across Ezra's face. He stood in shock, staring down at the man he had just killed.

"Ezra!" Vin yelled at him, "What in the hell have you done?

"I killed him." Standish gasped. "I killed him."  Terror was griping him, the sound of the gunshot reverberated in his mind. How could he have done this? What kind of Monster had he become? "I killed him."

ĎKilled who?" Vin asked. "Ez? You okay?" He got out of his hotel bed and flipped on the lights. Ezra lay scrunched up in the other bed, shivering. "Ez?" Tanner approached the bewildered undercover agent carefully. Standish was twisted up in the bedding and his eyes were bright.

"I checked it! I know I did! But I had to have been mistaken... It fired. But it was empty! Heís dead. I killed him." Ezra continued to babble. "Heís dead." The southerner seemed absolutely devastated.

Vin gently shook him."Ez, Itís okay. No oneís dead. Ez? Come on yer dreaminí." Standish made no response. He repeated himself over and over. Tanner checked him for fever. The undercover agent was burning up.

"Vin?" Standish said and the sharpshooter was pleased for a moment. Ezra gripped hold of his arms and pulled him towards him. The moment of lucidity was an illusion. Whatever Hell Ezra was inhabiting in his delirium apparently included his friend. "Vin, Iíve killed him. Oh Lord, Iíve killed him."

"Nobodyís dead, Ez. Itís a dream. Yer sick." Tanner tried to reassure him, but the fever had the southerner heavily in itís grip. Now aware that Ezra was too sick to understand that he was ill, the Texan figured they needed help and needed it soon. He grabbed the bedside phone and dialed 911 while trying to soothe the confused man. Standish seemed utterly grief-stricken. He began to moan and rock still repeating the litany of "Iíve killed him, heís dead" and "but I checked the chamber! It was empty."

"911 operator, please state the nature of the emergency?"

"Operator? This is ATF Agent Vin Tanner, my partner and I are at the Hilton, up in room 314. Heís sick, burniní up! I cainít git sense outa him. Heís confused real bad, and we need an ambulance."

"How long has he been sick?"

"Was fine earlier... Easy Ez, itís okay... I got ya."

"Was he showing any signs of illness before this Agent Tanner?"

"No Maíam. He was fine when we went to dinner. Was talkiní about this last traininí session we had. Thereís a Law Enforcement traininí seminar down here at the hotel. We ran the simulation fine, but Ez is a bit oí a perfectionist, if ya git my meaniní. Was real worried that heíd screwed us up, cause oí Murphy."

"Murphyís law?"

"No Maíam, Agent Murphy. Heís always tryiní ta score off the boys when we git stuck at these things. Ez thought he failed the course, but he did fine that I saw. Full points, not that that matters..."

"So he was coherent?"

"As much as Ez ever is. Heís real fond oí big words. Had a headache, though. Thought it was one oí his migraines. They git real bad."

"How often does he get them?"

"Depends. Ifín Mills is ridiní his case, too often. Can be couple times a week, Ifín Mills ainít involved, Ez gits em every couple oí weeks. Doc said ta avoid the "stressor", but ainít no way Ez can avoid that Fat Brained Ass, Pardon my language Maíam."

"No offense taken. How is Ez? Does he have a full name?"

"Ezra P. Standish. Ainít got no clue what the P. stands fer. We normally run outa Denver."

"S-t-a-n-d-i-s-h?" She spelled.

"Yep. Heís breathiní hard. But he seems clear, not like when he had that Pneumonia."

"How recently was this?"

"Got over it a few months ago. Bad one. He got hisself soaked trying ta stop Priamris from shootiní Harrison. Harrisonís a good guy. Maíam how soonís that ambulance gettiní here?"

"Itís still a couple of minutes away, thereís a traffic accident over on Third and the Rig is having some trouble getting around the rubberneckers. Is his condition worsening? Has he thrown up?"

"No Maíam, might be a sight better if he did. Whatever he has has got him good. Heís sweating buckets. Them blankets is soaked. No donít do that! Ez!"

"Agent Tanner? Are you alright sir?"

"Ez, Itís okay. Got a ambulance a comminí You got a fever. Ah Ez. Donít do that."

The phone hit the floor with a thud and 911 recorded the struggle.

"I checked it! It was empty! I know it was..."

"It was empty, I believe ya, Ez! Itís okay."

"No, itís not, Iíve killed him! Iíve killed him, Vin! Iíve killed Chris!"

There was a loud noise as a gun went off.

"Agent Tanner? Agent Tanner" The 911 operator called.

"Iíve killed him. I killed Chris Larabee!" Ezra moaned into the phone. The 911 operator tried to reason with the fevered southerner, but he didnít seem to hear her. Because of regulations, she was required to send a "check" to Denver to find out the condition of a Chris Larabee. The computer brought up Christopher M. Larabee as SAC of RMETF Seven out of Denver. Further checks revealed that both Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish worked on Team Seven. Ezra continued to moan the litany of torment into the phone.

"911?" Tannerís voice came back on the line.

"Agent Tanner are you alright? We recorded a gunshot!"

"Iím fine. Dang fool grabbed his mock pistol. They use Ďem in the testiní. Make sounds but no bullets. I ainít got a clue what heís thinkiní right now. He ainít killed Chris. I was just talkiní ta him before we went ta bed. Whatever nightmare heís a ridiní has gotta be Hell." Vin said sadly. It was bad enough that Ezra had such dark things in his past without worrying that heíd ruined his future by killing Chris.

Ezra was shaking. During their struggle for the pistol, Ezra had ended up on the floor between the beds. He was crunched into a ball, but was banging his head against the floor. Vin grabbed a pillow and let him thump against that.

Standish was wild with grief and terror.

"Hotel Security" A gruff voice bellowed through the door "Whatís going on in there?"

"ATF," Vin shouted back "All clear, got a man sick outa his head. 911 is sendiní an ambulance."

The door swung open and two men wearing ill fitting suits came in. Both had guns, but they holstered them seeing that it was indeed all clear.

"How long has he been like this?"

"Donít know, was fine when we went ta bed, woke me up with a nightmare. Maíam? Whereís that ambulance?"

"Just pulling into the driveway, Agent Tanner. Hang on."

"Thank you Maíam."

"Did he fire his gun?" one of the security guards asked.

"Nope, he fired this Damn thing" Vin held up a cherry pink mockup. "We got Ďem fer the session downstairs. Make noise but no bullets."

"Okay." The guard seemed appeased and stopped looking for bullet holes.

"Base?" the other spoke into his radio. "Got an all clear. It was one of those noisemakers from the Training seminar. The agent who fired it is sick. Should be an ambulance at the door. Hank, you get them up here. Room 314."

Standish stopped moaning and went totally limp. Vin desperately checked for a pulse. It wasnít as strong as he liked but it was there...

 

<Denver, Rout Federal Building, Team Seven Offices 9:30 P.M.>

"What the hell did they call us in for? I was in the middle of a Date!" Buck grumbled.

"The Police seemed to think it was important." Josiah reminded him, keeping the amusement out of his voice. Four of the members of Team Seven sat in their briefing room waiting for the Police who had called them in. Buck had obviously dressed in a hurry, from his interrupted date. Nathan was wearing his Ďgrubbiesí and had been repairing the air-conditioning unit at his place. His girlfriend, Rain, wouldnít come over until it was fixed. JD was wearing gear that indicated an unusual hobby, mountain biking. Heíd have to have a little talk with their youngest. It could be fun, but it was also dangerous and JD didnít always think about his safety.

Two of their number were off at a Law Enforcement Seminar in New Jersey, and their Leader was off at a black tie event at the Brown Palace. At least Sanchez hoped so. The relationship between Chris and Mary Travis was explosive on occasion, and although the Senior Travises were with them it was no guarantee of good behavior on either part.

Two Police officers came into the briefing room. The older one was calm but the younger was nervous. Obviously the "Feds" unsettled him.

"Do you know where your boss is? We canít raise him on his phone or pager" The older one asked.

"Why? What do you want with Chris?" Buck demanded.

"Some guy named Ezra Standish says he killed him..." The younger cop told them.

The room erupted.

 

<Denver, Brown Palace Dining Room>

Chris Larabee pulled on his tie. He hated events like this. Judge Travis was watching him with amusement from across the table. Evie Travis and Mary were off talking to some of the "important" people in the room. Larabee hated this, hated being shown off like a side of prime beef. Giving Travis a glare, he wished that he was someplace else, that something, anything would come up...

There was a commotion at the door. Two Denver Police officers were trying to enter the dining room. The Matreíd tried to stop them, but the officers wouldnít be stopped. Following them were four faces Chris found very familiar.

"Chris!" Buck bellowed effectively ending all conversation in the room. The whole group pushed their way over to where Larabee stood beside the table waiting for them.

"Agent Larabee? We need to ask you some questions..."

"To Hell with that. Ez is sick, Pard. Real sick. Running a high fever, Delirious...Theyíre at the hospital. Weíve gotta go!" Buck yelled.

Chris felt his heart pound. Delirious? Damn, what had happened since he spoke to Vin a couple of hours ago? He nodded at Buck, calming the man. His team was anxious, but eased as he took on the leadership. Taking a couple of steps across the room, people rushed to get out of his way, Chris reached Mary and Evie Travis.

"Sorry to cut our evening short. I have to go. Will you and the Judge see her home okay?" He said to Evie, not waiting for Maryís answer. Mary had an unpleasant expression on her face, but Evie took control assuring Chris that they would take care of Mary. Larabee only vaguely heard her.

"Do I have to remind you that you have work tomorrow? The Pullman Case?" SSAC Mills said with a smugly superior expression on his face. "Iím sure that that sniper of yours, Tanner can take care of the situation..." He made as sudden squawk as Chris grabbed his jacket.

"I warned you, you son of a bitch, to stay out of my Teamís business. I didnít want them sent to any more of these Damn seminars that youíve been tying our time up with. If you interfere any further with my team, Iím going to have Aske over in OPR find out what the Hell it is youíve got against them and Charge you for the junk youíve pulled over the last few months. The Pullman case isnít even a real case, itís a Damn simulation! Itís not as important as the well being of my Team. For the LAST time, Stay away from my men!" Chris yelled. The other leaders from the different divisions in the room nodded approval, the constant problems caused by Mills for Team Seven had disrupted their own operations with the Team. Mills had caused serious conflict and impeded operations in his attempts to remove the "disruptive" members of Team Seven.

The Head of Operations, Denver, Muhulland, was about to interrupt, but a single Glare from Larabee shut him up. Team Sevenís volatile leader had information that could destroy him and he certainly wouldnít be afraid to use it in a crowd of VIPís if Muhulland kept him away from one of his men in a crisis. Chris Larabee was like an outraged wolf when it came to a member of his Ďpackí being hurt. Get between him and his goal and pay the consequences, Muhulland knew that they were way too high for him. Let the idiot go racing off to attend to Standish. It made him look like a fool and eventually heíd make enough of these mistakes to be removed. Muhulland wasnít about to risk his political advancement on the explosive moods of the likes of Chris Larabee. Smiling slightly, he suddenly found himself the target of interest of General Carpenter from Cheyenne Mountain. NORADís commander gave him a look that made him extremely uneasy.

As Team Seven headed out of the dining room, Deborah Rinaldi, the teamís office manager stopped them.

"Youíre booked on the 11:10 to Newark. Thereíll be a car there for you. Iíll download the map directions to JDís laptop. Call me if you need anything else. Iíll be waiting to hear." She said, handing them a strip of paper with the Flight confirmations on it.

"Thanks Darliní," Buck said. "Just for that Iíll take you to the Millennium Ball!" he promised.

"Thanks all the same, Agent Wilmington, but Iím not sure Paul will understand." Deborah quipped. "Make it another box of those fabulous chocolates, and weíre even. Now go and let me know how that smooth talking rascal is!"

"You bet!" JD yelled, grabbing Buckís arm.

They left the dining room, but Buck kept muttering, "Chocolates, What Chocolates?"

"Agent Larabee?" The older Cop asked racing to keep up with the men of Team Seven as they ran to the parking garage.

"Yes?" Chris asked absently. His attention was on getting to his SUV and then to the airport.

ĎDo you know any reason why Agent Standish would want to hurt you?"

Chris stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the Police officer.

"Huh? What the Hell are you talking about?"

"Agent Standish told 911 that heíd killed you. We had to run a check to see if you were alright. Itís required, even if the person is delirious..."

"He said what?" Chris was having a hard time understanding what he was being told.

"Damn, Stud. The Weldon case!" Buck said catching on. "Remember a couple months ago? Ez had to fake shooting you. I bet thatís what heís got his mind twisted up on!"

"Weldon case?" the younger officer asked.

"Yeah, Undercover case." Buck said as they reached the vehicles. "Had to pretend to shoot you. Really upset him, Pard." he continued.

"We had to do it that way. It was the only way theyíd believe that you two were dirty." Chris said, a little taken aback. Heíd had no idea that Standish had had a problem with the ruse theyíd run. He hadnít said anything, but then again with the tight-lipped southerner, anything was possible.

"He understood why we did it that way, approved of it even, Stud. But it bothered him. A lot. I wish Vin had been along, He can talk to that stubborn Idiot when no one else can get through." Buck frowned. The others were watching them curiously. They hadnít been involved in the Weldon case, except for JD who was nodding at Chris.

"He was shaking for hours after we finished up. Marty drove him home because he was so unsteady." JD added.

"Ezra wouldnít willingly hurt a member of this team." Chris told the officers. "Iím not in any danger from him. The manís out of his head with fever, you tell me. Itís got to be a flashback. You can go back to your other cases, because Iím okay." They wouldnít be able to leave if they thought he was in any danger, and he Knew that Ezra would hurt himself before harming him."Really itís okay."

"We believe you, but why donít we give you an escort to the airport? That way you can get there faster and there wonít be any commotion," the older officer smiled. "Like last time you boys went tearing out of here for the airport. Something about that sharpshooter of yourís being kidnaped. Or was it the time when the big guy was suspected of murder. Or maybe when the kid here got himself in trouble with the Police in Los Angeles? You boys get into too much trouble to run loose. You know that?" He chuckled. "It would be best for everybody if you donít go storming up into the airport. Youíll confuse all those techies trying to get the place Y2K compliant!" He teased, garnering a slight smile from Chris. The younger officer brought the patrol car around and he got in. They led the way sirens blaring.

The flight was uneventful. Apparently, the Denver Police had sent word ahead, because there was a squad car waiting beside the big Suburban at the rental lot. Driving to the hospital went very quickly behind a patrol car with lights going. JD was tapping on things, but everyone recognized that it was his usual brand of stress relief.

 

                                                                                <<<7>>>

They garnered tons of stares as they entered the hospital. Although it was nearly morning, there were many people in evening dress in the Hospital lobby. Chris in his tux drew some interested glances, as did Buck, though his apparel was far less formal. The scoundrel caught several of the women "Checking him out" and made sure to smile at each. Nathanís grubbies didnít endear him to the committee, who had put a lot of effort into the late night star gazing party. Josiah received several curious looks and one woman licked her lips suggestively. It was enough to startle the large profiler for a moment. JD had more trouble because of the mountain biking suit. His bottom was repeatedly pinched.

"Thatís my boy!" Said Buck, grinning like a pleased parent as JD complained all the way down the hall.

 

Vin was dozing in a chair beside Ezraís bed. The southerner had been strapped in, his restless thrashing having thrown him out of bed twice since he was brought in. Continuing the litany of his nightmare, Standish was still crying out that "heís dead, Iíve killed him" and "but it was empty! I checked it!" Tanner had a grip on the undercover agentís wrist and even as he dozed murmured reassurances.

"Hey Cowboy." Chris said softly and Vin woke up. "How you doing?"

"Iím okay, but heís not, Chris. Why does he think he shot you? Heís been sayiní it for hours." The Texanís expression was full of worry.

"Flashback, Junior." Buck said "Weldon case. Had to fake shooting Chris."

"Ainít never heard of a Weldon case" Vin said with some anger. "Wheníd it happen?"

"Couple months ago. You were at the Dallas Conference." Chris said, listening as Ezra Standish cried out again that heíd killed him. "Just me, Buck, Ezra, and JD."

"Damn it, Larabee! You Know better than that!" Vin hissed angrily. "Ez donít do fake betrayal well. Too many people think that heís that way, Chris. Heíd never willingly hurt any oí us. Never!"

"I know, Vin. But it was necessary for the situation. He agreed with me. I didnít know it had bothered him like this." Chris looked at the restless agent.

"Hell Cowboy! Donít you git it? He holds onta the bad stuff. Heís still holdiní onta the "Donít run out on me again" thing!" Larabee stared at him. "Itís true, Chris. He keeps worryiní that ifín heís late or gits inta trouble that youíll think heís run out! He didnít need this. Not with Mills ridiní him!"

"We had to do it that way, Pard." Buck said softly.

"Did any oí you think ta talk ta him after? Why the Hell didnít ya tell me? Heís my partner. I know how he takes this stuff! Ya shoulda told me! Now heís sick and itís gonna take a whole lot oí work ta convince him he didnít betray us!" Vin Tanner growled. He was a very angry man.

"Well when he wakes up and sees Chris that should take care of it?" JD said. "Shouldnít it?" He added uncertainly.

"Ifín heís got it inta his head that he betrayed us, It ainít goiní away that easy." Whatever Vin was going to add to that statement was forgotten as Ezra twisted himself up further and cried out.

"Michelle? Why? The chamber was empty! Why did you reload it?"

"Ah, Damn it!" Vin cried out. "Ez, Listen ta me. Nobody here is hurt. Ifín Michelle loaded the gun, itís her fault." He tried to ease the southerner out of the twisted mess of blankets. Josiah helped him and he nodded a thanks. "Ez. Come on, Pard. This ainít the way it was."

"Why Michelle? Why would you want to hurt Chris?" Ezra moaned. "Why?"

"Whoís Michelle?" Nathan asked.

"Ainít none oí your business, Nate." Vin snapped. "The bitch is dead, and deserved it." The others were startled. Vin Tanner was never crude when referring to a woman, treating them all like ladies. If he was using such a word to describe "Michelle" she had to be really something bad indeed. "Ez?" He said softly " Michelleís dead. She ainít goiní ta hurt Chris. She ainít goiní ta make ya do it neither."

"Michelleís dead?" Ezra squinted in confusion. "But she was just here. She reloaded the gun..."

"I got it, Ez. Never got anywheres near Chris." Tanner went with the flow. Standish relaxed.

"Thank you Vin. If Iíd hurt Mr. Larabee, I could never forgive myself." Ezra settled down against the pillows.

Vin sighed. He untangled the rest of the blankets back over the southerner. Standish watched him with very bright green eyes, then the undercover agent slipped into sleep.

"ĎSiah? Would you watch him fer a spell?" Vin asked. The big profiler nodded, already intent on the sleeping manís face. "Ifín he wakes, ya holler? O.K.? Iím goiní ta take a walk with these two fer a minute." He pushed Chris and Buck out into the hallway. He waited until they were out of hearing before unloading."What were ya thinkiní Cowboy?" He asked. "Ya íve got ta know better than that..." Vin looked at Chris and saw how really worried the man was. "The Docs say heís gonna be fine. Heís got some infection like Chicken pox. Probably got it from Billy last time he watched him for ya and Mary. Itís got him bad, cause heís an adult not a kid. I know that everybody else had Ďem. Buck and JD had that little contest goiní and Ez was the only one who hadnít ever had any oí the childhood stuff. The pneumonia a couple oí months ago made him more Ďsusceptibleí ta it."

"Chicken pox?" Buck said, with a gleam in his eyes.

"Ifín you start teasiní him, Iíll kick your tail, Navy SEAL or not, Bucklin." Vin scowled at him. " It ainít good. Heís real sick and this junk ainít goiní away anytime soon.. He shoulda never had ta deal with this situation in the first place. Ifín ya had ta pull that kind oí set up, ya needed ta git him unwound from it. Heíd die afore sayiní it, but he takes all this stuff ta heart."

"I know." Chris said in a defeated voice "I should have known."

"Bucklin. Go get us some coffee. Machines down that way. Donít pester the nurses." Vin commanded. Buck gave him an exaggerated salute, wiling to allow the sharpshooter to deal with Larabeeís mood. "Ez is kinda hard, ainít he?" Vin asked. "The manís only been on the team a little over a year now."

"Year and two months."

"Ya countiní for a reason, Cowboy?"

"Iím afraid weíre going to lose him. Of all of us, Ezra seems to be... I donít know. In the most danger. Most of the time when thereís an injury, itís you or him. Mostly him. Do you know how many times Iíve been in the hospital with one of you?"

"How many, Cowboy?" Vin asked recognizing that Chris needed to let it out.

"76" Chris said. "Iíve sat with injured members of my team 76 times in a year and six months... Ezraís the undercover agent. The point man for this, and that means that heís the most likely to be hurt. But the two of you get hurt in ways Iíd never expected...Buck and JD too. Theyíre careless, especially off duty. But you two. And then Iíve got the idiots above me pushing me to fire both of you, and Buck, but mostly you and Ezra. Especially Ezra. And all of this dark stuff in his past. I knew that he had a background that I didnít want to get into. Iíve seen files like his, back when I was a SEAL. I know I didnít want to push on it and Ezra is the best there is at undercover work. I donít want to lose him, he belongs. But ..."

"All of us have got stuff in the past, Cowboy." Vin said softly reminding them both of a very long night at the Ranch that neither one would ever discuss. "Ya took us all on that way. Knowiní that we all have dark sides."

"I know, It just feels... It feels like Iím going to lose my family again. I didnít know Iíd come to care this much, I didnít want to care that much, not really... Iíve still been waiting to come about, to live..." Chris sighed. "And I never would have guessed that Ezra felt like that. That heíd literally be sick over the idea that heíd harmed me. Or that that tirade of mine would stick with him. I never meant for him to hold on to that comment like that. He didnít deserve it then, and not now. It was wrong, I was Wrong."

"Itís become his whole world, Cowboy." Vin said and Chris stared at him. "But thatís ainít a bad thing. He knows that we care enough ta want him, ta need him."

"Youíre kidding, Please tell me youíre joking! He thinks the only reason we want him is because I yelled at him? That we need him for what? A scapegoat? Heís been that too many times." Chris gasped bitterly.

"Nope, ainít kiddiní." Vin gripped his shoulder. " Youíre wrong, Cowboy. Itís important ta him. He thinks it means that he has a place here. With us. That we ainít goiní kick him out or send him away. That weíre family. And heís right too. We are family. Said so yerself. Itís goiní ta be alright for all oí us. We jest have ta make sure that we pay attention better. I shoulda seen he was gittiní sick, you shoulda made sure he didnít have all this "Weldon" case twisted up in his mind. Ez ainít the type ta tell ya ifín heís upset. Ya kinda have ta watch it. It ainít hard, jest gotta know him better. Ya still act like ya donít trust him."

"I do trust him, Vin!" Chris snapped "Thatís the problem. I trust him enough to know heíd kill himself before he hurt one of us. He wants to be part of the team so bad it hurts, but he keeps to the edge... and Iím afraid Iím going to miss and heís going to go over. Like in Idaho." His anger deflated and he slumped against the wall.

"He did what he had ta ta survive in Idaho Falls, Cowboy. Heís not gonna go over the edge, not as long as we need him."

"But all the stuff that keeps getting kicked up! What Previns wrote, Somerville, the Caxton case. I just donít know. Now this Michelle thing."

"Michelle is jest what his scrambled mind latched onta. The Weldon thing didnít make sense, was still botheriní him and he tried ta make it make sense, Iíll bet. Makes sense ifín ya think about it. Michelle would do somethiní like that." Vin said darkly. Chris looked at him, unsure if he wanted to know. Vin gave him a tight grimace in response and decided to cut off Chrisís decent into self blame. "Weíre family, Larabee. Weíll get through this and every other damn thing. We made it through the Potter case, through JD accidentally shootiní a civilian, through Buckís little problem, Josiah gittiní accused oí murder, through Rain gettiní kidnaped, Hell, Cowboy, we made it through Ezra wearing a Dress!" Chris laughed involuntarily. Vin gave him a ĎTanner Griní in return. "Hang in there Cowboy! Weíll make it, ainít goiní ta go down ta the Ďsilent echoesí oí our pasts. Weíre a team. We pull togther ainít nobody gonna stop us." Chris found himself laughing in response. It was true, they were both family and a team, and together nothing could stop them. Theyíd already proved that, and theyíd do it again and again, until a certain stubborn boneheaded southerner believed it.

"Did the Doctor say how long heís going to be like this?" Chris asked a couple of minutes later. Heíd begun to settle down a little.

"Fever should break in a couple oí hours. Can probably take him home in a day or two."

"Iíll send Josiah to stay with him."

"You jest want ta see ifín heíll clean up his mashed potatoes." Vin laughed remembering the last Bar-Be-Que at Larabeeís ranch. "ĎSiahís got a real bad ĎDadí fixation when it comes ta Ez."

"If itís the Chicken pox, heís going to have some fun when it breaks out." Chris said with a laugh.

"Probably tape socks on Ezís hands." Vin laughed harder, knowing that the southerner would find a way around them.

"Definitely something to leave to Josiah." Chris grinned, his humor restored. He began to laugh along with Vin. The Texan was right. Theyíd make it through the silent echoes, they were family.

THE END