By Sarah (winks7985)


Part 5


 Vin was the first one into another small clearing, and skidded to a stop as the sound echoed off the hills.  He panted lightly as he spun around, looking for the source of the noise.  Nathan, Chris and Buck came to a stop near him, breathing heavier than the Texan. 

“Please tell me that was thunder,” said Buck resignedly.

Vin and Chris looked at each other, their eyes conveying their shared thought: We’re too late.

“I’m not gonna believe it till I see it,” said Buck, translating the look in his friends’ eyes.

“Buck,” Nathan started.

“Don’t even, Nathan.  I’ll lay you out too.”

Vin glanced at his watch then back at his friends.  “Three and a half minutes at a full run put us right here.  Another minute puts us about…” he looked ahead, judging the distance across the clearing and beyond into the wooded area.  “Maybe two tenths of a mile in that direction.”

“If he didn’t veer from this course,” Chris added.

“Point is,” Vin said as he started out at a jog in the direction he had indicated, “could be tracks or something up in that area.”

The other men followed.


Ezra cracked his eye open.  He lay on the floor of the cavern, his back to the wall, but he was angled enough so that he was facing the opening of the cave.  The sky was beginning to take on the colors of a spectacular sunset above the treetops.  The breeze carried the sweet smell of nature into the cave. 

How did I get here?

The sweet breeze died away in its gust, as breezes do, and the smells of his immediate surroundings filled his nostrils.  Two smells were predominant, aside from the obvious dirt and mustiness.  One was an acrid smell, one he unfortunately knew too well: blood.  The other was unmistakable, a burning smell overwhelming in its essence: gunpowder from a discharged round.  And it had been close by.

He turned his head, trying to better understand the smells in his muddled mind.  He was so stiff from not moving for so long that when he managed to roll slightly, he cried out in pain as he felt something shift in his chest.  He knew that feeling: bones were broken.  Attempting to return to his original position, he started to pant quick small breaths attempting to take the edge off his pain as he tried to pull his legs up to his chest protectively.

Oh, Gawd…

Everything burned and ached.  His muscles refused to cooperate.  The fire in his leg reignited.  The brokenness in his chest ground together; he swore he could hear it.

He screwed his face up in pain and thumped his forehead on the ground as he tried to ride out the wave of pain.  He grunted and groaned as he tried to take a deeper breath.

As the breeze kicked up again, it entered the mouth of the cave, bringing with it a chill as the sun continued its descent.  Ezra shivered, then grunted as the simple reflex caused him more pain.

Oh Gawd, he thought again as his broken chest ground together and his breath began to rattle.  He opened his eyes and looked at the sky, thinking of how beautiful it actually was before he closed his eyes once more.


“Ok, so now what?” asked Buck tersely.

“Buck,” Chris hissed.

Buck ignored him and continued, “Where is he Vin?”

“You serious?” Vin asked. 

“Do I look like I’m fuckin’ kiddin’?”

“What do you want from me?  I’m not some goddam water stick that magically finds shit!” the Texan snapped back.

“You said you’d find the tracks.”

“I said there might be tracks.”

Buck stormed over and got right into Vin’s face.  Vin didn’t flinch.  “Don’t fuckin’ argue semantics here, Vin.”

“Back the fuck on up out of my face, Buck.”  He punctuated is sentence with a none too gentle shove.

When he regained his balance, Buck made to advance on the younger man.  Chris and Nathan both reacted instantly, but not before he got in a good shove, knocking Vin to the ground.

“This isn’t helping!” Nathan yelled.

“Enough,” Chris said, pointing a finger in Buck’s face.  “JD,” Chris said into his mic.

Yeah, Chris.”

“I want dogs in this location in less than ten minutes.”

On it.”


Go, Chris.”

“I want searchers up here too.  Ambulance on route?”

ETA is less than ten.”

“Get them as close to this location as possible.”


Chris turned and looked at Vin, who was sitting on the ground with his elbows perched on his knees, looking right up into the serious face of Larabee.  He wore a shit eating grin.

“What the hell’s so funny?” Chris asked flatly.

“You ever see a ‘pine tree bush’?”

“We don’t have time for games Tanner.”

Pointing to the edge of the clearing, some 150 feet away, an odd bush poked out from behind an old oak tree.  Chris, Nathan and Buck all looked at it, then back at Vin.

Vin was up on his feet and heading towards the ‘bush’ before the others had a chance to say anything.  Reaching it first, he removed the branches hastily, uncovering an ATV.

“He’s in the area,” Vin said assuredly.  “Prob’ly not far.”

“They could have ditched this a while ago…” Chris commented.

“Not if he was as hurt as Buck and that Darryl guy said,” said Nathan.  “Even if they were dragging him, they wouldn’t go far.  He’d have been dead weight.”

Three angry gazes were shot at the medic. 

Nathan cringed at himself.  “Bad choice of words.”

They started to spread out to begin their search.  Buck reached out and grabbed Vin’s arm, stopping him.

“Vin, I’m sorry about…” he waved his arm towards where he had knocked the tracker down.

Vin smiled at him.  “Don’t worry about it, Buck.  The change in perspective worked out.”  He clapped Buck on the shoulder as he walked away, looking for tracks, knowing that they were in the right area now.


Ezra woke to his body’s uncontrollable shivering.

The shivering, in turn, brought wave upon wave of pain. 

The cough he had had earlier was trying to make a comeback, but he fought it with all he had left.  God, why couldn’t this just be over? 


The barking of dogs alerted the four men that their reinforcements were upon them.  JD and Josiah caught up to the rest of their teammates and regrouped.
Larabee began giving out orders to all the people there.  Six dogs had been rounded up, so there were to be six search teams.  The dogs were given the patch from Standish’s vest and a jacket he had had in the car they had driven to the location earlier today.  Once all the dogs had been  given the scent, they began their search.  One member of Team Seven went with each of the search teams, and comms were kept open, even though the reception was still spotty.

The evening was quickly approaching, and time was of the essence.  The air temperature had dropped significantly, and with the waning daylight Vin wasn’t able to find any distinguishable tracks.

They were putting all their hopes on the dogs.

Vin was paired up with a black German Sheppard named Num and Num’s handler Carolyn Briggs.  Vin considered Carolyn a friend.  They had known each other for a while, since she and Num had helped him clear a building after a raid two years ago.  Since then the two would trade barbs whenever they saw each other.      
Listening in on the comms, Vin found out that a few of the dogs had lost the scent after about a mile, or lost it going into a stream.  One dog had been sprayed by a skunk.  Extra people had been pulled from various teams to cover the areas that the dogs had lost the scent around water, conducting a more thorough search of that area.

That left Vin and Carolyn to search this area alone – with Num.  And Num liked Vin. 

But right now was business, and Num wasn’t interested in Vin at all.  He was hell bent on finding his target and getting his reward.  This was what he lived for.
Num stopped and sniffed the ground, obviously considering something carefully.

“Whatcha got Num?” Carolyn asked the dog.  To anyone else it might have seemed silly, akin to asking Lassie if Timmy was stuck in the well, but Num and Carolyn had been working together for three years and were seamless teammates.

Num whined slightly, then changed direction abruptly.

“You think he lost it?” Vin asked.

“No, I don’t think so. Usually when he loses a scent, he’ll sit and wait for direction.  He won’t keep going.”

“But still, he took a random ninety degree turn.”

“Maybe the guy anticipated being followed and hoped to dead end us here.”

Num started walking faster, sniffing excitedly as he moved.  He made a half growl, half whine as he continued on.

“Scent’s stronger,” Carolyn announced, interpreting her partner’s actions for those not fluent in dog.

“Boys,” Vin said into his mic.  “We might be on to something.”

Where you at Vin?” asked JD.

“I think we’re headed towards that big pond.”

All right.  I’ll circle around and meet up with you.  I’m near there too.  We lost our trail,” JD said of his search party.

“Copy,” Vin returned.

Vin, Tripp could still be in the area,” came Chris’ voice.

“Understood.” And unnecessary, thought Vin.  He removed his sidearm from the holster and flicked the safety off.  Carolyn trusted him to watch both her and Num’s backs.


Buck’s search team had come up empty, and they were returning to their starting area to regroup.  He ran into Nathan almost immediately. 

“He’s been out here too long,” Nathan remarked.  “It’s getting cold.”  Even thought the day had been fairly warm, the springtime night temperatures could still plummet into the 40s. 

“I know,” Buck replied sadly.  “I keep thinking… what if he’s alive and waiting to be found, and he dies because we couldn’t find him?”

“Don’t do that Buck.  It ain’t your fault.”

Buck shook his head sadly.  “I left him Nathan.  I left him and that’s why he’s still out here.”

Nathan nodded once in concession, mostly because he knew he wouldn’t get through to the big hearted man right now.  So, rather than sit around and play ‘what if’s and ‘pity party’, he offered something constructive.

“Come on, let’s go meet up with JD and Vin, maybe they can use the help.”  They had both heard the static-filled transmission only a moment ago.

“Alright,” Buck said absently, still filled to the brim with guilt.


“Vin?” came a half shout.

“JD, over here,” Vin called back.  The sun had set, but the last tendrils of light still had a hold on the sky.  Through the thick foliage though, barely any light was left on the forest floor.

“He got something?” JD said as he jogged over to Vin and Carolyn, pointing at Num.

“Fuck, I hope so.”

Num started pulling at his lead more, trying to move quicker.  “The scent is stronger,” Carolyn said, keeping Num under control as he pulled.  “We’re getting closer.” 

Vin slowed his walk a second, turning to JD.  “This pond, it have hills near it?”

JD racked his brain, trying to remember the maps.  “On the east side of the lake, there were inclines, if I read the map right,” he answered.  “Why?”

“Shit,” Vin said as he ran to pass Num and Carolyn, sprinting towards the pond.Carolyn and Num also moved faster, keeping pace with Vin.   JD ran as well, catching up quickly.

“Vin!” JD yelled.  “What is it?”

“I need to see the hillside in the light,” he called back over his shoulder.

Coming to the pond’s edge, Vin looked to the east side of the water at the hills.  He took out his small field binoculars and looked carefully up the hillside.  “Come on you son of a bitch,” he muttered.

Carolyn held Num back as she called to Vin.  “Do we keep going?”

“One minute,” he said, not taking the binoculars from his eyes.  Finally finding whatever it was he was looking for, he lowered the binoculars and gave them to JD.  “About a third of the way up, see the dead oak tree?”


“There’s a space between that tree and the next one.”


“I think it’s a stash cave.  Shiners use them to keep a stockpile of their stuff, usually not anywhere near the stills.  If they do get raided and lose all their shit, they can rebuild quicker, or they have some to sell while they’re rebuilding their operation.”

“How do you know that?”

He smiled.  “I’m not just a pretty face.”

Num continued to pull at his lead, anxious to resume the hunt.

“Let’s go then,” Carolyn said.


“Come on Nathan,” Buck said as he broke into a run.

“I am!” said Nathan, lengthened his stride to keep pace.

They broke free of tree cover at the south side of the pond.  They worked their way to the eastern slope where Vin and JD, along with Carolyn and Num, would be. 

In the open air, their comms were functioning properly.


Go, Nathan.”

“We’re here, me and Buck.  Comin’ up from the south side.”

Copy.  We’re nearing the cave now.”

“We’ll be on you in two.”  It wouldn’t do anyone any good if they took their teammates by surprise.  Hell, with tension running this high, someone was likely to get shot.



Num barked at the cave opening.  He had found his target.  He sat and patiently waited for his reward.  In the near dark, it would have been almost impossible to locate the cave without the dog’s assistance.

Carolyn pulled out Num’s Kong toy, giving it to him and petting him proudly, ruffling his fur.

Vin and JD passed by them, guns drawn and approached the cave opening.  A blanket hung over part of the entrance, sticks and leaves attached to it to help keep the cave concealed.

Vin nodded to JD, and JD put his hand on the blanket, pulling it aside.  The smell of old blood and gunpowder assaulted their senses.  Immediately, both their hearts sank to the pits of their stomachs, but they didn’t lower their guns or relax their stances.  Wordlessly, Vin reached for the flashlight on his belt, and steadied himself for what they were going to see in the cave.

He turned the flashlight on, and cast the light into the dark abyss.  Glancing over at JD, he knew that he wore a look on his face similar to his own.  It was a mixture of hope, despair and duty.  Nodding, he and JD turned into the opening and held their guns at the ready.

“Jeezus,” JD’s voice announced over the comms.


Buck and Nathan came up quickly to the cave.  They had heard JD’s voice and feared the worst.

“Vin!” Buck shouted.

“Over here!” Carolyn yelled.

Nathan and Buck came running up the hillside in time to see Carolyn come out of the cave looking a little green.

She pointed ominously to the opening.

Nathan rushed past her, while Buck found himself slowing, unsure if he could handle seeing his friend’s body.  As he came to the opening, he steadied himself and looked inside. 

The smell hit him first.  It smelled like blood.  He closed his eyes tightly.  Aww Ezra, he thought, I’m so sorry. 

He could feel his stomach creeping up his throat. His head was light and was starting to spin.  I killed Ezra.  My fault.  My fault.

“Christ Nathan, his breathing sucks,” Vin said.

Wait, breathing?  Buck’s world started to come back into focus.

“He’s got broken ribs, maybe sternum.  I can feel the bones rubbing.  Jesus, his breathing does suck.”  Nathan’s voice was all business.

“Can we move him away from… that?” asked JD, pointing to a mess on the other side of the cave, now covered in the blanket that had once covered the entrance.

“I don’t want to move him.  He needs to be stabilized.”

“Wait… he’s…?” Buck sputtered.

“Alive,” said Vin, looking directly at Buck’s confused blue eyes.

“So then, who’s…?” he pointed to the bloody covered mass.

“I think it’s Tripp,” said JD.  “But half his head is missing, so I can’t be sure.”

“How?” Buck was stammering.

“Dunno Buck, but Ez didn’t do it.  His hands are bound,” Vin explained.  “Nathan, can we get those off?”

“Not yet.  I don’t want to do anything until he’s stabilized.  If we move him, his ribs could puncture a lung.  If he moves his arms if we free them, same thing could happen.  Shit, I hope he doesn’t have flail chest…” Nathan trailed off.  Whatever ‘Flail Chest’ was, by the tone of Nathan’s voice, it didn’t sound good.

Buck took off his jacket and added it to the two that were already on the Southerner.

“He’s too cold,” Nathan said to no one in particular.

Vin looked up to the opening of the cave.  “Num!  Come here boy!”

The dog looked to Carolyn and then headed for his friend. 

“Lay down boy,” Vin said as he held up the edge of the jackets.  Num obliged.  “Stay.”

Vin slid in behind the unconscious southerner, taking extra care not to jostle him, and threw his right arm over, petting the dog as he did so.  Num snuggled in closer.
“I’ll be damned,” said Nathan.

Vin smiled.  “You never heard of a three-dog-night?” he asked incredulously.  “The colder the night, the more dogs you would use for heat like this.  We’ll be plenty warm until the medics get here.”

Buck shook his head in amazement.  The situation was still settling in his mind.  Ezra was alive.  Alive.  Not dead.  He headed out of the cave and spoke into his mic.  “Chris?”


“We got him.  He’s alive, but in rough shape.”

Medics are coming.  Three minutes out.”

“Good.”  Good.


Ambulances were never meant to travel in wooded areas.  Between the mud and the dense trees, there was no way to get the vehicle to where it needed to be.
So when Chris had said the medics were three minutes out, he had meant that the medics themselves, sans ambulance, were three minutes out.  Josiah had commandeered someone’s pickup truck, and was transporting two medics, a backboard and the gurney from the ambulance.  Riding in the bed of the truck, Chris stood and held to the light bar on top of the cab.  They had been in motion when they got the call from Buck.

Josiah pulled the truck as close to the base of the hill as possible, but there was no way to drive up to the cave opening.  So when the truck stopped, the two medics and the two agents jumped from the vehicle and began the trek to the cave carrying the backboard and the bags full of medical supplies.  It only took about two minutes to reach the cave opening, but those two minutes felt like an eternity for both Josiah and Chris.

The cave came into view, and Carolyn stood at the opening flagging the approaching men in the waning light.  Chris could barely make out Buck’s large frame just inside the opening, but couldn’t see the rest of the men further inside.  He picked up his pace, but was halted by the tall profiler.

“Chris, he’s in good hands.  Let them get to him.”

The blond looked like he was going to protest, but Josiah continued.  “Nathan is with him, and you know it has to be getting crowded in there right now.  They’ll bring him out.”

The muscles in Larabee’s jaw clenched and unclenched.  He wanted to go into the cave and prove to himself that his man was fine, that he was still breathing, but Josiah had a point.  The medics and Nathan had to be with Ezra more right now than he did.  Conceding the point didn’t make it any easier to live with though.
Reluctantly, Chris and Josiah waited for their friends to exit.  Buck was first out. 

He looked into the concerned hazel eyes of his friend, and half smiled.  His face was still a mish mash of different emotions: fear, relief, sadness.  “He’s alive,” he said.  Chris nodded and reached out, drawing his oldest friend into an embrace that was accepted without words.

JD was out next, having been shooed out by Nathan and the medics.  Num followed and went over to Carolyn and sat by her feet.  She stroked his head absently. 
Vin followed on Num’s heels.  He carried Buck’s jacket as well as his own and JD’s.  He tossed JD’s to him, shucked into his own and walked over to Buck and Chris who had just broken apart. 

He wordlessly handed the jacket to the taller man.  Buck nodded his thanks.

“Bit too close for comfort on this one,” Vin said to no one in particular.

Chris nodded, but kept his eyes fixed on the cave entrance.

Half a minute later, the first of the two medics emerged carrying one end of the backboard.  Feet coming out first, they all had to wait to see Ezra’s face.  Nathan carried the other end, speaking softly to the unconscious man as they continued their descent.  Ezra lay on his side on the board, the medics having come to the same conclusion as Nathan had—if they released his hands, they may create a larger problem if he moved.  Plus he had damage on both his front and back torso, so laying flat would be more painful than staying on his side.

“Josiah, get the truck started!” Nathan said as the group started moving with the stretcher.

Josiah ran down the hill and got the engine roaring while the rest of the motley group caught up with them.

As the group reached the truck, a jeep came up to them.  Murph and a couple of other people, whose names Chris couldn’t remember right now, got out and approached.

“He alright?” Murph asked as he lowered the truck tail gate to assist their exit.

“Don’t know,” Chris answered.  “Murph, Tripp’s body is in that cave about fifty yards up this hill.”

Murph nodded, knowing what he was being asked.  “We got the cleanup.  You guys go.”

“Thanks,” Chris said and turned back to his team, who were trying to assist the medics get the Southerner onto the laid-flat gurney without causing him any more discomfort.

Josiah waited patiently behind the wheel, while Carolyn and Num got into the cab of the truck, trying to stay as out of the way as possible.  The two medics, Nathan, Vin, Buck, JD and Chris piled into the back of the truck, sitting on the bed rails and keeping hands on the wheeled gurney to keep it as stationary as possible.
One of the medics slapped the roof of the cab twice to signify that they were ready to go.  Pulling out slowly and as smoothly as possible, the truck turned and made its way back to where the ambulance waited.

The two medics continued to administer to the unconscious man as they traveled.  They had started an IV in the cave, trying to replenish fluids lost after a day of captivity and blood loss from his leg.  But they were being conservative on the amount of fluids.  With chest trauma, if the patient became inundated with fluids they could accumulate in the lungs, causing worse problems yet.

The bumpy terrain was difficult to navigate on a regular day, but with the current load in the back of the truck, even the littlest bumps could potentially be catastrophic.  And it was well beyond dusk.

Josiah slid the small window behind him open.  “Coming up on some exposed rootwork we can’t get around.  Gonna have to go slow,” he shouted back. 

Everyone readjusted their grip on the truck and on the gurney in anticipation of the rough ride ahead.  Surprisingly though, Josiah maneuvered the exposed roots with little more than a rocking effect. 

“That was pretty smoo-“ Buck began.


“Shit!” Vin yelped.  They had been going over a rock that shifted, shooting out from under the tire causing the rear wheel to slam into the ground harder than anyone would have liked.

Green eyes flew open in a panic at the sudden movement, a groan of pain wrenching forth from clenched teeth.  Ezra’s eyes panned back and forth, confused as to where he was and what had happened.  He panted through the pain, but started coughing before he could suppress the urge.

“Ezra!  Calm down!” Nathan tried to reason with the Southerner, but his pain-wracked mind couldn’t process what was happening.  His chest was on fire, and the coughing was causing his broken bones to rub together, causing the pain to start anew in a vicious circle.

The older of the two medics put a mask over Ezra’s mouth and supplied him with oxygen, hoping to get him to stop panting and in turn, to stop coughing.

“Ezra, come on buddy, it’s Buck, you’re safe now,” the taller agent leaned into Ezra’s line of vision, trying to get him to focus.

“Hold this,” the medic told Buck, handing him the oxygen mask while he checked the leg wound to make sure it hadn’t started bleeding again.

Buck took the mask without breaking his gaze.  “Come on Ezra, focus on me.  Come on Hoss, you’re scarin’ the boys now.”  He smiled as he kept the attention of the coughing wheezing man.

Panting as he slowly caught his breath, Ezra looked at the man in front of him, finally seeing him.  “Bu-,“ he gasped quietly.

“That’s right, Slick; it’s me,” the big man smiled.

Another small clearing of the throat cough and the tiny puffs of condensate on the oxygen mask started to grow further apart, signifying Ezra’s slow return to a more normal breath rate.

“Alright, I got it,” the medic said as he took the mask back.

Buck placed his hand on his friend’s forehead and slowly stroked his hair back.  Ezra’s green eyes didn’t waver from Buck’s face, so he saw when the concerned blue eyes took on a look of panic.  Buck looked at his hand where he had stroked Ezra’s forehead and left an unmistakable smear of red.  Blood.  Buck’s hand had had blood on it… from where?  The only thing his hand had been doing was…

“Guys,” Buck said to the medics, “he’s coughing up blood.”

“I know,” said the younger medic.  “We found bloody sputum in the cave.”

“So do something!” Chris said, an urgent tone to his voice.

“We’re doing what we can,” the younger medic said.  “Until he’s at the hospital, this is all we can do.”

“Josiah,” Chris barked.  As soon as he knew he had the profiler’s attention, he yelled, “As soon as we’re in the clear of this shit, gun it.”

Josiah nodded in the rear view mirror at his leader.


The drive from the ambulance to the cave had been five minutes, but the return drive took twice as long.  Aside from the one mishap, the ride went smoothly.  Josiah pulled the small truck up next to the parked ambulance, and most of the passengers were out of the back before the vehicle even stopped moving. 

Nathan assisted the medics in loading the gurney into the ambulance, and jumped in the back with one of them for the journey to the hospital.  the other medic ran around to the front and jumped in. 

The ambulance moved off as quickly as the rough terrain allowed.

Chris, Josiah, Buck, JD and Vin stood for a moment and watched as the ambulance disappeared.

Chris took a calming breath.  “Ok boys, let’s go.”





PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3 / PART 4 / PART 6




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