Magnificent Seven ATF Universe
Evening The Odds

by Jo Ann

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.


Follows First Impressions

This story is part of a grouping of stories that are meant to be read in the following order:
First Impressions | Evening the Odds | Fate's Decision | A Hero's Mask | Mended Glasses

Ezra had just stepped out of the shower and threw on some clothes as he heard an all to familiar pounding on the door. Stepping up to the window he tried to peer through the blinds without actually moving them and swore as he saw all six of his co-workers standing outside.

"Aww hell," he muttered. Of all the nights to have left his garage doors open. Shaking his head he draped the towel he held in his hand across his shoulders and walked to the door.

Chris heard Ezra unlocking the door and didn't give him time to react just pushed his way in with the others right on his heels.

Ezra stood back holding the door as his co-workers walked in carrying bags of food and drinks. Once they were all in, he closed the door and leaned back against as he decided how he wanted to handle this.

"What a great place Ezra," JD said with excitement and walked around the room looking at stuff. "Oh cool!! Look at this TV," he hollered and opened the entertainment center revealing a large screened TV for the others to see.

"To what do I owe this unexpected...... pleasure?" Ezra inquired as JD plopped down on the sofa only to have Nathan take to the remote from him and start channel surfing.

"Well now Ezra we would have called, but we didn't know if you'd still be here when we got here," Vin teased.

"You've been with us six months now and so since we knew you wouldn't come with us; we decided to bring the party to you," Chris explained and handed the bag he was holding to Josiah, who was headed toward the kitchen.

Vin frowned as he noticed the packed boxes and turned back to the southerner and asked, "You still unpacking?"

"Well Mr. Tanner I've never been one to rush anything," Ezra replied and pushed away from the door.

"Unpack 'em Ezra cause you aren't going anywhere," Chris said and slapped the younger man on the back.

"That remains to be seen," he told them.

The black clad man narrowed his eyes and just smiled before stating, "I'm not arguing with you tonight Ezra." Then walked away.

Ezra snorted and mumbled, "And here I thought this was supposed to be a party."

Vin burst out laughing as he heard him and stepped closer to him and whispered, "Just think about all the fun we're gonna have making him mad."

The southerner laughed in spite of himself.

Buck walked out of the kitchen and asked, "Mind if I looked around Ezra?" To which he just received a shrug. The ladies' man was determined to be the friend he should have been to Ezra from the start.

"Hey Ezra where's your bar-b-q pit?" Josiah asked as he stepped in from the patio.

"Hasn't got one," He said draping his towel on the back of a chair?

"What!!" shaking his head he thought, young people. "Well then it's a good thing I brought one. Come on you can help me bring it in," Josiah said and grab him by the arm.

Walking back into the living room Buck whistled and asked, "How do ya suppose he affords a place like this?"

"Probably because he brought his salary with him from the FBI," Chris stated then jumped as something furry jumped into this lap.

"I didn't know Ezra had a cat," JD said reaching out and promptly took it away from Chris.

Buck just nodded his head. He knew that the more dangerous the job the more benefits were offered. "Never pictured Ezra as the type to have a cat," and reached out and scratched it behind its ears.

"That looks pretty good there Ezra. We'll just leave it there for next time," Josiah told him as they walked in through the patio doors.

"Next time?"

"Hey Ezra what's your cat's name?" Nathan asked.

"Cat? I haven't got a cat," Ezra told them. Then shook his head as he spotted Patches walking across the back of the sofa. "Patches belongs to my neighbor and likes to visit sometimes."

"So what's your neighbor look like? Is she pretty?" Buck asked as he flopped down in one of the recliners.

"I don't know. I haven't seen her yet," Ezra responded.

"Ezra you've lived here six months!" Nathan fussed, "why haven't met your neighbors yet?"

"Mr. Jackson you make that sound like a bad thing," Standish replied with a grin and held up his hand as the black man started to protest. "Besides, it's not as though I'm here most of the time. If I'm not working then I'm ri....... else where," he almost messed up.

"Doing what?" JD asked. Unlike the others he wasn't afraid to asked the difficult questions. JD also, didn't expect an answer to them either.

"Different things."

"What things? What do you like to do?" he persisted turning around and facing him fully.

"A little of this and a little of that," was the vague response. Ezra wasn't about to tell them about Spade and his love of riding. Not just yet.

"I suppose you like to go to museums, huh?"

"On occasion."

"So what do you do for fun?"

"What do you do for fun?" Ezra couldn't very well tell them he didn't know how to have fun.

"Me? Different things," JD threw his earlier answer back at him. "I like to play football, basketball, hockey, and just hang out with the guys. Ya know like now."

Josiah was hoping that JD would be able to get Ezra to talk to him and tell them some of his secrets. But once again Ezra had steered the conversation away from him and back to JD. From his position at the bar that separated the kitchen and dining room he glanced around the room before looking letting his gaze once again rest on the counter top and he grinned as he spotted a deck of cards. "Hey Ezra do you play?"

"On occasion," Ezra grinned. "Do you?"

"Yeah. We try to play poker once or twice a month," the large man grinned at the spark of interest in those green eyes.

"Poker?" I could make a mint off these people, he thought to himself and just resisted the urge to rub his hands together.

Nodding Josiah's grin grew. "You should join us next time we play. It's purely for fun."

"Fun? You mean no money?"

"No money."

Ezra shrugged as if to say, to each his own. Then went to close the patio doors.

Nathan exchanged a look with Josiah as he watched Ezra limp. "How's the leg Ezra?"

"Fine. Why do you ask?"

"Well because you're limping again."

"Was I? I hadn't realized," he shrugged hoping the tall black man would let the matter drop.

"I still say you should have gone to the doctor," Nathan said.

"Well that's a mute point now isn't it," Ezra told him. "Besides, what's a doctor going to tell me that you didn't?"

"He could have x-rayed it and made sure nothing was worn," the medic explained with his hands on his hips.

Josiah and the others grinned at the scene unfolding in front of them. Seeing Nathan put his hands on his hips the older man tensed because he knew that meant his friend was getting angry and would probably badger Ezra until he saw Nathan's point. Josiah smiled as Vin, JD, and Buck shook hands and knew that they had money running on whom the winner would be.

"And charge me an exorbitant amount of money. And furthermore, I see no reason to pay for the same advice that I had already gotten for free."

"Better safe than sorry Ezra."

"That depends on your definition of safe," Ezra countered.

Nathan threw his hands on the air and muttered, "Why do I even bother."

"You'd save us both a lot of time if you didn't," Ezra told him.

"I give up," Nathan said then sat down on the couch mumbling under his breath.

Buck started laughing and held out his hand and did a little dance as Vin and JD both handed him some money.

Josiah watched as Ezra walked into the kitchen and thought about how he'd gotten that limp and the various other injuries he had acquired in the past four months. First he'd taken a bullet meant for Nathan. Luckily Ezra had his vest on but he still ended up with a couple of bruised ribs. Then Ezra had appeared out of no where and tackled Buck and prevented him from being crushed by a stack of crates. Ezra's chin had connected with Buck's shoulder and left him with a nasty looking bruise. He then shot a gun runner sneaking up on Vin, who was holding his own against another suspect, but the gun runner managed to get a shot off grazing Ezra's arm. Ezra then came to JD's rescue during a brawl with two members from one of the other teams and ended up with a concussion and a black eye to match his already bruised jaw. Ezra hurt his knee saving Chris with yet another timely tackle as a drug runner was about to make a hood ornament out of their team leader.

Shaking his head, he suddenly froze and counted off everyone that Ezra had saved. Nathan, Buck, Vin, JD, and Chris. Five. Was it just a coincidence? Or was Ezra doing it deliberately? Josiah had every confidence that nine times out of ten Ezra knew exactly what he was doing so that rules out it being a coincidence. Ok Josiah think, he silently told himself, do your job and figure out what's going on. Reaching for his beer he took a long shallow and gripped the bottle tightly in his hand as a thought occurred to him. These occurrences started with their first mission after the warehouse. Running a hand over his face Josiah released a shaky breath and with an almost blinding clarity knew exactly what Ezra was doing. Ezra was redeeming himself by saving each one of them individually.

He felt the blood drain from his face as he realized that he was the only one left. He would be next. Ezra would risk his life to save him. A loud crash made Josiah jump and he looked at his now empty hand and noticed for the first time that he'd dropped his bottle of beer.

Dropping to his knees he shoved Ezra's hand away before he could even touch the broken glass. "Sorry. It just slipped right out of my hand," Josiah apologized. Then cleaned up his mess.

Ezra just frowned and left the older man alone.

Once the beer and glass had been cleaned up they grilled some hamburgers and after arguing for another hour finally decided to on a movie. Josiah put up a good front, but Ezra noticed that he was quiet at times and appeared to have something on his mind.

It was after ten before they left. Ezra bid them all good night and watched as Josiah paused and open his mouth as if to say something only to change his mind and turn and walked away. Closing and locking the door Ezra grinned and with a shrug of his shoulders softly told himself, "That wasn't so bad." He didn't want to say it to loud for fear of jinxing something. Turning off the lights he walked into his room and got ready for bed.


Early the next morning the mound of sheets and down comforter barely even moved as the alarm went off. A hand snaked out and slammed down the snooze button then disappeared. Fifteen minutes later when the alarm sounded again the same hand appeared and grabbed the aggravating machine and threw it across the room where it hit the wall and landed on the carpeted floor with a soft thud.

An hour later Ezra suddenly sat up and tried to calm his rapidly beating heart. Taking several deep breaths he ran his hands through his tousled hair and rubbed his eyes. This was the first time in quite a while that he'd dreamed about the Jane Doe that had been murder, she had a name but Ezra preferred to refer to use the epithet. It was less personal that way. For a while after it happened he had mixed dreams about a screaming faceless woman and the others being murdered while he watched unable to save any of them. After a lot of soul searching Ezra had finally accepted that there hadn't been anything he could have done to save her, but that didn't stop him from wondering about the what if's.

Getting out of bed he shuffled into the bathroom and showered. Walking back into the room he dressed and as he fixed his tie Ezra noticed the broken alarm clock on the floor. Putting his jacket on he walked over and nudged it with the toe of his shoe and mumbled, now I know why it was so cheap. With narrowed eyes he gives it another nudge with his shoe and still not satisfied Ezra knelt down, but hesitated at actually touching it. Taking a pen out of his pocket he starts to poke it only to jump back and lose his balance and fall backwards and starts to go for his gun before realizing that the phone is ringing and that his alarm clock had not come back from the dead.

Laughing at himself and feeling a bit foolish he runs a hand through his hair and absently wonders who on earth could be calling him at this hour of the morning. Getting to his feet he let the machine get it and picked up the broken clock and threw it in the trash. Walking into the kitchen Ezra opened the refrigerator and drank some orange juice right from the jug. Putting the almost empty carton of juice back in the refrigerator he then walked out to his car and after closing and locking the automatic doors left.

As he drove to work, he noted the lack of traffic and as he stopped at a red light he absently looked at the time and temperature being displayed by the bank. Luckily no one was behind him because once the light turned Ezra started to move only to slam on his brakes as the time finally registered. 7:00 a.m. Looking a his watch Ezra did a double take as he saw that it was indeed 7. Glancing at the clock on his radio he saw that it too had 7.

"Good Lord," he muttered under his breath and drove into the empty parking lot. He could just see the look on the other's face if he showed up at work this early. Cocking one eye brow Ezra grinned and thought, Why not get to work early for a change? It would be worth the lost sleep just to see their faces. Nodding his head Ezra decided that he would go on to work.

Two hours later the seven were sitting in the conference room discussing an upcoming case. "I don't understand what the motivation is? The man has everything. So why? Why run guns?" Nathan said clearly confused and closed the folder he'd been reading and pushed it away.

"The same thing everyone is motivated by - sex," Buck put in with a twinkle in his eyes and a wide grin.

"Buck!" JD groaned. "Not everyone is like you. Do you think maybe someone else if putting him up to it?"

"Maybe he was abused as a child and this is his way of dealing with it," Josiah suggested.

"I think it all has to do with control," Vin threw in.

Chris watched as four of his friends each tried to argue their points at the same time. Nathan sided with Josiah and was helping him get his point across. Looking at his sixth man had him grinning. Ezra sat there ignoring the others and continued to look through the folder they'd each been given and was even making notes along the margin. If he was able to concentrate in all this racket then it was no wonder he was the best at what he did, Chris thought to himself. He smiled as Ezra suddenly looked up with a frown on his face because of some comment and shook his head.

The leader of team seven still couldn't believe that Ezra had not only arrived to work on time, but was in fact early. Chris still remembered his shock at seeing Ezra walk in the office just behind him and Vin. He even made the coffee; which was surprisingly the good. Even Vin liked it. He almost grinned at the surprised looks on the others faces when they walked in and saw Ezra at his desk. JD walked right back out just to made sure he had the right office.

"All right that's enough!" Chris all but shouted. "This isn't getting us anywhere. Ezra what do you think?"

Ezra closed the folder and said, "I think it is truly amazing."

"What is?" he felt obliged to ask, even though he knew he would regret it. And hung his head at the man's words and shook his head.

"That you gentlemen are still alive and haven't yet been gunned down," the southerner stated getting to his feet.

Josiah smiled watched as Ezra walked over to the one window and looked out across city below and ignored the outraged voices beside him. "Why is that Ezra?" his deep voice drowning out the others.

Turning back around Ezra grinned and explained, "Well gentlemen your collective reasoning leaves much to be desired."

"Oh really," JD quipped even though he wasn't completely sure what Ezra said. "So why don't you tell us what you think the motive is?"

"Very well," he agreed and sat back down. "There are only four true motives to any crime. Love, hate, greed, and control. The first two are easily ruled out. He's already the boss so he already has control. So that leaves greed or money if you will."

Nathan shook his head, "I don't know Ezra not everyone is motived by money." Like you, he silently said to himself.

"Yes they are," Ezra countered with a grin because he knew what Nathan was thinking.

"No their not," JD put in.

"Yes they are."

"Prove it," Nathan challenged.

"Very well," he said and gathered his thoughts. "Tell me Mr. Jackson how do you pay for your vehicle? Or your rent? Your clothes?"

"I work damned hard to earn the money to pay for it," Nathan replied.

"Exactly my point. Money. We, all of us, need money to pay for things. And in order to get more things we want more money," Ezra pointed out with a raised eye brow. "However," he quickly put in to keep Nathan from interrupting him, "the difference is that most of us do not allow ourselves to be consumed by it. Or worse driven by it. And people like Bannon do. People like Bannon will never have enough to suit them. No matter what."

Josiah and Chris grinned at his unique way of looking at things. And no matter how much Nathan and the others may want to disagree with him they all recognized the grain of truth in his words.


Just before lunch the next day Ezra had just walked out of Chris' office and froze as the day he had been dreading finally came to life and watched as Maude walked into the office.

Maude smiled and held her arms open as she advanced toward her son. "Ezra darlin'," she cooed as she placed a hand on his arm and patted his cheek. Not wanting to mess up her lipstick she didn't kiss him.

"Mother," Ezra muttered and went to give her a kiss on the cheek, but she kept him at arm's length.

"Don't mess up my make-up," she told him and stepped back and looked around the office and would have frowned, but that would have caused wrinkles.

"Gentlemen please allow me to introduce my mother Maude Standish Rollins Stenbeck Kennedy. It is still Kennedy isn't it?" he asked just to make sure.

"For now," Maude replied with a knowing smile.

"These are my........."

"Friends, Ezra. The word you're looking for is friends," Vin quickly told him as he stepped up and introduced himself.

"Yes well, whatever," the southerner said and watched as the others quickly stepped up as well; even Chris. Ezra looked longingly toward the door and wondered if he'd be able to slip past while she was distracted. But decided not to chance it because he knew she would just follow him. No, it would be best if he just got this over with.

"Oh Ezra, at least in Atlanta you had your own office," Maude complained.

"How long will you be in town?" Ezra needed to know.

"Oh I'm not staying darlin'," she smiled. "I just wanted to know if you'd reconsidered my offer?"

"Mother I've already told you no," he said. I will not lose my temper. I will not lost my temper, he repeated over and over in his head.

"Ezra..." she said in a persuasive voice.

"No, Mother."

"Ezra," she tried again as if pleading.


"Ezra!" she voiced clearly annoyed. "I need your help"

"Sorry, but I have responsibilities here Mother and I will not drop everything and run off to Spain with you," Ezra said very carefully.

Maude shuttered at the word. "I never thought I'd see the day that a child of mine would have ... responsibilities," she chided. "Is it to much to ask for a child that is devoted to his mother?"

"If it's devotion you want than I suggest you have another child because I've grown out of it," Ezra responded.

Narrowing her eyes Maude could see that she wasn't getting any where and tried a different tactic. "Darlin' Edmond's daughter is quite charming and could give you the world. Just think about it," Maude all but begged.

"I'm a Federal agent Mother. Not a gigolo."

"Oh! Ezra you are the most wretched ungrateful child," she sputtered and slapped him on the arm.

Ezra snorted and raised an eye brow at her and pointed out, "You gave me life Mother. Nothing more."

Maude briefly closed her eyes and when she opened them it was as if the last few minutes hadn't even happened. "If you go I'll give what goes to these keys," and pulled out a key ring and jingled them.

"Did you touch my car?" He asked taking a step closer to her.

"No I didn't touch your precious little car," she snapped. "The stupid attendant wouldn't allow me to. I can not believe you're still going on about that stupid car."

"It was my car Mother. I worked and I saved for that car and you just took it," Ezra tried to explain.

"This car is shiny and red and......."

"I don't care."

"I'll take the Jag back," Maude threatened.

Ezra reached in his pocket and removed his office key and house keys and then tossed them to her. "Here. You can have it. It's been nothing but trouble since you gave it to me."

She quickly tossed them back and cried, "I don't want the stupid car Ezra!" Turning her back on him she tried to think of a way to regain control of the situation.

The southerner knelt down and picked up the keys and sat down at his desk. Growing tired of the game Ezra got to his feet and reached for his jacket. "Do whatever you want to Mother. I know you will anyway," he said and started walking toward the door. Careful to leave the keys on his desk in clear view.

"Just where do you think you're going?" Maude questioned.

"To do my job," he threw over his shoulder, "have a safe trip." Then continued on his way.

Maude straightened her shoulders and held her head up and suddenly smiled, "Well gentlemen it was nice meeting you. I feel I must apologize for this little outburst."

"It's ok ma'am," Josiah said with a small smile. "It was nice to have met you. May I escort you to the elevator?" Maude nodded and took the offered arm.

The others breathed a sigh of relief as she left and Vin and Chris shook their heads as if to say, so now we know.


A couple of days later Ezra was on a fact finding mission for their next case and happened to see some ruff looking men drag another man into a building and remembered his promise to himself about following the rules he reached for his cell phone and asked to be connected with the police dispatch and then asked to be connected to Officer Mark Reed, who was just around the corner watching for speeders. Once contact was made he quickly explained the situation and what he wanted him to do.

Ezra stepped out of his car as the flashing red lights of the police car behind him came to a stop and made a show protesting rather loudly at the intrusion, before once again reaching for the phone to call Chris to let him know what was happening; only to be told that Chris and the others were in a meeting and could not under any circumstances be disturbed. So he left a message. And Mark radioed for back up. At the sound of gun shots both men grabbed their guns and ran toward the building with back up just pulling up behind them.

An hour and a half later Ezra watched the clock as the doctor finished stitching and then covered it with a bandage. Even though it was just a flesh wound it bled a lot and while Ezra was feeling mellow because of the pain medication the nurse had inserted an IV in the crook of his right arm.

"Just lie still Mr. Standish and we'll be right back," said the doctor as him and the nurse left.

Lie still my ass, Ezra thought to himself, I'll give exactly two minutes then I'm getting the hell outa Dodge. Exactly two minutes later he reached for a clean bandage and some tape which was left on the tray and before he lost his nerve; pulled the IV out and pressed the bandage to the now bleeding area and wrapped it as tight as he could with the tape. And because he'd be charged for them anyway shoved the rest of the bandages in his pocket.

A wave of dizziness was pushed aside and he quickly as he could donned his shirt and picked up his jacket and after checking that the coast was clear walked out the examining area and toward the door and right past his doctor. But the anger wasn't so easy to push aside. Shaking his head Ezra couldn't believe he'd been so gullible. He'd believed all their lies and look what it got him. A bullet wound, yet another ruined shirt, and worst of all he a trip to the hospital. I hate hospitals, he thought with a shudder.

"Hey!" he heard someone call out. Turning he saw that it was just Mark and kept walking.

"You've been shot. You shouldn't be up and about," the younger officer pointed out as he followed him.

"Find my guns Mark. I want them back," was all he said. Mark just nodded and went to get them.


Chris and the others had just stepped out of the elevator and were headed for their office when they were stopped by Blain Cooper from Team 3.

"How's Standish doing?" he asked.

"Ezra?" Chris said with a shrug, "he's fine. Why?"

"Well that's good. I'm glad he wasn't hurt to bad," Blain commented.

"What are you talking about? Ezra's not hurt," Josiah explained.

Blain's eyes widened and asked, "Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what?" Chris demanded.

"Him and some locals prevented a murder this morning and Ezra got shot," he told them and went on to tell them what hospital he was taken to.

"Ezra's been shot," Josiah whispered then turned on his heels and headed back toward the elevator not even waiting on the others. Please Lord, let him be all right, he prayed as he waited.

"Dammit when's he going to learn that he can count on us," Chris snapped. "It's solo shit like this that threatens the whole team."

Fifteen minutes later Chris and the others hurried toward the entrance of the hospital and stopped dead in their tracks at seeing a pale Ezra leaving. Without a word Chris walked up to Ezra and went to hit him, but Ezra was a little quicker on the draw and hit him instead sending him to the cold unforgiving concrete with a thud.

"Where the hell were you!!!" Ezra demanded even as he backed away from them. The southerner kept a close eye on the others, but no one else had yet to move. "You can count on us Ezra!! You're part of this team and we take care of our own!!!" he mimicked with a sneer.

"Ezra are you ok?" Josiah asked.

"What the hell was this? Pay back!!" the southerner snapped. "I guess this makes us even."

"Why the hell didn't you call us? Surely you know enough to call for back up?" Chris demanded getting to his feet wiping his lip and quickly struck out and connected with the undercover man's chin.

Ezra hit the wall and slid to the floor holding his side. Opening his eyes he saw two sets of legs in front of him; one wearing dress pants and the other jeans. Looking up Ezra made eye contact with both Josiah and Vin and couldn't help but remember another time and asked, "Are you going to kick me while I'm down like Buck did?" Causing everyone to flinch.

"Why didn't you call us?" Chris repeated.

Getting wearily to his feet he spit the blood from his mouth and ignored the throbbing pain coming from his side and his arm. "I did! You were in a meeting so I left a message." All the while slowly inching his way around them so he get the hell out of there.

"Well we never got it," Buck told him.

"Well that's not my problem. Is it?" Ezra snapped. "This is why I never follow procedure. I should have known better. There's only person I can count on and that's me!!"

"That's not true Ezra. You can count on us," Josiah tried to reason with him then noticed something dripping off Ezra's hand and nudged Nathan. "Ezra how bad were you hurt?"

The southerner narrowed his eyes and replied, "It's nothing. Just a flesh wound."

"Then what's that dripping off your hand?" Nathan questioned and took a step closer. He swore under his breath as Ezra held up the wrong hand and shrugged. "Your other hand."

"It's just a little blood," he replied nonchalantly and placed his hand in his pocket.

"Ezra that's not just a little blood! There's a puddle by your foot," the ex-Army medic snapped. "I can't believe the doctor let you leave in this condition."

Not liking the look that crossed Ezra's face had Josiah asking, "The doctor did release you right, Ezra?"

"I got tired of waiting for him....."

"So you snuck out....."

"No. I do not sneak. Sometimes the best approach is the most direct."

"What the hell does that mean?" Chris asked.

"It means that I walked right past that stupid doctor," Ezra told them with a touch of pride in voice, "and I'm not going back."

"You mean you left? Dammit Ezra! You can't just walk out of the hospital," Chris sneered. Great, he thought, now I have two of them. And Vin would have to be here to hear this. Glancing over at the sharpshooter had Chris' temper flaring. "You can just wipe the smile off your face this instant. As a matter of fact why don't you go wait in the truck."

"I'm staying right here," Vin told him and winked at Ezra.

"Need I remind you that I am a grown man and can do what ever the hell I want."

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear you say that," the black clad man said. Ok time to regain control of the situation. "Nathan go find out how bad he's hurt while Ezra tells why he didn't contact us."

Office Mark Reed hesitated as he approached the group of men surrounding Agent Standish not sure if he should interrupt or wait. His head shot up as he heard what the blond man said. Clearing his throat Mark interrupted, "Excuse me, but Agent Standish did call."

Chris and the others turned and faced the young officer. "What?"

While they were distracted Ezra quietly walked away and flagged down a cab and climbed in.

" Standish did call. I was there and heard him. In fact, he insisted on calling you first before allowing me to call for regular back up," Mark replied. "He told the receptionist that it was urgent that he speak with a Chris Larabee, but was told to leave a message instead."

"Shit, shit, shit," Chris muttered. Why can't I ever think first before reacting where Ezra was concerned, he silently asked himself. Turning he was about to apologize when he saw that Ezra was gone. "Dammit! Why in the hell can't he ever do anything the easy way. Look around." Walking quickly around he didn't see him anywhere and swore again. "Ok where would he go?"

The others shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. In spite of having been with the team for six months they still knew next to nothing about Ezra or his habits.

"He's probably gone to get his car," Mark offered then took a step back as he received six glares.

Josiah was about to question him further when Nathan walked up. "Well? How bad was he hurt?"

"He was telling the truth it was just a flesh wound," Nathan said and shot Vin a dirty look before continuing. "And I thought you were bad," he stated shaking his head.

"Why what did Ezra do?" Vin wondered.

"The doctors and nurses were looking all over for him. It would appear that Ezra pulled his IV out."

Vin and the others cringed at the image. Those things hurt bad enough when the nurse did it, but to do it yourself.

"Ok. Here's what we'll do. I need two volunteers to go to Ezra's place until he returns and then we'll straighten this mess out."

"I'll do it," Josiah said.

"Me too," Vin said holding out his hands for Ezra's guns.


Ezra paid the cabby and got in his car and drove out of town. He didn't stop until he reached a familiar farmhouse and stable. Getting wearily out of his car he walked to the livery and pushed the doors open and walked over to Spade's stall. After opening the stall he stepped in and rubbed the horse's nose and then settled down in the corner and laid his head back.

Forcing his eyes open Ezra rose up to his knees and removed his jacket and then his shirt. Looking at the bandage covering the wound on his side he was relieved to see no blood and his arm had finally stopped bleeding as well, but the bandage needed changing. So he pulled the bandages out of his pocket and then ripped his $50 dollar shirt up and wrapped it around his arm and then tied the bandage in place. Putting his jacket back on he settled back in the corner and gave in to his fatigue and promptly feel asleep.


"Tanner," Vin said as he answered his cell phone.

"Anything?" Chris asked.

"No. Nothing," he replied.

"Dammit! Where the hell is he? The police haven't seen him either. How's Josiah?"

"He's fine. Don't worry Chris he'll show," Vin reassured him. After talking for a few more minutes he hung up and turned his attention to Josiah. "It's been two days Josiah. Where do ya reckon he is?"

"I haven't a clue," Josiah said shaking his head. Running both hands through his salt and pepper hair he continued, "We have got to figure out a way to get that boy to trust us."

"Seems to me that some of us need to work on that ourselves." To which Josiah just nodded. Leaning he head against the window Vin thought about how Chris, Buck, and Nathan were still a little skittish around Ezra. They were each still trying to deal with their guilt over what happened at that damned warehouse.

In the silence of the car Josiah let his mind drift. He had no problem admitting that the younger man held a special place in his heart. In fact, the more he discovered in those oh so brief glances of the real man inside, the more he cared for Ezra. Had even begun to think of him as the son he'd never had.

Later that night Josiah nudged Vin as he saw a car pull up in the drive way and prayed it was Ezra and not just someone turning around. Both men breathed a sigh of relief as they recognized the Jag. Then after calling Chris they got out of the car.

Ezra wearily got out his car and made his way to his front door then he heard someone come up behind him and accidently dropped his keys and bent down to retrieve them. Raising up he suddenly turned and grabbed his would be assailant by the throat.

"Ezra!! Let him go!!" Josiah shouted coming out of the darkness. "It's us. We're not going to hurt you."

With a shove Ezra released Vin and stepped back. "That's a good way to yourself killed Mr. Tanner. I suggest you don't do it again." Then continued to his door leaving the others to follow him.

"Ezra are you all right?" Josiah had to ask because the younger man certainly didn't look it. He was wearing the same clothes he had on two days ago and was filthy. It was an image that didn't suit the suave southerner.

"I'm fine," he said over his shoulder as he went into his room.

Josiah looked at Vin and asked, "How about you?"

"Yeah. He just surprised me is all. I never would have thought he'd be that fast; especially given the shape he's in," Vin responded rubbing his throat.

The first thing Chris asked as he stepped through the door twenty minutes later was, "How is he?"

Vin shrugged and was about to close the door when he saw the others pull up in the drive so he just left it open.

Josiah opened his mouth to answer Chris when the door to Ezra's room opened and they watched as he walked into the kitchen without saying a word. Following him Josiah paused in the doorway with Chris and Nathan trying to see over his massive shoulder and into the room. While the other three sat at the bar separating the two rooms so they wouldn't end up in the middle of what ever was about to happen and so that they wouldn't miss anything.

Stepping into the room Josiah stopped beside Ezra and said, "Why don't you sit down and I'll fix you something to eat. Did you want an omelet?" Then reached for the three eggs the other man held in his hand.

Ezra narrowed his eyes and with a barely noticeable nod handed over the eggs. Pulling out a chair he sat down and asked himself why he even allowed these men into his house. Then repeated the question he'd been asking himself for the last two days - why had he allowed them to get past his defenses. He started to rest his head in his hands, but remember his bruises and changed his mind and leaned back in his chair with his arms across his chest and waited for one of the others to speak first. After all, they were the ones in the wrong. He had nothing to apologize for.

A few minutes later Josiah placed a plate containing a fluffy omelet and two pieces of toast and a cup of coffee in front of Ezra. Which Nathan made while the omelet was cooking. After pouring JD a glass of milk and him and Nathan poured each of them a cup of coffee. Pulling out a chair Josiah sat down to Ezra's right while Chris and Nathan sat on his left.

"Damn Ezra this is good coffee. Where ya get it?" Vin asked trying to break some of the tension.

"Atlanta," Ezra responded without looking up.

"Atlanta? You have your coffee shipped from Atlanta?" Buck asked in disbelief.

"No," he replied in an annoyed tone. "I brought it with me."

"Ezra you've lived here six months. Just how much did you bring?" Vin questioned.

Ezra finished his toast and took a swallow of coffee to wash it down before answering. "As I'm sure you are aware I am not a morning person and do not wish to get up any earlier than is entirely necessary. I usually only make a small pot on Sunday mornings," he told them.

Chris waited until Ezra was finished eating and decided that now was as good a time as any. "Ezra about the other day. The receptionist that took your call had a family emergency and no one received any messages that day." He let him absorb that for a moment then continued, "I sorry I jumped to conclusions and I figure we're even for the traded hits."


"Fine? What the hell does that mean? Don't you have anything else to say?" the black clad team leader asked.

"What do you want me to say? It sounds like a plausible excuse," Ezra said with a shrug.

"It's not an excuse Ezra it's the truth," Nathan told him, "I was there when Chris confronted her and her supervisor."

Seeing the skepticism on Ezra's face Josiah placed a tentative hand on his arm. "Ezra we don't expect you to take us at our word, but we are telling the truth. Check it out if you don't trust us." Josiah paused as he saw something flash across Ezra's face. "That's what it all comes down to isn't it? Trust. You don't trust us. Do you?"

Ezra pulled his arm away and got to his feet and ran a hand through his hair. "Trust comes hard for me," he whispered and rested his head against the kitchen door. "Can I ask you something?" he asked turning to face them.

"Anything you want," Josiah reassured him.

Nodding his head the southerner placed his hands on his hips and said, "At the warehouse I got distracted which in turn lead to your capture and a black eye and a couple of bruised ribs for me." Holding up a hand to stop any interruptions Ezra then continued, "A couple of days ago I followed procedure and ended up with yet another bruise. So my question is - how am I suppose to do my job? Do I follow the rules? Or what? Because either way I end up with a bruise." Ezra stopped and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm telling you now that I don't like to be confined or constricted in my job. I have to be free to make judgement calls."

"Judgement calls? Is that what you call it?" Chris asked. "It's more like risk taking to me."

"I never place anyone else's life in jeopardy or ask anyone do to something that I'm not willing to do myself," Ezra pointed out.

"We know that Ezra," Josiah reassured him. "It's just that sometimes you go a mile out of your way with those judgement calls of yours."

Chris hung his head for a moment then looked up and into Ezra's green eyes and said, "The bruises are my fault Ezra. Not yours. None of this was your fault." Taking a deep breath he continued, "And as for how to do your job just keep doing what you're doing. It's not your job performance I have a problem with. It's all these so called judgement calls."

"That's just the way I work," came the terse reply, "I won't change. Need I remind you Mr. Larabee that you were aware of all of this when you chose me. None of this should come as a surprise to you." Picking up his cup Ezra walked over to the coffee pot and poured himself another cup.

"You're right."

"But." Ezra threw in even though Josiah hadn't said it.

"But we don't like the chances you take Ezra. Some of them are entirely unnecessary," Nathan put in.

Chris almost groaned as Ezra raised one eye brow at Nathan's comment and knew he was about to make some smart-ass comment so he quickly put in, "Look Ezra we just want you to be more careful is all." Getting to his feet the black clad man poured himself another cup of coffee and took a sip before continuing, "I made a mistake Ezra and I'm sorry. I know you don't trust us and I hope that this helps to clear the air and ....."

"It changes nothing...."

"Dammit Ezra! Can't you see it changes everything!!!....."

"We've had this conversation before Mr. Larabee and I don't wish to have it again...."

"That's to bad, because we'll keep having it until we get it right. We're sorry Ezra. I'm sorry. I promise to try and let you have your say before I take your head off," Chris said with a small grin. "Like it or not you are one of my men and are subject to the same rules as everyone else."

Ezra raised one eye brow and inquired, "You mean you'd have done the same to Vin or Josiah?"

Chris snorted and said, "Josiah no. He doesn't have an impulsive bone in his body." To which the older man just shrugged. "Vin yes. In fact, I have done the same to Vin at least three times." At Ezra's look of disbelief he pointed a finger at the sharpshooter and dared him, "Ask him. Ask any one of them if I haven't had to waylay their asses for going off half-cocked."

"It's true Ezra," Vin agreed with a weary shake of his head. "I have been known to bend a few rules once in a while and take what Chris calls an unnecessary chance."

"Yeah Ezra. Chris has even had to chew me out a few times," JD put in. "He's...... he's never hit me. Although, he has nailed my hide to the wall with that glare of his a couple of times," he went on to say causing everyone except Chris and Ezra to laugh.

"All the bull shitting aside Ezra are you staying or quitting?" Chris asked right out.

"I may be a lot of things Mr. Larabee, but I'm no quitter," he replied and watched them smiled before continuing. "However, I do know when to cut my loses and bow out graciously." Wiping the smiles off their faces.

With an exasperated sigh Chris tried again, "Are you staying or bowing out?"

Ezra didn't even think about it just opened his mouth and let the first thing that came out of his mouth decide for him. "I'm staying." Then just as they released a collective sigh of relief and said, "For now."

A couple of hours later Ezra sat on the sofa and watched as the others left. All except Josiah and Vin. Josiah stood at the door and Vin stood just inside it with a questioning look on his face. "Is there something you wanted Mr. Tanner?"

"I wanted to ask you something, but it'll keep," Vin replied with a grin at Ezra's puzzled expression. "Night Ez."


Things were starting to get back to normal or as normal as things could get with this group. They had even begun a new case. It would Ezra's first undercover assignment. His bruises were finally fading and he no longer walked with a limp. But he was still weary around them.

"They want to what?" Chris asked the man sitting across from him.

"They want to meet my father."

"JOSIAH GET IN HERE!!" Chris suddenly bellowed.

"Was that really necessary?"

"What did you want me to do? Get up?"

"Well it wouldn't have killed you."

"You wanted to see me Chris?"

"Have a seat." Chris quickly explained the situation and waited for the response even though he knew what it would be. Josiah would never pass up the chance to act as Ezra's father. Never.

"You want me to be Ezra's father?"

"I believe he said pose as my parental figure," Ezra clarified.

"That's what I said. Your father," Josiah repeated with a grin. "Just wait until I tell the others," he teased.

"You do understand that it's all pretend. That you are not my f.. parental figure. So don't go getting any ideas," Ezra pointed out.

"Don't worry, son, I understand completely," Josiah said with an even bigger grin causing the other man to groan.

"Ok let's bring the others up to speed," Chris said getting to his feet leaving Ezra and Josiah to follow.

Ten minutes later found the seven men in the conference room. Ezra was quietly waiting for the teasing to stop. Looking up he caught Josiah's eyes and motioned for him to follow. The two walked over the window and Ezra handed him a folder. "Here Mr. Sanchez this is some information I gathered that I thought you might find useful."

"Thanks Ezra," Josiah said as he glanced through the information.

Vin watched Josiah and Ezra and decided that Josiah was just what Ezra needed. Josiah was their best chance at getting Ezra to trust them. Although, Josiah was a large man he was also a very gentle and knew how to be diplomatic and get Ezra to do things that not even Chris could bully him into. Looking at them now he felt a twinge of guilt for teasing them. Vin knew that if they teased Ezra too much then he'd balk and Josiah would not anywhere with him.

"Ok guys I think that's enough," Vin quietly said, but in a way that got everyone's attention..

"Vin's right," Chris agreed. "Ezra, Josiah you can come and sit back down now."

After explaining the situation to the others Ezra looked Josiah in the eye and explained. "For this to work Mr. Sanchez you need to understand that you won't be the loving parental figure, but an overbearing and controlling type. After all, this is a drug bust and not the Brady Bunch."

"Overbearing and controlling?" Josiah repeated. "I don't know if I can to that."

"Sure ya can Josiah," JD reassured him. "Just act like Ch..."

"Who?" Chris asked with a pointed stare.

"Uh you," JD hesitantly said.

"Me! I am not overbearing or controlling," he snapped.

"Sorry Chris," JD mumbled and was careful to hide his grin.

"Mr. Sanchez..... Josiah," Ezra said to get the older man's attention. "Being overbearing and controlling really isn't something to have to be. It's more of an attitude."

"I won't have to hit you will I?" Josiah asking looking the directly at Ezra. He heard no's and of course not's from the others, but Ezra hadn't said a word. "Ezra?"

"He won't will he Ezra," Chris threw in silently telling Ezra to lie if he had to.

Seeing the almost pleading look in Josiah's blue eyes Ezra decided to lighten the mood just a little and give Josiah a little time. "Do you think you could?"

"I honestly don't know."

"I'm sure you've wanted to," the southerner teased and then laugh as both Chris and Nathan snorted.

Josiah laughed and said, "I'm gonna have to plead the 5th on that one." Causing the others and Ezra to laugh.

"Seriously though, I won't lie to you Josiah. You might. It all depends on the situation. I expect you to do what ever is necessary," Ezra told him. "You'll have to use your own judgement. However, I don't think you have anything to worry about. After all, a few pointed glares goes a long way. Don't they Mr. Larabee?"

"What's that suppose to mean?"

"That you can get just as much done with one of your glares as you can with words," he explained. "Think about it Josiah. If you feel you can handle it - fine. If you don't want to then that's fine as well just let me know so I can find someone I can work with. Ok?"

Someone else pretend to be Ezra's father?? No way. No one gets that privilege but me. "I'll do it," Josiah said with conviction.

"Are you sure?"

"Don't worry Ezra you can count on me," he assured him then couldn't help but say, "After all, that's what father's are for."


Two weeks later the seven were once again gathered in the conference room. Ezra and Josiah had just had their first meeting the drug dealers and were now reporting their reactions to Chris and the others.

"I don't know," Ezra said with a shake of his head. "Something's not right...."

"They're drug dealers Ezra. Of course something's not right," Buck interrupted.

"No! It's more than that," the southerner snapped. "I get the feeling that their out to prove something and are not concerned about who gets in their way."

"Josiah what do you think?" Chris asked.

"I don't know, but they're real jumpy. I got the impression that maybe they were sampling their own goods or something," Josiah replied.

"There's this one, Kenny, he bothers me," Ezra told them. "We'll have to keep our eyes on him Josiah." What really bothered him about Kenny was how he looked at Josiah. He followed Josiah's every move. It was like he was waiting for something.

"Yeah I got the same feeling," Josiah agreed. "He's gonna be trouble."

"Has another meeting been set up yet?" Chris asked.

"Yeah in two weeks," Josiah supplied.

"I think we should postpone it for at least another week," Ezra suggested.


"We need more time......"

"We? Or you?" Nathan suddenly asked.

Ezra frowned at his tone and replied, "We. As in me and Josiah. This whole thing is going way to fast. Meeting like these can not be rushed."

"I thought you were suppose to be the best," Buck commented. "Hell, JD and I could have done what you two have."

"Establishing a connection takes time....."

"Well I'm sorry Ezra, but time is something we don't have. The higher ups are pushing for results. So the meeting stands as is," Chris told him.

"Mr. Larabee I really don't think this is a good idea," Ezra pushed.

"I'll make a note of that in the report," was all Chris said.

"Don't patronize me Mr. Larabee," Ezra snapped. "I know you don't trust me; the person. But I thought you would at least give my professional judgement the benefit of a doubt."

"This has nothing to do with trust," Chris told him. "I have no control over it. Someone is pushing Travis; who is in turn pushing me. My hands are tied Ezra. There's nothing I can do."

The southerner pushed his chair back and got to his feet and said in a calm voice, "Fine. If it's results they want then that's what they'll get." Then started gathering his papers together and headed for the door.

"Ezra! Don't you do anything stupid," Chris warned.

Ezra paused at the door for just a moment then continued on his way.

Josiah shook his head as Ezra left and without even looking at Nathan said, "Shut up Nathan I don't want to hear it."

"Josiah what do ya think Ezra's gonna do?" JD asked speaking up for the first time.

"Don't worry JD. Believe it or not Ezra knows exactly what he's doing," Josiah reassured the young man as he gathered up his papers and left as well.

"Why the hell are you so quiet?" Chris asked Vin.

Vin just shrugged and shook his head and didn't say a word.

"So what do you think?"

"I think you just lost yet another link in that bridge we've been building to reach Ezra," Vin quietly said. "I know without a doubt that if you wanted to you could let Ezra have that extra time he needs," he went on to say. "Come on JD. Let's go see if we can't trick Ezra into buying our lunch," Vin suggested getting to his feet. Grabbing JD by the arm he pulled him to his feet and pushed him toward the door where he stopped and looked back at the remaining three. "Let me ask you something. Why do we bother fighting so hard to reach Ezra if you're going to keep knocking him down? Or question his every move? I don't know why he puts up with it. I know I wouldn't." Having said his piece Vin turned and left with JD right behind him.

Chris, Buck, and Nathan hung their heads. In spite of what was said in Ezra's kitchen, almost a month ago, they were still trying to deal with the guilt they still carried around concerning the warehouse.

Buck sometimes woke in a cold sweat at the memories. He still couldn't believe that he'd kicked Ezra.

Nathan could still see Ezra holding his ribs as he struggled to get to his; while he did nothing, but turn his back on him.

Chris closed his eyes and could see the acceptance in Ezra's eyes just before he hit him.

Taking a deep breath Chris looked at both Nathan and Buck. "Vin's right. We're going to have let go of our doubts. It's not fair to us or to Ezra." Getting to his feet he walked over to the door and closed it. Turning back around Chris then leaned against the door and made them an offer they couldn't refuse, "I'll tell you what's bothering me if you'll do the same."

Josiah hurried to catch up with the irrate man. He didn't want Ezra doing something stupid. "Ezra wait!" he called out. The younger man slowed down, but kept walking.

"Thanks for backing me up in there partner I really appreciate it," Ezra threw over his shoulder. Stepping into their office area he threw the folder in his hand on his desk and snatched his jacket off the back of his chair.

"I'm sorry Ezra, but I thought Chris would listen to you," Josiah explained.

"Listen to me?" he said with a harsh laugh. "Why the hell would he listen to me? I've only been an undercover agent for the last six years!!" Ezra was beyond mad he was pissed. "And Buck! Buck has the finesse of a rhino. He could never do my job! Hell he can't even do his own job," he intoned. "And while we're on the subject just what IS Buck's job?"

Josiah almost smiled at questioning look on Ezra's face, but decided that probably wasn't the wisest move. So instead he watched in amazement as Ezra paced back and forth muttering under his breath and occasionally nodding his head as if he was agreeing to some inner thought. Seeing Vin and JD walked Josiah just shrugged his shoulders and asked, "What are you going to do Ezra?"

Ezra stopped in his tracks and slowly pivoted around to face the three men. "Why I'm going to do my job, of course, and give Mr. Larabee and his superiors what they expect of me."

"Hell Ezra I wouldn't have thought you ever did what was expected of you?" Vin teased hoping to lighten the mood a little.

"And you would be correct. However, sometimes one is forced to make concessions from time to time," he replied with a cold smile. "I have come to the conclusion that maybe it's time to rethink this whole situation," Ezra said.

Josiah was almost afraid to ask, but knew he had to, "What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. I have a lot of thinking to do concerning my future with this so-called team," he very calmly said sending a shot of dread into the others hearts.

"But you can't leave Ezra!" JD cried.

"Why ever not?"

"Because," was all JD could think to say at the moment.

"Oh that's reason enough," Ezra sneered.

"I thought you said you weren't a quitter," JD reminded him then quickly continued, "Look Ezra I know things have been hard the last couple of months and you shouldn't have to work like this. But life is rarely fair. Sometimes you just have to wade through the bad in order to get to the good. Believe me Ezra I know how that feels."

"Oh really and how's that?"

"I know what it's like to have to prove yourself every time you go out. Look at me Ezra," JD declared. "I'm twenty four years old, but look sixteen. No one ever takes me seriously. Hell Buck and the others treat me like a kid....."

"Only because you let him," Ezra interrupted.

"I do not. He doesn't mean anything by it. He's just trying to help...."

"Then why take offense? If you don't like the way Buck treats you than tell him," the southerner told him. "And you don't have to prove anything to anyone. Except yourself. You are the only one that has to live with the choices you make. You shouldn't let anyone else's opinion matter to you."

"If you believe that then why do you?" Vin put in.

Ezra raised one eye brow at the long haired man and quipped as if it should be painfully obvious, "Because Mr. Tanner none of the conventual methods apply to me. In fact, I have been told that I am the exception to every rule."

"You said a mouth full that time Brother," Josiah replied with a smile causing Vin and JD to laugh. Even Ezra.

With a smile on his face Vin said, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry. How about we go get some lunch? You to Ezra." He saw something flicker in his eyes before disappearing behind his mask. "I'll buy ya a hotdog," he quickly added before Ezra could decline.

The three men watched in amazement as seemly in a blink of an eye the scowl left Ezra's face. Looking at him now one would never know that he was ranting and raving just two minutes ago. They watched as a smile started in his eyes and work it's way down to form on his mouth.

Ezra shot a questioning look at Josiah who hung his head, but not before him and the others saw the smile on his face.

"Sorry Ezra. It just sorta slipped out," he mumbled.

"And what else has slipped out?"

"N..Nothing," Josiah stammered. Then caved under the pointed look Ezra gave him, "Ok. Ok. I also kinda sorta told them that you liked pizza."

Ezra's smile grew, but he just shook his head and pulled his keys out of his pocket and headed for the elevator leaving the others to follow. As they waited for the elevator to come to a stop Ezra tossed his keys to JD and said, "Here you drive."

"R..really," JD stuttered. "Wow! Thanks Ezra."

"Mr. Tanner may drive on the way back," he told them as exited the building and stood waiting for JD to unlock the doors.

"What about Josiah?" JD asked as Ezra and Vin limbed into the back.

"I've already had a turn," Josiah boasted.

Later that afternoon as they each prepared to leave for the weekend Vin approached Ezra and asked, "We're going to The Saloon you want to join us?"

"Thank you for asking Vin, but I'm going out of town," he replied. Actually he was going riding, but he wasn't telling them that.

"Ah come on Ezra just for a little while," JD tried. "Remember what I said about getting to the good..."

"Getting to the good? What the hell is that? Some kind of night club?" Buck asked interrupting. "You ani't been going to those night clubs again have you? I warned you about those places?"

"Buck for your information I'm over 21 and am more than capable of making up my own mind," JD pointed out to him and stood a little taller at the look of approval Ezra sent him. "And the club that Casey and I go to is perfectly safe."

"It's up to you Ezra, but you know you're welcome to come if you want," Josiah told him as they walked to the elevator.

"You know I could make you," Chris warned as he stepped into the elevator with the others.

"You could try," Ezra calmly challenged.

Chris grinned at Ezra's blatant challenge. His grin grew into a full fledged smile at his attitude in general. Ezra Standish was one cool character and never gave anything away. Chris was glad of that in spite of everything that had happened between them that he wasn't afraid of him. His smile turned into a small laugh at the suspicious look the southerner sent him. "Like you Ezra I know when to press the advantage and when to retreat," Chris told him as he stepped from the elevator and headed for the parking garage. "Have a nice weekend."

Ezra shook his head and continued on to his car and noticed he had a shadow and turned his head and saw Vin a few feet behind him. "Was there something else you needed?"

Vin ignored the question and asked one of his own. "You going riding this weekend?"

Ezra paused and gave the sharpshooter his full attention. "Riding? What? How?"

"It's ok Ezra your secrets safe with me," Vin promised him. "How did I know? Well now Ezra, I have a horse of my own. We all do. We keep them out at Chris' place. Anyway I know what horse shit smells like," he went on to explain. "Maybe we could go riding one weekend. If you'd like?"

"Maybe," was all Ezra would comment to and watched as Vin walked away before getting in his own car.

The weekend was over almost as fast as it began. Preparing for the drug bust, which would happen toward the end of the week helped make a typical Monday go a little faster.

Josiah and Ezra had a meeting with the drug dealers earlier and it was five minutes passed their scheduled check in. Which had Chris prowling around the office making everyone else nervous. Hearing the elevator had the man in black's head snapping up and his eyes narrowing. "Where the hell have you been?" he asked Josiah even before he walked into the room. "You do know it's past your check in time? How did the meeting go? And where the hell is that stubborn southern son of a bitch?" Chris fired the questions off in rapid succession. Placing his hands on his lean hips he snapped, "Well?"

"The meeting went fine. Everything is set up for Thursday just like we planned," Josiah cautiously told him being real careful not to make any sudden movements. "And the reason we didn't call was because there was something wrong with Ezra's phone. He's getting it checked on as we speak," Josiah explained.

"And what was wrong with your phone?" Chris said as if speaking with a child.

Josiah ran a hand over his face and just was he opened his mouth they heard a southern voice behind him say, "He loaned it to you last week. Remember?"

"I thought I gave it back to you," Chris said with a frown as he tried to remember.

"He couldn't find it," Ezra replied as he shrugged out of his jacket and threw it across the back of his chair.

"Is that true Josiah?" Chris asked looking directly at the older man who could only nod his head.

"Really Mr. Larabee do you believe that Josiah would lie to you?" again Ezra replied.

"Josiah no, but you - in a heart beat," Chris replied and was about to say more when Judge Travis walked in.

"Gentlemen," the Judge said in greeting. "Agent Standish it has come to my attention that you that you don't like the time frame concerning this case. Is that correct?"

Chris closed his eyes. He went to the judge and told him that Ezra needed a little more time and had been told no. Period. Which is exactly what Chris thought he would say, but what he didn't expect was for him to come down here and confront Ezra in person.

"Affirmative, sir. However, I was informed that it wasn't going to happen. So Mr. Sanchez and I have made the best of it," Ezra replied with just a touch of sarcasm.

Judge Travis nodded his head and asked, "Just what do you believe the main objective for this case is?"

"Ezra," Chris warned.

"Judge Travis, Ezra and I are aware that our job is to get the drugs off the street," Josiah put in hoping he would let it go.

"Exactly, Agent Sanchez," the Judge agreed. "However, we, as in this teams, needs to prove itself and in order to do that we need ..."

"Results," Ezra suddenly interrupted as he stepped closer. "Substantial results. As in body counts and large amounts of confiscated goods. Am I right?"

"Exactly," agreed Travis ignoring the edge in his voice. "You were right Chris he is very intelligent. However," he paused and rubbed his face and stepped closer to the younger man and smiled as both Chris and Josiah took a step back effectively protecting Ezra. "None of this is to be achieved at the cost of your own life Agent Standish. Do you understand that Ezra?"

"No sir, I don't," was the reply. "I was always taught that the ends justified the means."

Orrin Travis silently cursed the FBI for the way they had warped this man's way of thinking. "What exactly does that mean?"

Before Ezra could answer the judge's phone rang and he had to leave, but before he left he told Ezra that they'd continue this later.

But later never came and before they knew it it was Thursday.

Josiah looked over at Ezra and asked, "You ok?"

"Fine. And yourself? Are you scared?"

"A little."

"Good. It'll keep you alive," Ezra told him.

"Ezra how are we gonna keep them from finding out about the vests?"

"Just follow my lead Josiah. I won't allow anything to happen to you," he vowed. Then suddenly said for the benefit of everyone listening, "I don't like this. This whole set up was rushed. I don't like going into something where I don't have some kind of control of the situation."

"Don't worry Ezra Chris and the others won't let anything happen," Josiah tried to reassure him, but he wasn't feeling to sure himself at the moment.

Ezra shook his head and smiled, "Not even Chris has control over this situation. He won't interfere unless something goes wrong and by then it may be to late." Seeing the drug dealers arrive Ezra straightened his already straight tie and flashed his partner a quick smile and said, "Face it Josiah once we leave this car we're on our own."

"That something you learned in Atlanta?"

"Atlanta? No. That I learned from Maude," he told him and opened his door and said, "Show time."

Josiah grabbed his arm and said, "Well I hate to disagree with someone's mother, but she's wrong Ezra. There are at least five men out there that would give their lives to protect us. Both of us." Having said that he released him and they exited the car and walked toward the drug dealers.

"Gentlemen you're late," Ezra called out as he approached. "We were beginning to think that maybe we'd have to give our money to someone else," he told them with a small grin.

"Sorry, but we got stuck behind a school bus," Paul said. He was the leader of this group of miscreants.

"Shall we get started," Ezra suggested nodded toward the case in Paul's hand.

"Sure right after we frisk you," one of the men said.

"And then we'll frisk you," Ezra replied. "If it's a gun you're concerned about then here," he said pulling out a small revolver which he placed at his feet.

"Alexander!" Josiah cried out. "What the hell are you doing??" He grabbed Ezra's arm in a tight grip and jerked him up close. "This is not the way to get results," he muttered so that only the two of them heard.

"Father! Please," Ezra chastised pulling his arm free. "You're wrinkling my suit," he said shaking his head. Turning his attention back to the others he quipped, "I must apologize for my father. He just doesn't understand how this business works. Sometimes you have to give up a little security in order to gain the ultimate prize."

"Bring the stuff," Paul said without looking over his shoulder. "Open it," he told his right hand man Kenny.

Ezra just gave the drugs a bored glance. What caught his eye was the gun Kenny held. It looked to be the same kind that had killed his Jane Doe. "My I?" he asked reached for the gun.

Kenny looked over at Paul who nodded. "Like that do ya? I stole it from an Army base in New Mexico," he explained. "It's a real bitch to find cartridges for it though. So I only use for special occasions."

"I once stole a derringer from a military school back east," he told them just to make conversation and then gave the gun back. Ezra watched Kenny walked and leaned against the car before turning his attention back to the matter at hand. "Well now, where were we?"

Josiah silently cursed. What the hell was Ezra doing giving up his gun? Did he think he was bullet proof? Cocky son-of-a-bitch, if we get out of this alive he was gonna have to teach that boy of his a lesson or two, he muttered. Josiah gave himself mental shake and tried to concentrate. He watched as Ezra and Paul walked a little away.

Ezra glanced behind him and saw Kenny suddenly sit up and call out to Josiah. JOSIAH! "Oh shit," he muttered under his breath and slamming the suitcase carrying the money closed and dropped it and took off running. It was as if in slow motion that Ezra saw Kenny level his stolen gun at Josiah and he feared he would not reached him in time. With a flick of his wrist his derringer appeared in his hand and he screamed and threw himself at the older man, "NOOO!!!"

With a grunt of pain Ezra hit the concrete and felt a searing pain in his upper chest and side. Just on the verge of awareness he tried to turn on his side and find Josiah. He had to know that he was ok. But as he turned pain surge through his body making him lose the fragile grip he had on consciousness.


Josiah Sanchez leaned his head against the only window in the waiting room. He saw the traffic going by without really seeing it. With a sigh he closed his eyes only to have them snap open as the scenes from today's raid flashed through his mind.

Shaking his head at the one and a million chance of him being recognized. He would never work undercover again. After this he was sticking with surveillance. Although, Josiah had been thrilled that he could call Ezra son and the southerner couldn't to a damn thing about it. A small smile started as he remembered one time in particular when he'd called Ezra son when it was just the two of them around only to have Ezra turn to him and called him Father in a sarcastic way, as if to insult him. But Josiah just grinned at him causing Ezra to all but growl in frustration.

Thinking about Ezra brought back memories from earlier that day. The bust happened so fast that he still wasn't sure exactly what had happened. Chris and the others had quickly rounded up what was left of the drug dealers and they were able to get the drugs off the streets. By most accounts it was a successful bust. Josiah refused to think about what they could have lost. What they still might lose. One minute him and Ezra were discussing drugs and the next someone called his name. Called Josiah and not Jacob his undercover name. Naturally he looked up only to have someone slam into him knocking him to the floor. The last thing he remembered was the sound of gun fire erupting around him as his head hit the floor knocking his briefly unconscious.

It was only as he came to that Josiah discovered that that someone was Ezra and that the bullets fired were meant for him. Ezra had not only saved his life, but also took out the shooter.

"Josiah?" Nathan said for the fifth time. "Do you want some coffee? Or something to eat? How about a change of clothes?" Josiah had Ezra's blood on his shirt and hands. It was even on his face where he'd wiped tears away.

Vin watched Josiah looked at Nathan for a couple of seconds without recognition before finally shaking his head. Closing his eyes he thought about the last few months and all the other injuries Ezra had suffered. Vin couldn't help, but smile at Ezra's luck of getting the same doctor he'd walked out on the last time he was there. He'd give a year's salary to see Ezra do the same thing again, but knew it wasn't gonna happen; at least not anytime soon.

They'd been waiting for over an hour when Vin suddenly sat up and jumped to his feet. "I just realized something. Ezra has managed to save each of us in one way or another and has gotten hurt each time." Vin saw the recognition dawn in everyone's eyes except Josiah. In his eyes he saw confirmation that he was right. "You knew?"

"I figured it out. That's why I was hesitant about going in with him. I was the only one.... left," Josiah's voice broke and he went silent.

"Why? Why would Ezra do it? I don't understand," JD said around the lump in his throat.

"Redemption." Josiah wiped his eyes and took a deep breath. "I believe Ezra's trying to make up for what happened at that damned warehouse. He...... he's evening the odds." He covered his eyes and forced the tears back. Leaning back against the wall he let himself slide down until he was sitting on the floor. Closing his eyes Josiah blocked out everyone as he allowed himself to think about the raid.


Josiah shook his head and tried to remember what had hit him. Hearing gun fire erupting around him caused the blood to drain from his face as it suddenly hit him. Looking wildly around he froze as he spotted an unmoving Ezra laying a few feet away. Crawling as quickly as he could he grabbed the unconscious undercover man and quickly dragged him to safety.

His hands were shaking so badly he couldn't tell if there was a pulse or not. Taking a deep breath he willed himself to calm down and was relieved when he finally found a weak but steady pulse. Laying a hand of the man's chest Josiah breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the vest underneath. The undercover man usually flat out refused to wear one; saying that it was heavy and got in the way. But Josiah knew that Ezra had his doubts about this bust. Doubts that had gone unnoticed by their leader. Pushing those thoughts away Sanchez open the southerner's shirt and ran a gentle hand across the vest checking for an injury. He gasped as he found not one, but two holes that blood was now beginning to flow from. Kenny's bullets had penetrated at the side and upper right chest. "N A T H A N!!" Josiah screamed as he tore Ezra's shirt off then ripped it in two and tried to stop the bleeding.

Nathan looked up and felt his heart begin to race as he spotted Josiah and Ezra. Pushing the man he had just cuffed to another agent and took off for the truck to get his bag. As he ran past Chris he yelled, "Gotta get my bag!"

Chris' head snapped up at Josiah's scream and felt his gut tighten as he saw the older man bent over Ezra and with fear in his heart he closed the distance. "How is he?" he managed to get past the lump in his throat. Knelling down he went to lay a hand on Ezra's arm only to have to it shoved away.

A shallow fell across him he looked up hoping to see Nathan, but saw Chris instead. Josiah felt the anger begin to simmer inside him he silently watched as the leader of Team 7 knell down beside Ezra. "Don't touch him," he sneered. "Where the hell's Nathan?"

"He's getting his bag. Should be here any second," Vin said having heard Nathan tell Chris as he ran by. Knelling down he placed a shaky hand on Ezra's face and brushed his hair back. The sharp shooter shuddered at the sight of Ezra's blood soaking up the cloth Josiah was using to try and steam the flow as it seeped from his so called protective vest. Reaching out he began to help Josiah stop the blood.

"How is he?" Buck asked as he knelt down next to Chris. "JD's outside waiting on the ambulance," he offered to the leader's unspoken question.

"What do you care?" Josiah questioned and watched with little satisfaction as the ladies' man jerked back as if slapped.

"That's not fair Josiah. I care. I do," Buck replied softly.

"Fair! You want to talk fair!" he bellowed and look as if he might lunged for the man. "I suppose you think it's fair the way you, Chris, and Nathan have treated Ezra? Or do you think this is fair? Maybe something he deserved. Hell, Buck if life were fair I'd be laying here now instead of Ezra. It should've been me," Josiah whispered.

"Let me in here Buck," Nathan said. Then winced at the sight and said, "Ok, one at a time. Slowly." The chest wound had almost stopped bleeding, but the one on the side was still flowing. Nathan replaced Ezra's shirt with some gauze. The ex-Army medic didn't dare remove the vest as the lost of the pressure might increase the blood flow. He could tell by the short shallow breathes that Ezra had some broken ribs. "Damn Ezra won't you ever learn not to take these kinds of chances," the medic muttered and reached out to check his pupils only to have Josiah grab his wrist in a bruising grip.

"I'm warning you Nathan," Josiah sneered tightening his grip, "The only reason you're being allowed to touch him is because he needs you. Now tell me how he is and keep your snide comments to yourself," he told him. "And for your information the unnecessary chance he took was to save my life," he brokenly whispered and released him.

"I'm sorry Josiah," Nathan apologized. He resisted the urge to rub his wrist and check Ezra's pupils before looking up. I hate this part of my job, he silently told himself. "I don't know Josiah. He's losing a lot of blood. Probably has some broken ribs and I'm afraid to remove the vest to check for an exit wound. It doesn't look good." Just as he finished speaking he heard a gurgling sound and saw a thin line of blood running from Ezra's mouth. A definite sign of at punched lung. "Quick sit him up!"

Josiah quickly picked up Ezra and held him against his chest making sure his head was up right so that he didn't choke on his own blood. Lowering his head he whispered, "Don't give up Ezra. You can't give up the fight now."

Vin fought back tears as he took over holding the gauze for Josiah.

"The ambulance is here," JD called as he ran up to them.

Josiah's relief at those words was short lived as he saw one of the paramedics stop to tend to one of the criminals first. His simmering temper boiled over at the sight. Straightening his shoulders he handed Ezra over to Vin then quickly got to his feet and walked over and grabbed the next one that walked in and all but dragged him over to Ezra. "He comes first. That scum can wait. Ezra comes first," he told the man.

"Rick! Come here I need your help," the man called.


Hearing the door open brought Josiah back to the present with a jolt. Looking up he felt both relief and frustration at seeing it was only the Judge. Without a word he got to his feet and walked out. Walking around in the hall Josiah began to notice that people were giving him strange looks and knew why as he caught at his reflection in the window. He had bloody streaks on his face and shirt.

"Here Josiah," Vin said thrusting a doctor's shirt at him along with a plastic bag. "Go change your shirt and wash your face." Then when it looked like he might question him Vin added. "Their not gonna let you see Ez looking like this."

Josiah snatched the items from Vin and headed for the restroom. He quickly washed his face and changed his shirt and was back to pacing in the hall before Vin even had time to miss him.

Vin slapped the older man on the back and said, "He's gonna be all right Josiah."

"How do you know?"

"Because he has to be," he said and got an uneasy feeling in his gut as he saw Josiah stiffen. Turning around he saw a doctor headed their way and pushed open the door to the waiting room and told them, "Doc's coming."

Doctor Vernon came to a stop in front of seven of the most formidable men he'd ever seen. Clearing his throat he asked, "Would one of you gentlemen be Mr. Sanchez?"

"I..I am," Josiah said stepping forward and holding out his hand.

"Mr. Sanchez, I'm Dr. Vernon," he said giving the offered hand a firm shake. "I'm sorry..." He paused as each of the men seem to pale all at once and stumble back a step. While the large man in front of him seemed to have been turned to stone. Swearing under his breath the doctor realized what he said. "No! Oh no, Mr. Sanchez I only meant to apologize for keeping you waiting," he explained and took a step back at the glares that were thrown his way. "How about I start over..."

"How about you just tell us how Ezra is?" Josiah suggested.

With a nod he began, "The bullet that entered Mr. Standish's side hit one of his ribs and broke one which in turn caused a small laceration to his liver. Which we were able to repair without any problems."

"And the other bullet?" Josiah asked..

"Was lodged in the muscle tissue in his shoulder and was also removed without any problems," Dr. Vernon said with a smile. "Baring any complications Mr. Standish is going to be just fine."

"What about a concussion?" Nathan asked.

"He doesn't have one," the doctor reassured him then went on to say, "Apparently Mr. Standish as a hard head." Causing the others to laugh.

Except Josiah who, stepped directly in front of the doctor and snapped, "That's not funny. Ezra could have b..been killed." Effectively shutting everyone up. "I want to see him."

"He's in recovery now and as soon as he's moved to a room I'll have a nurse come get you," the doctor told him.

Nathan went to lay a comforting hand on Josiah's shoulder only to be stopped with a look. "Josiah I...."

"Don't bother Nathan I'm not interested," he quietly told him and made to walk away only to have Chris grab his arm. Josiah looked from Chris to where his hand lay on his arm and without a word jerked away from him.

"Josiah things will be different from now on," Nathan told him stopping him in his tracks.

"Yes they will," he agreed. "If he stays."

"What the hell does that mean?" Chris wanted to know.

"Has he said something to you about leaving?" Buck asked.

"Haven't you been listening? He's evened the score," Josiah reminded them. "Ezra doesn't owe us anything any more." With an exasperated sigh he looked right at Chris and continued, "He's a lot like you Chris. Sometimes it's what's you don't say that makes the most impression."

"So you think he wants to leave?" JD asked.

"No. I think he's tired of working under a cloud," Josiah explained.

"Mr. Sanchez?" a nurse asked. "If you'll come with me."

Josiah followed the nurse to Ezra's room and hesitated at the door. He could see how pale Ezra was from where he stood. Could see the tubes and monitors attached to him and was suddenly very afraid. Receiving a nudge from behind Josiah stepped into the room and over to the bed.

"I'm sorry gentlemen," the nurse said as the others made to follow. "But family only."

"But Josiah's not Ezra's family," JD pointed out in a hurtful tone.

"No sir, but he is listed as Mr. Standish's emergency contact person," she explained.

"So it's up to Josiah if we get to see him?" Vin asked just to make sure.

Buck saw her nod and swore under his breath. "Well that tears it don't it. He'll let the two of you in," indicating JD and Vin, "but not the rest of us. Not after the way we've treating him."

"Ezra," Josiah whispered and gently picked up his hand. Looking up at the nurse he said, "I can't get over how young he looks." Glancing around the room he noticed that the others hadn't followed and laid Ezra's hand down and walked over to the door and invited them in.

It was two days before Ezra woke up and everyone was starting to get worried. When Josiah questioned the doctor about it he explained that people responded differently to the anesthesia and Ezra would wake up when he was ready.

The doctor had just finished examining Ezra and stated that he was healing as he should, but he wanted to leave the breathing tube in until he awake just to give his lung more time to heal. Seeing Ezra's eyes blink Josiah grabbed the doctor's arm as he made to leave and they were rewarded as he finally opened his eyes.

"Mr. Standish I'm going to call the nurse back in and then we'll remove this tube," the doctor explained. Ezra just blinked at him and looked like he was going to go back to sleep. "Try and stay awake alright Mr. Standish." The doctor said tapping him on the cheek causing Ezra to turn his head away. The nurse walked in and they quickly removed the tube and waited to see if Ezra had any problems breathing, when he didn't they allowed him to go back to sleep.

Ezra's friend Mark Reed came by to check on him and Josiah asked him about the gun that had fascinated the undercover man. Mark told them that the Kenny and the gun were linked to several murders and in particular the murder of a woman in the warehouse district about four months ago. The one that Ezra asked him about every time they met.

Josiah watched as the young officer left and shook his head. "That's it then isn't it? All of Ezra's loose ends have been tied and finding that lady's murderer was the bow."

Voices and light began to intrude on Ezra's slumber along with pain. Prying one eye open at a time he blinked several times and finally managed to focus on the others. The smell had him instantly alert and he knew exactly where he was. He hated hospitals. Ezra tried to lift his hand, but winced as it pulled on his shoulder.

Hearing something Josiah turned and reached for the buzzer and rang the nurse. "Hey Ezra," he said, "welcome back."

"Well, well, well it's about time you woke up," the doctor said when he walked. "How do you feel?" the doctor smiled at the looked he received and said, "humor me."

"Fine," Ezra finally managed to say.

"Oh really? That is truly remarkable considering you've been shot twice," the doctor commented. "Does this hurt?" he asked probing his shoulder. Yes!, Ezra's mind shouted, but he shook his head no. "Good. How about here?" he asked probing his side. Ezra sucked in a breath and winced at the contact. "Still a little tender?" the doctor guessed, to which Ezra gave him the finger.

"How long?"

"Were you under or until you leave?"


"You'll be here at least a couple of weeks," the doctor told him.

Ezra snorted and shook his head.

"And just so you know I've been warned about you," the doctor told him. Seeing the question in Ezra's eyes he continued, "No not by your friends. By the doctors and nurses in the emergency room. There'll be no disappearing acts this time Mr. Standish."

Ezra grinned and said, "We'll see." Then drifted off to sleep.

The doctor shook his head and smiled as well.

Two days later when the others saw Josiah in the hall they hurried their steps. "What's wrong? Is Ezra all right?"

"Ezra's fine. Woke up this morning full of spit and vinegar," Josiah told them with a smile. "The nurse is with him now. When I left he was trying to get her to remove the IV."

Just then the door opened and a haggard looking nurse came out muttering something about men and idiots causing the others to laugh.

Pushing open the door Josiah saw Ezra had his eyes closed and wondered if he was asleep and was about to leave when he heard, "Come on in gentlemen."

Ezra didn't bother opening his eyes. Actually he couldn't open his eyes; it was way to bright in. He was a creature of the night and just did not function well in day light. "Could some one please close the blinds?"

JD had just closed the blinds when the nurse and doctor both walked back in.

"Mr. Standish the nurse told me you want your IV removed," the doctor said. "May I asked why?"

Still not opening his eyes Ezra said, "Because I don't like it."

"Well it make giving you your medications much easier for the nurses," the doctor explained in a condescending tone.

Ezra finally opened his eyes and replied, "I am not concerned about the comfort of your nurses. Only my own. Now take it out or I will."

"I don't think that's such a good idea. In fact,...."

"I don't give a rat's ass what you think," he interrupted with a glare that had the doctor taking a step back. "I'm paying you for your services not your thoughts. Now remove it." The doctor hesitated and Ezra reached over and grabbed the tubes and just as he was about to yank it out Josiah stopped him.

"Ezra no!" Josiah shouted. "What are you doing?"

"I don't like needles or hospitals! Or this stupid ass doctor talking to me as if I'm an idiot!" Ezra all but shouted.

"Give it one more day Ezra and then he'll remove it," Josiah bargained. "Or Nathan will."

"Fine," he finally relented and released the tubes.

First thing the next morning the IV was removed and Ezra glared at the doctor the whole time he examined him. Josiah couldn't help, but laugh as the man all but ran from the room. The laughter died in his throat as Ezra turned that glare on him.

"Go home Josiah," Ezra said in terse voice, "you look like hell."

"I'm fine Ezra," Josiah reassured him.

Ezra shook his head and looked him right in the eye. "It's not your fault I was shot...."

"Those bullets were intended for me...."

"Yes, but it was my choice to jump in front of them. If you have to blame someone then blame Kenny," Ezra told him.

"I know what you did," Josiah suddenly told him then continued at his look of confusion. "How does it feel to be redeemed?"

"Redeemed?" he repeated.

"Yes, redeemed. You've saved all of us in one way or another in the last four months. You've even the score."

Ezra raised one eye brow and smiled. "Is that what you think I was doing! Josiah let me assure that it was merely a coincidence."

"Ezra you don't believe in coincidences," Josiah reminded him.

"True," he agreed with a nod of his head. "Let's just call it a twist of fate."

"Oh really? So this had nothing to do with what happened at the warehouse? And you're not leaving?" Josiah asked.

"Leaving? Where the hell would I go?" Ezra asked then with a shrug said, "I've got no where else to go Josiah. This is it."

"No Ezra this isn't it. You have so much potential. You could be anything you wanted," Josiah pointed out, "and you deserve to be happy."

Ezra shook his head and closed his eyes. "Happiness is only an illusion. There's no such thing."

"How'd you become so jaded? So cynical?"

"Life's a bitch Josiah. Deal with it," the southerner replied. "I have."

"You call this dealing with it? Ezra you don't deal with anything! You keep everything locked away!" Josiah accused.

Green eyes popped open and stared daggers at the older man. "Who are you to judge me? I don't believe you have that right."

"I'm your friend and that gives me the right!" Josiah felt like punching some sense into him, but since he was all ready injured that wasn't an option. "Dammit Ezra even Chris can see that the glass is half full most of the time. Do you even see the glass?"

"My glass was shattered a long time ago," Ezra told him. His usual defenses weren't working and he found himself wanting to confide in the profiler, so he did the only thing he could and went on the defensive. "Who are you trying to fool? The only ones of you that can probably even see the glass are JD and Nathan. Chris destroyed his when his family died and Buck probably lost his. And Vin, oh yeah, he sees the glass only it's empty. Then there's you.... ever the optimist, right?" he asked then sneered, "Oh ye of little faith."

Josiah sucked in a deep breath and was glad he was sitting down. "You're right Ezra. My faith does sometimes waiver and Chris, Buck, and Vin do have their dark days, but we can still see the glass and we keep it well within sight," he quietly told him, "and so will you. We'll show you how, if you give us the chance." Josiah watched in fascination as the shutters closed shutting out all emotions at the mention of one word; chance.

"I'm willing to give you the option I was given and no more," was all Ezra said and settled down in the bed and with wince turned away from him.

Satisfied that that was the best confirmation he was going to get Josiah got to his feet and walked to the door. Turning back around he asked, "Will you be here when I get back?"


"Then I'm not leaving."

"I promise not to leave the hospital," Ezra relented in order to get the man to leave.

"Thank you." Josiah opened the door and froze as he saw the others standing in the hall and apparently they heard the whole conversation. Closing the door behind him Josiah asked, "How much of that did you hear?"

"All of it," Chris answered. "Things will change Josiah. You have my word."

When the others returned later that day they saw Ezra's doctor hurrying out of his room and they hurried to catch up with him. "What is it? Is Ezra ok?"

"Mr. Standish is gone," the doctor stated after a little hesitation.

"What!" Josiah said and stepped closer the smaller man. "How long has he been gone?"

"I..I don't know," he said and swallowed hard as he found himself surrounded.

"Ezra was right you are an idiot," Buck said.

"He couldn't have gotten to far. Let's split up," Chris took charge.

Acting on a hunch Vin and Josiah headed for the children's ward. Stepping off the elevator they immediately heard laughter and decided to check there first. Seeing a group of nurse standing in the hall close to what they guessed was break room they peered over their shoulders and smiled as they saw Ezra seated in a very small chair with children sitting all around him as he read them a story. Stepping back Vin called Chris and told them that they found him and that would bring him back to his room in a few minutes. Vin and Josiah stepped into the room and found them a spot on the floor and smiled as they heard how Ezra changed his voice to match the different parts of the story. All to soon the children were starting to drifting off to sleep and the nurses began helping them back to their beds.

Ezra closed the book and smiled until he saw them. Getting to his feet Ezra laid the book on a table and walked toward the door. "Gentlemen," was all he said and walked out the door.

"Mister Sir," a small voice said from behind him and had Ezra turning and gingerly squatting down in front of a small boy. "Thank you for the story," he said and gave Ezra a big hug.

"Your most welcome," Ezra said hugging him back. Once releasing him the undercover agent watched as a nurse lead him back to his room. Getting to his feet Ezra ignored the others and headed for the elevator.

"Ezra do you remember that question I wanted to ask you?" Vin saw him nod, so he continued, "Well I'm ready to ask you now. If that's ok?" Again Ezra just nodded. "How did it feel to knock Chris on his ass?"

Ezra laughed in spite of himself and held his side as the laughter pulled on his stitches. "It felt pretty damned good. Why?"

"I can think of at least a hundred people who would have paid good money to see it," Vin said with a laugh of him own.

Josiah shook his head the two of them and smiled. "Ezra I thought you promised you wouldn't leave," he reminded him.

"No. I promised I wouldn't leave the hospital," Ezra reminded him with a smile.

Ezra returned to his room, but refused to tell the doctor where he went. And absolutely refused to apologize. The doctor was all to happy to release him three days later. One week later Ezra was allowed to return to work, but was placed on desk duty.

Walking into the office area Ezra went directly to his desk and saw a glass that appeared to have been one broken and put back together on his desk. With a frown he picked it up and looked at Josiah with a question in his eyes.

"That's your glass Ez," Vin told him and held up his own. "We all have one."

"You see Ezra, even what was once shattered can be fixed and made all the stronger with a little effort," Josiah explained.

Ezra looked from each of the men, who held glasses with imperfections in them as well, to his own glass and shook his head in wonder.

"Welcome back Ezra," JD smiled and cradled his own glass in his hands.

"Sit down Ezra and get to work," Chris told him with a rare smile. "You have a report due by the end of the week."

"One day at a time Ezra," Buck said with a smile.

"That all we ask," Nathan assured him with a nod.

Ezra smiled and placed the glass on his desk and was glad he had been transferred. Of course, he would never tell them that.

The End