Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
Follows Evening the Odds
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
"Come on, we'll take my truck," Vin offered as he dug his keys out of the pocket of his jeans.
"Why can't we take my car?" Ezra wondered as he followed his co-worker across the parking garage.
"'Cause I called it first," Vin pointed out. "Why don't cha wanna go in my truck? Is there something wrong with it?"
Ezra gave him a pointed look and replied, "Isn't there always."
"Ha, ha," Vin quipped. "Just get in the damn thing and let's go before Chris calls and starts his bitching."
After rolling his eyes Ezra opened the passenger side door and cringed at the sight of discarded chip bags, empty soda cans, and candy wrappers that littered the interior of Vin's truck. "Really, Mr. Tanner!" he exclaimed, "haven't you ever heard of putting litter in its place." Then after blowing some of the wrappers off the seat, because there was no way he was touching any of it, Ezra mumbled, "Then again maybe you are."
Vin straightened his shoulders at that last shot. "It ain't that bad," he fussed, even though it really was. He'd been meaning to clean out his truck for the last couple of weekends, but just hadn't gotten around to it yet.
Hoping to redirect the conversation Vin said, "We're gonna be late."
"And whose fault is that?"
"That's right! We'd be half way there if not for all your bellyaching!" Vin snapped.
"I do not bellyache," Ezra informed him as he climbed into the truck and closed the door. "I may complain and express my displeasure . . ." he voice trailed off as he pulled the seatbelt out and noticed something black on the strap. "What on earth is this?"
Vin narrowed his eyes as he looked at the seatbelt and shrugged before answering, "I don't know . . . something black."
"Well you had better hope that it does not stain my suit . . ."
"I'm sure it ain't nothing that won't come out in the wash . . ."
Ezra's eyebrows disappeared under the chestnut hair that rested on his forehead. "Mr. Tanner, one does not 'wash' a suit of this quality. A suit such as this must be dry cleaned," he explained.
"It's only a suit Ezra . . ."
"That probably cost more than your truck," he quipped.
"I paid $1500 dollars for this truck," Vin told him.
Ezra gasped in shock. "I must admit that I am shocked by this news," he said with a shake of his head.
"All this time I was under the impression that you were a keen judge of character," Ezra mused.
"I am," Vin replied in a tight voice.
"Well, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but you, sir, have been had . . ."
"Well, I am 'so' sorry that my humble little truck doesn't live up to your standards, Mr. Standish," Vin snapped. Usually he ignored Ezra's comments, but found that he couldn't do it this time. No, this time Ezra had gone to far. "For your information, I've had this truck for at least ten years. And I sure as hell don't have a mother to buy me a fancy little sports car," Vin went on the say.
"Count your blessings, Mr. Tanner, because I can assure you that fancy little sports car came with a very high price. It's a price I'll pay for the remainder of my career," Ezra told him in a voice devoid of emotions, the last merely mumbled.
"Look Ezra I suggest we keep the conversation to a minimum or else I'm gonna wind up saying something I'll regret and send you even further behind those walls you like to hide behind," Vin told him.
Ezra knew he deserved that. Hell, he knew he deserved a lot more than that. Ezra turned to look out the window and called himself every kind of fool for once again chasing off someone wanting to be his friend. He knew there wasn't any way that Vin would still want to be his friend after today. Ezra sighed as the disappointment settled in his gut. He'd gotten so close this time. And, as everyone knew, close only counted in horseshoes.
Vin shook his head and briefly wondered how a day that started out so good could have gone to hell so fast. When he'd gotten up this morning, the sun was shining bright and the air felt crisp and clean after the rain the night before. Hell, he even whistled on his way to work foolishly thinking it was gonna be a good day. And it had been for the most part. Until AD Travis had shown up around nine to invite them to a luncheon with the mayor and now this shit.
Chris and the others had gone on ahead while Ezra stayed to help Vin finish up on a report he was working on.
And now they were stuck in the noon day traffic a mere three blocks from the convention hall where the luncheon was being held.
"I don't know why the mayor would schedule a luncheon in the middle of the day," he grumbled.
"It's a luncheon, Mr. Tanner, when else would he have scheduled it," Ezra quipped, just as they crossed the intersection.
"Shut up, Ezra . . ." The rest of Vin's words were cut off as a car ran the red light striking the tail end of Vin's truck with a sickening crunch, causing the windshield to crack and sending the truck into a spin. Seatbelts tightened in a bruising force securing the occupants bodies, while their heads were left unprotected. Both Vin and Ezra cried out in pain as their heads struck the windows with enough force to cause the glass to break.
Five minutes later it was all over. Both the car and the truck had come to a shaky stop, neither of its occupants moving. In fact, all traffic had come to a screeching stop.
After a minute Ezra groaned and pried his eyes opened only to snap them shut as the glaring sun drilled a whole through his skull. As the pain began to ease Ezra frowned in confusion because he didn't remember getting drunk and had no idea why he'd have a hangover of this magnitude.
Wait a minute . . . glaring sun? Just how hungover was he? Easing his eyes open Ezra gasped as it all came back to him with sickening clarity.
"Vin!" he softly cried, turning to the left. Ezra breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the sharpshooter beginning to stir. After unhooking his seatbelt he moved closer to his friend.
"It's okay, Vin," Ezra reassured him.
Vin groaned and told himself he shouldn't have had that last beer. Then the sound of Ezra's voice brought him back to reality and had him quickly sitting up. Or rather he tried, only his head and a pressure on his chest prevented the sudden move.
"Not so fast," Ezra said. "Does anything feel numb? Or is there anything you can't feel at all?"
"E..Ezra," he croaked, "you hurt?"
"Nothing that a couple of pain killers wouldn't cure," Ezra told him.
"Yeah, then why's your head bleeding?"
"It's just a cut." Actually until Vin mentioned it, Ezra hadn't even realized that he was bleeding. "Now how about you? Any numbness?"
"No, believe me I'm feeling everything," Vin assured him.
"Ezra, are you guys okay?"
The sound of a new voice had both men looking up.
Ezra smiled as he spotted the young officer that had assisted him on more than one occasion. "Why is it you always show up at just the right time?"
Officer Mark Reed smiled. "I'm just doing my job," he told him. "And you didn't answer my question," he reminded him.
"We're a bit shaken up, but basically we're fine," Ezra told the young officer.
"What happened exactly?"
"According to the witnesses, the car ran the red light and struck the tail end of your truck causing it to spin out of control," Mark explained. "You were all lucky . . . Here comes the ambulance and before either of you say anything . . . you're both going to the hospital."
Ezra would have raised an eyebrow in protest, but he feared it would hurt too much. "Excuse me," he said as both he and Vin shakily climbed out of the truck. "We're both fine and do not require a visit to the hospital . . ."
"Well, those still bleeding cuts on your heads say differently," Mark countered.
"It's just a little cut," Vin told him. "Ain't nothing a band-aide won't be able to cover . . ."
"You don't want me to lose my job, do you?"
"Well, if I don't see to it that you both go to the hospital then Larabee will have my badge," he told them. Mark may not have much experience, but he'd been around these seven men enough to know that they weren't men to mess around with. He knew that Larabee, hell any of them could make life very difficult if he allowed anything to happen to any member of team seven. "Did I mention that my wife and I just had our first child?" In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought to himself with a shrug.
Vin laughed at how easily Mark had backed them into a corner. "Damn, kid, you've been spending too much time with Ezra."
"Thank you," Mark smiled. "So you'll go the hospital?"
"We'll go," Ezra said with a smile of his own.
"And stay to be examined?"
"Don't push it," Ezra warned him. "A man with your experience should not have a problem finding a new job."
Mark held up his hands in surrender.
Chris Larabee was starting to see red. He should have known better than to leave those two alone without any adult supervision. Not even Vin needed this much time to complete a report. They should have been here over an hour ago.
"Dammit!" he swore and once again reached for his phone. "They had better have a damned good excuse," he muttered to the other members of his team. The normal ones. The ones that did as they were told. The ones . . . Chris killed that thought as he looked up and saw Buck and JD with straws up their noses surrounded by laughing women. He frowned as he saw Nathan with what looked to be a post-it note stuck to his forehead and waving his hands as if explaining something to the group in front of him. Chris had to close his eyes as Josiah appeared to be talking to himself.
With a sad shake of his head Chris muttered, "Great, the whole f****** lot of them are insane." Of course, he gave no thought to the fact that 'he' was talking to himself.
Chris jumped as he phone suddenly rang. "Larabee," he barked, then stilled as two of his worst fears came to life. The first being that Vin and Ezra were involved in an auto accident. While the second and most scary was that Vin and Ezra were injured and alone at the hospital.
"We'll be right there," Chris vowed and disconnected the call. Then began rounding up his strays.
Ten minutes later they were on their way.
"Oh, my God," JD exclaimed as they approached the intersection where the accident had occurred. "That's Vin's truck."
All five men felt the blood drain from their faces at the sight of twisted metal and scattered glass.
"Hurry, Chris. Hurry," Josiah pleaded.
Not needing to be told twice, Chris stepped on the gas.
"They're fine," Nathan said for his benefit as well as the others.
"Yeah, you fellas know that those two are like cats and always land on their feet," Buck reminded them.
"Yeah, but even cats only have nine lives," JD whispered, but the others heard him.
That had Chris going even faster.
A few minutes later, five men were racing through the emergency room doors heading for the desk.
"Agent Larabee," a voice said, halting their progress.
"Officer Reed," Chris said with a nod. "What happened? And why the hell wasn't I contacted sooner?"
"Someone ran a red light . . ."
"Did you see it?" Chris wanted to know if it was just an accident or if it was deliberate.
"No, but I was the first officer on the scene . . ."
"How badly were they hurt?" Nathan asked.
"Nothing serious. Just some cuts and bruises," he told them. "They're with the doctor now . . ."
"Do suspect foul play?"
"Not giving who the driver of the car was . . . is . . ."
"Yeah and who's that?" Chris pushed. "Maybe I'd like to question this person myself."
"Well, sir, she's right over there in the pink shirt," Mark said, pointing to a person behind them.
Chris felt his eyes widen and he looked from the lady in the pink shirt to the officer standing beside him. "That little old lady was the driver," he stated then sighed.
"Why wasn't I contacted sooner?" Chris knew when he was fighting a losing battle and let the subject drop.
"I contacted you as soon as I could . . ."
"Well it wasn't soon enough," Chris snapped. "Contacting me should have been your first priority . . ."
"No, sir . . ."
Chris narrowed his eyes and growled, "What?"
"M..My first priority was to see to the injured and to s..secure the area," Mark said as confidently as he could. "Then I figured getting them to agree to come to the hospital and actually getting them here was more important."
Buck and the others hid their smiles as they watched this rookie stand up to Chris.
"You did good," Josiah said, holding out his hand. "Thank you, Officer Reed."
"Tell me what you know about their injuries," Nathan said.
By the time Officer Reed finished explaining what he knew a doctor appeared behind them.
"I take it you gentlemen are here concerning misters Standish and Tanner?" the doctor asked.
"Yes, sir, we are," Chris stated. "How are they?"
"They'll be fine," he assured them. "They have only a few minor cuts and bruises. 'Course they won't start to feel those bruises for a couple of days yet."
"You mean there was no head trauma?" Nathan asked with a frown.
The doctor smiled and said, "They have a slight concussion, but given the nature in which they received that concussion all I can say is something that I'm sure you all ready know . . ."
"Oh, no doctor, believe me we don't need you to tell us that Ezra and Vin have hard heads," Chris said with a glint in his eyes.
"Can we see them?" Josiah wanted to know. It was one thing to hear that Ezra and Vin were fine, but now he needed to see it for himself.
"I'm sorry, but there's not room for all of you," the doctor said. "They should be out in just a couple of minutes."
"Oh, great," Ezra muttered as he saw Chris and the others waiting for them at the end of the corridor. "Here it comes."
"What's coming?" Vin asked, then came to a stop as he realized that Ezra was no longer beside him. "Ezra?"
"The blame," Ezra replied in a soft voice.
Vin stared at Ezra for a full minute trying to figure out just what the hell the man was talking about. Then it hit him. "Ezra they're not going to blame you for this . . . What happened was an accident. Pure and simple. Hell, it wasn't even my fault."
"It won't matter!" Ezra cried. "I always get blamed . . ."
"No, you won't," Vin said, taking a step closer. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, we are not the bastards from your past. Chris ain't gonna shoot you first then ask questions later . . . ," he shrugged and grinned. "At least, not over something that was in no way your fault."
Ezra wanted to believe him, but wasn't sure if he should . . . Although, he paused in mid thought as something occurred to him. Vin wasn't the kind of person that could lie easily. So maybe, just maybe Ezra could take the chance . . . this once. Right? The Southerner had to wonder when making decisions had gotten so hard.
Vin carefully watched his friend and even though he could not read the flickering of emotions that ran across Ezra's face, he did however know Ezra well enough to know that the other man was carefully weighing what Vin had told him against what Ezra believed to be true. Vin only hoped that the scales would tip in his favor.
The subtle tensing of Ezra's broad shoulders had Vin turning around. Seeing their friends headed their way, he prayed that he was right and that Chris wouldn't automatically blame Ezra for what had happened.
Ezra squared his shoulders and finally decided that he didn't have to decide anything tonight. After all, decisions of this magnitude generally took care of themselves and for once he had no desire to tempt fate in any way.
"You two okay?" Chris asked as they reached them.
"We passed your truck on the way," JD told them wide eyes. "Man it's a wonder neither of you were seriously hurt."
"Do ya think my truck can be fixed?" Vin asked, in a hopeful voice.
"Sorry, son, but that truck's headed for the junk yard in the sky," Josiah informed him.
"Are ya sure?"
"Better that truck than you two," Nathan said. "Now give me your prescriptions." The former Army medic gave both men a glare that would have done Chris proud and continued, "Don't look at me like that. You're gonna be hurting and will need them. So hand them over." He held out his hand and as soon as the two pieces of paper appeared, he snatched them away. "I'm going to get these filled while you fellas take care of the paperwork."
"You know, boys, there are easier ways of getting out a boring luncheon with the mayor," Buck teased them.
"Ezra?" Chris said, causing both men to tense. One was ready to set the record straight, while the other braced for the inevitable. "You okay? It's not like you to be so quiet."
That wasn't at all what Ezra expected and for the life of him he didn't know how to react. "Y . . ." he swallowed then continued, "I'm fine . . ."
"Yeah," Chris said in such a way that let Ezra know that he didn't believe him for a minute. "We've seen your fine and I for one wasn't very impressed. So if you started hurting then you better let someone know. You hear me?"
Ezra could only nod his head, yes.
"I hear you."
"Good, now let's get out of here."
Two hours later Ezra was finally alone and he welcomed the silence that surrounded him. Glancing down at his ruined suit he sighed, then grinned as he noticed that whatever that black stuff was that coated the seatbelt hadn't rubbed off on his clothes. With a snort and a shake of his head he wondered why it even mattered.
Twenty minutes later he was freshly showered and securing the locks before heading for bed when he heard a knock at the door. After quickly grabbing his gun, he stepped closer and called out, "Who is it?"
Ezra frowned and promptly opened the door.
"Mr. Tanner what are you doing here?"
"Checking up on a friend," was all Vin said as he pushed his way past Ezra and headed for the couch. He loved Ezra's big roomy couch. He could stretch out on it and not worry about his feet hanging off the end.
Ezra looked from the open doorway to where Vin now lay sprawled on he couch. Pushing the door closed he then locked it and decided that maybe it was time to give fate a chance.