by Angela B
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine.
Note: I'm still a beginner so bear with me, please.
ATF is Mog's creation. Thanks to Jera for beta reading this story and all her help.
Also, Ryan Kelly and Team 8 are not my creation.
Ezra sat straight up in bed, his heart racing, and his breath coming hard. Sweat poured from every pore, soaking his pajamas. The nightmares had begun again; it had been several years since the last time they had plagued him. As the shaking agent sat in bed trying to get his breathing back under control he wondered what had triggered the awful memories. It didn't matter; they were here to stay awhile. This was the third night his sleep had ended prematurely. Ezra got out of bed and made his way to the kitchen, maybe if he drank some hot cocoa and read for awhile he'd be able to go back to sleep. He doubted it but he'd try anything except the liquor or the sleeping pills. He really didn't need to oversleep again, that had happened on two other mornings and the Chris had not been happy. The cocoa was heated and the agent sat down with the most boring book he could find.
The black clad leader was seething, to put it mildly. This was the third morning that Ezra was later than normal for work. He had tried talking to the closed-mouthed agent to no avail. He looked at his watch again, it was almost nine-thirty and still no sign of his undercover agent. Chris had tried calling him without any results; he didn't like the feeling he had in the pit of stomach. Chris had noticed, along with the others, that something had been wrong with his most stubborn agent for the last few days, besides just being late for work. The agent had been off his game all week, heck, he wasn't even in the game. He hadn't been himself at all. Though to anyone else he appeared to be his normal self, the six men who worked with him knew better.
A little after ten the weary agent arrived at work. Only the ones he worked with could read the tiredness Ezra carried. Furtive glances were shot about the office as Ezra hung up his jacket.
"Hey Little Brother", Buck shouted.
Ezra hung his head and muttered an unusual obscenity.
Vin heard the swear words and shook his head, it was out of character for the intelligent agent to resort to such "common use of foul language", as Ezra had put it.
When he first joined this special group they immediately nicknamed him Ez. No matter how much he stated that he detested that moniker it had stuck, now, though he still grumbled, he was used to it. Recently, however, Buck had started calling him Little Brother. Ezra knew it was just another move to incorporate him into this slapped-together family. Without turning around Ezra firmly but quietly stated, "Again Mr. Wilmington I remind you that we share no family blood and therefore it is quite impossible for me to be your little brother".
Buck wasn't put off, the way he saw it Ezra was weakening. At least this time his uptight friend hadn't threatened to shove his favorite "happy meal" toy down his throat.
The thoroughly ticked off leader stepped quietly up behind the tired agent. "Ezra", Chris spoke calmly, belying the anger he really felt, "nice of you to join us".
Ezra had not heard the approach of his commander and jumped slightly. The others took notice, another indicator that Ezra wasn't himself. He gathered himself mentally and put on the blank mask he often wore and turned to face his boss. In a very thick southern voice he reported, " Well, as it so happens Mr. Larabee I was having coffee with our latest subject, Mr. Rafael Santiago. It seems Mr. Santiago has a morning ritual of having coffee at a local diner at the unholy hour of 7:00. I know this because he sent a personal invitation to join him in the form of his big goon to my door at 6:30. So, since I couldn't exactly whip out my phone and call to tell my esteemed boss that I'd be late, since I'M supposed to be THE boss, I thought it prudent to keep the charade up. So, no, I didn't call you". With that Ezra slid past the slowly boiling man in black and headed for the break room.
Ezra didn't want any more coffee but he needed to make himself busy while he got his emotions under control. The undercover agent felt like he was a ball of nerves. Not only was he tired beyond belief, he'd drank five cups of coffee during his long and boring meeting this morning.
Ezra had just begun to doze off when the doorbell had rung. Fearing the unknown the cautious agent had grabbed his weapon before checking his peephole for the identity of the intruder. The undercover agent liked to fell over when he identified the miscreant who had rung his doorbell at such an unholy hour of the night. Since it was still dark out it was, to Ezra's way of thinking, still night. It was Mr. Santiago's bodyguard. The agent gingerly opened the door. "Well isn't this a surprise. There's nothing wrong with Mr. Santiago is there." Ezra was hurriedly trying to figure why this behemoth was standing at his door.
The bodyguard, Mr. Sturrnen, menacingly replied "No. Mr. Santiago wants you to join him for coffee this morning."
"Well, I'll be pleased to. What time would he like to meet?" Ezra asked with more humor than he felt.
"In thirty minutes." was the reply. Obviously the bodyguard didn't want to be here anymore than Ezra wanted him to be here.
Ezra had rapidly dressed and been ready to leave in record time. He followed the bodyguard to a small café in the middle of Denver's metropolis. He entered the café to find it relatively empty except for Mr. Santiago and his entourage.
"Mr. Santiago. Thank you for the hospitable invitation to join you this morning." Ezra purred sweetly.
"I just wanted to meet and let you know everything is almost ready to go. The weapons are on the way", the gunrunner explained.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed the agent. 'Why couldn't he of just called with the information'
So, for the next three hours the two men discussed everything from business to the man's homeland. He had droned on and on about how much he was thought of back there. It took everything Ezra had not to portray the boredom he felt.
The five other men sat perfectly still; waiting for the explosion from their boss they figured was coming. Instead, Chris calmly strode to the break room ready to throttle the exasperating southerner, then stopped at the door and observed Ezra. There was the infuriating agent with his head leaning against the cabinet looking ready to fall down where he stood. Quietly the leader of the seven turned and walked towards his office. On his way he glanced at the healer and tilted his head back towards the break room. Nathan understood and gave a small nod as he rose from his chair.
Chris shut his office door and walked to his chair. Reclining back and putting his feet up on his desk he closed his eyes and contemplated what could be happening to his undercover agent. The man was good - very good - at his job. It didn't seem to matter how much pressure was put on him he kept his cool and just about always delivered the goods. The very few times things had not gone as planned had not been the Ezra's fault. Though he would blame himself anyway. Chris thought about his agent, describing Ezra as reserved was putting it mildly. At the beginning Ezra had been very vocal about being left alone. "Give me my case and stay out of my way", that's what he'd told Chris on that first case. Chris had set him straight real quick. This was a TEAM, they worked together and no one, but no one got left out. Chris wanted him to understand that he was not alone like he had been in Atlanta. They had butted heads more than once over an assignment, Ezra never really trusting them to back him up. That had changed in the fourth case. The whole bust had gone wrong and Ezra had been shot. Chris let out a sigh, as he recalled all that blood. They had hung by Ezra's side until the day he left the hospital. Ezra had been very suspicious of the act of kindness, until J.D. pointed out that he, Ezra, would be there if it were one of them.
Chris thought about the current case. It wasn't an especially hard case. Rafael Santiago was a gunrunner from Chile. He could get any weapons needed he just needed someone to sell to. In that area he wasn't well connected but was trying to get that way. That's where Ezra came in; he was playing Elias Standwell, a businessman for a well-connected mob family. Santiago was like putty in Ezra's hands, agreeing to almost anything if it meant climbing up the money ladder.
Ezra could feel the migraine coming on. The tiredness was catching up to him, causing his head to throb. He was in such deep concentration, trying to will away the weariness and stop the migraine that he didn't hear the medic approach.
Even though compassion was embedded deeply in him, Nathan hated trying to help the obstinate agent. The man could be hog-tied, blindfolded, gut-shot, lying on a railroad track with a train headed right for him and he would still slip that non-readable mask on and tell you he was perfectly fine and didn't need help. "Ezra", the healer called for the second time, something was definitely wrong he thought.
Ezra internally jumped, 'Darn, I got to quit letting people do that to me', then turned towards the other man with slowness that indicated pain.
"You feeling O.K." asked the healer knowing full well the answer he would receive would be a yes.
"Mr. Jackson I am quite aware of your uncontrollable desire to keep everyone at their healthiest so they can perform their jobs with maximum output but I assure you I don't need your concern", with that the hurting agent went back to his desk.
Nathan clenched his fists, closed his eyes and counted to fifty; the selfish, stubborn, son-of-a-gun was going to be the end of the healer's sanity. Nathan had seen the pain flitter across the other agent's face, knew he was hurting and yet the undercover agent had done what he always did; he pushed the pain and Nathan away. Nathan had wondered about the ability Ezra had to push away whatever pain he was in and do his job. At first he figured it came with being an undercover agent but as time went by and he began to know Ezra better the healer was beginning to think differently. The man was too good at it to only be doing it for the amount of time he'd been an agent. 'No', thought Nathan, 'the man's been doing this for a lot longer'. That thought made the healer shake his head sadly and go back to his desk.
Josiah, the oldest of the group and the one everyone considered the big brother, had witnessed Ezra's return to his desk and now as he watched his closest friend, Nathan, from the corner of his eye he knew exactly what had transpired in the break room. Ezra had been his normal charming self.
The rest of the morning was spent relatively quietly, except for the occasional object that was projected into the air by either Buck or J.D, aimed at the other. All were aware of how bad Ezra was feeling; the arrogant agent kept rubbing his brow while typing with the other. A true sign that the migraine the agent had was getting worse. Ezra would never let on that he hurt unless it was serious. Ezra was acutely aware of the others watching him but he didn't care, he had to get the report done and work on some of the finer details for the bust. Since they didn't know when it would be going down they needed to be prepared.
Vin watched quietly from his desk trying to determine how best to approach Ezra. Of the six of them he and Josiah seemed to be the ones that could get Ezra to open up the most, although their idea and Ezra's idea of opening up were vastly different. Although, he and Ezra were raised in different worlds they both were quite similar, which is why they got along so well, Vin surmised. The longhaired agent thought about the qualities he shared with this friend. They both were uneasy to trust anyone. They both could read people very well, although Ezra was slightly better. Neither wanted to get too close to people at the beginning. They both detested hospitals. They also hated restraints. Vin smiled at this thought. Ezra had been the one to teach him how to pick handcuffs. Vin had been placed under arrest once when working undercover by another law enforcer, not knowing how Vin felt about the metal restraints he had handcuffed Vin. The sharpshooter nearly went nuts before being placed in an interrogation room, and then Chris had come in and taken off the unwanted constrictions. Ezra noticed his plight and taught him how to pick the locks. It had come in handy a time or two.
Vin's dilemma was solved for him when J.D. loudly and enthusiastically claimed it was lunchtime. As everyone filed out debating where to go to eat Vin hung back to talk to Ezra. "Ya comin' Ez?" Vin asked as he leaned against the file cabinet next to Ezra's desk. Ezra was slow in answering his co-worker.
" I find it imperative that I stay and finish this before tomorrow." the other man gestured towards his computer.
Vin just nodded and stayed where he was, "How bad is it?" he inquired softly.
"It should go pretty well if I can just get a little time to work out the finer details." Ezra related impatiently; wanting to be left alone and wishing he could just go home and go to bed.
"Ez, I'm talking about the migraine and before you deny it I know you got one", holding up his hand to stop Ezra from arguing with him.
The tired undercover agent just nodded and whispered, "It could be better". Vin realized that was as close as his friend would come to acknowledging his headache.
"Can I bring you back anything?" the quiet agent asked.
"No thank you", Ezra breathed out.
Vin turned and left but not before glancing at his best friend and boss' door. There was no need for words between these two men. 'He's hurting, Cowboy.' was Vin's nod.
'I'll see to him' was all Chris' eyes had to say.
Chris passed by Ezra's desk and noticed the man was still rubbing his right temple. The leader finally spoke up, " Everything going alright Ezra?"
"Fine", answered the usually eloquent southerner, never looking up from his computer.
The blond shook his head in aggravation. Chris tried again, "If you need assistance Vin is available."
The working agent took a deep breath, "I don't require assistance on such trivial or trite proceedings as the one I am currently trying to work on."
Chris merely shook his head and started to walk away, he knew that of all his agents Ezra would be the last to ask for help.
The leader stopped and without turning around simply said, "Ey Ez, the couch in my office isn't being used and the door is unlocked. I'll be back in an hour." With that the black clad leader left hoping the stubborn fool would take him up on the offer.
The tired green eyes watched as his boss strolled off to the elevators. Maybe he would just take up the man's offer. He could lie down for just a few minutes and be back to work before the others returned. As he made his way into the office he felt like he was doing something terribly wrong, like a little kid sneaking into the kitchen after everyone had gone to bed. He almost turned and left but the couch looked so inviting, 'just for a little while' he told himself as he laid his weary and hurting body down.
"How is he?' Buck asked as the worried black clad leader joined the others.
Chris just shrugged his shoulders and replied, " You know him, it's hard to tell, and he's closed up tighter than a drum".
J.D., the youngest member of the team, jumped in "You don't think it's this case?" J.D. would defend any of his brothers if he thought it necessary. "I mean maybe it's harder than he's letting on or something", the youth finished weakly thinking the statement sounded foolish. Very few cases gave Ezra a headache, in fact J.D. thought the undercover agent thrived on the tougher cases and got plumb bored with easier ones. The other five men thought on this statement.
Vin quietly acknowledged that J.D. might have a point. J.D.'s head came up in surprise; he didn't think anyone would take his comment seriously. Vin continued, " It does seem to be taking Ez a lot longer than normal to make this deal go through. After all he spent three hours in a meeting with the man that normally would have taken Ezra thirty minutes, an hour at the most to conduct. Maybe Santiago is trying to back out."
As the others considered this Josiah was thinking about how Chris had actually snuck up on the ever-alert agent without trying. Josiah was bought out of his reverie by Nathan's voice. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" Josiah asked the healer.
"I said, what's wrong?" although the healer had a pretty good idea what it was: anytime Ezra was involved Josiah got a little protective, the same way a mother bear protects her cubs when she feels they're in danger, and heaven help the person who might actually harm the younger man.
"Chris scared Ezra this morning." Josiah simply stated.
"So?" asked J.D. before he could stop himself.
Buck answered for Josiah somberly "When's the last time anyone snuck up Ezra?"
Everyone grew quiet as the group contemplated what this could mean for the wily agent.
"Getting caught like that out in the field could be " Vin whispered not finishing his statement and not wanting to finish the thought, but did mentally. The rest of the meal was eaten in almost total silence. Each man lost in his own contemplation of how best to help the man who never asked for help. They all came to the same silent conclusion; they would, as Ezra would say, "circle the wagons" around the troubled agent. Ezra had given this term to the way they would gather around and protect whichever agent was hurt or down.
The six men got off the elevator and walked towards the office. Buck was giving J.D. a hard time about his date with Casey the previous night. J.D. was giving Buck an equally hard time about not being able to find the 'perfect' mate. "Heck J.D. with me they're all perfect." Buck replied with a mischievous grin.
This caused a chuckle from the leader and laughter from the other three men. J.D. rolled his eyes and looked heavenward. As they approached their desks they noticed Ezra's was vacated.
"Maybe he decided to go somewhere else for lunch." Nathan suggested.
"Or else Santiago called to have another meting." Josiah offered, hoping that really wasn't the case.
Chris went to his office, opened the door and looked in, then looked back at his men, "Nope", the leader replied and tilted his head back towards his office. "Keep it down out here." Chris spoke sternly making a point to look directly at Buck and J.D. and went into his office and shut the door. He walked over to where his agent lay sleeping, taking a cover from the back of the couch he laid it carefully over the man, then settled down at his desk to get some work done.
A little while later Buck soundlessly walked in his leader's office, not bothering to knock. He glanced at his sleeping friend as he walked to Chris' desk. "He probably hasn't slept this well in days from the looks of him this morning." Chris only nodded in agreement. Buck watched Ezra a few more minutes hoping that whatever was plaguing the man ended soon. Ezra and him didn't always get along, in fact a few times in the beginning they had come to blows, well actually it was Buck delivering the blows, but that had passed. Two years later things were different and when needed to be Buck could be as protective of Ezra as he was J.D., after all in the end they were all brothers, even if the black sheep didn't see it that way the rest of them sure did.
"You think he'll ever trust us enough to open up?" Buck quietly inquired. Buck was worried about the young agent. The way Buck had it figured Ezra would kill himself to bring down an arms dealer or any other criminal before admitting he needed help.
"I don't know. We can only stand steady. Chris answered. "And if anyone can stand steady its you. I know that from personal experience." Chris ended quietly with a tight-lipped grin. Buck grinned back. He had pulled his long-time friend back from the abyss; he would do less for any other friend.
Two hours later Ezra was still sleeping when the images began to invade his deep sleep. It started out as it always did, a dreaded sense of fear and the inability to move or make a sound. A small boy, in ragged overalls, facing a black hole in the floor. Feeling a heavy hand pushing him ever closer to the opening. He could hear the scurrying of tiny feet and the shrill squeaking noises of the rodents that lived down in the hole. The blond-haired child was trying to stop the forward motion by digging in his heels. The hand lifted him up by his shirt collar, propelling the terrified boy, with the large green eyes, that once shone with happiness, toward the bottomless pit. The boy was pushed into the opening, the hand letting go of the shirt. Falling. The fear of never stopping was overwhelming.
Ezra shot straight up startling Chris from his work. The undercover agent was breathing hard and fast, sweat rolling down his colorless face. 'Must have been a hellacious nightmare', Chris took in the man's white face and the hands that were clenched in the covers. He stood and walked quietly to the couch observing his agent as he tried to get his breathing under control. "Ezra? You alright?" he spoke gently, crouching down by the couch.
Ezra didn't respond, he was busy trying to get past the horrible feeling that the dream had been real, and that he was really o.k.
After a few moments Ezra realized he wasn't alone and turned his face towards his waiting boss. He silently cursed himself. He was only going to lie down for a few minutes and be back to work before anyone got back from lunch. Hesitantly Ezra glanced at his watch and cursed himself again, he'd been asleep for three hours. How was he going to extricate himself out of this embarrassment?
Chris watched the emotions roll across his friend's face and was able to read the normally unreadable thoughts. Chris inwardly found this amusing; Ezra would be horrified if he knew Chris was reading him so easily. Instead the intimidating man moved back, knowing Ezra needed more personal space than others did. "Everything alright?" Chris asked again, not really expecting the truth. This particular agent of his kept himself closed off from the group and very rarely shared his true feelings, he had a way of talking his way around any question he didn't want to answer. 'Sometimes the man could make you think you were going straight while all the time he's leading you in circles' Chris thought to himself.
"Yeah", came the slow, thick southern drawl.
Ezra carefully folded up the cover as Chris moved back to his desk 'He's using short simple words, this isn't good'. "So, how are the meetings with Santiago going?" Chris asked hoping to learn if this was the problem for his agent's poor sleep.
"I find playing with this slow-minded narcissistic Neanderthal who lacks the cranial functions required by a minuscule flea too easy for my skills." Ezra sighed, the simpleton was wearing on his nerves. "He's ready to make the deal: thirty automatic rifles, 150 handguns and a ground to air rocket launcher with 10 rockets thrown in complimentary as a statement of faith. It should come together in the next day or two." Ezra replied wearily.
The man was a real bore to be around, everything the TV movie of the week portrays a gunrunner to be, except this guy didn't have the brains for this game. The undercover agent felt like he was doing the man a favor by taking him down. Rafael Santiago would not last long in a real mob family; Ezra was simply saving the gunrunner's life.
"Fine, we'll have a meeting in the morning and go over the details for the take-down", replied the agitated blonde; why couldn't the man just tell him what was bothering him, he asked himself. 'Simple Larabee, he's never had anyone he could trust before to open up to, just gonna have to give him more time.' he answered mentally.
Ezra just nodded his assent. "I'm terribly sorry for my incomprehensible actions and the deplorable indisposition I forced upon you", Ezra humbly spoke as he made his way to the door without really looking at his boss.
"Not a problem" the man in black responded as he waved his hand in the air. The man behind the desk was trying to let Ezra out of this scene with grace and dignity, two things the suave agent carried about him like a cloak. After Ezra left, the leader of Team Seven shook his head. Dealing with these men daily was a constant lesson in psychology, but dealing with the hard-shelled undercover agent would give the best psychiatrist a headache, it certainly gave him one.
The rest of afternoon went by quickly. The troubled southerner spent the rest of the afternoon working on the details of the bust. It should go down easy but there was always the potential for things to go bad, Ezra was trying to eliminate all the possibilities of that happening. The day finally came to a close, though not soon enough for Ezra, as he shut down his computer and gathered his papers. He was immensely relieved to finally be able to leave this place and the stares he had dealt with all day.
As he headed for the elevator Josiah caught up with the man he would gladly have as a son," Uh Ez, you think I could catch a ride with you? My suburban is ." the anthropologist paused, "well the old girl's not doing well today."
"Sure", replied the other man, inwardly shaking his head. Josiah loved that old broken-down vehicle the way he loved everything else, with intense passion. As the pair made their way through the parking garage towards the black Jag Josiah put on his best game face and with as much enthusiasm as possible he asked the introverted agent,
"Ey Ez, can I drive the Jag. Don't get me wrong", the older man hurried on, " I wouldn't give up my suburban for anything but it is a Jag." Josiah finished with a conspiratorial smile looking at man who was looking decidedly worse.
Ezra smiled and tossed the larger man the keys. Ezra knew what he was doing but had to give the man points for at least trying to make it look like he had a choice. If it had been Chris or Nathan they would have just grabbed his keys and shoved him into the passenger seat, besides he was awfully tired even with the nap he had earlier.
Josiah looked over at the resting agent. Ezra had laid his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. Josiah couldn't tell if the man was asleep or not but was willing to let Ezra rest. Of the six men Josiah worked with Ezra was by far the hardest to get a handle on. The anthropologist had profiled them several times, as was his job, to make sure each one was handling the stress of the job. Each had come out with same profile every time, with the exception of the undercover agent. Ezra came out with a different profile each time. Josiah couldn't figure out if Ezra did it on purpose or if the man changed depending on the weather. One explanation was as good as the other. The profiler shook his head and smiled, he could always count on the outsider to keep him on his toes.
Thirty minutes later they pulled into the garage, Ezra roused up, and the two men headed into the house. "Might as well get comfortable while you wait for Nathan to come get you." Ezra said enjoying the embarrassment creeping onto the older man's face. "I mean that was the plan, you drive me home and somebody comes and takes you home?" he finished.
The anthropologist nodded his head smiling slightly not surprised that Ezra knew what was happening. "Well I'm going to go change clothes so get yourself a drink and I'll be back in a few", turning and walking into his room the exhausted agent shut the door.
Thirty minutes later Nathan appeared at Ezra's house, after stopping and picking up some over the counter sleeping pills for the irrefutable pain-in-the-neck he willingly called friend. After knocking twice Josiah finally opened the door. "Sorry, I was in the kitchen", the deep voiced man apologized.
"That's o.k. Where's Ez?" asked the healer.
Josiah glanced at his watch then to the bedroom door. "He went to change clothes, he never came back", came the reply as the big man headed towards the bedroom door followed closely by his good friend. After gently tapping on the door Josiah eased it open. There, laying across the bed laid Ezra in an exhaustive slumber. The father figure crossed over to the bed and grabbed the covers from the top of the bed and pulled them back covering the sleeping man. He resisted a strong urge to run his hand over Ezra's hair. Josiah had sensed from the beginning that the man lying on the bed had never felt the love that children should have, regardless of the fact that he had a mother. Like Vin, Ezra had grown up on his own and alone. Nathan moved to the other side of the bed and placed his hand lightly on Ezra's forehead; looking up into the older man's eyes he shook his head. No fever. The two left Ezra's house, though Josiah was hesitant to leave. The healer was very capable of reading his friend's thoughts.
"Ezra will be fine", laying his hand on the worried man's shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "Besides you know how he feels about being watched over."
"I know what he says. I know he also feels the need to protect himself from everyone, including us, but I don't know how he really feels", was the sad reply.
Nathan could only nod. It was true none of them knew what the ostracized southerner truly felt. They all had figured out that he used his mouth and fancy words as a protective shield. The man kept his feelings and thoughts locked up tight and getting him to share them was like breaking into Fort Knox. But, like accomplishing an impeding task it was worth the trouble when Ezra would break down and share some tidbit of himself with them.
Chris sat down in his favorite recliner with a cold drink. He had a headache. His undercover agent's behavior these past few days were beginning to affect the rest of the group. If it had been back in the beginning, when they first came together, the hot tempered leader would have just simply shoved the acid southerner into the wall and demanded an explanation. Over the last two and a half years he had learned the action only made him clam up tighter. The tired man rubbed his temples. 'Dang! Why couldn't anything be easy with these men.'
Ezra woke in a cold sweat. He hated this dream. He knew what it related to. If there was something Ezra never did, it was lie to himself. He quite plainly remembered everything that had happened to him as a child. He just didn't dwell on them. What was the use? It didn't change things. Instead he took each bad thing that had happened and put it in a box and locked it behind a door in the back recess of his mind. Never to be thought of again, if at all possible. So, how had this particular memory escape into the openness of his conscious? He made his way into the kitchen and noticed the sleeping pills and silently thanked the ever-diligent healer. Ezra downed the prescribed amount of pills and sat down at the dining table with the rest of his orange juice. Maybe if he remembered precisely what happened in his past he could once again shut the memory away.
The so-called Uncle that Maude had left him with the summer he was nine liked to imbibe in cheap but effective liquor. It was during the times when the man would partake of the bottle liberally that Ezra would become afraid. Normally "Uncle" Martin ignored the young boy but during these times he wouldn't want to be bothered at all by his young charge so he would remove Ezra from sight. This meant being put in the basement. To Ezra's absolute horror, not only were there rats down there but also his uncle would leave him down there in the dark for 2-3 days at a time. After the first time the sly young boy had confiscated a small flashlight and carried it in his pocket. He never knew when he would be forced back down into the black hole. On his second trip down, using his flashlight he discovered a water faucet, presumably used for washer hookup in the past. Ezra was relieved, he may not have food but now at least he had water. That summer had a deep effect on Ezra's personality. He had been harmed physically and emotionally by others in the past and would be in the future, but that was the summer when he started learning how to shut off his emotions.
The next morning Ezra woke to find himself in the recliner. Not remembering how he got there he did notice that he felt considerably more rested. He definitely had to thank Nathan. After a shower and a shave the well-dressed agent observed the dark circles that had taken up residence under his eyes were markedly less noticeable. Hopefully the bust would go down soon and this would all be over. As he leaned on the sink he thought, 'this was going to be a long day'.
Little did he know just how long it was going to get.
As he stepped off the elevator he could hear Buck and J.D. arguing. 'Lord would those two ever grow up' he wondered to himself and then added 'I hope not.'
The dapper agent had not been at his desk an hour when his cell phone rang. Looking at the number he knew who was calling and why. It was Santiago, his shipment had arrived and he was anxious to set up a meet with the buyer that afternoon. Ezra promised to see what he could arrange. He hung up and saw the black clad leader standing next to Vin. "He wants to meet this afternoon." Ezra nonchalantly informed his boss.
"That's kinda short notice." Chris replied.
Ezra merely shrugged his shoulders and answered back, "We've had less. Besides, I do believe we are prepared."
" O.K. Conference room now!" the team leader ordered.
After everyone gathered in the conference room the undercover agent laid out the plan. It was a routine one, he would meet with Santiago and if everything looked acceptable he would call Chris, who would be playing Mr. Lawrence, a mob affiliated buyer. After a brief meeting with "Mr. Lawrence" the leader would give the go word and the rest of Team Seven along with Team 8 would come in and bust up the party.
Chris leaned back in his chair and spoke calmly. "Sounds good except I want one of the guys to go in with you" expecting an explosion. He was not disappointed.
"WHAT?!" Ezra came back in a raised voice. "I most certainly don't think that is either necessary or appropriate. I've always met with this simpleton alone. How is it going look if I suddenly show up with a new player? NO! No one is going with me. I do this alone!" finished the indignant and very angry agent.
"Yes, someone will go. As far as an explanation you can tell Mr. Santiago that I insisted my own weapon specialist check out the goods before I show up. I know you, Ezra. You can and WILL make this work." The smoldering leader said calmly.
During this time Vin, who sat between the two men, moved his chair back out of the line of danger. He liked being alive. The seething green eyes of the southerner shot daggers towards his unflinching boss, who answered with some daggers of his own.
"Make it work!" commanded Larabee.
Ezra slammed his file closed and strode to the door. "You want one to go, you choose. That way if it goes bad it will rest on your shoulders. Frankly I find it a slur against my abilities that you think I need a babysitter." Ezra walked out the door and slammed it shut.
After Ezra walked out Chris leaned back into his chair and rubbed his face. Why did that particular man have to be so difficult? They were just trying to protect him. The remaining five wisely remained silent, watching the man in black gain control over his smoldering temper.
"Well that went well." the dry humored comment coming from the psychoanalyst. A few laughs could be heard around the room.
After a long silent moment the blonde slowly declared, "Well, I need a volunteer to go with Ezra." Silently acknowledging the probability of having the men draw straws. "J.D. is out." giving the youngest member an apologetic look. "He's too young looking, Santiago won't buy him and Nathan's out." There was no need for an explanation. Chris did after all want Ezra back in one piece. Nathan would watch Ezra's back but might wind up killing the aggravating agent himself.
"So?" letting out a deep breath, "anyone want to step forward?" Chris reluctantly asked. Though he knew he shouldn't have been surprised Chris was still pleasantly relieved when the three remaining men raised their hands. The leader cocked an eye at his longtime friend.
"Granted he's a pain-in-the-back side but he's our pain. If anyone should hurt him it should be one of us." Buck ended with a laugh. Josiah, J.D. and Vin joined in while Nathan and Chris merely smiled, each thinking the ladies man had hit the nail on the head. No matter what Ezra was he was theirs.
"O.K. Vin I'd rather have your skills with the team." Chris stated. It wasn't meant as a slight to the others' shooting abilities, it was just an accepted fact that Vin was the best on the team. "Josiah, I need you to keep working a profile on this guy." finished Chris. Josiah raised his eyebrow and gave a questioning look at the man at the head of the table. "Just a feeling" Chris said, shrugging his shoulders. He wondered if Ezra had that feeling, too. Why else would he have objected so strongly? "So?" looking at the mischievous smiling man, "that means you go."
"Was it ever really a choice," the ladies man shot back, raising his eyebrows. Chris shook his head and walked to the door, effectively ending the meeting. As the others stood to leave they each gave their regards to Buck. Dealing with Ezra was not going to be pleasant.
Ezra walked into the bathroom and headed for the last stall. After locking the door he slid down the wall onto the floor. How did that just happen. He had actually lost his normally cool reserve. It wasn't going to be the first time that one of them went undercover with him. So, what the heck was he so upset about? 'Because,’ he thought, 'something isn't right and with an extra person it increases the chances of something bad happening'. So, he reasoned what was wrong? He had been trying to figure that one out all week. There wasn't anything singularly that stood out, it was just a feeling. That was why he had worked so hard on the details of bust, trying to cover every possible way things could go wrong. He couldn't exactly go to Chris and have the deal pulled just because he had a bad feeling, not without something substantial to back up his theory.
No, he had planned on going through with the deal and if something did happen it would be just him. Now Chris had gone and thrown a new twist to the problem. Well, Ezra thought to himself, he would just have to be extra diligent and watch out and protect whoever went with him. No matter the cost. Another ten minutes passed when he heard the bathroom door open and heard the Buck's jovial voice tell him it was time to go.
Sighing, the usually unshakable agent rose to his feet, straightening his suit he muttered to himself "Let the games begin."
As Buck and Ezra drove to the meet Ezra couldn't shake the uneasy feeling in his stomach. He went through every step in his head for the hundredth time. There was no reason this shouldn't end well he kept telling himself. Buck picked up on Ezra's nervousness.
"So," the notorious ladies man started "this should be a piece of cake, Ez? In and out in time for my date with Sheila tonight," wiggling his eyebrows and throwing the other man a bright smile. He was hoping to lighten the heavy mood that seemed to have settled around them.
"I can assure you Mr. Wilmington, you'll be home in plenty of time," Ezra responded with a smile of his own, not feeling so sure.
Buck noticed the small hitch in the unflappable agent's voice. The dark haired agent was getting a bad feeling of his own. He knew Ezra would never put his or any of the other guys' lives in jeopardy but then again the well-trained undercover agent didn't control the game one hundred percent either. Another thought hit Buck at that moment, maybe Ezra was always nervous when winding down a job and no one ever noticed before because the man hid it so well. Buck quickly dismissed the idea that just wasn't their Ez.
As the two parked and got out of the Jag at the run down warehouse and started towards the door the older law enforcer noticed the poker-faced agent tug on his shirt cuffs and take a couple of deep breaths. Buck decided it was time to speak up. "Look Ez, if you got a bad feeling about this we could just call Chris and have the team make the bust without the meet. We'd still get the guy on possession of illegal weapons."
The veteran undercover agent considered the option for a moment before shaking his head. "It'll be fine. Besides with only a few possession charges he won't get as much time as he would with intent to sell charge tact on. He'd be out in a few years." Ezra shot his friend a confident smile. He knew he had to reassure the now leery agent. Ezra chastised himself for causing the other man concern. He may put himself in eminent danger but he would never put any of the other men in harm's way. Shaking his head inwardly he reprimanded himself on his lack of control of his emotions. It was only a result of the memories and subsequent deprivation of sleep. Everything was going to be fine. Tonight they would all meet at Inez's for the traditional celebration of another case gone well.
They met with Santiago in the middle of the building. Both ATF agents took notice of the crates stacked behind the arms dealer. Santiago nodded towards Buck. "Who's this?" the bulky dealer asked suspiciously. Ezra calmly replied, "This is Mr. Highly. He's Mr. Lawrence's personal weapons specialist. Mr. Lawrence insisted Mr. Highly inspect the weapons personally before he came and finalized the deal."
Santiago seemed to accept the explanation but Ezra noticed one of Santiago's henchmen staring intently at Buck. Ezra was beginning to get a lot more wary. As nonchalantly as possible the green eyed agent turned toward his partner, raising his eyebrow ever so slightly and turned back towards Santiago.
"Well, shall we get down to business? Mr. Lawrence is only going to wait an hour after that if he doesn't hear from me he's walking."
"We don't want that to happen now, do we?" the arms dealer smiled and started towards the packed weapons.
As Ezra and Buck followed Ezra gave his partner a couple of furtive glances and was rewarded with a wink. The backup agent chuckled to himself; the so-called self-preservationist was worried about him. The enigmatic man had taken on the responsibility of watching his back instead of the other way around.
If truth be told both agents were now worried but to their credit neither showed it. The elder was worried because Chris was the one to be wired, not them. So if anything happened no one would know for at least an hour. Ezra was worried because on top of not being wired he had another person to cover beside himself.
Ezra watched as the big bodyguard leaned towards his boss and whispered something. Ezra started formulating a plan to get them out of the potential danger. " You know Mr. Santiago I like to think that I can read people fairly well. I sense you are true gentlemen and therefore I feel I can trust you. Having said that why don't I go ahead and have Mr. Highly here call Mr. Lawrence and get this deal underway?" Ezra managed to say with poise that he really didn't feel.
"I thought he was suppose to inspect the goods?" questioned the big brute motioning his head towards the dark haired agent.
Shrugging his shoulders Buck replied, "What are a few minutes? We just get out that much faster and gives me more time to get ready for my date tonight," wiggling his eyebrows. "Besides if your stuff is no good you won't be selling anymore anyway." Buck finished, managing to remain composed and keep his facial expressions placid.
Santiago and the big lug, that Ezra was now sure was going to be their downfall, stared thoughtfully at the two agents. Before Ezra could continue the two law enforcers were staring down the barrels of some very big handguns. They were, as Ezra would say, in a regrettable situation.
"Excuse me gentlemen," the southerner started. "Might there be a reason for this deplorable turn of events?" he asked. His mind was racing at warp speed.
Santiago smiled as if it was a normal event, standing in the middle of a warehouse with guns drawn. "Leo tells me he believes Mr. Highly here is an ATF agent. He swears he saw his picture in the paper."
"WHAT?" Buck shouted, shocked that he might be the reason for their demise. "As unflattering as that accusation is I am truly insulted." Buck finished. 'Lord, I've been hanging around Ezra to much' he silently thought.
Ezra was already mentally shouldering the blame. He was in charge and was ultimately responsible for their lives, he had to get them out or at least Buck. "Mr. Santiago I don't care what your man thinks. I can attest to this man's identity. Furthermore I find your slanderous remark incomprehensible." Ezra sounded as indignant as possible. Then straightening up his suit jacket he continued in a calm and friendly voice, "however, if you were to put away your weapons I'm sure we can resume this transaction. Otherwise, I fear Mr. Highly and myself will have to excuse ourselves from this meeting. I can further assure you if that happens Mr. Lawrence will not be happy about the inconvenience."
Buck silently rooted his friend on. If anything was going to get them out of this mess it was going to be the loquacious agent's mouth. Buck sent up a silent plea to whatever god Josiah was praying to this week.
It was not to be. The two agents' hands were tied behind their backs, were stripped of their weapons and guided to the back of the warehouse towards a narrow metal staircase. Ezra sent up a thankful prayer that they had not been wired; they would have been dead by now. The dark haired agent heard a soft southern "Aw Lawd." and smiled inwardly despite their predicament.
As the two approached the stairwell Buck noticed the other agent stiffened. The usually jovial man quietly urged on his friend. Then to his horror Ezra actually stopped and started shaking his head negatively. Ezra couldn't get his legs to move forward, he just saw the large bottomless pit of the past.
"What's wrong with him?" the bodyguard brusquely asked.
Thinking quickly, the older man responded, "It's the steps. What can I say the man has a thing about stairs." giving them his best 'Oh Well' look.
The huge mammoth grabbed the frozen agent by the back of the shirt and bodily pushed him down the stairs and into a room.
By this time the transfixed agent was struggling with a full out panic attack and doing his best not to start screaming.
Santiago's man laughed as he slammed the metal door closed and locked it.
After the door shut Buck shoved the shaking man against the wall with his body.
"Get me out, just get me out." pleaded the southern gentleman repeatedly.
"Alright Ez. Just calm down. O.K. Just breathe, C'mon now nice slow breaths. Do it for me o.k. Ez." His worried friend continued to talk in a slow, comforting voice.
After a few tense moments Ezra resumed control over his emotions. Wanting to run his fingers through his hair he slipped on his poker face. " I apologize for that unforgivable and regretful display of emotions. I'm quite fine now, thank you," the normally arrogant man said humbly. After he finished the unnerved agent turned and sat down in the corner.
Buck shook his head and tried to gain control over his own nerves. None of them had ever witnessed Ezra in any other state but calm when he was working, even when things went south, as they occasionally did. Buck was truly scared. One moment the man was in control and the he next he was freaking out and now he was apologizing for his conduct. Buck doubted he would ever figure out the complex man.
Sliding down the wall onto the floor Buck replied in a whisper, "That's o.k. Ez. I felt like doing the same thing." After a few silent moments Buck asked, "You want to tell me anything," hoping for once the closed off man would open up to him.
"No," came the reply, equally soft. "I'm sorry my attempt to extricate us out of this mess was so unfruitful." Ezra added.
"Shut up Ezra!" Buck hissed. "This mess is my fault. I'm the one who was recognized, so don't even try to take the blame." The mustached man was mad. This was just like Ezra, taking the blame for something that clearly was not his fault."
"Sorry," came the southern drawl. Buck shook his head.
Both men sat in silence, each trying to figure a way out of their current situation. Finally, the good-natured agent let out a quiet laugh. Ezra stared at him with a disbelieving look on his face. "Mind sharing what is so humorous about our recent predicament?" the tense man asked.
"I was just thinking how ticked off Chris is going to be when we don't call and he realizes things have gone south. I just hope he runs into Santiago and his men before he finds us," Buck answered with laughter in his eyes. Then seriously he continued, "The guys will find us. We'll be fine." The older agent felt he needed to reassure Ezra the way he would J.D.
"I'm sure you are correct. Mr. Larabee has a way of making things turn out for the best."
This statement surprised Buck; he didn't think Ezra had faith in any of them. Ezra continued, "Besides he did promise to come after me and drag me back if I ever left without his permission again; even if he had to march into hell to do it." Ezra laughed feeling he needed to lighten things up for the older man.
Five minutes later, when the agents were beginning to hope they had simply been abandoned, the door opened and two men walked in. "Room service?" queried the mustache man.
" I don't think so. I do believe we we're in for a change of scenery, though." The younger agent commented dryly.
"Oh good, these walls were beginning to bore me." Buck shot back with a sarcastic grin.
The two men dragged Buck to his feet. Ezra immediately tensed up and started berating the two men. If anyone was going to be hurt here it should be him,
"Gentlemen, I do believe you have been mistaken in your assumptions of who is more valuable here. Mr. Highly is only a low rung errand boy, I am the one with contacts to make things happen." The two goons never stopped in their feat of taking the mustached agent through the door.
"See ya in a little while." Buck called optimistically over his shoulder. Hoping his friend would take it like he meant it, a promise to return.
"I shall await your return," Ezra answered back confidently. "I only hope its alive my comrade." Ezra whispered sadly after the door closed.
The undercover agent didn't know how long it had been since they had taken his partner away. It felt like hours but he speculated it was probably more like half an hour. Ezra spent the time concentrating on keeping his irrational fears at bay. For the first time in years he talked to himself out loud. Reiterating to himself that this was a different time and different place and he was perfectly fine. Well, except that he was tied up and only the good lord above knew what was going to happen next and his partner and newly accepted friend was still missing, having who knows what done to him. Other than that, he told himself, he was in complete control.
When the key in the door clicked the lock Ezra came to rapt attention. The same two who had walked his friend out was now dragging his limp bloody body back in. The men dumped the listless body on the floor and started to leave.
Before shutting the door one of them stopped and pointed at the stunned conscience man, "You're next." Ezra heard the threat but didn't reply.
After the door locked the young agent scooted himself over to the injured man. "Buck! Buck!" Ezra waited for a reply but did not receive one. " C'mon Mr. Wilmington answer me!" Ezra implored. He was getting that panicked feeling again. "Mr. Wilmington I must insist you wake up right now. Mr. Larabee will not look upon the infraction kindly if you give up." The green-eyed agent was getting desperate.
To the immense relief he was rewarded with a groan.
"That's it Buck open your eyes now." Ezra said insistently. When no further response was forthcoming he tried again. "Mr. Wilmington. Buck. I demand you do as I tell you." using his most commanding voice, which at times could equal a certain leader of theirs. " I need you to wake up, Mr. Wilmington. I do believe you are the only one who's going to keep Mr. Larabee from extracting the final breath from our lungs for getting ourselves into this mess. I mean... for me getting us into this mess. I need you, Buck. Please wake up," Ezra was worried about the man who insisted on bullying his way into the once shut-off agent's life, knocking down his walls like a bulldozer. "Please Buck, just open your eyes," the green eyed agent implored.
He was finally rewarded with dazed and pain filled blue eyes. "You do care." Buck whispered out between clenched teeth.
"Yes, well I find it to be in my best interest to keep you alive," retorted Ezra. Trying to sound annoyed but not quite making it. "We have to get you over to the wall so I can sit you up and tend to your injuries." The now-in-control agent said with authority.
"Don't think so. I can't move by myself and you can't help," came the weary reply. Reminding Ezra his hands were still tied behind his back.
"Yes, you do seem to have pointed out the obvious. I will just have to rectify that problem," Ezra commented dryly. He began working his arms under his rear and then under his legs. The flexible man continued to wiggle and struggle to get his legs through the stretched out opening of his arms. He could feel the rope burning into his skin. With a last ditch effort and a loud pop in his shoulder area Ezra managed to get his hands in front of him. Ignoring the burning sensation in his shoulder he turned the injured agent over and let out an audible gasp. The fact that the mustached man had taken a fierce beating didn't surprise the trembling agent. It was the bullet holes in each thigh that had his mind reeling. The blood loss would be sufficient if not stopped immediately. With some difficulty and a lot of exertion Ezra finally dragged the solidly built man over to the wall and propped him up. Thankfully he had passed out when Ezra began moving him.
Ezra wiped the sweat from his face and set to work removing both their belts to use as tourniquets. After that he applied pressure, trying to stem the flow of blood. Having only one good arm he had to choose the one flowing most fiercely. The undercover agent was filled with anxiety that this great man wouldn't make it. He was so preoccupied working on Buck's injuries he didn't hear the door open and was startled to feel the grips of the two men on his arms. Unable to hold back a gasp as they yanked him to his feet he quickly bit down on the inside of his mouth, tasting the blood as it trickled down his throat. "Come on Florence Nightingale or should we call you Houdini?" sneered the big brute that had started this mess and whom Ezra felt was going to end it.
Ezra was led into a small office. First, spying the folding chair, his eyes panned over to a table with a syringe on it. "Wonderful! 'Really Ezra, you must learn not to upset people so,’ the captured agent made the quick deduction that he was in for a life altering experience. While the two brawny men were tying the fighting agent to the chair, he noticed the man he had come to bargain with in the first place fill the syringe. 'Lord only knows what that is, but I guess I'm about to find out'
"Listen you insipid, insolent, ill-dressed, ill-mannered inanimate nobody I must insist you release me at once!" Ezra figured if he was going to be hurt he might as throw the first punch, so to speak. So much for not upsetting people.
Ezra's heart was pounding so hard by this time he was having difficulty focusing on what Santiago was saying. He missed the first part but caught the last. "...So since the direct approach didn't work with Mr. Highly, or whatever your friend's name is I've planned a different method for you."
"Really? Wouldn't have guessed," Ezra quipped, "You are a moron."
As the needle was injected into the restrained agent's arm Ezra began feeling like he was watching the scene from outside his body. Santiago was asking questions that he couldn't comprehend. He decided that he really wasn't feeling well, now would be a good time for Nathan to appear with that blasted medical bag of his. The undercover agent knew it would get worse. The last straight thought he had was reminding himself to keep his usually vocal mouth shut for once.
Buck slowly came to and realized he was alone. As he tried to remember where he was and what was happening to him a searing sensation made itself known in his legs. The mustached man looked down, causing a blinding pain to shoot through his chest and noticed the two belts around his legs. Ezra. Buck tried to recall how he got over to the wall and how Ezra managed to get the belts on his legs. More importantly he wanted to know what had happened to his friend. A heaviness settled into his stomach as he realized where his brother might be. He didn't think Ezra would do as well if he were brutalized in the same matter, especially if he didn't control that mouth of his.
Buck reflected on his friendship with the undercover agent. The mustached man shook his head as he remembered the early months. To the older man's way of thinking Ezra was standoffish and thought only about himself. For this reason and the fact Ezra just plain irritated him Buck, like Chris, had resorted to physically butting heads with the man. It occurred to the ladies man that the strange thing was Ezra never physically fought back. Instead, he used those fancy words of his to fight back. To hurt the person who was attacking him. It had been on one of the undercover jobs that Buck realized what kind of man Ezra really was under all those fancy clothes. Buck had been playing Ezra's bodyguard when things had gone wrong, not unlike this time. Except gunfire had erupted and one of the offending players had drawn a bead right in the middle of Buck's forehead. Before the ladies man could do anything, his partner, Ezra, threw him to the floor. The undercover agent was covered in blood by the time Buck could get out from under him and get Ezra rolled over onto his back.
Buck grimaced at the thought; they had come very close to losing Ezra that time. Buck prayed that once again they would come out alive and in one piece.
Long minutes passed before he heard Ezra's screams as the two men approached the door with the drug-crazed agent. The bleeding man closed his eyes as his terrorized friend was bought in and unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Buck heard the door close and opened his eyes.
The smaller man had curled into a fetal position and was whimpering like a frightened child.
"Ezra? Ezra?" the distraught agent called softly but urgently to his friend. He wanted nothing more than to be able to comfort the man he thought of as a brother. "C'mon Ez! Come here," implored Buck, truly concerned for the other agent not knowing what had transpired upstairs to make him act this way.
"I can't. The rats will know where I am. They'll come after me," came the whimpering reply.
"It's o.k. There aren't any rats. Come here." The older man prompted. Ezra's state was tearing at his heart.
"Yes there are. Don't you hear them?" Ezra insisted.
Buck changed tactics. "They're sleeping Ez. I promise. Now c'mon little brother crawl over here to Ol' Buck. I'll keep you safe." Buck coaxed but the curled up figure didn't move. The older man continued his litany of promises and coaxing words until finally the hallucinating agent crept carefully over to the man who promised protection. Curling back into a ball the drugged agent continued to plea for the rats to leave him alone. The older brother, wanting more than anything to be able to place his hand on Ezra's head and protect his friend, cursed who ever had planted this fear in his friend's head. Buck said a silent plea for his long time friend and the leader of this special team to find them soon.
Chris knew something wasn't right, he could feel it. The hour wasn't up yet, it lacked twenty minutes but he decided not to wait. "We're going in now," his authoritative voice came over the other's earpieces. Vin shot a look over to the leader and nodded his approval. He, too, felt something was wrong. The remaining members of Team 7 as well as Team 8 never thought about questioning the blonde's choice but quickly took up their positions, adhering to the command for radio silence.
The men, divided into groups, walked into the warehouse quietly, scoping out the area for signs of their teammates. Coming in through different doors they met up in the middle of the expansive room. "All clear." Josiah quietly said, worried they were too late.
"We start checking the other rooms. Ryan, your team take that end and we'll take the other." The black clad leader directed. The two teams split up and began checking the few rooms that lined the walls. Vin was the first to notice the blood trail on the floor. He puffed into his mic twice, his signal when on radio silence, to alert the others. He waited until he met with the hard green eyes of his leader and pointed to the floor. The other four members of his team soon joined him.
J.D.'s hands were sweaty as he gripped his gun tighter. They were all brothers but what he shared with Buck was more. There was no explanation for it; all he knew was that after losing his mom Buck had filled that empty spot in his heart. It was like having a brother, dad and teacher all in one person. He couldn't lose that again.
As the five men worked their way down the stairs their instincts were working at top level. They followed the blood to the steel door. When Chris tried to open it he realized it was locked. He stepped aside for the longhaired agent to unlock it.
Vin had always been good at picking locks but after a little coaching from Ezra he was even better. The site they beheld as he swung the door opened had them transfixed to the spot.
"Holy smokes," came the soft comment from the medic.
"Hey! It's about time you showed," came a weak voice. The men started in and were once again startled into stopping. Ezra had heard the scraping of picks in the lock and took it as little rodent squeaks. When the men had started into the room Ezra heard the feet of large menacing beasts that were approaching to dine on his flesh. Survival instincts kicked in. The men stared as they watched the undercover agent scream hysterically and repeatedly try to climb the wall in escape.
Josiah was the first to move. He lunged for Ezra and grabbed him around the chest in a vice-like grip. The others quickly moved in to help their fallen brothers. Nathan, Vin and Chris moved in to help Josiah wrestle the agent with the crazed green eyes to the floor.
J.D. went to Buck. "Hey Buck! What'd ya do? You hit on one of their girlfriends?" the youngest agent said smiling, untying and taking his mentor's hand.
Buck barely smiled and asked. "Where's Chris?"
Upon hearing his name the blond haired man shifted from the pinned but still fighting agent to his oldest friend. "Right here Pard" taking Buck's other hand and looking his eyes. "Tried telling one of J.D.'s jokes did you?" the he joked, relieved that the man who had saved his life and his soul after the death of his family was still with them.
Ezra's screams ricocheted off the crowded room's wall, making the cacophony even louder.
Buck pulled his hand from J.D.'s and grabbed onto the black-sleeved arm. Intense blue eyes met frightened green. Chris knew whatever Buck was going to say, it was important to the man. After many years of friendship the two could speak volumes with very few words.
Chris watched as his friend battled for consciousness, finally Buck whispered, "Sangre de Cristo." The leader merely nodded his head in understanding.
The blue eyes slid shut as the man lost his battle to the darkness. J.D. watched the leader of these hard and rowdy men gently pull his injured friend to his chest and tightened his grip as a single tear rolled down his face unchecked.
J.D.'s heart fell, somehow in the chaotic room he suddenly felt very alone. As the men struggled to help their wounded friends all swore someone would pay, even if it meant with the perpetrator's lives.
Twenty-eight hours later:
The tired leader watched as his most stubborn agent lay sleeping. The blond haired man thought of the times that the two of them had butted heads, he wished for one of those times now. His mind wondered to his other friend in the next room. Chris had ridden in one of the ambulances with Buck and Josiah had ridden in the other with Ezra. The blonde figured he had the better ride, well at least a quieter one. The black clad leader had seen J.D.'s face when he got in the ambulance and knew the kid wanted to go with Buck but Chris had gone anyway, he needed to. He needed to be there for Buck the way Buck had always been there for him.
After arriving at the hospital they had taken Buck to surgery almost immediately. Chris went to wait for the others to arrive before heading to the waiting room. They had rushed Ezra into the E.R. and begun working on him. It wasn't a pleasant job. Josiah had stayed with the strung out agent, the big father figure received no complaints from the staff. This staff knew these men, a little too well to some people's way of thinking. They knew the southerner was difficult to handle under ordinary circumstances and this was anything but ordinary. They were very willing to take the extra help
It was known before arrival that the undercover agent had multiple needle marks. Going on the physical symptoms duty physician's worst assumption was confirmed. Agent Standish had been injected with a lethal dose of LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide). This drug evokes dreamlike changes in mood and thought and alters the perception of time and space. It also can create a feeling of lack of self-control and terror. Along with the hallucinations the agent was also suffering from an increased heart rate, sweats, dizziness and tremors. The weakness and nausea would come later. There was little they could do to rid the agent of the drugs. The best they could do was treating the side effects.
The lively agent gave the staff and Josiah more trouble than they thought possible in the condition he was in, but then again this was Ezra. Josiah's heart broke as he and an orderly held the man down on the gurney. The crazed brother hit, kicked, bit and used words that no one ever thought would come out of his mouth. As Ezra was fond of saying he was too intelligent to use such a vulgar vocabulary. The E.R. physician worked hard to stabilize Ezra's heart. It didn't help that the hallucinating man was so active, causing extra strain on the life-pumping organ. The big man watched, like an over protective brother, his friend struggle against unseen demons. Josiah listened and tried to comfort the fighting man as he screamed repeatedly for help that apparently he didn't know was there. The anthropologist knew the hours and days ahead were going to be a long and difficult but he swore to the incoherent man he wouldn't be alone. He had family that would be there every step of the way.
Buck had undergone the operation to remove both bullets and fix the internal damage done by the beating. Though the operation had taken a long time it had gone very well. Chris allowed J.D. to be the first one in after he had been moved to an I.C.U. room. The young man moved into the darkened room slowly, brushing back his hair, he realized how close they had come to losing the jovial man. J.D. felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find he was staring into the healer's brown eyes.
"He'll be fine," the dark man said confidently. The younger man nodded and settled into a chair beside the bed. Taking the unconscious man's hand he whispered "He has to be." Nathan watched the young man settle down and then found his own chair.
The doctor had said Buck would recover without any lasting effects as long as he followed orders. Nathan shook his head at the memory. 'As often as these guys are patients the doctors should have figured it out by now. These men followed orders about as well as any two-year old.' The healer shook his head again. He definitely had his work cut out for him and that was only counting Buck; he hadn't (wouldn't) even think what the stubborn friend down in E.R. was going to be like. The healer continued to watch the sleeping form and then switched his glance over to the younger man; the computer whiz had been unusually quiet for the past few hours. Just another worry for the healer to deal with and Nathan did worry. For all of them.
Ezra was moved to the I.C.U. hours later. The loquacious agent had continued to ramble about visions only he saw. Chris, Vin and Josiah felt very uncomfortable as they listened to the rambling man reveal things from his past that he never would have discussed otherwise. Some parts they could understand and piece together while other parts made no sense at all. The ramblings gave them more insight into the man that refused to be enveloped into this unique family. After listening to some of the talk about his past there wasn't any doubt as to why. But no matter how uncomfortable they were they weren't going to leave him alone. They never had and never would, no matter how much the southerner complained about the indignities of one's privacy being invaded.
Ezra had become so animated that the I.C.U. doctor, a new one and therefore not knowing the agent at all, had placed restraints on him. Since, Ezra's dislocated shoulder had been reduced and strapped to his chest only his legs and one good arm were held in place. The wrists on both hands had been wrapped with gauze; the right one had even required a few stitches, where the rope had torn his flesh.
This new inhibiter furthered panicked the man and caused him to fight even harder. The men waiting in the room feared their friend was going to dislocate the other arm. A couple of minutes later Josiah couldn't take seeing the thrashing young agent fight the restraints any longer. Restraints, that couldn't be picked, for this agent was like closed in rooms to the longhaired agent.
The giant of a man undid the restraints, all the while talking in a gentle voice. Without caring what others would think he scooted the smaller man over in his bed and laid his large frame down onto the covers, though it was a tight fit. The beds were hardly big enough for one person, but Ezra needed help and help he would get, no matter how uncomfortable it was. Being careful of the bandaged shoulder and the multitude of tubes he gathered the hallucinating man into his arms. Ezra grabbed onto Josiah's shirt like death itself. Neither Chris nor Vin said a word about the older man's actions and would prevent anyone else from doing so either. To them it only seemed natural that Josiah be the one to comfort Ezra. They were greatly relieved when the wild green-eyed man finally settled down and sleep claimed him, if only for a little while.
As Josiah lay there holding his slumbering friend he wondered if anyone had bothered to hold him as a child. The teddy bear of a man felt sorrow for Ezra for never knowing a good and loving childhood. He wept inwardly for the loss of such innocence.
Chris, Vin and Nathan rotated between the two rooms. It was a given that J.D. and Josiah would stay put where they were, though they did ask about the other patient. It was during one of Chris' visits that J.D. finally got the courage to ask the question that had been nagging him since they first found their friends. "Chris?" the agent hesitantly started.
"Um?" responded the black clad leader, who was reading a book.
"What's Sangre de Cristo?"
The black clad leader laid his book down and flashed a look over towards his recovering friend.
Secure in the knowledge that Buck was asleep Chris began quietly, " Buck and I were working for the Police Department. We'd gotten a good tip that there was a drug lab up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about one hundred miles from Blanco Peak. We were combing a section of the grid. There was this young police officer that we got partnered with, Kevin Huston. He was energetic, brash, smart and had good instincts."
"Like Ezra?' J.D. whispered.
Chris nodded and a small grin formed on his face before he continued. "We had split apart some to cover more ground, we were to make contact with each other every five minutes. A lot can happen in five minutes." The black clad leader halted and ran his fingers through his hair. J.D. wanted to ask something but kept his mouth shut waiting for Chris to continue. "He didn't make contact. Buck and I searched for him, hoping he had fallen and hit his head or something. Wishing for anything but the worst. We called in the others and the dogs. They started tracking his scent. That night we found the drug lab, it had been cleaned out, all except Kevin. They had shot him up with enough dope to kill a deer, but he was still alive. They had wanted to know all the details of the operation. He wouldn't tell, so they kept giving him more drugs. He never talked."
Chris quit speaking and put his head in his hands.
'Like Ezra' thought J.D. "Kevin died," J.D. stated more as fact than a question.
The leader just nodded.
"Well, Ezra is going to make it!" J.D. claimed with the utmost belief in the agent next door. A moment later J.D. asked softly, "You think Santiago had Ezra fingered as an agent before the meet?"
Chris merely shrugged his shoulders. It didn't matter why the beast had tried to kill his men; he was going to get even.
The angry leader thought about the criminal that had brought all this trouble upon his men. Rafael Santiago. Chris smiled a tight, grimaced smile; the man's capture had been the only good news since this ordeal had begun. Ryan and his team had found Santiago and his men still in the warehouse.
Since neither agent had broken Santiago had merely chalked his bodyguard's I.D. of Buck up to a mistake and deemed the meeting with Mr. Lawrence o.k. Santiago, the brilliant man Ezra had pegged him of being, had planned on ambushing "Mr. Lawrence" and taking the money and the guns.
The agents assumed that Santiago would somehow get Ezra to place the call to "Mr. Lawrence" for the go ahead to come. Chris had tried to get in to interrogate Santiago, but was denied access. Things had turned ugly and were headed straight for nasty when luckily for the staff A.D. Travis showed up. Travis hadn't really needed to be alerted by phone that his determined agent was downstairs; He had already learned it through his secretary. That grapevine was faster than e-mail sometimes, especially when it involved one or more members of Team Seven.
Taking the heated agent into a private room, the Judge wisely let the blonde blow off some steam. In the end Chris still had not gotten to see Santiago but did get the Judge's promise to personally oversee every step of the case. The Judge didn't know who was madder about the case going bad and Ezra being hurt... his wife, Evie, or Chris. Evie had taken special interest in that arrogant, high-minded lad. Evie insisted that all the boy needed was to be cared about and looked after. The Judge had a feeling if his wife had her way Ezra would become a member of his family. "Oh Lord!'
The next day the fearless leader and the healer, coming back from breakfast, stepped off the elevator feeling better. While things had not improved significantly, at least events were no longer on a downward spiral. The two split up; Nathan went into Buck's room and Chris headed for Ezra's. As he walked into Ezra's room the blond man had to smile openly. The normally aggravating agent was burrowed under his covers, the only thing visible was a hand snaking out. It was firmly clenched to the older agent's shirt sleeve. Ezra had not let go of Josiah yet. Josiah was dozing in the chair scooted up as close to the bed as possible. When things were back to normal Chris would have ammo against Ezra and his mouth. Then again thought Chris maybe not. To do that would not only damage any tentative bridge they had built with the skittish man but it would, also, mean taking on a certain older and protective brother.
Chris nudged Josiah awake. "Hey Chris! Boy, you look better." the big man stated, referring to how Chris had looked the day before when Nathan had finally dragged their leader out of the hospital and had taken him home with him.
"Thanks" Chris replied dryly.
"Go get some breakfast, I'll stay with him," ordered the blond leader.
"That's o.k. I'm not hungry," responded the older agent. Josiah didn't want to leave Ezra's side in case he decided to wake up.
"I didn't ask if you were hungry. Beside, I got a feeling Vin's going to need help dragging J.D. away from Buck," glared Chris in a tone that was not to be argued with. Josiah saw this and nodded in agreement. Chris slid his hand between Ezra's hand and Josiah's sleeve, grasping Ezra's hand in his own. Once the transfer was complete Josiah stood up and Chris slid into the chair. Shifting around to find a comfortable position, the leader had to question whether the staff put these uncomfortable chairs in their rooms on purpose, in hopes of getting rid of the visitors, for a little while at least. ' Even if that is the reason for the chairs it's not going to work' Chris thought as he watched Josiah walk out the door.
Chris held onto his agent firmly, much like a drowning man holds to a lifeline. With his other hand he grabbed a washcloth and dunked into the pitcher of cold water. Ringing it out one handed the blond leader began to wipe the heavy sheen of sweat off Ezra's face. One of the side effects of LSD was the sweats and Ezra had them bad. The drugged man had repeatedly kicked off his covers. The thermostat had been turned down to sixty; the guys had actually bought in their jackets to wear. All of this was to no avail as Ezra was still pouring out almost as much liquids as the multiple I.V.'s were putting in.
As Chris watched his friend sleep he listened to the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor, reassuring Chris that Ezra's heart was finally beating steady and strong.
After they had first bought Ezra up to his room the annoying machine had gone off every five minutes, or so it seemed. The doctors had a time keeping the heart steady and Ezra fighting the restraints hadn't helped. Chris smiled as he remembered the first time a nurse had walked in and found Josiah in the bed with Ezra. She had started to make a comment but one look from the protective leader had stalled that thought. The doctor wasn't thrilled at first to find the restraints off, but after checking the sleeping agent's heart rhythm and finding it had improved, he merely grinned and left the room. The doctor was probably educated by the nursing staff that these men were truly unique and not to be messed with.
That night Buck awoke with a crushing headache. He reasoned that if he didn't open his eyes he could go back to sleep and forget the pain. Unfortunately it didn't work. 'Oh well, might as well get it over with' the ladies man figured. With great effort he forced his eyes opened. The first thing he focused on was the kid. "Buck, you're awake!" J.D. exclaimed, a little too loudly for Buck's liking.
"Hey kid." the dark haired man responded. J.D. was about to tell his best friend how glad he was to see him awake when he was stopped by a raspy voice. "Where's Chris?"
"Next door with Ezra," answered J.D., hiding his disappointed face by getting a glass of water for Buck. J.D. sat the bed up into a more inclined position and held the cup of water as Buck took a few much-needed sips. After drinking the much appreciated cool liquid, the blue-eyed man stared expectantly at his roommate. Vin, sitting in the corner, waited for J.D. to do what was right.
When J.D. didn't move Vin unfolded himself from the chair and headed for the door. "I'll get him."
Buck, seeing Vin for the first time whispered out "Hey Vin."
"Hey yourself. Good to see ya awake," flashing the other man a smile before heading out the door.
Minutes later the Chris walked in, relieved that at least one of his agents had rejoined the land of the living. "Hey! Boy you look terrible." Chris laughed.
"I bet I still look better than you" Buck shot back.
Chris took his long time brother's hand and smiled a rare joyful smile.
"How's Ez?" the blue eyes beseeching green eyes for the truth.
The leader shrugged and replied, "It's wait and see time. I think he'll make it. He's too ornery not to be o.k."
"Need to talk to ya," came the tired voice from the bed.
"Later," the leader heavily suggested, staring intently at his friend. He could tell the dark haired man was tiring.
"No. Now." Buck insisted. He nodded his head and looked at Vin. "Why don't you two go grab some supper."
The leader could tell that the wounded agent wanted to talk to him in private and wouldn't rest until he did.
Vin nodded and grabbed J.D., who showed no signs of leaving, "C'mon kid my treat."
Vin watched as the young man walked to the elevators, his shoulders slumped. The longhaired agent knew what was going through the other's mind. He would talk to the kid and reassure him of his place with his roommate and best friend. The two friends loaded up their trays and found a table. The quiet agent watched the normally energetic youth push his food around on his plate. "J.D.?' the soft texas drawl breaking through the other man's thoughts.
"Yeah" the computer whiz replied sadly.
"Wanna tell me what's wrong," Vin ventured into the conversation that needed to be had.
"When we first found them, he hardly responded to me. Just wanted Chris. Then just now the first thing he did was asked for Chris again. I'm his roommate. I'm the one who has sat with him the entire time." J.D. spoke harshly, knowing how he sounded and not caring.
"Buck probably wants to make sure Chris understands what happened." Vin said, taking another bite of food.
"He coulda waited. Chris knows it wasn't Buck's fault." The youngster snapped back, pushing his bangs out of his face.
"Wasn't Ezra's fault either. Never has been before when a bust went bad." Vin spoke quietly.
"Probably" J.D. answered, not sounding too sure.
Vin shook his head and wondered if the younger man blamed Ezra. 'That's another bridge to be crossed later' he thought. "They've been friends a long time," suggested the Texan.
"Jeez Vin! Don't you think I know that? I know I sound like a jealous two-year old," the Boston bred friend retorted. "And I hate how I feel it's just..." J.D. couldn't finish. He couldn't explain how he felt.
The quiet man sat there in silence for a bit before diving on into the conversation. "Before you and I came along Chris and Buck were all each other had. They needed one another to survive. Chris needed Buck to keep him from falling off the edge and Buck needed Chris because he simply needs to be needed. That's the way they are and that's not going to change. Without each other this team would have never been formed. That means you wouldn't have Buck and I wouldn't have Chris."
Vin stopped at that thought and said a silent thank you to Josiah's god for Buck. He continued, "J.D. without each other how well do you think we would have fit into their lives? They've always had each other and they always will. We've got to accept that."
"I know. It just scares me that maybe Buck doesn't need me," replied the younger agent, staring intently at his plate and not seeing the food.
Vin tried a different approach. "Ten years from now two rookies come along and need some guidance. Buck and you take them in and bond with them. Is that going to change your friendship with Buck?"
"Of course not!" J.D. answered hotly.
Vin cocked an eyebrow at his friend and lifted the corner of his mouth into a smile. "O.k. O.k. I get it. Buck needs us both," the shamed faced agent astutely answered. Vin nodded his head. 'Yep, give the kid a little time and encouragement and he'll be fine'
The strong willed leader watched his long time friend struggle to get his thoughts together. Lord, he thought, they'd been through a lot together. 'What was that old saying... He was one to ride the river with. Yep, that described Buck alright'. The leader had, he sadly admitted, really used and sometimes abused the other man. Now, no matter what happened he would be there for his friend and brother.
Gradually the Buck retold what had transpired. He discreetly left out the part of Ezra and the stairs. Slowly ending the story by retelling how Ezra had emphatically apologized to him about not being to, as Ezra put it, extricate them from the situation.
Chris could tell how much that bothered his friend. Mostly, the leader figured, because the ladies man blamed himself. The stone-faced man quickly declared, "Heck Buck, you blame yourself, Ezra will be blaming himself and I blame myself. After all I should have followed my instincts and gone in earlier. Think there is enough blame to go around. Truth of the matter is there's only one person who's at fault for all this and he's sitting in a jail cell waiting for his arraignment. Which he won't get! We will all recover from this and in six weeks be ready to go after the next miscreant to come our way."
The dark haired man stared at his friend. That had to the longest speech the man had ever given. Chris was known for getting his point across with a scowl and, if needed, a one-word command. "Miscreant?" Buck chuckled. "Seems like someone's beginning to rub off on you." Buck nestled his head further into his pillow, closed his eyes and fell into a much-needed deep sleep.
The blond man shifted in his chair to find a more comfortable position, never letting go of his brother's hand. "He's not the only one rubbing off on me my friend. He's not the only one," Chris whispered.
Nathan watched over Ezra as he slept. Josiah had finally been ordered home for some rest. Chris was with Buck and the remaining two were down in the cafeteria. The healer wouldn't have admitted it to anyone but he was greatly amazed the sleeping form had made it this far. When they had first found him in the warehouse Nathan didn't think he was going to make it to the hospital. Once they got here Ezra's heart rate had been so erratic that it had taken several hours for the right drug to be found that would help even it out. Nathan didn't see how the agent had stayed alive that long. Nathan shook his head, why was he so surprised. This was Ezra they were dealing with; the man was Chris' equal in the stubborn department.
This thought conjured up past memories of dealing with the stubborn southerner. The first time the healer had tried to administer aid to the undercover agent he had had to get Josiah to hold him down. It quickly became apparent that the man detested attention. For all of Ezra's fancy words and flashy dressing Ezra really just wanted to blend in with the walls. The walls he had built up around him. Ezra had always been a puzzle to the healer, with his apparent background and love of the good life why in the world had the man chosen being an undercover agent as his work.
Nathan couldn't deny the man was good at his job he just wondered why Ezra hadn't chosen another occupation, like banker or stockbroker. Josiah had pointed out once when Nathan had wondered this concern out loud that maybe Ezra had chosen this line of work because it allowed him to be other people. It allowed him to be somebody he didn't feel he could really be but wanted to be.
This had thoroughly confused Nathan, but then again Josiah often had that affect on others. Josiah tried again. Ezra, he explained, had been bought up to believe and act a certain way, being an undercover agent allowed him the freedom to experience other ways of living. It let him have fun, let him enjoy things he didn't think he could in his "real" life. It had taken Nathan awhile to study this line of thinking and finally came to the conclusion that Josiah might be right.
The next few days showed vast improvement in both agents. A C.T. scan confirmed there would be no lasting brain damage to the irritable agent, who had woken up two days before and was now driving everyone insane. The man could make Job lose his patience and drive St. Peter back behind his pearly gates. The nurses were sending blessings and goodies to the doctor who finally deemed the surly man fit to leave.
A Week Later:
Normally, Ezra would have gloated to Buck about being release before the other agent, but hadn't, he just quietly asked to exit the horrible place as quickly as possible. Chris had bought Ezra out to the ranch to recuperate after being dismissed from the hospital. Vin and Josiah moved out there as well. The anthropologist called it preventative medicine. The sharpshooter called it refereeing. They expected the worst from the moody agent, going on the evidence from past experiences and the way he was acting in the hospital. Instead, the always-abrasive agent withdrew into himself. He not only stopped talking, which was very unsettling to the other three men, the obstinate agent tried to refuse food. Only a threat from the formidable leader with another trip to the hospital and a visit with Nathan ended that protest.
The three friends were truly worried by the end of the week. The knowledge that Nathan was bringing Buck and J.D. tomorrow after Buck's release was the only thing keeping the frustrated leader from demanding that Nathan come any sooner. It had been silently agreed upon that that they would all stay out at the ranch for a week. All but one of the seven men felt a need to be together under one roof for a while. Chris was hoping that Buck and J.D.'s antics would lighten the southerner's mood.
Ezra laid back in the recliner under an afghan, he wasn't particularly cold but the cover hid the tremors that racked his tired body. He was thinking about the past week and how utterly degrading it had been. First, there were the tremors that affected almost all his abilities. He tried to keep them hidden and succeeded pretty well, except when it was time to eat. The tremors caused his hands to shake and therefore the utensils shook, spilling food and making a mess. Chris, Vin and Josiah pretended not to notice, after all appearances were everything to this normally suave and graceful agent.
Then there was the nausea that had taken up residence and refused to leave, hence another reason Ezra had tried to refuse to eat. It had started when he was in hospital, the day before he was to leave. The little crescent shaped bowl was nowhere wide enough; the friends in the room with him had resorted to using the "bath bucket." The doctor had given him a prescription for it but to no avail. So, to add to his humiliation he was forced to have help when losing whatever was in his stomach.
The hospital. Ezra remembered the first time he consciously woke up there. He had been absolutely terrified. He always panicked when he first found himself in that horrid place, but this time the fear had entirely consumed him. His four friends; Chris, Vin, Nathan and Josiah; had been in various stages of relaxation when Ezra had awakened and sat straight up, disoriented. He began screaming his head off, at the same time fighting to get out of bed. It had taken all four of them to restrain the frantic friend. He vividly recalled yanking his arm out of Vin's grip, only to grip the front of his leader's shirt with the strength of Zeus. He recollected how he had screamed at Chris to help him get out of there. Wild green eyes had beseeched calm green eyes. Chris had taken Ezra's face into his hands much like blinders on a horse so, all Ezra could focus on was his leader's face. Chris had talked him through the anxiety filled attack, quietly reassuring Ezra of his safety. The territorial leader could be the calm in the storm for his men when the need arose. The other three men had not backed off, either. They had stayed and put in their reassurances, he had not and would not be left alone. It took several long, agonizing minutes before the terrorized man had been coaxed to lay back down, it was several more lingering minutes before he could go back to sleep. Chris hadn't removed his hands until he did.
To make it even more degrading, it wasn't the only panic attack. There had been three more, all just as terrifying as the first. After the second panic attack, Buck, who could hear his friend's screams next door, had demanded to be moved into the room with Ezra. His friend was not going to go through his ordeal without all six men right beside him. The guys had been there to help him ride each attack out, never making anything out of it. Just being there, like brothers do for each other.
The second matter that plagued him was the flashbacks. The doctor had informed the men that with LSD flashbacks could occur up to a year afterwards, even longer in some patients. Ezra's only thought was 'Oh Lawd! I'm going to be loony for a year.' The flashbacks had been almost as bad as the hallucinations. More than once he had shaken up the household with his screams. Chris, Vin or Josiah; or more often than not all three; came racing to his side and talked to him until his world was back right side up. He was becoming sufficiently humiliated. It only seemed just payment to him though, because all this was his fault in the first place.
The next day Nathan arrived with the "children" in time for lunch. Josiah had fixed his famous chili and it could be smelled clear out in the yard. Chris could tell by the look on the healer's face that the morning had been a trying one. It always was where those two fun loving agents were concerned. The quiet leader wasn't looking forward to telling him it was about to get worse. Vin and Josiah carried Buck into the house with the energetic younger agent hopping right behind them. As they lowered the ladies man down on the couch, he called out a hello to the other man sitting in the recliner, taking note of the pinched features around his eyes.
When no answer came back Buck glanced up at Vin, who gestured for him to try again. "Hey Ez! How's the maid service around here. Top of the line I hope, got kinda spoiled these past couple of weeks."
Ezra took a deep breath, 'Lord, now I have to respond'. The low southern voice was slow in answering. "I'm sure these gentlemen are quite capable at seeing to your needs."
Buck and Nathan eyed Chris with confusion.
Chris closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. "I'm going to the kitchen to help Josiah with lunch." The leader spoke with resignation in his voice. Nathan followed. He wanted some answers.
J.D. being oblivious to everything that just occurred was concentrating on setting up the Nintendo game. The young agent finally noticed the ill-looking friend and walked over to him. "Hey Ez! Sorry, I didn't see ya. How are you doing?"
"Fine." Ezra answered with more energy than he felt. 'Lord why don't they just leave me alone?' Chris, Vin and Josiah had gone out of their way this past week to make him comfortable, doing everything they could to make his recovery easier. Making his favorite foods, or what they thought were his favorites. Keeping the house warm enough for him while they sweltered, the sweats had ended and now he was back to being cold. The list went on and on. He couldn't take their kindness, their offering of help. They treated him like family. Ezra wished they hadn't. To him it was like twisting a knife in his gut. He was responsible for this mess and they were only showing concern for him. How could they be so inconsiderate, why couldn't they just scream or hit him? This was his fault. Now J.D., Buck and Nathan were here to add to that feeling. Nathan would worry about his health, Buck would try to take away the blame that was his and J.D... well J.D. would be naive, sweet, faithful J.D. Ezra rubbed his closed eyes not seeing the looks flying around the room. "I'm going to the room." He said tiredly. He refused to call it his room, even though the others did. He had learned a long time ago if you didn't claim anything you couldn't lose anything.
"You feeling alright Ez?' Vin asked, concerned. They had all seen the color drain from his face when the reticent man stood.
"Fine," came the standard answer as the agent made his way shakily to the room. The remaining three stared at each other. No, things were definitely not fine.
'Why do they still care' thought Ezra as he lay down on the bed. Even before this fiasco they had showed concern. Why? Why did they care about him? Not even his own mother cared that much about him. She had made it known early in his life he had been an accident, a mere unplanned player in one of her schemes. What made these strong, independent, hard men want him around? What did they want form him? What did he have to offer them?
Nathan walked into the kitchen. "Which one of you is going to explain what's going on with him?" he asked, glaring at Josiah and his boss. He knew from conversations during the week that something was wrong but not to this extent.
Josiah looked at his leader and could read Chris self-incriminating eyes and knew he needed to be the one to explain. Taking a deep breath the oldest member began. "Well, our errant brother has undergone a slight behavioral change." Nathan raised his eyebrows, a bad habit he was picking up from a certain southern friend.
"Well its probably from all the drugs he was injected with. It's going to take time for his system to get back to normal."
Josiah shook his head negatively, "Don't think that's it."
"Oh?" Nathan was sure he didn't like the tone of warning in his friend's voice.
"He's done a 180 degree turn and its not for the better." Josiah let out a depressed sigh; this week had been hard on all of them, especially Ezra.
A couple of seconds of silence went by before the healer prodded the man forward. Chris picked up where his friend left off, "He's withdrawn more than usual, passive beyond belief. Everything Ezra isn't and he seems to have..."
"Yes?' asked Nathan quietly.
"Well, he's seems to be quitting."
"The team?" asked Nathan incredulously.
If things had been Ezra's fault, the healer could see the egotistical agent quitting; the man didn't handle even the thought of failure very well. But, things had not been his fault. The dark agent couldn't see why Ezra would quit, unless he blamed them.
"No," responded Chris sadly, "life."
"What! Why didn't you call me?"
Both agents shrugged, "I guess we kept hoping he'd get better." Josiah added.
Nathan shook his head; Ezra was too stubborn to just quit. "Look, he's been through a lot. The drugs are still taking their toll on his body and will for a while. It's just going to be a while before he fully recovers but to be on the safe side I'll check him over after lunch and keep an eye on him."
Chris and Josiah threw a glance at each other.
"What else?" Nathan inquired warily. He was feeling more anxious, something else was wrong. 'I hate when these guys keep things to themselves.'
" He hasn't been eating well, either," informed Josiah.
"That could be due to the drugs, too," Nathan answered back.
The looks on the other men's faces told him that wasn't the correct assessment. Nathan let out a breath he'd been holding and silently swore to knock some since into the frail agent as soon as he was back to normal.
Ezra slept the rest of the day. He wasn't anywhere near 100% and with what he perceived as pressure from these men his body wasn't recovering very fast. He was worn out. The sleeping man never stirred when the longhaired agent came in with lunch then left with it. He didn't budge when the healer appeared took his temperature and vitals. Nor did he notice when the older man who acted as a father covered him up and whispered goodnight.
Saturday was spent peacefully. Buck and Ezra slept most of the day away. Later in the day after Ezra had turned in for night, refusing a game of cards, Nathan confirmed the others' fear. Ezra was falling into a deep depression. True, Nathan restated, the effects of the drugs were playing a major role; but it wasn't the only thing causing the depression. Nathan informed them if they didn't get Ezra to open up and tell them what he was feeling or thinking it was going to get worse. J.D. suggested that maybe they should send him to a counselor.
Vin laughed, "Heck kid five minutes after meeting Ez the counselor will need a counselor."
"Or quit." added Josiah.
"Or he'll become a blathering idiot," commented Nathan.
They had all witnessed Ezra's ability to turn any attention away from himself and turn it back onto the person interrogating him.
"Besides J.D., Ezra doesn't open up to us and we've known him for two years. What makes you think a stranger is going to get him to open up?" Buck requested.
"Well, we've got to do something. I'm not losing him. He's a good agent and a good friend." Chris firmly stated. "We won't lose him" the oldest brother spoke matter-of-factly. They wouldn't let that happen. Not by a long shot.
Sunday came and found five of the friends gathered around the table for lunch. J.D., with Buck's filled plate, walked over to the couch where the recuperating man was propped up.
"Do you need a bib?" the young roommate ribbed his friend before turning back towards the table. Buck managed to hit the laughing agent with a pillow. J.D. turned and stared, trying to imitate the 'Larabee stare' and doing a good job of it.
"Hey, it was my legs that were hurt not my arm," warned Buck with a devilish smile. Although the action hadn't helped his bruised ribs and the rest of his insides, he'd never admit it. It was just good to be back among his family.
J.D. happily returned the smile, he was just glad he still had the man in his life. On his way back to the chair the young agent remembered the other recovering agent, who had become a complete opposite of himself, seated at the table.
"Need anything before I sit down Ez?" This show of concern was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
"STOP IT!" screamed the overwhelmed agent jumping to his feet as he simultaneously picked up his steak knife with his one good hand and threw it at the opposite wall. The knife stuck with a resounding thud. Green eyes blazing, the trembling man continued to scream. "STOP IT! JUST STOP IT!" Ezra had taken on the look of someone who was distinctly full of rage. Picking up the overturned chair he threw it to the side, hitting another wall, putting a dent in it and busting one of the legs.
Chris and the other three had leapt to their feet when Ezra let out his first scream. J.D. was frozen to his spot; the knife had been thrown right in front of him. The men had a sinking feeling that they were watching the complete undoing of a brother they deeply cared about and didn't know how to stop it.
Buck pushed his tray of food aside and sat up straighter. 'Sheesh, this was his fault!' He had been feeling guilty now it was engulfing him to the point of suffocation.
"Stop what?" Chris questioned in a calm voice. As the head of the team he felt he should have seen this coming. Now that it was here he needed to be the one to end the torment this brother and friend was putting himself through
"Stop being kind to me," raged the irate agent, drawing his fists up and then thrusting them down be his side.
Josiah smiled inwardly, this was the crux of all Ezra's problems, he didn't trust people who were nice to him.
"I can't take it anymore. I screwed up royally and your treating me like it was nothing."
Six voices came back at him at once.
"Ezra," Vin, Chris and Nathan spoke as one, in their softest voices.
"Son," the pleading deep voice of Josiah called out.
"Little brother," guilt filled Buck's voice.
"Geez Ez, that's not true!" sounded a shocked J.D. He had never really thought it was his friend's fault.
"NO! It's true!" continuing his tirade the southerner bored his angry green eyes into the leader. "I told you," pointing his finger at Chris for extra emphasis, "I work alone. That way if a meet goes south I'm the only one that suffers." Running his hand through his hair he went on, "Just me. No big deal. But NOOO! You not only send someone in with me you send your best friend!" Ezra suddenly stopped, sucked in a deep breath and shot Vin an apologetic look. "One of your best friends," trying to retract his error. It was well known that Buck might have been the leader's oldest friend; but Vin was the blonde's soul mate of sorts.
The six men hadn't moved or even attempted to interrupt the human volcano. This was what they had feared would come one day with the reserved agent and now that it was happening they were powerless to halt the destruction. They would wait and pick up whatever pieces were left when it was all over.
'Lord, let me shut up' Ezra briefly thought as he began maniacally pacing the living room floor. "And do you see what happened?" pulling up in front of Buck and shaking his finger at his injured friend. "I couldn't say anything worthy when I needed to but apparently I talked my head off when it needed to be closed."
Josiah and Vin cautiously headed towards their tightly wound brother. In their minds it was time to stop things and set their erring brother straight on a few facts.
"NO!" Ezra shouted, putting up his hands defensively and backing up to the door. The two men stopped, sensing the seething man would take flight, they figured it was best to keep him in the house where they could keep an eye on the irrational friend. "I mean we're talking about one little shot of low grade junk." Holding up one finger to emphasize the one. "And I become a regular little chatter box."
J.D. fought back the urge to point out to Ezra they already thought he was a chatter box and a confusing chatter box at that.
"And look what it got him," pointing again to Buck, "A real good beating, internal injuries and two bullet wounds." Ezra leaned against the door, he was definitely losing energy. The spent agent swept his blazing green eyes back to the five standing men. "Lord only knows what I told them about ya'll. I failed. I failed at everything and failure has never been an option for me!" he stated quietly, regret filling the air.
Having effectively run out of steam the six men watched their brother go from looking unhinged to looking completely dejected. In his eyes he had committed the worst act an undercover agent could commit, he had sold out his backup. He had become the one thing he had already been labeled and had denied fiercely, a traitor.
"Ez," whispered Buck, loud enough to get the wayward brother's attention. "Come here little brother," gesturing for Ezra to come sit with him. Buck wanted nothing more than to comfort his friend and relieve him of the guilt that wasn't his to begin with. The other five men held their breath hoping the black haired man would be successful in enfolding the errant friend back into the group.
The dejected man's facial expressions changed once again. "Little brother? That's another thing," the troubled agent stormed forward. "I'm not your little brother. I'm no one's brother. I've been on my own since..." Ezra paused briefly, "Well lets just say its been a very long time." The six men noticed the sad inflection that colored the southerner's voice. "Then you six gentlemen," raising his eyebrow questioningly, "come charging into my life like the darn cavalry or something." This caused the six men to smile; they had been called a lot of things but never the cavalry. "You're determined to... to butt into my existence. Pushing. Shoving. Dragging. Joking. Cajoling...," the sputtering man was running out of adjectives. "Anything and everything trying to include me into this family you've made. Its quite unsettling," Ezra finished honestly. "All I can say is..." Ezra paused again, speculating whether he really wanted to finish the statement.
"What?" prodded the black clad leader. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the end of Ezra's speech but it was time to learn just how this walled-in man really felt about them.
Ezra was still thinking whether or not he really wanted to continue. 'Oh why not. This whole thing has gone down the toilet faster than the meet.' Besides he rationalized he could make a hasty escape.
Ezra took a deep breath and took the plunge. "Why?"
"Why what?" asked a naïve J.D. The young friend didn't understand what Ezra was so upset about, personally he loved being part of this make shift family. J.D.'s question threw the irritated man.
"What is it that makes you want me?" Ezra shot back before thinking. 'Darn! That wasn't suppose to come out.'
No one moved. Six minds were replaying the last ten seconds of the conversation and trying very hard to comprehend the meaning. Most often, with Ezra, what he said had double meanings and sometimes more. Before anyone could answer Ezra stormed out the door, slamming it shut. Little did he know his great escape was going to be short lived.
The seething black clad leader picked up his napkin, balled it up and threw it back down. "SHOOT! When I asked him if he remembered everything and he said yes I didn't think to ask him if he remembered it correctly."
"He does have the events a bit skewed," the brother on the couch added without humor. Buck was worried that they had lost the little progress they had made with the introverted southerner.
"We've got some patching to do, Cowboy," the longhaired friend put forth quietly. Chris was rubbing his eyebrow thinking how far off track his self-ostracized brother had wandered.
A low rumbling laugh poured out into the room causing the other five men to stare confused at the anthropologist. Facing his remaining friends the big man stopped laughing but kept his friendly smile. "Well I least now we know what's been bothering him and how he feels about us."
"Well... I have been called a lot of things but never the cavalry," quoted the healer beginning a smile of his own. This statement bought smiles from most of the other men.
J.D., who was staring at the knife, still plunged in the wall, added quietly. "He used to at least like us but I don't think he does anymore." The youngest member of the family was a bit scared. Losing a member of this group would put a hole back in his heart; he didn't think he could take another loss.
"On the contrary. I think we mean more to him than he can admit." The oldest member spoke confidently. "Ezra has never had anyone he could ever depend on. Now he has six and I think it's a bit overwhelming."
J.D. eyed the man in confusion, "What do mean he's never had anyone? He's got a mother, remember Maude?"
Vin answered solemnly, "Having a mother don't mean having a mom."
J.D. was still not convinced of where they stood with their hostile brother. Buck could read his little brother like a children's book and could see the doubt.
"J.D. he cares."
"How can you be so sure?" asked J.D.
"Because, he's upset I got hurt. More so he's worried about what he said about you guys. You know Ez? Would he have been that upset when we first got together?" Ezra had been giving Buck lessons on how to read people and right now Buck figured he was reading Ezra pretty well.
The leader headed for the door knowing his fool friend didn't get far.
Ezra had shot out the door and gotten to the second step before freezing. The absence of his beloved escape vehicle jarred his memory. 'Oh Lawd!' He'd forgotten he didn't have his car and therefore no means of leaving. The deflated man backed up against the wall and slid down to the flooring. Pulling his knees up to his chest, he wrapped his arm around them and buried his head, careful not to jar his other arm too much. 'This is not my life. I don't make mistakes. Well certainly not of the magnitude I've been making lately. Getting caught without warning, getting drugged, getting a partner shot, and talking about my feelings, of all things. Oh Lawd, what have they done to me? Maybe I could blame the drugs for this predicament.'
Ezra sensed rather than heard the blond man standing next to him. 'Oh great, I just thought things couldn't get any worse.' The leader of this unique band of men, who had been forged into a family, sat down next to his temperamental agent. Chris patiently waited for Ezra to acknowledge him. He didn't always know how to handle this particular agent, but he was learning.
Ezra kept his head down. "No car." The younger brother commented softly, humiliation coloring his voice.
Chris absently nodded and released the barest of grins.
Sensing the other man's humor Ezra retorted, "Stop smiling Mr. Larabee." The older friend's smile didn't fade.
Knowing how Ezra felt about being touched Chris gently laid his arm around his friend's shoulder. "Ezra... It wasn't your fault. Buck told me the whole story and maybe I need to remind you."
"It'll be fine." Chris stated.
Ezra actually believed the man. One thing the agent had learned was that Chris never said anything that wasn't true or that he couldn't make happen.
The rebellious agent heard the others come out and find places to sit. He heard Buck let out a soft groan as Josiah and Nathan lowered him into a chair. As if reading his younger friend's mind the mustached man announced, "The cavalry's arrived." Seven chuckles were heard around the porch. Ezra shook his head, he would always be rescued whether he wanted to be or not.
Finally, a calm voice floated into the air, "It's simple, Ezra, you're one of us and therefore your family. For better or for worse."
"Little Brother" six voices assaulting the seventh's ear with friendship.