Notes: This is the second story in the series I'm writing. If you haven't read, The South Wind, you might want to read it first. It will introduce some characters that will come into play later on. There is some language, not much, but enough to get a PG-13 rating, I think.
Special Thanks to Julie and KellyA, without whom, I wouldn't be posting these stories.
It had been three weeks since Ezra joined the team. Three weeks since the mishap at the warehouse on Tenth and Washington. Three weeks since Ezra had been cleared of any wrongdoing. The reports had been filed processed and things had fallen into a regular routine. Daily reports were finished, suspects investigated, and claims sorted. The team had banded into small groups depending on their respective interests and Ezra found himself once again, the odd man out. It was natural, something the undercover agent had dealt with in the past, and being on his own was not an uncommon occurrence. He preferred it. There was less accountability that way. Ezra found himself sharing an office with Vin Tanner, who tried incessantly to get the undercover agent more involved in their off-duty activities. JD and the Texan had taken it upon themselves to try and get Ezra bound within the group. Chris and Josiah had sat back and watched, unable to do anything but laugh at the constant tries. Buck and Nathan had chose to watch as well. They had to wonder why the kid and sharpshooter tried to make the obviously unwilling undercover agent a member of the team. Nathan had remained quiet over the three weeks. He still had strong feelings about the agent that he didn't want to share but it was obvious to everyone that he didn't trust the man. Josiah had simply given the undercover agent the space he needed. Buck was more understanding of the man's hesitance. When it came to getting involved, how was Ezra to know this team would be so different than any other he'd ever worked with. However, the ladies man was getting tired of being stuck in an office filling out paperwork. Ever since the incident at the warehouse the team hadn't even been given the chance to work their own case or play backup for the local PD or FBI. Buck knew it was because of Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
"Brothers," Josiah's voice boomed. Stirring his cup of coffee as he exited the break room he continued, "It's going to be a beautiful day today."
"How do you figure that Josiah?" Vin asked, peering out the rain drenched window.
"I can feel it in my bones," the big man paused before grabbing an overstuffed chair making himself comfortable. The chair he'd all but claimed as his own.
"How many times have your bones been right?" JD asked, joining Vin at the window.
"Never," Josiah chuckled, "But it's gotta happen sooner or later."
"Let's hope sooner than later," Vin sighed moving away from the rain-drenched glass. He looked up as Nathan entered the office still shaking the rain off his coat. "Damn, Nate," Vin chuckled lightly, "Pays to be on time." He knew the comment would get to the medic. Nathan had been on Ezra's ass for the past few weeks for showing up to work late.
"At least I don't make a habit out of it," Nathan snapped, hanging his coat up and moving toward the kitchenette for a hot cup of tea.
"Where is Ezra?" Buck asked standing in his office doorway leaning against the frame. "Chris is gonna be pissed if he's late again." The ladies man had to smile when Chris stepped out of his office and rolled his eyes at the comment he'd overheard.
"You boys lacking in work or just taking an extended break?" The team leader asked sarcastically.
"Both," Buck responded to his boss getting a chuckle from everyone else in the office.
"Hardly believable," Chris sighed looking around the room at the various states his team was in. Josiah rested comfortably in the overstuffed chair he always managed to claim when he was in need of a coffee break. JD continued to stare out the window while leaning against the wall. He'd occasionally follow with his finger a stream of rain down the extent of the glass. Vin sat not far from Josiah leafing through an Outdoor Life magazine. Buck continued to lean against the doorframe of his office not bothering to move. Nathan came out of the break room with his ever-present cup of tea, the tea bag hanging from his fingers. "Don't get up on account of the boss being in the room." Chris continued.
"We weren't," Vin looked up from his magazine and grinned.
"Shit Chris," Vin chuckled, "Man's gotta get his beauty sleep."
"Beauty sleep my ass," Chris turned and headed back into his office. "Get back to work."
"Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry; make 'em wait," Josiah picked up his coffee and took a long drink before continuing, "Charles Reade."
"Do you have a quote for everything?" JD asked, moving away from the window.
"Nope," Josiah chuckled before getting to his feet and heading to his office behind Nathan.
"Damn, if I'll ever understand that man," JD shook his head.
"You ain't the only one," Vin agreed, heading into his office.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stepped into the elevator ignoring the disapproving looks from fellow agents. The tension in his right shoulder and neck hadn't receded but he tried to ignore the impending headache he knew would arrive before the end of the day. He rubbed the back of his neck as he stepping through the sliding doors and headed for the office he shared with Agent Tanner. He knew he wouldn't receive slack from the rest of the team for being late, he always did. In turn, he always stayed late and worked just as hard as everyone else but he just couldn't seem to arrive at work on time. Ezra didn't let the fact bother him too much, Larabee knew it when he hired him on, and one of his many reprimands was his tendency to be late. Ezra didn't try and apologize for the fact. It was simply a part of the package that was Ezra Standish.
"What's the matter, Ezra?" Nathan said coming out of his office for a refill of his tea, "Stay up late drinking on your own." Now seemed like the perfect time to jab the undercover agent about his unwillingness to join the rest of them at the saloon after work.
"Something like that," Ezra tried to ignore Nathan's words but they stung. He knew he looked pale and the dark circles under his eyes were more of a confirmation of a late night drinking than that of an impending migraine.
"You look like a hundred miles of bad road," Vin looked up from his computer screen noticing the complexion of the undercover agent. "You sick or somethin'?"
"It's nothing I can't handle I assure you Mr. Tanner."
"Josiah!" Chris yelled from the door of his office making everyone jump in reaction, "I need to see you."
"Into the mouth of the lions den," the big man said getting to his feet.
"Is that another quote?" Nathan quietly joked.
"Nope," Josiah smiled, "Just stating the obvious."
Josiah entered Chris's office and shut the door after the tall blonde motioned for him to do so. The big man seated himself in the chair across from the leaders desk and waited patiently for him to start. "Is there a problem, Chris?" Josiah asked after a brief moment, the look on the team leaders face warranted some concern.
Chris looked up from his paperwork and sighed, "Yeah." He looked down and gathered up the file he'd been looking at and handed it to Josiah. "Judge sent me down some evaluation forms that need to be filled out." He waited until the team strategist had a chance to look through them.
"These are standard evaluation forms. What's the problem?"
Chris pushed his chair back away from his desk and folded his fingers behind his neck, "I'm not going to lie to you." He looked long and hard at the man sitting across from him, "I'm not comfortable with the progress Standish has made within the group."
Josiah nodded his head in understanding, "But you knew that when you hired him on. It's going to take someone like Brother Standish time to fit into a group like this, it's to be expected."
"We don't have time Josiah, I need to know he's going to be ready when we go down for a bust. I can't have him questioning my tactics or the movements of his fellow team mates."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want your honest opinion of the man. Is he worth keeping on, or should I start looking for another undercover agent?" Chris ran his fingers through his hair and looked to Josiah for an educated answer.
"Four weeks ago Ezra was forced to move to Denver because his superior didn't trust or like him. Three weeks ago several members of this team thought the man had run out on them, only to find out later he had fallen into an underground storage compartment. He could have run but he didn't. He gave you the diversion you needed in order to gain back control of the situation we lost. If it wasn't for that man out there we could all very well be dead and that would've been the end of this team. My answer is yes," Josiah leaned forward in his chair. "He's definitely worth keeping on. You can't punish the man for being overly cautious. He's been burned in the past and he expects the same thing from us. Only through time are we going to understand him and we won't get that far if you send him back to Atlanta." Chris seemed to think about Josiah's wise words, "The problem doesn't lay with the team trusting Ezra but rather Ezra trusting the team."
"Do you think he'll ever come around?"
"I've counseled just about every kind of law enforcement agent there is, and the one thing they all have in common is their intuition. He'll come around when he's ready and not before. Undercover work is the hardest and most dangerous in the field, we have to trust him enough to let him do his job."
Chris nodded his head in agreement and grabbed the pencil he'd been writing with earlier. "I knew there was a reason I hired you." He chuckled looking at the man sitting across from him.
"Good," Josiah grinned from ear to ear, "Is now a good time to ask for a raise?"
+ + + + + + +
Ezra continued to work on his computer while the rest of the team gathered in the break room for their lunch. He could smell some sort of pasta cooking in the microwave and the odor caused his stomach to turn. JD and Buck were at their usual bantering while Josiah and Nathan talked quietly at the table just outside the offices. Vin continued to read his Outdoor Life magazine while eating, what Ezra could only guess was breakfast cereal. The undercover agent pressed the palm of his right hand into his temple feeling the sharpness of pain starting to reside there. This was going to be a bad one. Three weeks at his new job and already he was getting one of his semi yearly migraines. One more thing he had to thank the government for.
"Hey, Ezra!" Buck called from outside the office. "You gonna join us?" The tall surveillance technician asked sliding into the chair next to JD.
Ezra rubbed his eyes and tried not to breath to deeply the stench of pasta, leftover Chinese, Coco Puffs, and Nathan's humus. "No thank you, Mr. Wilmington," he replied taking another drink of water, the only substance he could ingest at the time.
"He sick?" JD asked, noticing the Southerners pale complexion.
"Probably recovering from last nights binge," Nathan stated, looking in the window of Vin and Ezra's office. He wasn't surprised when the undercover agent stood up and closed the blinds blocking everyone's line of sight.
"Hope whatever reason he was drinking for is worth the price he's payin' now," Buck took a bite out of his egg roll.
Josiah shook his head in disagreement. "No man can justly censure or condemn another, because indeed no man truly knows another." Josiah looked up from his book to see four pairs of eyes staring at him, "Thomas Browne," the big man chuckled before continuing his meal.
"Is there a special portion of your brain reserved just for quotes?" Nathan asked, looking at the man who at one time vowed to become a priest.
"Damn Josiah," Vin plunged his spoon back into the bowl of cereal. "Sometimes I just don't get you."
"That's alright Brother," Josiah sighed, "Sometimes I don't get myself."
JD jumped up from his seat as the phone in the office began to ring, he ignored Buck's comment about his energy level and answered the phone. The kid came out of his office with a blank look on his face and shrugged his shoulders before tapping lightly on the door to Ezra and Vin's office. "Ezra," he paused not wanting to interfere with the man's work. "Your ma's on the phone."
The headache that had been pending now seemed to hit at full force with the announcement of Maude being on the phone line. Ezra rubbed his head in frustration, "Thank you Mr. Dunne." He clenched his jaw and looked blurredly for his phone.
"She wouldn't let me transfer her," JD shifted nervously at the obvious discomfort the Southerner was in. "Says she'll talk to you from my phone."
Ezra rolled down the sleeves to his shirt unconsciously, knowing full well his mother would scold him for allowing his appearances to be less than ideal. He pushed himself away from his desk and slowly moved passed JD with a reassuring smile. He knew the kid had lost his mother less than a year ago and in some distant way he felt for him. The relationship the Southerner shared with his mother was far less than that of a replaceable winter coat. She called for two reasons and two reasons only. The first and most often was her need for something. More times than not it was the need for a picture perfect son. When Ezra couldn't oblige she would go as far as hiring someone to play the part of her son. Reason two always seemed to trouble him more and he was thankful it was more of an uncommon occurrence. He grew up with his mothers ideals being pounded into his impressionable mind, something he later grew to resent. She instilled in him the very reason for his birth, monetary gain, nothing more, nothing less. Every once in a while she would call to remind him of such things. He was wasting his looks and talents as a public servant, to Maude, it was the same as being the ground on which fertilizer is spread. Ezra sighed and rubbed the back of his neck hoping that by some miracle, the line would get disconnected.
JD stood outside the office wondering how someone could look so disturbed to find out his mother had called. He shoved his hands into his jean pockets and leaned against the glass window to his office, he would give anything to have his mother call one last time.
"Ya'll right kid?" Buck asked, seeing the kid's distress.
JD turned to face the group of men still leaning against the glass window, "Didn't know Ez's ma was still living, see'n how he don't talk about her."
"That bother you JD?" Josiah asked, placing the bookmark inside his leather bound edition of British Poetry. He knew the kid missed his mother, hell, even he did and his mother had died over twenty years ago.
"Guess not." JD rested his head against the glass, "It'd sure be nice to talk to her again though."
"Well," Buck sighed, leaning back in his chair, "You won't get any argument from any of us." He smiled biting down on the toothpick he'd cleaned his teeth with earlier.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra picked up the phone and announced to his mother that he was there. He pushed the palm of his right hand into his temple when he heard the vocalization of reason number one, 'my darling boy'. He heard her announcement of her impending arrival tomorrow and Ezra tried every tactic he knew to get her to change her mind, but as usual she insisted she come and check up on her one and only child, after all she had an announcement to make. He sighed at her obvious displeasure of having only two short hours to spend with him but in the long run the announcement cut their current conversation short. Something his stomach was telling him to do anyway. Ezra slammed the phone down and hastily retreated to his office to recover his sunglasses then started to make his way to the bathroom.
Nathan paused at the sight, just because the Southerner was suffering from an evening of overindulgence didn't mean he had to take it out on his mother. "You should have more respect for your Ma." The healer chose that moment to voice his disapproving attitude toward the undercover agent. Josiah, Vin, JD and Buck all leaned back in their chairs to watch.
Ezra stopped halfway to the bathroom and ran his hand through his hair. He rubbed his brow with his fingers and waited until his stomach stopped rolling. "Respect is not a word often affiliated with my mother, Mr. Jackson. If you don't mind," he headed back for the bathroom with the retort, "Stay out of my personal affairs."
"It's no wonder the mans got the reputation he has." Nathan put the lid back on the container he'd brought his lunch in. "With an attitude like that he's lucky he's made it this far."
"We've all had bad days Nate," Vin watched as the southerner entered the bathroom.
"Showing up to work with a hangover?" Nathan raised his eyebrows, "That's just asking for trouble."
"How do you know it's a hangover?" JD asked finishing his last bit of pasta.
"Experience?" Josiah answered for Nathan who only shook his head.
"Aren't hangovers 'sposed to get better during the day?" JD looked around the table at the men he knew would have the experience to answer. "Looks to me like he's getten' worse."
"Depends on how much you had to drink, I guess." Nathan stood up and headed back for the kitchenette to clean his dishes.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra entered the bathroom and flicked the lights off allowing only the sun to creep in through the window blinds. He made it to the toilet just in time as his stomach decided to empty itself of the only thing it contained, water. He wiped his mouth and sat on the floor resting his head against the cold stall and his arm on the seat of the toilet. He knew when he woke up this morning his headache would be bad; he could feel it in his shoulders, that was always a bad sign. The brief conversation with his mother had just made it worse, if she could only see him now. He slipped his sunglasses on trying to avoid the sunlight entering in the room, the light always made the pain worse.
+ + + + + + +
Vin threw the magazine on the table after everyone had gotten up and went back to work in their respective offices. He noted how quiet Josiah had become, not that he was ever loud, but it seemed the man had a lot on his mind. It had been almost fifteen minutes since Ezra had gone into the bathroom and he had yet to come out. Vin had to wonder. Was this a common occurrence with the Southerner? He locked eyes with Josiah and nodded his head in understanding. He would go and check on the undercover agent.
Vin entered the darkened bathroom and flipped the light switch back on. "Ezra?" he looked around the small room and finally found him sitting on the floor in the last stall covering his eyes with his hand. "You going to the bathroom by brail or somethin'?"
"If you would be so kind, Mr. Tanner...extinguish the lights."
"Sure," the sharpshooter headed back for the light switch and flipped them off. Then he went back to where Ezra was sitting. His eyes took some time to adjust but he noticed the Southerner had let his hand fall back to his knee and he rested his head against the back of the stall. "Must've been some party?" he asked hoping to get some kind of an answer.
"I would prefer a hangover of the worst kind to this," Ezra rubbed the bridge of his nose moving his sunglasses momentarily from his eyes.
"You want me to get you some aspirin or somethin'?"
Ezra pulled the rim of his glasses down so they rested on the tip of his nose and he looked at the Texas sharpshooter who was now crouching in a low stance waiting for an answer. He pushed the glasses back into place and once again rested his head against the stall. "In the right hand drawer of my desk is a small bottle of prescription pills..."
Vin headed towards his and Ezra's office with determination in his stride. He looked at Ezra's side of the office, something he'd always done but this time he noticed for the first time the lack of personal items decorating it. He only had a small picture frame of he and his mother just months before her death. It wasn't anything big but it was his claim to his personal office space. A roughly carved horse rested next to the meekly framed photo and Vin ran his fingers down the unfinished mane. Looking at Ezra's side of the office nobody could guess who resided there. It looked as though someone of only temporary value worked there and even then it was unattached. Vin opened the drawer and pulled out the brown tinted bottle of prescription medication.
"Everything all right Brother?" Josiah asked standing in the doorway of the office looking casually around.
"Ez sent me in to get his meds," he handed the bottle to Josiah and the big man looked at the label questionably. "Do you know what they're for?"
"Can't say as I do." Josiah didn't even try to pronounce the medication title, "But I know someone who would." The big man squeezed the bottle tightly in his hand and headed back for the office he shared with Nathan.
Nathan looked up surprised to find both Josiah and Vin looking questionably at him. "What?"
"What are these?" Josiah handed him the small bottle and waited for an answer. The last thing he wanted to know was whether or not Standish was addicted to prescription pain medication. He'd seen many officers, several highly decorated, addicted to a small pill that seemed to keep them one step away from reality. "Are they pain killers?"
Nathan handed the bottle back to Josiah and nodded his head, "It's migraine medication, strong to, if he's hurtin' bad enough to take those he'll need someone to help 'im home." The healer leaned back in his chair and ran a hand over his face. "Where is he?"
"Bathroom," Vin piped in. "He asked me to get these for 'im." He paused and looked at Nathan. "You shouldn't have snapped at 'im like you did."
"I'll go check on him," Nathan started to get to his feet.
"I'll go," Vin took the bottle of medication from Josiah. "He's not in a real talkative mood."
Nathan sat back down in his chair and watched Vin head back to the bathroom. "Ezra should have said something."
"Don't think it matters much to Brother Standish what other people think," Josiah moved away from the door and toward his desk. "He probably doesn't think it would matter anyway." Nathan nodded his head in agreement ashamed for his earlier behavior.
+ + + + + + +
Vin entered the bathroom to the sound of Ezra throwing up. He winced in sympathy and waited until the Southerner seated himself back against the stall. "You need to take these with food or just water?
"Water would be suffice, thank you," Ezra leaned his head back against the stall and listened as Vin rinsed out a glass then fill it with the clear liquid.
"Do you get these migraines a lot?" He handed the pills and the glass of water to the undercover agent then retrieved a chair that had tucked away in the far corner.
"Once, maybe, twice a year," was the simple reply.
Vin watched as Ezra carefully opened the bottle of pills and popped one in his mouth then swallow it down with a sip of water. "You want me to give you a lift home?"
"Thank you for the offer, Mr. Tanner, but I can call a cab."
The sharpshooter leaned back in his chair and decided to try another tactic. "So," he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "Your Ma coming to see you tomorrow?" Vin noticed the look the Southerner now sported. Obviously the topic of his mother was more of a taboo than his health.
"She should grace us with her presence." Ezra ran his hand over his face and sighed, "Obviously my conversation didn't go unnoticed."
"Kinda hard not to," Vin chuckled lightly. He took a chance and asked. "You don't want her to come?"
"My mother will, as always, make me the fool in her melodrama, and the rest of you will merely be pawns in tomorrows theatrical experience."
"I don't buy that."
Ezra raised an eyebrow and looked at his unsuspecting target, "Care to make a wager?"
Vin paused a moment wondering if his actions would be unethical, "I got twenty bucks sayin' your wrong."
Ezra smiled, the confidence Vin had in his friends was uncanny. "Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Wilmington, will spend the day tripping over themselves at my mothers appearance. Mr. Dunne and possibly yourself will be reminiscent of the fact your mothers are gone. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Jackson will confirm their beliefs that I grew up in the lap of luxury."
"You underestimate 'em," Vin replied, looking harder at the Southerner.
"No," Ezra shook his head. "You underestimate my mother."
"You don't like her much," the sharpshooter noted.
"On the contrary, Mr. Tanner." Ezra paused wondering if he should say anymore, "I love her as a son should, but that only complicates the situation." He locked eyes with Vin, "Does it not?"
"Don't rightly know," the Texan spoke quietly, "But she's still your Ma."
"She gave me life, nothing more."
The bathroom door swung open and the lights flickered on. Ezra gasped covering his eyes as the light shot spears into his head. "Turn the light off Chris," Vin said quietly noticing the obvious pain it caused the undercover agent.
"What's going on?" Chris asked flipping the lights off and heading towards the sharpshooter.
"Ez has got himself one hell of a headache. I'm tryin' to talk him into letting me take 'im home."
"Migraine?" Chris asked, noticing the medication bottle on the floor beside Ezra. He watched as the Southerner slowly nodded his head. "Sara used to get them. Used to nock her off her feet they were so bad." The understanding in Chris's voice shocked Ezra to say the least. "Go get Josiah to take him home, Vin, you have to be at the shooting range in an hour." He nodded for Vin to exit then leaned against the stall. "You need some help getting up?" He looked down to the undercover agent who had yet to move.
"I believe I can manage," Ezra struggled to his feet and promptly bent and braced his hands against his knees as his head began to swim.
Chris wanted to help but he knew his agent would only resist the offer. "Have you seen a doctor about these?"
"Three," was the knowing response. "Unfortunately they all said the same thing."
"Find a more accommodating means of employment." He smiled straightening up, "Obviously I'm not one for taking other peoples advice."
"Yeah well, take my advice and go home." Chris looked to the door as it swung open to reveal Josiah's huge frame filling the entryway, "Otherwise I'll have 'im throw you over his shoulder and carry you home."
"That can be arranged," Josiah's voiced boomed in the confines of the bathroom. Chris chuckled and slapped the big man on the shoulder before heading back to his office. "Are you ready Brother?"
Ezra pushed his sunglasses up against his eyes, "No." He shook his head but headed out of the room anyway. He paused letting his eyes get used to the light, in protest they watered and he held his hand over his brow like the visor of a baseball cap. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye but he didn't want to look fearing his stomach would object. He heard Josiah mutter a thank you and both men headed for the elevator.
"See ya tomorrow Ez," Buck, JD and Vin said in unison knowing full well how much the undercover agent hated the nickname.
The elevator doors closed and the Southerner leaned against the back wall, "Two syllables, Ez...Ra, is just two syllables. It's not that complicated."
"You do realize I'm standing right here?" Josiah noted, letting the undercover agent know he was talking to himself.
"Your presence is undeniable."
"Good," Josiah chuckled, "Cuz you had me worried there for a moment."
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