The Mortal Blow

By Beth 

ATF AU (Ezra, Seven)

Notes: This is in answer to Heather F's November challenge...The seven unexpectedly get to spend Thanksgiving together as a group. It doesn't have to be for a thanksgiving meal or for a jolly good time. They could be in a bind (as in caught by bad guys) and all seven end up caught;  They could be doing their own thing on Thanksgiving and end up at the same place. It can be any scenario you want. YOUR DECISION. Only requirement is that they are together unplanned, for Thanksgiving day AND the line "Oh I see that you made it..." is used. In any context you want. Any AU

I know, it's about time I get something done!!!LOL, better late than never.

Special thanks to: Yolande!!! You're AWESOME!!

Please send comments and suggestions to I would love to hear from really does help keep the fingers rolling!

Chapter 1

Chris stared at the ceiling, watching the moon's light cause shadows to dance across the textured surface. Holiday season was always the worst...watching and listening as families prepared to be together: eat, gifts, celebrate. It happened too least in his mind. At least his bed was comfortable.

Josiah had made arrangements to be with Hanna this year, sponsoring the special needs home where she lived with five turkeys and several boxes of stuffing. It was good, Chris thought, Josiah getting out with his sister...spending time with family. He didn't do it enough, not nearly enough. At times it showed through his actions, the way he lost focus on different cases, particularly those involving families.  

JD and Casey had rented a condo in Colorado Springs...they'd spend Thanksgiving in bed and on the slopes...mostly in bed. Chris couldn't blame them, it was good to be young and in love.

Nathan and Rain were both flying to New York to spend their first Thanksgiving as a married couple with Rain's family. Nathan hadn't wanted to go, feeling as though he'd always be looked down upon, never quite living up to the standards that Rain's family had expected for their daughter. Chris told him to suck it up, to grab himself by the balls and go, he owed it to Rain and her family.

Vin had managed to be corralled by Nettie Wells and was ordered to bring sweet potato pie for dinner. She was making extra and expected him to eat until he popped, she'd even made up her guest room, knowing how miserable a man could get after eating Thanksgiving dinner.

Chris smiled, thinking about Buck and his tall tales of plans that wouldn't take place. For the past three years, Buck had said he had plans with some beautiful blonde, brunette, and/or redhead, and that he wouldn't reemerge until the following Monday. And then, as usual, he always showed up on Thanksgiving morning with a frozen turnkey, a box of Stove Top, and with a lame excuse as to why his plans fell through.

Then there was Ezra. Stuck undercover for another holiday, he'd probably spend his day eating with a potential seller of weapons that weren't intended for the streets. Hopefully, things would go smoothly. Hopefully, they'd have a break in the case before Christmas.

It wasn't easy and it never would be. He missed the sounds of Adam's excitement as he sat at the kitchen table with his mother talking about the Thanksgiving turkey, or the way Sarah so delicately helped her son make the decorations for the kitchen table. Sarah's turkey was always dry, and she tried incessantly to improve on it every year. Chris smiled, at the memory, the way Sarah's face would light up in hopes that everything would be perfect, but something always went wrong. He missed that...he missed them.

Chris looked at the clock, three a.m. on a Monday morning, he'd be a grump all day, angry for reasons he'd rather not discuss, but reasons his men would understand. That's what made them so damn special, an underlying friendship that allowed for imperfections, sharp looks, angry words, and bitter growls. They would all stand back, let him vent for a while and then bring him a cup of coffee when he cooled down. It was a nice feeling, knowing that no matter what he did, his friends would stand behind him.

The phone rang, and he shook his head before reaching out. "This had better be good," he said, taking a deep breath before placing the phone next to his ear while letting his left arm flop out across the bed.

The sound of someone clearing their throat sounded. "Chris?"

Larabee scratched his forehead: "Yeah...Ezra?" He sat up, tossing his legs over the edge of the bed.


Ezra stood under the minimal shelter the payphone provided, drenched to the bone. Black soot covered the right side of face and both hands. He reeked of the smell of smoke. "I think my cover's blown." He sounded hoarse, tired, and stressed.

"Where are you?"

"Outside of Denver," he paused, pulling his coat over his shoulders, trying to keep warm.

"I'm comin' to get you..." Chris was up and out of bed, searching for his pants.

"No," Ezra interrupted. "There was a fire at a warehouse south of Wall and Savanna..."


"Someone on the inside sold me out. Someone's taking payouts for information regarding confiscated weapons that are in police custody, I think it's a cop."


Chris ran his fingers through his hair, keeping the earpiece close to his ear as he paced back and forth in front of his bed. "Any idea who?"

There was a long pause. "No."

Chris nodded: "I'll get JD to get the names of officers with access to the weapons...find out who's been making some large deposits in their bank account...where are you?"


Ezra shook his head and rubbed his brow. "Three people are dead inside that warehouse." He looked out toward the barren street. "You have to let the others believe I'm one of them."

"Ezra, what in the hell is goin' on?"

"I don't know how deep this goes and if I suddenly turn up we may never learn..."

"Are you all right?" Chris interrupted.

Ezra pulled his jacket back, exposing a stab wound that continued to seep. "I'm fine." He pulled his jacket closed and gripped the phone with his other hand. "I'll call in a couple of days." He hung up the phone and looked behind him before making his way toward the Chevy pickup that he'd stolen after he'd awoken outside the warehouse that was engulfed in flames. He remembered very little, but the images were slowly coming back. He slipped inside the rust colored truck and rested his forehead on the steering wheel, trying to gather his strength and ward off his exhaustion.

He was supposed to have met six men at the warehouse. He was supposed to have seen the goods, the weapons that had been promised to him at a very respectable price, but things hadn't gone that way. He arrived to find the warehouse vacant, and then his cell phone rang. The man calling had informed him that he knew who Ezra really was; he knew he was an officer of the law and he knew he was working undercover. Ezra kept his cool, trying to pull as much information out of the man as he could get without confirming the suspicions.

Ezra touched his forehead above his right eye, feeling how tender it was and remembering being hit; he didn't remember when the stabbing occurred, or who had pulled him from the burning inferno. Slowly he leaned back and started the engine. He wasn't sure where he was going or for how long, he just hoped that his friends and teammates would accept his death as real, keeping him alive in the long run.


Chapter 2

The warehouse had been burned nearly to the ground, and three unidentifiable bodies had been discovered and shipped to the morgue. Dental records would be the only hope of discovering who they were. Ezra's temporary Bucar remained in the parking lot, still locked, and still containing the Starbucks coffee cup in the cup holder next to the stick shift. His bag remained in the back seat, containing a change of clothes.

"It's not him," Buck said, looking at the warehouse, feeling in his gut that things hadn't changed.

"He would have called," Vin surmised, shaking his head and looking from the car toward the barren land behind the parking lot.

"I don't see any point making assumptions until we get the dental records back," Josiah said, keeping his arms crossed over his chest. He needed facts, not suspicions.

JD crossed the parking lot and shook his head: "Fire investigators won't have the official report until the end of the week, but Tom thinks an accelerate was used, he says it was started at the exits, " he shrugged, ", looks like it was used there to keep those inside from getting out."

Chris ran a hand over his face and nodded. "Get back to the office, there's nothing we can do here." He let his hand fall to his side and he slowly headed toward his truck.

"What do you think happened?" JD asked, unable to fully grasp the events.

Buck slapped him on the shoulder and pushed him forward: "Let's go figure it out."


The room was quiet except for the sounds of shuffling papers. Nothing had come from the search of Ezra's car: no prints, blood, or paper trails. Autopsies were being performed on the three unidentified bodies, teeth would be x-rayed. Nobody was looking forward to the results, fearful and hopeful at the same time.

"Buck," Chris spoke, tossing a file onto the large table. "Find out who has access to confiscated weapons for the FBI, BATF, and every police precinct. JD, go with him and, " he paused, ", look for any inconsistencies in bank account balances."

"Chris?" Nathan questioned.

"I don't care, Nathan. Find out," Chris replied firmly, looking at Buck and JD. "Don't get caught."

"What are you thinking?" Josiah asked, grabbing his coffee cup and watching the cool brown liquid slosh against the porcelain.

"Just a hunch," Chris admitted, staring out the window toward the busy streets of Denver. Families were buying turkeys, yams, and all the crap that went with it. Ezra said he'd call. Call when? After it was too late? He needed to be here, shoved in a damn closet and surrounded by foam batting...anything to keep him out of trouble. He seemed to find trouble quicker than a drunk at halfway house, but then, that was his job.

"What kind of hunch?" Nathan asked, thinking he should cancel his flight to New York...Rain would understand...this time.

"I'm not sure, Nathan," Chris admitted, gathering up his files and heading toward his office. He needed some time alone, time to think and time to discover where Ezra might go.

"He's worried," Vin said, gathering his own papers.

"We're all worried," Josiah argued.

"But he's responsible and...he'll blame himself if one of those bodies comes back positive."

"They won't." Josiah grabbed his coffee and left the room, allowing the office door to slam behind him.


Chapter 3

He'd changed his clothes, having found an old biker jacket that kept him warmer than his overcoat. He'd gotten rid of his classic dark blue slacks and turned them in for an old pair of Levi jeans. They fit better than he expected they would. He kept his once white shirt, not wanting anyone to discover the blood that stained the right side, and he kept it in a bag under the cheap bed at the motel he was temporarily living in. It wasn't that he wasn't used to living under such desperate circumstances, just the opposite, he was. Every time he went undercover the situations grew worse and the things required of him were nearly impossible, just like now.

Carefully, he finished binding his side with the gauze bandages he'd purchased at the local Rite Aid and then slipped into the heavy blue and white flannel shirt. Nobody would recognize him, at least until they knew what they were looking for. He didn't have much of a beard coming in after 2 days of not shaving, but it was enough to shadow his jaw. His eyes were dark, circled, and mysterious surrounded by pale feverish skin. He'd chosen a pair of dark sunglasses and a black baseball cap with the insignia of a local feed store. It was old, well shaped, and covered in dirt and grime. Something Ezra P. Standish wouldn't be caught dead in. But here he was, looking like a piker.

He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled his square toed boots on, wincing as the pain in his side reminded him to take it easy. Slowly he reached out and grabbed his jacket, slipping it on and then getting to his feet to peek through the blinds toward the parking lot, looking for anyone suspicious.

He took a deep breath and slipped his glasses on before opening the door.


Nancy Comstock was her name, and at 42 years of age she knew more than most and let them know it. Standing behind the counter of the Bucket of Blood diner, she took patrons orders on an old notepad that had more character sketches than sandwich preferences. Her hips were wider than she'd ever admit and at five foot one she knew high heels did little in aiding her desire to be tall and thin. She was a realist, to a fault. Despite that, her hair was dyed three shades too dark, and her foundation tended to fade as the day wore on.

The bell above the door rang as it was swung open and her newest 'regular' took his seat against the wall at the far end of the bar.

"Mr. Davis," she said, grabbing a cup and filling it with coffee, "didn't think you were goin' to make it in today." She pointed toward the clock after placing the cup of coffee in front of him. "You're late, and you still look like shit."

"My apologies, Ms. Comstock." Ezra grabbed a spoon and opened one of the dairy creamers before pouring it into his cup.

"I had Reid made you some chicken noodle soup." She patted the front of her apron and grabbed a bowl and started ladling. "Seems shameful, a young man like yourself stuck out here in the middle of nowhere without any family." She pushed the bowl in front of Ezra and then placed a hand on her hip, and then she leaned on the counter. "You goin' to tell me what's goin' on, or do I need to keep askin' you silly little questions?" She sighed. "Of course, I've pretty much come to my own conclusion."

Ezra placed his spoon in the bowl and stirred.

Nancy knew she wouldn't get an answer. "Had a couple of men come through here yesterday." She grabbed a rag and started wiping the counter. "Big men, thought for sure they'd eat me out of house and home." She looked out the window to the left, seeing a truck pull up and then turn around. "They were askin' questions about a fella they've been lookin' for. Guess a friend of theirs went missing a couple of days ago and they're real worried." She placed her left hand on her hip and looked hard at her customer.

"Who were they looking for?"

"Young man...younger than me anyway, about your height. A real snazzy dresser, well educated, goes by the name of Bruce Atwood."

"Never heard of him."

"I s'pect not," Nancy replied. "They didn't seem the type to stop lookin'." She leaned over the bar. "If you've got friends around here, find 'em...bein' alone out here ain't worth it. And from what I can see, a man in your shoes ain't got any business tryin' to be somethin' he's not." She pushed the basket of crackers toward him. "You're too damn honest to be a crook, and you tip too high not to have dug through the trenches."

Ezra looked at her, his face sullen and quiet, as though she was barking up the wrong tree.

"You know how I know?" she glared at him, unwilling to waver. "My husband was a New York City police officer; he worked undercover most of his life...'til it got to much for him, he shot himself."

Ezra sighed: "I'm sorry."

"Ain't your fault, but I know people and I know how dirty and scummy they can be." She reached into the pocket of her apron. "One of those men handed me this yesterday, asked me to give to the man they're looking for...if I were to see him...I figure it's you." She carefully slid it across the counter. "Be careful, Mr. Davis, or whatever your name is."

Ezra grabbed the note and looked around the empty diner, knowing he couldn't fool everyone. He broke the seal and opened it, unsure of what to expect. It wasn't in code, or plain English, but he knew it wasn't from Chris or the others. It read: Impound clerk at the 31st police district, getting paid for inside information in regards to undercover operations and large weapon confiscations.

Nancy grabbed the coffee pot and refilled Ezra's cup. "I want to help if I can."


Chapter 4

Chris took a deep breath and sighed. He felt like shit. It had been three days since he'd heard from Ezra, and he hadn't uttered a word to any of his men. They were all worried, feeling as though mistakes had been made and guilt was placed on their own shoulders. It wouldn't be shared.

Vin knocked on the doorframe before entering Chris' office. He placed his right foot on the seat of the chair next to the door. "Nate's tryin' to get a refund for his airline tickets. Guess Rain's going to go ahead and go."

"Good," Chris replied, knowing plans had to be cancelled. He rolled a pencil between his fingers while leaning back in his seat. He kept his eyes toward the window...watching the snow continue its downfall.

"JD's still lookin' at inconsistencies in bank statements, but he hasn't found anythin'." Vin scratched his jaw.

"He called me," Chris said. "Sunday night, said his cover was blown."

Vin walked toward the desk, parked himself in a chair and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Before or after the fire?"


"Why hide it from us?"

"Ezra thinks it's someone on the inside...and...and, I know he's thinking ahead. He's in so deep right now that if his cover is blown his future as an undercover officer is least here."

"Is he all right?"

"He said he was fine...but I didn't believe him. I think he's running scared right now. He didn't want the rest of you to know..."

"Don't explain," Vin said, getting to his feet, not wanting to hear it. He paced across the floor, trailing the worn carpet of Chris' previous path. "Where is he?"

"I don't know."

"That's why you're having JD check bank records?"


"We'll need direct evidence to nail him...her, whoever is doin' this."

Both men turned as JD entered the room with a handful of papers. "Thomas Hoffman or more directly, Lt. Hoffman of the 5th precinct, has made several banking deposits in an account at Denver Federal...the bank manager is a former football player buddy of Hoffman's, goes by the name of Leroy Finney."

"How much?" Chris asked.

"$730, 000 over the past 6 years," JD shuffled his feet, waiting for his next order.

"That's a lot of backstabbin'," Vin said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"JD, get on the horn and find out everything you can about Hoffman's buddy...find out if he's helping more than just his old football crony." Chris handed the papers back. "I'll have Josiah and Nathan take a trip down to the bank and find out if there's been any suspicious activities, maybe collect a little bit of house gossip."

"What about me?" Vin asked.

"You and I are going to take a trip over to the fifth and learn more about Hoffman."

"Think it'll work?" JD asked, pausing at the door.

"It better."


Chapter 5

Ezra reached for the hotel room door just as it burst open, shattering wood, as it slammed up against him, pushing him onto the bed. Three men entered, and insured the drapes were closed, the other two smiled and made sure their gloves were fitted appropriately.

"Been lookin' for you, Standish," the tall man said, curling his lips into a sinister grin. "Figure you weren't dead when the newspapers said three unidentifiable bodies were found...and it's going to take weeks for the dental records to be identified...see, the fire wasn't that hot. Poor bastards died of asphyxiation before burning...nice try though." He motioned with his head for his two friends to get into position.

"You won't get away with this," Ezra said, trying to analyze the speed he would need to get to his weapon.

"Should really try and come up with a new technique for pleading for your life." The man's voice croaked, like someone who smoked. His blond hair was thinning on top, but he didn't try and hide it. Standing well over six feet and spending more time in the gym that Ezra did, his thick neck and broad shoulders were small inclinations of the amount of damage he could do. His two partners weren't much smaller, but they paid little attention to their appearance.

The man to Ezra's right wore worn blue jeans, a blue tee shirt and an old army jacket. His black hair was long and pulled into a lazy ponytail. His chin was accentuated in length by a long narrow nose that seemed to hang over his top lip. His eyes added to his mystery and possible enjoyment of death, narrow and outlined by thick dark lashes.

The man standing opposite of him wore an old suit that was cut too long at the legs. His brown hair was shaved the style of an army crew cut and he wore sun glasses that were strapped to his head with a black piece of elastic. He kept his fists clenched and ready for the proverbial beating.

The man with the long black hair grabbed the lamp and swung...catching Ezra's left arm, knocking him toward the floor. He hit the bed and then landed at the feet of the first man who'd entered. The leader smiled and squatted.

"The boys don't have much patience for, well, for people like you."

Ezra kicked out, successfully knocking the leader off his feet and onto his ass. Ezra reached for his weapon, but was tackled from behind and then slammed into the dresser, cracking the mirror.

He knew he didn't have a chance, and he didn't.


It was a feeling that made his stomach turn as Chris entered the police department with Vin at his heels. Neither had expected Hoffman to be standing before them like a common criminal; cuffed, bruised, and exposed. Detectives from internal affairs stood around him like a prize fighter with his belt.

"What are the charges?" Chris asked the first suit he came to.

"And you are?"

"Special Agent Larabee with the BATF...I think he exposed on of my agents."

The man chuckled and shook his head. "He's exposed a lot more than just your agent, agent. He's under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder, falsifying records, aiding known felons, and all this resulted in the deaths of two DEA agents, and by my watch, that takes precedence over your one agent. If you want any time with him, you'll have to contact Agent Earl with the FBI...until then, he's ours."

"Chris!" Jeff Neal yelped, stepping behind the information counter. He'd worked with Chris on many occasions, but for health reasons he'd been forced behind a desk. He motioned with his hand toward a small coffee room off to the right. "Who's down?" he asked, grabbing a cup and filling it before turning to focus his attention toward his friends.

"Ezra," Chris replied, leaning against the lockers. "He was workin' a case that I think Hoffman had access to...I think he blew Ezra's cover."

"More than likely." Jeff looked toward the door, making sure nobody was listening. "Hoffman's been under investigation for the past two years and the only reason they nailed him now was because of the dead DEA agents...he could be directly involved. Hell, the reason he's under guard right now is because our own department wants to see this prick dead. Mahoney and Coop spent six months of down time because of his big mouth, he almost got them both killed on their last undercover assignments."

"Any chance we can get a few minutes with him?" Vin asked.

"Not unless you like kissing ass...he's hot right now and nobody, and I mean nobody is getting a chance with him. Hell, the district attorney's office is treating this bastard like the prince of fucking England."

"I'll kiss anyone's ass if it will help me find Ezra." Chris squared his shoulders and looked intently at Jeff.

Jeff nodded: "I'll see what I can do."


Bank fraud wasn't Chris' point of interest. He dealt better with the blue collar criminals, those that enjoyed weapons, bombs, or least those were the ones easiest to catch, apply guilt, or shoot at. It was the white collar criminals that scared him. The sleazy bastards that added or subtracted decimals, or hid their crimes by blaming someone else, and moreover, the sorry fucks that fed the blue collar criminals.

Lt. Hoffman was guilty for more than taking payouts. Four undercover officers had filed formal complaints and as a result Hoffman had been transferred to the 5th. His former precinct was in the process of filing formal charges. But like everything else, the process was too slow...slow enough to let two young men die.

And possibly a third.

Chapter 6

The hotel room door burst open, slamming against the wall, knocking a hole the size of the doorknob into the wallpaper and through the plaster.

"I thought I told you 2:30! Damn it! I've got places to be!!" The man slammed the door shut. "Get off your asses and down to the boss' boat, he wants to see you all!" He ran his fingers through his blonde hair and looked at bloody knuckles and loosened ties.

"Boss sent us to take care of him, Brody, not you." The largest man said, backing away from the bed.

Brody could only see the booted feet of their victim that was hidden by the bed. He looked up and shook his head. "I don't make the orders, but when I give them, you stick your tails between your legs and do it, or the boss might mistake you for another cop."

"What about him?" The man with the ponytail asked, grabbing a handful of tissues to wipe blood off his hands.

"Once again, I'm stuck cleaning your mess." He moved aside. "Take whatever you got blood on...don't leave anything for anyone else to find...including his shit." He stood next to the window, watching as clothing, towels, tissues, and a blanket was picked up and carried from the motel room. Before the leader of the three stepped out the door Brody whispered, "Leave a hundred dollars for the mirror."

"What are you goin' to do with 'im?" he asked, carefully adjusting his grip on the clothing after pulling the cash from his wallet.

"What should have been done in the first place," Brody replied, reaching into his pocket for a stick of gum. He smiled: "Quit smoking yesterday," he said calmly, "the cravings make me want to kill something."

The man nodded and left the room. Brody watched them deposit the soiled linens in the trunk of the car before slipping into the vehicle and heading toward Denver.

Brody released the curtain and clenched his fists before walking to the opposite side of the bed.

Ezra lay on his left side, a smear of blood ran from his nose and across his slightly swollen right cheek. He winced when he moved his right arm toward his rib-cage.

"Agent Standish," Brody said, gently shoving his hand beneath Ezra's head and slipping a pillow into place. "I'm Special Agent Travis Kantz. I'm with the FBI...can you hear me, agent?" He stood and grabbed a clean wash cloth from the towel rack and dampened it with warm water. "I tried to warn you about Mixey." He knelt down and gently applied the warm cloth to Ezra's cheek.

Ezra reached up and grasped the cloth, wincing when he touched his cheek. "Who blew my cover?" he asked, wheezing past a split lip and lungs that burned.

"A Lt. Hoffman from the 5th...didn't you get my note?" Katz asked, pulling Ezra's shirt open to look at the bleeding wound. "This looks old," he said, wincing at the slightly swollen and reddened area that continued to seep blood. He applied pressure using the last remaining towel.

Ezra hissed and tried to push him away. "How'd you find me?"

"Mixey," he replied, checking for broken ribs. "I've been under for 11 months and got close enough to him to take over portions of his business. Seems he's been dealing with more than just arms. I overheard a conversation a few days ago in regards to an undercover agent hiding in his first I thought it was me until he said your name...I knew who you were because I studied a few of your cases at the academy...shit, they have a whole class devoted to you and your style." He chuckled and rechecked the wound. "The bureau is kicking its ass for letting you go, guess it pays not to eat the shit crooks tell you."

Ezra chuckled and groaned, squeezing his eyes shut to ride out the wave of pain.

Travis sighed: "You wrote the book on working undercover...everyone knows it...even if they don't want to admit it."

Ezra shook his head: "The payout's shit."

Travis chuckled and slipped his hand beneath Ezra's head. "I'm going to help you sit up...don't help me, I think you've got a couple busted ribs. Just use your legs."

Ezra nodded and clenched his jaw as the movement caused his chest to burn and his stomach to turn. "God," he gasped, feeling his head spin as Travis forced Ezra's legs out before him.

"You all right?'


Travis nodded in understanding: "I've been in the field for four years now, worked as a paramedic while going through law school then I worked for the DA's office before applying to the Bureau." He looked toward the door, thinking about his next step.

"Good decision?"

"Twice the work, half the pay...but damn I love it!"

"You're a fool."

"My mother thinks so too." Travis stood. "I'll be right back."

Ezra sighed, carefully looking around the room. He noticed his few belongings were gone, but he was thankful to be alive. He heard the door open and then close and then Travis stood before him with a handful of bandages. "There's a doctor on the way to Larabee's place that will see'll need antibiotics for that wound." He pulled Ezra's shirt open and smeared a gel over the top before coving it with a thick bandage. "It's too risky taking you to a hospital. Doctor Tom is contracted with the Bureau for situations like this. He's got a real nice place, guess he should working for the government and the medical association. From what I hear, he's got his own Xray machine, he gets the good shit too."

"When they start this?"

"Couple of years ago. The AMA contacted Director Abrahamson wanting to come to a logical and uneventful decision in regards to treating law enforcement agents who are more at risk, ie, undercover officers. Guess they were tired of shootouts in emergency rooms...can't say that I don't agree with it."

"I've never heard of it," Ezra replied, trying to keep himself upright.

Travis nodded, not wanting to explain.

Ezra understood the silence.

Travis shook his head and tried not to inflict further pain. "I researched every one of your cases after joining the Bureau...they warned me that it was against policy...but I fought them on it." He closed Ezra's shirt and reached for the warm jacket he'd brought from the car. "I think you scared them...I think they saw what you could do and could only turn the tables on you to explain it. Too many agents were doing what I was doing and the administration finally gave in, devoting a whole class to your style."

"You're starting to really frighten me." He tried to keep his eyes in focus, but felt himself failing as objects began to blur and walls tipped.

"I'm new at this." Travis chuckled. "But I learned from the best."

Ezra nodded and then slumped to his right, barely giving Travis enough time to catch him before he fell.



Chris was convinced that he could pull more information out of a dead man. Hoffman wasn't talking and neither was the FBI...they seemed to be rather joyous over the fact that this particular, former FBI agent was missing...preferably dead. Chris was ready to spit nails, hoping to catch someone in the eye, but every turn he took seemed to be blocked by politics and/or hard feelings. The rumors surrounding Ezra hadn't lost any of their fire, particularly with agents who'd tried to enter the undercover training program and failed.

Vin stood in the doorway leading toward the police departments service counter. "What do you want to do?" he asked, turning slightly to catch a glimpse of Larabee who was standing near the window of the coffee room.

"I want to kick someone's ass, but that will only get me reprimanded, suspended, or possibly fired...depending on the ass I kick." He clenched his jaw and forced his fingers through his hair. "He's out there."

"We'll find him."

"He's not a fucking cat, Vin...and he's running short on lives."

"We're all running short on lives, but this is Ezra we're talking about, how many scrapes has he come out on top on?"

"One's all it takes."

"Fuck, I hate talkin' to you when you're so damn cheerful." Vin grabbed the door handle and swung it closed behind him as he left the room.

Chris clenched his jaw and returned his gaze toward the window. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving, most would be home with their families, cooking turkey, watching the football game.

He wouldn't.


Chapter 7

The drive down the gravel road was the worst, the consistent jarring and potholes. Ezra squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his lips together. His nostrils flared as he breathed out slowly. The pain medications weren't nearly strong enough, not even close. His side had been cleaned harshly and then doused with alcohol. He couldn't remember anything after that, just waking up on a sofa covered with bandages.

Two ribs were broken, four more were bruised. He had eight stitches above his left eye and his jaw was sore, tainted with deepening bruises and scrapes where knuckles had met sensitive skin. Thank God his nose hadn't been broken, but it felt like it.

At least he was alive.

Travis hadn't stopped talking since Ezra woke. If he wasn't talking about his case, then it was agents he knew back at Quantico. It was hell. The pain he could tolerate, but this.

"I've heard Larabee could be a pain in the ass to work with."

Ezra chuckled, and then immediately regretted it.

"And I thought my boss was bad. Old Man Moose...what a crappy name, right? I guess he used to work with your superior when you were still in D.C., said you were one hell of an agent, like some kind of a chameleon." He chuckled, trying to take a turn slower to keep his charge from slamming up against the window. "Wish Larabee lived closer to some kind of civilization."

"You'd have to know him, and truthfully, it's safer for all that he doesn't."

Travis laughed and then saw the old fashioned entrance gate. "I can only drop you off...I'm sure you understand...don't want to blow my cover totally, and I trust you not to do it." He slowed when the house came into view.

Ezra nodded, thankful for the sight of something familiar.

"You can't go to the hospital, Mixey will be looking all over for you...he always does, just to make sure his orders get carried through. He's got spies everywhere...a lot of people like his payouts." He pulled his car to a stop and took a deep breath, looking toward the man with his forehead pressed toward the passenger side window.

Ezra nodded, feeling lightheaded. He grabbed the door handle and pushed it open. Travis was there helping him to his feet and carefully guiding him toward the house.

"Gotta love hicks," Travis said, pushing to door open, thankful it wasn't locked. He helped Ezra toward the sofa that rested in front of the fireplace.

Once seated, Ezra slumped to his left, his head meeting the green pillow that Chris kept near the armrest. Travis grabbed Ezra's legs and swung them up onto the sofa, he then grabbed a blanket and covered him.

"You need anything?" Travis asked, looking around the room for anything that might be useful.

"Thank you," Ezra said, keeping his eyes closed as exhaustion claimed him.

Travis nodded and gently patted Standish's shoulder. "Larabee should be getting back soon, I'm sure he'll be glad to see you." He stood and headed for the door, closing it behind him as he left.


Chapter 8

"Josiah," Chris said, coming out of his office. "Go home, I know your sister would love to see you for the holiday...and how many turkeys are you planning to cook?" He smiled and tossed a handful of files on the table.

"Don't feel right about it," Josiah replied, keeping his eyes on the night sky. It was snowing, and the streets of Denver were covered in fresh powder.

Chris understood and he looked toward JD and Buck who were both exhausting themselves at their computers, looking for anything in any old files regarding the Mixey case that could possibly lead them to Ezra. Vin studied photographs of old crime scenes, seeking anything unusual, any old buildings that they could search...anything to find Standish. Nathan sat in a chair, having chewed his nails down to the quick he'd spent the last hour trying to fashion bandages around the bloody stumps.

"What do you want us to do?" Vin looked up from his photos, feeling as though everything they did would be useless. They didn't have anything else to go on.

"Go home," Chris answered, "Go home and have dinner with your families. Vin, I know Nettie's expecting you, and Casey would be devastated if JD doesn't show."

"What about you?" Josiah asked.

"I'm going to have a turkey sandwich with my wife and son." He smiled tightly, watching Buck shake his head with that damn look of his.

"Doesn't feel right," JD said, pushing his chair away from his desk.

"Never does. Keep your phones on, if Ezra calls..."

"We'll be there," Nathan finished.


Chris sat in his truck at the Mitchell's IGA, the passenger seat filled with three grocery bags of beer, chips, deli meats, and accompaniments. He sat with the heater on full blast, listening to ESPN, at least then he could escape reality for a few minutes, listening to the game that would be the one to catch. He couldn't get his head around the idea that Ezra's cover may have been blown for nothing more than money...and possibly his life. Hesitantly he grabbed the gearshift and put his truck into gear. He'd go home, get ready for Buck to show up in the morning and together they'd watch the game with disinterest, jumping every time the phone rang.

He should have been a farmer; he should be home with his family, content with his fields and horses, content with his life. His father had warned him, saying that the life of a cop is as deadly as the scum they deal with. Chris could see his reasoning now, after 17 years on the force, after seventeen years of loss, hardship, and fear.

Perhaps someone wiser than he could have seen it before now.


Chris opened his front door, shaking his head when he realized he'd forgotten to lock it. He flipped on the lights and headed for the kitchen where he deposited his bags and then shoved the beer into the fridge with the deli meats.

He kicked his boots off using the bootjack he kept near the kitchen entrance and then draped his coat over the back of one of the chairs. He looked at the clock, 1:45 a.m. Without thinking he flipped the switch off and headed toward his room.


Chapter 9

Ezra woke with a grunt and carefully pushed himself upright. Every bone in his body hurt, but he took a breath, careful of his ribs. Slowly, he stood, bracing himself with his arms and using the furniture to balance against as he headed toward the bathroom. Carefully, he grabbed a towel from the linen closet before locking the door.


Buck slammed his truck door shut and carried the store bought pumpkin pies into the house, using his own key he opened the door and headed for the kitchen. He smiled, seeing the ample supply of beer. "Damn you're predictable, Larabee." Buck chuckled and grabbed the coffee pot. He could hear the shower running and figured Chris was washing away the previous day's events.

Buck opened a bag of chips and shoved a couple into his mouth as he filled the coffee filter with the proper amount of Columbia's best. He looked toward the front door as Josiah entered with a turkey covered with aluminum foil.

"Brother," he said, setting the turkey on the counter. "Threw three turkeys in the oven when I got home last night and let them cook real slowly for 6 hours–this thing should melt when you eat it."

"I thought you were cookin' five or six of those babies. Damn, Josiah, I could eat that one all on my own." Buck asked, peaking beneath the foil and carefully steeling a piece of breast.

"They're at my sisters being cooked for the gathering tonight," he replied, "you'll just have to starve."

Buck shoved a wad of meat in his mouth, trying to look disappointed. "Thought you'd be there all day?'

"She sent me here." He slapped Buck on the shoulder and turned the oven on warm.

Chris came down the stairs from his room just as the front door opened and JD and Vin stepped through, both carrying pots of food.

"Nettie went down to the school to help feed some families, so she sent us with the goods." Vin headed toward the kitchen and quickly joined Buck and Josiah.

JD shrugged his shoulders: "Didn't seem right..." he adjusted his grip on the yams, "...Casey didn't think so either."

"The others?"

"Nathan's on his way."

Chris nodded and then ran his fingers through his hair. Buck slapped Chris on the shoulder as he stepped out of the kitchen and then he headed for the TV.

The front door opened and Nathan stepped through with a basket full of rolls and a container full of salad. "Rain said we had to eat something of real value otherwise she'd send along some laxatives." He chuckled and moved passed Josiah.

Buck stopped, turned the volume down on the TV. "Who's in the shower?" He turned toward the others, a grin comin' to his face. " got a lady friend here?"

Chris' face went serious: "No."

The squeak of the pipes sounded as the water was turned off. Six sets of eyes landed on the bathroom door and waited.

Vin grabbed two beers and handed one to Josiah.

"It's eleven in the morning," Josiah said.

"It's Thanksgiving, be thankful." Vin smiled, twisting the cap off the glass and taking a long pull. He reached for the basket of rolls and grabbed one, only to break it in half and take a bite. "The waiting is the hardest part."

"Isn't that a song?" JD asked, keeping his eyes on the bathroom door.

"Yeah," Chris replied, "but it's in reference to sex."

"Something like that," JD added, not really paying attention.

"Something like that," Buck said, "Damn, kid, we've got to get you educated...I mean what in the hell are you and Casey doin' on those late nights?"


Ezra slipped his jeans on carefully, and then wiped the steam off the window with the palm of his hand. He could see the discoloration on his cheek and puffiness of his eye. The stitches on his forehead were clean and neat, but the wound would have to be covered again...the same for his side.

He towel dried his hair the best he could and then carefully slipped into his shirt. He looked like hell, but he felt better. He grabbed the doorknob and twisted...


Six breaths were held as the door slowly opened.

"Tom cat," Vin said, "a big black tom cat."

Buck grabbed the blanket from the sofa and then he grabbed the small brown paper bag from the coffee table and peeked inside. He pulled out a bottle of prescription pain medications and antibiotics. "You are one hell of a detective, Larabee, damn, I bet all the guys on the streets were sweatin' it big time when they heard you were the one to watch out for...eyes like an eagle, 'the man you can't slip anything past'."

Chris crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. "It was late."

"Yeah, and I hope you were suddenly blinded by Ezra's shinny black eye." Buck chuckled and tossed the medications onto the table. He smiled toward Ezra who slowly crept out of the bathroom.

Ezra nodded, keeping one arm braced along his ribcage, he cringed when his stomach let out a loud growl. "What's for lunch?"

Josiah laughed and shook his head, carefully placing one arm over Ezra's shoulders. "Anything you damn well want, brother, anything you want."

Nathan reached for the medical kit Chris kept in his coat closet.

"How'd you get here?" JD asked, placing the yams on the table.

Ezra took a seat and clasped the hot cup of coffee Buck placed in front of him with both hands. He smiled, exposing dimpled cheeks like that of a chubby school boy who'd just escaped the principal's grasp. "Lunch first?"

The End