Turn the Page

Book Thirteen

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Previous Stories in this Series
The South Wind
The Mouths of Crocodiles
High and Dry
China Roses
Brothers in Arms
Wayward Son
Calling Elvis
A Raven in the Snow
My Noble Friend
Under the Red Sky
Private Investigations
Things We've Handed Down

Chapter 1

The room was quiet as seven ATF agents quickly filed in. Chris led the way, looking serious and concerned. The others followed and took their usual seats...waiting.

Director Travis pulled a file from his briefcase, and started handing out papers. He cleared his throat and began, "A man by the name of Parker Williams has been seen in the area and is believed to transporting weapons across state lines. He's only the middleman—we want Tomas Hardy—"

"Williams is transportin' for Hardy?" Buck asked, slightly surprised.

"We believe so. Agents and officers alike still haven't discovered any solid evidence against him—but they believe this next shipment of high-powered rifles to a Scott Mendoza in Arizona is the break we need. I would like to put in an insider—to get close to Williams. We need more than circumstantial evidence against him." He looked at Ezra. "We need you on the inside, we'll get you wired—"

"Today?" Ezra asked, shaking his head, trying to gather his thoughts. "I need more time."

"It's a standard plain clothes assignment. Walk in, plant a seed, walk out," Travis responded, looking hard at the Southerner. "You've done it a hundred times before."

"Who's going to be there, how many regulars attend the restaurant? Who's my contact and how reliable are Sergeant West's reports?" Ezra flipped through the file, looking at the long lists of Williams' daily activities. "There isn't anything in here stating if he's a drinker, drug user. Does he pack what he's shipping? Who are his local girls?"

"He's in and out within 24 hours, Ezra. It ain't like he's cruisin' Third Street," Buck said, not understanding the his hesitancy.

"He's stays in town for 24 hours once a week, Buck. He's a man—guaranteed to have somethin' on the side." Ezra closed the file and looked hard at Travis. "I need more time." His words were flat—emotionless.

Travis nodded: "But we don't have more time—," he sighed and took a deep breath, "...There's a strong possibility that Williams will take his business north—if he succeeds here...we're looking at more man hours, more men, and more money—none of which we have at the moment."

"I need more time," Ezra snapped. His discomfort was evident. He moved his pen between his thumb and forefinger, never taking his eyes off the file before him.

Travis looked carefully at Ezra, seeing more than the others.

Ezra could feel his heart racing for reasons he didn't understand. His chest seemed to tighten, his throat seemed to squeeze around his airway and he reached up to loosen the tie around his neck. Sweat quickly beaded on his brow and his hands started to shake.

"It's an in and out case, Ezra," Chris said sharply.

"For you, maybe," Ezra quipped; grabbing his file, he quickly pushed his chair back and removed himself from the room—no longer able to hide his emotions.

Chris stood up, angry at the situation, and he watched as Josiah started to leave, but both were stopped by Orin's firm voice.

"Let him cool off," Travis replied firmly, replacing his papers into his briefcase.

"I'm sorry about this," Chris quickly apologized, "I'll have a talk with him—"

Orin shook his head: "Send him up to my office...I want to talk to him." He nodded to his men and slowly exited the conference room.

"What the hell was that about?" Buck asked, tossing his pencil onto the tabletop.

JD shrugged and Vin continued to keep quiet, unsure as well.

"Maybe he's under too much stress," Nathan said, trying to explain what he too didn't understand. 

"Let's get to work..." Chris muttered, opening the door to the offices, "...I'll go find Ezra."


Chris knocked on the bathroom door and slowly opened it. He found Ezra with his head hanging over a sink, his face dripping with water. "You all right?" He let the door close behind him.

Ezra didn't reply, he just nodded and quickly grabbed a paper towel out of the dispenser and dried his face. "I'll apologize to Director Travis." He stood up, but kept his eyes on a stain on the floor.

Chris nodded and took a deep breath, not wanting to push the subject, but knowing it needed to be broached. "Seen a lot this past twenty months," he said, trying to make sense of things. He took a deep breath and sighed, thinking of the events that had happened only a few weeks ago...they'd watched a man die. Chris winced and looked up, and when Ezra didn't say anything he continued, "Judge wants to see you." He turned and grabbed the doorknob before stopping and turning to look at his agent, his friend. "I figure we've known each other long enough to know we can bypass the bullshit and talk outright...If you need some help...I'm here, so are any of the others."

Ezra nodded and ran his thumb over his bottom lip. "Thanks," he said softly, needing to hear it, but unsure of how to act on it.

Chris tipped his head and started to leave...

"Did I lose my job?" came the worrisome question.

Chris shook his head: "Not as long as I'm here." He smiled tightly and left.


Ezra knocked on the door, wishing he'd just accepted the assignment...wishing he hadn't acted like the fool. He grasped the doorknob and entered the office when he heard the soft call for him to go in. He looked up and found the judge sitting behind his desk, writing on papers in regards to things only he knew about. He smiled and nodded for Ezra to take a seat.

Orin cleared his throat, and then stood up from behind his large oak desk. He moved across the floor toward the door and quickly locked it. Then with all the grace and professionalism he could muster, he called his secretary and ordered her to hold all his calls.

Ezra sat nervously in a chair, wondering if his resignation would be asked for...wondering if Chris had been wrong when he had said Ezra still had a job. He watched the judge pour two glasses of scotch, then place one before himself and his guest—he didn't always follow the rules. The older man moved across the floor and grabbed a large comfortable chair and seated himself. He took the glass filled with amber fluid and took a short drink.

"How long?" Orin asked.


"How long have you been having flashbacks...daytime nightmares...nightmares in general?"

Ezra shook his head, unwilling to answer; he looked toward the door, wishing it would magically open.

"Don't try and bullshit me, son." The older man sighed and crossed his legs. "I know you've seen the bureau psychologists and I know they've okayed you for work...I also know you've lied your ass off." He grabbed a short pile of files and started reading through them. "Dr. Mills said 'you're ready for active duty, but you have a tendency to internalize too much...however, your ability to work past the trauma has exceeded anyone's expectation. Doctor Darcy: Agent Standish has shown extensive resolve and is ready for active duty. Dr. Havervoy...Ezra has adjusted to his circumstances and is ready for active duty'...and the list goes on."


Orin looked hard at the Southerner, trying to size him up. How should he begin? He sighed and ran his hand over his face, and then he slowly began, "You're a damn good undercover agent, Ezra...but you're human on top of that, and as a result, you fall under the same categories as the rest of us. I know what you're going through because I've lived it..." He took a deep breath and began with his own experiences, "Evie and I got married after I got back from Korea... We were high school sweethearts..." He smiled, watching his agent's confused reaction. "Everything was great for a while after we were married...but when I came back from Korea... I brought more back with me than just myself..."

"Sir, I really don't see—"

"Evie knew long before I did that something was wrong, but it wasn't until I saw my wife and son walking across our yard—a car was coming down the road...just like thousands of cars had many times before...the only difference was...this car started backfiring. I grabbed my wife and son and threw them to the ground wanting to protect them from the gunshots that I was hearing." He paused a moment, still pained by the event. "Steven started screaming and Evie was yelling for me to get off of them..." he looked hard at Ezra... "I broke my son's arm because I was in a place that I'd thought I'd left behind."

"I haven't been through a war..." Ezra replied.

"No," Orin agreed, "but you have been through a traumatic experience." He looked hard at his agent. "Evie, being the brilliant woman that she is, started taking psychology classes at college that following year...more for the purpose of finding out what was wrong with her husband than anything else...It took her a few years but she started seeing similarities between Vets from Vietnam and Korea...at the time her professor was calling it Traumatic Experience Regression... I'm not saying Evie discovered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but she did pursue a career in it, and as a result she helped many people. By the time the late seventies rolled around she'd discovered rape victims with the same symptoms..." Orin shrugged and spoke softly. "That woman—my wife, saved a lot of lives and she helped me get where I am today because of her determination..." 

Ezra's jaw clenched and he averted his eyes.

"My wife knows more about what you're going through than you do. If it hadn't of been for her...I wouldn't be here now." He looked hard at his agent. "I want you to talk to her, and listen to what she has to say. Normally I wouldn't suggest this, but I know Evie won't let you bullshit her..."

"And if I refuse?"

"I'll pull you off active duty...you'll be sitting behind a desk pushing papers." He wasn't lying. "You're one hell of an undercover agent, Ezra, better than I've ever seen. But you're in a lot of pain and you need to talk to someone about it. Evie knows what she's dealing with...she knew you'd be going through this long before anyone else did...I made the mistake of not believing her—call it a husband's want of denial...until today."

"How'd she know?" Ezra asked in a soft voice...almost timid.

"When we saw you at the hospital last month...she knew then, she also knew that it wasn't the right time to approach you." He took another drink from his glass then replaced it on the edge of his desk. "Nobody can expect you to just walk away from what happened. Hell...nobody is going to understand what it was like for you." Orin turned understanding eyes on his agent. "I know you love this job...you wouldn't be half the agent you are if you didn't." He watched Ezra's normally stoic façade crack. "Evie's a professional. Anything you say to her will be kept under lock and key. I understand that better than anyone."

Ezra nodded and took a deep breath. He wasn't used to being confronted in such a manner. "What about the others?"

"They don't need to know unless you tell them," Orin answered truthfully. "I understand how some things should remain...private." He leaned over and rested his elbows on his knees. "I want you to get some help before this gets more difficult..."

"Or I get someone killed?" Ezra stared at the judge knowing what he was saying...but it hurt despite the necessity of it.

"Back then, Ezra, they didn't have a name for what was happening to people like me...now they do...and it's my responsibility to make sure you get the help you need."

"What about the case you brought to Chris' attention today?"

"As of this morning it's been transferred to the FBI...kidnapping charges have been filed and that's no longer our jurisdiction. The team will remain inactive for a while...until things settle down. You'll return to active duty—secretly of course—when Evie says you're ready...not before."

"Will it be up to her to decide when I'll be fit for duty?" There was harshness in his voice that surprised himself.

"No," Orin responded, "That will be up to me." His words were flat and unemotional—but they harbored the truth. He reached atop his desk and grabbed a piece of paper. "I want you to sign this," he handed the paper over, "it's a release form of all your psych evaluations as well as your medical reports."

Nervously, Ezra took the sheet.

"It will release the information only to Evie."

Ezra nodded and carefully read the sheet of paper over before signing it.

Orin took the paper back and momentarily looked at the Southerner before getting to his feet. "I want you to see her tomorrow. She's no longer working professionally, so you'll have to drive out to the house." He watched as his agent nod.

Ezra stood and moved toward the door, he paused a moment, letting his hand rest on the doorknob. He felt Orin's hand on his shoulder and he looked up into compassionate eyes.

"It'll work out...just be patient with yourself."


Ezra entered the offices, not surprised by the silence. He couldn't look anyone in the eye, fearing the gazes he might receive. Running his fingers through his hair he headed toward his office, but was stopped by JD's robust laughter.

"Did you hear?" JD snickered, gathering everyone's attention.

Buck poked his head out of his office and sighed; "Hear what?"

JD slapped his thigh and laughed: "Chris has to take an empathy class for detainees."

Buck snickered and went back to work. "I knew he shouldn't have hit the old bastard," he spoke of their last case.

Chris exited his workplace and stood in front of his door with an angry look on his face. JD's eyes grew twice their normal size and he wisely made his way into the safety of his office. "The next person who makes a snide comment about this is goin' to have their heads hanging from my wall!" He looked carefully at each of the offices that his men were 'working' in, and then he stormed off into the bathroom.

Ezra shook his head, not failing to hide his grin, as he hung up his jacket on the back of his chair in the office he shared with Vin.

Vin chuckled and peaked over his computer monitor and out the window toward Larabee's office. "Kid can't keep his mouth shut long enough to have a proper celebration on account of Chris' new class," he said with a grin, before kicking his feet back up onto his desk. He watched as Ezra went back to work. "You okay?" he asked softly.

Ezra smiled faintly and nodded: "Nothing that a good night's sleep won't remedy."

Vin rolled his eyes and pulled his feet from the top of his desk. "Don't you ever get tired of that smell?"

Ezra cocked an eyebrow and shook his head: "What smell?"

"The smell of bullshit comin' from your mouth every time someone asks if you're okay." Vin stood and grabbed his coffee cup. "Want any?" He lifted his cup toward Ezra, who shook his head. Vin nodded and muttered on his way out, "...There had better be some sugar left...JD."

Ezra sighed and leaned back in his seat... How do you tell the people you work with that you can't do your job...because you're scared? 


Chapter 2

Ezra entered his apartment, feeling as though it still wasn't his home. Buck had tacked up a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar in the kitchen...at least it was functional. Ezra thought of the black and white Tono Stano prints that were stashed away in one of his unpacked boxes...images he'd purchased in France when he went to visit his mother. He smiled, knowing how much Buck would enjoy the way Stano portrayed the female form...the way he romanticized it.

Maybe he should take the step and buy a home...someplace to call his own...someplace he could make a life for himself. It would be better than living in a cold box—hiding from the world. Ezra opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a beer. He shook his head when he noticed his faucet was dripping, he moved it slightly so the drop wouldn't be so annoying. He tossed his keys onto the counter and headed for the living room, where he took a seat on the sofa and looked out through the sliding glass doors that were off to his right. 

With the lights off, it was easy to watch the sun make its descent. Masterfully painted as the rays disappeared behind the trees, taking with it the torments of the day. Even the snow seemed to relish in its disappearance, glistening in spots, hiding the roughness of the ground with its illusion of softness and comfort. It looked like cotton in sections, laying against the bark of trees, over bushels of weeds and rocks. So much of life was an unforced façade: appealing, satisfactory, almost dreamy.

Ezra took a pull from the beer, and rested his head on the back of the couch. He looked up at his textured ceiling that had been painted white. Maybe a move is what he needed, a place to call his own, a place where he could be himself. He sat up quickly when a knock at the door sounded, causing him to get to his feet and retrieve the weapon from the holster under his arm.

"Ezra!" Came the soft familiar voice. "It's Evie Travis."

The Southerner sighed and quickly replaced his weapon before opening the door. "Mrs. Travis...is everything all right?" he asked, moving out of the way so she could enter his apartment.

"Everything's fine," she replied softly, heading into the small kitchen with a pan held on her arm. "Orin had told me you were going to stop by tomorrow—but my dear husband seemed to forget I have a prior engagement—"

"Mrs. Travis, you don't need to do this." Ezra stood in the entryway to the kitchen and watched as Evie put on some coffee and placed the pan she'd been carrying into the oven.

Evie stopped and rested her hand on the countertop and looked hard at the young man before her. "My husband thinks the world of the seven of you, and I can't help but think all of you are something special, not just for him, but myself as well..." she paused, looking Ezra in the eyes, "of course I need to be here." She turned and reached into the cabinet and pulled out a couple cups, as though she'd been there a million times before. Ezra just watched in amazement. "Orin says my coffee cake is the best in the world, and since he's out with his poker buddies..." she turned and smiled, "...I'll share it with you."

"I appreciate this," Ezra said softly.

Evie nodded in understanding. "Orin is a stubborn man—very independent, very strong and at times...emotionally unavailable." She smiled, watching Ezra's face, wondering if he caught the similarities...probably not. "As a woman I see things..." she looked toward the coffee pot and quickly poured two cups, "...I saw Orin's pain when he got home from Korea, when he failed the bar exam for the first time." She turned and handed a cup to Ezra and smiled. "I saw the memories that kept him blinded for the first few years of our marriage." Evie reached out and touched Ezra's arm as she moved past him and entered the small living room. She took a seat in the old rocking chair and took a sip from her cup. "I learned later—after years of research and study, that my husband's trigger for his...flashbacks, visions, and fears were, and still are, loud sounds."

Ezra took a seat and listened.

"I watched him jump time after time when I slammed a car door, dropped a plate or glass...when our son took up the drums in high school."

Ezra leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, uncomfortable with the conversation. "Mrs. Travis—"

"Evie," she corrected, quickly taking the same position he did. "What happened?" she asked, resting her cup on the edge of the coffee table.

Ezra stood, running his fingers through his hair: "The case started out—" He started pacing.

"I don't want to hear what you told the judge in the Wade case, or what you told the Bureau psychologists—I want to know what happened." Her voice was soft as she spoke, unthreatening...yet demanding. She stood and headed for the kitchen, where she proceeded to remove her warmed cake from the oven. She dished out two pieces onto some plates Ezra had in his dish rack and moved toward the small table. She didn't watch his movements, she knew he was upset, but she retrieved her coffee and took a seat at the table and waited for him to join her. "You should really try the cake."

Ezra smiled tightly, trying to gather his courage. His apartment smelt of cinnamon and coffee...like home. Slowly, he took a seat at the table and waited, unsure of how to continue.

"When did the nightmares start?" Evie asked softly, before taking a bite of her cake.

Ezra swallowed hard: "Couple months ago," he admitted softly.

"Are they waking you up at night...hitting you in the daytime?"

Ezra rubbed his thigh with the palm of his hand and nodded. Both.

 "When are they the worst?" Her questions were soft, unthreatening, but difficult to answer.

"Mornings," came the response. Ezra looked toward the door, then toward the kitchen, wishing he were stronger. "Will I be able to do my job?"

Evie smiled and nodded: "Yes...but you need to tell me what happened so I can better understand why your panic attacks are occurring. Then I can tell you how to handle them, what to do, and how move past the trauma."

"Will it ever go away?" He met her eyes, searching for the lie.

Evie returned the look with sympathy. "No...it'll never go away." She watched him take a deep breath and lean back in his chair. "But you can learn to manage it, and in time you'll understand how to anticipate it."

"Why is this happenin' now—so long after...?"

"Actually, you're right on time. In some cases it can take just a few weeks, and other times it can take years before someone suffers from the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Ezra chuckled and shook his head: "Doesn't everyone suffer from it."

Evie sighed and leaned back in her seat. "I believe at present that PTSD is being diagnosed at an alarming rate...and unfortunately many who are being treated for the disorder don't actually suffer from it. You do, and you'll spend the rest of your life with memories, feelings, and hardships because of it. I can't give you a pill and make it go away...this is something you need to wrestle with and win."

Ezra nodded in understanding and then rested his elbow on the table and rubbed at his eyes.

"What happened?"

Ezra squeezed the bridge of his nose and thought for a moment, trying to find the right words, trying to find a place to start...not wanting to remember. "When I was with the FBI I worked on a missing persons case. Her body was later located buried in a pine box with satanic symbolisms carved into the wood." He looked at Evie, trying to decide if he should go on.

"I've dealt with police officers, abused children, rape victims and war veterans, Ezra...nothing you tell me is going to scare me."

He nodded and continued, "The Bureau'd always had a closed minded view when it came to satanic crimes...it wasn't until later when they found a nationwide connection between cults..."

Evie let him continue; feeling as though the background of the story was where his issue began.

"...Several of Becky's organs had been removed—later it was discovered they'd been harvested for wealthy businessmen and their families. Though her body had been discovered in Texas it was believed that her death had occurred in Mexico—where the transplants took place. The FBI's director at the time felt it was in the best interest of the Bureau to come to a quick closure of the case as to avoid an international incident."

"You're identifying with the victim... Do you realize you identified with the victim by calling her by her first name?" Evie leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. She looked at Ezra's confused face. "In some cases it's good that you do. Many times officers who learn too quickly how to callous themselves against the violence around them, turn to alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, and many suffer physical ailments like ulcers." She watched him a moment. "What happened to you?"

Ezra rubbed his forehead and looked at the coffee cake on his plate. "I should have been better prepared for the case—it was overly rushed." He sighed and leaned back in his seat. "At the academy I learned early on that the most common reason for undercover agent's blowin' their covers is due to their lack of background research." He looked toward the kitchen and stared at the light above the stove. "I knowingly walked into that hospital without the knowledge I needed on any of the staff, patients, or visitors."

"This was your fault?"

Ezra pressed his lips into a fine line and shrugged, maybe it was. "I knew Carson wouldn't activate the trackin' device...I knew that when I went in."

"What happened?" Evie asked again, unwilling to let him skirt around the issue.

Ezra picked at his thumb cuticle. "I started thinking about the case in Texas when it dawned on me that we weren't looking for satanic ritualists..."

"So what'd you do?"

"Snuck out of my room..." Ezra stopped and looked hard at Evie.

"Nothing you say to me can be used against you in any way," she reassured, knowing laws had been broken.

"I broke into Dr. Wade's office and downloaded all the information regarding his transplant patients—all of the donors had been listed and later identified through medical records..." he took a deep breath before continuing, "I rushed back to my room and stayed there—"

"What'd you do with the papers?"

"I taped them to my leg?"


Ezra furrowed his brow and shook his head... "I knew I was next," came the soft, almost inaudible whisper. I thought about leaving...sneaking out, but before I could go..." he sat up, moving nervously in his seat, "...the lights to my room were flipped on—I couldn't see..." He stood, feeling his pulse race, his chest tighten, and his throat constrict. He moved to the sliding glass doors and opened them, trying to get a breath of fresh air.

Evie stood and moved toward him, gently placing her hand on his back she asked, "You all right?" Her voice was soft and almost inaudible past Ezra's harsh breathing.

He nodded, bending over and bracing his hands on his thighs above his knees. "I knew and I didn't do anything about it," he spoke quickly, pushing all of his words together.

Evie rubbed his back, knowing now wasn't the time to push him for answers.

Ezra concentrated on his breathing—not rushing from the room with his tail tucked between his legs. Evie's gentle hand felt good on his back as she moved it in circular motions—comforting in a way he hadn't expected. He stood and smiled tightly, wishing he wasn't so weak.

Evie watched him with a critical eye, allowing him the space he needed, while not letting him go. "You're reliving the event." She rubbed his arm before pulling back. "It can't be easy...doing what you do."

"You get used to it," Ezra said flatly, standing up straight, and turning to look out the window.

"Do you?" she pushed. "Man by nature is a predator." She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the sliding glass door, watching Ezra intently. "We hunt our food, protect what is ours, demand the right to live—but placing yourself in a possibly deadly situation, you in essence become the prey...that's a difficult transformation."

Ezra could only nod in understanding...she was right.

"What happened after the lights went on?"

Ezra took a deep breath. "I couldn't see clearly—not at first." He moved nervously and pulled at the sleeve of his shirt with his thumb and forefinger. "I was gagged...so I couldn't all out." His words were purposely flat, void of emotion, as though it would help him get though it.

Evie knew what he was doing; she'd seen it a hundred times before.

"I was strapped to a bed and pushed into a bright room." His words were rushed.

Evie waited, and he didn't continue. "What was in the room—how many people—what did it smell like?"

"Disinfectant," came the sharp, quick answer. He turned and looked out the window.

Evie looked up and watched the quick fluttering of Ezra's jugular vein. He was good at hiding, disguising his fears, but he couldn't hide from this. Evie remained calm, collected, unwilling and unable to show emotion. She knew she had to be strong, objective, non-judging, and willing to hear every aspect of the violence committed against him. She had to be strong, professional, and unyielding. "What happened?" she continued to pry, knowing how much easier it would be for him once everything was out in the open.

Ezra sighed, trying to collect his thoughts, control his fears. "They left me for a while—I don't remember how long."

"You fought the restraints?" she didn't want to have to ask, but she wanted him to volunteer the information. She'd read his medical reports, and she knew the damage that had been done to his body.

Ezra nodded, he had fought...and he'd fought hard, hard enough to fracture both wrists.

"What happened next?"

He ran his hand over his face, closing his eyes tight while he saw his past. "When they reentered the room..." he sighed, taking a deep breath, "...they forced a tube down my throat and ah...forced me to breathe." He looked around the room erratically, as though searching for a comfortable place, but instead he turned his back toward the glass door and gave in to his knees' sudden weakness, sliding to the floor.

Evie carefully and methodically took a seat in the old rocking chair, just wanting to listen.

"I ah...remember feeling somethin' wet on my side." His hand went instinctively to his right, to protect it, or reassure himself that he wasn't still bleeding. "There were six or seven people standin' around me—wearing masks, aprons, and gloves."

"What were you thinking about?"

Ezra turned so she couldn't see his face. He knew what she was asking. "I was wonderin' who would show up to my funeral," he admitted softly, almost inaudibly.

"Were you ready to die?" she asked.

Ezra's jaw clenched and he turned to look at her. His eyes watered, but those tears refused to fall. He shook his head: "No...I didn't want to die."

"But you thought you might?"

"I knew I would."

"But you're here now?"

Ezra nodded, but turned pleading eyes toward her. "Is that necessarily a good thing?"

Evie smiled confidently: "Yes, it's a very good thing." She watched him, his movements, his actions—everything spoke volumes. "What's the last thing you remember?"

He sighed: "The pain." His answer was short, truthful, and complete.

Evie understood it. "What's the first thing you remember after waking up?"


"Have you spoken with Chris or any of the others—about what happened?"

Ezra shook his head. There wasn't any need—they knew everything.

Evie wasn't stupid. She stood and headed into the kitchen, where she proceeded to open the cabinet beneath the sink. She closed it quickly and poured herself some more coffee. "When you work undercover, have you ever met anyone who matched what was written about them?" She retook her seat and waited for his answer.

"There's always differences, understated elements—" he stopped suddenly when he realized she was speaking of him...how he looked on paper and what he was like in person were as different as black and white...

Evie smiled: "It's difficult not taking the best for granted." She looked hard at him. "You should never be placed in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, and if you need time on a case, you should get it...no questions asked. After all, it's your life, not theirs."


"No buts. Orin, and the rest of your team have taken your skills as an undercover agent for granted. Due to your job qualifications, specifications, and the hostile environments in which you work, you were within your rights to refuse the case offered to you today."

Ezra looked at her, surprised by her knowledge.

She smiled and winked: "I'm not foolish about such things. Your trigger, however, is smell—I noticed your cleaning supplies under the sink are of citric smells, and you've got air fresheners in every room."


Evie nodded: "It'll take you some time to recognize which ones...most that are related to hospitals more than likely: iodine, soaps, disinfectants...maybe some perfumes or colognes—depending on what the individuals who did this to you were wearing. But now that you know what causes the panic attacks, you can better prepare yourself, recognize the pain it causes you."

"Will they stop?"

"No," Evie answered honestly. "But you'll learn to control them, recognize the triggers, learn to stop and collect yourself. It's a slow, tedious process." She took a deep breath and looked around the room. "It may be another five years before you have another panic attack—it may be ten, but when it does happen next, you'll know why."

Ezra nodded in disappointment.

"Thirty years ago, people didn't talk about things like this—veterans and victims were just expected to move on with their lives without any problems. But now, we know how to handle it, what to look for, how to talk about it so you can start treatment—and the treatment starts with you, not me, your friends, or your family...it has to start with you recognizing that you have an issue that needs attention...the rest is easy."

"Easy...?" Ezra questioned, feeling as though it were anything but.

"I've had patients come into my office and never—no matter how long I tried—talked about their fear/past/experience. I've had them tell me every detail and yet, they were never able to put it behind them, and I've had others live in fear most of their lives until one day it just hit them, like a ton of bricks—the fear is real, but the trauma is no longer occurring...except in their minds, and then it just clicks." She snapped her fingers.

Ezra looked at her, knowing she spoke the truth and knowing she wouldn't lie to him. "Like a puzzle?" he surmised.

"A very complicated one, yes." She rubbed her knees and then reached out and finished drinking her coffee. "I'm going to suggest that you talk with Chris, or Josiah, whomever you're more comfortable with...someone you work with should know—at least a little about what happened, and I mean more than what's in the file." She looked hard at him. "And...if possible, even more than what you told me."

Ezra looked at her briefly before turning away. "What about my job?"

"What about it?" she challenged. "You'll go back to work, just like everyone else, and, only if you are unable to continue will you be removed—but for now, you just need to talk about it, and talk with someone who knows." 

"I was under the impression by Director Travis that I would be restricted to desk duty?" he asked, not fully understanding the ground he was on.

Evie smiled: "He said that under the conditions that you wouldn't talk to me, or anyone for that matter."

Ezra sighed, he needed his job—it was a part of who he was. "Am I fit for duty?"

"That's hard to say..." she took a deep breath. "This isn't a medical condition that can be cured with medicine... It's more of a state of mind—a condition of the will of sorts. Nobody wants to be subjected to a bad memory—and nobody wants to continually relive a trauma...and you may be able to move past it with logic and reasoning, or it may take you longer to discover those tendencies that continually keep you behind. Like I said, I've had patients move in different directions...that all depends on you."

"What about the panic attacks?"

"You may have one tomorrow, or it may be ten years from tomorrow. You now know the logical reason for the trigger...it's up to you to keep that in mind."

Ezra smiled and nodded his head.

"What do you find amusing?" she asked, feeling relieved to discover his lighter mood.

"I thought I was goin' crazy," he sadly admitted, before running his fingers through his hair.

"No," Evie chuckled, "not until you start hearing your neighbor's dog talking."

Ezra nodded in agreement.

Evie stood and grabbed her coffee cup. She walked into the kitchen and quickly started cleaning her mess when Ezra quickly joined her.

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it in the morning."

Evie nodded in agreement, and looked up at the clock on the wall. "It's three a.m." She stepped forward and patted his arm. "I should be going."

"I'm sorry for havin' detained you for so long." Ezra quickly covered the coffee cake with aluminum foil, feeling guilty for her time spent.

"If I didn't want to come—" she looked hard at him, "—I wouldn't have." She reached out and patted his arm.

"I should drive you home—"

"Ezra." She quickly stopped him. "Orin dropped me off—he's probably out listening to Savage complain about politics." She chuckled to herself. "You keep the cake, and you can bring me back the pan when you're through with it."

"Thank you," Ezra said softly, following her to the door, "for everything."

"Take care of yourself, Ezra—the other six need you...and so does my husband—whether he admits it or not." She pulled on her coat and zipped up the front. Slowly she opened the front door and took in a breath of cold winter air. "He even left the car running." She smiled warmly, watching as Orin slipped out of the driver's side door and opened up the passenger side. She loved him even more for the little things. Evie turned suddenly and looked hard at the young man standing in the doorway with his arms folded over his chest—standing in the cold. "Talk to one of the others...and get yourself back inside before you catch your death." She reached out and squeezed his arm before trotting down the front steps toward the car.

Ezra watched for a moment as Evie kissed her husband's cheek before slipping into the passenger seat of the car. Orin reached up and waved toward him before getting back into his own seat and proceeding home. Ezra turned and reentered his apartment.

How strange it felt, to finally know why he was having the flashbacks. Now, it was only a matter of discovering if he was strong enough to control them. Could he become a survivor, or would he forever remain a victim? He walked toward the sliding glass window and looked out over the dark land, unable to see much, he looked up toward the star speckled sky.

Now was time to take the chance.


Chapter 3 

"Ezra?" Chris asked, after opening the front door to his home. He stood there, in black sweat pants and an old blue t-shirt with three holes in the left shoulder. His hair stuck up in spots, and his feet were bare. Wasted, his dog, sat contently beside him, wagging his tail and hitting the hard wood floor.

"Sorry about the time—" Ezra quickly tried to apologize, wondering if he'd made the right decision in coming.

"Get your ass out of the cold—I'll put on some coffee." Chris turned, after opening the door a little wider.

Ezra entered the home—a home—a place where Chris was at peace, where he could go and relax, not be someone he wasn't. Ezra reached behind him and closed the door, giving the old black lab a quick scratch behind the ears. Wasted quickly poked his nose upward and licked the friendly hands.

The Southerner could hear Chris in his kitchen banging around, probably looking for a couple of clean cups. Though the house was clean, it was far from spotless. An empty pizza box still sat on the coffee table, filled with napkins and crust. A throw had been tossed over the back of the overstuffed chair, and Chris' shoes rested near the end of an end table.

Chris entered the living room and took a seat on the sofa, rubbing his eyes. He motioned with his hand for Ezra to take a seat. "So...what brings you out here at five...twenty-three, in the morning?" he said, squinting his eyes to look at his grandfather clock.

"Maybe you should think about glasses?" Ezra responded, laying his coat over the armrest of the chair.

"There are lots of places I could hide your body, Standish," Chris warned, despite, the chuckle in his voice. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees and took a long hard look at his agent. "So let's bullshit." He wasn't stupid, and he knew Ezra needed to talk.

Ezra nodded with a chuckle, glad that his boss wasn't in the room, but a friend—a brother of sorts. "How'd you get over it?" came the predictable—unpredictable question.

Chris leaned back, knowing exactly what Ezra was asking about. "I haven't," came the bold response. "I never will—but I've managed to get past it."

"There's a difference?"

Chris nodded: "A big one."

Ezra sighed and leaned back. "What did you do?"

"Spent a lot of time drinkin' myself to death," he spoke of the car bomb that took his family. "Did that for nearly a year—'til Buck finally knocked some sense into me. I still jump when I hear a big explosion, and yeah, there are days when I see the images in my head—but I don't feed on them anymore, I don't allow myself to." He spoke brutally honest, like a friend would. "When you went missin'..." Chris stopped and shook his head, "...I didn't think we'd find you alive."

Ezra looked up and met Chris' eyes.

"I'm sure as hell glad we did." Larabee leaned forward again and rested his elbows on his knees. "I talked a lot with Buck—he probably heard more than he ever should have, but he tolerated a lot of my bullshit—and a few of my punches."

Ezra looked out the windows, seeing nothing but the faint glimmer of stars in the sky—the sun wouldn't be up for a while.

Chris looked hard at his agent—his friend, and saw a man in pain—a man that was confused. "What's your trigger?" He knew, and there wasn't any point in hiding it. When Ezra turned questioning eyes toward him he quietly answered, "Travis didn't tell me...I figured somethin' was up when you didn't show up at the hospital for the birth of the Jackson triplets."

Ezra nodded in understanding. "Smells...smells are my trigger." He winced when he spoke.

"Figured it was somethin' like that."

"Why?" Ezra asked out of curiosity.

 Chris ran his hand over his face. "When Buck entered the offices a couple of weeks ago wearin' his new cologne you nearly bit his head off for somethin'."

Ezra sighed, he had no memory of the episode. Had there been others?

"It was Josiah who told him not to wear it again."

"Why didn't anyone approach me about it?"

"Wasn't time," Chris answered honestly. "Hell, nobody's goin' to blame you for any of it—"

"—You make it sound as though I've been a terror—"

"—You've never been a bucket of joy."

Ezra cocked his eyebrow—who was?

Chris stood and headed back into the kitchen. "Got day old donuts—you want one?"

Ezra smiled: "Yeah."

Chris smiled, never failing to be surprised by Ezra's unexpected surprises.

The End...until later!

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