If You're Gone

by ReaperWriter

Lili finished work around five and shooed her right hand man out. "Go home, take Paige out, and have a good time. The office will beep you or Kelly if anything goes down," she said, referring to the next in command after Steven.

"You too, Lili," he said. "And don’t worry, we’ll cover everything til you get back." Smiling at her assistant, she headed out and into the elevator. She punched the parking garage level and waited for the elevator to descend, slowly controlling her breathing. She hated elevators, any enclosed space for that matter. Finally, when the elevator came to a halt, she got out and headed for the Jeep Cherokee. Putting it in gear, she drove out the exit and into Denver rush hour traffic. Only bad part of living that far out was the commute home. She sighed as she listened to the radio, and unbidden, a memory came leaping up.

Boston University, 1990

Lili sat on the river’s edge, watching crew practice. She wasn’t sure why she had come. She had refused to come at first, though Michael asked her every week. Crew practice was how Billy died...no, what killed him. If he hadn’t been on the river that day, in that damn boat...no use going there. What made today different was that she sat, huddled on the back bumper of her car, watching the crew team rowing in single, double, and team boats. Had Billy known what was coming? Did he have time to feel fear?

Tear had welled in her eyes, burning against the cool wind of autumn. She shook herself. Stop it, she reprimanded. Jesus, you didn’t cry then. No good crying now. She nearly jumped when she felt the hand on her shoulder.

"I’m sorry," Ezra said, as she turned to him. "I went by to see if you wanted to get breakfast, but you weren’t at home. I was concerned."

"Since when do you get up for breakfast?" she asked, desperately trying to hide everything. She didn’t know why, her friend could read her better than that.

"I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lied," he said. "You were just so...withdrawn yesterday. I was worried."

"No," she said. "I’m sorry. It’s just...this week...it’s."

"Billy," the southern young man said, getting it. "Aw hell, shit."

"Yeah, kind of my sentiments," Lili replied, feeling the tears starting to flow again. She was almost unprepared for the feeling of his arms around. The hug was a gentle one, and it broke the rest of the resolve she had not to cry. She buried her face into his chest and began to sob openly.

"It’s all right," he whispered softly, stroking her hair. "It wasn’t your fault, Lili, you know that and so does he." His hand moved up and down her hair and her back, soothing her, easing the sobs wracking her body. After a while, she calmed down.

"Thank you," she said.

"That’s what I am here for," he said. "And I’ll always be here, Lili. Always."

She shook herself out of the memory. He sure hadn’t been there for her lately. She smiled as she pulled off at her exit, heading home at the legal speed limit. She didn’t have time for a ticket, not if she wanted to get everything done in time.

She pulled into the garage, turned off the car and got out. As she walked through the door, the phone rang for the fourth time and the machine picked up. "Hi, you’ve reached Lili, Falstaff, and Berowne. If you are trying to reach Lili, leave a message. If you are trying to reach Falstaff or Berowne, seek help." The machine beeped as she walked by, but the voice on it stopped her.

"Lili, it’s Ezra," he said. She debated half a second, but the tone in his voice made up her mind.

"Ezra, I’m here," she said. "Is everyone all right?"

"They’re fine, Lili Grace," he said, realizing what she thought. "I just called...I wanted to...I..."

"Ezra, I have an engagement tonight," she said. "I really need to get ready."

"I just wanted to tell you, have a good time," he said. "You really have earned it." Before she could say anything, he hung up. Lili stared at the phone in her hand, unsure what on earth had just happened. One minute, he seemed hostile, and now, almost apologetic. She shook her head. She had to hurry, it she wanted to be ready in time to meet Simon.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra realized that he technically hadn’t checked with Chris before his coffee break earlier that day, and that could lead to a reprimand, but he didn’t really care. Sighing, he walked into the office to find everyone else gone. Walking over to his desk, he found a note with his name on it, written on a legal pad.

Ez, I cleared everything with Chris, told him ya needed ta go run an errand, didn’t want ta bother him. He said to tell ya that we’re meetin’ tomorrow at three ta finalize plans at the ranch. See ya then, pard. Vin

Standish sighed heavily and began packing his briefcase to go home for the night. He had a bottle of scotch that was calling his name.

+ + + + + + +

Lili stood smiling under the street light in the arts district of Denver’s downtown. She locked the door to the Cherokee after removing an overnight bag. She knew she looked good. The dress was simple, deep green silk that flared allowing her to dance. The jewelry she had chosen was simple, yet elegant, silver and diamonds, her sixteenth birthday gift from her parents, or more correctly, her father’s secretary who had been charged with doing his shopping. It didn’t matter, she had liked them well.

MacKenna walked towards the bistro and tried to remember the last time she had gone away with someone. She and Jesse never really did, since there was a greater chance their supervisors would catch on. It must have been one of the brief affairs she’d had in college. She felt nerves and a twinge of something else...guilt. That phone call from Ezra made her feel just a bit guilty. Stop that. You are going away for the weekend with Simon. Starting it off by thinking of another man is not healthy. Shaking herself again, she made her way towards the restaurant, where she saw him.

Simon stood by his car, dressed in a perfect suit, the crisp linen shirt stood out in Denver’s semi-darkness. He was handsome, very, very handsome, and Lili felt her heart flutter just a bit. Smiling, she headed over to him. He noticed her approach and stopped moving, his mouth agape. "Wow," he said softly. "You look wonderful tonight."

"Thank you," she replied shyly, allowing him to take her bag. "You too. So, where are we going?"

"Nope, it’s a surprise," Simon replied. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride." she smiled, and let him help her into the car.

+ + + + + + +

An hour later found them at the foot of the Rockies, parked in parking lot of a tram lift. Lili looked at the tram and took a deep breathe. "Um, Simon, are we riding one of those?"

"Yep," the attorney smiled back. Then he noticed her slight paling about her face. "Is something wrong?"

"I’m a little...well, claustrophobic," she said.

"Oh shit, I’m sorry, Lili," he said. "I should have asked. We could do something else..."

"No," MacKenna replied, taking his hand. "I’ll be fine. You just have to talk to me, okay? As long as I can focus on something else, I’ll be fine."

"Are you sure?" Simon asked. She nodded. "We’ll have a good time tonight, I promise." Taking her bag in his free hand, he pulled her towards the tram. Taking a deep breath, she steeled her nerves, and climbed aboard.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra poured himself another scotch and watched the lights of Denver from his town house window. He should have felt better, now that he gave Lili his...what? Blessing? Permission? Forgiveness? Hell, she was a grown woman, and a beautiful one. She didn’t need any of that. It wasn’t like she was his daughter, or his former lover. So, what was that phone call? His plea for her forgiveness, he supposed. He had behaved like an ass, he knew that, and even the call didn’t make him feel better. Not when all he wanted to say was, "I love you, don’t see him anymore, let it be me."

He cursed himself as his hand shook, spilling a few drops of the imported scotch on the table. She was never his to lose, and he sure as hell didn’t have the right to screw up her chance at...what...normal? He couldn’t give her normal. All he could give her was a guarantee of nights alone, and that one day, he might not come home from a bust. It was no kind of life for someone like her. He tossed back the scotch, and reached for the bottle again. He was beginning to understand Christopher Larabee more and more every minute.

+ + + + + + +

The tram ride had taken half an hour. Somehow, Lili had managed to keep herself from a total panic attack. She had recited, in her head, all the state capitals, the presidents in reverse order, previous directors of the Bureau, the name of every principal she had ever had, and the current line up of the Arizona Diamondbacks. By the time she started in on the horses who won the Kentucky Derby, the tram ground to a halt at a second parking area. This one only had one vehicle, a small Mercedes limo. She stepped out of the tram, taking a few quick controlled breathes. The air was thinner, and cool, and it made her slightly light headed.

"Lili," Simon said. "This is our car."

"Simon, this must all have been so expensive," the FBI agent said, starring as the chauffeur took their bags and stowed them in the trunk.

"Don’t worry about it," hesaid, eyes twinkling. "The owner is a friends of Dad’s, who I do some legal work for on the side. In exchange, he lets me use the facilities, pretty much for free."

"Nice," she said, as he handed her into the car. He climbed in next to her and settled in. The ride took them about fifteen minutes, the whole way scenic and winding along a mountain road. Much of the time, Lili could see the lights of Denver in the distance through the darkness. The car was a piece of cake after the tram ride, and she almost didn’t notice they had come to a stop. Simon waited as the chauffeur came around and opened the door. He climbed out and instructed her to close her eyes. She did and felt herself get a little dizzy as he helped her out of the car. "Tell me when," she said, as Simon led her forward.

"Just another minute," he said. She held her breathe, hoping it wasn’t so dark that he would walk them off a cliff. "Okay, open your eyes."

The sight that greeted her was one of sheer wonder. A huge lodge, all wood and log, stood majestically before them, twinkling with white lights hanging from the eaves. Pine tress surrounded the landscape, with the Rockies rising majestically behind it. "Oh my God," she breathed.

"You like it?" Simon asked. Lili continued to stare in wonder for a minute.

"It’s...there aren’t words."

"Come on, wait til you see the inside," he said. "We have dinner and dancing yet."

"Lead on," she said.

+ + + + + + +

Vin wasn’t sure what made him think to come by. Maybe it had been the look in Ezra’s eyes today when they had spoken. Maybe it was the pain the tracker heard in the disdainful voice. Whatever it was, Standish had been in his own private hell recently. The Texan knew someone had to do something, and he’d be damned if he didn’t step up to do it.

He knocked firmly once, and waited for a response for a minute, staring at the door. When Ezra didn’t answer, he knocked louder and with more vigor. When his friend still didn’t answer, he pulled out his key ring, and sorted the various metal passes by touch. Nate’s, JD and Buck’s, there it was. He fitted the key carefully in the door and pushed it open, calling out so as not to get shot, "Ez? It’s Vin."

"Really, Mr. Tanner," the slurred voice replied, coming from a chair. The Southern accent got twice as thick when he was plastered. "Persistent knocking and a general intrusiveness where your person is not wanted, how the hell could I have been mistaken?"

Tanner walked into the room, closer to the chair, and sighed when he spotted the Southerner. Holy shit. Vin couldn’t believe his eyes. For a minute, he thought he was seeing Chris on a binge. The undercover agent had finished a bottle of Johnny Walker and two of Absolut Vodka. The last thing he thought he’d ever see the man drinking was tequila but a bottle of Cuervo was half gone in the man’s right hand. His eyes were blood shot and watery, and stubble showed on his chin. This was not good at all. "Ezra, put the bottle down," the sniper said, walking towards him.

"Really, Mr. Tanner, I’m not as think as you drunk I am," Standish replied, but didn’t fight when his friend took the bottle from him and set it out of reach. "Really, Mr. Tanner, go away."

"I don’t think so, pard," Vin said. "Ya have a meetin’ in" he looked at his watch, "fifteen hours, and ya need to be sober. Let’s get ya to bed so ya can sleep it off." He carefully lifted the drunk man and drug him towards his bedroom. "And ya owe me for this one, Ez. Big time."

+ + + + + + +

The dinner and dancing had been wonderful, with the restaurant overlooking the side of the mountain that faced Denver. It had been a perfect evening...almost. In the back of her mind, the whole night, she had heard Ezra’s voice, sounding apologetic and lost. She felt conflicted. One part of her thought viciously that he deserved it for making her week so hard and for keeping him in her thoughts all night. The other part of her wanted to hold him until he felt better. Still, she had enjoyed the night in Simon’s arms. She had laughed with him and enjoyed the chance to spend time with someone who didn’t think her work was morbid or twisted or odd. Someone who understood the drive to put criminals behind bars. She liked Simon, she really did. She was even attracted to him enough to consider inviting him to cut back the "separate accommodations", but she knew it might not be the best idea. Like it or not, she did have a bust on Sunday, and until it was wrapped, part of her mind had to be on it. So, she had retired to her bedroom of the two bedroom suite and gone to sleep. Sad green eyes were her last conscious thought.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish considered finding his gun and putting himself out of his misery. If only he could move. Burying blurry eyes back into his down pillow, he cursed in French, and then English. He hadn’t been hung over this badly since Lili’s twenty-first birthday. He had marveled then at how well she held her liquor, for one who drank rarely, and in the end, she had held his head while he paid homage to the porcelain god in his bathroom and then she had put him to bed.

"Argh," he groaned. Then he noticed the boot clad feet standing next to his bed. A cup of coffee set down on his bedside table, and he decided he just might be able to go get his gun and end the absolute horror of having someone he respected see him like this.

"Mornin’ Ez," Vin said. "Drink the coffee, we have to be at Chris’s in two hours and ya smell like roadkill, pard."

"I am in hell," Standish groaned, sitting up and immediately falling over.

"Careful, pard," Vin said. He reached over and helped the other man sit up slowly. "Nice and easy now, I know ya feel awful."

"Ya have no idea," he replied, his drawl thickened from the pain of the hangover. "Really, Mr. Tanner, is this entirely necessary?"

"Ya want Chris to kick your ass if he sees ya like this?" Vin replied, opening the closet. He reached out and chose soft gray slacks and a blue sweater. "Now, drink your coffee and grab a shower." He started to head out towards the living room.

"Vin," Ezra said. The sharpshooter stopped and turned. "Thanks."

"That’s what friends do, pard," the Texan responded.

+ + + + + + +

Chris glanced at them oddly when Vin and Ezra arrived together. JD and Buck were already there, as was Josiah. Nathan was running late, but he had called to say he would be there as soon as he finished helping at the scene of a minor traffic accident. "Boys," Chris said.

"Hey Chris," Tanner said, his normal calm and gregarious self.

"Mr. Larabee," Standish said, a little pained. "Mr. Tanner was kind enough to pick me up.’

"Nice of him," Larabee said. He shot the blue eyed Texan a look. What’s up pard?

Ezra had a date with Jose Cuervo. Had to babysit.

The team leader nodded simply. "There’s food in the fridge if you guys are hungry," he said, watching Ezra turning slightly green. "I’m gonna run out to the barn before Nate gets here."

Nate arrived within half an hour, and plans for the bust were gone over one last time. Three hours later, the men of Team Seven were preparing to leave, when Chris asked to speak to Standish alone.

"Ezra," Larabee said. "I need to know that you’ll be one hundred percent tomorrow."

"I am fine, Mr. Larabee, I assure you," he replied.

"Ez," Chris said. "I trust you. I do. But, if you aren’t there, we can cancel. Your life, their lives, are more important than any bust."

"Chris," the younger man said, his tone almost pleading. "Right now, the work is all I have. Please, let’s go through with it."

"Okay, Ez," Chris said. "But, I don’t buy this only thing bullshit."

"Goodbye, Mr. Larabee," Standish replied. "See you in the morning."

Chris shook his head and watched him go to join Vin, who was waiting to drive him home. Thing had better arrange themselves soon, or everything was going to go to hell.

+ + + + + + +

Lili sighed as she and her team did clean up work, cataloguing and bagging the evidence. She had never been able to watch Ezra in action, and it had been truly impressive from her place in the command van. He reminded her for a moment of Jesse, and herself. Not that he could know that. None of them knew that. Shaking her head clear, she watched as Steven and Kelly, her third in command loaded the boxed and sealed evidence into the van. No one had been shot in the raid, thank God, and the team was doing a last sweep of the warehouse. She made her way over to where Chris stood, directing things.

"Everything’s all packed up Chris," she said. "You shouldn’t have any problem getting conviction on this one."

"Thanks for the help, Lili," Larabee replied. He looked around quickly, noticing that Ezra was in deep conversation with Vin about something. "How did the weekend go for you?"

"Nosy, are we?" she asked, trying to keep the conversation light. Realizing it wasn’t working, she smiled sadly. "I had a good time, Chris. It felt good to be seen as something more than an FBI agent, or a friend. It’s been a long time, and I am seeing Simon again."

Larabee sighed. "Lili, what if..."

"Please, don’t Chris," she said. "I walked that path in college, and for a while, I thought, maybe. But, he never spoke of it, and my heart was nearly shattered. I wish it was different, but I’m not getting any younger. I have to take what life gives me."

"I understand," the team leader replied. "But, just keep an open mind, all right?"

"I’ll see you around the office, Chris," she said, skirting the issue. "I have to go put this stuff in lock up, then see to my horse."

Chris watched her walk away without even trying to speak to Ezra. He had seen the flame of pain in her eyes, just briefly. He recognized it mirrored in his agent’s the day before, and he wondered what kind of game God was playing with the two of them. He mumbled something to the effect and was surprised to hear a knowing sigh near him. He looked up to see Josiah, standing to his left.

"What do I do?" he asked softly. "I can’t watch them be torn apart over this."

"You be a good friend to both of them," Sanchez replied. "Damn if she hasn’t gotten under all of our skins a bit, I suppose. But, we can’t push them, Chris. They have to see it for themselves."

"Hell," Larabee groaned, quietly.

"My sentiments exactly, brother," the profiler said.

+ + + + + + +

The next weeks were hard on all of them, for the men of Team Seven watched their two friends engage in a strange dance, trying to avoid each other. Ezra seemed to sink deeper into the melancholia that had gripped him since his drinking bout. Lili spent increasing amounts of time with the handsome attorney, for all the world putting on a smile and a carefree expression. Nathan had become exasperated with the taciturn southerner more than once and had tried baiting him to get him to act like himself. But, Standish had just taken it all silently, worrying the medic worse. Vin had taken to shadowing his friend, watching him like a hawk. JD and Buck tried to draw them both out when they were around them, but she had given no more than a courtesy laugh to their jokes, and he simply stared blankly at them. Josiah simply sat, watched, and prayed for patience. Chris spent time solitarily contemplating the situation and feeling frustrated by it. She in turn sought out the companionship and advice of Mary Travis, of Inez, and of Nettie and Casey Wells. The idea of having lady friends was a new one for her, but she enjoyed their counsel.

Lili and Simon saw each other almost every other night, for dinner, concerts, cocktail parties related to work. Lili had finally taken him for a lover, telling herself that she was attracted to him, and that her affections would grow to be what they should be with time. They were celebrating over two month together when Simon sprung a bomb on her.

"Lili, I have amazing news," Simon said.

"Hmm?" she said, looking up from the menu she had been perusing. "What is it?"

"I’ve been offered a new position. Head of an entire branch," he said.

"That’s great, Simon," she responded. "I wasn’t aware your supervisor was retiring."

"He’s not," he said. "Lili, they want me to be the legal attaché of the American Embassy in Rome."

"Oh...wow," she answered, shocked. "That’s great, Simon, I am very happy for you."

"You haven’t heard the best part," he said. Reaching across the table, he took her hand. "Lili, the other opening at the Embassy is for the FBI agent in residence. I can choose the agent to fill that position. Come with me Lili."

"WHAT!!??" she said.

"I’m not asking for marriage, Lili, it’s too soon for that," he said. "But, I want us to have a chance. Imagine it, you and me, bashing around Europe."

"But, I have a home here, friends, my team..." she said.

"You can have that all in Rome," Simon said. "We can stable Berowne and have him shipped over when we find a place. You’ll be in charge of all legal investigation in Italy under the embassy. We’ll make new friends, see the sights."

"I...I don’t know," she said. "God, it’s a huge decision. Can I have some time?"

"I need to know by a week from Wednesday," he responded. "If not, I have to head over and then begin reviewing candidates for that position."

"I’ll think about it," she said, trying to calm her frantic heartbeat and steady herself. It was the offer of a lifetime, but, what about her home, her friends...what about Ezra?

+ + + + + + +

"Tanner," Vin said, answering the phone from a full on deep sleep.

"Vin," the feminine voice rousted him from slumber. "It’s Lili, I’m parked outside. I need to talk to you."

"Shit, Lili," he said, jumping up and throwing on his jeans. "It’s two in the mornin’."

"I’m sorry, I know it’s late," she said.

"No, it’s okay," the Texan stopped her quickly. "It’s just not good for women ta be on the street at this time of night."

"Vin, I am carrying two pieces, and a third is in the locked compartment in the floor of my car," she said.

"Come on up," he said.

Lili knocked on the door and was met by a sleep tousled, shirtless Vin Tanner. "I’m sorry to wake you up," she said. "It’s just, I’ve been driving around for three hours, and I didn’t know who else to call..."

"Come in," he said. He motioned her over to the couch, then went and got two bottles of water out of the fridge. "Now what is it. I’ve never seen ya this ruffled." Not even when you were facing a serial killer, he added to himself.

"Simon is taking a new posting, at the US Embassy in Rome," she said.

"I’m sorry, Lili," he replied. "I know ya liked him."

"That’s not it, Vin," she said. "He asked me to go with him."

"WHAT!!???" Tanner yelped, nearly spitting his water. "I mean, that’s great...or not...um, which is it?"

"I don’t know," she said. "I like him, Vin...but, Denver has become the closest thing to home I’ve known in years, and..."

"Ya don’t love him," the blue eyed agent said simply, reading her eyes.

"Not like I should, no," she admitted. "I keep telling myself that I will grow to love him that way, if I give it time. It happened with… it happened before."

"But uprooting yourself on a might or maybe is kinda drastic," he said. The lady nodded, and rubbed her temple with her hand. "Lili, when it comes down to it, ya’ll ’ll know."

"I hope so," she said. "Thank you, Vin. I am sorry to have woken you."

"Any time, Lili," he said. Picking up his gun, he shoved it into the back of his jeans and walked her down to the Cherokee. "Drive safe, all right?"

"Will do. Night, Vin," she said, getting in. He watched her clear the block, then jogged back up to his apartment. Closing the door, he pulled out his phone and hit the first number on the speed dial.

"Chris, it’s Vin," he said. "Yeah, I know what time it is. The shit is hitting the fan in a big way, cowboy."

+ + + + + + +

Wednesday afternoon, Lili met Mary Travis at the deli near the office for lunch. The two women picked up their salads and soups, then grabbed a table by the window.

"So, this isn’t a casual lunch," the reporter said. "What’s up?"

"Simon is transferring to the embassy in Rome and wants me to go with him," the FBI agent answered.

"Oh, wow," Travis replied. "What are you going to do?"

"I wish I knew," the brunette sighed. "I am so torn."

"What did Ezra say?" her friend asked. MacKenna shook her head sadly.

"We’re hardly talking anymore, Mary," she said. "I honestly think he would prefer I was gone."

"I can’t believe that," she said, watching her friend’s eyes. The pain was shielded, but it was there. "He was so thrilled to have you back in his life."

"I asked Vin to let him know," Lili said. "I have to give Simon my answer in a week."

"No pressure, huh?" Mary said.

"No kidding," her friend said. "So, how’s Billy?"

+ + + + + + +

Vin wished he could have just shot Ezra. It would have been a hell of a lot less painful for both of them. Instead, he had to be the one to tell him that the only woman he had ever loved was probably going to board a plane in less than a week, to fly out of his life forever. It was the reaction that had slugged him in the gut; no tears, no anger, just acceptance and a look devoid of hope. That was what scared Tanner the most. He hadn’t seen his friend look hopeless since those first days he had come to the team from Atlanta. Hopeless made people do stupid, stupid things, like throw themselves in front of bullets. That had been on Saturday. It was now Tuesday, the day before Lili had to give her answer to Simon, and he knew the other man hadn’t said a word. He cursed his friend silently, as they sat at their desks, finishing paperwork from their recent bust. He couldn’t believe that he was going to just let her fly away without a word.

Just then, Larabee stepped into the bullpen. "Guys, Team Three is requesting backup on their bust this afternoon," he said. "Be ready to go by three, and everyone wears a vest, no argument."

"Yes," JD said. The kid loved assisting on busts. Since Buck and he usually stayed in the background running equipment, it gave him a chance to be on the front lines. Near him, Buck just groaned.

"Ezra," Vin said quietly. The man looked up, his eyes dull. "Call her."

"No, Mr. Tanner," the other man replied. "I wish her every happiness, and if that is with this man, than so be it."

"Damn, Ezra," Tanner said, shoving his chair back. "Sometimes, you’re a damn fool."

+ + + + + + +

Lili had called Simon and asked him to meet her at the park where they had their first real date, right after work. The two of them had met under the tree, overlooking the now quiet concert shell that had hosted the symphony that night.

"I take it this means you’ve made up your mind," he said.

She nodded. "Simon, I’ve thought about this really hard. Hell, it’s been all I could think about all week, and I really feel that what I am going to say is what’s best for us both..." She started to say, but was cut off by the chirp of a cell phone.

"Mine," she said. "MacKenna."

"Lili?" the voice on the other end said. "It’s Mary Travis."

"Mary," the agent said. "Look, I’m sort of in the middle of something..."

"Lili, a news report just came in," the report broke in, cutting her off. "A shoot out between ATF agents and gun runners. Lili, the boys were backing up the team working the bust, and there is an officer down."

Lili’s hand shook so hard she nearly dropped the phone. "What hospital? Mary, do they know...who?"

Her companion reached out a hand and put it on her shoulder.

"No, just that it was one of the men providing back up," Mary replied. "They’re at Four Corners General."

"I’m on my way," MacKenna said. She hung up and turned to Simon, her breathing coming fast. Don’t panic, it won’t do any good.

"Lili? What happened?" he asked.

"My friends were working a bust," she said. "There was gunfire, and there’s an officer down. Oh God..."

"Lili, look at me," he ordered.

"One of them was Ezra. He and I have been fighting...if he...and I never told him..." Lili said, trying to grab hold of something to steady herself emotionally.

"Where are they? I’ll drive," the attorney said.

"Four Corners General," she replied, allowing Simon to take her arm and lead her back towards his car.

+ + + + + + +

It was every team leader’s nightmare, to have one of your officers hit in the field. Larabee knew it all too well, but this time Chris was thankful. It was only a scratch. He and the other five members of the team, as well some of the members of team three, sat on the hard plastic of the waiting room chairs, waiting for the doctor to finish his work. He looked up, surprised, to see Lili rush in on the arm of a man. He could see why she would be interested; the man looked like a damn Calvin Klien model. The nurse pointed her to them, and she broke free, hurrying forward.

Ezra looked up in time to be pulled to his feet and drawn into a crushing hug. He was confused at first, until he smelled the lavender and ivory soap. She held him tightly, tears on her cheeks. "I thought it was you," she said, so quietly, no one else heard. "I was so scared it was you."

The lady pulled back and looked around her. She counted them, and then froze, her hand gripping Standish’s. "Josiah?"

"It’s only a minor flesh wound," Nate said. "They’re disinfecting it and stitching him up, but he’s going to be fine."

"Thank God," she said. She felt Simon behind her, and let go of , taking time to hug each of the men she had come to care so much for in turn. "I forbid any of you to ever get shot again without giving me some notice, okay?"

"Sorry, we worried ya," Vin said, squeezing her hand and looking into her eyes. She met his gaze and smiled softly. He only nodded, seeing finality and happiness in her eyes. Whatever Lili decided, Tanner knew they would support the decision.

"Lili," Simon said softly. "I wish we could stay, but the plane leaves tomorrow, and there’s still a lot to do."

"I’m right behind you," she said. Turning to Ezra, she saw the unmasked pain in his eyes. She couldn’t tell him, here and now. She still had to tell Simon. "Tell Josiah I’ll call him first thing, all right?"

The southerner nodded. "Good bye, Lili Grace," he said. She looked at him once more, then turned and walked outside. He sank back to his seat and dropped his head into his hands. It was over.

+ + + + + + +

"Lili, can we sit for a moment?" Simon asked. She nodded, and walked with him into the small garden on the hospital grounds, stopping at a bench. They sat down.

"Simon, what I was saying before..."

"Shhh," Simon said. He gently placed a finger to her lips. "I know."

"I’m so sorry, Simon," she said. "I never wanted to hurt you, and I do care for you, but..."

"You aren’t in love with me," he said. "It’s all right Lili. I don’t think I am in love with you either, at least not the way I should be to ask you to drop everything and come to Rome."

"Simon, I..." she started to say, but he just leaned over and kissed her forehead.

"Don’t worry about me, Lili. You showed me that I can still care for someone, if I let myself, and who knows what I may find in Rome?" he said. "Don’t wait to long, Lili. You never know when what you feared tonight might happen."

"Thank you for understanding Simon," she said. "I hope we can still be friends."

"I expect emails at least every other week," he said, laughing. "Come on, I’ll drive you back to your car."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat starring at the wall. She was gone. Left on a flight to Rome, sometime this afternoon, and he had let her go. Without saying a single word, he had just let her fly out of his life forever.

"Hey Ezra," Buck called. "Saloon?"

"Excellent idea, Mr. Wilmington," Standish said. He knew they intended it to celebrate their close call with Josiah, but any alcohol at this point sounded like a good deal. "I shall join you shortly." He turned to finish his reports.

Twenty minutes later, the man and his Jag sat in traffic, idling behind a large, bright orange truck. He contemplated what would make someone paint anything that color when the song came on the radio. He had heard it before, the band was one Lili thought highly of.

I think I've already lost you
I think you're already gone
I think I'm finally scared now
You think I'm weak - But I think you're wrong
I think you're already leaving
Feels like your hand is on the door
I thought this place was an empire
But now I'm relaxed - I can't be sure

He almost reached to shut off the song, but the lyrics suddenly struck him. He had waited until it was too late, and now he was scared. Hopelessly, desperately scared.

I think you're so mean - I think we should try
I think I could need - this in my life
I think I'm just scared - I think too much
I know this is wrong it's a problem I'm dealing

What had he been thinking? He had to be out of his mind to just let her go. Maybe if he called Rome, left a message at the embassy. Maybe then she’d come home.

If you're gone - maybe it's time to go home
There's an awful lot of breathing room
But I can hardly move
If you're gone - baby you need to come home
Cuz there's a little bit of something me
In everything in you

He knew he wouldn’t. For the same reason he let her go in the first place. Isn’t that the old saying, if you loved her, let her go? He wanted her to be happy, and if she was happy in Rome...well, he had survived almost ten years without her. He could do it again.

I bet you're hard to get over
I bet the room just won't shine
I bet my hands I can stay here
I bet you need - more than you mind

Who was he trying to kid? Having her back, having her there with him, it had made his life worth living more than almost anything. He knew that his work and his relationships had suffered these past few months, and she was three floors away. Now an ocean separated them., and Ezra knew, without a doubt, that he had made the biggest mistake of his life.

I think you're so mean - I think we should try
I think I could need - this in my life
I think I'm just scared - that I know too much
I can't relate and that's a problem
I'm feeling
If you're gone - maybe it's time to go home
There's an awful lot of breathing room
But I can hardly move
If you're gone - baby you need to come home
'cause there's a little bit of something me
In everything in you
I think you're so mean - I think we should try
I think I could need - this in my life
I think I'm just scared - do I talk too much
I know it's wrong it's a problem I'm dealing

He listened to the rest of the song, parked outside the Saloon. He quickly wiped the tears from his eyes, and headed in to get as drunk as humanly possible.

+ + + + + + +

She was not sure how she had been talked into this. She had come into the Saloon earlier that day to let Inez know she was staying around. The woman had nearly thrown her with the hug she gave her. "Lili, thank goodness you are here."

"What’s the matter, Inez?" she asked.

"Natalie, our vocalist that sings tonight, is sick," Inez said. "Mr. Ezra once told me you sang..."

"Oh, Inez, couldn’t I just give you a couple thousand to cover what would be made tonight?" she said.

"Please, Lili," the barkeeper pleaded. "A detective from the Denver PD is having a retirement party here tonight, just because we do music."

Lili sighed. She liked the savvy Mexican business woman, and it wouldn’t be so hard of a favor. "Can I look over the song list?"

"Thank you, Lili!!!!" Inez said, hugging her friend tightly.

So now, she stood backstage, holding a mike. She had some party clothes in her trunk, and she had changed. She had refused pay, telling Inez to donate it in the name of the man retiring to the Denver PD’s widows fund. She hadn’t done anything like this in years, and to top it off, she hadn’t been able to get a hold of Ezra at all, getting his machine at the office around 5:30. Sighing, she listened for music to start, signaling her cue.

Ezra walked in and ordered a drink from Dirk, the bouncer who was behind the bar. Taking his double scotch on the rocks, he joined the team at their table near the stage, just as Inez walked up and took the house guitarist’s mike.

"I know many of you enjoy the song styling of Senorita Natalie O’Riley, but we are sad to report she is ill this evening," Inez said. A chorus of groans went up. "However, filling in is a fellow member of the law enforcement community. She can’t take pay, due to the no moonlighting rule with her agency, so the money she would make is going to the Denver PD’s widow’s fund in honor of the gentleman here for his retirement party. Without further introduction, let’s begin the fiesta!"

The house band started up, the opening of a familiar country song filling the bar. Ezra didn’t even glance up, so intent was he on his scotch. Only when he heard Vin’s "hot damn" followed by a pure alto voice did he glance up.

He promised her a new and better life, out in Arizona
Underneath the blue never ending sky
Swore that he was going to
Get things in order, he’d send for her
When he left her behind, it never crossed her mind
There is no Arizona
No painted desert, no Sedona
If there was a Grand Canyon
She could fill it up with the lies he told her
But they
don’t exist, those dreams he sold her
She’ll wake up and find
There is no Arizona.

Ezra’s mouth dropped. There on stage, wearing a glittering, tight halter shirt and leather pants, with high heel boots, was Lili, singing like an angel. He blinked a few times and would have thought himself drunk, but he hadn’t been drinking yet. He looked at the others, who were all cheering loudly. She continued with the song, finishing it out with a flourish.

"Thank you," she said. "For those of you who don’t know me, I am Special Agent Lili MacKenna, with the forensics team of the FBI. I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Detective Jasper Keller, who I understand is retiring after almost thirty years on the force. This song is one of his favorites, and we’d like to do it to thank him for all his hard work."

With that, she launched into the Eagles’ "Desperado", singing with so much of herself, you could feel the narrator’s heartache. It and every song for the next hour was met with thunderous applause, until finally, she called for a twenty minute break. Coming off stage, she gratefully accepted the bottle of water from Inez, then headed over to the guys’ table.

"So, how bad was I?" she asked, dropping into the empty chair Vin had grabbed for her.

"Lili, that was the best singing I have heard in a long time," Buck said.

"He’s right," Josiah said. "Voice of an angel."

"Ya sang lika bird," Tanner added.

Lili blushed. Table conversation continued until Alex, the guitarist, waved her back to the stage. As she got up, Ezra followed her.

"Lili," he said. "You didn’t leave."

"No, I didn’t," she said.

"Why?" he asked.

She looked at him hard for a moment, than grabbed him in a quick hug. "I didn’t want to leave home," the lady said softly, then let him go, hurrying back to the stage.

Ezra watched her take her place, and listened as she began singing again. Her beautiful voice washed over him, and he felt as though the world just shifted back into focus. Heading back to the table, he sat down with his friends...really, his brothers, and watched the most beautiful girl in the world singing about finding the way home.


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