Note: This doesn't exactly go along with the flashback in Payback, but after some thought and a bout with my flu, this is what I came up with. Hope you enjoy and please give feedback.
He found himself staring into space once again. He and the rest of his teammates had successfully pulled off a large bust involving both guns and drugs. He had done the undercover part of the case like always, and was glad it was over, as were the rest of his comrades. They were finally given a break from office work, thank goodness for AD Traviss holiday spirit. Christmas Eve was the next day, and the man knew that his leader, Chris Larabee, was expecting him to stay awhile at his ranch along with the rest of the team. He remembered Buck saying something along the lines of everyone should be together for Christmas, as a family.
"Family", now that was a word Ezra seldom used, and "friends" was used even less than that. He had to admit to himself though; he had grown to love the rest of his teammates as a family. Hell, other than Maude, they were really the only family he had.
Mother certainly wont be home for the holidays, thats for sure, he thought to himself. Last he knew, she was still in London with husband number nine.
Coming out of his musings, Ezra glances around the small café and notes the small number of patrons in the confined space. Deciding it best to leave, the southerner gets up and lays a few dollar bills on the table before exiting.
The cold burst of night air hits him when he opens the door, and he pulls his jacket tighter around him.
I detest Denver weather, especially in the winter, he muses to himself, as he walks towards his car.
Then out of nowhere, a form hits him from the side and knocks him off balance, causing him to tumble over onto the sidewalk.
"Oh I Im sorry," the form apologizes, trying to stand back up.
Ezra rolls over and begins to stand up when he hears another voice yell.
"Hey, stop! I paid good money for you."
The ATF agent scrambles to his feet so he can try and sort out what's taking place.
He quickly realizes that the form that had hit him is a young girl, about fifteen. The other voice he had heard belongs to a man, about his age or older who now has a firm grip on the girls wrist.
"Let me go!" the girl yells defiantly, trying to get away.
"I dont think so sweetheart, I paid for you up front and I intend on getting my moneys worth," the man replies, with an evil smile, jerking her toward himself.
He begins to drag her away with him when she pulls her wrist close to her face, clamping down on the mans arm with her teeth.
He lets out a yelp of pain, letting her wrist go, and then turns in anger to hit her.
He pulls his fist back and she closes her eyes waiting for the impact.
Ezra steps between the two, grabbing the mans wrist as he launches it forward. With a quick turn of his hand, Ezra has the man on his knees, gritting his teeth in pain.
"Didnt your mother ever tell you it isnt nice to hit a lady?" the southerner growls at the man.
"This aint none of you business mister," the man responds.
"Oh, Im afraid it is now," he hisses, twisting the mans wrist further.
"Fine, you you can have her, just let me go," the man cries out, wincing in pain.
Ezra lets the man go, and watches him climb to his feet. The man throws the young girl one more hateful glare, then grasping his wrist in his hand, turns and runs down the street away from them.
Ezra watches the man run and waits till he disappears out of sight, before turning back around to face the girl.
"Are you alright?" he questions, taking a step towards her.
She nods her head quickly, taking a step back from him.
"Its alright darlin no ones going to hurt you. Youre safe now," he says, in soothing tone, his hands out.
The girl swallows hard, fighting back tears, and then runs and throws her arms around the undercover agent, burying her face into his chest.
It was the first time she had felt like she was actually safe; someone had stood up for her. A total stranger had stepped in and saved her life. She didnt know what to do or say, except cry. So she did.
Ezra wraps his arms around the small body and tries to calm her down.
"Okay its alright Ezras got you. Theres nothing to be scared about. Sshh, youre going to be okay," he soothes, tightening his hold on her.
Ezra slowly carries the cup of cocoa from the kitchen and into the living room. He gently hands it to the young girl wrapped in a blanket. She smiles her thanks and begins to sip it. Ezra sits down in the chair to the left of the couch and looks over at her.
She hadnt said much since the incident earlier, except to thank him. He had asked her if she had someplace to go, and when she shook her head no, he decided it was his duty to see after her well-being. He had brought her back to his apartment, and given her a blanket for warmth. And now she was sitting in front of him, sipping hot cocoa and looking as if she had no one in the world.
"Whats your name?" he slowly questions, afraid to break the silence.
The girl looks over at him and lowers the cup from her lips.
"Samantha," she replies quietly, "and yours?"
"Ezra," he responds, trying to read her facial expressions, "What were you doing with that man?"
"Well, I...I used to stay at this foster home down near the tracks," she begins slowly, hoping this man was really ready to listen to her side of the story. She needed someone to talk to, someone to tell her problems too, and he looked as if he actually cared.
"Go on," the agent urges.
Damn, she has a better poker face than that of Mr. Tanner, the southerner notes.
"Well, I had been there for three months, my parents had been killed in a car wreck, and I had no living relatives. I...I didn't like it there, it wasn't a nice place, so, about a month ago I decided to run away. Well, that didnt make the man who runs the place, Mr. Miller, very happy. A child being able to escape from his facilities didnt look good on his record," she continues, with a breath.
Ezra could see she was opening up, and he could also see the loneliness and fear in her eyes.
"So, then I was caught by these two men and they took me back to the home and Mr. Miller said he had no use for me, and no one in the entire world could ever want a brat like me. He threw my papers into the fire and told the two men who found me to do whatever they wished with me. They took me to this rundown warehouse, decided theyd sell me off to the first lowlife whod offer a decent price. When they found their man, he handed them five hundred in cash, and then he took me away. I could tell by the look in his eyes what was probably going to happen, so first chance I got, I ran," she tells him, keeping her eyes downcast.
Ezras slight smile had faded, and he was growing intensely hotter with rage. He wanted to hunt the bastard down and give him what he deserved.
"Thats when I ran into you, thank god for that because if I hadnt, I dont know what would have happened," she finishes, with a sniff and then takes another sip of cocoa.
She glances back over to her rescuer and then begins to question what shes done;
Why did you just pour your entire story to this man? Youre a teenager, why would he want to help you? Hell let you finish your cocoa and send you on your way, youre so stupid sometimes, she thinks to herself.
"So, if I went down to this foster home, there would be no file of you having been there whatsoever?" the agent questions, standing up.
Sam nods her head slightly and watches as the man picks up the phone and dials a number.
"Hey, I know its late, can you come over here? Just come over, its sort of an emergency," he speaks into the phone.
Ezra hears the knock at the door and walks past the sleeping form on the couch to open the door. She had fallen asleep a few minutes after he had made the call and he figured it best to let her get as much sleep as she could.
The undercover agent looks through the peephole and opens the door, letting his partner in.
"Whats the matter Ez?" the long-haired agent asks, rubbing his eyes.
Ezra looks from his comrade and nods his head toward the couch. Vin turns slightly and looks at the sleeping form and then quickly back at Ezra.
"Whos she?" he questions, with a touch of surprise in his voice.
Ezra waves his hand for Vin to follow him into the kitchen and allows Vin to sit down on the barstool before recounting the story Sam had told him.
Vin leans up against the wall to the kitchen and looks at the girl still asleep on the couch. He knew what foster homes were like, he had seen his share. He knew how unwanted they could make a kid feel and he hated the thought of anyone having to go through that.
Ezra walks back over to his friend and looks to the girl as well.
"We cant keep her here tonight," the long-haired agent muses.
"Why not?" the southerner questions, turning to look at Vin.
"There are certain laws Ez, against situations like this," he replies. "Chris is at the ranch, so is the rest of the team. Itd be better to take her there."
"Oh, take her from two men to seven, really big change there. Besides, Mr. Larabees glare alone would frighten her senseless," the undercover agent states.
Vin looks to Ezra and cracks a half grin.
"I know you want to help her Ezra, and I want to help her, but the only way to do that is to let the others know. Maybe together we can come up with a plan," the Texan tells him.
Ezra looks down and thinks to himself, Damn, I hate it when hes right.
"Fine, but lets not wake her up, she needs some rest," he advises, and then walks towards the couch, Vin following behind.
Chris looks up as theres a knock on his door. Buck gets up to answer, but Chris stands, causing the explosives agent to sit back down.
The leader walks over and opens the door to see Vin standing there.
"Cowboy, we have a situation," the agent states simply.
Chris opens the door and allows Vin to walk in, followed by Ezra, who is carrying a young girl in his arms. Chris looks at his two agents in confusion.
Buck and JD both stand up as Vin and Ezra enter and watch as Ezra lays the girl on the couch and pulls the blanket up around her better.
Vin looks to the other three men and they all follow him and Ezra into the kitchen ready for an explanation.
When Ezra finishes telling the rest of his team the story, Buck looks up between JD and Nathan.
"Sonuva " he cuts off, turning to face the window in anger.
"So, there are no files of her anywhere?" Josiah questions the undercover agent.
Ezra nods his head and then turns to JD.
"Could you see what you can find on her?" he questions the young agent.
"Sure Ez, but I need a last name," JD tells him.
Ezra looks down, and then walks back into the living room.
Sam slowly wakes up to someone gently pushing her hair off of her face. She opens her eyes slightly and realizes that Ezras sitting on the couch beside her.
"Darlin, I need to know your last name," he states quietly.
Sam looks at him in confusion then takes a deep breath.
"Youre not turning me in are you?" she questions fearfully.
"No, no Im not going to do that. A few friends of mine are going to help me and you. I need to know your last name so we can see if there are any records of you anywhere," he replies, with a smile.
"Dunnison," she states. "Samantha Rachel."
Ezra nods his head, and grins at her. "You can go back to sleep now."
Sam nods her head slightly and begins to drift back to sleep. She hadnt had a good nights sleep in a few days and for once she felt safe enough to sleep without a worry.
"Ive checked the files for all the foster homes around here. Theres no mention of a Samantha Rachel Dunnison anywhere," JD states, looking up from his computer.
"Okay," the explosives agent replies, patting the boy on the shoulder. "We tried."
Buck walks back into the living room and looks at Ezra, shaking his head.
"Guess theres only one thing left for us to do then," Chris states, standing up.
"Whats that?" the youngest agent asks quietly, not wanting to wake the girl.
"Call Travis," he responds, walking towards the kitchen.
Ezra jumps up and follows the leader into the kitchen.
Larabee reaches for the phone on the wall and stops short as a hand clamps down on the phone.
Chris looks to Ezra and leans back against the bar waiting for an explanation.
"Mr. Larabee, that girl has gone through enough the last few days, theres no need for legal action. I told her I wouldnt turn her in and I dont plan on you doing it either," the southerner snaps.
Chris begins to speak but stops short looking Ezra in the eyes. His undercover agent had transformed into a totally different person. He was facing off with him on the basis of this girls well-being, and Ezra wasn't going to back down an inch.
"Listen Ez, Im not turning her in. I dont plan on sending her anywhere, but AD Travis will know better what to do and he can help us with any legal actions that need to be taken," the leader states. "If you want to help her, this is the way to do it."
Ezra glares at his leader for second then backs away from the phone, turns and heads back into the living room.
Sam wakes up and rolls over on the couch and lets her eyes focus on her surroundings. She doesnt see Ezra and slowly sits up, wondering where he had went.
Buck and Vin take note of the fear that passes through her eyes.
"Its alright darlin, aint none of us gonna hurt you," Buck soothes as Vin walks over and sits on the couch beside her.
"Were Ezras friends. Were all ATF agents, and he called us to help him," Vin tells her.
"Where is he?" she questions quietly.
"Hes in the kitchen, sweetheart," Nathan states, walking over and standing next to Vin.
"Youre youre not going to send me to a foster home are you?" she questions, sitting up farther on the couch.
"No, Ive been to a few foster homes," the long haired man comments and she looks at him, "and thats no place for anyone to stay. I promise you, youre not going back there."
She looks from the long haired man, to the black man beside him, then around the room at the young guy with black hair, the bigger man with a mustache, the older looking man standing near the fireplace, and the man sitting in the chair, dressed in black. For some reason that she cant explain she feels safe with all these men, just something about them tells her its all right.
Tears well up in her eyes and she fights them back. Vin notices this and leans in, giving her a hug.
"Now, dont do that," he whispers. "Everythings going to be okay."
She nods her head in his shoulder and brushes away the tears. She sits back, sighing, and puts her head on the back of the couch. Nathan reaches down and feels her forehead.
"Youre not hurting anywhere are you?" he questions, looking her in the eyes.
"No, Im all right," she replies.
Nathan nods his head and moves back to sit in a chair next to Buck.
"You look like you could use some sleep. How about I show you to the guest room?" Josiah offers, walking over.
She looks up and smiles a little, nodding her head slightly. She gets up and follows the big man.
The next morning, Christmas Eve morning, Chris walks over and opens the door to see AD Travis and Evie standing there. He moves aside to let them in. Sam sees the two strangers walk in and scoots closer to Ezra on the couch.
"Sam," Chris states, "this is AD Travis, and his wife Evie."
Sam nods her head as Evie walks over and sits beside her on the couch.
"Nice to meet you Sam," she states, with a smile.
"Nice to meet you too," the young girl responds.
Buck smiles a little as he sees Travis look at the girl. True enough, she hadnt been there for a full day yet, and she hadnt even been formally introduced to the team, but she had won them over. Something about the little lost puppy expression she carried had taken them all by the heart and he knew that they would do whatever it took to make sure this girl had a decent home.
"Theres no file of her anywhere?" Travis questions Larabee.
"Nowhere," the leader replies, having already told the story to Travis the night before on the phone.
"Well then, I imagine well have to make her up some papers," he responds, with a quick glance at the girl.
"My dear, theres nothing to worry about," Evie states, with a warm smile to the girl. "I see youve already won over these seven hooligans."
Sam smiles at her statement and glances around the room, noticing the protective look present in all seven mens eyes. She could get used to a place like this, somewhere that she was wanted and loved, but she also knew not to get her hopes up, something could happen and this would all be over. She knew that good things never lasted long.
"Full name?" Travis asks, sitting across the table from the girl.
"Samantha Rachel Dunnison," she replies.
"Birth date?" he continues, filling out the papers.
"Ten, ten, eighty-eight," she responds.
"Parents names, the ones on your birth certificate?" he questions.
"John M. Dunnison, and Annie S. Watts-Dunnison."
"Alright, now Miss Dunnison, I need to ask you a very important question," the man states, looking up and taking his glasses off.
Sam looks at him with full attention, while the rest of the team stands around the dining room table.
"Theres no record anywhere of you even being alive, so technically, me filling these out and printing them up is not exactly legal, but seeing as how Mr. Larabee and Mr. Standish have told me that you have nowhere to go, then this isnt illegal as long as no one knows about it. Im doing this in order to help you and thats what all of my team wants, is to help you," he tells her. "So Im asking you, would you mind Mr. Larabee taking over legal guardianship of you?"
Sam quickly looks from the man that is obviously Mr. Larabee back to Travis.
"I say this, knowing that Mr. Larabee has had a family before and I believe he can handle the obstacles involved with raising a teenage daughter," AD Travis continues, "and on the papers, the alternative guardians will be, Mr.s Wilmington, Standish, Tanner, Sanchez, Jackson, and Dunne."
Sam looks down and thinks on this. The feeling of being wanted and loved could really happen. She could stay here, with these seven men, an odd arrangement, truth be told, but she had never felt so safe in months and it was time to trust her gut instinct.
"Yes," she states simply, looking up at Travis.
Travis writes some more on the papers and passes them across the table to the girl.
Sam looks to the empty signatures of her parents and knows what he needs her to do. Picking up the pen she quickly signs the names and passes the papers back, fighting back tears. She sits up in the chair straighter and feels a hand squeeze her shoulder lightly. Looking up she sees the hazel eyes and she smiles, and watches as Chris signs some papers.
"You can keep the last name Dunnison if you wish, or you can change it to Larabee, its up to you," Travis says, looking over at her.
Sam smiles and looks around the room again, then back at Travis.
"Mr. Travis for months Ive wanted a home where I would feel safe, wanted, and loved. For once I feel as if I belong somewhere. Samantha Rachel Dunnison died along with those files in the fire," she states, with a slight nod of her head.
"Well then, Samantha Rachel Larabee, I need you to sign here," he passes the papers over to her.
Sam takes the pen again and proudly writes out her new name, which she knows is also the start of a new life.
Travis files the papers away in his briefcase and stands. Sam stands up as Travis walks around the table. She offers an outstretched hand, and Travis accepts it then gives her a hug.
"Thank you," she tells him quietly.
"Youre welcome," he responds, then begins to walk out.
"Travis?" Ezra calls, causing the man to turn around. "Thanks."
Travis smiles, looking at the entire team of agents and nods his head.
"Take it as a Christmas gift to all of you from me," he states, then turns and walks out of the room, followed by his wife.
Larabee looks around the room after Travis leaves and notices the almost invisible transformation of the team. The team already was a family, who watched out for each others backs, but now they had something even more important to watch out for.
Standish, Tanner, Wilmington, Sanchez, Larabee, Jackson, and Dunne all couldnt imagine anywhere they would rather be than here together, all of them, seven men and a teenage girl, an odd arrangement to some, but to them, they were a family.
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