by KellyA


****Part 6

Ezra stood up from the waiting room chair as the five other agents entered.  No one could grab Wilmington in time as he headed for Ezra, slamming him up against the wall and throwing his arm across the southern agent's throat.

"What the Hell were you thinkin?" Buck growled, his brown eyes burning with a murderous fire.  Josiah and Nathan grabbed the enraged man's arms pulling him off.

"Well, we're waiting for an answer Standish," Chris asked, his teeth clenched, holding back some of the anger he felt.  This time his maverick agent might of gone to far.  Buck shook off Sanchez and Jackson's grasp and started pacing the floor behind Chris.  His dark eyes throwing daggers of disgust at the man he thought was a friend.

Ezra rubbed his throat, hearing the condemnation in his leader's voice.  'Tried... convicted...hung, without even a trial.'  They always thought the worse when it came to him. "He wanted to help," Ezra calmly stated giving Buck an equally murderous glare.  Did they all believe that he would intentionally put the young agent's life in danger?  He thought he was growing closer to these men that they were learning to trust him as he was learning to trust them.

"Ezra, I didn't think you'd be so stupid as to let the kid get involved in something like that," Vin venomously stated.

"You used him to crack a case. To add another notch to your belt, you bastard!"  Buck yelled out over Larabee's shoulder, as usual not thinking before engaging his mouth.

This hurt more than anyone realized or noticed, only Josiah caught the slight flinch on Ezra's otherwise cool exterior.

The doctor entered, interrupting the condemning standoff between the agents.

"Gentlemen, Mr. Dunne is out of surgery."  The doctor could feel the tension in the room, so thick he thought he could cut it with a scalpel.  He told himself to tread lightly.

"How is he?"  Buck asked, concern now overshadowing the anger.

"We have him in a drug induced coma to relieve the swelling in his brain.  You can go and see him for a short time, but it will be awhile before he wakes up," the doctor explained.

"Will he be alright?" Nathan asked.

"As long as there are no unforeseen complications, he should make a full recovery," the doctor assured, hoping that this would lighten some of the stress.

Everyone noticeably relaxed at the news.  Everyone except Standish, who kept his guard up expecting one of the others to take a shot at him.  He would not be taken so easily next time.

The six agents squeezed into the small room hearing the steady blip and pings of the monitors.  Ezra hung to the back of the group knowing he was no longer welcomed, and he couldn't really blame them.

Sanchez could only think he was on the outside once again.  He shook his head sadly, not knowing what to say or do.  He knew Ezra would not intentionally put JD in harm's way, and if Buck and the others had stopped to think instead of reacting they would of realized it too.

Standish looked at the pale young face, a wide white bandage covering the top of his head, and his gut screamed and twisted. What was he thinking?  This was only a boy.  Did he have his own self-interests in mind when he allowed JD to talk him into helping?  He could of told Larabee, but when JD explained to him about proving himself it was something he understood all to well.

Buck went to JD's side taking hold of the limp hand, tears streaming down his distraught face.  JD was like a younger brother to him. He couldn't stand the sight of him being injured or of losing him.  Vin moved up from behind and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Larabee looked over his shoulder to see Ezra standing in the doorway.  He slipped over, grabbing the southerner by the arm and forcing him out into the hallway, allowing the door to close behind them.

"What happened?"  Chris demanded.  He saw the haunted look in Standish's eyes, but it quickly disappeared under his scrutiny.

"Mr. Dunne had made contact with the gun dealer, apparently something went wrong.   I didn't get there in time," Ezra explained, dropping his eyes.

"Did you see who it was?"

"No, it was to dark and I was too far away.  It's my fault."

This admission surprised Chris slightly.  Ezra was a maverick, but he had thought that he was finally learning what it meant to be a team. How could he put the kid's life in danger like that?

"Turn in your gun and badge, you're suspended pending disciplinary action." Chris flatly stated, his voice even, but beneath it the perceptive agent heard the anger, the disappointment.

Ezra took a deep breath handing Larabee his gun and badge.  "Can I at least finish out the week at the school?"  Ezra asked, his mouth held in a firm straight line.  His impassive facade hiding the torrent of emotions that were racing through him,  leaving him physically and emotionally drained, something he was not accustomed to.

"I don't care what you do."  Chris turned and walked back into JD's room leaving Ezra standing in the stark white hallway alone.

****Part 7

It was two days before the doctors would allow the comatose agent to come out of his drug induced coma.  The five remaining agents had taken turns sitting with him.  When the doctor told them he was going to allow JD to come out of the coma they all barely left his side.

"Hey kid how you feelin?" Buck asked, seeing JD's dark eyes flutter open.  He tried his voice, but only a hoarse raspy sound managed to escape from chapped lips.  Buck lifted his head and brought a straw to JD's mouth, allowing the young man a few sips.

"What happened?" JD quietly asked, his head felt like it was full of mud and he couldn't get his eyes to focus.

"You were shot, son," Josiah replied, stepping up from behind Buck and placing his hand on JD's leg. 

"What do you remember?" Chris asked, from the other side of the bed.

The young man squeezed his eyes shut, trying to latch onto the anxious feeling he suddenly had.  His eyes flashed opened, and he tried to sit up.  Wilmington immediately placed his hand behind him for support and propped up his pillows.  JD searched the room seeing everyone except Ezra.

"Where's Ezra?" he asked, his dark brows almost coming together on his pale forehead.

Buck's face contorted in anger at the mention of the self-seeking agent. He believed that Ezra had talked the kid into the undercover operation to further his own agenda.  "Right now, I don't really care where he is," Buck vehemently sneered.

"Buck," Chris quietly reprimanded as he moved up closer to JD's side.  "I suspended him, JD."

JD sunk back into the pillow, and threw his arm across his eyes.  What had he done?  Everything came back to him.

"What happened, JD?  Why were you impersonating a student?  Did Ezra put you up to it?"  Buck asked, his voice soft with concern.

JD removed his arm, revealing the dark anger in his eyes.  He stared up into his friend's concerned face.  He couldn't believe it, they all were blaming Ezra.  They even thought he was to young to take responsibility for himself.  He closed his eyes for a moment, not able to look at the pity on everyone's face.

"Ezra had nothing to do with this,"  JD finally replied, the anger undeniable, if not a little misunderstood.  "I did it on my own.  He knew, but I didn't ask his permission or give him any choice.  I begged him to give me the chance to prove myself.  He was the only one who would.  I even delayed telling him about the meet so he wouldn't have time to contact you."

"Why would you do a fool thing like that?" Buck angrily asked, starting to feel a little guilty.  Why did he always jump to conclusions when it came to the sophisticated undercover agent.

"Because all of you, and especially you Buck, treat me like some kind of kid.  I'm twenty three for God's sake.  You make me have to prove myself again and again.  I thought if I helped Ezra break a really big case you'd all stop treating me like some green-horn, know-nothing kid.  Ezra's the only one who understood."

"He would," Josiah stated sadly.  "He had to prove himself to us over and over again too, and apparently he still has to."  The huge agent glanced around the room, which suddenly held the downtrodden faces of five guilt-ridden men.

Everyone knew JD was right.   They all had believed that the smooth-talking agent had used the boy for his own ends.  Chris abruptly turned and faced the wall wanting to punch something, why did he let his emotions sometimes override his reason.  He was as bad as Buck, who let his mouth run before engaging his brain.

"So what happened?" Josiah asked.  No one had seen Standish since Chris had suspended him, but Sanchez knew he had visited the boy.  He'd noticed the leather bound book of classic stories sitting on the nearby nightstand.

"It was a one in a million.  A boy, Mike Pauley, I arrested last year in Boston for drugs in school. His family moved here to get away from the scandal.  He was part of it and recognized me.  I found out that Louis Feldman the Football coach is the ring leader."

"Does Ezra know?"  Vin asked, a cold fear suddenly constricting his chest.  Even he had believed the worst of the abstruse agent.  Lord, why couldn't he read that man?  But he knew why,  they were a lot alike in many ways.  Both had trusted no one for a long time and only relied on themselves.  Tanner had finally learned to lean on others sometimes, thanks to his new found friendship with Chris.  Ezra still found it difficult and unnatural to trust anyone but himself, and was wary of friendship, which after the way the others treated him was not surprising.

"No, I didn't get a chance to tell him.  Where is he?"  JD repeated, this time the apprehension showing on his face.

"We haven't seen him since I suspended him.  But he did mention that he wanted to finish out the week at school," Chris answered.

JD's eyes went wide and he tried to get up.

"Whoa, where do you think you're going?" Buck asked, placing his hand on the young agent's chest to hold him down.

"You don't understand.  They saw me talking with Ezra.  They assumed he was my partner and said they would take care of him too."

"Shit!" Chris voiced.  "We better get to the school."

Buck forced the young man back down into the bed.  "You stay put." 

If anything happened to the southern agent JD would never forgive himself.  He stared up at Buck, who could read the fear in his young friend's eyes.  "Don't worry we'll find him," Buck assured.

The five agents raced out of the hospital knowing if anything happened to enigmatic conman they would never be able to forgive themselves.

****Part 8

Ezra had stayed late to empty his desk.  He looked out over the empty classroom.  He was really going to  miss this, even though the case had fallen through, he felt a sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment.   He had influenced young minds, and it brought him such a  sense of worth, something he rarely felt.  Maybe if his ATF career was at an end, he would consider becoming a teacher.  He could almost hear his mother now.  'Why would you want to teach a bunch of unappreciative hooligans.

Standish closed his briefcase and headed out the door only to walk into the business end of a gun.  He dropped his brief case and slowly raised his hands as the young David Sheperd smiled confidently.  Another boy quickly patted him down removing the revolver he had stuck in his waist band.

"Tsk, tsk.. now what kind of an example is this for a teacher, I'm appalled,"  the blond youth sarcastically chided the undercover agent.

Louis Feldman stepped out from around a corner, his footsteps echoing off the long deserted hallway.  "Who are you?"  he asked, pointing another gun in Ezra's direction.

"Just a history teacher," Ezra smugly replied.  His answer was rewarded with a blow to his kidneys, causing him to double over.  He placed a hand on his knee and gasped for the breath that eluded him.

Feldman cautiously approached the bent over agent and glared down at him.  He raised his gun over his head and struck Ezra with it, knocking him to the floor where he remained.

"Take him to the kitchen," he instructed David and Jamal, who each grabbed an arm and proceeded to drag the unconscious man down the hallway.


They raced up to the darkened school in two trucks Vin, Josiah and Nathan in one, Chris and Buck in the other.  

Tanner saw Feldman and two students coming around the corner of the building and veered off in their direction.  He slowed his truck allowing Josiah and Nathan to jump out and pursue the now fleeing individuals.   Chris stopped his truck in front of the locked front doors then leapt out.  Buck had already unholstered his gun and was shooting at the lock as they neared.  Without breaking stride  Larabee kicked open the door and both agents raced down the hallway.  They moved quickly down the wide main hall shouting out for their missing agent, then listening for any telltale sign.  The silence only making the fear inside them grow.

"Gawd Chris if anything has happened to that southern son-of-a-bitch  I'll never forgive myself," Buck uttered as he continued to search, throwing open classroom doors and giving each room a quick, but efficient glance.

Chris suddenly stopped, getting Buck's attention.

"I smell gas."

The two agents headed towards the cafeteria. The gas odor growing stronger, blazing a trail.  They made their way through the maze of tables and chairs heading for the kitchen.  When they opened the door they were met with a thick wall of gas.  Larabee saw Ezra laying motionless on the floor next to the huge cooking stoves.  Buck quickly turned the knobs shutting off the hissing gas as Chris grabbed Ezra throwing the smaller man over his shoulder and racing out the nearest exit door sounding the fire alarm.

They raced out onto the lawn of the school.  Chris placed Ezra's unconscious body down as carefully as possible before dropping to his knees next to Buck.  Both men taking in great gulps of air trying to clear their gas filled lungs. Buck, still coughing and his eyes watering, came up to Ezra's side.

"Shit Chris, he's not breathing!" Buck yelled out and immediately pinched Ezra's nose, bringing his head back he gave him five quick breaths.  Chris checked for a pulse then straddled the unresponsive agent's stomach.  He traced a finger down Ezra's ribs to his sternum and began chest compressions.

They all could hear the sirens from the fire engine rushing towards them.

Josiah, Vin and Nathan came over, shoving their three prisoners ahead of them.  Vin handcuffed the three gun traffickers to the outside of Chris' truck and went to join the others at Ezra's side.  The sight of Chris and Buck trying to resuscitate the southerner brought a cold ball of fear to everyone's gut.

"C'mon Ezra, don't quit on me," Chris grunted through gritted teeth as he continued to do CPR on his fallen agent.  Nathan knelt down trying to feel for a pulse, and shook his head.  Buck continued giving him a breath after Chris' five compressions. Neither man willing to give up.   Josiah waved the paramedics over.

"C'mon on Ezra don't do this to us," Vin murmured to himself.  He turned and glared at his prisoners, who all had smug grins pasted on their faces.  They thought that if Ezra died they'd be home free.  "If he dies I'm going for a ride," Vin sneered at the three men causing their smiles to leave their faces.  Feldman's heart actually skipped a beat as he looked into Vin's cold blue eyes.  Chris smiled to himself overhearing what Vin had said.

Buck and Chris rolled away as the paramedics broke in, one ripping Ezra's shirt open the other placing the defibrillator paddles on his chest.  The charge jerked Ezra's body off the ground.  Buck and Chris sat gasping from the exertion, watching as the medics recharged and shocked him again.   "We got a pulse."  Oxygen was slapped over Ezra's mouth and nose, and he was hurriedly rushed into the ambulance with Buck close behind.

Chris grabbed one of the medics by the arm.  "Is he going to be alright?"

The medic saw the look in the blond agent's face.  "He's alive, but he could have brain damage it depends on how long he's been without oxygen," the medic explained.

Chris' eyes closed as he released his hold on the medics arm.

****Part 9

Buck headed for JD's room to inform him about Ezra.  The other agents mulled around the waiting room, this time waiting for word on Ezra's condition.  The same fear going through all of them.  The suave, well-educated undercover agent would rather die than be mentally impaired in any way and they all knew this.

When the doctor entered he stepped back as four imposing agents jumped to their feet at once.  He shook his head as he realized it was the same men he had seen only a few days before.

"We have him in an oxygen tent, and he's breathing on his own," the doctor explained.

"Is there..." Chris was almost afraid to ask.  "Is there any brain damage?"

"I'm afraid we won't know until he wakes up.  I guess it would be utterly silly of me to tell you all to go home and get some rest."  The doctor looked at the agents faces and smiled.  "I thought so, they'll have him set up in a room in about an hour and you can go and sit with him."  The doctor turned and left, marveling at the camaraderie these men had for each other.  

Nathan, Josiah, Vin and Chris entered the darkened room.  The only source of illumination came from the various monitors, which made Ezra's features seem even more ghostly through the plastic of the oxygen tent that encompassed his bed.  They all grabbed a bit of floor or a chair and prepared to wait.


The next morning Buck entered the room pushing a wheel chair with JD sitting in it.  He brought it up to Ezra's bedside.  JD put his hand over his friend's limp one.  He wondered if Ezra would still consider him a friend after what he did. 

"You know Chris, yours and Buck's CPR probably saved his life," Nathan said, trying to break the somber mood, which hung in the room, it was starting to get to him.

"Yeah, but were we in time?" Chris asked, bringing back the somber mood.  Nathan exhaled in defeat.

"It's my fault," JD whispered, forgetting that Buck still lingered behind him.

"No JD, it's mine.  Hell, I didn't trust him. I just thought he was..."  Buck choked back the sob that rushed to the surface and quickly wiped the tear that had escaped his watery eyes.

"It was my fault, I'm the leader.  I'm suppose to know my own men.  Trust them. I let my emotions cloud my judgment," Chris admitted.

"It's all your faults, now please be quiet and let me sleep," the southern drawl filled the room, bringing smiles to everyone faces. The familiar sarcasm music to everyone's ears.  Buck quickly pulled back the plastic.

Ezra slowly opened his eyes, which took a lot of effort.  His chest felt like someone of Josiah's size was sitting on it and a mariachi band had taken up residence inside his head.  Ezra looked up into the concerned and slightly ashamed faces of his fellow agents.  He had overheard part of the conversation and realized how much he had wanted these men's approval.

"How you feelin' Ez?" Vin asked his woozy friend.

Ezra arched an eyebrow in annoyance.

JD smiled and turned to Chris.  "Ezra's not still suspended is he Chris?"

Chris came up to the bedside.  "No, but you are."  JD's eyes widened in shock.  "And if you ever pull a stunt like that again I'll have your butt in a sling, understand Mr. Dunne.  I don't need two mavericks."  Chris glared down at both JD and Ezra who smiled knowingly.  Standish was enough  of a hand full, and he never wanted to feel that scared again.

"Yes," JD meekly replied bowing his head.  He hated that he had scared everyone.  Josiah put a hand on the young agent's shoulder.

"We will attempt to treat you more like the capable agent that you are," Josiah stated.

"Yeah, kid... I mean JD.  I'm sorry," Buck stammered.  JD looked at all the faces of the men he worked with and still saw their respect, which lightened his heart.

"Gentlemen, did I overhear Mr. Jackson say something about CPR being administered?" Ezra asked a little wearily.

"Yeah, it probably saved your life," Nathan answered.

"Oh please tell me there was a female agent nearby."

"Sorry Ez, just me and Chris," Buck happily told the suddenly distressed southerner.

Ezra groaned and seemed to pale slightly. "Good Lord."

"Hey, I'll have you know women line up for a taste of these lips," Buck boasted, smacking his lips together for emphasis.

"I think I'm going to be ill," Ezra drawled.  Everyone except Ezra busted out laughing.


One week later.

JD Dunne tentatively poked his head around into Ezra's cubicle.

"Ah Mr. Dunne, and how was your forced exile?"  The undercover agent's relaxed smile brought a relieved grin to JD's boyish face. 

He had been worried that there might be hard feelings.  When he realized his fears were unfounded the young agent's mouth engaged, releasing a torrent of excited narration.  "Actually it was great!  I did a lot of sight seeing I never realized how much there is to see in Colorado.  The mountains are fantastic.  I got you something."  JD produced a small wooden box. "Sort of a peace offering for all the trouble I caused you."

It took a moment for the overwhelmed agent's head to stop spinning after JD's flurry of activity.  "Sir, that was not necessary."

"I know it wasn't necessary, but I wanted to.  It's what friends do," Dunne explained to the guarded southerner.

Ezra reached for the wooden box that JD held out to him and tentatively opened it, afraid something would pop out.  He peeked in to see a worn deck of playing cards nestled inside.  They were worn from use, but obviously well taken care of.

JD's smile grew at the older agent's dumfounded expression. "I found them in an old antique store in some ghost town up in the mountains.  The proprietor said they once belonged to a gambler, who had come west and became a lawman," JD explained. 

Ezra was speechless as he continued staring down at the playing cards.  He carefully picked up the fragile gift.  He caressed the small, ivy leaves intertwined with trumpet flowers, which decorated the backs.  He then ran a thumb over the sharp edges.  He turned over one of the face cards revealing a crude rendition of the King of Hearts. 

"The owner also said this gambler was the best, and everyone thought he cheated, but no one could prove it," JD continued as Ezra's green eyes seemed lost on the venerable deck.  A piece of the past he felt a connection with.

When he finally managed to speak his voice was barely above a whisper.  "Mr. Dunne."  Ezra swallowed the knot of emotion caught in his throat.  "Words cannot express my gratitude, but these must of cost a small fortune. I cannot possibly accept such an expensive gift."

"Don't worry I had plenty of help paying for them."  JD winked conspiratorially.  "It's amazing what you can get with guilt."

Standish chuckled slightly as the young agent bounded off.  He wondered if the conscientious young man truly realized what a precious gift he had bestowed on him.

Ezra spread the cards out on his desk face down, taking in the intricate design on the cornflower blue background.  He stared at the cards for several minutes, then a faint smile twitched at his mouth.  He started searching through the cards, gently moving them apart to see the ones underneath.  He picked up one of the cards, looking only at the back.  Then slowly turned it over revealing the ace of spades.  There were stars along the bottom half and vertical stripes up and down the top half of the card.  A spray of wheat on one side of the Ace and an oak bough on the other.   Ezra's grin grew wider, and he collected up the cards and stood up. Walking out of his cubicle he called out, "Gentlemen, is anyone up for a game of chance this evening, I'll supply the cards."