by KellyA

Part 12

The force of the bullet knocked Ezra to the ground taking the air from his lungs and leaving him slightly disoriented. The vest protected him from any serious injury but the force of the bullet cracked a rib on his right side. He lay on the ground, looking up at the crystal blue sky as the sound of gun fire diminished. When he was finally able to breathe again he slowly sat up, wincing at the pain in his side. He concentrated on keeping his breathing shallow and staggered to his feet, using the building for support. Ezra picked up his gun, put it in his holster, and slowly made his way back to JD.

Ezra staggered around the corner of the building and stopped at the sight playing out before him. The rest of the team was converged on the spot where he had left JD. He straightened and dropped his arm, which was holding his right side and walked up to the gathering of men. Before Ezra could even open his mouth, Buck appeared from out of the crowd, his fist cocked and ready. The blow caught the bewildered agent in the jaw and sent him to the ground. Josiah and Vin grabbed Buck before he could do anymore harm.

"You son-of-a-bitch! Where were you?" Buck yelled at the fallen agent, straining at the arms that held him. Ezra sat up on his elbow, rubbing his jaw. He looked into the accusing faces of his fellow agents.

Ezra's green eyes narrowed, at a loss as to what had transpired to earn him such glaring condemnation from his fellow teammates.

"Where were you agent?" Chris snarled, stepping up alongside Buck, his fists clenched in rage. The only thing going through Chris's mind was that Buck had been right, and he was a fool to have trusted the rogue agent.

"I was momentarily distracted," Ezra smoothly replied. These men had already judged him.

"Well, your distraction almost got JD killed!" Buck growled, pulling out of Josiah and Vin's grasp and turning his back on Ezra's bemused face.

"Is he okay?" Ezra's heart fell into his stomach as he stood up, ignoring the twinge of pain from his side. He had grown quite fond of the young agent.

Vin caught the flash of fear on the southerner's face as he pushed past them to see Nathan administering to the young agent. Ezra knelt down beside the young man placing a hand on his knee.

"I'm okay, Nathan," JD complained. "It's just a scratch." Anger flashed in his brown eyes when he looked at Ezra.

Ezra flinched at the hatred on JD's face. His life seemed to crumble within him. "What happened?" Ezra asked his voice barely above a whisper.

"Oh, he just took a bullet in the arm because you weren't doing your job," Nathan sneered as he tightened the bandage.

"Owww." JD pulled away from the tending agent.

"Sorry, JD."

Ezra looked at the blossom of blood slowly forming on the clean bandage. He looked at the young agent his green eyes not hiding the regret he felt. "I'm truly sorry, Mr. Dunne."

JD didn't know what to say. He just shrugged and turned away. Buck muscled his way next to his young friend, shoving Ezra aside, placing an arm across JD's shoulders, and leading him toward the waiting ambulance.

Ezra watched as Buck helped JD into the back of the ambulance. He caught the feral look of hatred that Buck threw at him before climbing in with his friend. Ezra felt numb. Why did these things always happen to him? He turned around only to come face to face with four more sets of condemning stares.

Chris was the first to turn away as he shouted, "Okay, let's clean up."

Ezra watched with an aching heart as Vin, Nathan and Josiah walked away without saying a word. The disappointment Ezra saw in Josiah's face was almost more than he could bear. He soon found himself standing alone. He had foolishly begun to think he could fit in, now he realized how wrong he was. Ezra swallowed and wiped a hand over his face. He knew it would only be a matter of time before he was kicked off the team. He supposed he could go and work for his mother in her casino; at least until she married again and disappeared. It would make one of them happy.

Part 13

The remaining agents of Team 7 and Team 5 spent the better part of an hour securing the crime scene. Chris and Nathan joined Charlie Coombs to discuss the operation while everything was still fresh.

"Chris, Nathan, I think you need to see this." Josiah squatted against the building.

"Excuse us, Charlie," Chris said.

"Sure, I'll talk with you all later."

"What is it, Josiah?" Chris asked. Josiah was kneeling, examining the body of one of the arms dealers.

"Nate, weren't you guarding that door over there?" Josiah nodded toward the slightly ajar gray door.

Nathan frowned as he studied the site behind the large tree, where he had taken cover. When the shooting started, he had supplied protection for Josiah, moving several yards to take up a better position behind a van.

"Yeah, I was," Nathan answered, uncertainty marring his words. He didn't know what Josiah was leading up to.

"Did you shoot this guy?" Josiah then asked, pulling back the sheet to reveal the dead man.

Nathan's eyes widen. "No, I didn't even know he was here."

Josiah slowly turned the dead man over, revealing the small neat caliber hole right in the middle of his forehead. He looked up at Chris and Nathan. "There's only one person I know who does head shots."

Larabee closed his eyes and ran a hand down his face. He understood what Josiah was saying.

Nathan's face fell as he too realized what his friend was implying. He had been completely unaware that someone was stalking him during the gun fight. A shiver ran up his spine as he stared down at the dead man, realizing that could be him lying there.

"I believe this might have been agent Standish's distraction." Josiah decided to solidify everyone's thoughts.

"Aww Shit!" Chris murmured, mentally kicking himself. He had allowed his emotions to over run his professional objectivity.

"Where's Ezra now?" Josiah asked as he threw the yellow plastic over the corpse and stood, dusting his hands together to remove the dirt. He was also guilty of judging the undercover agent unfairly.

"I sent him back to the office to start filling out the paper work." Chris rubbed the back of his neck, trying to release the tension that was slowly building. "He's probably filling out his resignation now."

Part 14

Standish sat alone in his cubicle staring at the blinking cursor underlining the words, 'Action Taken' on the report. The only thing he had managed to accomplish was to type in his name and service number. He was trying to get the events straight in his mind, but his thoughts always returned to JD and the betrayal in the young agent's eyes. Ezra's mask of cool indifference shattered and he exhaled a quivering breath, trying to maintain control There wouldn't be any savior this time; he would be out of a job. Ezra returned to the report glancing at the resignation form that sat on the corner of his desk.

Chris, Josiah, Vin and Nathan quietly entered the office area, hearing the quick clicks of a computer keyboard coming from the last cubicle.

Larabee headed toward his office to tackle the mountain of paper work piled on his desk. He had decided to wait before confronting Ezra about what had happened. Buck and JD had yet to return from the hospital, and for that Chris was exceedingly grateful. He would have to find a way to rein in Buck's animosity toward Ezra. On the drive back to the office thoughts of finding a dead agent made the ride especially nerve-racking and caused them to ignore Josiah's excessive speed. When it came to JD, Buck was like a big, protective brother.

Chris eased himself into the high-back leather chair wondering why Standish hadn't told them what happened. Then he realized they hadn't given him much of a chance. Buck had been on the man before he even said a word. Chris's gaze traveled to the far wall and the picture of him and the others on a fishing trip. The trip had taken place four months ago, long before Ezra was hired. But they had been on another trip in the past month. Had anyone thought to invite Ezra?

After forty-five minutes of filling out forms Chris noticed that the pile didn't seem to be getting any smaller. A sudden knock on the door was a great relief and broke Chris from his developing frustration. "Yeah, come in."

Sanchez smoothly slipped in. Chris always marveled at how graceful and fluid the large agent could be. "Yeah Josiah, what can I do for you?" Chris leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his blood-shot eyes.

Josiah crossed the room and laid a bullet proof vest down on the desk. "I was putting the vests back in inventory when I noticed this." He put his finger through a hole in the first layer of fabric. "I don't think brother Standish got out of his distraction totally unscathed."

Larabee fingered the hole and shook his head, this kept getting better and better. Chris snatched the vest and strode past Josiah, who fell in step behind him. The two men headed toward the last cubicle on the floor. Without stopping Chris called out, "Nathan, I need you ASAP!"

The medic quickly saved the report he was working on and raced out, wondering what was going on.

Josiah and Chris stopped in front of Standish's cubicle. Ezra appeared to take no notice of their presence as he continued reading through several papers.

Josiah noticed how sterile the small work area had remained, only the paperwork on the desk showed that anyone even used it. The other agents' work areas had slowly morphed into their owner's personal little enclave: from JD's technological gadgetry to Nathan's collection of throwing knives and Vin's preference for anything to do with the old west. Actually, when Josiah thought about it they each harbored a slight preference for that time. JD kept a bowler hat on his shelf, a replica of the one Bat Masterson wore. Vin owned an 1876 sawed-off Winchester. Nathan loved to research old medical knowledge and had acquired period medical instruments. Josiah himself had an old Indian serape which he cherished. Larabee's home was almost right out of the old west and they all had a penchant for old gunslinger movies. What was Ezra passionate about? Like the man himself, one couldn't tell from outward appearances.

Chris threw the Kevlar vest down on the agent's desk, scattering papers and finally getting his attention. "Is this yours?"

Nathan appeared behind them. He thought they were going to wait until Buck and JD returned before confronting Ezra. He had to admit he wasn't looking forward to apologizing to the smug southerner.

Ezra leaned back in his chair and stared at the life-saving vest. "Well, since the agency doesn't deem it necessary to personalize our vests, I really couldn't tell you."

Larabee's renowned anger was beginning to boil. He was already furious with himself; he didn't need this man's flippant attitude to compound it. "Oh, this one's personalized alright." Chris grabbed the vest, poking his finger through the bullet hole to emphasize his point. He glared at Ezra, not noticing when Buck, JD and Vin suddenly appeared.

"Hey Josiah, what's going on?" JD asked, trying to see over the profiler's bulk. Sanchez turned around to see JD with his arm in a sling. He put a finger to his lips and motioned: just watch.

Buck stood back against the wall, his arms folded across his barrel chest, hoping that Chris was preparing to fire the man. Vin remained silent watching as Chris and Ezra stared silently at each other.

Chris placed his palms down on Ezra's desk. "Now, agent Standish, you will either remove your shirt and let Nathan take a look at you or I'll do it for you." Chris's voice had taken on a decidedly icy tone, one that didn't sanction any rebuttal.

Buck's self-righteous anger fell from his face. He took a step forward, wondering what was going on. JD's brows knitted together in a deep frown under his long hair, and he exchanged a confused look with Buck.

Ezra glared at Chris and slowly began to undo the buttons of his white dress shirt, pulling it out from his waist band. There was an audible gasp from someone as the shirt fell open revealing a large purplish bruise on his right side. The ugly dark wound started at the middle of his chest and slid down below the belt line.

Nathan pushed Chris aside and knelt in front of the bruised agent. He gently probed the contusion and heard a sharp intake of breath as Ezra pushed himself deeper into his chair.

"Sorry," Nathan murmured.

Ezra clenched his jaw against the burst of pain in his side. Nathan turned to Chris. "He's got a cracked rib and some serious bruising." He turned back to Ezra, who had finally released his death grip on the chair arms. "That's gotta hurt."

The undercover agent pulled his shirt closed. "It's nothing."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Nathan asked, trying to convince the southerner of the concern he felt.

"At the time you had more important matters to attend to Mr. Jackson," Ezra calmly replied his impassive facade firmly in place.

Nathan had to look the man in the eye to see if he was serious.

Ezra looked at JD who maintained a bewildered expression. He had thought that Ezra had run as they were being overwhelmed. This was clearly not the case, and he was starting to feel a little guilty.

Buck tried to push forward, until Josiah blocked his progress. He was not going to allow the petulant agent to cause anymore trouble. Someone was finally going to stand up for the southerner.

Chris was angry with Standish and himself. Ezra actually believed his life wasn't as important as the others. Chris was still surprised that the egotistical agent had actually risked his life to save one of them.

"Don't ever do that again," Chris growled. "We are a team and you are a part of this team until I say otherwise. Do we understand each other, agent Standish?"

"Totally, Mr. Larabee."

Chris grabbed the resignation form he saw on Ezra's desk, crumbling it in his fist. He turned on his heel and stopped when he saw Buck standing before him. "I want to see you and JD in my office now!" He pushed past Buck and headed to his office.

Josiah gave the undercover man a wink and walked off. Nathan stood up and continued to stare at the clean-shaven agent.

"Yes, Mr. Jackson? Do you have something to add to Mr. Larabee's proclamation?"

A tight smile came to the taller man's lips. "Just thanks, for saving my life."

Ezra turned his attention back to the paperwork on his desk before answering. "Only doing my job, Mr. Jackson, nothing more."

"Ah…huh," Nathan muttered as he left. He would have to re-evaluate his feelings about the self-serving undercover agent. Apparently, there was more to Ezra Standish than he portrayed.

Part 15

It was late when Ezra finally turned off his computer and grabbed his coat. The others had already left for the evening. He winced at the ache in his side as he put on his coat. He listened to the quiet of the office, hearing only the hum of the florescent lights above. He continued out as the janitorial staff made their way in.

Standish stopped when he neared his car. He could make out the tall form leaning against it in the yellow lighting of the underground garage. He shook his head. Ezra took a deep breath and continued toward his car. Buck raised his head as the undercover agent neared. There was no anger in his face and Ezra's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Mr. Wilmington, I thought we had an understanding about you and my car's personal space."

Buck became flustered and quickly pushed off the black sports car; turning to wipe the smudge marks off the door with his sleeve.


"Is there something you want?"

Buck shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. His eyes darted around the garage before finally crossing Ezra's impatient gaze. "I...ah...just want to apologize for the way I've been acting and treating you." The words came out in a rush, but Ezra could hear the regret and see it in the agent's eyes.

Ezra cocked his head at the contrite agent. "Did Mr. Larabee tell you to say that?"

"Hell no!" Buck dropped his eyes. "Well, he suggested it. I just wanted you to know I don't blame you for JD's injury."

"Mr. Wilmington, if I had stayed at Mr. Dunne's side, he probably would not have been shot."

Buck looked up sharply, stunned by this self-revelation. Was Ezra actually blaming himself? Well, why wouldn't he? Buck and the others had blamed the southerner without giving the man a chance to even explain. Moreover, Buck had wanted to kill the man right then and there.

"If you had stayed, Nathan would be dead right now." He stared at the undercover man, probably for the first time, and saw something that his anger had kept him from seeing. "You get caught in these situations a lot, don't you?" Buck didn't expect an answer and was surprised at the tired expression on Ezra's face.

"How about we start over," Buck said, offering his hand.

Ezra hesitated then grasped the agent's offered hand, a lopsided grin curved the corner of his mouth.

Part 16

Buck slid in next to JD at the team's usual table at Inez's bar. It was a week day so the crowd was thin.

"Hey, Buck where you been?" JD asked, noticing Buck's thoughtful countenance.

Buck looked over at his roommate and grabbed the beer that was pushed in front of him. "No where JD, just had some loose ends to tie up."

Chris glanced across the table at his friend, a knowing smile coming to his face. He raised his beer to Buck, both men feeling the tension and uncertainty of the past month finally lifting. Everyone knew that something had transpired. The rift that had kept the two men at odds was finally bridged. And f that everyone was exceedingly grateful.

"Ah, did anyone think to invite Ezra?" Vin asked, watching as everyone looked at everyone else.

"He wouldn't want to come," JD replied, looking toward Buck for assurance.

"Are you sure?" Vin swallowed the last of his beer and stood. He looked over at Chris who tipped his imaginary hat in salute and watched as Vin headed out the door.

Vin knew the address but had never been to this part of town so it took a while to find the modest apartment complex. Ezra's apartment was on the first floor with a door that opened to the outside. The night was cool and Vin was glad he thought to bring his leather jacket.

Ezra finished making himself a drink and was prepared to settle down and read when the knock came to the door. He grabbed his gun, which sat on a nearby table, and stuck it in his waist band behind his back. Ezra arched an eyebrow when he looked out the peep hole to see Vin Tanner standing outside.

"C'mon Ez. I know you're in there," Vin called out.

Ezra opened the door. "Mr. Tanner?" He immediately glanced behind the lean sharpshooter, not sure what he expected to see. "What brings you here?"

"You going to invite me in or what?"

Ezra moved aside allowing the agent to step in. Vin noticed right away how bare the apartment was. Ezra had been here almost two months and the walls were bare of any pictures or decorations. In the middle of the room sat a single overstuffed chair in front of a large screen TV. A leather couch sat against the far wall and a dining room table with a couple chairs completed the scenario. Vin noticed several boxes in a room off the small hallway. The apartment had the same look and feel as his office, as if he was just passing through and didn't intend to stay.

"Mr. Tanner, is there something you need?"

Vin turned his attention to the cool undercover and smiled. "No, just wondering if you'd like to join us down at Inez's for a drink?" Vin had to hold back a chuckle at the look on the undercover agent's face. Ezra's eyes had widened as if Vin had asked him to run naked through the streets.

When Ezra finally managed to process what was said he quickly composed himself and answered, "Ah, thank you Mr. Tanner for the invitation, but I have a prior engagement."

"Oh...okay." Vin didn't believe it, but decided not to push. He had made the first move. He hoped the invite showed the estranged agent that they were willing to try and make things work. "Well, if things change we'll be there for awhile." Vin nodded and headed for the door.

Ezra watched Vin walk back toward his car before shutting the door. He wasn't sure he was ready to take the chance of letting these men get close. Friends and family had hurt him too many times in the past to let his guard down too soon. Ezra sat down and stared at the blank TV. A smiled graced his lips as he took a sip of his drink.

Part 17

The next morning found everyone waiting in the conference room for Larabee's arrival. Vin sat slouched in his chair, his eyes closed, listening to JD and Buck's conversation about who was supposed to get up and fix breakfast. Buck's rumbling stomach punctuated the conversation. Josiah and Nathan were discussing some world famous anthropologist they had read about in some scientific journal. Ezra sat silently at the end of the table sipping on his imported coffee and perusing the paper. He still kept everyone at a distance; he was part of the team, but not the family. No one knew how to draw the man into the family, or if he even wanted to be a part of it.

Finally, the blond leader entered, his presence putting an end to the chatter. He walked down the length of the table, eyeing each of his agents.

"Alright men, we received some rather perplexing information concerning a large cache of weapons being stored at a deserted warehouse up on 5th. We need to check it out," Chris explained as he reached the head of the table.

"Why is it suspicious?" Nathan queried. He hated surprises, especially since they were never good.

"Because no one seems to know where the information came from," Chris explained. "It could be a set up or some type of diversion. So everyone be ready and vest up."

Larabee didn't like putting his team in danger but this order came from further up the ladder, by people who believed this was what they were hired for. The whole team knew their superiors only tolerated them because of their outstanding arrest record. Individually, they had all had their share of reprimands. Chris had been called to the floor for numerous violations. His superiors suspected that the blond leader covered for his men on several occasions. JD Dunne had been reprimanded for hacking into classified computer files. Both Vin and Buck had earned the wrath of Internal Affairs due to certain mishaps, such as suspects falling down stairs and off buildings and informants disappearing. Even Josiah and Nathan had been rebuked for using strong arm tactics on informants. However, in the end, Team 7 got results and the agency usually turned a blind eye to most of their more potent methods. Chris knew that DA Travis had positioned himself as a buffer between the team and the higher echelon. Larabee also knew there was only so much the agency would overlook, and he hoped none of his men crossed that line.

Part 18

Studying the large manufacturing warehouse, Chris immediately got a bad feeling. It started in the pit of his stomach and snaked its way up his spine. "Okay, Vin, Josiah take the west side. Buck you're..." he began.

"With Ezra," Buck cut in.

Standish glanced suspiciously at Buck. It was becoming commonplace for these men to continually dumbfound him.

Chris glanced over at Ezra. He knew Buck and the others were trying to work on their differences and form some kind of understanding.

"Okay, you two take the back." Chris knew when it came to the job personal problems were put aside. "JD, Nathan you're with me then."

Ezra followed Buck around the building, deciding to wait for a more opportune time to ask the question, which he seemed to always be asking lately. Why? The two men hugged the wall with their weapons drawn and ready.

Buck pushed open a heavy metal door with his foot and peered inside. He slipped in low, immediately going to the side to allow Ezra unfettered access. The two agents paused to let their eyes adjust to the dim lightening. The large hanger type room was empty except for several crates stacked over to the side, and a single table sitting out in the middle of the room. An inch of dust and dirt covered the concrete floor. A small catwalk ran across the far wall. There was nothing to reveal the building's previous purpose, and Buck was beginning to believe the mission was a bust.

Buck lowered his gun and exhaled as he moved further into the large room. "Well, I guess this was a boon-doggel." He smiled and looked down at the floor noticing fresh boot prints in the dust. His head snapped up just in time to see two men appear on the catwalk. Their features were black blank, broken by huge gaping eye sockets - ski masks. They each raised a Glock 9mm automatic.


Part 19

Ezra turned, more surprised at hearing his given name than at the fear in Buck's voice. He saw the two gunmen and raised his 9mm, squeezing off two shots. The two agents quickly jumped behind the crates as the air filled with bullets.

"Hell, what'd we ever do to them?" Buck quipped, trading shots with the two men on the catwalk.

"I'm sure these miscreants have a whole list of believed transgressions they feel we are responsible for." Ezra fired then glanced over at Buck. "Maybe they're offended by your taste in attire."

Buck froze for a moment, caught off-guard by the southerner's remark. He looked down at his faded jeans and T-shirt that denoted he was Italian and should be kissed. "Did you just make a joke, Ezra?"

Ezra smiled and turned his attention back to the gunmen.

Ezra noticed a door that stood ajar ten feet behind them. "Mr. Wilmington, think you can make that door?"

Buck looked at the ten exposed feet separating them from the safety of the door. He swallowed and for a moment the expanse resembled the length of a football field. Buck ducked as several bullets whizzed over head. "Can a bear shit in the woods?" he finally replied.

Standish heard the uncertainty in Buck's voice; distances always appeared greater when someone was trying to kill you.

"On three then," Ezra said. "One...two...three."

The trapped agents jumped up and snapped off several shots then raced toward the door. Ezra kicked the doorstop as he passed through, allowing the door to close behind them. They winced at the sound of bullets ricocheting off the metal door. The two agents raced up the single staircase, which opened out onto an asphalt roof. Ezra immediately went to the edge and started looking over the sides, trying to find an avenue of escape. Buck wedged a two-by-four under the door knob, hoping to slow the gunmen's pursuit.

Wilmington came up alongside Ezra at the far end of the building and peered over the edge to see what the undercover agent was looking at so intently. About thirty feet below sat a dumpster, filled with flattened cardboard boxes.

"That Mr. Wilmington, is our salvation," Ezra calmly pointed out.

Buck's eyes widen. "What! You expect us to jump into that!"

The door suddenly surrendered to the onslaught of bullets and the gunmen's weight. Buck and Ezra took cover behind a huge generator unit.

Larabee and the others heard the unmistakable sound of automatics mixed with Ezra and Buck's own handguns. Chris's heart pounded within his chest as he berated himself and raced around the building, trying to find another entrance. He came around the corner to see Vin and Josiah racing up the other side.

Part 20

Ezra slapped another clip into his gun as Buck continued to fire, yelling out his frustration toward the two gunmen.

"Alright, Mr. Wilmington, you first."

"Me! Why me?" Buck considered himself the adventurous type, but jumping off a building into a dumpster was not his idea of extreme sports. His diversions ranged more to the conquest of the female of the species.

"Because, I will need to cover your subsequent fall," Ezra explained, checking his ammo and making sure he still had an extra clip.

"Why don't you go first?" Buck asked.

Ezra couldn't believe he was sitting here, under heavy fire, arguing about who should jump first. "Mr. Wilmington, as we are both fully aware I am the better marksman. Please sir, get on that ledge."

Ezra decided to play a wild card. "And anyway, Mr. Dunne would never forgive me if anything happened to you." Ezra knew that Buck and JD were more like brothers then partners, and he wasn't above using this knowledge to save the reluctant agent's life.

Buck stared at the enigmatic southerner, realizing he was risking both their lives by arguing. Keeping his head down he climbed up on the ledge. Buck glanced down at the dumpster. "I don't know about this, Ez."

"I assure you, there is no other way of extricating ourselves from this roof alive. Just make sure you aim for the center of the dumpster and land on your back, and please, get out quick as I'll be right behind you."

Buck gave Ezra an uncertain smile, which dropped from his face as the gunfire intensified. He didn't like leaving Ezra up here all alone. Ezra saw Buck's hesitation.

"Sorry Buck," he murmured and lightly tapped the man on the back, causing him to lose his balance and slip off the ledge. Ezra returned fire trying to keep the two gunmen at bay. He knew they were just waiting for him to run out of ammo. There was no way the others could get to the roof without being gunned down. Ezra was accustomed to watching out for himself. He didn't believe in the cavalry being just over the next hill.

Buck couldn't move, he stared up at the clear blue sky. The fall had stunned him. His heart raced and pounded trying to obtain some semblance of a normal rhythm. The smell of rotting garbage and the sound of gunfire forced Buck to gasp for breath and push himself up. He clambered over the dumpster and dropped to the ground, his knees buckling slightly. He knew his back was going to be one massive bruise in the morning. Panic came to his mustached face as he looked up, hearing the gun fire on the roof

Ezra took time to peer over the ledge, relieved to see Buck slowly climbing out of the dumpster. He returned his attention to the two gunmen who had moved up behind a large venting pipe.

Part 21

"C'mon Ezra, jump," Buck murmured, leaning against the dumpster. It seemed like forever before he saw the smartly dressed agent climb up on the ledge.

Ezra waited for a pause in the gunfire, then took a deep breath, stood and fired. Unfortunately, one of the gunmen was ready for him. Ezra was shocked when he felt the bullet rip through his vest and into his shoulder, throwing him down onto the roof. The pain was excruciating, black splotches flashed across his vision and made his head spin. Ezra gritted his teeth and pulled himself up on the ledge. He made sure he was in the right position and then stepped off. Like a free-style diver, Ezra tucked his head and brought his legs around. He hit the garbage-cushioned dumpster, folding up into a V. He lay dazed on top the rubbish, the breath taken from his lungs. Ezra stirred weakly as a knife-sharp pain rose from his shoulder. His eyes opened, and he struggled to sit up. His breath caught halfway between his lungs and throat as an enormous bolt of pain surged through his side. He suspected that his cracked rib had now evolved into a broken one.

Ezra heard Buck calling as if from a great distance, due in part to the metal container he was residing in. Ezra smiled at the concern he thought he heard in his partner's voice. Even his own mother showed very little concern for his well-being.

Buck looked into the dumpster seeing Ezra's dazed expression. A rain of bullets forced him to drop down beside it. He quickly returned fire, trying to keep the gunmen back. He knew he had to get Ezra out. Why wasn't he moving? He was a sitting duck in there.

"Ezra! You have to get out!" Buck yelled as he continued to fire, his gun nearly empty. He reached in and grabbed Ezra's gun, still clenched tightly in his hand. Buck exhaled in relief when he heard the gunfire behind him.

Chris and the others turned the corner. Buck was standing in front of a dumpster firing up at the roof. Chris's first thought was why was his agent standing out in the open taking on automatic gun fire? His second was where was Ezra?" The five arriving agents started firing at the roof, too, and the two gunmen soon realized the odds had changed and disappeared from sight. As soon as the gun fire stopped Buck dropped his gun and reached into the dumpster. "Josiah, help me, Ezra's in here!"

"Good lord." The huge agent reached in, grabbing hold of Ezra's ankles as Buck grabbed under his shoulders. Ezra gasped in pain. The two men gently lifted him out and laid the semi-conscious man against the building.

"Hey Buck, how did you and Ezra get over here?" JD asked.

Wilmington looked up then slowly trailed his gaze back to the dumpster. JD stared incredulously at what the older agent was silently telling him. Buck sat behind Ezra and held him up by the shoulders. Nathan moved to his side and quickly ran his experienced hands over the injured agent's torso.

Nathan noticed the bullet hole in Ezra's jacket and reached inside, expecting to find the bullet trapped within the Kevlar mesh. He frowned when he felt a wet, stickiness. Nathan pulled out a blood covered hand. "Ah shit! The bullet penetrated the vest." Nathan ripped open the now useless armor, this got everyone's attention. When Nathan swore, things were bad.

Everyone's face paled at the sight of Ezra's shirt covered in blood. Nathan pulled the shirt open, working the material over Ezra's limbs and pulling it down his arm. The bullet had blown a hole in Ezra's shoulder.

"Oh geez!" JD exclaimed his stomach rolling at the sight of so much blood. Vin knelt down and laid a hand on Ezra's arm.

"They were using armor piercing bullets," JD said in disbelief. They all knew what that meant. The gunmen were after the agents.

Buck held the southerner a little tighter and placed a hand on his forehead forcing Ezra's head back against his chest. "Take it easy, pard."

Standish groaned. Suddenly shock and pain filled his face as Nathan applied pressure to the blood-spilling wound. "Easy Ezra," Jackson soothed.

Green eyes widened at the sound of his name. Ezra looked into the worried visage of the moralistic agent. The same man who had once wanted to kill him was now trying to save his life. Mother would love the irony, Ezra thought.

Larabee squatted alongside Nathan. "How you doing, Ezra?"

A bemused smile came to the pain-etched face. "You're kidding, right, Mr. Larabee?"

Ezra had never experienced so many people concerned about what happened to him. He tried to sift through the myriad of emotions; confusion battled with mistrust and finally gave away to something he could only describe as contentment. He had finally found true friendship in these six men. Life no longer seemed like the harsh mistress he had to constantly ply and cheat on to survive.

Nathan noticed Ezra fighting to keep his eyes open and the perplexed smile on his face was starting to worry him. Nate grabbed Ezra's chin between his fingers and looked into the southerner's unequal eyes.

"Damn, he must have hit his head on something," Nathan said.

Ezra stared at Nathan. He felt lightheaded and detached, and his side and shoulder were killing him. The smile left his face as he started feeling a new agony. His chest felt like someone was slowly applying pressure, and Ezra found himself struggling to take a complete breath. He turned scared eyes toward Nathan.

Part 22

"Mr. Jackson...I be...having...some difficulty...breathing," Ezra gasped, darkness fluttering over his eyes.

Nathan started probing Ezra's side, still bruised from the other mission. He felt the broken ribs under his hands. He put his ear to the gasping man's chest, but did not hear any breathing sounds on the right side. "He's broken one of those cracked ribs and I think it punctured a lung."

"The ambulance should be here any minute," Chris said.

Ezra lost his fight with consciousness and went limp in Buck's arms. "Nathan?" Buck's voice sounded lost and his fear was mirrored on the faces of the other five men who surrounded him.

Nate checked for a pulse then placed Vin's hand over the bandage on the bullet wound. "Keep pressure on it, Vin." He reached around his back and removed the small knapsack he carried. "We can't wait!" He pulled out a long needle like device. "Lay him out flat, Buck."

"God almighty Nathan, what'cha goin' do with that?" Buck blurted out at the sight of the sharp instrument.

"He's suffering from a tension pneumothorax." Nathan looked up at the confused expressions on everyone's face. "Air is going into his lung but out the hole that the rib created." He looked down at the slack face of the injured agent then ran his hand down Ezra's right side. "The lung will collapse more and more as the air outside the lung pushes it flat, which will eventually cause tension inside the chest, enough to stop the heart."

"How will sticking a needle in him help?" JD asked, his dark eyes wild as Nathan inserted the needle at the third rib. Buck looked away.

Nathan waited a second then checked Ezra's pulse. He sat back on his heels and looked up at JD. "This is called a Mac Swane dart. It has a one-way value on the end." Nathan pointed to the dart sticking out of Ezra's chest. "The device will release the air, but not allow more air to move back inside his lung. He'll be able to breathe easier with less strain on his heart," Nathan explained. "Okay, I got him breathing for now, but we need to get him to a hospital. He's still losing blood and he might be bleeding internally."

That was all that needed to be said. Josiah and Buck gently picked up the southern agent, keeping him level; they carried him to Josiah's suburban. Nathan jumped into the back and spread out a blanket that sat in the corner. Buck held Ezra's head in his lap and gently stroked the unconscious agent's brow hoping to bring him some measure of comfort. Nathan placed a hand on Ezra's chest to assure himself that the man was still breathing.

"We'll follow you Josiah!" Chris yelled out heading for his truck, followed by JD and Vin.

Josiah broke several traffic laws and almost caused one accident as he raced to the Denver Medical Center. The recent rash of road rage had never affected him until now. It seemed that every other driver was trying to delay his progress and if it wasn't a matter of life and death, he would have gotten into several altercations.

Josiah pulled his truck up close enough to the emergency entrance to activate the automatic doors. "I NEED HELP OUT HERE!" he yelled.

Chris and the others arrived to see Ezra placed on a gurney and rushed into the hospital. The six agents followed, until a rather robust nurse stopped them. "You'll have to wait here, gentlemen," she ordered then was gone. The six men stood silently staring at the swinging doors where their fellow agent had gone then slowly made their way to the waiting room.

Part 23

Larabee had radioed the agency to have investigators go out to the warehouse and look for any clues that might tell them who was responsible. When they found out Chris would seek out his own personal retribution; no one hurt one of his men. Ezra may be an egotistical, stubborn, con artist, but he was one of them whether he knew it or not. He promised himself to make the obstinate agent understand that he was a part of this family now, even if he had to beat it into him. Chris exhaled and leaned back in the plastic chair.

"God Chris, he can't die. I was just starting to like the stubborn SOB." Buck's anxious plea interrupted the somber mood. Chris looked toward Nathan seeing the uncertainty and fear in the medic's face.

An hour passed in silence as the six ATF agents remained lost in their own thoughts. Each wondering if they would have a second chance to be acquainted with the latest man to join their team. They had all seen another side to Ezra, a side that wanted to belong.

A middle-aged man, dressed in dark pants and a jacket, entered the waiting area looking at the dejected group of men. His gazed swept over the blond agent, recognizing him on sight. "Mr. Larabee," he quietly intruded. Chris raised tired blue eyes. "I'm detective Harris, I've just returned from the warehouse and I have something to show you."

Chris stood up as the plain-clothes detective approached and handed him a piece of paper. "This was found at the scene and was obviously meant to be discovered," Harris explained.

Larabee read the note and frowned. "What's it say Chris?" Vin asked as the rest of the men surrounded him.

"It says, You are a walking dead man, and I'm going to bury you." Chris turned the cryptic note over in his hand.

"Oh no."

"What's wrong Buck?" JD asked. He watched as all the color left his friend's face.

Buck stepped back, bumping into a chair. His knees folded and he fell heavily into the stiff plastic, bringing his hands to his face.

Chris walked up and stood in front of the distressed agent. "What is it, Buck?"

Buck raised his head up to meet Chris's cold blue stare. "It's Haddon."

"How do you know?" Josiah asked.

Buck shifted his gaze to Josiah, preferring to look at the large agent then to have to face Chris's imminent wrath. "What's on that note is the exact threat he made to Ezra when I was taking him into custody."

"And you were going to tell me about this, when?" Chris snarled his hand curling into a fist and crumpling the note.

"I'm sorry. I didn't take it seriously," Buck added, bowing his head.

"Yeah and even if you did, you wouldn't have cared," Vin retorted angrily taking a step toward the regretful man. He desperately wanted to strike out at Buck.

"That's not true!" Buck yelled, jumping from his seat. "No matter how I felt about Ezra then I would never do that--to anyone."

"Enough!" Chris yelled coming between the two agents before they came to blows.

"Apparently Ezra didn't take it seriously either," Nathan spoke up, trying to defuse the situation. Buck fell back into the chair as Vin turned and strode away. Chris sat in the chair next to Buck and leaned his head back.

Buck kept his head down as he spoke. "Chris, I would never..." he choked. "...It's just that Ezra didn't seem concerned about Haddon's threat so I didn't think anything of it." Buck raised his head to confront his boss and friend.

"What would you have done if Haddon had threatened JD?" Chris off-handedly asked his eyes focused on the white tiled ceiling. He didn't expect an answer, but he wanted Buck to think about what he did.

Buck knew the answer and so did everyone else; he didn't have to say it. "Things have changed, I trust Ezra, I really do," Buck vehemently defended.

"I know you do, Buck," Chris replied, turning to look at Buck's watery gaze. He placed a hand on Buck's shoulder and squeezed. Chris looked around the waiting room at his men and realized all their feelings had changed for the cocky southerner.

As the hours continued to tick by, they all took turns pacing the small waiting room and bothering the nurses for information.

A doctor finally entered the waiting area, momentarily startled when six men surrounded him. "Ah, I gather you're all here for Mr. Standish."

Chris stepped forward to face the doctor. "I'm Chris Larabee his boss."

"I'm Dr. Richards."

The doctor looked down at a clip board. "Are there any family members present?"

Chris looked over his shoulder at his men then turned back to the doctor. "He has a mother…" Chris paused. "But we're as close to family as I believe he has."

Doctor Richards pursed his lips. "I see."

"Doc, how is he?" Buck blurted out.

The doctor smiled his apology at keeping the men in suspense. "The bullet he took in the shoulder broke his collar bone and really tore up the muscle. He had some internal bleeding, but we were able to get it under control. He lost a lot of blood. A rib punctured his right lung, which filled with fluid. Whoever inserted that Mac Swane dart probably saved his life."

The six agents looked to Nathan, giving him a smile of gratitude. Josiah clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We'll have to watch for pneumonia and infection," the doctor continued. "The surgery went well, but..."

"But what?" Buck anxiously asked, trying to swallow back the anxiety that jumped up his throat.

"He's on a ventilator and hasn't regained consciousness." The doctor looked down at the clip board again. "Is there anyway to contact his mother?"

Chris looked over at Josiah who nodded his head.

"Yeah, we'll find her. Can we see him?"

"I'm sorry. He's in ICU and only family members may visit," the doctor explained.

"Doctor, what is the prognosis?" Nathan asked.

Doctor Richards saw the fear and concern on the six agent's faces. "He's critical and we're still trying to stabilize his vitals. We'll know more in twenty-four hours but it would be a good idea to get a hold of his mother." Dr. Richards forced a thin smile and walked off.