by Heather F

Disclaimers: Don’t own’em, not making money.

Acknowledgements: Mitzi, she’s been reading this since Dec.03 and has kept the story alive when it died a few dozen deaths. Her patience, suggestions, and POV have been greatly appreciated. Meg T. because she’s MegT. MOG she created ATF AU. (She’s pretty smart).

Warnings: English, Grammar and the such; There is bad language, bad guys, and bad deeds.

Characters: Ezra, Buck and Vin get dinged. H/C, angst

There are similarities in this story to other stories that have been posted. I have contacted these authors and sent the story to them. They’re okay with the coincidences (this monster has been a year in the works).

Beth (her FBI Alaska story Run Like Hell is incredible)

Yolande (her undercover agent replacement was really a sleaze) Day of the Hunters.

GreenWoman: Von Hauken belongs to her --Thanks for allowing me to borrow him.

He is first introduced as a character in: Denver trilogy (Part 1) A Mile High in Denver;

There are a few others that I have contacted over the year and I did not write your names down. Shabby of me I know. If you are out there. Please contact me and I’ll add your names. You deserve recognition and I can add the URLs to your stories.

Written: 10/03-9/04 (horrors this has dragged on).

Size: Approx 200 K

PART 1 - 2 | PART 3 - 4 | PART 5 - 6 | PART 7 - 8

Cuz I've been talkin' to the people
That you call your friends
And it seems to me there's means to an end
They don't care anymore (they don't care)

Ezra glanced in the rear view mirror. The muted lights of the dash board gave his face a haunted glow. His bloodshot green eyes fixed briefly on Wilmington. Buck grimaced in return. Worry and concern were easily discernible even in the low light afforded by the interior lighting of the Jag.

“He’s still with us, Ez,” Buck’s voice was tight with fear and pain. Pain he felt for Vin and his own physical discomfort.

Dark splash marks marred Buck’s face. Blood. Ezra couldn’t be sure if it was Vin’s or Buck’s own. Not that it mattered in the long run. Both men were injured. Both were in serious need of medical attention and both were hidden in his Jag under his nefarious guidance.

Good Lord they were in trouble.

He was an outlaw, an outcast, with nowhere to turn. Fear for his friends had driven him, but fear for his own life and well being kept him driving.

Ezra felt the heavy weight of responsibility settle over him, smothering and suffocating him with each passing second.

Larabee was going to kill him. Ezra nearly welcomed the thought and the release of freedom it would bring.

“Hold on Buck…just a little longer.” Ezra’s whispered comment floated within the dark shadows of the sports car’s interior as he threw the Jag into another tight turn. He played with the clutch and nursed the five speed Hurst slap shift to do his bidding. The Jag purred with power.

The sleek car bent around the corner, never squealing her tires or losing her grip on the road. The vehicle was made for speed and handling and her owner nursed her along as if guiding the bending elegance of a dressage champion.

“Ez, whatever ya gonna do, do it now….Vin ain’t got much longer.” Buck’s deep voice was anxious, hesitant and laden with doubt and pain.

Buck watched the undercover agent’s profile from the back seat and wondered what ran through the man’s mind. How did he know where to find them? How did Ezra know they were in trouble? Gawd had he been following them? Were they that wrong about him…or were they that right?

Ezra felt Wilmington’s eyes burning into his back. He could almost hear the questions and feel the accusations that swam through his teammate’s mind.

Ezra had been kept off this case.

Not for the reasons that were circulating around the federal building or even in Standish’s own head. Not for the reasons that seized his stomach muscles and sent his heart racing.

Despite what others and he himself might have thought, Larabee had kept Ezra away from the case, simply because he had been gone for most of it. The southerner had only returned home from a TDY a month ago. Standish was not familiar with the McDowell case Team Seven was working on and Francis McDowell was a paranoid psychotic. It would have created too much suspicion if the ATF tried to infiltrate another undercover agent into McDowell’s business dealings. Too much suspicion and certainly too much spilled blood.

Rumors and their creators, however, did not care for truth or safety or the concern for others. Rumor had started in the Federal building even before Ezra had made it back from Wyoming. They filtered around morning break rooms, in locker rooms and by water coolers. Rumor curled and floated in the air, unseen and virtually undetected but somehow reaching and affecting all that came in contact with the verbal poison.

Team Seven had already heard the rustling and the side whispers, and they had ignored the obscure questions. The new undercover agent that had commandeered Ezra’s desk while the Southerner was away was simply temporary.

They all knew it. Team Seven never questioned it.

The whole Federal building knew it.

But no one believed it. No one but Team Seven.

Chris and the others ignored the innuendoes, the blatant inquiries and statements. No one was being replaced or transferred. Team Seven was not discarding their ‘old’ undercover agent for new blood. It was ludicrous to think it. Buck and the others didn’t waste breath talking about it. They didn’t waste their time denying the foolish whisperings of those few that fed off the unrest and despair of others.

Unfortunately, the only ones who did not believe in the rumors and whispers that spread insidiously inside the organization about the dumping of Ezra Standish from Chris Larabee’s team was Team Seven, itself.

Rumors and accusations ran rampant in hushed conversations and behind closed doors, building strength with each hushed statement, each thoughtful look. Rumor grew like smoldering coals that finally caught a breath of fresh air. They sparked a life of their own, growing strength and power with each utterance. As time passed voices became more brazen, less hesitant, and rumor somehow began morphing into mystical fact.

As the flames of dissent and righteous anger grew, a simmering of doubt began to play in the minds of those who knew the rumors to be false. Even Ryan Kelly had come down to floor twelve to ask Chris about the rumors. Was it true? Was he cutting Standish loose? And why?

Ezra had returned to ‘the fold’ amongst the building whispers. He had come home and had walked onto ‘his team’s’ floor having already read the questioning looks and accusing glares. Instead of greetings of ‘welcome home’ from the secretaries and interns, he had been met with surprised gazes that easily translated into: “What was he doing here?”

Others were not as mute, were not as obscure in their open curiosity, nor were they kind in their reasons for believing in the dismissal of the undercover agent by Larabee.

Before Ezra P. Standish had walked back into the office space occupied by Team Seven after a 5 week TDY he had already heard the rumors, had already physically felt the repercussions of no longer being under the protective cloak of Team Seven.

Chris was cutting him loose, was grooming a new undercover agent. And other Federal agents were not shy in rejecting Larabee’s discards.

Standish had royally screwed up again. He just couldn’t figure out where.

It was believed, yet again, that Standish was dirty. His work flawed and tainted by undertones of greed and corruption.

Why else would Larabee trash him from the team after so many years of putting up with the undercover agent’s garbage? The building had been abuzz with theories, conspiracies and circumstantial evidence.

Standish had been found guilty before the elevator doors had closed behind him carrying him up to the twelfth floor, to his second home. He had been condemned by his fellow federal agents without even knowing what transgression he had supposedly perpetrated. They had started taking their pound of flesh at every lonely turn he took.

Ezra had ignored the comments because, while Chris Larabee was many things, he was without a doubt, above listening to rumor. Larabee would tell him first, to his face, before letting the rumors lead the way for him. Wouldn't he?  Ezra fought the last niggling fear

If he had not been above listening to rumors, Ezra had reassured himself that morning, Chris never would have sought him out in Atlanta almost two years ago.

With a small ball of dread sitting in the pit of his stomach, with flashes of life back with the FBI struggling to surge to the forefront of his mind, Ezra Standish had squared his shoulders and had walked through the thick wall of disgust and disdain and headed for his place amongst his teammates.

He had headed for the Bullpen, his team’s work area, their den of sorts, his safety zone.

Ezra had walked into the Bullpen and stopped short. His dimpled smile slid from his face. His confidence had wavered while self doubt and insecurity grew. His stomach clenched and rolled as his heart quickened its pace, respiration picked up slightly and a slight sheen of sweat dampened his arms. His confidence faltered, all within a single glance.

There at his desk sat a new body. Dressed much like Vin, but clean cut and carrying an easy smile, sat another undercover agent. He was younger than Ezra but older than JD. Someone sat at his desk, using his computer talking on his phone, and laughing at Buck and JD’s antics across the room.

Ezra had stopped and stared. Nathan and Josiah sat staring at Jackson’s computer screen with intensity, darting quick glances to the wall clock as if they were fighting time itself. Vin spoke quietly into his phone scribbling notes and constantly checking his watch. Buck and JD worked out the logistics of some listening devices with Buck constantly pushing Dunne to hurry up.

Standish noted they were fighting a deadline.

The intruder sat at Standish’s desk with his heels resting on the corner speaking into his cell phone. There was no urgency in his frame.

No one acknowledged the return of their fellow agent.

Rumors sometimes had a basis in truth. Ezra had known this, and knew that Larabee was aware of it as well.

These rumors, however, were not true. Ezra was not dirty; he did not betray their trust; he was still of use to Larabee. Standish took a breath and gathered his faltering composure. He would just have to prove it to them again. Remind them of his worth and abilities. Hell, he didn’t even know what he had been accused and found guilty of, but the dark shadows of Atlanta snaked around him like an old enemy.

Without question, without raising an eyebrow Standish simply dropped his briefcase next to Vin’s desk and gathered his courage. The best way to deal with rumor was to confront it.

With his heart in his throat, and the hope of misunderstandings keeping his dreams alive Standish headed for Larabee’s office door.

It opened before he had a chance to even raise his fist to knock.

Chris stepped out. If he was surprised to see his undercover agent he hid it well.

He merely nodded to his agent with a tight smile and sidestepped him, checking his own watch, “Alright ladies, we’re running out of time,” with that Larabee headed for the conference room.

Ezra had felt his heart freeze. Was Chris distancing himself from Standish already?

The members of Team Seven quickly gathered what they were working on and shuffled into the room with frowns and short nods of acknowledgement tossed to Standish. The undercover agent paused trying to settle his panicking heart. Standish slowed his breathing, gathered his courage and entered the conference. He paused momentarily in the doorway. His seat was commandeered by the newcomer--Jenkins, Wade Jenkins. With a knot in his gut and his pulse pounding in his ears, Standish faded to the wall of windows out of the way.

Standish stood back against the window sill trying to appear unconcerned as he watched his dreams swirl down the drain. His ears roared with his pulse as he watched his teammates joke and laugh with his replacement. An undercurrent of tension nearly split the room. Sideways glances and tight smiles were tossed his way. With a cool air of indifference, as if nothing were amiss, Standish offered confident smile or nod when appropriate. The pounding of his heart and the resurgence of old fears and insecurities surged forward.

The ease in which the others joked and laughed distanced him even further, pushing him further against the wall and into the corner. They acted as if nothing was amiss, as if they could not feel the tension that tightened the room. They seemingly ignored it as effortlessly as he did.

He had been gone too long. He didn’t understand the one-liners that sparked sniggers and laughter from the others. He hadn’t been with them the weekends before to understand the jokes and misadventures they had shared. He had missed it. He had been TDY’d. Gone too long.

The others had strode passed him smiling and joking, mumbling greetings and tossing quick smiles in his direction. They were small offerings, giving a starving dog a handout before turning away from it and discarding it. They were easing their own consciences.

This feeling of isolation, of ostracism had been forgotten by Ezra, but suddenly it blossomed inside like a buried bomb that had suddenly been lit.

He had rubbed at his stomach trying to ease the pain.

Larabee simply nodded at him and turned his attention to the six men sitting at the conference table as if ignoring his newly returned undercover agent.

A few concerned gazes were thrown his way. There was an air of tension in the room.

Uneasy and uncomfortable expressions were quickly exchanged between the others. It had not been lost on the Southern undercover agent.

The unease grew exponentially, constricting his heart as his face reddened. The room had suddenly become too small.

If Larabee noticed it he gave no indication.

Ezra stood back against the wall, wishing for invisibility and recognition all at the same time. He watched the show. He watched someone else play his role and respond to the pranks and one-liners that were at one time meant for him. From that moment on, he had known without a doubt Larabee was slowly fading him out and replacing him.

He held his ground all through the meeting, offered his advice when asked and even offered his assistance. He was, of course, shut down abruptly. Not rudely, Chris occasionally toed the line of rudeness but when it came to his men he had never crossed it. That day he had granted Standish the same courtesy.

Larabee had politely listened to Standish’s advice and offer to aid in the resolution of the case, but Larabee had shaken his head and dismissed the offer and seemingly the man.

Ezra had been gone too long, would be unable to catch up. He would have to sit this one out. In fact, Chris had even punctuated his casual dismissal with a placating escape. He had suggested that Ezra go home and get some rest. Standish had time coming to him. He deserved the break.

At that moment, Ezra decided he would not leave the team without a fight.

And fight he did, quietly, in his own manner. He showed every day at the office while his teammates worked in and out of the office with a frenzy of activity.

A pack on the hunt with the scent of blood in their noses.

Ezra worked hard every day trying to insinuate himself back in amongst his team, his pack. He struggled and worked amongst the ill disguised whispers of other teams and other agents. He heard the loud taunts about his work, his supposed underhanded dealings and he waited for his teammates to put a stop to it.

He waited in vain, but did not sit idly. Multiple times he had tried to contact Chris, stop him in the hall only to be brushed aside, or enter his office with and without knocking trying to get a quick blunt answer out of Mr. Larabee. Only to be put aside, told to go home, take some time, re-coop his strength under the guise that the last TDY had been brutal. It had been, but not near as physically and mentally sickening as knowing he no longer had a place amongst his teammates.

Standish turned his focus from catching Larabee to working on the McDowell case from the outside. He was one of them until Chris threw him out the door.

The other teams were not so foolish as to cross Team Seven as a unit. Instead they targeted the outcast and took strips off him when they found him alone, cornered. They were righteous in taking their pound of flesh because in the end Larabee did not trust him. Standish had become a diseased part of a working unit and was slowly being amputated, for the good of the whole.

Team Seven was letting go, they were easing him down gently. Other federal agents, however, had no such compunction. Gutting out rot should be done quickly before it festered and infected the whole. Their jealousy of Team Seven and the team’s unmatched success finally found an outlet and an explanation. Standish had ‘cheated’ just as he had in the FBI. Filth was filth no matter the state or organization. They would take great pleasure and get self-satisfaction in watching the fall of the overconfident peacock while brandishing knowing leers at the honest agents of Team Seven.

Every day, Standish drove to the federal building. Every day he sat in his Jaguar and struggled to unbury the courage to step out of his car and return to the floor that housed his team. The team he used to joke and laugh with, a place where he at one time had been apart of the ‘inside’ jokes, a place where he did not have to worry about his place amongst them, a place where he had felt safe and welcomed.

Larabee, Sanchez, Wilmington and the others had been engrossed in their work, consumed by the case. They worked long hours trying to ensure the safety of the team while bringing down the frightening madness of McDowell and his cutthroats.

The sly contemptuous looks tossed his way by Jenkins burned the Southerner with jealous anger. Standish repaid the covert hostility by focusing his research on Wade Jenkins.

Life in the Federal building had become a brutal game of cat and mouse.

Every day Ezra went home, with a new set of bruises, or new damage to his car. Each evening he made his way home with new insults and slurs ringing in his ears. Each day he felt the deafening silence of his teammates as they engrossed themselves in their case.

For a month he toiled and fought, silently trying to keep his place with his team. He watched from the sidelines as Buck and Vin worked as contact for the new undercover agent who had managed to infiltrate McDowell’s operation with too much ease. He watched from the outside, while keeping an eye out for those few federal employees that took it upon themselves to teach him what fellow law officers did those that stepped across the line and crossed to the other side.

He had learned quickly not to use the Mens room unless one of Team Seven was heading there or Team 8. He tried parking his car on different garage levels and near a security monitor to spare it and himself abuse that seemed to rain down on him and his treasured Jag in the evenings. Ezra finally found it easier and safer to park in a public lot owned and run by an acquaintance.

In that dingy pothole marked half paved ‘parking lot’ the Jag and himself suffered less damage. Ribs had a chance to heal and the sports car had respite from the auto body shop.

His precious car had been keyed and a new paint job needed. He now carried two spare tires in the back of his trunk for the all too often occasion when someone took a blade to his tires or a screwdriver to the inlet valve. The few blocks to the Federal building held dangers all their own. He continued to come to work, holding his side, working to disguise a limp or strained shoulder. Motrin and Tylenol were as much apart of his morning as coffee had once been.

Even when masked men, dressed too neatly, and too skilled in the art of hand to hand combat jumped him in his darkened condo on the pretense of mugging him, though they never once went for his wallet or struck his face, he continued to fight back, not hindered by the fear of losing or where to strike. He had nothing left to lose. He struck at his opponents with every intention of damaging them to the best of his ability. He left them as walking wounded to limp through their days at the Federal building with visible bruises.

He knew then that he had already lost, long ago, when he had first step into the Bullpen under the heavy cloud of rumor, to see a stranger sitting in his chair taking over his life.

Despite these abuses, despite the silent battle to face each day more isolated and separated from the men he once considered family, he never once thought about quitting. He never once thought about throwing up his hands and walking away. He stopped asking “Why?”. He stopped trying to pin Chris Larabee down never realizing how evasive the man could be when he wanted to be. Ezra stopped lapping after him like a lost puppy trying to make amends with his alpha.

His pride wouldn’t let him continue. His faith in his teammates wouldn’t allow it. As loneliness clenched his gut and at times hit him so hard as to drive the wind from his lungs, he trudged ahead. Old bruises faded as new ones graced his torso, legs and arms.

As he curled around the porcelain toilet seat of his littered condo, or heaved the meager contents of his stomach onto the cracked pavement of a back alley, he continued to have faith in his team. He continued to wait and play it out, knowing he held a losing hand. In those moments when his stomach lurched itself violently into his throat, and his back arched stretching muscles and pulling on bruised ribs, in those moments he squatted and leaned against a wall shaking, he wondered if this was the kind of faith that Josiah kept speaking about.

Ezra had never believed he had faith in anything other than himself. It was frightening to discover he had been wrong, it was terrifying to realize his faith may have been misdirected.

Visits to the emergency room for radiographs and pain killers diminished slowly over the progression of weeks as his own personal medicine cabinet became filled and the feel of hairline fractures and extensive bruising were easily discernible as two distinct entities.

As he avoided and worked his way out of the physical confrontations with other Federal agents in and outside the ATF, Ezra was better able to avoid the gentle questioning of the Emergency room staff. He had to lie and prevaricate less to those who only wanted to help him.

Team Seven never asked. They whisked in and out of their area hot on the scent of a killer. Ezra watched them with a sense of loss but continued his own sideline investigation.

If Ezra could prove his worth to his team, he would be back within the fold. He had never given up on Maude, and he would surely not give up on Chris and the others.

They had been a team once. They had been unbeatable and unshakeable. Hell, they had been untouchable. Ezra could not let go of the feeling of camaraderie so easily.

He hungered to feel it again, hungered after it like a drug.

He had tried to talk to Buck, to Vin, Josiah, the others but to no avail. Something always drew them away; an urgent call, a directive from Larabee, a meeting; they or he was told ‘to relax’ ‘get some rest’, ‘go home’--No one seemed willing to talk to him. He couldn’t seem to gain anytime with them and was slowly losing the desire to discover the truth.

So he had worked on the case that his friends were busily trying to wrap up, even though they did not discuss it with him, or include him in it. He worked from the sidelines at the office at a desk that was no longer his and from the cool environment of his new apartment.

His desk trinkets had been all boxed up and placed in the break room for him by the new undercover agent. An apology had been softly uttered by Vin and then Buck when they found Standish quietly fingering the clear packing tape that sealed the box in the break room. They had tried to explain that between Jenkin’s laptop and the desk computer already at Ezra’s desk, they left no room for much else. There had been a fear that the little mementos would be jostled from the desk and be broken.

The souvenirs that the others had given him over the years that had resided in his original condo lay broken in an open box beside the dumpster at his old place, scavenged by the kids that still lived in the complex.

Standish continued to work the case, cursing himself for his foolish loyalty, for craving friendships that were long lost. Ezra eyed Larabee trying to understand where his devotion to this man and his team stemmed from and why couldn’t he uproot it.

Chris had too many things on the burner. A new undercover agent he didn’t quite trust, two contact men, Buck and Vin, and too much research and paperwork to worry about the bruised and misguided ego of one over-proficient Southern Undercover agent, who badly needed a break from work. The Wyoming TDY case from last month had left the whole region of Jackson numb with fear and horror. Chris could only think his undercover agent suffered as well. The man looked run down and haggard.

Why couldn’t Ezra just take a break and let them handle this case? McDowell was a sick bastard and Larabee wouldn’t endanger Standish. His agent wasn’t prepared for this case and Chris would not risk Ezra’s safety or life.


Well you can tell everyone I'm a down disgrace
Or drag my name all over the place
I don't care anymore (I don't care)


Ezra maneuvered the Jag through the blackened night. He looked in the rearview mirror again and watched as Wilmington slumped in the back seat folded and crammed next Tanner.

The smell of blood hung heavy in the car, the heater blew fiercely trying to subdue the chills that wracked each man.

There was so much blood.

Everywhere Ezra looked, smears and drying congealing pools of blood darkened his vision. Buck’s face and clothing, Vin’s sneakers that rested against the back passenger window, the car seats, smudged hand prints on the doors and passenger seats. Even his own face had blood splatter. None of it his own. Gawd if it was only his own, it would be okay.

He would never be that lucky. It was his friends’ blood. They were slowly fading from him just as he had been from them over the last few weeks. This, however, heralded a more permanent fissure.

The sickly, coppery smell of blood was over-powering in the small car. The harsh, forced breaths of pain and fear pulsed through the interior.

He was losing his friends.

Ezra flipped opened his cell phone. Taking his eye briefly from the desolate rural roads that twisted and turned through a wooded mountainside, he punched numbers from memory. He had no other recourse.

He hit the only speed dial number he had yet to erase. The other numbers were already gone. He had erased them after he had moved from his vandalized apartment a few weeks ago.

It was then, when he had been forced to move, that he had resigned himself to his fate and lack of ability to keep friends as well as a job. He had erased one of the last ties he had to the others.

It wasn’t as hard as he thought it would have been. Not after a month of struggling, fighting, desperately hoping to be thrown a bone of friendship or protection. Each time his thumb hit the ‘erase’ button on his phone, the sting had been there but he had grown used to it. The dull constant throb of rejection and solitude that had settled in his gut had flared briefly when he cleared his ‘phone book’ one number at time, but then the loss had died back down to smolder and burn with its achingly familiar background pain.

He had faced this before. Promised himself that he would never go through it again, only to realize that he failed even himself.

The Seven were still Seven: apparently they just had a new face. He told himself it didn’t matter, it didn’t bother him. When he had lain awake at night feeling the cold dread of isolation clinch his innards, he had told himself he was stronger for the experience. This wouldn’t and hadn’t killed him, so it stood to reason he would be made a stronger, smarter person.

Except, the very thought of the others laughing and not including him, no longer being invited to join the others on weekend gatherings, stole the breath from him. Whenever he thought of his expulsion, it brought physical pain that nearly made him double over. His stomach clenched whenever he watched the others laugh and joke at things he was no longer privy too. Excluded. Somehow he was stronger for it. He had to be.

He just couldn’t lift his chin enough to see it in his reflections in the mornings.

He told himself, night after night, in his new apartment, staring up at the ceiling knowing his phone would not be ringing in the early morning hours with friends looking for him to go out for a ride or badger him into helping them with some project or some foolishness they had planned. They would not be trying to convince him to participate or help create a prank that would supercede all others before it.

At night, as he stared at that blank ceiling, he told himself it didn’t matter. He had survived worse, he would survive this. He just couldn’t convince himself he really wanted too.

In the darkened interior of his car, with the heavy smell of blood and the sharp sounds of desperate breathing, the crushing weight of despair draped over him.

Standish gripped the cell phone and pulled his thoughts back to the problem at hand.

There had been no reason to keep the other numbers. No reason at all. He had deleted them long ago, with the exception of Larabee’s. Somehow that one number demanded loyalty.

The rumors about his dismissal had been true. Larabee probably had too much going on to write Standish’s permanent transfer papers.

Ezra saw no need to keep the phone numbers for the members of Team Seven. They would not be wanting to contact him nor he them.

It was mutual.

With a familiarity that ached his heart, he pushed in the code that he knew by rote. It was the only stored number he had left on his cell phone. The one he could not erase no matter how many times he had gone through the motions.

Before the first ring finished a voice barked over the phone, “Larabee.”

Without understanding why, Ezra felt instantly relieved and inexplicably frightened. His bloodied hand tightened on the steering wheel as his eyes darted to the rear view mirror. The mess that had embroiled Wilmington and Tanner was not of his making. He had simply found evidence and an old dead trail and merely followed it.

It led him to a dark, cold, back alley and an almost execution style murder of two ATF agents.

He had intervened.

Would it save his job? Ezra didn’t think so nor was he sure he wanted it back. The revelation didn’t surprise him, and somehow even that hurt.

“Mr. Larabee,” Tension easily laced his words.

“Ezra? I don’t have time for your shit,” Larabee stated none to friendly. Why couldn’t the man just enjoy his freedom and not worry about a case that was not his headache? The team had been working nonstop for weeks. Hell, they hadn’t even had a weekend off to play. Why couldn’t Ezra just sit back and relax and let others bare the headaches of working a case from the inside? Was Standish that much of a control freak?

Chris had heard the rumors about dumping Standish from the team. Hell, he had Ryan Kelly riding his ass about it as well as some of the other teams and even Travis. Chris had heard the rumors and ignored them because they were just that, rumors, and he would not give credence to office hearsay. Ezra and his team knew that, why didn’t anyone else? When Travis had come down into his office to tell him to address the growing problem, Larabee had become angry. There was nothing to discuss, and no reason to give credibility to lies and foolish gossip that had no basis in fact. He would not fuel the flames by addressing them. The Judge had left as angry as Chris.

Ryan Kelly had stopped him only days before, cornered him really and cursed him for letting Standish swing like a dying man from a rope. If Larabee was going to cut him loose then he should do it quickly and end the man‘s suffering. Larabee had shoved Kelly back into a wall and told him to quit buying into gossip like an old maid.

Chris had more important things to worry about. He had two men who were late checking in and his new temporary undercover agent might be dirty. He didn’t have time for office scandal, not when lives were on the line. The lives of his men, his friends. He needed his phone line open not tied up trying to soothe slighted egos.

Standish was a big boy and could handle himself. The man was stronger than rumor and he had Chris’s loyalty. Larabee knew it to be enough.

“Mr. Larabee…” Ezra repeated again, tearing his eyes from the two men bleeding to death in the back of his car. He fixed his gaze forward, staring straight ahead as he wove the Jag down the rural back road. Large birch and pine trees lined the roadway like quiet sentinels, flashing in the glare of his head lights.

“Ezra git the Hell off this line…”

“Buck and Vin,” Ezra blurted out as he feared Mr. Larabee was about to hit the ‘End’ button on the cell phone.

Chris’s thumb paused just short of disconnecting the call and put the phone back to his ear.

“What about them, Ezra?” A clear warning tolled across the phone.

“I have them.” Ezra paused, the thick smell of blood was nauseating, “They’ve been shot…I’m being followed.”

“Where the Hell are you!”

Ezra cringed at the tone. He fought the urge to point out, ‘this was not his fault.’ Instead, he took a steadying breath, “I am uncertain at the moment.”

“What the fuck is going on?!”

“I do not know Mr. Larabee, but it was a setup…” Ezra tried to explain as his phone beeped singling the imminent end of his battery.

“Gawd damn right it was a set up?!…..You fuckin’ undercover agents…” Chris knew Jenkins was dirty. He had suspected it and had JD and Josiah started digging into their temporary replacement and was still waiting for solid evidence. Larabee had tried contacting Standish at home, had even drove by his Condo seeking help and advice, but had been unable to find his undercover agent. Chris had noticed some of the kids in the complex playing with the pirate ship and Jolly Roger that the others had given Standish a few years back as gifts from one of their cases/vacations. It surprised the Group Supervisor to see the kids of Ezra’s condo complex playing with them outside but then again, Standish had a big heart when it came to children. Jenkins, the bastard, would eat kids for breakfast. How that ass got through the Federal screening application was beyond Larabee.

“Dirty Son of Bitch!” Larabee slapped his hand down on his desk as his anger at Jenkins blossomed.

Ezra closed his eyes at the sounds of the exclamation.

His phone died. The empty battery blinked rapidly before the tiny phone lost its illumination and went dark in the small confines of the car.

Ezra’s hope faded with the electronic smile that blinked once and switched off with the draining of the battery.

Standish clenched the soft leather of the steering wheel and felt his heart sink as his anger and frustration spiked. He flung the phone over into the passenger seat and cursed. He cursed himself, the Federal government, Larabee, and the two men sitting in the back seat of his car who, for all intents and purposes, were bleeding to death.

He cursed the whole damn world, hating his old team, but no one did he hate more vehemently than he hated himself.

Ezra pressed the accelerator to the floor, the car surged forward as he mindlessly slapped the shift into fifth gear. He kept his eyes on the road watching the double yellow line snake and extend far beyond the range of his head lights. He pressed his foot downward trying to find a little more speed, trying to put a little more distance between himself the bloody men in his back seat and the mess that had become his life.

He checked the side mirrors searching for the tell tale headlights of his pursuers. They were back there--somewhere.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee stared at his phone and swore.

+ + + + + + +

Buck fought against the hands that grabbed and dragged at him. He grasped Vin tighter to himself trying to protect the sharpshooter the best he could. He wouldn’t let these bastards get Vin or himself without a fight. And fight he did.

“Please, Mr. Wilmington, stop fighting us.”

A decidedly irritated southern accent cut through the thick muddy haze that had enveloped Buck.


“…ra…and yes Mr. Wilmington, it is me. Now let go of Mr. Tanner so we can get him onto a gurney.”

“Where are we, Ez?” Buck asked as he hesitantly relinquishing his grip on the unconscious Texan.

“A hospital Mr. Wilmington; we must hurry.” The urgency in Standish’s voice was lost on Buck as the large surveillance expert drifted in and out of lucidity.

Ezra stepped aside and backed onto the sidewalk and watched as his two friends were unfolded from the backseat of his car and whisked away from him through pneumatic doors in a flurry of activity. He stood on the concrete sidewalk bathed in the fluorescent light of the Emergency entrance, covered in blood that was not his own, feeling every bit as hurt as the two men that had disappeared into the harsh illumination of a hospital emergency entrance. He stood mutely staring at the concrete sidewalk, feeling the night breeze gently brush his hair. The tacky smell of congealing blood faded as the scent of a parking lot at night bled in around him.

They were gone. Ezra raised his head and turned, facing the bright lights of the emergency entrance, wanting to follow but terrified of what he might learn.

Standish stood for a brief moment staring blankly at the now empty corridor as a cold breeze tugged at his pant legs and coat tails. He sighed, closed his eyes and dragged in a deep breath. The coppery stench of blood nearly gagged him.

It was time to try to figure out what to do next. It seemed too difficult to even consider moving, too difficult to decipher which way to go. To his car? Or follow Buck and Vin?

It was then he noticed two policemen walking toward him in a brisk, business-like matter. Gunshot wounds had to be reported.

There were no such things as allies or safe havens. There were no sanctuaries. Not for one of those that crossed the line, that dipped their hands into the stank waters of crime and dabbled in corruption.

There would be no friendly fortresses to hide behind.

After all these years, Ezra suddenly realized how right his mother had been. Loyalty, friendship and sworn duty were nothing more than plot twists for epics and myths.

He was labeled a dirty cop, Larabee was fading him off the team. ‘Fuckin’ undercover agents’ got Larabee’s two friends shot…Dirty son of a bitch. Larabee’s words haunted his mind. The words replayed with a crystal clarity that could not be matched with digital sound.

He was still being hunted by the people who had shot Buck and Vin. Larabee would be here soon--he would find his men and would protect them and hunt down the dirty bastard Chris thought was responsible.

Standish blanched at the stark reality that his life was forfeit, not by enemies but by friends. Colleagues he had respected. He would be hunted by people who knew him better than any others. Mother had warned him about familiarity and the sharp double blade of friendship. Yet, he had allowed it to happen, he allowed himself to fall into friendship and the dependency that it brought. It would herald his continued downfall. The others knew his habits, his mannerisms, his tastes. They would be hunting for him.

The two police officers continued their brisk purposeful pace toward him.

Without a second thought, Ezra ran around his car and slid through the open door into the driver’s seat. From the corner of his eye he saw the two policemen break into a run reaching for their guns. One reached up to key the radio and spoke into the handy mike resting on his shoulder.

Ezra fired up the Jag. Throwing it into gear, squealing tires and boiling grey smoke from spinning wheels, he peeled out of the emergency entrance. The back door slammed shut on its own, trapping the repugnant odor of drying blood.

Running from the cops, abandoning his once close teammates, Standish fled the lights of the hospital running from the law and his inescapable past---just as his mother had taught him.

The Jaguar disappeared into the night with a set of headlights trailing patiently behind him.

3 hrs later

Chris Larabee stormed into the emergency room of Crested Butte’s little community hospital demanding to see his men.

Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson and JD Dunne followed close on his heels, no less intimidating but somewhat less threatening.

Larabee didn’t throw tantrums, did not wave his arms or holler. Instead, he slid into the waiting area like a stalking tiger ready to make a kill. He used no excess movement nor raised his voice--yet his very demeanor demanded respect and sparked fear.

The men that flanked him moved as one, in his shadow, but not obscured.

The receptionist was overwhelmed and soon a doctor came out. He too felt the heat of interrogation as Larabee silently threatened with just body language, unforgivable harm.

“Chris, hold back….Let the man speak,” Nathan Jackson finally stepped forward. Ezra was right, sometimes the others had no tact ‘and terrorizing people would get them no answers’.

The medic thought about their undercover agent and wondered if he was ok? Knowing that deep down it wasn’t the case. Nathan knew that in amongst the swirl of rumors and overt innuendo Ezra had felt himself isolated from the group and cast adrift. Surely Ezra didn’t believe in rumor, surely he understood that once this case was over he would have his desk back, his own phone and his ‘turf’ would once again be truly his. Certainly Ezra understood this. Nathan just wished he had found some time to reassure his friend. Nathan and Josiah had stopped by Ezra’s place a few days ago but found no one home and the Jag gone. Standish had been scarce at best the last few weeks. Jackson had persuaded himself to believe Ezra was merely recuperating from his last TDY, it was reportedly a hellish case. Nathan wanted to believe the simple explanation. He desperately wanted that shallow offering to work, to blind himself from the visible disaster he saw building.

Nathan shook himself from his reverie when he noticed the doctor hesitate in the face of Larabee’s anger. “Chris, ease off.”

“Thank you, Mr…?”

“Jackson, but lets skip the pleasantries….Our friends were brought in…they were shot.” Nathan tried to keep his words brief for Chris’s sake, but did try to disguise his impatience for the doctor’s comfort.

“Mr. Tanner, the gunshot to the back of the shoulder….skipped along the side of his neck,” The doctor held up a hand stalling the angry blonde from speaking, “No nerve damage from what we can tell…It burrowed its way along the side of his neck and tunneled into his shoulder. There doesn’t seem to be any major nerve damage. He has lost a quite a bit of blood. The subclavien vein was nicked.” The dark haired doctor added a few more grey hairs to his already salt and pepper appearance. His patient should have died. He forestalled the youngest man’s query, “He’s critical but stable.”

“As for the other one,” Again he held up his hand in a placating manner, “the gunshot victim to the upper right trapezius muscle, Mr. Wilmington, has a broken clavicle and has lost a tremendous amount of blood as well. We have realigned the bone and are replacing what blood he’s lost.”

Chris waited impatiently. With no more answers forthcoming he curtly snarled out, “and the third, Agent Standish?”

The Doctor truly looked puzzled and concerned, “There wasn’t a third.” He said it hesitantly looking over his shoulder at the receptionist.

Her eyes widened and she shrugged her shoulders, “The man that dropped them off took off as soon as Rick and Thomas saw him.”

Josiah stepped up to the receptionist’s desk and tried to etch out a pleasant smile, “Rick and Thomas?”

“Sheriff’s deputies,” the doctor explained, “Two gunshot victims were brought through our doors.” He said in way of explanation.

Chris swore again, pivoted on his heel and headed toward the exit doors pulling his cell phone out. He turned and looked over his shoulder at the others, “Josiah, you’re with me. Nathan, JD stay with Buck and Vin. Keep an eye on’em. I’ll send Kelly and his group over here to lend a hand. This was a gawd damn set up.”

Larabee disappeared out the doors and into the night calling the local Sheriff department.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra swore as he tripped over another root. He stumbled to the ground, catching himself with his hands. Wet earth and sticks abraded his palms and scraped his wrists. His lungs burned and his heart raced.

He peered over his shoulder and could see the headlights of the second car through the trees. They still hounded him. He cursed himself a thousand times a fool. He had guided the Jag down a dead end---didn’t anyone think to mark these rural roads? Good Lord how was one to run from pursuers if there were no decent road markers?

Ezra scrambled part way to his feet still gazing over his shoulder at the silent dark Jag. Behind it was another car, its engine running and headlight lancing around the Jag and through the trees. He could not see his pursuers and it frightened him. Then again the harsh glow of high beams through the knot of trees effectively blinded him. Ezra turned away from the cars, still in a three point position, and made to gain his feet and continue running---but bumped right into the mountain of a man that had snuck up and around him.

Shit. Standish made to stand but found his way effectively blocked.

Ezra cursed. He was not made for this Daniel Boone madness--not like Mr. Tanner.

“Well, well, look what we found.” A booted foot nudged Standish back into the dirt and pine needles.

“Should I know you gentlemen?” Ezra inquired with a light smile on his face. He tried to create distance by creeping backward on his elbows. If he could gain just enough space to make it to his feet, he could rabbit on them.

He backed into a set of unseen legs. Standish peered over his shoulder and looked upward and upward at a man that had no right being that tall. Ezra offered a weak, but forcibly pleasant smile. A second body blocked his escape.

How could he have missed two such huge men? Damn, he was made for city life, not skipping out the backwoods of a nowhere forest. Did he look like a gawd damn squirrel? Down a city street, or into an alley, sure Ezra knew where to hide, where to watch, how to step and what turns to make. His mother, after all, was no better than an alley cat…hadn’t he accused her of that at one time? Wasn’t he nothing more than a stray, raised on the false cheer of handouts. Out here in the gawd forsaken wilderness everything looked the same. Where was a good dumpster to act as a landmark…or a parking lot for that matter? Damn trees were all identical…brown trunks, green needles and branches…what’s the matter with diversity in nature?

“Where’s the CD with the files, Fed?”

“Would you believe I don’t know what you fine gentlemen are alluding too?”

“Shut the fuck up and just answer the damn question!” The man behind Standish kneed him in the shoulders and proceeded to step on one of his hands, crushing his fingers into the mud.

Ezra gasped. “I don’t know of any files,” he spoke through gritted teeth.

“You want us to believe that? Come on, Fed, we ain’t that dumb.”

Ezra quirked an eyebrow, “You disguise it well,” Ezra replied with mock admiration. It earned him a slap off the back of the head.

A third voice spoke up.

“He’s telling the truth. Larabee’s been keeping him out of this, working him away from the others, so when he transfers his sorry ass it won’t be such a shock to the team.” The man who spoke stepped into the light cast by the headlights of the car. “Hell, he’s dirtier than I am---damn Fibbies didn’t want him and the ATF are just pulling their heads out of their asses and figuring it out.” Jenkins laughed at the fury that burned in the shadowed eyes of the southern undercover agent. Jenkins squatted down in front of Ezra and smiled. “How’s it feel to know that Larabee’s gonna dump your ass for me? Shit, with my connections---Hell, I got it figured I’ll make a killing keeping my bosses informed and getting just enough arrests to keep Larabee happy and keep that old Judge off our asses.” Jenkins furrowed his brow, “might have to have Sanchez and Jackson taken out though, then work on the kid ---Hell, if I play this right Larabee will eventually be making a whole new team.”

Ezra growled and made to lunge at Jenkins but the man behind him latched onto his shoulder and kept him still. “You won’t get away with it--The others will figure you out--Buck and Vin already have--You’ve lost, Jenkins.”

Jenkins stood up and laughed, “Wilmington and Tanner will be dead before morning and Larabee’s gonna hit the bottle after he loses his two closest friends. As for you--You’re going to precede your two friends, but don’t worry there’s already enough rumors circulating to link you to their murders.” Jenkins turned to walk away, but stopped and faced the undercover agent he usurped just over four weeks ago, “I want you to know they’ll curse your name--They won’t even go to your lousy funeral. Larabee’s already got my papers signed to bring me on board--you’re history Standish one way or another.” Jenkins laughed at the minute change in body language in the downed undercover agent.

His lies had hit their mark.

“Kill’im boys.” Jenkins melted back into the bright illuminance of the headlights his silhouette disappearing behind the shimmering glare of high beams.

“You too gutless to shoot me yourself, Jenkins?” Standish shouted out. His ears still rang with the truth of the other man’s words. “Fifty dollars says you haven’t the testicular fortitude to pull the trigger.” Why Ezra? he berated himself silently, why taunt the man to shoot you? It’s all Mr. Wilmington’s fault, man is incorrigible. Buck really was a bad influence on him…. The thought dropped his heart a little closer to his shoes. Mr. Wilmington and the others would have nothing to do with him. He had been cast out, exiled.

Larabee had truly planned on shipping him out. Ezra had known it, convinced himself he could live with it and really didn’t care, but hearing it now, it hurt, had hurt and it burned as intensely as the first time he had realized it to be true weeks ago. It fired and charred his gut like a welder’s torch.

Unfortunately, at the moment, he had bigger problems. Ezra Standish tried to play his last Ace, which wasn’t much at the moment.

“I despise violence, Mr. Standish,” Jenkins answered back hidden behind the glow of headlights. A car door opened, there was a pause and then a careless chuckle, “Make it painful, Peter.”

Ezra stared up at the man who apparently answered to the name Peter. A handgun materialized. A Gloc. Ezra tried scrambling backward again, “Now, now gentlemen, you don’t truly want to shoot a federal agent do you?” A weak smile brushed his features, “surely you realize the penalty for such a crime.” Ezra tried to jostle to his feet and make a run for it, but the man behind him pre-empted his attempt and threw him back to the ground.

Ezra rolled and tried to push himself to his feet when he heard the roar of the gun. He felt the solid blow and a flash of burning pain explode in his side. It stole his breath and then his strength. He was flung to the ground as if tackled. Instinctively he curled into a fetal position unable to move, unable to do anything but gasp for an elusive breath.

“You’re gonna die out here, Pig, all alone…ain’t no one gonna miss you. They might look for you but only to blame you for your friends’ death.” One of the men used a foot to roll Standish onto his back.

Ezra glared up at them. His hands clutched his midsection as his knees drew themselves up to his chest. “Go to Hell.” Blood bubbled between his fingers.

“You first, but don’t worry--your two buddies won’t be far behind.” With that the two men disappeared behind the brilliance of headlights.