by Heather F

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


Cuz I remember all the times I tried so hard
And you laughed in my face cuz you held all the cards
I don't care anymore (I don't care)

Peter and David slid quietly onto the fourth floor in the long dark shadows of three am. The two men walked confidently and quietly to the open area designated as ICU. A lone man lay in the only occupied bed in the corner ward. Sanchez, the oldest member of Team Seven, sat slouched bonelessly in a plastic chair snoring in an off cadence manner beside the patient.

Maude Standish had retired to her hotel suite under the gracious guidance of her latest husband. Neither Peter nor David wished to risk the fury of Mrs. Standish. Though she was not a visibly stern lady, she was a mother and that was enough to make her unpredictable and dangerous. A mother never lost the urge to protect their young, even one as distant as Mrs. Standish.

Both men knew to steer clear of Von Hauken. The man was physically formidable despite his years but it was his grey eyes, almost as if cast in stone, that begged someone to challenge him and anything that was his. This cloak of near rabid protection which nearly matched Larabee seemed to envelop his wife and stepson.

With this observation, the two executioners bided their time. Three am, when the world slept, two men morphed from corners, out of the dark shadows and made their way into the ICU.

They would simply suffocate Standish with his pillow. Nothing fancy, nothing too violent and relatively quick.

The snoring of Sanchez only assured them that the older agent would most likely sleep through the ordeal. If not then David was prepared to take the older agent down.

The two glided into the room without a sound, without making eye contact. They knew their jobs and were economical with their motions.

Peter headed for the agent in the bed, sidestepping the IV pole and pump. He gently eased the damp pillow from under Standish’s head, noting that the agent was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. The fever had broken, it would appear as if the agent had finally turned the corner and started the long road to recovery. Unfortunate, since he would die this morning. Peter gripped the pillow on either end in his fists. He did not spare a glance at David who stood behind Sanchez ready to act should the big man awaken prematurely.

Without remorse, Peter brought the soggy pillow down stiffly and covered Standish’s face.

+ + + + + + +

Buck couldn’t sleep. He lay listening to the thick silence that draped the world in the early morning hours before sunrise. In the heavy silence, the beat of his heart and the rasp of his breath seemed unearthly loud. No sounds of traffic stirred outside his bedroom window, no breeze fluttered leaves, no voices carried from anywhere nearby.

Despite being exhausted to the point of nauseated, sleep eluded him. Wilmington lay in his bed afraid to move, not wanting to spark the fierce pain which rested just behind a thin veil of immobility waiting for its chance to fire. A dull persistent throbbing ached his shoulder and lower back. He needed to move to alleviate the discomfort but in doing so he would ignite an even greater pain.

He lay still in haze of discomfort, sweating in the early morning darkness wishing he was stronger.

The sudden creak of the apartment door had him holding his breath. He listened intently hearing only the drum his own pulse. Then the quiet thud of soft soled shoes crossed the wood floor of the entranceway. The Shoes became muffled once the foot falls reached the throw rug of the living room.

There was an out of place squeak.

Someone had stepped on the squeaky Eeyore. Ezra had given to JD months ago when the ‘Kid’ was feeling sorry for himself over a fight with Casey. The little squeaky toy had become a point of embarrassment to JD and great humor for the rest of the six. Ezra would one day get his due.

The footsteps paused--waited. Silence descended once again, nearly suffocating in its perceived thickness.

Buck held his breath. He reached for his nightstand, stretching and wiggling fingertips trying to grasp his Sig.

The footsteps resumed. They crossed the rug, moving cautiously, slowly. They paused at the end table and porcelain lamp shaped like a ladies leg in black fish net stocking--A gift from Vin after watching a “Christmas Story.”

Buck couldn’t reach his gun. He shifted on the bed. Blinding pain ripped through his shoulder. He gasped and rolled for his gun, knowing he gave himself away.

The bedroom door was kicked open with the simultaneous blinding flash of revolver fire.

Gunfire blasted the early morning stillness. Bullets tore through the empty mattress.

Wilmington hit the floor with a crash, dragging his nightstand and gun with him. He fumbled for the Sig., trying to get numb fingers to do his bidding, knowing his assailant would round the bed any moment.

Buck’s eyes flew upward just as a shadow took shape at his feet. Through the beam of moonlight, he watched as the gunman raised his dark sleeved arm and aimed.

There was an angry holler and a body flew over the end of the bed and tackled the gunman to the floor. A scuffle ensued, unseen punches were traded and the unmistakable sound of flesh striking flesh filled the area, punctuated by grunts and the sounds of scraping feet fighting for purchase on the wood floor. A gunshot exploded and suddenly all became still.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner cursed Chris Larabee for a thousandth time this night. Tanner lay in the darkened guest bedroom and stared down the wood floored hall at the light that escaped from Larabee’s home office. The damn man was still up working on the case. He’d work around the clock until his team was safe.

Tanner ground his teeth in fury at Larabee. Vin didn’t like feeling helpless and weak. Worse yet, Larabee saw it but let Tanner work himself to nearly collapse. Chris would not coddle him and Tanner both appreciated it and raged against it. Chris had let Vin work himself until he collapsed and then left Tanner where he fell with a blanket and a pillow.

If pushed, Tanner would have had to admit that he had missed the frantic moments in which Chris had checked his pulse and breathing. He had missed the indecision that wavered in Larabee when he witnessed his good friend fold out of the dinning room chair and onto the floor an hour earlier.

In the end, Larabee had made Vin as comfortable as possible until Tanner came to his senses and then together were able to get Vin back into a bed.

Tanner despised himself for being weak and hated the fact that Larabee had not only witnessed it but had merely stated Vin was no help to the team if he couldn’t even sit up.

With that said, Vin lay in his bed and watched the corridor. Chris’s old black Lab, Diablo, lay in the corridor outside the office with its massive grizzled head on its paws.

The sharpshooter watched the over sized lab scratch at his scarred, graying, muzzle with his paws as if it didn’t have a care in the world. Lucky bastard.

A cool breeze wavered in from the open bedroom window, brushing over Tanner and working its way out the door and down the corridor tantalizing the ill tempered dog.

Tanner became concerned when Diablo suddenly snapped his head up and stared toward the guest room. His hackles abruptly raised and the dog slowly climbed to its feet with its head down below its shoulders. The dog stalked down the corridor with its upper lip curled, baring its yellow brown teeth with worn, rounded canine teeth.

‘Oh shit’, Tanner thought. He watched the dog and then noticed the door to Larabee’s office open and Chris slide out with Sig in hand. The leader of Team Seven edged down the hallway toward Tanner’s room following the dog.

In the back of his mind, Tanner couldn’t help but think that master and dog looked alike. Both wore similar expressions.

Diablo entered the room and leaped up onto the bed. Tanner lay completely still. Diablo kept his attention on the porch side window.

Chris followed behind the dog and hit the wall switch.

The outside porch lights flashed on---revealing two gunmen outside the window with automatic weapons.

Chris hit the floor dragging Tanner and the dog with him.

Bullets shattered the windows, ripped through the screens and tore up the bed.

+ + + + + + +

Standish wrestled weakly with the weight that covered his face.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson stepped boldly into the ICU and raised his gun. “ATF. Step away from him.”

Peter swung around, releasing the pillow, knocking the IV stand over and ripping the catheter from the back of Standish’s hand.

Josiah, seemingly without changing from his slumped position, merely aimed his suddenly visible gun upward at the underside of David’s chin. “Please give me an excuse.”

Kirk Gustin and Douglas Stone of Team Eight sauntered into the ICU with three uniformed officers.

“Hey, Preacher man, Doc, you boys done with your ‘sting’?” Stone asked

“Take this trash outta here before I change my mind,” Nathan practically spit. He waved the hulking giant away from Ezra’s bedside. Once the man was in Gustin’s capable hands, Jackson holstered his gun and picked up the IV pole.

“Ezra?” Jackson lifted Standish’s head and replaced the sodden pillow wet side down. He stared at the glassy eyes of the undercover agent and smiled, “You’re going to be alright Ezra.” Nathan smiled reassuringly and rested a comforting hand on the Standish’s blanketed chest. “You’re alright Ezra. We’re here for you.”

Standish merely blinked at Nathan staring at him momentarily before closing his eyes.

“How’s the Reb doing?” Stone asked as he snapped cuffs around massive form Josiah held at gunpoint.

“Fever broke,” Sanchez answered.

“Damn fools tried to smother him, but left the nasal canula in place,” Nathan spat, holding a corner of the sheet over the back of Ezra’s hand stemming the blood flow from where the IV had been ripped out. With the other, he readjusted the canula, resting the back of his knuckles on Standish’s cheek, grateful for the lack of heat he felt.

“Well, like they said, we never catch the bright ones,” Gustin pointed out. He roughly tossed his prisoner at the uniform officers. “Take this trash out of here.”

+ + + + + + +

“Buck?” JD knelt on the small of the assailants back and snapped cuffs into place. “Buck?” JD’s tone grew louder with his increasing worry.

“I’m alright kid,” Wilmington muttered out, wishing desperately that his lie was true.

“Sure you are,” JD stretched for the cell phone that had flown off the nightstand with Buck’s sig, and hit speed dial just as several uniformed officers crashed through their front door.

Better late than never.

+ + + + + + +

The ringing cell phone had Larabee furrowing his brow. He recognized the number and flipped open the tiny receiver, “JD?” Larabee leaned around the kitchen table and snapped off another round.

“It’s started. They went after Buck,” JD stated immediately, “He’s okay but we’re headed for 4C’s Memorial.”

Another volley of bullets sunk their way into the heavy oak kitchen table causing Chris and Vin to duck. Diablo lay on his side and watched the proceedings with mild interest.

“You guys okay?” JD asked.

“Will be in a moment,” Larabee responded, “send a couple of units up here and git that lazy ass Kelly out of bed.” Where the Hell was Kelly?

“Right here, you hard ass,” Ryan Kelly answered as he and a few members of his team and what seemed to be all of Denver’s swat teams swarmed in through the kitchen.

A short, abrupt, intense one sided battle erupted and quickly ended.

Two gunmen lay sprawled in Larabee’s living room staring lifelessly up at the wood beamed ceiling as blood pooled from their riddled torsos.

“Your boys had some visitors in ICU,” Ryan informed Larabee as he helped lift the table back onto its four legs. The leader of Team 8 stepped too close to Diablo and earned a snarl and lunging bite attempt at the calf. Kelly hopped back as Diablo laid back down making sure his ill temper was plain to see.

“That is the foulest son of a bitchin’ beast I have ever met,” Kelly spit out angrily, keeping his eyes trained on the overweight black lab.

“Can’t believe that Kelly,” Tanner drawled out, falling into one of the few unbroken kitchen chairs, “I’ve met some of your dates.”

“Fuck you Tanner.”

“You first.”

“What happened at 4C’s?” Chris interrupted. If it was bad, Kelly wouldn’t be standing in his kitchen trading insults with Tanner and bitching about the dog.

“Two idiots tried to take out The Reb. Jackson handled it,” Kelly slid his eyes up to meet Larabee’s piercing gaze, “He can be one scary son of a bitch when he wants to be. God damn, and here I thought he was the even tempered one of your group.” Ryan shook his head when Larabee seemingly smiled, though it was hard to tell--the damn man was too much like his psychotic flesh eating dog.

“JD called, said he and Buck had some visitors too,” Chris pointed out as he grabbed his coat off the peg near the kitchen door. He tossed one to Vin. It hit Tanner and then fell to the floor.

Chris sighed and whipped the coat up off the floor, saving Tanner the hassle of passing out if he tried to pick it up.

“Yeah, kid took care of it. Uniforms only had to come in and mop up the mess,” Ryan answered. He tried to edge around the dog and get closer to the door. Diablo slowly rose to his feet and snapped at the agent’s knees. Ryan backed himself into the kitchen sink.

“Damn it Larabee, call the frickin’ thing off. Will you?”

“Diablo, lay down,” Larabee snapped his fingers and pointed at the floor. The dog obediently lay down, all the while silently flashing his teeth. “Leave’im alone Diablo.” The big dog whined, dropped its massive head onto his paws, and sighed.

“Thanks,” Kelly breathed out, “They took Wilmington to 4C’s to get checked out,” Ryan quickly held up his hands forestalling any outbursts, “No bullet wounds or anything from what I’m told by my people, just wrenched his shoulder diving out of the bed.”

“Let’s go,” Chris disappeared out the side kitchen door with Vin following.

+ + + + + + +

Buck lay in his hospital bed cursing the IV and all things with a medical association except for maybe his medications. You rip a few stitches, lose a little more blood and get a tiny bit woozy and the next thing you know, dang fool doctors are slapping IV’s in ya and taking more blood. Vultures.

Tanner slouched uncomfortably in a chair by the bed with his chin resting on his chest, soft snores occasionally erupting forth. The sharpshooter hadn’t fared much better. While admitted to the hospital like Buck, Vin kept wandering his way back to Buck and Ezra’s room.

Wilmington turned his head and stared at the figure in the bed beside his own. Standish slept facing the window. The white hospital blanket had slipped down to his hips and the ill fitting hospital gown left more of the man’s back exposed than covered. Buck could easily see the small entrance wound from the bullet of a week ago. He could make out the slight pinkish skin of first degree burns from the hotel fire and even with his back turned to them and eyes closed in much needed sleep, Buck could still see the hurt that no bullet or fire could claim.

Maude still flittered in and out like a moth dancing too close to a flame. Von Hauken and his unseen team of assistants still ‘worked’ the case with Chris, JD, Josiah and Nathan.

Not much more needed doing. The five men caught just the other night all worked for McDowell. None of them admitted it. It hadn’t mattered. Three of the five had turned up dead in their respective cells. The crap had hit the propeller with that early morning discovery. IA was crawling all over the case now. They were like damn ants on an apple core. Useless bastards.

The disc had been confiscated along with all the papers Dunne had printed out. Buck had to marvel at JD. The kid was a certifiable genius. Jenkins, that rat bastard, was like a rash on it. The disc contained files upon files from McDowell’s personal recordings, both typed and written. The man, for all his brains, kept electronic detailed accounts of his life and dealings. Sick bastard. The disc just proved it.

Jenkins, it was discovered was the bastard son of the madman. No real big surprise there when given any thought.

How Ezra got his hands on the disc, no one knew for sure. It seemed as if it didn’t matter. McDowell went to ground. Jenkins disappeared when he found IA scouring through his things and knew Larabee and some crazy oversized German was seeking him out.

Wade Jenkins disappeared like his old man. Not a trace.

That galled Buck and Vin. They had a score to settle with that turncoat.

It also made things a bit uneasy. Would McDowell come back for Buck and Vin? Would he target Ezra too? What about Jenkins?

Somehow Buck, didn’t feel to unnerved by the missing men. Jenkins was a toad. He had no more skill than the rest of them if not a little lacking. His old man; now there was a nut case without a nut. He was something to wonder on, but not to fret over, not yet at least. Besides, Larabee and Von Hauken as well as the whole ATF and federal building were keeping tabs on things.

Chris and Von Hauken had struck up a friendship which seemed strange but fitting. Buck couldn’t help but smile. That would be sure to make Ezra nervous, knowing his step-father and Chris were becoming fast friends.

Wilmington had to concede that Von Hauken was keeping his distance from his step-son. He visited only with Maude and stood in the background while mother sat quietly with her sleeping son. It seemed odd at first to Buck. Until it dawned on him, that Von Hauken knew Standish no more needed a father than Josiah or Chris or the rest of them. However, his very presence offered a sense of protection. Protection offered as a father would for a son, one that superseded any other relations. Buck hoped it was true and wondered if Ezra would recognize it.

The big surveillance expert hoped that he did.

Ezra for his part only flirted fleetingly with the waking world. The times his eyes were open seemed very brief. The army of doctors and nurses that paraded through the room appeared pleased with the progress. The fever stayed down, the medications were working, their patient was resting soundly. He was weak as a lamb but that was to be expected.

Doctors were a weird bunch. They gave Buck the willies.

Josiah and Nathan had been keeping a low profile. At times they would come in to visit, talk with Buck and Vin, keep them appraised of the dealings at the Federal building.

JD had dug up security tapes from the open lot down the street and Ezra’s condominium. They were enlightening to say the least.

Buck felt a deep twinge of regret that he could not join the others in their little ‘show of force.’ There was always time later. When things settled down and people weren’t expecting it.

There were a few days that Josiah sported a few bruised knuckles. JD smiled a little brighter when he told Buck how Johnson--that self-righteous SOB--was under the scrutiny of the IRS. It seemed as if a little electronic bird chirped in their ears about some undeclared ‘gifts.’ His assets were frozen and IA was now focusing their magnifying glasses on him.

Nathan eyed the world with a jaundiced view and spoke very little to anyone. At times he would sit and watch Ezra sleep and then quickly stand and leave with anger exuding from him like a scalded cat.

Kelly had said Nathan could be one ruthless bastard when he was properly riled. Buck never understood until now. Whatever ate at Jackson exposed a raw demon under a soft heart of kindness. It was the quiet ones you had to watch out for, and certain members of the federal agency were discovering this phenomenon. Nathan Jackson understood loyalty to ones friends and family. Josiah and Chris were scary, everyone knew that, but an incensed Nathan Jackson was terrifying.

A few secretaries stopped by to visit Buck and check on Agent Standish. They happened to say that a handful of agents within the FBI and ATF division were having mysterious accidents. There were multiple broken bones and muggings.

No one seemed to know anything.

Buck knew and when the room was empty of visitors he would lay and watch Ezra and wonder how long the man would hide behind the façade of sleep.


Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)

Von Hauken leaned against the wall outside his step-son’s hospital room and stared out the window to the buildings across the alley. It was time to be going home.

“Heard you were leaving this evening,” Larabee stated as he leaned on the door jam with arms crossed.

“It is time we returned home,” the business mogul stated. “There is no more here that demands our attention.”

Chris pursued his lips. The family dynamics of his agents was none of his business. In fact, Standish was the only one with family and it was dysfunctional enough for all of them.

“You tell him?” Chris bent his head in the direction of the room.

“His mother will.” The answer was direct, like the man himself.

Larabee appreciated that, “You sure?” He and Von Hauken had developed enough of a rapport to needle one another.

“She is many things, Mr. Larabee,” Von Hauken admitted, “She appears to be one thing and is quite another.”

“Like her son,”

“She was not a good mother to him,” Von Hauken admitted, “that I know. I research everything before I make decisions. She may not have been much of a mother and the husbands that followed were worse, but she did what she thought was best to protect him. She was wrong on many levels but whoever goes through life without making drastic if not fatal mistakes. Huh?” He curled his lips in a poor mimic of a smile.

Larabee felt his anger grow as his mind flashed back to the fire, to his wife and son home alone one night while he gallivanted in the city with his best friend.

If Chris judged Maude Standish then he would have to judge himself and perhaps even Josiah. Hannah was not such a closeted secret.

“I will prove myself to him in my own time and in my own way.” The business tycoon stared pointedly at Larabee, “He doesn’t need a father now, but he does need to know he has a place to go.” The seriousness in the words was seconded by the fierce set of the eyes. “I knew that when I agreed to marry Maude, I would be grabbing the proverbial tiger by the tail. She would try to rob me blind and leave me with nothing.” Von Hauken smiled, his gaze softening, “she has given my head of security an early ulcer; she has tested the security of my art collections, my bank accounts, my land holdings and whatever else you can think of. Where she found weaknesses, and she has—she nearly crippled my empire, but I have acted in time and strengthened them.” Von Hauken chuckled. He had acted in time only because Maude Standish seemed to hesitate in running away from him. He knew it as well as her. It frightened her and delighted him. “It is a game of cat and mouse, there is a fortune on the line and hearts laid bare---there is no one else like her, Mr. Larabee, she is fresh and exciting and as wiley and cunning as a fox. Five years and still we play cat and mouse; still she tries to take from me and still I capture her and leave her her freedom. She has yet to take that and run.”

Larabee chuckled listening to the thick German accent that did nothing to disguise the love and devotion that this man showered on Mrs. Standish. Everyone had their own form of Hell on earth. Some just seemed to accept it better than others. The Sadist.

+ + + + + + +

“We leave tonight darling,” Maude Standish leaned back in her chair as if the last few days had not occurred, “there is nothing here that is holding our attention.” Her son was out of danger, his friends were rallying behind him and his foolish job of defending the weak and defenseless seemed intact.

Ezra merely nodded and eyed his mother speculatively.

“It’s alright to love him, mother,” Ezra finally whispered out. He lay on his side and faced his mother. He still felt horribly weak and it seemed he slept more than he was awake but everyday felt to be an improvement. As he grew stronger, his humiliation seemed to blossom as well. He had misread the situation at the office, misread his associates and nearly cost them their lives while they worked to protect him. Worse his mother had to come and hold his hand while he lay too weak to even feed himself.

It embarrassed him when the others stopped by to talk. There were awkward silences and forced smiles, conversations that faltered to a start only to die out quickly. Good Lord-- how he sometimes wished for more medication.

Worse yet, his mother sat by his side with his step-father in the background. He had never been so happy as to see her marry a man who lived across the great pond. Let her get mixed up in her new husband’s life, make a shambles of that, and leave him alone. When Maude Standish was married she was less of a destructive force in his life. Now here she was five years out and still married to the same man. A virtual record.

Worse yet, if JD was to be believed, his Step-father and Chris Larabee had nearly come to blows over which way was best to retaliate and seek revenge on those that crossed Ezra. That was unnerving, if not a little frightening.

How helpless and needy did he appear to the others?

“I have no idea what you are mumbling about dear child,” Maude answered with a wave of her handkerchief.

Ezra merely nodded the best he could. His hair still felt clumpy and dirty and even though he had showered the other day, there always seemed to be a thick hospital smell clinging to his skin. Like a fungus.

“There’s room for two you know,” Ezra continued, “You’re not betraying him. He’d probably be happy for you,” Ezra wished his mouth would stop running. Why couldn’t he shut up when it was for the best? Medication. Doctors were Hell Spawn.

“Who?” Maude knew who, but couldn’t help but feel a twinge of relief and fright listening to her son’s words.

“You’re good for one another,” Ezra answered softly. He then chuckled carefully, “He’s onto you, you know.”

“Yes I am aware of it,” Maude smiled in return, relieved to be off such a touchy subject. “He is a patient man, he puts entirely too much trust into electronic gadgets and sensors, but versatile and quite flexible in the most ingenious ways,” Maude gave her son a leering look.

“Oh God, mother, I don’t want to hear it,” Ezra whined, rolling onto his back and covering his eyes with his hand, dragging the IV line up with it, hoping to block out the mental images that bombarded his mind. No son should have to listen to his mother speak like that.

“Have a nice night dear,” Maude stood and patted her son’s raised arm, “please avoid being shot anytime soon, it is wreaking havoc with my travel plans.”

“I’ll try to keep it in mind, mother,” Ezra lamented, dropping his hand from his eyes and silently pleading with his mother not to leave him but knowing it was best if she did. If they stayed in too close proximity they would end up at each other’s throats in no time. It wasn’t often that they parted company wishing they could spend more time together. In fact it was a novel feeling in his adult life and it did not bring the stinging pain of rejection as it had when he had been a child.

“Take care, son,” she whispered and sashayed out of the room.

The door closed softly, a cushioning of air softening its click and drowned out his mother’s voice: “Why Mr. Larabee, what a pleasure.”

The lie was audible even before the door closed. Ezra closed his eyes and moaned. His mother would no doubt offend his boss in a matter of seconds.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat on the edge of the bed and tried to gather his strength. He was being released today. After eight days they were letting him go home. His mother and her 6th husband were long gone. Ezra liked Von Hauken.

With his mother and step-father gone, there was no interference to keep his teammates away. He had been trapped in his hospital bed unable to hide from them. The team seemed to constantly be around.

Unneeded apologies, hesitant inquiries and false cheer were forced his way. He had hurt them as much as he had believed them to have crippled him.

It had all been his fault in the end. His own insecurities had him fouling things up for the team. Good lord had he learned nothing from his mother?

Buck and Vin had gone home under the dubious care of JD and Chris. Neither Buck nor Vin seemed to be in spry shape. The blood loss from the week before still held a tight grip on the two and was slow to release itself. The fever still coursing through them didn’t help and only added to their exhaustion.

The others still stopped by every day, leaving him his nights to ponder and whittle away. He tried staying awake through the nights, hoping that he wouldn’t have to feign sleep during the afternoons when they trickled in after leaving the office.

It was uncomfortable and embarrassing for everyone involved.

Ezra felt the fool.

Larabee had had no intentions of transferring him. Had Ezra only spoken up, had only pursued the man with more alacrity or even sought to speak to one of the others, this whole fiasco which was a fabrication in his own mind would have been avoided.

Instead, he played it close to his chest and got burned. Not only himself but the others as well.

Worse yet, they knew of his run ins with those few other Federal employees who took playground bullying a step too far.

If the rumors that he was hearing were true it seemed as if retribution was being doled out in an almost biblical fashion.

It was all humiliating really. He didn’t need protection. He could take care of himself. He didn’t need a team to do it. Certainly not a faux family. Good Lord he had had enough of those.

Ezra slid off the bed. His ankles and feet tingled with the sudden weight and his quads flexed almost too much, as if over reacting.

The sweat pants Josiah had dropped off that morning pooled around the sneakers Buck had left for him. The zip up grey hooded sweat shirt that Nathan dropped off was almost as oversized as the sweat pants bottoms.

Didn’t anyone know his sizes?

Probably not.

They all lived in a world where one size fits all, and the bigger the better. Heathens.

If he moved quick enough he could escape the hospital and avoid a ride home from his teammates.

A taxi cab was all he really needed. His independence started today.

He reached for the door just as it opened.

Larabee didn’t bother hiding his knowing smile, “Good, you’re ready, let’s go.” Chris held the door open and stepped aside.

Ezra plastered a polite smile onto his face and shuffled past, cursing his inability to escape.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee slowed the truck as they reached the light. Friday late afternoon traffic was thick and sluggishly moved forward at a painful crawl. He paused waiting for Ezra to indicate which direction they should go. Chris finally looked over to his passenger and found him dozing against the side window.

Chris hesitated for only a moment when the light changed. He put his blinker on, banged an illegal U-turn and headed for the highway. They were going to the ranch. The mystery as of where Standish lived could wait another day.

JD and the others had been unable to discover where Ezra’s new apartment was located. Dunne had rummaged through record keeping in the federal building and at the hospital. Nathan and Josiah had gone to Ezra’s old place and spoke with the neighbors and management to no avail.

Buck had asked Ezra flat out. Standish had quickly changed the subject. Though Buck had been aware of it, the new topic of conversation had Wilmington forgetting about his earlier inquiry.

Vin had said to leave it be. Ezra would tell them when he was good and ready.

2 weeks later

“Record keeping sent these up,” Chris dropped a packet of forms on Standish’s desk. “You just need to fill in the information marked with the arrow tabs.” Larabee didn’t say anything further and headed for his office. Change of address was needed on all the paperwork.

Vin looked up from his computer monitor and watched as Standish fingered the forms for a moment and then put them aside.

The team was back working together. Well, at least they were all in the same office. This was their second day as a full unit. Buck, Vin and Ezra had passed their PT and gun qualifiers and were back on light duty.

It was JD who had noted this morning that Ezra still wasn’t parking in garage and that he entered the building through the main entrance, mingling with the crowd and public as they filed their way in through the scanners and past security.

Buck noticed he no longer drank coffee.

Nathan softly pointed out that coffee was a diuretic. If Ezra drank it then it meant he had to use the bathroom at some point.

The others gritted their teeth and nodded at the logic. Good ole Johnson, while he was having his fingers snapped by unknown assailants confessed as to the whens, wheres and whos that had made Standish’s life a living Hell. It seemed the parking garage and Mens’ rooms were favorite areas for bullies to prey on their lone target.

Tanner watched as the undercover agent slipped the forms into his “In box” and focused back on his computer monitor. The little mementos that had one time adorned the desk space were still gone, boxed neatly under the sink in the break room.

Josiah had taken the box out and left it on the break room table. Someone had put it back under the sink.

At least it hadn’t been thrown out.

“Hey, we’re headed over to Eddie’s Subs,” Vin said, “you wanna come?”

Ezra gazed up from his work, politely contemplated the invitation and then declined.

Tanner merely nodded, not bothering to push the subject. It would take time.

They all knew it, and watched and waited from the side lines. They continued to watch from a distance as Standish sat in his Jag and struggled with himself to get out of the car; to face another day.

They followed in the shadows as he gracefully strode down the sidewalk to the federal building every morning as if he didn’t have a care in the world. They knew it to be façade, especially when he would quickly dodge into an alley and lose what little breakfast he might have choked down that morning.

It would take time. They would give him his space, but not too much and not for too much longer.

Isolation was its own poison.

The rumors had done their damage, Johnson and his sick cohorts had seared their mistrust into re-opened scars.

The members of Team Seven would be patient but only for so long.


And I really ain't bothered what you think of me
Cuz all I want of you is just to let me be


“Alright!” Larabee hollered out to the mass of teams that gathered around the central command post “we do this by the numbers.” This was going to be one of the biggest raids in Denver ATF history.

The agents strapped themselves into their vests and secured their weapons. Friends checked friend’s equipment making sure nothing was missed.

“Hey guys check it out--Ezra has his new vest on, damn that thing must’ve cost him a pretty penny.”

Buck, Josiah, Nathan and Vin pulled their attention from their weapons and worn vests and looked over to see Standish standing off by himself pulling his windbreaker with the bold ATF block letters on the back up over his new vest.

“Good to see he’s wearing one, huh?” JD added quickly. Things were still uncomfortable around the office. Ezra was unfailingly polite, just like when he had first joined the team. Distant, but pleasant. JD figured all they needed was a big case to get them back into the swing of things.

Maybe this raid would prove just what they needed.

“He don’t think anyone’s gonna watch ‘is back,” Vin mumbled out and buttoned his coat up.

The others slowly dropped their eyes in silent agreement.

“Bullshit,” Nathan spit out under his breath. He just wanted to choke the southerner.

“Yup, but it’s true, least in his mind,” Buck added.

“No way, Buck,” JD demanded.

“You watch out for Buck, Buck watches out for you…same with Chris and Vin, same with Nathan and myself---we all watch out for Ezra. He knows it too---but thinks it’s after the fact.” Josiah intoned quietly, “and he won’t even consider that anyone other than us will even give him a second thought.”

JD nodded, not in agreement or even acceptance, just that he heard what Josiah had to say and wished it weren’t true.

4 weeks 2 days later

“Damn, I never even knew this place existed.” Buck whispered out as he guided his pickup through the gates of the condo/ apartment complex. JD nodded keeping his eyes on the tracking device he held in his hand.

“Go about 100yards up and then take a left. He’s stopped there.”

Buck simply did as instructed and guided his Old Chevy through the maze of parking lots and islands circumventing buildings and a fenced pool.

Josiah followed in his suburban with Nathan as copilot. Vin sat in the back seat wondering if this was a good idea.

Chris had stayed behind at the office, getting the finishing touches of the McDowell case off his desk. He avoided bringing it to his team’s attention--preferring to take care of the questions from Travis and IA on his own. Enough damage had befallen his team and they needed no more headaches. His boys were digging for trouble on their own.

Ezra’s new home was still a mystery, which would probably be solved tonight. Buck had convinced JD to put a tracking beacon in Ezra’s car. For better or for worse, they’d solve that mystery soon enough.

“He should be here,” JD said pulling his eyes from his monitor to the parking lot. “You see the Jag?”

“Yup,” Buck said as he opened his truck door and got out.

Josiah pulled in and stopped. The truck shut off before he turned the ignition off. Nathan gave him a tired look and shook his head. Some things never changed.

“Where to?”

“Second floor,” Nathan guessed.

“Hey Ez,” Vin said waving up to agent who stood on a second story balcony.

“Gentlemen,” Ezra returned, “what are you doing here?”

“Looking for you, Brother,” Sanchez answered.

“Yes, well you’ve found me, now you may go,” Ezra turned to enter back into his apartment.

“Heck no pard’ we’re invitin’ ourselves over.” Buck grabbed JD’s hat and ran for the stairs with JD hollering behind him.

Vin grinned to himself. Under the loud fun loving devil may care exterior lay a good friend. Vin and the others followed Buck up the exterior stairs to the second story. The apartments were spacious, two units to a side.

“Ez, don’t make me pick the lock,” Tanner stated as he leaned against the door frame.

In a moment, the door opened.

“Gentlemen---” Ezra started but was forced aside as the other five members of his team strode purposely into his home.

They slowed and nearly came to dead stop as a group when the small entrance way opened into a spacious living quarters with kitchen and living room separated by a low stone wall. The carpets were plush and neutral just like the bare walls.

Sparse furniture marred the area. The big screen TV they had all come to know and love, with its dolby surround sound was missing. Of course it was, it was ruined and lay in pieces behind yellow police tape in his old apartment with the rest of his furniture. The over stuffed couch and matching chairs and ottomans had been replaced with a simple reclining chair and an odd end coffee table. A small 13 inch tv lay propped on a stray moving box.

Hastily packed boxes were shoved into the kitchen untouched, and out of sight. Plastic-ware filled the only waste basket.

It was a shell of a home.

“Ahh, nice place Ez,” JD muttered out as he stepped into the seemingly overtly large living room.

The place even smelled new.

“You’ve seen it, now leave gentlemen,” Ezra ground out, embarrassed that they should find him living like this, in the very squalor his mother had tried to protect him against. He could not replace the furniture and belongings that lay in ruins in his old place. A simple civil servant check wouldn’t cover it. Sure he had means to get new furniture, but he didn’t want to deal with rumor or innuendo again, just yet. He didn’t want to have to explain his finances to anyone with an inkling of doubt. Besides if he had to move again it would be easier. There was really nothing of importance that demanded packing. His belongings could fit within the confines of the Jag’s trunk with room to spare.

“We wanted to see if you wanted to go with us to Inez for dinner and a few beers,” Buck explained as he angled passed JD and into the apartment.

“You could have phoned,” Standish rebuffed. How’d they find him anyhow? He had filled out the paper work with a P.O box as an address. It would not be accepted but it would take weeks before the papers were sent back to him for the correct information. Hopefully by then he would have an idea of what he was going to do with his life.

“Don’t know your home number,” Josiah pointed out. His eyes scanned the scant living quarters and saw no phone.

“My cell phone works fine,” was the terse, impatient answer.

“You don’t answer it after Friday at 5:00,” Nathan pointed out.

“Ez, ya might as well come on out with us, seeing as you don’t have squat to eat,” Vin’s raised voice from the kitchen had Ezra heading in there and forcing the refrigerator door closed.

“You weren’t invited in, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra spat out, his anger bubbling in contention with his humiliation.

Vin stared at the angry green eyes and saw the embarrassment that sparkled in the greying light of the dying day, “No Ez we weren’t.” Tanner leaned against the refrigerator, “Fact is Ez, you don’t invite us anywhere anymore. Got to be getting pretty lonely---ain’t it?”

“I don’t need your pity.” Venom laced the words.

“Ain’t offering it.”

“Why won’t you leave?” The words held a hint of confusion and taste of fear.

“Cuz you won’t come with us, Hoss,” Buck said entering the kitchen from the opposite side. “Vin ya best get out there--Josiah and Nathan are ordering delivery and its scary.”

“Shit,” Tanner shoved passed Standish and headed into the living room.

“Ordering pizza, figured you’d want a Calzone or something.” Buck hoisted himself up onto the granite counter top. “you gonna stick around?” For dinner? The next few years?

Ezra leaned back against the refrigerator and closed his eyes and caught his breath. He had no honest answers.

Buck nodded slowly dropping his eyes to the stone tiled floor. “It’s got to be tough not knowing.”

Standish merely raised one shoulder in a noncommittal shrug but nodded slowly in capitulation.

Wilmington turned his head slightly to the side and eyed the undercover agent, “Ezra you’ve got to trust us.”

Standish merely nodded, running his tongue over his lip. He hadn’t lost faith in the team per se but himself. He had misread the whole situation with Larabee and Jenkins and the others. He had grossly misread the whole thing and worse, let it affect him and the others adversely.

“Ain’t your fault either,” Buck pointed out.

The disgusted grunt from Standish let Wilmington know he had hit the root of the problem.

“Jenkins and McDowell used your past against you, they worked you like a con. You suspected it at first; but see that’s where it got tricky. Chris don’t buy into rumor, not like you do.”

Standish snapped his head up in disagreement nailing Wilmington with a scalding stare. He could easily hear Josiah and Nathan arguing with JD and Vin over what to order for dinner from The Pizza Factory. The foursome showed no interest in the discussion occurring in the kitchen.

Buck held up his hand stalling the vehement protest, “You do when it concerns you, just like Johnson and those stupid fools that took their pound of flesh from you.” Wilmington slid down off the counter, “Truth is Ez, we all know you wouldn’t cross the line--JD, Nathan, Josiah, Vin and even Chris. We trust you with our lives and with just about everything else…except maybe our money.” Buck chuckled. “But you don’t really trust us. That’s the real clincher. You don’t trust us when it counts. Not that we’re surprised--you and your ma don’t even trust each other.” Buck kind of laughed and then continued, “Problem is pard, you keep seeing enemies in your friends. And that’s what we are Ez--we’re yer friends.”

Buck stepped passed Ezra and paused at the entrance of the small kitchen area.

“We didn’t do this to you Ezra, some one else did.” Buck stared at the undercover agent, “we should have noticed something was wrong, you should have said something. But none of us did.” Buck shrugged and held Ezra’s gaze, “Time to move past it, pard’. Don’t let them win.”

Wilmington silently left the kitchen and headed into the living room. “You best not have ordered any of those damn fish on the pizza Josiah or so help me I’ll shove’em up your nose.”

“You can try brother, you can try.” Josiah challenged with a laugh.

“Bet he could do it,” Vin said.

“No way in Hell Vin,” JD laughed, “those little fish are too flexible. It’d probably curl and fold up before Buck got near Josiah’s nose.

“Any of you get a fish stuck up your nose and you’re on your own,” Nathan muttered out turning on the little TV.

“Damn Ezra, don’t you get any reception in this place?”

“ I have rabbit ears in the truck.” Josiah said as he leaned back against the far wall and stretched his legs out in front of him. “JD go down and pop the hood, they’re bent up under the alternator.”

“Me?” Dunne asked indignantly. “Why does it have to be me? Why not Buck or Vin?”

“Because you’re the youngest, kid,” Buck answered with an arrogant air, “now go.”

JD stared at the others and then stomped his way to the door, muttering with each step. He passed the kitchen and saw Ezra still leaning against the refrigerator with his head bowed and ankles crossed, “I hope you get a satellite dish soon Ez because Josiah’s truck isn’t going to be going anywhere soon if I have to get the rabbit ears.”

Ezra gazed up at the youngest member of the team and smiled half heartedly. “Perhaps you could give me the number of a reputable place to order one from.”

JD smiled and nodded, “Sure Ez, I can do that,” the relief in the young agents voice was clear. “And hey, Buck and I know where you can get some pretty cheap furniture, almost quality stuff; it’s where we got our stuff. I’ll stop by with the number tomorrow, maybe borrow Buck’s pickup or the Ram and we could go find some. What do you say?”

The young man’s enthusiasm, though not contagious, bordered between gratifying and frightening. Standish floundered quietly not sure if he desired to return to the fold or remain aloof and some what safe.

“Perhaps JD, perhaps,” Ezra hedged unsure if he should commit himself to the foolish ploy friendship.

JD nodded taking the ‘perhaps’ as a yes. The young agent continued to the front door and then suddenly stopped. “Oh Ez,” Dunne reached into his pocket as Standish paused in the tiny juncture between hallway, kitchen and living room.

“Here. Think you deserve this more than me,” JD tossed the squeaky grey Eeyore to the undercover agent.

It gave a small squeak when Ezra caught it. The undercover agent held the grey donkey in his hand and stared it. He shook his head, a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

The trinkets were already starting. The inside jokes already coming to life.

It was round two and he wasn’t sure if he was ready for it.

He gave the toy a small squeeze creating a tiny squeak and then looked up to see the smug features of Dunne. The younger agent gave him a ‘payback’ smile and then exited through the door.

Standish contemplated the small toy and recalled all the ribbing and relentless attention they had showered on JD when he and Casey had their fight only months ago. None of the Team had cared who was more right or wrong in Dunne and Well’s fight. As a team, they sat on the side lines and picked on the poor boy until he was a puddle of bones. The Eeyore had surfaced during a conference. Dunne’s pouting had reached Guinness Book of Records levels. Ezra had thought it fitting to present the small toy then, much to the delight of the others. JD had been a little less than overjoyed.

Ezra jostled the small toy, regarding it with a critical eye. He shook his head smiling and then slid into the living room, Eeyore in hand.

Josiah and Buck sat stretched out leaning against the west wall facing the small TV. Vin had commandeered the lone chair while Nathan wrestled with trying to get the TV to work.

“Brother it’s a damn good thing, we ain’t built like electronics because you are virtually useless with anything that runs on electricity.”

“Shut up, Josiah.” Nathan hissed back, “And I’ll have you know, it’s electrical impulses and charges that keep you moving.”

“Shit, we’re doomed.” Vin muttered out.

“Hey Ez, git your ass in here and sit down. I told Chris to pick up some beers and he’s on his way over.” Buck spoke over his shoulder as he slouched down next to the used recliner Vin had claimed for himself.

Ezra slowly entered the room and found a spot against the wall and slid to the ground.

“Ya know Ez,” Nathan retorted as he jingled the wires in the back of the Television, “I have no idea why you even bother locking the door. There ain’t anything in here worth taking, especially this piece of trash.”

Standish placed the Eeyore out of the way, next to the glass sliding door that led to a too small patio. He turned his attention back to his teammate wrestling uselessly with the TV.

“Old habits, Mr. Jackson.” Old habits.

Buck and the others nodded in agreement. But some old habits were worth breaking.



“I Don’t Care Anymore”

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)
You can tell everybody 'bout the state I'm in
You won't catch me crying cuz I just can't win
I don't care anymore (I don't care)
I don't care anymore

I don't care
What you say (I don't care what you say)
I don't play the same games you play

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)
And as for me I can sit here and bide my time
I've got nothin' to lose if I speak my mind
I don't care anymore
I don't care no more

I don't care
What you say (I don't care what you say)
We never played by the same rules anyway (yeah)
I won't be there anymore
Get out of my way
Let me by (let me by)
I've got better things to do with my time

I don't care anymore (I don't care)
I don't care anymore
I don't care (I don't care)
I don't care anymore (I don't care)

Well I don't care now what you say (I don't care what you say)
Cuz everyday (cuz everyday)
I'm feeling fine with myself (I'm feeling fine with myself)
And I don't care now what you say (I don't care what you say)
Hey, I'll do alright by myself (I'll be alright by myself)

I don't care (I don't care)
Anymore (anymore)
I don't care (I don't care)
Anymore (anymore)
I don't care (I don't care)
Anymore (anymore)
I don't care

Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
What, what
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
What, what
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
What, what
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
Do you care? (hell no)
What, what

Cuz I remember all the times I tried so hard
And you laughed in my face cuz you held all the cards
I don't care anymore (I don't care)
And I really ain't bothered what you think of me
Cuz all I want of you is just to let me be
I don't care anymore, do you hear?
I don't care anymore

I don't care (I don't care)
What you say (what you say)
I never did believe you much
We won't be there anymore
So get out of our way
Let us by
We got better things to do with our time
We don't care anymore
We don't care anymore
We don't care anymore
We don't care anymore
We don't care
We don't care
We don't care anymore
We don't care

Album: Urban Renewal: A Tribute to Phil Collins
Artist: Kelis