What Was Not Meant To Be
Ezra awoke with a pounding headache, feeling like his mouth was full of steel wool. He rolled over very slowly, taking stock of his limbs and, most notably, his very upset stomach. A slight groan escaped and he was startled to feel a weight settle on the bed next to him and a soft, cool hand pressed to his forehead. The worst part of it all was the fact that he couldn't figure out if he was working or not.
"I told you not to drink all that wine at the party last night," a decidedly feminine voice gently scolded. "You can only have a few minutes, then you have to get up and get ready for work. I'll go start your shower," she said, rising from the bed and leaving the room.
Cracking one eye open, Ezra peered around the room. It wasn't large and looked comfortable and homey. The woman came out of the bathroom and gave him a sympathetic smile.
"I'll go start breakfast, better get moving," she suggested.
Ezra waited until she closed the door before he flipped the blanket and sheet back to sit up. He looked down at the slightly dingy tee shirt he was wearing and frowned. Below that, he had on 'tidy whities' by BVD.
"The things I do for the government," he grumbled.
After a shower and shave, with a twin-blade safety razor for gosh sakes, he wrapped a towel around his hips and cracked the bathroom door open to look out. For the life of him, he couldn't remember the woman or the set up so he was going to have to play along for a while. Seeing the room was empty, he stepped out and went to the large closet. Sliding the fan-fold doors back, he surveyed the choices and frowned again.
"Eric, come on, honey, you'll be late for work!" the woman called from some other part of the house. Ezra hurriedly picked the best of the offered selections and dressed. As he was checking his tie in the mirror, he noticed a picture of him with the woman that was tucked into the frame with the glass.
She was what he would have termed 'a simple beauty' as opposed to most of the women he was usually paired with on a case. He noticed in the picture that his gold tooth was conspicuously absent and ran his tongue over the spot in his mouth, frowning to find a natural-feeling tooth there instead of the porcelain one he normally used to conceal it.
"Eric! Come on!" the woman called impatiently from the door.
Setting the mysteries of the picture and his tooth aside for the moment, he turned and smiled at her. Her eyebrows knitted together as she studied him but she just shook her head and turned away. He hurried after her, eager to see the rest of the set up.
"I made you an omelet and poured your juice. You'll have to hurry, though, or have you forgotten that I need the car today?"
"The car?" he repeated dumbly, "Oh, I forgot! I'm sorry!" he said as he sat down at the table. The food was good but the juice was unfamiliar to him, tasting vaguely like papaya and carrot juice mixed. He took only a couple of swallows before gathering his dishes and putting them in the sink.
"I'll just be a minute," the woman said, "I'm gonna fix my face."
While she was occupied, Ezra knocked her purse off of the kitchen counter, spilling the contents on the floor. He knelt down, quickly flipping her wallet open to look at her ID. Emily Diane Smith, age 28, born April the ninth, he quickly read. He scooped everything else up and was just setting it on the counter when she came out of the bathroom.
"I knocked it off. Sorry," he said contritely.
"Just don't lose my badge," she said, rifling through the bag. Before Ezra could reason through what she would be doing with a badge, she pulled out the plastic card with the magnetic strip on it and clipped it to her collar. "They'll never let me in without it," she finished saying.
They moved to the front door and Ezra opened it for Emily. A blast of warm, humid air stole his breath as he stepped out into the brilliant sunlight. Emily strode to the car and waited for him to lock up the house. Ezra pulled the keys from his pocket, having picked them up from the nightstand by habit, and fumbled until he found the one that went in the door. He then turned to contemplate his undercover vehicle. The nondescript little Toyota had definitely seen better days. As he walked around the car to the driver's side, he glanced at the plate and his heart leapt. Georgia license plates, he had seen enough of them before moving to Denver. He was startled when the horn sounded and heard Emily's voice calling out to him.
"Eric? Is there something wrong with the car?"
"Huh? Oh, no, it's fine. I just had the feeling I am forgetting something," he replied. "Would it be easier if you drove? That way you can just drop me off and go."
"You want me to drive?" she asked. "Sure."
An uneasy feeling settled in Ezra's stomach as he recognized the familiar signs for the 285. He tried to keep track of where the car was going but his mind was reeling from shock and surprise. When the car stopped, he looked around in confusion.
"A car lot?" he asked softly. "I work at a car lot?"
"Well sure you do, silly. You've been working here for two years now. Bob says you're the best finance manager he's ever had," Emily said. "Now, you'd better get going or you'll be late. I'll pick you up at 4:30."
Ezra approached the building like a man walking to the gallows. Not even new cars, these were used cars he was arranging financing for! He wanted to turn and run but a rather portly, bald man called out to him.
"Eric! Get on in here, I got a deal for you to work your magic on!"
The man, whose nametag read Bob Spikes, escorted him to a small, paneled office where an older couple sat. He was introduced to the couple, Phil and Millie Schroeder, and squeezed behind the small, paper-cluttered desk.
Somehow, he made it through the morning without running, screaming, into traffic. He cleared a spot in the middle of the desk and began sorting through the piles of paperwork. Twice, he was called upon to notarize the titles of cars being traded in. When he reached a point where he could tolerate the space he would be working in, he pulled out his wallet and looked at his ID. Eric Smith had the same date of birth as Ezra, that was reassuring, but the wedding picture next to his license made the room swim dizzily. He logged on to the computer and punched in the familiar E-mail address for his office in Denver.
"What do you mean 'undeliverable'?" Ezra mumbled when the E-mail was returned to him seconds later. He opened the file and tried another address. Fifteen minutes later, Ezra was more frustrated than confused. All of his attempts to log on to the E-mail server at the Denver Federal Building were being met with denials. Even the failsafe alias that JD had set up for him was being denied. Finally, in desperation, he picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory. The phone rang three times before being answered.
"Agent Soames," an unfamiliar voice stated.
"May I speak to Special Agent Larabee?" Ezra asked.
"Agent Larabee? He doesn't work in this office. Let me connect you to his secretary," the man offered. The line went quiet for a moment, then a woman answered.
"ATF Technical Support Unit, how may I help you?" she asked.
"Agent Larabee, please," Ezra said.
"I'm sorry, he's attending a seminar and won't return for several days. Would you like to leave a message for him?"
"How about Agent Wilmington?" Ezra asked.
"There's no one by that name in the unit, sir."
"Agent Tanner?" Ezra asked.
"Agent Tanner is on maternity leave, sir," the woman replied.
"Vin is on maternity leave?" Ezra questioned.
"Agent Marlena Tanner is on maternity leave."
Confused and feeling vaguely ill, Ezra thanked the woman for her time and hung up the phone. He attacked the keyboard again, trying to pull up any reference to his friends. He got a hit on Chris and pulled up the article. It was a birth announcement for Grace Connelly Larabee, born to Chris and Sarah Larabee six months ago. When he tried Buck, he got several news articles on Captain Wilmington, a 20 year veteran of the Denver Police Department. He discovered that Vin was still working with the Texas Rangers and was divorced with two children. He couldn't find any record of Nathan beyond his graduation announcement in a Mobile newspaper. Josiah was retired from the police department after a shooting that left him disabled. Almost tentatively, he pulled up JD's name. He found nothing after the obituary for JD's mother.
"Eric!" Bob shouted, knocking on the newly-cleaned desktop. "Are you alright?"
"Huh?" Ezra said, looking around owlishly.
"You've been staring into space for about five minutes. Are you feeling alright? Do you want me to call Emily and have her come get you?"
"No, thanks, I'll be fine," Ezra replied. "Just fine."
Somehow, he made it through the day. In between arranging financing for car buyers, he managed to pull up all the information available on Eric Paul Smith. He was born to Imogene and Ted Smith in Macon, Georgia. His parents moved to Atlanta when his father was transferred. Ted died of a heart attack when Eric was just 22 and Imogene a year later. He was their only child. He and Emily had been married for almost a year and Emily worked at the Federal Building in the secretarial pool. It took a little digging to discover that he had a small mortgage on the house where he woke up and that his credit rating was only fair. On the negative side, he couldn't find any record of Ezra Standish or Maude Standish or any of her aliases. Not even the high school where he remembered graduating had any record of his ever being there.
"It's a dream. It has to be a dream," Ezra told himself.
Over the next few days, Ezra applied himself to learning to do the job he found himself in. He was polite and helpful to anyone who appeared in his office. At home, he was cordial with Emily, although she seemed troubled by the frequent headaches and his sleeping on the couch. But every minute of his spare time went to trying to figure out what had happened to him and to the team.
It was going well until the day he found Emily looking through the pile of papers he had put in his briefcase. He had been doing research on his friends and had finally managed to find JD and Nathan.
"What is all this, Eric?" she asked. "Who are these people?"
"It's nothing for you to worry about," he said.
"Why do you have all this information on them, then?"
"It's something I'm looking into for Bob," he lied.
"Why would Bob have you doing research on a retired cop, a police captain, an ATF agent?" she asked, rifling through the thick stacks of paper.
Ezra walked over and took the papers from her hands, putting them back in the case and closing it. He took her by the hand and led her to the couch. He would try to explain it to her, knowing that she wouldn't believe him.
"My name isn't Eric Smith, it's Ezra Standish. I work for the ATF in Denver under Chris Larabee. I don't know exactly what's going on but something's wrong. My teammates are scattered all over and the information I've been collecting doesn't indicate that they ever worked together. I don't know what's happened but it must be serious if they've put me under deep cover. I don't know what they told you but it's alright, we don't have to pretend to be married anymore," he said.
"Pretend? Eric ... you and I started dating practically right out of high school! I was at your parents' funerals. Your mom gave us the money for the down payment on the house!"
"You don't have to keep up the façade. I know it isn't true. It's a good cover, one of the best I've ever seen, but I have to get in touch with my friends and find out what happened," Ezra insisted.
The following Friday, Ezra flew to Denver to meet with Chris. He knew he was daring to incur Larabee's wrath but he had to know what had happened to the team and why he couldn't remember any of it.
He parked on the lot down the street from the building because that was as close as he could get. He patiently waited in line at the security desk for his turn. That was another thing that bothered him, he didn't have and hadn't had time to get a concealed-carry permit and felt practically naked without his gun. The guard looked at his ID, looked him up and down, then picked up the phone and punched some numbers.
"There's a man by the name of Eric Smith here to see Larabee," he informed whoever answered. "Go on up. Third floor," the guard told Ezra, handing him a visitor's pass.
Whatever he was expecting, it certainly wasn't what he saw when he finally found Chris' cubicle. Gone were the dark clothes and the short-cropped hair. Although he was still the same man, there was something fundamentally different about him.
"Do I know you?" Chris asked.
"Ezra Standish," he replied, looking directly into the hazel eyes and hoping for some hint of recognition. Instead, he saw polite confusion in the other man's face.
"I'm sorry, I don't recognize the name. Are you here about a case we're investigating?" Chris asked. "I've been working to update the files and I know I've called a lot of people but I can't connect you to any of them."
Despair broke through the tight rein on his emotions and Ezra swallowed hard to regain his voice. "I'm sorry, perhaps I got the name wrong. I'm going to have to check my records again. I regret taking your time," he said. Then he turned tail and all but ran for the elevator.
It was raining that evening as Ezra got out of the rental car and headed into the saloon. After leaving the federal building, he had driven around, going past his friends' houses and seeing strangers coming and going from them. It was shocking for him to drive past Vin's building and see the burnt out shell that remained. A girl of about 14 propositioned him and he wanted to cry. She was one of the kids who routinely cleaned Vin's apartment in exchange for the use of his computer.
He had a couple of drinks before he worked up the nerve to ask the hulking man behind the bar about Inez. Before he had even finished the question, the man's hand shot out and grabbed him by his clothes, dragging him up on the bar to snarl in his face.
"You been seeing my wife?" the man asked.
"No! No! I just wondered what happened to her. She was the one who usually waited on me," Ezra managed to say as he coaxed the man's fingers from his clothing and slid back on the barstool. With trembling hands, Ezra paid for his drinks and fled the saloon to return to his hotel room.
Saddened by his failure to discover what had happened, Ezra returned to Atlanta and the used car business. A couple of days after he came back, he arrived home one evening to find Emily doubled over in the bathroom.
"What's wrong? Here, let me get you a washcloth," Ezra said as he soaked the cloth and wrung it out. "Are you running a temperature? Have you been to a doctor?"
Emily stood slowly and flushed the toilet. Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked at him. "I ... I don't know ... how to tell you this," she paused, wiping her face with the cloth before meeting his eye again, "I ... I'm pregnant, Eric."
The air rushed from his lungs so quickly that he became dizzy and Ezra staggered back from the bathroom door until he bumped into the wall. He knew from listening to 'his wife' talk that they had an active sex life prior to him waking up hung-over from the party he couldn't remember.
"Are - are - are you certain?" he asked.
"She did the test twice. I was always as regular as a clock and I've missed two periods, Eric. I know you didn't want kids right away but-" she paused, unsure of what to say. When he didn't say anything, she continued, "I won't give it up."
He realized what she meant and immediately shook his head. Whatever was happening in his crazy, mixed up world, there was no way he wanted her to give up her baby.
"No! Of course not! Come out here and sit down. Put your feet up," he urged. "Can I get you anything? A Sprite or 7-Up? Some crackers?"
At first, Emily looked frightened. Her husband hadn't touched her in weeks and she was worried about the delusion he had told her about, but he seemed more like himself for a moment and she smiled. Her hand crept out and curled into his and she felt the tension in her stomach begin to ease.
"I'll be fine in a few minutes," she replied. "Are you okay with this?"
Ezra paused. He didn't know how long he would be caught in this altered reality and he didn't want to mess it up for Eric when he returned.
"If it makes you happy, I'm fine with it," he answered. Emily smiled again and reached up to cup his face with her hand. She pulled him closer and kissed him gently. Even though he felt like he didn't really know her, Ezra allowed his body to respond to her touch.
Gradually, over the next few weeks, Ezra grew more comfortable with Emily. He realized that he had hurt her feelings and frightened her with his standoffish behavior. Although he felt like it would be wrong for him to make love to her, he found that he enjoyed having her lean against him while they watched TV at night. He liked carding his fingers through her hair. One evening, as they were watching the news, she gasped suddenly and grabbed his hand. She guided it to her stomach in spite of his resistance and held it there.
"Do you feel that?" she asked.
A fluttering, like a butterfly in his cupped hands, brushed his palm. He was awed at the flood of emotion he felt wash over him. His vision blurred and he was frightened for an instant, until he felt the tears rolling down his cheeks.
"You're crying," Emily whispered.
"It's incredible," Ezra replied.
With the realization that Emily was really going to have a baby, came the inevitable panic over finances. Ezra realized that Eric and Emily had almost nothing in savings. Tophat Bob, as his boss liked to be called, had a meager 401k plan and adequate medical but Ezra knew that he needed more.
"You're going to what?" Bob asked.
"I'm going to be selling cars on commission. I'll still help you with the financing paperwork until you find someone else but I need to take this other job," Ezra said.
"You could sell cars here, Eric," Bob protested.
"But I can make three or four times the money selling new cars," Ezra explained. "With the baby on the way, I'm going to need the money."
Bob stood, sighing heavily as he put out his hand, "I knew it was too good to last forever. Good luck, Eric. I'll try to find someone to take your place right away."
In two months, Ezra's commissions were higher than any other salesman at the dealership. He seemed to have a knack for putting the right person with the right car. Customers trusted him and more, they liked him. He took fully half of his commission checks and invested them in the stock market. He chose his stocks carefully, bypassing uncertain growth for smaller, surer returns on his investment.
For their wedding anniversary, Ezra treated Emily to an extravagant dinner at a posh Italian restaurant. She was all smiles as they faced each other across the small, intimate table. They shared a single glass of wine between them to toast the coming year and the addition to their family. Ezra used the occasion to break the news that he was flying to New York to meet with JD, who was working in one of the Manhattan boroughs.
It was almost like he'd slapped her. Emily gasped and sat back in her chair, looking at him with confusion and anger warring on her fair features.
"I thought you had given up this delusion!" she hissed. "I thought you were finally going to let it go but you haven't, have you? My God! Eric, this is your baby I'm carrying, not someone else's! What's it going to take for you to realize that it was a dream?"
Throwing down the linen napkin, she bolted from the table and into the restroom, where she burst into tears. Ezra sheepishly signaled for the check and asked the waiter to box up the rest of the meal. When Emily came out of the restroom, they went home, where she locked herself in the bedroom.
The visit with JD went no better than the visit to Denver. He watched the younger man as he left work and followed him home. Ezra had already done his homework; he knew that JD ran the network of computers that kept tally of the crime in Manhattan. That he was paid only a pittance for his skills rankled Ezra. Just about the moment he had worked up the courage to confront the young computer whiz, the apartment door opened and JD left. Ezra followed him to a bar where JD proceeded to drink and shoot pool. Seeing an opportunity, Ezra slapped a ten on the corner of the table and took a cue from the rack on the wall.
"Gambling's against the law, buddy," JD said as he chalked his stick.
"Call it an incentive for playing well," Ezra suggested.
"Whatever," JD replied, "You break."
Ezra returned to Atlanta disheartened. JD hadn't recognized him either. They played a couple of games of pool and talked about meaningless drivel. JD eyed him suspiciously when Ezra brought up the police department and declined to answer any questions about how he came to be working in New York. Ezra decided that it wouldn't be prudent of him to push the younger man and, after paying for their drinks, he left the bar and returned to his hotel.
When he returned to Atlanta, it was to an empty house. Emily left him a note that informed him that she had moved back in with her parents. He tried calling her, only to have her hang up on him. As badly as he felt for upsetting her, he still couldn't accept that he wasn't living some kind of deep cover situation. He even considered that it was some kind of witness protection.
Not having Emily there allowed Ezra to investigate at his leisure. He used some of his newly earned profits to buy a newer, better computer, to utilize in his search. His next target was Vin Tanner. In all of his research, Vin was the one who seemed to have lost the most. He was back to bounty hunting for the Texas Rangers. Ezra remembered the few times Vin had opened up to him about his past and the nomadic existence he had lived. After bonding with Chris and the team, Ezra knew that Vin had to be miserable.
The Texas air was hot and still when Ezra got out of his rental car. He had followed Vin to the tavern from his apartment, hoping for a chance to talk to the sharpshooter. Once inside, Ezra took a seat at the corner of the bar and ordered a beer. He watched Vin, who took a seat at a booth with two other guys. One of them produced an envelope which he slid across the table. Vin opened it, studying the contents before nodding and pocketing them. Another envelope was passed between them, this one containing money. One of the men got up and went to the restroom, when he returned; he leaned over Vin's shoulder and whispered something before giving him an open-handed slap on the back. The other man rose and the duo left the tavern. Vin finished his beer and walked over to the bar, stopping quite literally at Ezra's side.
"I don't know what your game is but you would be advised to stay the hell away from me," Vin said without making eye contact. "I'm not interested in whoever it is you want me to find. I don't work like that."
"What makes you think I want you to find someone?" Ezra asked.
"Because that's what I do."
"Are you any good at it?" Ezra asked.
"I'm the best. That's why I work for the Rangers," Vin replied as he contemplated the beer bottle the bartender set in front of him. "I don't work privately anymore."
Before Ezra could say anything else, Vin pulled his weapon and pressed it to Ezra's ribs.
"Don't follow me and stay away from my place!"
When he returned to Atlanta, Ezra decided to try to make amends to Emily. If he was going to be stuck in this altered reality, the least he could do was keep it as much the same as possible. He gathered all of the information he had gathered on the team and carried it to the paper shredder he bought. When it was all reduced to small, cross-cut bits of confetti, he drove to Emily's parents' house.
He agreed to couples counseling. He agreed to talk to a psychiatrist. He agreed that it was all in his head and that he wouldn't pursue it anymore. She came home.
"Okay, daddies, you need to be supporting mommies head and encouraging her," the birthing coach explained. "Mommies, you'll be feeling a lot of pressure. The doctor will tell you when to push."
Ezra couldn't resist putting his hand on Emily's bulging belly as she practiced the breathing technique the coach had taught her. Even if he couldn't completely convince himself that it was his child, he silently swore that he would love the child as if it was his flesh and blood. They had agreed to wait until the baby was born to know the sex and Ezra left picking the names entirely up to Emily.
A muffled groan in the otherwise silent room woke Ezra and he rolled over carefully. "Are you alright?" he asked, reaching for Emily.
"Contraction," she replied.
Instantly awake, Ezra asked, "Is it time?"
"Not yet, I've only had three so far."
For the next hour, Ezra helped Emily with the breathing and stretching techniques they had learned. Although he had not been intimate with her since he got there, his hands moved over her skin with easy familiarity. When the contractions reached the proper frequency and duration, they got in the car and headed for the hospital. The new car seat had been in the back seat for two weeks in preparation for the baby's arrival.
"Squeeze my hand. Look at me, sweetheart," Ezra urged. "Squeeze my hand."
"It hurts!" Emily squalled, curling her hips and arching against the contractions that gripped her midsection like a vise.
"You can do it," he soothed, "You're so beautiful!"
Hours passed in a blur of pain and tears until Ezra heard the doctor announce, "It's a boy!"
Wrapped in a towel and only partially cleaned of the bloody gore that accompanied him into the world, Patrick Ezra Smith lay on his mother's tummy. Tears of unexplainable joy coursed down Ezra's cheeks as he stared at the tiny, new creation. Some time later, the nurse placed the tightly bundled baby in Ezra's arms. Warmth glowed from his heart as Ezra studied the slightly misshapen head with its copper-colored wisp of hair.
On their third wedding anniversary, Ezra took Emily on a cruise. They had left Patrick with her parents. Standing on the small balcony of their room, he wrapped his arms around his wife, feeling the slight swell of his child beneath her skin. He nibbled on her neck and she moaned softly.
An alarm klaxon woke the happy couple from their peaceful repose. Ezra leapt from the bed and pulled on clothes before turning to help Emily into hers. An explosion shook the vessel and she turned to him with terror shining in her eyes. A second, more powerful blast sent both of them to the floor.
It was like a scene from Titanic. The deck was covered with panicked passengers and crew, all clamoring for the lifeboats. Fire poured from the rear of the ship and even on the water as the gas tanks ruptured. Ezra and Emily clung to each other, trying to bravely wait their turn to escape. The panicked passengers began shoving one another, trying to get to the lifeboats. With a groan, the ship began to roll slightly to one side. Screams filled the air. A fight broke out. Suddenly and without warning, Ezra felt Emily being ripped from his arms as he fell. Water closed over his head, cutting off the cacophony of hysterical voices and Ezra struggled to swim to the surface.
Coughing the water from his lungs, Ezra took stock of his situation.
"Ezra? Don't try to move," a vaguely familiar voice said.
A moan of pain and concern left his lips and another voice, accompanied by warm, firm touches, spoke to him, "Easy now, son. We've got you."
"Em ... Emily?" he whispered.
"I'm sorry, Ezra. She didn't make it," Josiah said.
Despair ran over him like a freight train and Ezra struggled to sit up. The bank of the Chatfield Lake was dotted with rescue personnel and emergency vehicles. Scarcely five feet away, he saw his beloved Emily. Paramedics knelt at her side but their hands lay passively on their thighs. Someone who had his back to Ezra drew a gray blanket over her head.
"No!" Ezra cried, struggling to reach his wife. Josiah caught hold of him and held him as he cried. Time stood still for a while as Emily's body was gently placed on a stretcher and carried to the coroner's van parked on the service road. Ezra succumbed to his grief and lay passively in the ambulance for the long ride to the hospital.
He was treated for a concussion and near-drowning. Chris and Josiah took turns sitting with him while the others tended to the clean up of the scene. Ezra had been under cover with Emily Cranston from Team Two as a married couple looking to purchase illegal liquor for their restaurant. The small Italian restaurant had been seized in a drug bust a couple of months before and was a nearly perfect cover. They had been on a meet with the supplier who said he could get them all the booze they wanted without having to bother with those pesky government taxes. The luxury yacht had exploded spectacularly after one of the criminals recognized Ezra from Atlanta. He and Emily had been beaten, tied up and left on the vessel while the crew and the supplier abandoned ship.
"It wasn't your fault," Chris said gently when he saw that Ezra was awake and staring blankly at the far wall of his private room.
"It was so real," Ezra whispered.
"What was?" Chris asked.
Discharged from the hospital into the care and custody of his teammates, Ezra was taken to the ranch to decompress for a few days before he completed his report on the case. Josiah and Buck stood at his sides at the funeral. Ezra gave his heartfelt condolences to Emily's husband Eric and her son Patrick. He was stunned at the way the specific particulars of her life had become meshed with his concussion-induced delusions.
"I'm worried about him," Josiah said as they watched Ezra sitting in one of the chaise lounges on the deck. "Something's bothering him."
"His partner was killed and he nearly drowned!" JD exclaimed softly, "That'd be enough to make anyone depressed."
"It's more than that," Vin said. "He's said some things ..."
"What things?" Chris asked.
"Just offhand comments. I think there's more to it than just losing Emily," Vin replied.
It took a couple of days for Ezra to accept that the two and a half years he'd spent as Eric Smith was actually the product of a beating and near drowning. He tried to tell himself that the ache in his chest every time he thought of Emily and Patrick was a product of his imagination. He was never married, never had a son.
"Take a drive with me," Chris said, tossing Ezra his jacket. Ezra looked up, puzzled, but he stood and pulled on the jacket, following the team leader to the door. Chris drove slowly along the winding blacktop that led to the cemetery where Emily Cranston was buried. He parked the truck and turned toward his silent passenger.
Panic chased grief around in his chest until he thought he would surely lose consciousness. Ezra stared out at the neatly manicured landscape. Emily's grave had been covered with fresh sod so that it was indistinguishable as a new grave. Only the bounty of flowers surrounding the stone made it stand out from the others.
"What-" Ezra paused to get control of his emotions, "Are we doing here?"
"Giving you a chance to say goodbye," Chris replied.
"I believe you were at the funeral with me when I said my final farewell to my ... to Emily."
"I just thought you might like a moment to yourself," Chris offered.
Ezra let his hand fall on the door handle and he let himself out of the truck.
"Hey Ezra, I know you like these," Chris said as he lifted the tissue-paper wrapped bouquet of flowers from the back seat. The calla lilies were mixed with greenery and wrapped with a soft, peach-colored paper.
Josiah had explained to all of them that it didn't matter that it hadn't happened, that the memories were a figment of Ezra's oxygen-starved brain, it was real to him. In those seconds where the undercover agent had lingered between life and death, he had been married to Emily and raised a child with her. His grief was as real, as tangible, as Chris' had been when he lost his family. It was then that the team leader knew what he had to do. At long last, he was given an opportunity to bond with Ezra in a way that none of the others could. He understood the profound loss and grief that Ezra was suffering.
Chris watched Ezra as he gently placed the flowers amidst the others on Emily's grave. He had a vague recollection of Buck doing the same for him more than once after Sarah and Adam. Somehow, Buck had always known when he needed to make the trek to the cemetery.
It felt like he was cheating. Ezra felt an irrational rush of anger over the ribbons that adorned the flowers that lay on the grave. 'Beloved wife and mother.' He felt like he should have been the one to lay those on her final resting place. But it wasn't his place to do that, he kept reminding himself, she wasn't his wife at all. Just as his grief was becoming unmanageable, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Turning Ezra gently toward him, Chris saw the anguish in his eyes. He pulled and Ezra leaned against him as the tears began to fall.
"We'll get through this. There'll come a day when it won't hurt this bad anymore," he said, repeating the words Buck had told him every time they had gone to Sarah and Adam's graves.
It was nearly three weeks before Ezra returned to work. At Chris' insistence, he had gone to a grief counselor. The counselor accepted that the memories Ezra was dealing with were as real to him as anything else in his life and helped him move toward acceptance. It helped that Chris told Ezra to call any time he needed to talk. Chris was like his sponsor, supporting him from a position of experience. He went to the cemetery with Ezra and took him to Sarah and Adam's graves, too. Gradually, as reality reinserted itself into his life, the memories faded and the ache in his chest was lessened.
Buck looked past his luscious date's shoulder to see a familiar face at the table in the corner of the little Italian restaurant. There, with a plainly beautiful brunette, was Ezra. It looked as if they were almost finished with their meal so Buck signaled the waiter. He sent them a large slice of cheesecake drizzled with white and dark chocolate and layered with slices of strawberries, with two forks.
"Way to go, Ez!" Buck whispered as Standish and his date passed the table where he sat.
"Thank you for the dessert, my friend," Ezra replied.
Watching the other couple as they left the restaurant, Buck mulled over the card he had gotten from Chris some days before. It was a plain white card with gold lettering that said simply 'Thank you' on the outside and 'For being there when I needed you' on the inside.