Josiah, Vin and Buck were once again in the surveillance van down the block from Burkhardt’s house. It was pushing ten at night. The kept the heater going trying to hold back the winter chill. Old Chinese food take-out containers littered the floor of the van. Nathan would be upset tomorrow he hated a mess. Vin never noticed it, Buck took pleasure in irritating Nathan and Josiah enjoyed watching the verbal sparring.
Nathan, Chris and JD stayed behind to pour over the information the Judge had dropped on them.
+ + + + + + +
“Tell me kid, can you go anywhere without causing trouble?” Andre asked as the body guard discarded from his hand. Burkhardt and Terry smiled. The sat at a square collapsible table Mancini had pulled from the front closet. Standish was amazed for all of Henry’s wealth he disguised it and behind a middle class facade. Ezra had to admit Chris was much the same way. Larabee was an extremely deadly and intelligent man yet he came across as a quiet pensive individual. A sleeping tiger.
+ + + + + + +
Back in the van three voices uniformly answered, “Noooo.”
+ + + + + + +
Ezra dealt out the remaining cards. He peered over at Mancini with an innocently raised eyebrow, “Trouble? Maybe you could define trouble for me.”
The four men played cards up until early morning. Henry and Ezra matched one another drink for drink. Some where during the night they switched from brandy to whiskey. Standish won most of the games well the significant ones. In the end he held the largest pile of pennies.
“Kid how’d do we know you aren’t cheatin’?” Guidino asked. He had figured himself to be pretty handy with a deck of cards until he met the young ATF agent. Standish was agile and quick.
Ezra paused and leaned back in his chair. Buck on occasion would ask the same question in a friendly bantering manner. Standish used to just smile knowingly and collect his winnings. Occasionally he would utter the truth, “you don’t.” Henry and the others were watching him. He knew it. They deserved the truth.
The threesome in the van listened intently. The frequently asked question might actually get an answer.
+ + + + + + +
“A friend of mine use to ask the same thing,” Ezra began. He paused shooting down his whiskey at the memory of Buck’s exasperated posturing. One time Wilmington tossed his hand down in frustration claiming it would do about as well as a , ‘one legged man in a butt kickin’ contest,’ Ezra smiled at the memory. Gawd those had been fun times.
Henry watched the young agent. In the weeks that Ezra had lived under his roof the southerner had never made mention of his co-workers, even as a slip, until now. Standish had been very careful, probably why he was still alive today.
“And...” Mancini pushed. He had lost seven dollars in pennies. Unusual for him. He normally only lost to Guidino. Andre filled the southerner’s and Henry’s drink
“Easy, every time I employ slight of hand, or alleged slight of hand,” Ezra smiled, “someone else wins,” Standish sat back and sipped from his now full glass.
+ + + + + + +
In the van Josiah, Buck and Vin furrowed their brows. Sanchez then broke out with a loud baritone voice. Tanner turned and gazed at Buck, “he has to cheat to lose to ya Buck,” Vin joined Josiah’s humor.
+ + + + + + +
The four men drank and talked quietly around the table using the cards as mediators. Henry and Ezra continued to drink. Terry and Andre watched silently. Burkhardt was celebrating his impending death and Standish was trying to drown the murder of McDermit. As the whiskey consumption increased and inhibitions decreased, Burkhardt would ask simple questions. Henry was hoping for answers that would give him an idea of how far the young agent in front of him had slipped from his faith.
Behind the blind truths of whiskey with watering eyes and choking laughter, Ezra Standish revealed his all time shining achievement of the perfect prank. “An associate of mine, a rather quiet, shy, unassuming gentleman, but a very deadly shot,”
+ + + + + + +
Buck slapped Vin on the shoulder, “ ‘ey Vin I think that’s the first time Ez,’as ever called ya a gentleman.” Tanner nodded smiling. He was feeling a little guitly about listening.
+ + + + + + +
Henry, Andre and Terry were still chuckling over the last story. No wonder the southerner had been so devastated by the transfer. This team was a family. Henry listened with rapt attention to the next tale.
“He found himself on the wrong side of a fight, landed him in the hospital for a few days,” Ezra said leaning back in the chair remembering the chain of events, “an assortment of broken ribs, concussion the usual.” He carelessly dismissed the list of injuries.
Burkhardt raised his eye brow. Tough lot.
“He does not like visitors or hospitals, the indecency of minimal clothing, and ‘everyone pokin’ at ya,’” he mimicked Tanner’s Texan drawl perfectly. “Makes him kind of embarrassed, shy.” Ezra chuckled slyly now, “I sent him a stripper.”
Burkhardt and the two bodyguards stared at one another and then the younger man perplexed. So?
+ + + + + + +
In the van indignant howls erupted as Buck hit Vin on the head and Josiah laughed. Tanner gamely tried to defend himself from the maddened Wilmington.
+ + + + + + +
“A male stripper, dressed as a motorcycle policeman, stripped down to his speedo and for an extra fifty dollars disrobed that too,” Ezra smiled proudly at the memory of his crowning achievement.
Andre smiled, “you had the fifty?” He was developing ideas for Terry’s next hospital visit.
Ezra laughed, “Of course.”
Guidino read Mancini’s expression, “ I know where you live,” Terry simply warned.
“The best part,” Ezra continued, “the recipient of the stripper blamed two other associates and has been plaguing them with pranks of his own for over a year.” Standish chuckled. He repayed Buck and JD for the kind photographs that would suddenly appear around the office, featuring Standish in drag.
+ + + + + + +
In the van, Josiah laughed heartily slapping the steering wheel. Vin huddled down on the floor his arms over his head as Buck repeatedly slapped him off the head with his NY Yankee baseball hat, “I told ya it weren’t us. I told ya!” Buck yelled, “how many times?!” he continued, “ a million times, I told ya a million times it weren’t us, but did you listen? Ohhh nooo you know everything!” Buck slapped Vin one last time with his hat and sat dejectedly in a swivel jump seat. He peered angrily at Josiah, “Told’im a million times it weren’t JD or me.” Josiah could only laugh.
+ + + + + + +
The early morning had wore on, Mancini and Guidino retired to their rooms leaving their two charges alone. After an other hour or so and with more whiskey consumed than prudent Ezra decided to ask a question that had nagged him from the beginning. He stared at Henry as he quietly placed his tumbler of whiskey on the leather coaster.
Burkhardt saw the slight change and mannerisms and recognized a hard question was about to be asked. The tension in the room climbed slightly.
“Why have you never inquired of my last name?” Ezra asked his southern drawl had become thickened as a result of the alcholol. He continued before Henry could formulate an answer, “because if you had knowledge of my sir name then you would realize what business I am in and would have dispatched with me long ago.” Standish fingered the small glass rolling it on its bottom edge. Would Henry betray him like the others, would he discard the ATF agent as his partners had before, maybe in a more perminant manner? Ezra did not believe so now, maybe that first morning but not now. Standish had reservations though, he had never concieved of Palamon of setting him up or Larabee transfering him. Twice he had been blindsided by trust.
Burkhardt sat back in his chair nodding his head. The whiskey had begun to effect him too. He did not want to lie to the younger man but could not reveal the truth. Burkhardt could not be sure of the young ATF’s reaction. He needed the plan to fall together. He could not risk losing Standish now, not when things were so close to being concluded. He answered a question with a question.
“If I had asked would you have told me the truth?”
Ezra sighed tiredly. No of course not. Standish was no fool he did not want to die, an ATF agent did not have a long prosperous future in the reach of a notorious arms dealer. Would he have lied? Maybe. The realization shocked him. The first time Henry Burkhardt had addressed Ezra by his given name that moring so long ago, Ezra had felt both apprehension and relief. He wanted to be himself for just a little while. When Henry called him Ezra, Standish did not have to pretend he did not have to slip into some role. He could be himself. Maybe that was why it took him so long to ask this question.
Henry saw the hesitation and ran interference on his own inquirey, “I did not want you to have to lie to me,” Burkhardt said. He did not ask because he knew the answer. For almost a month Patrick Conner had come back to him. Ezra Standish was provided a home and family because Henry saw his little brother in the southern agent.
Ezra merely nodded. The answer was not good enough. It fell short but Ezra had a good thing here. He did not want to lose it not yet. He had no where to go and Burkhardt gave him a home. He would not jeopardize it just yet.
Burkhardt decided to change the subject. He had to get Standish thinking about returning home.
“Sounds like you have good friends in Denver,” Burkhardt pointed out. Tomorrow Ezra would be reunited with his team. Henry would not be there to make it a smooth transition. He would do what he could now. “Maybe you should think about going back to them.” The older man met the young agent’s swimming green eyes.
“They were,” Ezra answered, melancholy settled heavily on his shoulders, “they were the best.”
+ + + + + + +
In the van, the three agents sat up right, their slouching postures becoming stiff and weariness forgotten. Josiah recognized Burkhardt’s efforts and silently thanked the man.
+ + + + + + +
“Why don’t you go back to them?” Henry prodded.
Ezra sighed sadly and melted back into his chair, it seemed the whiskey had sapped him of all his fight, “I can’t.” They believe in rumors not me, he finished silently. Standish realized Burkhardt waited for more of an explanation, “they threw me out,” His voice had become tinged with bitterness. They used him and tossed him aside just like Palamon. Ezra did not like the direction of the conversation. It hurt like a physical blow every time he thought of Denver. He stood to leave the room, to leave the depression.
Henry watched as the despair fell like a dead weight across his young friends features. He had seen the same look in Patrick when others discarded him because of his last name.
“Some things are worth fighting for, if for nothing else than just on the outside chance you might win,” Burkhardt responded without turning around and facing Eza.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah, Vin and Buck held their breath hoping the arms dealer would reach their friend.
+ + + + + + +
Standish paused at the foot of the staircase he did not bother gazing over his shoulder, or lifting his saddened green eyes from the bottom steps, “ I fought in Alanta.”
+ + + + + + +
The three agents outside slumped back in their chairs. Ezra thought them no different than Dick Palamon.
+ + + + + + +
Burkhardt understood the Alanta reference and listened as the young agent climbed the stairs.
Larabee had alot of work cut out for himself.
Buck Wilmington yawned and stretched out his arms covering his mouth with his shoulder. Josiah and Vin quietly ate their breakfasts. The Burkhardt house still slept. Larabee wanted them back at the hotel. The three agents stopped at a side street diner for breakfast and coffee.
A young lady bumped into Buck nearly knocking him from the chair, “’Scuse me sir,” she whispered and hurried out the door deaf to Buck’s charms.
Wilmington smiled triumphantly, “You see that! My animal magnetism just pulls them right to me,” he beamed.
“Yeah and your personality repels them,” Vin added smiling behind his raised white mug. Buck tossed a packet of Raspberry jam at him. Josiah snorted on his ‘bottomless’ cup of coffee.
The three agents entered the hotel room at seven thirty am. Nathan, JD and Chris were still reviewing the mound of information, McDermit and the Judge had dug up as well as JD.
Buck placed the hotel key in his coat pocket and found a folded piece of paper.
He slowly took it out. It had not been there last night. He unfolded the paper and read the hand printed words.
“Boys,” Buck’s low voice rung out quietly across the rooms. The tone and tension got everyone’s attention.
“It’s going down this morning.” He held up the piece of paper. Chris took it from him, read it and then stared back up at his friend.
“Where’d you get this?” Larabee could not believe what he read. It gave time, date and location of the meeting between Burkhardt and Tedeschi. If the information that he, JD and Nathan reviewed and found then Hawkins would be there as well. Tedeschi was going to buy armament from Burkhardt today. In the middle of it all would be Ezra. Where did his undercover agent’s allegiance lie?
“Don’t know,” Buck answered and then restated, “a pretty little thing bumped into me today at breakfast she could have dropped it in my pocket then.” Wilmington shrugged. Who knew.
Chris and his men began planning. They only had three hours to prepare. Dunne hit the computer with a vengeance. He had to locate retrieve and download the schematics on the meeting place and the surrounding area. His fingers flew across the key boards. They were heading back to the ocean faring shipping store houses.
+ + + + + + +
An hour out of town, in a quiet suburb, a small family of men prepared for a death of their own. Andre and Terry sat silently at the kitchen table as Henry detailed his plan to his body guards. His men had been by his side from the time Henry was a young man Terry even before Laura. Andre had actually introduced Henry and his future wife. It was with great trepidation that the two body guards allowed Henry to travel for the first time in Burkhardts adult life alone. Only Ezra would be accompany their charge. Burkhardt faced his men with fatherly pride. They loved him enough and devoted to him to such a degree that they were willing to obey his wishes at great personal costs to themselves.
Standish still lay up stairs asleep. Today, if all went well, would find him reunited with his team. Burkhardt had learned enough last night that Ezra would return to his friends if given the chance. Though Standish did not know this yet he would when faced with the opportunity.
The meeting was in a little over four hours.
They had things to get into order.
Henry Burkhardt sat by himself holding a photograph of his wife and son. He missed them. Not a day went by that he did not think of them. Since the arrival of Ezra, it was as if Patrick had walked through the door. Everyday Henry had to remind him that the late morning sleeper was not his kid brother, was not his dear Patrick Conner. Ezra Standish was a completely different animal, but at the same time so much a kin to Patrick that it saddened Henry.
The arrival of ATF undercover agent Ezra Standish had been a God send. Henry had to admit. Burkhardt knew Tedeschi had an inside man in the ATF agency. He knew that Tedeschi was attempting a hostile take over of Burkhardt’s territory. It was only a matter of time. Tedeschi had three grown sons, they needed more area. Burkhardt had no one to pass his legacy down too. Troy his young son and been brutally ripped from this earth.
Who Tedeschi had in ATF Burkhardt had been unable to uncover. The two warring heads of New York Crime syndicate had agreed on a buy over a year ago. It was coming down to the appointed time. Burkhardt knew Tedeschi would have his ATF man and his team their. Henry was aware the Michael had every intentions of having Henry killed or arrested by the Federal agency. Burkhardt had tried multiple times to find the bad seed in the agency to no avail.
Then Ezra came to his door step. More accurately to his restaurant and rescue. Standish was ATF, burned up and discarded. Lost with no support and allies, yet the young man held on to his scruples and adhered to the rules he was sworn to up hold. Through Standish Burkhardt confirmed Samuel Hawkins was Tedeschi’s inside man. Using Ezra, Burkhardt was able to recruit his own ATF ‘allies’. An ATF team more fearsome than Hawkins.
Today at the arranged meeting place, Tedeschi would have his ATF man and his team. Burkhardt would bring his ATF man and his team would be in place. The battle ground had become equal.
Except the goals had changed. Revenge was no longer the dictator of Henry’s actions.
Henry originally wanted to see Michael Tedeschi fall. His revenge was such that the death of the other man was all he could see. Tedeschi had killed Dr. Tom Fogle’s parents sparing the young boy, they were innocent bystanders. Tedeschi had tried to assassinate Burkhardt but missed. He destroyed a family much like Burkhardt’s own. In response Henry had plotted revenge for over 27 years on Michael Tedeschi biding his time. When Standish revealed his identity that first night, Henry had his first taste of revenge.
Then it began to fade away.
Ezra had reminded him so much of Patrick Conner, their mannerisms and ideals were so similar. Henry found himself protecting the young man right off. Over a few short days Henry found Ezra sat in a coveted spot in his heart. Burkhardt wanted to protect the young agent more than use him. Revenge had taken a back seat. Saving a life meant more than taking one. Henry focused his energies on getting Ezra back to his team. If it happened that Tedeschi fell then so be it.
Shawn McDermit was murdered. Henry faced a new problem. Ezra would take the fall for the agents death. Hawkins would make sure of it. Suddenly Burkhardt found he had to reveal Hawkins and Tedeschi relationship if he were to save Standish. Larabee became a necessary component. Who would have thought Agent Larabee would bring his own Federal Judge. Burkhardt chuckled. Tedeschi made his political bed with the wrong man.
Tedeschi in a foolish maneuver and Hawkins with more ambition and greed than brains forced Burkhardt’s hand. Reuniting Ezra with his Denver based team was not enough. It had become necessary to expose Hawkins and Tedeschi. Burkhardt had been willing to let go of his revenge and walk away.
How could he now? With Chris Larabee and his team, and Judge Travis all striving to retrieve and clear Standish, Burkhardt only had to re-align the domino’s so they fell according to plan.
Through it all Henry was able to live some of his past through Standish. He was forever grateful to the young man.
Burkhardt checked his watch. It was time.
Forty minutes later Ezra parked the Durango outside the monsterous warehouse, nearly identical to the one Shawn McDermit had been killed. The sounds of the ocean were muted by morning work crews. This acrea size building was left unmanned by long shore men and fork lift drivers. The local crews knew to stay away today. Big business was occuring at Pier 8 warehouse number three. The over cast sky hid the morning winter sun keeping everthing a typical city slate grey. Ezra sighed. He missed Denver’s greenery.
Standish stood beside Henry. He felt at ease for the first time in many weeks. Burkhardt at his side somehow was as comforting as it was once having Larabee at his side. The members of the Tedeschi cartel were present. Ezra knew most of them, well their names and faces. Henry had made it a point to brief him on all the players giving Ezra thorough backgrounds and histories. Most were criminals with records. That fact alone amazed Standish. One should not be able to survive in the gun business if they were sloppy. Having a record indicated you were not careful.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and his team arrived later than they wanted too, New York traffic, as unpredictable as its citizens. Larabee observed his undercover agent with a critical eye. Was Josiah right? Was Ezra here as an ATF agent or as an associate of Burkhardt? Watching the younger southerner it was hard to say. Larabee made eye contact with Sanchez. Josiah merely shrugged. They would have to wait until things started falling into place.
JD gazed over to Buck. Josiah and Chris had warned them of Ezra. Warned them. It struck Dunne as strange. Why would they have to worry about Ezra. He would never hurt them. He was family. Still Josiah and Chris seemed worried, concerned enough to bring it to the attention to the rest of the team this morning. Wilmington tossed the young agent a reassuring smile. ‘Nothing to worry about kid,’ grin. Dunne returned the smile weakly. If Buck believed everything would turn out ok then that was enough for JD. Ezra would never cross the line, JD knew it for a fact.
Tanner was unable to achieve the height he wanted for a sniper position. This irritated him to no end. He bit back his anger and made do with what he had attained. He lay belly down amongst crates on the second teir. The thick salty smell of the ocean hung heavy in the air. Vin blocked it out. His olfactory senses registered the over powering scent of low tide and fish, catorgorized it labeled it and pushed it aside. Instead he watched the men below him. Henry and Ezra stood with their backs to him. Vin’s clinical blue eyes roamed the building. They had not had time to sweep it first. There were rats in the building and Vin and the others would have to wait for the cheese to lure them out. Burhkardt and Standish were the unknowing bait.
Nathan watched Vin survey the area. The chemist turned his attention back to the knot of men in the middle of the warehouse. Jackson sighed quietly. He had never thought of Stockholm syndrome had not even considered it until Josiah brought it to their attention. It made sense, Ezra had stopped trying to contact them. Maybe the death of McDermit had been the unraveling thread for the southerner. With no where to turn maybe Standish leaned back and accepted the comfort and camaraderie offered by Burkhardt and his men. How would Ezra react when they rushed in on the scene with guns drawn and voices shouted. Would he protect Burkhardt like Josiah feared? What if he did? How would the other law enforcement officers react? Ezra was still being blamed for Shawn McDermit’s death. Would someone use this as an excuse to gun the agent down and avenge the murder. Jackson shut his eyes. Team seven’s top priority was to reach Standish and drag him out of harms way. Tedeschi and Burkhardt would take a back seat. Family came first.
+ + + + + + +
Henry laid a comforting hand on the younger man’s shoulder. He did not divert his gaze from the collection of gun traders before him but he needed to instill a sense of kinship with the southern man. Burkhardt had to remind himself of that fact everyday. Ezra Standish was a man, not a boy and not his son, not a younger brother to be coddled. Henry had grown to respect and love the southern man as family. These last few weeks had been rough on the younger agent. He was caught between two worlds. Juggled carelessly by those he should have been able to trust with his life. His talents and motives had been questioned. His peers labeled him dirty. Standish had been scorned by his new teammates. Life since coming to NewYork had treated the Southerner many serious blows both physically and mentally. Standish withstood it and continued the game.
Henry Burkhardt marveled at the stalwart faith the younger man bestowed in him. He loved this brash southern agent for his faith. It was for this very reason Burkhardt had Terry travel to Denver to find Larabee. It was for Standish’s sake he had Terry arrange the anonymous tip to Wilmington. Standish belonged in Denver, he belonged with his team, with his family. Ezra Standish was an ATF agent he was a law officer through and through, like his father before him. Henry was a gun runner, a criminal, had been from the day he could walk. He would never change. He would never thrust that change onto Standish. He would never force the younger man into choosing between two violently conflicting worlds.
Henry had to much respect for the younger man. Ezra would do his job. Larabee and his team would do theirs and Burkhardt’s pain would end.
Henry stood with his left hand resting easily on Standish’s shoulder. Ezra felt the older man give his shoulder a soft reassuring squeeze. Almost telling him not to worry, things would work out.
Burkhardt saw the rifle barrel first. He never heard the sharp crack of the high powered shell spiraling down the gun barrel. He never saw the brief flash the foreshadowed his demise. Instead, Henry Burkhardt did as any father or brother would do in similar circumstances. He threw himself in front of Ezra, in front of Patrick Conner.
The hollow point high velocity bullet slammed into the left side of Henry’s chest. It careened through a rib deviating slightly in its deadly passage. Clothing, skin, muscle and bone were dragged down the funneling path behind the shot. The heavy muscle of the left ventricle blew apart. The bullet traveled on. It passed through pulmonary vessels sucking lung parenchyma and cancer with it. It traveled out through the chest. It broke another rib again alternating its path slightly. It seared through more muscle, skin and clothes and continued on into the body behind the one it just killed.
Burkhardt was flung backward into Ezra. Both men tumbled to the ground. Standish never felt the misshapen bullet imbed itself deep in his left shoulder. Ezra’s only focus was the suddenly aged man lying crumpled partially on top of him.
Standish could feel the warm thick flow of blood down his chest and arm. “Oh God Henry,” He whispered. The outside world disappeared for Ezra Standish. He quickly laid Burkhardt on the ground. He saw the index finger size hole in the left chest. In an upper thinking level where conscious thought has the ability to see the world objectly in the time of crisis, Ezra knew Henry was dead. Burkhardt’s hazel eyes stared blankly up at the warehouse ceiling, seeing nothing at all. No matter how many times the cold intelligent part of the mind tried to communicate this piece of knowledge it was ignored.
Ezra leaned stiff armed over the man. Pressing his palms over the hole trying vainly to stop the incessant bubbling of blood. Bright red blood gurgled from the hole around his palms over his finger tips. Henry’s lips had begun to turn an ashen grey. Shawn McDermit had done a very similar thing.
Ezra somewhere in his mind recognized Henry was dead.
Standish would not give up. He peered over his shoulder and suddenly noticed Nathan and the others standing around him. They all had their weapons drawn but held down at their sides. Buck was evening holstering his gun. Ezra never heard the gun play, he had missed the yelling and pandemonium that accompanied a major bust. He had missed everything but Henry’s death. He did not even question why Larabee’s team was in New York. Henry was hurt that was all that mattered.
Ezra’s panicked, desperate, green eyes found Nathan. Jackson could fix anything, he could heal everyone. Standish knew it to be true, knew Nathan would never let someone die. Jackson could bring Henry back.
“Nathan,” He whispered. His desperation loud. It came across more distinct than the shrill of a siren. There was no mistaking the plea, the hope and the fear. “Please Nathan?” Ezra watched the black healer. Jackson could only shake his head ‘No’.
Standish swallowed and shook his head in defiance. He would not give up. Henry meant to much, he deserved better. He deserved better than lying here on the cold concrete floor. Henry was a man of culture and education. He had a courage, dignity and he had a heart. If Ezra could only have seen inside the wasted remains of the man he now clutched in his grasp he would have realized just how wrong his last thought had been.
Ezra held the bleeding man tightly to himself. He rocked back and forth, repeating over and over, “Oh God no, please no,” He rocked and whimpered his eyes squeezed tightly shut tears escaping through clenched eye lashes. Standish hugged the slumped dead form of Henry Burkhardt as if trying to stave off death. As if willing the older man not to die. He continued to rock back and forth, back and forth. He buried his cheek in the older man’s silver white hair. “Oh God, no Please No...” over and over. He adjusted his grip as the dead weight began to melt from his desperate grasp. He rocked faster his mantra increasing its pace.
The others stood in a semi circle around their friend, around their team member. JD unashamedly brushed at tears that spilled over saddened brown eyes. His gun hung heavily in his hand. Buck clasped a supporting hand on his young friend’s shoulder offering comfort to JD wishing somehow it could be Ezra.
Nathan turned his back on the scene. Death was never easy. It was worse when the survivors denied the fact it stole a loved one away. Jackson could not watch Standish fight the reality of his loss. Though the cascading tears gave every thing indication to the healer, that Ezra knew exactly what had just transpired. Henry Burkhardt was dead. Nathan felt helpless to stop it. He wanted nothing more than to whisk Ezra back to Denver, back home. Jackson wanted to repair the damage done to their friend. He wished Standish back.
Josiah stood rooted he would bide his time. It was not his place to approach the younger man. Josiah recognized it was not his place to step forward first and offer comfort to their agent. Instead he stood by the younger man and watched over him from a distance. He would keep others from intruding on the Southerner’s misery. He would battle anyone who approached their tight circle in attempts to prematurely separate their teammate from his loss. Standish needed to grieve. This was only the beginning. Josiah watched the back and forth rocking listened to the cadence and prayed for the soul that cried out with loss.
Vin slowly holstered his weapon. His blue eyes swam. He turned his head briefly but returned his focus again to the form of his friend. Who’s blood was who’s Tanner could not be sure. Ezra moved and swayed, he spoke, that meant the stubborn southerner was alive. Physically at least. Tanner watched his heart sinking his guts knotting as the cocky southerner held defiantly to the corpse of a friend. He noticed the white knuckle death grip the tension and the sobs that clenched the undercover agents body. Tanner shut his eyes. Why Ez? Why did it have to happen to Ez?
Chris could take no more. He could not watch anymore rocking, he could not bear to hear anymore pleas or denials. Blood saturated the cement floor saturated his agent. Larabee had to put a stop to this, he had to reach Standish.
Larabee stepped forward closing the small distance that separated him from his agent. That distance had seemed so great, so huge and yet it were only a few feet. Chris took a breath and squatted down facing Standish.
“He’s gone Ezra,” Larabee intoned softly. He had never seen tears in the green eyes before. He had never witnessed the fear before nor the agony.
Larabee waited a few seconds. Standish still rocked, still repeated his defiant chorus. Chris stretched out a hand and touched Ezra’s right shoulder.
“Let’im go Ezra,” Chris spoke softly, the empathy he felt for his agent spilling into his words, “come on Ez lets go.” Larabee rested his hand comfortingly on the shaking shoulder. The muscles were taught, the shirt soaked with sweat despite the winter chill.
Standish turned his head, lifting his right cheek from the top of Henry’s head. Tears trickled over the bridge of his nose. He blinked and stared at Larabee. The proximity of the ATF agent became apparent. Chris had reached out to touch him, was resting his hand on his shoulder.
Ezra reacted as if he had been shocked by a live wire. He jerked his shoulder away. Burkhardt slumped completely to the floor.
“Ezra,” Chris started again, his voice low trying to be understanding.
“Git the fuck away from me,” Standish rasped out. He jumped to his feet stepping away from the living man in front of him, away from the five ATF agents that covered Larabee’s back.
“Ez...” Larabee said again stepping forward. Chris watched a transformation occur in his younger friend. The disorientation brought on by the sudden violent death of Burkhardt disappeared. Cold hatred and vengeance burned clearly in the clean cut features.
Standish stepped back bringing his right arm up leveling Guidino’s Gloc. at his one time boss and friend.
The gun did not waver, the arm did not twitch. Determination raged in the green eyes. Tears ran down the blood stained face creating tiny rivulets in his cheeks.
“Jest git the Fuck away from me,” He hissed out again. Never again. Never again would the likes of Palamon or Larabee envelop him with trust only to rip it from him. Never again.
Chris watched the man in front of him. Standish had been an invaluable member of his team. More than that he had become one of the family. The last one to give in, the one to hold out the longest. Standish grudgingly gave them his faith and trust, more importantly he gave his friendship.
In one notice of transfer it had been lost. Standish perceived himself to have been discarded. His faith, trust and friendship stomped on and tossed aside. Larabee knew it not to be true but convincing Standish in the face of his painful loss seemed futile. Standish was doing what Chris had done to Buck for years. He lashed out, blamed everyone but no one. Held himself responsible when it was not his fault. Larabee suddenly found himself his Buck’s shoes. Trying to reach a friend who wanted nothing from the world infront of him. Buck had managed to pull Larabee back with persistence and patience and time. Larabee was not that patient and he did not have that kind of time. Standish stood before him now, blood poured out of his wounded shoulder. He needed help now. Larabee wondered how had Buck succeeded, how could Chris reach his undercover agent?
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