Stacie came over and warmed up his coffee. He was looking pretty sad. Miltons taking a break, if you wanna use the computer. She offered him.
Vin closed off his pain and nodded, "Thanks Stacie. He got up and went into the back. He checked the map for Montana and then scanned for activity on Chris credit cards and ATM. Bingo, a credit card was used this morning. His fingers accessed the member s page and saw a seven hundred dollar purchase in Blacktail. He crossed referenced with the map and found it. He was offline and walking back out front in less than a minute. He scribbled what he found and handed the note to Stacie. My friend will be here early tomorrow morning, give em the note. Thank you Stacie. Vin picked up his thermos and headed out the door without looking back.
+ + + + + + +
JD wasnt yet ready to leave Ezras side, so he asked if he could ride to the rendezvous with Ezra. They figured that theyd need two vehicles so Ezra looked over at Buck, who nodded. He put his arm around JD as he answered, "Absolutely JD, Id love your company. Buck looked relieved that JD was already looking better, but just before he broke eye contact, Ezra saw the haunted look that he had been keeping from the Kid. Ezra looked over to Josiah, and realized that he had also caught a glimpse of the look too. While the Kid was packing his stuff in back, Ezra approached Josiah and sat next to him with his back to the others. He looked into Josiahs eyes and saw understanding there.
Josiah seemed to have the most insight to Buck, "Itll be awhile before that haunted look leaves his eyes. When he lost you Ezra, he immediately lost Chris, and JD went down hill daily. Buck was losing everybody and all while trying to save JD and help Vin find Chris. We all forgot about him, that inside he was hurting just like us. He looked over at Ezra, seeing if it was all too much for him too, but he seemed to be handling it . Josiah shook his head, "Geez, and Nathan .., we all left it to him to hold the place together. After the initial work was done he would stand at the window and look out at nothing. He put his arm across Ezras shoulders as he drew his ear closer to his mouth. Most of us never get to know how our passing will affect the lives of those around us. Maybe we arent really meant to know. But you, Ezra, you now have had a glimpse and Im hoping its not too much for you ..if you get to a place and you want to hash it out, I am always here for you. He turned Ezras head slightly so he could see the sincerity in his eyes.
Ezra took comfort in the fact that Josiah was his friend, but he couldnt allow himself to explore what he was talking about. He wasnt ready to. He had to find Chris first, them maybe.
+ + + + + + +
After they got the note Vin left them, they grabbed some food, more coffee and gassed the vehicles. JD seemed determined to stay with Ezra so they piled in and took off for Blacktail. JD got out the map and pointed to the town. Geez, it up by Glacier National Park.
Ezra tried for some conversation, "Glaciers?
Yeah, real ones, Ive never seen one.
Cold, they should be real cold. Ezra said with a smile in his voice.
Ezra, it was so hard watching my mom fade away and die. I wasnt ready to lose her, but I didnt realize how lucky I was, I got to say goodbye. I never, ever thought about it before, but when .we ..saw, and I thought . JDs voice broke and Ezra gently laid his hand on JDs leg and patted it a few times.
JD, Ezra started but JD turned his head into Ezras shoulder and cried.
Ezra, when you were gone .I didnt get to say goodbye. Didnt even get to tell you how I really feel ..always so hard to talk about stuff like that .it felt so yucky, ..couldnt explain to Buck even. JD kept his head in Ezras shoulder trying to control his sobs. Ezra just used his right hand to reach up, stroking JDs hair over and over. Trying to soothe him as his sobs subsided. JD quieted and his head slid down to Ezras leg and fell asleep. Ezra rested his hand on JDs head, concentrating on the road, trying to keep the thoughts at bay.
+ + + + + + +
An hour and a half later the caravan stopped. They wanted munchies, and to drag out any warmer clothes they had brought with them.
Damn, its getting cold, Josiah stated succinctly.
Ezra walked off a bit to the side, once again dialing his mothers number. Four men stood completely still as they heard Ezra speak. Estelle, is Maude in residence, she is. Then would you be ever so kind as to put me through? Thank you. While Ezra waited, he took a couple of deep breaths as he flexed his hand open and closed. Both Josiah and Nathan couldnt miss the tension building in this usually calm undercover man.
Ah, Mother, by chance did you lend your services to the production of a video portraying my demise? Whatever the answer, the four men could instantly read the rise in Ezras anger level. The scathing quality of his voice would have removed all doubt if there had been any in his reply. Mother, it is one thing to have caused me endless pain throughout my life. But that you would in a self-seeking manner, inflict that type of hoax on my friends, causing senseless worry and agony with possible heinous repercussions, I will hold you responsible for any and all maladies your complete lack of prudence has caused. If possible, Ezras voice intensified in its disgust, And pray tell, MOTHER, what possible inducement was prevailed upon you to perpetrate this callous ruse?
The sharply indrawn breath, the draining of all color in his face and the need for Ezra to lean against the tree next to him, were all strong indications that Ezra was in shock at what his mother had answered. As the phone fell from his slackened hand, his four friends rushed to him.
Nathan and Josiah had known that Ezra suspected his mothers duplicity, but this was news to Buck and JD. JD looked crushed for Ezra, hed always thought that Ezra was lucky to have a mother that was still alive. He wasnt so sure now.
Ezra didnt push away his friends as they tried to comfort him. He just looked up into the four faces and uttered with defeat, "Two million dollars.
JD and Nathan were equally shocked, JD figured that it had to be life threatening to do that type of thing to a son. Nathan was saddened that anyones life could be reduced to a monetary value. Buck sat down facing Ezra and embraced him. When Ezras head actually rested on his shoulder, Buck knew that this hit him very deep. Josiah looked heavenward, once again questioning his fathers faith. How much pain does those he love, have to endure?
The five men sat there in silence, lost in individual thoughts that ran on similar paths. Their reflections were interrupted by shrill ring of Ezras phone. JD picked it up off the ground, but Ezra waved it off. Josiah took it and turned it off.
Theres not enough money in the world that could take away the happiness I feel from having you still alive. JD looked Ezra straight in the eye as he said it.
Josiah shook his head and smiled, "Aint it amazin', that our youngest has the greatest ability to say what we all feel. JD felt proud at Josiahs words.
Ezra knew that hed reached a turning point in his belief of being part of a family. He knew that the irony would be lost on his mother. With a breath to fortify himself Ezra said aloud, "Lets go find the rest of our family.
+ + + + + + +
Vin drove on, fighting a losing battle on not thinking Before, when on a search or stake out, he would replay the few good memories he had of growing up. They would reaffirm his desire to catch bad guys. Hell, it was a way to put his most natural talent to constructive use. His bullets could find its targets without all those fancy scopes. But if he had bragged on his skill as he was growing up, he woulda had to prove it daily. So, instead he had perfected his untouchable air, it kept most of the bad-asses away. He smiled ruefully at the memory, theyd figured if a runt could carry that kind of air about them, he was either fuckin' nuts enough to back it up or too dangerous. These memories were safe.
Then he had collided with Chris Larabee and instead of finding an authority driven asshole, he instantaneously found a connection to a man that instinctively believed could lead him to hell and back alive.
That one connection ended up opening him to six brothers, a family. That connection, as he now knows can shred a heart. His.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee was a wounded animal, a dangerous animal. The desire to strike out at anything in its path is equal to the continuing fervor to survive. Therein lie the problem, he was sure he wanted to die. The darkness of his clothes matched the darkness of his spirit. Larabee could count the number of minutes hed been sober in the last couple of weeks, and he resented each and every one of those seconds.
This was just one of those times. In the sober moments he couldnt forget the images on that tape. Images of Ezras body twitching in death. Of the asshole that shot a gun point blank into his friends chest, the blood I dont think I can handle this again, Chris thought to himself. The loss is too extensive, the price too steep, his friend. Hell, he was more than that, he also knew that without Ezras fancy words to explain it, he knew he couldnt. Without Ezra, that very thought froze Chris heart, a heart that had stopped feeling once, but then he had made the tragic mistake of letting it thaw. A mistake he refused to repeat.
Chris picked up one of the empty whiskey bottles and slammed it against a rock. The crash was gratifying, as each shattered shard represented a piece of his heart that had departed. He picked up another one and threw it harder, the impact resounded loudly and it fueled his anger and he slammed another and another, on the last yelling out loudly, "This wasnt part of the deal. He hurled two more at the same time repeating, "This wasnt part of the god-damn deal. The crash, masking the steps coming up behind him. What deal?
Chris Larabee didnt flinch at the unexpected voice, didnt turn. Hed always expected Vin to find him.
Not hiding the fear in his voice, Vin yelled, "What deal?
Deal I made with myself to go back to work after that last time.
Vin knew that Chris was speaking of Sarah and Adam. He stood still, hoping Chris would continue. He did.
Viciously Chris ground out, "I hate those blood-suckers that prey on the weak and angry. What I do, did, represented, always thought that it would make Adam proud, now .
Vins fear was growing, "WHAT DEAL?
Chris turns his blood shot eyes toward Vin, "To go back to work, and work hard. But not put myself in the position to feel this pain. I screwed up. Chris put his head down, then picks up another bottle and flings it viciously against the rocks. With head still down, "I cant do this, Vin.
What ya screw up? Vin could deal with this, its the other stuff that scared the shit out of him.
I got involved ..I stared to care what happened .is it safe enough? when I sent Ez.. his voice cracked, "On the Abbott undercover ..I woke up in a cold sweat, worrying if all the cover stories were in place, and .and if hed be okay. I couldnt sleep until the case was done. I would drive by an area I knew Ez was suppose to be, just to see if he looked okay god, Vin, what am I gonna do now? See I cant go back this time .Chris voice trailed off.
Vin froze himself, fear gripped his heart in full force, suffocating ..his family in danger. Why?
With barely a whisper, "I could lose you too ..and oh, god, JD. Hes so young. He needs to live I just cant.
None of this killed Ezra.
We dont know that .someone out there for retribution my fault.
Vin sat down next to Chris. Chris.. Vin wasnt sure, right he was more scared than he can ever remember being. He knew that he was fighting for the whole thing now.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah sat next to Ezra on this last leg of their journey. Driving on this rough terrain kept Ezra focused on the road, not his thoughts. Josiah knew he needed the reprieve to strengthen his controls. He would be losing them again soon enough. Josiah reflected on the different losses in his life. Some sad, some profound. But never gut wrenching. Josiah had come to believe that although he could empathize with others pain, he was unable to reach the heights and depths that had plagued those around him. Sometimes that was a good thing. He could sit back and analyze people, a situation, the past.
Meeting Larabee changed all that. Whod known that this specific mix would give birth to feelings of family that had never existed before. Traveling about the world with my father didnt make me close to him. On the contrary, he was always too exhausted, didnt have extra love to share. Josiah had no clue what he had missed until Larabee. And in the oddest way, Ezra was the glue.
Hed probably run if he ever realized that. He has no clue, probably better that too, the glues in this life should never know ..too much responsibility. Josiah figured that Ezra grew up knowing just what he was missing, sitting on the outside looking in, but not part of.
Now they both had a family, not a conventional one, but possibly one thats even more binding than blood. Life, the connection to life. Interdependent. Now that Josiah had experienced it, he was not willing to lose it and now he too was plagued with the heights and depths. Change it?, throw it back? Never.
They were almost there and Josiah knew he had to broach one topic with this man so capable of hiding what he feels. Chris.
"Yes, Josiah, Im here.
Ezra, I know in the past, our caring, our incessant desire to be with you that sometimes it has overwhelmed you. Our need to touch you or bare out hearts. That you at times are uncomfortable with the loss of control these situation induce. He saw Ezra nod. Josiah opened his mouth to speak but he froze, not sure how to put together what he needed to say.
Ezra was a tad concerned, Josiah fighting for words? Josiah, what is it? Im doing okay, Ill be better when I see Chris.
Ezras heart froze, "Somethings wrong with Chris his voice but a whisper.
After the tape at his house ..everything was there to see in his eyes. Ez, its more that Ive ever seen exist in one person. Im not trying to scare you, but, Ez, you mean a whole lot more to that man than you could ever realize.
Tears formed in Ezras eyes, he blinked trying to clear his vision. He threw off his sunglasses and wiped his eyes. He turned his head and looked at Josiah without his shutters.
Again, Josiah sat in shock, everything was there to see, "Ez,..?
Tears threatened his voice, "I know about there being so much. I work each and every day not to let any one emotion consume me. I work hard not to let it touch me. Ezra took a breath, "Your caring, your incessant desire to be with me did overwhelmed me, at first. Your need to touch or bare your out hearts. I grew to look forward to it..and it scared me. Didnt know how to trust it.
Josiah nodded his head, Ezra might just be able to break through and reach Chris, possibly himself. Chris doesnt know how to fight the war of all those emotions. Angry, apathetic, not connected to this plane, vicious, while haunted at the same time. I just wanted you to know.
Ezra nodded, and concentrated on the road.
+ + + + + + +
Josiahs cellphone rang. Yeah?
Ezra smiled, phone etiquette.
Okay, JD, okay. Well follow you guys. Josiah almost laughed, "They want to lead us to the Ranger station, seem there not sure we can follow the signs. JD a bit excited Ezra raised his eyebrows, "Okay a lot excited. Hes anticipating all us together again.
Softly, "So am I.
That said it all for Josiah too.
They pulled into the parking lot and the station was already closed. Buck walked around and saw two cars still here, so they took out their badges and pounded on the doors.
Finally when Nathan was sure that the door was going to cave in, it was answered.
A head poked out the door, "Were closed if its an emergency, 911 works up here too. They flashed five ATF badges into her face, and she backed up and opened the door, calling out, "Ranger Stevens, would you come out front. She waited and as soon as the Ranger showed his face, she faded into another room.
He had no clue why he was called out here so Nathan stepped right in we need to find our Commander, he believes his son is dead. We need to locate him, tell em its a hoax.
Josiah could see that the Ranger wasnt sure what he was dealing with, so Josiah added, "Theyd had an estranged relationship for such a long time. Then recently they had reached an understanding and could love one another again. A few days ago he was given a video of his son being killed and were afraid that he has come here to die. Josiah knew the Ranger was listening now, "Two or three years ago he took out a permit for the back country, had to show the route he was using. We think hes in the same area now, just without the permit.
The Ranger nodded and turned to his computer, "Whats his name? Fingers poised at the keyboard, he was ready to search.
Chris Larabee L a .r a b e .e. Josiah supplied.
The Ranger put in the name and entered it. Okay, here it is. Three years ago, the northwest sector. Here Ill mark it on a map. He did it as he was saying it. What agency did you say you were with?
ATF- Denver. Nathan answered.
+ + + + + + +
Vin calls out into the night, I live in a box of pain.
The pain in Vins voice reaches out and hits a cord in the depths of Chris mind, it responds, forcing Chris to need to soothe it. He realizes that Vin is really there before him, in pain. In Vins eyes, he sees fear, the crippling kind. Working more on an instinctive level, he pulls the man beside him into an embrace.
Like a man too long without water, Vin laid his head over Chriss heart, and hugged him back fiercely. The dam that had been building inside Vin from the sight of the aimed gun at Ezra, finally broke. Great sobs burst forth racking Vins body. Chris held him tighter, planning on just riding out the storm. Vin cried for all his losses, all the childhood cruelties, denied the family unit. Ezra. His sobs began anew at the loss Ezra represented. That the family he unconsciously sought for his whole, was now destroyed. Afraid that Chris would expire too .all too much.
Chris held on as the torment raged through, his silent tears running down his face. As the storm subsided, Chris changed his hold on the tracker, but did not relinquish it. Instead, they sat side by side with Chris arm tightly around his shoulders.
I slipped up in Blacktail, made it too easy by busting up that bar, had to use my credit card to pay for damages.
Vin raised his eyebrows slightly, "Too easy?
Musing aloud Chris said, "Or maybe I wanted to be found. I knew youd be looking. But it was hard to stay focused, I couldnt get drunk enough to forget .My mind didnt rest and I couldnt sleep, it got so I was scared to sleep, couldnt escape the dreams. Dreams taunted me. I could see I failed him, I shoulda protected him better. I let him down and now the whole damn team is paying the price ..were not a team without Ezra. The agony conveyed by the simple plainness was tangible. Shock waves of pain and despair could be felt.
Vin looked at Chris, trying to see him as he saw himself it was the whole family for Chris too. He was the wolf that lost its only companion of a lifetime. Alone, bereft.
Ezra stood just before the rise, still out of sight, transfixed in place, Josiah was right, maybe we arent meant to know how our passing affects others. The knowledge that Chris could feel that torment on his behalf, just by its very nature became a new responsibility for Ezra. Chris Larabee, was .was one of the most important people in his world, and he had to protect him with entire being. Ezra, now knew that was the hardest job before him, he needed, they all needed Chris back as head of their family ..it was up to him to pull him back.
He went back down a bit and signaled to Josiah, to have everyone wait a while before joining them. Josiah understood and nodded to Ezra. Then he gathered the rest for the wait. Ezra quietly retraced his steps. He saw that Vin now had his arm about Chris shoulder.
Chris, you didnt in any way get Ezra killed .
Ezra knew this was the right moment to go forth, hopefully he would emerge intact, emerge together. He put aside every feeling, thought to his most cocky attitude and went forward.
I dare say gentlemen, that it would be a matter of bad timing to meet my demise at that very moment in life that I intend to reach out and embrace this family Im a part of. Ezra looked at the two men before him, both in shock.
Vin recovered first, he whooped for joy. He closed the gap and hugged Ezra in a mighty bear hug. At that very moment, Vins life slipped back into place, his family was intact. The fear that ripped at him ebbed away and he knew he could tackle anything ..even the unmovable mountain Larabee.
To Ezra, he resorted to humor, all the while he held him in arms that had no intention of letting go, "Glad we didna have a funeral. Glad I didna have to come up with those nice things to say about you Then in a voice that hid nothing, "God, Im glad youre not dead.
Ezra swallowed the tears threatening, he just held on back. Patting his back gently, this time waiting for Vin to be done, not pulling away too early. This young oned had a difficult time too. The one thing that hed ever known to frighten Vin was the thoughts of losing one of their team. It was a phobia they shared. Minutes passed and the two didnt move. Vin was repairing himself, Ezra could feel him healing.
Ezra was being given a gift, one that he never knew about, to be truly essential to someone else. This fierce and gentle man, who would track to hell and back .with this unconditional embrace healed a broken shard of Ezras heart too.
Chris had heard Ezras voice so many times in his dreams, he had no reason to believe that it was real this time. But Vin had become happy, he turned to find Vin ..Vin was there just above him, holding someone one ..the rest must of found them too for just a moment he allowed himself to hope .dangerous.
That naked disappoint was again tangible, Ezra felt it, Vin felt it. Vin pulled back and looked into the green eyes hed missed, he knew that someone else need to heal. His look said take care of him. Ezra acknowledged the silent request with a nod. With his eyes he told Vin the others were down below. Vin hugged him quick and left Ezra with a big project.
Looking down, he connected with pain filled eyes, artifice gone, stripped down to the layer where all emotion lies. Thats how Ezra found him. He walked straight to him and took the initiative he knelt beside him and embraced him. Chris, its Ezra, Im alive, Im fine ..Chris, look at me. He put his knuckles under his chin, trying to force his eyes up.
Chris heard the voice again ..and that damn hope pops up again .If I look up and its not him .. Chris thought to himself.
Mr. Larabee, please look at me.
Mr. Larabee, that had his head up quick, no one called him Mr. Larabee quite the way Ezra did. Hazel eyes met green and tears quickly filled both. One word, "Ezra. Said all that Ezra needed. And for one Chris Larabee, the dam broke, he cried for all his losses. He cried for all his joys. He cried for every time he didnt.
His torment temporarily abated, he looked at the face he thought was dead, the one he failed, and knew it could happen again and be real, forever. Trying to maintain a tentative hold on his emotions, emotions that threatened to spill out and consume him, he said, "Its a hole right here, he points to his heart. I didnt even know it could get ripped like that again, and its scared me down to the center. Hell..I hardly ever visit there, now I cant stay out.
Chris rubbed his face, "I cant do it anymore, this was too hard, I care too much. Now that youre safe. You have to stay that way. So I have to stay away. For all of you. Its best.
Ezra could see so much of the pain he had felt on so many occasions ..was indeed the same pain that Chris was experiencing. Ezra wished that it was he that was in that pain instead of Chris, for to see this amazing man in agony was one of the most painful experiences Ezras faced. This man is suppose to it hand out, not be the recipient of it, especially as it was caused by me, by Maude, she will have a lot to answer for.
In a moment of stark clarity, Ezra realized that this enigmatic man, that was held in such high estimation was grieving for a loss, not just to the team, but to himself. Ezra thought that all his deep emotions were reserved for Vin. But to see it so plainly that it was for him, a conman, a risk taker, he was forced to acknowledge that Josiah words were true, Chris Larabee did care a lot more than he realized.
So the battle begins, truth will be the only tool that I can use. It will mean baring myself completely, holding nothing back. Ezra looked at Chris Larabee, and knew without a smidgen of doubt, that for this man it would be worth it.
Chris started a fire and sat facing it lost in guilt and recriminations. Ezra sat next to him but with his back to the fire, so he could face Chris. He needed to make and keep the eye contact, Chris needed to see he was holding nothing back.
Ezras green eyes usually shielded all he felt, but as he connected with the hazel eyes in front of him he held nothing, absolutely nothing back. Chris, its been damn hard for me to trust, hell near on impossible. It took Lenny ten years and he did all the work. Chris, you and these guys did something I didnt believe possible, you all got under the electrified fence where Ive kept my feelings, my trust, my love. Chris, you cant give up now, not when youve just broken through. You convinced me were a team .a team with a special bond. That bond is family. We may not have the blood that connects, but we have that special quality that most yearn for all their lives. Ezra brushed away a stray tear, but the hazel eyes stayed with him.
You all have bombarded me, dragged me kicking and screaming and brought into your fold. Chris, you gave me a second chance, I gave you a second chance, now you have to give life a third chance. Josiah told me I didnt realize what I meant to you, to all of you, but what you all, and especially you, mean to me.
Ive been betrayed by so many, on so many different levels, its a wonder I dont The unconcealed anguish in Ezras eyes clutched at Chris heart. He reached out and rested his hand on Ezras shoulder. Tears welled up in Ezras eyes, but he continued in a wobbly voice, "But you taught me through example that taking another chance, exposing your heart, opening youre deepest aspects to view was a winning situation. That it WAS tangible. Chris , Ezras voice lowered, .when the rumors and allegations were rampant throughout the agency, regardless of states, I didnt care. I knew in my heart and that was good enough for me. I didnt care what any of the other teams thought of me ..Chris after that first assignment, never in my entire life have I wanted to prove to someone I was worth that chance. The truth ..that day I respected you like none other. Hence so many of the problems .Somewhere that respect was joined with .
Chris leaned closer, he couldnt hear Ezra, he wanted to hear Ezra. He squeezed Ezras neck. Ezra looked into Chris eyes and knew he needed to hear it, .love, I said love and it scares the hell out of me. I wanted to back away from it, runaway, but Vin, JD, Josiah theyd pull me back and then on occasion, Id look in your eyes and see the concern you held for me and I knew, no matter what, ..I couldnt leave But Chris, if you give up, let yourself curl up and die and die on the inside ..you take me with you. I will wither out here without you. Ezra didnt care a bit about the tears that ran down his face. He tried to let his eyes convey his honesty.
Vin stepped closer, letting both men know hes there. Chris .thats me, just what Ezra said, if you go, then so do I. The pain, itll shred me. I cant lose you, you promised. Vin kneels down on Chris other side. He touches his chest gently, "If you leaves us here and here, touching his head, "Then we go too. You showed me what this caring thing was, if you take it away now, its lost forever. Vin sat back, head pressed against his knees, tear running down his face.
Ezra reached out and touched both men with his hands, "we are lost souls, together we make one. If we stand alone, we are but one separate link, but together we stand strong." Ezra linked his fingers with Vin's hand, then he put out his hand to Chris, letting him make the decision.
Chris looked from Ezra to Vin, into green eyes, then blue, though the colors were different, the message was the same. He loved these two men, like brothers, like sons. He couldn't willingly put them through the anguish and pain they would feel if he left. He'd never stop worrying about them anyway, might as well keep them close. Chris put out both his hands, he laced fingers with Ezra, laced fingers with Vin, and held tight. "We stand together." Real smiles appeared on Ezra's face, Vin's face, then Chris face.
Josiah waited silently above, grateful, they'd all be okay.
He waved the others up, and made some noise. The sound of the others was not disguised. They flocked around the fire, around their friends. Hazel eyes sought out the green ones, Chris whispered for Ezra's ears only, "one strong chain, one complete soul."
Continues in Vanquished
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