by KellyA

Warning: references to abuse.

Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.

****Part 1

It was one o'clock in the morning according to the illuminated clock on the nightstand.  Vin looked at the fuzzy numbers as he listened to the annoying ring of his phone next to the clock.  He clumsily grabbed the hand set and brought it to his ear, falling back into his pillow.

"Yeah," he growled, the Texas drawl lost somewhere in his raspy throat.

A smooth southern drawl caused him to sit up on his elbow.

"Ezra, what the hell you calling me at this hour for?"

"Mr. Tanner, I require your help and discretion in a very delicate matter."

Vin's brow furrowed and he stifled a yawn.  The solitary man had to be in real trouble if he was calling anyone for help.  Vin ran his hand down his gaunt face; sleep quickly deserting him as he listened to the southern agent on the other end.

"I'll be right down," Vin replied and hung up the phone.


Vin and Ezra exited the Denver County Jail and walked across the street to where Vin had parked his jeep in a no parking zone.  The red blinking traffic lights reflecting off the wet pavement.  Vin cast a sideways glance at the suave undercover agent noticing the muscles flex in his jaw, like he was grinding his teeth.

"You want to tell me about it?" Vin asked, shoving his hands deep into his pockets.  His fingers wrapped around his keys but did not pull them out.

"Not especially," Ezra replied, keeping his voice even.

Vin stopped at his car and looked over the hood at Ezra, who was refusing to meet his eyes.  He did not intend to go anywhere until he got some kind of explanation.  "Well, the way I figure, since I dragged my butt out here in the middle of the night to bail your ass out of jail, I deserve an explanation!" Vin was not in the mood for Ezra's elusive behavior.  This was serious, the man was being charged with assault and battery, a felony.  He could lose his job, and end up doing time, or worse, Chris would kill him.

Ezra regarded the slightly perturbed sharpshooter through suspicious eyes.  Vin was a friend; he did owe him an explanation.  Vin was the only one he thought he could trust enough to call, and not lecture him or try and delve into his psyche.  He stared down at the beat up red jeep, tracing his finger along the large dent, which ran down the right side.  He smiled faintly, remembering the origin of the damage.  The famous ATF team was having a barbecue at Larabee's ranch when Buck decided to jump one of Chris' horses over the jeep.   It had been Ezra's first time up to the ranch. It had taken him awhile to get comfortable, but after several of JD's bad jokes, and some good food he found himself enjoying the company of the other men.  He shivered slightly as a damp breeze cut through the light shirt he was wearing, which had a rip on one sleeve. 

Vin saw the makings of a slight bruise on the southerner's cheek, but it appeared that Ezra gave more than he took.  Vin folded his arms across his chest, informing the reticent jail bird he wasn't moving until he got some kind of explanation.

A car went by, the hiss of tires on wet pavement breaking the silence between the two men.  Ezra exhaled and ran his fingers through his damp hair creating long furrows through the dark strands.  "My neighbor was beating his son, and I intervened," he simply stated.

Vin cocked his head and cast a skeptical glance at his friend.  Ezra appeared pale under the glare of the street light and there was something else, something he'd never seen before on the undercover agent's visage...fear.

"That's it." Vin prompted.  He knew there was more.  Nothing was simple when it came to any member of Team 7.  They all had the ability of complicating the most simple of situations.

"Well, apparently the police thought I was a little excessive in my intervention," Ezra quietly drawled out, a faint smile tickled his lips.

Vin shook his head and grinned.  "Let's go."  He climbed into the driver's seat and waited for Ezra to get in.


Vin pulled up to Ezra's apartment; neither man had said a word during the drive from the police station.  Vin occasionally glanced over to see Ezra staring out the passenger window, a dark scowl marring his handsome face.  He grabbed the southerner's arm before he could make a hasty retreat.  He knew it was still hard for Ezra to trust.  He had only recently joined the team and still felt the outsider.

"You know Ez, you got friends now who care," Vin reminded.

Chagrin flickered over Ezra's face.  He nodded and gently pulled out of Vin's grasp.  Vin watched as the enigmatic agent made his way to his door. 

Ezra released the breath he had been holding since leaving the police station.  He felt numb, moving perfunctory through the small two-bedroom apartment.  He poured himself a drink and fell heavily into the overstuffed leather chair.  He stared past the blank screen of the TV and out the large front window into the early morning darkness.  In a couple hours the sky would begin to turn gray with the coming dawn.  He took a long drawl on his drink then stared at it, trying to remember when he had made it.  He hoped to relieve some of the nervous fear that now tied his stomach in knots and seemed to be pulling him down into a morass of despair.  He was trying to keep his mind blank, but a door had been unlocked, one that he thought had been shut for good eighteen years ago.  He released another quivering breath.  He knew he should try and get some sleep, but he also knew what demons were waiting in the dark recesses of his mind to invade his dreams.  He stretched out his legs; it had been a long time since he'd watched a sunrise.

****Part 2

The seventh floor of the nine-story government building came alive with a flurry of boisterous activity as Buck and JD entered, followed by the more calming influence of Nathan and Josiah.  The four agents headed for the break area for their intake of fructose and caffeine.  Josiah almost gave himself whiplash as he passed by Ezra's cubicle.  Nathan stopped alongside the huge agent.  The two men gaped at the form bent over his desk, his head lying on his arms. 

Josiah placed a huge hand on Ezra's shoulder and shook him gently.  "Ezra."

Ezra shot up, the hand on his shoulder the only thing keeping him in his seat.  Josiah could tell that Ezra didn't know where he was for a moment, and he saw something else in those wild green eyes, the same thing Vin saw earlier, fear.

"Ezra, what are you doing here-" Nathan looked at his watch then finished, "early?"

Ezra wiped a hand down his face trying to remove any residual of sleep from his face.  "I...I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd use the rare silence to get some paper work done."

"A little insomnia? I can give you something," Nathan said with sudden concern.  He had noticed the blood-shot green eyes.

"Not necessary Mr. Jackson, I'm sure it's only a temporary condition."  Ezra stretched and pushed himself away from his desk.  "I believe now I need something to keep me awake," he lightly joked.  Josiah and Nate followed the undercover man toward the break area.  The elevator bell sounded to announce the arrival of the last two men of their illustrious team.  Vin caught a glimpse of Ezra as he stepped out of the elevator;  surprised to see he made it to work on time.  Vin hadn't told Chris what had occurred last night and hoped that Ezra would.

A couple hours into the workday, the sound of Larabee's voice rose above the knot of cubicles.


Everyone tensed, feeling the infamous rage from their stalwart leader.  The open floor allowed the booming voice to broadcast without hindrance.

Ezra hung his head and slowly rose from his desk.  He walked down the aisle toward Chris's office, feeling like he was marching to his own execution.  Everyone stuck their heads out of their cubicles, wondering what the smooth-talking undercover had done to elicit Larabee's wrath.  Vin had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, and slowly rose from his own desk.  Somehow, Chris had found out.

Ezra stepped into Chris's office and stopped in the middle of the room.  His hands behind his back, hiding his slight nervousness.  Chris sat back in his chair; his arms folded across his chest.  His icy gaze trying to burn a hole through the agent, who stood silently in the center of his office.  Ezra had secured a smug attitude for the occasion.  Larabee held his volatile emotions just below the surface; whereas, Ezra's were buried a little deeper and required a little digging to bring them to the surface.

"What the hell is this?" Chris asked, trying to hold his temper in check.  He held up a manila folder almost bending it in half in his grasp.  "I just received a report from Denver County Detention informing me that one of my agents was arrested last night and is being charged with assault and battery."

"It is nothing I can't handle," Ezra calmly replied, knowing this response would not appease the furious man sitting behind the desk. 

Chris glared at the southerner, wondering if he could make the man squirm.  He softened as he looked at Ezra's appearance.  The undercover agent looked tired.  Dark circles marred his handsome face, but this was the only deviation from his normal impassive mask.

"Who bailed you out?"

"No one I..." Ezra began.

"I did," came the admitting drawl from the doorway.  Chris looked over to see his best friend leaning against the door frame.  He wasn't sure if he should be furious that Vin hadn't told him, or glad that the Ezra had called someone.  It showed that he was becoming more a part of their family.  Now he had to try and keep the obstinate agent part of the team.

Chris threw the folder down on his desk and rose from his chair.  Three long strides brought him standing in front of the smaller agent.  He stood for a moment allowing his height to intimidate, and then leaned back to rest a cheek on the corner of his desk.  His hands grasped the edge of the wooden desk.  He glared at Vin then turned his angry eyes back on Ezra.  He thought he detected a slight flinch.

"You know there are people here that are itching for a reason to kick your insubordinate ass off this team, and what do you do-give them one on a silver platter!"  Chris was trying to keep his voice calm and under control, without much success.  When it came to Ezra, it took everything he had to keep from throwing the headstrong agent out the window.

Chris's initial anger started to abate.  He needed to think.   He was not going to allow anyone on his team to be fired, unless he did the firing. 

Vin stepped forward.  "Isn't there anything we can do?" he asked, ignoring Ezra's look of disbelief.

Chris caught the surprise in Ezra's face.  The man still had trouble believing he was a part of the team and they were willing to help.

"Let me talk with the Judge and see where we stand on this." Chris went back around his desk and sat down.  A quirky half-smile came to his rugged face.  "Was it necessary to beat the guy into intensive care?"

"That wasn't the plan, things just seemed to get out of hand," Ezra replied, the smug grin faltering slightly.  He wasn't about to tell Chris or anyone else that if the police hadn't arrived when they did he probably would have killed the man.  He hardly remembered what happened.  When he heard the screams of the boy next door, a surreal rage took over; nothing was real until he felt the hands of two officers dragging him away.

"You're dismissed agent," Chris said, noticing the bemused stare in Ezra's eye.

Ezra nodded and walked out.  He smiled as he walked past Vin; grateful the man hadn't taken it upon himself to inform Chris.  He was not use to someone standing up for him; usually someone was stabbing him in the back.

"Sorry I didn't tell ya cowboy, didn't think it was my place," Vin sheepishly explained.  He stepped up and sat on the corner of the desk.  He picked up a paperweight, which held a rose forever in bloom within its plastic glass.  He suspected the paperweight was something his wife had owned, Chris didn't seem the floral type.

Chris looked up, the anger having left his blue eyes. "I'm just glad he called somebody," he admitted.  Ezra had a tendency to keep to himself and not trust others, something the other members of his team were trying to change.  They were a special team of unique individuals. Unlike most, they were almost as close as family, each of them willing to give their life for the others.  It took Ezra awhile to realize and understand this.  Josiah Sanchez was fond of constantly reminding them that they were seven men brought together to share one destiny.

"Is he in a lot of trouble?" Vin asked, running his hand over the smooth paperweight.

Chris took a deep breath and released it.  "I don't know."  He noticed the troubled look on the sharpshooter's face.  It was easy to spot on the normally emotionless visage.  Vin and Ezra both shared a similar capability of hiding their true selves behind a mask of nonchalance, but Chris could read Vin.  The two men had known each other only a little over six months, but they had a sixth sense for each other, almost as if they were separated at birth.  A silent communication existed between the subtly different men.

Chris didn't think the charges against Ezra were what was bothering the sharpshooter.  They had all had their share of run-ins with the law in the past and would probably have them in the future as well.

"Something else troubling you?" he ventured to asked his discerning friend

Vin rubbed the back of his neck and set the paperweight back down on the desk.  "I don't know, it's just a feeling I got.  The way Ezra looked when I picked him up at the jail."  Vin glanced out the window seeming to search the gray sky for the words to make concrete his thoughts.  "He had this look about him that I'd never seen before."

Chris leaned back in his chair and templed his fingers in front of his face and sighed.  He had learned to trust Vin's instincts.  The man had an uncanny ability to see things that others missed.

"What'cha think?" Chris prompted, trying to get his friend to elaborate.

"That's just it I have no idea.  I just don't know Ezra well enough to even make a guess," Vin explained.  He had a hard time reading the suave undercover.  Ezra was practiced at hiding his feelings; it was part of his job and a big part of his life.  He had been taught to hide his feelings almost since birth.  You never knew what was going on behind Ezra's carefree guise, one he reserved for family as well as friends.  The man could be dying of some incurable disease and no one would suspect a thing.

"We'll keep an eye on him for a few days," Chris replied, concern knitting his brows together.  He had the best team west of the Mississippi and Ezra was partially responsible for that.  His undercover work was second to none, and Chris had to admit the fastidious southerner had a way of growing on a person.  Even though between the risks that Vin and Ezra took, Chris thought he'd eventually have a heart attack or shoot one of them.

Ezra stayed at the office long after the others had left, again making the excuse of paper work to catch up on.  Only Nathan and Vin glanced at him suspiciously as they left.  Nathan, mostly due to his physical deterioration, Ezra looked run-down.  His normally sharp appearance now appeared dull and lifeless.

Ezra did not want to go home, but he didn't want company either.  He had barely slept two hours last night, and knew he couldn't keep this up for long.  By ten o'clock, he had made his way home and was again sitting in the overstuffed chair staring out at the night sky.  Memories flew through his head; memories he tried to keep in the realm of mist, that fuzzy part of the brain that kept things just out of reach so they couldn't be examined or felt.

*****Part 3

The next morning Buck was the one to pass by Ezra's partitioned work area to find the agent asleep at his desk.  He liked the suave undercover, but they were of different life styles and backgrounds.  He hadn't trusted the man at first, especially after he ran out on them during there first mission together.   Since then, the undercover had proved himself invaluable on numerous occasions.  Ezra went through life seemingly calculating the odds and expecting some type of deception.  'Everything came with a price' was probably the undercover agent's motto.  Buck grabbed life like he was riding a bronco and just hung on for the ride, not trying to examine anything to closely.

He gently shook the sleeping undercover, who again jumped out of his chair.  For a moment, Ezra didn't know where he was.  His eyes darted wildly, and his heart raced.  Buck's high brow furrowed, and he stepped back when he looked into those haunted green eyes.  The look disappeared quickly, replaced with Ezra's usual cool exterior.  Buck frowned at how haggard the undercover agent appeared under the harsh florescent lighting.

"Mr. Wilmington, do you take pleasure in sneaking up on individuals?"  Ezra slowly sat back down at his desk, rubbing his eyes.

"No," Buck quietly answered still staring at the undercover agent.

Buck might not be as perceptive as Vin, but the look he saw in Ezra's eyes disturbed him.  He had seen that look before.

"Are you alright, Ez?"

There it was again, concern.  Ezra still didn't know how to deal with it.  His mother never showed him love much less any regard in his well being.

"I'm fine."  Was the pat reply as he struck a key on the computer, bringing up an earlier report.  Buck knew he was being dismissed, he nodded and walked away.

Ezra was barely able to make it through the day.  He mostly stayed harbored in his office, trying to lose himself in his work.  He had a hard time concentrating and ended up re-doing a report after having deleted it.  Everyone was made aware of his sudden volatile personality, with the sound of shattered glass.  Vin, Buck, JD and Josiah all rushed into the break area, moving aside as Ezra rushed past.  They looked on the floor where the remains of an empty coffeepot lay shattered on the other side of the room from where it should be.

"Damn, I just bought that," JD glibly remarked.

****Part 4

When Vin entered the office area the next morning and saw Ezra at his desk again, he picked up the phone and dialed security.  He spoke for a minute.  His brow creased as he listened, and then he slowly replaced the handset.  Vin stared worriedly at the undercover agent, who was rubbing his temples, and looked like something you'd find balled up in the corner of Buck and JD's apartment.

Chris appeared in Ezra's doorway.  The normally astute agent was not even aware of the ATF leader's presence.  The blond leader took in his agent's rumpled appearance.  Faint dark circles underscored dull green eyes, and emphasized the apprehension that filled every fiber of Ezra's being. 

"Ezra," he quietly called as if trying not to startle a skittish horse.

Ezra still flinched slightly at the sound nonetheless.  "Yes, Mr. Larabee."

"I need to see you in my office."  Chris turned away before Ezra could see the concern that marred the usually sober visage.

He pushed himself away from his computer, which was flashing random geometric shapes across the screen.  Ezra followed the esteemed leader into his office.  He nodded politely toward the dark-haired woman, who sat on the long, leather sofa.  She was probably no more than ten years older than him, but the beauty she once held had been drained away, making her appear older.  Although her smile did a lot to erase the years from her face.

Chris strode purposely behind his desk and sat down.  "Ezra, this is Mrs. Flemming," he introduced, gesturing toward the woman. "She is the mother of the boy you saved from that beating," Chris continued.

"Mr. Standish, I wanted to thank you personally for saving my boy," Mrs. Flemming explained. "Not many people nowadays would do what you did."

"It was my pleasure, ma'am," Ezra replied with the slight hint of a smile.  It had been.  He had thoroughly enjoyed beating the man even though at the time he thought he was beating his uncle.

"I'm divorced and my husband and I had joint custody of Jordan.  Judge Travis helped me get sole custody."

Ezra turned to look at Chris knowing he had a part in it.

"The Judge was going to charge Mr. Flemming with child abuse," Chris added.

"Was?" Ezra's interest was piqued.

A sly smile came to Chris's stoic face.  "He told Mr. Flemming he would drop the charges if he gave sole custody to Mrs. Flemming and dropped the charges against you."

Ezra's face shifted with understanding.  He was surprised that the esteemed DA would do that for him.  Some of the weariness left his face as a burdensome weight lifted from his shoulders.  He never regretted what he did, but he had no desire to spend time in jail or lose his job.

Mrs. Flemming stood and gently touched Ezra's arm.  Chris frowned when he saw him jerk away.  Mrs. Flemming didn't seem to notice or ignored it.  "I'm taking Jordan to Nevada.  We're going to stay with my family for awhile.  I just wanted to thank you, none of this would have been possible if it hadn't been for you and Mr. Larabee."  She flashed a grateful smile at Chris.

"I'm glad everything worked out," Ezra graciously replied.  Mrs. Flemming nodded and walked out the door.

Ezra fell heavily into the sofa then glanced appreciatively up at Chris.  He was to bone-tired to play his normal beguiling games.  "I suppose I have you to thank for pulling my insubordinate ass out of the fire."

"Let's just say, you owe me one," Chris good-naturedly smirked.  Ezra laid his head back on the couch and closed his eyes.  The smile left Chris's face as he stared at his agent.  Vin was right, there was something more bothering the smooth-talking agent.

"Is there anything else I should know about?" Chris asked.

It was a moment before the undercover agent opened his eyes to meet Chris's worried gaze.  Ezra shifted uncomfortably.

"Such as?"

Chris shook his head, knowing the designing agent wouldn't be forthcoming with any information.

The rest of the day was relatively peaceful.  There was talk of a new mission coming down the pike soon, which caused their youngest member to start bouncing off the walls with excitement.  JD was always eager, but when an operation was underway he was down right irritating with his overflowing enthusiasm.

Josiah entered the break room, noticing Ezra getting his fourth cup of coffee in little less than two hours.  He was worried about the younger man; being a close knit unit they all had noticed Ezra's abnormal behavior  The undercover agent didn't seem aware that he was even being scrutinized.  

Vin and Nathan quietly entered, stopping when they saw what Josiah was about to do.  The large agent placed his hand on Ezra's shoulder unprepared for the reaction that this initiated.  Ezra abruptly turned and threw himself away like he'd just been burned.  The contents of his coffee cup adding to the collection of stains already on the dingy linoleum floor.  Vin caught a glimpse of terror in those green eyes.  Ezra shook uncontrollably for a moment then sharply mumbled an excuse and walked out, leaving three dumbfounded agents in his wake.

"What the hell was that all about?" Josiah exclaimed after the shock wore off.  Nathan grabbed a rag and began mopping up the spilled coffee as Vin threw away pieces of the shattered cup.  No one knew what to say about what had just taken place.  Josiah peered out the doorway watching as Ezra walked stiffly back to his office.

****Part 5

Ezra woke; choking back the scream that came from the depth of a nightmare he wished would fade away.  His body was bathed in sweat as he sat up in bed and glanced at the clock.  The nightmare was vivid, taking him back to a time he thought he had long buried.  He placed his face into his hands waiting for the residual fear to abate.  He knew he wouldn't be able to go to back to sleep.

The dream took him back to when he was a child.  His mother left him at an uncle's for six months while she traveled overseas with her newly acquired husband.   The dream always started the same, with his uncle's intimidating mass hovering over him then a crack across the back.  The older man would laugh and grab him up by the arm, dragging him toward the back room.  Even in the dream he could smell the whiskey on his uncle's breath and as it seeped out his pores.  He would feel his uncle's huge callous hands pulling at his clothes.  The hungry leer on his uncle's face caused the bile to rise up his throat.  Ezra would close his eyes and try to force himself somewhere else, anywhere.  Then he would feel the sweaty weight on top of him and would choke back the scream.  He could hear his aunt and cousins in the other room; oblivious or indifferent to what was going on right in there own house.   It usually ended with his uncle collapsing on top of him in a drunken stupor.  He wasn't sure if his uncle ever remembered the molestation.  Ezra thought he did, since he had caught him numerous times staring at him in a way that sent shivers up his spine.

Ezra threw his legs over the side of the bed and headed for the shower.  He stood under the scalding water, which hid the hot tears that streamed down his face.


JD noticed that Buck seemed to be taking up espionage.  He caught the affable agent stealthily watching Ezra several times during the day.  During one of these clandestine operations JD came up behind his friend and laid a hand on his shoulder causing the larger man to jump.  "Lord, JD, don't do that!"

"What are you doing?"  JD asked, looking over to where Ezra was staring at copies that were spitting out of the printer.  He had hardly said two words to anyone all day.  JD had even tried to get him into a conversation without success.

"Something's wrong with Ez," Buck simply stated to his curious roommate.

"He should be fine now that the charges against him were dropped," JD reminded him.  They had all been made aware of what had happened and were glad things had worked out.

"It's not that, it's something else," Buck tried to explain to his young friend.  He took a deep breath then threw an arm across JD's shoulders.  "C'mon we'll be late for the meeting."

Everyone slowly made their way into the conference room picking up their individual folders, which sat on the table.  Chris sauntered in moments later; his steely gaze passing over each of his six agents.  His discerning blue eyes lingered longer than usual on his undercover agent.

"Okay ladies, we have a mission coming up," he began. "I need you all to read up on the case file and give me your input by close of business tomorrow."   He again looked at each of his agents.  He noticed Vin and Nathan glancing anxiously at Ezra.  "It's a pretty routine mission, but I don't want any surprises," he continued.

After the meeting Chris returned to his office with Nathan right on his heels.

"Chris, we need to talk," the ex-medic said as he entered Chris's office.  He looked over his shoulder, seeing Ezra head for the break room, probably for another cup of coffee.

Chris frowned at the seriousness in the ex-medic's face.  "What's wrong, Nate?"

"Now, I know I'm only the unofficial medical officer here, but I feel it's my duty to say this."  Nathan paused a moment, trying to gather his thoughts and hoped that he didn't sound out of line.  "I don't think Ezra is up for this mission," he finally blurted out.

Chris leaned back into his chair and stared at the steadfast agent. Everyone owed their lives to Nathan at least once.  He was not a man who made arbitrary observations.  "Maybe it's burnout or that altercation with that neighbor or something else, either way he's not even close to being up to par," Nathan continued, relieved to see the concern in Chris's eyes.

Chris trusted Nathan's instincts.  He had also been worried about the way Ezra had been acting the past few days.

"I'm with Nathan," Vin casually replied from the doorway as he stepped in, followed closely by Buck, who quietly closed the door.

Chris stared at his three agents who stood before him.  When had they started watching out for the roguish seventh man?

"I don't think he's sleeping or eating much," Nathan added.  "And he seems distracted.  Something that could get him killed while undercover."

"I talked to security," Vin stated. "You know Ezra's been coming in early, saying he's got paper work to catch up on.  The night guard says he's been coming in here at three in the morning for the last three nights."  This caused everyone's mouth to drop.  Chris audibly exhaled and leaned back in his chair, not hiding the shock on his face.  He had no idea things were that bad.

"What do you think the problem is?"  Chris asked, looking at each of his three teammates and friends.  He noticed that Buck hadn't said a word, but appeared deep in thought.

"I don't know for sure, but it all started after that altercation with that neighbor," Vin replied.

"Have you all seen the way he looks?" Buck absently queried, staring down at the tan carpet.  "And I just don't mean his physical appearance, it's more than that."  Buck raised his eyes, meeting the confused expressions regarding him intently.  Buck rolled his eyes, realizing he would have to explain.  "You know the look Chris; you use to see it every day in the mirror ten years ago."  He saw the knowing come to his friend's blue eyes.