By: KellyA(Dec 1999)

[I've taken some literary liberties. This is my take on when Ezra joined the team and then ran out. This is Mog's universe, but I changed a few things for my story. One thing is that Ezra was hired last to the ATF.]

[Apr 2001] This is an old zine story of mine. I have re-edited this story. Over the past couple of years my writing has improved(I hope), and I have applied my new found knowledge and expertise to this story. I wish to thank MaryM for her beta skills.]

Part 1

"What the hell were you thinking?" Buck Wilmington ranted, pacing in front of his long-time friend and boss, Chris Larabee, who sat behind a polished mahogany desk. Even the plush carpeting couldn't muffle the angry footfalls of the haranguing agent. Buck stopped at the large picture window, overlooking a busy city intersection. He laid a hand on the cool glass, feeling early morning sunshine that struggled to warm the chilly air. The latest spring snow had melted, into a grimy slush that blanketed the earth, and had everyone's wipers fighting to maintain some measure of visibility. Buck distantly watched a woman in heels as she tried to traverse the icy morass. The bright blue sky contrasted with the dreary, gray ground and Buck's equally hostile mood. High winds had dissipated the ugly brown cloud that had hung over the city all week, sending it to the open plains of Kansas.

Vin Tanner sat seemingly unconcerned in the corner of the office, following Buck's moving tirade with calm blue eyes. Like the brown cloud, he decided to wait until some of that overhanging rage dissipated. Getting between Buck and Chris was as dangerous as getting between a matador and a bull. The two had a long history. A bystander risked earning their combined rage if they intervened. Vin looked at Buck's reflection in the window. A cloud passed over the sun and Buck's irate visage darkened. Hard-edges had replaced the normal affable appearance that Vin had become accustomed to over the past five months of working together.

Wilmington turned his back to the window and walked across the carpet, passing Chris's desk without so much as sidelong glance. He stopped at the far wall and stared at several framed awards and commendations with Chris Larabee's name prominently etched on all of them. The awards surrounded a photo of six men on a fishing trip and another of just him and Chris when they worked together down in San Antonio several years ago.

Chris Larabee, the leader of one of the most successful and esteemed ATF teams in the west, followed the pacing of his friend with his stone blue eyes. He had never seen Buck so incensed. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He knew Buck harbored a temper; it was just so rarely revealed that one could almost forget it existed. Buck usually brought other people to fits of frustration with his carefree attitude but now anger consumed him and twisted his handsome features into someone even Chris wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

"!" Buck snarled, stressing each word with an angry step as he paced. He was growing more annoyed at the lack of concern Chris was showing. He stopped his rug wearing strides in front of Chris's desk. "He almost got us all killed and you give him another chance!" Buck slammed his palms down on the desk and focused his brown eyes upon his friend's stoic visage.

"He came back," Chris stated, managing to keep his voice calm. He glanced over at his weapons specialist, detecting the slightest smile on the younger man's face. Well, at least someone is enjoying himself, he thought.

Buck stood and folded his arms across his chest. Even though the two men had been friends for many years, Buck never took advantage of that friendship for personal gain. Chris Larabee was his boss, and Buck had always showed him the respect he deserved, until now.

"The man is a self-centered menace. He deserted his post, almost getting us killed. Oh, but what's that in the grand scheme of things?" Buck mocked, almost laughing. "Everything worked out in the end, right? No harm, no foul." Buck's voice rose with his contempt. "It's not like he missed one of your all IMPORTANT meetings or wrecked one of the agency vehicles, or told you where to get off."

"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you Buck?" The smooth Texas drawl rose from the corner of the room. Vin stretched out his legs and allowed a devilish smirk to float across his face.

"Shut up, junior!" Buck shot a venomous scowl over his shoulder, vowing revenge later. The lean sharpshooter was as infuriating as Chris with his controlled attitude. Maybe if someone had been hurt or killed he'd get a bigger reaction.

Chris leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands together on his desk. He understood why Buck was so angry. He was angry too. When their new undercover agent had disappeared from his position, it had enabled the gun dealers to get the drop on them. Standish returned just in time to advert disaster, actually saving their hides, but it still didn't excuse his desertion. Chris knew what the man had done and was ready to tear his head off and kick his butt all the way back to Atlanta. He didn't need a rogue on his team. He had slammed Standish against a wall, prepared to take out his fear and anger him. How could Chris explain to Buck what he saw when he looked into those green eyes? Standish didn't fight back; he never even uttered a word in his defense. The man was prepared to take what he knew he deserved. Chris saw remorse in those emerald eyes and something else. The clean-shaven face remained emotionless, but the eyes revealed a soul torn to pieces far too many times. Instead of following his first impulse to beat the shit out of the undercover agent, Chris warned Standish that if he ever ran out on him again, he'd kill him. Chris would never forget the absolute surprise that flashed on the agent's face. This was something Standish had never expected or received before: a second chance.

Chris glared pointedly at the mustached agent. "I felt he needed another chance, Buck."

"What? Another chance to get one of us killed?" Buck threw up his hands in disgust. "Why do we need a seventh man? We were fine just the way we were."

They had been a team of six for the past five months, with JD Dunne being the last and youngest agent hired. They worked flawlessly together, making them one of the most formidable teams in the ATF, and a natural bond of friendship had developed.

"We needed an undercover." Chris's limited patience was starting to fray around the edges. "Standish is one of the best. That's why he's on the team."

Buck guffawed. "If he's so good why'd he run?"

"I didn't ask." Chris didn't feel the need to explain his decision, and he still wasn't sure it was the right one. But he didn't like it being questioned. Standish didn't deserve a second chance: he needed one.

Vin leaned forward in his chair, feeling the tension mount. Each man took his turn removing a chunk from a teetering wall of self-composure and friendship. Vin was waiting to see which side toppled first.

"I think we should take a vote," Buck blurted out. "I vote to kick his cowardly butt off the team." He turned to Vin who bowed his head, not committing. He still hadn't made up his mind about Standish. Everyone was entitled to at least one mistake, weren't they?

Chris's infamous temper flared, breaking through that crumbling wall of self-discipline that Buck seemed determined to undermine. "This is not a democracy!" Chris yelled. "Standish is my problem, and I'll take full responsibility for his actions."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Buck muttered, returning his friend's menacing glare. He was not about to back down on this one there was too much to lose, not just someone's life but also Chris's sanity.

Part 2

A knock on the door broke the line-of-sight feud, directing their attention to the grizzled face that poked in.

"Ah, brother Buck, maybe you could yell a little louder. I don't think they heard you on the fourth floor." Josiah glared at the inconsiderate agent who stood in the center of the room.

Chris grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and fore-finger, trying to squeeze back his impending headache. "Did Standish..." he began.

"Left after the statement about killing one of us," the profiler replied, stepping into the office. "Said he had research to do down in records."

Josiah thought Buck was totally out of line. He had watched as Standish became increasingly uncomfortable with the loud accusations. The others tried to ignore the public condemnation, avoiding eye contact with the undercover agent.

Buck ignored Sanchez's disapproving glare. He knew the pious agent was developing a soft spot for the southerner, almost a fatherly concern for the man.

"Josiah, how do you feel about agent Standish?" Chris offhandedly asked. He respected the older agent's insight and thought a calmer and more level-headed opinion was needed.

Josiah walked up to the desk, stepping in front of Buck. "Well, he is a little standoffish, which makes it hard to get to know him."

"That's an understatement," Buck murmured under his breath, then raised his voice. "That's no excuse. Vin's a loner and he fits in just fine. He wouldn't run out on us."

Josiah caught the faint smile on Tanner's face. "That's because he and Chris are twins separated at birth," he joked.

Everyone had noticed the brotherly bond that connected the two men. It was a connection that felt familiar, like meeting an old friend you haven't seen since you were a child, or maybe in a past life, if you believed in that sort of thing. Chris bowed his head hiding a slightly embarrassed grin. He often wondered if his inexplicable relationship with Vin wasn't a source of contention with Buck. Chris picked up a pencil and started rolling it between his fingers. Buck was with him through the worst and best times: he owed the man his life.

"We don't know Standish's history. I think you were right giving him another chance," Josiah continued. He glared over his shoulder at Buck. "But as our rather loud-mouth friend here has made his position known to half the building..." Josiah paused and turned back to Chris. "The others might not feel the same as I do. I know Nathan agrees with Buck." Josiah ignored Buck's smug snort. "I don't think JD has made a decision, and I have no idea where our Mr. Tanner stands."

The three agents turned expectant faces toward the sharpshooter sitting across the room. It was like waiting for some grand revelation from the Dali Lama.

Vin leaned forward laying his arms on his knees. "Sorry Bucklin, but I'm with Chris on this one. The man deserves another chance." Vin was usually a good judge of character. He knew the suave undercover was very sorry for what he had done and was surprised when Larabee gave him another chance. Standish was probably always an outsider and that was something Vin could understand.

Buck continued to push the issue. He felt strongly about this. It scared him, not just because one of them could get killed but also because Chris would blame himself. Since the death of Chris's wife and son, the man took personal responsibility to new heights. Buck believed that if one of them met their demise on the other side of the world in some freak accident Chris would find some way to blame himself. Buck was about to start pacing again then stopped.

"You all read the FBI report on him, right? He's a loose cannon at best and maybe a traitor. Have you seen that expensive foreign job he drives?"

"That was all rumor and hearsay, Buck." Josiah had read the report on Standish. He couldn't explain it, but he got the feeling that the reserved agent was familiar with the role of scapegoat. "And how he got that car is nobody's business but his own."

Buck was prepared to continue his verbal assault but Chris came to a decision as his wall of patience collapsed. The blond leader slammed his hands down on the desk, breaking the pencil in two, and shot out of his chair. "That's enough, Agent Wilmington! Standish is part of this team until I say otherwise, and you and the others will strive to work together, understand?"

Buck clenched his jaw and glared at the blond leader. "Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you, boss!" Buck slammed the door on his way out. The picture of himself and Chris fell from the wall and the glass shattered in the frame.

Larabee exhaled and slowly sat back down, running his hand down his weary face. Had he been wrong to hire Standish? Even DA Travis was leery of Chris' decision to add the maverick agent to the team. Nevertheless, there was something about the southerner--Vin felt it too. The man hid behind a practiced poker face--but what was he hiding from?

*****Part 3

Standish remained in the record's room the remainder of the day. It was not that he was afraid to face anyone, he just wanted to avoid any sordid scenes and chose not to make anyone uncomfortable. His mother's teachings definitely came in handy for times like this. Never show your true feelings. She pounded it into him like a nightly prayer. His mother taught him to keep his emotions walled up behind an impassive facade and smug attitude. Never let anyone see the real you. So, what happened? Ezra was surprised at how much Wilmington's words affected him, not that he didn't deserve the verbal reprimand. The condemnation and disgust that echoed throughout the office had brought a flush to his face and a sick feeling to his stomach. It had been a long time since he had cared what others thought of him.

Ezra stepped off the elevator into the damp coolness of the underground parking garage. He reached into his coat pocket to fish out his keys. He looked down the row of vehicles and saw Buck leaning against his sports car, arms crossed and head down. Ezra stopped, taking a deep breath before continuing.

"Mr. Wilmington, may I inquire as to why your anatomy is interfering with my car's personal space?"

Buck raised his head. Lord, couldn't this man talk in simple sentences? He regarded the undercover through narrow eyes and an intolerant expression. He pushed himself away from the black jag and feigned admiration of the sleek automobile. "You know, this is a mighty fine looking car. Even if I saved my paycheck for a year I don't think I could afford something like this." Buck's accusing eyes locked onto Ezra, whose face remained indifferent to the agent's insinuation.

Ezra stepped past the taller man preparing to put his key in the lock. "How I acquire my property is of no concern of your's. If your money was put to better use than pork rinds and beer maybe you'd be able to afford such amenities."

Ezra's smug tone was all the motivation the larger agent needed. Without warning, Buck grabbed the smart-mouthed agent and slammed him against the cinder block wall throwing his forearm across his throat. Ezra gasped as air was forced from his lungs. He could feel the rough concrete through his jacket. He didn't struggle under Buck's arm.

"If any one of us is killed because of you; you better pray it's me. Because I'll find you, and kill you!" Buck snarled.

Ezra's easygoing expression fled, replaced by a flat, hard look. "If you don't release me Mr. Wilmington, I'll take care of that right now." Ezra seriously thought of going for his gun but common sense quickly came to his rescue. Deep down he understood Buck's anger but the man had crossed the line.

The two men glared at each other, both knew the other was deadly serious.

Buck didn't hear the voice yelling his name from the other side of the garage or the running sneakers slapping the concrete floor.

"Buck! What the hell are you doing?" JD grabbed his friend by the arm and pulled him off the pinned agent.

Ezra glared at Buck as he rubbed at his throat.

JD forcefully led his friend away, but Buck's dark eyes remained locked on Ezra continuing the threat.

Dunne gave the undercover agent an apologetic smile. Ezra's glare made the young agent a little nervous and he hurried away. He was beginning to agree with Buck. The man just didn't seem to fit in.

Ezra straightened his jacket and watched as JD continued to pull Buck toward his truck at the end of the aisle. He smiled, hearing JD berate the older agent. He continued to watch as the two men climbed into the Chevy and drove off. Ezra fell back against the wall. Things were not going well. He bent down to pick up his keys. No, things were not going well at all.

*****Part 4

The next day passed uneventfully, although everyone felt the tension in the office, especially when Buck and Ezra were in the vicinity. The two men didn't even have to see each other to get their hackles up. Chris was just grateful no one was thrown out a window or shot.

Ezra stood at the large window on the seventh floor of the government building. He watched the light drain from the day and a bright orange glow fill the western sky, silhouetting the nearby hills. He sometimes missed Atlanta; this wasn't one of them times. Gazing at the distant mountains endowed with him a peace he had rarely known. He loved Colorado and its wild west history. He enjoyed exploring two nearby ghost towns and had plans to visit another soon, if he managed to remain employed.

A group of six dynamic individuals captured his attention as they crossed the street below, obviously heading for some relaxation. Sadness crept into his heart at the camaraderie they shared. He'd been with the team for a month and had already earned their distrust.

He didn't know why he had run out on this team; maybe he just wanted to hurry the inevitable. The FBI office where he worked in Atlanta had become insufferable. He was always wondering who would be the next to shove the proverbial knife in his back. He couldn't trust any of the other agents to cover him during an operation. This didn't bother him much; he always had a difficult time relying anyone else. When the rumors and pictures started flying around the office, his career, and his life, took a death dive, one he was unable to pull out of. A devilish grin came to his face as he thought about how his mother's gift of a sleek, black 1999 Jaguar only furthered their suspicion of him being a traitor. His superiors couldn't risk the backlash of explaining a dead agent, so they assigned him to permanent desk duty.

He wasn't surprised when he was transferred out of the FBI, but grew apprehensive that someone like Chris Larabee actually recruited him.

Standish's thoughts returned to the six men he watched on the street below. The young Mr. Dunne was still trying to sort out his feelings about the undercover agent. Wilmington was JD's best friend, roommate, and hero. He believed what Buck told him.

Ezra's smile grew at the thought of Mr. Sanchez who continued plaguing him with those understanding smiles. The profiler always looked like he was hiding a secret. Nathan and Buck's feelings were all too clear, hiding neither their animosity nor suspicion. Mr. Tanner was an enigma. Vin studied him like a humanities experiment. Then there was Mr. Larabee, who seemed to disregard him but Ezra didn't really believe that. He knew Larabee was keeping a close eye on him. Everyone was watching, scrutinizing his every move, waiting for the next fallout--the next fuck-up--where they expected to find Ezra Standish.

Larabee had warned him to never run out again. Ezra still couldn't believe he had been given a second chance. Right then, Ezra promised he would never give the perceptive ATF leader any reason to kick him off the team. For the first time in his life, Ezra wanted to belong, to be a part of something important. Maybe he could learn to trust these men, and one day they would call him friend. He felt an accord might be possible with these six unique individuals, at least he had until Buck's vociferous censure of his character.

****Part 5

The next couple of weeks went smoothly enough. Standish was involved in an undercover case that kept him out of the office most of the time. Buck seemed to have simmered down and was at least being civil to the southerner, which meant not talking to him. Ezra made it easy, maintaining his distance from all the agents.

Sanchez furtively kept his eye on the southerner. The man did his job and nothing more. He stayed late into the night to complete reports. Josiah didn't think the agent had any life outside the office.

Silence fell in the break room as Standish stepped in to retrieve a cup of coffee. Josiah caught the desolation in Ezra's eyes at the animosity. Shoulders stiffened and eyes shifted as he made his way over to the coffee pot. It was like walking through a mine field; but these mines were out in the open and only needed a reason to detonate.

After one of these nerve-racking coffee ventures, Ezra found himself looking into the dark, unfriendly face of Nathan Jackson. The two men barely spoke to each other, keeping conversations purely professional and down to one or two word sentences.

"How may I be of assistance, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra leaned back in his chair.

Nathan stood just inside the opening to Ezra's cubicle, holding a coffee can. "I'm collecting for the homeless shelter down the street, care to give anything?"

Ezra reached into his coat pocket, which hung on the back of his chair and removed his wallet. He pulled out a couple dollars and dropped them in the can.

Nathan looked down at the crisp dollar bills that lay atop tens and twenties. He couldn't believe it; someone who could afford an expensive sports car could only see clear to donate a couple dollars. "Hope it doesn't break you, Ezra."

Ezra glared at the black agent. "My money is needed elsewhere."

"I'm sure, like detailing that jag. You know there's more to life than material possessions."

Ezra stared at the man as if he was about to part the red sea. "So they tell me, I've yet to discover what that is."

"How about caring for your fellow man."

"The problem with that Mr. Jackson, is that I don't care, and my tolerance of human behavior has its limits, so if you'll excuse me I have work to do." Ezra returned to his computer and the partial report that lit the screen. Nathan shook his head and walked away.

Ezra leaned back in his chair rubbing a pencil along his bottom lip. He reached down and pulled out a lower desk drawer. Inside was a photo of a small child. He took it out and read the handwriting on the back. Ezra smiled at the dark-haired girl in the picture and placed it back into his drawer.

****Part 6

Standish proved his worth as an undercover agent. It took only two weeks to endear himself to John Haddon, a notorious gun runner and drug trafficker. Ezra had the felon practically adopting him into the family business. Even Buck had to finally admit Ezra was good, not that he'd tell him that.

Chris took to monitoring the conversations between Ezra and John Haddon. It was rare that he would do this, usually leaving the surveillance to JD and Buck. He was trying to find out more about his perplexing agent. Chris wondered how Ezra could be so personable and relaxed with drug dealers and gun runners, yet have such a hard time socializing with his own men. It was just another piece to the scattered puzzle of Ezra Standish.

After four weeks, Chris declared that there was enough evidence to convict Haddon. Team Seven and Team Four positioned themselves outside the warehouse on Denver's east side, awaiting the signal. This was going to be a big feather in everyone's cap. They even got a bonus; there were two prominent criminal bosses from the west coast meeting with Haddon inside the warehouse.

Larabee bowed his head to hide his grin when the front door opened and Standish strutted out. The brazen agent grinned at the mass of ATF agents then bowed and swept his arm across his body in invitation, giving the go ahead. The two teams raced into the building, guns drawn.

Ezra listened to the shouts of the agents inside the warehouse. 'ATF FREEZE! reverberated throughout the building.' Not a single shot was fired and Ezra released a breath.

****Part 7

Ezra leaned against one of the un-marked squad cars, sipping a bottle of water and allowing a smile to crease his face. This was his favorite part, when the bad guys discovered they had been conned. Lord, he would have made a great gambler in the old west. He looked up when Wilmington came out of the warehouse, directing a handcuffed Haddon toward a car.

Haddon dug in his heels and stopped in front of the smug undercover. His dark, hate-filled eyes tried to sear the agent where he stood. "You're a walking dead man, and I'm going to bury you!" Haddon snarled.

"C'mon on." Buck grabbed the man by the upper arm and pulled him away.

"You hear me, you son-of-a-bitch. You are a dead man!" Haddon continued to yell as Buck shoved him into a car.

Ezra was use to threats; it was part of the job. Hell, he had even heard them from men he worked with. He watched as Buck forced the enraged gun dealer into an unmarked car and shut the door. Buck glanced over the car's hood at Ezra. Seeing the look of unconcern, he shrugged and turned away.

A hand fell on Ezra's shoulder causing him to visibly tense. Larabee quickly removed his hand. He knew after an operation like this one Ezra was still riding on an adrenaline wave. Chris wondered how he handled the crash at the end. Ezra forced himself to relax as he turned around to face his boss.

"You did good, agent Standish," Chris praised.

Larabee was happy with Standish's job performance, but friction still remained between him and the others. Chris didn't know how to get through Ezra's emotional barrier. The undercover agent did his work and only interacted with the others when he had to. This was not any way for a team to operate, and Chris knew it was only a matter of time until something had to give.

"Thank you, Mr. Larabee," Ezra answered. "I will have my report to you first thing in the morning, Sir."

"No rush, take some time to wind down." Chris looked at Ezra worriedly. The man looked tired. The normally vibrant green eyes were strained and dull. As far as Chris knew Ezra's whole life revolved around his job. He knew undercover work was very demanding and most agents burned out after a few years.

"I assure you, Mr. Larabee I'm fine. I have no need to 'wind down'." He turned and walked away.

*****Part 8

The men returned to the office still hyped over the success of the bust. Team Seven now had the best record in the whole western region and the respect and admiration of the other teams.

"We are the champions, my friends...," JD sang out, jumping on top of a desk and raising his arms in victory. Adrenaline pumped the young agent with unrestrained energy.

Buck turned to come face to face with Vin's feet as the sharpshooter walked in on his hands. "Hey, junior, ever think of joining the circus," Buck joked.

Josiah and Nathan raised cups of coffee to each other and shook their heads at the antics of their younger compatriots, both men were grateful that there was no side trip to the hospital this time.

Chris entered the office area and smiled with amusement. These men were supposed to be mature, skilled professionals, or so he thought. Out of the corner of his eye, Chris caught Ezra slipping in unnoticed and making his way to his office.

Chris intercepted the skulking agent as he reached his cubicle. "Standish, why aren't you partaking in the festivities? We couldn't have done it without you."

Ezra managed a smile. "Mr. Larabee, I don't feel the need to celebrate or contribute to the rather boisterous antics of our colleagues. I was only doing my job."

Larabee tapped the edge of the partition in thought. "We need to talk. Come to my office," he abruptly bade and left, not waiting for a response.

Ezra bowed his head, wondering what the esteemed leader could possibly want to talk about. Everything had gone well with the operation. He had never worked with such a cohesive and well connected team. Nevertheless, Ezra knew if anything had gone wrong he would be on the receiving end of Larabee's wrath and out of a job, in that order. He didn't want to get close to these men, knowing he probably would be moving on again. But he was finding it hard to maintain his indifference.

Standish knew the six men sometimes spent weekends together up at Larabee's ranch. He had never been invited. He entered the ATF leader's office and closed the door. Chris motioned Ezra to take a seat without removing his eyes from a folder that lay open on his desk. Ezra sat on the long couch, feeling the coolness of the leather beneath his shirt.

The others watched as Ezra entered Larabee's office and closed the door.

"God, Buck, what do you think Chris wants with Ezra?" JD asked. He hoped Chris wasn't going to fire him. JD wouldn't tell Buck, but he was actually getting to like the suave southerner. They didn't talk much but when they did Ezra treated him like an equal and not some wet-behind-the-ears kid.

"I don't know," Buck absently replied, staring intently at the closed door. He still didn't trust the man, but he had come to respect his skill as an undercover. He'd never seen anyone who could manipulate a situation to his advantage so smoothly. Bad guys seemed to immediately trust him. Why couldn't the people he worked with give him that same measure of trust? Maybe Ezra didn't know when or how to turn off the con. Everything was an act--Buck furrowed his brow at his enlightening thoughts.

"Are you okay, Buck?" JD asked, noticing a strange look come over the older agent's face.

"Yeah...yeah...I'm fine kid, something just occurred to me." Buck left it at that, not sure if he could explain his sudden insight.

****Part 9

Larabee raised concerned blue eyes to the solemn features of his undercover. He leaned back in his chair. Lacing his fingers behind the back of his neck, he stared intently at the southerner.

"Tell me about the incident at the FBI?" He expected to see some reaction, but Ezra didn't even blink.

"I noticed you have my personal file. I believe the controversy to which you are referring is well documented." Standish's mind was racing. What was Larabee seeking? Was he trying to dig up some reason to fire him? Or conjure up evidence so the agency could prosecute him?

"I want to hear your side."

"My side has not been deemed factual," Ezra answered.

"Why don't you let me decide."

Ezra brought his right ankle up to rest on his knee. He had explained what had happened to Internal Affairs back in Atlanta and knew they hadn't believed him. Now, he was going to tell a man he respected. What would happen if he didn't believe him either?

This was the first time Chris saw his agent's impenetrable mask of self-confidence fall. Ezra ran a hand through his brown hair, for some reason thinking he needed to make an appointment with his barber. He tried to swallow past a lump in his throat and cold sweat broke out between his shoulder blades. Larabee waited patiently. Ezra's southern drawl cracked, and he was forced to clear his throat. "I was working on the McMurren case. He was a major drug lord on the east coast." He started out slow, watching Larabee's face. "After two months of investigation and undercover work the case was suddenly closed, without explanation. I was told to drop it."

Ezra leaned forward and placed a hand on his pant leg. He unconsciously started to play with the hem of his pants, but quickly stopped himself before continuing, "Two days after the case was closed I was visited by two of McMurren's goons. They came to my apartment and stood outside my door. They offered me a bribe to join them and be an inside man...,even waved $5000 in my face."

Ezra flicked a piece of imaginary lint from his dark pants, and then returned his gaze to Chris. The blond leader's face was unreadable and Ezra's heart started to pound in his chest. "I refused, of course. They forced the bills into my hand, which I held for a moment then dropped on my porch, but the damage was done. Evidently, they had someone taking pictures from some hidden vantage point. The men left, leaving the money on my porch. The next morning the money was still there. I picked it up, put it in an envelope and dropped it anonymously at the McDonald house in Atlanta."

Chris could see that what the agent was about to say greatly disturbed him.

"The rumors started the next day. Everyone believed that I had something to do with closing the case. I didn't take them seriously but the other members of my team did. I wasn't well liked to begin with." Ezra chuckled slightly. "The pictures came two days later and were sent to my boss. I explained to him what happened, but he didn't believe me. Of course, the evidence was all circumstantial, so they couldn't fire me. However, as you're well aware there are other ways of getting rid of unwanted agents. I didn't trust any of my people to watch my back. I was shot twice." Ezra paused a moment, a sadness seemed to take away some of the intensity in his emerald eyes. "Once, I believe by one of my own."

Standish remained quiet for a moment, reliving that time in his mind. He stared down at the hem of his pants afraid to raise his eyes; afraid to see the familiar disbelief in Larabee's face. This was the moment of truth. Ezra slowly raised his head and stared into Chris's pensive visage, but what the perceptive agent didn't see was disbelief. For some unexplained reason Chris Larabee believed every single word.


Chris was shocked and dismayed by Ezra's allegation that a fellow agent would shoot another. Obviously the younger man had gone through quite a bit during his years as an undercover agent. "Why didn't you just quit?"

"Where would I go? I love being an undercover agent." A wistful smile emerged across Ezra's somber face erasing some of the earlier despair.
"This is the only use for my rather dubious talents."

Larabee stared at the southern agent. He looked down at the file, which laid bare a man's entire life. Standish's arrest ratio was exceptional, even though his tactics were questionable. He was labeled a rogue and untrustworthy, words that usually ended a man's career. Chris had to admit the agent was obstinate and not one to play by the rules but he had five other men who bent the rules on occasion, including himself. Ezra had been forced to face opposition from people he was suppose to trust; fellow agents. It didn't appear that anyone had stood by him at his previous position with the FBI. Chris had to grin at this thought, if it hadn't been for Ezra's troubles he probably wouldn't have been able to recruit him as easily as he did. He hoped that one day he could make the FBI regret their decision.

"Why didn't you explain the Jag?" Chris knew that Ezra's mother was wealthy and surmised that she had bought him the expensive car as a gift.

The question caught Ezra slightly off guard but he recovered nicely. "It was none of their business, and if they really wanted to know the truth it wouldn't have been hard for them to find out." A faint smile came to the suave agent's face. Ezra realized that Chris had figured out where he had acquired the sports car. "And would you tell anyone that your mother had bought it for you?"

Chris chuckled. The man had a point.

*****Part 10

Ezra strolled down the aisle of the parking garage. He caught himself humming and grinned. The conversation with Larabee had helped to ease much of his growing dejection, and he was feeling better than he had in weeks. Ezra stopped when he heard the screech of tires echo through the garage as someone took a turn a little too fast. He looked up to see Cuervo, the unofficial Team 7 mascot, standing in the middle of the aisle. Ezra ran and grabbed the animal just as a speeding Saturn whizzed by.

Ezra held the cat close to his chest and gently stroked its soft orange fur, eliciting a contented purr.

Josiah witnessed Ezra's rescue. He watched the interaction between man and animal. The older man grinned as he heard the cultured southerner reprimand the cat.

"Okay, my felonious feline! Let's not test out the nine lives theory. Hell, if anything happened to you, they'd all think I had something to do with it." Ezra held the tabby up to his face, looking into its matching green eyes.

"You know what they say about animals and children." Josiah's baritone voice caused Ezra to stiffen. He turned to face the older man.

"I assure you, sir, this feline is just grateful I saved it from becoming a hood ornament." Ezra continued to scratch the accepting cat atop the head, until he noticed Josiah's smile. He quickly released the animal and brushed the hair from his jacket. Cuervo was not so easily dismissed and took to brushing herself around the southerner's legs.

"Ah...huh." Josiah grinned at the younger agent, who, for the first time returned the gesture.

**** Part 11

"That man is always late," Buck complained to Josiah. The profiler was pouring his life's blood, better known as coffee, into a badly stained mug.

Although it had decreased, Josiah was tired of Buck's continual criticism of the undercover agent. He was about to make his displeasure known when the well-dressed southerner made an appearance.

"Good morning, brother Standish, and how are we this glorious morning?" Sanchez cheerfully greeted. He knew that Ezra was not a morning person and took great pleasure in reminding him of this fact. Ezra was lucky that JD was not present; the young man's exuberance knew no such time constraints.

"Sir, no morning is glorious, and I don't believe we have any genealogical connection." Ezra made his way to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. The strain between him and the others had eased. One no longer needed a chain saw to cut through the tension, a butter knife would do.

Ezra took a sip and grimaced. "God, who made this noxious concoction?"

"What, you don't like our coffee?" Buck calmly chided.

"Whatever is in this cup has nothing to do with a coffee bean." Ezra poured the black liquid down the drain.

"Vin made the coffee. He likes it strong," Josiah answered, giving Nathan a nod as he entered the break area.

"If you'd get here on time, then you could make it the way you like it," Nathan sneered.

Ezra cocked his head at the ex-medic then glanced over at Buck. The three men had managed to reach a civil truce, but every now and then, that verbal cease-fire would be broken. Ezra was not in the mood to exchange poison barbs this early in the day and was grateful when Larabee's voice boomed across the floor.

"Okay ladies, suit up. Team 5 wants added cover for a raid, now!" Chris yelled out as he strode through the floor. Soon the office was buzzing with activity as seven men donned bullet-proof vests, checked weapons and communications equipment. The adrenaline started to build in each of them and hearts started pumping harder to keep up. Everyone felt it, but no one would admit it; they all lived for it. It's what made them feel alive.

Thirty minutes later Team 7 pulled up in front of a large, three story office building.

"Okay, Charlie what's the deal?" Chris asked the leader of Team 5. This was their operation and he and his men were only here to assist.

Charlie Coombs was an ex-marine and still carried the crew-cut and rigid discipline that had made him a superior officer in the corp.

Charlie spread out a roughly drawn sketch of the building. "I need your men to cover these exits." He pointed to three doors located on the east and south sides. "We think about ten people are in there and we don't want to risk anyone getting away."

Larabee nodded and returned to his men. He noticed how Ezra stood just outside the group. "Okay, Buck, Vin you're with me. Ezra, JD, you take the south side door. Nathan, Josiah, cover the east side." Chris sent Buck a glare, effectively cutting off his friend's objection to the joining of Ezra and JD. The pairing even made Vin a little nervous, but he refrained from voicing his objection.

Buck and Chris had been friends a long time, but lately that friendship was strained. It was just another thing everyone blamed on Standish. Chris understood Buck's fear but he would not allow anyone to question his orders out of prejudice. Ezra had to earn their trust; he couldn't do it if he was always sent off alone or with someone who didn't trust him. JD was open-minded enough to give Ezra a chance to prove himself.


The seven men spread out to cover their designated areas. It wasn't long before all hell broke loose. Several suspects charged out of the building guns blazing, shooting at anything that moved.

Ezra and JD jumped behind a large metal box, probably a cover for water meters. They quickly added to the barrage of gunfire, forcing two of the suspects to retreat to the doorway. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra saw another man slip around the corner of the building. "JD, I'll be back," he yelled as he took off. JD didn't have time to question him as two more men came out the door and started firing on his position, forcing him to drop to the ground.

Standish cautiously made his way to the side of the building. He paused when he heard the increased gunfire behind him. Then peered around the corner. What he saw made his heart stop. A lone gunman was sneaking up on Nathan who was totally unaware of the impending danger. The gun fire and chaos besieging the building covered the gunman's approach and kept Nathan's attention elsewhere. Ezra stepped out from the corner of the building.

The gunman felt the sudden presence behind him and spun around to face Ezra standing just a few feet away, pointing a gun. The gunman's revolver was pointed down toward the ground and Ezra hoped he was going to give himself up peacefully.

The gunman smiled, knowing a showdown was coming. Ezra matched the look in the gunman's eyes and lowered his own gun. He'd always loved the ways of the old west and knew when he was being called out.

The gunman slowly raised his gun. "I wouldn't advise that," Ezra uttered in a curiously flat southern drawl. As the gunman's weapon came level. Ezra's gun came up and seemingly, without aiming he fired. The bullet entered the man's skull. Nerves triggered causing muscles to spasm and the dead-man's finger constricted around the trigger sending a bullet into Ezra's side.

*****Part 12

The force of the bullet knocked Ezra to the ground taking the air from his lungs and leaving him slightly disoriented. The vest protected him from any serious injury but the force of the bullet cracked a rib on his right side. He lay on the ground, looking up at the crystal blue sky as the sound of gun fire diminished. When he was finally able to breathe again he slowly sat up, wincing at the pain in his side. He concentrated on keeping his breathing shallow and staggered to his feet, using the building for support. Ezra picked up his gun, put it in his holster, and slowly made his way back to JD.

Ezra staggered around the corner of the building and stopped at the sight playing out before him. The rest of the team was converged on the spot where he had left JD. He straightened and dropped his arm, which was holding his right side and walked up to the gathering of men. Before Ezra could even open his mouth, Buck appeared from out of the crowd, his fist cocked and ready. The blow caught the bewildered agent in the jaw and sent him to the ground. Josiah and Vin grabbed Buck before he could do anymore harm.

"You son-of-a-bitch! Where were you?" Buck yelled at the fallen agent, straining at the arms that held him. Ezra sat up on his elbow, rubbing his jaw. He looked into the accusing faces of his fellow agents.

Ezra's green eyes narrowed, at a loss as to what had transpired to earn him such glaring condemnation from his fellow teammates.

"Where were you agent?" Chris snarled, stepping up alongside Buck, his fists clenched in rage. The only thing going through Chris's mind was that Buck had been right, and he was a fool to have trusted the rogue agent.

"I was momentarily distracted," Ezra smoothly replied. These men had already judged him.

"Well, your distraction almost got JD killed!" Buck growled, pulling out of Josiah and Vin's grasp and turning his back on Ezra's bemused face.

"Is he okay?" Ezra's heart fell into his stomach as he stood up, ignoring the twinge of pain from his side. He had grown quite fond of the young agent.

Vin caught the flash of fear on the southerner's face as he pushed past them to see Nathan administering to the young agent. Ezra knelt down beside the young man placing a hand on his knee.

"I'm okay, Nathan," JD complained. "It's just a scratch." Anger flashed in his brown eyes when he looked at Ezra.

Ezra flinched at the hatred on JD's face. His life seemed to crumble within him. "What happened?" Ezra asked his voice barely above a whisper.

"Oh, he just took a bullet in the arm because you weren't doing your job," Nathan sneered as he tightened the bandage.

"Owww." JD pulled away from the tending agent.

"Sorry, JD."

Ezra looked at the blossom of blood slowly forming on the clean bandage. He looked at the young agent his green eyes not hiding the regret he felt. "I'm truly sorry, Mr. Dunne."

JD didn't know what to say. He just shrugged and turned away. Buck muscled his way next to his young friend, shoving Ezra aside, placing an arm across JD's shoulders, and leading him toward the waiting ambulance.

Ezra watched as Buck helped JD into the back of the ambulance. He caught the feral look of hatred that Buck threw at him before climbing in with his friend. Ezra felt numb. Why did these things always happen to him? He turned around only to come face to face with four more sets of condemning stares.

Chris was the first to turn away as he shouted, "Okay, let's do clean up."

Ezra watched with an aching heart as Vin, Nathan and Josiah walked away without saying a word. The disappointment Ezra saw in Josiah's face was almost more than he could bear. He soon found himself standing alone. He had foolishly begun to think he could fit in, now he realized how wrong he was. Ezra swallowed and wiped a hand over his face. He knew it would only be a matter of time before he was kicked off the team. He supposed he could go and work for his mother in her casino; at least until she married again and disappeared. It would make one of them happy.

****Part 13

The remaining agents of Team 7 and Team 5 spent the better part of an hour securing the crime scene. Chris and Nathan joined Charlie Coombs to discuss the operation while everything was still fresh.

"Chris, Nathan, I think you need to see this." Josiah squatted against the building.

"Excuse us, Charlie," Chris said.

"Sure, I'll talk with you all later."

"What is it, Josiah?" Chris asked. Josiah was kneeling, examining the body of one of the arms dealers.

"Nate, weren't you guarding that door over there?" Josiah nodded toward the gray door that was slightly ajar.

Nathan frowned as he studied the site behind the large tree, where he had taken cover. When the shooting started, he had supplied protection for Josiah, moving several yards to take up a better position behind a van. Then he had joined him.

"Yeah, I was," Nathan answered, uncertainty marring his words. He didn't know what Josiah was leading up to.

"Did you shoot this guy?" Josiah then asked, pulling back the sheet to reveal the dead man.

Nathan's eyes widen. "No, I didn't even know he was here."

Josiah slowly turned the dead man over, revealing the small neat caliber hole right in the middle of his forehead. He looked up at Chris and Nathan. "There's only one person I know who does head shots."

Larabee closed his eyes and ran a hand down his face. He understood what Josiah was saying.

Nathan's face fell as he too realized what his friend was implying. He had been completely unaware that someone was stalking him during the gun fight. A shiver ran up his spine as he stared down at the dead man, realizing that could be him lying there instead.

"I believe this might have been agent Standish's distraction." Josiah decided to solidify everyone's thoughts.

"Aww Shit!" Chris murmured, mentally kicking himself. He had allowed his emotions to over run his professional objectivity.

"Where's Ezra now?" Josiah asked as he threw the yellow plastic over the corpse and stood, dusting his hands together to remove the dirt. He was also guilty of judging the undercover agent unfairly.

"I sent him back to the office to start filling out the paper work." Chris rubbed the back of his neck, trying to release the tension that was slowly building. "He's probably filling out his resignation now."

******Part 14

Standish sat alone in his cubicle staring at the blinking cursor underlining the words, 'Action Taken' on the report. The only thing he had managed to accomplish was to type in his name and service number. He was trying to get the events straight in his mind, but his thoughts always returned to JD and the betrayal in the young agent's eyes. Ezra's mask of cool indifference shattered and he exhaled a quivering breath, trying to maintain control There wouldn't be any savior this time; he would be out of a job. Ezra returned to the report glancing at the resignation form that sat on the corner of his desk.

Chris, Josiah, Vin and Nathan quietly entered the office area, hearing the quick clicks of a computer keyboard coming from the last cubicle.

Larabee headed toward his office to tackle the mountain of paper work piled on his desk. He had decided to wait before confronting Ezra about what had happened. Buck and JD had yet to return from the hospital, and for that Chris was exceedingly grateful. He would have to find a way to rein in Buck's animosity toward Ezra. On the drive back to the office thoughts of finding a dead agent made the ride especially nerve-racking and caused them to ignore Josiah's excessive speed. When it came to JD, Buck was like a big, protective brother.

Chris eased himself into the high-back leather chair wondering why Standish hadn't told them what happened. Then he realized they hadn't given him much of a chance. Buck had been on the man before he even said a word. Chris's gaze traveled to the far wall and the picture of him and the others on a fishing trip. The trip had taken place four months ago, long before Ezra was hired. But they had been on another trip in the past month. Had anyone thought to invite Ezra?

After forty-five minutes of filling out forms Chris noticed that the pile didn't seem to be getting any smaller. A sudden knock on the door was a great relief and broke Chris from his developing frustration. "Yeah, come in."

Sanchez smoothly slipped in. Chris always marveled at how graceful and fluid the large agent could be. "Yeah Josiah, what can I do for you?" Chris leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his blood-shot eyes.

Josiah crossed the room and laid a bullet proof vest down on the desk. "I was putting the vests back in inventory when I noticed this." He put his finger through a hole in the first layer of fabric. "I don't think brother Standish got out of his distraction totally unscathed."

Larabee fingered the hole and shook his head. This was just getting better and better. Chris snatched the vest and strode past Josiah, who fell in step behind him. The two men headed toward the last cubicle on the floor. Without stopping Chris called out, "Nathan, I need you ASAP!"

The medic quickly saved the report he was working on and raced out, wondering what was going on.

Josiah and Chris stopped in front of Standish's cubicle. Ezra appeared to take no notice of their presence as he continued reading through several papers.

Josiah noticed how sterile the small work area had remained, only the paperwork on the desk showed that anyone even used it. The other agents' work areas had slowly morphed into their owner's personal little enclave: from JD's technological gadgetry to Nathan's collection of throwing knives and Vin's preference for anything to do with the old west. Actually, when Josiah thought about it they each harbored a slight preference for that time. JD kept a bowler hat on his shelf, a replica of the one Bat Masterson wore. Vin owned an 1876 sawed-off Winchester. Nathan loved to research old medical knowledge and had acquired period medical instruments. Josiah himself had an old Indian serape which he cherished. Larabee's home was almost right out of the old west and they all had a penchant for old gunslinger movies. What was Ezra passionate about? Like the man himself, one couldn't tell from outward appearances.

Chris threw the Kevlar vest down on the agent's desk, scattering papers and finally getting his attention. "Is this yours?"

Nathan appeared behind them. He thought they were going to wait until Buck and JD returned before confronting Ezra. He had to admit he wasn't looking forward to apologizing to the smug southerner.

Ezra leaned back in his chair and stared at the life-saving vest. "Well, since the agency doesn't deem it necessary to personalize our vests, I really couldn't tell you."

Larabee's renowned anger was beginning to boil. He was already furious with himself; he didn't need this man's flippant attitude to compound it. "Oh, this one's personalized alright." Chris grabbed the vest, poking his finger through the bullet hole to emphasize his point. He glared at Ezra, not noticing when Buck, JD and Vin suddenly appeared.

"Hey Josiah, what's going on?" JD asked, trying to see over the profiler's bulk. Sanchez turned around to see JD with his arm in a sling. He put a finger to his lips and motioned: just watch.

Buck stood back against the wall, his arms folded across his barrel chest, hoping that Chris was preparing to fire the man. Vin remained silent watching as Chris and Ezra stared silently at each other.

Chris placed his palms down on Ezra's desk. "Now, agent Standish, you will either remove your shirt and let Nathan take a look at you or I'll do it for you." Chris's voice had taken on a decidedly icy tone, one that didn't sanction any rebuttal.

Buck's self-righteous anger fell from his face. He took a step forward, wondering what was going on. JD's brows knitted together in a deep frown under his long hair, and he exchanged a confused look with Buck.

Ezra glared at Chris and slowly began to undo the buttons of his white dress shirt, pulling it out from his waist band. There was an audible gasp from someone as the shirt fell open revealing a large purplish bruise on his right side. The ugly dark wound started at the middle of his chest and slid down below the belt line.

Nathan pushed Chris aside and knelt in front of the bruised agent. He gently probed the contusion and heard a sharp intake of breath as Ezra pushed himself deeper into his chair.

"Sorry," Nathan murmured.

Ezra clenched his jaw against the burst of pain in his side. Nathan turned to Chris. "He's got a cracked rib and some serious bruising." He turned back to Ezra, who had finally released his death grip on the chair arms. "That's gotta hurt."

The undercover agent pulled his shirt closed. "It's nothing."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Nathan asked, trying to convince the southerner of the concern he felt.

"At the time you had more important matters to attend to Mr. Jackson," Ezra calmly replied his impassive facade firmly in place.

Nathan had to look the man in the eye to see if he was serious.

Ezra looked at JD who maintained a bewildered expression. He had thought that Ezra had run as they were being overwhelmed. This was clearly not the case, and he was starting to feel a little guilty.

Buck tried to push forward, until Josiah blocked his progress. He was not going to allow the petulant agent to cause anymore trouble. Someone was finally going to stand up for the southerner.

Chris was angry with Standish and himself. Ezra actually believed his life wasn't as important as the others. Chris was still surprised that the egotistical agent had actually risked his life to save one of them.

"Don't ever do that again," Chris growled. "We are a team and you are a part of this team until I say otherwise. Do we understand each other, agent Standish?"

"Totally, Mr. Larabee."

Chris grabbed the resignation form he saw on Ezra's desk, crumbling it in his fist. He turned on his heel and stopped when he saw Buck standing before him. "I want to see you and JD in my office now!" He pushed past Buck and headed to his office.

Josiah gave the undercover man a wink and walked off. Nathan stood up and continued to stare at the clean-shaven agent.

"Yes, Mr. Jackson? Do you have something to add to Mr. Larabee's proclamation?"

A tight smile came to the taller man's lips. "Just thanks, for saving my life."

Ezra turned his attention back to the paperwork on his desk before answering. "Only doing my job, Mr. Jackson, nothing more."

"Ah...huh," Nathan muttered as he left. He would have to re-evaluate his feelings about the self-serving undercover agent. Apparently, there was more to Ezra Standish than he portrayed.

*****Part 15

It was late when Ezra finally turned off his computer and grabbed his coat. The others had already left for the evening. He winced at the ache in his side as he put on his coat. He listened to the quiet of the office, hearing only the hum of the florescent lights above. He continued out as the janitorial staff made their way in.

Standish stopped when he neared his car. He could make out the tall form leaning against it in the yellow lighting of the underground garage. He shook his head. Ezra took a deep breath and continued toward his car. Buck raised his head as the undercover agent neared. There was no anger in his face and Ezra's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Mr. Wilmington, I thought we had an understanding about you leaning against my car."

Buck became flustered and quickly pushed off the black sports car; turning to wipe the smudge marks off the door with his sleeve.


"Is there something you want?"

Buck shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. His eyes darted around the garage before finally crossing Ezra's impatient gaze. "I...ah...just want to apologize for the way I've been acting and treating you." The words came out in a rush, but Ezra could hear the regret and see it in the agent's eyes.

Ezra cocked his head at the contrite agent. "Did Mr. Larabee tell you to say that?"

"Hell no!" Buck dropped his eyes. "Well, he suggested it. I just wanted you to know I don't blame you for JD's injury."

"Mr. Wilmington, if I had stayed at Mr. Dunne's side, he probably would not have been shot."

Buck looked up sharply, stunned by this self-revelation. Was Ezra actually blaming himself? Well, why wouldn't he? Buck and the others had blamed the southerner without giving the man a chance to even explain. Moreover, Buck had wanted to kill the man right then and there.

"If you had stayed, Nathan would be dead right now." He stared at the undercover man, probably for the first time, and saw something that his anger had kept him from seeing. "You get caught in these situations a lot, don't you?" Buck didn't expect an answer and was surprised at the tired expression on Ezra's face.

"How about we start over," Buck said, offering his hand.

Ezra hesitated then grasped the agent's offered hand, a lopsided grin curved the corner of his mouth.

****Part 16

Buck slid in next to JD at the team's usual table at Inez's bar. It was a week day so the crowd was thin.

"Hey, Buck where you been?" JD asked, noticing Buck's thoughtful countenance.

Buck looked over at his roommate and grabbed the beer that was pushed in front of him. "No where JD, just had some loose ends to tie up."

Chris glanced across the table at his friend, a knowing smile coming to his face. He raised his beer to Buck, both men feeling the tension and uncertainty of the past month finally lifting. Everyone knew that something had transpired. The rift that had kept the two men at odds was finally bridged. And f that everyone was exceedingly grateful.

"Ah, did anyone think to invite Ezra?" Vin asked, watching as everyone looked at everyone else.

"He wouldn't want to come," JD replied, looking toward Buck for assurance.

"Are you sure?" Vin swallowed the last of his beer and stood. He looked over at Chris who tipped his imaginary hat in salute and watched as Vin headed out the door.

Vin knew the address but had never been to this part of town so it took a while to find the modest apartment complex. Ezra's apartment was on the first floor with a door that opened to the outside. The night was cool and Vin was glad he thought to bring his leather jacket.

Ezra finished making himself a drink and was prepared to settle down and read when the knock came to the door. He grabbed his gun, which sat on a nearby table, and stuck it in his waist band behind his back. Ezra arched an eyebrow when he looked out the peep hole to see Vin Tanner standing outside.

"C'mon Ez. I know you're in there," Vin called out.

Ezra opened the door. "Mr. Tanner?" He immediately glanced behind the lean sharpshooter, not sure what he expected to see. "What brings you here?"

"You going to invite me in or what?"

Ezra moved aside allowing the agent to step in. Vin noticed right away how bare the apartment was. Ezra had been here almost two months and the walls were bare of any pictures or decorations. In the middle of the room sat a single overstuffed chair in front of a large screen TV. A leather couch sat against the far wall and a dining room table with a couple chairs completed the scenario. Vin noticed several boxes in a room off the small hallway. The apartment had the same look and feel as his office, as if he was just passing through and didn't intend to stay.

"Mr. Tanner, is there something you need?"

Vin turned his attention to the cool undercover and smiled. "No, just wondering if you'd like to join us down at Inez's for a drink?" Vin had to hold back a chuckle at the look on the undercover agent's face. Ezra's eyes had widened as if Vin had asked him to run naked through the streets.

When Ezra finally managed to process what was said he quickly composed himself and answered, "Ah, thank you Mr. Tanner for the invitation, but I have a prior engagement."

"Oh...okay." Vin didn't believe it, but decided not to push. He had made the first move. He hoped the invite showed the estranged agent that they were willing to try and make things work. "Well, if things change we'll be there for awhile." Vin nodded and headed for the door.

Ezra watched Vin walk back toward his car before shutting the door. He wasn't sure he was ready to take the chance of letting these men get close. Friends and family had hurt him too many times in the past to let his guard down too soon. Ezra sat down and stared at the blank TV. A smiled graced his lips as he took a sip of his drink.

******Part 17

The next morning found everyone waiting in the conference room for Larabee's arrival. Vin sat slouched in his chair, his eyes closed, listening to JD and Buck's conversation about who was supposed to get up and fix breakfast. Buck's rumbling stomach punctuated the conversation. Josiah and Nathan were discussing some world famous anthropologist they had read about in some scientific journal. Ezra sat silently at the end of the table sipping on his imported coffee and perusing the paper. He still kept everyone at a distance; he was part of the team, but not the family. No one knew how to draw the man into the family, or if he even wanted to be a part of it.

Finally, the blond leader entered, his presence putting an end to the chatter. He walked down the length of the table, eyeing each of his agents.

"Alright men, we received some rather perplexing information concerning a large cache of weapons being stored at a deserted warehouse up on 5th. We need to check it out," Chris explained as he reached the head of the table.

"Why is it suspicious?" Nathan queried. He hated surprises, especially since they were never good.

"Because no one seems to know where the information came from," Chris explained. "It could be a set up or some type of diversion. So everyone be ready and vest up."

Larabee didn't like putting his team in danger but this order came from further up the ladder, by people who believed this was what they were hired for. The whole team knew their superiors only tolerated them because of their outstanding arrest record. Individually, they had all had their share of reprimands. Chris had been called to the floor for numerous violations. His superiors suspected that the blond leader covered for his men on several occasions. JD Dunne had been reprimanded for hacking into classified computer files. Both Vin and Buck had earned the wrath of Internal Affairs due to certain mishaps, such as suspects falling down stairs and off buildings and informants disappearing. Even Josiah and Nathan had been rebuked for using strong arm tactics on informants. However, in the end, Team 7 got results and the agency usually turned a blind eye to most of their more potent methods. Chris knew that DA Travis had positioned himself as a buffer between the team and the higher echelon. Larabee also knew there was only so much the agency would overlook, and he hoped none of his men crossed that line.

****Part 18

Studying the large manufacturing warehouse, Chris immediately got a bad feeling. It started in the pit of his stomach and snaked its way up his spine. "Okay, Vin, Josiah take the west side. Buck you're..." he began.

"With Ezra," Buck cut in.

Standish glanced suspiciously at Buck. It was becoming commonplace for these men to continually dumbfound him.

Chris glanced over at Ezra. He knew Buck and the others were trying to work on their differences and form some kind of understanding.

"Okay, you two take the back." Chris knew when it came to the job personal problems were put aside. "JD, Nathan you're with me then."

Ezra followed Buck around the building, deciding to wait for a more opportune time to ask the question, which he seemed to always be asking lately. Why? The two men hugged the wall with their weapons drawn and ready.

Buck pushed open a heavy metal door with his foot and peered inside. He slipped in low, immediately going to the side to allow Ezra unfettered access. The two agents paused to let their eyes adjust to the dim lightening. The large hanger type room was empty except for several crates stacked over to the side, and a single table sitting out in the middle of the room. An inch of dust and dirt covered the concrete floor. A small catwalk ran across the far wall. There was nothing to reveal the building's previous purpose, and Buck was beginning to believe the mission was a bust.

Buck lowered his gun and exhaled as he moved further into the large room. "Well, I guess this was a boon-doggel." He smiled and looked down at the floor noticing fresh boot prints in the dust. His head snapped up just in time to see two men appear on the catwalk. Their features were black blank, broken by huge gaping eye sockets - ski masks. They each raised a Glock 9mm automatic.


****Part 19

Ezra turned, more surprised at hearing his given name than at the fear in Buck's voice. He saw the two gunmen and raised his 9mm, squeezing off two shots. The two agents quickly jumped behind the crates as the air filled with bullets.

"Hell, what we ever do to them?" Buck quipped, trading shots with the two men on the catwalk.

"I'm sure these miscreants have a whole list of believed transgressions they feel we are responsible for." Ezra fired then glanced over at Buck. "Maybe they're offended by your taste in attire."

Buck froze for a moment, caught off-guard by the southerner's remark. He looked down at his faded jeans and T-shirt that denoted he was Italian and should be kissed. "Did you just make a joke, Ezra?"

Ezra smiled and turned his attention back to the gunmen.

Ezra noticed a door that stood ajar ten feet behind them. "Mr. Wilmington, think you can make that door?"

Buck looked at the ten exposed feet separating them from the safety of the door. He swallowed and for a moment the expanse resembled the length of a football field. Buck ducked as several bullets whizzed over head. "Can a bear shit in the woods?" he finally replied.

Standish heard the uncertainty in Buck's voice; distances always appeared greater when someone was trying to kill you.

"On three then," Ezra said. "One...two...three."

The trapped agents jumped up and snapped off several shots then raced toward the door. Ezra kicked the doorstop as he passed through, allowing the door to close behind them. They winced at the sound of bullets ricocheting off the metal door. The two agents raced up the single staircase, which opened out onto an asphalt roof. Ezra immediately went to the edge and started looking over the sides, trying to find an avenue of escape. Buck wedged a two-by-four under the door knob, hoping to slow the gunmen's pursuit.

Wilmington came up alongside Ezra at the far end of the building and peered over the edge to see what the undercover agent was looking at so intently. About thirty feet below sat a dumpster, filled with flattened cardboard boxes.

"That Mr. Wilmington, is our salvation," Ezra calmly pointed out.

Buck's eyes widen. "What! You expect us to jump into that!"

The door suddenly surrendered to the onslaught of bullets and the gunmen's weight. Buck and Ezra took cover behind a huge generator unit.

Larabee and the others heard the unmistakable sound of automatics mixed with Ezra and Buck's own handguns. Chris's heart pounded within his chest as he berated himself and raced around the building, trying to find another entrance. He came around the corner to see Vin and Josiah racing up the other side.

****Part 20

Ezra slapped another clip into his gun as Buck continued to fire, yelling out his frustration toward the two gunmen.

"Alright, Mr. Wilmington, you first."

"Me! Why me?" Buck considered himself the adventurous type, but jumping off a building into a dumpster was not his idea of extreme sports. His diversions ranged more to the conquest of the female of the species.

"Because, I will need to cover your subsequent fall," Ezra explained, checking his ammo and making sure he still had an extra clip.

"Why don't you go first?" Buck asked.

Ezra couldn't believe he was sitting here, under heavy fire, arguing about who should jump first. "Mr. Wilmington, as we are both fully aware I am the better marksman. Please sir, get on that ledge."

Ezra decided to play a wild card. "And anyway, Mr. Dunne would never forgive me if anything happened to you." Ezra knew that Buck and JD were more like brothers then partners, and he wasn't above using this knowledge to save the reluctant agent's life.

Buck stared at the enigmatic southerner, realizing he was risking both their lives by arguing. Keeping his head down he climbed up on the ledge. Buck glanced down at the dumpster. "I don't know about this, Ez."

"I assure you, there is no other way of extricating ourselves from this roof alive. Just make sure you aim for the center of the dumpster and land on your back, and please, get out quick as I'll be right behind you."

Buck gave Ezra an uncertain smile, which dropped from his face as the gunfire intensified. He didn't like leaving Ezra up here all alone. Ezra saw Buck's hesitation.

"Sorry Buck," he murmured and lightly tapped the man on the back, causing him to lose his balance and slip off the ledge. Ezra returned fire trying to keep the two gunmen at bay. He knew they were just waiting for him to run out of ammo. There was no way the others could get to the roof without being gunned down. Ezra was accustomed to watching out for himself. He didn't believe in the cavalry being just over the next hill.

Buck couldn't move, he stared up at the clear blue sky. The fall had stunned him. His heart raced and pounded trying to obtain some semblance of a normal rhythm. The smell of rotting garbage and the sound of gunfire forced Buck to gasp for breath and push himself up. He clambered over the dumpster and dropped to the ground, his knees buckling slightly. He knew his back was going to be one massive bruise in the morning. Panic came to his mustached face as he looked up, hearing the gun fire on the roof

Ezra took time to peer over the ledge, relieved to see Buck slowly climbing out of the dumpster. He returned his attention to the two gunmen who had moved up behind a large venting pipe.

****Part 21

"C'mon Ezra, jump," Buck murmured, leaning against the dumpster. It seemed like forever before he saw the smartly dressed agent climb up on the ledge.

Ezra waited for a pause in the gunfire, then took a deep breath, stood and fired. Unfortunately, one of the gunmen was ready for him. Ezra was shocked when he felt the bullet rip through his vest and into his shoulder, throwing him down onto the roof. The pain was excruciating, black splotches flashed across his vision and made his head spin. Ezra gritted his teeth and pulled himself up on the ledge. He made sure he was in the right position and then stepped off. Like a free-style diver, Ezra tucked his head and brought his legs around. He hit the garbage-cushioned dumpster, folding up into a V. He lay dazed on top the rubbish, the breath taken from his lungs. Ezra stirred weakly as a knife-sharp pain rose from his shoulder. His eyes opened, and he struggled to sit up. His breath caught halfway between his lungs and throat as an enormous bolt of pain surged through his side. He suspected that his cracked rib had now evolved into a broken one.

Ezra heard Buck calling as if from a great distance, due in part to the metal container he was residing in. Ezra smiled at the concern he thought he heard in his partner's voice. Even his own mother showed very little concern for his well-being.

Buck looked into the dumpster seeing Ezra's dazed expression. A rain of bullets forced him to drop down beside it. He quickly returned fire, trying to keep the gunmen back. He knew he had to get Ezra out. Why wasn't he moving? He was a sitting duck in there.

"Ezra! You have to get out!" Buck yelled as he continued to fire, his gun nearly empty. He reached in and grabbed Ezra's gun, still clenched tightly in his hand. Buck exhaled in relief when he heard the gunfire behind him.

Chris and the others turned the corner. Buck was standing in front of a dumpster firing up at the roof. Chris's first thought was why was his agent standing out in the open taking on automatic gun fire? His second was where was Ezra?" The five arriving agents started firing at the roof, too, and the two gunmen soon realized the odds had changed and disappeared from sight. As soon as the gun fire stopped Buck dropped his gun and reached into the dumpster. "Josiah, help me, Ezra's in here!"

"Good lord." The huge agent reached in, grabbing hold of Ezra's ankles as Buck grabbed under his shoulders. Ezra gasped in pain. The two men gently lifted him out and laid the semi-conscious man against the building.

"Hey Buck, how did you and Ezra get over here?" JD asked.

Wilmington looked up then slowly trailed his gaze back to the dumpster. JD stared incredulously at what the older agent was silently telling him. Buck sat behind Ezra and held him up by the shoulders. Nathan moved to his side and quickly ran his experienced hands over the injured agent's torso.

Nathan noticed the bullet hole in Ezra's jacket and reached inside, expecting to find the bullet trapped within the Kevlar mesh. He frowned when he felt a wet, stickiness. Nathan pulled out a blood covered hand. "Ah shit! The bullet penetrated the vest." Nathan ripped open the now useless armor. This got everyone's attention. When Nathan swore, things were bad.

Everyone's face paled at the sight of Ezra's shirt covered in blood. Nathan pulled the shirt open, working the material over Ezra's limbs and pulling it down his arm. The bullet had blown a hole in Ezra's shoulder.

"Oh geez!" JD exclaimed his stomach rolling at the sight of so much blood. Vin knelt down and laid a hand on Ezra's arm.

"They were using armor piercing bullets," JD said in disbelief. They all knew what that meant. The gunmen were after the agents.

Buck held the southerner a little tighter and placed a hand on his forehead forcing Ezra's head back against his chest. "Take it easy, pard."

Standish groaned. Suddenly shock and pain filled his face as Nathan applied pressure to the blood-spilling wound. "Easy Ezra," Jackson soothed.

Green eyes widened at the sound of his name. Ezra looked into the worried visage of the moralistic agent. The same man who had once wanted to kill him was now trying to save his life. Mother would love the irony, Ezra thought.

Larabee squatted alongside Nathan. "How you doing, Ezra?"

A bemused smile came to the pain-etched face. "You're kidding, right, Mr. Larabee?"

Ezra had never experienced so many people concerned about what happened to him. He tried to sift through the myriad of emotions; confusion battled with mistrust and finally gave away to something he could only describe as contentment. He had finally found true friendship in these six men. Life no longer seemed like the harsh mistress he had to constantly ply and cheat on to survive.

Nathan noticed Ezra fighting to keep his eyes open and the perplexed smile on his face was starting to worry him. Nate grabbed Ezra's chin between his fingers and looked into the southerner's unequal eyes.

"Damn, he must have hit his head on something," Nathan said.

Ezra stared at Nathan. He felt lightheaded and detached, and his side and shoulder were killing him. The smile left his face as he started feeling a new agony. His chest felt like someone was slowly applying pressure, and Ezra found himself struggling to take a complete breath. He turned scared eyes toward Nathan.

****Part 22

"Mr. Jackson...I be...having...some difficulty...breathing," Ezra gasped, darkness fluttering over his eyes.

Nathan started probing Ezra's side, still bruised from the other mission. He felt the broken ribs under his hands. He put his ear to the gasping man's chest, but did not hear any breathing sounds on the right side. "He's broken one of those cracked ribs and I think it punctured a lung."

"The ambulance should be here any minute," Chris said.

Ezra lost his fight with consciousness and went limp in Buck's arms. "Nathan?" Buck's voice sounded lost and his fear was mirrored on the faces of the other five men who surrounded him.

Nate checked for a pulse then placed Vin's hand over the bandage on the bullet wound. "Keep pressure on it, Vin." He reached around his back and removed the small knapsack he carried. "We can't wait!" He pulled out a long needle like device. "Lay him out flat, Buck."

"God almighty Nathan, what'cha goin' do with that?" Buck blurted out at the sight of the sharp instrument.

"He's suffering from a tension pneumothorax." Nathan looked up at the confused expressions on everyone's face. "Air is going into his lung but out the hole that the rib created." He looked down at the slack face of the injured agent then ran his hand down Ezra's right side. "The lung will collapse more and more as the air outside the lung pushes it flat, which will eventually cause tension inside the chest, enough to stop the heart."

"How will sticking a needle in him help?" JD asked, his dark eyes wild as Nathan inserted the needle at the third rib. Buck looked away.

Nathan waited a second then checked Ezra's pulse. He sat back on his heels and looked up at JD. "This is called a Mac Swane dart. It has a one-way value on the end." Nathan pointed to the dart sticking out of Ezra's chest. "The device will release the air, but not allow more air to move back inside his lung. He'll be able to breathe easier with less strain on his heart," Nathan explained. "Okay, I got him breathing for now, but we need to get him to a hospital. He's still losing blood and he might be bleeding internally."

That was all that needed to be said. Josiah and Buck gently picked up the southern agent, keeping him level; they carried him to Josiah's suburban. Nathan jumped into the back and spread out a blanket that sat in the corner. Buck held Ezra's head in his lap and gently stroked the unconscious agent's brow hoping to bring him some measure of comfort. Nathan placed a hand on Ezra's chest to assure himself that the man was still breathing.

"We'll follow you Josiah!" Chris yelled out heading for his truck, followed by JD and Vin.

Josiah broke several traffic laws and almost caused one accident as he raced to the Denver Medical Center. The recent rash of road rage had never affected him until now. It seemed that every other driver was trying to delay his progress and if it wasn't a matter of life and death, he would have gotten into several altercations.

Josiah pulled his truck up close enough to the emergency entrance to activate the automatic doors. "I NEED HELP OUT HERE!" he yelled.

Chris and the others arrived to see Ezra placed on a gurney and rushed into the hospital. The six agents followed, until a rather robust nurse stopped them. "You'll have to wait here, gentlemen," she ordered then was gone. The six men stood silently staring at the swinging doors where their fellow agent had gone then slowly made their way to the waiting room.

*****Part 23

Larabee had radioed the agency to have investigators go out to the warehouse and look for any clues that might tell them who was responsible. When they found out Chris would seek out his own personal retribution; no one hurt one of his men. Ezra may be an egotistical, stubborn, con artist, but he was one of them whether he knew it or not. He promised himself to make the obstinate agent understand that he was a part of this family now, even if he had to beat it into him. Chris exhaled and leaned back in the plastic chair.

"God Chris, he can't die. I was just starting to like the stubborn SOB." Buck's anxious plea interrupted the somber mood. Chris looked toward Nathan seeing the uncertainty and fear in the medic's face.

An hour passed in silence as the six ATF agents remained lost in their own thoughts. Each wondering if they would have a second chance to be acquainted with the latest man to join their team. They had all seen another side to Ezra, a side that wanted to belong.

A middle-aged man, dressed in dark pants and a jacket, entered the waiting area looking at the dejected group of men. His gazed swept over the blond agent, recognizing him on sight. "Mr. Larabee," he quietly intruded. Chris raised tired blue eyes. "I'm detective Harris, I've just returned from the warehouse and I have something to show you."

Chris stood up as the plain-clothes detective approached and handed him a piece of paper. "This was found at the scene and was obviously meant to be discovered," Harris explained.

Larabee read the note and frowned. "What's it say Chris?" Vin asked as the rest of the men surrounded him.

"It says, You are a walking dead man, and I'm going to bury you." Chris turned the cryptic note over in his hand.

"Oh no."

"What's wrong Buck?" JD asked. He watched as all the color left his friend's face.

Buck stepped back, bumping into a chair. His knees folded and he fell heavily into the stiff plastic, bringing his hands to his face.

Chris walked up and stood in front of the distressed agent. "What is it, Buck?"

Buck raised his head up to meet Chris's cold blue stare. "It's Haddon."

"How do you know?" Josiah asked.

Buck shifted his gaze to Josiah, preferring to look at the large agent then to have to face Chris's imminent wrath. "What's on that note is the exact threat he made to Ezra when I was taking him into custody."

"And you were going to tell me about this, when?" Chris snarled his hand curling into a fist and crumpling the note.

"I'm sorry. I didn't take it seriously," Buck added, bowing his head.

"Yeah and even if you did, you wouldn't have cared," Vin retorted angrily taking a step toward the regretful man. He desperately wanted to strike out at Buck.

"That's not true!" Buck yelled, jumping from his seat. "No matter how I felt about Ezra then I would never do that--to anyone."

"Enough!" Chris yelled coming between the two agents before they came to blows.

"Apparently Ezra didn't take it seriously either," Nathan spoke up, trying to defuse the situation. Buck fell back into the chair as Vin turned and strode away. Chris sat in the chair next to Buck and leaned his head back.

Buck kept his head down as he spoke. "Chris, I would never..." he choked. "...It's just that Ezra didn't seem concerned about Haddon's threat so I didn't think anything of it." Buck raised his head to confront his boss and friend.

"What would you have done if Haddon had threatened JD?" Chris off-handedly asked his eyes focused on the white tiled ceiling. He didn't expect an answer, but he wanted Buck to think about what he did.

Buck knew the answer and so did everyone else; he didn't have to say it. "Things have changed, I trust Ezra, I really do," Buck vehemently defended.

"I know you do, Buck," Chris replied, turning to look at Buck's watery gaze. He placed a hand on Buck's shoulder and squeezed. Chris looked around the waiting room at his men and realized all their feelings had changed for the cocky southerner.

As the hours continued to tick by, they all took turns pacing the small waiting room and bothering the nurses for information.

A doctor finally entered the waiting area, momentarily startled when six men surrounded him. "Ah, I gather you're all here for Mr. Standish."

Chris stepped forward to face the doctor. "I'm Chris Larabee his boss."

"I'm Dr. Richards."

The doctor looked down at a clip board. "Are there any family members present?"

Chris looked over his shoulder at his men then turned back to the doctor. "He has a mother..." Chris paused. "But we're as close to family as I believe he has."

Doctor Richards pursed his lips. "I see."

"Doc, how is he?" Buck blurted out.

The doctor smiled his apology at keeping the men in suspense. "The bullet he took in the shoulder broke his collar bone and really tore up the muscle. He had some internal bleeding, but we were able to get it under control. He lost a lot of blood. A rib punctured his right lung, which filled with fluid. Whoever inserted that Mac Swane dart probably saved his life."

The six agents looked to Nathan, giving him a smile of gratitude. Josiah clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We'll have to watch for pneumonia and infection," the doctor continued. "The surgery went well, but..."

"But what?" Buck anxiously asked, trying to swallow back the anxiety that jumped up his throat.

"He's on a ventilator and hasn't regained consciousness." The doctor looked down at the clip board again. "Is there anyway to contact his mother?"

Chris looked over at Josiah who nodded his head.

"Yeah, we'll find her. Can we see him?"

"I'm sorry. He's in ICU and only family members may visit," the doctor explained.

"Doctor, what is the prognosis?" Nathan asked.

Doctor Richards saw the fear and concern on the six agent's faces. "He's critical and we're still trying to stabilize his vitals. We'll know more in twenty-four hours but it would be a good idea to get a hold of his mother." Dr. Richards forced a thin smile and walked off.

*****Part 24

The six men made their way back to the office. They all tried to concentrate and fill out reports but their thoughts would ultimately return to the missing member of their group. Chris walked into the break room to throw away another ignored cup of coffee. He found four of his agents sitting around the table. He made his way quietly over to the sink dumping out the cold coffee. Nathan appeared in the doorway, a strange look on his face. "Nathan, what's wrong?" JD asked, fear causing his mouth to go dry.

Nathan stared at the five men, still unable to believe what he was about to tell them.

"Nathan, Ezra's not..." Vin suddenly asked as Nathan's appearance brought fear to everyone's soul.

"No, no I called the hospital Ezra is still critical but he's alive. It's just..." Nathan didn't know how to continue, how to tell the others what he himself found hard to believe. "Josiah managed to track down Mrs. Standish's cell number. I just got off the phone with her. She's up in Vail."

"That's great! She'll be here soon then," JD exclaimed, not understanding Nathan's downcast appearance.

"No, she won't, JD."

"What do you mean, 'she won't?'" Chris asked.

Nathan pulled out a chair and sat down. "I told her that Ezra had been seriously injured and that she should come. She told me it was impossible right now as she was, and I quote: in the midst of some business venture and could not break away," Nathan mocked, clasping his hands in front of him to try and siphon off some of his growing anger at a woman who could care less about her son. "She did tell me to keep her informed but said it was his own fault for taking such a dangerous and demeaning job." At that point, Nathan had hung up on the heartless woman wanting to reach through the phone and strangle her.

Everyone was dumbfounded. How could Ezra's own mother refuse to see him when he was in such serious condition? This was another page of Ezra's life opened up to them. A life they believed was that of a pampered and privileged rich kid. Instead it was looking more like the story of 'Oliver Twist'. They were all silent and disbelieving. Each of the men had been loved growing up. Evidently, that was not the case with Ezra.

The six ATF agents tried to go about their duties, but a dark mood had fallen over them like a cloud. All anyone could think of was the solitary figure laying in a hospital bed, alone and fighting for his life. Larabee left without a word to anyone. Vin also abruptly disappeared.

****Part 25

Tanner managed to slip by security and locate Ezra's room. He entered the darkened room hearing the beeps and blips of the monitors. A florescent light above the bed gave Ezra a sallow appearance. Vin pulled a chair up to the bed and laid his hand on the unconscious man's arm. "Hang in there, pard. We need you," he whispered.

A nurse poked her head in. Vin was prepared to fight to stay with his friend. The nurse looked at him, smiled and left. Vin settled back, listening to the air being forced into Ezra's lungs and the rhythmic beat of his heart. He put his head down on the bed and was soon asleep.

Vin woke when two forms, one wearing hospital scrubs, rushed into the room hiding behind the door.

"Hey boys!" Vin said.

Buck and JD jumped at the sound of Vin's Texas drawl. "Shit Vin, don't do that!" Buck said. The two agents approached the bed and looked down at their pale friend.

"Buck, why are you wearing hospital garb?"

"Hey, we had to find out what room he was in didn't we?" Buck and JD found places to settle. They listened to the life music of the machines keeping their friend alive.

A few moments later Josiah walked smoothly in as if he were invisible to the hospital staff. How anyone could miss a man of his size was one of life's mysteries yet to be solved. Vin figured the serene agent gave off an aura of calmness so people didn't see him as a threat. Usually what people don't foresee as a problem they ignored, or maybe they just realized the large man was not someone to hassle. Josiah smiled at the sight of the three agents.

Nathan was the biggest surprise. The highly ethical agent walked in wearing a doctor's jacket and carrying an empty clipboard. He stared abashedly his four friends.

"Ain't it illegal to impersonate a doctor?" JD had to ask. He couldn't believe that Nathan would do anything outside the lines.

"Only if you're caught, JD," Nathan quipped, quickly removing the jacket and sticking it in a closet.

Buck looked out the window the lights of the mile high city seeming to hang in mid air. He could just make out the dark outline of the distant mountains. Everyone looked up at the darkly dressed agent who slipped in. Larabee smiled at the sight of his five men surrounding the seventh member of their team. They really were a team and a family. He went up to the bed and laid the back of his fingers against Ezra's face for a moment.

*****Part 26

The next morning the shift nurse entered the room to find the six men sprawled in various states of disarray about the floor and furniture. She made her way to the patient and checked the monitors and various tubes that entered Ezra's body. Chris watched through hooded eyes.

"How's he doing?" He quietly asked.

The nurse flinched, and then turned to the blond leader who sat slouched in a chair with his hands resting on his stomach.

"Well, everything seems stable and his fever has come down some. I'm going to talk to the doctor about taking him off the ventilator to see how he does. I don't suppose I could get you all to leave." She glanced around the room.

Chris gave the nurse a dubious smile.

"Didn't think so," she quipped, a smile coming to her face.

Doctor Richards entered, not hiding his annoyance at the blatant disregard for hospital rules. He glared at Larabee, who only matched his deadly stare until he turned away. The doctor checked over his patient and found a marked improvement in his vitals. He wondered if the presence of these men could have had something to do with it.

The doctor and nurse expertly removed the ventilator tube, and then waited to make sure that the young agent was breathing on his own without any problems. Ezra was still comatose, but he seemed to be coming out of it. Doctor Richards spent the next fifteen minutes doing various checks and making several notations on his chart. The six men stayed out of his way, not wanting to push their luck.

"So, how's he doing?" Larabee finally asked.

"Better. I think I can upgrade his condition and move him out of ICU this afternoon, as long as there are no complications."

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The doctor saw that the agents did not intend to leave Standish's side. He released an exasperated sigh and left.

Ezra was moved to a room on the general floor, followed by his entourage of concerned friends. Night was once again blanketing the city. Buck stood silently at the large pane window staring down at the headlights that moved slowly through the congested city streets. He turned when JD came bouncing through the doorway carrying two large pizza boxes.

"JD, you just saved my life," Vin said, snatching one of the boxes. Buck smiled and his mouth began to water at the smell of hot cheese and pepperoni. JD and Vin began doling out pieces of pizza.

"I couldn't take anymore egg salad sandwiches from the vending machine," JD complained. "I found a pizzeria right down the street."

First, Ezra thought he smelled pizza, and then a distant buzzing sound slowly morphed into muffled voices. He couldn't discern to whom the voices belonged. He had been floating in a tranquil sea of blackness, but now he was starting to feel heavy. He wanted to go back to floating as the heaviness was increasing, and a dull ache was building in every part of his body.

Larabee sat quietly, reading a book, at Ezra's bedside. A soft moan escaped Ezra's lips and Chris looked up. He stared at the slack face of his agent and was about to return to his book when Ezra winced. Chris put the book down and leaned over the stirring man.

The dull ache was escalating into unadulterated pain. Ezra tried to return to his blissful oblivion, but it eluded him.

"Ezra, can you hear me?" Chris softly called, laying a hand on the agent's forehead and rubbing his thumb across the furrowed brow. Buck hung back by the window still feeling guilty about his part in all this. If he had taken Haddon's threat serious this might all have been avoided.

The unmistakable voice of Larabee cut through Ezra's fog. What was Larabee doing here and where was here? Under the lingering smell of pizza, the clearly identifiable odor of disinfectant assailed him. Ezra groaned. He was in a hospital. Lord, he hated hospitals. He tried to force his eyes open and managed a half lidded response. He licked his parched lips then felt his head gently lifted and an ice chip placed in his mouth, and then just as gently, he was eased back down. He tried to move his head, but pain shot down his arm and across his chest causing him to inhale sharply.

"Easy, Ez, take shallow breaths and try not to move," Nathan said. He grabbed the buzzer at the side of the bed. He could tell that Ezra was in a lot of pain.

"Where am I?" Ezra finally managed to vocalize, though his southern drawl was thick and raspy, making each word fight to come out of his mouth.

"You're at Denver General," Josiah answered.

"Hey, pard, welcome back," Vin said.

"Good to see you, Ez," JD cheerfully piped in.

Ezra tried to open his eyes a little wider. Why was everyone here?

The nurse entered and smiled when she saw that Ezra was awake.

"I think he's in some pain," Nathan told her.

"I'll go get the doctor and see about administering pain medicine."

"What happened?" Ezra woozily asked when the nurse left.

"You were shot," Nathan explained. "That leap from the building busted your rib, which punctured a lung."

"We thought we were going to lose you, pard," Vin explained.

Ezra wrinkled his brow in confusion then everything started coming back to him-two men in ski masks, the gunshot, the ultimate dive into a dumpster.

"Buck?" Ezra tried to rise, the reassuring and steady beep of the heart monitor escalated.

"I'm right here, Ez." Buck jumped into the agent's field of vision to reassure the distraught man.

Ezra let out a breath and relaxed back in the bed. He was surprised at the fear that had hit him. He hadn't been sure if Buck had been hurt or not. "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Ezra absently remarked.

"I'd say it was a pretty good one," Josiah said. "You and Buck are still alive."

"Ez, I'm so sorry," Buck said.

"For what?"

"We found a note referring to the threat Haddon made on you," Chris supplied. "Apparently he was trying to get a little pay back."

Ezra brought his unrestricted hand up and rubbed his forehead. He then looked at the six men surrounding his bed. "What's everyone doing here?"

"Waiting for you to come back to the land of the living," Nathan good-naturedly chided. Everyone smiled at the Ezra's bewildered scowl.

"Ah Ez, we called your mother," JD began.

"She won't come," Ezra sadly proclaimed.

JD looked toward Buck who shook his head.

The nurse returned and administered some pain medicine into Ezra's IV. As the pain drifted away so did he, unable to fight the battle to remain conscious. Sleep once again claimed him, body and soul.

Chris watched as Ezra's eyes closed and his breathing evened out. He shifted his focus to Josiah, who stared down at Ezra's inert form. "Josiah."

Sanchez raised his blue-gray eyes.

"I want everything you can find out on John Haddon, especially the men who work for him." Josiah nodded, then reached down and pushed some unruly hair off of Ezra's brow. He couldn't explain the feeling he had for the maverick agent. Ever since Ezra's mother refused to come to see him, Josiah was overwhelmed with a feeling of fatherly love for the young man.

"If these men tried once before they might try again," Chris said. "I want someone with Ezra at all times."

Everyone nodded their agreement.

*****Part 27

Late the next day the six ATF agents met at the hospital, which was fast becoming a second home. Ezra was more alert. The pain medication dulling the ache in his shoulder and ribs.

"Ezra, do you know who might have tried to kill you and Buck at the warehouse?" Chris asked. They had already done some checking, but Chris wanted to see if there was anything more that Ezra could add.

Ezra was propped up in the bed trying to choke down what the hospital passed off as food. "My money would be on Tom Lowe and Rick Casco. Both men are hired guns who Haddon has used in the past." He pushed the plate of food away only to have Nathan push it back under him.

"Well, that would fit, neither of them are in custody at the moment. Haddon probably hired them from jail. I doubt Haddon wants you around to testify," Josiah added.

"I know Haddon is probably pissed at being conned by Ezra, but we have all kinds of taped information that will probably put him away for ten years without Ezra's testimony. Why risk a murder rap?" Buck asked.

Ezra looked up at Chris. "It might have something to do with some other information that I obtained."

Chris's brow arched. "What information?" Ezra had a way of making something serious sound like just a minor inconvenience.

"I gained access into his office one night and overheard a private conversation. Haddon was involved with the murder of those government officials last year."

"Holy crap," Buck exclaimed. "No wonder he wants you dead."

Chris wiped his hand down his face and glared at his injured agent. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because the lawyer I talked to during debriefing told me to keep it quiet, for this reason. Apparently, Haddon somehow found out that I knew."

Everyone grew quiet when Dr. Richards entered the room. He stopped and shook his head when he spied the six agents. "Don't you guys have homes?" Sheepish looks appeared on several of the agent's faces. The doctor went to Ezra's bedside to check his vitals.

"We need to know when Ezra can be released." Chris said. "His life is in danger and we can't protect him here. We don't want any trouble coming to the hospital."

Dr. Richards turned to the blond leader and saw that the man was serious. He looked down at the chart, then back at the monitors. "Well, I'd like him to stay another three days, but if you can assure me he will be taken care of I guess I can release him tomorrow."

"We'll take care of him, doc," Nathan assured, snapping a look at Ezra that caused the undercover man to shut his mouth. "Just give me all his medicines and instructions. Nathan grinned at the ornery glare that Ezra gave him behind the doctor's back.

"I can take of myself, thank you very much," Ezra drawled.

"You don't have a choice," Chris countered.

"C'mon Ez, stop being such a stubborn cuss and let us help," Buck pleaded.

"I'm glad you're volunteering to watch over Ezra at your place, Buck," Chris said, slapping his friend on the back.

"I'm what?"

"Hey, cool," JD said, jumping to his feet.

"Good Lord!" Ezra exclaimed.

"I think it's the least you can do Brother Buck," Josiah said.

Buck bowed his head in resignation, looking like a petulant child. "Sure why not," he finally conceded. Buck looked into Ezra's face and saw that he was not at all happy with the situation. For some reason
this brought a smile to Buck's face.

*****Part 28

The next morning found Chris and Buck at the jail waiting to see Haddon.

"Are the arrangements made to have Ezra released from the hospital this afternoon?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, Vin's with him now, and we'll all meet at the hospital around one and take him to our place."

The two men looked over when a uniformed officer escorted John Haddon into the holding cell and left

Haddon stood confidently and glared at the two agents sitting on the table in the center of the room. "And what can I do for you gentlemen," Haddon asked contemptuously.

Buck and Chris regarded each other with similar grins and walked over to the older man.

"It's simple, call off your men," Chris calmly asked.

Haddon stared into Larabee's cold blue eyes and swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. He would not let these men intimidate him. How could someone like Larabee be a Fed? The man looked more dangerous than he was. Haddon still fumed over being duped by Standish. During his twenty odd years in the gun business, he had disposed of two undercover agents and derailed numerous indictments. The Feds had tried for years to dredge up any incriminating evidence and he had come to believe he was impervious to their legal onslaught. Standish had fit in so flawlessly. He never suspected the man of being anything other than what he portrayed.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Haddon sneered.

"Oh, I think you do."

"Your undercover made a fool of me. He deserves whatever he gets."

Buck corkscrewed Haddon's arm behind his back and slammed him against the wall.

Chris came up alongside the arms dealer and snarled, "Call off your men."


"If Ezra dies I know people in prison who will make your life a
living hell," Chris menacingly whispered into the older man's ear.

A half smile appeared on the visible side of Haddon's face. "If your undercover has an unfortunate accident before testifying, I won't be in jail long enough to care."

Buck spun Haddon around and delivered two blows to his stomach sending the man his knees. Haddon choked and gagged. "You'll all pay for that."

Buck grabbed Haddon by the shirt and hauled him to his feet prepared to administer more punishment. He needed to take out his own guilt on something, and Haddon was the perfect recipient. Chris grabbed Buck's arm. "Enough, let's go."

Buck released his grip and Haddon sunk back to the floor, laughing as the two agents left.

*****Part 29

"Okay, easy Ez, just take it a step at a time," Nathan assured as he maneuvered himself under the agent's uninjured shoulder. Ezra kept his eyes down to watch his feet, feeling very unsteady.

They had transported Ezra in Chris's truck, backtracking and taking side streets all the way. The doctor had medicated him to make the ride more comfortable, but his shoulder still throbbed and ached from the strain. Ezra still couldn't take deep breaths without discomfort and it was leaving him exhausted. Vin remained by the truck keeping an eye on the area as Josiah and Chris followed everyone else inside. Buck and JD raced ahead to get the door.

Ezra's senses were dulled by the medication, all except his sense of smell. He stopped in the doorway and wrinkled his nose as an inexplicable odor offended his olfactory sense. His eyes focused and then went wide. "I am not stepping foot in there. I'm sure I haven't been vaccinated for whatever might be growing or dying in there."

"Sorry, JD forgot to take out the garbage," Buck explained, catching a whiff of week old trash.

"Me? It was your turn," the young agent countered.

Nathan smiled. Every time he stepped foot in Buck and JD's apartment, Rain made him take a shower before she would let him near her.

The six men stood in the door way and gazed upon a scattered field of empty pizza and Chinese food boxes. The garbage can was coughing up styrofoam containers and two hastily tied garbage bags lay on their sides next to it. Clothes and dirty laundry covered the mismatched furniture. There was a dark stain on the rug, which Buck and JD had tried to hide with a table. A pair of boxer shorts tacked to the wall hid a fist size hole.

"C'mon Ez, I've been in here before and lived," Chris remarked as he stepped in, his foot immediately sticking to the tile floor of the entrance way. He glared up at Buck who just grinned guiltily and shrugged.

"Hey, sorry, the maid hasn't been in today," he sarcastically replied to everyone's disgusted looks.

Nathan started to feel Ezra getting heavier. "Chris, we need to lay him down."

Buck rushed to his room and opened the door. "In here." He quickly threw clothes and magazines under the bed. Chris smiled when he got a look at the voluptuous and scantily clad women on the covers of the magazines.

Chris helped Nathan get Ezra to Buck's bed and lay him gently down. "JD, get me some water. He needs to take these meds before he goes to sleep," Nathan said.

Nathan placed a hand on Ezra's brow feeling the slight fever

"Is he okay?" Buck asked concern languished in his deep voice.

"Yeah, the trip was just a little too much for him," Nathan explained. "We need to keep an eye on him and watch that pneumonia doesn't set in." He was surprised how worried he was about the undercover agent. It wasn't so long ago he wanted him off the team; afraid he would get one of them killed. Instead, the cocky agent had saved his and probably Buck's life.

JD returned and handed Nathan the glass of water, and then with Chris's glaring persuasion, they managed to get Ezra to take his pills before he drifted off.

Josiah pulled the covers up to Ezra's neck, and then grabbed a chair and settled in. "I'll stay with him awhile."

Chris, Nathan, Buck and JD quietly left the room. Vin was out in the living room debating whether he wanted to sit down bad enough to touch the rumpled clothes on the chair.

"I want two men here at all times," Chris said. "Until we catch the shooters, or after the trial, Ezra's life is in danger."

"You really think Haddon will try again?" Nathan asked.

"I have no doubt. He has too much to lose," Chris replied.

"Hey, anyone want to stay for dinner?" Buck asked, trying to clear the kitchen counter of yesterday's meals. Nathan, Vin and Chris gaped at Buck in disbelief and laughed as they walked out.

******Part 30

Ezra slept most of the next day, only getting up to take his medicine and get a little bite to eat. He vaguely remembered seeing each of the six agents at one time or another during the course of the day. Late the following day Ezra woke feeling better than he had in a long time. He carefully made his way out of the bedroom and into the living area, noticing that someone had cleaned. He smiled when he heard Buck singing in the shower.

"Ay, Ez how you feeling?" JD asked from behind his computer terminal. He watched as Ezra moved stiffly toward the kitchen.

"Better, Mr. Dunne, thank you." Ezra looked toward the glass doors that opened onto a small private patio. He had been cooped up for several days and really needed some fresh air.

Buck came out of the bathroom toweling his hair. He searched the living room hoping to see Vin so he could go out on his date. The sound of pots and pans clanging together turned his attention toward the kitchen where JD was searching for something to munch on.

"Where's Ezra?" Buck had noticed that the agent was no longer in bed.

JD nodded toward the sliding glass doors. "He's been out there for the past hour, just staring up at the stars." JD leaned over the counter. "Figured he might have wanted a little time to himself."

Buck looked at the clock on the wall then back at the solitary agent. He let out a breath and headed toward the patio.

"You know you probably shouldn't be out here, pard," Buck quietly admonished as he stepped out onto the small brick patio.

Ezra's eyes were closed, but a smile creased his handsome face. "Oh, I think if Haddon's men knew where I was, it wouldn't make much difference."

Buck frowned, grabbed one of the plastic chairs, and sat down. He studied the southern agent, who was still very pale with dark circles accenting his eyes. It stayed quiet for a moment, neither man knowing what to say.

"Ah...I guess you've seen a lot of the world?" Buck haltingly asked. He knew that Ezra had attended boarding schools all over the world.

"Yeah, a bit." Ezra opened his eyes and focused on a bright star that shined just above a distant mountain peak.

"Lord, I've barely been out of Colorado, you sure are lucky," Buck added.

Ezra's face fell at this statement and he slowly turned his head, wincing slightly at the pain it caused. "Mr. Wilmington, did you have parents growing up?"

Buck rubbed the back of his neck, taken aback by the question. "Yeah, my mother mostly, but my father was around from time to time."

"And you and Mr. Larabee have been friends for a long time."

"Almost half my life, I guess." Buck didn't understand where this conversation was going, but he saw the sadness in Ezra's green eyes.

Ezra looked inside the apartment to see JD planted in front of the TV. Keeping his eye on the young man he asked, "You and Mr. Dunne are close."

"Yeah, like brothers," Buck quietly replied.

"You Mr. Wilmington are the lucky one." Ezra turned his attention back to the distant star just above the mountain peak.

Buck turned in his chair seeing that Vin had joined JD on the sofa, he looked back at Ezra and bowed his head. When Buck first read Ezra's file he had been envious of all the different schools, in different countries, he had attended. Now he recalled that those schools had changed almost every year or two. How could anyone make or keep friends when they moved so much? The schools were private, with the students living on the campuses. Did he even see his mother and father? Thinking back to Maude, and how she had refused to come and see Ezra in the hospital, Buck started to think that the private and expensive schools were a convenient way to get a child out of the way.

"I don't want your pity, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra angrily exclaimed. He
had noticed the look on Buck's face, one he was all too familiar with.

"It's not pity, Ezra."

"Well, whatever it is, I don't want or need it." Ezra started to get agitated. He wasn't use to someone giving a damn about him without wanting something in return. He struggled to stand, grabbing his injured arm. Buck was immediately at his side.

"C'mon, you should be inside resting," Buck exclaimed.

Ezra took a step back and his head swam.

Buck reached out and grabbed his arm to steady him, suddenly worried. He heard Ezra's labored breathing from the exertion. "Are you okay, Ezra?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I wish everyone would stop asking and leave me alone!" Ezra pulled out of Buck's grasp and walked back into the apartment. He headed for the kitchen to get a glass of water, ignoring the looks from Vin and JD.

Buck followed, motioning for the two men not interfere. He entered the kitchen noticing how Ezra's hand shook holding the glass of water.

Ezra managed to get his medicine down and take some more water, but as he went to put the glass down his knees buckled causing him to slam the glass on the counter, shattering it. Buck grabbed Ezra before he fell.

"C'mon on pard, it's back to bed for you." He didn't get an argument.

Vin and JD watched from the sidelines as Buck helped the weak undercover agent back to the bedroom. He returned a few moments later. "JD, get a hold of Nathan, I want him here to look at Ezra!"

"What about your date, Buck?" Vin asked.

Buck looked up at the clock. He could still make it. He looked toward the bedroom. "I'll call and tell her I can't make it. Something more important came up."

*****Part 31

JD managed to catch Nathan at the office and tell him what had happened.
Twenty minutes later, Buck and JD heard the sound of screeching tires and spraying gravel. JD opened the door to let Nathan in, surprised to see Chris right behind him. Nathan went directly to the bedroom.

"What happened?" Chris demanded, hoping that Buck wasn't the cause. He had been at the office when Nathan received the call and insisted on driving the ex-medic over.

"It's okay, Chris," Buck quickly explained seeing the worry on his friend's face and fearing for his own life. "It was just that he was breathing rather hard and was a little unsteady. I just thought it would be a good idea if Nathan had a look at him."

Chris ran his fingers through his sandy blond hair and took a deep breath. He was glad everything was okay; he would have hated to hit Buck in front of everyone.

Nathan came out a few moments later seeing the others gathered around the kitchen table.

"Well, how is he?" Vin anxiously asked, sliding a beer toward the medic.

"He's okay, probably just over did it a little." Nathan plopped down in an empty chair.

"Hey, Buck, what did you two talk about on the patio?" JD innocently asked.

Chris turned stone, blue eyes to his dark haired agent. "He was outside!"

Buck slouched down in his chair. "He needed some fresh air is all."

Chris downed the last of his beer to put out the sudden flare of anger; maybe he would have to hit Buck after all.

"What did you two talk about?" Vin asked, hoping to avert any confrontation. He was glad that someone could get the close-mouthed agent to open up.

"Nothing much, just about family and how lucky we all are," Buck sadly explained.

They all knew that Ezra did not consider himself a part of their family, but they hoped to change that in time. Each of the six men had seen something in the solitary agent, something that made him a part of them. Despite the fact that the seven extraordinary men were as different as night and day, they shared some inexplicable bond, one that crossed the boundaries of time and space. Josiah believed they were fated to be together to share one destiny, and although they all had scoffed at the theory, deep down they knew it was true.

*****Part 32

Three vehicles pulled into empty slots in the underground parking garage of the Federal courthouse. Vin exited the passenger side of Chris's truck. He quickly scanned the garage area then nodded and stepped aside to allow Ezra to slide out. Ezra held his still bound arm and Vin grasped his upper arm to help him step down from the truck.

JD, Nathan, Buck and Josiah soon joined them and surrounded the threatened agent. Ezra rolled his eyes at the overzealous display.

"Really Mr. Larabee, is all this subterfuge really necessary?" Ezra quipped. He couldn't get over all the fuss and concern. He kept telling himself it was only because he was a key witness, but something deep inside kept nagging him that this wasn't the only reason.

"Yes, it is!" Chris retorted, coming around the back of the truck. "Haddon's not going to give up that easily." Chris came up to Ezra and laid a hand on his shoulder, looking the man right in the eye. "And I'm not going to risk losin' the best damn undercover, or a good friend."

Ezra's face flushed and everyone bowed or turned their heads to try and minimize his sudden discomfort at Chris's statement. "And I thoroughly appreciate the effort," Ezra smoothly replied. His lips twitched as if holding a smile at bay.

"Great, when this is over you're buying the first round at Inez's," Buck broke in, throwing an arm across Ezra's good shoulder.

Ezra smiled and looked at his friends. The word still sounded strange but that was what these people had become. "It would be my pleasure, Mr. Wilmington."

Chris took the lead. "Alright, let's move and stay sharp."

The seven agents moved cautiously toward the elevator, keeping
Ezra within their protective circle.

Screeching tires caused everyone to turn around, weapons ready. A black, non-descript van came speeding down the aisle. Its side door was open and a man dressed all in black sat within holding a semi-automatic.

Tom Lowe and Rick Casco were desperate. They had used all their resources trying to find the undercover. They ran out of time, and Haddon was running out of patience. They had little choice but to try and kill the agent at the court house.

Chris grabbed Ezra by the arm and shoved him forward toward the elevator. Chris, Vin, and Josiah kneeled and took aim at the fast approaching van. JD and Nathan took up positions behind a pylon.

Buck saw the other hit man taking aim on the undercover agent from the passenger side window. He leapt toward Ezra pulling him down at the same time feeling a bullet rip through his upper thigh. Bullets ricocheted off the cement walls and everyone hit the floor at the same time.

Ezra bit back the scream that wanted to erupt when his shoulder hit the cement floor. He desperately needed Buck to get off him as his weight was pressing down on his injured shoulder.

The agents returned fire as the van raced past. Vin's shot struck a tire and the van swerved out of control, slamming into another vehicle. They ran toward the disabled vehicle. Chris grabbed the stunned driver as Josiah and Vin pulled the two hit men out of the van, throwing them to the floor and quickly relieving them of their weaponry.

"Hey, Chris! Ain't that the judge's car?" Vin asked over the prone body, of Rick Casco. He had his knee on the hit man's back to keep him down. Chris looked over to see the front end of the van, which was firmly imbedded in the trunk of a black Seville.

"Damn, didn't the judge just buy that yesterday?" JD added, shoving the driver toward Chris.

Chris smiled. "Boys, you probably just added ten more years to your sentence." Chris hauled Tom Lowe to his feet.

"Buck! Please get off me," Ezra hissed. His eyes were squeezed tight. He exhaled as Buck rolled off to the side. Ezra didn't even care about the cold floor beneath him as the waves of pain slowly ebbed away. He opened his eyes and focused on the piping above him as he tried to even out his breathing. He suddenly realized that Buck was still on the floor next to him. Ezra turned his head to see Buck's face scrunched, and his eyes shut tight and then he saw the blood. "Shit! NATHAN!"

Nathan appeared at their side and pulled off his jacket to apply pressure to Buck's wound. "Easy Bucklin, you're going to be okay," he assured.

"Buck, say something," Ezra pleaded.


"Why'd you go and do that?" Ezra angrily exclaimed.

Buck opened one eye to look at the distraught southerner.

"Figured one bullet per person was the limit."

Ezra laid a hand on the larger agent's shoulder and smiled.

*****Part 33

The solitary figure stood just outside the indoor lighting of the ATF building. He pulled the collar of his coat up against the cold wind that blew up and down the corridors between the buildings. Ezra had just finished giving the last of his disposition for the Haddon case. Buck was back at work, milking his injury for all its worth with the ladies. Ezra watched the street lights flicker on as darkness began to shroud the city. He could grow to like this city, it had a certain charm and character he found endearing. He looked at the government building thinking of the six men he worked with and then thought he'd spend the weekend unpacking.

The blond leader stepped up beside him, zipping up his dark leather jacket. The two men stood silently for a moment.

"Seem to remember you offering to buy drinks," Chris said.

Ezra smiled and turned to face a man he had come to respect more than anyone he had ever known. He owed this man his life. "Why haven't you asked me why I ran?"

Chris licked his lips and watched the traffic lights change, releasing their impatient and eager captives to continue on, until the next set of lights. "Figured you'd tell me in your own good time."

"This might be a good time."

Chris nodded and the two men walked across the street towards the saloon.