Deftly fastening his tactical vest and double checking his weapon, Ezra sighed softly as he listened to the final briefing for the bust. He caught the dirty look from Wilson and knew he hadn't been quiet enough.
"We boring you, Standish?" the FBI Special Agent in Charge demanded.
All eyes suddenly focused on Ezra.
Refusing to be intimidated by the hostile scrutiny, Standish didn't flinch. "No, Sir."
Wilson's dark eyes narrowed, obviously expecting a more sarcastic response from the Southerner, but Ezra didn't rise to the bait. After a long, drawn out pause and several scowls, Wilson went back to detailing the plan.
"Owens, you'll go in here," he tapped the map with a stubby cigar stained finger. "Take Mills with you."
Ezra relaxed a fraction as everyone's attention turned to the map and away from him.
What a way to spend Christmas Eve.
He shouldn't have been surprised the day before when A.D. Travis had summoned him upstairs to his office, but being suddenly called back to the FBI for a two day case was unexpected.
Travis had been apologetic, knowing Standish had planned on joining the rest of ATF Team 7 at Chris Larabee's ranch for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities, but Standish knew the A.D's hands were tied.
Technically, he still belonged to the FBI and there were still a few agents who enjoyed yanking him around just enough to make sure he didn't forget it.
Discovering the SAC was Don Wilson and the case was a fairly routine kiddie porn bust just confirmed his suspicions. He was being reminded of his place…and his past.
Ezra controlled the urge to sigh again. He wasn't in the mood to deal with the consequences. He focused instead on the plan. He already had it memorized and this was the fourth time Wilson was going over it, but not knowing this unit like he did his own team, Ezra was wary about trusting anyone to step up and watch his back. He'd take care of himself—he would have to, he acknowledged the first time Wilson told him he'd being going in from the far side entrance of the large two story house…alone.
"We ready?" Wilson questioned. "Good," he continued before anyone could answer. Confident the group knew what to do. "Be ready on my call."
Jostled in the cramped tactical van, Ezra was shoved aside by the others and forced to exit last. He didn't bother with the posturing and ignored them all. He was the outsider again. He was back to being the rumored dirty agent, the untrustworthy one. It rankled that nothing he had done since transferring to the ATF seemed to matter, but he pushed the resentment and anger aside and focused on the job.
Stepping out of the van, Ezra was instantly soaked. Unseasonably warm weather had hit the region immediately after days of snow. Now, heavy rain mixed with melting snow to turn everything into a soupy cold mess of mud and slush.
Standish shivered as the cold seeped into his boots despite their weather proofing. His feet may be staying dry but they were far from warm.
Around him the FBI team moved out in small groups, hurrying into position. After a quick radio check and slightly delayed confirmation, Ezra slipped into position and waited for the 'go'.
The door to the ranch house banged open as Buck and JD dashed inside, soaking wet.
"Geez, it's coming down out there," JD exclaimed as he worked on getting his mud-caked sneakers loose enough to kick off. "It doesn't feel like Christmas."
"Just cold enough to be miserable," Vin tossed him a towel from the pile Chris had left just inside the door.
"Rather have snow," Chris nodded a greeting as he took a sodden bag of groceries from Buck.
"We all here?" Buck asked. He copied JD with his shoes and awkwardly hopped forward to avoid stepping in any mess in his sock feet.
" 'cept Ezra." Vin steadied the big man. "Nate and Josiah are in the kitchen."
"Josiah making chili?" JD's eyes widened.
"What else does he know how to make?" Chris chuckled.
"You hear from Ezra at all since this morning?" Vin watched Larabee as he handed the food back to Buck and shoved the ladies' man toward the kitchen, JD following.
Chris turned to Tanner, looking serious now. "No, not since he left." He glanced out the window, watching the pouring rain. "He said Maude's flight was arriving early this afternoon." His gaze was pulled to Tanner as Vin moved through the family room and sat on the stone hearth in front of the fire.
"And he didn't think he could talk her into coming out here?" Vin tossed another log onto the glowing flames, leaning back as sparks flew.
Chris huffed and moved casually to his bar, grabbing a couple of bottles of beer from the small fridge there. "I don't think Maude is the type to be talked into much of anything." He popped the tops and handed one to Vin. "Said she'd already made reservations at some swanky joint."
Tanner sighed as he accepted the beer and took a long sip.
Larabee waited, sensing Vin had more to say.
"He should be here." Vin met his gaze. "Don't feel right."
Chris just turned back to watching the rain. Laughter erupted from the kitchen but he couldn't shake the feeling he shared with Vin. Something didn't feel right without Ezra there with them.
Ezra slipped in the mud and went down on one knee, but recovered instantly as shouts of "FBI!" rang through his earpiece.
Quickly and efficiently he took out the back door with one kick, his weapon ready. "FBI!" He yelled as he entered the side room and made his way through a narrow hallway that he knew opened into a kitchen. He could hear the banging and clomping of the rest of the team as they stormed the front and back and up the stairs. Fully expecting to encounter any of their targets coming for his exit, he pulled up short as he entered the stiflingly warm room.
His eyes scanned the kichen in disbelief, taking in the stacks of empty take out containers, dirty dishes and trash littering the counters, but it was the chemicals that caught his attention and caused him to suck in a sharp breath. It was a lab. A scrawny kid bolted for the other door, leaving a lit burner sparking in the corner where it'd been knocked over. Crashes and shouts filled the small house as Ezra's vision zeroed in on the small flame igniting next to the open containers of chemicals.
"GET OUT!" he screamed over the radio as he moved forward to try and smother the flames. "It's a lab! Get out now! GET OUT!" He searched for a towel or anything to swat the growing flames, but saw nothing. He watched in horror as a puddle of something clear caught and flames trailed across the cluttered table. He was out of time.
With one last "GET OUT!" Ezra turned and hurried back the way he'd come. He'd just made it into the narrow hallway when he heard a small pop and then the world exploded around him.