It was almost 9:30 when Ezra arrived at the office, but still reasonable by his standards. The message light on his phone was lit up. Settling in for the day, he picked up and dialed his voicemail.

For security purposes, his voicemail was not his own voice. The less-than-pleased woman's voice spoke: Agent Ezra Standish of the Denver Branch of the ATF doesn't answer. At the tone, please leave a message. Ezra hit the pound key and entered his password.

The first message was inconsequential: something about his insurance. He would deal with those guys later on. He skipped ahead to the next message.

"Hello Agent Standish. This is Jimmy Rourke. I… uh, I was hoping to have a word with you, at your earliest convenience. Don't worry, nothing is wrong, I… uh, I just wanted to discuss something with you." He left a number where he could be reached.

After the message had played out, Ezra sat holding the receiver to his ear, not moving, lost in thought. Shocked.

"Ezra?" Vin asked from across the desk. "You all right?"

"What?" he turned and faced Vin, hanging up the phone a bit harder than he intended to.

"You ok?" Vin kept his voice down so as not to alert the rest of their teammates. Ezra had noticeably paled as he had listened to the message.

"I'm fine."

"Sure," Vin said in a disbelieving tone.

"Just didn't expect to hear from…" he looked to see if anyone else was paying attention, "someone," he gestured towards the phone dismissively.

Vin leaned over his desk conspiratorially. "Who was it?" he asked, concern lacing his still-hushed voice.

"Jimmy Rourke." Ezra winced slightly as he said his name, almost in askance.

Vin cocked his head and looked at Ezra in disbelief, his eyes asking if the southerner was fucking with him.

Ezra shrugged. I'm serious.

*******

After the phone call, Ezra and Vin left their desks nonchalantly, heading for the kitchenette for coffee. Once in the sequestered room, Vin started a fresh pot, then turned his head slightly and spoke quietly to Ezra.

"What did he say?" Vin was worried about any further interaction with Jimmy after the whole O'Brien ordeal. Ok, yeah, the agent had come and tried to make amends with Ezra about what had happened. And yeah, Ezra had more or less accepted the agent's apology. But Vin had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't as "all good" as Ezra made it out to be.

"He said he wanted to discuss something with me. Left me a number to call him at," Ezra spoke as quietly as Vin had, rubbing his eyes as he did so.

"You gonna call him?" There was no judgment in his tone.

Ezra moved his hand from his eyes down his face, stopping at his chin. He breathed out slowly. "I don't know."

Vin nodded as he busied himself arranging things on the counter, leaving the option open for Ezra to continue, if he wished.

"I just… I feel like I owe it to him to call…"

"Ezra, you don't owe him a damn thing," Vin said quietly, not looking up from where he was rinsing out his mug.

Ezra looked at Vin, who slowly brought his eyes up to meet the southerner's. There was no condemnation in Vin's eyes or in his words; no blame for things past.

"He did save my life Vin."

"True, but so has Buck. Hell, so have I. We've all saved each other's asses at some point Ezra. Point is, you can't keep score of things like that, cuz you'll never be even."

Ezra considered this for a moment and sighed. "Maybe you're right. Hell, maybe I'll just wait and see if he calls back. Maybe he won't…"

"But," Vin drawled, a lopsided smile coming to his face, "if you don't call him, you'll never know."

Ezra huffed out his breath theatrically. "You're obnoxious."

"I know."

"Pour the damn coffee."

Vin chuckled.

*******

Having not erased the message, the light was still illuminated on Ezra's desk phone. The orange glow was unwavering in its hue.

Ezra sat at his desk, the steam rising off of his coffee. He stared at the light in contemplation, resting his chin on his thumb and curling his fingers into a fist in front of his mouth. Jimmy Rourke. He hadn't thought he would ever hear from the man again, let alone so soon. The scene with his coworkers in their office had only been what, three weeks ago? A month maybe?

Ezra figured Jimmy needed to talk about what had happened; probably needed to get things straight in his own head. After coming down off of such a long undercover assignment, Jimmy would need to find himself again. That was the danger of this type of job… you could lose yourself so easily. Especially after two years

He just shook his head in awe. He thought about the things he had said to JD that day after Rourke had left. How do you remember who you really are after two years as someone else?

Then Jimmy came and apologized for treating Ezra the way he had. Ezra had been impressed, and more so blown away, that Rourke even cared about making it right between the two of them. Why would he even bother? Would I have bothered?

Ezra closed his eyes and sighed, his chest aching in remembrance. He slowly moved his tongue against the back of his gold tooth. His brow furrowed in recollected pain from its loss.

Vin had looked up at Ezra when he'd sighed. Not that it was loud or anything, but Vin had noticed. Just like he had noticed Ezra's staring contest with his message light.

"Ezra…" Vin said quietly.

Ezra didn't say anything, but met the sharpshooter's gaze

"What are you thinking about?" Vin asked in another hushed tone. He kept moving things about on his desk so as not to attract attention from his teammates, but he maintained eye contact at all times with the southerner.

Ezra took another deep breath and blew it out slowly. His gaze shifted from Vin's concerned blue eyes to the daunting orange light.

What indeed?

*******

He remembered being jostled about in the trunk as the car rolled to a stop. He remembered pain. He remembered the taste of blood.

But all he could remember actually seeing was flashes.

His other senses were still as sharp as ever. His ears heard a definite click of the trunk latch disengaging. He smelled the fresh night air: it smelled cold, and it held the aroma of decaying leaves. As he was dragged from the trunk, he felt his battered body scrape over the trunk edge. He felt the warmth of two bodies pressed against him as he was slung between them. The warmth was welcome… he couldn't shake this chill. His chest ached unmercifully as his arms were pulled back over his escorts' shoulders. Strained and abused muscles pulled. He tried to take some of his own weight with his legs and walk, but there was a serious disconnect between his brain and his legs. All he managed to do was pick up his right foot once for the other men's three or four steps. And even then, 'pick up' was giving it more credit than the movement deserved.

His eyes opened three times during his trek—three times that he remembered actually seeing anything.

The first was when the trunk clicked open. He could see it was dark out. Hooded eyes took in the two large men looming over him. He knew who they were, even though they were not entirely in focus. They had been the ones who beat him, causing the pain he was now in. The one on the right had been the one who knelt on his chest and stolen his breath to the point of passing out. The one on the left had been the bystander.

The second time, he saw the ground as they traversed it, his chin hitting his chest with every step the men took. First the ground was pavement, then became a dirt path of sorts with many small rocks scattered around. The grass had overgrown and fell into the path, yet the dirt was visible underneath the bent reeds. He saw a few really good skipping stones.

A gentle breeze floated through his path, carrying on it the sweet smell of some flower; he knew the name of it, didn't he? It was one of the last flowers of the season… was it red?

The third time he saw anything was after one of the warm masses moved away, followed by the other, and Ezra fell to the ground in a heap. If he could have coordinated his body to do so, he would have let out a grunt. His breaths were shallow, and he smelled the dirt his face was now in. He opened his eyes only briefly, seeing two pair of feet standing nearby. Then all was black; his eyes gave up the fight to remain open in their battered state.

Muffled voices, with one of the only words discernable being 'silencer.'

Ezra was unable to move even if he wanted to. 'So this is how I'm going to die…'

*******

The southerner got up and abruptly left his desk, heading back for the kitchenette. The feeling of being trapped and helpless was smothering him.

Vin followed discreetly, shaking his head to the others in the bullpen as they noticed the man's swift departure.

"You alright?" Vin asked as he approached the undercover agent, whose head was hung between his sagging shoulders, his hands palm down on the counter.

"I really don't know," he replied, not looking at his friend.

Vin leaned against the counter next to the distraught agent, his eyes on his own feet, waiting for whatever was to come.

"I remember it Vin," Ezra spoke quietly. "I remember what it sounded like and what it smelled like, I remember how it felt."

Vin turned concerned blue eyes to his friend.

Ezra turned around and mimicked the sharpshooter's stance. "I remember the three gunshots, I remember him checking my pulse." He shook his head. "I had resigned myself to my fate… to dying alone in the woods."

He turned his eyes to the ceiling, internally warring with the memories. Vin laid a hand on his shoulder, but said nothing.

"I thought I was actually dead." He sighed a laugh as he dropped his head to his chest. "I couldn't figure out for the life of me why it hadn't hurt when he shot me. Then I figured I had been dead before the bullets hit."

*******

"I have a message for you," the voice said. It seemed clearer than before.

"You should never cross Charles O'Brien."

Three shots rang out, two in rapid succession, followed by the third. They all slammed into the ground inches from him. Ezra flinched at the sound, but otherwise didn't move.

He felt something hit his back, and slide off to the side, making an odd squawking noise as it came to a rest. A phone? It was odd, he had thought, that he felt the phone hitting him but was spared the pain of the three shots that obviously killed him.

A warm hand touched his neck, and a low voice said slowly and clearly, "You owe me one."

The speaker turned and started to walk away, and the heady smell of his leather coat followed him. A car door shut, and the vehicle left.

He was alone.

Am I dead?

No, I don't think so.

Dead people can't smell. I smelled leather. And I still smell dirt. I shouldn't be able to taste blood.

So I am not dead. Not yet.

I will be if I don't get out of here. Get some help.

Dying alone, in the dirt… like an animal.

I will not die in the dirt!

I will get up and get out of here.

I will in a minute.

Will they know what happened?

God, I hope they at least find my body.

Will I be eaten by wildlife?

NO! I WILL NOT!

Get up, get up, get up!

It hurts too much.

God, please make it stop hurting so much.

God, what if they come back?

Well, if they do come back, they'll receive a hell of a fight.

I'll save my energy for their return.

I won't go gently.

Are those sirens?

That's a cruel joke, God. Day late and a dollar short, huh?

People? Voices?

They really did come back?

Don't touch me… don't touch me….

*******

"Some unsuspecting person laid hands on me, and I tried to fight. It was weak at best, I must admit. I was restrained, and I believe sedated as well." He looked at his friend. "I believe you gentlemen arrived shortly thereafter."

"A couple of minutes, yeah," Vin admitted sadly. "We, ahh… didn't think we'd be finding you alive."

"Agent Rourke's ruse served its purpose," he said dismissively.

Vin stared at his friend seriously. "If the purpose was to break us, Ez." Vin held up his hand to halt Ezra's rebuttal. "I'm serious Ez. Him 'killin' you… that was cruel to make us go through…" He blew his breath out harshly. "Cruel to make you go through."

"It served its purpose," he reiterated slowly, as much for his own sake as for Vin's.

"No it didn't," Vin said seriously. "And I would think Rourke feels the same way. I'll bet that's what he wants to talk to you about."

Ezra shot a disbelieving look at the sharpshooter.

"This ain't behind me as much as I'd like it to be," the Texan drawled. "And I get the feeling it ain't behind him or you either."

Ezra held Vin's gaze, considering the truth that he had just spoken and nodded in concession. Green eyes gazed back at his desk through the doorway, the daunting orange light signaling like a beacon from across the room. Smiling tightly, he slapped Vin on the shoulder as he started to walk away.

Returning to his desk, decision made, he picked up the receiver of his phone and placed it to his ear. He dialed the number he had written down earlier, not caring who was nearby to hear who he was calling.

A woman's voice came on, and Ezra smiled as he said, "Agent Jimmy Rourke, please. It's Ezra Standish."

~end~