"Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff."
Chris sighed and looked through the window at the plane's wing. He hated returning without Vin, but it would be at least two days before Tanner was fit to travel, and now they had another agent missing. And work waited for them in Denver, too. So Buck, Chris and JD were returning home, while Josiah and Nathan stayed with Vin. Chris hoped the two of them would be enough to ensure that Vin wouldn't sneak out of the hospital to look for Ezra himself.
Fortunately (and amazingly), Vin had suffered no memory loss when he'd regained consciousness. What he'd told had left the Albuquerque ATF fuming and Team 7 both relieved and slightly ashamed in the same time. The bad guys Vin and his partner had made contact with weren't minions of one of the big players, but newly arrived amateurs, wanting to make a name, with more bravado than common sense. They must have had some of their old acquaintances in the local law, though, seeing as Robson's cover had been blown. But they hadn't been sure whom Vin worked for, so hadn't risked killing him. Then they most likely had been scared off by someone, either law or more powerful rivals, and run off in such a hurry that they had forgotten to finish off their prisoner.
Team 7 had a pretty good idea who had scared those bastards; Jake Calgary sure knew what was going on in his town much better than the law agencies. But he hadn't been responsible for Robson's murder or Vin's capture. Agent Riley and his men were focusing on finding the mole first, since Vin's statement had given them some hints where to start. All in all, it seemed that this case wouldn't have far-reaching consequences for the Denver team. Assuming, of course, that they could manage to find Ezra before anyone else suspected anything and set things right with him.
JD'd been able to confirm that Ezra'd left for Denver, so there was nothing in Albuquerque to hold them, besides Vin's condition. But Vin'd been more than angry after learning everything; only Chris's solid promise to leave ASAP and do everything possible made him agree to stay in hospital. And so now, the three of them were sitting on a plane.
Friendly banter from the central row brought a sad smile to Chris's lips. Well, at least Buck and JD were speaking with each other again. Chris winced, remembering the confrontation between the two that had occurred after JD had heard what exactly had provoked Ezra's outburst.
"Couldn't you wait a day with your stupid accusations?"
Of course, Buck should have waited, Nathan shouldn't have supported him and Chris himself shouldn't have given in, or should have talked with Ezra before, but… Chris was afraid it was more complicated than that. Some old and long buried pain might have been awakened, and he had no idea how Standish would deal with it. Of course, Larabee had a secret hope that Ezra might have cooled off and was waiting for them in the Denver office, but most likely they had already used their yearly quota of miracles.
From the airport, they came straight to the office, only to find Ezra's gun, badge and resignation letter lying on Chris's desk. Sending Buck and JD to check his house, Chris went to the meeting with Travis, hoping Standish hadn't sent him the copy of the resignation. Thank God, he hadn't; no bridges had been actually burned so far.
Chris told Travis something between the truth and the official version about what had happened in Albuquerque and left the impression that Ezra was staying there to tie-up some loose ends (Ez would have been proud of his boss right now). Buck called the minute Chris returned to the office.
"House on the alarm, Jag isn't in the garage. JD is speaking with neighbors, I'm trying to reach the landlady."
"Okay, keep me informed."
Chris stared at the resignation letter still sitting on his desk. He knew full well if he signed it, he'd be signing the second one as soon as Vin got back. But it wasn't the reason he wanted to shred the damn thing. Was it just Ezra's hurt talking, or did he actually believe his connection with Calgary would endanger the team? Damn it, they all had pasts which could bite back at any moment, but they were a team, and every crisis should be faced together. Why was it that Standish was always there to help, but preferred to solve his own problems alone?
Chris ran a hand through his hair. Okay, maybe he was unfair. Back in Albuquerque, between worry about Vin, the case, and Calgary, he'd forgotten to thank Ezra properly, to assure him his efforts were appreciated. It wouldn't have been necessary with Vin or Buck, but Standish still didn't take anything good for granted. Maybe if Chris had done that, there could have been a normal conversation instead of that disaster in the hotel.
Damn it, they needed to persuade him they didn't worry about him endangering the team or tarnishing its reputation, they worried about him first. But to persuade somebody. you needed to find him first; and that sure was going be a challenge. Especially when they couldn't draw any attention to the search.
Two days brought nothing. All the methods, from unofficial to illegal, didn't give even a hint. It looked like Ezra had driven out of Denver and then just disappeared into thin air. The only encouraging thing was that Ezra hadn't yet spoken with his landlady; and his neighbor, who watered the plants in his absence, continued to do so, stating she hadn't seen Mr. Standish since his departure to New Mexico.
Friendly (and loud) greetings from the main office area told Chris that the rest of his team had arrived from the airport safely. He opened the door and saw Josiah and Nathan already behind their desks and Vin trying to free himself from JD's hug. Vin succeeded and Chris took stock of his best friend; Tanner looked much better than three days ago, though he still was pale and favoring his leg.
Before Chris could say anything, Vin asked, "Well?"
All joy fell from JD's face when he answered, "Nothing yet."
"Try the area around that boarding school they attended, and the cemetery where that Calgary guy is buried."
Chris mentally kicked himself, he should have thought about it earlier. JD began typing fiercely, while Larabee rolled out Vin's chair and made Vin sit there, leaving his hand on Vin's shoulder. The glance he exchanged with Nathan told him the medic was more or less satisfied with Vin's condition. Good.
"Bingo!" JD exclaimed. "Eric Jason Calgary was buried in a St. Paul's cemetery in Somerville, Wyoming, in his mother's family plot. Evan Scott is registered in one of the hotels nearby." Evan Scott was one of Ezra's back up undercover identities.
"It's about 200 miles from here," JD finished, and Vin started to rise, stopped by Chris's hand.
"It's more than 3 hours, no way you're driving there!" Nathan, too, read Vin's intentions correctly.
"Thank for caring about my well-being, guys."
Vin must have been taking lessons from Ezra, Chris thought absently. He didn't remember Tanner using such heavy sarcasm before. Nathan looked downcast. Vin had made no secret of his opinion about that morning in the hotel, but it was the first time he'd openly reproached them.
"Don't worry, Nate," Vin added in a much warmer voice. "I'll take a cab."
Chris didn't really like the idea of letting Vin go on his own, but there was no actual way of stopping him. And today, the rest of them should stay in the office, especially if they wanted to keep Ezra's absence a secret. And they couldn't waste time; besides, Vin alone had more of a chance to make Ezra listen.
With a sigh, Chris removed his hand from Vin's shoulder and came around to look him in the eyes. "If he's not there…."
"I'll give you a call," Vin continued, "check in to that hotel and will be lying on a nice horizontal bed waiting for you."
Chris wasn't sure he was buying it, but nodded anyway.
"I'll arrange the cab," Josiah said, picking up the phone, and JD sent maps and directions on the printer.
Vin got up and Chris took the opportunity to drag his friend in a brief, but
strong embrace. "Good to see you on your feet, Tanner. Bring him back."
"I will, Cowboy. I will."
Vin had left, Josiah and Nathan were in Chris's office getting an update on their new case, and JD was still staring at his monitor. There was a web-page from the site of Ezra's school, from the archives. An obituary for Eric Jason Calgary, signed by initials ES. And though it was an open entry from a public source, he still felt like he'd read Ezra's private journal. Yeah, things were definitely more understandable now.
"Hey kid, what are you staring at?"
JD hesitated, not knowing if he should share this, but… Maybe Buck needed to read it, so the Calgary issue would never come up between him and Ezra in the future.
"Come here, Buck, I think you need to see this."
Vin had slept half of the way, but now, nearing Somerville, he watched the scenery, knowing they would pass the cemetery before they'd reach the hotel. His efforts weren't in vain – he spotted the familiar Jag in the cemetery parking lot.
Vin dismissed the cab and limped slowly to the cemetery; an offhand story about some high-school anniversary (Ez would have been proud) bought him the detailed directions from the cemetery guard. The cemetery was big, and it took him half an hour to find Ezra standing near Eric's grave. Never one to intrude, Vin stopped a few feet away, hesitating; but… Hell with it, it looked like he owed his life to the guy lying there; he had the right to say thanks. He came closer; Ezra heard him and raised his head.
"Good day, Mr. Tanner," he said without any surprise. "You look much better then the last time I saw you, but shouldn't you be resting now?"
Vin shrugged. "Hadn't had a chance to thank you; both of you." Before Ez could react, Vin laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. "Thank you, Ezra." He pulled his hand away and turned to the simple gray stone with only the name and dates engraved on it. "Thank you, Mr. Calgary."
"Eric," Ezra corrected from behind. "He always left the 'Mr.' to those who were paid."
Vin smiled. "Good friend?" he asked tentatively.
Ezra rubbed his eyes. He'd never talked with anyone about Eric since his death; maybe it was the time. And Vin had the right to know, and Eric sure would have liked the quiet sharpshooter.
"The best," he answered. "The first real one I had." Ez didn't add 'and the only', and that warmed Vin's heart.
"He showed me that my 'God-given gifts' could be used for something other than personal gain. And that there can be actual fun in doing something for the greater good. He believed in all that, you know. The greater good, right and wrong, making a difference. It was amazing and unbelievable, but it was there. It was his idea, about the FBI. We had it all planned, you know. Graduation, college, being partners in the FBI somewhere far-far away from his father's territory."
"Reckon they weren't on the best of terms."
Ezra grinned. "To put it mildly. I guess it was our issues with parents that drew us together in the first place. But they made their peace before he died."
Ezra closed his eyes, remembering…. When the diagnosis had been confirmed, and it became a matter of weeks, Ezra read somewhere about a big social event nearby, where Jake Calgary was listed as an honorary guest. He snuck into the party, found the man and gave him a piece of his mind in front of everyone. How he didn't get shot by a bodyguard was a mystery. But it resulted in a visit from Eric's father, and the first real talk between the two equally strong and stubborn men, who'd chosen different paths, but nevertheless loved each other deeply.
"And that's why Jake Calgary gave you his card," Vin observed.
Ezra nodded, already used to Vin's ability to arrive at the correct conclusion as if he was reading minds. "I promised myself I wouldn't use it, I couldn't imagine a situation in which Eric would have sought his father's help…until last week. He would have approved, you know."
Vin had to swallow the lump in his throat. All that Ezra did last week was make a phone call; but that call and the words he'd said now spoke more about his loyalty and caring than jumping in front of bullets. Vin silently vowed to himself that Ez would never regret it.
"Ez…thanks for introducing us," Vin said in a low voice.
It seemed that Ezra carried around as much pain and loss as the rest of them. What was it like, to lose the best, and so far the only, friend at 18? When a bright future was within arm's reach? And to carry on with his dream, which had become theirs, to carry on alone and to make it?
"He is proud of you now, you know. You made it."
"Yeah," Ezra answered with clear self-irony in his voice.
"I mean it, Ez." And you aren't alone anymore.
Standish nodded; after a brief silence Vin decided it was time to change the subject. "You know, Ez, I let the cab go. Like to give me a lift back to Denver?"
"Vin," Ezra began, but Tanner interrupted him.
"Guys sure overreacted back there, but they worried about you. They still do, actually. It's just ol' Chris believes it's his and only his duty to deal with the devil."
"And what do you think, Mr. Tanner?"
Vin laughed. "I think it's good the guys don't know about all the favors I can call in in a desperate situation."
Ezra couldn't help but join Tanner's laugh; Vin hurried to strengthen his success. "And don't worry about stupid things. For anyone else, we're just lucky bastards with a 'mystical' connection to each other, and you spent the last two days with me in Albuquerque."
"And in Albuquerque?"
Vin shrugged. "Good guys are busy looking for the mole among them. And don't look at me like that, someone idid/i rat Robson out."
"Oh. And the miscreants?"
"They don't deserve such a great word, Ez. A bunch of amateurs wanting to make a name. Won't say I don't want their blood after Robson, but reckon we'll leave them to Riley. The way they were scared, they're probably in Australia anyway."
Ezra chuckled, imagining petty criminals thinking they'd crossed someone like Calgary.
"You have no reason to quit, Ez," Vin continued, serious again. "And we can't be 'the lucky bastards' if we're six."
Ezra took a deep breath. Maybe he too had overreacted. Vin was right; and without a direct threat to the team, he had no right to quit, it would be betraying Eric's memory. Not to mention a certain silent promise once made to Mr. Larabee. And honestly, he didn't want to.
"Come home, Ez. We need you there, all of us."
Ezra nodded, and Vin squeezed his shoulder once more.
"I'll wait for you down the path a ways," Tanner said after a moment, before leaving to give Ezra private time with his friend.
Next morning, five members of Team 7 had been impatiently eyeing the main entrance of their office since 7:30 am. The day before, Vin'd called twice; first time from the road, telling them he'd found Ezra and they were heading back together. At the news, the five had felt a relief nearly as strong as that feeling in the Albuquerque hospital. Second time, he'd called from Denver, stating they both would spent the night at Vin's and would come to the office next morning, and it'd be good to postpone anything else until then. Chris and Josiah had exchanged knowing smiles after that; it'd been obvious that Vin wanted to keep an eye on Ezra's emotional state as much as Ezra wanted to monitor Vin's physical condition.
Nevertheless, now they all were nervous, waiting for their two favorite troublemakers to appear. It didn't help that no one knew what they actually would say to Ezra. At last, the sound of the elevator arriving was followed by footsteps, and the door opened to let in Ezra, impeccably dressed as usual, and Vin in his customary jeans.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Ezra said and continued, not allowing an awkward silence to fall, "I'm afraid I had to give Mr. Tanner a lift here, since it was the only way to ensure he wouldn't do it himself. But he has promised to spend most of the day on the couch."
"Traitor," Vin hissed from behind, and that seemed to break the spell.
"Welcome back, brothers," Josiah said, while JD nearly jumped over his desk to hug them both.
Amongst all the fuss and backslapping, Chris and Ezra locked eyes for a minute. Silent apologies and thanks went both ways, followed by their trade-mark two-fingered salute.
"Well, guys," Chris announced, though failing to sound serious, "we have work to do."
Right after that, things were a little bit tense on the team. But, as awkward apologies had been made and accepted all the way round, Vin had been cleared for field duty and the new case had picked up speed, life had returned to normal.
Three months after the events of Albuquerque, they successfully (bad guys caught, no injuries) finished the case on nice warm Friday. The celebration though, was postponed in favor of much more needed sleep. Vin had already driven out of the Federal Building parking lot, when he remembered he'd left his wallet in the office. Cursing, he drove back and went upstairs. It seemed he wasn't the only one with memory problems – a thin beam of light was coming through the door. Vin opened it silently and noticed Ezra sitting behind his desk, staring at something.
Deliberately making a noise, Vin came close. "Forgot something, too, Ez?"
"Not quite, Mr. Tanner. The opposite actually, I brought something." He pointed to a glassed frame that now occupied his desk. Inside it, there was an honorary badge; law agencies gave things like that to civilians who'd helped, especially children and teenagers.
Vin wanted to ask 'Yours?', but then came up with a better guess. "Eric's?"
"Yes. I decided it should be here,"
Yeah, Ez must have been really exhausted to admit it. "Right decision, pard. Think this is a better place though." Vin moved the frame so it would be seen not only by Ez, but by the rest as well.
Ezra's answer was lost in a huge yawn; Vin chuckled. "Go home, Ez. That fancy bed of yours sure is missing you."
"Afraid you're right, Mr. Tanner," Ezra answered, suppressing (unsuccessfully) another yawn. "See you tomorrow."
Ezra left; Vin grabbed the wallet from his desk, but paused again in front of Ezra's, staring at the frame. "Well… Welcome to the Team, Eric. Reckon it's good to know my mom up there has someone to look after her now. And Ms. Sarah and Mrs. Dunne too. And little Adam won't go crazy with just womenfolk around. Take care of them there, Calgary. We'll look after Ez here, I promise."