Disclaimer: None of the magnificent 7 characters are mine, just borrowing them for a story :)
Rating: R for Language and adult situations
Warnings: Must say again that the Language gets a bit rough in a couple of parts, and there are references to abuse of a child.
Author's Notes: This the third story in a series... so if you haven't read "We'll Be Here" or "You're Here" you might want to first.
Thank you to NT for reading through this and helping me clean it up for reposting.
Ezra Standish gazed up at the office wall clock with an exasperated sigh. It was Friday and there were only fifteen minutes left before he was free.
"Hey Ez, Vin?" JD stopped beside their desks. "You guys coming to the Saloon tonight?"
Vin smiled and nodded. "Yeah,Kid, I'll be there. How about you,Ezra?"
Ezra paused. The Friday night drinks at the Saloon were almost traditional now.
"Come on, please? Buck is dying to get together with everybody, said he's even bringing the guy from Washington along." JD swiped his bangs out of his eyes and seemed to bounce in place as he pleaded.
"I presume that you're speaking of the gentleman that has been going through the file system all week with Buck's assistance?" Ezra asked as he stood and straightened his suit coat.
"Yeah. Buck says he's a pretty nice guy. Needs to loosen up and all though."
"Compared to Buck, who doesn't need to loosen up?" Chris asked coming up behind Ezra.
Josiah and Nathan were now standing at their desks and pulling on their coats. "Buck still have to help that guy dig through files next week?" Nathan asked.
Chris grinned. "Only Monday and Tuesday. The guy heads back on Wednesday."
"I wonder if our brother learned his lesson?" Josiah asked.
Five voices sounded together, "doubt it."
Two weeks earlier Buck had decided to toilet paper Chris' truck. He hadn't counted on the rain or the consequences. When the ATF Powers That Be sent their own insurance agent to go over team seven's files,Chris had known immediately who would be assisting the agent.
"So, Ez,are you coming?" JD asked again.
"Yes, I'm coming."
"Great, let's go then. Buck's gonna be there before us at this rate," JD said as he headed quickly for the door.
"You wouldn't know he sees Buck every night." Nathan grinned.
"Nope. Let's go," Vin said following JD.
"Good evening, gentlemen." A soft southern drawl floated in from the door causing each man to spin with a shocked look on their face.
JD stood next to the visitor with a sheepish look. He looked at Ezra and shrugged. "You got company,Ez."
Ezra opened his mouth twice before he actually found his voice. "Mother? What are you doing here?"
"Standing here with snakes coming out of my hair from the looks on all of your faces. Can't a mother pay an impromptu visit to her only son?" Maude moved into the office with an air of grace, her off white suit cut to emphasize her still flattering figure.
Ezra shook his head slightly, attempting to clear his confusion and moved forward. "It's always a delight mother." He placed a kiss on her cheek. "You just caught me by surprise. You usually call before gracing us with your presence. "
"Yes, well, it's my job to keep you on your toes isn't it?" She smiled enjoying the fact that she could bring a group of decorated government agents to a complete stand still.
Josiah moved forward. "Nice to see you again, Maude."
"Why, thank you, Josiah."
"We gotta go." JD tried not to sound rude.
"Of course, Mr. Dunne." Ezra nodded. "You gentlemen go ahead and send my regards to Mr. Wilmington." He saw the sag of JD's posture immediately and frowned. He hated the fact that he was disappointing the younger man, and missing out on time with his friends.
"You aren't coming then?" Vin asked quietly.
"Ah no, I don't think the Saloon is the environment Mother is looking to visit," Ezra explained.
Maude shifted and cleared her throat. "Don't be silly, dear. For one, I'm still in the room and secondly, I'd love to accompany you and your friends to this Saloon."
Ezra's eyes widened with renewed shock.
"Let's go." Chris jumped in before anyone could change their minds.
Ezra listened to his mother ramble on about the latest goings on in her life. What was happening in France, who she had visited lately in Atlanta. As he pulled into the parking lot of the local bar the seven referred to as the Saloon, he turned the engine off and shifted so he was facing his mother.
"Why are you here, Mother?" he asked genuinely.
"Ezra, I really just wanted to drop by for a visit. I'll be returning to France next week and thought I'd take the opportunity to check in on you," she insisted.
"Check in or check up?"
Maude smiled sweetly and batted her clear eyes at him in innocence. "What ever do you mean?"
"Don't even try that with me." Ezra couldn't help but laugh at her expression. He looked toward the entrance of the bar noticing that it had begun to sprinkle. "Why did you agree to come here? This is hardly the sort of establishment you normally frequent."
"Normally, no. But, dear,with this many inebriated people in one place there is bound to be someone I can hustle."
"Don't give me that look. I'll leave your friends alone. Now let's get inside before we get soaked. I don't want to ruin this suit." With that she was out of the car and hurrying across the parking lot. Ezra had to run to catch up with her,but they managed to enter the bar together. Already the Friday evening crowd was beginning to descend. Ezra caught his mother eying the pool table hungrily and grabbed her elbow to steer her towards the table where his friends sat waiting.
"I take it Mr. Wilmington is running late?" he asked as he held a chair out for Maude.
"Looks like it. We already ordered our drinks." JD drummed his fingers nervously on the table. It had been a long boring week of paperwork, with no cases, no undercover work, not even any surveillance to distract him.
"That's fine. We'll get ours later." Ezra shrugged off his suit coat and draped it neatly over the back of his chair. He caught Vin watching him carefully.
"Everything okay, Ez?" Vin asked.
"Of course,Mr. Tanner." He sat down and listened as Maude began to regale an attentive Josiah with her latest adventures.
"So, what is she up to this trip?" Chris asked low enough that only Ezra could hear exactly what he said.
"Apparently she really did want to bestow a visit," Ezra answered. It wasn't like he could often read into Maude's real motives.
"Hey, there's Buck," JD announced suddenly drawing everyone's attention towards the bar's entrance.
Buck flashed a large grin as he reached the table. "Hi, everybody. Miss me?"
"Oh yeah, the peace and quiet has been torture," Nathan retorted sarcastically as he held out his hand to greet Wilmington.
"I bet," Buck laughed and grabbed one of the remaining two chairs.
"Did you bring your friend?" Josiah inquired just as the waitress arrived and began setting drinks down on the table.
"Yeah, he insisted on hanging up his coat when we came in. He's over there." Buck waved toward coat rack as he reached for JD's drink. "Thanks, kid."
"Hey!" JD protested, punching at his arm,but not retrieving the drink.
"Evening,Maude," Buck greeted realizing she was there.
"Good evening, Mr. Wilmington," Maude returned.
Ezra was giving their order to the waitress and ordering a second beer for JD. He glanced at Buck. "Do you know what your friend will be drinking tonight?"
"Probably a beer," Buck said raising his glass.
Ezra added another drink to the order and let his eyes sweep the room. He heard Buck talking. "Yeah, Dave's pretty down to earth. Not bad for a paper pusher."
Vin watched as Ezra finished the order. Nathan and Josiah were laughing at Maude's story and JD was protesting another of Buck's antics. He watched with growing concern as all of the color seemed to drain from Ezra's face. His green eyes clouded and Vin could see Ezra's hands begin to shake.
Suddenly Ezra was on his feet. His chair bounced back and would have fallen if Chris' quick reflexes hadn't caught it.
"Ezra, what are you doing?" Maude's sharp voice seemed to startle Ezra. He looked around the table realizing everyone was staring at him.
"I need to go, Mother. I apologize for my abrupt departure but..," he couldn't find an adequate excuse. "I need to go. I'm sure Josiah will see you to my apartment when you are ready. He has a spare key." He tossed a handful of bills onto the table and with that he was gone, weaving through the crowd and keeping his distance from the man who was making his way towards the others.
"What?" Maude stared after her son in confusion. "What was that all about?" She looked to Chris for an answer.
"Don't look at me." Chris shrugged casually. He looked at Vin knowing the sharpshooter was concerned. Something was definitely wrong to cause Ezra to take off in such a way. Before he could say anything though, Buck interrupted.
"Hey, Dave, let me introduce you to everybody. Dave, this is everybody, everybody this is Dave Parks."
"Nice to meet you fellows. Buck's been filling me in on everyone all week."
Nathan groaned. "Then you better have a seat so we can clear up his lies."
Parks laughed. "Don't mind if I do. You must be Nathan."
"That's right. This is Josiah, Chris, Vin, JD and..."
"Maude Standish." Parks finished for him.
"David Parks, well I'll be. How long has it been?" Maude stood and let Parks kiss her, flashing a genuine smile at him.
"You two know each other?" Buck asked wiping at his mustache.
"Sure do," Dave answered. "I've known Maude here since before I can remember. It has to be at least ten years since we've seen each other." He looked confused a moment. "You are not in the ATF," he stated.
"Oh, heaven's no. I'm just here visiting Ezra." Maude laughed. "He'll be sorry he missed you. He just ran out of here like he was on fire. Said he had to go do something or another, you never know with him." She didn't see Chris' frown.
"That's a shame," Dave said as he took his seat. "I would have liked to see Ezra again."
"Again?" Josiah inquired. "You know Ezra well?"
"Of course, he does, Josiah. David has always been like an uncle to Ezra. Why he even lived with David for a time when he was young." Maude thanked the waitress as the young girl set a martini in front of her, then turned back to the suddenly silent table of men. "That was forever ago. I mean, Ezra was ten or eleven wasn't he?" She looked at David.
"Sounds about right." David sipped his drink.
Vin stood. " 'Scuse me all. Ezra forgot his jacket. I'm going to see if I can catch him." He walked around Chris and nodded slightly. Chris noticed the tense jaw immediately.
"Oh you don't need to do that." Maude waved at the jacket. "I can return it to him later."
"It's no problem, ma'am." Vin swept the coat up and headed for the door.
Ezra's world was spinning. It was all he could do to get out of the bar without losing complete control of his emotions. Half of him wanted to strangle the life out of the man from his nightmares, the other half wanted to run in fear. The gentle rain had turned into a steady downpour,but Ezra was oblivious to the onslaught. He blinked the water out of his eyes and wrapped his arms around his middle trying in vain to hold himself together. He was going to be sick.
Staggering slightly through the parking lot he made it around the corner of the building just out of sight of the other patrons running for cover and the shining windows of warmth before he lost the contents of his stomach. He laughed roughly at the irony of the situation. Less than a month and half ago, he was leaning against this same building in a drunken stupor trying to deal with these same feelings. If he thought they'd been intense then, he was kidding himself. He remembered it was Chris that had come after him that night, taking him home and with Buck and Vin's help, taking care of him. The next morning, everyone had been there ready to support him in whatever he was going through. It was the first time he'd ever admitted to anyone other than a therapist the abuse he'd gone through as a child. He hadn't mentioned that to them, hadn't given specifics either, just talked. They were there and, surprisingly, that was all he had needed. This time was different. Parks was here, and they were inside sharing drinks with the man right now.
"God, Buck," he whispered. Buck had spent the entire week with Parks. He liked the man. How could Buck actually like that bastard? How? Somewhere inside a small voice of rationale reminded Ezra that Buck didn't know. None of them knew.
Ezra glanced up at the sky wanting the darkness to swallow him. He closed his eyes as the rain washed his face blending with tears. He couldn't fight off the images any longer. They came at him from every direction as the rain turned into a deluge. He needed to get away. Opening his eyes again he began to pace in tiny circles. What was he going to do? They were going to ask questions. Why did he run out so suddenly? What was so important he'd actually abandon his mother? Mother. Ezra wiped a hand across his face and looked at the bar. He just couldn't go back in there. He had no idea where he was going but he started walking anyway.
Vin stepped out of the bar and scanned the parking lot quickly. Ezra's car was still there which meant his friend hadn't gone far. He'd check the alley first. Passing his jeep he paused for a moment to toss Ezra's suit coat inside. Ezra wouldn't take kindly to him letting the material get ruined in this rain. Vin adjusted the collar of his soft leather coat up around his neck. The rain was cold and starting to come down hard now.
Rounding the corner of the building he stopped and watched Ezra pace in tiny circles. It shocked him slightly to see the normally calm and collected agent so obviously distraught. Vin frowned as he watched Ezra cross his arms tightly in front of him and shiver. The rain had plastered his silk shirt to his body. Ezra had to be freezing. Not knowing how to approach Standish, Vin stood back and waited. Eventually his friend would see him. Then Ezra turned and started towards the road. He looked right at Vin, but made no acknowledgment.
"Hey, Ez?" Vin stepped forward trying to catch his attention but Ezra kept walking. "Ezra, hold up," Vin tried again. Ezra's pace increased.
"EZRA!" Vin shouted but Ezra's only reaction was to take off down the street. "Damn. Where the hell is he going?" Vin muttered as he ran to his jeep.
Ezra walked towards the road with a sudden renewed rush of panic. He could feel Park's presence even out here in the rain. His hands, his voice, all of it followed him. He heard a voice somewhere behind him shouting. His nightmare was real, it was coming after him. Suddenly, he was ten years old again and the only thing he could do was run. He didn't notice the road or the rain or the cold. All he could focus on was the need to run. His chest heaved with sobs as he pushed himself onward. Parks was here. If he caught him, Ezra knew it would happen again. It always happened. Hands forcing him down, harsh whispers commanding and threatening, brutal punishments for his resistance. He struggled to breathe as the rain battered him relentlessly. He couldn't slow down, he couldn't be caught. The ground beneath his feet changed and it wasn't until he landed hard that he even realized he'd been falling.
"Dammit!" Vin swore again as he followed Ezra in the Jeep. Ezra wasn't running very fast but Vin could tell he wasn't paying any attention to where he was going. "The street, Ez. You're gonna run right out into it," He muttered willing Standish to hear him. Instead he slammed on his brakes and jumped out of the jeep. He ran after Ezra, watching helplessly as he ran off the curb and fell hard onto the pavement. Quickly,Vin ran to his friend and reached to help him up before any cars came.
"Come on, Ezra. Let me take you home."
Ezra screamed when he felt the hands on him and struggled in the steel grasp.
Vin didn't let go. "Ezra,come on it's me, Vin." He jerked Ezra to his feet and grabbed his face with both hands. "Look at me, Ez, please." He felt the sobs shuddering through the man in his grasp. "Ezra, look at me."
Ezra tried to pull away from the touch, but couldn't escape. He heard the voice, soft and soothing. Soft and soothing, familiar and safe. Safe. He blinked a moment trying to process it all. He met the blue eyes of his friend and gasped, pulling out of the man's grasp, but not running. Vin saw the recognition flash in Ezra's eyes and let go when the smaller man pulled back. The rain continued to soak both men as they stood there staring at each other. "Come on, Ez. Let's get you home and into something dry." Vin kept his voice soft, fearing he might trigger the panic in Ezra by speaking.
Ezra looked over at the Jeep. "I'll get it wet."
Vin grinned. "So will, I pard. Let's go."
Chris shifted back in his chair and glanced at his watch. It had only been twenty minutes since Ezra had rushed out of the bar and Vin had followed, but he felt like it had been hours. Maude and Parks were still playing catch up while unnoticed to them. The rest of the table had fallen into a contemplative silence. He knew what was going through their minds. He himself was struggling not to jump to conclusions,but somehow the pieces were fitting too closely for comfort. He could still hear Ezra's sobbing protests that night a while back that he, Vin and Buck had taken the southerner home and put him to bed. It was heart wrenchingly obvious the nightmare he was struggling against. The next afternoon with all of them there,Ezra had admitted he'd been abused by a family friend when he was young. Parks was a family friend and Ezra had stayed with him when he was a boy, but from what Chris knew about Ezra's past, Ezra had stayed with a lot of family friends. It was Ezra's abrupt disappearance that plagued him. Vin wasn't the only one that had observed the sudden paleness and trembling.
Chris met Buck's gaze across the table. Buck's eyes were hard and his jaw was clenched tight as if trying to control his rage. Chris shook his head ever so slightly, trying to assure him. He didn't know how he would control Buck if they found out he'd just spent an entire week getting to know the man who'd tortured one of their own.
JD shifted restlessly. "You think Vin will be back soon?" he asked.
"Don't know," Chris replied simply.
A cell phone began ringing and all seven men glanced down to check if it was theirs. Parks grinned. "Not mine." He wasn't sure what was going on, but it surprised him that the group was so sullen. Buck had described the group as a fun bunch always joking with one another.
"I got it." Chris snapped open his phone and stood to move away from the table. He plugged his ear as he pressed the phone to the other one and strained to hear over the growing din of the room. "Larabee." He knew it was Vin.
"What's going on?" Chris could feel the others watching him closely, but knew they couldn't hear him.
"I picked up Ezra. I'm heading out to your place." Vin looked over to check on Ezra and turned up the heat a notch. Ezra hadn't quit shivering since he'd gotten into the jeep.
"My place?" Chris frowned. Why would Vin be taking him way out there when his mother was in town. "What's going on?" he asked again.
"What did Ezra say?"
"He's not talking, Chris." Vin caught movement out of the corner of his eye as Ezra wiped at his face.
"What do you mean he's not talking?" Chris was getting frustrated with Vin's short answers.
"He's really out of it. Can you just get out to the ranch?"
"All of us."
"You want me to bring Maude and Dave, too?" Chris tried to gauge the situation and get a few answers.
"I don't give a shit what you do with Maude or Dave." Vin jumped as Ezra tensed and grabbed his arm pulling the phone away from his ear slightly.
"Please." Vin could only read terror in Ezra's green eyes.
"Don't even let them know where you're going, Chris," Vin added as he looked back at the road. Ezra released his arm and sank back against the passenger side door.
"Fine by me." Chris had heard Ezra's hoarse plea.
"We'll be out as soon as we can." He clicked the phone closed and returned to the table. "We gotta go," he said.
"What is it?" Nathan asked with concern.
Chris just shook his head and directed his gaze at Maude and Dave. "Sorry to have to cut this short. Do you need Josiah to take you to Ezra's?"
"That won't be necessary, Chris." Dave spoke up. Chris cringed inwardly at the familiarity this man showed. "I have my rental here. Maude and I are going to get some dinner and do some catching up. I'll make sure she gets home safe and sound." Chris gave him a short nod.
"What's the emergency Mr. Larabee?" Maude asked.
"It's confidential," he answered. He laid some bills on the table next to his drink and signaled to the others it was time to go.
"What's wrong, Chris?" Nathan asked again when they were far enough away from the table not to be overheard. "It's Ezra, isn't it?"
"He hurt?" JD asked.
"Not physically. We're going to my place."
A half an hour later the five anxious men found Vin sitting in Chris' living room sipping a cup of hot coffee.
"Where is he?" Chris asked sitting on the couch and noting his friend was now wearing his clothes.
"In the back bedroom changing his clothes."
"He okay?" Josiah asked.
Vin looked at the older man. "I really don't know."