Summary: Sometimes it's not just gun-wielding criminals, knives and bombs that threaten an agent's life. The littlest of creatures have the power to kill too.
Notes: This is my first story in the Mag7 fandom. It started off in my mind as being only 3 chapters long. I'm afraid that is no longer the case and I apologize for not being able to say upfront how many chapters this will end up being.
Chris Larabee stared off into the distance, his gaze unmoving at some unseen point of nothingness for well over 45-minutes. Against the backdrop of washed-out green painted hospital walls, the man's profile looked hard as though carved in granite.
The ATF team leader was a tough man with a countenance that bore testimony to the hardness that had forged his soul through fire and loss. He was an intense man and strangers often felt intimidated in his presence, wilting under the weight of his stare. The tension emanating from Chris' body was almost tangible. More than one stranger in the waiting room had chanced to look into Chris' steely eyes and nervously concluded that such a man surely held nothing but callous disregard for the world and the people in it.
But they were wrong. Those penetrating green eyes held worry and guilt on behalf of the man who currently lay fighting for his life just beyond the thick, double doors of Denver Memorial's emergency room.
At the moment, the waiting room was full of people - anxious family and friends dealing with medical crises of their own, but the chairs on either side of the dark-clad man wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, remained empty. No one had dared take a seat next to the silent, intimidating figure with ice for eyes. The silent man's body language was clear: keep away or suffer the consequences.
One man dared.
Vin Tanner, Chris Larabee's close friend, detached himself from the wall where he had been leaning, walked over and folded his lean body into the hard, plastic chair on Larabee's right. Tanner casually stretched out his long legs and hooked his thumbs through his side jean pockets. A man of few words, the long-haired sharpshooter spoke softly without looking at Chris. "It wasn't your fault, cowboy."
For an interminable moment the blond man said nothing. Then Chris turned angry, guilt-ridden eyes on his close friend and he spoke bitterly. "Whose fault would it be? JD's for hitting the ball out that far? Ezra's for being stubborn enough to go after it?" Chris shook his head in frustration, "Damn it, I knew I should have cleared those junk cars out of there when I moved into the place."
Vin said nothing. He felt no need to remind Chris of facts which the team leader was well aware. Facts such as the shells of three rusted- out, wrecked cars resting at the farthest part of Chris' sprawling ranch had been there ever since two years ago when Chris had purchased the property with its handyman's, fixer-upper house, barn, and stables where he and his colleagues boarded their horses.
Right away Chris had set about the business of turning the run down place into a real home and it had taken the widower more than eighteen months of working on and off during his spare time to do it. He'd scarcely had time to concern himself with the pile of junk cars until six months ago when he'd turned his ambitions towards building a fence around the property so that he could at last bring his horses home.
Chris had initially believed that the junk cars were on his property, but a clerical error on his land survey had mistakenly extended his property line past its proper boundary. The corrected property boundaries legally placed the rusted-out car husks on the property of his neighbor, an ornery old man by the name of Guy Royale.
The heap of junk cars was an eye-sore and Chris had approached the man in a casual, friendly fashion and asked if he wouldn't mind having them removed. Royale had gruffly told Chris that he'd damn well keep on his property anything he damn well pleased. Holding his temper in check, Chris had offered to see to it himself and eventually, the man had agreed.
Right about now, Vin realized, Chris was kicking himself for not having taken care of the problem immediately though he could not have know what danger the cars harbored or that anyone, much less one of his own men could potentially die because he hadn't. And Devil...Vin's heart ached at the thought of the animal's painful death. Chris' beloved black lab, Devil had been killed despite Ezra's brave attempts to save him.
After a time Vin spoke: "Should've, could've, would've. Shit happens, Chris. You know that. It wasn't JD's, or Ezra's fault and it sure as hell wasn't yours." Vin said with quiet conviction. Tanner looked over at his friend and boss and noted the set of the other man's face.
"Tell that to Ezra," Chris fairly snarled.
Vin sighed. This wasn't going to be easy.
Josiah Sanchez, Team Seven's profiler sat next to Nathan Jackson, the team's medic. From across the room Josiah watched their leader from beneath hooded eyes until his need to provide a word of comfort spurned him to action. He stood up, but for Nathan's hand staying his approach, the grey-haired, giant of a man would have walked over and offered his own words of encouragement where others couldn't seem to find any. "Leave him be, Josiah," Nathan's rich baritone voice said softly, as if he'd read the big profiler's mind.
Josiah sighed. "He's carrying a boat-load of guilt that doesn't rightly belong to him, Nathan."
"I know, but…" Nathan's voice trailed off, his dark brown eyes reflecting the same worry Josiah felt. What was there to say? It hadn't been Chris' fault, either more than it had been JD's or hell, the bees that had sunk their stingers into Ezra's chest, hands and arms, sending him into severe anaphylactic shock. If he could, Nathan would use his credentials as Team Seven's medic to go into the treatment room and do whatever he could to keep the Southern man whom he sometimes butted heads with, but cared a great deal for, alive.
The odds weren't good. In all his years as a medic he'd never had to treat someone who was literally dying right in front of his eyes from a bee sting. Nathan shook his head as if he could clear the ghastly memories playing in his head. Ezra choking. Ezra falling to the ground in distress. Ezra's shocked pale face as his throat began to close, relentlessly cutting off his air supply.
Those eyes, those green eyes that normally sparkled with dry wit and intelligence had grown wide with fear at the sudden violence of his body's betrayal. Those eyes had stayed trained on Nathan's face as the medic shoved Chris and JD out of the way to bend over him. Nathan would never forget the total look of trust that had been embedded deep in the pain-filled eyes. It was a look that bespoke of an absolute faith that Nathan would help him. Nathan could use his medical skills and the strength of his hands to ease the awful, vice-like, swelling constriction that was causing Ezra to fight desperately for air even as he'd heard, through his stethoscope, the stricken man's heart thundering, tripping, and then faltering into cardiac arrest.
Ezra had stopped breathing then. What followed had been a nightmarish ride to the hospital with Nathan counting down the minutes Ezra had been without oxygen as he had tried without success, to keep his airway open then had resorted to performing an emergency tracheotomy.
Having already been practically thrown out of the treatment room once amidst a flurry of moving hands and arms, barked orders, and the god-awful sound of electric shocks being applied to Ezra's helpless body, Nathan reluctantly stayed where he was.
He had no authority to be in the treatment room. As team medic, his access was limited and extended only as far as was required to relay to the doctors what treatment he'd administered and the details of Ezra Standish' medical history. Apparently, the suave undercover agent had an allergy to bee stings Nathan hadn't known about.
Nathan was convinced Ezra had gone all his life and never known about it either. That conviction led the medic to contemplate just how far the two men had come in their personal and professional relationship. There had been a time when Jackson would have believed that the handsome, green-eyed man was fully capable of lying about having no knowledge of such an allergy just so he could weasel his way into the ranks of the FBI and ATF.
The Southerner had been the last member to join the team and right from the beginning their relationship had been a rocky one and stayed that way for many months. Jackson hadn't trusted Ezra. Standish's southern accent, large vocabulary and high-falutin manners had immediately gotten on the black medic's nerves. He too was a son of the South and had had far too many negative experiences with Southern born Whites that had left a few deep wounds on his soul.
Ezra was an undercover agent. His job required him to be the best at being a chameleon in order to stay alive. But Nathan hadn't been convinced that the superb acting and easy ability to assume any persona in order to catch criminals didn't extend to the man's personal character off the job.
In Nathan's former way of thinking, Ezra was a con man and a con man conned. The cloud of suspicion that had followed Ezra from his FBI job in Atlanta had stopped at Team Seven's door, but not necessarily throughout the Denver ATF office and not necessarily with Nathan Jackson. There were more than a few agents willing to speculate and embellish the allegations that had been made against the handsome undercover agent with new "facts" and Nathan had heard every one of them.
But that was all in the past. Nathan had seen the real Ezra Standish time and time again. He knew the Southern man to be a man of integrity and courage. Ezra, who had trust issues of his own, had done more than dare to hold out his hand and call a black man brother. He had shown Nathan that he would willingly lay down his life for each of his team mates, including him.
Though not related by blood, Ezra was Nathan's brother in all the ways that counted. Now Nathan was struggling with his own worry and guilt over not having known that Ezra was so very allergic to bee venom. He hadn't had any of the life-saving epinephrine with him to administer . He didn't carry the medication in his bag because, before now, it had never been medically indicated for any of Team Seven's members.
The medic quietly watched his brothers each handle the stress in their own way. He kept his worries to himself such as whether or not Ezra would live and if he did, would the cocky undercover agent have sustained brain damage due to the time he'd been without sufficient oxygen.
As for JD Dunne, Team's Seven's youngest member sat slouched in a corner, his thick black hair hanging down, obscuring his boyish features. His best friend and room mate, Buck Wilmington was at his side, one lean arm strung across the younger man's back.
Buck was doing what Buck did best: being there for a hurting friend with unconditional strength of friendship. The handsome, dark-haired agent was torn between wanting to comfort JD and seeing to Chris, his oldest friend.
Buck had been the one to drag Chris, kicking and screaming, out of the bottle and back to life after his wife Sarah and son, Adam had both been brutally murdered when they'd burned alive in their home in an arson-set fire. But despite Buck's steady friendship and unswerving loyalty, Buck had gotten Larabee only so far. It been the coalescing of Team Seven into an elite crime fighting unit and then later, into a real family that had saved Chris Larabee from his demons.
Unlike Chris Larababee, Buck wore his concern on his face. If Ezra Standish died, no matter what anyone said, his boss and oldest friend would blame himself and the young man beside him would be right there with Chris, wallowing in misplaced guilt.
"JD - "
"I know, Buck. It wasn't my fault, but I can't help but think that I darn well know Ezra doesn't like to play sports. I egged him on until he felt like he couldn't say no..." The young man's voice trailed off before he turned worried dark eyes that suddenly flashed with anger on the older man. "Then when I hit that ball and it landed in those old cars...damn it, why did I have to go and dare him to go in there and get it, Buck? Why?" The younger man was becoming distraught - frustrated by the weight of his guilt.
"Did you know there was a hive in one of those cars?" Buck asked patiently.
"Of course not, Buck, but that's not the point!" JD exclaimed.
"Well, what is the point, kid, 'cause I sure as hell don't see it." Despite his nature, Buck was running out of patience. It was an accident, a stupid freak thing of nature, and everything Ezra did he did it to the extreme. Of course the man would darn near die from being stung by bees!
Buck nearly groaned aloud with the terrible reality of the situation. Oh God...it was true, Ezra really could die. Buck knew how serious the situation was because a childhood friend of his had, in fact, died of a bee sting, and Ezra had been stung not once, but many times by the angry swarm.
The little family they'd all forged through blood and sacrifice may very well have to endure the first loss of one of its own. Not you, Ezra Standish. You promised Chris - hell, you promised us, that you wouldn't run out. Not like this, pard. Not like this.