Title: ...And Sometimes They Win
Rating: R for language
Characters: All Seven, with a lot of Ezra and Nathan
Universe: ATF
Word Count (this part): 3,918
Summary: This is continuing the story started in Gone Wrong and After. If you have not read those, you will be lost. Ezra is continuing to have difficulty adjusting to his situation, and the boys are starting to notice.

A/N: After a long, long wait, here is part three of the saga. I hope it was worth the wait. This will be posted in 5 parts, which I am polishing now. I plan to post one part per day for the next few days. The title (which I usually have trouble coming up with) comes from a quote from Stephen King: "Monsters do exist. Ghosts too. They live inside us and sometimes they win."

His chin rested against the rim of the tub, bloody pink water running down his face from a gash on his forehead. Shifting his chin ever so slightly to the right caused the rivulet to alter its path, peaking at his nose before dripping into the water. His arms were hooked over the edge of the tub at the elbows, holding his upper body in place. His fingers skimmed the surface of the water in the Jacuzzi tub.

Where the hell…?

Dazed eyes blinked lazily, not quite able to grasp what was happening. He looked at the water's surface, still sloshing and turbulent in front of him.

His clothes were wet, but not just from wet hair. No, he had been drenched. Had he been in the Jacuzzi with his clothes on? That didn't seem right.

"Jesus, Ezra," a disembodied voice said nearby. "Just keep breathin'."

Yes, good idea, he thought, and focused on his steady breaths. In and out. In and out.

Another dark pink droplet plummeted from his face, hitting the water in the tub, swirling magically as it got caught up in the turbulent pool.

Drip.

Swirl.

In and out.

It was like some odd dance. A steady cadence in his mind.

Lord, his head throbbed.

"Ez, you with me?"

That was Vin. 'Vin,' he tried to say, but all that came out was some sort of moan. The weight of his own head held his jaw shut.

"Yeah, it's me," Vin replied, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We're done. The boys will be here shortly to wrap this up and get us out of here."

"Here?" he mumbled, as more of his facial muscle function returned to his control.

"Holland's cuffed in the other room with Josiah." A deep exhaled breath. "Ezra, he was trying to drown you."

Holland, he thought for a minute. Bull Holland. It all started coming back to him.

Ezra rolled onto his backside, guiding himself with woozy arms that didn't quite seem to be working correctly. His back rested up against the side of the Jacuzzi. He brought weary hands to his head and groaned. He hoped no one else saw the slight tremor in his hands.

"It's alright Ezra. We got him on tape. You did good."

Good. Yeah, right. Furrowing his brow half in thought and half in pain, he tentatively touched his head where it was still bleeding, albeit slower now.

A hand gently pulled his away. "Don't touch that Ez. It's not very deep, so you don't want to make it worse. Probably won't even need stitches. You got your bell rung pretty good though."

Ezra let his hand drift down to the mic under his shirt. The water had shorted it out.

"Dammit," he said slowly.

"Ez, we got everything on tape. It's fine."

"JD's gonna be pissed."

"JD'll get over it." Vin's voice was understanding, but left no room for argument.

Ezra brought his palms up to his forehead again, cradling his head while it continued to throb.

Josiah's voice from the next room was saying something, and Vin walked the few steps to the door and leaned out of the bathroom to hear him. Ezra sensed Josiah moving closer to the bathroom door to be more easily heard.

"Look at this," Josiah said, fingering his shirt where it had been ripped. "Mr. Holland over there," he nodded to the living room, "decided he didn't want to be handcuffed. Struggled for a minute and my shirt caught on something. Look what he made me do," he said in a joking fashion. "Such a terrible loss, really. It was such a nice shirt, I was hoping to keep it."

Ezra saw Vin smirk at the older man, knowing Josiah hated the shirt he was wearing only for the bit he was playing. Looking back at Ezra, still seated on the bathroom floor, Vin's expression changed from that of mildly amused to that of alarm. Ezra knew his face had gone ghostly pale.

"Ez? You ok?" Vin asked, coming closer to the pale agent.

In one swift movement, Ezra lurched to the nearby toilet and retched violently. Vin was beside him in a second, his hand on his back.

"Josiah, call Chris and Nathan. Ezra hit his head harder than I thought."

Josiah was already dialing from the door of the bathroom, keeping one eye on Ezra and the other on the man handcuffed in the next room sitting against the wall.

Look what you made me do…

Look what you made me do…

Ezra retched again.

oooOOOooo

Ezra was sitting on the bed in the emergency room, patiently waiting for the doctor to come and put a few small stitches in his head wound. He played with the patient bracelet on his wrist absentmindedly as he continued to check the clock on the wall. He held a small amount of gauze to the wound on his head, stemming the flow of blood for now.

When Chris and Nathan had shown up, Nathan had insisted that they go to the hospital. He had agreed with Vin; Ezra smacked his head pretty hard. Plus the wound could use a stitch or two, and with the location of the injury being high on his forehead, he wanted to keep scarring at a minimum.

Right, thought Ezra. Like that fucking matters anyway. He gently rubbed the scar on his chest in remembrance. After checking the clock for the sixth time this half hour, the curtain parted and a familiar face appeared.

"Hello Mr. Standish," Dr. Summers said as she pulled up a rolling stool beside him. "Knocked your head, I see?" she asked as she looked over his chart.

"Dr. Summers," he replied in greeting. "Technically, I didn't. I would never do such a thing," he stated innocently.

She looked up from his chart and smiled at him. She finished putting on the pair of latex gloves she had grabbed from the box on the wall as she sat down, then reached forward. "All right, let's have a look." She parted his hair to better see the damage to his scalp and forehead, a look of deep thought on her face as she considered the wound.

Dr. Jane Summers had been the doctor who had put the stitches in Ezra's chest and back, and had also been the one to remove them several weeks later. It was her skill that kept his scarring minimal. He snorted at the thought. Minimal.

If she heard him snort, she didn't acknowledge it. She peered with intense scrutiny at the delicate skin at his hairline like it was the most interesting thing she had ever seen. He knew that she had worn the exact same look as she looked at the wounds on his chest. This would be easy in comparison, he figured.

"I think this will only take two or three. I'm really not too worried about it," she said, releasing him.

"Wonderful," he moaned, blotting the wound with the gauze he still held. He never did enjoy the feeling of stitches.

She smacked him playfully on his leg as she took off the latex gloves. "Don't be such a baby." Her smile softened her words. She spun the stool away from him, and reached for his chart again, writing something. "I'll have one of the nurses come in and numb it up, then we'll be done in two shakes."

"Funny and efficient," he smiled at her.

She smiled back at him, then clicked the pen closed and placed the chart down on the rolling table. Her face became serious. "Ezra, how are you?"

He was slightly taken aback at her abrupt question, letting his face show his confusion. "You just said I was fine."

"That's not what I meant. How's your chest?" she pointed to him as she asked, a soft look of concern on her face.

He looked down at his shirt. "Oh. It's mostly healed. It itches from time to time."

"May I?" she asked.

Understanding, he started to unbutton his shirt, now ruined with the blood from his head wound. Reaching the last button, he left the shirt barely open and dropped his hands to the bed. Dr. Summers reached forward and opened his shirt, revealing his scars beneath. They were mostly healed, true enough, but they still looked angry. Even with time and care, several would still be noticeable. Several of them had healed to the point of being invisible, but the one down his sternum…

Of course, they wouldn't be as bad as she had originally thought having seen them fresh, but she knew they would serve as a constant reminder of his ordeal and as a source of self-consciousness for her patient.

She touched the skin lightly with her forefinger and thumb, again wearing the look of intense concentration. She poked the skin in places and then ran her finger along it, feeling the smoothness.

"You're healing very well," she said, looking up at her patient's face.

She hadn't noticed, but Ezra had turned his head away as soon as he had placed his hands on the bed, leaving the shirt open for the doctor. Even now, Ezra did not meet her eyes when he nodded his acknowledgement, leaving Dr. Summers to look at his profile.

"Keep treating it as you have been, and I expect that they will become less and less noticeable."

Again, that nod.

She straightened and smiled, collecting her clipboard again. "I'll send one of the nurses in. I'll be right back."

"I'll be here," he said, buttoning only four of the buttons on his shirt, covering the wounds quickly and efficiently.

As she left, she scribbled something on his chart, a concerned look on her face.

oooOOOooo

Half an hour later, Ezra strolled into the waiting room to find Vin, Nathan and Chris waiting for him. In one hand, he carried his suit jacket from earlier. In the other, he had a prescription. His shirt was untucked and disheveled, not buttoned entirely, and the sleeves were rolled up in cuffs. Blood splattered on the shirt in an odd pattern, almost like an ink blot test. He still wore the bar coded hospital bracelet, and a gauze patch was taped to his forehead where the cut had been stitched.

Walking up to his friends, he silently handed the script to Nathan, as was normal. Chris handed him back his shoulder holster that he had removed earlier, and Ezra wordlessly tossed his jacked to Vin while he shucked back into the shoulder rig.

"What's the verdict?" asked Vin.

"No concussion, five stitches. Hardly worth the trip," he answered nonchalantly, looking up and smiling.

Vin handed him his jacket back, and he shucked into that as well. "Really?" asked Vin. "I would have bet money you had a concussion the way you were pukin' at Holland's."

He smiled that shit eating grin of his. "Nope. Hard head, I guess."

"Tell me about it," Chris smirked.

"Shall we?" Ezra asked, gesturing to the exit.

"I'll get this filled for you," Nathan said. "Gimmie five minutes."

Ezra nodded. "I think I'll wait outside; I could use some fresh air." He started walking away. Vin and Chris both looked at Nathan, then followed the Southerner, questions in their eyes.

What was that all about?

oooOOOooo

Ezra's skin was crawling. He felt the disgust in his stomach start to edge its way up his throat. He hoped to hell that he wouldn't be sick before getting outside; not that there was anything left in his stomach at this point. He was damaged beyond repair. Marked. He would never be rid of it. Just when he thought he might have his shit together again, his feet were swept out from under him.

Emilio.

Those fucking scars.

The doctor touching them.

Every ridge of her fingertips stroking the new skin sent jolts of uncertainty through him. What was she feeling? What would anyone else feel? Why wouldn't they go away, fade like they were supposed to and leave him be? The doctor's simple touch made him feel like there were worms all over him, writhing in their sliminess and entwining with his body hair – on his arms, his legs, his whole body. And he couldn't shake the feeling. He wanted to tear at his own skin, scratching until he bled… but wouldn't that just compound the problem?

He made it out of the automatic doors of the Emergency Department and walked to a nearby bench to sit and collect himself. He sat facing the door where his friends would catch up to him shortly and he toyed with the bandage on his brow. He fingered the weathered plaque attached to the back of the bench with his other hand, the one stating that the bench had been a gift from Mr. Whomever to the hospital. He really didn't give a shit.

He sat and breathed the cool evening air in deeply. His fingers continued to tick about nervously as he waited for his friends. All of his little nervous tells were fast at work, trying to alleviate the stress of the day… trying to hold back his demons. Even if it would only last a short while.

7777777

Nathan drove Ezra home after the hospital visit. The drive was spent in silence, but not uncomfortable. As Nathan pulled up to the curb at Ezra's townhouse, Ezra reached for the door handle.

"Ezra," Nathan said.

The Southerner turned to look at his friend, but didn't answer him.

Nathan seemed, well… fidgety. Uncomfortable. Like he wanted to say something, but couldn't find the right way to start.

Ezra gave him a knowing smile, then reached and patted him on the leg before exiting the car, conveying that all was well. He hoped that would satisfy Nathan.

He walked up his walkway to his door, and up onto his small porch. He was in the house less than a minute after leaving the car, locking the door securely behind him.

He went into the kitchen, dropping his suit jacket on the back of the overstuffed chair on his way. He snagged a beer from the door of the fridge and wandered back into the living room, taking a seat on the middle cushion of his couch. He reached for the small stack of folders and files that rested on the corner of the table in a neat pile, and began fanning them out. This was becoming a habit… every night coming home and grabbing a beverage – sometimes beer, sometimes coffee, sometimes something harder – and diving into the world of a man that no one seemed to know a lot about. Rafael Galvez.

Galvez was an immigrant from Guatemala, having moved here with his family when he was a kid. His heritage had put him at odds with the Columbians and the Brazilians right off the bat, keeping him from joining any of the major established drug empires of the area. He was essentially on his own, no known affiliations until he was in his twenties – at least according to the files the DEA had on him. At that point, he had been a confirmed member of several smaller drug rings, and a suspected member of others. He made quite a name for himself running cocaine in the eighties. He moved on to heroin in the nineties, and had come close to getting nabbed for trafficking. Since then, he had been dabbling in guns. Guns for drugs, guns for cash… His tie to Mendez wasn't clear, but it was rumored to be an association of long ago, when Galvez couldn't hook up with any crew due to his heritage. Mendez had seen potential in the young man back then, and he was rumored to have worked with Galvez for a short time then. Galvez never forgot who had helped him.

It was unknown how long Galvez had been hooked up with Carlyle's organization, but he was definitely high up within it. He was now older, almost sixty said the FBI's files, but there was no exact year of his birth on record, so all they had was the approximation. He hit the ATF's radar along with Carlyle. The ATF's file on him was slim and contained basically the same things that the DEA and FBI files had.

Ezra stared at his copies of these files every night, wondering what kind of man this Galvez was. He had somehow found out that he and Buck were not who they said they were, and had exposed them to Mendez. So how had Galvez known? He and Buck hadn't done anything to give themselves away, as far as he could figure. And he had been doing a lot of figuring.

Standish stared off into the space in front of him, looking at nothing as he ran the situation through his head yet again. He could have been lost in thought for three minutes or three hours. Time was such a fleeting thing for him these days. He sighed, still looking across his living room to the window directly opposite him and out into the night beyond.

Being pushed away from Buck. Separated. Hands pushing him. A hand on his shoulder…

He violently snapped out of his daze when a hand gently grabbed his shoulder.

Instantly jumping to his feet, he turned to face his unexpected visitor, adrenaline coursing instantly through his veins, ready to fend off an attack. In a fluid movement borne of years of practice, his gun came to bear on his target.

"Jesus," he sighed angrily, seeing that it was only Nathan. He dropped his arms and head and bent at the waist, leaning his hands on his knees. "God DAMN it!" he shouted at the floor, still in his bent position and gun still in hand, aggravated with himself.

Nathan, for his part, seemed unfazed by the barrel of his friend's gun coming to bear only a matter of a foot or two away from his chest. "Sorry Ezra," Nathan said gently, hands out to the side in a pacifying manner. "I was knockin' at the door for five minutes. You didn't answer; I got worried." He spoke slow and calm, as though to a scared child.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, straightening slowly to his full height and reholstering his weapon, then rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"I left, but only got a couple of blocks. I wanted to talk to you, and I wanted to do it while it was still in my mind."

"How'd you get inside? I locked the door," he snapped back angrily.

Nathan shook his key ring, still out to his side in his right hand.

"Remind me to change the locks," he said, rubbing his hand across his brow then down his face.

Nathan furrowed his brow. "Ezra." He waited until the southerner looked at him. "What's wrong with you lately?"

The question held no venom or spite, only the concern that nakedly showed on Nathan's face.

"I'm fine," Ezra answered, plastering a calm smile on his face and waving his hand in dismissal. "I assure you."

"You pull a gun on all your visitors?" Nathan held up his hand to forestall the rebuttal he knew would be coming. "You haven't been fine in a while, have you?" he asked as he sat on the couch slowly, trying not to make any sudden moves that could spook his friend.

All the bravado seemed to drain out of the southerner. He was too tired for this; too tired to fight it, too tired to ignore it, too tired to keep pretending. He sighed, bringing one hand up to his forehead and the resting the other on his hip. He ground the heel of his palm on his brow.

"I'm tired, Nathan…"

"You look it."

Ezra dropped his other hand to his hip and turned a glare at his friend.

"Look Ezra, I know you know this, but if you need me for anything, anytime..."

Ezra tried to speak, but was immediately cut off.

"You're pulling away," Nathan stated, plain and direct.

Ezra sighed and hung his head. It was a noise of frustration, of defeat.

Nathan continued, "I see it now. Since that raid; the moonshiners. It started right around then, and you haven't been quite the same since. And if I can see it, then I know that it's been a problem for a while."

Ezra's gaze remained downward as Nathan spoke. He nodded in acceptance at the conclusion of Nathan's monologue, but didn't speak.

"I don't want you to ever think that you're alone in any of this. I know this can't be an easy thing to deal with, to live with. And I think you do an amazing job of putting on a strong front for all of our sakes. But I'm starting to see the cracks." He paused to let the message carry. "Nothing you can do – not one fucking thing – will push me or any of us away."

Silence hung heavy in the air for several moments.

"I know," Ezra said in a whisper.

Nathan nodded at him, even though Ezra was still not looking directly at him. "I mean it, Ezra. Anything, anytime." He blew out his breath slowly, then gestured to the files open on Ezra's coffee table. "I'll leave you be, let you get back to what you were doing."

He stood and started towards the front door.

"Nathan," Ezra spoke quietly, still in the same pose – both hands on his hips, gaze down – but turned slightly towards his departing friend, awaiting acknowledgement that he had been heard.

Nathan stopped at the door and turned back towards his friend, his hand resting on the doorknob.

"Thank you." It was a tiny voice.

"Anytime." He smiled sadly, turned and left, closing the door with a gentle 'click'.

7777777

"All right boys, I brought donuts!" Buck's boisterous voice boomed through the bullpen.

"What's the occasion?" asked Josiah from his desk.

"Can't a guy do something nice for his friends from time to time?" Buck asked, feigning hurt. When five incredulous stares answered his question, he relented. "Fine, there's a new girl workin' at Candy's. I wanted to welcome her to the neighborhood, so to speak."

"And get her number," JD said as he plopped his messenger bag on his desk, going for the donuts.

Buck tipped his head and pointed at JD. "That too. Dig in boys."

Ezra smiled at his friends, knowing that Buck brought the donuts because this was going to be a long debriefing. It was probably Chris's idea. You want to have a productive meeting? Provide food. That was something they taught you in one of those seminars about leadership and management that Chris had had to attend, much to his chagrin. When they all asked him how the two day course had been, that was his only reply. Now, whether it was because he already did all of the things that they were teaching about meetings, no one knew. Chris already ran a tight meeting, so the fact that he even had to attend such a worthless seminar had given the guys fodder for weeks.

And now food.

This meeting was either going to suck, or Buck really had gotten the new girl's number.

"Guys," came Chris's voice from the open doorway. "Take them in the conference room," he said and pointed.

Looks like it was option A.

7777777