by Maria Villa
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven are the property of CBS, MGM, Mirish Corporation. I'm making no money off of this. (I don't even have any money to give you! Monopoly money maybe...) ATF universe was started by Mog and there are some references to other ATF stories such as Mog's.
Acknowledgements: To Dayna, Lady Angel, coffee, and the voices in my head. And Ezra wants to say hi. :)
Guest Stars: Valentine Pelka as Liam Coltraine
The sun had already set on a warm Atlanta evening as a young looking man and a little boy walked to the car. He bounced around with the exuberance of an eight year old, happy to be spending time with a person that cared and loved him. The day started out simple as his Uncle Mike had picked him up from school to see the Star Wars movie that everyone had been raving about. His uncle was a world away from his mother who saw mundane tasks as taking him to the playground or a movie pointless.
"Can't we see the movie again Uncle Mike?" the little boy asked.
His uncle smiled at him, his cobalt eyes twinkled even in the dimly lit parking lot. "Sure we can. But you and I have to get home so we can bake cookies," he drawled in a deep Southern accent.
"Yes!" the little boy yelled aloud and raced over to the parked car. His uncle just laughed at his nephew's antics. Just as he put the key in lock, he heard an unwelcome sound of a gun primed to fire. He clenched his jaw and kept his nephew close.
"Stay behind me Ezra," he urged his only nephew.
"Give me your wallet," the young robber ordered as he waved his gun in the air.
Mike carefully reached into his back pocket, extracted the item and handed it carefully to the robber. The robber turned a vicious eye to the young boy. "That's a pretty nice watch you have there sonny. Now why don't you just hand it over to me and I'll be on my way."
"I uh... I can't," the little boy stammered.
"Oh, and why can't you give me the watch little man?" the robber mocked in a high pinch, whiny tone.
"Ezra, just give him the watch," his uncle said, fearful of what would happen if the robber did not get what he wanted.
"But Uncle Mike, Momma said it was a gift from papa."
"Give him the watch Ezra," he said more sternly, his cobalt eyes darkening in fear for him.
"But what about..." he started to say, but was cut off by a deafening sound. Covering his small ears from the harshness of the loud noise, he watched in horror as his uncle fell to the ground, unmoving.
"You should have listened to him little man," the young robber said as he grabbed the boy's his right arm. In one fluid motion, he removed the watch from his tiny wrist and threw him again the car. "See ya around kid," and disappeared quietly into the night.
Ezra just stared, open-mouthed, at the still body, his face a frozen in horror. "Uncle Mike?"
::beep, beep, beep::
Ezra Standish slammed his hand unceremoniously on the alarm clock. The undercover agent had barely able to get a good night sleep the past week and it showed on his normally kept appearance. The nightmares were back. He had thought he had put the memory of his uncle's death behind him, but it still haunted him. Ezra frowned at the thought.
Michael Standish was more of a father than just Maude's brother. Ezra had never known his real father. Maude had refused to tell him, but for what reason, the undercover agent did not know. Uncle Mike was the only source of love and affection Ezra had known and he swore to himself he would never get close to anyone ever again. Of course, it all changed three years ago when he became part of Chris Larabee's team.
Ezra went to the bathroom to take a hot steamy shower to relax his jittery nerves, but he knew it was going to take a lot more than a hot shower to wipe away the painful memories.
Ezra was the type of man who did not wear his emotions close to the surface. One reason for this is because of the traumatic experience he suffered all those years ago. His relatives had told him that he had to be strong for his mother and for more than twenty years, he kept his emotions behind a veil of good humor, witty comebacks, and his infamous poker face, his childhood innocence gone so long ago.
As he got ready for work, he fingered lightly on one of his expensive suits and quickly dismissed the idea of wearing it. He threw on some clothes and grabbed the hair gel to try to fix his mussed up chestnut hair in a reasonable style.
Grabbing his portfolio case from the dining room table, he checked his watch. 'Lovely... I'm going to be late, as usual,' he thought to himself. He did not even have time to swing by Starbucks and get his usual dose of caffeine. 'Guess I'll have to settle for the cheap coffee in the lounge,' he mused as he slipped his arms in his black leather jacket and headed for his Jag.
Vin flipped through some papers on a case the team had worked on for some time when Chris walked by his desk with a large, thick manila folder in his hand. "Hey pard," Chris said without looking up from the paper work, "have you seen Ezra yet?"
"Nope. Don't think he's here yet," Vin replied, expecting Chris to look at him.
"Hmm... Well give me a holler when he finally comes in," Chris said as he flipped some papers over, never lifting his gaze from the task at hand.
"Somethin' up Chris?" Vin asked concerned since his friend looked preoccupied with what he was reading.
"Yeah," the leader of Team 7 replied, finally raising his head to look at Vin. "New case."
That was when a ball of paper flew through the air and hit Chris on the head. "JD!"
JD peeked his head over the desk and gave his boss a sheepish smile. He meant to throw the balled up paper for the recycling bin, not his leader's head. "Sorry, Chris."
Chris picked up the paper ball and threw it to its intended destination. "Fellas," he announced to the room, "we're having a meeting in the conference room once Ezra gets in here." He then walked to his office and shut the door.
"Good goin' JD," Buck said as he batted his younger friend in the head.
"Hey," JD cried as he retailed against his friend. The duo playfully roughed each other up while the others stayed back and watched the ongoing war.
"If Ezra were here, he would bet on which one would win," Nathan observed between fits of laughter.
"Ah, Nate you know our missing Brother too well," Josiah answered as Buck successfully had JD in a headlock.
Buck was ready to give his friend a noogie when he happened to glance at the elevator doors. Not wanting guests to see their antics, he immediately shoved JD away and the young agent toppled over his chair. "Hello, what can we do..." and trailed off when he realized who the newcomer. "Ezra?"
The three chortling men turned to greet the late Southerner and did a double take. It was a rare opportunity to see Ezra dress almost like the rest of them, wearing a pair of tan khakis, a charcoal gray ribbed sweater, and one of his black leather jackets.
"What the hell was that for?" JD said gruffly from the floor. He righted his chair and hauled himself up, using his desk for support. "I bruise easily you... know..." trailed JD and stopped when he noticed who everyone was gawking at.
Ezra stopped in the middle of the aisle as his teammates stared at him and he began to feel a little self-conscious. "Have I grown a second head gentlemen?"
"Sorry Ezra," Josiah said as he shook his head to clear his mind. "It's just a rarity that we see ya dress like the rest of us."
"Well my friend, I thought it was about time that I prevent the ladies from fainting with my impeccable sense of style," Ezra drawled as he set his portfolio case on his desk, almost knocking over his Erte print Vin had given him.
Josiah frowned slightly. He had noticed over the past few days that Ezra seemed to be off his game. He had noted the dark circles under his eyes and somewhat mussed up hair.
"You alright Ez?" Vin drawled.
"I'm fine Mr. Tanner," Ezra answered and took a large sip of coffee. He made a slight face since it was not the kind of coffee he was used to.
Josiah opened his mouth to object to Ezra's assessment when the door to Chris Larabee's office swung open. "Buck do you have..." and stopped when he saw Ezra. Chris hid his surprise at Ezra's appearance well. Like the others, the leader rarely saw Ezra in anything but expensive suits when he was at work.
"Mornin' Ezra," he greeted the tardy agent.
"Mornin' Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied warily, wondering what Chris might say about his appearance. He knew he did not look well, but Ezra wanted to come to work and get his mind off of the nightmares. His mind kept drifting back to those events that occurred more than twenty years ago... the cold malicious voice of the robber, the sound of the gun going off, and the sight of his uncle bleeding to death; it caused chills up his spine.
Chris noticed the distant look on the undercover agent's face and he wondered what Ezra was thinking about. The rest of the men were not privy to Ezra's past, and it looked like the Southerner wanted to keep it that way. "Let's have that meeting everyone!" he announced to the room.
His agents collected the materials needed for the meeting and headed to the conference room. Ezra still had not moved; his thoughts returning to how his uncle looked, lifeless, sprawled on the cold ground...
"Ezra?" Chris questioned. He moved his hand quickly over Ezra's face but the Southerner did not react. Chris began to worry since it took a lot to shake up the normally steady agent. "Ezra!" he said a bit more forcefully and shook man's shoulder.
Ezra jumped a mile. He realized where he was and reprimanded himself for daydreaming. "Sorry Mr. Larabee," Ezra apologized. "What were you speaking of?"
"Meeting?" and gestured at the conference room where the rest of the seven were already waiting.
"Of course," Ezra drawled, embarrassed that his boss had caught him lost in his thoughts. The undercover agent hurried to the room and settled in one of the high back chairs, folding his arms across his chest. He instinctively reached for his coffee and realized he had left it on his desk. Ezra mumbled mild obscenities to himself and leaned back in his chair to listen.
Chris passed out manila folders to each of his agents. "This our next target, Liam Coltraine, in his mid forties. He's a hard case, been in and out of prisons all his life and he's been running a firearms operation in Denver for some time. The bust will go down on Thursday." Chris stopped his narration when he saw the Ezra's face.
Vin looked up from the information he was reading and glanced across the table. He too became concerned at the wild look in Ezra's eyes. In the three years they had worked together, he had never seen Ezra so shaken.
'Breathe, must breathe,' Ezra chanted to himself and kept absolutely still. 'This is just a dream... it's not him...' He squeezed his eyes tightly to rid himself of the gut wrenching emotion of seeing a face that he thought he had put behind him. 'I can't lose face in front of them, I can't...'
Ezra was snapped back in reality when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to look into the eyes of a very worried Buck. "I'm sorry Mr. Larabee, but I feel I must excuse myself." The normally collected undercover agent made a hasty retreat.
"Is he alright?" JD asked concerned, his young face etched with anxiety.
"I'll check on him," Vin drawled as he closed the folder and got up from his chair to look for Ezra.
"My God, I've never seen him so shaken up before." Even Buck was moved to comment by the Southerner's strange reaction.
The remaining men looked to Josiah, who's face bore one of concentration. He leaned forward in his chair, leaning his elbows on the conference table. "You've noticed how he's been a little off this week."
"Yeah, you're right," Nathan replied as he knit his eyebrows in concern. "Ezra looks like he's about the keel over."
"Has he said anything?" JD questioned.
"Oh come on JD," Buck answered him as he leaned back in his chair. "You know how Ezra is; he wouldn't admit if a rattlesnake bit him in the butt."
Chris kept a keen eye over the situation, listening carefully to his agents' statements. This new case and Ezra's condition fit together somehow, but the leader had no idea exactly what that connection was.
Ezra immediately went to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face, letting the cool water run down his throat. He brushed away the remaining droplets and glanced at himself in the mirror. Tired, haunted emerald eyes stared back at him. 'God I look horrible,' he thought to himself. He grasped the white porcelain sink, the memories overwhelmed his senses and tears threaten to spill down his face.
He hadn't felt this helpless since he was a child. Over the years, he had learned to keep a thick shell over his emotions, but the recent turn of events caused the painful feelings to resurface.
The bathroom door swung open, and Vin saw the hunched form of the Southerner, leaning over the sink, his body taunt with shock and despair. "Ezra? You feelin' alright?"
Ezra heard the sharpshooter's words, but feared facing Vin, not wanting him to see the tear that managed to break his emotionless mask and trickle down his cheek.
Vin's apprehension grew as Ezra just stood there, unresponsive to his attempt at conversation. "Ezra?"
"What is it Mr. Tanner?" replied Ezra, his voice laced with a tinge of annoyance but also sadness.
"You what to talk about what's got into ya?" Vin asked the shaken agent.
Ezra turned to Vin and struggled to hide his emotional torrent behind his well practiced poker face. "I'm perfectly fine Mr. Tanner."
Inwardly, Vin cringed as he recognized the wall that Ezra kept tightly over his emotions. Little emotion bled from Ezra's poker face, but Vin had always been a good reader of people and suspected Liam Coltraine was somehow involved in the inexplicable behavior of the normally collected agent.
Vin suspiciously looked at his friend and leaned against the white tiled walls. "Uh, huh. And I love hospitals."
A small smile cracked through Ezra's shell as he knew Vin's statement was far from the truth. Vin hated hospitals. In fact, he tried sneaking out once but was met with an undeniable force known as Chris Larabee and hastily made a retreat back to his room.
"Some things are best left alone Mr. Tanner," and began to walk out of the bathroom, but not before Vin grabbed his arm.
"You can't hide forever, Ezra," Vin drawled softly. "Sooner or later, the past will catch up with you."
Ezra clenched his jaw, looking straight ahead. "Then let it be later," he growled and shrugged off the sharpshooter's grip. He angrily slammed the door, releasing his frustrations.
Sadly, Vin watched him go. Something was slowly tearing apart the undercover agent's soul and Vin promised himself that he would find out. Then he would help Ezra in any way he could.
From his vantage point, JD watched as Ezra went about his business in an almost robotic-like motion. The entire day he had refused to talk about what bothered him, despite Chris' mock threat of suspending him. Ezra replied flippantly that Chris could not possibly suspend him over such a mundane problem. JD smiled when he saw the vein throbbing on Chris' forehead. JD glanced up as Buck walked through the open bull-pen office and moved for his desk.
Buck sat down heavily in his chair and closed for his eyes for a moment, trying to block out the hassles of the day. He had spent most of the morning and afternoon chasing leads and going through files, a task which he wasn't fond off. It was the first time he had been back at the office since the morning meeting.
Buck opened his eyes and turned his head slightly to check how had Ezra fared the day. He noticed the tension in his movements and the haunted look still plastered on the Southerner's face. Buck shook his head and looked at his partner. "Has he been like that all day?"
"Yeah," JD replied as he clasped his hands behind his head and brought his feet to his desk. "He keeps feverishly working on papers and looking up stuff on the computer. Ezra won't let anyone see what he's doin'."
"Damn," Buck mumbled. He wanted to help the Southerner but he didn't know where to start. It was so unlike Ezra to be frazzled by anything; Buck didn't know how he could help.
"Hey JD," Vin said quietly to the young agent.
"What's up Vin?"
"I need you to do me a favor," Vin said, a little worried that JD might deny his request. But then again, the kid hardly said no to any of them.
"Anything Vin. Whatcha need?"
"Can you do a background check on Ezra? See if Liam Coltraine has any connection to him?"
Buck furrowed his brow in annoyance as he listened to their conversation. "You think this Liam fella is what got Ezra in such a mood?"
"It's either that, or he's sufferin' from burnout."
Both JD and Buck grimaced at the mere thought. Burnout was never a good thing in their line of work. "Does Chris know?" Buck asked the sharpshooter. The last thing they needed was to get in trouble from peeking into Ezra's personal files.
Vin grinned. "Hell, he's the one who ordered it."
"Well, I can't say no can I?" JD replied and began to work on his computer. "I'll see what I can do. I might have somethin' for ya as early as tonight."
"Good." Vin checked his watch and grimaced slightly. "Damn, I'm runnin' late. I'll see you guys tonight."
Buck and JD nodded at the sharpshooter as he left. They were having an impromptu poker night at the CDC. 'Maybe we'll get somethin' out of the Southerner tonight,' Buck thought to himself. He glanced back at Ezra who looked at his screen with such a fierce determination that Buck surely thought it would burst into flames. 'Then again, maybe not.'
Buck was dumping potato chips in a plastic bowl when the doorbell rang. "JD can you..." Buck began then remembered what his roommate was doing. "Wait never mind," and hurried to the door.
"Special delivery!" Josiah announced as he held up the large pot of chili.
"Woohoo! Smells good Josiah!"
The two men entered the less than tidy apartment, and Nathan noticed JD off in the corner working on his computer. Sliding his chair over to the print, JD waited for the item to print out. "What the hell has JD been up to?"
"Vin thinks Ezra's mood has somethin' to do with Coltraine, so JD has been diggin' through Ezra's files to see if there's any connection. He's been hoverin' over there ever since we got home," Buck explained to the two men.
"Hmm..." Josiah mused. "I would hate to see Ezra's reaction when he finds out that we've been diggin' through his personal life."
Buck just shrugged as he grabbed the remote control searching for the baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. It wasn't long before Chris and Vin arrived; the only one missing was the undercover agent.
As the last sheet came through the printer, JD grabbed it and tried to stack the papers in a sensible fashion. He raised his head and finally noticed they had guests. "Oh, hi guys! I didn't even know you were here."
"It's alright son," Josiah said. "Tunnel vision?"
"You can say that. And I found some interestin' stuff."
"Like what?" Chris questioned his agent.
"I didn't find anything on Coltraine, but I did find a whole slew of articles on this..." and he handed the printout to Chris. The others gathered around him as Chris began skimming the article.
"'Murdering Spree Continues.' Atlanta residents advised to stay at home." Nathan read over his shoulder. "This article is almost twenty years old."
"Huh uh. Ezra has police records, newspaper clippings anything related to this case is stored in his files. Plus, the case is marked unsolved. I was able to find a photograph on the suspect," and producing a printout of an old photograph. "They never did find out his name or catch him."
Vin took the black and white photograph and traced his fingers over smooth surface. There was something eerily familiar about man.
"What is it Vin?" Chris asked as he noticed the sharpshooter frown slightly.
The sharpshooter shook his head slowly. "There's something familiar about him..." It was the eyes that looked familiar. "Ahh, I don't know. JD, think ya can take this photo and age him twenty years?"
"Sorry, no can do. I don't have the proper equipment. But the ATF offices do; I can go ahead and fax it to Josh. He might have somethin' for us by tomorrow," he said as he glanced at Chris, waiting for the go ahead.
Chris thoughtfully tapped his chin. 'If Vin thought it was necessary then might as well go ahead,' he thought. "Go ahead and do JD. Maybe we can finally get some answers."
"Answers for what gentlemen?" a distinct southern voice drawled.
The others looked up surprised to see the undercover agent in the doorway bearing a pack of Guinness beer.
"On the Elston case Nate and I have been working on," Josiah replied smoothly.
Ezra eyed the men suspiciously. "Uh huh," he mumbled and opened the refrigerator door to put the beer on the bottom shelf. He could feel the eyes of his friends watching his every move and heard JD quietly whisper something to Chris. 'They're hiding something, I know it,' he thought to himself. "So gentlemen, are you ready to relieve your money to me?"
Nathan chuckled at the undercover agent. "Don't we do that every night?"
'Every night? My demons haunt me every night,' Ezra thought to himself, but out loud he responded with his usual humor. "I'll laugh at that particular statement later Mr. Jackson," Ezra replied wryly.
"Well, let's play!" exclaimed Buck and practically dragged a protesting JD over to the table. The men just shooked their heads and settled in.
"Give me two," Chris said an hour later, as he tossed back the cards. Without a word, Ezra slid the appropriate number of cards to the black-clad agent and sat thoughtfully, contemplating his next move.
Ezra could feel the eyes of the others trained on him, wondering what was wrong with him. He couldn't blame them. Ezra barely had said a word all night, a rare thing indeed. If it was Vin giving the silent treatment, the others would not be worried; it was Vin's nature. But for Ezra without a witty remark was about as rare as they come.
Conversation between the seven men had ranged from sports to politics then it turned to movies, questioning how good some recent releases were.
"I thought it was really good," Josiah said as he threw down his cards. "Could have done without that Jar-Jar character though."
"I have to agree with you pard," Buck replied. "Raise you a dollar."
"Oh he wasn't that bad," JD countered.
"That's because you like all that computer, special effects schmaltz."
JD ignored his roommate and turned to Ezra. "So what about you Ezra? What did you think about The Phantom Menace?"
Ezra smiled enigmatically at the young man. "I wouldn't know Mr. Dunne; I never seen that particular movie."
JD stared at him aghast. "Oh come on, Ezra you had to have seen The Phantom Menace! It's like not seeing Titanic," JD exclaimed.
Ezra silently wondered if his over enthusiastic friend would ever calm down. He grinned widely, his gold tooth exposed. "Actually Mr. Dunne I haven't seen that one either."
JD looked at him like he had a second head. "You haven't seen that one either?"
"Since when did you see Titanic?" Buck teased his younger roommate.
"Casey dragged me along. She..."
Ezra smiled wistfully at their playful banter and was reminded of old memories. As much as he would like to forget, the memories of spending time with his uncle were seared in his memory; even the night he died. He could no longer hold his poker face as the others started to talk in depth about the movie and how it fared against the original Star Wars movies. It was all he could take and suddenly pushed his chair back. "Excuse me gentlemen, but I feel the need for some fresh air."
"Did I say somethin'?" JD asked concerned as he watched Ezra's hasty escape out to the patio.
Chris had noticed how sullen his undercover agent had gotten during the course of the conversation. He recognized the pain-filled eyes in his friend's face for it was the same look he wore after his wife and son died in a car bombing. But it was gone in a fleeting moment, and Chris distantly wondered what the hell was going on in Ezra's head.
Vin was one of the first of the seven to arrive at the office. As he booted up his computer, his mind drifted to the events of the previous night. The impromptu game had been good for all of them to relieve the stress of the last case but Ezra was definitely off his game, losing almost half of the hands which rarely happened.
He greeted the rest of the team as they filed in the office and returned his attention to a report he had to get on Chris' desk by noon. But the events last night continued to nag him and he couldn't concentrate.
After Ezra abandoned the game, the mood had decidedly changed. The undercover agent hadn't returned for almost a half an hour and Vin had seen that Ezra's poker face was back in place. Vin's musings were interrupted as JD flew into the office.
"You guys are not going to believe this," JD exclaimed. He looked almost as if he were going to burst from his skin at any moment.
"Damn boy, don't surprise me like that!" Buck choked out after he almost gagged on his coffee.
"Sorry Buck, but I just got this back from Josh downstairs," JD said waving around a manila folder. "You are *not* going to believe this!"
"You already said that," Buck pointed out and snatched the folder from his hands. He set his coffee down and flipped it opened. "Lord have mercy."
There was a chorus of questions that greeted Buck as he paled slightly as he stared at picture before him. The rest of the men gathered around him and stared in shock.
"My God," Josiah mumbled softly. "That's Coltraine."
"No wonder Ezra bolted like lightening yesterday," Buck exclaimed.
"Okay, so we know that Ezra is somehow connected with this guy. Question is, how? He would have been only seven or eight when these murders occurred," Nathan reasoned.
In a moment of divine intervention, the topic of conversation walked through the door. Ezra had a strange feeling of d...jà vu, as six pairs of eyes trained on him. "What?" Ezra asked. "I know it can't be my clothes," he added since he had gone back to wearing his traditional suits.
"Why didn't you say somethin'?" Buck demanded of the undercover agent.
Ezra grinned lopsidedly. "It would help if you elaborate Mr. Wilmington."
Silently, Buck handed the bewildered agent the folder. Ezra visibly frowned at him, and flipped it opened.
"How dare you go through my personal files!" Ezra yelled, outraged they would stoop so low. He threw the folder back at Buck who caught it easily.
"It was for your own good Ezra. How else could we help you if you're unwillin' to talk!"
"My case, my problem," he replied heatedly.
"Uh huh, Ezra, your case, *our* problem. God damn it Ezra, when are you going to learn we are going to help ya whether you want to or not!" Chris yelled at him.
The southerner practically growled in anger at him as he headed for the door.
Vin had expected this outburst and was already blocking his only exit. Ezra turned to find the others had blocked the aisle, leaving the desks to his right, and a wall to his left. He narrowed his eyes to Chris. "This is totally unnecessary."
"It is if you're not going to say how you know Coltraine," Chris replied, his arms crossed over his chest determined to beat the answers out of him if he had to.
Ezra once again tried to get pass Vin, and when he was unsuccessful, turned back to his leader, his emerald eyes narrowing to thin slits. "Fine you want to know? Coltraine murdered my uncle right in front of my eyes! Happy now?!"
Chris stared at his undercover agent in shock. He didn't expect that Ezra would suddenly confess what was bothering him. "Of course not Ezra," he said as he tried to soothe his furious agent.
"Ezra..." Josiah began, but stopped as Ezra took his anger out on him.
"I don't need your advice preacher man," Ezra seethed through clenched teeth. "Just leave me alone!" and he attempted to brush pass Vin, but the sharpshooter held his ground.
Chris stepped closer to the volatile man, making sure he kept his distance. "Come on Ezra, lets just talk..."
"Oh, look who's talking Mister ask-me-and-your-dead-man," Ezra replied, his voice edged with sarcasm.
"Ezra..." Chris said frustrated, but the southerner interrupted whatever his leader was about to say.
"No Chris, you don't understand. Have you ever seen someone you loved, die right before your eyes. Sure you lost your wife and son, but did you see their life slip away, watch the growing pool of blood and have it in smeared all over your shoes?!"
Chris flinched at the mention of his dead family. He fought the urge the deck the agent where he stood, letting Ezra's ride through his own personal hell. He knew that Ezra needed to relieve some of the pain he had neatly kept hidden for so long.
Slowly, the Southerner approached his leader, and his voice dropped a tad lower. The look on his face sent chills down the other men's spines, for it was a face they usually never associated with the man. "I was *eight* years old, Mr. Larabee. Only eight." Not once, did he flinch or look away. "Eight years old. A boy should never have to witness such an atrocity."
He turned away from Chris, his fists clenched so tightly that his knuckles turned white. All the hurt, the pent up rage that he had stored exploded with fury. It didn't matter to him that the rest of the seven were witnessing his loss of control over his emotions. "God damn it, I was only eight!" he yelled with such fury as he punched the wall.
The rest of the men visibly jumped at the sheer strength of his voice, then stared quietly at the huge hole the Southerner had left.
"Oh God," Ezra mumbled when he recognized what he had done. Slowly, he removed his hand from the hole, flexing it, urging the warm feeling to return. The undercover agent slipped down the length of the wall and hugged his knees to his chest. Tears formed in the corner of his eyes and Ezra closed them to shake the unwanted memory. "I didn't mean to,
The black-clad leader knelt in front of his troubled friend. "Ezra."
The undercover agent stayed quiet, locked away in a world only he could see. "Ezra," Chris tried once again and gently placed a hand on Ezra's knees so as not to startle the younger man.
"Look, Ezra, why don't you take the rest of the day off; take some time to gather your thoughts?" Chris suggested to his troubled friend.
Green eyes met with concerned hazel eyes, and it almost broke Chris Larabee's heart; his friend looked so lost.
"I'll drive him home," Buck volunteered. "Come on Ezra," he said as he draped an arm over the younger man's shoulder. He was somewhat surprised that the undercover agent didn't argue with Chris' request. 'This must be really getting to him,' he thought sadly.
The rest of the men watched as Buck lead a broken Ezra out of the office. When they were sure the two men were out of earshot, JD collapsed in a nearby chair, a stray lock of hair falling over his boyish face. "Well, I'm glad I'm not that wall."
"Or Coltraine for that matter," Nathan added.
Chris ran both his hands through his short blonde hair. The whole situation just got worse. He didn't know what to do about tomorrow.
"What about tomorrow?" Vin asked, thinking along the same lines as his best friend.
"I don't know," Chris replied as he leaned back against the wall. "I might have to take him off the raid."
"Chris, you can't do that!" JD protested against him. "You know how riled Ezra is going to be?"
The black-clad agent turned to the youngest member of Team 7. "If these walls could talk."
JD glanced at the gaping hole. "Okay, so he punched a rather big hole in the wall. "But maybe he needs this, as closure."
"Out of the mouth of babes," Josiah mumbled, his voice growing louder. "He's has a point Chris. Maybe this is the medicine our Brother needs."
Chris scratched the stubble on his face and thought about what they were saying. "I'll think about it," he replied softly. The leader of Team 7 checked his watch. "You guys go ahead and finish the reports for today, then we can all go over to Ezra's and see how he's doin'," he told the others and walked back to his office, wondering what the hell he was going to do.
Buck silently eased into the light highway traffic and chanced a glance to the unusually quiet Southerner. He had barely said a word since they left the ATF building, and Buck was becoming worried, especially after that display at the office.
Ezra watched the passing scenery with little interest. His mind was turned inward, lost in his own tormented past. He had never let his emotions best him, but his facade had fallen in front of the team. It was still hard for him to believe that he acted in such a rash manner.
"So..." Buck began hesitantly. "What was your uncle like?" He really didn't expect an answer, but breathed a sigh of relief when Ezra began to talk.
A soft chuckle escaped Ezra's lips. "Probably the only part of my childhood I did enjoy," he responded and gazed out the window, remembering. "We did things Mother would never have approved of."
He smiled slightly as he remembered some the stunts they used to pull off together. Ezra fiddled with his watch, remembering the incident by the car. 'If I had only given up the watch to robber...' he thought to himself. "Stupid thing..." he said softly.
Ezra looked down at his hands, fiddling with his watch. "All over a damn watch," he whispered, then rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache forming.
"Ezra, you were eight. There was probably nothing you could have done," Buck reasoned with the Southerner, chancing a glance to see how his friend was faring.
His statement was treated with a rather frosty silence, and Buck didn't want to push Ezra further. The time would come when the undercover agent would talk, at least he hoped.
Fifteen minutes passed when Buck pulled up the driveway and turned off the engine while Ezra slowly climbed out of Buck's red Chevy pickup. He unlocked the door to his condo and threw his keys on the nearby table. Silently, Buck followed him to the kitchen as Ezra threw open a cabinet door and grabbed some herbal tea. "You want some?" Ezra asked him.
"Yeah," replied Buck as he sat down at the kitchen table. He glanced about the neat and tidy kitchen, a far cry from the mess over at the his place.
As they waited for the water to boil, Buck snuck a few glances at Ezra to see how he was holding up.
"What is it, Mr. Wilmington, that you find so fascinating?"
"I'm just tryin' to figure you out Ezra. I might not be Josiah, but I can listen with the best of them."
Ezra was about to brush the sentiment off, but with one quick glance at genuine concern on the fun loving agent's face, he changed his mind. "It was a robbery. We had just come out of the movie theater, watching Star Wars I might add, when it happened." The kettle began whistling and Ezra got up and took it off the burner. He poured the hot water into two cups, stirring the contents.
Buck welcomed the steaming hot mug and took a tentative sip. "So that's why you practically high-tailed it out of our the place last night," Buck concluded setting the cup down. He leaned back in the chair, crossed his arms over his chest, a thoughtful look on his face.
"Correct Mr. Wilmington," Ezra replied sadly. He took another sip of the hot liquid, secretly wishing he had put a shot of rum instead of honey but he had a feeling that Buck would object. Instead, he continued his sordid tale. "He gunned down my uncle without reason, without remorse. Took a full half-hour for the police to drag me away from the scene." He paused for a moment, fiddling with the cup in front of him. "And that was while I was kicking and screaming."
Silently, he rubbed his face, the lack of sleep of the past week catching up to the Southerner. "When I first started in the FBI, I tried tracking him down with no such luck."
"Until now," Buck responded, watching for Ezra's reaction carefully, waiting for him to erupt with anger that he knew resided behind Ezra's usually cool facade. He was used to those type of reactions as he remembered how Chris reacted after his family's death. Most of the time, Chris resided in a drunken rage, taking out his anger on anyone who bothered to listen. The pain of Sarah and Adam's death was still painfully real even after all these years.
"Well, now I can take his sorry hide and put it where it belongs, in jail," Ezra responded ruefully.
"Chris might change his mind," Buck pointed out. "He might not let you go tomorrow."
Ezra clenched his fists tightly. "The hell he will. I will be there tomorrow, whether he likes it or not!" and slammed his hand on the table, causing both mugs to spill over. "Aw hell..."
"Don't worry, I got Ezra," Buck replied as he quickly rose from his chair and grabbed the paper towels. He wiped up the mess and looked at the Southerner. "Why don't you take a nap Ezra; you look beat."
The undercover agent leaned forward, his elbows on the table, covering his face with his hands. He didn't want to try to sleep; the nightmares might come again, call him to remember a past he wanted to forget. "No."
"Ezra," Buck argued, "if you don't get any sleep, there ain't a chance in hell you'll be able to keep up arguing with Chris."
"Since when did you become an expertise on my health?" he asked him gruffly.
"Since the seven of us are family," Buck replied easily, his gaze never breaking Ezra's caustic stare.
The sincerity behind the simple statement shocked the southerner, even though he knew the truth behind those words. The seven men had been through a lot the last three years, and they had formed a bond that went deeper than friendship.
"Fine, Mr. Wilmington, I shall search for the comfort of my down pillow," Ezra drawled and rose from his chair, bring both arms above his head, stretching cramped muscles. He was tired; he hated to admit. As Ezra walked to his room, he paused for moment and turned back to Buck, an amusing smile on his face.
"What?" Buck asked him, confused as to his reaction.
"It's a pity Mr. Jackson were not here," Ezra answered him, smiling ruefully. "I would have loved to see his reaction as to me complying with a request without arguing."
For the first time that morning, Buck released the tension he had felt the past hour, feeling it slowly slip away as he enjoyed a good laugh.
"Hell, if I told the others they probably wouldn't believe me!"
"They wouldn't," his smile getting wider, showing off his gold tooth. Ezra gave him the familiar two-fingered salute before disappearing around the corner.
Buck stood there for a moment before moving about the kitchen. He cleaned out the two mugs and placed them in the dishwasher then wandered into the living room. A few of Ezra's personal belongings had yet to inched into the room, although he did have the picture from the Four Corners Festival nailed to the wall. 'At least all his stuff ain't in boxes anymore,' Buck reminded himself as it was only recently that Ezra had finally begun to unpack some of the cardboard boxes that graced the condo.
He stretched out on the leather couch, and turned on the television, making sure that the volume was low so as not to disturb Ezra. Buck decided to stick around, sure that Chris would understand he wanted to be here for his friend. Soon, the remote control slipped from his fingers as Buck fell asleep.
Chris expertly maneuvered the Dodge behind Buck's Chevy and turned off the ignition. Vin had rode with Chris and climbed out of the truck, turning around to see Josiah pull up next to the curb. In record time, all the men had finished they're reports and headed over to Ezra's
condo to lend their support and, if possible, try to change Chris Larabee's mind.
Chris had decided to take the Southerner out of the raid that was scheduled for the following day since he worried about the state of mind Ezra was in. He knew the Southerner was not going to like it, even blow up about it, but an emotional agent could make costly mistakes and Chris could not take that risk. The six men gave him a renewed purpose in life; he no longer wallowed as he did after Sarah and Adam's death. He did have his moments when the pain almost became too much to bear, but his friends were there to help him through it. He might as well be damned if any harm came to any of the six, by an action he could have prevented.
JD bounced up the steps and rapped quickly three times on the door. They patiently waited for either Ezra or Buck to answer and soon they heard the tell-tale signs of the deadbolt unlocking.
A sleepy looking Buck stared at the them, groaning audibly. "Ya mind come in? I'm goin' blind by all this sun!"
"You're full of hogwash Buck!" JD said, and brushed passed the agent.
"Where's Ezra?" Chris asked his oldest friend as he glanced about the living room.
"In his room, out like a light," Buck replied yawning. "He was pretty calm earlier, but I'm tellin' you Chris, that man is a walking time bomb."
"Did he talk about it?" Nathan asked him.
Buck nodded silently, then related Ezra's story to the rest of the men. At first they were angry, then grew melancholy, thinking about what Ezra went through as a young child.
Vin listened, his heart going out to his friend. He knew how hard it was to lose someone at a young age. His mother died when he was five, and she was the only home he knew.
"Remember your a Tanner," his mother's voice echoing in his mind, and he remembered that simple advice through all the years in foster homes.
"I don't know about you guys, but I can use a hit of coffee," Buck announced and dragged his feet to the kitchen. Vin followed him, suddenly needing a dose of caffeine.
The four men were left alone in the living room, taking various positions around the room.
"Well," JD began, "should we let Ezra sleep?"
"I don't see any reason why not," Josiah answered as he walked over to the living room and heavily sat in the comfortable chair. He closed his eyes and leaned back to relax, but Josiah's quiet solitude was instantly broken by a ear piercing scream.
The four men stared at each other for a moment.
"Ezra," Nathan said. The simple word shook all of them out of their revelry and they made a beeline for Ezra's room. JD hopped over the couch in one fluid jump, quickly following the others with Buck and Vin right behind him.
Josiah burst through the door first and stopped when he saw the Southerner holding a gun, his hand shaking. His hair was an unruly mess, and the sheets were twisted around his bare torso. "Ezra?"
Ezra sat straight up in bed, the anguished scream dying on his lips. The haunting nightmare was still fresh in his mind and he clutched the sheets tightly, remembering every detail.
The door to his room flew open, and Ezra went for his gun that he kept in a drawer next to his bed. The first instinct was to fire, but when he realized who it was, he lowered his weapon.
"Ezra?" Josiah began, making sure he kept his body language as non-threatening. The others wisely hung back as Josiah slowly approached the volatile agent. "You feelin' alright?"
"Leave me alone," Ezra growled, his smooth Southern drawl distorted by the emotion behind that plea. With some difficulty, he untangled himself from the bed sheets and headed for the safety of his bathroom, slamming the door. They heard the telltale sign of the door locking,
effectively shutting them out.
Buck sighed deeply. 'I guess the progress earlier didn't do too much,' he thought to himself as he approached the door. "Hey Ezra! Come on out and let's have a talk!" When he raised his fist to try again, Vin caught it.
"He ain't gonna come out that way," the Texan drawled softly.
"Then how do we get him to open the door?" JD asked, glancing at the others.
"I know what will get him out of there," Chris said thoughtfully, his voice edged with a hint of mischief, breaking the silence that had dominated the room.
Nathan eyed him warily. "Ain't that a bit low?" he stated, crossing his arms over his chest.
"And wouldn't he be more pissed that he already is?" JD pointed out. He didn't particularly want to see the two men at each others throats at a time like this.
"As Ezra would say, 'I believe some subtlety is in order,'" Chris drawled not quite matching Ezra's voice.
Everyone practically groaned and Vin shook his head. "You need to work on your accent pard."
"So sue me." Chris approached the door and Buck reached for his arm. He turned to his oldest friend, noting the seriousness in his eyes.
"Remember though, you brought this on yourself," Buck said.
The leader of the seven sighed deeply. 'Just why did I open my big mouth?' he thought to himself. "We need to talk about tomorrow... there's been a change of plans."
Slowly, the door opened. Ezra stood there, clothed only in a pair of gray drawstring pants. His stance was like a cat hunting for it's prey, and the look in Ezra's eyes sent shivers down the other men's spines.
"There's been a what?" Ezra said, his voice low and deadly.
He might as well say it. "You're off the raid tomorrow," Chris stated flatly.
"You can't possibly deny me that!" Ezra shouted and the men flinched at the Southerner's raised voice.
"The hell I can Ezra! I'm the senior agent here..."
"You're denying my chance to put for the demons to rest?" Ezra cut in.
Chris was taken aback at this new tactic. Then again, Ezra was a great manipulator with words; it was what made him a good undercover agent.
"Wouldn't you go after the perpetrator that murdered your family?" He slowly approached Chris, their noses almost touching. "Wouldn't you?!"
The leader of the seven stared at him calmly, but the fury behind his hazel eyes were clear. They bore into the Southerner's soul, daring him to go any further. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists, resisting the urge to teach some manners to the cocky Southerner.
Ezra almost drew back from his boss' caustic stare, but he was determined to hold his ground because he was going to be at the raid and that was all there was to it.
The five men stared at two hot heads as their voices climbed in an effort to out do one another. Buck could see that familiar vein on Chris' forehead throbbing. 'Oh please Chris, don't deck him,' Buck thought. 'Please don't deck him.'
"I would be lyin' if I said no," Chris shouted angrily, staring deep into Ezra's emerald eyes, trying to gauge the sanity of the man.
Several tense moments passed before Chris said anything. "On one condition."
Ezra raised a curious eyebrow, somewhat surprised that Chris caved in so easily. "Which is?"
"You promise me you won't kill him."
The Southerner clenched his jaw. He respected Chris. Hell, he even owed him since Chris was the one who gave him a second chance. "I promise I won't kill him."
Chris nodded slightly. His smile was so small that only Vin noticed the difference. "Good."
"Everyone clear on assignments?" the leader of Team 7 asked the men. They were in the conference room, finalizing plans for the afternoon raid.
The members of Team Seven nodded and the youngest agent raised his hand.
"What is it JD?" Chris said, turning a questioning gaze to him.
JD smiled ruefully, a mischievous look on his young features. "Do we have to wear these lousy jackets?" he asked, indicating the tasteless navy windbreakers with the big bold yellow letters of the ATF emblazoned on the back.
The rest of the team chuckled. None of them particularly liked the jackets, but it was policy to wear them at every raid.
"Isn't that supposed to be my line?" Ezra questioned, a tense smile gracing his features.
"Alright, I want radio contact the entire time, and no heroics," said Chris, looking pointedly at Ezra.
The Southerner looked at him with feigned innocence and the black-clad leader just shook his head. 'Hopefully, this afternoon will be pretty cut and dry,' he thought to himself. Of course, considering Team Seven's track record, it was highly unlikely.
Chris didn't know how it happened, but somehow Coltraine escaped from the warehouse even though a rain of bullets converged at him and his thugs from all sides. He had slipped through a service door and somehow had gotten the upper hand on one of his agents.
"Damn..." Chris cursed as he heard JD's headset crushed by a boot. "Vin get outside and up a fire escape! Once you get a clear shot, take him down!" Chris shouted into his mike. "The rest you, move out when you can and cover both ends of alleyway!"
"He hurts one hair on that boy's head, and they're gonna be cleaning him off the concrete for a week!" Buck cried angrily.
The men raced for position, but one was determined to end it on his own.
"Freeze, ATF!" Ezra yelled, his voice echoing in the bright afternoon. He was nearly fifteen feet away. Coltraine roughly turned JD around, and facing off with the Southerner.
"God damn it Ezra..." Chris muttered under his breath and went to join him. "You always have to be the reckless one, don't ya?" he said as he also faced off with Coltraine.
Coltraine paid no attention to Chris, but stared at Ezra. A leery smile formed on his lips. There was something in the emerald green depths that was familiar to him. "Do I know you?"
"Let go of the him," Ezra ordered.
JD struggled within the man's iron grip, the fear in his eyes crystal clear.
"I took something from you, did I?"
"Shut up!" Ezra shouted, his gun aimed directly at Coltraine's head. How he wanted to put the murderer in his rightful place.
"You're that little boy, ain't ya? It's in the eyes..."
"I told you, let *go* of him," Ezra said more forcefully.
"Let me leave and maybe I will," Coltraine responded, backing slowly.
Chris snickered. "You'll never get to the end of the alley."
He tightened his grip on JD's neck and smirked. "Oh, I think I will." He turned back to Ezra. "Ain't that right sonny boy? You'll just stand there and do nothing, just like you did all those years ago."
The anger and hate was clear on Ezra's face, which was surprising considering Ezra was a master of the poker face. Chris had never seen the Southerner so livid.
A mirthless laugh erupted from Ezra's throat, sending chills down the team's spine. "You're so sure of that, aren't you," Ezra responded, his voice calm.
Fifty yards away, high up on a fire escape, Vin kept a light but steady grip on his power rifle. He kept a keen eye on the dangerous situation and narrowed gaze on his target, blocking out all sounds and activity that surrounded him. He focused only on the task before him, and he just needed an opening, one slip and he would fire.
Chris, Buck, and Ezra continued to push him back toward the end of the alley. They knew that Josiah and Nathan were waiting for him at the other end so they would have him boxed in. "Let him go Coltraine and maybe we wouldn't shoot ya where ya stand," Buck proclaimed.
"Let me think about that... no." He continued to drag JD closer to the open street. As he neared some crates, a mass of white and orange leaped from behind some hidden crates, screeching loudly.
"What the hell?" Coltraine yelled as the cat leaped into his line of vision, his gun moving slightly moved away from JD's head.
Vin used the distraction and gently squeezed the trigger, the high-power rifle slightly recoiling in his hand. Coltraine never knew what hit him.
One minute he had the gun in his hand, the next it tumbled out of his grasp. JD scrambled for safety and Coltraine was left with five angry agents. One of which wanted to kill him and for good reason too.
Before, Coltraine was confident he could come out of this deadly situation with his hostage, now he wasn't sure. "Eh... you wouldn't shoot an unarmed man, wouldn't you?" Coltraine asked somewhat tentatively.
Ezra stayed silent, his mind so wrapped in anger, his hate the only for Coltraine thing that occupied his mind. Coltraine was a fool. He thought he could get away with from hurting a member of his family. The grin on the Southerner's face was one of pure delight and Coltraine fidgeted under his gaze.
Chris noticed that the tense situation was not yet over, so he lowered his gun, the others doing the same, except Ezra. Chris noticed that Josiah and Nathan were ready to take him into custody, but that the Southerner held tightly to his gun, primed to fire. "Ezra? Put the gun down," Chris advised.
"I didn't hurt nobody," Coltraine pleaded with him.
"You murdered my uncle," Ezra responded with no emotion whatsoever.
"Twenty years ago."
"Still murder," Ezra responded simply, an undercurrent of sadness in his voice.
"Ezra, *put* the gun down, " Chris ordered. "I know you don't want to do this. You're not like him, my friend."
Somehow, Chris' voice penetrated his mind. 'You're not like him, you're not like him,' reverberated in his head. "No," Ezra finally responded after several tense seconds. "But I do love a good laugh."
Coltraine braced himself as Ezra pressed the trigger. He opened his eyes when he realized he was still standing. "What..."
"Damn, empty. I knew I forgot somethin'." Ezra grabbed Coltraine by the collar and threw him against the wall. He pressed his forearm tightly against Coltraine's throat, causing the older man to gasp for a breath. He stared wildly in the agent's eyes, and was somewhat afraid of the pure look of animosity in his emerald depths. "Lucky for you," he whispered venomously and his punch connected solidly with Coltraine's jaw. Ezra then threw him into the waiting arms of Nathan and Josiah.
The two men caught him easily and read the surprised man his rights.
"You're lucky mister, I would have broken some bones first," Chris said fiercely, his voice dripping with venom for the audacity of the man for trying to use one of his agents as a shield. He put his SIG Sauer back in its holster and glanced up at the fire escape, giving Vin the familiar two-fingered salute.
"Get this scumbag out of my face," Chris ordered Nathan and Josiah, and he glanced down at his feet.
Cuervo happily rubbed his head against Chris' legs and he carefully moved away from the orange and white tabby. He didn't really want a repeat performance of the last time the feline tried the bob 'n weave on him since he was held up for a month with a bad knee. "How did Cuervo get here?"
"He must have hitched a ride in one of our cars." Buck reasoned, picking up the cat and affectionately rubbing his head. "The protective type uh?" In turn, the feline licked the face of his holder and Buck made a slight face. "Yeah, I know your happy to see me but it's time to get you home."
Buck slung an arm around JD's shoulder. "Come on JD, I think someone needs to be alone," and the two roommates walked off, Cuervo tucked neatly in Buck's arms.
Chris turned to Ezra who was staring off in the distance. He was leaning against the wall, a thoughtful look on his face. "You did good Ezra. You're uncle would have been proud." Chris said, clasping the younger man's shoulder.
"I wanted to kill him Mr. Larabee," Ezra responded, leaning his head against the brick. He closed his eyes as the memory of wanting to end Coltraine's life. "God, how I wanted to."
Chris nodded thoughtfully and turned a caring gaze at the younger man. "Ezra, I've known you for three years, and there is one thing I know."
Ezra looked up at him waiting for answer. "And what's that Mr. Larabee?"
A slight smile graced his leader's face. "You never break your promises," Chris said in a smooth voice. He then winked at the surprised agent and walked over to local police to coordinate clean-up, leaving Ezra with his thoughts.
It seemed quiet, the haunting dreams, the haunting melodies, no longer tormented his mind and the stillness of the night engulfing him in a comforting embrace. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the warm breeze wash over his body. Ezra brought the glass to his mouth, finishing off the last of the red wine, watching the traffic pass by.
He saw Vin walking down the street, his hands tucked in his jeans and his well worn boots clicking softly on the wet pavement. Ezra raised his glass in greeting. "Mr. Tanner."
"Hey there Ezra, whatcha doin' out here?"
"Contemplating the intricacies of life," Ezra drawled softly.
"Life's too complicated to think about it alone," the Texan answered and tugged on Ezra's jacket. "Come on in pard, we got some celebratin' to do," Vin drawled, putting his arm around Ezra's shoulder. They entered the dimly lit saloon and found their friends at their usual table. As they approached, the Southerner could hear the tell tale arguing of Buck and JD, and Ezra silently thanked God the young agent was not injured from the bust earlier that day.
"I wanna give it!" JD whispered angrily at his roomie.
Buck balked at the notion. "It was my idea!"
"What are you gentlemen arguing about this time?" Ezra questioned. The two agents looked up sheepishly and with a final yank, JD stripped Buck of the wrapped rectangular box.
"This is for you," JD said, holding out the gift to him.
He accepted the gift and turned it over in his hands. "What's this?" Ezra asked, intrigued as to what was underneath the bright red wrapping.
Buck rolled his eyes. "It's called a gift you lunkhead," and then made a waving motion. "Now go, go, open it!"
The Southerner glanced up to see the eager faces of his friends as they patiently awaited his reaction.
Ezra decided to make the torture acute, and with slow deliberate motions, removed the tape first from the end, then the other.
JD looked works here like he was about to burst out of his skin. "Just open it Ezra!"
"Mr. Dunne," Ezra responded somewhat irritably, even though an easy smile graced his handsome features. "I must point out that unwrapping gifts is an art form and must be taken with great care."
"And that's Ezra's way of sayin' he likes torturing us," Nathan added, sipping his beer.
"Touchè Mr. Jackson," Ezra replied, smiling wider.
The Southerner believed that JD had enough torture and finally ripped the last tendril of paper. "What the hell..." he mumbled, his voice trailing off. For the first time in his life, he could not find the words to express his feelings. In his hand was the special edition of the Star Wars Trilogy.
"You like it?" JD asked nervously and his face fell when Ezra did not say anything.
"Uh... yes..." Ezra replied, finally finding his voice. "It's perfect. Thank you JD," Ezra replied, his voice choked with emotion.
The young agent smiled sheepishly. "Don't thank me, we all chipped in," JD amended.
"Then thank you gentlemen, I shall forever cherish it," replied Ezra, his gold tooth shining even in the dim lighting of the saloon.
"Well what are we waitin' for! Let's go watch those movies!" Buck exclaimed and snatched JD's newspaper cap, making a beeline for the door.
"Hey!" JD cried out and chased his roommate through the crowd.
Nathan shook his head as he got up, putting on his jacket. "Better go follow them before they hurt themselves." The sound of their laughter drifted back to the table and Vin smiled.
"Wouldn't be a first," the Texan drawled, draining the last of his beer in one gulp. "Damn, I was hoping to have a couple before we go," he said as he wiped his mouth.
"I have a couple of six-packs of Guinness at home," Ezra said.
"Ya just said the magic words!" Vin exclaimed and headed out the door.
They paid the bill and said goodbye to Inez. Together, they walked out the door and Ezra watched as Buck and JD continued their antics outside. Chris started to tell them to settle down and JD responded by kicking a puddle, sending a shower of water at Chris. Everyone laughed at their leader's expression.
They were a little shocked as Chris began a retaliation of his own. The Southerner stayed back, watching his family interact. In every movement and sound of laughter that echoed down the quiet streets, his family was enjoying themselves. It was a nice thing to have.
'You would have loved them Uncle Mike,' Ezra thought to himself as he watched Buck and JD race for their cars. Chris and Vin were not far behind with what suspiciously looked like spitballs, yelling threats. 'Seven links in an unbreakable chain,' he thought to himself when something hit him in the back.
"Why Mr. Dunne, that was quite rude," and began a retaliation of his own.
After Ezra kicked everyone out of his place when they went through all of three movies, the undercover agent went to the guest bedroom and opened the closet. With some effort, he removed the cardboard box from the closet. For some reason he had always kept it, even though it pained him to just look at some of the contents. It hadn't been touched in years, evident by the layer of the dust on the lid. Ezra carefully opened the box, pushing the tissue paper aside to reveal layers and layers of assorted items. Inside were little mementos of his youth: a deck of cards, old pictures, and a antique pocketwatch. But the item he was searching for was at the very bottom of the box, obscured by the things on top of it.
Ezra pulled out the picture frame and smiled, wiping away the remainder of the dust. It was a picture of him and uncle not long before he died. He walked back into his room and placed the picture frame next his bed, right next to the picture of the seven men when all of them went on the fishing trip. Carefully, he peeled out his suit and folded it neatly. Opening up a drawer, he took out a pair of sweatpants and pulled it over his lithe frame. He burrowed himself under the down comforter, and he quickly fell asleep, welcoming the peaceful dreams.
Minutes ticked away, and the door to his room slowly opened, and the dark-clad figure watched his friend fall into a peaceful slumber. Ezra thought he kicked everyone out, but the man was not to deterred so easily and used a spare key. The moonlight shined through the window, bathing the sleeping form in a soft warm glow. He noticed the new addition next to bed and smiled. Seven angels, watching over the southerner as he slept.
Slowly, Chris Larabee closed the door leaving Ezra alone. Chris locked the front door behind him and headed for his pickup truck. The wind had picked up and pulled his black trenchcoat closer to his body as he walked to his car. His Dodge Ram roared to life and as he pulled out of the curb. Chris silently hoped that one day, he could put his own demons to rest.
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