Memories
(ATF)

by Angela B.

Disclaimer: I don't own them and never will.
Warning: Thanks to NotTasha for beta reading this on short notice and for her wonderful suggestions. Otherwise, it would have read a little funny. It involves a female but think of her more as a cousin than anything else.


While others had gone to lunch he had elected to stay and finish up his report that was due in a couple of days. The undercover agent had just about finished the first part of the report when the phone rang. The news coming from the other end had him taking a deep breath and sorrow filled his chest. By the time the others had come back he had the report half-finished and the proper paperwork filled out requesting a few days off.

The brown-haired man never gave it a second thought as to why his boss hadn't questioned his petition for days off. Didn't really dawn on him that the leader had taken his word that he would finish up the report when he got back. He was just moving through a fog. Whether it was the sadness that the blond had glimpsed in the green eyes or the quiet demur of the normal loquacious friend, whatever the reason Chris had simply signed the request and told him he'd see him when he got back. Ezra merely nodded and left with only a few words to the others. The leader told him not to worry about it.

Driving back to his apartment to pack, Ezra's mind floated back to the time he first met Shelby. It was the first day for both of them at the academy. She blended into the walls with an invisibility that made him wonder in awe. She was short in stature, much like him but, she hadn't let it stop her from achieving her goal. Her greenish- hazel eyes accented her thick long brown hair. The other male students didn't find her anything special to look at, but he had always known there was more to a person than their looks.

It quickly became apparent to everyone that they were equally made for the undercover world. The only difference between them was where Ezra was always serious she was always laughing, if not aloud then through her eyes. She had loved life and chose to find the good in everything, a lot like a certain ladies' man. He came to cherish that look of laughter in her eyes, it made him feel more alive.

He floated through the motions of checking in at the airport and boarding the plane. His thoughts filled with her memory, making the journey feel surreal. They had become quite close during those four years of school, despite both having impenetrable barriers around themselves. The two of them graduated at the top of their class. Even after graduation they kept up the race to see who could top the other. A friendly war of egos, egging the other one to push themselves past their limits to accomplish what others thought impossible. After successfully completing four cases with a leader, each had been given their own assignments while the other graduates were placed with older agents until their training was complete.

The reminiscent man found his way to the hotel and checked into his room as the myriad of memories continued to flow through his mind. They had been partnered up on several occasions. They unwittingly becoming the standard unto which all other cadets were measured against. No matter what had happened on those cases, whether they turned out well or went bust Shelby always could find something about it to laugh about. It was that easy-going carefree personality that he loved being around so much.

The cases they had worked on together had started out easy, but as their reputation grew the cases became more difficult and soul wrenching. They began being "borrowed" by The Agency. Being shipped overseas to conduct business with international criminals of all sorts. Within five years they had seen more than a lot of regular undercover agents ever did in a lifetime. Most of the reports were blacked out and labeled Top Security. No one ever knowing what kind of jobs he had actually performed. At the end of each one she was there for him. Whether she was physically by his side or in his thoughts.

She had called him sometimes after a hard or long case and she was the one person he could in turn call in the middle of the night and talk to. She would quietly listen as he talked, offering a comment here or a comforting word there. She had always been there for him, accepting as he was. Just like Vin the thought popped in out of nowhere. The realization started him. Was that why the longhaired sharpshooter had gotten past his defenses so easily because he was so much like her? Ezra pushed this revelation aside to be pondered later. In the past couple of years, since his move, he had called her less often, not feeling the need to do so as much.

He had gone under with some of the guys from the team but it wasn't the same. He couldn't have explained it to them, but it just wasn't the same. The guys had always played second-string players, bodyguards, assistances, etc. They had never had the whole case sitting on their shoulders. They weren't solely responsible for getting the job done and the case closed. They weren't the ones who had to be constantly thinking, worrying, and refiguring a situation at the drop of a hat. At least that was how he saw it in his mind. No, even if he had thought about calling them it wouldn't be the same as talking to her. Now, though, she was dead and there would be no more phone calls. No more laughter.

He stood at her grave, dressed much like the other few selectively informed undercover agents standing there around the closed casket. Trying to swallow the lump that had taken up permanent residence in his throat, he was grateful no one's gaze could penetrate past the dark sunglasses and see the teary eyes. She would have most likely laughed at the spectacle and made some reference about men in black. JD would have gotten a kick out of it. Both of them having that twisted sense of humor.

The people he stood with today were a family of a different kind. Brothers bonded together by the job they shared. The service was quiet and went unobserved by the rest of the world. In death much like in life they the undercover agents went unnoticed. Unlike police officers and other agents, they led obscure lives, living in the edges of darkness, hidden from the public, their service to their country thought little of or not at all. Invisible people performing invisible functions, keeping the people safe from harms they never knew was there.

Shelby loved this life, loved doing the impossible. Never bothered by the fact that she was never given the recognition she so richly deserved. Very seldom did any of them garner that acknowledgment. Shelby use to tell him the good agents, like them, did this job because this is what their soul was destined to do. She was right, he did this because this was how he lived, without it he couldn't breathe, function, or live. He didn't do it for the promotions, the awards or the cushy entitlements other jobs offered. He did it because he was born to do it.

He joined the other agents at a local bar to toast her memory, her life. Sharing recollections of times when each worked with her or stories they had heard about her along the way. Ezra sat back quietly and wished he was back home sitting in the Saloon with the guys. Shelby would have liked all of them, even Chris. Hard-nosed and all business on the job she was like his boss, the consummate professional not to be messed with.

He drifted back to the hotel wearily. He noticed the red blinking light indicating a message was waiting for him down at the desk. Hesitantly wondering who would know he was here he picked up the phone and retrieved his message. For the second time that week his world was tilted on its axes. Shelby's husband, Greg, had called. He had seen the man at the funeral, given his condolences, but other than that had no contact with the man. Looking up the private number in his notebook he gathered his nerves and shakily dialed the number. Though he had talked to Shelby on the phone at intervals he had only met Greg once before and that had been at their wedding. Shelby had been happier that day than he had ever seen her. She had kept working after they married but had resigned after the birth of their little girl, Peyton. Greg wanted him to come by the house the next day before his flight left.

The tired agent spent another sleepless night tossing and turning, catching only a wink here and there. The next morning he readied himself and drove out to the small three-bedroom house. It was a quaint little family house that reminded Ezra somewhat of the houses portrayed on the typical fifties TV shows, without the white picket fence. It fit Shelby so well, he thought. After so many years of being alone she had finally had a family of her own.

Ezra steadied his nerves once more, wiped his hands on his pants and exited the car. Greg met him at the door. He had clearly been waiting for Ezra to drive up. Moving into the living room the tall man gestured for the slender agent to sit down before handing him a small shoebox size container, packing tape securely holding the flaps down. The mourning man explained haltingly that Shelby had been insistent after they had married and she was still working that Ezra received the box if she ever died. After a few more minutes of pleasantries, the brown-haired agent left, the widower standing in the doorway holding the little girl that so reminded him of the one woman he cherished.

Ezra placed the newly obtained box in his suitcase and left for the airport. The trip to the airport and subsequent plane ride home he spent evaluating their lives and accomplishments, he just couldn't reconcile her death. As agents they had done some pretty dramatic things, gotten out of more than one hairy situation and throughout all the cases Shelby had always bounced back. She had quit to stay at home with her family and now she was dead. She had lived through all those dangerous times only to be killed coming home from the grocery store by a drunk driver on a Tuesday afternoon. It just didn't make any sense. Why bother about being so carefully on the job when it was the outside world that could end your life. Ezra grew introspective the closer to home he got.

Arriving home he found a slew of messages on his answering machine. Four of his brothers each left one message, the rest were from Josiah and Nathan, each one held concern and an invitation to call them if he needed an ear to bend. He could see a slight resemblance between Shelby and the two older agents. All of them had the insatiable need to look after him, take care of him and try to wrap him up in protectiveness. He shook his head as he realized he was seeing a little of his old friend in each of his new ones.

Opening the box with his pocketknife he took out three objects. There was a long thick envelope, a 5x7 picture of the two of them and a medium airmail size envelope. Taking out the larger envelope first, he ran he finger along the sealed flap unsealing the glue. Inside was montage of pictures of their lives together. The pictures had been arranged in chronological order. That was so Shelby, he thought. Organized.

It started with their years in the academy followed by the graduation. Ezra smiled sadly at the memory. The two of them had gone off to celebrate by themselves. Neither having family showing up for the celebration. The next set of pictures had been taken shortly after their first joint bust. That's when the big boys upstairs had sat up and taken notice of their special talents.

The pictures continued to bring back long forgotten memories as he looked at each one. The time they had taken the day off and gone to Stone Mountain for fun. That had been a great day for both, just because they were together. Everyone had always suspected there was an extra-curricular activity going on between them. They had both played up that rumor though nothing could have been farther from the truth. They were simple two people who understood each other and felt comfortable with one another, like cousins.

The last picture he picked up was taken at her wedding. It was the two of them laughing at something, no doubt something Shelby had spouted off. That had been the last time they were together.

Ezra placed all the photos back into the envelope before picking up the smaller white envelope and opening it. He reached for the remote and turned his radio on, the silence had become deafening. Grimacing as a country song came on. A definite telltale sign one of the guys had changed the station the last time they were over.

Inside the envelope was a six-page letter recalling some of their harder cases and the good times they had shared. The last page mostly went on about how happy she had been with her husband and little girl. At the end written in her small script she wrote

   I have learned in the past few years how great a family is.
   Ezra, I know how hard you've had it in the past and how much
    you've been hurt. I implore you, though, to take the special gift
    that has been offered to you in the form of those six men and let
 them into your life. You know deep in your heart it's what you want.
Don't be afraid. It will be alright.
                              Love Forever,
                                         Shelby

As Ezra sat there rereading the letter, Darryl Worley's song 'I Miss My Friend' came on the radio. The song seemed to say what his heart was feeling. After three long days of keeping his emotions in check and the tears at bay he released them both.

I miss those times
I miss those nights
I, even, miss our silly fights. The making up
The morning talks and those late afternoon walks
I miss my friend
The one my heart and soul confided in
The one I felt the safest with
The one who knew just what to say to make me laugh again
Let the light back in
I miss my friend

After a long time he got up and turned off the radio, grabbed his keys and walked out the door. Twenty minutes later he walked into the small smoked filled bar. He walked straight back to the far table and took the empty chair waiting for him. They weren't like Shelby but then again Shelby was by no means like them either. Feeling a gentle hand on his back he acknowledged the quiet greetings. Without hesitating he knew that there was some things he could share with these men and they would understand. Taking out the picture of Shelby and him from his inside coat pocket he handed it to Chris. "Her name was Shelby. She was my friend."

THE END

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