Magnificent Seven – ATF AU
This will be my first M7 only fic. I’ve been reading and writing in The Sentinel fic arena for about 3 years now and finally succumbed to M7 after reading several TS/M7 ATF crossovers. When M7 came out on DVD, I couldn’t resist seeing what the ATF fandom was based on. Although I prefer reading the ATF universe created by MOG, I must say that I’m very glad the short lived series has received as much attention from the world of fanfic as it has. There are so many different M7 AUs out there, it’s simply amazing.
This is the first in what I hope will be a series starting shortly after Ezra joined the team. I can say that it’s part of a series because I’ve already started the second story <G>.
Anyway, hope you enjoy my first attempt in this fandom. I will admit to being an Ezra angst junky <G>.
Disclaimers: I don’t own ‘em, but sure do love to play with ‘em. The Seven belong to CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. I am also borrowing the ATF/AU, created by MOG. What a wonderful adaptation. I strongly encourage those new to the fandom to check out MOG’s groundwork.
I also want to thank my cousin, Cheryl, who agreed to beta this story (and did a wonderful job as usual) as long as I don’t force her into writing in another fandom<G>. No pressure, Cheryl <G>, I promise.
Ezra Standish pulled his black ATF windbreaker on over his bullet proof vest and sighed with disgust as he tugged at the uncomfortable flack jacket for the hundredth time. In the three months since he’d joined Larabee’s team they’d done nothing but routine surveillance that led to busting several small time drug rings, a weapons deal and a shipment of illegal cigars. Standish had spent his free time making contacts in the Denver area and getting to know the layout of the town. But in light of their previous and current activity he was beginning to wonder why Larabee had even wanted an undercover man.
Today’s bust was no different than the others. ATF Teams 4 and 7 had joined forces with the DEA to take down a particularly vile little drug dealer named Plaine and his organization. Ezra and his teammates were basically backup for the other agency.
Chris Larabee strode over to the van where Ezra and the rest of his team were waiting. The warehouse where Plaine and his men manufactured their product was a little over two blocks away. Larabee laid a map on the hood of the van and motioned for the others to pay attention.
“Here’s the plan. We’re to cover this side of the building, apprehend any suspects outside and make our way in through these doors. Team 4 will do the same from this side of the building while the DEA covers the front and far side. We’re on TAC 2.” Larabee looked up from the map and met each of his men’s eyes. “I don’t want any heroics. You see something out of place, use your radio. Any questions?”
Everyone shook their head and Chris nodded. “Okay,” he glanced at his watch, “we go in five.”
Ezra found himself wondering yet again why he was here. Why did they need an undercover agent if they never let him go under? Why hire a seventh man? Six made more sense. Especially when on a bust like this, then you would have three pairs. Each man was covered, no need for a seventh. Standish repressed another sigh.
It wasn’t like he had any where else to go. His previous tenure with the FBI had ended in less than favorable circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, Ezra Standish had never taken a bribe or sold information, but convincing the Feds in Atlanta of that had proved impossible.
Larabee had given Ezra a second chance in his career. Joining the elite ATF team in Denver was Standish’s last chance to redeem his reputation in law enforcement. If he couldn’t make it with Team 7, he’d have to find a job in the private sector.
“Let’s move,” a voice said over their radios. It was the voice of the DEA team’s leader, John Stypes.
Ezra followed his team down the street and started making his way along the scant cover as they approached the warehouse. The lot contained numerous empty shipping containers, a couple of abandoned vehicles and several small single wide mobile homes that might have once been used as offices. Stacks of empty wooden crates leaned haphazardly along the outside of the warehouse and the overgrowth of weeds and small bushes in the cracks and crannies amongst the debris attested to the warehouse’s apparent abandoned status.
The teams made their way quietly across the perimeter of the lot finding cover where they could. Ezra was on the outer edge of the side Team 7 was checking out. He could see several of the DEA men moving toward the warehouse. He frowned when he realized that none of them had stopped to check the trailer positioned off the corner of the warehouse.
Standish quickly identified the positions of each of his teammates. They were continuing along the western wall of the building. Ezra turned and headed back to the trailer. He reached the short end closest to him and was completely surprised when a man with a rifle came around the corner.
They stared at each other for a split second then both flew into action. Ezra was faster by just a hair. He blocked the rifle with his left arm as the man attempted to hit him in the head and used his right hand to hit his assailant in the throat. The man staggered, dropped his rifle and fell to his knees. Ezra hit the man at the base of his neck and knocked him out. He knelt to make sure the man was still breathing, he didn't want to kill anyone, and was relieved to see that the man though unconscious, was still alive. Ezra quickly secured the man with a set of plastic zip ties, dragged him up against the trailer and covered him with one of the pieces of cardboard that littered the ground.
Ezra surveyed the area as he pulled out his radio to report in. Ezra lifted the radio to his mouth then almost dropped it when the object squawked to life.
“Status report,” Stypes requested.
Standish frowned. He was getting a strange echo from his radio.
“Front door secure,” another voice reported.
“Back door secure,” Team 4’s leader chimed in.
Ezra turned to face the trailer behind him and realized the echo was coming from beneath the cardboard he’d placed over his prisoner. He lifted the cardboard and searched the man as first Chris and then a fourth voice responded to Stypes’ request.
He found the radio just as Stypes gave the command to enter the warehouse. Ezra’s eyes widened as he realized what was happening. He spun back toward the warehouse in time to see Chris and the others disappear through the side door. He caught his breath as he saw four other men making their way from the outer edge of the property toward the west side of the warehouse. Toward his team. Ezra shoved both radios into his jacket pocket and sprinted for the next closest cover, an abandoned car.
Standish took a quick peek over the top of the vehicle’s hood and saw only two men slowly making their way toward the warehouse. He sprinted across the lot to catch up to them. The man closest to him never knew what hit him. Ezra wrapped his arm around the man’s neck and took him out with a choke hold. He quickly secured the man and left him, no longer concerned about hiding the bodies.
The second man was less than fifty feet from the door Larabee and the others had entered when Ezra reached him. The man must have heard something for he turned, but was met with a right cross to his jaw. Ezra caught the man as he collapsed and fastened the man’s wrists with yet another zip tie. He moved closer to the warehouse and the empty crates wondering where the other two men were.
He glanced at his watch surprised to see only a few minutes had passed. There had been no further radio transmissions or sounds of gun play from within the building. Maybe the others had managed to subdue their suspects without difficulty. Ezra sighed silently. Somehow he doubted that was the case.
Standish moved cautiously along the wall. He pulled his weapon and thumbed off the safety. He lowered his hand as he reached a breach in the crates. Hoping it was the door he sought, Ezra carefully peeked around the edge of the stack then ducked back. The doorway seemed clear. He took a deep breath then rounded the corner.
The door burst open, knocking Ezra back and causing him to drop his weapon. It clattered across the ground and Ezra found himself facing one of the other men he’d seen earlier. The man sneered and fired his gun point blank. Ezra grunted and staggered back a few steps, never more grateful for his vest than now, even though he’d surely have a deep bruise before the end of the day.
The shooter couldn’t have been more surprised when, instead of falling over dead, the ATF agent actually grabbed his gun hand with both hands and with a quick twist dislocated the gunman’s elbow. The man screamed as Ezra used his leverage to slam the man into the nearby stack of crates. The man moaned as the broken boxes settled around him, but didn’t seem too intent on returning to the fight.
The sound of gun fire from within the building caught Ezra’s attention. He retrieved his gun and headed for the door only to be intercepted by yet another of the drug dealers. This man was obviously trying to leave the building unseen.
“Freeze, ATF,” Ezra demanded leveling his weapon at the suspect.
The man raised his hands slowly but his attention was on his friend who was trying to extricate himself from the pile of crates.
Ezra cursed mentally and began to back away to keep both men in view. The man on the ground kicked a crate into Ezra’s leg. That split second distraction gave the second man time to draw a wicked looking knife and lunge toward the Southerner.
Standish grunted as the knife impacted his vest and skittered across the surface. He was pleasantly surprised not to feel the bite of steel in his side. Evidently the vest was of some use against sharp objects as well as projectiles. Ezra slammed his gun against the man’s head causing the drug dealer to stagger and fall.
With efficiency born of concern for his teammates, Ezra used his ever handy zip ties to secure the two men together, wrist to ankle. He doubted that the man with the dislocated elbow would allow his friend to move far in that position.
Ezra finally entered the warehouse and stopped to ascertain the situation. It wasn’t quiet, but the noise was consistent with law enforcement securing a crime scene. He sighed with relief and winced at the pain in his side. The vest did not prevent all injury from attacks, his bruises would be spectacular he was sure.
The undercover agent holstered his weapon and made his way toward the activity in the center of the building. He saw his teammates huddled together. Buck was kneeling next to JD who sat on the floor cradling one arm with the other.
Standish increased his pace to close the distance but slowed again as the stitch in his side flared. He saw his partners’ look his way and gave a weary grin. Larabee’s gaze nearly froze him on the spot.
“Standish!” Chris growled, crossing the floor to meet the Southerner more than halfway.
Ezra stopped, his eyebrows rose, unsure what had caused the ire in his leader’s eyes. “Yes?”
“Where the hell have you been? JD got shot because you weren’t where you were supposed to be,” Larabee didn’t quite shout as he punctuated his words with sharp pokes that forced Ezra back a step at a time.
“I…” Ezra started.
“Can’t you follow a simple order?” Chris demanded. “You had a radio. Why didn’t you report in?” he continued, shoving until Ezra’s back hit a shipping crate.
Ezra shook his head. He hadn’t heard anyone reporting in, had he? With the distractions of fighting for his life he couldn’t be sure. “I…”
“You almost got JD killed!” Chris snarled catching two fists full of Ezra’s windbreaker and slamming the Southerner into the crate. “Don’t you ever run out on me again,” Larabee spat out softly. “Get your ass back to the office. I want a report ready when I get back from taking your teammate to the hospital.” He shoved Ezra once more and released his hold as he stalked back to the others.
Ezra nodded dizzily. He wasn’t sure why he was having such a hard time catching his breath. His heart seemed to be trying to crawl into his throat. He would never do anything to hurt JD. The youngest agent on the team had, from the start, offered nothing but support and friendship to the displaced undercover man. Ezra couldn’t bear to think that his actions might have harmed the young man.
He stumbled a step or two toward the front exit before regaining his footing.
“Ezra!” Larabee barked.
Ezra spun back, fearing the censure he knew he’d see in his team’s faces, but unable to ignore his leader’s voice.
“You’d better be there,” Chris threatened.
Ezra closed his mouth and swallowed then gave a slight nod before turning and making his exit. He moved through the sea of officers and patrol cars that had come to collect their suspects, unconsciously looking for his car. Ezra stopped suddenly as he realized that they’d all come together in the van. He let his head fall briefly to his chest then scanned the area for some way to return to the Federal building.
DEA Agent Stypes was directing the clean up several yards from where Ezra stood. The Southerner nodded and walked toward him, keeping his right arm tucked tightly against his side.
“Agent Stypes,” Ezra called.
“Standish, right?” Stypes replied.
“Yes. I need to inform you that there are five men that you need to take into custody. I have them secured,” Ezra said, hoping his sudden light-headedness wasn’t noticeable.
“Where?” Stypes asked.
Ezra pointed out their locations. “Could I possibly acquire conveyance back to the Federal Building? My presence is required.”
Stypes blinked then grinned as he deciphered the request. “Sure, catch a ride with one of the squad cars.”
Standish nodded his thanks and found an officer about to leave. He managed to dissuade the man’s attempt at conversation during the trip. The car finally pulled up outside the ATF headquarters and Ezra opened the door. He bit down on a groan of pain as he pulled himself up out of the seat.
“You sure you’re okay?” the officer asked.
“Fine. Thank you for your assistance,” Ezra replied pleasantly then firmly closed the door. He stood on the sidewalk for a moment as another wave of dizziness overcame him. “Must have hit my head or something,” he murmured to himself waiting until the world stopped spinning before going inside and up to the eleventh floor.
He sat down at his desk and started to fill out his report. A quick glance at JD’s desk brought a frown to the handsome face. “I do hope Mr. Dunne is all right,” Ezra whispered worriedly.
Chris Larabee stormed through the lobby of the Federal building, the other members of his team trailing in his wake. He jabbed at the elevator call button and turned to survey the five men behind him.
The doctor had cleaned and sutured JD’s wound, bandaged it and sent him home with antibiotics and painkillers. The bullet had gone straight through the muscle, not hitting any major veins or arteries. JD would be sore for a while and require a bit of physical therapy, but overall he had been lucky.
Unlike some Southern SOB’s Larabee knew. He spun back to the elevator as the doors opened.
John Stypes smiled at the sight of Team 7. “Larabee! Thanks again for the backup. I hate to admit it, but you guys really do deserve your reputation,” he said as he exited the elevator. “Tell Standish I’m putting him in for a commendation.” Stypes shook his head. “I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if he hadn’t discovered those guys.”
Larabee stared at the DEA man. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Stypes’ eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought you knew.” He shrugged. “Standish uncovered a leak and took out five men who would have been in a position to do a lot of damage. They had radios set to TAC 2. They knew exactly where we were and what we were doing. When you see him, ask him if he still has one of those radios. We only found four on the men he subdued. I suspect he confiscated the radio off the first man he ran across.” Stypes tossed a grin at Larabee. “We owe you guys a drink,” he said then walked away.
Chris’ eyes narrowed then flicked over his team. “Come on,” he said as he entered the elevator.
They fidgeted anxiously as the elevator rose. When it reached the eleventh floor, they poured out with one thought in mind. Find Ezra.
Vin stopped and knelt in the hall as the others continued to their office. He fingered a spot on the rug and came up with something wet and red on his fingers. “Damn,” he said, looking up in time to see Chris and the others enter the office. “Chris!” he called as he ran to catch up.
Larabee didn’t stop until he was behind Standish’s desk. The Southerner had his head down resting on his forearms and didn’t seem to have heard them enter. “Standish,” Chris said as he caught the arm of Ezra’s chair.
Ezra sat up realizing that he’d fallen asleep, but not sure why the room seemed to be spinning. He heard someone call his name again, but couldn’t quite put forth the effort to respond.
“Chris,” Vin interrupted.
“Not now, Vin,” Chris said, yanking Ezra’s chair around so that the agent faced him. “Why didn’t you say something at the site?” he demanded of Standish.
Ezra frowned. For some reason there seemed to be a haze in the room that not only affected his sight but also his hearing. Chris’ voice seemed to be much farther away than his boss’s body. “I don’t know…”
“Chris!” Vin said insistently, shoving his bloody fingers into Larabee’s view. “He’s hurt.”
Nathan pushed his way to the front of the group as the others gathered around. “Where are you hurt, Ezra?”
Ezra lifted his face to search for the medic. “Ah’m fine, Mr. Jackson,” he slurred. A frown formed as he realized that the walls were closing in on him. “Or at least, Ah thought Ah was,” Ezra whispered, his accent getting thicker by the second. “Ah do believe Ah’m…”
Chris and Nathan caught Ezra as his eyes rolled back and he fell forward.
“Lay him on the floor,” Nathan commanded. He pushed aside the edges of the windbreaker Ezra still wore and swore at the sight of the bullet lodged in the center of the man’s flack jacket. He ran his hands over the jacket, using his eyes and sense of touch to try and determine the location of the Southerner’s injury. Nate shook his head. “I need to get this vest off him. I can’t find where he’s hurt.”
“I’ll call an ambulance,” JD said grabbing the nearest phone.
“I’ll get the first aid kit,” Buck offered, running for the break room.
Josiah went to Chris’ office to get a blanket while Chris helped Nathan undo the straps on Ezra’s vest. Buck returned and opened the first aid kit. Nathan opened the vest and they all gasped at the amount of red staining Ezra’s shirt.
“Shit,” Nathan cursed. He tore the shirt open and saw the stab wound just below the ribs on Ezra’s right side. He grabbed the first package he touched out of the first aid kit and ripped it open. A stack of gauze pads fell onto Ezra’s chest. Nathan grabbed them and pressed them to the wound. “He’s lost a lot of blood. We need to get him to the hospital now.”
“Damn it!” Chris cursed. “Why didn’t he say he was hurt?”
“You didn’t hardly give him a chance, pard,” Vin drawled matter of factly.
Nathan shrugged. “He may not have realized he was hurt. Just the bruising from the bullet he took to the vest would have been painful enough. Any additional bruises he might have received fighting five men could have fooled him. Especially since the vest kept the blood from sight.” He checked Ezra’s pulse again and shook his head. “He’s getting weaker.”
“Should we wait for the ambulance?” Buck asked concerned.
Nate frowned thoughtfully then nodded. “Yeah, they’ll be able to start an IV and I don’t really want him jostled around. Could cause more internal bleeding.”
Chris nodded. “JD, get downstairs and clear the way for the medics.”
JD nodded and took off for the hallway.
Ezra moaned, his eyes fluttering open.
“Hey, Ezra,” Nathan said relieved. “Don’t try to move.”
Ezra swallowed and looked at the concerned faces peering down at him. “What ‘appened?” he asked softly, unable to project at a normal volume.
“You were stabbed, Ez,” Vin volunteered. “Don’cha remember?”
The Southerner closed his eyes for a second then forced his eyes open again. “I thought he missed.”
Josiah chuckled. “No, brother, I’m afraid not. And then you decided to follow our fearless leader’s directions to the letter. We’re lucky we came back to the office when we did.”
Ezra frowned again. He wanted to sit up, but did not seem to have the strength to even contemplate the action. Even lying on his back the room appeared to be spinning slowly. He took a deep breath and stopped as the pain in his side protested the movement.
“Easy, Ez,” Nathan soothed. “The ambulance is on the way. Just try to relax.”
“Ah really… do not believe… Ah could move if… my life depended on it,” Ezra gasped breathlessly.
“Ezra,” Chris said, pausing until he had the undercover agent’s attention. “I’m sorry for accusing you of running out on us. And for not giving you a chance to explain what happened. It’s no excuse, but I was angry that JD had been injured.” He watched Ezra’s face as he spoke, surprised to see guilt in the green eyes.
“Ah should have… reacted faster,” Ezra replied, the shame of not being able to cover JD bubbling to the surface. “Ah should have found a way,” he looked away from Chris’ stare and searched the other faces. “JD?” he asked suddenly. “Where’s JD?” Ezra demanded as he tried to sit up. “Is he all right?”
“Ezra! Stay down,” Nathan ordered, holding the man down.
“JD’s fine, Ez,” Buck assured him. “He’s downstairs waitin’ for your ambulance.”
Ezra’s eyes locked onto Buck’s. “Truly?” he beseeched.
Buck let a reassuring grin form on his face hoping it hid his surprise at Ezra’s obviously deep concern for the kid. “Yeah, Ez. JD’s truly fine. Won’t even have much of a scar.”
“Good,” Ezra breathed, letting his eyes slide closed.
“Ezra, stay with me,” Nathan urged. Standish’s pulse had skyrocketed with his concern for their youngest teammate and now seemed to be weaker than before.
Out in the hallway JD’s voice and the noise the men had learned to associate with an ambulance gurney had everyone but Nathan moving to clear the way to Ezra.
“Hurry!” Nathan shouted.
The medics moved in and assessed Ezra’s condition while his teammates hovered. They quickly started an IV line and loaded the agent onto the gurney.
Chris and the others followed the ambulance crew, determined to stay with their injured companion.
Nathan watched his friends with some amusement as they waited for word on Ezra. Each man had a different way of dealing with the stress. Chris paced, growling at anyone or anything that got in his way. Nathan suppressed a chuckle as the poor potted plant against the wall got snarled at yet again when Chris dodged a fast moving nurse and almost plowed into the foliage.
Vin seemed to have settled into his sniper mode. He leaned casually against the wall with one booted foot crossed in front of the other. To the untrained eye, he would appear bored and inattentive, yet his eyes constantly flicked to any new movement, cataloging the motion and dismissing the irrelevant.
Buck sat with one ankle resting on his other knee. One or the other of his feet constantly jiggled while the rest of his attention was split between Larabee and JD.
JD had taken a seat on the floor down the hall away from Chris’ manic pacing. A worried frown graced the young agent’s face and his brown eyes kept darting toward the doors at the end of the hall.
Josiah had gotten coffee for everyone about half an hour ago and now sat, unconsciously shredding his empty cup. His lips moved every once in a while in what Nathan was sure were whispered prayers.
Nathan had spent the time going over the bust. Everything had appeared to be going well up until JD got shot. He was ashamed to admit that he hadn’t even noticed Standish was missing until the agent walked in after the action was over. Nathan still wasn’t sure what to make of the Southerner.
Ezra was polite, almost to a fault, but held himself back from the rest of the team. So far he’d resisted all efforts to get him to join after work activities. Jackson couldn’t decide if the man was indifferent to their offers of friendship or just wary of being hurt.
Regardless, the sight of all that blood had left Nathan fearing for the undercover agent’s life. He just hoped Ezra would pull through so he would have another chance to get to know him.
The surgeon entered the waiting area and immediately found himself the center of attention. Not that this was unusual, but he couldn’t recall ever being on the receiving end of so many intense and intimidating stares at one time.
He cleared his throat. “You’re here for Agent Standish?”
“Yes,” the lean blond man answered. “I’m his boss, Chris Larabee.”
“I’m Dr. Booker. Agent Standish sustained a puncture wound right about here,” he said, indicating a spot on himself just below the right side of his ribs. “The weapon penetrated the liver and caused extensive blood loss. The laceration on the liver did require surgical repair. We had to do a blood transfusion to counteract the blood loss, but I don’t foresee any complications, provided the patient allows himself time to heal. Currently, Agent Standish is in recovery. He’ll be moved to a room soon then you’ll be allowed to see him.”
“He’s going to be all right, then?” JD asked.
Dr. Booker tilted his head slightly. “As I said, I don’t expect any obstacles to his full recovery.”
Nathan suppressed a grin. The man talked like Ezra. “Thank you, Doctor. Do you know which room he’ll be in?”
“Check with the nurse’s station,” he replied. “I need to get back to work, gentlemen. Good day,” he said then turned and walked away.
“Nathan?” Chris said.
“Sounds like Ezra will be all right, Chris,” Nathan assured. “The liver can handle a lot of abuse. It’s the blood loss and possibility of infection that will be of more concern than the cut on his liver.”
Josiah stretched his arms above his head causing his back to pop. He sighed as he dropped his arms back to his side. “I’m going to ask the nurse about Ez’s room assignment.”
Chris nodded and looked at JD. Their computer expert still seemed upset. “Nate, why don’t you and JD go round us up something to eat?”
Nathan exchanged a glance with the team leader then followed the hazel gaze to JD. He nodded. “Good idea, Chris. Come on, JD.” He grabbed the younger man by the arm and pulled him gently down the hall.
“But I want to see how Ez is…” they heard JD complain.
“We’ll be back before he even wakes up, JD,” Nathan assured.
Buck and Vin moved in to stand beside Chris as they watched the pair enter the elevator. Buck grinned and shook his head. Josiah rejoined the group and informed them that Standish would be moved to room 415 in about half an hour. So they decided to move upstairs to wait.
The four men relocated to the fourth floor and had just settled in when a nurse came up and entered room 415 with a stack of bed sheets. A few moments later she exited the room and sent a smile at the anxious faces seated across the hall.
“Are you waiting for Mr. Standish?” she asked.
They all nodded.
The nurse pulled something out of her pocket and held it out. “Maybe you can hold onto this for him.”
Chris stood and took the small plastic bag from her. “What’s this?” he asked holding the bag up to peer at the contents. Buck moved closer to get a look as well.
“Oh,” the nurse replied, “It’s the cap for Mr. Standish’s gold tooth.”
“Gold tooth?” Chris and Buck said at the same time as they exchanged a confused glance. Behind them Vin and Josiah shared a similar look.
“Yes,” the nurse continued, unaware of their surprise. “It popped off while we were intubating him. I thought you could keep it safe for him.”
Chris closed his fist gently around the cap and met the nurse’s gaze. “Sure,” he said then cleared his throat. “When will he be moved up here?”
“He should be coming around any time now,” she said cheerfully. “We’ll let you know when you can visit.” The nurse headed down the hall.
“Now why would Ezra have a gold tooth?” Josiah asked rhetorically.
“Seems about as likely as him having a tattoo,” Buck agreed.
“It would be kinda hard to miss,” Vin chimed in. “Not ‘xactly healthy for an undercover agent.”
Chris opened his hand and stared at the bag. Three months and they still didn’t know much about the mysterious Agent Standish. He shook his head and shoved the bag into his pocket. A gold tooth!
The six men took turns sitting with Ezra while they waited for him to wake up. After twelve hours, even the doctor was beginning to worry. At first Nathan and the doctor had assured them that some people just took longer to awaken from the anesthesia, but at this point Ezra should have shown some sign of coming to.
Chris stood back from the bed as the doctor examined his patient. Dr. Booker mumbled to himself as he worked, Chris was only able to pick up parts of what he said. Something about normal pupils and typical something reflex. Larabee chewed anxiously on his lower lip while he waited for the doctor to finish.
Booker straightened and turned to Larabee with a frown. “He seems perfectly fine, except for the fact that he hasn’t regained consciousness. If he had a head injury…” the doctor shrugged. “It may be a reaction to the pain medication. I’m going to decrease the dose and see if there’s a response.”
“How long will that take?” Chris asked sending a concerned look at Standish.
Dr. Booker followed his gaze. “It depends on how long it takes for the drugs to work their way out of his system. I’ve examined his medical records, but there’s no indication he’s ever had trouble with any medication before.”
“Would it be all right for the rest of my men to wait in here?” Chris asked. “It’s not like we’re going to disturb his rest.”
Booker chuckled. “All right. I don’t suppose it will hurt, but keep it down please. We do have other patients.”
Larabee grinned and nodded.
Several hours later
Ezra slowly felt the edge of darkness pull back and voices started to filter through to his consciousness. Lethargy plagued him, both mentally and physically, and he could hardly make the effort to determine the owners of the voices.
Strangely enough they seemed to belong to his co-workers. He heard young Mr. Dunne’s voice followed by Mr. Wilmington’s hearty chuckle. Mr. Tanner’s Texas drawl and Mr. Sanchez’ sonorous tones chimed in. Finally, the sound of Mr. Jackson’s and then Mr. Larabee’s voices seemed to subdue the others for a short time.
Ezra started from the darkness, vaguely realizing that he must have fallen asleep again. He felt less disconnected, but still hardly up to his normal mental capacity. A voice to the left of him came into focus and he tried to open his eyes.
“That’s it Ez,” Buck encouraged. “Time to wake up, pard. You’re missing out on all the cute nurses.”
Ezra blinked trying to clear his vision and finally saw the grinning mustached face of Buck Wilmington hanging over him. “Mr. Wi’min’ton,” Ezra managed to slur out.
Buck’s grin widened and he looked up at the others who gathered around the bed. “Hey, he’s awake,” he informed them happily.
Ezra’s eyes slowly tracked around the room, making note that all of his teammates seemed to be present. “What hap’n’d,” he asked, confused by their presence. “Where am ah?” he drawled slowly. His tongue didn’t want to cooperate with his brain.
“You’re in the hospital,” Nathan replied. “That’s usually where people end up when they’ve been stabbed.”
“Stabbed,” Ezra repeated dully. He really wished he could think more clearly.
“So, Ez,” Buck interrupted, “Why’d you get the gold tooth?”
Ezra sluggishly turned his head toward the ladies man as he ran his tongue over the tooth in question. “…lost a bet…” he said, his eyes closing as his lids lost the fight against gravity.
“Hey, Ez,” Buck continued, “what about…”
“Enough,” Chris admonished. “Wait ‘til he’s conscious enough to give you a fair fight, Buck.”
Chuckles filled the room, sending a shaft of warmth through Ezra’s heart as he faded off to sleep.
“There won’t be nothin’ fair about it once he’s awake, Chris,” Buck complained good-naturedly. “We won’t get anything out of him then.”
“True ‘nough,” Vin supplied. “But a man’s got a right to his privacy, Bucklin.”
Buck grumbled and retook his seat in the chair by Ezra’s bed. The others settled back in as well wondering what stakes would have been big enough to convince Ezra to accept the consequences of a gold tooth.
Ezra opened his eyes. The tiled ceiling spoke volumes about his current location and he suppressed a groan as he tried to recall the events leading to this moment. He remembered the raid and the disastrous confrontation with Larabee. He closed his eyes with a sigh. He’d expected the baggage from Atlanta to follow him, but had held onto a small grain of hope that Larabee and the others were truly willing to give him a chance.
Larabee’s accusations, without giving him an opportunity to explain, shot that hope down and left Ezra wondering what references he could possibly put on his resume.
“Ez? You awake?” a voice said from his right.
Ezra opened his eyes and turned his head. “I believe so, Mr. Tanner,” he answered softly.
Vin smiled. “You were beginning to worry us there, Ezra.”
“I do apologize, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said, coughing slightly at the dryness in his throat.
“Here,” Vin said, lifting a cup of water and helping Ezra raise his head to take a few sips.
Ezra drank gratefully then dropped his head back into the pillow, he felt so weak. “Thank you, Mr. Tanner.”
“It’s Vin,” the sharpshooter insisted. He watched as the Southerner dismissed his words casually. Vin sighed. “The others should be back soon. They couldn’t agree on what to eat so everyone took off for different places. You want to sit up?”
Ezra nodded wondering why they were hanging around in the first place. “There’s really no need for you to wait here. I’m fine, you should go.”
Vin’s eyebrows rose slightly while he pushed the button to elevate the head of the bed and then helped reposition the pillow behind Ezra’s back. “Chris is bringing me back something. We didn’t want to leave you alone.”
“Why ever not?” Ezra asked surprised. “It’s not like I’ve never been alone before.”
Vin shook his head emphatically. “It ain’t right to wake up in the hospital by yourself.”
Ezra stared at the long-haired man. He couldn’t see anything but honest belief in his face. “Thank you… Vin,” Ezra said quietly.
“No problem, Ez,” Vin replied with a smile. “That’s what friends are for.”
This elicited another sharp glance from the undercover agent, but he refrained from commenting. Any further conversation was interrupted by the entrance of the rest of the team.
“Howdy boys,” Buck greeted jovially when he saw Ezra was awake.
“Hey, Ez,” JD said with a smile.
“Glad to see you decided to rejoin the living, son,” Josiah added, patting Ezra on the leg as he passed by the bed to claim the seat to Ezra’s left.
Nathan set down the bag and cup he was carrying and moved to stand beside the bed. “Have you ever had a bad reaction to pain killers before?” he asked with a frown.
“None that I recall, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra replied. “Why, if I may ask?”
“Well, you came out of surgery fine, but that was almost two days ago,” Nathan answered. “It wasn’t until after the doctor changed your pain medication that you started to come around.”
“Two days?” Ezra exclaimed softly. “Dear Lord.”
“Well,” Vin drawled taking a bag from Chris, “you’re back with us now and that’s all that matters.” He pulled a burger out of the bag as he continued. “I was just tellin’ Ez how we all were waiting for him to wake up.”
“Yes,” Ezra replied uncertainly, “well, I’m awake and doing fine now, so there’s no need for you all to interrupt your schedules any further.”
“You chasin’ us out, Ez?” Buck asked taking a pull on his soda as he settled back into his chair. He didn’t appear to be ready to leave any time soon.
“No,” Ezra said, mentally trying to regroup. He was still a little foggy and couldn’t understand why these men insisted on hanging about.
“Good,” Chris said as he made himself comfortable on the foot of Ezra’s bed. “I don’t suppose he can have any of this just yet?” he addressed Nathan, indicating the fast food they’d brought back.
Nathan chuckled and shook his head. “No, not just yet.” He watched the dismay and confusion flit across Ezra’s face, certain that none of those emotions would show if the undercover agent was in complete control of his faculties. Nathan reached over and pushed the nurse’s call button. “We’ll get the doctor to take a look at you and get you something to eat, if you’re hungry,” he finished questioningly.
Ezra nodded slightly then frowned. “Though I do not believe I am hungry enough to eat the garbage the hospital cafeteria calls food,” he exclaimed crossing his arms and settling back further into the pillow. He winced and lowered his arms as the injudicious move pulled at his injury.
“Don’t worry, Ez,” JD assured softly, “We’ll bring you something edible.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Nathan countered as Ezra smiled his thanks at JD. “Hospital food is specifically balanced to make sure you get all the nutrients you need to heal,” Nathan continued.
“Yep,” Vin agreed, “That’s why you avoid it at all costs, right Nate?” he asked with a wry grin.
“I…” Nathan stuttered.
The others laughed then all attention went to the door as the nurse came in.
“I see our patient has decided to wake up,” she said with a smile. “The doctor should be here in a moment. I suggest you take your picnic outside before he arrives.”
Everyone grabbed bags and drinks as they stood and jostled each other to reach the door. Now that they knew their seventh would be all right, their good spirits had returned and with it a need to release the pent up anxious energy.
Ezra watched them leave with a bemused smile on his face. A slight noise to his left caught his attention and he realized that JD hadn’t left with the others.
“I’m sorry, Ez,” JD said meeting Ezra’s gaze for a brief moment before dropping his eyes.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Ezra said, unable to hide the shock in his voice.
“If they hadn’t been so worried about me…” JD shook his head and lifted his face to look Ezra in the eye. “You almost died while I was getting a ‘flesh wound’ tended.”
Ezra read the guilt in the other man’s brown eyes. “JD,” he said softly then waited until he was sure he had his attention. “I didn’t even realize I was injured. Given the circumstances, whether you were injured or not, I dare say I still would have been…” he paused, uncertain how to put things delicately.
“Reamed for something you didn’t do?” JD finished, his eyes flashing with indignation. “Chris knows he was wrong, Ez. Stypes told us what you did. Shoot, you probably kept a lot more of us from being hurt. Why didn’t you say something at the warehouse?”
It was Ezra’s turn to drop his gaze as he searched for an answer to JD’s question. “I’m…”
The door to the room opened admitting a man Ezra could only assume was his doctor.
“Agent Standish,” the man said, “I’m Dr. Booker. I’m glad to see you’ve finally started to shake off the effects of your medication.”
JD stood. “Guess I should wait outside.” He met Ezra’s eyes. “See you in a bit, Ez.”
Ezra nodded watching until the door closed behind JD then he turned his attention to Dr. Booker. “Now, my good doctor, when can I be released?”
Dr. Booker’s jaw dropped open in disbelief.
Early the next morning Ezra lay staring at the ceiling, cursing hospitals and nurses who insisted on waking you at the crack of dawn to see how well you had slept during the night. There was no way he could get back to sleep now. The nurse had opened the window blinds to let in the sunshine and it sounded like a party was going on down the hall. He sighed and closed his eyes, wishing for his own bed.
A light knock on the door got his attention. “You might as well come in,” he drawled sarcastically, turning his head to see who it was.
“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra said, beyond surprised. “What on earth
are you doing here at this ungodly hour in the morning?”
Chris grinned as he stepped in and leaned back against the door to close it. He had a brown paper bag in his hands that he sat carefully on the table by the bed. “I thought I’d bring you a peace offering,” he said pulling a Starbuck’s coffee cup from the bag and handing it to Ezra.
“Is that?” Ezra asked hopefully.
Chris nodded. “Double mocha latte with cream. The server knew exactly what you liked,” he added with a knowing grin.
Ezra sipped cautiously at the hot brew then leaned back with a satisfied smile.
Chris chuckled. “I guess you stop at Starbuck’s pretty regularly.”
“Every morning, without fail,” Ezra admitted without guilt. He took another sip then looked up at his boss. “Thank you. I am fairly certain this is not on my approved food list, but I am forever grateful.”
Chris shook his head smiling at Ezra’s antics. He propped one hip on the edge of the bed and watched as his agent slowly worked on the latte. He knew Ezra was stalling, but had the time to wait, and the advantage that Standish couldn’t get away.
Ezra suppressed a sigh and looked up at Larabee. The man wanted to talk and it appeared he was going to take advantage of Ezra’s invalid state. “I’m listening, Mr. Larabee,” he said softly.
“Good,” Chris huffed. “First of all I want to apologize for not giving you a chance to explain what happened while we were at the warehouse. There’s no excuse for my actions, I just hope you’ll forgive me and… maybe give me a second chance.”
“A second chance…” Ezra repeated, horrified that he still seemed unable to control his reactions. It had to be the pain medication.
“Yeah,” Chris said ruefully. “I’ve probably used up my fair share of ‘second chances.” He snorted. “Buck alone has given me more than I deserve. I guess I’d understand if you can’t.”
“You want me to give you a second chance,” Ezra reiterated.
Larabee nodded, keeping his gaze focused out the window. “I was hoping.” The silence from the bed made Chris turn his attention back to Ezra. The agent had a strange look on his face.
“I was… very glad to receive your invitation to join this team,” Ezra said slowly, searching for the right words. “It was an opportunity I did not believe I would be given. A second chance, if you will, to continue working in my chosen profession.” He paused, licking his lips as he considered what was transpiring here. “I believe it is only fair for me to give you a second chance in return,” he finished with a slight smile.
One corner of Larabee’s mouth rose in relief. He held out his hand and shook Ezra’s. “Thank you, Ezra.”
Ezra grinned in return. “Thank you, Mr. Larabee.”
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