by Angela B.
The next three days were passed in quiet solitude. Dr. Belvin had stopped by once a day in the morning while the ever-loyal Dr. C stopped by in the evening to dispense a small amount of the medications. The doctor had informed the agent that the types of medications he had been on were not the kind that could be cut cold turkey. He would have to slowly reduce the intake or else the repercussions could land the man in the hospital. That threat alone was enough to ensure that Ezra took the pills obligingly. During these visits, the voice always appeared, whispering its desire for revenge upon Chris Larabee and Team Seven.
It was on the third day when the loyal Dr. C stopped by for his evening visit and bought news to Ezra about his old teammates. Coltrane set out the boxes of food he had picked up at the Chinese restaurant on his way to initiating his last step in the destruction of Team Seven. "I heard some news today about your old colleagues," he said impassively, watching Ezra's reaction from the corner of his eye
Ezra tried to hard to appear nonchalant, but wanted to know what the latest was on his colleagues. The desire to rip them apart stilled fueled him daily. "Really? And what's being said these days about the infamous team of men who are no better than canis familiaris "
Coltrane wondered at the irony of those words. Ezra had compared the men to dogs and yet most people who knew Team seven and their loyalty to each other often referred them as a pack of wolves. Turning his attention back to the issues at hand, Coltrane offered the lie, only throwing in tidbits of truth. "I have a friend over at Memorial, who works with your Mr. Jackson's girlfriend," he began before being shut off by Ezra.
He's not 'my Mr. Jackson'," Ezra retorted heatedly.
Coltrane hid his the smile that touched the corners of his mouth and shrugged. "Anyway, Rain, I believer her name is, was telling him that the team has a bust going down tomorrow. Apparently, Mr. Jackson has no problem telling his girlfriend everything that goes on at the office. Including the confidential stuff," the convict said, easily lying.
"So, it's business as usual?" Ezra said more to himself than to the man in the room with him. The tone was sad and heavy.
"It appears that way," Coltrane replied, letting the other man feel in charge of the situation. "Guess Mr. Larabee is going to get away with what he did,scot-free."
The anger and rage built like a storm inside of Ezra, as the memories of all the injustices he had incurred over the past few years with these men gathered and forged together. Hundreds of different scenes smashed and collided, formed and reinforced the structure of Ezra's will to not be beaten down by those men who once called him friend. The tide inside bubbled to an over cascading desire to seek his vengeance, the voice in his head now telling him over and over what he must do. Without a doubt, the only way to save himself was to destroy Team Seven and the only way to do that was to kill Chris Larabee.
Reigning in his feelings, Ezra asked carefully, "So, perchance did Miss Rain tell your good friend where this operation would be taking place?"
"Indeed she did. It's a warehouse." Coltrane rolled his eyes for dramatic effect. "But isn't that always the case?"
Ezra let out a genuine chuckle. It was true; more times than he wished to think about, he had concluded the end of business in one of those hallow buildings.
"I believe he said it would be by the old dog food cannery." Coltrane had to let the smile grow a little as he recognized another referral to dogs had been made. Shrugging indifferently, Dr. C. went to his briefcase and pulled out a 9mm gun. Seeing Ezra's lightened, but confused expression, he explained, "I figured you felt…incomplete being without one. I picked it up off one of the many hoodlums that grace our ER frequently. No trace," he finished, placing the gun on the bed. "I have be out of town for a couple of days. I will see you when I get back," Coltrane said professionally as he snapped his case shut and headed for the door. "Take care," he said softly.
"As you," Ezra replied, showing him out the door. "Thank you for all your help."
Without saying anything, the two men knew they would never see one another again. Only Coltrane knew the real reason why.
Ezra closed the door on his friend and went back to the bed and sat down. He didn't realize that Coltrane had not given him the required pills. Reaching over, he picked up the shiny black piece and rubbed it unconsciously. Slipping the clip out of the end, he checked the cartridges. Smiling, he slipped the clip back in and laid back on the bed, the gun resting on his chest. By tomorrow night, all his problems would be over with.
Vin sat typing up his report on their latest mission. It had been a little over four weeks since Ezra had disappeared. The team had managed to go on. They started taking on their own cases, but the men, themselves, were not the same. The widely known pranks had stopped. Instead of normal riotous behavior, the bullpen was quiet to a point it was wrecking havoc on the secretaries' nerves. Everyone knew without one of their men, the whole team felt unbalanced. The other teams were sure the same thing would be happening if Jackson, Sanchez or even the kid, Dunne, were the one gone. Without all seven, the team just wasn't complete.
The phone on Vin's rang and the sharpshooter answered without bothering to look at it. On the end came the voice of one his snitches, 'Tony'.
"Hello," Vin answered.
"Hey, Vin," Tony replied.
"Hey, T," Vin said. He never said Tony's name out loud, professional courtesy. Of all his snitches, Tony was one the more reliable ones.
"Look, I got news about your missing man. That fancy undercover one that went missing," Tony said quickly. The guy reminded Vin of JD when he was excited, except Tony talked like that all the time.
Vin perked up and the sudden change in mood had all the guys wondering what was going on. "Ezra? You saw him?" Vin asked, trying not to get his hopes up.
"Yeah, man, that's what I called for," the snitch said.
I'm listening," the agent said, watching the others perk up at the possibility of finding their lost brother.
"Well, I seen him other day with Mr. Richards and just awhile ago I saw two of Mr. Richard's goons drive up to that warehouse near the old dog food cannery. Looked like they were dragging a body into it. Could be your boy got made," Tony said in a hurried breath.
Vin tried to calm his racing heart. "Thanks, Tony, I'll check it out," Vin said casually, already standing and reaching for his coat.
"Anytime, man," Tony said and hung up the phone. Turning to the man standing beside him, he waited expectantly to be handed the folded bills that he had been promised. Instead he got a bullet. He crumpled to the ground dead before he could even process what had happened.
Josiah's heart had sped up at the sound of Ezra's name. He, like Vin, tried not to get his hopes up. Seeing Vin reach for his coat, the profiler stood, as did the others, and started pulling on his own jacket. With any luck, they would be bringing that southern pain-in-the-neck home and not let him out of their sight for quite a while.
Buck had stood up and practically raced into Chris' office at the sound of Ezra's name. Pushing the door open without knocking, he excitedly claimed, "We got a line on Ezra."
Chris' head jerked up at the sound of someone crashing through his door. Before he could yell at Buck, the word, 'Ezra', was resounding through his head. Grabbing his coat from the back of his chair, the blond followed his best friend out the door and noticed everyone else was already gathered.
Team Seven was on a mission and nothing was going to get in their way. They split up once they got to the parking garage. Josiah and Nathan getting in with Chris and Vin, while Buck and JD taking the older man's truck. Everyone's hearts were beating like a jet taking off in their chests. They had had several tips before and false leads, but Vin was almost sure this was not either one of those and everyone else was feeding of Vin's vibrations.
Pulling up to vacant warehouse, Chris fell into his leadership role. He motioned for Josiah and Nathan to scout around the back and Buck and JD to take the side entrances. He and Vin gave the men a hundred count, wanting to give Josiah and Nathan plenty of time to exit from the back. Entering cautiously, Chris and Vin kept their weapons out front, constantly scoping for danger in case of a set up. Meeting up with Buck and JD, each showing their disappointment at not finding their comrades, they nearly jumped out of their skins when a southern drawl exclaimed, "Well, Mr. Larabee, today is not your day." The four men whipped around towards the voice and found their friend and brother pointing a gun at them with a deadly look on his face.
Ezra had taken a cab to the old warehouse and sent the driver on his way; never realizing that the warehouse he had been sent to was the same one where he and his team had taken down Coltrane two years earlier. Walking into the large building, he wondered if Dr. C had gotten his information right. He had had the cab driver drive around the blocks a couple of times and never spotted any of the usual tells that an agent would know to look for when other agents were in the area, no matter how well hidden. He thought he had perhaps arrived earlier than the set timetable and finally gotten out and walked into the warehouse. He had been in one of the deserted offices when he heard footsteps out in the open building, the voices ricocheting off the tin walls. Walking quietly out into the main factory, he saw four of his ex-friends gathered at one end of the structure. Slowly he made his way towards them, the pictures of their betrayal that had been dredged up over the past couple of weeks flashing through his mind at a dizzying speed. Gun drawn, he approached the traitors.
"Ezra!" The four men shouted in various stages of emotions.
"Shut up!" he snapped. The men froze in shock.
Giving an ugly snort, the southerner said, "You thought you had gotten rid of me, didn't you. Well, surprise, Mr. Larabee! Looks like this time I'm in control." His normal loquacious, fancy words gone, replaced by cold hard ones.
Chris looked at the other men and realized they were just as confused about this scene as he was. Looking back at the man holding the gun on them, he realized by the look in the hard, cold green eyes that the man that stood before them wasn't the same man he called friend. Putting his hands out to the sides, he knew he had become Ezra's main focus and had to keep it centered on him for the sake of his men's lives. "Ezra, what are you talking about," he asked more calmly than he felt.
"Don't act innocent with me," the undercover agent snarled.
A bone-chilling smile appeared on his face. "When we're in front of a crowd, you have no trouble yelling and humiliating me, but now it's smooth talking and 'let's talk'. Well, time for talking is over," he finished.
"Ezra, don't! " Buck exclaimed, taking the attention off his blond friend. He had seen the look in Ezra's eyes before and it wasn't good. Ezra had murder on his mind and the only way out of this was keeping the man with the gun off-balanced until they could contain him.
Swiveling his head to focus on the big agent, Ezra's expression turned to rage. The gun stayed pointed at the blond. Don't? Don't what, Mr. Wilmington? Don't shoot, like you shot me? Even though it was with drugs instead a bullet." Turning to Chris, he said, "Sending your lackey to carry out your orders didn't work, did it? So then, you had to cover your tracks. Though I have to admit, putting me in a psychiatric hospital was a clever idea on your part," he ended with a mock look of appreciation.
"Ezra, what's wrong with you?" Buck asked. He didn't understand any of this and he was certainly confused at being labeled a murderer. "I have never shot you," he said in disbelief.
Seeing Buck's shocked face, Ezra said, "Don't act surprised with me, Mr. Wilmington. I saw you shoot me and we both know it wasn't the first time you tried killing me. You left me with those beastly carnivores at the zoo. Planned failed, though, didn't it? Had to try again?"
No one interrupted Ezra. They couldn't, even if they wanted to. The scene being played out was too unreal. Like being sucked down the rabbit hole. Everything was upside down and backwards. Surreptitiously, Buck took a step in front of JD. Ezra saw the move and his anger only seemed to grow. "Taking care of little innocent JD, are you, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra asked heatedly.
Turning his attention to the young computer genius, Ezra sneered, "But we both know you're not as innocent and naïve as you pretend, don't we, Mr. Dunne? Had to go along with Chris' plan so I couldn't blow the whistle on you, huh? Going so far as to come to the hospital and look ever so sorrowful while you lied to the doctors and denied my identity."
JD opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by more of Ezra's ranting.
"Just like you!" Ezra shouted, turning his attention suddenly to the longhaired sharpshooter. "Now, who's laughing, Mr. Tanner. Playing all young and concerned," the undercover agent began trembling with hurt. "All those pranks we played as a team. But, we weren't a team, were we? It was just me getting the reprisals while you skipped away scot-free because nobody messes with Larabee's golden boy. Right? That's why it was so easy for you to set up that Jeep explosion? You knew I would get the blame. Or were you hoping I would get killed?" Ezra asked, the pain showing plainly on his face.
"Ezra!" Vin said shocked. Being called Larabee's golden boy didn't hurt half as much as seeing how much Ezra believed the accusations. He wondered just what had happened to his friend in those four weeks.
The four men stood frozen, trying desperately to get a grasp on the situation. Chris wanted this to end well. Killing another agent would have sat hard on him in any circumstance, but having to kill a man that was as close to him as a brother would destroy him and everyone else on the team. Knowing he had to keep Ezra's attention, Chris bit down the urge to run over Ezra and take him down forcibly; there were too many variables were in the way, namely his other friends.
"Ezra," Chris called sharply to get the man's attention. "If I wanted you gone like you think I do, why didn't I do it myself? Do you honestly think I'm the type of man that sends other people to do mywork?"
"You're the type of man that stays alive, Mr. Larabee," Ezra answered truthfully.
The gun began wavering ever so slightly as his vision clouded with moisture. "Why didn't you just tell me to leave? You wouldn't be the first not to want me. I could have dealt with that. I would have bowed out gracefully and quietly. I would have left your team intact and not smeared the good reputation we had built. Why did you have to destroy me? Why did you have them destroy me?" Ezra's voice quivered just enough to be noticed.
"I didn't do this, Ezra. No matter what you think I, or we, did, you have to know that in your heart. You're good at reading people. You would have seen the lie if my hate really existed," Chris said, trying to reach through whatever muddled brains his friend had to reach the inner core, the core that knew the absolute truth.
Ezra's hand shook. It was a trick. Larabee was just trying to save his skin and those of his men. The green eyes closed briefly, different images than the ones he had recently been seeing warped through his mind. He wouldn't listen to any more lies this man told him. Opening his eyes, he pressed his thumb to the grip and squeezed his finger as a force hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground and dazing him.
Ezra looked up to find the largest agent straddling him. The big hands forced his fingers opened to get the gun away. "Noooo!" The southerner screamed. "You're not taking me back there."
Ezra tried to fight back, but looking up into the gray-blue eyes he had once trusted, he realized it was futile. They had won after all. Fear raced up through him as he realized he would never get away now. They would either kill him or send him to another psyche unit for the rest of his life. The reality seeped into his brain with intense clarity. The only way to survive until his death was to stop existing in reality. Ezra withdrew inside of himself. His failure laughed at him all the way into the darkness until he could longer hear the voices or the taunting.
Nathan dodged Josiah and raced to where Chris laid. Buck and Vin had hit their knees and began assessing the damage. Ezra had jerked the gun at the last second and had only shot Chris in the arm. Ripping the sleeve open, Buck's hand shook as he tried to put pressure on the bleeding wound. Chris hissed at the fresh pain. "Sit me up," he ordered.
Without argument, Vin and Buck sat the leader up as Nathan began attending the gunshot wound. Chris leaned heavily on his oldest friend. Looking over to where Josiah straddled the undercover agent, Chris asked quietly, "Josiah?"
The profiler looked down on the man he considered a friend. He realized wherever Ezra's mind was, it wasn't in the present. Turning his sad gray eyes toward his leader, he answered, "Gone." That was the only explanation he had for what Ezra was mentally.
His plan had failed. Coltrane had set up the inside of the warehouse with a live feed cam recorder so he could watch the downfall of the team he had so carefully constructed. Now he was slamming the side of the car door with his fist repeatedly. What had gone wrong? Ezra was raging on about the injustices done to him, just like he should have been doing and was perfect for killing the team leader. Why then had he jerked the gun at the last second? Why hadn't the team killed him for shooting Larabee, or even before Ezra could shoot the leader? That's what he had counted on. It was well-known these men were completely devoted to the man and would seek retribution on those who did one of their own harm, so why not kill Ezra for his attempt to kill the blond leader?
Coltrane slammed his hand against the upholstery once again before ordering his driver to vacate the premises. He would catch his plane tonight as planned and leave the country forever. He had no worries about being connected to any of this. If someone were to halfway listen to the mind mush talk of the agent and do some follow up research, they would learn that Lakeside had no records of the agent ever being admitted to the hospital and they would find no record for a Dr. Comantaryian. He was safe. Let Belvin worry about himself.
News that the missing agent had been found buzzed through the ER long before his arrival. How he became to the state he was in upon his arrival, however, was not known and the information was not forthcoming. The six men were still loyal to the seventh, no matter what had gone down in the warehouse. Chris was whisked into a surgical ER room, followed by JD, Buck and Vin. They would stay with their leader while Nathan and Josiah followed Ezra into another examination room. The undercover agent was still locked away in his own world. Nathan and Josiah backed up against the wall and waited for a physician to appear. Since Ezra had no apparent injury, they would have to wait until a physician became available or, more likely whichever one drew the short stick.
Josiah mentally replayed the entire scene at the warehouse over again in his mind. When he and Nathan had first come upon their lost brother, ranting and waving a gun at the four other family members, they had nearly had a stroke. Watching Chris garner most of Ezra's wrath, the two men had quietly snuck up behind the agent. They waited for the agent to come to his senses or give them some kind of signal that it was all a ploy. The had hoped the undercover agent had found himself mixed up with a case. They knew it was farfetched, but it was better than believing the alternative. When neither occurred and it appeared the Ezra was going to shoot Chris, Josiah had tackled the man before he could get off a second shot.
Nathan interrupted the profiler's thoughts, "Can't believe he cracked. I figured he'd drive one of us crazy before he went."
Josiah heaved a heavy sigh. "Not sure he went willingly," he said.
Nathan whirled around to look at the large man. "What are you saying?" Nathan demanded.
"I'm saying, I think he had help," the profiler explained. Seeing the troubled look on his friend's face, he began explaining all the troubling details he had found with Ezra's ranting. "For starters, he accused Chris of putting him in a psyche ward. Then, he blamed Vin for setting up the Jeep to explode. Chris and Vin, both, had thought it would be funny to leave the table and go outside, and neither knew about Jarvis waiting for them in the car."
Josiah drew in another breath. "Then he claims he saw Buck shoot him. If you're telling me something that happened to you, you don't say, 'I saw it.' You would say something like, 'I was there,' or, 'I know what happened.' " Shrugging his shoulders, Josiah said tiredly, "I don't know. I just have a feeling that Ezra had help falling over the edge."
Josiah went quiet. He knew something was wrong with the picture, knew to the core of his being. Ezra skated on the edge of life, but that's where he liked it, where he lived the best. Ezra wouldn't just fall over that edge, not without help. The profiler shook his head. All they had to do was figure out who did this, what was done and how to reverse the effects. Josiah looked down at his crossed arms. It always seemed to him if something wrong was going to happen to one of them, it was always one of the three youngest members of the team, more Ezra than the others.
Nathan looked at his troubled friend's face and said, "If you believe it, then it's good enough for me."
The curtain was pulled aside, drawing Nathan and Josiah's attention as a young nurse walked in. Nurse Mandlin, being engaged, needed every dollar she could get her hands on. When they had posted a sign-up sheet for nurses to work extra shifts on different floors due to the nursing shortage, she hadn't hesitated. She had been a bit apprehensive though when they placed her in the ER. The only time she spent time here was during her nursing school rotations, but it was where she had been assigned so she had showed up and been prepared to be used as a go-fer.
She had been truly surprised when she had been asked take the blood pressure of the patient in exam one. By then rumors were flying that the man had tried to kill the leader of the infamous Team Seven. Walking towards the room, she had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Every since Mr. Hammond had disappeared from the floor four days ago, she had been worried about the man. She hoped the patient behind the curtain wasn't going to be Mr. Hammond, himself.
Walking into the small exam room, she took note of the two big agents standing off in the corner. She nodded once to them and forced a weak smile. Stepping up to the bed where the patient laid, she sighed. "Oh, Mr. Hammond, what have you done?"
At the familiarity the nurse seemed to have with their friend, both men became more interested. Stepping forward, Josiah asked casually, "You know this man?"
Mandlin nodded sadly. "This is Mr. Hammond. He came to the floor about a month ago, delusional and suicidal. He kept claiming to be a member of your team. Dr. Belvin became his psychiatrist; he really cared a lot about Mr. Hammond. Even persuaded that Mr. Larabee and two of his agents to come up and talk with him," the nurse rattled on as she took the man's vitals. "Dr. Belvin was making wonderful progress with man, devoted a lot of time to him before he escaped four days ago."
Josiah and Nathan had come to full attention by now. The news flowing over them like a tidal wave. Barely glancing at one another, Josiah stepped forward a bit more and prepared to draw more information out of the helpful nurse.
"This Dr. Belvin, is he on staff here?" Josiah asked.
"Well, yes," Mandlin answered confusedly. A sneaking suspicion that something was wrong niggled at her. "In fact, he's on call tonight, so if the ER doctor has called him yet, he should be coming down in a minute. Then he'll have Mr. Hammond readmitted to the psyche floor," she added, suddenly feeling the need to be very helpful to these particular gentlemen.
"Is that so? Well, I'm glad. Be nice to meet the doctor who has been treating Mr. Hammond," Nathan said, his voice a little too sugary for the nurse's taste.
It didn't bode well for Dr. Belvin. Whatever Dr. Belvin had done, she didn't want to get mixed up in any of it. The look on these men's faces told her that would be the biggest mistake of her young life. "In fact, I think I'll go make sure they page Doctor Belvin," Nathan added before stepping outside the room.
Stepping out of the cubicle and walking through the doors to the waiting room, Nathan pulled out his cell phone and hit the hit the speed dial; immediately getting a hold of Buck. "Yeah?" the gregarious man answered, his voice thick with sadness.
"Yeah, Buck. How's Chris doing?" Nathan asked first.
"Too ticked off to do anything but growl at everyone in sight," Buck answered heavily.
"Listen, I need you and Vin to get over to this side, now. We got a big problem and it isn't Ezra," Nathan directed, then sighed. "Well, it is, but it isn't," Nathan shook his already confused mind. "Just get over here."
"Be right there," Buck said, the seriousness catching the other's attention.
Clicking his phone off, he looked over at Chris who was glaring at him for information. "Don't know, Chris. Nathan needs Vin and me over where they're at; now," Buck stated factually, but unable to keep the concern out of his voice.
Chris raised his brow and nodded his consent. The pain medication was finally kicking in and making him extremely tired. Vin and Buck headed for the door, JD watched them leave. JD took Vin's chair that sat closer to the bed where his boss was finally losing his battle against the medicine and falling asleep. JD stared against the far wall and pondered the events leading up to this moment. Ezra had insinuated he was trying to pull some kind of con over on the rest of the guys by acting naive. He wondered if that was really how Ezra saw him, just another liar and betrayer. The young agent closed his eyes and prayed that they, as a team, weren't done just yet. He had had so much faith in them as a whole. There was nothing they couldn't get through if they just stuck together. He knew it. Like Josiah said, "It was destiny they had come together."
Memorial was a large hospital with forty-eight beds in the ER alone. Buck and Vin made the short trip around the corner in a matter of minutes. Meeting up with Nathan out in the hall, the medic gave a brief rundown of everything he and Josiah had learned in the past few minutes before sliding back the curtain and stepping into the small cubicle.
Nurse Mandlin looked up at the newcomers and gasped. Staring at Vin, she shook her head and took another look. The four agents wondered what was wrong. Josiah stepped forward and placed a hand on her elbow. "Are you all right, Ms.?"
"I…I'm sorry. You just look so much like that nice young agent, Mr. Larabee bought up to visit Mr. Hammond," she said, trying to get over the likeness of the two men.
She stopped talking for a moment and then said, "Funny, but I always imagined the leader to be taller and more…" animating with her hands, she grasped for the right words. "I don't know...more fearsome. I don't know. The man just wasn't that scary. Not like I heard he was anyway," looking at Josiah to see if she made sense. He kindly nodded his head.
The nurse looked over at Vin again. "When you… or the one who looked like you came to visit, he," she paused and looked down on Ezra with a smile. "He was so happy to see you. After you left though, Mr. Hammond became quite depressed. He couldn't understand why his friends wouldn't acknowledge him."
Vin felt anger boiling up inside of threatening to explode. Just how far did this culprit, whoever he is, go to destroy Ezra's faith in them? He wanted to shake her and tell this nurse, he wasn't that person. He didn't turn his back on his friends. He wasn't the type of person to hurt the people he cared about. Instead all Vin could do was stand there and take the comparison. The sharpshooter tightened his jaw and formulated a plan of his own for the villain who thought he could get away with messing with his family.
It wasn't long until Dr. Belvin was paged to the ER. Muttering under his breath, he sat up in his leather office chair and made his way down the hall to the elevators. Walking through the ER, he stopped at the circular nurses desk and asked about the patient that he had been called down to do an evaluation on.
"Some nut job. Tried to take on the world and lost," the nurse at the desk explained briefly. She had already been coached on what she was to say by the very sweet but serious ladies' man.
Dr. Belvin rubbed his brow, picked up the chart and headed for the room. Walking into the small area, he walked up to the bed and froze. "What the…What are you doing back here? You're suppose to have killed Larabee and be dead yourself," he whispered angrily. He could feel sweat popping out everywhere and he took deep breaths to retain his breathing. Something had gone very wrong with Coltrane's plan.
His mind whirled as to what to do. Noting with relief that no one, especially agents, was around, he decided he would simply slip back into his previous role and get the man upstairs as quickly as possible. Patting the isolated agent on the arm, the doctor said loud enough for passerby's to hear, "Don't worry, Mr. Hammond, I'll take care of you."
"I bet you, you don't," Josiah said angrily as he and the other big agents walked into the confined space.
Dr. Belvin turned at the sound and gulped hard at finding himself face to face with members of the elite ATF squad. He couldn't think of enough words to get himself out of this mess. He wondered if Coltrane knew about this and had no doubt the man did. He then wondered why the convict hadn't contacted him and warned him. So many thoughts were flying through his muddled brain that he didn't realize he had been handcuffed until Vin was halfway through the Mirandizing. Buck grabbed the physician roughly and turned him to face the other three men.
"You can either help us out or take the fall entirely by yourself, and let me promise you something: interfering with a federal agent's life will not go well for you," Buck growled, the true fury of his hatred could be felt.
Dr. Belvin merely nodded his head, swallowed hard and accepted the terms as he was manhandled out into the hall. He wasn't going down for what Coltrane had done and obviously left him to take the fall for.
Nathan and Vin moved over to Ezra's side. Looking down into the green eyes that stared blankly into space, Vin leaned over, took his friend's hand and whispered, "Not letting you go that easy, pard."
Nathan stood on the other side of the bed, absently patting a limp arm. Never before had he felt so utterly helpless. Reinforcing Vin's words, he added his own sentiment, "Don't know what all happened to you, Ezra, but we aren't quitting that easy. Don't you quit either."
The emergency room staff stood where they were, as they watched in shock and a deep sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs as Buck and Josiah yanked Dr. Belvin down the corridor to where Chris lay resting. The staff was waiting for a room to be assigned to the unhappy blond agent. If the truth was known, the floors where the members of this team usually went were having a fight over who had to take them this time. Surgical touted they had the men the last time, while Orthopedics was screaming they were still trying to recover from the team's last visit to the floor. The ER had seen bad news written all over the two big agents dragging the doctor to the blond's room and encouraged everyone to step up the process. The news only made things worse. It was going to be awhile before Chris Larabee got a room off the Emergency floor.
Chris half-roused when Buck came back into the room. JD took one look at his good friend and knew, whatever Buck had to say, it wasn't going to be good. He looked expectantly at his friend and got a curt nod. JD let out a deep breath, at least Ezra was still okay. Gently, Buck shook his friend's good arm. "Chris, need you to wake up. It's important," Buck said gruffly.
The blond opened his eyes and then closed them. He was just too tired to deal with any more problems tonight, besides the pain medication was in full swing. "Deal with it, Buck," he ordered.
"Someone messed with your boy," Buck stated heatedly, knowing what those words would do to the blond. "Ezra was a victim sent to destroy you, to destroy us," Buck said, the last part stated with more venom.
Chris came awake instantly. Anyone hurting one of his men to get to him was not acceptable. He was a man who belonged in times of old, when a handshake was a man's bond and, if you had a problem with a person, you took the problem to them and didn't pick on an innocent. Chris struggled to find the remote to sit the bed up and struggled to get his faculties up and running.
Buck called Josiah's name and the profiler dragged the doctor into the room by his lapels. Chris' eyes opened wide and looked to Buck for an explanation. The black-haired man introduced the doctor and then Josiah gave the man a good shake by the arm to prompt him in telling everything he knew.
Dr. Belvin spilled everything. He started when Coltrane paid for his schooling, Coltrane's release from prison, and the man's visit to insure he had Belvin's cooperation in the plan. Belvin explained in detail how Coltrane had paid the wannabe actors to portray different members of the team at different times. How they shot Ezra at his home with the sedative and removed him to another location before bringing him to hospital. Belvin told how Ezra had fought against being a patient and believing it was the leader who set it all up. He told how Ezra had almost escaped twice. He named the medications Ezra was given so his mind was more susceptible to indoctrination. The doctor told how Coltrane used the drugs and brainwashing to turn Ezra against Chris and the others and how Ezra finally quit fighting and succumbed to the beliefs that he should kill Chris. Finally, he retold how Coltrane had set up the meeting between Ezra and the team. He even hazarded a guess that Coltrane had witnessed the entire proceedings somehow.
By the end of his spill, Dr. Belvin was having his doubts about leaving the room alive. The looks from his two arresting officers were scary as it was, but the look coming from the blond man ripping the IV out of his arm and stalking towards him made him a death-row convert.
Chris grabbed the man around the throat and pushed him against the wall. None of the other three men moved to stop him. Buck and Josiah were seething at the torment their friend must have gone through. The mental fight he must have put up at the beginning to believe that it wasn't true and then the crushing reality that was real, as the brainwashing and drugs took their toll, that his teammates, his family had turned against him.
"How did Coltrane do all this? He couldn't have done it all by himself. Someone had to have helped him," Chris declared forcibly, tightening his grip a little tighter.
"A lawyer. I think the man was his lawyer," Belvin supplied.
Chris slowly eased off his grip and let Josiah have the man back. It was almost too much too fast. The leader looked at the sniveling weasel with such a hate-filled glare, the doctor was pretty sure he was going to melt right into a puddle. Now he understood about the fractious animosity this team caused amongst hospital staff.
JD had stood in shock listening to the blow-by-blow account of Ezra's so-called treatment. The fact that he, or rather a look-alike had been used against his friend ate at JD. The young agent was crushed. How were they ever going to convince Ezra none of the bad stuff was true? Chris stared hard into the pale eyes of the wimpy doctor before him, restraining the desire to kill him. "You helped destroy a man's life, now you're going to help destroy another's," Chris demanded. Dr. Belvin's agreed without a second thought.
Coltrane stood in his suite, packing. He was still trying to figure out how his plan had failed. Agent Standish had been more than ready to kill his former boss when he left Ezra that final evening. How did it break apart? What factor had kept Standish from steadfastly pulling the trigger and sending the blazing bullet into the fearsome leader's heart? The ringing of his cell phone bought him out of his angry musing. Picking it up, he answered hatefully, "What?"
Dr. Belvin literally jerked back from the voice. Looking at the four men surrounding him, he leaned back into the phone and said, "We got a problem," letting the fear of the situation leak into his voice.
"What's the problem?" Coltrane asked, annoyed.
"That agent, Standish, he's alive and here," Belvin said none too calmly.
"I know. It didn't go as planned," Coltrane said nonchalantly.
Dr. Belvin had to take a short breath. So Coltrane had known the plan had failed. "Well, what am I supposed to do with him? I was on call when they bought him and now he's screaming out my name and yours," Belvin lied convincingly. Having the blond leader next to him helped him put on the act of his life.
"Well, is anyone listening to him?" Coltrane asked cautiously.
"Some of the staff is looking at me weirdly," answered Belvin
"What about the other members of the team?" Coltrane wanted to know what the others were doing.
"Standish attacked the big black-haired one and that side-kick of his went after Agent Standish and tried to kill him, so they've quarantined the members away from Standish," Belvin recited the rehearsed speech.
"What about Standish? Can you get him back to psyche ward without any problems?" Coltrane asked.
"Yeah, I guess. No one seems to be real interested in the man. Seems once the staff found out that he tried to kill Larabee, they all turned against the man," the doctor explained. He tried valiantly not to look up into the men's eyes surrounding him.
"Then take him upstairs and give him something. Make it look like an allergic reaction and kill the man," Coltrane ordered. He wondered if it wasn't going to be necessary to get rid of the doctor too.
"I can't do that!" Belvin exclaimed. His voice rising, alerting the men that Coltrane had offered a solution that was so final that even the doctor found it repulsive and was not willing to carry out.
"Look, I can't use the meds here. You know that. Computers control the medicine lockers nowadays. Can't get into it without putting in my ID. They keep a record of how much medicine was taken during each access; it'll be easy to trace how much I take. You'll have it to bring me like before," Belvin said excitedly. He tried to get his nerves under control. "Besides, I…I can't do …that," he added remorsefully.
Coltrane rubbed his brow; he would definitely have to do something with the spineless doctor. "All right. I'll come up later, around two a.m. Be there to buzz me in and make sure the nurses are elsewhere. I don't need any witnesses," he commanded Belvin.
"Okay, I'll be waiting," Belvin said.
Hanging up the phone, he looked around at the men surrounding him and knew he wasn't done just yet. Josiah pushed the man into an office they had commandeered. Chris went back to bed in the ER, with Buck as a guide. Walking over to the bed, he laid his tired body down. Despite how everyone on the outside saw him, Chris Larabee was still human and right now his body screamed at him for some much required rest. With his eyes closed he quietly asked, "How is he?"
Buck rolled his eyes at this question. "Don't know. I've been with you. Sent JD to check for us. He should be back in a little while, either him or Nathan or Vin. We'll get some answers then," Buck reassured his long time friend.
Rubbing a hand over his face, Chris breathed out a deep sigh. "Good grief, Buck. What a mess," the blond said.
Buck understood all the hidden messages in those simple words. "Yeah, but we'll get through it," he said. "Besides haven't you heard? We're the Magnificent Seven. We're supposed to be able to accomplish the impossible," the jovial man laughed tightly.
Chris chuckled lightly. "You've been hanging around JD too long," he said before falling asleep.
"Maybe that's not such a bad thing," Buck whispered, pulling the covers up on his friend and sat down to keep watch over both his friend and the time. Two o'clock would come soon enough and then they'd get their hands on the scumbag who started all of this.
JD hesitantly walked into the small cubicle. Vin and Nathan flanked Ezra, protecting the vulnerable agent from prying eyes. At the sound of the curtain being moved, Vin stood up in a defensive posture until JD came through the curtain. Relaxing his stance, Vin greeted the man silently and returned to his seat. The young agent moved to the foot of the bed and stared down on the prone patient. "He asleep?" he asked.
"No, not exactly. It's more like he's gone into his own little world," Nathan explained.
"Oh," JD replied, for lack of anything else to say. For the first time since his mother's death, he didn't have the words to describe what he felt or the motivation to try and make things all right. This was not something that was going to be 'fixed' with just a couple of words. "Kind of like being in shock?" he guessed.
"Kind of," Nathan said. It was the best explanation he could give the young agent. The mind was a tricky thing and playing around with it could be devastating, if not irreparable. Considering Ezra's previous and current state, someone had obvious overwhelmed his brain, leaving him raw, hurting and lord only knew how damaged.
Vin looked up at the kid. "So, what's happened since Josiah and Buck dragged that doc out of here?" he asked. He needed to talk about anything besides what was so obviously and pitifully lying in front of him.
"Oh," JD exclaimed, looking relieved at having some news to tell and possible action to take later. "That loser spewed like Old Faithful. Told us everything. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff he said," JD said sadly. "But then again having Chris holding him against the wall was mighty convincing, especially when he's backed up by Buck and Josiah." Taking a breath, he continued, "Anyway, it didn't take Chris two seconds to come up with a plan to get this Coltrane fellow. Again," JD hissed the last word. He couldn't believe the guy got out on a technicality. It made all their hard work seem fruitless. "Anyway, it's going down on the psyche ward at two o'clock. I imagine Chris'll want someone to stay with Ezra." JD finished and waited a bit for all for the information to sink in. He knew he talked fast sometimes, Buck told him often enough. After a bit, he asked, "Ezra going to come back all right, isn't he?" he asked hopefully.
"Don't know, JD. Depends on how deep the brainwashing went. I hope he recovers," Nathan said lowly. "We'll do the best we can to bring him back. We've got to set a lot of things straight with him, if we can," Nathan answered.
"If he'll let us," Vin added softly. Ezra had been untrusting of anyone for so long it was almost second nature. Then when he finally did open up and trust them, let them become family, someone used it against him. Vin didn't know if Ezra had it him to fight for that again, or if he'd even want to.
It was late at night, perhaps early in the morning depending on your view of time. The doctors in the ER had been easily persuaded to move Ezra to Chris' room on Orthopedics. The nurses on orthopedics were not thrilled, but for the first time since meeting this bunch, the team was quiet and subdued, considering the injuries. Usually they were only this restrained when one of them was seriously wounded. The flesh wound and withdraw of the southerner should be garnering more trouble for the staff than they were. The nurses had honed their instincts well enough not to question it, but instead prepared and waited for the storm that was brewing amongst the team to break
Buck had parked himself on the far side of Ezra's bed and appointed himself guard. After moving Ezra into the room, another psychiatrist, one who had been searched and referenced through JD's computer and interrogated by the remaining men, had made a visit to see the catatonic patient. Prescribing some mediation that wouldn't conflict with the known medication Coltrane had been giving Ezra, the undercover agent finally fell into a restful sleep. The faithful man gripped the hand he had been holding for the last several hours tighter as if by willpower alone, he could save his friend from whatever depth of torment he had fallen into. "Come on, Ez, you're going to have to fight for this," he coached his friend. "I got money riding on ya," he said suggestively. Watching his friend a little longer, he squeezed the lax hand again. "That's okay, Ez. If you can't, we'll fight for you. I'm not giving up that easy and, trust me, I've got years of experience at being a real bulldog. I can take whatever you throw at me and I'm still coming after you. I won't let you drown."
Chris Larabee laid in his bed, wishing it were closer to time for more pain medication. Listening to Buck's words, he fought down the lump that arose in his throat. He knew first hand just how much of a bulldog, Buck could be. He also knew the man would take a lot of junk from a friend and never give up trying to save him. Chris mentally promised himself that this time Buck wouldn't be trying to save a friend single-handedly.
At one-thirty, Chris led the psychiatrists and his men, save Ezra and Nathan, up to the psyche floor. The nurses were given specific instructions to evacuate their posts and find an empty room to adjourn to. Dr. Belvin opened an empty cell room for them. Entering the room, the men looked around at the padded cell with only a half-bed occupying it. Vin felt the claustophbia, that he battled when he found himself in closed of spaces, closing in on him and wondered how Ezra had dealt with it. Chris motioned for the others to take their places and slipped into the bed, staring around at the small room. Hearing the door click into it's locked position, the blond momentarily froze and then thought of how Ezra must have flet to hear that same omnimous noise; knowing that no one was just outside to back him up. Blevin was escorted back to the front of the lobby to await Coltrane's arrival was warned to play it straight, like they had rehearsed before Josiah, JD and Vin disappeared. Buck had taken up his spot on the far side of the nurses' station, which was as close to Chris as he could get and still be hidden. Chris slipped into the bed and turned his back to the door, knowing full well he would be covered by his team.
Coltrane was still griping to himself about having to clean up this unforeseen mess when he arrived at the side entrance of the hospital, the same one he had bought Ezra out of a few days before. Opening the door, he cautiously made his way up to the necessary floor unseen. At two o'clock in the morning, hospitals were virtually ghost towns when it came to hallways and elevators. He could have hired this done, but tearing the team apart had become personal and he needed relief to his disappointment of failure. Stepping off the carriage, he arrived at the steel door and knocked lightly. The door immediately opened and a very nervous Belvin met Coltrane. Coltrane took the man's excitability as a reaction to what they were about to do.
Belvin led the way to the looked room. Unlocking the door, he led Coltrane into the room. Coltrane didn't want to chance turning on any lights and alerting the staff of a possible problem, so he motioned Belvin to stand in the doorway and hold the door open, thereby letting the well-lighted lobby to shine in. Walking to the other side of the bed, all Coltrane could see was the top of the head of his problem. Talking quietly as he plunged the syringe into the small vial he had pulled from his pocket, he said, "In a few minutes, both of our troubles will be all over."
Removing the syringe, he pushed it into the IVP that was merely taped onto Chris' arm to appear as if it was inserted. As Coltrane pushed the medicine into the line, the room became flooded with light, temporarily blinding the shocked gundealer. Before Coltrane could move, Chris shoved himself upright, his other arm shooting out from under the blanket and grabbed Coltrane's wrists. Bringing the man down to his face, with his other hand, his fist wrapped tightly around the man's throat, Chris' snarled, "You're wrong. Not only do you still have your old problems, you have a whole lot of new ones coming on."
Josiah and Buck had Coltrane bent over the bed now vacated by the blond leader and arrested the insidious man. JD kept a tight hold of Belvin while Vin walked over to where Chris was leaning against the wall looking a mite shaky from his sudden movements. "Ready to get back to bed, old man?" he asked with an easy smile.
"Shut up before I put you on street duty, wise guy," Chris shot back, but let Vin lead him back to his room nonetheless and fell asleep immediately.
Coltrane had sat in the little interrogation room looking quite bored, or at least attempting to. Thoughts of murdering a certain doctor that he had helped put through medical school streamed through his mind. How could the man turn so traitorous? Coltrane laughed mirthlessly to himself. "Easy, he had gotten caught by those men out there," he thought to himself. He wouldn't admit it, but those three men scared him, too.
Coltrane tried to convince himself that they only had him on attempting to administer drugs without a medical license. They couldn't prove he knew that Chris Larabee was in that bed or that he was trying to kill Standish. They certainly couldn't prove he had set up such an elaborate scheme. Belvin must have blabbed everything, Coltrane thought, remembering how the arresting agents had accused him of brainwashing that southern agent; they had even mentioned the look-alikes.
Sitting alone, he began planning his defense. A sharp rap on the door alerted him before Josiah and Vin walked in. "Time to go," Josiah said gruffly, yanking the handcuffs out and snapping them onto Coltrane's wrists.
"What? No questions? No bad cop, good cop?" Coltrane taunted as he was shoved out the door. There he met the reason he wasn't being questioned.
Coming out of another room, led by other agents was his lawyer and go-between. From the look of the man, he had been grabbed straight out of bed. The daggers he shot at Coltrane spoke volumes. He had done a lot for Coltrane, but getting life in prison for messing with a federal agent wasn't going to be done. The man had told everything, the gundealer guessed. Coltrane's shoulders slumped. There would no mistrial this time he was willing to wager and even if there was, he had no doubt his every move was going to monitored for the rest of his life. If he ever stepped outside of those prison walls again, six men would be waiting and from the looks he was receiving from them, he had no doubt they wouldn't waste time messing with his mind, but kill him short and quick.
Six men watched anxiously as their seventh finally began showing signs of coming around. It had been almost forty-eight hours since he had been first admitted to the hospital, thirty-two hours since they had arrested Coltrane and Belvin. Josiah, JD and Vin had taken care of the processing and interrogation. Buck and Nathan had stayed to watch over the two men in the hospital, though to be realistic, Chris really didn't need a guard: he wasn't going anywhere without all of his men.
Chris had been released from hospital care the evening before, but stayed anyway. He could continue to rest just fine at the hospital, better than he could have at home worrying about Ezra. For the most part, the staff, upon learning of the whole sordid affair, had no objections and even those that did were smart enough to keep it to themselves.
Ezra didn't want to move, he didn't want to wake up. He felt safe asleep. Some inner voice warned him about waking up, but he had gotten to the point were sleep no longer came. Warily, he lifted his left eyelid ever so little. Nothing harmful came into view. He listened intently, but no distinguishing noise alerted him to any danger. Slowly, he lifted his eyes and opened them all the way and just a quickly slammed them shut. It couldn't be.
He was sure he saw all six men sitting or standing on the other side of the room. He hadn't escaped. He had been so sure that those men would have either killed him or sent him on his merry way, back to the nut ward. Opening his eyes again, carefully, he stared across the room. Sure enough, all six men were there and accounted for, even the blond leader whom he had tried to kill. A sudden thought flashed across his mind, "You failed that one simple job." Just as quickly a softer thought appeared, "Thank goodness."
The latter thought troubled him. Why would he be grateful he hadn't killed the man responsible for so much of his grief? He realized he had been staring at the six and they had yet to speak. Ezra scrutinized them closer. Looking for telltale signs of what they were thinking. He was surprised to realize not one of them looked angry or revengeful. Why? he wondered. The looks more closely resembled sorrow, remorsefulness, even scared.
Chris spoke first, softly, "Hey, Ezra."
Ezra turned and stared at the man. He had used a soft, cautious voice, as if afraid of startling me, not the angry, threatening sneer he was expecting. What was wrong with this picture? They should be gloating, hateful, angry, not this. Not this at all. Ezra was confused. He decided it was just another ploy, a tactic to get him to let his guard down. Well, he was better trained than that. He knew what these men were really like now and he was on his guard.
The six men on the other side of the room watched as the confused and fearful expression was covered up by a blank yet cautious look. Josiah had warned them that none of them had an even footing with Ezra this time around, unlike when Ezra had first arrived to join Team Seven. Back then, he didn't know them, held no personal idea of what to expect from each man, just held them all at, arm's-length. Between Buck and Vin though, he two had snuck under those shields and formed a friendship that soon let the others in. Now, Ezra believed they were all against him. No one had any better shot at getting close to the undercover agent than the other. Josiah had also warned them, Ezra would probably not take it too well to waking up and finding himself surrounded by the men he believed were out to kill him, so when it first appeared he was waking up, they had all moved to sit or stand next to Chris' bed.
They had held their words, waited for Ezra to get his bearing, waited until he realized they meant him no harm. Slow and steady was the only way to win this war, the only way to gather back what was nearly lost to them. The six men had watched as Ezra's eyed had widened in fear of them and then slotted closed in suspicion. Then the closed off face slid into place; Ezra was ready for whatever game they chose to play. It saddened them to think he wouldn't remember they didn't play those types of mind games, that they were straightforward men. But too much had been taken away and added to Ezra's mind for him to completely remember that, so they would take it slow and play no games.
"Gentlemen," Ezra said at last, his voice as devoid of feeling as they had ever heard it. It was worse than his sarcastic voice. At least that they knew how to deal with that side of Ezra.
"How are you feeling, pard?" Buck asked cautiously. The idea that Ezra thought he had shot him burned in the gregarious agent's stomach. He had wanted to choke the southerner on more than one occasion, but never actually kill him.
Ezra watched Buck with caution. What was it about the big agent now that seemed so different from the one that shot him that fateful night in his apartment? The true concern in the man's voice stunned him. None of this was making any sense. He had to realize in the past, however long he'd been gone, that these men didn't care about him and now here they were in his room acting like he mattered. Ezra ran a hand through his hair; he was getting a headache and, from the beginning of the throbbing, it was going to be a whopper. He would not let these men see any weakness on his part. He would match them stare for stare.
"I'm fine, thank you," Ezra replied and then had to question his own sanity for being so polite to the man that had tried to kill him.
The six men could see Ezra pale some and the pain lines appear around the man's eyes, a sure sign of a migraine coming on. Josiah knew they couldn't push it any further. Pushing himself off the wall, where he had tried to pose and look relaxed and non-threatening, he said, "Come on guys, let's let Ezra rest and go grab some breakfast."
Although they had already had breakfast, the others, except Vin and Chris, took the hint and followed the profiler's lead and prepared to leave. JD gave Ezra what could only be described as a longing look and asked quietly, "Want us to pick you up something, Ez?"
This simple question really startled the agent. He took a breath before shaking his head. The men left quietly. Ezra watched as Chris lay back on his bed and Vin picked up a magazine. Feeling very tired, Ezra let his eyes slide shut. He should be wary, on guard of these two remaining men, but didn't. He tried to tell himself it was because he didn't care what they did to him while he was asleep, but he knew that was lie. He would figure it out when he woke up the next time.
The next time Ezra woke it was early afternoon. His headache had subsided. Once again, he found himself facing off with the six men and found it a bit nerve-wracking. Wasn't it always like this? Him against them and though it felt like every other time, there had been a face-off this time it felt decidedly different. Not so much antagonistically. Ezra watched them warily and they simply seemed to be resigned to wait him out. As the agent watched the youngest shift and twitch, an amused thought crossed Ezra's mind. Standing that still and that quiet for so long, the kid must be ready to explode. A small smile leaked out onto Ezra's face at the thought. He quickly quashed it and regained control over his thinking. What did they want from him? Why weren't they simply getting rid of him in some manner and be done with it? The fact he was nuts had already been well established, he figured. All they had to do was point to the fact that he had shot his boss and it was a guarantee he'd be placed in a mental facility …or a prison …no questions asked.
Nathan shifted his position and Ezra came back to alert. Jumping off the other side of the bed, images and flashes zipped through his mind at high speed. "Stay away," he ordered.
Nathan froze. The fear of him showed plainly on Ezra's face. Nathan had hoped that maybe when he awoke his time around things would be different; he'd be back to the same old Ezra they loved and became irritated with. Nathan slowly backed up and tried to look as innocent as he could. He wasn't any good at this role-playing. Like Chris, he played it straight, shot from the hip. From the looks of things, Josiah was right. This could take a long time.
Ezra was standing on the other side of his bed. Fear and panic racing for the dominance. Shaking a finger at Nathan, Dr. Coltrane's words came flying to mind. "You're not as goody-two shoed as you want us to think. I finally learned how half our busts wind up going south. You tell Rain." Nodding his head to some inner voice that was telling him he was right, Ezra continued, "You tell her everything and she tells people at work. That's how things go wrong." Ezra continued to nod at that inner voice. "You call me unethical, unmoral and you're the one telling all our plans. What? You get a kick back from the hospital or someone else?" he asked snidely.
Ezra was no longer paying attention to what he was saying or he would have realized his words made no sense. Nathan was standing slacked-jawed at the accusation. What had Coltrane convinced Ezra about him? "I…I never," Nathan started, the accusation was ridiculous
"Don't tell me you never. How did you think I found out where that busts was going down, yesterday? Dr. C. heard it through the grapevine and told me. You tell her everything," Ezra stated firmly in his beliefs.
Six sighs escaped from the other side of the room. Chris rubbed his forehead before looking at Josiah for suggestions. How were they going to tell Ezra that his 'Dr. C.' was none other than Axle Coltrane? The same Coltrane that they put away two years ago for gundealing? Josiah caught Chris' stare and heaved his shoulders in a heavy sigh. This was going to get messy before it was over.
Fighting the urge to stand up and walk over to his mentally battered friend, Josiah stayed where he was and began talking. "Ezra," Josiah started, pausing until Ezra was looking at him. "Your Dr. C. wasn't really a doctor," he began.
Ezra snorted and then caught himself. He found himself doing a lot of things that just wasn't him lately and wondered at that briefly before turning his attention back to the profiler. "Sure, Josiah and the psyche floor you hauled me back to didn't really exist," Ezra said heatedly. He couldn't fathom why he was arguing with this man; it wouldn't do any good, but it felt…right.
Taking another deep breath, Josiah tried again, " Ezra, I want you to think back a couple of years. We busted a gundealer by the name of Coltrane. Remember?" Josiah prompted.
Ezra thought about it. The image was hazy, but the name sounded familiar. Slowly, he nodded.
Josiah continued, "He got out about four months ago on a technicality."
Ezra eyes slightly widened and then wondered what that had to do with anything. Josiah watched the man try to figure out the puzzle and fail. "He set this all up, Ezra. The men who looked like us, the stay on the psyche ward, everything," he finished quietly, trying and failing to bury his anger.
Ezra looked at Josiah like he had grown two heads. "You really expect me to believe that? Ha. I'm not that crazy," Ezra said and then had to question himself. Just how nuts was he? He was standing in a hospital room talking to the men who supposedly hated him so much they tried to get rid of him like it was an everyday conversation.
The others watched Ezra and could actually see when Ezra began doubting his own sanity. Josiah had doubted that Ezra would take his word so easily and hated what he was about to do. Taking the tape laying on the nightstand by Chris' bed stand, the psychologist debated whether to do this now or later. Looking at his friend's shaky composure, he decided it would be best to do it later-when they had him secured away from prying eyes and tattling tongues. "Okay, Ez," Josiah said. "Just think about it. I know you have stored somewhere in that brain."
Chris was tired of this. It was frustrating waiting, debating. He was ready to get out of here and start rebuilding whatever Dr. Belvin and Coltrane had destroyed. Getting off the bed, he saw Ezra back up and chose to ignore it. Going to the closet, he grabbed Ezra's duffle bag out of the closet that Buck and JD had gone and got, and threw it onto the other bed. "Let's get out of here," he simply said.
Ezra looked at the bag like it contained chemicals of death and gingerly opened it. He figured if the guys weren't afraid to be in the room when it was opened it couldn't be too bad. Looking inside, he realized it contained a change of clothes and several personal items. He took the bag and hedged his way to the bathroom. Six men let out a breath and waited for Ezra to reappear.
Ezra stared in the mirror. Why was he doing exactly as Larabee ordered him too? Ezra couldn't fathom what he was doing. It was as if his mind was telling him to beware and his body had its own agenda. Whatever the reason he was standing in the bathroom getting dressed, it felt good to have his own clothes on again.
Going back into the room, he noticed several of the others had opened the door and was standing out in the hall. Looking at the door, he heard Chris say, "Come on, Ez, let's go home." Scenes came back: going through the door meant going to those sessions; it meant injected medications that made his mind foggy and disoriented; it meant the voice came back whispering in his head, filling him with fear and hate. He didn't want to go through that door. He didn't want the voice to come back. He was afraid of that voice.
"No. No. No," Ezra repeated, shaking his head vehemently, as he backed himself into a corner and slid down the wall. "No more. I can't do that anymore. No more shots. The voice….No," he pleaded as he began rocking back and forth. He wanted out, but knew it was a trick. He would never get out of here; those six men and the voice would never allow it.
Chris had watched as Ezra's appearance had changed from baffled to fear. He watched in anger as Ezra backed himself into a wall and slid to the floor. The mutterings were not very loud, but to Chris they seemed to be screamed. He turned to Nathan and watched as the agent went to find a doctor. Ezra never noticed the men gathering around him in a protective half circle or that fact that it was Nathan, not the doctor in the white coat that seemed to generate even more fear in the mumbling agent, that approached him cautiously and stuck the needle painlessly into his arm. Ezra never realized when the mutterings stopped and he slid boneless into Vin's waiting arms to be cradled and held protectively.
Ezra had been gathered up and taken to the waiting suburban. Vin had yet to release his hold on the man. Once they arrived at the ranch, the undercover agent was placed in his room and covered up with comforting blankets. Buck and Josiah and a can of WD-40 took the door off its hinges, quietly. Chris had even given thought to having all the outside doors removed. He wanted to remove the notion in Ezra's mind that he was trapped. He decided against removing them, but had them propped open, leaving the screen doors in place.
That night, Chris slipped into the room and gave Nathan a silent nod to take a break. The paramedic/agent fought down the urge to reprimand Chris and send him back to his room to rest. It wouldn't do any good and Nathan would eventually regret the action. These men were the most obstinate beings he'd ever met when it came to taking care of business before taking care of themselves. Putting out the small book, he laid the book aside and left the room, giving Chris' good arm a slight slap of brotherhood.
Chris moved further into the room and sat down in the vacated chair. Chris leaned foreword and rested his elbows, albeit lightly, on his knees. He studied the sleeping man hunkered down under the coverings. In that state, at that moment, Ezra looked so young and relaxed.
How could anyone do this to Ezra, to them? Chris would be the first to admit that he wasn't as close to Ezra as he was to Buck, or even Josiah, but Ezra was still family, still a brother, an aggravating brother, but a brother nonetheless. Chris' hand moved of its own volition and snaked out to comb the brown hair that had fallen down into the man's face. Ezra stirred at the touch and Chris froze. He waited until Ezra settled down before resuming stroking the hair, the rhythmic motion giving an outlet to his nervousness and anxiety. He…they would get Ezra back. They weren't complete without him. Chris began to fully understand what each of his men truly meant to him. He would fight to keep what he gained through this oddball collection of personalities.
The next morning found five of the men sitting around the kitchen table. They knew it wasn't going to be easy to convince Ezra of what was real. JD walked out of the small room off the kitchen. "He's waking," JD informed them worriedly
Chris looked at his men. "Show time." Ezra wouldn't stay willingly, not if he thought his life was still in danger. "Buck. Vin. Guess you two best go saddle up some horses. Reckon he's not going to be very happy to be here."
A couple of minutes dragged by before a groggy, fearful and angry Ezra stepped out of his room. Buck and Vin were waiting in the barn. Most people would have made a beeline for the main road...not their Ezra. Why do what everyone else would do when you could lead people off the expected path? Then, when they are confused and trying to gain ground, that's when you make your play and go for broke. Yep, they knew how their brother's mind worked, misdirection was the key to a successful escape.
Ezra walked into the kitchen. Coming through the doorway had been slightly scary, but without the actual door being there, it made it easier. The southerner had briefly pondered the missing door as he had dressed. Now staring at remaining four men at the table, he asked, "Why'd you bring me here. Easier to kill me?" The simple language returning.
Chris bit back his anger and gripped his coffee cup tighter. "There isn't any one here going to kill ya, Ez. Just want a help you," he spoke honestly.
"I've had a taste of your kind of help and I can honestly say I didn't enjoy it. I don't need any more of your help, Mr. Larabee. I hate you. Do you understand that, Mr. Larabee? Is that simple enough for your simple mind? I hate you and I'll be gut shot before I let any of you hurt me anymore." He believed that it was quite possible how this could all end. He would be taken out and killed and Chris and the boys would come up with a qualified answer-- suicide, no doubt or self-defense. Ezra closed his eyes for a moment and an image of him on the warehouse bleeding with Larabee holding his head in his lap popped up.
Snapping his eyes back open, he searched for the quickest escape. Though his legs felt rubbery, fear forced him out of kitchen door. He glanced over the vehicles, but knew the vehicles would have been tampered with, he turned and headed to back of house to the cover of trees.
"There he goes," Buck said as he gave his horse a kick and started at a leisurely pace behind the running agent.
"Yep," Vin answered, following Buck.
JD had sat motionless throughout Ezra tirade. He knew it was going to be like this. The others had warned him. They had talked about it, but he had held out hope that when Ez came to this morning that it would all be over. Ez would remember what had been stripped away. The anger washed over the young man again as he watched his friend race out of the house in fear of them. How dare anyone use me against my friend, JD thought remembering Ezra's raving about the false Agent Dunne that had visited him. JD stood to follow the rest out of the house and go track Ezra down. He was beginning to appreciate a fine taste for torture himself. Especially for a certain criminal already behind bars.
Ezra didn't know where he was, nor did he know where he was going. He just had to run as the voice kept telling him. Run, because Chris Larabee didn't care about him. Scrabbling up a small hill, he ran through the shrubs and right into Buck and Vin. The horsemen remained motionless. They had come wide of Ezra and the two almost collided. Ezra slid to stop, his head now throbbed in intense pain. Flashes of pictures and screaming voices filled his head, but it wasn't the same pictures or the same voice that he'd been hearing for the last several weeks. They were different and though scary, they weren't the same kind of scary as the recent ones. Ezra sunk to knees. He was pretty sure his head is going to explode with everything going on inside of it.
Buck and Vin slowly dismounted and looped their reins over the sagebrush limb. Walking in slowly, Buck coaxed softly, "Ez, take it easy. No one here is going to hurt you. Promise."
Chris and the rest finally caught up with the runner and slowed their pace as they loosely surrounded the southerner. Chris ignored the burning pain surging through is arm from the run.
Nathan watched the brown-headed agent rock slowly back and forth, his head gripped between his hands. "Ez, I know your head is killing you. Let me give you something for the pain."
"NO!" Ezra yelled and immediately regretted the noise.
Nathan inched closer. "Come on, Ez, I promise you'll feel a lot better," the medic promised.
"No, it wont. I will not let you impair my judgement like before. You just want to make it easier to get rid of me and make it look like an accident," Ezra panted out.
Nathan buried his wounded feelings. "No, Ez, I promise. When have I ever lied to you?"
Ezra stopped to ponder that for a split second, Nathan had done a lot of things, but he couldn't ever recall Nathan ever lying to him. In fact, when he was escaping the hospital, even then Nathan had been brutally honest. Josiah came up from the side, one step at a time until he was within arms length and whispered. "It's okay, Ez. Trust Nate."
Ezra turned on the older man. "Stop telling me what to do! I'm not some insolent, stupid little child, you have to keep reprimanding. Leave me alone."
Staggering to his feet, Ezra stumbled a few steps before collapsing to his knees, the raging voices in his head escalating. Old familiar voices fought to be heard over the newer and frightening voice. Buck reached out and grabbed the helpless man and pulled him halfway into his lap. Rocking slightly as Ezra, weakly fighting against the arms, kept his grip on his head, Buck whispered, "It's okay, Ez. It's all going to be okay," The muscular man didn't bother to wipe away the tears rolling down his cheeks. His heart hurt for his friend.
Nathan stepped forward and quickly injected the anti-depressant medication into the tensed arm and rubbed the injection site in a futile attempt to make it all right.
Ezra kept up his weak fighting until needle went in. Then he knew it was hopeless and quietly gave up the fight, expecting the disconnecting feeling he had experienced with each injection he'd received in the last month, he stilled and laid limply in Buck's arms, the soft assurances slowly seeped into his mind. Ezra waited and soon realized that the images had stopped coming and instead of the disorientation, the headache was disappearing. He had kept his faculties this time. He was very aware of where he was and what was happening. Slowly he rose into a sitting position with Buck's help. The bigger man loosening, but not removing his grip.
"Ready to go back to the house, pard?" Buck asked quietly.
Ezra slumped ever so slightly. He didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Nodding his head, he answered, "I presume that would be the only alternative choice to sitting here in the dirt."
Six large grins busted out on happy faces. That was the Ezra they knew. Chris rose to feet and grabbed Buck's horse's reins. Seeing the puzzled look on his friend's face, Chris said, 'I'm not walking back and I'm sure not going to ride that ornery mount," he stated, tossing a heated glare at Peso.
JD laughed out loud as Vin helped Buck get Ezra to his feet and loaded onto Peso. The horse seemed to understand that it was necessary to stand perfectly still. He could sense not all was right with the brown-haired man who occasionally gave him those round, white sweets that made his mouth tingle.
Once Ezra was mounted, JD threw his arm around Buck. "Don't worry about it. I got some new jokes to tell that'll make the trip back home go faster." Buck gave Chris a heated look that promised retribution. The blond leader smiled back and watched carefully as Peso picked his way through the brush.
By the time they got back to the house, Ezra felt like he was able to operate semi-rationally. Though he still believed Chris wanted to get rid of him and was not beyond having the guys carry out that threat.
Chris understood, begrudgingly, that in Ezra's mind he was still a threat and kept the horse reined at a short distance. After arriving back at the house, Ezra was maneuvered inside. Feeling like he had done a ten-hour's day of work, he went to his room and laid down. When the others finally arrived, the six men gathered in the living room to discuss what to do next. Nathan had inferred that, while the anti-depressant would help, it wasn't a cure-all. Vin and Buck had quietly argued that playing it slow would only lead to more time for Ezra to concoct ways of getting off the ranch, and after he left they may never be able to find him. JD had, for once, kept silent. He was out of his league and had no idea how to work with someone who'd been brainwashed.
Josiah had been fielding questions, arguments and suggestions for the past three days and was frankly tired. He had talked to several specialists who dealt with different types of brainwashing from cults, foreign fighting units, POW's; they all said one thing: reprogramming a patient was a serious endeavor and the slightest misstep could set the patient back. They also said it was good to take cues from the patient. If he seemed at least halfway willing to listen, which Josiah took to mean if Ezra wasn't trying to run from them or kill them, then they should try and refresh his mind with other memories.
While Josiah thought that was all good and well, it didn't help that the Ezra believed the doctor more than them and they couldn't get him to understand that the man he trusted wasn't a doctor, but a felon. Josiah decided they needed to break down that barrier first. It wasn't going to be easy or pretty. In fact, Josiah had a sinking suspicion it was going to get down right ugly. "It's time to show him the tape," Josiah said quietly.
The room stilled immediately. "You really think that's such a good idea?" Chris questioned, not that he didn't trust Josiah's judgment, but the tape was going to be a shock and, in Chris' mind, the man had had enough of those lately.
"Don't know, but my gut instinct says Ezra needs to see it for himself," Josiah said. "It's probably going to get rough," he added unnecessarily, his voice carrying a great deal of sadness.
The other five men nodded their heads. It was definitely going get rough.
Josiah waited until he heard movement coming from the extra bedroom, before slowly getting out of his chair and walking to the doorway. Leaning against the frame, he watched the other man pace incessantly on the other side, constantly running his hand through his hair and talking to himself. Josiah took a deep breath and took the plunge. "Ez, I got a tape out here you need to see," he said softly.
Ezra jumped at the deep voice and stilled. He had been trying to figure out his actions since arriving here. On one hand, he was sure Chris was out to get him and he needed to get away from the man, but on the other hand, a deeper feeling told him he was safer here than he had been in a long time. His mind seemed to one big jumbled mass of confusion. There was the voice that told him to kill Chris Larabee and had already failed at that, while another voice whispered not to try again. He just wanted the voices to stop. With Josiah standing there, waiting for him to come like some well-heeled dog, Ezra lashed out, "Do I look like your puppet, Mr. Sanchez? Why should I partake in an event to which I did not specifically request? I am not your son, thank goodness. And you certainly would NEVER be my choice of a father," Ezra practically spat out the hateful words.
The words hit the big man like a hot poker. The green eyes he was staring into held so much hate and animosity for him. Josiah drew in a deep breath, remembered Ezra wasn't quite Ezra and turned and left. He needed some air.
Going out the kitchen door, he leaned against the porch railing and tried to get his breathing under control. He heard the screen door open and close quietly, not allowed to slammed shut. The presence next to him was calm and unexcited. Josiah was pretty sure everyone in the living room had heard Ezra's little explosion. The Texan drawl next to him spoke words of truth. "Can't expect this to go smoothly, Josiah."
"I know that," the profiler shot back. Why was he letting the southerner's words get to him so badly? He knew that he had to stay emotionally removed. If he let Ezra drag him into his world of pain and confusion, he would never be able to help lead the man back out into the real world.
"You notice he hasn't tried killing any of us since he got here?" Vin asked.
This bought Josiah's head up with a jerk. It was true. If Ezra had been as deeply brainwashed as Dr. Belvin had stated, then nothing would have stopped the agent from completing the task. He would have kept coming after Chris until the job was done or they had stopped him.
"I reckon, somewhere deep inside of him, he don't want to. Figure that's why he jerked the gun in the warehouse, because some other voice was stronger than Coltrane's. We just gotta let that voice keep working in our favor," Vin said pragmatically.
Josiah nodded. They would just have to pray that other voice was louder than the one telling him all the wrong things.
"He's going to be make it back. We'll make sure of it," Vin said as he clapped the older man on the shoulder and left. He had said his piece the rest was up to Josiah.
Josiah stood there for another minute, made some kind of mental agreement, nodded his head once in determination and shoved off the railing. Going back inside, he strode to Ezra's room and said in a hard voice, "You are expected in the living room, now."
Ezra stopped his pacing once again and looked at the man with pure hate. "I told you, I am not your son and you are definitely not my father, so quit ordering me around like one," Ezra snapped back.
Josiah set his eyes on the smaller man and said, "I'm not telling you as a father or even a friend. I'm telling you as your counselor that you are to get yourself out there, sit down and watch that video or I'll help you to the living room."
Ezra started to challenge the bigger man and then remembered the parking lot at the hospital. He had not stood a chance against the bigger man when he had tried to escape. The memory was bitter in his mind and the hurtful words and images rang loudly in head. "Going to strike me again like you so aptly do when you don't get your way?" Ezra taunted.
"I don't have to hit you. That's not my, but I can call in the others and they'll help me. But whether you go on your own or kicking and screaming, you will watch that tape," Josiah said plainly, keeping the emotion out of his voice.
Getting in the last barb as he walked past the man headed for the living room, Ezra said, "Good old Josiah, never did anything unless it benefited yourself."
Josiah resisted the comeback that came to his mind and followed the man into the living room. Ezra noticed the five men had strategically placed themselves around the room. Nathan was blocking the path to the front door. Buck had taken a dining room chair and was sitting close to the kitchen/living room entryway. Vin was on one side of the couch and JD on the other. Ezra snorted to himself, caught it, and grimaced. What could that young know-nothing do to him? Chris was in his normal recliner, supposedly acting like this was nothing. Ezra knew better. The voices were getting louder, 'Should have killed him when you had the chance. You're a failure'. The brown-haired man made his way to the couch where he presumed he was supposed to sit for this little viewing. After Josiah sat down in the chair next to the couch, but on the other end of where Ezra sat, the profiler picked up the remote and hit the button. Ezra felt every person in the room tense.
A police video began playing. The man talking was Dr. Belvin, but the scene and the words made no sense. Why was Dr. Belvin in an interrogation room? Ezra tried to focus on the words. They made even less sense. He was talking about a man named Coltrane and the man's desire and plans to take down Team Seven of the ATF. Ezra could feel his heart racing. The fresh images and the old images began flashing through his mind simultaneously with all the voices.
Ezra jumped to his feet. "What is this?" he demanded, pointing to the screen, his voice unsure and quaking. The words Dr. Belvin weren't making any sense.
Josiah was standing in front of him and Ezra wasn't sure how he got there. "It's not a trick, Ez," he said calmly.
"Yes, it is. What have you done to that man to get him to say such things? It's not true. It's not," Ezra lost all pretense of fancy words and complex thoughts. Simpler was better, easier.
"Ezra, we didn't do anything. He was in with Coltrane. It was all a sick game to get to you. To get to us," Josiah said.
The others had yet to move from their spots. They were ready to lend a hand if absolutely necessary, but for the most part stuck as witnesses to a heartbreaking scene being played out with such intensity it could have been a drama skit. Josiah bent down to the coffee table and picked up two police photos of Coltrane. One was from the first time they had arrested him and the second was the newer one. The profiler handed them to Ezra, who took them cautiously. Ezra stared at the two pictures of the same man, his mind was refusing to believe what he instincts were telling him. He felt his world crashing down around him to an infinite pinpoint in time while the two sets of memories crashed into other, causing a mirage of conflicting beliefs.
"You're lying. This is some kind of sick joke. I would know if I was being played," Ezra answered back. If only the voices wouldn't scream so loudly in his head, he could think better. "I would know!" his voice rising an octave.
Skirting around the end of couch, Ezra began hedging for the kitchen entryway. Buck stood up, but made no motion to grab him. The scenes playing in Ezra's confused head didn't make sense. The pictures flipped randomly through his head like some crazed roller coaster racing out of control. Ezra's head began hurting like it never hurt before. Like a crack in an eggshell, he was afraid the slightest movement and it would split right open. He hedged by Buck, staring at him. Why was Buck looking at him so worriedly if he wanted him dead? Dead. Buck had come to his door and shot him, but it wasn't Buck. His mind was going to shatter into a million pieces.
He made it to his room with six worried men closing in on him. He needed it to stop. He needed the voices to shut up so he could think. He needed everything to just stop so he could get his breath. He leaned against the far wall in the corner and slunk to the floor clutching his head. He knew he was about to fracture apart. Like the video playing in the other room, scenes that made no sense kept running through his head. Looking up at the man in front of him, he begged, "Make it stop. Please make it stop."
Chris kept he eyes on the wild green eyes in front of him. He watched as Ezra had made his way out of the living room and into his own room. The anger swelling and rolling through him like nothing ever before. Yet, he waited. He held back until with Ezra's one plea, he walked over to his crumpled friend and eased himself down around the rigid body, and wrapped his arms around the man who was so close to breaking. The pitiful sight of his friend looking so fragile grabbed at his heart. "Right here, Ez," he offered softly. Not since his family's death had he felt so guilty and helpless over something he had no control over. Once again, his family had been assaulted and he had not been there to protect them. The feeling made him even angrier and sorrowful. He may not have been there when Ezra needed backup the most, but he was here now and Ezra wasn't going anywhere.
The remaining five found spots around the duo and sat down. Nathan appeared with a syringe and was about to inject the sedative into Ezra's arm, but Chris stopped him with a sharp "No," and shake of his head. "Been enough drugs," he said in way of explanation.
Nathan put away the syringe and held out hope that Ezra was strong enough; they were strong enough, to get through this in one piece.
Rocking back and for the images continued to assault the weakened man's mind like someone had flipped a movie projector on in his head and he had no way of turning it off. Some of the memories turned and twisted into ugly frightening monsters that threatened to send the man right over the edge. He longer could tell what was real and what wasn't and throughout it all six men stood steadfastly by, doing what little they could and giving reassurances they were there.
Chris watched his friend from the doorway of the barn. Ezra had been sitting on the bale of hay and staring out into space since the crack of dawn. After viewing that tape and the subsequent fallout, Ezra had fallen asleep sometime before morning yesterday and slept the entire day and night. They had rotated turns staying in the room, usually at least two at a time, sometimes more, the combinations shifting depending on circumstances.
This morning it had been Buck and Josiah that had been standing guard when Ezra had awoke. Seemingly uncaring about their presence, the southerner ignored them, had dressed and walked out to the barn where he had been all day. The others had tried to approach the man on and off throughout the day and though they were ignored in much the same way Buck and Josiah had been, they at least understood that Ezra was consciously ignoring them. None of them had words to explain it, but they knew it was no longer fear of them driving this behavior, but something more tangible, something more …fixable.
Chris sighed and pushed off the sliding door. It was time to get down to business, get dirty if necessary, but it was also time to make sure the pain-in-the-neck, obstinate, willful brother understood he wasn't in this alone.
Ezra had forced his mind to clear. He could manage to do that now for very short periods of time now without being plagued by pictures flashing through his mind. Chris slowly walked up and sat down next to his friend. Silence sometimes spoke louder than screaming. Ezra had seen the man in black approaching. He wasn't ready for the next round yet. The other five had already hounded him; all trying to help in their own way; all trying to reassure him he wasn't alone in this. What they didn't understand was that he was alone in this, very much alone because he couldn't; no wouldn't, let them be dragged down in the mire he found himself in. He tried to shut off the tiny whispered voice that pushed him, pleaded with him to have the conversation he had been avoiding with the others all day.
Ezra tried to force his mind to clear again. The ocean, he would pretend to be lying on the shore of the ocean. The one in South Carolina was his favorite. Lying in his secluded little spot he had found by accident, what seemed like a hundred years ago. He was alone with only the sounds of the seagulls and the crystal blue waves lapping up on the beach making him feel so peaceful. The scene only lasted long enough for his nerves to calm back down.
Chris had heard Ezra murmur something about the water being peaceful and wondered just where Ezra's mind had wandered of to now. "Pardon?" the blond asked quietly.
Ezra was bought back to the present with that one simply spoken word. He was still confused about a lot of things, including why the man still wanted him on the team, not to mention as a friend. He was playing the part of friend too well to be faking. Of the things he did remember clearly, Chris was not a good liar.
The film projector clicked back on and the images began rolling again. He could feel his heartbeat gear up into a racing beat. His breathing was going too fast for it to be normal and for all their work; the lungs weren't getting enough oxygen. He needed to know, the small voice coaxed, ask the questions, but fear kept his mouth clamped tight.
Chris was studying the man beside him, the quick breaths, the pale face, and the tight-lined lips that were turning white from the pressure, sweat breaking out on his forehead. Maybe the time to get tough wasn't now after all, he thought. Figuring his presence was the cause of the man's anxiety, Chris rose to leave. "Going back to the house," he said quietly.
"Don't," Ezra said before he could even think the word.
The word was said so lowly, so hastily that, if Chris hadn't still been in a hunched state, he would have missed them. Chris lowered himself back down onto the hay and silently wished Ezra had picked a more comfortable place to sit. Hay poking through ones jeans was a mite uncomfortable, not to mention the bale was hard. Ezra rubbed his hands nervously on his thighs. Chris waited; all they had now was time.
Ezra started off haltingly, "I… I have all these pictures running around inside my head and…and," he halted, getting a deeper lungful of air. "And I don't know if they're true or implanted or…or what," Ezra finished, not sure he made any sense to Chris because he sure didn't make any sense to himself.
Chris waited a moment before talking. Josiah had explained that was what it was going to be like for the young agent. He was thankful for having such a good psychologists on the team and, though he was recruiter, leader, older brother, he silently wished he'd stayed in the house and let Josiah, or Buck come out here and do this. Telling himself to stop procrastinating, he said, "Best way to find out is to ask. If we can answer them, promise to tell ya the truth."
"How long was I gone?" the man asked.
Chris let out the breath he had been holding and thanked the fates for giving him an easy one to begin with. "Thirty-seven very long days. We searched for you. Never quit looking," the blond stated firmly.
Neither man said anything for a minute, both taking in the full measure of the time lost. "Did Buck shoot me?" Ezra asked, unsure if he wanted to know the truth.
"No!" he said emphatically. "Coltrane had the guy hired. We're still looking for him," he finished heatedly.
Ezra nodded with what Chris could only believe was relief. "And your visit to the psyche ward?" he asked.
"Another no. Again, hired people," Chris said, relaxing a bit. This might not be so hard after all.
"Vin making the Jeep explode and Buck blaming me?" Ezra continued with his questions.
Shoot, so much for simple. "Vin…no. We, Vin and me did leave the saloon as a joke, but we didn't intentionally get kidnapped. That was Raymond Jarvis, another criminal from the past," Chris stated.
Ezra looked over at the man. "I believe it would be wise to stop making enemies out of so many collars," he said, his southern drawl dripping in sarcastic advice.
Chris smiled and nodded in agreement. The ones they arrested did have a history of not taking it too well.
"And Buck?" the southern drawl inquired.
Chris hung his head, "Yeah, he blamed you. But ya'll made peace with it, put it in the past."
"So, he did apologize?" Ezra inquired, there was hope in his voice.
Chris blew out his breath and wondered how close it was to suppertime. "Not really. Kind of, in his own way. Ya'll just came to an understanding," Chris tried to explain. He hadn't been there when the two patched things up and neither one offered up much information.
The barn grew quiet again. Finally, the southern seemed to let the matter drop. Ezra thought about his next question. There were so many. He could continue with each member for the rest of the day and into the next week, but he knew he was just avoiding the real one. The one he wanted to ask, but didn't want to hear the answer to. Ezra adjusted his seat, pulled on the cuffs of the zip-up sweater he had found hanging by the kitchen door and took a deep breath.
Chris read all the signs as clearly as the Sunday morning paper. Whatever was coming was a big one for Ezra. The blond tried to prepare himself for whatever came. He had promised not to lie and he wouldn't, not even fudge. That wasn't his style. Thinking about the mess, he was wondering if maybe now was not a good time to start though.
Ezra nodded to himself and looked out into the open. Mustering up the courage, he asked, "Did I really shoot you?" The voice betrayed how really scared he was of the answer.
Chris ran his hand through his hair before beginning. Nodding, he said, "Yes, you pulled the trigger." Before Ezra could say anything he went on, "But it wasn't really you shooting me. I know you, Ezra, I know the kind of man you are and you don't just shoot people without justification. It was a suggestion that had been implanted and repeated often with the use of drugs," Chris tried to explain. "It was Coltrane. All of this is Coltrane's fault, not yours," Chris stated venomously. He knew all about guilt. It could rip your whole life apart and he wouldn't let Ezra go down that road.
Ezra was silent for a long time. He thought about saying 'sorry,' but it wasn't enough. Sorry didn't cover the pain, the betrayal or the injustice he had inflicted upon the man.
Josiah had warned them to take Ezra's deprogramming slowly. They weren't supposed to overload the man with too much information and to avoid as many problems as possible. Sitting there in awful silence, Chris was beginning to wonder if he hadn't crossed one those invisible lines. Well, if he had, he would solve the problem. "You didn't want to do it. I know you didn't," Chris said quietly.
Ezra was angry with himself. How could he have been so stupid to have let this happened to himself? Why didn't he think of a better plan? Why didn't he believe in the guys? Why did he let himself be led into believing it was right to shoot the one man who gave him a second chance? "Oh? And through what great mental processing did you come to that conclusion?" he said spitefully, the anger turned towards himself.
Chris accepted the anger for what is was and let it slide. He could only imagine being in the other man's shoes. "Because at the last second you jerked the gun and winged me. If you truly wanted to kill me on your own accord, you would have shot me straight through the heart," Chris said unflinchingly.
Silence reigned for a long time. Ezra, while slightly relieved at the words, felt like there was some dark monster still hiding under the ground just beneath the hay bale ready to strike and yank him below. His world began spinning dizzily. How could Chris be so sure of the type of man he was when he wasn't sure himself any more? He stared down at his tremoring hands. The monster was coming and he wasn't sure he was ready for it.
Chris watched his brother carefully, cautiously. He hadn't wanted to push things so fast, so far, but Ezra had needed to hear the truth no matter what the short-term consequences were. No matter what Ezra might think of himself or them right now, he, Chris, was positive of what they were, who they were. They were family and being family doesn't mean they always stop the pain, but they did ride it out with you. Chris continued to watch the emotions roll across the young man's pale, gaunt face. "Ezra?" he stated, the multitude of questions implied in one single word.
Ezra gathered himself up. He wouldn't be caught as the needy, helpless victim. If there was a victim in any of this, it was Chris. Trying to fortify his walls, Ezra started to say, "I'm fi…," the words left off as he looked into the blue eyes holding his steadily. The lie wouldn't work with the man, not this time. He looked back down at the ground and felt the monster getting closer. Ready to snatch him and shake his world apart even further.
Chris watched the words die on his friend's lips, watched the color drain from the already pale face and watched as tremors that started out indiscernible grow into the shakes. For a brief moment, he wondered if this was going to be the breaking point for Ezra, the point where Ezra fell over the edge. 'No,' he assured himself. He had seen that look in the reflection of his own mirror after the death of Sarah and Adam. This was not the look, close, but not the same. The scared green eyes screamed at him. Chris knew what those silent words were; they were the same ones he had screamed at Buck over and over for two years. "What do I do?"
Chris wasn't an overly-emotional guy, but he was strong enough in himself to know he could show his gentle side when his men needed him too. Sarah, and then later Adam, had taught him that. They also had taught him that part wasn't so bad. Without forethought, Chris put his arm around the shaking man's shoulders and held onto the man. The action spoke louder than words.
Ezra felt the tidal wave building up from the bottom and, with each inch it rose, Ezra could feel the subsequent panic of it being too much. To lose it in front of Chris, like he had the other night, was unacceptable, but he didn't have the strength to run either. He had been running for what seemed like an eternity, running from the dark, from the monster that laid waiting for him, running from the truth and the lies. He was human and as a human, whether he would admit or not, he had weaknesses. Coltrane had preyed on one these weaknesses, had used it against him and tried to rip the only good thing in his life apart.
With a strong arm securely fastened around him, he finally felt safe enough to stop running and to face the darkness, the truth, the lies and maybe, just maybe one day, the monster, that went by the name of Axle Coltrane.
Chris knew there would be no tears or emotional outbursts like the other night. Ezra was a stronger man than that. The other night had been simply an overload. There wouldn't be any more emotions expressed out in plain view, only when the man was alone in his room in the dead of night. Right now, the man just needed to have a safety net while he regrouped his strength, like Buck had been for him. It was like a short circuit when the electrical sockets were overloaded and blew. Ezra needed time to reset the buttons and restore himself. If Josiah had a problem with this, then he'd deal with it, just the two of them.
It had been two weeks since coming to the ranch. Ezra felt like it had been more like two years. The barn incident hadn't been the only one where he'd had to stop and regroup after questions had been asked and answered, usually having to use the strength of one of the others to do it; much to the disdain of Ezra. He'd always believed he could cope and deal with anything laid before him by himself because in the past he'd had no other choice. It wounded his pride and unsettled him to know just how much he had grown to count on these men. It also had been an enlightenment when he realized they didn't mind being needed and furthermore that they seemed to readily accept that need. That had been a shocking revelation-and-a-half at three o'clock in the morning.
He still carried a lot of guilt for letting Coltrane get to him. For believing the lies and worse, for letting himself be manipulated in such a manner, but with Josiah's help he had slowly began coming to terms that, unlike what he'd like to believe, he didn't control the universe and, as Josiah had put, "As earth shattering as it is to learn, Ezra, you are human." That had not gone over as funny as Josiah had thought it would. In regards to shooting his boss, Chris had simply said, "I'm only saying this once, Ezra. It wasn't your fault and that's that." The man had a true art with words.
Vin and Buck had been their true steady selves. Each revealing their own hurt and anger at being used to undermine the friendship with the undercover agent. Buck had tried joking his way out of the tense moment. Saying he had better aim than the other guy. Vin, though had been more quiet than normal. It wasn't until Ezra and him had been off riding together that the sharpshooter had been able to confide just how much the whole incident had effected him. Ezra took the words seriously. The undercover agent had long learned that the man had a deep sense of honor and took things to heart. Ezra had convinced him that there had been nothing to forgive on his part and he was learning, with Josiah's assistance, that they were all victim's in the game.
Nathan worried about his health and Ezra knew that by concentrating on him and his health, Nathan was trying to make things right the only way he knew how. JD had been around, but only on the edges. Never getting close enough to talk to, but never staying completely away either. One day Ezra had been on the porch in a mood. He would not call it sulking, gentlemen did not sulk. JD had come out of the house and stopped short. Ezra let him decide whether he wanted to stay or not. JD had sat down and the simple act gave Ezra more joy than he would have ever thought. The two had talked, skated around the issues was more like it. Finally, JD had asked him what was wrong and feeling flippant Ezra had said, "I do regret to inform you, Mr. Dunne, that no matter how you try to spin this ordeal, this time there is no happy endings."
JD had snorted, so that's where that came from, and replied in true JD form. "Don't know about that, Ez, We got you back. We got Coltrane in jail and soon to be in prison and we're still together. Sounds like a pretty good happy ending to me."
Ezra had been left with no retort. The young agent was right. He had come out of this experience with his brain intact and had learned a few lessons along the way. True friends let you shoot them and then put your world back together when it completely fell apart. Ezra nodded, not bad for a happy ending, not bad all.
They all knew things would never be quite the same again between the seven of them. Where before they had been strong friends, they were now stronger as a family. Life would not always be fair and there would surely be a lot more rough trials ahead of them, both as a team and as a family, but now they knew they were in it together for the long haul and nothing could break them.