The South Wind

Book one

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Chapter 3
Ezra entered the ATF building unsure if he shouldn't turn around and head out, France would be nice this time of year. The building was just like all the others he'd been in. A cold atmosphere seemed to be the consistency they all shared. He tightened the tie around his neck and headed for the sixth floor.

Chris looked again at the clock hanging in his office wondering if his new undercover agent was going to make it, or if by chance he decided to throw in the towel. The team had arrived early, having an 8:00am meeting with Judge Travis, and now were waiting anxiously for their new team member to arrive. JD sharpened pencils and tried to get them to stick to the ceiling tiles while Nathan got his first aid kit ready incase a pencil decided to take a wild turn and hit the kid in the face. Buck sat at his desk surfing the web, all the while chuckling as the occasional pencil found its way onto his side of the office. Vin sat not far from Nathan also watching the kid through the glass window separating JD and Buck's office. Josiah came out of the kitchenette stirring his hot cup of coffee and chuckled to himself after seeing the expression on Nathan's face.

The elevator door opened and everyone's head snapped up. Ezra Standish pulled his hand from his pockets not wanting the sound of his pocket change giving away his fraying nerves. "Gentlemen," he spoke raising his eyebrows in the hope that things would move smoothly.

"Standish," Chris stepped out of his office and headed for her new undercover agent shaking his hand forcefully.

"Mr. Larabee. I do hope I'm not late," Ezra looked around the room at the interested faces.

"Early morning meeting," Chris paused and chuckled to himself knowing how uncomfortable the man standing next to him would be feeling. However by looking at him he'd never guess. "Vin Tanner..." Chris pointed in his direction, "You've already met, Nathan Jackson, Josiah Sanchez...."

"JD Dunne and Buck Wilmington," Ezra finished for him, "I did my homework Mr. Larabee."

"Not surprised," Vin said walking up to the man and shaking his hand. "You'll be sharing an office with me." The sharpshooter looked to the team leader and grinned, "Punishment for smart mouthing the boss."

"I'll remember that," Ezra smiled which showed his gold tooth. JD unconsciously rolled his tongue over his left canine wondering how gold tasted.

The introductions were made and hands shook as Chris hauled everyone into the conference room letting the team in on their next assignment. Because the team was still new and inexperienced while working together the Judge deemed it necessary for them to hang back and get a feel for each other. The Judge was comfortable with the way the team had come together but he had questions about the undercover agent, he didn't want to push the team into a situation they weren't ready for.

Chris stood before his men knowing they were eagerly awaiting their first assignment as a team. He knew they were anxiously waiting for their time to work independently, away from the local PD and FBI. Playing backup wasn't what they wanted to be known for. He understood the Judge's hesitation but he had confidence in the men he chose for this team. None of them were inexperienced, even ‘The Kid', as everyone liked to call him, wasn't about to pull a stupid rookie mistake. JD was good at what he did and it was his ability to listen to everyone's advice without question that made him incredibly valuable. Nathan was the best at what he did and it seemed every minute of free time the agent had, he was catching up on procedures for EMT's. His brief military background was also an added bonus. Chris was relieved Nathan decided to sign on his team. Josiah had a reputation, much like the others, as being a free thinker and one who followed his gut instinct. Chris found that necessary in all his team members. He wanted his men to be able to make off hand decisions, decisions that were made not only from experience but intuition. Josiah had a keen sense for perception and that was something Chris wanted on his team. Vin...well he had connected with the young man at first sight and seemed to be able to communicate without speaking. The sharpshooter entered Chris's office dressed in jeans, a tee shirt, and a leather bomber jacket, something you wouldn't expect for an interview. He'd hired Vin on sight. Buck was like Vin; there wasn't any question when it came to hiring the ladies man. He'd been a friend with Chris longer than anyone and Chris knew he could trust him and that's what mattered. Then there was his new undercover agent. He didn't know what to think; really he didn't have enough to go on. Vin got a good vibe from the man but there was more to being a good cop and friend than a vibe. Harry's word was all he was going on at the moment, and for now that was good enough.

"Tuesday afternoon we're playing back up for FBI Agent Carson and the local PD. They need us to pull a sweep of a warehouse not far from the dead drop sight," Chris passed out the files to each team member that contained the information they were going to need to know for the assignment.

"When do we get our own case?" JD took the file and started leafing through it.

"Couple weeks. Judge just wants to make sure we don't get in over our heads." Chris handed the last file to Ezra, "Read through these and make sure you're in comfortable clothes on Tuesday. Everyone wears a vest," Chris warned.

"Damn," Buck sighed, "They always destroy this manly figure."

"Keep a bullet out of your manly figure Buck and wear your vest. Vin," Chris turned to face him, "Get Ezra settled. Take him down stairs and get him issued his weapons and sized for a vest. The rest of you," Chris motioned for them to exit the room, "Get back to work."

Vin motioned for Ezra to follow him and both agents headed for the elevator. Vin figured Chris wanted him to help Standish get settled because they'd already been introduced. Familiarity was something the new agent needed, Vin understood that, and he hoped Ezra did as well. "Did you get moved in all right?" He asked pushing the down button waiting impatiently for the elevator doors to open.

"Yes," Ezra failed to mention the professional movers he'd hired were absolutely inept when it came to directions. "Quite a beautiful city. I wasn't expecting the pulchritude that the mountains had to offer."

"Yeah well," Vin paused, "If you're sayin' their pretty, you should come out to Chris's ranch one of these days. He's got one hell of a view from his place. It's only ‘bout a thirty minute drive from here."

"Quite an odd assortment of men," Ezra said changing the subject. He didn't want to get stuck with group outings.

"Have you met the Judge yet?" Vin asked stepping into the cramped elevator that was in desperate need of new carpet.

"I have not had the pleasure, no."

"Chris'll take you to meet ‘im. The Judge is the one that got the idea to start this team, guess he knew Chris when he was still working for the Denver SWAT team. Chris told the Judge he'd put the team together only if he could hand pick ‘em. You're working with the proof." Vin smiled and stepped out of the elevator. "It's a pretty good group of guy's. Hell," Vin chuckled. "Never worked with a better group before, once you get past all their shit."

"Does that include you?" Ezra smiled but a feeling of unease settled in his bones. He couldn't help but think this would end any differently than Atlanta.

"Hell no," Vin headed for the armory, "I'm perfect." The sound of the Southerner's chuckle brought a smile to his own face.

Chapter 4

The weekend had come and gone too quickly for Ezra's taste and Monday had seemed like a blur. He moved through the motions without really getting involved. JD and Vin had invited him to the local saloon. Apparently the establishment is where the local law enforcement liked to ‘hang out' according to the young Mr. Dunne. Ezra wasn't ready or willing to spend time with his coworkers. He wanted to know why he was in Denver, for what purpose was his experience as an undercover agent useful. There were agents out there who didn't come with a rap sheet and who were as capable, if not more so, than he was. There was a catch...he just didn't know what it was.

+ + + + + + +

This day was turning out to be no different than the others, granted he'd only been with the team since Friday, but he was still feeling the betrayal left by his former employer. The southerner pulled at his tan flat front Dockers all the while trying to ignore the questions from JD.

"Come on Ez..." JD pleaded.

"Ezra, Mr. Dunne, my name is Ezra."

"Tell me how you did it," he asked for what seemed like the thousandth time. He was determined to learn how the newest member of the team hacked his way into the FBI's personnel files and deleted information.

"I have no idea what you have been talking about for the past day and a half Mr. Dunne," Ezra adjusted the Kevlar vest he'd been fitted for the first day he arrived. He wasn't about to admit to anyone what he'd done.

Buck came up behind JD and knocked his baseball cap off his head, "Buck!" the kid snapped picking the hat up off the ground wiping any dirt away that might damage the item.

"When are you going to wash that shirt?" Buck asked picking off threads of lint off the Kid's Boston Red Socks jersey.

"It's my good luck charm. I can't wash it." JD protested moving away from Buck's prying hands.

+ + + + + + +

Chris's team had been notified Friday morning of the Sting being prepared by Special Agent in Charge or SAC, Nick Carson and the local police department. They were needed to search an abandoned warehouse two blocks from the drop site. The FBI had wanted the surrounding areas secured before an unknown informant dropped vital information into a designated garbage can. Just because this was a routine search didn't mean things would always go as planned. Chris didn't want his men going in there unprepared so he insisted they wear vests, and headsets, he wanted to know where they were at all times.

Chris came around from the back of the van once again looking over the floor plans of the building, "Vin," Chris adjusted his headset looking at the sharpshooter, "Get up high let me know immediately if you see anything out of the ordinary," he watched as Vin grabbed his riffle, "Nathan follow Vin. Keep your back to the wall. Buck, JD take the west entrance, let me know when you're in position." Chris looked to Ezra, "Take the outside stairs on the east side, keep to the inside, Vin should have you in his line of sight. Josiah, you and I will take the front entrance." He checked his clip and motioned for his men to take off. "Be careful."

As soon as Chris uttered the words ‘be careful' the team's response turned into complete professionalism. Ezra watched in respect of how the team changed from individuals into a singular working unit. He just wasn't sure how he fit into that unit.

Vin and Nathan headed to high ground weapons out and ready to fire in case the need arose. Buck and JD took off toward the west entrance, all the while keeping their senses on full alert. Josiah and Chris took the more direct approach and entered through the front. Ezra paused before heading up the stairs to what he assumed was the loft. He looked at the rust covered supports and wondered who had diagrammed the entrance points on the floor plan. Ezra tentatively headed up the steps and was half way to the top when shots were fired from inside the warehouse. Just as he started to climb, the stairway gave way and in one swift motion Ezra and the staircase quickly fell one story to the ground in a tangled heap. He landed on his left side and felt his shoulder pop then the wooden floor he landed on gave way and he fell into an underground storage room.

Ezra coughed as the mushroom cloud of dust grew in width, enveloping him in its choking particles. He started to push himself back and winced as a sharp pain raced up his left arm. He noticed the storage shelves first then the plastic covered weapons being stored on those shelves. Ezra coughed again looking up trying to avoid the settling dust. He needed to find a way out, the gunshots had ceased and that worried the Southerner.

+ + + + + + +

Buck pulled JD back when he saw the first shooter come out of what looked like a trap door in the floor he cursed himself realizing they had all walked into a trap. Buck jumped at the sound of gunfire and swore to himself. Where did it all go wrong?

"Put your hands in the air," A deep raspy voice said from behind both JD and Buck. "Do it now or I shoot the boy!"

JD and Buck raised their hands in defeat and were forced into the building at gunpoint. Once inside they found Chris and Josiah both sat in the center of the warehouse floor handcuffed. Almost immediately Nathan and Vin were escorted in next, their hands roughly cuffed before them, "You hurt bad Josiah?" Nathan asked noticing the blood staining the agent's thigh.

"Just a scratch," he tried to sound convincing.

"Where's Ezra?" Chris asked looking around the warehouse. "Damn him," he snapped when everyone shook their heads.

Nathan shook his head. He had a gut feeling after meeting Standish that the man was no good. "We should have done some more checking before hiring the guy on."

"The choice was not yours to make," Chris snapped looking for a way out of the situation they now found themselves in.

"You think he ran?" JD asked not believing Nathan and Chris would think in such a way.

"Shut up!" one of the gunmen yelled becoming annoyed with the talking.

"It's too early to tell," Josiah said quietly, looking around the warehouse. He hoped there was more to the situation than what they knew, which was practically nothing. Josiah knew the undercover agent was having a difficult time fitting in, anyone in his situation would. He also suspected something else had to have happened, he just hoped the southerner didn't run. The older agent noticed how the majority of the gunmen gathered near the entrance while leaving three armed men to watch them.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra managed to pull himself out of the underground storage compartment and keeping his left arm tucked up against him, he headed to the back of the warehouse to get a better view of what was happening inside. He hoped Larabee and everyone else were in control of the situation but gut instincts told him differently. The undercover agent stepped onto the pile of pallets under the only window on the back wall of the warehouse. He carefully wiped the mud-splattered window with the palm of his hand and peered in. Ezra sighed and turned away. "Of all the idiotic, lame-brained things to do," he shook his head in disbelief. "Obviously the Denver FBI research team is about as useful as Atlanta's," he said to himself before stepping down off the pallets. Ezra checked his Davis D38 Derringer and hoped he came up with a good plan before he reached the front entrance of the building. With his arm out of commission and just two shots in the small gun hidden up his sleeve he knew he was playing a loosing hand, however, bluffing was an art form he'd mastered as a youth. Now was as good a time as any to test his technique.

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked at Chris and a sense of understanding crept between the two men. All they needed was a diversion. Three men, their attentions spent elsewhere, held firm in their grasp semi automatic machine guns, something this specialized team of agents weren't going to get past unless they held the upper hand. Buck looked to Chris and then to Vin and realized immediately that something was going to go down. He knew to be alert when the time came; he just hoped the others were as well. The ladies man nudged JD in the arm letting him know something was up and looking across to Nathan, a confirmed nod of the head was all he needed.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sighed to himself wondering if approaching this in a forward manner was the best advance, there is something to be said about deviousness, now, however, he was having a difficult time strategizing a plan for it. "Excuse me..." he walked out in full view of the obvious gunrunners.

"What the..." the leader of the group started.

"I know," Ezra chuckled, "Obviously I'm lost, but what can I say." The undercover agent let the gun he had tucked away in his shirtsleeve fall to the palm of his hand. Within, what seemed like seconds, shots were fired and Ezra held his small unauthorized Derringer to the back of the gunrunners head while the rest of the team quickly gained back control of the situation. Buck, Vin and Chris had been able to restrain the three gunmen holding them hostage.

+ + + + + + +

Chris got the keys to free himself from his handcuffs all the while keeping the newly acquired machine gun trained on the captives. Once he freed himself he handed the keys to Vin who went to work releasing the rest of the team. They could all hear the sirens and squeals of squad cars pulling up outside the warehouse. Policemen and FBI agents quickly took over control of the situation and restrained the assailants.

"Nathan?" Chris said stepping up along side the tall medic. He wanted know how Josiah was doing.

"He'll be fine, hospital probably won't even keep ‘im overnight," Nathan smiled wrapping Josiah's leg.

"Where's Ezra?" Josiah asked looking up to Chris all the while trying to ignore Nathan's prying hands.

"Don't worry about him." The team leader snapped annoyed with the question. "Get him to the hospital, we'll follow you there shortly." Chris slapped Nathan gently on the back of his shoulder before turning his attention on finding Standish.

"Chris!" Josiah yelled to the retreating form. "Chris, we don't know what happened!" He yelled. The big man shook his head realizing his pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

"Ezra can handle himself," Vin said stepping up along side the downed agent.

"Maybe," Josiah agreed, "But why burn bridges you can't rebuild."

Vin paused and looked at the big man and a vein of understanding passed between them, "I'll keep an eye on things," he smiled and headed in the direction Chris had gone.

"You should be worrying about your own hide and not that of a dirty cop, who also happens to take off when the pot gets a little hot," Nathan snapped helping Josiah get settled into the gurney that suddenly appeared.

"I agree," Buck piped in. "Damn near got us all killed."

"He's also the one who gave Chris and the rest of us the distraction we needed," JD said making note of the southerner's unconventional approach to detaining the suspects.

"To little to late if you ask me," Buck added before following the retreating gurney.

"Nobody asked you," JD said barely above a whisper while following the retreating forms.

JD waved off the ambulance carrying Nathan, Buck and Josiah. He wanted to go as well but felt deep down that he was needed here so he turned and headed off to find Chris, Vin and Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Agent Carson grabbed Chris by the arm when the tall blonde didn't answer to his calls, "Agent Larabee?" Carson said again waiting for a response.

"What?" Chris snapped looking at the short FBI agent in the eye, or at least trying to, Carson's comb over was making it almost impossible to do.

"This was your find, who do you want on clean up?" Carson snapped.

"This was your case, you do it. I have one man down and one that needs a reprimand." Chris started off again but was stopped.

"Never pays to have a man like Standish on your team," Carson smiled sticking his chest out.

"I don't have time for this Carson." Chris warned, pulling his arm from the FBI agent's grasp then heading out to find his undercover agent.

"You should make time." The agent turned around only to meet Vin who only smiled at him, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "You got something to say to me?" Carson snapped defensively.

"You should put a hat on," Vin pointed toward the trees, "Winds coming up." Vin laughed as he watched as Carson ran a hand over his head in the direction of his comb over and quickly hasten away.

"What'd you say to him?" JD asked stepping up beside the lean sharpshooter.

"Mentioned the weather's all," Vin shook his head trying to look innocent.

JD furrowed his brow and thought a moment, "Why would he get upset about the weather?" He looked at Vin and a sudden realization came to him, "That was just mean." JD laughed outright.

"Buck go with Nate and Josiah?" Vin asked motioning toward the direction Chris had taken off in.

"Yep." JD replied following the sharpshooter.

"Lets go find Chris before something happens that we can't fix," Vin headed in the direction the team leader had taken. JD followed suit relieved that he and Josiah weren't the only ones concerned about the newest team member.

+ + + + + + +

Chris found Ezra leaning against the outside wall of the warehouse that impenetrable mask firmly in place. "Ezra!" he yelled getting closer to the still form. "Where the fuck were you?" Chris clenched his hands into fists and waited for the response.

"Detained," was the simple smart assed reply that earned him a blow to his jaw. Ezra, still supporting his left arm, sat up and rubbed his now bruised cheek. He tried to ignore the onlookers beginning to gather but was finding it difficult to do.

"Don't smart mouth me Standish!" Chris stormed, "I don't need this kind of behavior from one of my agents." He looked down at the man he'd hired and was now wondering why, "I need to know I can trust you to be there when things get ugly, I have six men I'm responsible for and that doubles when one of them doesn't do their job!" Chris yelled waiting for the understanding and recognition from the undercover agent but not recieving one. "Don't you ever run out on me again," the leader of the specialized team of agents stormed off ignoring the looks from officers and agents standing nearby.

Carson paused before approaching the man now struggling to stand up. He waited until he knew he wouldn't have to aid the man in getting to his feet, "Agent Standish," Carson said walking up to man he silently despised. "Officer Riley said you had something to show me?"

Ezra paused a moment, this was turning out to be no different than Atlanta. He took a deep breath and motioned for the Agent to follow him to the other side of the warehouse, "I take it this was your case?" Ezra asked out of curiosity, wanting to know who had made up the floor layouts for the building.

"Yeah, this is my case. Something about that bother you?" Carson looked around to make sure they weren't in earshot of anyone important.

Vin pulled JD next to him as he leaned closer to the building. He wanted to hear what Ezra had to say as well as Carson. Some things needed explaining. He motioned for JD to keep quiet and they both listened to the conversation at hand.

"Who engineered the floor layouts?" Ezra looked at Carson knowing full well who had, or rather, hadn't done their job.

"I did," Carson looked at the pile of wood and steel that used to be the stairs leading to the loft. "So you're the sorry bastard who got stuck with the stairs," he chuckled.

Ezra continued to support his arm against his side, "You could have gotten someone killed today."

"Too bad it wasn't you," Carson looked Larabee's undercover agent in the eye. "Anderson is a good friend of mine and according to him you're as dirty as they come."

"That coming from Anderson...I'll take it as a compliment."

Carson smiled and shook his head in disbelief, "Nobody wants you here Standish."

"Perhaps not," Ezra agreed, his voice devoid of all emotion, "But if I wasn't here..." he smiled letting his gold tooth shimmer in the sunlight. "That stockpile of weapons would not have been located." Carson looked at Standish in disbelief, "The stockpile you're standing stupid son-of-a-bitch."

"I think you're delusional," Carson tried to reason.

"Next time you and your men survey a property for a sweep make sure they know what they're doing. Losing a fellow agent on a case is something that sticks on you for the rest of your career. You of all people should know that." Ezra could feel the tension in the air thicken.

"You'd better walk the straight and narrow while you're here, otherwise I'll be on you like bees to honey."

"Great analogy," Ezra furrowed his brow and rolled his eyes. "Are you going to take care of the underground storage compartment or should I speak with someone who can?"

"Fuck you," Carson snapped. "I'll do my job, you do yours." With that said the FBI agent made his way to the fallen staircase to peer into the storage compartment Standish had told him about. He shook his head in disbelief at the sight of the plastic covered weapons, and then the floor gave way. Ezra walked away feeling somewhat vindicated. He wasn't about to help the man get out. "Somebody!" Carson yelled squinting his eyes against the settling dust.

"Should we go help?" JD asked following Vin out from behind the warehouse.

"Let ‘im rot."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra managed to get away from the onslaught of activity. He needed to be alone and someplace where nobody could see him. He needed time to think. In a way he could understand Chris's anger. He wasn't there when the team needed him the most. He was trying to claw his way out of a pit. The southerner tried to reason with himself but the consistent pain in his shoulder was making it impossible. He paced back and forth all the while supporting his arm up against his side. He argued with himself, what should he have done? Why was his mouth always getting him into trouble? Ezra didn't see the two forms appear at the end of the short alley.

Vin paused and held JD back a moment knowing the undercover agent was deep in thought, "Don't want to startle ‘im none."

"You think he's alright?" JD asked and Vin smiled.

"He will be in time I reckon." Vin paused again looking at the form walk slowly from one side of the ally to the other, "Looks like he might have hurt his arm when he took that fall." Vin watched right along with JD as the southerner braced himself up against the brick wall with his right arm. "Ah shit," the sharpshooter swore taking off at a run with JD on his heels.

Ezra counted to three then threw himself up against the cold brick wall, effectively forcing his shoulder back into place. He choked back a scream when the shoulder popped and he slid to the ground with his back up against the wall. He flexed his fingers and slowly rotated his shoulder feeling the pain recede.

"What the hell are you doing?" Vin slid to a stop in front of Ezra, "You should've had Nate take a look at your arm."

"Mr. Tanner," Ezra nodded his head in the direction of the sharpshooter. "Mr. Dunne."

"We should get you to the hospital," Vin reached down and grabbed Ezra by his right arm.

Ezra pulled away getting to his feet, "I assure you Mr. Tanner, I don't need a hospital." He once again rotated his left shoulder proving to himself and Vin that he was fine.

"It wouldn't be a problem Ez, Ezra," JD quickly corrected. "We could stop in and see how Josiah's doing."

Vin smiled. Sometimes he underestimated how good the kid really was. "It's right on the way."

"I know you gentlemen are not hard of hearing," Ezra sighed ignoring their concern.

"What in the hell's going on here?" Chris asked stepping up beside Vin.

Vin was about to say something about Ezra's shoulder but one look at the southerner he decided against it. "Just making sure everything's alright."

"So?" Chris looked to Vin, then back to Ezra.

"I wasn't running out on you a second time today, Mr. Larabee."

"I didn't say you were."

"You didn't have to," Ezra quietly responded before walking past Larabee and the others.

"Ez didn't run out." Vin looked to his boss hoping for some kind of an understanding.

"I know," Chris nodded his head, "One of Carson's men told me."

"We're getting off to a great start," Vin muttered.

"He's probably used to it by now," Chris agreed and followed the southerner back to the warehouse.

Chapter 5

Chris stared blankly at his computer screen going over the day's events in his head. He wanted his team to work together as a unit and not as individuals. Vin had told him on the way back to the office what Carson had said and the tone in which he said it. He knew the undercover agent had a reputation and Chris realized he'd been wrong in thinking it wouldn't follow Standish all the way from Atlanta. It did, and that made it harder on the agent to work comfortably around the others. This was however, a new team, and a chance for the southerner to make a new start for himself, if he allowed it. Chris rubbed his right temple feeling the tension of the day starting to reside there. He hadn't helped the situation any, just like the other agents in the building he'd let the undercover agents past reprimands interfere with his own judgment. As a result of that judgment, he hit Standish and he didn't apologize when he found out what really happened.

Ezra had ridden in silence on the way back to the office. Sitting in the back seat with JD he ignored the kids questions and concerns. Chris felt as if he knew what the southerner was thinking but in reality he didn't have a clue. Without speaking Vin thought the same thing and again the two agents just nodded their heads in understanding. He'd spoken with Nathan on the phone before leaving the scene with his men about Josiah and the medic confirmed Josiah's stay at the hospital would be short.

"Brother?" Josiah's form appeared in Chris's doorframe. A white bandage was barely visible under his recently torn jeans. It was obvious Buck had taken duct tape, one of his many cure all's for torn clothing, to keep the ripped jeans from blowing in the wind. Josiah's movements on the crutches were awkward but the big man carefully maneuvered his way to one of the chairs across from Chris's desk.

"How's the leg?"

"Well," Josiah paused and rested his crutches on the edge of his chair. "I won't be running any marathons," the big man smiled trying to ease the moment. "How are things here?"

"You trying to get inside my head?" Chris tapped his temple with his finger and smiled.

"Asked a question is all."

"Lets just say nobody is going to be running any marathons for a while," Chris leaned back in his chair folded his fingers behind his head and took a deep breath.

+ + + + + + +

Vin smiled when he saw Josiah, Nathan, and Buck slowly make their way out of the elevator. He knew Josiah would want to talk to Chris about what had happened...after all it was his job. Tanner put two heaping spoonfuls of sugar in his coffee and headed toward Nathan. He could already hear JD and Buck bickering in their office, some things never change.

Nathan sighed looking at his desk. This whole operation was going to mean more paperwork than he'd like to admit. It seemed for every day in the field there would be five days worth of forms to fill out, reports to write, and more forms to fill out. He flipped his computer on and waited for the enter password signal to appear.

"Nate?" Vin stopped in the doorway still stirring his coffee.

"Yeah," Nathan looked up from his computer slightly surprised to see Vin. "You need something?"

"I think you should take a look at Ez's arm."

"Why?" Nathan looked back to his computer, "Did he hurt it on his way out?"

"He didn't run out." Vin stood up straighter, "That staircase he was supposed to climb to get to the loft fell with ‘im on it. He fell into some sorta underground storage compartment where all the weapons was being stored." Nathan looked at him surprised. "I think he dislocated that shoulder of his and then he done rammed it into a brick wall to get it back into place."

"Damn," Nathan rubbed his head in frustration. "Where is he?"

"Been in our office since we got back."

Nathan followed Vin to the office he and Ezra were sharing and weren't surprised to see the southerner typing away on the computer. By looking at him it wouldn't appear anything was wrong but Vin had a feeling there was more going on than even the undercover agent was willing to admit.

"You should let me have a look at your arm Ezra," Nathan started and headed into the undercover agents part of the office.

"It's fine, Mr. Jackson," Ezra continued to type on the computer and didn't pause to look up from the screen.

"If pounding it into a brick wall is fine..." Nathan started but was cut off by JD's sudden appearance.

"What's going on?" JD looked around the room finding Nathan standing next to the file cabinets, Vin lounging comfortably in his chair and Ezra typing diligently away at his desk.

"Nate's trying to get a look at Ez's shoulder," Vin said looking for a reaction from the southerner.

"Thought you said it was fine, Ezra?" JD asked looking slightly confused.

"It is," Ezra said standing up and grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair he headed out the door bumping into JD on his way out. "My apologies, Mr. Dunne."

"Where are you going?" Chris snapped seeing the undercover agent wince as he slipped into his jacket.

Ezra pointed to the clock that read 5:00pm, "My apartment." With that said he stepped into the elevator and was gone.

"So much for doing this the easy way," Vin slumped against the wall.

"Brothers," Josiah boomed leaning heavily on his crutches. "Looks like we have some bridges to build."

"Thought you said we shouldn't burn bridges we can't rebuild?" Vin looked to the big man in question.

"I did. But sometimes those bridges need to be burned in order for stronger ones to be built."

"You know Josiah, it would have been a whole heck of a lot easier if you'd said that to begin with," Vin sighed in frustration

"He'll be back," JD said confidently holding up the keys to Ezra's car grinning from ear to ear.

"Where did you learn to pick pocket kid?" Buck asked with pride in his voice.

"Didn't, he left them on the counter in the kitchen thought I'd give ‘em back to him but I forgot." JD innocently replied.

"Convenient," Chris smiled.

"Where are your keys JD?" Vin asked, raising his eyebrows.

"My pocket," JD patted his jeans then realized he didn't have his keys. "Shit," he sighed hearing everyone in the room laugh at his expense. "My Extera," the Kid gasped. He loved that Nissan more than life itself. "He could have just taken his."

"Yeah," Vin agreed, "But it's good to know the guy's got a sense of humor."

"You have the Jag, JD." Buck slapped him on the shoulder, forcing him to realize he had a babe magnet to drive around in for the evening.

The End

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Continues in: The Mouths of Crocodiles