Orrin Travis stood in the doorway to the bullpen, watching his agents work. It was something he had spent a lot of time doing lately, for some unfathomable reason. Perhaps he was unconsciously taking comfort from these remaining men, striving to feel closer to those who had been lost. His heart ached for his own loss, and for these men, who were losing a part of themselves.
He had never thought that such a disparate group of individuals could come together and forge such a strong bond. It was some intangible force that held them together, like a family, but somehow different. They all functioned as part of a single, efficient machine, yet maintained their individuality -- sometimes to the extreme. Travis had not seen the like in all his years in the business and doubted he would ever see it again. They were unique, these men, and their loss would leave a permanent deficit in the law enforcement community.
Nathan was heading for the break room when he noticed the Assistant Director watching them. "Sir?"
"Hello, Nathan," he replied. "Boys," he greeted the others, who had swiveled their heads in his direction upon hearing Nathan's voice. "How are you doing?"
"We're okay," Josiah answered. "Working on some new leads."
"Too soon to tell," Buck replied.
"We got this one from Ezra," JD added.
"Standish? Where is he?" Travis asked, surprised at this development.
"We don't know," Nathan said tersely. "He sent JD some email yesterday, but we haven't heard from him since."
"Josiah talked to him the night before that," JD supplied helpfully.
Travis regarded the big man expectantly. "Oh?"
"He didn't say much," Josiah explained. "He wouldn't tell me where he was." He looked at Travis somberly. "He didn't sound good."
"Do you expect to see him tomorrow?"
Josiah shrugged. "I don't know. It's a toss-up at this point."
"He'd better show," Nathan muttered darkly.
Travis sighed, then moved on to the reason he had visited them this day. "I'm sure you boys are aware that counseling sessions are mandatory?"
Buck stifled a groan, while the other three men nodded reluctantly.
"Your sessions will begin on Monday morning," Travis ordered. "They are meant to help you, so I suggest you make good use of them. I'm attending a few sessions myself." At their surprised looks, he smiled sadly. "I miss them too." With that, he turned and left as silently as he had arrived.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra greeted his boss as he entered the room carrying a pair of shopping bags. "It is good to see you awake."
"That's debatable," Chris retorted hoarsely. "Didn't hurt so much while I was asleep."
"Perhaps this will help," Ezra offered as he handed him a bottle of ibuprofen. "I apologize for not thinking of it sooner."
Chris waved off his apology, eagerly opening the bottle.
"Save some of them for me, cowboy," Vin requested from his bed. He didn't want to admit it, but his arm hurt like hell.
Chris shook several into his hand, before tossing the bottle gently to the next bed. "Be my guest." Ezra handed him a glass of water before he had even started to get up. "Thanks, Ez. These'll take the edge off."
"Are either of you allergic to penicillin?"
"Nope," Vin answered.
Chris shook his head. "Me neither. Why?"
Ezra rooted through his overnight bag for a moment before emerging with a brown prescription bottle in his hand. "I happen to have some with me." He shook out two pills and handed one to each of them. "Your bullet wounds have become infected. These will help."
"Where did you get them?" Chris narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"I had some left over from a previous encounter with the medical establishment. I keep them in my first aid kit," Ezra replied innocently. He wasn't about to tell them that the prescription was current.
"Ain't you supposed to finish takin' what they give ya?" Vin inquired.
"Yes, you are." Chris sent Ezra a look, daring him to argue.
"Yes, and I'm sure you two gentlemen always do as the doctor instructs you as well?" Ezra arched an eyebrow and smirked at them.
Vin snickered and Chris rolled his eyes, but both took the pills. Ezra returned the bottle to his bag, relieved that they had complied with relatively little persuasion on his part. He didn't want to have to tell them that he thought the infections they were suffering looked dangerously bad, and that he suspected that they were both on the verge of developing pneumonia.
"Would you gentlemen care for a bit of repast?"
"Huh?" Vin asked.
"Food, Vin," Chris explained.
"Hell, yeah," Vin answered enthusiastically.
Ezra smiled and removed the sandwiches and containers of soup he had purchased from the bag, placing them on the table.
Vin pushed his blankets aside, preparing to stand, when he realized he was still naked. "How about them clothes you promised?"
Chris chuckled at his discomfiture. "It's just us, Vin."
"It ain't polite to eat while ya ain't dressed," he said stubbornly.
"Try these." Ezra handed him a pair of dark blue sweatpants, an oversized blue plaid flannel shirt and a pair of thick cotton gym socks.
"'Bout time," he said sarcastically.
"Mr. Larabee?" Ezra handed him a similar outfit, only with black pants and a dark green shirt.
"Thanks, Ez." Chris took the proffered items and eased himself into them carefully before limping to the table, sniffing appreciatively at the food. "Smells good."
Vin soon joined him, slipping his splinted arm into the sling Ezra had provided and shuffling painfully to the other chair dressed in his new clothes. He and Chris made short work of their meals, Vin loosing a satisfied belch when he was finished.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "I take it the meal was satisfactory?"
"Not bad," Vin critiqued. "I could really go for some Twinkies, though."
"I will not even dignify that with a response," Ezra huffed.
"Me neither. I had enough of that shit back at the bunker," Chris agreed, referring to the concrete building in which they had been detained.
"Traitor," Vin muttered under his breath.
Taking pity on him, Ezra said, "We might be able to acquire some of that nutritionally deficient food product. I believe there are vending machines located in the hallway."
"Mr. Larabee, have you decided upon a plan of action?" Ezra queried.
"Yeah, I think so," he answered slowly. "We need to go to the ranch."
"You sure, cowboy?" Vin said. "Won't Jarvis find us there?"
"Not unless any of the others are there. He thinks we're still locked up, and he didn't know where Ez was at."
"Sounds as good as anything else," Vin agreed.
"Ez, you'll need to call before we get there; make sure none of the others are at the house, since Jarvis is probably still watching them."
"That would be prudent," Ezra replied.
"We're going to need their help to take down Jarvis, though." He met Ezra's cool green gaze, noticed his slight flinch at that announcement. "Think you can get them there later?"
Ezra's lips curved into an arrogant smirk. "Without a doubt. All I will need to do is alert Mr. Wilmington to my location and he will race to your abode forthwith for the sheer delight of pummeling me into oblivion."
"Aw, he ain't that bad, Ez," Vin objected.
Ezra's smile faltered a bit and he rubbed a finger along his still-bruised cheek. "I'm afraid he is, Mr. Tanner."
"Buck do that to your face?" Chris asked bluntly.
Ezra shrugged awkwardly. "Among other things."
"What other things?"
"Mr. Larabee, I don't think it matters..."
"What. Other. Things?" Chris interrupted firmly.
"I believe he provided me with some cracked ribs as well." Ezra reluctantly met Chris's angry glare. "He was quite distressed upon his arrival at the scene of your supposed demise."
"Damn, Ez," Vin said appreciatively. "You've been hauling our asses around with busted ribs?"
"I certainly could not leave you to your own devices." Ezra shuffled his feet uneasily, uncomfortable with the topic of conversation.
"Never thought you would, Ez," Vin said assuredly.
Chris eyed his undercover agent with interest and some surprise. Under the glib manner and fancy clothes lurked a tougher man than he would have believed, and yet, he had also detected a certain vulnerability underneath the hard exterior Ezra presented to the world. It made him wonder how much of what Ezra showed them was real, and how much was just a façade to keep them at arm's length. The man was a walking enigma. He was going to have to pay more attention to him in the future. And he was going to have a serious talk with Buck.
Ezra shifted his gaze between the two men uncertainly, but again saw no sign of deception. Vin even appeared to be viewing him with some admiration, an entirely new experience for him, while Chris's blue eyes showed nothing but approval. Ezra smiled half-heartedly. He was unused to such positive feedback, having far more experience with negative emotions being flung in his direction. He was beginning to think that these men were purposely confusing him to keep him off balance, or perhaps to keep him 'on his toes' as his mother was so fond of doing.
Ezra shook himself from his brief reverie and turned his attention to the table, sweeping the trash into one of the empty shopping bags. "I'm glad I could be of service."
Ezra didn't look at them and missed the silent communication that passed between the two men.
Vin looked at Chris. "Ya need to talk to him, cowboy."
"I know," Chris nodded. "After we take care of Jarvis."
The two men shared a smile as they watched Ezra, who usually avoided 'engaging in menial labor', efficiently clean up the remnants of their meal. It was not a sight they were used to witnessing.
"Are you ready to depart, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked when he had finished cleaning.
"Whenever you are," Chris replied.
"I believe I am prepared." Ezra had packed most of his things while the other two men had slept, so there was little left for him to do.
"Don't forget, I want some Twinkies before we leave," Vin warned.
"We can get them on the way out, right Ez?" Chris said, sharing an amused smile with the undercover agent.
"Certainly," Ezra replied. "The vending machine is located near the elevator."
"Ain't you worried I'll mess up your car?" Vin asked curiously. Ezra never let him bring any kind of food into his car.
"It's a rental," Ezra replied smugly. Neither man had been coherent enough the previous night to notice that Ezra hadn't been driving his own vehicle.
"Your Jag in the shop again?" asked Chris.
"No," Ezra replied hesitantly. "I was unsure of my destination when I left the city and thought it best to be prepared for inclement weather." He grinned at them. "Jaguars are not designed for snowstorms."
Vin laughed. "Guess not."
Ezra reached into another large shopping bag at his feet and withdrew a pair of jackets and two pairs of running shoes. "I'm afraid they didn't have much selection, so these will have to do." He handed one set to each of them.
"Thanks, Ez," Vin said gratefully. "I've had enough of the cold for a while."
"Me too," Chris agreed.
Ezra shrugged. "You are both in poor health and it would be remiss of me to allow you into the cold without appropriate outerwear."
"'Preciate it," Chris said.
"Shall we?" Ezra gestured to the door after the men had donned their coats and shoes.
Leaning against each other, Chris and Vin stood and slowly followed Ezra out the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
His eyes followed the progress of the raindrop as it meandered slowly down the windowpane, shining with an almost ethereal glow as the faint light from the street caressed its fluid surface. The droplet continued its journey, its gravity-controlled descent ending abruptly in the pool of water that collected on the windowsill. It was soon replaced with another, which chose its own silvery path along the transparent surface, but eventually succumbed to its fate, like the others that came before.
Buck Wilmington sat alone in the darkness, staring, unseeing, out his window. The thoughts that raged in his mind belied the vacant, empty look that graced his features. This week had been one of the most difficult that he had ever had to endure. Only Sarah and Adam Larabee's passing had even come close to producing the level of anguish he now felt. But he could not allow himself to grieve. Not yet. Not until the killer had been brought to justice. Only then would he allow his grief to be released, and heaven help the poor soul in its path.
Buck feared that if he allowed himself to feel, he would be unable to stop the tidal wave of sorrow that would result. He couldn't allow that to happen. JD needed him to be strong. The others were depending on him. The evil deeds of another had torn his family apart and left gaping holes in his heart, but it was not permissible to succumb to his emotions when there was justice to be served. He wouldn't allow himself to be distracted until the job was done.
Buck closed his eyes, taking a deep shuddering breath. Control. He could do it, had done it before, and would do it again as long as necessary. He would restrain the demons. Slowly, he turned away from the window and the empty street, a lone tear sliding slowly down his cheek.
* * * * * * * * * *
JD blew his nose forcefully, furiously wiping the tears from his face. Damn, why couldn't he stop crying? He was trying to be tough, like the other guys, but was failing miserably. He was lost, adrift on a violent sea of emotions, and his anchors had been ripped away. It was like he was in a never-ending nightmare, with no hope of escape. Why couldn't he be strong like Buck, calm like Josiah, or practical like Nathan? Chris and Vin would have laughed to see him bawling like a baby. It embarrassed him to cry, even in front of his teammates.... How was he ever going to get through the funeral tomorrow without looking like the kid everyone thought he was?
JD punched his pillow in frustration. Why did this have to happen? It wasn't fair. He had finally found his place in the world. He had friends who cared about him. Hell, they were his family. He had a job he loved, and the respect of six men he admired more than any others. And now it was gone, and he was afraid. It wasn't the same as when he had lost his mother; he had been afraid then, too, but there was still the excitement of the unknown in his future. Now that he had been allowed the privilege of being a part of something so special, anything else was going to be a letdown. It had been like one of the cowboy movies he had liked as a child, with he and his friends playing the roles of the heroes, taking on the bad guys in the name of justice. But his 'Magnificent Seven' would ride no more, and nothing else could ever compare.
JD heard Buck's door close quietly and finally gave in to the tears. Maybe he would be lucky enough to cry himself out before tomorrow. Then again, maybe not.
* * * * * * * * * *
The heavy bible sailed through the air, crashing into the wall and leaving a dent behind. Josiah picked it up and threw it again, this time knocking over a lamp. It was useless; his rage continued unabated. He laughed bitterly into the darkness. The others relied on him for leadership, for guidance. Yet, how could he guide when he could find no path himself?
The bible was supposed to provide direction, to light the course of his journey. But he could find no guidance, no words of wisdom, no solace. Instead, Josiah found his comfort in a bottle. The amber liquid provided succor, but also allowed the rage that had been trapped inside to escape. For the sake of the others, he had kept it in check, clamping the doors shut on those fearful emotions. But now the liquor had weakened those barriers, and it raged within him like an unstoppable force, consuming him in its fury.
His apartment was showing the signs of his wrath: chairs lay broken on the floor, the sofa had been overturned, the books pulled from their shelves, and anything breakable that had been within reach lay in pieces, strewn about the apartment. Josiah surveyed the damage and laughed until the tears began to flow down his face. He lifted a fist to the heavens and shouted his anger at God, cursing him for the injustice He was making them suffer.
The bottle was empty and Josiah finally succumbed to its numbing effects, falling to his knees. His large shoulders shook with grief as he curled himself into a ball in the midst of the destruction.
* * * * * * * * * *
He rubbed his finger across the photograph, lingering over the images of Chris and Vin. It was a photo they had taken at Chris's ranch after their first successful operation as Team Seven. There were only six men in the photo; Ezra had not yet joined them at the time it had been taken, and Nathan was secretly glad, since he didn't think he could look upon the undercover agent's smirking visage without breaking something.
Rain had wanted to stay with him, but he had asked her to go. He needed to be alone tonight. They were burying his friends tomorrow -- what was left of them, anyway. A tooth and a badge. That was all that remained of two of the finest men he had ever known. All of his medical knowledge and meticulous analysis couldn't change that fact.
Nathan felt helpless. He did his best to help his teammates and to find the treacherous bastard who had assassinated his friends, but he was unable to help them in the way they needed most. He could do little more than offer a shoulder to cry on or a kind word of support. He simply didn't know how to heal the wounds that afflicted them. Nathan set the picture down on his nightstand, tears blurring his vision as he turned off the light and prayed for sleep to take him.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was well past dark by the time they finally arrived at Larabee's ranch. Ezra had called to verify that the house was empty before proceeding the final few miles. He slowed the car, parking it near the kitchen door, then turned to wake his injured teammates.
Chris sat in the back, his wounded leg stretched out across the seat. Vin was in the front passenger seat, his head lolling to one side. Both men had fallen asleep halfway into the trip, which was unsurprising, considering the ordeal they had endured.
"Mr. Tanner." Ezra shook the sharpshooter's arm gently. "Wake up, Mr. Tanner."
Vin's eyes opened and he blinked several times before turning his head. "Ezra?"
"We're here, Vin," Ezra said.
"Where?" Vin squinted his eyes and looked out the window into the darkness.
"Mr. Larabee's ranch," Ezra explained.
"Oh." Vin rubbed his forehead. "I forgot."
"It's quite understandable," Ezra said reassuringly. "You took quite a blow to your head. It will take time before everything works properly again."
Vin grumbled, "Still a pain in the ass."
"Yes, I imagine it is," Ezra said with a laugh as he undid Vin's seatbelt.
"We here?" Chris's raspy voice came from the back seat.
"Yep," Vin answered.
"Good. Get me out of here."
Ezra helped both men out of the car and together, they walked slowly to the door.
"How're we gonna get in?" asked Vin. "We don't have our keys."
"Not to worry," Ezra said calmly. "I have them right here." He pulled Chris's keys out of his pocket and quickly opened the door.
Chris limped inside and punched in the code to disable the alarm system, then switched on the light, a relieved smile flashing across his face. "It's good to be home."
The three men walked through the kitchen into the living room, where Chris and Vin sank gratefully into the comfortable sofa that fronted the fireplace. Ezra removed his coat, but noticed that both Vin and Chris kept theirs on. Quickly, he moved to the fireplace, kneeling in front of it as he added some wood and started a fire.
"Got some more ibuprofen, Ez?" Chris asked quietly, without opening his eyes.
"Certainly, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied.
"I need a drink," Vin sighed.
"Bring the good scotch out here, too, Ez," Chris said.
"That wouldn't be sensible at the moment," Ezra objected.
"Just get it, Ez," Chris ordered, opening his eyes long enough to glare at the green-eyed man.
Ezra opened his mouth to protest further, but then decided against it. "Very well," he sighed. "But don't blame me when Mr. Jackson erupts into one of his infamous tirades."
"I won't tell if you won't." Chris grinned at him conspiratorially.
Ezra rolled his eyes and left the room to retrieve his bag from the car.
"He's hurtin'," Vin commented once Ezra was out of earshot.
"You noticed it too?"
Vin nodded. "He's movin' kinda stiff and he gets this little twitch 'round his eyes every time he's trying to hide the pain."
"Yeah." Chris chuckled. "He'd be pissed that we read him so easily."
"Can I punch Buck in the nose for 'im?" Vin asked.
"Only after I do," Chris replied. "That boy needs to think before he acts."
"Can't believe they thought Ez would ditch us on purpose," Vin said morosely.
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "The man can be a pain in the ass, but he comes through when it counts."
Vin eyed his friend critically. "Ya know, you got some apologizin' to do too."
Chris looked at him skeptically. "For what?"
"You ain't been treating him so well yourself, lately."
Chris thought for a moment, then grimaced as he remembered his irascible behavior of the previous weeks. "Yeah, I guess not."
"Because he takes it." Chris shrugged. "He always acts like it just bounces right off of him."
"Doesn't always," Vin declared.
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "I'll talk to him."
"Here we are, gentlemen," Ezra said as he re-entered the room. He handed each of them some pills and a glass of water before heading for the liquor cabinet. "Scotch, you said?"
"There's a bottle in back," Chris directed.
The bottles clanked as Ezra rummaged to find the requested liquor. "Glenfiddich, Mr. Larabee? I'm impressed." Ezra ran his fingers over the label appreciatively. "Twenty-seven years old... should be very smooth."
"I've been saving it for a special occasion," Chris explained. "I think coming back from the dead qualifies, don't you?"
"Without question," Ezra said with a wide grin, the light flashing off of his gold tooth as he opened the bottle and filled some glasses.
"Good stuff," Vin said appreciatively after his first sip.
"Nectar of the gods," Ezra sighed, a blissful expression on his face as he savored the drink.
"Better than sex," Chris added languorously. "Well, almost," he amended with a grin upon seeing the amused look the other two men shared.
The three men sat in companionable silence in front of the crackling fire, enjoying the fine whiskey until the silence was finally broken by the loud growling of Vin's stomach.
"Hungry?" Chris asked with a smirk.
Vin's face reddened in embarrassment. "Hey, I have a lot of catching up to do," he protested.
Chris moved to stand, but Ezra's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Sit," Ezra commanded. "I will take care of Mr. Tanner's stomach."
Chris glared at him defensively, then reluctantly capitulated.
"That knee ain't gonna hold you up for long anyway," Vin advised him.
Chris sighed, frustrated at his infirmity. "There's stuff in the freezer."
"I'll find something," Ezra promised as he disappeared through the kitchen doors.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Wonder what he's cookin' up in there," Vin asked curiously. "He's been in there for half an hour."
Chris shrugged. "The way he's been bangin' pots around, I hope it's something edible."
They received their answer when Ezra bustled out of the kitchen, a towel tucked into his waistband and a smear of flour on his cheek. "Dinner is served," he said with a flourish, then disappeared back inside.
"This, I gotta see," Vin chuckled as he got to his feet.
Inside the kitchen, they found the table set and a large bowl sitting at each place. They took their seats and watched as Ezra pulled a tray of biscuits from the oven.
"So what is this?" Chris asked, surprised that Ezra even knew how to use an oven.
"Chicken a la Standish," he replied, flashing a dimpled grin.
Vin sniffed the stew-like mixture in his bowl, then took an experimental bite.
"Should I call 911?" Chris asked flippantly.
Vin looked up, surprise etched on his face. "Damn, this is good! Where'd you learn to cook?"
"I spent some time undercover as a chef in a restaurant frequented by assorted organized crime figures," Ezra replied nonchalantly.
"Uh-huh." Chris said skeptically as he sampled the contents of his bowl.
Ezra shrugged, dropping the hot biscuits into a basket. "I've always enjoyed cooking. It's quite relaxing."
"Well, you can cook for us anytime," Chris said.
"Yeah." Vin gave him a sly look. "I could get used to bein' waited on."
"Enjoy it while you can, gentlemen," Ezra warned. "Once the rest of our merry band arrives, you will be surrounded by mother hens who will undoubtedly fuss over you until you are ready to throttle them."
"Aw hell," Vin moaned. "We're not calling 'em tonight, are we?"
Chris shook his head. "Not 'til tomorrow. There's less chance of Jarvis finding out if we wait."
"We should wait until tomorrow afternoon, at the earliest," Ezra suggested.
"How come?" Vin asked around a mouthful of biscuit.
"Your funeral is scheduled for 10:00 AM tomorrow. It would be wise to allow the deception to continue until afterward, in case the loathsome Mr. Jarvis is observing the event."
"Damn," Chris murmured, disturbed by the thought of his own funeral.
"Hope they say somethin' nice about us," Vin said.
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