Brother's Keeper

by Nadine

Thanks to Mog for creating the ATF universe for us to play in

PG for language; Mainly Chris, Vin and Ezra

It had been a hell of a long day, but a good one. Chris looked out at his ATF team, the bad guys had been caught and none of his men had been hurt. Only thing left to do was the paper work. Muffled coughing came from Ezra's desk. Chris sighed, while there had been no trips to the hospital, Ezra had come down with a bad cold thanks to the gunrunner Mr. Frank McBean. McBean was a rich man, thanks to years of running one of the biggest illegal gun operations in the country and was used to getting his own way. He saw Colorado as the perfect state to set up shop and enjoy his love of the great outdoors at the same time. Six weeks working under cover with outdoorsmen McBean had left his undercover man wet and cold for most of this assignment. Now with a nasty head and chest cold he was trying anything to keep from going to the doctor. Chris was nearing the end of his patience and Ezra the end of his endurance.

Josiah looked up from his computer monitor, the young agent was coughing again " Ezra, you need more of that chamomile tea?"

"No thank you, Josiah, I am fine".

"Ezra are you all right?" Josiah frowned as the person in question got up to go to take his report in to Chris. His movements were slow, lacking his usual grace. "Ezra?" Josiah asked again as he got up and walked over to his friend.

Ezra leaned against the doorframe of Chris' office. "I'm tired Josiah, I want to crawl into my feather bed and sleep till this cold goes away. I am tired of being sick."

Coming back from the break room, Nathan stopped in his tracks.

"What was that?" Nathan asked in voice dripping with sarcasm "Did I here Ezra P. Standish admit to being sick? To not being in a state of perfect health, to not being just fine?" Nathan an ex-EMT had been after the southerner for days to let him fix up something for his cold. Worry over the stubborn man had left him short tempered.

Ezra closed his eyes and dropping his head to his chest mumbled "Yes Nathan I am admitting to being ill! Taking a deep breath, he continued louder, "To being unwell, to not being in a state of perfect health, to asking you please for something to get over this abominable cold." Buck and JD had been watching from their desks, JD broke into the conversation, "Gee Ez you must be really feeling bad if your willing to do what Nathan tells you to for a change." Buck reached over and swatted the back of JD's head "Shut up kid. If you had been out in all kinds of weather with that nutcase McBean you'd be feeling sickly too."

McBean-a self-proclaimed outdoorsman-hiked, fished, and hunted in all kinds of weather and never give a thought to those he dragged along with him. So when he wanted to go fishing, neither the rain nor the near freezing weather would stop him. Of course he took his men with him, Ezra included. None of Ezra's excuses worked, McBean liked the flamboyant southerner. Having him along gave McBean someone intelligent to talk to in the evening (his men were more muscle than brains) after the day's activities were through. Literature and the arts were discussed, along with the gun market, around the campfire at night.

Chris came out of his office and took a long look at Ezra, then took the report from him. "Ezra, go lay down in my office." Nathan, go get something to put him out of his misery. The rest of you get your reports done before you go home."

Ezra still hadn't moved "Chris I don't need…." Chris stopped him with his patented no-back-talk glare. Ezra went.

Nathan returned with a bottle of green liquid. "The infirmary passed this out a while back when the flu was going through. Vin was the only one who got sick that time." Nathan sent his own glare over to where the sharp shooter was sitting. "Had to poor the stuff down him but it did the trick, I'm going to give it to Ezra."

Trying to look busy Vin typed at his terminal. The flu medicine may have worked but it left him feeling sleepy and made it hard to think straight till it worked it's way out of his system. Seemed every time somebody got sick around here Nathan tried to dose all of them. Vin hated to be fussed over, even more than Ezra; his friend must be feeling poorly to give Nathan a free hand.

Five o'clock rolled around and Chris had most of his reports done. Vin was last as usual. He stepped inside Chris' office. "Chris, you want to check this for me?" Ezra helped Vin with the finer points of grammar and spelling in his reports, a lack of formal education made Vin shy about his writing skills. Only with Chris and Ezra did he feel comfortable asking for help.

"Sure, have a seat." Chris looked up to find his sharp shooter already slouched in a chair.

"What are we going to do with Ezra?" asked Vin looking over at the sleeping form on the couch.

"Take him home and put him to bed, want to help?" Chris had already sent the others home, reassuring them that he would take care of their friend. He even promised Nathan to get more of the medicine into him. "You're getting better at this Vin," Chris said reading the report.

"Ez's been teaching me some tricks to help me remember all those grammar rules." Vin got up then, walked over to the couch and sat down on the floor. Careful not to touch the sleeping man, he removed the blanket covering Ezra's head. In a low voice he coaxed "Come on Ez time to wake up, I'm hungry, lets go get something to eat, Chris is buying, let's go spend his money."

Two green eyes blinked open then closed. "Come on Ez, I know you're in there. Why ya want to sleep on this couch? It's too hard to be comfortable."

" Warm, safe", came a sleepy reply.

Vin chuckled" I know, but that big old fancy featherbed of yours is a whole lot more comfortable."

Chris had finished with Vin's report and filed it with the rest. Getting his coat he got ready to go he yelled," Ezra wake up!" then watched in exasperation as the man in question pulled the blanket back over his head. Vin laughed so hard he fell over.

"Chris when ya going to learn? Ya got to use the carrot and not the stick with Ezra. With all that green stuff in em, he ain't in his right head."

"I'm the head of this team, The Boss, remember, your boss. I don't have to entice with a carrot. I get to hit with the stick if I want to. You're supposed to do what I tell you to. I'm the one in charge!" Chris was almost shouting, but stopped when he realized he had their attention. "Anyway when was the last time either one of you were in your right minds." The worry in his voice made the two young men feel guilty.

"Sorry cowboy," "Sorry Chris" came two replies.

Chris sighed, When did he stop just being their boss, and get to being a friend and a big brother to these two overgrown kids? At least JD did listen to Buck when he told him to do something, didn't always do it but he did listen. Damn, when did he get to be as big a mother hen as Buck and Josiah were. "Get on your feet, you're not the only one that's hungry." Pulling Ezra to his feet and draping his coat over the agent's shoulders he led the way out of the building.

Vin following behind asked "Where you taking us to eat? Chris? Chris?"

A few hours later in Ezra's townhouse, Chris was making coffee in the kitchen as Vin stood outside the bathroom door while Ezra showered just in case he needed help. Chris came upstairs into the bedroom with two mugs of coffee. Handing one to Vin he went over to admire the huge headboard on Ezra's featherbed.

Vin joined him, "Pretty ain't it." The large oaken headboard stood close to five feet tall. Near six feet across, in the middle was a western scene carved in relief, seven wild mustangs galloping across the plain with mountains in the background. Six horses ran close together with the seventh bringing up the rear.

"A handsome piece of furniture," using his mug, Chris pointed to the horses, "Think they're suppose to be us?"

"Might be, take a little studying to figure which horse was which man. Course that one in front, the one looking like the king of everything he sees has gotten to be you." stated Vin.

"Then that scrawny one beside him must be you." Answered Chris, turning around when the door to the bathroom opened. Out walked Ezra, his red silk pajamas misbuttoned and his hair still damp from the shower. Yawning he walked over to the bed and touched the carving.

" You like it?"

"Yes, where'd you get it?" asked Chris

"Do you remember the county fair J.D. talked us into going to last year? There was an artist there who worked in wood, turning out objects of beauty. I commissioned him to do the headboard and frame." Yawning again he sat down on the bed. "Gentlemen you have done your duty and escorted me to my domicile. I have no need for a guardian to watch me sleep. So unless you are planning to tuck me into bed, you should go to your own homes and get some rest yourself."

"Sounds like he's trying to get rid of us, don't it?" Vin asked

"Sounds like he's trying to get out of taking that medicine Nathan sent along" stated Chris as he picked the bottle off the night stand."

"Chris I don't need any more of that elixir, I'm feeling much better. The dose Nathan gave me earlier has done wonders. I'm no longer feeling as wretched as I was."

"Got to take it Ez, even if it does taste like horse piss, I had to," said Vin.

Chris walked over to Ezra and held out the bottle. Ezra moved further back into the bed. "Come on Ezra stop acting like a two year old."

"I'm not going to get out of this am I?" asked Ezra,


Surrendering to the inevitable, Ezra took the bottle. "Aw hell, this has to be the most putrid, vile, distasteful concoction Nathan has come up with yet." Tilting the bottle he drank it down. Shuddering, he handed the bottle back to Chris. Yawning once more, he got under the covers. Between the cold and the medication he was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. Chris pulled the quilt up under his chin.

"If you tell anyone I tucked him in I will shoot you." Chris told Vin before he could open his mouth. Vin smiled " Chris I wasn't going to say a thing. But don't ya think this over reacting to one of us getting sick or hurt is getting out of hand?"

"Team 7 has become a family, my family and family looks out for one another. Didn't you and Ez drive the hospital staff crazy when I got shot last fall?" asked Chris as he and Vin made sure the townhouse was secured.

"That was different." answered Vin.

"Only in that I didn't try to escape the hospital or hide how badly I was hurt. One of these days the rest of us aren't going to be able to figure out what's wrong in time and we'll have to live with that failure for the rest of our lives."

"Damn it, Chris you sure can hand out the guilt."

"All I'm asking is you and Ezra think about it. Let us help, we're your family, we aren't going to let you down." Chris said as they stood by his truck. As they got in Vin asked, "What time ya going to pick me up tomorrow?" You drove, we left my jeep and Ez's jag at work."

"Early," Chris replied as they pulled out. "Vin, how do you know what horse's piss taste like?"

Next morning Chris picked up Vin outside his apartment. They drove in a comfortable silence till Chris' cell phone rang. "Hell! When? No I'll take care of it." Chris hit the gas as he threw his phone to Vin. "McBean got a judge to set bail yesterday and he knows about Ezra. Call the others, tell them to meet us at Ezra's."

"Shit, why weren't we told? Who blew his cover?" Vin asked as he hit the speed dial.

"Don't know yet, but I will." Nobody messed with Larabee's team. If you harm one of them, the rest of them would hunt you down. The two men raced through the morning traffic hoping that McBean's twenty-four hour head start didn't cost them their friend's life.

They were within a few blocks of Ezra's when they heard the explosion. Rounding the corner they saw what was left of Ezra's townhouse.

The pair stood before the rubble that once had been a townhouse. The blast had blown the front of the building in on it's self. Only the back wall still stood keeping the roof from crushing what remained of the structure. The sounds of sirens were getting closer. Then the sound of brakes came from behind them. "Dear lord, could he still be alive in there?" asked Josiah as he came up to stand beside the two men. Two more vehicles pulled up and Nathan, Buck and JD got out.

The sirens stopped, as two police cars came to a stop in front of the rubble. Four officers jumped out, one of them ran ahead of the others, waving his gun at the six men. "Stop right there!" he yelled. Larabee turned and coldly glared at the young man. The rookie stopped, suddenly unsure of his actions. "Dickerson" sapped the senior officer, "Put your gun away. That's Chris Larabee of the ATF, you're lucky he didn't shoot you." turning his back to the rookie he addressed Team 7 "What's your interest in a residential bombing?"

"One of my men lives here." Answered Chris "We're going in after him."

"Shit! You gonna wait for the rescue squad?

"No" Chris then addressed his men, "Buck, you and Vin find me a way in. Josiah, find what you can in the way of tools. Nathan, I want you…" his last two agents weren't there "…. Nathan?" Chris looked around for his men and found them coming back from their vehicles. Nathan had his ever-present first aid kit that he took everywhere the team went, insisting that with this group it was a necessity. The fact it was an over size dufllebag spoke volumes about the team's notorious history of injuries. JD had the team surveillance equipment from their last bust. "JD I thought you turned in that equipment already?"

"Nope, I forgot to, now I'm glad I did. When you go in there," waving his hand in the direction of the rubble, "we'll be able to hear ya."

"Nathan and I will be going in," said Chris, he took two of the headsets handing one of then to Nathan. Buck and Vin returned from checking out the house. Buck started in "Think the best bet is to go through the garage into the kitchen, the back of the house is still standing. Most of the damaged is in the front where the blast took out the front supports. The upstairs looks like it fell down at a angle, won't know anything more till we get in there. We went ahead and turned off the water and electric so it should be safe to go in."

Vin saw the surveillance equipment JD had, "JD give me a headset."

JD looked to Chris for help. "No Vin, Nathan and I are doing this. You know Ez's best chance is with Nathan in there." Damned if the look on Vin's face didn't almost change his mind, but if Ezra hadn't made it he didn't want Vin to be the one to find him. Reading Vin had become as natural as breathing to Chris. From the first day he had met the longhaired Texan, it was as if two halves had become whole, an instant friendship and understanding of two like minds. With Ezra it had taken longer. Ezra didn't trust anyone, not at first. It had taken the team a long time to break down the walls he had built to protect himself over the years. It was mainly due to Vin's persistence that they had come down at all. The two had discovered that they had many common childhood experiences, not of the good kind. Vin had been orphaned at an early age and been lost in the child welfare system. Living in over crowded orphanages and foster homes he had few good memories of those times. Ezra had been born to wealthy but uncaring parents. Never seeing his parents for years at a time as he was shuttled between schools and strange relatives. It was a wonder that either one of then hadn't come out living on the wrong side of the law instead of being part of it. Both men shared a dry sense of humor and were partners in practical jokes. Teaming the two of them together always got results, though not necessarily the ones he wanted. If Ezra was dead in there then Vin wasn't going to be the one to find him.

Chris and Nathan worked their way into the kitchen under the slanted ceiling, stepping around broken appliances. "Shit!" said Nathan as he pulled his foot from a coffee/expresso maker. Rubbing his wet foot he asked, "Where do we go from here?"

Chris was trying to compare the house's floor plan to what he was looking at now. The stairs were next to the kitchen, bedroom over the kitchen, stairs gone, ceiling down but not badly broken. "We got to get to the other side of this ceiling, Ez's bed should be over our heads"

"If he rode out the explosion and the bed slipped down with the floor as it fell." Nathan pointed to the far end of the room. "Maybe over there."

"If the front section settled before his bed slipped too far," answered Chris.

"Stop your if'n and go look" came an impatient Texas drawl over the head sets "We're going Vin, it's a bit cluttered in here you know." came back Nathan.

The two men found a hole in the ceiling where the stairs had once been. Climbing up Nathan uttered to himself "Ez you better have had your usual luck, or I will never forgive you if your not alive in here some where."

Chris smiled and asked, "Are you two ever going to admit that you're friends.

"Hell no, why ruin a beautiful friendship by admitting that we have one." Climbing through they turned their lights to scan the space before them. The floor had held together, but laid at a steep angle. Ezra's heavy antique furniture was piled up on the far end with his bed in the middle of the mess.

The men slowly made their way down the steep incline, till Nathan stepped on something round caught in the rug and made the rest of the journey on his butt. "What the hell!" yelled Nathan rubbing his bottom, he then picked up the bottle from where it had stopped next to him. "This is that bottle of medicine I gave to Ezra."

"Nathan are you all right?" asked the others over his headset.

"Yes" answered Nathan

"Good, go find Ezra." Josiah told them, "The fire department has arrived and I don't know how long we can stall then."

"Remind them that this is a crime scene, that if they mess up any evidence I will arrest the whole lot of then." growled Chris. "We've almost got to Ezra."

Chris and Nathan had kept working as they had talked, removing the smaller pieces of furniture from around the bed. "Damn" exclaimed Chris now that they could shine their lights on the bed, they saw that the heavy headboard had broken off of its frame. The headboard was only kept from crushing the bed by the steep angle of the roof. Still there wasn't much room between the board and the bed. Chris gave the board a push, it didn't move. "It's jammed in there pretty tight. Let's use the crowbars and try to pull one of the sideboards from the frame. With a groan, one side of the broken frame came off. All they could see were the sheets and mattress jumbled together at the end of the bed. Each of them grabbed a hand full and pulled. Out popped the feather mattress with Ezra curled up in the middle of it sound asleep. "What I'd give to have a camera right now," said Chris. There was Ezra in his red pj's curled up in a ball, arms wrapped around his pillow cuddling it to his chest. There didn't appear to be any visible injury, Nathan checked him out anyway but didn't find anything wrong. "How the hell could he have slept through all of this?" asked Chris.

"How much of that medicine did the fool take?" countered Nathan "It has enough codeine in it to make most people drowsy with a single dose. That bottle I tripped on was empty."

Chris shook his head, 'Well, between what you gave him at the office and what Vin and I made him take later after we got him home the bottle got used up."

"Let me guess, none of you thought to use a spoon. Just upended the bottle and drank it down didn't he? No, don't bother to answer me I know I'm right. Wish there was better light in here."

"You want light Nat you got it," came the happy voices of their friends who had been listening the whole time. Loud chopping sounds filled the room and soon a hole appeared in the ceiling letting the sun in. Buck's face made an appearance "Howdy pards, here's your camera." Chris caught it and took pictures of their sleeping friend. "These will make great blackmail material for later," smiled Chris.

Ezra slowly awoke to realize that he was in a different bed than the one he went to sleep in. He remembered going to sleep in his own bed, so how did he end up out at Chris's ranch? He yawned and got a whiff of himself. This would never do. Getting out of bed proved to be an exhausting task. How could one night of sound sleep make him feel so achy? A hot shower was definitely in order.

The sound of the shower told the men sitting at the kitchen table that their brother was awake. "Well there goes the peace and quiet," said Buck while getting up to make fresh coffee. Soon Ezra came walking in rubbing his arm.

"Good morning gentlemen. Would any of you care to enlighten me as to the circumstances that brought me here?" he asked while taking the mug of coffee Buck handed to him. Sighing, he sipped the brown nectar thanking lady luck that Vin hadn't made the coffee.

"Well Ez it's like this" started Vin, as he and the others filled Ezra in on the last few days. "So after we got ya out of what was left of your place, Nat insisted we take ya to be checked out at the hospital. Wanted to be sure the green goo hadn't poisoned ya. The staff couldn't find anything to keep ya for so they let us bring ya here. I think they were glad we weren't staying."

"You were given an IV at the hospital" Nathan told him, "We woke you up ever so often to make sure you didn't get dehydrated then let you sleep.

Ezra kept his eyes on his mug. Three days he though to himself, three days these men kept watch over him, keeping him safe. The emotions inside almost over came him. Few people had ever care that much, even his own Mother hadn't stayed with him when he had been sick as a child. He felt Josiah's hand on his shoulder giving it a squeeze. "Thank you" he said quietly.

To save his friend from any more embarrassment Vin asked the team leader. "Anything new on McBean's whereabouts?"

"Looks likes he left the country. But he will be found. It's only a matter of time. The DA's got too strong a case to let this slide and I have no intention of letting him. That man will pay for what he tried to do to you." JD came into the room with a large envelope, which he handed to Chris.

"How bad is the townhouse damaged? Asked Ezra.

"Sorry Ezra, it was totally destroyed. Answered Josiah. The ground floor is completely gone. The furniture from the upstairs bedrooms is out in the barn. The personal stuff is in the room you woke up in. JD found your computer and managed to save your hard drive got all your files. Luckily your townhouse was a corner unit; the surrounding homes weren't damaged much. But your neighbors sure aren't too happy with you right now."

Oh joy, Ezra though to himself what was he going to do with his gloomy neighbors. He was taken by surprise by the laughter coming from Chris and Buck. They were looking at the contents of the envelope JD had given Chris.

" These are great JD, your getting good at this." Laughed Chris, JD moved nervously in his chair.

"Good at what JD?" asked Nathan. Chuckling, Chris handed the pictures to the others to look at. The rest joined in with their laugher. Only Ezra hadn't gotten to seen what was in them.

"Gentlemen may I see the cause of your jocularity?" Snickering, Buck handed over the pictures. Ezra found himself looking at an image of himself in his red silk pajamas cuddling a teddy bear. Another one showed the same bear, only this time it appeared he had his thumb in his mouth. "JD where, how… I have never owned a stuffed animal in ma life, let alone a teddy bear!" he asked as he tried to rise from his chair. Only Josiah's hand kept him at the table.

"They made me do it." JD answered from behind Chris and Buck. "They even bought me the newest Adobe Photoshop program to do it with."

"I know you are not to blame, these two are," he said looking at Chris and Buck, "and what are you planing to do with these?"

Still laughing Chris said "Sit down Ezra and eat some breakfast. As for the pictures I'm going to keep them. They may come in handy sometime."

Ezra didn't like the sound of that, but he would bide his time. He'd get those pictures back and any backups. Then with Vin's help he'd get even.


Author's note: The feather mattress is based on the ones I slept on as a child; large formless cloth bags.

All constructive comments will be welcome.