Home For The Holidays
Disclaimer: I dont own them and never will.
Note: Thanks to NT for speed beta reading this for me. All mistakes you find are mine made in the process of making corrections.
Feedback: You bet.
It was Christmas Eve morning (mid-morning if one wanted to be precise) as Ezra sat in the police station watching the light snow dust the ground. He had been asked to help the local establishment in Kansas to stop a sudden flow of arsenal weapons. The undercover agent had to give his team leader credit; Larabee had put up one heck of a battle against the Feds taking him. Unfortunately it was a battle the leader had lost and Ezra had been informed he would be helping out on the case. Chris had not taken the loss well, but thankfully most people on floor seven were able to take cover and avoid serious injuries, thanks to a well placed call made by A.D. Travis secretary, Helen.
So, for the last four weeks Ezra had been undercover and only been able to communicate with his team back in Denver a few times. In his last e-mail he had informed Chris that he didnt think he would make it back for the annual Christmas get-together the team started having four years ago. The first two years, Ezra had had other plans and hadnt attended. Last year had been different; due to JDs persistence, Ezra had agreed to come for Christmas if it was possible. Days later he had been assigned to a case, ironically enough for the Feds, and had just gotten out right before the holiday. So, under Bucks threat and JDs pleading eyes, he had gone to Chris for Christmas. It had actually turned out better than he had feared it would.
It appeared that this year would be de ja vu all over again. With a little extra hard work on his part, the bust had gone down earlier than planned. Now all he had to do was finish filling out his report, get to the airport and hopefully catch a plane. He surprised himself at how much he really wanted to be with the guys for Christmas. Finishing up his report and signing his name he walked over to the agent-in-charge, handed the burly man his papers and headed outside. He quickly returned to his hotel, gathered his suitcases and the presents he had managed to purchase during his stay, and headed for the nearby airport.
Finally, after dropping off his rental car, he found his way to the check-in counter and waited his turn in line. The holiday had bought out more traffic than customary and Ezra had to smile at his inane thought that Vin would absolutely hate this scene. A half- hour later he was standing before a very tired looking ticket agent. Giving her the e-ticket that the federal agent supervisor had acquired for him, he knew instantly by the young womans sudden change in demeanor that something was amiss. Sadly, she looked into his green eyes and informed him, "Im sorry, sir. Due to the snow in Denver the planes going there are being delayed by at least an hour."
Ezra easily read the lie that filled her eyes. The delay time was much longer than that, but opting not to start a riot with the customers, she was giving the standard uncommitted answer. Nodding his head in understanding, he asked, "Perchance if I was to inquire into another plane, how close could I get?"
The ticket agents face perked up. Relived no doubt that the man standing in front of her had accepted the information and chose not to cause a scene. "Let me check for you," she said, as she began typing away on her computer.
After a few moments she raised her head and said, "Looks like Dallas is as close as I can get you."
Knowing the woman could only do her best, Ezra assured the poor woman, "Thatll be fine." He felt sorry for her; she had an unrespected and probably at times dangerous job. Irritated people were very unpredictable.
The woman checked all his luggage, but the carry-on presents. The undercover agent had no intention of letting the airline accidentally misplace the precious items. If he returned without his clothes he could wait for them, but there wasnt any way he was showing up at the ranch without his gifts.
Even though the snow was light here, the storm in other parts of the country was wreaking havoc, causing extra long delays. Ezra found a bookstore and perused the merchandise until he found a book he thought would suffice him on the journey. Three hours past his departure time, his plane finally arrived and was loaded and readied for departure. After sitting another forty-minutes on the tarmac waiting for clearance, Ezra breathed a sigh of relief as the plane ascended into the evening sky, made bright by the snow clouds.
His flight to Dallas was uneventful and the undercover agent began thinking it would be possible to actually make Denver by morning. Exiting the plane he walked to the baggage claim chute. Another twenty minutes went by before luggage starting arriving on the carousal. Ezra was the last person standing there when he sadly realized his luggage would not be coming out. Feeling weary he walked over to the lost luggage office; he shook his head at the term. It made it sound like the suitcases were children and had simply wandered off somewhere. He stepped into the small office and looked the only person behind the desk in the eyes. Another weary person, he thought. Approaching the woman with an open smile he handed her his luggage claim tickets as he said politely, "My luggage seems to have taken a different flight than me."
The woman quickly typed in the numbers and sighed. Ezra took it as an omen of things to come. "I hate to inform you of this sir, but your luggage has been sent to Denver."
Ezra couldnt help but laugh. The thought that if he had ridden in the baggage area he would be on his way home now struck him funny. Seeing the startled look on the ladys face before relaxing and smiling herself, Ezra quickly explained. In the end the woman had laughed too. Staring into the tired eyes that stared back at him, he asked the inevitable question. "So, how would you suggest I meet up with my luggage?"
The older woman looked around for other customers, and not finding any, she said, "Sir, Denver Airport is fixing to be closed. There will be no more flights in tonight and probably none in the morning as well."
Looking into the friendly green eyes she lowered her voice, so her boss in the back couldnt hear. "There is a bus station a couple miles from here. You might be able to get closer by using that route."
Ezra nodded politely, grimacing on the inside. He quietly thanked the woman for her assistance and went to locate a cab. He looked at his watch; with a little luck he could still make it to Chris before lunch. He would most likely miss the exchanging of gifts, but at least he would have most of the day with the guys. Locating a cab, he instructed the driver of his destination. Noting the humor in the mans eyes in the rear-view mirror, Ezra had to admit if the shoe had been on the other foot he, too, would be laughing.
Arriving at the bus terminal, Ezra stepped out of the cab and caught his breath at the coldness. The arctic cold wind blowing in from the north whipped around his legs and pulled at his overcoat. He entered the fraying building and paused. It appeared to him that every other traveler had heard the same suggestion. Struggling past reclined legs, running children, screaming mothers and scattered baggage, he managed to locate the correct line. He counted silently to a hundred and said silent thanks that his esteemed boss was not with him. The man would have probably ripped off a couple of heads by now or shot someone. When he was ticked off, the team leader had no sense of humor at all.
The brown-haired man finally made his way to the front of the line. With relief in his eyes he stated his final destination. He knew immediately that he would not receive his desired goal so easily. "Sorry, sir that bus is already booked solid," the ticket agent said, tiredly.
Ezra had learned early in life to roll with the punches. Gripping the counter tightly and taking a deep breath and trying very hard to suppress his desires to rip the poor guys head off, noting to himself that he had been spending to much time with his boss, he asked softly, "I suppose you have alternative plan to help me arrive at my goal."
Secretly, he wished he could pull out his badge and bump somebody from the bus, but he knew that everyone else in the place wanted to be at their desired location as much as him. The counter personnel looked at his computer then at the gentleman before him before hesitantly saying, "There is a bus leaving in two hours going to Amarillo." Glancing down briefly before staring the customer in the eyes, he said, "This storm moving in is going to be shutting everything down pretty soon."
Ezra nodded his head in agreement; quickly estimating what the hour would be when he arrived in Amarillo, and he guessed it would be a couple hours after midnight. Ezra figured with the luck he was having he would hopscotch his way home. "Ill take it," Ezra said. The stress from being supervisor with a team of men that wasnt his own combined with the long hours of delays and multiple changes in plans were finally taking their toll. Reaching into his overcoat pocket for his wallet he was startled to find his hand coming up empty. He began searching frantically for the missing item while the man behind the counter had already figured out the coming problem. Stolen wallets and purses were not uncommon at all, especially during peak traveling times.
Ezra looked at the man behind the counter with a bewildered look. "It appears as if someone has absconded with my wallet." Buck would have probably have enjoyed the complete look of despair on the agents face if he had been present. The traveling agent only shook his head; he had seen this too many times to be deeply affected. "Im sorry sir, we have an office in the back where you can file a report."
Ezra couldnt help but roll his eyes, as a law enforcer he knew exactly what the percentages were that he would retrieve his wallet. He was still trying to come to grips that he of all people had been pick pocketed. Still standing at the counter looking dejected the man finally said, "Sir, Im sorry, but you will have to move on now. Theres a line behind you that needs waiting on."
Ezra could only stammer, "B B But I have to be on that bus." Ezras wits finally kicked in and he retrieved his badge. Wanting to keep it handy in case it was needed in an unforeseen emergency, but not wanting it to be another bulge in his pockets he had placed the sacred item in one of the bags he was toting. Pulling out the I.D. he laid it on the counter for the man to inspect. "It is quite the necessity that I acquire passage on that particular mode of transportation. Understand?" The tiredness had been replaced by anger and he was operating in agent mode.
The man nodded somberly. "Is this an official trip?" he asked nervously. He would, of course, butt someone off the bus, but he sure wasnt looking forward to it. Some of the passengers were already getting restless and nerves were on edge.
Ezra could easily read the trepidation in the other man and smiled sadly. "No, it is not an official trip. But I would still be appreciative if we could arrange a proposition in which I am on that bus," he said.
Counter-man looked trapped, since it was not an official trip, then he was required to treat the gentleman before him like any other passenger. Glancing around he leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I can reserve you a seat, but, sir I have to inform you that I will have to require payment."
Running his hand through his hair and trying to control his rising ire he cocked his eyebrow at the man and asked, "How do you propose I ascertain such income for said purchase?"
The travel agent darted his eyes back and forth and once down to the packages Ezra was holding before saying, "There is a pawn shop three blocks down."
Exasperation was not even close to describing the feeling Ezra was experiencing. Leaving the counter, he buttoned his overcoat and headed back out into the biting cold. Three blocks later he was standing in front of the pawnshop. He had been in such places when undercover, but he never thought he would be an actual customer. Deciding that he would only hock what he absolutely had to, he entered the store. Doing some quick calculations on how much he could expect to get for what gift, he decided on Bucks midi player and tapes, JDs new software for imaging, and because he knew he would probably need some extra cash, Nathans. He had bought the licensed paramedic a new medical encyclopedia cd program. After exchanging the presents for money, he somberly headed back out into the snow. His head drooping a little at a loss he couldnt explain.
Getting back in line at the terminal he once again came face-to-face with the ticket agent, money and tickets were silently exchanged and Ezra went off to find a quiet place to make his phone calls and cancel his credit cards. After making the necessary calls, he decided to try getting in touch with Vin. After letting the phone ring several times, it dawned on him that the guys would be down at The Saloon. Calling Chris number, he was to leave a brief message on the answering machine, before his cell phone went dead. Ezra sighed, things were not going very well. Unfortunately the storm was much worse in that part of the country and the fact that the mans recorder was in dire need of replacing; thus the new one in Ezras bag, only parts of the message was recorded. Finding a place to sit, Ezra sat down, found his book and did what his job so often required him to do; wait.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
Chris and company had finally closed down the joint and traversed back to the ranch. Since they would be spending the holiday together anyway, the two designated drivers (Josiah and Chris) decided just to take the others on out to the ranch and save the possibility of them being stranded in town the next morning and not being together. Directing the others to bed, Chris passed by the answering machine and noted the blinking red light. Hoping for a message from his missed agent, Chris punched the button and skipped through the messages until he heard the voice he wanted. The message sent him into leader mode. Five slightly intoxicated men became sober instantly at the sudden yelling of their names. His agents soon surrounded Chris as he hit the button again.
"Mr. Larabee Calling because gone down. Plane Dallas . Caught bus .arm .stolen miserable."
After listening to the message again Buck said quietly, "Sounds like hes stressed"
"He said something about a something going down and plane," Josiah added worriedly.
"I heard something about his arm," Nathan said.
"You think hes hurt?" JD asked, concern evident in his voice.
"Come on kid, this is Ezra were talking about," Vin stated with humor, trying to lighten the growing heaviness in the room.
"He said he was miserable," Chris said very softly. They all knew Ezra never commented on his true feelings. The fact that he did was of great concern.
Snapping out of his thought Chris began issuing orders. "Buck, take the tape and see if you can clean it up any. Nathan, find me the home number of that agent-in-charge." Turning to JD, he said, "Get on the computer and see if you can track any of his credit cards. Josiah, start finding out the number to the hospitals in that area." Looking at Vin he said, " I need to know the weather conditions and possible transportation to Dallas"
All the men simply accepted their given orders and set off to fulfill them. Five minutes later Chris was barraging a certain captain with questions faster than the man could answer. It was soon ascertained that the bust had gone down smoothly and that the borrowed undercover agent had left in one piece and fit. Everyone had learned by example that when one borrowed one of Agent Chris Larabees men, they had best return them in the same shape as when they had arrived, or else you would be receiving a visit from a very angry leader, usually followed by the rest of the team. He had, earlier, turned on the TV and was relieved to learn no plane had gone down, that had released one worry.
Josiah had finally found out that Agent Standish had switched his flight to Dallas upon learning he couldnt get into Denver. Running his hand through his hair he knew it would have been much slower if JD had not been able to track him on the computer through the mans credit cards. He called the Dallas airport and worked his way through the automated answering service. Forty-minutes later, a near-maniacal Josiah finally got a hold of a live person. It still took a while and a lot of threats to find out that the person he was talking to had no way of tracking the agent from his plane. He had found out that Ezras luggage was safely on its way to Denver, he just didnt know where Ezra was at the moment. He resigned, himself to the fact that he might wind up tracking down his friend the old fashion way
The profiler walked into Chris study and waited to be acknowledged. Chris looked up and knew immediately he wasnt going to be happy about what Josiah had found out. "Tracked him to Dallas. From there they have no bookings for Ezra."
Chris only nodded and Josiah turned to leave, then turned back and said, "At least we know hes not hurt." The big man put his hand on the knob, but was stopped by his boss words.
"At least he wasnt when he left," Chris said softly. Then added, "Thanks Josiah."
"Hes fine," Josiah said, although he wasnt sure if he was trying to assure his boss or himself.
Back on the bus:
Of all the things he had been forced to participate in all his life, this was at the top as being the worst. Maude and the government had both ask him do a lot of horrible things, but there was something about riding in a bus that he just found repulsive. It wasnt the seats, because, contrary to popular belief they really werent that uncomfortable. He couldnt blame the people; they were everyday citizens just trying to get to their families like him. He couldnt put his finger on it, but he was certainly not going to do this again if at all possible.
Ezra had found himself in the aisle seat beside a twelve-year-old girl traveling to see her father. The agent had realized a long time ago that divorce decrees very seldom gave any consideration to the child. The person on the other side of the aisle was a man in his forties, who had already been nipping at some holiday cheer and was now rambling on about his sappy, sad-sack life. Ezra turned his attention to the young girl beside him; he could tell she was nervous about having to sit beside a stranger even though he had already shown her his credentials. He had noticed her at the terminal and after showing his I.D. to the proper people, had assigned himself as her guardian and protector for the duration of the trip.
Taking out his cards he began shuffling them, doing a few tricks to lighten the atmosphere. After a few minutes, he began having her pick out cards. Using the cards as she picked them out, he began telling a made-up story. The little girl was delighted at the mans abilities. After about twenty cards, her eyelids began to droop and Ezra rearranged their belongings so that she could lean against him and just rest for a while. It didnt take long for her to fall asleep, leaving Ezra to listen to the chattering man across from him. During Ezras orientation, the tipsy man had tried to help Ezra tell his story. After a stern look, the man had finally quit and listened. Now that the girl was asleep, the man felt it his duty to keep Ezra engaged in conversation. After awhile Ezra, himself, feigned sleep.
A couple of hours after midnight the bus arrived at the terminal in Amarillo. Ezra made sure the young girl found her father and then went to see what the next step would be to getting home. It turned out worse than he had ever expected. Due to safety reasons, the busses were no longer running into Colorado. Ezra knew the real reason lay in not getting sued for traveling in snowy conditions and the possibilities of getting into an accident. The agent was still standing at the counter contemplating his next move when the father of the little girl approached him. "Excuse me, sir, is there a problem?" the man asked.
Ezra pulled down his mask and cursed himself for being so open with his emotions. Plastering a smile on his lips, he said in a forced humorous voice, "I seem to be stuck."
Seeing the confused look on the fathers face, he said, "I was hoping to arrive back home today, but it seems the fates are against me."
The man stood there for a moment before a look of inspiration came over his face. "Theres a truck stop on the edge of town. Those guys drive in practically in kind of weather. I would be more than happy to take you out there. You could probably get a lift without any problem," he said, happy in the thought of doing the agent a favor for looking after his daughter.
Surprise showed in the agents face as he quickly assessed the merits of such an idea and found them with possibilities. "I would be most appreciative. Only if I am assured it would not be of an imposition to you," Ezra said, looking down at the young girl.
"No problem at all," the man said as he led he way out of the terminal.
Thirty-seven minutes later Ezra found himself in a lit-up truck stop. Being in one of the main intersections of the Interstates the place was quite big. Gathering up himself, he walked into the restaurant and sat down. The waitress came over and he started to order before remembering he had only had so much money left and figuring he may need it before he got home, he grinned and politely refused the much hungered-after liquid, waving off the poised coffee pot. The waitress looked at him in question and Ezra softly explained, "Got pick pocketed back in Dallas."
The young teenager smiled sadly, and then proceeded to the coffee. "Its on the house," she said with a smile.
Before she could walk away Ezra called her back. "I find myself stranded with no possible mode of transportation to arrive at my destination. I was wondering if there might be someone about who could possibly help me out."
The teen looked at the man for a moment with a puzzled look before figuring out the message. Nodding her head, making her ponytail bob up and down, she said, "You want to know if theres a trucker wholl give ya lift?"
Ezra said, "Yes, that is exactly what Im inquiring. I need to get to Colorado"
The girl turned on her heels and called back over her shoulder, "Ill go ask. Be back in a minute."
A few minutes later, the teen came back with a very tall, lean man. He appeared to be in his thirties and was wearing jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt. The girl introduced the man. "This is David."
Ezra held out his hand and shook the truckers hand. Motioning for the man to sit down he introduced himself. "My name is Ezra Standish. I dont know if the young lady told you or not, but I find myself, not only stranded without transportation, but also, without any monetary gains." He didnt want to mention that he was a federal employee unless he absolutely felt it necessary, not everyone could distinguish between the varied government agencies and some of those agencies were not very popular.
"Youre busted and need a ride to Colorado?" the man said plainly.
Agreeing silently Ezra slipped into a role of an ordinary man and said, "That pretty much sums it up."
"Where ya headed?"
"Denver, or as close to there as I can get," Ezra replied.
" Well, Im leaving right now headed for Colorado City. I can give ya lift that far. After that well have to find you another ride," the trucker offered.
"Colorado City would be most appreciated," Ezra said with a genuine smile. It was only a couple hours drive from there to Denver. Things were looking up, with a little luck he would be home by late afternoon.
Ezra briefly thought about calling one of the guys to let them know where he was, but quickly came to his senses. They all would be in bed at this late hour and, besides, Chris wouldnt have listened to messages yet anyway. The feared leader would have been put straight to bed; probably by either Vin or Buck. He admitted that Chris had started taking his turn at being the designated driver in the past year, but if he had calculated it right; tonight would not be his turn. He saw the trucker disappearing out the door and all thoughts of calling vanished, as he hurried to catch up.
Back at the ranch:
Buck was still trying to clean up the tape. He silently cursed his old friends temper. The poor machine had taken a lot of abuse in the year. Chris went through answering machines like Ezra went through clocks. It seemed every time Chris received a call he didnt like, the machine took the punishment. That was why JD and he had gone in together and bought Chris a new state-of-the-art answering machine built of sturdy material, promising it could withstand the effects of an earthquake. With any luck, the machine would last a couple of years.
JD had hesitantly reported to Chris that the credit cards had been cancelled; due to the fact the owner had reported them stolen. JD hadnt been looking forward to telling his boss that bit of information at all, but had no intention of looking like a scared kid by having one of the others do it for him. He had figured out if he wanted to stop being treated like a kid and earn his place among the guys, he would have to do the same things the other guys did, even if that meant delivering bad news to his ill-tempered leader. JD had been right in thinking Chris wouldnt take the news well, but at least he had walked off with his head still attached.
Now that there were no more credit cards to follow, they were stuck as to how to track their friends movements. Sitting around brainstorming Vin loudly shouted, "The luggage."
Josiah turned his red-rimmed eyes toward the Texan. "What?" he asked tiredly.
"Ezras luggage. If he thought it was going to Dallas, then he would have checked it out when the bags didnt show up," he explained
"Right!" Josiah said, as he picked up the phone and once again maneuvered his way through the select-a-reason-youre- calling numbers. Just as he was about to throw the portable across the room, an actual voice came on the line. It took another ten minutes to locate the office he was looking for and explain to the person why he was calling. The woman on the other end actually recalled the young man and Josiah had no doubt it was because of Ezras dimples and green eyes. For some reason, completely unknown to Ezra, women remembered his face long after he moved on. Josiah laughed at the flash of thought that crossed his mind. Buck did his best to garner womens attention and Ezra, and to be fair, Vin, got it all the time and rarely noticed. A few minutes later the profiler pushed end and redialed information. Calling the bus terminal was a long shot, but it was all they had.
A frustrating, but profitable hour later, Josiah walked into the study. Without an invitation he sat his bone-tired body down into the comfortable couch. Chris could see the tiredness in his mans face and knew there was four others just like it out in the living room.
"Find anything?" Chris asked.
Nodding his affirmation, Josiah spoke, "Found a ticket agent who sold Ezra a ticket for Amarillo, Texas. Figure thats the arm we heard about on the tape. Bucks stopped trying to clean up the tape. We figure Ezra called from Dallas, so we arent going to get any new information from that recording."
Chris nodded. "How did the guy remember Ezra?" Chris suddenly asked.
"Ezra pulled out his badge and asked for a reserved seat."
"Ezra pulled rank?" the blond asked worriedly. He knew Ezra could get into a lot of trouble doing that in non-emergency situations.
"Nah. Just wanted to reserve a seat until he could get the money," Josiah said. Seeing the coming question he went on before Chris could ask. "Apparently Ezra walked to a nearby Pawn Shop and hocked some presents. If I was guessing I would say they were ours," Josiah finished softly.
"I dont care if he gives them all up as long as he gets somewhere safe and stays put," the leader said hoarsely. Looking up, he was reminded how tired he and his men were. "Tell the guys to call it a night. Well get some sleep and start again in a few hours."
Josiah nodded once and rose off the couch and walked out the door. Chris sat in his chair a while longer, wondering when it was exactly that he started caring whether or not all of them were together for the holidays and how they had wormed their way into his once turned-off heart.
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