Taken to the Grave

by Michelle & Amanda


Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, didn't make any money off 'em. Wish we did - you should get paid for having this much fun. Also, Team Eight is a creation of HeatherF. We hope she doesn't mind us borrowing them.

Summary: An argument among the members of Team Seven makes Ezra's latest undercover assignment difficult.

Notes: We'd love to hear what you think. WOTtwin@netscape.net


Vin was usually a very patient man. As a sniper, he had to be. You got one shot at your mark, and once that shot was fired and your location is revealed, you'd better get the hell out of there or prepare to face the consequences. If you panicked and took your shot too soon, that was it. Snipers rarely got a second opportunity.

But as the sharpshooter lay looking through the scope of his rifle at the open warehouse door about thirty yards away, he couldn't help feeling a bit antsy. Those were his teammates down there. It was a bad situation, and Vin wished he could be down there helping out. He would at least have liked to know what was going on in the basement.

The scent of smoke wafted into Vin's nostrils. He could feel the heat coming from the burning vehicle around the corner. Meyerhurst's Navigator had gone up in a huge fireball, and a wave of concussion had ripped through the old warehouse. Mortar was still sliding down from the decaying brickwork. At least lying low atop the abandoned car across from the building he didn't have to worry about the ceiling collapsing on him. There weren't many places to hide in the warehouse. His options were either behind a crate - not exactly brilliant - or somewhere outside the warehouse where he could see the door. Vin would have preferred to be a little closer to the stairwell, but he had to take what he could get.

A chunk of bricks crumpled down from the corner. Vin sure hoped Team Seven could wrap things up quickly downstairs. He had strong suspicions that the building wouldn't be standing for too much longer. C'mon, fellas, hurry it up down there.

The explosion had blown out most all of the light bulbs, but was that a shape moving within the shadows of the warehouse? Yup, there it is. A dark figure exited the dingy warehouse and stepped into Vin's scope. Illuminated by the red and gold light cast by the burning debris, Meyerhurst's bodyguard stood out against the night.

Vin supposed he should have been surprised to find that of all Meyerhurst's inner circle, Eric Further would be the first to run, but he wasn't. Loyalty in the crime world was a fickle value. And Tanner had discovered while he was on Further's trail that the man's only true friend was money and his own life. Maybe in that order, too.

The rifle was aimed and Vin's finger was wrapping slowly against the trigger. An instant before the shot was fired, Further turned his head to look directly into the scope. He had just enough warning to suddenly lunge forward and dodge the incoming bullet. How the hell did he know I was here? Vin wondered in astonishment. Before the sharpshooter could cock the chamber for a second shot, the hit man had plunged into the shadows.

His position was compromised. Vin slid down from his post and crouched deeper into the shadows himself. He was torn between two conflicting priorities. Chris had ordered him to stay and watch the exits, but Further being unaccounted for was a menace to the whole team.

Vin stalked over to the warehouse doors where Further had just been, on the alert for anything. He put a knee on the ground to examine the drops of blood that lay there. So he had wounded the criminal, at least. The bastard should be dead. Everyone always said that Vin had a sixth sense, that you could never sneak up on the sharpshooter. Vin was getting the distinct feeling that he wasn't the only man endowed with such instincts.

It was those very instincts that saved his life, for a little voice inside him told Vin that he was in the sights of a rifle barrel. Tanner didn't hesitate to throw himself into a roll and a bullet ricocheted off the ground where he had been sitting on his heels a second earlier. The ATF agent came up with his weapon in his hands and fired in the direction of the shot. Not waiting to find out if he hit anything, Vin immediately ran to the cover of an old beat-up trash compactor that had laid down to die against an decrepit retaining wall. When no additional shots were fired, he levered himself up the wall and onto the higher ground.

There was Further. A few hundred feet away, running silently down an alley away from the warehouse. Vin recognized that alley. They had found Dumluk there. It was a dead end.

Confident that the hit man had nowhere to go, Tanner swiftly readied his rifle and followed, careful not to run into an ambush. But as he approached the end of the alley, Vin could see that Eric Further had disappeared. Doubly suspect of an ambush, Vin pressed himself against a wall and looked all around, but there was no one. Further had somehow managed to vanish into thin air.

Vin was suddenly reminded of his previous stint hunting the hit man. He had been confirmed within fifteen minutes of Further's location at a relative's house, but when he had got there the man was gone. Tanner had never been able to pick up his track again before the bounty was recalled.

Vin checked out the surrounding area for a while, but could not find a trace of Eric Further. Disgusted at the one that got away yet again, he made his way back to the warehouse.

The air had become heavy with smoke and dust on the upper level of the warehouse. Ezra coughed painfully as he ran up the stairs, ignoring the airborne particles that scratched his damaged throat. Meyerhurst's chokehold had left it bruised and constricted to the point where Ezra still felt as though he was being suffocated, but that wasn't about to stop Standish from going after the crime boss. He had worked too hard and risked too much to allow Meyerhurst to escape.

Yes, assaulting one's superior officer is such hard work, Ezra thought sarcastically, coming to the top of the stairs. He had caught a glimpse of Chris as he had led Team Seven's charge into the warehouse. Relief at hearing Larabee's voice and realizing back-up had arrived had been tempered by the sight of Chris' face dark with bruises and lacerations. Although the ATF leader looked immeasurably better than the last time his undercover agent had seen him, Ezra could not forget his role in Larabee's new look.

Now that Team Seven had the situation well in hand - Ezra hoped JD fared better with Kitty than Oscar had - Standish's drive to catch the arms dealer was fueled by the impetus to avoid Chris. Besides the mask of contusions and forming scar tissue, Larabee had worn an expression of supreme rage, the kind of rage that brought mountains to their knees and made hardened criminals snivel in fear. It seemed safer to stick with Meyerhurst.

Ezra emerged from the stairwell just in time to see the crime boss slip out the sliding door of the warehouse. The undercover agent scrambled after him.

Standish rounded the corner cautiously in case Meyerhurst was waiting to ambush him. He wasn't, but Ezra glanced to his right and spotted the arms dealer some twenty yards away staring at the hulk of burning wreckage that used to be his vehicle. The carefully neutral expression which meant that Meyerhurst was really irritated turned into a sinister smile as Meyerhurst saw the agent and disappeared through an alley between two buildings. Standish did not hesitate in following.

The gap emptied out into a dirty back street, hardly more than an alley itself. In a nice town the dumpsters would be clean and maintained, stores would make sure their back doors were securely latched for the night and trash would be hidden away in its proper receptacles. That not being the case, the dumpsters were graffiti covered heaps resembling dented tin cans. Back doors of abandoned stores hung ajar on their hinges. Garbage cans and bags of trash were collected in great piles beside the brick walls and strewn into the street, impeding Meyerhurst's flight and Ezra's subsequent chase. As he ran after Meyerhurst down the street, Ezra heard his name being shouted. A quick glance behind him revealed that Chris had just turned the corner and was following Standish and the crime lord.

Was he after Ezra or Meyerhurst? Well, of course he's after Meyerhurst, the undercover agent thought peevishly. Chris would get the job done. Then he'd deal with Standish. Suddenly Ezra found the energy for a burst of speed.

He was closing the distance between himself and his quarry. Meyerhurst looked over his shoulder. The arms dealer's composure faltered for a moment as he turned his attention forward and tripped over a milk crate. He went down on his knees but before Ezra could reach the criminal Meyerhurst scrambled through an open door into a vacant building.

The door had no handle on the outside and would have been impossible to open if it had not already been ajar. The little light that it admitted into the building's dark interior revealed a narrow cement corridor that turned a corner and led into pitch blackness. Popcorn on the floor indicated that the building was a theater of some sort. With a quick glance back at Chris, Ezra stepped through the doorway. He had JD's gun, but the lack of light worked to Meyerhurst's advantage, as it would be well nigh impossible for Ezra hit anything while he was rendered effectively blind.

All right, Mr. Meyerhurst. Time for a little hide and go seek.

No, Ezra, don't go in. Wait for me, he's got nowhere to go in there. Or better yet, I'll circle around the front, we can flush him out. Don't make me chase you in there. Chris watched as his agent looked at him quickly before vanishing into the derelict store back. No, dammit! Aw, shit.

Larabee had exited the burning warehouse to find no sign of his two agents or the criminals they were pursuing. The fact that Eric Further had abandoned his team much earlier but now he and Vin were nowhere in sight had Chris worried. He hoped the sharpshooter was okay.

Noises from a nearby side street had drawn Larabee's attention and he had hurriedly dashed down the alley to find his undercover agent dodging debris as he chased Meyerhurst. Chris had shouted his name but that only seemed to inspire Ezra to greater speed. Then Meyerhurst had fallen and it had seemed that Standish would catch the arms dealer, but instead the crime lord had slipped through an open door.

Larabee jogged up to the entrance through which Meyerhurst and Ezra had disappeared - which was actually an exit, he realized - and sidled up against the wall. Gun ready, he nudged the door further ajar with his foot and tried to get a glimpse of what might wait inside, but could not penetrate the thick darkness.

He didn't like the look of that chillingly familiar, gloomy blackness. Any sort of trap or ambush could lay inside and Chris would have no way to know. Larabee silently cursed the recklessness of his undercover agent. He had to risk it. Ezra was in there with Meyerhurst and no backup. The door slipped shut behind him as, with a feeling like walking into the grave, Chris slid through it . . .

. . . and collided with a wall. The ATF leader grunted in surprise as he came in contact with the cool cement barrier. Stretching out his arms and feeling his way in the dark, Chris determined he was in a narrow corridor whose floor sloped slightly downward. He followed the cement wall until it turned a corner into a larger room, revealing the passageway to be a light-trap of some sort.

Chris sidestepped until he felt the outside wall and began to feel his way up it. Something bumped his knee. Examining the plush object with his fingers, Larabee realized it was a chair. A movie theater seat, thus explaining the light-trap leading to the emergency exit. This was a theater. No shows were playing today, though, or yesterday, or the day before that. It had been years since the last matinee in this movie house. The cinema hall that Meyerhurst had led them into was abandoned.

Speaking of Meyerhurst and Ezra, where was the bastard? Chris held still and closed his eyes, a pointless effort in the pitch darkness of the theater but it did seem to enhance his hearing and concentration. He heard a noise he could not identify, to his right and slightly above. Was it Standish or Meyerhurst? Sheeyit, I'm going to have to find out.

"Ezra," Larabee called before dropping to crouch behind the velvet theater seat. He slowly and quietly moved along the row of chairs as he waited for a response.

"Chris?" Standish's Southern-laden tones returned from the location where the ATF leader had heard the odd sound.

"Where's Meyerhurst?" Chris asked before ducking back behind the cover of the plush seats.

"I don't know," the accented voice admitted. Larabee heard that strange, obnoxious noise again. It almost sounded like Velcro, only softer.

"Is that you?" he asked. The row of seats ended. Chris began to creep up a carpeted aisle way.

"Yes," Standish sounded disgusted. "Apparently the cleaning lady decided to take her last day off. I stepped in an ancient mess of soda and imitation butter."

"It's amazing how long that mixture will remain sticky, is it not?" Larabee heard the voice from where Ezra had been standing. A voice that did not have a Southern accent. Then the sound reached his ears of rasping, choking gasps. Like a person was struggling to breathe.

"Meyerhurst," Chris growled.

"Agent Larabee," the crime boss returned in a polite tone. "We seem to find ourselves in a very interesting situation. I won't bother requesting that you throw your gun away, as I would be unable to confirm if you had complied or not. But I will ask that you refrain from shooting in my direction, as you would be liable to hit Agent Standish here."

"Ezra?" Chris queried. The only reply he received was more tortured wheezing.

"I'm afraid Agent Standish is not in a position to respond."

Larabee swore under his breath. "Alright, Meyerhurst. I won't shoot. Let Standish go."

The arms dealer chuckled lightly and Chris swore he could hear the man smile. "Oh, I think not. The good Agent Standish is going to die. That's not an option. He knew from the beginning what I do to people who try to con me."

"He didn't try. He had you completely fooled." Larabee could visualize that wiping the grin off Meyerhurst's face. The crime lord's response, however, took away any satisfaction Chris had received from the barb.

"All the more reason I cannot allow him to live." Ezra's rough panting became frantic.

"Put him down!" Larabee ordered.

"Try and make me!"

That sounded like a dare. What was he, ten years old? "I have a better idea, Meyerhurst," Chris called. "Why don't you let him go, and I'll introduce you around at the state penitentiary?"

To the ATF leader's utmost surprise, Meyerhurst acquiesced. "That sounds like too generous an offer to pass up, Agent Larabee. As you wish."

Chris heard a heavy thud, like a body falling to the floor. "Ezra?" he shouted. There was no response. Chris suddenly realized that the undercover agent's gasping breaths had stopped as he was delivering the ultimatum. "Meyerhurst, damn you-"

A bullet whizzing past his ear cut off Larabee's invectives. Chris dove into one of the middle rows of seating and fired his own revolver in the direction of the shot. He waited, but there was no return fire.

Meyerhurst had to be making his way to the entrance at the top of the auditorium. Though he might try to make it back to the emergency exit, the rest of Team Seven could easily be searching the area for them, even if police backup hadn't arrived by now. No, Chris reasoned, Meyerhurst would go for the front entrance and try to come out on the opposite street.

He wished he could see where Ezra had fallen. Why would Meyerhurst have let him go? Because he's dead. Chris rejected the thought as soon as it came. He refused to admit even the possibility that Meyerhurst had succeeded in killing the undercover agent. However, Larabee could not dismiss the knowledge that the crime lord would do it if he had the chance. But Chris could do nothing for Ezra while trapped in the dark, and if Meyerhurst was still in the theater then Larabee needed to catch him.

Remembering what Ezra had said about the floor, Chris pulled open the plush folding seat and used it to step over back and into the next row. He continued climbing over the rows, working his way to the back of the theater. The darkness that had been so inhibiting was now his only cover. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Chris couldn't help a grim smile at the thought of the policy at the beginning of movies reminding patrons to keep their feet off the seats.

Larabee finally reached the last row of seats snugged up against the back wall. He turned to the right and started walking the seats in a horizontal direction. As he folded down the next velvet chair Chris estimated he was only two or three seats from the aisle. Was Meyerhurst still in the auditorium? The ATF leader stepped to the next seat.

The chair squeaked.

There was a flash and a bang, and a bullet ripped out of the darkness. Chris launched himself up and jumped forward over the last couple of seats, landing in a roll on the carpet. Bringing up his gun Larabee fired randomly, not where the burst had originated but more to his left, where the entrance doors likely were. The sound of a person jumping back a few yards away told Chris that Meyerhurst was still in the building, and obviously close. He swung his arm around and pulled the trigger.

The gun was empty. Chris' eyes widened in the dark. Meyerhurst knew where he was, and there was very little chance the arms dealer would miss at this range. There was no time to get clear. Chris suddenly looked at the blackness that surrounded them and was reminded of the coffin earlier that night. The air instantly seemed thick. Larabee's breathing became shallow and he thought of Ezra struggling to breathe against Meyerhurst's choking grip. Would the deserted theater become both their graves?

The shot came even as the thought occurred, but it went wide. By the light of the flash as the weapon discharged, Chris had seen a hand grab Meyerhurst's arm and pull it away. Now, cloaked in darkness, two combatants fought. Sound and instinct told Larabee that one was gaining the upper hand. The only problem was, Chris couldn't tell which was which.

Pulling another clip from his pocket, the ATF leader reloaded his service revolver. The struggling duo were standing in front of the auditorium's entrance doors and there was a very faint light coming from underneath the closed entrance, just enough for Larabee's super-dilated eyes to make out the outlines of two figures. One had its arms wrapped around the other's throat. Chris crept up behind the strangling figure and with the butt of his gun clubbed it on the back of the neck. The figure went down in a heap. Larabee didn't waste anytime but quickly reversed his grip on the weapon and pointed it at the other form.

"Don't move or I'll shoot."

The dark shape put its hands in the air, and a voice croaked out of it. A voice with a Southern accent.

"Chris," Ezra whispered hoarsely.

"Standish," Chris acknowledged, adjusting his aim to point at the comatose figure barely outlined by the light on the floor. With one hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of handcuffs. "Cuff this bastard, will you?"

Ezra didn't answer but Chris sensed the agent nod and the silvery bracelets were taken out of his hands. Once Standish confirmed that Meyerhurst had been safely detained, Chris holstered his weapon. The two of them dragged the crime lord's unconscious form out of the auditorium and into the theater's lobby. Though it was still dark, the glass entrance doors allowed light from a streetlamp to dimly illuminate the building's interior.

"You okay?" Larabee asked his agent as they dropped Meyerhurst on the lobby's floor. The carpeting was as tacky as one of Meyerhurst's ties, Chris noticed as he as he sat down heavily on a plain wooden bench that had seen better days.

"I'm feeling less than stellar," Ezra admitted hoarsely, still watching the arms dealer even though it was fairly clear Meyerhurst wouldn't be moving under his own power for a while yet. "I shall survive, however. Are you uninjured?"

"I'm not shot, anyway."

Ezra took his eyes off Meyerhurst for a moment to glance at Chris. He winced visibly. "I'm sorry, that was a stupid question," Ezra said quietly.

Larabee shrugged uncomfortably and shifted his gaze down to the comatose figure between them. "You kept me from getting killed," he said.

A bitter snort from the Southern agent turned into a pain-ridden cough. "If not much else," Standish muttered after the fit had passed.

"Why was that?" Chris wanted to know.

The ATF leader watched his undercover agent's face carefully. Guilt, confusion, anger and frustration all flashed across it before settling on a bland, impassive expression. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," Standish said.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time?" Chris yelled in disbelief. "Damn it, Ezra, why can't you ever answer a question directly? You did a lot of great work this week, but there are a couple of things that just don't make sense to me, and I think you know what they are."

"Well what would you like me to tell you, Chris? I did what was necessary to save your life and ensure the success of the mission. I'm not proud of it, but I'm damn well not sorry that I did." The outburst left Ezra coughing and gasping for breath. Chris was forced to admit that this was not the time for such a discussion.

"Whatever," he let the subject drop. "Lets just drag this son of a bitch downtown and be done with it."

"Fine." Ezra grabbed one of Meyerhurst's arms and started pulling the criminal up. Larabee sighed and heaved himself to his feet before securing Meyerhurst's other arm.


Police backup arrived just as the last member of Meyerhurst's cohorts fell. Ron Rye had gone down with as much resistance as an oak tree to a chisel, but eventually he had fallen. The present members of Team Seven emerged from the warehouse like survivors of a nuclear holocaust.

The paramedics were available on the scene, but all Josiah wanted to do at that moment was sit down. There was a street curb not fifteen feet away that would do nicely. He shuffled over, Nathan following in case the profiler needed support. Josiah levered himself down to the curbside with Nathan's assistance. The ex-EMT sat down wearily beside him. They watched in exhausted silence as firefighters sprayed the warehouse with water, extinguishing the blaze before it could take any more of the building.

Paramedics were putting the finally still body of Ron Rye into an ambulance. It was unsure whether he would survive the seven bullet holes that Nathan had put into him. Quite necessarily, for the man had kept on fighting even as Nathan had fired bullet after bullet.

Josiah had wrestled with his fair share of demons in his lifetime, but never quite so literally as he had in that basement. The profiler was not a weak man by any means, but Ron Rye had had the strength of a machine. Even with the help of Buck, JD and Nathan it had taken all of Josiah's might to bring the giant down. God give me strength, Josiah had thought over and over again as the fight dragged on.

"I'd give my right arm to know how that man died," Nathan commented as the paramedics wheeled past them with the stretcher on which the body bag that contained Rick Gadflies lay.

"God's will," Josiah muttered as he shifted his seat. None of the Seven had escaped unscathed from the battle. Josiah thought he may have bruised a couple of ribs besides the number of contusions he had sustained. And he was just plain exhausted. Nathan had a split lip, but beyond that seemed in pretty good health. JD had struck his head against the wall as he had been thrown from Ron Rye's back, but nothing could bring down the indomitable spirit of JD. He was animatedly describing the battle to the paramedic who was bandaging his head. Buck was standing a few feet away being treated by a very pretty female paramedic. Josiah heard Buck make several anxious inquiries as to whether his nose was broken. The blonde woman naturally smiled as she assured him it was not.

As the two agents were being treated, the police were leading a handcuffed Andrea Kitanovich to their patrol vehicle. JD smirked as she passed by. Buck uncharacteristically glared at the attractive hacker. She snarled at both of them before joining Dale Oscar in the back of a police car. That was going to be an interesting story.

Satisfied that the cops had the situation was well in hand, Josiah began to look around for the remaining members of Team Seven. Chris and Ezra were nowhere to be seen, but Vin had appeared from somewhere and was approaching the curb where Josiah and Nathan sat.

"Greetings, earthling." Josiah greeted the tracker as he walked up to them.

"Howdy," Vin returned. "How'd it go down there."

"We got the bad guys, they didn't get us. Not too bad."

The sharpshooter nodded. "Then you did better than I did. Further slipped away from me."

That someone could evade Vin Tanner was almost unthinkable. Josiah craned his neck to look up at the tracker. "How big a problem is he going to be?"

Tanner shrugged. "We've shut down his boss. Most likely he'll search out another cash cow 'stead of coming after us. We did get Meyerhurst, right?"

"Chris and Ezra went after him," Josiah replied. "They haven't come back yet."

"I'll go look for 'em."

"No need," Nathan pointed down the road where Chris and Ezra were leading a handcuffed Meyerhurst to their location. Both ATF agents looked just this side of dead. Meyerhurst strode along as if the two agents were merely his servants, a calm, haughty expression on his face. By contrast, Chris and Ezra seemed very on edge. An exhausted-looking Chris kept casting sidelong glances over at Ezra like he was trying to make up his mind, and Standish, who if anything looked like Meyerhurst was holding him up, refused to look anywhere but straight ahead.

They delivered their captive to the police before joining their teammates at the curb.

"Greetings, earthlings," Vin said.

"Yo," Chris returned. He put a hand on the sidewalk and lowered himself to the curb next to Nathan. Ezra looked at them for half a second before sitting down next to Sanchez.

"I see you got Meyerhurst," Nathan commented.

"Yep," was the best answer Larabee could construct to the obvious statement.

"Ezra, what happened to your shoes?!" Josiah exclaimed.

The five men looked down at Ezra's feet stretched into the road. They were clad in designer socks and nothing else.

"Huh," Chris said. "I should've noticed that earlier. Is that how you snuck up on Meyerhurst?"

Standish nodded. His answer was quiet and raspy, but typical Ezra. "I fully expect the Bureau to recompense the loss of those shoes. Plus the socks; they're quite ruined. And I don't think the suit will ever be the same after being subjected to a theater floor."

"In your dreams, Standish."

Buck and JD came up.

"Hey, your neck looks like his face," JD commented, ignoring the twin glares that Chris and Ezra shot at him.

"Ezra, where in hell are your shoes?" Buck asked as he and JD sat beside Vin.

The undercover agent grimaced. "Stuck to a theater floor," he said, his voice grating against his damaged throat.

"What, you and Chris decided to catch a movie with Meyerhurst and leave the rest of us to handle Frankenstein here?" Buck asked.

"Not hardly," Ezra replied tersely.

"Aw, don't mind Buck," JD said. "He's just upset 'cause a girl broke his nose."

"It ain't broken and I ain't upset. And if she hadn't caught me by surprise-"

"Come on, Buck, it's nothing to be ashamed of-"

"I ain't ashamed neither and if you'd just listen to me-"

"You know, Buck, I've got this book on denial-"

God give me strength, Josiah thought as he shook his head.

"I ain't denying nothing. And don't think I didn't notice you limping after you fought that hellcat, JD."

Vin took a sip of his draft beer and shook his head. He was sharing a table with his co-workers at their favorite saloon, waiting for Chris and Ezra to get back from the courthouse. It had been two weeks since the fight at the warehouse and Buck and JD were still arguing about it. Well, specifically they were arguing about Andrea Kitanovich. The sharpshooter smirked at the thought of any woman punching Buck in the nose, much less with enough force to knock him down. No wonder JD couldn't let off teasing him.

"You two better knock it off before I end up with a roommate again," Nathan warned the duo. He didn't have much heat in his words and JD just ignored the advice.

"See, what I gotta wonder is, what happened to the famous Buck Wilmington animal magnetism? I think you're losing your touch."

Vin chuckled. "Kid's got a point, Buck. How else could Kitanovich get the drop on ya?" He couldn't resist a little teasing himself.

"You're one to talk, Vin. How exactly did Eric Further get away? Oh, that's right. He just 'vanished.'" Buck snorted.

At that moment Chris and Ezra walked into the saloon.

"Over here, my friends," Josiah, ever the peacemaker, called over to the two men before the sharpshooter could respond to Wilmington's taunt. The five agents at the table shifted around to make room for their colleagues. Chris sat down with only a slight bit of stiffness.

"How did testifying go?" Nathan asked the question before any of the others could. The two agents had just returned from the courthouse after appearing as witnesses at Meyerhurst's trial.

"Fine," Chris answered as he signaled Inez to bring a couple more beers. The barmaid nodded her understanding and brought the drinks over as the team leader continued talking. "Meyerhurst won't be gracing the streets of Denver for a long, long time."

"Nor will the miscreants that constituted his team," Ezra took over the narration. His voice, though it still contained a burr every now and then, was back to normal. The bruises on his throat had faded to a dull yellow that were barely noticeable under his shirt collar. "Though I must admit, the prosecution will have a difficult time refuting the insanity plea entered on Ron Rye's behalf."

"I'll drink to that," Josiah muttered into his drink. Buck, Nathan and JD all murmured their heartfelt agreements.

"There's no way that man should have been able to recover so fast from being shot seven times," Nathan shook his head in disbelief.

"Oh, he's recovered quite well," Chris said. "I thought Eddie Dumluk would never get through his testimony the way he kept stopping to stare at Rye."

"Yes, well, Mr. Rye was growling at the poor man throughout the entire proceedings. At everyone, actually," Ezra commented.

"Yeah. I don't think the judge liked that very much."

Vin smirked, taking a draft of his brew to cover his amusement. Whatever had been between the ATF leader and his undercover agent had apparently been worked out. The weeks after Meyerhurst's arrest had seen the two of them walking on eggshells around each other, with Ezra incredulous and relieved about still having a job. Tanner knew that Chris had not been looking forward to going to the trial with Ezra, but it seemed that the forced companionship had done them well. Whether they'd talked it out or had it out was of little consequence to Vin. Things were back to normal.

"But eventually Dumluk did manage to get his testimony out, right?" JD asked.

"Dear Lord," Ezra muttered, putting his hand over his face and shaking his head.

"Oh, he got his testimony out alright," Chris said with a near-grin. "Couldn't shut up about what a hero 'that Ezra guy' was and how he owes him his life. I seriously thought the man was going to hug Ezra as he got down off the witness chair."

"It was mortifying," Ezra assured them.

"Well, I guess that's what happens when you single handedly face down six armed criminals to save a sniveling little weasel," Buck said.

"Yeah, Ezra, what the hell were you thinking, anyway? I mean, you threw Chris in a coffin rather than blow your cover, why couldn't you come up with a body bag or something for Dumluk?" Vin figured that Chris and Ezra could stand to show a little humor on the situation.

The undercover agent grimaced but played along. "Unfortunately, as much as I would have loved to see Mr. Dumluk in a grave at that moment, I was fresh out of plot sites."

"Chris, you stingy bastard, you didn't want him sharing yours?" Only Buck could get away with saying something like that to his long time friend.

"Hell, no," Chris shot back. "I wouldn't want to spend eternity with that man next to me. Didn't you see that jacket?"

"It was taste incarnate compared to Mr. Meyerhurst's choice of neck wear," Ezra said. "Is there some sort of requirement for arms dealers to dress like they just quit the circus?"

Vin didn't bother hiding his smile at the banter. Team Seven was going to be okay.

The seven men drank their beers and continued the conversation. Eventually Inez's establishment filled with more ATF agents as the night wore on. Ryan Kelly, leader of Team Eight, saw Larabee and his team and walked over to their table.

"Hey, guys," he greeted. The seven agents voiced various welcomes. "Did you hear about Rick Gadflies?" Kelly inquired.

"What about Gadflies?" Nathan asked. "Did they figure out how he died?"

Kelly shook his head. "Nope. Matter of fact, it's the strangest thing. They went to perform the autopsy but couldn't find the body in the morgue. Nobody knows what could have happened to it. Gadflies' body just disappeared."


The End

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