|Marge did of course. By
three o'clock Ezra had put a bid on the house. He and the boys were now on
their way to the office to hook up with Chris and Buck. It was a strange
feeling, looking forward to telling everyone about his new place. He could
already see his team/family gathered in the backyard.
They were almost to Team Seven's offices when the door to the large conference room opened. Ken Torres' team spilled out first, followed by Chris and Orrin Travis. At the sight of Ezra and the boys everyone froze for just a second. With a small part of his brain Ezra noted that Pearson wasn't there. Orrin was the first to move. He stepped forward holding out his hand. "Ezra, it's good to see you. Chris told me you were back. How is your mother?"
"Fine sir." Ezra felt like he was in a dream. He hadn't thought about the fact he might see anyone besides the team today. He certainly hadn't expected the big meeting to be with Torres' team and Chris'. Did it have to do with a bust? Or something else? Ezra felt himself start to shake despite his best efforts not to. Luckily at that moment Josiah, followed by Nathan, exited the conference room. One look at Ezra leaning on his cane instead of crutches put Nathan straight into mother hen mode. Moving quickly he pulled Ezra's arm across his shoulders.
"Didn't the therapist tell you to use the crutches? I swear Ezra you are the most stubborn man, running around all day with that cane and just look at you, about to fall over." Nathan's scold provided an excuse for the shakes. Ezra gave him a grateful look. "Josiah, help me get this fool into Chris' office. He needs to get that leg up."
Ezra said quietly as the three men moved away, "Thank you."
That night after the boys were asleep Ezra brought up the subject all three men had been avoiding.
"So your meeting today, was it about the shooting?"
Chris nodded, "Yes. Pearson has his final review board meeting on Friday. Travis and his lawyer wanted to go over things one more time."
"Don't you worry, Ez. Pearson is gonna get what he deserves. He made a stupid mistake. He's just lucky he's not facing a murder charge," Buck growled.
"Buck," Chris said in a warning tone.
Ezra cut him off, "I, too, had choices to make that day."
"What are you saying?" Chris asked carefully.
"I've given a great deal of thought to what happened. While in New Orleans I saw a psychiatrist. He helped me work through some things." Ezra sighed, "I just keep wondering if something I did makes me partially to blame."
"That's bullshit," Buck said stoutly. At a glare from Chris he sighed, reaching for his wallet. "I'll be right back."
While Buck was putting his dollar in the swear jar Chris focused on Ezra. "Whatever you're trying to sort out Ezra, you'd better do it by Friday. Now that everyone knows your back, you're going to have to be at that meeting. Just know that whatever you do, the team will back you all the way."
They sat in silence until Buck's return. In typical Buck fashion he tried to lighten the atmosphere. "So Ez, how'd the apartment hunting go?"
Recovering some of the enthusiasm of his purchase Ezra proceeded to describe the day from lunch to the moment he put a bid on the house. He had both men laughing by the time he'd gotten to the turtle.
Friday was gray and dreary, matching the solemn mood of everyone waiting for the review to start. Ezra wasn't sure if it was a good thing or bad that he'd been given an empty office to wait in. Josiah and Nathan were waiting with him talking of mundane things in hopes of keeping them all distracted. Buck hovered in the door, watching the corridor. Team Four stood clustered around Jeff Pearson at the opposite end. Chris and Ken Torres stood about halfway between both groups. Finally the doors to the meeting room opened. Waiting until Team Four had filed in Chris joined Buck in the office door.
"Ezra, it's time."
Standing up, Ezra held out his hand to Josiah, "My cane please."
"Oh no," Nathan cut in holding out the crutches. "Didn't Wednesday teach you anything? You aren't ready to walk without these."
"Nathan, I promise, let me use the cane for this meeting and I'll use the crutches until you say otherwise."
"Give him the cane, Josiah," Chris ordered. He understood what Ezra was trying to do. He was down playing his injury so as to avoid unwanted sympathy. Josiah handed over the cane then along with Buck and Nathan led the way toward the meeting room. The three men provided a protective wedge for Chris and Ezra to walk behind. At the door Ezra paused a moment to straighten his jacket. Chris watched the transformation from injured, still healing man to calm professional. As they walked to their seats even Ezra's limp seemed less. A trick Chris knew the southerner would pay for later.
For the first time since the shooting Ezra got a good view of Jeff Pearson. He seemed to have aged in the last month. Ezra's sharp eyes noted how his suit hung loosely on his frame. Pearson sat at a table with his rep and Ken Torres. He never looked up and seemed to be almost in a daze. As the rep called various members of both teams up to go over their testimony one more time Pearson seemed to shrink even further.
Ezra listened carefully to everything. This was the first time he was hearing all the impressions of that day not just what his friends remembered. Finally it was over with neither team having any real defense for Pearson's actions. At the same time nothing really pointed to his guilt. Because he still wasn't clear on the day's events Ezra was exempt from testifying. Making a decision he stood up. "Gentlemen, I would like to say something before the board makes it's decision."
Pearson's rep objected but the panel members overruled him. Ezra walked toward the front aware that for the first time Pearson was looking up. Once seated he paused until the head of the review board said, "Mr. Standish, have you changed your mind?"
"No sir." Ezra took a deep breath glancing over at his teammates. "As has been stated, I do not recall much from that day. Not that I haven't tried. I've gone over everything I remember almost as many times as Jeff probably has." Pearson gave a slight jerk at the use of his name.
"Is there a point to all this?" Pearson's rep asked.
"Do you have some information to add, Mr. Standish, that the board might find helpful?" the head of the board asked.
"Perhaps not information so much as something I'd like you to consider when making your decision." Ezra looked down at his hands for a moment. "I made the choice to chase Carson. A choice that, as an agent, was mine to make. That choice, along with several other factors put both Pearson and I in a position where we had to make other choices. I was running. I did not resemble the photo used in the briefing as ID. You've all chased perps. Do you do it with your gun up or down?"
"Mr. Standish," the board head's tone said, make your point.
"I guess what I am trying to say is, I do not believe that any one person is at fault here. Circumstances and choices put Pearson and I behind that warehouse. I would hate to see a good agent's career ruined over such flimsy things. That's all I wanted to convey." Ezra stayed in the chair while the board withdrew to make their decision. The next thing he knew Nathan was standing in front of him holding out the crutches.
"Now, will you use these you stubborn," Nathan stopped before completing the phrase.
"Careful Nathan, or you'll owe the swear jar." Ezra accepted the crutches. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Nathan held out his hand, "Now give me that cane. I'm keeping it."
They started back toward their seats only to be intercepted by Jeff Pearson. "Um, may I talk to you?" Darting a quick glance at Ezra's team, "Alone."
"Gentlemen, if you please." Ezra smiled at his over protective friends. Poor Jeff received several rather intense looks before Chris led everyone toward the back of the room. Ken Torres and his team were already there. Not wanting to sit down, Ezra leaned against one of the front tables. Looking at Jeff he waited.
"I, uh, I wanted to thank you for what you said. And to tell you how sorry I am, about everything." Jeff looked down at his shoes, "I keep playing it over and over in my mind. God, how could I have been so stupid? I would do anything to change what happened." His voice was trembling and choked with tears.
Suddenly Ezra felt about eighty years old. This guy was almost still a kid. What could he say to him? Why should he have to say anything? An image of two little boys came to his mind. Pearson had kids who were being affected by all this too.
"Jeff, are you getting any counseling?"
The question startled the younger agent. "Yes, sir, I am. But it's not helping much. How can I forgive myself for what I've done? My wife says we have to go on, but I don't' see how."
Ezra sighed. Jeff's guilt was a burden he didn't want. "I understand you have two daughters?"
"Then you have to forgive yourself," Ezra snapped. "Not because I tell you to or the counselor does, but because you have two precious lives depending on you."
"I've probably already messed them up, too, the way I've been the last few weeks," Jeff said hopelessly.
"Children are so very fragile and at the same time resilient. They will forgive you, I know that from experience." Sighing Ezra shook his head, "If it will help, I do forgive you and I hope the board finds in your favor."
"I'll probably quit if they do. I don't think I'll ever be able to use a gun again."
"Whatever you do, I wish you and your family the best." Ezra held out his hand.
"You really mean that, don't you?" Jeff looked amazed. Gripping Ezra's hand he said, "Thank you. I don't believe I deserve your forgiveness, but I'll work on that."
"See you do." Ezra headed down the isle joining the others. "I find I am becoming quite fatigued. Do we need to stay for the rest of this?"
"I have to," Chris said. "But you and Buck can go home."
When he got home that night Chris said that the shooting had been declared an accident. Ken Torres was trying to get the young agent into a non-field position. Ezra found he really didn't have the energy to care either way or the other. He was just glad it was over.
Ezra noticed the boys seemed on the outs Saturday. JD kept glaring at Vin who was doing his best to avoid everyone. Asking Chris if he knew what was going on only earned Ezra a shrug. Still it was nice to participate in the easy rhythms of a Saturday at the ranch. Ezra chuckled to himself, he'd have never thought of it that way if it weren't for his, soon to be, new neighbor. But he now could see what she meant. A team barbeque at the ranch was familiar, comfortable.
Nathan and Raine would bring some sort of salad. Chris and Buck usually provided the main dish. Josiah was the wild card. He might bring some exotic bread or rolls from the Sisters of Mercy Bakeshop. Or an array of appetizers with odd sounding names and interesting tastes. If he was running late it would be chips an dip from the gas station at the Interstate exit. Ezra had always provided the dessert, something kid friendly yet delicious. He'd learned the hard way that little boys weren't all that impressed with a dessert that didn't include either ice cream or chocolate. This morning he'd gone with Buck to the store to purchase his contribution. The brownies, ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce waited in the fridge, ready to make brownie sundaes.
Going to the store and buying dessert had been all he was allowed to do. Chris had told Ezra to park it on the front porch and put his leg up. So here he sat, or rather reclined watching the preparations.
Nathan and Raine arrived and were shooed over to sit with Ezra. Chris heard them laughing and figured Ezra was relating his adventure in home buying again. When Josiah showed up and started helping Buck with the grill Chris began looking for the boys. They had disappeared, which was hardly normal for a Saturday barbeque.
JD was determined to find Vin. He'd looked everywhere around the house, even checking the shed where the Jag was stored. Now he was trudging out to Vin's special place by the creek. Buck would be mad if he found out because JD wasn't supposed to go so far out. But JD didn't care. If Vin kept acting all mopey then Unca Ezra just might leave again. Luckily, for everyone's peace of mind, Vin met JD on his way back. Both boys stopped about a foot apart and stared at each other.
After a moment JD said defiantly, "He's not leaving."
Vin sighed deeply. "JD, grownups are different. Chris said so."
"He's not leaving." JD's voice trembled a bit. He'd always looked first to Vin so if Vin was so sure it might be true.
Vin plunked down patting the ground next to him. JD immediately sat. With the adult wisdom he often showed Vin said, "Sometimes when people leave and come back it's not the same."
"I don't know, just 'cause." Vin didn't want to tell JD about the conversation he'd overheard between Chris and Buck last night. Remembering he'd forgotten to turn off the computer he'd gone back to the den. He knew it was wrong, but when he heard the two men talking and realized it was about Uncle Ezra he'd listened in. Now he was paying a heavy price, because while he didn't understand the problem all that well he did get that there was one.
"I don't want him to leave." JD's eyes filled with tears. Throwing himself down on the grass he wailed, "I don't want him to leave."
Vin tried to comfort him but he was close to tears also. Wrapped up in their misery neither one noticed Chris' approach. Seeing JD on the ground Chris began to run afraid something had happened. His startled both boys as he dropped to the ground, reaching for JD. "JD, where are you hurt?"
Throwing himself into Chris' arms JD sobbed, "I don'ts want him to leave."
Chris looked over to see that Vin was also crying. Sitting cross legged he gathered both boys into his arms. It took several moments of rocking and murmuring words of comfort before Chris could get a coherent explanation. Finding out that Vin what had overheard and how he had interpreted it Chris groaned. Of course Vin would put the worst spin on it. His wounds from the previous week were too raw. Still, Vin should have talked to him. Feeling suddenly very old and wondering if he'd ever get to a point where this was easy Chris sighed.
"Vin, why didn't you ask me about what you overheard?"
"I'm not supposed to listen at doors," was the whispered answer.
"No, you're not, but still you know you can talk to Buck or I about anything, right?"
A small nod was Chris' only answer.
"I think we need a pow wow tonight after everyone leaves. I don't want you to worry about Ezra leaving anymore."
"No," Vin said firmly, pushing away from Chris to stand up. Crossing his arms he glared down defiantly.
"Vin, I understand you're upset, but I won't let you use that as an excuse for being rude," Chris warned. JD was still in his lap, watching the confrontation with wide eyes.
Vin's face crumbled, "But how's a pow wow gonna help Uncle Josiah and Uncle Nathan? They's mad at Uncle Ezra too." Chris held out his arm and Vin crawled back into his lap. Hugging both boys Chris tried to figure out a solution.
It was JD who spoke this time. "Why can'ts we have a pow wow now?"
As soon as he said it Chris realized that was the answer. JD's child mind had cut to the heart of the matter. What everyone needed was to talk. Something that was always hard for men to do. But if the boys asked, none of the others would be able to refuse. Chris smiled down at both boys. "I think that's a good idea, JD."
It was impossible to miss the signs of tears on both boy's faces when Chris brought them back. Chris asked Raine to help them wash up giving him a couple of minutes to talk to the others. Buck handed JD over reluctantly then turned to Chris.
"What's wrong? Did JD hurt himself?"
"No, he's just upset. Vin heard us talking last night." Buck groaned. "My sentiments exactly," Chris said.
"Mind clueing the rest of us in?" Josiah asked.
"Vin overheard Buck and I talking last night and it upset him." Chris explained. What it boils down to is the boys want to have a pow wow."
"You want us to go?"
"No Nathan. The boys want all of us there. They're afraid that Ezra may leave again because..." Chris paused, he wasn't sure how to say this without making Ezra feel any more guilty.
"I think I understand." Josiah looked at Nathan, then Ezra. "Brother, we're all glad you came back, but maybe we all need to talk about what your leaving made us feel."
"I think it will help Vin and JD with some of their remaining fears," Chris said.
By the time Raine brought the boys back out the men had gathered all the chairs in a circle. Nathan explained to her what was going on and everyone indicated she was welcome to participate. Smiling warmly she refused, offering instead to go in the house and make the hamburger patties.
Everyone sat down, the adults looking a bit uncomfortable. Vin and JD chose to sit on their father's laps. Before anyone else spoke Chris explained the rules.
"The way we work a pow wow is only one person can talk at a time. After they finish anyone else who wants to comment can. We focus on how things make us feel, not who was responsible. So who wants to start?" There was again silence as the men looked at each other. Stepping into the breach with the innocence only a child can have JD broke the ice.
"I feel bad when Vin says Unca Ezra is gonna leave again. I wants him to stay forever."
Ezra's face paled, "Vin, I promise I won't leave Denver. What do I need to do to make you believe me?"
"What if you can't find a job? Dad said you didn't want to go under covers anymore."
"Vin, there are a lot of things Ezra can do and still be a part of the team," Chris assured. "His job isn't dependent on that."
"But you asked Buck if he was angry? I don't want anyone to be angry. I want things to be like they were." Vin sniffed trying to hold back his tears.
Ezra slumped in his seat, misery written all over his face.
Clearing his throat Josiah waited until he had everyone's attention. "I believe I understand what Vin is worried about. Ezra's leaving affected all of us, not just the boys. We all understood why he left, but that didn't make it hurt any less." Turning to face Ezra, Josiah continued, "When you left, I felt sad, angry and lonely. Even though you hadn't been in the office the weeks before, it wasn't the same after you were gone. I also had to watch Buck and Chris struggle with to help the boys. It was a very hard week for them. Still something told me you would come back and I was right. If you need me to forgive you for leaving, I need you to forgive me for what I felt. I trust you Ezra and I still want you to be a part of this team. But if you can't do that, I still want to be your friend."
Before Ezra could reply to that, Nathan spoke. "I guess I felt pretty much what Josiah did last week. Except I didn't think you'd come back. Not that I blamed you for deciding this job was too dangerous. In fact last week I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to stay with the team. I mean I feel like together we can overcome anything. With you gone it all felt wrong. So I need to ask everyone's forgiveness even though you didn't know what I was thinking at the time.
Buck jumped in then. "I guess I was probably the angriest I've ever been last week. Every time I held JD while he cried or watched Vin drift away from us, I wanted to wring your neck, Ezra. At the same time, I wanted to go drag you back. I felt betrayed, that you could leave us so easily. It's not rational I know, but that's how I felt. But no matter how angry I was, when you came back all I felt was relief. Because the whole time I was busy being angry at you I was also worried. You were still recovering. How would we know if anything went wrong? You're family now and I don't have enough of that, that I want part of it in another state. Now when you say you're back to stay, I believe it and that's good enough for me. As far as I'm concerned the slate is clean. Right, JD?"
JD's reply released some of the tension for the men. Even Ezra smiled a bit. But when Chris started to speak he tensed again.
"I have to admit to feeling angry some last week. But most of my energy was tied up with trying to help Vin and keep the team going. You and I have already talked through most of this I think. I understood why you left. I'm darned glad your back. So whether you stay with the team or not, remember, you're family."
Ezra studied everyone's faces giving his emotions time to settle. "I don't know what to say. I knew my leaving was hard on the boys, but I didn't allow myself to think about what it would do to everyone else. Looking back now, I realize I was running from myself as much as anything. I told myself that I didn't want the boys to ever have to deal with the fear they had to when I was shot. But in reality I was the one who couldn't deal. It just kept running through my head over and over. I'd been shot by an agent. Instead of talking about it I internalized it. You were all so angry on my behalf, I didn't want to make things worse."
"I guess we didn't help much did we?" Josiah laid his hand on Ezra's shoulder. "Next time make us listen okay."
"It took me a week to see what an idiot I'd been. But if you can forgive me, I'll do my best to make this up to everyone."
"You weren't listening Ezra," Chris cut in. "We all need to forgive and be forgiven. Like Buck said, it's over. We put it in the past, learn from it and go on. Right everyone?"
Various sounds of agreement were heard.
"Good, now let's talk about fishing or something. All this touchy feely stuff is hard on a guy." Buck's comment brought more laughter.
The rest of the afternoon passed like many before it. There were jokes and teasing with plenty of good food thrown in. Vin and JD ran around screaming like wild banshees with the pups hot on their heels. Whenever they stopped there was always a willing lap and a hug waiting.
Next up - Critters by Nancy W
Comments: Gina D
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