Don't Lose Hope

by Zentry

"Hope Trilogy" #2

Follows Awful Day

Disclaimer: They are not mine. I don't make profit from these.

ATF universe belongs to Mog.

This is a bit of a crossover at the end, but maybe, if you blink, you'll miss it.

Thoughts are // in italics //. There are also OCs.

Special thanks to Angela, Laura and Cynthia for all their help and support.

Feedback is welcome (be kind I'm still learning English).

Team Seven was in the middle of a bust. Their undercover agent, Ezra Standish was closing the deal with the leader of a street gang who was interested in upgrading his arsenal.

No one knew the gang leader, or his lieutenants', true identities. They had insisted on using aliases. The leader was only known as "The Buzzard" and his lieutenant: "The Rat." Ezra had rolled his eyes at cliché nicknames.

Convincing The Buzzard to do business with Ezra had been hard. The man didn't trust his own shadow, but after long months of work, Standish had persuaded the gang leader to trust him.

Agent Buck Wilmington shifted his position; the bulletproof vest was uncomfortable but extremely necessary. The gang was well known for being trigger happy when provoked, and they would certainly see the agents' attempt to arrest them as a provocation.

There was a bad feeling in the air, so Buck had stayed close to Ezra to cover his retreat if necessary.

Vin Tanner, the team sniper, was covering them from high ground while Chris Larabee, Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez were close to the main entrance of the building.

Chris was quickly losing his patience; it seemed like The Buzzard was delaying the deal with stupid excuses.

"Damn! We have company" was heard in their mics as J.D. Dunne, the surveillance agent, informed the rest of the Team of the arrival of a dozen of the gang members.

"Where the hell is Grimsley? " growled Larabee to his team.

Agent Grimsley, leader of Team Four, and his men were Team Seven's immediate backup. They should have been covering the side entrances that Team Seven couldn't watch without leaving Ezra unprotected.

Expecting Team Four to do their job, Team Seven had focused all their attention inside the building.

Watching the young men getting close to Ezra, who hadn't acknowledged their presence, Buck murmured at his mic, "This is gonna get ugly."

"You think?" drawled the team sharpshooter sarcastically, as he surveyed the situation from his perch.

Ezra was alert even if his face betrayed nothing.

The evil smile that The Buzzard was wearing didn't bode well for the agent.

"It's like this," the gang leader explained, "I don't want to pay for these guns."

"And why should I give them to you for free?" questioned the undercover agent with a blank face.

"Cause if you don't, I'll have to kill you. . . Your choice: give and live; or die and you still give them for free," mocked The Buzzard while getting comfortable seated on top of a big box.

"Damn!" hissed the blond ATF leader. "Standish, get out now!" Chris growled into the mic while doing hand signals to Sanchez and Jackson to withdraw so they would be able to cover Ezra and Buck's retreat.

For the first time in his life Ezra wanted to follow Chris' orders ASAP, unfortunately, he didn't have time to say or do anything as The Rat shot the undercover agent.

Vin had been covering The Buzzard, and reacted to The Rat's movement a millisecond too late. Ezra hadn't fallen yet when Vin's shots took out The Rat and two more men who were attempting to kill the agent.

Buck broke his cover, shooting down The Buzzard, as he leapt towards his friend, and managed to drag the hurt agent to safety.

Chris, Nathan and Josiah surrounded the escaping gang members.

By the time that everything was silent again, J.D. and Vin had joined the team and helped them to escort the suspects out of the building.

Nathan, the team EMT, was at Ezra's side assessing the young Southerner's injuries.

Ambulances were requested and the PD had been alerted of the bust.

A couple of patrols arrived quickly to help transport the remaining members of the gang.

After the place had been vacated, J.D. informed the Crime Scene Investigators that they could start collecting the evidence.

Nathan went with Ezra to the hospital to make sure the Southerner allowed the treatment. Even the paramedics knew that Standish tended to disappear from the hospital rooms if he was left alone.

+ + + + + + +

Outside the building, Chris was ready to kill Agent Grimsley.

Josiah had to restrain his blond friend when the Team Four's leader arrived smirking, saying that they had gone to the wrong building.

While the profiler was busy with Chris, Buck approached the repulsive "Agent Grim" (the nickname the Team Seven had given the weasely agent) and in a flash punched him in the face.

Cheers and claps erupted from the men surrounding the scene. It had been a smooth & beautiful punch from Buck, knocking the other agent flat.

It seemed that not only Grimsley's actions, but also his procedures were not liked by the DPD cops, technicians and agents.

Grimsley was an inflexible, nasty agent, who a couple of times had shown his disgust at Larabee's misfits.

In particular at Standish's reputation. Finally his prejudice had overpowered his sense of duty and almost managed to get Ezra killed.

+ + + + + + +

That same day, back at their quarters; Team Seven was diligently working at their reports so they could join Nathan and Ezra at the hospital.

Standish's bulletproof vest had stopped the bullets, but his ribs were in bad shape after the impacts.

They hadn't finished them yet when Nathan called informing them that the doctors had dismissed their gambler.

The EMT reported that Ezra's chest was just bruised, no ribs broken, and that the nurses had insisted in letting him go before Team Seven could camp out in his room.

That night all the members of Team Seven slept well, even Nathan who was at Ezra's condo so the Southerner would rest and take it easy as the doctor had ordered.

+ + + + + + +

The next day began as any other, Buck teasing J.D. about his jokes, Chris complaining that he had almost poisoned himself with Vin's coffee, Ezra snapping at Nathan about his over-protectiveness, and Josiah smiling at the show.

Most were settling down to get to work, except Buck, who was already planning a barbecue at Chris ranch the following weekend.

"Hey, Buck," whispered the youngest agent trying to get the rogue's attention, "Look."

Buck smiled when he saw the beautiful Agent Melanie Sullivan striding past their desks. He had dated the dark blonde months ago and they had parted friendly when their schedules had become too busy. She was a looker. Even in a business suit, the agents in the office could appreciate her curves.

The mustached man was surprised when she went straight to Larabee's office without as much as a glance in his direction. She entered the team leader's office and locked the door firmly after her. The rest of the team looked at Buck with suspicion, but he only shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know why she would be angry with him.

"Must be something about work or she wouldn't have gone to see Chris, don't you think?" guessed J.D.

"Last I heard she has taken a position within the agency," informed Ezra, a bad feeling setting in his stomach.

Nathan felt the dread in the southerner's words, he had just opened his mouth when a smirking Grimsley walked in the office and headed toward Chris' door.

Buck stood up immediately, but was blocked by a pale looking Ezra. The six men watched Grimsley go into the office then they turned expectantly to the green-eyed man.

"Ezra?" inquired the big profiler.

The shorter man swallowed and gripped the edge of Buck's desk before answering, "It could be trouble," Ezra glanced toward the closed door, "Agent Sullivan is with IA now."

"Damn!" grumbled the computer expert, "You think Grimsley told on Buck?"

"Buck? Why would he. . ." started the undercover agent.

"Because of the fight," snorted J.D. "Well it wasn't a fight. . . fight. It was more like. . ."

He was halted in mid-sentence when Buck, who was behind J.D., covered the young man's mouth with his hand.

At Ezra and Nathan questioning looks, the rogue tried to explain, "You two were already on the ambulance and Grimsley said that his team had got the wrong building and, well, I. . . Ikindofhithim"

"Could you say that again? I didn't get the last part," chuckled the undercover expert.

"Oh, come on, at least I just hit him once. Chris was ready to beat him to a pulp and then shoot the. . ."

The door of their leader's office opened and the Agents Sullivan and Grimsley marched toward the elevator without looking at the group of men.

Chris waited until the pair walked away before addressing his team. "Conference room, now!"

J.D., who was still fighting Buck's grip, froze at the tone of the voice.

"It is trouble for sure," murmured Ezra, walking slowly to the meeting room.

+ + + + + + +

The sight of Chris Larabee pacing the room didn't helped Ezra's feeling of dread. Being the last one, he closed the door softly and went to his seat in silence.

"Stop worrying, Ezra. For, perhaps the first time, you are not at the center of the mess." Chris stated. He took a deep breath before looking at the expectant faces of his team.

"It's Buck."

"I knew it!" exploded the youngest agent, "Grimsley complained, didn't he?"

"Yes he did, but that's not all of it. I.A. is just taking the incident as a confirmation of Buck's state of mind. . .about the whole team's state of mind"

"What do you mean, Chris?" asked a worried profiler.

"Ezra went down abruptly, then Vin took down The Rat and two more men," Chris paused for the team's affirmation, when they nodded he continued, "there was chaos and then the remaining suspects surrendered."

"Yes, so?" drawled the sharpshooter.

"They are arguing that we didn't I.D. ourselves as ATF agents," bristled the leader.

The team was shocked.

"But we did!" protested Buck. "It's in the reports and it must be in the recorded audio."

"They have the tape; and you did I.D. yourself to The Buzzard and also told him to drop his weapon. That's when The Rat went down." Chris was massaging his temples and the vein on his forehead was pulsing strongly.

"I.A. accepts that in the confusion the warning went unheard, and thanks to the fact that both Josiah and Nathan's reports included that they had their badges in their hands while blocking the gang's escape, it doesn't look too bad for us."

"But?" Ezra, as always the eternal optimist, wasn't buying that was the whole story.

Chris hand hit the table with enough force to make his teammates cringe. "But Grimsley is pressuring Sullivan. He states we used excessive force and that Buck . . .that Buck is getting especial considerations because of his relationship with her."

"Damn! Is she in hot water?" asked the mustached man worried. His first concern being about the lady he used to date.

Chris looked at his oldest friend in the eyes, "No Buck, she is not in hot water. . . You are. She is going for your head to protect her position," the blond explained.

"I don't think all this is because Mr. Wilmington hit Grimsley, so what are they really accusing Buck of and what is the IA planning as a punishment?"

Ezra was too familiar with the actions of that department and didn't like the fact that Chris was worried, even if he hadn't said it out loud.

"There is no gun," Chris sighed.

Buck was confused."What are you talking about?"

"I.A. said the CSI's never found the gun that The Buzzard supposedly had and that you shot him in the rush of the moment; that it was in cold blood."

J.D. leaped from his chair "No way! Chris, you can't believe that! Guys?"

"Of course we trust Buck, Mr. Dunne, but it is going to be quite a challenge to prove Mr. Wilmington's innocence with missing evidence."

Ezra turned slowly toward Chris, "So, Mr. Larabee, what are the actions I.A. is taking against our teammate?" inquired the Southern.

"He's suspended, under investigation and they want a psychological evaluation." Chris stated with a deep sigh.

"You know, " Vin declared solemnly at Buck, "You had a chance with us clearing your name. . ." then he looked at Chris, "but we are toasted if they start digging in his brain."

Chris snorted and the rest of the team chuckled.

Ezra coughed loudly. "Yes, well, we will have to plan something if that moment arrives."

Composing himself, Buck took a deep breath "So, I'm out?"

"Yes" Chris said softly. "For now"

Buck rose from his chair, took his badge and gun and placed them on the table in front of the blond. He swallowed the knot in his throat. "When. . .?" he croaked.

"They will call me with the date of the hearing. Must be within one or two days. We need to find that gun , " Chris said pointedly at the rest of the team. Then looking at a dejected friend, he stated firmly, " Buck, don't go right now let's review all the report.,"

They were men on a mission: Save one of their own. And they would.

+ + + + + + +

Buck recalled that, while Ezra went down by The Rat's shot and The Rat went down by Vin's shot, he shouted the warning at The Buzzard. His voice had probably been drowned by all the noise.

The Buzzard had then shifted, ducking and had pointed his gun toward Ezra , who at that moment was trying to find cover, but looked in trouble. Buck, seeing that the young criminal had taken aim at the struggling agent, had shot The Buzzard dead.

Then the mustached agent had gone to Ezra's side and helped him to sit against the wall, using one of the big boxes as a shield from the escaping felons.

It had been the right thing to do, protecting the injured agent and saving his life, but he had lost visual of the rest of the room for a while.

Then the gang surrendered and Buck had called out to Nathan, left him with the undercover agent and went in search of Chris, who he found outside, straight in Grimsley's path.

Buck had heard what "Agent Grim" said and, while Josiah struggled with Larabee, Buck had hit the Team Four leader.

Ezra explained that, distracted by the attack from The Rat, he hadn't seen when The Buzzard had aimed at him.

Vin translated: Ezra got a full impact on the vest and fell down, probably fighting for breath.

Ezra glared at the sharpshooter. "As I was explaining, the impact disoriented me enough so I felt the necessity to withdraw from the line of fire, but had a slight problem with my body's response to the assault."

"He couldn't get up and tried to scramble to safety," drawled the unashamed Texan.

Ezra ignored the long-haired man and his teammates' snickers. "Mr. Wilmington assisted in my journey to safety, my vision was somewhat impaired and I lost track of the events, but then, in no time, I was under the care of Mr. Jackson."

"Buck dragged him, Ez couldn't breathe, saw spots, then he fainted. . ."

"I. . . did not. . . faint, Mr. Tanner!" said Ezra in pauses; the bruised ribs prevented deep breaths.

"Vin," admonished the EMT, "Stop enraging Ezra or he is going to faint again."

"Et tu brute?" claimed the green-eyed man.

"That's enough," stated the leader. "J.D., about the surveillance?"

The younger agent shifted in his seat. "The sound in the tapes is clear, but in the video we lost sight of The Buzzard when he moved back. I got a reflection of a light from near his hand, but that's all. The Buzzard, Buck and Ezra were out of range from the camera after that."

"Get the copies of the tapes; we need that reflection analyzed," the blond leader ordered. "Vin?"

"I saw a lump at The Buzzard's back that was probably the gun"

Chris sighed "But you didn't see him taking it out"

"No, cowboy. Got a bad angle. I knew Buck was covering Ez after his shout and I was a little busy returning fire to the rest of the gang."

Vin looked apologetically to Buck. "Sorry," he drawled.

Chris hit the table with his hands. "And we were too far away" he said referring to the rest of the team.

"Yes," commented Josiah, "But still, we heard Buck identifying himself as an agent, and so did Vin."

J.D. was angry, "Thus the complaint of the gang is fake, still it doesn't help us find the gun."

"It helps," stated Standish, while he directed his words at Chris. "If we are not under suspicion they can't take us out of the investigation."

Chris nodded, "It's going to be hard, " he addressed the entire team, "but we'll make it."

+ + + + + + +

It didn't look well and all of them knew it. The gun should have been close to the body of the gang leader.

In their minds there wasn't a doubt that there had been a gun in The Buzzard's hand.

Who could have taken it and for what reason?

+ + + + + + +

Buck hung around for a while retelling the events to each of his teammates, but nothing new was discovered. Then it was time for him to leave. He chuckled when all his friends stared at him heartbreakingly.

"I'll be all right," he said with a warm smile.

J.D. wasn't convinced by his attempt to cheer them up. "Are you sure?" he asked.

Buck squeezed the young man's shoulder, "Don't worry, " he said as he left.

It wasn't until the elevator doors had closed that he sagged against the wall.

At the front desk Buck gave his truck's keys to the guard, asking him to send those upstairs, to J.D.

He stepped out of the ATF building with an empty holster and a sad stance. He walked for awhile trying to clear his mind. Finally, he decided to stop at a nearby park before his lack of attention could get him run down by a car.

Spotting a huge tree, he went to sit on the ground in its shadow; he wasn't in the mood for a bench.

The mustached man, rested his head against the trunk and closed his eyes, but he couldn't make his body relax. Neither the walk nor the peaceful spot he had found under the tree helped.

He banged his head against the wood a couple of times and cursed softly.

"Are you O.K?"

The voice startled him as it came from a very close source.

He hadn't heard footsteps and went on alert fast. He found the owner of the voice to be a young girl sitting slightly at the other side of the tree; she was just a teenager in jeans and t-shirt. Notebooks and pages of newspaper surrounded her.

Obviously, she had been sitting there for awhile.

Buck relaxed a little "Sorry," he apologized "I didn't mean to interrupt you. I didn't see you sitting there."

"It's OK," she said, "I needed the break, been looking for a job in the paper all morning without finding a thing." She showed him one of the pages, but it was the one with the local news.

Puzzled, Buck asked "Shouldn't you look at the classified page for the job offers?"

"I already did that." She smiled; her almost transparent blue eyes sparkled with joy. "I just thought you would like to read the paper. I don't need it any more"

"Thanks," said Buck taking it "Maybe I'll start looking for a new job, myself."

"Oh, you lost your job, too?" inquired the girl.

He swallowed the knot in his throat. "Not yet, but it's a possibility." Buck saw his sadness reflected in the teenager's eyes.

"I'm sorry, can't you do something?" she asked.

The tall man shook his head, "My boss and my friends are trying to help, but..."

"Really? Your boss? Wow! Must be nice to be wanted like that, " the awed sincerity in her voice shocked him.

Seeing his expression, she explained, "My case is just the opposite. You see my boss' girlfriend wanted to work near him. I don't think she is gonna last there but... the fact is that I was the newest one around and he gave her my job."

She snorted. "At least I don't have to support a family . That's good, don't you think?"

Buck stayed a moment, nodding in silence, looking pensive.

"What about you?" she inquired.

"Me? Ah, no, my family supports itself," he replied with a small smile.

"Does it really?" the young girl asked in interest.

"Well," he tried to explain, "My team is the only family I have, and they will be fine."

"Team? Are you in sports?" she asked leaning her head a little, trying to remember if she had seen him on TV or in magazines.

He chuckled, "No." He shifted, looking for a better position on the hard ground. "It's complicated to explain."

"I have time," she said with a smile.

"Nah," it was his turn to chuckle, "I'll just bore you."

"O.K." She looked disappointed, but got over it fast. "I have a sandwich, you want half?" She offered.

The question confused Buck a little, almost unconsciously he responded, "Sure," as she placed the food in his hand.

"Do you know funny names?" she asked between bites of her half of the sandwich.

// Damn // he thought, // she seems to change gears as quick as J.D., // but out loud he answered, "Well, some people think my name is... strange. Why do you ask?"

"Let me show you," she said, shoving the rest of the food in her mouth and looking around for one of her notebooks. She found it and getting closer to the tall man, she almost choked trying to swallow.

She coughed and he bumped her back softly.

"Thanks," she said when she recuperated the ability to breathe.

"Some time ago a friend explained to me why her parents had given her her name. I got curious and started asking people how they had got their names, so I could write it in my book. But a lot of people don't know their own name's history . So I started looking for the meanings of the names and compare to see if the people acted or looked like them."

Wondering how she could say so much in one single breath, he teased, "I think you have too much free time."

She smiled back, "Maybe. . . come on, tell me a name and I will look for it in my notes."


"Any name?" he asked, and she nodded.

"John Daniel," he said.

"O.K." she said and began turning pages "John is very common. Most people are called that because of a relative was named that." She enlightened him. "Here it is, John means 'God is merciful' or 'gift of God'. Yup, it's a good name."

"What about Josiah?" asked Buck, intrigued.

"Begins with the same letter so it should be... here." She cleared her throat before reading,

"Josiah means ¨fire of the Lord¨ or ¨Jehovah helps¨ it was also the name of a biblical king of Judah. Wow! I like it."

He smirked, "Yeah, me too. What about Vin?"

"Hey! I haven't looked for Daniel yet." She fumbled through the pages,

"I think he was a prophet, a very young one who survived a death sentence in a lion's den. Or something like that. "

// A young survivor among lions // thought Buck, // it suits J.D. //

"I can't find it," she moaned.

"Doesn't matter," he encouraged. "Look for Vin."

"O.K. Vin... Hum, is it from Vincent or from Vinay?"

Buck shrugged, "Don't know. Tell me both," he encouraged. He would tease the sharpshooter later.

"Vincent comes from Latin and means victorious, conquering... who prevails. And someone told me that Vinay means ¨good behavior¨ in Hindu."

"Then the Vin I know must come from Vincent," chuckled the tall man, remembering all the pranks the long-haired man did to him and the rest of the team.

"What about Ezra?" he asked.

"I know of that name," she said without looking at her book. "It means helper or salvation. You know," she confirmed, "all those names have good meanings. Are they from your team?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Then you shouldn't worry about your job," she announced.

At his puzzled face she recalled.

"Come on, you have on your side the 'fire of the Lord', 'God's gifts' and 'Jehovah's help', one who would prevail and will be victorious' and 'one who offers you his help and salvation'."

"There is Chris and Nathan too." He smiled at her positive attitude.

"There you are. Those are also good names." She closed her book and looked quizzically at him "But there are just male names, don't tell me you don't have friends that are girls."

Buck coughed loudly remembering some of the things his friends said about the women he dated. He wasn't known as the ladies-man of the team for nothing.

Then a name came to mind. "What about Melanie?" he asked seriously, thinking of the new I.A. that was after his job.

"Let me see... Melanie means ¨dark¨, but I don't know a dark what... is she a brunette?"

He shook his head.

"Dark eyed?" the girl asked.

He shook his head again.



"Maybe she was called that after a relative. Doesn't have to meant anything bad, you know?" but she didn't sound too convinced.

She shrugged and looked at the sky.

"What about your name? You said that it's funny," the girl asked.

"I said strange, not funny," Buck said, slightly hurt.

She wasn't put off, "So... what is it?" she insisted.

Buck looked at her; they had been talking, shared a sandwich and a newspaper and the whole situation dawned on him.

He felt relaxed, like if he had known her for along time, and she seemed very at ease talking to a stranger she had just meet at the park under the shadow of an ancient tree.

There were people he had he had known for years and they didn't make him feel this comfortable.

Finally, the bizarreness of the situation called his attention.

Buck was startled to find that he didn't feel as depressed as when he had first sought out the solitude of this spot. That her chat about the names and their meanings had helped him to remember that his team would be there for him, no matter what.

He smiled; one of those smiles that melted hearts, and finally answered, "It's Buck"

Quickly she turned pages until she found it "I have it. It means deer, of course. A male deer or a spirited young man." She chuckled. "The name it's also, somewhat, related to cowboys."

"Me? No. I'm not a cowboy." He laughed. "That's Chris."

When he finally caught his breath, Buck saw that she was shoving all her things, including her names notebook, into her back pack.

"Are you are leaving?" He couldn't help the plea from showing in his words.

"It's getting late, you know, and I still need to find a new job. But I'll be here tomorrow around lunchtime if you want to share the newspaper again." She finished packing and got to her feet. "You are a good guy Buck; everything is going to be all right, you'll see," she said with a knowing smile.

Buck felt a chill run through him at the tone of her voice, so sure.

He saw her leaving the shadow of the tree. "You didn't tell me your name," he asked charmingly.

The girl turned back; smiling "It's Nadia," she said pronouncing it with a foreign accent.

"What does it mean?" he urged.

She looked toward the street, then back at him.

Buck was sure he didn't hear her voice, but he understood the one word that came from her lips as she departed; "Hope".

+ + + + + + +

At the ATF quarters, the six remaining members of the Team Seven were working non-stop.

J.D. had taken the tapes to an expert. Together they were cleaning and restoring the image. They discovered that the reflection they had seen wasn't the gun itself, but the discharge of it. He called to inform his teammates, and then went back to work.

Vin and Ezra, had gone to see the scene investigators and compare notes. They wanted to maintain an update on any discovery.

Nathan and Josiah kept an eye on Grimsley's team, while answering phones and maintaining the illusion that the entire team was in the office instead of interfering with an IA investigation.

Chris had been having meetings; with Travis, the cops at the scene, the EMTs, people from the coroner's office, even with some of the gang boys that were interested in making deals with the DA.

+ + + + + + +

Morning found four tired men still at the office. Fortunately, they were making progress with their investigations.

Josiah, Nathan and J.D. were in the conference room organizing all the information.

In his office, Chris groaned when he saw his oldest friend leaning on the door frame.

"You shouldn't be here," he stated.

"You know, pard? You look awful," teased the tall agent.

"I'm serious, Buck. You shouldn't be here." Chris insisted. He didn't want anything to jeopardize Buck's position.

"Hey, I got a visitor's ID, see?" Buck displayed the plastic card.

"I knew you all would still be around and I brought food."

"Bagels?" asked the tired blond.

"And fresh coffee," grinned the suspended agent.

Chris had just opened the bag when J.D. appeared in front of him. "Donuts?" asked the young man eagerly.

The team leader didn't know how they did it, but both J.D. and Vin seemed to have a pastries' radar.

"Here," he said giving the bag to the young agent.

Soon, Nathan and Josiah joined them, rescuing some of the food from JD's clutches.

"We have him on tape, Buck," said J.D. between big bites, reminding the tall agent of the teenager he had met in the park.

He didn't have time to ask who, because the blonde Amazon strode into the room, "Get out of here or I'll have you arrested," the I.A. agent threatened.

"You can't do that!" shouted J.D. "We have proof of his innocence."

Melanie smirked, "You haven't found the gun."

"No," interjected Nathan, "But the surveillance tapes show The Buzzard shooting at Ezra before Buck took him down."

"And we have physical evidence," announced Ezra striding in the office with Vin at his side. The six agents, including the one from IA turned to the newcomers .

Both Vin and Ezra were grinning.

"Ballistics got the bullets from Ez's vest," drawled the Texan, "and one of them doesn't match The Rat's gun."

"Nor the rest of the gang's or agents' guns," clarified the green-eyed con-man before the IA agent could reply. "That proves that there is a missing gun," he gloated.

"That won't be enough now," intervened Grimsley arrogantly, having arrived just in time to hear them.

Chris was losing the little patience he still had, "What are you saying?" he growled.

The leader of the Team Four was pleased; he would tear apart ¨The Magnificent Seven¨.

"Agent Wilmington still needs to pass the evaluation. He is unstable and we have evidence now to prove it"

Agent Melanie Sullivan beamed. "We have witnesses of some of his rampages," she announced proudly.

"Let me guess. . .Grimsley?" Vin murmured.

Sullivan scowled, "There are some agents and even a civilian that has agreed to testify," she informed the group.

"Agents? Or just one agent?" the Southern asked, they needed to know all the facts before they could form a plan. . . and before Chris could shoot an I.A. agent, or a fellow team leader.

"And who is this dutiful civilian?" asked Standish with disdain.

"She is a young woman that happened to come across one of Wilmington ¨episodes¨ yesterday at a park."

The team looked expectantly at Buck. They had let the undercover expert, the one who understood politics better, to handle the agents.

But the mustached man asked doubtful, "You mean Hope?"

"Buck?" Chris demanded puzzled.

"Her name is Nadia McKenzie," answered Melanie before Buck could answer. Reminding him that Hope is what her name stood for, not her actual name.

"And she came to us this morning, wanting to talk to I.A. about the behavior of Agent Wilmington," Grimsley concluded.

"So now you are an I.A. agent," the team sharpshooter snorted at Grimsely.

Ezra was sure their leader would shoot somebody before the day ended. "So we have to suppose that she came, voluntary and with great timing, to help ¨your¨ case?" he questioned.

Before Agent Sullivan could answer, Buck quickly intervened, "She's here?"

"Yes, she is in an interview room downstairs. I'm going to interview her personally in a moment, but my superior asked me to inform Agent Larabee of the situation before her declaration is accepted as a proof."

"Good for him," Chris stated. "I'm going to be present."

"I don't think. . ." Grimsley was saying, when Ezra interrupted him. "Of course you don't!"

There were some snorts and giggles from the rest of the team.

Ezra addressed his leader, "I know, Mr. Larabee , that you are an excellent interrogator, but in this case I do believe that my presence would be more acceptable, and less threatening to the brass and to the witness. Naturally only if you have no objections to my role as seeker of the truth."

Chris narrowed his eyes. Certainly, in a situation like this, Ezra could help Larabee's oldest friend better than him. "No objections," he relented.

Grimsley was going to object, but a quick move from the I.A. stopped him. "Doesn't matter," said the blonde Amazon to the undercover expert. "I will not let you confuse our witness."

With that Sullivan and Grimsley left.

"Chris," Buck pleaded, "I need to talk with Nadia. She's a good kid and is probably just trying to help."

The blond leader shook his head. Buck would never change.

"Don't you worry, Buck." Ezra said, "I will not let her be harassed. Now if you excuse me, I should be leaving."

Chris nodded to the green eyed man, already appreciating the mischief sparkling in the deep greens. "We'll be behind the glass." he informed Ezra.

The Southern gave his usual salute and left.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck went to the smaller room behind the mirror of the interrogation rooms. It wasn't really a surprise when the rest of Team Seven crossed the threshold of the little room.

Judge Travis and another man were already there, looking at the scene unfolding on the other side of the glass.

Agents Sullivan and Grimsley were scowling at Standish. . . Well, they were trying.

The witness was seated, looking intently at the two agents trying to stop the third agent from getting inside.

The man who accompanied the Judge used the intercom of the area to chastise the agents. That was how the rest of Team Seven found out that the man with the Judge was the head of I.A. and Agent Melanie Sullivan's boss.

+ + + + + + +

In the room:

Melanie went to the girl's side to introduce the agents.

"Miss Mackenzie, I'm Agent Sullivan from Internal Affairs."

Nadia looked carefully at the tall woman; she was pretty, but obviously mean.

"This is ATF team leader, Agent Grimsley," she continued while the girl weighed up both agents.

"And Agent Ezra Standish," Melanie said, dismissing the presence of the fellow agent.

The girl grinned when she heard the name of the last agent. "Ezra is a good name, Sir."

Standish approached the teenager. "Indeed," he breathed, "but I thought that your given name was Marie."

"Oh, no, " she laughed, "that is the name of the friend I was covering for."

Grimsley couldn't hide his disgust as he asked, "You know each other?"

"Yes," said the southerner, "I had the privilege of being waited on by this lovely young woman over a month ago at Angelo's. A fine meal and excellent service, I assure you. It made me forget the cold reality of the world for a couple of hours."

The girl blushed slightly as the undercover expert kissed her hand.

Recovering, she asked timidly "Did your Mother call you later?"

"No, she didn't, but that helps to consider the day as a superior one over the already awful days of the same week," replied the southern gentleman.

On the other side of the mirror, a confused J.D. looked at his teammates for an explanation.

Josiah scratched his chin. "Looks like Maude stood him up at that restaurant, but even that was the better day of the week." He looked away from the glass, to his friends, and shrugged. The reference meaning nothing to him.

"So my dear," Ezra continued, oblivious to his teammates' concern, "would you explain to us why you are seeking a meeting with Agent Wilmington's prosecutors" He took the seat across the table in front of the girl.

The Judge, observing the interrogation from the other room, looked at Chris, who only shrugged. He didn't have a clue of how Ezra was going to handle the situation.

Melanie sat near the corner of the desk. Grimsley stayed on his feet.

"There was no seeking, " Nadia said nonchalant. Seeing the confusion in the handsome green eyed man, she continued, "I didn't seek any meeting. That man," pointing at Grimsley, "stopped me yesterday at the park. He showed me his shield and said that I must come talk to Agent Sullivan."

Grimsley quickly announced, "Agent Wilmington was obviously distressed after he left the building and I decided to follow him."

Giving the disgusting man a dark look, Melanie asked the young girl, "What were you doing at the park?"

"Reading the newspaper," the teenager responded. "I have been looking for a new job. By the way, who is Agent Wilmington?"

Ezra narrowed his eyes at Grimsley, "Agent Buck Wilmington of the ATF Team Seven."

Nadia seemed astonished, "Buck's an agent? Wow! But I thought his team was going to help him to stay at his job."

She signaled Ezra to come closer, as if to tell him a secret, but murmured loud enough so everybody heard, "Those two don't look like they are trying to help."

The Southerner chuckled, "No, they don't"

Nadia rested against the back of her chair "Well, I didn't know I was going to talk with Agent Sullivan about Buck. I just met him yesterday and after our weird talk you can't really say that I know him. . ."

"Weird talk?" greedily asked the I.A. agent.

"One conversation is not enough to evaluate a person's character," Ezra interjected.

Nadia continued, ignoring the agents, "we kept changing the theme, first news then wanting to find a new job, then we shared my food, and names. You can't forget about the names."

Ezra swallowed "Buck was looking for a new job?" he asked with incredulity, looking at the mirror at the far wall.

The teenager grinned toothily. "Not Buck, me," she declared focusing on Ezra. "I had the paper and was looking, then I was hungry, oh and the names, your team has good names you know?"

"Yes, I know. My dear correct me if I'm mistaken, but it was you who continuously changed the theme of the conversation?" he asked with suspicion.

"I suppose." She seemed embarrassed "He was upset, I could feel it, so I tried to talk about. . . simple things."

"Like names?" the green eyed man inquired with a small smile.

Nadia blushed a little, "Well, it worked. A team with good names was backing him up. He had to feel better after knowing it, don't you think?"


Ezra nodded, "I know he does, my dear."

Melanie was fuming, "What I want to know is what he said," she questioned, "How was he behaving."


Nadia made a face at the tall agent. "He was a little sad. I must say that's normal considering his job was in danger. I know about it. . . I lost my job, and well, now that I think about it, he didn't really talk, mostly listened to me, and gave me some names to look up in my book. Do you want to see my book?" She finished innocently.

Ezra was grinning, showing dimples and a glint of his gold incisor. He knew a con when he saw it.

Nadia had taken a dislike to the I.A. agent. This girl might have been young but, she wasn't going to say anything that could endanger her new friend, Buck.

"You are lying!" Grimsley sputtered.

He took a step closer to the table demanding, "Why are you protecting him? He's rotten, he makes us good agents look bad. Larabee ignores his faults, but all of us know how dangerous. . ." Ezra stepped between the irate agent and the young girl, halting the older man's tirade.

"I think, " Nadia shouted, standing, "that Buck is a good person, and if his team backs him up, he must be a good agent, too. But I wouldn't say the same about you, Mr. Team Leader Grimsley."

Turning to the other female in the room she demanded, "Maybe I.A. should evaluate him," she said pointing at Grimsley, "and not Buck. As this man seems to be the only one with a problem with the agent. He is the only one, isn't he?" she asked Melanie.

Melanie Sullivan didn't reply.

Judge's Travis voice sounded in the room. "This is clearly a waste of time. We can work with the reports that ballistics and surveillance handed over to us. Go to work agents," he barked.

Ezra glanced at the mirror and did his two finger salute.

"Ezra?" Nadia called after a moment, "What should I do now?" she asked looking with doubt at the mirror and then back to the agent in front of her.

"Well, Miss Mackenzie, I'm sure Agent Wilmington would like to see you before you go back to your normal life. I'll show you the way," he said helping her to stand and offering his arm in a very gentlemanly way.

"It would be a pleasure," she grinned locking her arm with his.

Outside the room, the rest of Team Seven was waiting for them.

Travis was talking with Chris and Vin, nodding his head. "We will analyze the reports, but as Tanner said, the evidence proves Wilmington acted properly. Now I need to talk with Agent Sullivan and her boss, if you'll excuse me."

Ezra and Nadia heard the last part of the Judge's words. When she saw Buck, she let go of Ezra's arm to give the big mustached man a hug.

"You see, everything is ok," she said to Buck, "Now you know who to trust."

They transformed the full hug to an one arm hold.

"I knew. . . mostly," he apologized.

Team Seven saw Melanie leaving the interview room as she approached Buck. "I didn't expect to find you like this," she snapped.

Buck was startled at her tone "What do you mean?"

"I knew that you liked them young..."

"Wait a second, ma'am," interrupted the teenager girl, "you're wrong."

"Oh, please. You can't be that innocent," ridiculed Melanie. "Buck is known to chase anything in a skirt, now I see that even age isn't an impediment for him."

Buck realized then just how dark was Melanie's heart.

// She does lives up to her name // he thought.

His young friend's next question made his heart constrict. "Do you chase anything in a skirt?"

He looked desperately for the right words, "Nadia, I..."

"It's OK, Buck, don't worry," the teenager said. "Good thing I never wear skirts. . . dresses once in a while, but skirts. . .never!" she said with a laugh.

Nadia looked at the angry female agent right in the eyes. "Something else?"

"I'll press charges, Buck." The enraged woman threatened.

"On what basis, Agent Sullivan?" the new voice made the I.A. agent cringe. She had been so focused on Wilmington that she hadn't noticed his team.

"You know, Chris" drawled the sharpshooter, "I think she sounds jealous."

"Well," interjected the undercover expert, "It sounds more like harassment to me. What do you think Josiah?"

"I think she is using her position within the force to harass a fellow agent. Probably motivated by her feelings of jealousy. The fact that she does feel intimidated by a... how old are you, honey?" Josiah asked to the young girl.

"Seventeen," Nadia remarked, and the profiler continued, "That she felt intimidated by..."

"Shut up, Agent Sanchez, or you'll be sorry!" Sullivan hissed in a threatening tone.

Chris Larabee was furious; "No madam, you will be sorry if you try to hurt my team again," growled the leader.

Melanie stepped back, afraid of the venom in Chris' words and voice. She surveyed the faces of all the agents and stormed out of the place.

"I can't believe you dated her for two months," J.D. commented.

"I plead temporary insanity," Buck shrugged, and Nadia snorted.

"Well, all of us hope that by now you have regained your senses, because the formality of the psychological evaluation is still pending over our heads," informed an amused Ezra.

"He'll be fine," warned the profiler "We just need the room of the evaluation to be female free."

When the laughter had died down, Chris, looking at both Buck and the young girl, asked his oldest friend. "So, you two are coming upstairs?"

Buck glanced at Nadia, who shrugged. "I don't have anything better to do," she said.

"And if you had?" inquired the mustached man.

She just smiled.

Nadia watched as Buck's coworkers turned towards the elevators, uncaring that they were still in hearing range she commented, "I like your friends, but the one all in black is a bit scary."

"That's Chris," Buck chuckled, "he's the boss and it's his job to scare people."

He guided her toward the elevator. He needed to introduce Nadia formally to his friends.

"Oh, I left my names' book in the chair. May I?" she asked, gesturing toward the enclosed area.

"Sure," Buck replied. He was going to accompany her, but Ezra started talking to him.

"You know, Mr. Wilmington, all this was an unpleasant affair. I'm glad you trusted us." Ezra said. "Even after your past relationship let you down, you didn't lose hope," he added.

Buck chuckled. "I couldn't lose hope, Ezra. I had just found her under a tree," he stated with a wry smile looking toward his younger friend as she saluted animatedly to J.D. before going into the interview room, ignoring Ezra's puzzled face.

"Hey Buck," called the youngest agent, "I remembered where I met her."

"Who? Nadia?" Buck asked.

"Yes. She worked at a gift shop in the mall. She helped me choose a gift for Casey the time we broke apart," he explained.

"The time you were sure she wouldn't forgive you?" Vin asked.

"Yep, I wasn't going to buy anything, but Nadia convinced me that Casey and I needed to talk and that a token of good faith was the best way to soften her up. I got her a bear shaped backpack and now Casey uses it everyday."

"It sounds like Nadia is good at giving reassurance," said Josiah.

Buck clasped the profiler's shoulder, "She lives up to her name."

Josiah glanced toward his friends. "I met a woman like that a few decades ago. She was also beautiful. Her name was Hope," the older man smiled in remembrance.

Buck recoiled. "Hey, that's what Nadia's name means." At the look of skepticism of his friends, he warned, "She told me!"

Chris patted him in the back, "Ok, ok, and where is she?"

"She went back to the interview room; she forgot her notebook there," Buck commented.

J.D. sprinted back, "I'll go for her."

Josiah sidestepped the young agent, looking back to the team he chuckled, "That young man is always running; makes me feel old."

"Hey Buck!" shouted J.D. from the end of the corridor, "She's not here!"

The rogue frowned, knowing one couldn't really hide in the ATF building, and the team had been in plain sight, so she couldn't have gotten lost looking around for them.

At their backs, the elevator dinged making them jump a little.

One of the front desks' guards stepped off of it, "Excuse me Agents," he said. "You didn't answer your phones, so I was going to your floor. I got a message for Wilmington. A girl in jeans and t-shirt said that she had been called to another job, but maybe later in the week you would like to join her at the park."

Team Seven was speechless, they were in front of the elevators, had visual of the room's door and still, the girl had left the floor without them knowing.

"Another job?" asked Ezra, recovering. "I thought she was currently un-employed, wouldn't that be a new job?"

The guard shrugged. "That's what she said. . . another."

Ezra turned to Buck who shrugged back.

Vin glanced at Chris who also had a bewildered face.

//Who could understand hyperactive teenagers? //

It was Josiah who herded the team to the elevator, "Come on, brothers, I'm sure we'll see her again. . . someday."

+ + + + + + +

Not far from there, the young girl joined her friends at a park bench.

"Hi guys, where is the fire?" she asked.

The older of the two women in the group took the girl's hand and guided her to sit.

"Well?" inquired Nadia with concern, the silence of her friends meant that the job ahead was going to be difficult.

"There is a little girl that was kidnapped." The young woman explained. "We need you to stay with her until her Daddy can rescue her."

The teenager nodded, "Of course, I'll leave immediately. What about her father?"

The young woman smiled slightly. "Don't worry; we'll make sure he doesn't lose his hope."

Nadia smiled at her friend, "Thanks. I'll leave now." She sprinted from her seat, "Bye girls. Andrew," she called as she went away.

"See you later, Hope" Andrew murmured.

The three adults watched until the girl disappeared in the crowd.