ATF Universe


Chris never needed much of an excuse to stop by the small cemetery. He found himself stopping more and more regularly on his way home from work. Since today was the first day of spring, that was excuse enough for him. He had called it a day earlier than normal since none of them could concentrate after Ezra's departure. While he knew that something was bothering the man when he returned to work, it was now clear to Chris that whatever it was, it was something serious. Okay, so he was a little slow on the uptake. After all, Chris Larabee wasn't known for his sensitivity, that was more Josiah’s department. He did offer Ezra an ear though, hopefully it wasn’t a matter of being too little too late. He doubted the undercover agent would ever take him up on it, but he'd made the gesture. The next move was up to Ezra.

Chris stopped the truck at Chelsea's Flowers, the only place he ever bought flowers. Sarah had adored the little shop and Chelsea always knew exactly what to pick out for Sarah and Adam. After paying for the flowers, he headed back to the truck. It surprised him sometimes that he no longer dreaded going to the cemetery. The sadness of losing his wife and son was still there, but he was beginning to remember more and more of the good times. Besides, Sarah was still one of the best listeners around or maybe he was just getting better at talking things out. Chris pulled off the highway and passed through the gate guarding the quiet cemetery. He drove around the loop to the hill by the flower garden. Even in his soul searing grief all those years ago, he had recognized that it was the perfect spot for Sarah. Since she loved flowers so much and the view of the mountains was incredible, both he and Buck had immediately agreed that this was where she and Adam should be laid to rest. A gentle smile tugged his lips as he caught sight of the spring flowers that were just beginning to bloom. It would still be a couple of weeks before they were going to be in their full glory, but the brave buds still brightened the area today.

Chris cleaned the dirt from the headstones and laid the flowers as he talked to his family, sharing the events of the past few days with them. When he stood and brushed off his knees he looked across the flower garden, catching sight of someone else who was kneeling at a grave on the other side. He could see that the man was intently working on planting some flowers around a new headstone. Chris briefly wondered whom the man had lost. He was about to turn to go when he spotted the black Jaguar that he had overlooked when he came in earlier. His sharp gaze swept the grounds around him before coming to rest on the only other living soul in the cemetery. He shook his head in stunned disbelief. When he saw the suit jacket that had been laid neatly on a nearby headstone, his mind had to accept what his eyes were seeing. He knew that it had to be Ezra Standish kneeling less than twenty feet away from him.

Chris wasn't sure whether he should disturb the man or not, but he had to know for certain if it was his friend. He slowly walked around the flower garden, keeping an eye on the man’s back. The other man was so intent on his work that he never even looked up when Chris walked up next to him. Chris didn’t say a word, he just stood looking down at the tousled head of hair before raising his gaze to read the name on the marker. ‘Grace Harper’. G. Harper. It all fell into place with two words chiseled into granite. That call in the middle of the night had been from a G. Harper. It must have been Ezra who had tried to call him. He had answered the phone that night so roughly only because he had been tired. Now that he knew it had been Ezra on the other end, he didn’t blame him for changing his mind about talking to him. He watched for a moment longer as Ezra dug around the headstone with a stick trying to remove enough dirt to plant the flowers that sat nearby. His normally pristine hands were covered with dirt and mud.

When the stick snapped as he pried too hard, he threw down the small piece left in his hand and sat back on his heels. "Damn it!" said the southerner in frustration. Chris watched Ezra as he tried to wipe away his tears with the back of his sleeve.

"Ezra?" he said softly.

Ezra looked up at Chris, a multitude of emotions running across his face. He swiped at his eyes again. "She liked flowers," Ezra sobbed. "I can't even plant the damn flowers."

Chris squeezed his shoulder gently. "I have a shovel in my truck. Would you like me to get it?" Ezra nodded. Chris went back to the truck and took a few minutes getting the shovel, knowing Ezra needed space at that moment. He took his time walking back, giving Ezra some extra time to come to terms with Chris being there. Ezra looked up as he approached with, not only a shovel, but also a spade, a gardening trowel, a roll of paper towels and a bottle of water.

"Can I help?"

Ezra nodded and began to attack the dirt with the trowel. Chris was surprised to see hands that seemed to know what they were doing around plants and dirt. Ezra had been holding out on them again. None of them would have ever pictured him down on his hands and knees digging in the dirt. Chris dug a hole near the left corner of the headstone and picked up the nearest flowerpot. As he struggled to get his plant out of the pot, he silently cursed the many wasted opportunities he had had to learn how to do this chore when Sarah planted their garden years ago. He was afraid he was going to do more damage than good. Ezra gently took the pot from him his fumbling hands and showed him how to loosen the soil. Chris followed his lead and soon bright spring flowers surrounded Grace's headstone.

"I'm all thumbs with this stuff," offered Chris as he stood. "Sarah was the gardener."

"She's here?" asked Ezra and Chris nodded. Ezra grinned wryly. "I thought you were following me."

Chris shook his head. "I was just as surprised to see you here as you probably were to find me standing over you." He took the cap off the bottle of water and held it out. Ezra held out his hands and Chris poured water on them to rinse off some of the mud. "I'm sorry for intruding, Ezra."

Ezra shook his head. "I'm glad you had a shovel."

"Well, I come here a lot." He watched Ezra for a moment. "Was she why you left?"

Ezra nodded.

"I'm so sorry, Ezra," said Chris, holding out a paper towel. Ezra took the towel and carefully dried his hands. When most of the dirt was removed, he noticed that his nails would need a manicure as soon as possible.

Chris washed off his own hands and set the bottle on the grass as he dried them. "Who was she, if I might ask?"

"My aunt. Technically, she was my mother's aunt. I spent a lot of time in her home during my formative years. She taught me to dream," said Ezra wistfully.

Chris watched Ezra's smile as he talked about Grace. Undoubtedly, the lady had been a big part of his life. Chris settled himself on the ground and chewed on a blade of grass as he listened to Ezra’s words. The southerner reached in his pocket and began to toy with something there as he spoke. Chris caught a glimpse of it when he pulled the mystery object out of his pocket and began to roll it through his fingers before returning it to his pocket. It was that silly plastic ring he had blown up at Vin over at the office. Chris figured that it must have been some kind of memento from his aunt.

"Sounds like someone Sarah would have liked to have known." Chris said as he nodded toward the flower garden. "I'd like to introduce you." Chris didn't miss the look of surprise on Ezra's face. The memories of Sarah and Adam were not something he shared easily. Ezra looked at Chris and nodded, unable to think of any appropriate thing to say that could express how much his offer meant to him. The two men gathered their things and walked quietly around the garden as the sun began to head for the horizon.

The two men stood side-by-side in front of the two markers. Sarah's had a rose engraved on it, while Adam's had an image of a horse emblazed on his. Ezra smiled at the well-kept graves and he knew without a doubt that Chris Larabee had been a good husband and father. It was their loss that had darkened the man.

"Ezra? There's a little tavern just up the road," said Chris. "I was wondering if," the team leader stumbled over his words, not quite sure how Ezra would respond. "You could tell me more about Grace if you want. I would like to share some more with you about Sarah and our Adam. Or maybe we'll just have a drink in their honor?"

Again, Ezra was taken aback for the second time that afternoon. It wasn’t just surprise at Chris's offer, it was the fact that he seemed willing to share his family with him. Larabee did not talk about his family. In the entire time he had been with the team, he could probably count on one hand the times Chris willingly spoke about his lost family. It was a gracious offer, but Ezra's wounds were too fresh. He didn't want to talk about Grace, and he certainly didn't want to do anything to make himself more vulnerable to his teammates. The pain of losing someone close to him was still too recent.

"Mr. Larabee….Ahem…Chris. Perhaps I could take a rain check?" Ezra hedged. "I appreciate your help and, I truly appreciate the offer, but I am in dire need of a shower and a change of clothes."

Chris nodded. He knew that Ezra wasn't ready to talk. The need to clean up was just an excuse. He didn't know how the southerner could be digging around in the dirt like he had, and managed only to dirty his hands. There were smudges at his knees, but you had to look really hard to see them.

"I'll hold you to that rain check, Ezra." The two men shook hands, as if to seal the promise. Chris climbed into his truck, watching his undercover agent walk slowly back past the garden. Ezra stopped again at Grace’s grave before heading towards the Jag that sat in the red glow of the sunset. Chris started the engine and pulled out knowing too well the pain that Ezra was feeling. He knew there was no cure all, no magic potion that could make it all go away, but he hoped he could give the southerner some nudges in the right direction and keep him away from the self-destructive path he had taken.


Three weeks had passed since Chris had found Ezra in the cemetery. He had not mentioned a word of the chance encounter to the team. He felt that it was Ezra's call if he wanted to share this with the others.

Ezra was still pouring every ounce of energy into his work and avoiding spending his free time with his teammates. Chris had seen Ezra look to him for help when Vin and JD pushed him to join them at the Saloon but he had just smiled and walked back into his office, leaving the southerner to try to find ways to continue to refuse the requests. No matter what happened, he would not break Ezra's confidence. Telling the guys to go easy on him would send up all sorts of red flags and pretty soon he would have been bombarded by questions.

Friday afternoon found one agent left in the office as everyone else had gone home early. They had all been in various training classes during the day and at four-thirty, Ezra was the only member of Team 7 still in the office. There would be no socializing at Inez's tonight for any of them. Josiah was going to spend the weekend visiting his sister. Nathan had a date with Rain, and JD was celebrating some anniversary with Casey. Buck was meeting his latest love and Vin was working at the Youth Shelter. Chris had stopped by his desk to check on him on his way out over a half an hour ago.

The quiet wrapped itself around the southerner as he finished up the last report of the week. When the ding of the elevator and the swish of the doors opening broke into his silent world, Ezra looked up and spotted a courier as he tentatively stepped out and called out, "Hello?"

Ezra got up from his desk and walked over to meet the delivery man at the door. "What can I do for you?"

"Got a package here for a," he squinted at the address on the brown package he had pulled out of his knapsack. "An Ezra Standish."

"That's me."

"Sign here, please."

Ezra signed for the package and slipped the young man a tip. He looked at the label, noting the return address. It was from Aunt Grace's attorney. Ezra sighed and walked back to his desk as the courier left. He laid the packet on the desk, reluctant to open it. He already knew what it contained since he had spoken with the lawyer just yesterday. If he didn't open it, it wasn't done. He could feel the tears creeping out of their hiding place. "Be a man, Standish," he berated himself. "Get it over with," he said aloud.

He drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Then, he reached over and picked up the package with a shaking hand. Carefully he tore it open and found that he had been right. The package contained the final paperwork for Grace’s estate. He stared blankly at the papers, unable to make any sense out of the typed words. There it was right in front of him in black and white. One wonderful life that had touched so many others reduced to a mere two inches of paper. Auntie Grace was really and truly gone.

Ezra didn't know how long he sat there at his desk holding the papers against his aching chest. He barely noticed that it was dark when he left the office. He didn't remember leaving the Federal Building and he really had no idea how he came to end up out at Chris's ranch. He absently noted that he wasn't dressed for grooming his horse, but he walked to the stable anyway instead of going up to the house. He didn’t want to disturb Chris, he just wanted to find some peace. When he finished his visit with Chaucer, he walked outside and leaned on the corral fence, deep in thought.

Chris had heard the car when it had first pulled up behind his truck. He had watched the obviously troubled man walk into the stable and went back to the den to wait. When he looked back out a bit later, he saw that Ezra had come back out and decided that he had given Ezra enough time alone. He grabbed a jacket from the closet and walked out to the corral to where the southerner was gazing at the stars. He leaned on the top rail, joining the other man in silent contemplation.

Ezra sensed Chris's presence and was grateful for the silence that gave him a few more moments to gather up his courage.

"Chris?" he asked softly.

Larabee didn't answer, but Ezra knew he was listening.

"I was hoping that your offer for a libation still stands."

A hint of a smile graced Chris's face as he nodded toward the ranch house in invitation.


Comments to: jkersteter@aol.com

July 2001

Coming next: Wednesday's Child