IN SPADES

By Sarah (winks7985)

The Magnificent Seven / ATF AU

Rated R

 

 

Part 6

Ezra’s vision swam as he tried to focus.  His eyes stayed shut more than they were open right now.  Every now and then, the light cast off by a street lamp entered his vision, then exited as quickly as it came.  He dragged his left hand to his face, his right accompanying along due to its tether, and felt a fresh flow of blood from his nose.  He felt some of the wayward blood slip down his throat, inducing a cough reflex.  He turned on his side and coughed, painfully, until he could muster a clean breath.  He hocked and spit to clear his mouth.  Only then, as his focus sharpened, did he realize he was lying across the back seat of a car.

“Eddie,” Shep shouted from the driver’s seat.  “I need you to come around.  I need you to help Josh a bit.”

“I’m fine, Mr. Sheppard.”

“You’re not!” he shouted to his passenger.  “I know you got hit, and vest or not, I want Eddie to check you out right now!”

Ezra watched the scene with an odd detachment, like watching a TV program unfold its plot.

Sheppard looked in the rear view mirror.  “Eddie!”

Ezra’s mind kicked back into gear.  “Yeah,” he said in acknowledgement, and moved to fit himself in between the two front seats of the sedan, resting a good portion of himself on the padded armrest.

“He okay?” Sheppard asked, glancing over to the two men, now with his line of view to Nevins mostly blocked. 

“One sec,” Ezra said, trying to get a good look in the passing streetlights.

Nevins said nothing, staring at the Southerner.  His breathing was steady and deliberate, and he was obviously in pain.

Ezra found a set of keys in Nevins’ jacket pocket, and on the ring a small handcuff key.  Thank god for boy scouts.  He freed himself of the cuffs and threw them to the floor, then proceeded to check Nevins.  As Ezra ran his hands over the man’s chest and arms, looking for obvious wounds, Nevins hissed below him.  “All right, all right,” Ezra soothed.  “You’re in good hands here; fix you right up.”

Nevins let out a sound, somewhat like a snort but pained.  “No, you won’t.”  He said it so quietly, Ezra had to strain to hear him.

Ezra shot Nevins a questioning look, and Nevins looked down at himself, lifting his hand away from a hole in his belly, just below where the vest ended.  He quickly covered it back up. 

Standish had seen wounds like this before, and without immediate medical help, they were usually fatal.  Hell, even with help they were sometimes fatal.

A look of understanding passed between the two men.

“Eddie, for fuck’s sake!” Shep barked, trying to get an answer.

Nevins shook his head ever so slightly, not breaking eye contact with the southerner.  Ezra understood.

“A bit banged up, a couple new holes where there weren’t before, but he looks ok.  He should see a doctor.  Nothing we can do right now.”

The corner of Nevins’s mouth quirked up in a small semblance of a smile, his thanks evident.  Ezra put his hand over where the fatal wound was, capturing the man’s hand in his own and giving a small squeeze.

With the waning light, Sheppard would not see the true extent of Nevins’s injuries.  Ezra sat back on the seat behind him, but stayed forward, hanging his arms between the two front seats.  “So what now?” he asked, wiping the halted blood flow from his nose with the back of his hand.

“Now,” Shep said, “we get the fuck out of Dodge.”

Ezra noticed then where they were.  “This doesn’t look like we’re getting out of town…” He knew that Shep most likely had known where he had been staying as Eddie Craig, but the fact that it had never come up in conversation, coupled with the fact that Shep was now signaling a turn that would bring them right to Eddie’s doorstep was unnerving.

Shep swung the car into the motel’s parking lot, coming to a halt in an open parking space.  “Get your shit, get to the shop, then we’re gone.”

Ezra fumbled for the door handle and got out of the car.  Nevins rolled his head on the seat to look out the window at the southerner, a small smile on his face.  Ezra knew it would be the last time he would see the man alive.

Shep rolled down the driver’s window as Ezra walked in front of the car.  “Hey, if you’re not there in twenty minutes, we’re leaving without you.”

“Kay,” Ezra said as he turned for the staircase that led to the second floor where his shitty little room was.  He didn’t watch as Sheppard drove away, knowing full well that the man was going back to the shop to either destroy the evidence or pack it up.  In either case, he had twenty minutes to get there and stop him; it was gonna be close.

He entered his rented room, closed the door swiftly behind him and locked the deadbolt.

He whipped off his jacket and paced back and forth for a minute, then stopped in the middle of the room and bent slightly as he yelled at the top of his lungs, “FUCK!”  Afterwards, feeling slightly better, he started to put a plan into action.  He pulled the wobbly desk chair over to the center of the room, positioning it just so.  He climbed up on it, his balance precarious, and pushed on one of the ceiling tiles.  The loose tile wouldn’t be noticeable to a casual observer, but Buck and Nathan had put a small compartment in the ceiling for Ezra a week before he moved in as Eddie Craig.

He fished around with his hand, finding the parcel he wanted, and withdrew it.  He didn’t bother to re-seal the compartment; he wouldn’t be coming back to this life after tonight, and he didn’t give a shit who found the small hidey hole in the ceiling.  He hopped down from the wobbly chair, opening the parcel as he went.  Inside were his service piece and his ATF credentials, as well as a burner cell phone.

He grabbed his discarded jacket and headed out of the room, not looking back.  There was nothing of him there anyways.

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“You’re trying to tell me that all this shit means his cover is still intact?” hollered Henderson, holding an ice pack to his jaw where JD had hit him. 

“Don’t even start,” Buck said, getting up from where he had just been treated for the nick in his neck by a paramedic.  The small police station was swarming now with Oak Falls PD and paramedics treating the wounded and dazed men. 

Josiah had been bandaged up from all his cuts, and Nathan was fortunate to only have bruised his collarbone area. 

Officer O’Connor had been transported to the hospital in one of the town’s ambulances, but was alert and talking as they wheeled him out.

Vin, JD and Chris seemed to have escaped with the most minor injuries: Vin with a bruise growing on the side of his face and JD with a small egg high on his forehead.

“Enough!” Chris announced.  He turned to the DEA agent.  “If his cover wasn’t intact, they would have executed him, not saved him.”  The command in his voice conveyed that there would be no further speculation as to ulterior motives of the undercover agent.

Chris turned his attention to his men.  “JD?” he asked.

“I got nothin’, Chris.  He doesn’t have his phone, so no GPS.  No communications.  I just… I don’t know.”

“We need to get in touch with him.  Vin?”

Vin looked up from where he was rubbing the side of his face with his hand, eyes averted.  “You serious?”  He looked over at JD, then back to Larabee.  “You think me and Ezra got some sort of wondertwin connection or something?”

“I’m lookin’ for ideas.  If Sheppard figures this shit out, he’ll kill him.  And I don’t put it past him or that ogre that was with him to inflict some hurt on Ezra before he does decide to kill him.”

“Mr. Larabee?” a voice called across the busy room.

Chris turned to see a young officer across the room holding up a phone receiver and gesturing to him.  “Line three.”

He reached for the nearest desk phone that hadn’t been blown to bits.  “Larabee.”

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“Chris, thank Christ,” Ezra breathed out.

“Ezra?  Where are you, are you ok?” 

The southerner dodged the question.  “We gotta move on the shop, now.  Sheppard’s on his way back there; he’ll destroy the evidence or pack it up and get out of here.  He’s not waiting for me if I don’t show.”

“Ezra, wait, no.  I’ll send someone to get you.  You at the hotel?”

A snort.  “I was.  I’ll be at the shop in less than 5 minutes.”

“No, come to the station.  Don’t be stupid.”

“This is too big to let go,” he insisted.  “This guy’s killed people…”

“We’ll get him another way.  Ezra, please.” 

He could hear the worry in Chris’s tone, but if he were to go to the station, precious time would be lost.  Sheppard would be lost.  Then all of the hell he’d been through for the past months would be for naught; all the time spent being someone he was not… all the time spent away from his friends, essentially alone… Jon’s life…  The assholes whose merchandise Sheppard was shipping would ultimately win.

Unacceptable.

Ezra blew out a steadying breath.  “No.”  And with that, he disconnected the call and flung the burner on the passenger seat.

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“Dammit!” Chris said as he slammed the phone down.  “He’s going after Sheppard himself.  We have to get to the shop.  Idiot’s gonna get himself killed.”  He and his men were in motion.

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Ezra stalked up to the shop’s rolling garage door.  It was slightly open, leaving about a foot worth of clearance between the ground and the bottom of the door.

Bending in half and squatting, Standish carefully looked under the door.  He could see the getaway car’s four tires sitting on the ground, and could see that the passenger door of the vehicle was open, but could not see within.  The garage door had been shut by someone in a hurry, but it had gotten caught on a part of the car’s bumper.  Inside, the shop was silent.

He lay down on the ground and shimmied under the door, coming in on the passenger side of the car.  Slowly getting to his feet, watching the area around him for any immediate threat, he focused on the car.  Nevins sat in the passenger seat, not moving.  As Ezra approached the open door and the man inside, he found himself holding his breath.  A little bit of hope and a little bit of fear; hope that Nevins wasn’t dead, and at the same time, fear that he wasn’t dead.  Wounded animals are far more dangerous than dead ones.

Peering into the open door, there was no question that the man was dead.  Nevins’ eyes were fixed and staring at a spot on the windshield, his body unmoving.  Being thorough, Ezra reached in to feel for a pulse in the neck.  As expected, there was no beat.  As he pulled his hand away, he wiped his bloody fingers on the dead man’s coat.

Ezra looked over the top of the car towards Sheppard’s office.  Light flooded out of the open doorway and through the window into the shop bay.  Shep’s shadow paced back and forth agitatedly.

Lowering his gun, Ezra walked towards the office and the man within.

“Shep?” he asked as he came to the doorway.

The barrel of a 9 mil came to bear on him, stopping just inches from his forehead.  Sheppard’s face was covered with sweat and he looked as though he had been crying.

“Eddie,” he sighed, lowering the gun.  “I thought… I didn’t know if you were coming.”  Shep turned his back to Standish and continued pacing.

“I’m here now,” Ezra said, moving into the office.  His gun was now tucked into the front of his belt, readily available if needed.  He just had to distract Sheppard for the short time it would take the rest of the team to get here.  He knew they would be coming.  “Where is everyone?”

Shep let out a mirthless chuckle.  “Gone.”  He sighed.  “It’s all gone now…”

“We gotta get out of here,” Ezra said as he took another step into the office.  His eyes were searching for the books, searching for any sign that they hadn’t been destroyed.

Sheppard sighed again.  “Yeah.”  He circled his desk as he pulled out the keys for the locked file cabinet.  He half turned over his shoulder and said, “I hadn’t done anything before you showed up.”

Ezra nodded.  “I saw Josh.”

Sheppard nodded as he reached in to the file cabinet and retrieved several things, one of which was the black book.  He turned and looked at his friend, a sad look in his eyes.  He looked down and put the small pile of things on the desk, trailing his fingers lightly over the cover of the black book. 

Ezra remained patient.

“I’ve been thinking,” Shep began. 

After a moment, Ezra prodded.  “About?”

He sighed and shook his head once.  “All manner of things, really.”  He looked up at Eddie and brought his gun to bear on his friend again, intentionally this time.

“Shep, what are you doing?” Ezra asked, genuinely shocked.

“You were talking to that cop behind that desk; I heard your voice shouting.  Couldn’t make out what you said, but I knew I heard your voice.”

“I was yelling at him,” he said defensively. 

“And then, outside,” he continued, as though the other man hadn’t spoken, “you were fighting like hell to go back inside and get away from me and Josh.”

“I was a little jacked up.  You just shot up the fucking police station!”

“They cut you a deal?  Roll on me, and they let you slide?”

“Shep, nothing like that happened.”  He held his hands out to his side in a placating manner.  “You think I would show up here, alone, if I was trying to cross you?”

“You are a clever one.”

“Christ,” Ezra muttered.  “What’ll it take to prove it?”

Sheppard was still for a minute, considering.  Still holding his gun pointed towards the southerner, he reached down and slid the small pile of things he had removed from the drawer into a bag sitting on the desk chair.  He then flung the bag over his shoulder by its strap, freeing his hand again.  “We split up.  I’ll contact you in a week.  If you don’t answer, I’ll know you were picked up for not being able to deliver on your deal.  If you do answer, I’ll know you didn’t cut a deal.”

“Seriously?” Ezra asked.

“Back out the door,” Shep said and gestured with his gun, taking a small step forward.

Ezra held his hands out in the same placating manner as before and backwards, out of the office. 

“A week, Eddie.  I’ll take care of this shit,” he shook the bag on his shoulder and flashed Ezra an odd smile.

A fleeting look of horror flashed across the Southerner’s face, then vanished as quickly as it had arrived.  He opened his mouth to try to stall Sheppard, but didn’t get a chance to speak.

“Shit!” Sheppard cussed, seeing a shadow pass by one of the bay windows.  He took three quick steps forward and grabbed Eddie’s shirt, swinging him around and pushing him forward.  “We gotta move!”

The two men pushed through the door to the locker room, heading for the boiler room just off to the side of the row of lockers.  Sheppard pushed Ezra off to the side and slid his gun into the back of his pants as he fumbled for the key to this door. 

“There’s a window that leads to the back of the building, to that alley there where the dumpster is.  You can’t see it too good from outside.”  He stabbed the wrong key at the lock, then cursed softly and tried another.

The distinct sound of a hammer being pulled back caused Sheppard to freeze.  With his gun safely tucked in the back of his pants, he couldn’t get it very readily without earning a bullet to the back.  He turned slowly and deliberately, holding his hands in plain sight.  The key ring jingled in his right hand at the movement.

“The bag,” Ezra demanded.

“I knew it,” he said slowly.  “I knew you crossed me.”

“You don’t know shit.  The bag, now.”  Standish shook his gun for emphasis.

“You gonna steal my business?  Is that it?”  Sheppard slowly slid the bag off his shoulder to the ground, holding on to the strap loosely in his hand.  “We were gonna be partners, Eddie.  We would have made more money than you could even think of.”

A smile grew on the southerner’s face.  “I don’t care about your money you son of a bitch.  Kick it over.”

Sheppard put his foot on the bag, but didn’t comply with the demand.  “I thought we were friends Eddie.  I thought I could trust you.  I treated you like fucking family!  What the fuck happened?”

“You dumb shit,” Ezra said.  He took a steadying breath.  “I’m a cop.”

“My ass,” Sheppard replied.  “You’re a fucking thief and a criminal.  You’re a piece of shit just like the rest of us.”

Ezra didn’t react to the taunt, but instead reached in his jacket and pulled his ATF credentials, flashing them at the man he held at gunpoint.

Sheppard’s face registered first confusion, then disbelief.  Then he blinked slowly, understanding. 

And with that understanding came the look of disappointment that Ezra was all too familiar with; the one he saw in people’s faces when he’d genuinely let them down.  This man, who had taken “Eddie” in, had made him feel like a part of the family – had wanted to make him his partner for Christ’s sake – was looking at him with pure hatred.

Sheppard growled low in his throat, “You set me up.”

“You set yourself up.  Did you really think this shit could last forever?”  Ezra shook his head in disgust and disbelief.  “You’re not that good.”

“So what now?  You gonna shoot me?  Make it look like you were defending yourself?  Or are you hoping to arrest me?” he sneered. 

“You’re going to stand trial for trafficking, and you’re going to stand trial for murder.”  Ezra’s eyes burned with anger as he thought of young Jon‘s body in a growing pool of blood.

“There’s no body, there’s no crime,” Sheppard taunted.

Ezra took a step closer to the man, seething anger.  “If I have to dredge every lake and river in this county, in this state, I will find Jon.  And it will give me great satisfaction to watch your face as a jury finds you guilty.”

“A little presumptuous, don’t you think?”

“Kick the bag over.”

“Come and get it your damn self you fucking fink.”

Ezra shifted his gaze from Sheppard to the bag for a split second, but it was enough.  Sheppard swung the bag up hitting Standish’s outstretched arm, sending his aim askew as he fired reflexively.  The bullet slammed into the wall next to one bank of lockers.  Sheppard was on him an instant after the bag impacted. 

Ezra was tackled, landing hard on his back and knocking the wind out of his lungs and reflexively letting go of his weapon.  Sheppard’s body landed heavily on top of the prone southerner, and came up with fists flailing.  Sheppard’s first solid punch hit Standish in the face, hitting his nose and left cheek.  It was followed swiftly by another.

Standish’s head smacked back against the hard floor with each hit, and he was not able to get his arms free from the solid body on top of him.

Using his feet to gain leverage, he managed to roll both of them to the side, freeing one of his trapped arms.  Ezra then coiled and punched with all the power he could in the position he was in.  He aimed for the most effective spot he could reach.  Aiming for the kidney, he slammed his fist into Sheppard’s left side, and was rewarded with the sound of air swiftly rushing out of the other man’s lungs, slowing his assault enough for Ezra to land another punch, this time aimed for the groin.

Connecting solidly, Sheppard let out a wail and rolled on his side.  Standish rolled the other way, effectively breaking their grapple.

Ezra managed to get to his gun, and turned on his side to point it at the slumped and curled up man.  Sheppard was looking right into Standish’s eyes.  Standish sniffled at the blood trickling out of his nose, but didn’t lift a hand to his face to stop the flow.  He wasn’t going to let Sheppard get the upper hand again.

Sheppard panted quietly as he watched the green-eyed agent.  Noises from outside the locker room door alerted the two men to the presence of others; Standish could only hope it was ‘the good guys’, because if it wasn’t, he was pretty fucked.  With his vision faltering from when his head hit the floor, he held the gun on the current middle of the three Sheppards he saw.

“You’re a piece of work, Craig,” Sheppard mumbled.

Ezra said nothing, concentrating on keeping himself steady enough to control the situation.

“Takes a special kind to be a con man like you.  Avoid working with your own brothers-in-arms; making friends with the shady people, only to betray their confidence.”

Ezra held his aim and breathed steadily, not rising to the bait. 

“Do you even have any friends, Eddie?  Or whatever the fuck your name is.”

The barrel of the gun quivered slightly.

“You make friends, only to betray them.  That’s a lonely life.”  Sheppard chuckled mirthlessly, having seen the slight tell.  “I killed that little shit for you,” he spat.

Ezra knew that his face betrayed his shock, and Sheppard knew he hit a chord. 

“You as good as killed him yourself.”

“Shut your face,” Standish replied calmly.

“Standish!” a muffled voice called from the adjacent room.

“Planned on doing it since you said you didn’t like him.  Just waiting for him to fuck up.  And with Jon, I knew that wouldn’t be long.”

“Shut the fuck up!” he yelled at the man.  The gun in his hand shook more noticeably.

“You’re pretty good at being a criminal…”

“Ezra!” came from the other room, clearer now.

“In here!” he yelled back over his shoulder towards the closed locker room door.

“Do your partners know how good you are at being a criminal?  How comfortable you are with it?” he sneered.

Ezra stared at the other man, his anger palpable.  Just shut up… shut up…

Sheppard laughed at the tormented look on the other man’s face.

Standish took a deep breath and slowly squeezed the trigger.

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Chris and Josiah opened the door to the locker room and entered, guns sweeping left to right, looking for the source of the last gunshot.  The scene before them was not what they expected.

Ezra lay facing another crumpled body on the ground, blood pouring from the southerner’s nose.  For a split second, both Chris and Josiah thought he had killed the other man.

A small wisp of smoke danced through the air above Standish’s recently fired gun.  The hand holding the gun quivered then steadied, then quivered again.

Josiah approached the downed man he presumed to be Sheppard, ordering him to roll onto his stomach and interlock his fingers behind his head.  The man slowly complied.

Chris approached his agent, whose noticeably moist stare was so intense and filled with single-minded hatred that the blond wasn’t sure if the man knew that his friends were here now.  “Ezra?” he spoke softly. 

Ezra didn’t react.  The gun hand quivered again.

“Ezra, lower the gun.  Josiah has him.” 

Only a blink in response, allowing a tear its slow decent. 

Chris reached out and laid his hand on the barrel of the gun, pushing it down and away from the other man.  “Ezra?”

Standish took a steadying breath, then collapsed all the way to the floor, rolling to his back and letting go of his weapon.  He dragged a shaky hand down his tired face, removing all traces of his weakness.

“Are you all right?” Chris asked, kneeling down next to his agent.

Standish closed his eyes and sighed.  “The bag,” he said quietly.

Chris looked around as Josiah led a cuffed and now silent Sheppard out of the room.  A black duffel bag lay nearby.  “What about it?”

“Look in it,” he said, eyes still closed.

Chris holstered his weapon and opened the bag.  Rifling through it, he found what he was looking for almost immediately.  A black, leather bound journal.

Standish didn’t have to open his eyes to know the look on his boss’s face.  “Happy fuckin’ birthday,” he sighed quietly.

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Vin hopped out of his jeep and into the sunshine.  He looked up and down the street casually, habitually surveying his surroundings.  Not that he needed to; Ezra lived in a pretty good neighborhood. 

He walked around the front of his jeep and up the driveway to the walk that would take him to the front door of his friend’s townhouse.  A gray squirrel paused in his bounding across the lawn to look in his direction and twitched his tail. 

Vin fished into his jacket pocket and found a small chunk of donut crumb that had been crumpled up in a napkin earlier that day.  He tossed the marble-sized piece to the squirrel, smiling when it made one springy bound towards the piece and picked it up in its small furry paws, then stuffed it in his mouth and bounded away.

Stuffing the napkin back in his pocket, he jogged up the three steps to the front porch and rapped on the door. 

It had been two days since Ezra’s showdown with Sheppard, and aside from answering some texts, Ezra had been keeping his own company.  Vin hadn’t been worried though; it wasn’t uncommon for the southerner to need some space and some time to ditch his undercover persona.  But Vin also knew not to give the man too much time to get lost in his thoughts, especially after a case took a toll on him the way this one had.

Vin rapped on the door again, louder this time, and leaned against the door jamb waiting.  He knew Ezra would be resistant to company, as was his way, but he also knew that it was time to come out from under the rock.

“Ezra,” Vin spoke loudly at the closed door as he rapped a third time.  “I know you’re in there.  Open up.”

When no answer was forthcoming, Vin sighed and fished out his wallet.  In one of the more secure pockets he kept a single key that went to Ezra’s front door.  He slid it into the lock and let himself in.

The first thing Vin noticed was that it was dark; all the blinds were closed and the drapes were pulled tight.  And second thing he noticed was how stuffy it was from the months of disuse.  He made a mental note to tell Chris that they needed to air out Ezra’s place when he was undercover.

“Ezra?  You awake?” Vin hollered over his shoulder as he moved around the room opening blinds and windows.

He turned and looked around.  Everything was as it should be, everything in its place.  Vin walked over to the hallway leading to the bedrooms and made ready to holler again, knowing it was never a good idea to surprise Ezra if he were sleeping.  Having a new angle on the vertical door blinds, he noticed some movement on the other side of the sliding doors, on the small patio.  He altered his course and opened the blinds obscuring the view outside the glass doors.

Ezra sat in one of the chairs, a blanket wrapped around him as he stared off into the distance.  His hair looked as though he had showered recently, but it looked more dry than wet at this point.  His phone and gun sat on the table beside him, the safety noticeably on.  It was obvious to Vin that the man was still a little bit too wound up to relax fully.

Vin slid the door open, knowing that Ezra had heard him come in and not worrying that the gun would be pointed in his direction.  He left the glass door open behind him, shutting only the screen to allow for some fresh air to get inside, and sat in the other chair.  He crossed his right ankle at his left knee, resting a hand on the top of his boot and fingering the hem of his jeans, but didn’t look over at his friend. Instead, he stared out towards where Ezra was looking, out towards the wooded areas that surrounded the neighborhood. 

They sat like that for many minutes before Ezra let out a sigh and turned to look at his friend.

Vin uncrossed his leg and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and his hands loosely clasped together.  He looked appraisingly at his friend.  “You been out here all night?” he asked quietly.

“It would appear so,” Ezra answered noncommittally.  A hand freed itself from the cocoon and dragged itself down his tired-looking face.  He stifled a yawn.

“You gotten any sleep?”

“None that’s been restful.”  The southerner glanced at his visitor, then out towards the woods again.  “There was a deer earlier.”

Vin nodded slowly.  “It’s getting to be their season.  Should be fawns soon.”

Ezra smiled sadly, then turned his attention towards his friend, but didn’t meet his eyes when he spoke.  “Have they found him yet?”

Vin nodded slowly.  “This morning.  A little no name lake.  Got the truck too.”

Ezra nodded slowly.  “His family?”

“JD found them.  Wyoming.  Chief Owens said she’d handle the notifications.”

Ezra nodded absently.  “Good.”  He took in a deep breath and blew it out.  “How is everyone else faring?”

“Well, Josiah’s fine.  Got himself some real nice looking stitches.  Kind of looks like he went at it with a mountain lion.  Nate’s shoulder ain’t broke, but it’s bruised somethin’ fierce.  He’s in some sort of sling-thing that keeps him from moving it at all,” he chuckled softly at the irony.  “He’s pretty frustrated with that thing but he’s trying not to let it show.”

Ezra snorted.

“Buck’s got himself a nice looking little scar on his neck.  He’s playin’ it up to the hilt too.  Pretty sure he’s not gonna have a night to himself for a while.”

That got an actual smile.

“Chris and JD are both fine.  Some bumps and bruises.  That asshole Henderson’s fine too.  He got a knock on the head and a nice shiner, courtesy of JD.  Not as nice as yours though.”  He smiled.

“That’s not a good thing, I wouldn’t think.  Hitting another agent.”

“Naw, kid’s gonna have to serve a suspension.  It was gonna be two weeks, but Chris worked something out with Travis so the kid only has to serve one.  Think he spun it like the guy was hysterical and JD had to incapacitate him to keep him safe.”

“Seems to be a lot of that going around,” Ezra said and adjusted his blanket more around him.

“You won’t be serving one.”

Green eyes turned questioningly towards blue.  “How’s that?”

Owens explained it all to the guy you hit, that Anderson fella.  Nice guy, actually.  You’d like him.  Anyway, he doesn’t want to press charges or anything, and Owens made a call back to Travis to put in a good word.”  Vin let out a breath.  “Still, JD shouldn’t have hit Henderson.”

“Sounds like he deserved it though.”

“Course he did.  And yeah, we all wanted to smack him at different points during the day, but ya can’t.”

The southerner smiled wryly.  “I assume he’s been told as much?”

“Are you kidding?  Everyone’s spare time is spent harassing the kid.”  The both had a chuckle at the thought of JD getting scolded.

“How about you?” Standish asked, gaze directed at the scraping on Vin’s face, and the bruise from where he had been struck.

“I’m fine.”  At the disbelieving look shot his way, Vin smiled.  “I’ve had worse.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Vin smiled in concession and looked down at his feet.  He took a slow breath and sat back in the chair, gazing out at the wooded area again.  “I’ve been in some shit situations,” he said and then paused.  “But that was probably the most scared I ever been.”  He paused again, considering.  “I thought I was dead, I thought you were dead, I thought for sure Nathan and Josiah had been lit up in that damn room.”  He shook his head as though to clear it.

They were both quiet for a moment. 

“I keep thinking,” Ezra said quietly.  “If given other circumstances, I could have been Eddie for real.  Hell, in another life, I could have been Sheppard,” he said dismissively.

Vin looked at his friend hard.  “Never.  Never in a million years.”

“Vin—“

“I’m serious here Ezra.  You are nothing like Benjamin Sheppard.  You are nothing like Eddie Craig.”

Ezra shook his head.  “Sheppard, he said some things.  He knew right where to cut to cause the most damage.  How can you do that, if you don’t know the type so well, how can you know what will shake you down to your roots?  Unless you’re exactly the same?”

“You’re giving him too much credit.  He was desperate to try to get out of that situation.  And if he couldn’t, he was gonna try to go down swingin’.”  Vin sat back in the chair, ending the line of questioning.

“Well, we may just have to agree to disagree then.”

Vin snorted.  “And I’ll just have to keep on proving that you’re wrong.”

Ezra laughed.  “Sounds like a deal.”

“Come on, get dressed,” Vin said as he stood, smacking his friend gently on the arm as he headed for the sliding door.

“Whatever for?”

“I’m buying you a beer.”

“I don’t even think it’s noon yet,” Ezra glibly added.

“Who gives a shit?  I haven’t bought you a beer in months.  I’ve missed hangin’ out with ya.  So go put on some clothes and make an exception.”  Vin went inside, leaving the door open behind him for his friend.

7777777

Ezra smiled as Vin went inside.  Maybe he was right.   Maybe Sheppard was just an ass.

“We need to leave some windows open when we go,” Vin called from inside.  “It smells in here.”

“It doesn’t ‘smell’,” Ezra protested.  “Just because it doesn’t smell like garbage and pizza…” 

Vin laughed from inside.  “Well, there’s a reason why there’s no scented candle called ‘I ain’t been home for months’!” Vin called back.

Outside, Ezra smiled to himself as he stood and headed inside. 

~end~




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