Disclaimer: The seven don't belong to me. I'm only saddling them up for a 'ride' or 3. And will return them to MGM, Mirisch and Trilogy when we're done. No copyright infringement intended. Written for fun. No profit made.
Author's Note: Thoughts denoted by // //.
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Undercover agent, Ezra P. Standish's emerald eyes strayed from the report on his computer screen to his youngest teammate, Mr. J.D. Dunne whom had just exited the elevator onto the ATF's Team 7's office floor. The Southerner's gaze widened slightly as he observed an unusually quiet Mr. Dunne heading in his direction.
For a moment the auburn-haired man wondered if he had inadvertently offended the computer expert during their last case and mentally reviewed the bust that had taken place a short time before. The Southerner could not recall any offense but then Ezra thought //I'm still getting accustomed to the dynamics of this ATF Team 7. Its only been three months since I transferred over from the Atlanta FBI bureau. Team 7 is considered by many to be the best in the ATF. And I'm proud to be on the team even though my first case did not go as smoothly as I had hoped it would...// At this thought, the jade-eyed man winced inwardly but kept his 'poker' face intact because at that moment the team profiler Mr. Josiah Sanchez placed a cup of coffee on the coaster sitting on the desk. The big man smiled at the Southerner's drawl of thanks. As Sanchez slid into his chair a desk over from and the undercover agent picked up his cup and sipped the still-warm coffee. The jade-eyed man's thoughts swirled back to the night that Chris Larabee the stern ATF Team 7 leader had given him a second chance. From that shaky beginning with the team, Ezra had worked hard to redeem himself and become an integral part of his new team though the Southerner was uncertain how his efforts were being interpreted. Most of Team 7 seemed to accept him but Ezra knew that Chris Larabee, their team leader and Nathan Jackson, the team medic still had their reservations about him.
Ezra shook off his introspection and replaced the now empty coffee mug back on the coaster. The auburn-haired man flexed his fingers and posed them over the computer keyboard. His nimble fingers had hit the keys several times, adding the finishing sentences to the detailed paperwork on his computer when he heard Buck Wilmington, the tall surveillance agent's voice ""You'll never know until you ask him, kid."
Buck had intercepted J.D. a few steps after the young ATF agent had gotten off the elevator. They had talked quietly for a few minutes and now both men were standing around the undercover agent's workspace. Hazel eyes glanced once more at his taller and older roommate and teammate. J.D. unconsciously squared his shoulders at Buck's nod of encouragement. "Hey Ez, you're almost as good as I am on computers and I was wondering if you'd like to be my partner in the Mahjongg competition scheduled for the ATF's annual picnic in a couple of weeks?" Buck and Josiah both wished they had a camera to capture Ezra's reaction. Ezra's emerald colored eyes rounded and his mouth formed a small 'O' of surprise before he accidentally tilted his chair and almost tipped over. Josiah's big hands steadied both the chair and its occupant. Three voices asked in unison if Ezra was okay. The jade-orbed man flushed as he replied yes he was all right and that he'd be honored to be J.D.'s partner. The ebony-haired computer expert's face broke out into a huge grin. Buck beamed at the undercover agent as did the profiler. The two big men walked back to their desks to complete their own reports.
J.D. leaned against the edge of Ezra's desk and waited patiently. "Ah, Mr. Dunne I am in a bit of a quandary. Could you please explain what Mahjongg is, I am not familiar with it." Whispered Ezra as he printed out his completed report. "I've got some Mahjongg CD's at home and if you're up to it, I can come over to your place tomorrow around noon and show you how to play?" Replied the computer expert in a low tone. Ezra nodded his assent then knocked on Chris's door. J.D. bounced on the balls of his feet as he waited for the Southerner to emerge from their leader's office.
J.D. waved at Vin when the sharpshooter walked into their offices and plopped down into his chair. The weary Texan knew he had to retype the rough draft of the report that he written earlier because his dyslexia caused him some problems with reading and writing. All Vin wanted to do was tumble into bed and sleep for two days. But the paperwork had to be done and the report would probably take a couple of re-writes. Ezra usually helped the quiet-spoken man with paperwork but Vin saw that the desk opposite his was empty. And then his blue eyes fell upon the corrected rough draft blinking on his computer screen. //Oh, Ez. Thanks pard. You've got one hell of a heart 'neath those walls of yours. Now we just gotta git Chris to see that for himself.//spun through the long-haired sharpshooter's mind. His sapphire eyes locked with emerald green ones as Ezra stepped out of Larabee's den. The Texan mouthed "Thank You." As Ezra strode out of the office with a bubbly J.D. by his side. Ezra acknowledged the thanks with a two-finger salute.
The next day a little after noon, Ezra opened the door of his townhouse to find a chipper J.D. Dunne on his doorstep. J.D. practically bounced into Ezra's home, he had never been to the Southerner's townhouse before. The ebony-haired man's steps slowed somewhat as he saw the spartan look of the place and that there were various unpacked boxes lurking about in various corners of the condo. Dunne vowed to himself that he and the others would make the Southerner feel like Denver was home. "Even if I have to kick all the guy's butts to do it. Well I can kick Buck's butt and he can kick Chris's." mumbled the computer expert to himself as he followed the undercover agent into a spacious study. "Pardon me, Mr. Dunne Did you say something?" inquired Ezra. The Southerner turned sideways to face the young man. Ezra thought he had heard J.D. mutter something about Mr. Wilmington's and Mr. Larabee's posteriors but wasn't completely sure. The undercover agent turned and quickly reached for the pitcher of water and a glass which was sitting on the oval oak table near the entrance of the study and gave it to the now scarlet, hazel-eyed Mr. Dunne. J.D. swallowed the drink and said "Thanks and nope didn't say a thing." Ezra let it go this time. If this strange behavior continued, he would nip it in the bud.
The russet-haired man gestured towards the other end of the table where his computer notebook lay waiting. J.D. nodded and set up his own lab top next to Ezra's. Hazel eyes blinked in delight as he saw that Ezra had the opening page of the same Mahjongg computer software which J.D. used already blinking on his computer. "Cool. So, Ezra how'd you know which software I had?" Said the smiling, dark-haired man. Standish was settling himself into his seat when he heard J.D.'s question. "Mr. Dunne that was not difficult to ascertain. I have to stride by your desk everyday to reach the break room. And one could hardly miss the dancing icon on your desktop." "Oh. And yeah ain't it neat?" responded the "kid" as Buck had nicknamed him. //Have I ever been that enthusiastic?// ran a bit sadly through the undercover agent's mind as he fought the urge to roll his eyes. Instead his piercing, moss green eyes tracked Mr. Dunne as J.D. walked back over to the other end of the table and stared at the tray of food resting next to the pitcher of water. "Ez, what kind of sandwiches are these?" Asked a curious J.D.
The young man could do with some lunch since it was a little after 12 and he hadn't eaten since breakfast earlier that morning but the Southerner enjoyed gourmet foods which weren't exactly J.D.'s tastes. The hazel-eyed man didn't want to offend Ezra but he didn't want to eat something weird either.
At Standish's reply, "Because you tend to exert a lot of energy, I thought you might need sustenance to maintain it. And so I ordered some of your favorite sandwiches from Colfax's Deli." J.D. flashed Ezra a huge grin of thanks and then the computer expert grabbed a few sandwiches, wolfed them and washed them down with a few glasses of water.
J.D. straddled his chair and turned to see his Southern friend staring at him impassively.
Hazel eyes which had been twinkling with delight at Ezra's consideration, suddenly darkened in worry. A slim, fair hand gestured towards the tray as J.D. spoke "Have you eaten? You need to, you only peck at your food for days after a bust. Ezra you need your energy too." commented the ebony-haired man with concern.
//Mr. Dunne notices how a case affects my appetite? Why? What does he gain from it?// whirled through Ezra's brain. The undercover agent's heart chided him and told him to really look at and think about whom was showing him concern.
Emerald irises intensely studied J.D.'s expressive and openly worried face.
Warmth flooded through the Southerner's veins as he realized that J.D. truly cared.
Ezra's happiness laced through his voice as he responded that he had partaken of a light repast shortly before Mr. Dunne had arrived. Slender shoulders shook in satisfaction and golden brown eyes once again lit up in delight. The moss green eyed man tucked his joy away in the deepest recess of his heart to revel in later. Ezra serenely suggested that J.D. show him how to play. J. D. nodded in agreement and proceeded to do so.
The undercover agent discovered he had a knack for Shisen and Kumika two variations of Mahjongg whose objective was to clear the 144 tiles on the computer screen in the least amount of time. Mr. Dunne excelled at classic Mahjongg and Mahjongg Solitare. "In Shisen or Rivers you have a large wall of tiles. And only one rule-to connect two identical tiles. Ezra found that if he tried to draw a horizontal or vertical line through the free space between the tiles there must not be more than two corners in the line, i.e, because if he tried to turn more than twice to arrive in front of the matching tile, he couldn't select it.
He immediately removed matching tiles which were side by side." J.D. whispered in awed tones that he had never seen anyone play a faster game of Shisen. Ezra had cleared the board in 1:58. The mentally agile and nimble fingered Southerner enjoyed the challenge of "Kumika which is based on "Kumikae"-Japanese for "Recombination". The jade-eyed man learned the goal of this game is to remove tiles from the screen by making horizontal or vertical lines(rows or columns) of three tiles or more. The only way he could move tiles was by swapping two horizontally or vertically adjacent tiles. If this action created a line of tiles, it would be taken into account and the line would be removed, otherwise the move would be refused. The score is based upon the number of tiles in the lines you removed and the number" Ezra had gotten up to 25,110 points before he finished the game.
J.D. was raising his index finger and crowing. "Number One. Number One."
The resonant tick-tock of Ezra's grandfather clock in the corner of the room pealed three times and startled the undercover agent. Had he and Mr. Dunne been playing for two hours already? Neither man realized so much time had expired. Ezra had discovered that J.D. was more observant than the Southerner had given the young man credit for. And Dunne realized that Standish was more sensitive than he appeared to be. Both men found that they loved horses.
J.D.'s "Why don't you have a horse stabled out at Chris's ranch? The team has horses for the times we want to go ridin' on a lazy Sunday afternoon around Larabee's spread." inquired the hazel-eyed man. Sparkling emerald eyes dimmed as the auburn-haired man drawled "I have not had the pleasure of visiting our esteemed leader's abode. I have either been undercover or hospitalized since I transferred from Atlanta and haven't been able to attend a weekend get-together at Mr. Larabee's." J.D.'s whistle of "Oh." let Ezra's thoughts sadly run a bit further. // And I have not been asked to participate in a 'Team 7 Weekend' ordered yes but not asked nor have I been asked about boarding my horse in Mr. Larabee's barn. //
"So you have any horses here in Denver?" questioned a curious J.D whose computer notebook now lay forgotten on the table as he turned to look fully at the undercover agent.
Moss green irises deepened as he studied golden green ones intensely. Mr. Dunne seriously wanted to know.
Ezra felt furls of hope and joy uncurling cautiously in his chest. One of his teammates was actually interested in learning more about him and his interests outside of work.
"Four. I have 4 horses stabled at the Colorado Natural Horsemanship Center in Parker Colorado. Hazel eyes big as saucers, an excited J.D. exhaled "4. Cool. Could I see them sometime? What breed of horses are they? Have you ever ridden them in a competition? Or are they just for ridin'?"
Ezra chuckled slightly. How did Mr. Dunne manage that all in one breath, he'd never know but the young man's enthusiasm for horses shone clear through.
An unconscious note of pride threaded through the undercover agent's drawl when he replied "It would be my pleasure to introduce such a fine young man as yourself to my four-legged friends. Chaucer is a chestnut-colored American Quarter Horse. Pegasus is a white Arabian. Ariel is also white what but he is an Andalusian. And Cinnamon is another chestnut-colored horse though he is a Thoroughbred. They are all championship horses. I rode Chaucer and Cinnamon to victory several times. Pegasus and Ariel were already champions when I acquired them. Chaucer is the horse I usually ride these days when I do ride. The other three are retired and sire to their heart's content. "
J.D. jumped out of his chair to land in front of a surprised Southerner as the computer expert's fair hand tugged at Ezra to pull him up. "Well, get a move on Ez. I want to take a look at those horses. I bet they're real beauties. Come on."
Suddenly J.D's cell phone rang. Hazel orbs spared it a glance. It was Buck. He'd let the voice mail get it. The 'Kid' waited for Ezra's reply.
The older man gazed at the younger man speculatively. "Aren't you going to answer your cellular, Mr. Dunne?"
"I'll call Buck back in a minute but first I got to know if I'm going home in a bit or I'll be a while cause we're seeing your horses." insisted J.D. "You really want to go?" queried Ezra a bit incredulously as he let himself be tugged upright.
//Mr. Dunne must be serious, he put off answering Mr. Wilmington's call and I've never seen him do that before- not even for Mrs. Well's niece Casey.//raced through the jade-eyed man's mind as a happy grin slanted across his face. He then asked J.D. if the young man wouldn't mind a half hour drive to Parker to see the steeds.
Dunne whooped then punched one of seven speed dial numbers on his cell phone.
"Hey Buck. Yeah Ez picked it up fast all right. And you're talking to half of the Mahjongg championship duo here. I'll be home around six. Gotta go and run a couple of errands. Talk to ya later." While the computer expert was talking to his roommate, Ezra shrugged into a dark car coat and grabbed his keys which were by the door. J.D. clicked his cell phone off and followed the older man out to the man's sleek, black sport's car.
Dunne sighed at the feel of the Jaguar's luxurious leather seats. "Uuum. Ezra, have I told you I love your car?" purred Dunne.
Ezra P. Standish couldn't help himself, he laughed out loud. "No, Mr. Dunne. You had not mentioned this attachment of the heart before."
Sunday -Two Weeks Later at Chris Larabee's Ranch
Five members of the victorious Team 7 readied themselves for a barbeque out at Larabee's place. Team 7 had dominated the friendly competitions at the ATF picnic yesterday. Josiah had won the pie-eating contest...Vin captured first place of the nature hike...J.D. & Ezra had been named "Masters' of Mahjongg after they blew away the competition...and the boys wanted to celebrate. Buck prepared the outdoor grill, Josiah and Nathan were inside the kitchen fixing salad and Vin and Chris were readying a stall out in the barn. Ezra was bringing one of his horses over to stable at Chris's place. J.D. and Ezra were transporting Ezra's quarter horse "Chaucer' from Parker.
J.D. had kept his promise to himself and got Buck to pay attention to Ez's fitting in. Buck and Vin then tag-teamed Chris while J.D. and Josiah worked on Nathan. Nathan promised to give the undercover agent a real chance. And Chris asked Ezra to bring his horse over to stay in the ranch's stables along with the rest of the team's horses. Today the team was taking steps to let the Southerner know he fit in and was wanted by Team 7. //Leave it to the 'kid' to show us the way with Ezra. And that dang man has four horses which he didn't say nuthin' about. That'll change. We gonna learn to make him talk about the important stuff, not just the fancy words.//thought the Team 7 leader dryly as he laid fresh hay down. "Vin, what the hell are you doing over?" shouted the lean blond as he saw the sharpshooter mucking out another empty stall. "You'll see." replied the Texan. Vin knew that Ezra and J.D. had planned a surprise for Larabee and he was just helpin' them out a bit.
Forty-five minutes, seven men watched a chestnut gelding settle in his new home. They had put 'Chaucer' in the stall next to J.D.'s mount since the chestnut was most familiar with J.D.'s horse. Chris's eyes kept glancing over to the box across Chaucer's stall.
The blond man was still in shock. Ezra had gifted him with a handsome bay colored thoroughbred colt which had been sired by the undercover agent's horse Cinnamon.
Chris gave the Southerner a full smile which Ezra returned with a gold-toothed one of his own.
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