No Horsing Around

by GemsPegasus

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, Trilogy, Showtime and John Watson when we're done. No copyright infringement intended. Written for fun. No profit made. Mog created ATF universe. Thank you Mog for letting us play in it. A Thank you to Kristen also because she came up with the name 'Chaucer' for Ezra's horse. References for "One Day out West." And some of the dialogue is taken directly from the episode. Weapon information provided by Ice Hunter's Mag7 Writer's guide to Firearms. Ice Hunter's Website:
Pairing: Ezra & Chris
Summary: Ezra is new to the ATF and he doesn't get along with his team boss. How will the undercover agent bond with his team leader? Can Ezra Standish and Chris Larabee become friends and even something more?
Warnings: Slash (male/male pairing) in a romantic/sexual relationship. Angst, Language, Pre-slash, Hurt-Comfort, Romance, Violence.
Feedback: Yes please, at
Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone for their encouraging feedback. It is ambrosia for this author. Thanks to everybody for going along on the ride. Thanks for making the story better with your comments and suggestions. Many chocolate Ezras to all of you. ;-) Thanks to my friend Blanche of the UK for coming up with the idea of the videophone. I am not exactly sure how they work and neither is she, she just got one a week or so ago and is still trying to figure it out but I've taken some of her input and woven it into the story.
"Brindle - having obscure dark streaks or flecks on a gray or tawny ground".
Thoughts denoted by \ \
Flashbacks denoted by +++++++
Paraphrased dialogue from episode "One Day Out West" denoted by { }
Actual dialogue from episode "One Day Out West" denoted by /// ///.

A russet-haired, emerald-eyed man dressed in a pair of well-worn blue jeans and a soft indigo-blue flannel shirt sneaked quietly into his Quarter horse, Chaucer's stable at the National Headquarters of Horses in Parker Colorado which was a half hour drive from Denver. Denver was where Ezra was now living as the new undercover agent for Team 7 of the Southwestern Division of the ATF. His first case with the team a couple of months ago had been horrendous. The Southerner was still establishing a connection with most of the team. The jade-eyed man knew his toughest challenge would be team leader Chris Larabee, even though Larabee had given Ezra a second chance. But it seemed that all the undercover agent's attempts to connect with his boss were in vain.

So, Ezra P. Standish found himself crouching behind his chestnut-colored horse's box door as he heard Chris Larabee's voice float past Chaucer's stall. "You've got some promising breeding horses, here Sam. My friend Vin and I would like to see that other horse you were talking about though before I decide which one I want to buy." Green orbs dared a peek over the stall door and saw the breeder nod to the lean, blond, dark-clad, man next to him. Jade irises also noted the presence of Team 7's sharpshooter on the other side of Larabee.

Swallowing hard, as he slid down against the door, Ezra admonished himself for being jealous of Vin. "Mr. Tanner is an honest, smart, soft-spoken, good-looking man whom has Chris's respect and friendship. The Texan can't be blamed just because a certain blond, hazel-eyed man doesn't extend the respect and friendship towards me. Mr. Larabee doesn't acknowledge my existence outside of work. And he can never know how much I desire it."

Chaucer neighed before he snuffed the fresh hay in his stall and started munching. Ezra laughed quietly to himself as he stretched up and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. "You really listen well my friend, thank you. Now how about I polish your saddle?" Strong arms usually hidden in Armani suits hefted the saddle rack out of the corner and adjusted his favorite saddle to the right angle for conditioning and polishing. The Southerner had cleaned it thoroughly yesterday, after his ride and he let it dry overnight so he could continue working on it today. The undercover agent didn't have any set plans for this Saturday and enjoyed spending time with his horses. Ezra had two horses in all. Chaucer- a chestnut-colored American Quarter horse, Ariel- a palomino miniature horse. One was stabled here at Parker; the other was boarded at a horse ranch, which provided horseback riding lessons for children.

Ezra also hauled out a small footstool from the corner and placed it a few steps away from the saddle rack. The russet-haired man stepped onto the stool and with sure fingers grabbed a jar of pure neat's-foot oil and two soft rags off of the wooden shelf above and to one side of the bridle rack which looked like a horse's head. Once he retrieved the supplies he needed, Ezra's sturdily built frame settled on a bale of hay behind the saddle rack. Dexterous hands poured the oil onto one of the rags before lovingly and lightly oiling the entire saddle, including the underside of the seat, the rear jockeys and the fenders. He even pulled down the stirrup leathers and greased them where they fit over the bars.

Before he could polish the leather Western saddle resting on its saddle rack, the emerald-eyed man had to wait for the oil he had just applied to penetrate the leather. A forearm flexed as Ezra checked the Rolex on his right wrist. The Southerner nodded his head in satisfaction and strode over to the bridle rack, tugging off Chaucer's bridle and reins from their respective hooks. Chaucer who was by the door was following his rider's every movement, flicked his ears and whinnied in excitement. "Not today my friend. Today I'm just cleaning your equipment." Responded the ATF agent as he sauntered back to his 'chair' of hay. The big chestnut nickered in disappointment then swiveled his ears and head back towards the outside of his box. The temperamental Quarter horse heard the neighs and whinny of new horses and was curiously waiting to meet the new arrivals.

Ezra was engrossed in the greasing and wiping the tack so he did not really pay attention to the familiar noises around him. Suddenly a quiet "Aw hell, I left the wooden dowel for the stirrups and the dust cover for the saddle in the trunk of the jag. I'll have to retrieve them. I only hope that Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner have already vacated the premises. I do not want to imagine the consequences otherwise." Crossed the auburn-haired man's lips as he stood. Leaving the bridle and reins back in their proper place, the Southerner moved quietly to his horse's side at the stall door and jade irises darted around the empty corridor in front of him. \The coast is clear as his mustached teammate Mr. Wilmington would say. \ Thought Ezra at the same time that he sprinted down the wide, well-lit aisle between the stalls towards his car. In his haste, he did not notice the tall shadow falling across the opposite entrance of the livery staring unbelievingly at his receding form.

An "Ezra? What the hell is Ezra doing here?" Flew from the hazel-eyed, blond's mouth. Without a doubt, Chris Larabee knew it was his undercover agent, Ezra P. Standish running towards the other end of the stables. One look at that tightly clad backside confirmed it. Chris had been studying that beautifully sculpted backside covertly ever since he had first seen it in Atlanta. "God, Ez I thought I wore my jeans tight but the way you wear yours should be outlawed." Mumbled Chris to himself then blinked in surprise. \Did I just say jeans and Ezra in the same sentence? I've never seen him in anything but three-piece suits or hospital gowns before. \ Spun through Chris's mind. Hazel irises turned away for a moment as the grizzled horse breeder joined him at the entrance. A gnarled, old hand pointed out in the general direction of Denver as Sam spoke "your friend just left with the horse trailer, Mr. Larabee. You want to see the Appaloosa in the last corral now?" At the blond's nod, the two man strode through the livery, chatting about horses when the elegant chestnut poking his nose out of his box caught Chris's eye, "Mighty fine looking horse there." Commented Larabee.

"Yup." Chuckled Sam and then continued, "But high-strung and temperamental. Ezra has his hands full with that one." The older man bumped into the lean man whom had stopped in his tracks upon hearing Ezra's name. Chris's long stride took him to the edge of Chaucer's box and put out his square hand, palm side up so the animal could sniff him. Chaucer's bent his head and smelled this human. He smelled good and seemed friendly enough as long, slim fingers of the man's free hand patted the chestnut on his neck. Chaucer began snuffing the man's shirt pockets with his lips with tiny nudges hoping for sweet treats like his rider usually had for him. An amused chuckle rumbled out of the blond man's throat at the chestnut's antics. With his hazel eyes twinkling, Chris asked "what's his name?" A startled but cautious voice answered from behind him. "My horse's name is Chaucer, Mr. Larabee." The ATF team 7 leader pivoted around upon hearing his agent's nervous voice while Chaucer picked up his head to look over the blond man's head to whinny at his owner. Ezra's southern accent thickened as he explained that he didn't have any treats for him right now, just the dowel and a saddle cover. The auburn-haired man stuttered slightly, deeply aware of the tall, darkly clad man now standing silently next to the chestnut.

Chris couldn't help but stare at Ezra. Larabee had never seen Ezra so casual before. The flannel shirt and jeans molded themselves to Ezra's body, outlining the undercover agent's muscular physique. The ATF team leader was fiercely glad that Ezra wore suits to work which hid his form otherwise he, Chris would have to fend off Ezra's other admirers. As that thought really hit the blond, he unconsciously murmured "what the hell?" Out loud.

The auburn-haired man blanched at his boss's words. The shorter man tried to sidle around Chris's form and into the stall, at the same time his "Mr. Larabee I apologize..." Was whispered into the air. His Southern drawl trailing off as Chris noticed Ezra's pale face and wide jade irises. Callused fingers caught the dowel slipping from Ezra's usually steady fingers. Thinking fast, Chris replied "Ezra, no need for you to apologize, I just didn't know that you own a horse? You should have mentioned it earlier, I would have told you to leave him at the ranch like all the others. Let me help you put this dowel into the stirrups to help keep their shape.

Sam coughed quietly as he opened the stall for them. The old man had approached from the agents other side and somehow sensed that this was an important moment for the two men. Chaucer backed up to the other side of the box as the two men entered.

A shocked Ezra followed his boss inside and watched as lean hands expertly twisted the wooden instrument through newly polished stirrups. "I did not wish to presume. And I did not want you to feel obligated, just because I am a member of your team." Said Ezra as his quickly covered the saddle. Hazel eyes glanced around the box, eyeing the newly conditioned saddle being covered, the polished reins and bridle and the magnificent gelding. Three long strides later, the blond petted a roan-colored flank then whipped around with a gruff "Ain't presuming or obligatory if I'm asking." "You actually want me to board Chaucer at your ranch?" Exhaled Ezra shakily as he stood stock still by the saddle rack.

Before Chris could reply, Ezra's cell phone rang from inside his shirt pocket. He rapidly fished it out and a quick glance had him pushing the answer button instantly. Mr. Sanchez, how may I assist you? " At Josiah's response, Ezra tightened his grip upon the phone and informed his team 7 teammate that he would be there shortly.

The undercover agent stalked out of Chaucer's stall muttering "Hold on Ariel, I'm coming." Ignoring his boss's puzzled "Ezra what did Josiah want? And where are you going in such a damn hurry?" Right behind him. Chris's wrist finally caught a firm grip on the Southerner's forearm as Standish reached the jag. Emerald eyes stared blankly at the blond for a moment though the undercover agent's skin thrummed with heat from his boss's touch. Larabee's intense stare and hold finally broke through Ezra's panic. His southern accent once again more pronounced "Ariel's been injured. I need to go to her." Larabee's hold slackened and Ezra slid into the leather interior of his black sports car. Chris's long frame settled into the passenger side. The moment the car's engine purred to life, Ezra sped off.

The team 7 leader took out his cell phone, called Vin and told him not to pick him up after all. He'd catch a ride with Ezra or Josiah later. After finishing the call, Chris's thoughts buzzed \Who's Ariel? Whoever she is, she's mighty important to Ezra from that set face of his and they way his knuckles are gripping the wheel. Larabee don't you get your lather up, ya figured there might be somebody in his life. Admit it, just because you fell for him like a ton of bricks since you first saw him didn't mean he'd fall for you. That's why you ride him so hard all the time cause you don't want to be in love with him. \ Blond strands of hair were raked through hard as rough- worked hands carded through it and Chris mumbled under his breath "Stupid." To himself and the windowpane.

Ezra was consumed with worry about his beloved horse but shot a concerned glance at his boss. The Southerner sighed in confusion as he saw a grimace cross Chris Larabee's face and the man's hands tousle his gorgeous hair like that. \And what was Mr. Larabee doing, riding with him to the horse ranch where Josiah was located? \ Then the undercover agent thought he heard the blond mutter something but it was inaudible. Chris's sharp hiss of "Ezra, the deer." Had the younger man swerving his vehicle to one side as the graceful animal jumped across the highway in front of them. Ezra quickly straightened the jag back to the right side of the road. Standish, keeping his eyes on the road, cleared his throat and asked a bit quietly, "Mr. Larabee?" "Yeah Ezra?" "Is the offer to board my horse at your ranch still an option?" Larabee cringed inwardly at the uncertainty, which laced his agent's voice. \Shit, Larabee, you've done a real number on Ez, haven't you? He's proved to you that you can trust him but ya haven't told or shown him that. Ezra doesn't have any reason to trust you. You've kept him at arm's length, so of course he's skittish around you.\

The Southerner had to slow down as a semi truck entered the freeway ahead of the elegant sports car. Serious golden green orbs studied Ezra's supposedly serene profile and Chris swallowed the hard knot in his throat when he replied that of course it was an option. And that Chaucer would be a fine addition to the diverse mounts of Team 7. A small smile curved the auburn-haired man's lips when he responded he would think about it. The blond man was satisfied with the answer and relaxed slightly.

A little while later, Ezra uncharacteristically jerked his beloved jag to a stop next to Josiah's big suburban.

Chris stared around in surprise at their location. They were at Grey Wolf Ranch, some miles southeast of Denver. "Ezra what are we doing here?" Was asked of thin air because Ezra had rapidly unbuckled and had rushed out of his car. The blond caught up with his quick-moving agent just inside the entrance to the ranch. Sharp hazel eyes cataloging everything as they navigated the maze of buildings. Chris noted that Ezra seemed to know the layout of the area perfectly and that several people warmly greeted the Southerner to which Standish responded with hurried and somewhat absentminded greetings of his own.

Finally, they arrived at a large, brightly-lit stall at the end of a long corridor. The auburn-haired man immediately strode over to the beautiful, golden palomino miniature horse lying on her side. Josiah Sanchez, Team 7's profiler sat Indian style on one side of the horse patting the creamy golden neck while purring soothing noises. Ezra knelt down and rubbed his cheek against Ariel's muzzle then whispered softly to the frightened animal. The mare neighed and her big doe brown eyes calmed at her owner's touch and voice.

By the stall door, Christopher Daniel Adam Larabee stared on in amazement. The ATF leader's thoughts whirled; \Ariel's a horse? Ezra drove hell for leather to be with an injured animal?\ chased themselves around in Chris's mind. The fair-headed, lean man clad in boots, black jeans and tight charcoal-gray tee shirt slit his eyes and carefully observed the sable-haired, wiry veterinarian squatting by the horse's left foreleg. The young-looking doctor's hand ran gently down the length of the back of Ariel's leg.

Ezra backed away from his horse a few paces, although he did maintain tactile touch with her by keeping one of his hands on her muzzle and focused his concerned emerald gaze on the vet's movements. "Doctor Trystan, what is Ariel's prognosis?" queried the undercover agent.

Expert fingers tenderly palpated the horse's leg and felt the inflammation and heat radiating from those spots. The ranch's vet said "Mr. Sanchez if you could get me the large round bucket filled with ice please." Josiah moved to do the man's bidding. Chris nodded to him as he stepped out of the big man's way. The older man returned the nod as he slipped out of the stall. The blond man strode closer to Ezra's position at the same time that Doctor Trystan reached into his first aid kit and took out some cold compresses. The ebony-haired man spoke as he did so, "Ezra; Ariel has a bowed tendon. She sprained her fetlock and cannon muscle on her left foreleg; the best thing we can do for her right now is to reduce the swelling of the sprain. Nimble hands applied the cold but not too cold pack to the back of the mare's leg.

Chris took Josiah's earlier place by the sweet-natured creature. Larabee also repeated Sanchez's earlier actions.

Ezra distractedly flashed the blond a grateful grin before the chestnut-haired man returned his attention to the vet, who was still speaking. "After treating this inflammation for 48 hours, I need to take an ultrasound to determine the extent of the damage and monitor her healing process. Is that all right with you Ezra?"

The Southerner had paled during Trystan's examination of his beloved friend but there was color returning to his cheeks and a relieved light in his emerald green orbs when he gave the veterinarian his assent. Ezra still maintaining contact with his palomino then inquired how Ariel had injured herself.

Trystan repeated everything, which Josiah had related to him.


Josiah Sanchez and the children were returning from their horseback riding lessons. A giggling Theresa was in the lead riding Ariel with Josiah walking besides them while Marc and Scott rode behind them. Everything was perfect until one of the mustangs broke out of the corral at the end of the trail and careened down the riding lane. The five year-old, golden-brown-eyed, strawberry-blond girl riding her favorite 'pony' froze as the huge brown horse bore down upon her. The gentle giant at her side scooped her up with one arm while tugging Ariel's reins with his other arm. The ATF profiler was able to move them on to the grass out of harm's way with seconds to spare as the mustang galloped past them. Ariel had stepped into a hole accidentally as she obeyed the man's urgent instructions. Josiah felt the small horse begin to shiver and looked down to see that the palomino miniature horse was favoring one leg. The gray-haired man closed his eyes in frustration but opened his blue-gray irises when he heard pounding feet behind him. Two stocky teenagers, one sixteen and one fifteen skidded to a stop in front of him. Two breathless voices asked him if he and little Terri were okay. Josiah replied yes to Scott and Marc's question. The teenagers and their baby sister, Theresa were some of the orphan children whom the big man mentored in his free time. Sanchez's deep baritone asked the oldest boy, Marc to take Ariel to her stall which wasn't far from where they stood and Scott to go and get Doc Trystan, the ranch veterinarian to examine Ariel. Meanwhile he would take Theresa to the infirmary so Rain could check her out. Rain was a doctor. She was also the Team 7 medic, Nathan Jackson's girlfriend whom volunteered her time at the horse ranch.

The strawberry blond girl had buried her face in the crook of Josiah's neck and soaked his white tee shirt with her tears. A large, square hand stroked the child's back while Sanchez's strong legs jogged them to the infirmary. The slender, sensible, sensitive medic quickly calmed down the scared little girl. Two small arms outstretched towards her older, sandy-haired brother when Scott hurried into the room. When Rain nodded her okay, Scott picked up his little sister and settled her onto his hip. The ATF agent had asked Scott where Marc was. Scott responded that Marc had stayed with Ariel until Doctor Trystan arrived to check on the horse. Josiah voiced his approval of the boy's actions. Rain saw the pride for the boy's shine in the man's blue-gray orbs but she also saw worry flicker through the man's eyes. She understood the motive and offered to give the kids a ride back to the Children's home because she knew that Josiah wanted to wait and explain the accident to Standish. Sanchez gave the wonderful woman a grateful smile when he took the lady up on her offer. Right at that moment, Rain's replacement entered so she and the others walked over to Ariel's box. Marc strode out of the box because the vet had just arrived. The children said their goodbyes to their mentor as he went inside the stall. The profiler took a deep breath and dialed Ezra's cell number.


The doctor finished talking a few moments before Josiah entered with the large ice-filled bucket. Trystan gestured for Josiah to place it on the opposite end of the stall from where they were situated at the moment. The vet removed the cold pack strapped to Ariel's leg, then straightened up. And announced "Ezra I think it would be best if we put her entire left leg in ice for a little while to reduce the swelling more rapidly." The chestnut-haired man responded in the affirmative. Knowing what Trystan would request of him, the Southerner moved around to Ariel's left side and prepared to lift Ariel by sliding his bulging forearms underneath Ariel's side and carry her over to stand in the bucket. Ezra was unprepared for the slim but sturdily muscled arms, which slid into place next to his own from the other side when he picked the horse up a few inches off the ground.

Startled emerald green irises locked gazes with a pair of glowing golden green ones. Chris's lips curved upward slightly, then the ATF leader ordered "on three, Ezra. 'Siah, start countin'" The profiler complied and the undercover agent and his boss carried the docile horse over to the new location. Chris balanced the rest of Ariel's body while Ezra, Trystan and Josiah soothed her into standing with one leg in the ice bucket. The four men finally had the mini settled calmly. Doctor Trystan told them he'd be back in half and hour to check on Ariel, the three ATF agents barely acknowledged him.

Josiah was apologizing to Ezra, Ezra was assuring the big man that it was an accident and Larabee's cell phone began to sing. The blond moved off slightly as he snapped into it. A couple of expletives rolled off his lips when he heard Buck's news. "All right, round up JD, Vin and Nathan tell them to meet us at the office." Josiah and Ezra had stopped speaking as soon as they heard their boss start cussing. They turned expectantly towards their leader when he hung up. "Lucas James has escaped from prison." Growled the ATF leader.


Ezra inhaled a few deep breaths and soundlessly exhaled them as he told the vet that he would ascertain the progress of Ariel as soon as he could. Trystan nodded. He had heard the urgency in the blond's voice. The vet also assured Ezra that he would stay with Ariel since Ezra had to leave for a while. Standish thanked him. The Southerner strode to his car, all the while recalling how he had met and helped apprehend the escaped felon during his second case with the ATF.


'Edward Cassidy' weapons procurer and ammunitions dealer sat in a holding cell of the Denver Police Dept. mentally flipping a dog-eared deck of cards onto the beige-colored wall. Emerald eyes did not waver from his 'game' as he heard the noises of another person being escorted into the cell next door to his.

Lucas James's dark irises glanced around the building, and immediately noticed the man in the other cell. The criminal thought the man seemed familiar and squinted for a better look. James straightened, standing closer to the bars nearest the other cell. The extortion expert did not personally know the man, but had seen the chestnut-haired man at some of his Uncle Stuart's gatherings. A voice pitched low, but still audible caught Ezra's attention. "Hey, you're one of my uncle's men aren't you?" Asked Lucas. The tall, lanky, sandy-haired cretin eyed Ezra up and down and unconsciously leered at the Southerner. Jade green orbs calculatingly observed the miscreant's facial expression and body language. The russet-haired man stood right behind the steel bars of his cell. Green eyes darkened to an intense emerald hue and the Southern voice deepened, sounding like a purr when he replied in the affirmative. The criminal's long fingers stretched, itching to touch the jade-eyed siren in front of him. Imagining, it was another hand reaching for him, another set of eyes devouring him with a look, Ezra managed not to flinch nor turn away. The peevish Lucas twisted his hand back through the bars because his arm wasn't long enough to reach the shorter man. Petulant eyes shot up to glare at the chuckling, auburn-headed siren. Grouchily, the taller man hissed, "What?" "Just observing your pout, Mr. James." Quipped Ezra as the Southerner settled a shoulder on the wall and lazily stared at the other man. " I don't pout. And you know who I am?" Replied the criminal. The murderer and extortionist's orbs hardening to stone. "Everyone in your uncle's organization, knows who you are, Mr. James." Ezra then gave the powerful crime boss's nephew a sly smile. Lucas relaxed and he began to preen. Fair hands finger combed through messy sandy brown hair then tugged a bloodstained shirt tighter into the waistband of his blue jeans. Ebony eyes stared intently into green ones as James asked, "So handsome, what's your name?" Rasped out Lucas. Ezra smirked, uncrossed his arms folded against his chest and gave the taller man in the cell across from his, a dimpled smile. The Southerner responded with a question of his own, "If I reveal my Christian name, may I be presumptuous enough to address you, Mr. James, by yours?" The russet-haired man's jade orbs and honeyed drawl enthralled the hardened criminal, so it took several moments for Ezra's words to penetrate James's fogged brain. The sandy-haired man swallowed hard and nodded before he spoke, "Yeah, you can call me Lucas or better yet Luc." The taller man laughed throatily, then reminded the undercover agent, "You want me to keep calling you, handsome or what?" Standish continued to smirk while he leaned one smooth shaven cheek against the cold steel bar. Now standing as close to the other man as he could, the chestnut-haired man answered, "I think that would be a bit egotistic of me. My name is Edward, Edward Cassidy." The two men continued conversing as Lucas James then inquired what 'Edward's job was within his uncle 's organization was. 'Edward' told him. They were still talking when the shorter man suddenly cocked his head to the side. Before the other man could ask, 'Edward' said "Someone's coming." The undercover agent then pulled back slightly.

From the shadows of his cell, Ezra saw an older, silver-haired, impeccably dressed man stop in front of the neighboring cell. The russet-haired man's sharp ears detected the controlled rage in his superior's voice when the AD said "James we have you on charges of murder and extortion. You will be imprisoned. I will see to that. Remember I was a witness to your crimes and although your uncle presumed otherwise, I cannot be bribed to forget it." Lucas James's tall frame slouched sideways against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, as his mean, dark eyes locked on to the AD of the ATF, standing in front of his cell and responded coldly, "Your death then, Travis. My uncle's men will get me out of here and you will not put me in prison." Orin Travis turned away from James without acknowledging the killer's words and strode away. Travis's eagle eyes noted that one of his men was in the cell next to James. \What the hell is Ezra P. Standish doing in a holding cell?/ thought the surprised man as he halted in front of Standish's jail room.

Orin Travis had spent many years as a federal judge before being tapped to become Assistant Director of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Division of Law Enforcement. Though, Ezra and he did not get off on the right footing, he actually found himself liking the sometimes cocky, always brilliant undercover agent of the ATF's Team 7. The retired federal judge did not want to jeopardize Ezra's life or assignment. The silver-haired man improvised and barked out "are you part of the James organization as well? We're going to put all of you behind bars, where you belong, for a long time." Ezra's dry chuckle echoed off the dark-gray walls. Behind, Travis, Lucas James's laughed evilly. Orin's shoulders squared.

Ezra slipped out of the shadows. A mocking grin curved Ezra's lips and a sneering light lit emerald eyes as the Southerner inclined his auburn-head towards Travis. "You! How'd you get out of prison so fast? You still had some years left before you could appeal for probation, Cassidy." Mock-snarled the former judge. The shorter man moved closer to the silver-haired man outside the cell. Ezra's dexterous hands curled around the cold, steel bars when he snapped back, vehemently, "You'd know about that travesty of justice, wouldn't you judge? You were the one to sentence me, but a fortuitous chance of fate, provided me with the means for freedom. And though I have yet to reconnect with my close associates, I escaped from hell, only to find myself in limbo which is worse than purgatory because of you. Well no more... Stuart James will provide me with a prosperous future with all the wealth and treasure he's amassed over the years. You will not bury me in the catacombs of stone and boulder, which you call a prison."

During Ezra's diatribe, Orin had involuntarily taken a step back. Lucas James had been cackling mockingly, enjoying the verbal lash that 'Edward' was giving Travis.

Standish finished his act by shaking the bars a little. Travis give the Southerner a small smile, The silver-haired man took a step forward when suddenly the door to the holding cells area banged open. The judge turned halfway and saw three burly men enter. Before Orin could speak, Ezra said a silent apology, and then knocked out the ATF AD from behind. The older man crumpled to the floor. Two of the huge men carrying automatic weapons didn't pay any mind to the unconscious man on the ground as they freed their boss's nephew. One came over and shoved a large boot in the general direction of the judge's torso, but never made contact because at that moment all the occupants of the cell heard raised yells and pounding feet heading in their direction.

A now freed Lucas screamed at the ugly goon standing over Travis's prone body. "Open Cassidy's cell you idiot, so we can get outta here before the cops get here."

The man hurried to do James bidding. 'Edward' darted out of the cell as soon as the large henchmen swung the bars open. The shorter man dashed alongside the fleeing James and the others. Lucas speared the green-eyed siren with a glance as he asked, "You didn't want to kill the judge?" "Time would have been detracted from our liberation attempt to confirm that he had truly expired." Spouted 'Edward' as they ran through a labyrinth of corridors. James glared. Ezra translated "It would have taken too much time from our escape to ensure that the judge had really died." Lucas nodded; 'Edward's' reasoning made sense.

The five men burst through a door into the sunshine. The fleeing prisoners picked up their pace, they could hear the cops behind them getting nearing and there was a group coming from in front of them. The criminals dashed sideways towards the wooded public park across the street from the police Department..

Ezra stumbled and tripped over an exposed tree root branch, landing hard in the dirt. Lucas and the others kept on running, though Lucas threw a worried glance over his shoulder. The undercover agent shouted "Keep going; I'll catch up to you later." James turned back and kept on fleeing. Standish grimaced as he felt a slight twinge of pain in his left ankle when he stood up. He barely avoided the stampeding police units that chased James and his henchman by hiding behind a small copse of trees slightly to the right of where he had fallen seconds ago. "Time to double-back and check on Travis." Mumbled Ezra as he limped around to the back entrance of the police station.


At the bust earlier that day

The Denver Police Department and ATF teams 3 and 7 had been working together as a joint task force to stop Stuart James' automatic weapons and extortion ring. The law enforcement agencies had busted his nephew and some of the gunrunner's men this morning but the wily Stuart had escaped. Ezra P. Standish, team 7's undercover agent had been in the guise of his persona, "Edward Cassidy" when the melee at the warehouse occurred, his new ATF teammate Vin Tanner covered the Southerner as he sneaked out the door, after the escaping Stuart James, but then team 7 had been distracted by a bullet which had hit Buck Wilmington square in his left side and caused the dark-haired man to topple sideways, his body falling away from his team leader's. Buck had tackled Chris to the floor when the surveillance expert saw that Larabee was about to be blindsided by one of the criminals.

Meanwhile Ezra ran around the corner of the building, hoping to catch the crime boss when he halted in his tracks. A squad car on either side of the alley and two uniformed policeman pointing their guns straight at him had the emerald-eyed man dropping his weapon to the ground and raising his hands in the air. The policemen arrested him and took him to jail. The auburn-haired man did not have any proper identification on him and thought that his teammates would arrive shortly to see to his liberation.

Ezra was unaware of Mr. Wilmington's severe injuries or that it would be more than an hour before his team leader even registered that his undercover agent was missing.

At the hospital

In a waiting room of Denver's Mercy hospital, a blond, dark-clad thundercloud by the name of Chris Larabee paced worriedly. JD stood by a large window; alternately staring blindly out the window or shooting anxious sideway glances towards the closed doors leading to the operating rooms.

Chris's hazel eyes were mere slits of anger, worry and concern as he took in JD at the end of the room, Nathan slumped in a chair and the blue couch on which Josiah sat as the profiler mumbled prayers. Vin entered the room, holding two cups of coffee. A harsh, "Where in blazes is Standish?" Had four men staring blankly at one another before turning to look at their boss.

Then, the Texan muttered a quiet curse. "Vin?" Queried Chris. "Last I saw Ez; he was lighting out one of the doors after Stuart James." Replied the team sharpshooter. The rangy, blue-eyed man shrugged his shoulders. "Lost track of him after that, then with Bucklin being hurt and all..." Vin's voice trailed off. The hazel-eyed man nodded tersely.

Suddenly, the hospital PA came to life and paged "Mr. Chris Larabee come to the admittance emergency room... Mr. Chris Larabee come to the admittance emergency room." Larabee's tense body quickly strode to the elevators. Vin and Josiah shadowed him. Nathan and JD stayed behind to wait on news about Buck.


Three men stalked off the elevator at a fast clip and into the ER. Identical smiles of relief wreathed the three ATF agent's lips as they heard a familiar Southern drawl complaining. Three pairs of eyes noticed the brace on the undercover agent's left ankle as the auburn-haired man hobbled out of the room. Ezra bobbed his head in their direction and whispered "Gentlemen." As he passed the trio and headed into the ER room across from the one he had been in.

Puzzled frowns replaced the smiles on the three men's faces as they followed their teammate into the other room. Chris swore silently as he saw Orin Travis sitting up on the hospital gurney. An IV attached to one of the AD's arm. Vin and Josiah exchanged startled glances and looked questioningly at the Southerner. The ATF AD was conscious and barking at Ezra to sit down before the undercover agent fell down. Standish obeyed Travis because his twisted ankle was throbbing. Ebony eyes swept the room. Travis gestured with his free hand for Larabee, Tanner and Sanchez to come closer to the gurney.

Before Chris could speak, the judge asked, "How is Buck?" "Still in surgery. Nate says the bullet missed his heart by inches." Rasped out Larabee. Emerald eyes widened in horror and the color in Ezra's face drained away as a distressed Southerner pursed his lips. Josiah walked around behind Ezra's chair and lay a comforting hand on the auburn-haired man's shoulder at the same time Vin placed his hand on Chris's shoulder. Orin and Chris nodded as the big profiler said, "Nathan and JD remained on the surgical floor waiting for news."

Travis then signaled Ezra to start speaking about what happened at the bust that morning. The auburn-haired man face and voice had settled into 'poker face mode' as Chris privately called it. Ezra recounted chasing Stuart James out of the warehouse and then running into uniformed and armed policemen. Ezra was in his undercover persona of "Edward Cassidy" and was arrested.

The chestnut-haired man did not voice his thoughts on his teammates freeing him from the situation. Ezra now understood why there had been no sign of Team 7 during his incarceration after the bust.

The undercover agent continued his tale. He told his audience that he was in a holding cell when fellow law enforcement officers brought in Lucas James to the holding cell next to his. The emerald-eyed man then explained that he and James began conversing. The Southerner did not mention all of the conversation to his superiors.

Ezra only spoke of trying to ascertain James next move or two. "Then AD Travis entered the room and spoke briefly with the cretin, Lucas James. I am assuming that when Judge Travis turned away from James's cell, he spied me in the neighboring one." Orin responded with an affirmative answer and picked up the story. " It startled me to see one of my men behind bars. And I didn't know if it showed. However, I didn't want Lucas James to become suspicious and I improvised. With my personal knowledge of the criminals and agents involved in this case, plus knowledge of all the case's pertinent details, it was easy to do." Four sets of eyes blinked in surprise when Travis winked at Ezra. The older man's ebony eyes narrowed when he told the next part of the tale. "The outer door of the holding area banged open with a thud and I turned halfway to see that three of James's henchmen had entered the area and then everything went black." Finished the former judge.

Everyone's eyes swiveled towards the flushing Southerner. Ezra sat straighter in his chair when he profusely apologized for knocking the AD unconscious. Then the undercover agent kept on, "I thought it was the most prudent and expedient course of action at that particular moment, Judge Travis."

Vin, who was now slouched against a wall hid the grin tugging at his lips, Chris's callused fingers pinched the bridge of his nose, while the blond took a calming breath and Josiah smothered his chuckle with a cough.

"Explain." Ordered the AD. "The henchmen had automatic weapons in their possession and would not have hesitated to use them to cause your demise, even though they had originally just been ordered to liberate Lucas James. It still appeared that the miscreants were going to shoot you but the imminent arrival of law enforcement officers impeded it and we escaped." Shrugged Ezra.

Chris's tight voice interrupted, "We?" Ezra's jade irises shot Chris's fierce hazel ones a wary stare before Ezra nodded his russet-haired head. "James told his fellow miscreants to set me free as well. How could I negate to abscond with them?" Stated the undercover agent, sardonically. Travis hid his own smile when Chris gave the Southerner a glare guaranteed to melt steel. It didn't seem to phase Ezra though; the man kept on with his tale. "The cretins and I made it to Palmer Park outside the station. I stumbled over an exposed tree root and fell hard, twisting my ankle. The criminals were intent on their escape and ignored my plight. I was able to elude the policemen-giving chase and returned to assess Judge Travis's condition. When I approached the rear entrance of the station, an emergency transport vehicle blocked it. Judge Travis was being loading into the back of the ambulance when one of the paramedics spotted me limping and flagged me over. He recognized me from past visits to this hospital and corralled me into the emergency transport vehicle and another trip to this institution."

Tension eased from the terse shoulders of the AD and the Team 7 leader at the words of their agent. \Ezra had continued running the con on the villains\ thought the judge a bit fuzzily because the medication he had been given was starting to take effect. The older man's eyelids began to droop when they suddenly snapped open. " Standish, when you were ranting at me, you were giving me clues!"

Dimples winked at his three teammates when Ezra flashed the groggy Travis a grin. "Didn't know if I'd have to go under again, and I didn't want to squander an opportunity to inform you of the information I'd already gathered." "Devious but brilliant." Muttered Orin as he fell asleep.

Vin and Josiah silently mouthed to each other, "Ranted at Travis?"

Before Chris, Vin or Josiah could deluge the Southerner with questions, a nurse entered to wheel the AD to a room. Travis was going to be admitted overnight because he had a mild concussion and was a bit anemic. The four ATF agents followed the nurse out of the ER room, and returned to the Cardiac intensive care surgical floor while in the elevator, Ezra updated his colleagues with the latest intelligence he had gathered while infiltrating the James' organization. Chris absorbed the information and began forming a plan to recapture Lucas James. Chris, Vin, Ezra and Josiah arrived on the CICU floor to find out that Buck had come out of surgery and was now in a recovery room. They found JD sitting in the plastic chair next to the raven-haired man's bed while Nathan spoke to the male nurse taking Buck's vital signs. Dunne looked up and gave the guys a tired smile while Ezra sank into the other chair next to JD's. The youngest agent asked Ezra what happened to him. Chris's gruff and unexpected {"Ezra broke the law. He was a bad boy."} Had JD clutching at his sides because the young man was laughing so hard. The others also chuckled among themselves, over the undercover agent's indignant protest of, "Mr. Larabee." Chris's wicked sense of humor had decreased the worry in the room a notch. Buck waking up completely dispelled the tension.

Buck heard JD, Chris and the others laughing and thought /What's so funny guys?/. Buck's indigo blue eyes fluttered open. Chris noticed and leaned over to pat a shoulder as the wiry blond whispered "Hey there, pard. Glad to see you're awake." The other five men also gathered around Buck's bed to let him know they were near.

A few days later

Buck was stable and resting, he would be moved off the CICU floor and into a private room at the end of the week. Chris and Vin walked out of his room and into the white-walled corridor. "Buck's good but the judge, ain't gonna make it, is he?" drawled a soft Texas accent. "It appears he burst an aneurysm in his head when he fell and he's been in a coma ever since. It doesn't look like Travis will make it through the night." stated Chris on their way to the elevator, both men completely ignoring the two muscular orderlies checking the surgical operating board.

Once the elevator doors were closing, Vin cocked a questioning eyebrow at Chris and asked "they still out there?" Chris nodded his head yes and replied "They'll take the information to James that Orin is going to die while in reality we'll whisk him away to the condo while we track down the lowlifes again." Vin's lips curved into a lopsided grin.

A week later - 8:30am

JD Dunne sat near Wilmington's hospital bed, reading "Ed McBain's mystery thriller "Ice" out loud to Buck. Buck really enjoyed McBain's "87th precinct" novels. The wounded, mustached man had gotten a bacterial infection night before last. This infection in turn had caused a high fever which had spiked during today's early morning hours. The injured man now slumbered in a more peaceful sleep. Chris Larabee stepped into Buck's hospital room and strode up to the bed and quietly stared down at his oldest friend for a long moment. Then tanned callused fingers closed over a lax hand and squeezed once as the black clad man said "Hang in there, Big Dog.. We'll be back later today. So you take it easy and get better."

The lean man walked to the room's entrance and then beckoned his youngest agent, JD Dunne over to the doorway. The Team 7 leader whispered a few quiet words to the ebony-haired man. The hazel-eyed computer expert listened and then returned to a sleeping Buck's side. Hazel irises locked with another pair of hazel eyes for several heartbeats before JD nodded once. The blond pivoted around and marched off.


Lucas James strode around the boxing ring in the center of the spacious back yard behind his uncle's sprawling ranch just outside of Denver Colorado. The lanky man's thoughts kept drifting towards "Edward Cassidy." James secretly hoped that 'Edward' would make his way to Stuart's ranch so that he could see the auburn-haired siren once again. The gun runner sidestepped some of his uncle's associates whom had come to watch boxing matches while they talked business. Two of the finely-dressed ladies whom had been hired to 'entertain' Stuart James' guests attached themselves to Lucas's side, one on his right and one on his left. Lucas smiled at them, flirting with them as images of beguiling green eyes and a dimpled grin slid through his mind.


Josiah drove the white, ATF van to the edge of the Stuart James property. He turned into a wooded lane as Chris, Vin and Nathan prepared to get off.

Meanwhile, Ezra carefully prowled through the center of James' massive garage. The undercover agent 'accidentally' dropped a couple of bags of small nails onto the concrete floor and watched as the tiny tire-puncturing objects rolled everywhere. A silent vibration against his wrist had the chestnut-haired man stepping cautiously through the maze on the floor before soundlessly stealing between the electronically controlled garage doors. Nimble fingers adjusted controls on his watch as Ezra strolled up to the appointed meeting place. He arrived scant seconds before the rest of his teammates did. Everybody knew what they needed to do. With all the people mingling about, Team 7 moved into place. Vin scampered up to the loft of the silo. Josiah maneuvered into position behind Stuart James's chair. Nathan slid into place, covering Ezra and Chris. Assessing hazel eyes also noted that the other teams were in their positions as well.

Chris glanced at Ezra. Ezra gave him a two-fingered salute. Chris tipped his dark blue cap at the well-dressed undercover agent. Both men turned and side by side ambled into the crowded yard. Ezra's jade orbs suddenly spotted the miscreant, Team 7 was after. A forced cough hid the whisper of, "Mr. Larabee, Lucas James at 2 o clock." The blond swiveled his head and saw the criminal facing slightly away from him. "See him." replied the ATF Team 7 leader and stepped back when his russet-haired companion straightened the lapels of his red jacket and whispered to himself, "Showtime, Ezra." Ezra then sauntered up to Lucas's left side.

///"Lucas, my dear friend. You so discourteously left me behind."/// Lucas's head whipped around and he found himself grinning widely, "Edward, you made it. I..." the lanky man stopped as he remembered the two women at his side.

Edward took care of the ladies as the green-eyed siren said that he had something of a "delicate nature" to discuss with James in private and asked the women to excuse them for a bit. The ladies wandered off. Lucas couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he responded with, ///"Let's get you a drink, then."/// The criminal raised a hand and stroked Ezra's forearm for a moment and then hoarsely asked "Is this what you wanna talk about?" The chestnut-haired man's darkening emerald eyes had Lucas bending his head and pulling the shorter man closer to him. Lucas froze as a weapon was pressed into his side. Dark eyes stared down in shock at the gun and then up into angry jade irises and flinched while Edward hissed, "No that was not what I wanted to speak of. I do not appreciate being thought of as a courtesan. ///I was just wondering... how big a hole do you think a .45 caliber slug can make?"/// Before the lanky criminal could reply, both Lucas and Ezra heard Robinson, Team 3's leader shout, "Freeze, ATF."

Josiah and another ATF agent were pinning Stuart James down. Sanchez and Moore of Team 3 had followed Stuart into his livery and caught James and the crime kingpin's buyer in a weapons transaction.

The ATF burst into action and were in the middle of a fire fight as most of the criminals tried to escape.

Lucas James did not flee this time. He was arrested and cuffed by the ATF Team 7 leader, Chris Larabee, himself.


Chris had been a few steps behind Ezra when the Southerner had approached Stuart's nephew, Lucas, but a drunk associate of Stuart's lumbered right into Chris, knocking the hazel-eyed man flat to the ground. The intoxicated man was almost as broad as Josiah. It took some moments for Larabee to wriggle out from underneath the unconscious man's body. At the moment the blond was twisting his torso free, hazel orbs narrowed and he growled unintentionally. \Was Lucas James actually running a hand up and down Ezra's arm?\ Another growl erupted from Larabee's throat as Chris saw the sandy-haired man pull the auburn-haired man closer to him. A hard push off the drunk man's shoulders had the lean blond free and racing to back up Ezra. Chris got close enough to hear Ezra's question about the slug. And then Robinson shouted.

Mayhem broke out. Lucas tensed, ready to pounce on Ezra when another gun; a colt 1911, suddenly dug into his ribs. The gunrunner whirled his neck around and stared into glaring golden green eyes. ///"I remember you."/// Rasped the younger James. "I remember you too, James. You killed Potter. You are under arrest for his murder." Answered Larabee.

Josiah marched a handcuffed Stuart James out of the barn. The crime kingpin shouted out his concern for his nephew's welfare at the hands of federal agents. Lucas was being held by Chris Larabee until a police wagon showed up. Chris also pretended to arrest Ezra's persona 'Edward Cassidy' since the hazel-eyed man didn't want the criminals discovering Ezra's true identity.

Vin's Remington 700 sniper rifle barked as the team 7 sharpshooter nailed one of Stuart's men who had attempted to shoot Josiah in the back. One of Nathan's knives pierced the palm of one of the criminals trying to tumble Vin out of the silo.


Meanwhile back at the hospital, Buck had discharged himself. JD shook his head and ebony bangs flew across his forehead while he drove Chris's truck up to the entrance. A nurse helped the tall, mustached agent ease into the Ram's passenger side. Wilmington graciously thanked the blushing nurse before asking JD to head out to Stuart James's ranch. The roommates shared a devilish grin and then Dunne tore down the road.


Larabee was handing the now really sullen Lucas over to the guards of the police van when the sandy-haired murderer mumbled "Isn't Edward riding with me?" Square, blunt hands pushed the younger man into the uniformed policeman's hold at the same time that Chris grunted out a harsh "No." Five minutes before, Nathan had escorted "Edward Cassidy" over to the squad car of an old friend of Chris's still in the DPD. Ezra now sat in the back seat of the car while Nathan talked to the Sergeant. Lucas stared at Ezra until James was hustled into the vehicle. Josiah gave over his prisoner to the other police guard. Neither Sanchez nor the policemen noticed Stuart signaling some of the criminal's men still hidden around his home before he too was bundled into the van.

Team 7 left Team 3 to mop up the bust and clambered into the ATF van to return to headquarters. Josiah had just about reached the frontage road leading onto the highway into Denver when the team heard the roar of engines racing behind them. Gunshots rocked the back of the ATF vehicle.

"Ezra. I thought you took care of the cars." Snarled Chris. The blond crawled off of the back seat and edged himself around Vin who was sitting in the front passenger seat. Larabee perched himself on the seat then both the Texan and Chris brought out their weapons; a SIG 229 and a HK USP45, respectively. The best friends began to return fire on the criminals chasing them.

The undercover agent sighed in aggravation because he had been enjoying Larabee's close proximity to his person as they had been sitting side by side. And now the infuriating man was angrily grumbling at him again. The Southerner drawled peevishly, "I sabotaged as many of the vehicles as I could within the timeframe allotted but I could not disable all of the transportation at the cretins disposal." Ezra knelt sideways on the seat and peered through the slit of a now open side van window. His Walther P99 peppering gunfire towards the bottom of the vehicles pursuing them. Nathan mirrored the Southerner's position and actions on the seat behind Ezra's.

Suddenly Chris's black Dodge Ram charged in front of the path of the oncoming cars. JD swerved the huge truck to a standstill behind the ATF van. Buck's Glock 22 and his accurate aim punched out the tires of several of the vehicles pursuing Team 7. The cars careened into one another and became a tangle of metal and sparks.

Chris's Ram flew after the van barreling down the I-70. Wilmington's cell phone sang. The tall man answered and heard his oldest friend's voice on the other end. "Good thing we came along." Responded Buck while he winked at JD. Chris huffed out \\\"Good thing you did."\\\ and scowled at Vin who was smirking at the blond.

+++++++End Flashback+++++++


All of these thoughts swirled through Ezra's mind within a couple of blinks of an eye. The jade-orbed man refocused from the past to find himself standing in the parking lot of the Grey Wolf Ranch with the fingers of one hand curled around the door handle of the Jag and his other hand clutching the car keys. Strong fingers grabbed the keys out of his hand and Chris's shoulder gently nudged Ezra away from the driver's side. Chris calmly stated that he would drive them to the office. The undercover agent nodded before resting his head against the tan leathered headrest and closed his emerald eyes in weariness.

Ezra's adrenaline was ebbing. He could recoup on the way to the federal building. Standish ordered himself to close off the unsettling emotions caused by today's events until he could properly sort the emotions out later when he was alone. Right now, he and his teammates had to concentrate on locating and apprehending a fugitive from justice. A fugitive that in all probability would be seeking revenge. Revenge on him... After all, Chris Larabee was the one who had arrested Lucas James. Ezra silently vowed to himself that he wouldn't let the criminal harm the blond whom unknowingly held Ezra's soul and heart.

"Edward Cassidy" had turned States evidence and in a closed hearing had testified against the James organization. Then "Cassidy" had disappeared into the Witness Protection program. There was also a probability that Lucas might be searching for 'Edward.'

A throaty chuckle wormed itself out from between Ezra's lips.

Larabee's hazel irises quickly glanced from the road to Ezra and then back to the road. The blond's perplexed "Ezra?" Had the chestnut-haired man sobering instantly. "I was just ruminating upon the capricious hand that Lady Luck dealt me today." The undercover agent answered. Chris's baffled "Ah...." Was lost under the Josiah's suburban rumbling behind the jag into the ATF's underground parking garage.

The three agents rode up the elevator to Team 7's 11th floor offices in a companionable silence. When the elevator doors opened; Buck's wadded paper basket throw was arrested mid-shot; "the hoop" or wastebasket slipped through JD's fingers; Vin and Nathan held coffee cups still at their lips as all four men spied Ezra walking into the bullpen. Josiah headed for his desk. Buck and JD whistled at the green-eyed man. Standish ignored Wilmington and Dunne when Chris 's hand splayed across Ezra's shoulder blades. Vin was the only one close enough to hear Chris's soft "Go and grab a cup of that tea you and Josiah like; then head to the conference room." Ezra acquiesced mutely. Buck and Vin grinned to themselves as they caught Chris's protective, tawny gaze following Ezra into the break room. A few moments later the hazel-eyed man groused, "Conference room, ladies."

Larabee's second in command slid two manila file folders to his left. The wiry team leader silently thanked the sharpshooter. Chris scooted one of the folders across the table to the man seated in the second chair to the blond's left. The blond and russet-haired man scanned the folder's contents which contained information on the activities of the James family while in prison and also information about the prison break.

A knock on the conference room door heralded the arrival of AD Orin Travis. Two burly bodyguards flanked the former judge. Eight other bodyguards trooped into the room behind Travis. Larabee's jaw tensed minutely when Orin introduced the law-enforcement agents in charge of protecting Team 7... 24/7. Chris tersely accepted the protection after he and the boys grilled the men who would be guarding them. Travis vouching for the bodyguards didn't hurt either.

The slim, darkly-clad man clasped the AD's hand in a firm grip and told the older man to watch his back. Orin did the same thing to all of Team 7 before taking his leave. Two bodyguards stood outside the meeting room door. Two of the other guards covered the garage. Four of the security detail drove over to Standish's townhouse where two men stayed behind. The last two men drove to Larabee's ranch.

Back in the meeting room, Team 7 brainstormed for nearly an hour and then five men returned to the bullpen. Chris had motioned for Ezra to stay behind. Jade green orbs widened in surprise when the hazel-eyed man dropped into the chair next to his own. "Call a couple of your informants and see if they've heard anything then we'll go catch something to eat." grunted the hazel-eyed man. "Mr. Larabee..."Ezra's voice trailed off at the gimlet-eyed look he was receiving from his boss. Chris told the undercover agent to stuff it. The blond was hungry because he and Vin had just had toast and coffee before going to see the horses in Parker; then the emergency with Ariel had happened. Ezra did not admit that he only had coffee this morning and could only agree to lunch in the face of Mr. Larabee's determination.


A pasty, ferret-looking man sat at the table window inside the Starbucks kitty corner to Denver's federal building, drinking his cappuccino, reading the newspaper and checking his watch. "Blind date hasn't shown" said the man sheepishly when the attendant brought him another cappuccino ten minutes later. The green-clad young man nodded his head in understanding. The patient man kept shooting sneaky glances at the entrance to the ATF garage. His vigil was rewarded ten minutes later when he spotted a large Black Dodge Ram truck pulling out and turning onto the busy street. The skinny, brown-headed man walked sadly out of the coffee shop and around the corner, he spoke into his coat collar. "Larabee heading your way, Mitch."

An average-looking tan Ford Taurus slowly pulled away from the curb as the truck passed two car lengths in front of it. Mitch's "On him." echoed through the tinny speakers of the microphone.

The husky man driving the Taurus picked up the cell phone from the seat next to him and hit speed dial. Lucas James picked up on the first ring.


"Yeah." Snapped an irate James. "Boss, he's heading out on I-25 going north." Lucas commented sarcastically into the phone as he scooted further back into the shadows of the restaurant when Orin Travis and the man's security personnel passed him on their way to the cash register to pay for their noon meal.

The formerly sandy-haired convict, now an ebony-haired man exited through the diner's back door and swung into a gray GMC truck. Lucas absently fingered a newly healed scar that ran from the edge of his left elbow down to his wrist as he recalled his uncle's plans to kidnap, torture and then kill the men that put the James' in prison. An evil gleam lit his eyes... now blue instead of dark brown, due to contacts. Lucas followed the judge to a beautifully restored Victorian home, two streets away from Josiah Sanchez's house. The gray truck parked in a formerly vacant, for-rent house a house away and across the street from the judge's house. The lanky man jogged into the master bedroom and straight to the monitoring devices.


Chris arched a sandy eyebrow when he noticed the name of the subdivision Ezra lived in. Standish's drawl answered. "Thank my real estate agent ///Francis Corcoran/// for the irony of a Southerner residing in 'Shiloh.' " The blond smothered a snort but the bodyguards in the Ram's back seat didn't. From the passenger side in the front, Ezra turned his head and his voice dripped ice as he asked the men if they had a problem with his choice of residence. /Glad, that artic freeze isn't meant for me. / Thought Larabee. The two men behind him stuttered out a "no." and that it wasn't their intention to mock the undercover agent's home. It was just really ironic. The jade-eyed man decided to graciously accept their stammering apology.

Elegant hands asked Chris to stop at the beginning of the next block in the street. The two-story, honey-brown brick townhouse sat in her yard like a princess. Her long windows and arched door beckoned from the first floor while a balcony peeked around the East Side of the second floor.

Ezra invited Chris and the others to wait in the great room or living room of the townhouse while the undercover agent gathered his overnight bag from the master bedroom upstairs.

The blond man 's hazel eyes cataloged his first sight of Standish's home. Even though the townhouse had been professionally decorated, it still seemed Spartan and sterile. The bodyguards perched on the utilitarian looking beige sofa and Larabee claimed the matching wingback chair near the fireplace in the corner of the room. Hazel eyes impatiently stared at bare off-white walls.

The lean man leapt out of the seat at the sound of the doorbell. He recognized the voices outside the door. They belonged to the rest of his team. Vin came in followed by Nathan, JD, Buck and Josiah. Five pairs of eyes gazed around the townhouse with curiosity. It was also their first time in Ezra's home. They didn't get too much time to look around because Ezra descended his stairway, a few seconds after Josiah entered the foyer. The Southerner asked the men if they were ready to head out to Mr. Larabee's ranch. All seven men were going to Larabee's ranch to continue working on the James case.

A block away, Mitch watched the men pile back into three vehicles. He couldn't see who was wedged in between the two tallest men, since Buck's red truck blocked the henchman's view. He noticed the guards though and cussed silently.

Ezra stumbled backwards slightly when Mr. Tanner collided with him by the door of Mr. Sanchez's Suburban. The Texan's soft drawl had the Southerner throwing a startled glance over his right shoulder. Vin was right. Chris Larabee stood by the open passenger door of the Ram Dodge. It was apparent that the blond was waiting for someone. Their leader 's boot-clad foot tapped against the concrete driveway. Larabee's arms folded against his chest Indian style while he glowered at Ezra and Vin. "Well, get in, we're wasting daylight." Barked out the blond. Standish nudged the longhaired man forward. Tanner resisted and responded that he wasn't the one whom their leader was waiting for. "You're riding shotgun with him today, pard. Ez, ya came with him; you're leaving with him. I'm catching a ride with Siah."

At the sound of those words, Ezra froze. Wide emerald green irises blinked owlishly into sapphire blue ones as Vin whispered softly. "He's worried about ya. And Chris frettin' can be twice as bad as Buck's frettin." "Especially when they are consumed with factoring in all the variables which might occur in the situation." Breathed a now understanding Ezra. Vin nodded his head and mouthed "Yup," Into the Southerner's ear. Standish took three steps forward and smacked right into Chris who had stomped over the grass to corral his wayward passenger.

Two sets of arms reached out to steady the chestnut-haired man.

Tanner's arms fell to his side. The rangy Texan then backed into the open door of the suburban. Chris held onto Ezra's forearms for a long moment before tugging the emerald-eyed man to the black truck. Josiah, Vin and Nathan held their chuckles until they were a couple of blocks away from Standish's place.


Hours later - James House

In the guestroom of the James' Victorian house, Mitch Flint applied salve to the stinging welts on his face. Lucas James had not been happy with him when he showed up at the house, half an hour before. The husky henchman had lost track of Larabee's vehicle at the Four Corners intersection and had waited hours at the intersection's restaurant/gas station to see if Larabee passed by. Flint had dozed off and woken up to see the taillights of Wilmington's distinctive red truck disappearing down the highway back into Denver. The criminal decided to return to home base.


Earlier that day, Judge Travis had ordered Team 7 to "buddy up." Orin had pointedly 'suggested' that the team double up on their sleeping arrangements.

So after a few hours work on the case and a good dinner, Buck and JD headed home. Nathan was spending the night with Josiah. Vin and Ezra were staying over at Chris's ranch.

The Southerner had resigned himself to his overnight accommodations earlier that afternoon. Standish had failed to convince Mr. Larabee that he, Ezra could lodge with Mr. Sanchez for the evening and not impose on the Team leader. The blond gave the russet-haired man a patented glare and nixed the undercover agent's argument with a harsh "Zip it, Ezra. You're staying with Vin and me at the ranch. That's a direct order." Standish was silent during the rest of the drive to the restaurant.


Middle of the night-Larabee Ranch

The auburn-haired man twisted within the soft bed sheets of the queen-sized bed he slept in. His nightmares were making him restless. Visions of the James' torturing and killing Chris; visions of Lucas James murdering his love, other teammates and beloved horses danced before closed eyelids. An indigo-blue, silk, pajama-clad Ezra bolted up from the bed. Eyelids still closed; Standish stumbled his way across the guest bedroom and out into the dark hallway. The undercover agent's bare feet treaded the hardwood floor, unconsciously seeking Chris Larabee. When Ezra sleepwalked by the den, he bumped into the doorframe but then kept on going. A sleepy, "Cowboy?" From inside the den halted Ezra whom was now in the mudroom of the ranch. Tousled, chestnut locks hung down for a moment as he heard Mr. Tanner's voice. A single tear tracked down from underneath one of Ezra's still-shut eyelids. Standish knew that with the sharpshooter near by, Mr. Larabee did not need the Southerner to protect him. Smooth fingers curled around a doorknob. Strong digits turned the knob and the door opened. Standish closed the door behind him.

Ezra heard horses. Chris might not need him but Chaucer and Ariel did. The sleepwalker staggered off the step at the foot of the mudroom's door and bounced off the wall by the door. Grass tickled the soles of the compact man's feet while he walked to the stables.

Ezra strolled into Rascal's box. The big gray lay on his left side. Buck Wilmington's gelding raised his head and perked up his ears up at the man's entrance. The gentle horse chuffed quietly when the man patted him on his silver neck. Rascal knew the man was Buck's friend and the gray had always liked the Southerner. The auburn-haired man usually had a treat for him. Tonight, Rascal sensed something was greatly disturbing the Southerner and watched with compassionate dark eyes as the man slumped onto the hay in the far end of the gray's box.

In a warm corner of the gelding's box in a nest of hay, Ezra promptly fell into a deep sleep. He was comforted by the horse's presence.

Cocoa brown eyes watched the sleeping man for a few more minutes. The gelding's silver- colored neck did not move until the horse was assured of the man's restful slumber. Once satisfied, the horse again rested his head against the fresh hay.


Meanwhile inside the ranch, Vin had flopped back down on the sofa after he heard that noise in the hallway, which had woken him up. The Texan strained his ears for a few moments but didn't hear anything else. Then the longhaired man thought it might have been Chris's dog prowling about. Tanner tried to go back to sleep but it was no good. He was wide-awake now. He decided he could use a cup of coffee. Tanner stepped over the softly snoring forms of the two guards slumbering in sleeping bags on the floor. The tracker stealthily crept his way to the kitchen and made coffee. A little while later, Vin sipped at his brew. Holding the coffee cup in one hand, the rangy man decided he would check up on Ezra. Ez had been really quiet before they had said good night. Something was eating at the green-eyed man. Tanner was worried about him.

The hairs on the back of Vin's neck prickled when he saw the door of the guest bedroom ajar. Tanner placed his coffee cup down in the little alcove underneath the telephone on the wall. The sharpshooter pulled his gun and held it ready in his hand. Then he carefully eased himself into the space between the guestroom door and the doorframe. Sapphire blue eyes noted the twisted bed sheets but otherwise did not notice any signs of struggle. Vin strode a few more steps inside the room and knocked on the bathroom door. "Ez, ya in there?" Rasped the sharpshooter. He did not get any reply, so he pushed the door open.


Tanner whirled about but then had a thought. /Buck had once fallen asleep in the tub. Maybe Ezra had also done so? / He pulled the shower curtain aside. Vin's shoulders fell in disappointment as he saw the empty tub. The Texan checked the kitchen, den, living room, mudroom and the guest bedroom once again but he could not find Ezra anywhere. The longhaired man backtracked to the mudroom. /Was that a button in the doorframe? / He tested the door leading outside and found it unlocked.

Sapphire eyes gazed at the barn.

Moccasin-shod feet ran through the yard to the open barn. The longhaired man skidded to a stop outside of Rascal's stall and whispered "Aw, Ez." The tracker's blue eyes took in how Ezra lay on one side. The compact man's legs were curled inward and his auburn head covered in hay. One of the undercover agent's arms lay outstretched toward the horse. The other arm was lost amid the hay. Vin tiptoed into the stall. He long-armed a blanket from the rack to his side and compassionately draped the blanket over the sleeping undercover agent. Then the quiet man tiptoed back out of the box.


Six AM - The next morning - Larabee Ranch Kitchen

Flannel-lined denim shirted, blue-jean, boot-clad Vin Tanner greeted a rumpled-looking Chris Larabee. The blond stretched and then took the coffee cup Vin was holding out to him. Hazel eyes peered into the strong, thick concoction. Chris put the cup down on the kitchen table and said "Hand me the thermos, Vin." Tanner shook his head and gave a playful retort about the others not appreciating his coffee making abilities. The blond ignored him while he asked about Ezra. Tanner replied that Standish was still sleeping. He just didn't mention where the undercover agent was slumbering. The ATF team leader nodded. Larabee finished his cup of coffee and then went to take a shower. The sharpshooter said he'd take care of the horses.

Once Chris was back in his room, Vin grabbed his extra pair of moccasins and went out to the stables. Sapphire blue eyes peeked into the big gray gelding's box and found he was staring into a pair of dark brown eyes. Tanner soothed Rascal with "Just bringing Ezra some 'moccs' to keep his feet warm this chilly morning. The brown eyes stayed fixed on the longhaired man as he entered the stall and silently placed the warm footgear by Ezra's feet. Ezra lay on his back, nestled in hay. One arm still outstretched toward the gray, the other now across the edge of the blanket at his pajama-clad waist.

Tanner grinned and wished for a camera. Nodding to the gelding, the Texan pivoted and left the box to attend the horses. The tracker carefully closed the box door behind him but it still made a soft thud.

Jade green eyes popped open. Ezra sat up and stared in confusion at the barn wall. His head snapped around at Rascal's snicker of greeting. /What was he doing in the stables? He hadn't had an episode of sleepwalking in years. Apparently he was more unsettled and stressed than he had realized. / He stood up and dusted the hay off of his pajamas. Ezra's foot kicked a moccasin across the ground. "Moccasins?" Whispered Ezra. Then Ezra heard movement in the stall next to the gray's. "Mr. Tanner?" Drawled the Southerner. Vin's body came in view outside the stall door, "Mornin' Ez. A mite early for ya. Reckon you wanted to check out the stall, which will belong to Chaucer." A half-smile played around Vin's mouth at the same time he hefted the sack over his shoulder and dropped the oats into the horse's food trough.

The Texan ignored the auburn-haired man sliding his bare feet into the warm footgear.

Tanner was gone with "See ya in the house, pard." Ezra nodded once before petting the horse and feeding the gelding the carrot that the longhaired man had accidentally dropped in the hay. Rascal munched the carrot happily then continued his breakfast by burying his nose in the trough.

The undercover agent was mortified that Mr. Tanner had seen him in the stables but grateful that the sharpshooter did not make a big issue out of the occurrence.

Standish strode out of the barn into the yard and was arrested by the sight of the sun rising over the mountains. Ezra stood and watched the majesty of the morning.

Inside his room, Chris was toweling off his hair when he passed the bay window of his bedroom and stopped.

Ezra was outside in the yard in blue pajamas and moccasins. /Moccasins? Hazel eyes blinked twice because Chris could swear that there was hay in those chestnut locks. Chestnut locks that were reddish gold in the sunlight bathing his Ezra. / Spun through the blond's mind. "He looks like a disheveled angel." Mumbled Chris to himself. Hazel eyes blinked when Larabee realized that his undercover agent was awake at this early hour. Lithe, lean fingers quickly finished zipping up black jeans and threw on a thermal-lined midnight-blue, flannel shirt. He hurriedly slid into his work boots; finger combed his still damp hair and tripped over his six-month old brindle-colored American Mastiff playing by the door.

"Bear; time to go out boy." The smart puppy gamboled to the kitchen's "doggie door" and barked a cheery hello to Vin on his way outside.

"Saw Ezra out in the yard. He's up early." Muttered Chris in a speculative voice. "Was checking' on the box for that chestnut gelding of his." Rasped Vin as he slid some bacon onto a plate. It made sense to Larabee. It warmed Chris's heart that Ezra was actually thinking about boarding Chaucer with all of the others' horses here at his stables. The blond realized that Standish really cared for his horses. The blond knew that his undercover agent was worried about Ariel.

Chris nodded and sat down to serve himself breakfast. A few minutes later, the ATF leader almost stabbed the roof of his mouth with his fork when Ezra appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. Hazel eyes rounded as they devoured Standish from head to toe. Ezra's russet curls were brushed to a silken sheen; his handsome face clean-shaven; his muscular chest clothed in a tight-fitting Gucci eggplant wool turtleneck sweater; Ezra's well-formed legs clad in Gucci's vintage medium-blue straight leg blue jeans; his small feet shod in working boots. Chris had to swallow twice before he could match Tanner's morning greeting to their undercover agent. Standish flashed both of them a dimpled grin when he sat in the chair opposite Larabee's

Bear tumbled back inside through the doggie door, slurped some water from his bowl and then scampered to the foot of the auburn headed man's chair for a scratch behind his ears. The puppy liked the jade-eyed man because the man always played with him, when the two were alone. Bear thumped his tail against the hardwood floor as Ezra's fingers stroked behind the puppy's black ears.

Ezra and Chris's bodyguards peeked into the kitchen and then went to check in with their superiors.

The Southerner rose and went to the bathroom to wash his hands. Chris had his eyes glued to the undercover agent's backside. Vin called his best friend's name a couple of times but couldn't catch Larabee's attention. Tanner finally scooped up the ebony fur ball of puppy that was still in the kitchen, into his arms and let Bear bark into the blond's ear.

Chris jumped up out of his chair with a curse and then swatted at thin air because Vin and Bear had smartly moved out of range. Ezra came back to the kitchen to find a smirking sharpshooter and a glaring ATF leader. Standish couldn't pry what happened out of either of them as he ate.

The auburn-haired man almost spilled his coffee when the blond man said that he wanted to visit Ariel this morning and see how she was doing. Ezra swallowed, nodded and turned slightly widened emerald irises on Vin. The Texan shrugged his shoulders. Tanner had promised Nettie Wells that he would help patch up the woman's roof today, so he wouldn't be able to go with Ezra and Chris.

The Southerner uttered something under his breath.

Forty minutes later, Vin's jeep pulled out of Larabee's driveway. The Dodge Ram followed Vin out of the driveway. The sharpshooter turned left at the end of the drive while Chris, Ezra and Bear headed right. The ATF leader brought Bear along because he wanted the veterinarian Trystan to examine the dog and give the Mastiff a clean bill of health.


"Where the hell are you going?" Bit out the raven-haired Lucas as he saw Larabee's truck at a corner of the Four Corners intersection. A gray GMC truck lagged a car behind and in the next lane to the Dodge Ram, until the black truck smoothly slid onto the frontage road and entered the freeway. Lucas cut into the entrance lane, nearly causing a wreck when he raced onto the highway. A very angry James spotted his quarry's vehicle heading into The Grey Wolf Ranch. The GMC passed the Ranch, into the entrance of a private road that the driver knew well. The road led to one of his uncle's hidden properties.

James stashed the gray truck. Lucas's loping stride ate up the distance from Stuart's fence line through the copse of trees that bordered the back area of the GW ranch. From the cover of some bushes near the stables, the criminal's lanky form hunched down while his deadly eyes studied the layout. The escaped convict shook with rage when he saw Larabee leave a stall shadowed by a big guy. /Got a bodyguard, huh? We'll see how well he stops bullets. / Jeered the lanky man to himself. Lucas heard the ATF leader tell someone that he was taking Bear to the Veterinarian's office and would be right back.

James decided to take care of the person in the stall and then ambush Larabee when the blond returned to the barn. Hugging one side of the stall, the man peered inside and the breath caught in his throat. /Edward? Here? Was the traitor an informant of Larabee's? / Ran through the convict's brain.

Cassidy had betrayed him and his uncle.

A cruel and feral smile crossed Lucas's face as he reached for his gun.


Goose bumps prickled Ezra's arms when he petted Ariel's crown. Standish had the uneasy feeling that someone was watching him. He ran his right palm down the little horse's side; covertly throwing glances all around the stall. The tense agent also palmed his 'pop gun' as Mr. Wilmington referred to it. The figure emerging from outside the box door had Ezra rolling to his right and shooting his derringer in that direction. The bullet nicked Lucas's shoulder, throwing off the criminal's aim. James' shot flew over Ezra's still moving body to hit Jon, the undercover agent's bodyguard, in the elbow. The slim young man crumpled to the floor in agony, cradling his now useless arm against his body.

The chestnut-haired man had rolled until he had backed into the saddle rack. The jarring hit had knocked the wind out of the Southerner. Lucas advanced into the stall, taking aim at the now still agent.

Abruptly James was knocked backwards off his feet.

Ariel had jumped in front of the prone Ezra. The miniature Palomino's ears were flattened against her head, her eyes were narrowed, her nostrils flared. The usually gentle Ariel reared up on her hind legs as her forelegs lashed out and kicked the bad man in the solar plexus. Then the brave horse collapsed as her sprained leg pained her once again.

Lucas's gun went off reflexively. The bullet flew through the roof and caused a part of it to cave in. Ezra had come to, in time to see Ariel rear up and knock the miscreant down.

By the time the roof caved in, Ezra had pushed the Palomino out of the way. Parts of the ceiling landed on the undercover agent and the criminal.


Debris, timber, tubing of fluorescent lighting and pieces of sheetrock covered both the raven-haired, lanky criminal and the chestnut-haired, compact ATF agent. No pieces of the ceiling had fallen on Ezra's young bodyguard. The young man, Jon made a handkerchief tourniquet on his arm then got on his knees and began to crawl slowly toward the buried men. A saddle hitting him on the side of his head knocked him out.

Ariel snorted anxiously. She was in pain but her man was down, he needed her. Dark brown eyes darted about the box. Suddenly she pushed her muzzle against the saddle rack, toppling the leather seat onto the slow-moving man in her path.

A large, lurching, ceiling light suddenly swung down and impaled the food trough. The splintered trough, fallen metal light fixture, broken saddle rack and unconscious bodyguard hemmed Ariel in. With her injured leg, Ariel could not maneuver closer to Ezra. The Palomino's nostrils flared as two strange men entered her box.

Mitch Flint, who looked like a blond-haired version of "The Rock" and Clive Willis, a ferret-looking man silently entered Ariel's stall.

James' two henchmen had followed Lucas to the Gray Wolf Ranch after they had aborted watching Judge Orin Travis's house because the two convicts had lost sight of Travis when the ATF had whisked the judge from his home to a safer location. Mitch and Clive immediately went to the younger James side and began picking off some pieces of the crumbled ceiling resting on top of the lanky man. A pained groan hissed through James mouth. Flint and Willis quickly cleared their boss from the fallen timbers of roof covering Lucas and sat the rangy, escaped convict against a messy bale of hay. Clive slit the side of the gunrunner's bloody pant-leg from ankle to knee to look at his boss's wound. James' scratchy voice ordered Mitch to get Edward out from underneath the rubble of ceiling still on top of the downed agent.

A slightly unsteady arm tried to brush off bits and pieces of insulation stuck to his nose and lips. Agony throbbed through Ezra's arm. /Hell... I've dislocated my shoulder again. / Fuzzily crossed through Standish's mind.

Pain-wracked, emerald eyes blinked at the blurry mountain of a man crouching at his side. Flint's meaty arms ripped through the roof covering the Southerner. The big man felt the auburn-headed man's breath hitch in pain when Mitch hoisted the shorter man into a fireman's carry at Lucas James order. Ezra tried to twist his way out of Flint's firm hold but with his injured shoulder it was impossible for the undercover agent to slip out of the huge man's grip. Clive helped the limping younger James out of the shattered stall. Mitch followed. Ezra's upper body hanging over his back. The Southerner ineffectually tried to kick his legs against Flint's torso but a tightening forearm against the green-eyed man's back stopped the kick as they strode out of the box.

Jade eyes strained as Standish noted Jon's chest moving up and down then he saw Ariel's black muzzle wedge out between the ragged edges of the trough and the now misshapen saddle rack. The undercover agent released a breath he was unconsciously holding.


The four men had just reached the clump of trees near the edge of the children's home and horse ranch when they heard the shout, "Freeze, ATF." slightly to the right of and behind them. Ezra picked up his head and saw a tall, dark-haired, mustached, plaid-shirted, blue-jean clad man running after them. /Mr. Wilmington? What? How?/ Spun dizzily through the russet-haired man's mind.

Clive, Lucas and Mitch began to run even faster.

The raven-haired, blue-eyed, ATF surveillance agent cussed to himself as his tan-colored, boot-shod feet flew over some uneven ground. Wilmington's gun pointed firmly in the fleeing criminal's direction. Buck took a shot but the hulking figure of Mitch Flint could move when he, Flint needed to. The shot embedded itself into the bark of a tree just to the side of the blond convict.

The tall, ATF agent didn't want to shoot at Mitch again and risk hitting Ezra, his friend and teammate. So instead he chased the escaping criminals. Wilmington ducked, weaved and returned fire as Lucas and Clive shot at him. /What the hell happened? They're kidnapping Ezra and there's no sign of Chris. Where in blazes is Chris? Is he hurt or.../ Buck's mind shied away from that morbid thought. His dark blue eyes were firmly fixed upon the compact man hanging over James' henchmen's shoulder and so he didn't see the swaying, low-hanging tree branch which thumped him on his upper right arm. The blow staggered the strong man onto his knees. Wilmington's sharp ears detected the roar of an engine as he fell. "Hell." Whispered the raven-haired man as he fished out a handkerchief from his shirt pocket to bandage the gash on his arm.


The mustached man had just wanted to see Ezra's miniature horse. Standish had spoken of the little horse with an unconscious note of pride the night before. There had also been that matching glow of admiration in Chris's golden green orbs when the Southerner had spoken of Ariel so Buck had decided to come out and meet the filly.

JD was helping Vin out at Nettie Well's place so the 'kid' hadn't come along.

The ATF surveillance agent had flirtatiously been given the directions to Ariel's stall by the ranch's receptionist. Wilmington charmingly thanked her and went on his way. Buck had been whistling a jaunty tune, lazily sauntering up the path to the Palomino's box when he had heard a boom at one of the buildings near the border of the ranch farthest away from him. He had run, his long legs loping over the ground. When Buck was a yard or so away from the collapsed building, he saw three figures emerge from the rubble. A fourth figure was slung over the third man's massive shoulder. Indigo eyes squinted slightly, "Damn, is that Ezra?" Muttered Buck to himself as he raced after the escaping men. The raven-haired man observed how at first Ezra had tried to twist out of the big man's hold but then heard a grunt of agony hiss through the undercover agent's lips. At the sound of a friend in pain, Wilmington's protective instincts really kicked into high gear and he yelled for the idiots to stop but they didn't. The tall man had taken aim and barely missed the huge figure carrying Ezra.


Meanwhile in the veterinarian's office, Chris Larabee's hands had just put Bear's carrier on the examining table when he and Doctor Trystan heard a rumbling, deafening noise. "What was that?" Asked the bewildered vet. The blond ATF Leader's terse, "Sounds like a roof collapsed" Was snapped over his shoulder as he tried to yank the lab door open. The door's old-fashioned lock had jammed.

Trystan tried to jimmy the lock with the key but the key broke off, leaving half of it in the wiry veterinarian's hand the other half still in the lock.

Chris and Trystan threw their shoulders into the door but it didn't budge. Larabee barked at Trystan to step back. The blond then took out his Colt revolver and shot the lock off the door. Before the vet could say anything, the ATF agent said to send him a bill for the door later. When the two men had scrambled over the demolished door, they took off at a dead run.

Hazel and ebony eyes had seen that it was the roof of Ariel's stall that had crashed in.

Chris's feet blazed over the trail. "Ezra! Ezra hold on I'm coming!" unconsciously falling from Larabee's lips. His guard who had gone to the restroom and the vet lumbered behind the frenetic blond.

When the Team 7 leader arrived at the demolished stall, all his frantic, hazel irises saw was pieces of the broken roof strewn about the box; a prone bodyguard on the floor and Ariel's head peeking out between shattered timbers and twisted metal.

Of Ezra, there was no sign. Chris stalked in, searching for his missing man.

Jon's partner rushed in behind Larabee and Carl went immediately to Jon's side. The older man sighed in relief when he felt the younger man's pulse. Trystan ran to aid Ariel, lifting her from her the debris imprisoning her. Ariel had been trying to scrabble to her feet on the slippery covering of the broken fluorescent light.

Suddenly, Buck's shout had echoed through the Palomino's stall.

Chris raced out, instinct causing him to raise his weapon as he ran to back up his oldest friend. The angry, worried blond had followed the sound of gunfire toward the copse of trees bordering Gray Wolf's property.


Larabee's slim silhouette broke through the tree line and slammed right into Buck's still kneeling form.


Chris tightly clamped a callused hand onto one of Buck's shoulders to steady himself. Then the blond barked out harshly, "Buck?" Hazel eyes glared into an equally glaring pair of indigo blue eyes. Wilmington angrily responded with, "James has Ezra. Ezra's hurt." Chris's face hardened even further. "How bad?" Bit out the hazel-eyed man through a clenched jaw. "I couldn't rightly tell. It might be his shoulder giving him trouble again. I saw him try to squirm out of a big man's hold but Ezra grunted in pain as he twisted about." Answered Wilmington as he stood up bracing himself against the blond. Hazel orbs sharpened when he saw the mustached man's bandaged arm. Chris cocked his fair head and arched a sandy eyebrow. Buck responded it wasn't anything more than a scratch but the blond knew that all his men would say that, so he grunted and ordered the taller man to ride over with him to the hospital

But at that moment Nathan, Team 7's medic arrived on the scene. It had been the healer's afternoon to volunteer hours at the shelter.

Minutes earlier, Jackson's Explorer had nearly collided with a big brown SUV, turning off the access road leading to the home. The weasel-faced driver seemed familiar to Jackson but he couldn't immediately place him because the medic had to swerve onto the shoulder of the road to avoid hitting the other vehicle. Nathan had grumbled to himself about speedy drivers and road rage while getting out of the Explorer then Jackson found out what had happened and raced to the copse of trees.

Nathan and Chris helped Wilmington to sit on an old log so Nate could see how serious Buck's wound was. Luckily the gash wasn't very deep and the dark-skinned man began to clean the injury immediately.

Larabee and Wilmington were bickering while Jackson tended to the mustached man's arm.

Nate was wrapping up gauze around Buck's superficial cut when the driver's identity finally registered. "Hell, it was Clive Willis." Fell from the healer's lips. Chris and Buck stopped in mid-argument and blankly stared at their teammate. The blond man's gruff "Nathan?" Had the Afro-American blinking his brown eyes at Chris. "Clive Willis is a goon that works for James. Willis drove me off the road when I was getting to the ranch. Damn, he probably had Ezra in the back of that SUV and I let him go." Groused the disgruntled team 7 medic.

Chris fished the new video cell phone which JD had given him for his birthday a few weeks ago out of his shirt pocket and was about to punch out a speed dial number when it rang and the cell phone's screen coalesced into a fuzzy image. Three pair of eyes were riveted upon the screen as they heard the whispered, hurried, familiar, southern drawl float out from the speaker. "Mr. Larabee... I am alone for a moment.... Camouflaged my videophone to provide visual clues to my location." "Ezra?" Growled the blond, hearing the strain in the undercover agent's voice. "Dislocated shoulder plus various cuts and bruises," replied Standish. Buck finally finished extending and fine-tuning the screen into a bigger, clearer picture so that hazel, blue and brown eyes saw an average-looking motel room that had Ezra laying on the bed all trussed up and surveillance cameras on the nightstand.

Suddenly the bathroom door of the motel opened and Lucas James limped into view. James sat on the edge of the bed, unknowingly facing the hidden audience of three ATF agents. Chris's hazel eyes narrowed dangerously and his free hand curled into a fist as one of Lucas's slimy hands trailed suggestively across Ezra's chest. The lanky criminal sneered at 'Edward' to confess that he, the chestnut-haired man was an informant of the ATF or that he, James would have 'fun' convincing 'Edward' to talk. Ezra turned his head away from the miscreant but James wouldn't have it.

Jade green orbs blinked in anger and mortification when Ezra felt Lucas's fingers cup his jaw. The escaped convict was trying to turn the Southerner's stubborn jaw when one of James' index fingers slipped too close to Ezra's mouth. Ezra's strong teeth bit down hard on Lucas's finger. The lanky man reared back on the bed with a scream of pain. James backhanded the tied-up, auburn-haired man with his uninjured hand and 'Edward' just gave him a wide grin. Before either, Lucas or Ezra could make another move, Mitch pounded on the door, yelling "Doc's here, Mr. James." James sank back into a chair and cradled his wounded digit while he barked out for the medic to come in.


Meanwhile Lucas's unknown audience had moved to Larabee's big Dodge Ram. Nathan sat in the back seat of the truck, peering over his teammates' shoulders at the mobile clutched in Chris's hands. Buck was in the driver's seat, leaning by his oldest friend's shoulder, intently staring at the cell screen. Chris was in the passenger side, his lean body shaking with anger and jealously while he watched James' audacity. Nathan wisely held his tongue about Chris's blood pressure, as the blond hissed, "Buck, how long will the phone record?" "About an hour, Chris." Responded Buck. Then indigo blue eyes had snapped onto a pillow that fell off the bed. The black truck roared to life as Buck revved the engine, yelling "I know where they are." Wilmington had recognized the three trees embroidered into the middle of the pillow. Nathan called the others, the police and an ambulance as Buck sped down the I70 and turned into an almost hidden parking lot. Jackson confirmed that the SUV parked in the far parking space was the one that he had almost collided with earlier that day.

Inside the motel room, Ezra tilted his head slightly. It sounded like Mr. Larabee's vehicle had just parked outside. /Maybe, Mr. Larabee... Chris has come to rescue me./ Thought the Southerner as the 'doctor' roughly wrapped a bandage around Ezra's dislocated shoulder. /It could also be just a fanciful notion./ chided Standish's inner voice at the same time the doctor turned away from the chestnut-haired man and pulled a syringe out of a black medical bag.

Luckily for the jade-eyed man, the medic had untied his arms and legs to examine him properly.

So, a few seconds after the healer had turned away from him, Ezra gave the grizzled looking man a swift kick, which propelled the man across the floor to land against the other bed on which Lucas James slept. James had been attended to first and the painkillers that the doctor had given him had kicked in while the medic had been wrapping the undercover agent's shoulder. Ezra rolled off the bed and winced slightly at the pain in shoulder. The drug that the doctor was going to inject into Ezra ended up in the doctor's own bloodstream as the medic accidentally injected himself when Ezra kicked him across the room. He crumpled into a woozy heap on the floor.

Ezra ran to the door only to freeze as the door crashed open. Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, Nathan Jackson and a policeman stormed through the entrance ready for a firefight and shouting, "ATF, Freeze!".

Lightening glances from hazel, blue and brown eyes took in the scene in the motel room.

The blond and the Afro-American man circled their Southern friend while Buck and the policeman handcuffed a groggy Lucas James and then cuffed the doctor who was still on the floor. Nathan took one look at the crudely bandaged shoulder and snorted in disgust.

Jackson led Standish back to the empty bed and sat the injured man down while he deftly rewrapped the shoulder. Team 7's leader had closely trailed the medic's steps and sat on Ezra's other side. Chris scrutinized the bruised, hurting, gorgeous man at his side and gruffly whispered, "Did the SOB try anything else? Did he...?" Larabee swallowed to begin questioning again. Ezra gave his team leader a quizzical stare until he finally understood what Mr. Larabee meant. A soft, Southern accent drawled, "No Mr. Larabee, Mr. James did not do any further harm to me. The only assault of that nature was the one you and my colleagues witnessed." The last sentence was pronounced with a slightly interrogatory tone. Both Chris and Nathan nodded at the undercover agent's tone. Ezra's lips tilted upward a little. His video phone plan had been successful.

A fair, nimble hand daringly covered a more tanned, callused hand and squeezed once while jade green orbs peered a bit shyly into glittering hazel orbs. Ezra was stunned by the warmth and relief flooding the blond's dark amber irises. Chris's half smile made Ezra's heart somersault. The chestnut-haired man's dimpled grin made Larabee's own heart thunder in his chest.

The moment was broken by Lucas James. James who was being escorted out of the room by Buck passed by the trio of ATF agents and made the mistake of mumbling a snide remark aimed at Ezra. Chris jumped to his feet and threw a powerful punch into the criminal's solar plexus. Lucas sagged in Wilmington's hold. Wilmington half-carried, half-dragged the lanky criminal to the police van where James' colleagues and the policemen were waiting.

Nathan treated the blond's grazed knuckles as Chris grumbled about the James' and their cohorts. Chris's sudden growl, "Ezra, don't you pay any mind to what that bastard told you. You're a good man. I know you've got my back and I've got yours." Broke into the Southerner's spinning thoughts.

Ezra's gold tooth flashed.


Chris leaned in closer to the Southerner. The blond's shoulder brushed Ezra's uninjured one. Larabee moved away from the undercover agent reluctantly when a uniformed officer entered the room and asked to speak to the ATF leader. As the lean man rose from the bed, Vin and JD rushed into the room. Buck corralled JD with a long arm while the Texan took Chris's place next to Ezra. Ezra stood up a little off balance and the sharpshooter steadied his friend by shouldering the Southerner's healthy arm.

Standish thanked him. Pain was beginning to take its toll on the chestnut-haired man.

With Nathan and Vin supporting him on either side, Ezra walked to Larabee's Dodge Ram. Buck and JD followed the trio out. Chris was about a foot away talking to the policemen when he saw his men come out of the room. Both Buck and Vin saw the scowl deepen on their leader's face. The blond man cut off the still-talking law officer. He then stalked back to his Dodge and slid into the driver's seat. Vin and Nathan eased the Southerner into the back seat of the Ram as gently as they could but Ezra still grimaced in pain. Hazel orbs glanced into the rearview mirror and locked gazes with questioning jade ones. Chris mouthed, "They'll take your statement tomorrow, just rest now, Ezra." Chestnut locks nodded wearily, green eyes closed. The Southerner slept on Nathan's shoulder. /Larabee, Ez is hurt and Nate is at his side to tend him. So don't be getting pissed off at Jackson just cause you wanna be the one holding Ezra, right now. / Scolded Chris's thoughts. The hazel-eyed man kept on driving to Ezra's townhouse. The ATF leader left Standish at home being taken care of by Jackson and Sanchez. Josiah had been waiting for them at Ezra's place so Chris didn't have any excuse to stay the night.


Three weeks later

Team 7 had spent the last few weeks wrapping up the James' case, so Chris and Ezra didn't have much time to themselves but the two men had made time to declare themselves to one another. Both men found they wanted to be together forever. In between Ezra healing from his ordeal; the case; boarding Ariel and Chaucer at Chris's ranch, etc. the two men had not been able to do any more than steal a few caresses and kisses from each other.

Both men were itching to change that. And now that Stuart and Lucas James along with a good majority of their men were behind bars again in Colorado's maximum security prison, Larabee and Standish were free to do so.


A Saturday Afternoon - Somewhere on the Larabee Ranch

Chris and Ezra decided that the downtime that Judge Travis had given the team would be the perfect opportunity to deepen their relationship. Tonight, neither Chris nor Ezra would be sleeping alone.

Nathan and Rain were away for the weekend. Buck, JD and Vin fished at the lake by the edge of Chris's land. Josiah walked a prancing Ariel into the stable while the palomino's five-year old rider, Teresa Lyn giggled. On the other side of the ranch near the fishing pond, Pony and Chaucer trotted next to each other until they stopped because their riders leaned into each other to exchange a long, leisurely kiss. Moments later, Chris and Ezra gave each other heart-melting grins.

Suddenly Ezra's jade irises gleamed mischievously and the Southerner raced away on his speedy chestnut gelding. Chris's hazel orbs glowed and his laughter echoed across the land as he and Pony gave chase.


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