The Promise

by Debby Gerl

Disclaimer: None of the magnificent 7 characters are mine, just borrowing them for a story :)
Rating: R for Language and adult situations
Warnings: Must say again that the Language gets a bit rough in a couple of parts, and there are references to abuse of a child.
Author's Notes: This the third story in a series... so if you haven't read 'We'll Be There' or 'You're Here' you might want to first. I didn't intend to write a third part but thank you to Gypsy and her muses for the prodding and Dina for supplying me enough plot ideas to get the ball rolling :)
Thank you to Kris and Julia for betaing and double checking cause "there are over 20 rules of comma usage and Debby doesn't know any of them." Dr. Ralph Woodworth, my journalism professor... 6 years later I'm still lost!
Hope you enjoy it and remember feedback is ALWAYS welcome :)

Back to: You're Here

Ezra Standish gazed up at the office wall clock with an exasperated sigh. It was Friday and there were only fifteen minutes left before he was free.

"Hey Ez, Vin?" JD stopped beside their desks. "You guys coming to the Saloon tonight?"

Vin smiled and nodded. "Yeah Kid, I'll be there. How about you Ezra?"

Ezra paused. The Friday night drinks at the Saloon were almost traditional now.

"Come on please? Buck is dying to get together with everybody, said he's even bringing the guy from Washington along." JD swiped his bangs out of his eyes and seemed to bounce in place as he pleaded.

"I presume that you're speaking of the gentleman Buck has been helping go through files all week?" Ezra asked as he stood and straightened his suit coat.

"Yeah. Buck says he's a pretty nice guy. Needs to loosen up and all though."

"Compared to Buck, who doesn't need to loosen up?" Chris asked coming up behind Ezra.

Josiah and Nathan were now standing from their desks and shrugging on their coats. "Buck still have to help that guy dig through files next week?" Nathan asked.

Chris grinned. "Only Monday and Tuesday, the guy heads back on Wednesday."

"I wonder if our Brother learned his lesson?" Josiah asked.

Five voices sounded together, "doubt it."

Two weeks earlier Buck had decided to toilet paper Chris' truck. He hadn't counted on the rain or the consequences. When the ATF powers that be had called down to say the Washington offices were sending their own insurance agent to go over team seven's files for the last couple of years Chris had known immediately who would be assisting the agent.

"So Ez are you coming?" JD asked again.

"Yes, I'm coming."

"Great, let's go then. Buck's gonna be there before us at this rate." JD said as he headed quickly for the door.

"You wouldn't know he sees Buck every night." Nathan grinned.

"Nope. Let's go." Vin said following JD.

"Good evening Gentlemen." A soft southern drawl floated in from the door causing each man to spin with a shocked look on their face.

JD stood next to the visitor with a sheepish look. He looked at Ezra and shrugged. "You got company Ez."

Ezra opened his mouth twice before he actually found his voice. "Mother? What are you doing here?"

"Standing here with snakes coming out of my hair from the looks on all of your faces. Can't a mother pay an impromptu visit to her only son?" Maude moved into the office with an air of grace, her off white suit cut to emphasize her still flattering figure.

Ezra shook his head slightly, attempting to clear his confusion and moved forward. "It's always a delight mother." He placed a kiss on her cheek. "You just caught me by surprise. You usually call before gracing us with your presence. "

"Yes well it's my job to keep you on your toes isn't it?" She smiled enjoying the fact that she could bring a group of decorated government agents to a complete stand still.

Josiah moved forward. "Nice to see you again Maude."

"Why, thank you Josiah."

"We gotta go." JD tried not to sound rude.

"Of course Mr. Dunne." Ezra nodded. "You gentlemen go ahead and send my regards to Mr. Wilmington." He saw the sag of JD's posture immediately and frowned. He hated the fact that he was disappointing the younger man, and missing out on time with his friends.

"You aren't coming then?" Vin asked quietly.

"Ah no, I don't think the Saloon is the environment Mother is looking to visit." Ezra explained.

Maude shifted and cleared her throat. "Don't be silly dear. For one, I'm still in the room and secondly, I'd love to accompany you and your friends to this Saloon."

Ezra's eyes widened with renewed shock.

"Let's go." Chris jumped in before anyone could change their minds.


Ezra listened to his mother ramble on about the latest goings on in her life. What was happening over in France, who she had visited lately in Atlanta. As he pulled into the parking lot of the local bar the seven referred to as the Saloon, he turned the engine off and shifted so he was facing his mother.

Why are you here Mother?" He asked genuinely.

"Ezra, I really just wanted to drop by for a visit. I'll be returning to France next week and thought I'd take the opportunity to check in on you." She insisted.

"Check in or check up?"

Maude smiled sweetly and batted her clear eyes at him in innocence. "What ever do you mean?"

"Don't even try that with me." Ezra couldn't help but laugh at her expression. He looked toward the entrance of the bar noticing that it had begun to sprinkle. "Why did you agree to come here? This is hardly the sort of establishment you normally frequent."

"Normally no, but Dear with this many inebriated people in one place there is bound to be someone I can hustle."


"Don't give me that look. I'll leave your friends alone. Now lets get inside before we get soaked, I don't want to ruin this suit." With that she was out of the car and hurrying across the parking lot. Ezra had to run to catch up with her but they managed to enter the bar together. Already the Friday evening crowd was beginning to descend. Ezra caught his mother eyeing the pool table hungrily and grabbed her elbow to steer her towards the table where his friends sat waiting.

"I take it Mr. Wilmington is running late?" he asked as he held a chair out for Maude.

"Looks like it. We already ordered our drinks." JD drummed his fingers nervously on the table. It had been a long boring week of paperwork, with no cases, no undercover work, not even any surveillance to distract him.

"That's fine, we'll get ours later." Ezra shrugged off his suit coat and draped it neatly over the back of his chair. He caught Vin watching him carefully.

"Everything okay Ez?" Vin asked.

"Of course Mr. Tanner." He sat down and listened as Maude began to regale an attentive Josiah with her latest adventures.

"So what is she up to this trip?" Chris asked low enough that only Ezra could hear exactly what he said.

"Apparently she really did want to bestow a visit." Ezra answered. It wasn't like he could often read into Maude's real motives.

"Hey, there's Buck" JD announced suddenly drawing everyone's attention towards the bar's entrance.

Buck flashed a large grin as he reached the table. "Hi everybody. Miss me?"

"Oh yeah, the peace and quiet has been torture." Nathan retorted sarcastically as he held out his hand to greet Wilmington.

"I bet." Buck laughed and grabbed one of the remaining two chairs.

"Did you bring your friend?" Josiah inquired just as the waitress arrived and began setting drinks down on the table.

"Yeah, he insisted on hanging up his coat when we came in. He's over there." Buck waved toward coat rack as he reached for JD's drink. "Thanks kid."

"Hey!" JD protested punching at his arm but not retrieving the drink.

"Evening Maude." Buck greeted realizing she was there.

"Good evening Mr. Wilmington." Maude returned.

Ezra was giving their order to the waitress and ordering a second beer for JD. He glanced at Buck. "Do you know what your friend will be drinking tonight?"

"Probably a beer." Buck said raising his glass.

Ezra added another drink to the order and let his eyes sweep the room. He heard Buck talking "Yeah Dave's pretty down to earth. Not bad for a paper pusher."

Vin watched as Ezra finished the order. Nathan and Josiah were laughing at Maude's story and JD was protesting another of Buck's antics. He watched with growing concern as all of the color seemed to drain from Ezra's face. His green eyes clouded and Vin could see Ezra's hands begin to shake.

Suddenly Ezra was on his feet. His chair bounced back and would have fallen if Chris' quick reflexes hadn't caught it.

"Ezra, what are you doing?" Maude's sharp voice seemed to startle Ezra. He looked around the table realizing everyone was staring at him.

"I need to go Mother. I apologize for my abrupt departure but..," he couldn't find an adequate excuse. "I need to go. I'm sure Josiah will see you to my apartment when you are ready. He has a spare key." He tossed a handful of bills onto the table and with that he was gone, weaving through the crowd and keeping his distance from the man who was making his way towards the others.

"What?" Maude stared after her son in confusion. "What was that all about?" She looked to Chris for an answer.

"Don't look at me." Chris shrugged casually. He looked at Vin knowing the sharpshooter was concerned. Something was definitely wrong to cause Ezra to take off in such a way. Before he could say anything though Buck interrupted.

"Hey Dave, let me introduce you to everybody. Dave this is everybody, everybody this is Dave Parks."

"Nice to meet you fellows. Buck's been filling me in on everyone all week."

Nathan groaned. "Then you better have a seat so we can clear up his lies."

Parks laughed "Don't mind if I do. You must be Nathan."

"That's right, this is Josiah, Chris, Vin, JD and..."

"Maude Standish." Parks finished for him.

"David Parks, well I'll be. How long has it been?" Maude stood and let Parks kiss her, flashing a genuine smile at him.

"You two know each other?" Buck asked wiping at his mustache.

"Sure do." Dave answered. "I've known Maude here since before I can remember. It has to be at least ten years since we've seen each other." He looked confused a moment. "You are not in the ATF," he stated.

"Oh heaven's no. I'm just here visiting Ezra." Maude laughed. "He'll be sorry he missed you. He just ran out of here like he was on fire. Said he had to go do something or another, you never know with him." She didn't see Chris' frown.

"That's a shame." Dave said as he took his seat. "I would have liked to see Ezra again."

"Again?" Josiah inquired. "You know Ezra well?"

"Of course he does Josiah. David has always been like an uncle to Ezra. Why he even lived with David for a time when he was young." Maude thanked the waitress as the young girl set a martini in front of her, then turned back to the suddenly silent table of men. "That was forever ago, I mean Ezra was ten or eleven wasn't he?" She looked at David.

"Sounds about right." David sipped his drink.

Vin stood. " 'Scuse me all. Ezra forgot his jacket, I'm going to see if I can catch him." He walked around Chris and nodded slightly. Chris noticed the tense jaw immediately.

"Oh you don't need to do that." Maude waved at the jacket. "I can return it to him later."

"It's no problem ma'am." Vin swept the coat up and headed for the door.


Ezra's world was spinning. It was all he could do to get out of the bar without losing complete control of his emotions. Half of him wanted to throw himself at Parks and strangle the life out of the man from his nightmares, the other half wanted to run in fear. The gentle rain had turned into a steady down pour but Ezra was oblivious to the onslaught. He blinked the water out of his eyes and wrapped his arms around his middle trying in vain to hold himself together. He was going to be sick.

Staggering slightly through the parking lot he made it around the corner of the building just out of sight of the other patrons running for cover and the shining windows of warmth before he lost the contents of his stomach. He laughed roughly at the irony of the situation. Less than a month and half ago he was leaning against this same building in a drunken stupor trying to deal with these same feelings. If he thought they'd been intense then, he was kidding himself. He remembered it was Chris that had come after him that night, taking him home and with Buck and Vin's help, taking care of him. The next morning everyone had been there ready to support him in whatever he was going through. It was the first time he'd ever admitted to anyone other than a therapist the abuse he'd gone through as a child. He hadn't mentioned that to them, hadn't given specifics either, just talked. They were there and surprisingly that was all he had needed. This time was different. Parks was here, and they were inside sharing drinks with the man right now.

"God, Buck," he whispered. Buck had spent the entire week with Parks. He liked the man. How could Buck actually like that bastard? How? Somewhere inside a small voice of rationale reminded Ezra that Buck didn't know. None of them knew.

Ezra glanced up at the sky wanting the darkness to swallow him. He closed his eyes as the rain washed his face blending with tears. He couldn't fight off the images any longer. They came at him from every direction as the rain turned into a deluge. He needed to get away. Opening his eyes again he began to pace in tiny circles. What was he going to do? They were going to ask questions. Why did he run out so suddenly? What was so important he'd actually abandon his mother? Mother. Ezra wiped a hand across his face and looked at the bar. He just couldn't go back in there. He had no idea where he was going but he started walking anyway.


Vin stepped out of the bar and scanned the parking lot quickly. Ezra's car was still there which meant his friend hadn't gone far. He'd check the alley first. Passing his jeep he paused for a moment to toss Ezra's suit coat inside. Ezra wouldn't take kindly to him letting the material get ruined in this rain. Vin adjusted the collar of his soft leather coat up around his neck. The rain was cold and starting to come down hard now.

Rounding the corner of the building he stopped and watched Ezra pace in tiny circles. It shocked him slightly to see the normally calm and collected agent so obviously distraught. Vin frowned as he watched Ezra cross his arms tightly in front of him and shiver. The rain had plastered his silk shirt to his body. Ezra had to be freezing. Not knowing how to approach Standish, Vin stood back and waited. Eventually his friend would see him. Then Ezra turned and started towards the road. He looked right at Vin but made no acknowledgment.

"Hey Ez?" Vin stepped forward trying to catch his attention but Ezra kept walking. "Ezra hold up." Vin tried again. Ezra's pace increased.

"EZRA!" Vin shouted but Ezra's only reaction was to take off down the street. "Damn. Where the hell is he going?" Vin muttered as he ran to his jeep.


Ezra walked towards the road with a sudden renewed rush of panic. He could feel Park's presence even out here in the rain. His hands, his voice, all of it followed him. He heard a voice somewhere behind him shouting. His nightmare was real, it was coming after him. Suddenly he was ten years old again and the only thing he could do was run. He didn't notice the road or the rain or the cold. All he could focus on was the need to run. His chest heaved with sobs as he pushed himself onward. Parks was here. If he caught him, Ezra knew it would happen again. It always happened. Hands forcing him down, harsh whispers commanding and threatening, brutal punishments for his resistance. He struggled to breathe as the rain battered him relentlessly. He couldn't slow down, he couldn't be caught. The ground beneath his feet changed and it wasn't until he landed hard that he even realized he'd been falling.


"Dammit!" Vin swore again as he followed Ezra in the Jeep. Ezra wasn't running very fast but Vin could tell he wasn't paying any attention to where he was going. "The street Ez, you're gonna run right out into it." He muttered willing Standish to hear him. Instead he slammed on his brakes and jumped out of the jeep. He ran after Ezra, watching helplessly as he ran off the curb and fell hard onto the pavement. Quickly Vin ran to his friend and reached to help him up before any cars came.

"Come on Ezra, let me take you home."

Ezra screamed when he felt the hands on him and struggled in the steel grasp.

Vin didn't let go. "Ezra come on it's me, Vin." He jerked Ezra to his feet and grabbed his face with both hands. "Look at me Ez, please." He felt the sobs shuddering through the man in his grasp. "Ezra look at me."

Ezra tried to pull away from the touch but couldn't escape. He heard the voice, soft and soothing. Soft and soothing, familiar and safe. Safe. He blinked a moment trying to process it all. He met the blue eyes of his friend and gasped, pulling out of the man's grasp but not running. Vin saw the recognition flash in Ezra's eyes and let go when the smaller man pulled back. The rain continued to soak both men as they stood there staring at each other. "Come on Ez let's get you home and into something dry." Vin kept his voice soft fearing he might trigger the panic in Ezra by speaking.

Ezra looked over at the Jeep. "I'll get it wet."

Vin grinned. "So will I pard. Let's go."


Chris shifted back in his chair and glanced at his watch. It had only been twenty minutes since Ezra had rushed out of the bar and Vin had followed, but he felt like it had been hours. Maude and Parks were still playing catch up while unnoticed to them, the rest of the table had fallen into a contemplative silence. He knew what was going through their minds. He himself was struggling not to jump to conclusions but somehow the pieces were fitting too closely for comfort. He could still hear Ezra's sobbing protests that night a while back that Vin, Buck and him had taken the southerner home and put him to bed. It was heart wrenchingly obvious the nightmare he was struggling against. The next afternoon with all of them there Ezra had admitted he'd been abused by a family friend, when he was young. Parks was a family friend and Ezra had stayed with him when he was a boy but fromwhat Chris knew about Ezra's past, Ezra had stayed with a lot of family friends. It was Ezra's abrupt disappearance that plagued him. Vin wasn't the only one that had observed the sudden paleness and trembling.

Chris met Buck's gaze across the table. Buck's eyes were hard and his jaw was clenched tight as if trying to control his rage. Chris shook his head ever so slightly trying to assure him. He didn't know how he would control Buck if they found out he'd just spent an entire week getting to know the man who'd tortured one of their own.

JD shifted restlessly. "You think Vin will be back soon?" He asked.

"Don't know." Chris replied simply.

A cell phone began ringing and all seven men glanced down to check if it was theirs. Parks grinned. "Not mine." He wasn't sure what was going on but it surprised him that the group was so sullen. Buck had described the group as a fun bunch always joking with one another.

"I got it." Chris snapped open his phone and stood to move away from the table. He plugged his ear as he pressed the phone to the other one and strained to hear over the growing din of the room. "Larabee." He knew it was Vin.

"Hey Cowboy."

"What's going on?" Chris could feel the others watching him closely but knew they couldn't hear him.

"I picked up Ezra. I'm heading out to your place." Vin looked over to check on Ezra and turned up the heat a notch. Ezra hadn't quit shivering since he'd gotten into the jeep.

"My place?" Chris frowned. Why would Vin be taking him way out there when his mother was in town. "what's going on?" He asked again.

"Not sure."

"What did Ezra say?"

"He's not talking Chris." Vin caught movement out of the corner of his eye as Ezra wiped at his face.

"What do you mean he's not talking?" Chris was getting frustrated with Vin's short answers.

"He's really out of it. Can you just get out to the ranch?"

"All of us."


"You want me to bring Maude and Dave too?" Chris tried to gauge the situation and get a few answers.

"I don't give a shit what you do with Maude or Dave." Vin jumped as Ezra tensed and grabbed his arm pulling the phone away from his ear slightly.

"Please." Vin could only read terror in Ezra's green eyes.

"Don't even let them know where you're going Chris." Vin added as he looked back at the road. Ezra released his arm and sank back against the passenger side door.

"Fine by me." Chris had heard Ezra's hoarse plea.

"We'll be out as soon as we can." He clicked the phone closed and returned to the table. "We gotta go." He said.

"What is it?" Nathan asked with concern.

Chris just shook his head and directed his gaze at Maude and Dave. "Sorry to have to cut this short. Do you need Josiah to take you to Ezra's?"

"That won't be necessary Chris." Dave spoke up. Chris cringed inwardly at the familiarity this man showed. "I have my rental here. Maude and I are going to get some dinner and do some catching up. I'll make sure she gets home safe and sound." Chris gave him a short nod.

"What's the emergency Mr. Larabee?" Maude asked.

"It's confidential." He answered. He laid some bills on the table next to his drink and signaled to the others it was time to go.

"What's wrong Chris?" Nathan asked again when they were far enough away from the table not to be overheard. "It's Ezra isn't it?"


"He hurt?" JD asked.

"Not physically. We're going to my place."


A half an hour later the five anxious men found Vin sitting in Chris' living room sipping a cup of hot coffee.

"Where is he?" Chris asked sitting on the couch and noting his friend was now wearing his clothes.

"In the back bedroom changing his clothes."

"He okay?" Josiah asked.

Vin looked at the older man. "I really don't know."


Ezra stepped into the gray sweat pants and pulled the draw string tight. They were a little long for him but at the moment he didn't care. He reached for the long sleeved t-shirt Vin had provided and quickly pulled it over his head. He couldn't seem to quit trembling. Ezra knew that everyone would be here when he stepped out of the room and right now it felt like a sanctuary. His insides twisted with the knowledge that he was a coward. What kind of man runs away in fear of another? Certainly not Chris' kind or Vin's kind. No, somehow he alone fell into that category. Ezra sat on the edge of the bed and wearily buried his face in his hands. Wincing he pulled back and looked at his bruised and torn palms. When did that happen? He closed his eyes but opened them immediately as the memories started to descend. Maybe he could get through this if he could just keep his eyes open. He jumped at the knock on the door.

"Ezra?" It was Vin.

"Come in." Ezra didn't look up as the door opened. Vin leaned casually against a dresser.

"You gonna come out of here tonight?"

"I'm considering."

"Ain't gonna do you any good to hide away in here."

Ezra's head snapped up and he glared at Vin. "What the hell do you know about what will do me good?"

Vin never blinked. "Know you're hurting and you have friends out there that want to help."

"They can't."

"You once said we helped just by being there. I reckon that's what we're offering this time."

Ezra stood and crossed his arms in front of him as a shudder swept over him. "This time is different." Park's face flashed before him and he knew he was going to be sick again. " I gotta go." Pushing past Vin he hurried across the hall and into the bathroom.

Vin waited in the hall for him to come out. "Feel better?"

Ezra shot a look of annoyance. "Hardly."

"Come on out into the living room."

Pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger Ezra sighed. " I don't see as I have much of a choice."


Ezra felt like every person in the room turned in unison to stare at him as they entered the living room. He couldn't look at them. He let Vin steer him to the couch and push him down. Chris was sitting next to him. Shifting uneasily Ezra pushed himself as far into the corner of the couch as possible without physically cowering. 'Cowering,' he thought 'if the shoe fits.' He ran a trembling hand over his face and stared at the coffee table.

"You want some coffee Ezra?" Josiah was just bringing a handful of mugs in to everybody.

Ezra's stomach lurched. "No."

Buck couldn't stand it any more. "What the hell is going on?"

"Buck." Josiah tried to calm him, but Buck ignored him.

"It's him isn't it?" Wilmington's voice grew louder as he spoke. "It's Parks. I spent an entire week with that bastard and I want to know."

Ezra jerked back like he'd been slapped when Buck said Park's name.

"Shut up Buck!" Chris barked.

"You shut up!" Buck stepped forward. " I need to know dammit. That man is, is..."

"Not bad for a paper pusher." Ezra's low statement descended on the room like a hammer.

Buck staggered back a moment before moving to Ezra's side. "Ezra come on. Please I didn't know."

Ezra nodded. "What's to know?" He asked. It didn't matter any more. He was falling apart and he was falling apart in front of the only family he'd ever known. The only men he'd ever truly trusted were seeing him for what he really was, nothing.

"Ezra." Buck touched Ezra's shoulder.

Ezra recoiled instantly at the touch and jumped to his feet. Quickly he moved to the sliding glass doors and stood staring out at the night. The rain had let up some but was still coming down.

"Everything was coming down." He thought running a hand through his hair. He caught the reflections of the others behind him. Josiah squeezing Buck's shoulder in comfort. Vin standing quietly a few steps behind him.

JD had turned around in his chair and was watching him. "Don't shut us out Ez, we're here remember?"

Ezra closed his eyes. "So is he." He leaned his head forward against the cool glass. Another memory attacked in the darkness. Parks was standing over him laughing. "Well look at it this way kid." he paused looking down to zip up his pants. "at least you're good for something so quit your blubbering or I'll make sure you have something to really cry about."

Ezra heard movement behind him and opened his eyes again to make sure everyone kept back. His own reflection stared back at him. He blinked and looked again at his slouched shoulders, his eyes swollen with emotion and filled with terror. His hair was a disheveled mess. "Coward." he whispered. Suddenly the rage and shame was more than he could bare and he launched himself at the reflection, screaming "You fucking coward!"

Vin heard Ezra's whisper of 'coward' and the rest of the room heard the second reference but none of them were prepared for the violence that erupted. They reacted in slow motion at first hardly believing that Ezra was screaming and throwing himself at the glass door. The first loud crack of glass snapped them into action.

"Shit." Chris was on his feet.

Vin reached Ezra first but was thrown off before he could get a hold of Ezra's fists. "Ezra stop!" he yelled as he picked himself up off the floor.

"You fucking good for nothing son of a bitch!" Ezra was sobbing as he attacked the glass, heedless that it was splintering and cracking. Strong arms wrapped around his chest pulling him back and away from his target. Instinctively Ezra threw his head back.

"Damn!" Chris cried out releasing Ezra and grabbing his nose as stars and lights flashed before him. He felt someone grab him and steady him.

"Easy Chris." JD whispered.

Buck tried to grab Ezra but ended up falling back and knocking Josiah and Nathan to the floor.

"Ezra!" Josiah shouted just as the sliding door shattered around their friend.

Ezra stumbled through the jagged opening and onto the porch, glass embedding into his arms and feet. Blood streamed down his face where a shard had caught him along the hair line. He blinked through the warm liquid, struggled to his feet and ran into the night.

Chris fought with the door trying to force it open so that no one else would get cut trying to get through the broken glass. He searched anxiously for a sign of Ezra. They had no idea how badly he might be cut and right now they had no idea what else he might do to himself. Finally the door released and with Josiah's help they slid it back enough for all of them to get out.

Vin was out first running into the rain and shouting for Ezra. "We have to find him Chris." He gasped as Chris caught up to him.

"We will."

"There!" JD pointed towards the drive way.

Ezra was running down the gravel towards the road.

"Get him off the drive and into the grass!" Chris yelled as they started running.

Ezra could hear footsteps coming up fast behind him and knew he had to run faster but couldn't coax any more speed from his abused legs. A shadow on his right made him veer left. The shadow moved forward slightly in front of him and another shadow took it's place. He turned abruptly and took off across the field in front of Chris' house.

Buck saw his opportunity as soon as JD and Vin caught up with Ezra and steered him off the gravel. Launching himself forward he wrapped his arms around Ezra's legs and brought him down in a tackle.

Ezra fought with all that was left in him. His legs confined in a solid lock he swung at his assailant with his arms. His elbow connected with Buck's head knocking him off center and loosening his grip on Ezra's legs. Ezra felt his opportunity and kicked out, not hearing the grunt of pain as he knocked the air out of his friend. Again Ezra staggered to his feet but this time arms locked around his chest and pinned his arms to his side.

Josiah caught Ezra just as he got to his feet.

"Watch his head!" Chris shouted his warning in time for Josiah to turn out of the way of Ezra's skull.

"Let me go!" Ezra screamed. He kicked at Josiah's legs, then twisting around brought his left leg behind Josiah and kicked with what power he could from that angle at the back of Josiah's knee. Josiah's leg buckled and both men went down but Josiah didn't let go.

"Let go!" Ezra continued to twist and fight.

"Ezra stop." Josiah commanded over the struggling. When Ezra kept fighting Vin stepped forward and carefully restrained his flailing legs.

"Easy." Josiah breathed in Ezra's ear.

Ezra shook his head. "Let me go." He pleaded.

"Not until you calm down."

"Such a fucking coward." Ezra tried to struggle again.

"Stop it!" Josiah tightened his grasp. "Come on Brother, we need you here."

Ezra's movements stilled. "No." he whispered. He had no strength left as he lay there pinned to the wet ground. As suddenly as his rage had appeared it was gone, replaced with a hollow emptiness.

Josiah felt Ezra go limp in his arms. "Ezra?" he asked quietly trying to keep his voice steady.

"Let me go Josiah." Ezra's southern accent was low and thick.

"Are you calm?"

"Yes." Ezra lied.

Slowly Josiah and Vin released him and moved back to give him space. The rain had stopped finally but all seven men shivered in the chilled damp air. Ezra lay on his back staring up at the sky and letting the cold seep into him He would give anything right then to feel something besides fear.

Chris appeared over him and without a word grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet. Ezra expected a physical blow but instead Chris simply turned him around and gently pushed him toward the house.

Ezra didn't look at the shattered remains of the door or into the faces of any of the men around him as he let himself be led inside. Chris pushed him into the main bathroom and pointed to the toilet.

"Sit down and take off your shirt." He ordered evenly.

Ezra closed the seat lid and sat down wearily. Following Chris' instructions he pulled off the wet shirt and waited. The shirt was taken from his hands and he heard it land in the bath tub with a dull thud. He didn't bother to look up when Nathan entered with a handful of first aid supplies.

Chris stepped back out of Nathan's way but never took his eyes off Ezra. He watched as Nathan searched Ezra's arms for any bits of glass. Tiny cuts bled lightly creating abstract designs from his shoulder to his hands. Carefully Nathan cleaned and bandaged Ezra's hands worked on the cut on his forehead.

"You might need stitches for some of these." Nathan commented. "Any cuts on your legs?"

Ezra shook his head.

"Check his feet." Chris reminded.

Vin popped his head into the cramped room. "There's dry clothes for Ezra in on your bed Chris."

"Thanks." Chris didn't take his eyes from Ezra. The smaller man continued to sit completely still as Nathan checked his feet. They'd forgotten he had been barefoot.

"Damn lucky there Ez." The former medic said as he bandaged the soles of Ezra's feet. "No major cuts. It's going to hurt a bit to walk though." With that Nathan was finished. He exchanged a worried look with Chris and left the room.

"Go change." Chris said.

Ezra nodded and moved out of the bathroom. As he left Chris closed his eyes and banged his head lightly against the wall. His whole face throbbed from it's impromptu collision with the back of Ezra's head. He didn't want to go out into the living room and see the damage there. He didn't want to see the physical reminders of what Ezra was dealing with. He remembered what it felt like to be filled with that kind of rage. So over powering and uncontrolable. Chris didn't know if he could admit it to the others but Ezra was scaring him. Running a hand through his hair he took a couple of deep breaths before he was ready to face the others. Maybe Josiah would have some answers.


Ezra entered Chris' bedroom and locked the door behind him. He moved quickly to the bed and changed into the waiting clothes. Searching the floor he found a pair of sneakers to pull onto his bruised feet. Like the rest of the clothes they were a little big for him. He wondered absently if Chris actually had anything large enough for Josiah to change into.

Everyone needed dry clothes now, thanks to him.

Ezra looked around the room then, getting his barrings. He eyed the window for a moment wondering what his chances for escape would be if he could get out unnoticed. He knew Vin kept his keys in the jeep. He could climb out, run around the back of the house, slip the jeep into neutral and push it down the drive. By the time he had to start the thing he'd have enough of a head start that he could probably lose anybody who tried to follow him pretty quickly. It wasn't much but it was the only plan he could come up with.

Getting up he moved silently into the small bathroom connected to Chris' room. He turned on the water and splashed his face a few times. Standing up he stared at his reflection in the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet. A half hour ago he'd felt nothing but hatred toward the man looking back at him. Now he felt nothing. Nothing. He hated that word and the memories it stirred. He tried to fight them but his brain refused to obey his commands. He could feel the body on top of him pinning him helplessly to the bed. "Who are you going to tell Ezra? Nobody will believe you." Parks grunted into his ear. "You know why?" The harsh voice dropped to a whisper as brutal hands tore at him. "You're nothing to them, understand? Nothing."

Ezra shook his head to chase away the image. "Nothing." He said out loud. Even his voice sounded hollow to him, empty, filled with nothing. He stood there a moment before reaching up and opening the medicine cabinet. He let his eyes sweep over the row of small bottles, reading each label quickly. He focused on a nearly full prescription of pain killers and a half a bottle of muscle relaxants. He probably wouldn't need both, but together they would insure he accomplished what he wanted. Maybe this was the better plan, to just make everything go away.

He reached forward slowly as if fearing the bottles might actually come to life and jump out at him. He let his fingers just barely touch the plastic, tracing over the cap, feeling the ridges beneath his finger tips. It would be so easy, just a few sips of water and he could lay down and drift off to oblivion...on Chris' bed. Chris, Buck, Nathan, Josiah, Vin and JD, their faces swirled through his head. Abruptly he let his hand drop and slammed the cabinet closed. "Damn you." he hissed bowing his head.


Ezra jumped and staggered backwards at the sound of Chris' tight voice.


Chris watched silently as Josiah and Buck cleaned glass off the floor. Buck was savagely beating a broom against the floor as he swiped at the larger pieces. Josiah had a handful of wet towels and was patting down the areas Buck had already swept.

"He's okay right?" JD asked breaking the silence.

"He didn't get any deep cuts or anything." Nathan answered him. "Feet are pretty banged up from the gravel though."

Buck stopped taking his anger out on the broom for a minute. "What happened here?"

Nobody answered right away and he went back to sweeping, the room filling with the steady swish, swish as the bristles struck against the hard wood floor.

Josiah finally stood upright and rubbed at his back. "He's angry."

"We're all angry Josiah." Nathan pointed out.

"Yeah but we're angry with Parks." Josiah tossed the paper towels into a trash can he'd brought in from the kitchen. "Ezra's mad at himself."

"Why?" JD didn't understand.

Josiah didn't know if he could explain. "JD there's a lot of emotion rolling around in Ezra right now and he's been taught all of his life to control it. He's dealing with these memories and trying to hold all that rage inside. He can't."

"But shouldn't he be mad at Parks? He's the one who hurt him." JD pointed out logically.

Chris moved down the hall to his bedroom as silence once again descended in the living room. He turned the door knob and frowned to find it locked. Pulling his wallet out of his back pocket Chris extracted a rarely used credit card. The lock on this door was touchy and this wasn't the first time he'd had to break into his own bedroom. When he didn't see Ezra he looked first at the windows but they were both closed. Then he heard the water running in the bath room.

Chris peered into the bathroom just as Ezra opened the medicine cabinet. He could see the raw emotion and pain on the younger man's face. He held his breath as he watched Ezra reach for and lightly touched the prescription bottles. More than anything he wanted to barge into the tiny room and angrily pull Standish away from the temptation but he waited. He'd let Ezra make his choice first, then he'd step in.

Suddenly Ezra's hand dropped to his side and he slammed the medicine cabinet closed.

"Damn you." Chris heard him hiss.

Stepping into the doorway Chris crossed his arms in front of him. "Ezra." he said simply, not quite able to keep his receding anger out of his voice.

Ezra spun and jumped backwards like a startled animal. His eyes filled with a combination of fear and shame. "H-how long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough." Chris nodded towards the medicine cabinet. "What made you choose to leave those in there?"

Ezra looked at the tiled floor and wondered if it was possible to debase himself any further in front of this man. Sighing heavily he ran his fingers through his hair. "I remembered a promise."

Chris stepped into the bath room and turned the faucets off. He rested back against the sink not caring that he was infringing on Ezra's personal space. "Must have been a hell of a promise because you looked pretty determined there for a second."

Ezra looked up and glared at Chris. "Subtlety does not become you so just leave it alone."

Chris' eyes flashed as he struck out. He grabbed Ezra's arms and threw him back against the wall pinning him there. "That better?" He growled. "Is this what you want? Anger? Well I am angry Ezra. I'm mad as hell cause there are six men in this house who would give their lives to defend yours and I find you in here about to throw it all away. I want to know why."

Ezra let out a short bitter laugh. "Why not?" he asked.

"Don't play that game Ezra."

Ezra looked down and shifted slightly in Chris' grasp. "I don't know what you..."

Chris gave the smaller man a rough shake and tightened his grip. He leaned forward until his face was only a few inches away from Ezra's. "Look at me." He demanded, waiting for green eyes to meet his before continuing. "No matter what you throw at me, I'm staying right here. You can scream at me, you can destroy my house, you can break my damn nose but I am here to stay. Understand?"

Ezra nodded slowly.

"Good." Chris backed up a step and released his hold on his friend.

Ezra let out a slow shaky breath. "Why?" He asked. "Why stay?"

Chris smiled and tapped the medicine cabinet as he spoke. "I trust a man who keeps his promises."


Ezra allowed himself to be steered back out into the living room. Vin and Josiah were just finishing hammering a large piece of plywood over the broken door. Ezra glanced at it a moment and quickly turned away. It only reminded him of how badly he had lost control.

"It's time to talk." Chris said pushing Ezra down into a chair.

The room was quiet except for the movements of men finding places to sit. Ezra stared at his hands, fascinated suddenly by the dark stains appearing through some places on the bandages.

He knew they were waiting for him to begin this time. Sighing, he took a deep breath. "I apologize for my unfortunate outburst." His throat ached as he determinedly held back his emotions.

"Ezra." Buck started but Ezra held up his hand signaling he wanted to continue.

"I shouldn't have allowed myself to lose control," was all he managed before his voice broke.

"Hell Ezra, how long did you actually think you could keep all that rage bottled up inside and not lose control?" Nathan asked.

Ezra raised his head but didn't look at anyone in particular. He was afraid if someone looked into his eyes they would know he had considered running out on them with finality. "I thought I had dealt with my past." He admitted.

"When's the last time you saw Parks?" Josiah asked. "Your Mother seems to have kept in touch with him somewhat."

Ezra frowned." She did for a while but I never..." He scratched at the cut on his forehead.

"Leave it alone Ez." Nathan reprimanded lightly.

Ezra nodded in uncharacteristic obedience and sighed. " I haven't seen him since I stayed with him. Twenty years, give or take a few, and when I saw him tonight my first reaction was to flee." Shame laced his voice.

"Twenty years ago you were a little boy." Josiah soothed. "Must have been pretty scared and confused."

"But I'm a grown man now, Josiah." Ezra looked at the older man. "I'm not ten any more."

"Doesn't mean you aren't still scared or confused." JD pointed out.

Ezra paled slightly. "Regardless of my apprehension,there is no excuse for the histrionics I have put on display this evening." Gently he pushed himself out of the chair. "If someone would be so kind as to return me to the saloon I can retrieve my car and go home."

"You're staying here tonight Ezra." Chris told him, "and we aren't done talking."

"My mother is in town, Mr. Larabee. She will question it if I do not return to my own apartment tonight."

"Ezra." Chris glared.

"What more do you want me to say Chris?" Ezra asked, his voice tightening. "I've admitted I lost control. I've apologized. I see no reason to continue this discussion."

"I do."

"Why?" Ezra looked at Chris. "You enforcing group therapy now? You want me to share my feelings?" His tone was biting.

"Ezra calm down." Vin said.

"Please Mr. Tanner, have no fear. The doors and windows are safe from any further harm from me." Ezra glanced briefly at Vin as he spoke.

"We're just trying to help Ezra. We can't let you go home by yourself when you're this upset." Buck explained.

"Why Buck? Do you need to hear all the gory details first?" Ezra snapped.

"Ezra stop." Chris demanded.

"Why? That's what you all want right? To hear what he did to me? You want to hear that every time I close my eyes I can remember. I can feel his hands on me. I can smell his breath. I can feel the weight of him... I can hear his damn voice." Ezra's legs seemed to give out then and he sank back into the chair, his hands immediately covering his face as he struggled with the memories and the shame of admitting them.

There was a long pause before anyone spoke. It was Buck that found his voice first. "What we want, Ezra, is for you to know that you can tell us these things if you need to and understand that we're not going to think any less of you for it."

"You can't think less of nothing." Ezra mumbled into his hands. He leaned back in the chair keeping his eyes closed. It was like a heavy blanket of exhaustion had descended at once, accompanied by waves of dizziness.

Nathan watched with concern as Ezra sank deeper into the chair. "Ezra you need to get some rest."

"I need to go home." Ezra mumbled.

"You're sleeping here tonight Ezra." Chris reminded him.

"My mother,"

"I'll call Maude." Josiah told him. "You get some rest."

Ezra could barely nod. He didn't know why he was suddenly so tired.

"Come on Ez." He heard Vin next to him. "Let's get you to the guest room."

He was aware of someone assisting him to a bed and pulling the shoes off his feet. He groaned. "Sorry Ezra." JD's apology was the last thing he heard as he drifted to sleep.


Buck ran his hands roughly over his face trying to suppress the rising anger he felt. What began as a fun Friday night with the guys had turned to hell, and he was the one who'd invited the devil.

"It's not your fault Buck." Chris sat down on the couch beside him and handed him a beer.

"I brought him tonight." Buck responded taking a long swig.

"Yeah, but come Monday you and him are suppose to start in on the files we have in the office. How do you think Ezra would have handled seeing him at work?"

"Aw hell, I didn't even remember about that." Buck looked at his close friend. "What are we going to do Chris?"

Chris looked at his own bottle of beer for a moment as if studying it for an answer. He was distracted by Josiah's phone conversation before he could answer Buck.

"It was a minor accident Maude but we don't think he should drive right now." Josiah was pinching the bridge of his nose and looking very frustrated. "He's going to stay at Chris' tonight. Yes, I understand that but it's late and you wouldn't get much visiting in anyway, he's exhausted. Right, fine then. I doubt it'll be morning but yes he'll return home tomorrow afternoon. Good night to you too." With a heavy sigh Josiah replaced the phone on its base. "Maude's taken care of."

Chris smiled wryly, glad that he didn't volunteer to make the call. "You all planning on spending the night here too?" He already knew the answer, five heads nodded.

Buck brought him back to their conversation. "So what can we do about Parks? I don't want to work with him any more, I might kill him." His eyes flashed with anger as he spoke.

"I'll call the Washington office tomorrow, see if I can get through to anybody on a Saturday. Monday though I'll make sure they understand we can't work with him." Chris took another sip of his beer.

"Do you think Ezra will press charges?" JD asked.

"It was twenty years ago Kid." Vin reminded. "Even if the statute of limitations hasn't run out I doubt Ezra would be willing to take anything to court. He's torn up enough just talking about it to us."

"I still don't understand why he's so mad at himself." JD got up to go get himself a glass of milk. "I mean so what if he got mad. It's not like any of us have never punched a hole in the wall or something like that when we're angry."

"You know Maude, JD." Josiah said. "Woman made a point to keep Ezra from showing how he felt for years. She raised him to believe that being in control was everything. Breaking down is weakness to Ezra."

There was a comfortable pause before JD spoke up again. "You don't think Ezra would do anything drastic do you?"

"What do you mean?" Buck asked.

JD shifted nervously. "I mean he seems so mad at himself. You saw him, he went nuts punching the door. He could have really hurt himself. What if ... you know, he tries to hurt himself."

"He won't" Chris assured emphatically.

"How do you know?" Nathan asked.

Chris was quiet as he starred at his beer. Inwardly he debated what to tell them. Vin sensed it immediately.

"What happened?" he asked.

"When I went to bring him back out here," Chris looked up at them. "I found him in my bathroom with the medicine cabinet open."

"That son of a .." Nathan began.

"Just listen." Chris cut him off sternly. "He didn't know I was there so I just watched him a minute. He stood there and made his decision."

"And." Buck prodded.

"He closed the door."

"Is that suppose to reassure us?" Nathan asked. "We should have someone in there watching him."

"No." Chris said.

Nathan was furious that the southerner would even think of suicide. "If he even considered it once he might again."

"No, he won't." Chris insisted.

"Why not?"

"For the same reason he told me the first time. After he closed the cabinet I talked to him. Said he couldn't hurt himself cause of a promise he'd made."

"And what promise was that?" Josiah asked.

"Not to run out on us."


Vin stirred slightly in the chair he had dozed of in. He rolled his neck once, trying to work out the kinks. The living room was now almost dark, only one light shining in the corner. JD was curled up in a ball on the couch with just the top of his head sticking out of the blanket Buck had thrown over him. Buck was stretched out in the other chair, snoring lightly and looking like he was on the verge of sliding off the cushion and onto the floor.

Soft murmuring caught Vin's attention and he turned to see Nathan, Josiah and Chris hunched over cups of coffee at the dining room table. He could see in the soft light that none of them had gotten any sleep, instead they were content to stay up and ready in case they were needed. Stretching, Vin stood and decided to check on Ezra. He nodded to Chris and Josiah as he walked past them. Nathan had his back to him but he heard the former medic speaking in hushed tones. "I hope he's sleeping well. All that emotion wore him out. He needs rest to get through this."

Vin stood for a moment in the dark hallway looking at the bedroom door. Hearing nothing he quietly turned the knob and slipped inside. The moon had come out and through the far window lit the room just enough for Vin to see without the help of artificial light. He stepped closer to the bed, listening as Ezra whispered in his sleep but unable to make out the words. Smiling to himself he moved over to the window seat and cleared a bunch of pillows away. He leaned back into the corner where the wall met the window, enjoying the cool feel of the glass on his face.

Vin wasn't sure when he'd drifted off . One minute he'd been watching the stars in the now clear sky, the next he was yanked from sleep by the sounds of Ezra thrashing around.

Vin watched as Ezra tossed and turned, not quite sure whether to try and wake him from the nightmare or not. Ezra's cry of panic spurred him out of his indecision.

"Ezra wake up." He approached carefully. "Come on Ezra, you're just dreaming." Vin sat on the edge of the bed and touched Ezra's shoulder lightly. "Wake up Ez."

Ezra jerked away from his touch and sat up instantly. His green eyes glazed over and darting around the room. It was obvious he was still in his dream.

"Ezra wake up, it's Vin." Vin felt a wave of déjà vu and remembered when he caught up to Ezra in the street. "Look at my eyes Ezra." He commanded gently. "There's nothing to be afraid of, you're safe here." He tried to sound reassuring.

No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Ezra's face crumpled into tears.


"Nothing." Ezra's voice was childlike. "I'm nothing." He whispered through light sobs.

"Ezra I need you to wake up." Vin said.

Ezra just sobbed, lost somewhere in his past.

Vin leaned closer. "Ezra wake up!" He reached out and grabbed Ezra's shoulder again, this time shaking the man lightly.

Ezra jumped with a startled gasp and looked around the room again. His eyes met Vin's and this time they were alert with recognition. Ezra blinked and wiped a hand across his eyes clearing the remaining tears. "Good Lord." He rasped. "Why is it I continue to find the need to humiliate myself in front of you Mr.Tanner?"

Vin frowned. "You aren't humiliating anyone Ezra."

Standish laughed roughly and flopped back onto the bed, bringing his hands up over his face. If he could just avoid looking at anyone, forever.

"Every thing okay in here?" Nathan opened the door. "I thought I heard you two." He entered carrying a handful of bandages. Chris and Josiah followed him. Ezra moved his hands and groaned.

"I want to check those cuts Ezra." Nathan told him, adopting his caregiver tone.

"Do you need an audience in order to perform?" Ezra asked as Buck and a very sleepy looking JD shuffled into the room.

Josiah grabbed a couple of pillows that Vin had abandoned on the floor and motioned for Ezra to sit up.

"I am capable of sitting up under my own power Josiah." Ezra tried to protest.

"You need to take it easy." Josiah said as he helped prop Ezra up.

"Take off your shirt." Nathan commanded. He ignored JD's sharp intake of breath at the site of the red welts adorning Ezra's arms. It had slipped his mind that Chris and Vin were the only ones that had actually seen the extent of damage left from the window. Checking the wounds quickly Nathan moved to the southerner's hands.

Ezra winced as Nathan gripped his hand and began to unwrap it. He squirmed uncomfortably under the watchful gaze of his six friends. "Do all of you really have to be in here right now?" He asked trying not to whine.

Chris shot him a small grin. "Yup. Looks like you're stuck with us."

"So I'm beginning to understand." Ezra murmured.

"About damn time." Buck grunted with a wink.


Nathan had allowed Ezra a quick shower before rebandaging his hands. Now dressed and feeling a little more ready to face the day, Ezra joined the others for breakfast.

Josiah was standing in the kitchen serving up plates of scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns. Ezra wrinkled his nose as Nathan lightly shoved a full plate into his hands. "Eat or one of us will feed you."

Ezra raised an eyebrow and accompanied it with a look of innocence. "Such vehemence Mr. Jackson." He said as he moved to an empty chair at the table.

Nathan didn't back down. "Just eat it."

"Hey isn't that an old Weird Al song? A rip off of Michael Jackson's 'Beat it'?" JD asked shoving a forkful of potatoes into his mouth.

"Like you've ever listened to anything by Michael Jackson, let alone something from before you were born!" Buck said.

"Hey, I was born before that song came out!" JD protested.

"Yeah but be thankful you were too young to enjoy it's popularity." Chris told him.

"I'm not that young." JD mumbled into his food.

"How are you doing Ez?" Vin asked.

Ezra looked at the sharpshooter and smiled. " I'd be better if everyone would stop asking me how I am."

"That's not likely to happen for a while." Vin admitted.

" So I gathered." Twirling the fork in his fingers Ezra began to pick at his food.

"You better eat that." Chris said nodding to the food. Ezra looked at him for an explanation. "I don't want to be the one Nathan recruits to force feed you."

Ezra smirked sarcastically. "I will not be force fed. I assure you I will eat enough to appease Mr.Jackson."

Vin watched Ezra take a few bites and exchanged a look with Chris. "Can I ask you something Ezra?" he finally asked.


"It's about your dream." Ezra's fork stopped midway to his mouth and quickly returned to his plate. He fiddled nervously with his napkin. "Go on."

"Before you woke up, you said 'I'm nothing'. Why would you say that?"

Ezra focused on maintaining a calm expression. He heard Nathan and Josiah enter from the kitchen and take their seats. He knew they'd heard the question and now like the others they were waiting for his answer. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was a war going on. Parks' words "you're nothing to them," countered by Chris telling him in no uncertain terms that there was no possible way to push him or the others away.

"When I lived with Parks," Ezra took a deep breath before continuing, "in order to keep me from telling anyone what he was doing, he was careful to point out regularly that no one would listen to me."

"What'd he say?" JD asked.

Ezra closed his eyes. "He pointed out that no one I knew would care to interfere."

"Why not?" Nathan reached for a piece of toast.

"Because I was nothing to them." Ezra managed to say it evenly and actually keep his tone normal. Oncehe'd voiced the thought he opened his eyes and refocused on his meal.

"You know that's not true don't you Ezra?" Josiah broke the heavy silence. "Even if it was," Josiah went on meeting Ezra's gaze, "it's not now, regardless of whether you're able to reconcile the difference or not."

Ezra smiled but didn't say anything. He found it suddenly impossible to talk or eat around the lump that had settled in his throat.


Ezra and Buck sat listening to Chris arguing into the phone. Buck watched Ezra,noting that he appeared nothing but his nonchalant self. Only the brief meeting of his eyes allowed Buck to see the nerves he was fighting.

Chris slammed down the phone in frustration.

"Everything okay cowboy?" Vin asked coming in from the kitchen where he and JD had just finished loading the dishwasher.

"Washington office is closed for the weekend." Chris said wearily. "I can't get through to anyone." He looked at Ezra. "Looks like you'll be working from home at least on Monday."

"I can come into the office Chris." Ezra sounded confident.

"I don't want you to." Chris responded. "In fact, I'm considering we all call in sick. Let the bastard sit in the conference room by himself for three days for all I care."

"What don't you care about?" Nathan asked. He entered the room followed by Josiah,carrying a large laundry basket of clean, dry clothes. "Laundry's done but it's up to you to fold your own stuff."

Josiah laughed as Ezra's head snapped up. "Don't worry Brother, we didn't even attempt to clean your suit."

Ezra relaxed visibly and smiled somewhat sheepishly. "It's dry clean only, probably beyond repair anyway." He'd have to be content to wear Chris' clothes for the time being.

"Oh that reminds me," Vin headed for the sliding doors, "I have your suit jacket out in the ..." he'd gotten the boarded up door halfway open when he stopped. The rest of the room could hear a car coming up the driveway.

"Who is it?" Chris asked Vin.

"I don't recognize the car." Vin squinted at the shadowy figures inside the approaching vehicle. "Aw hell." He groaned angrily.

"What?" Buck stood up. Vin looked at him then to Ezra.

"It's Maude."

Ezra met his gaze knowing instantly why Vin was upset. "He's with her isn't he?" He asked.

Vin nodded.

"What the hell was she thinking bringing him here?" Buck shouted.

"Buck." Chris warned as he tried to suppress his own anger.

"Ezra why would your mother bring him here after what he did to you?" JD asked.

"I'm not positive my mother is aware of the history between Parks and myself, Mr. Dunne." Ezra said calmly.

"Do you want to wait in the other room?" Josiah asked softly.

Ezra shook his head as he got to his feet realizing for the first time that he could feel the bruises from the night before now. They reminded him that he had lost control and tried to run. He was not going to run today. If he had to face Parks, he would. He must have wavered while he stood there cause he suddenly felt Chris' hand on his shoulder. "We won't let him in the house. You concentrate on dealing with your mother."

"All right."

Chris squeezed Ezra's shoulder and went out onto the porch with Vin.

"Good morning, Mr. Larabee." Maude smiled as she approached them. Parks' held on to her elbow in a gentlemanly fashion escorting her towards the house.

"Morning Maude." Chris' voice was devoid of pleasantries. "Ezra is inside. I'd like to talk to Mr. Parks out here though."

If Maude was surprised at all by his request she never let on. Instead she acquiesced without argument. "Why certainly. I'll leave you gentlemen to your business then." She looked somewhat condescendingly in Vin's direction and with a curious glance at the make shift plywood door entered the house.

Parks looked up at the two agents, standing a foot and a half taller than him thanks to their vantage point on the porch. He knew Larabee was a formidable agent, intimidating even. His team had one of the best records in the agency and one of the highest injury reports, which was why he was here in the first place. Just a routine check on files and cases to make sure the paper work filed by team seven was the actual paper work received by the main office for insurance purposes. Too many middle men often took it upon themselves to adjust reports to their personal advantage and it fell to Parks to go back and compare original reports with received reports. A boring job for most but he didn't mind. He tended to find adventure else where.

Somehow looking up at the stone faces of Larabee and Tanner, he didn't believe this was about insurance. "What did you need Chris?" Parks asked casually.

Chris looked down at the man with contempt. "It's Larabee to you." He growled.

"Is there a problem?" Parks shifted nervously.

"I'll say there's a problem." Buck stepped out onto the porch followed by Josiah, Nathan and JD.

"Buck!" Parks was relieved to see his new friend until he saw the rage and hatred emanating off of the dark haired man. "What?" He asked.

Buck stepped down off the porch and stood shoulder to shoulder beside the smaller man. "I've shared a lot about this team with you this last week, now haven't I?" Buck asked.

"Sure you have." Parks looked up at the men on the porch.

"Told you more than once we're like family, didn't I?"

"Yes. What's this all about?"

"Why didn't you mention you knew Ezra?" Buck asked harshly.

"I- I don't know what you mean." Parks looked sideways at Buck, disturbed that he wasn't looking at him.

"You know a whole lot of folks named Standish?"

Parks shook his head. "No, I just wasn't making the connection. Ezra stayed with me a long time ago. We haven't had any contact since, I guess I'd forgotten..."

Buck whirled around and grabbed Parks by his lapel, throwing him against the wooden railing of the porch. "Must be nice to be able to forget." He hissed, slamming him again for emphasis.

"What are you talking about? Someone help me." Parks' pleaded with Chris or Vin as they came down off the porch and stood on either side of Buck, backing him up.

"Ezra hasn't forgotten." Buck said.

Parks met Buck's angry blue eyes as the realization dawned on him. Buck nodded sarcastically. "Yeah your memory is starting to clear there now ain't it?"

"I don't know what you are talking about and as far as what you might be implying.."

"I'm not implying anything Agent Parks." Buck snarled. "Think the head office would be interested to know one of their own is just a perverted little man getting his jollies from young boys."

Parks' gasped. "Of all the slanderous accusations.."

"Keep dishing out the protests." Buck flashed a sinister smile.

"Agent Larabee are you going to stand there and let your man attack me physically and make such gross accusations?" Parks demanded, the fear evident in his voice.

Chris shrugged, his tone harsh. "Better him than me, I'd rather just kill you."

Parks' blinked as his fear turned to outrage. He tried to push back against Buck only to be shoved harder against the porch. "You can't do this." He lowered his voice.


Ezra was still gathering himself together when his mother entered the room.

"Ah, Ezra Darling." She moved forward and planted a light kiss on his cheek. "How are you feeling this morning? Mr. Sanchez said you had a bit of an accident last night." She ran a finger gently over the small bandage on his forehead then turned her attention to his hands, not waiting for him to actually explain.

Ezra was thankful he was in a long sleeved shirt. "Yes, it seems I had a fight with a glass door and the door won." Ezra replied candidly.

"Excuse me?" Maude looked up at him, checking to see if he was serious. Then turned as he waved at the plywood where a pane of glass used to be. "What ever on earth were you thinking?" She asked as she lowered herself gracefully onto the couch careful to smooth out any wrinkles in her spring suit.

"I wasn't Mother." Ezra said simply.

"Well, as long as you are all right now dear. I apologize for being here so early but David wants to take us to lunch this afternoon and, good heavens what are you wearing?" Maude finally took in the baggy sweat pants and loose fitting t-shirt as if seeing the attire for the first time.

Ezra smiled. "I had to borrow some clothing from Mr. Larabee last night." He explained.

"He didn't have anything else?" Maude waved a hand over the ensemble distastefully.

"Not at that moment, no."

"You'll need to change before lunch then." Maude looked around the room scrutinizing the decor.

"I'm not going to lunch with you and Parks." Ezra said evenly.

Maude stared at him a minute. "Of course you are. I haven't seen David in almost a decade and it's been two since he's seen you. He's looking forward to catching up."

"I'm sure he is." Ezra retorted bitterly as he sat down next to her. "But I am not going anywhere with him."

"Ezra please."

"Mother, do you have any idea what he did to me while I stayed with him?" Ezra searched Maude's face for any kind of understanding.

"I'm sure what ever it was you can get past it. It's been twenty years after all." Maude sighed fearing that she knew where this talk was going.

"Some things are harder to get past."

"Ezra really, I don't see what he could have done that would cause you to hold a grudge against him for twenty years."

"You weren't there." Ezra pointed out.

"Oh here we go. How many times are you going to use that against me? You know I did the best I could. I always found nice places for you to stay, with people who cared about you."

"Yeah, David cared all right." Ezra retorted.

"What do you mean by that?" Maude asked sharply meeting Ezra's gaze.

"Think about it Mother." They sat there for a moment in silence as Ezra contemplated if he should just come right out and say it.

Before he could, Maude spoke. "You aren't insinuating that David..." her voice faded.

"I'm not insinuating anything." Ezra answered, his emphasis clear.

Maude stood abruptly. "I won't hear this kind of talk." She smoothed her skirt, carefully avoiding looking into her son's eyes at this moment. "If you don't want to have lunch with us fine. I had planned to return to France this week but something of more importance has come up, I'll call you before I go."

Ezra hurried to his feet. "Mother.." He didn't know what to say. She wasn't willing to even consider what he was trying to tell her. Maude looked at him and reached her hand out touching his face lightly, then turned and swept out of the room as if it were full of her royal subjects.


Maude stepped onto the porch unobserved by the men outside. Silently she took in the scene before her. Josiah, Nathan and JD were standing on the porch in almost a military stance. Below them Buck towered over David, trapping him effectively against the porch rail while Vin and Chris stood on either side of him. It was an intimidating scene and she watched in fascination as it unfolded, unwilling to bring attention to herself.

"Agent Larabee are you going to stand there and let your agent attack me physically and make such gross accusations?" She could hear the fear and anger in Parks' voice.

"Better him than me, I'd rather just kill you."Larabee shrugged.

"You can't do this." David's voice lowered. Maude stepped back towards the door slightly just to remain out of sight.

"What's the matter Parks? Hitting to close to home?" Buck leaned in close again.

"I told you, I don't know what you're talking about."

"You can give up the charade. We can see right through it." Buck smiled.

"You see nothing." Parks snapped back angrily. "All you have is the word of a smart assed, good for nothing.."

Buck grabbed Parks by the throat and pulled him towards him. With a forceful shove, he slammed him back into the porch and moved in close. Parks grunted as he struggled to breathe. "You listen to me Parks." Buck tightened his grip, letting his fingers dig into the soft flesh of Parks' throat. "That man is like a brother to me, to us..." He waved his free hand around indicating the others. "His word is more than enough, you understand?"

Buck felt a hand on his shoulder and knew Vin was pulling him back. He released Parks with yet another shove.

Vin stepped forward. "Seems to me it's time for you to get back to Washington, Mr. Parks."

Parks nodded once rubbing at his neck.

"Today." The sharpshooter's voice threatened.

Josiah leaned over the porch rail, startling Parks from behind. "I think you should wait for Maude in the car."

Parks didn't need to be told twice.

Maude swallowed her emotion and stepped forward making her presence known. She smiled at the expressions of the six men before her. Most of the time she viewed these men as an obstacle between her and her son, today she was seeing them in a different light.

"It seems Ezra isn't feeling up to accompanying his mother and her friend to lunch so I'll leave him to your good care." She said lightly.

"It was good to see you, Maude." Josiah told her.

"Thank you Mr. Sanchez."

Chris was closest to the steps and she reached out a hand for him to help her. "Would you escort me to the car, sir?" She flashed a touch of southern charm and Chris rolled his eyes but extended his arm. They walked a few steps in silence before Maude stopped and reached up to kiss him perfunctorily on the cheek. "You take damn good care of my son Mr. Larabee." She whispered, then was moving towards the car before Chris could even register what she had said.

Ezra joined his friends out on the porch and watched in silence as his mother drove away with Parks. He felt his insides twist. His mother was walking away, again.

"How did it go Brother?" Josiah asked, realizing he was there.

Ezra chuckled. "It didn't Mr. Sanchez."

"What do you mean?" JD asked. "Didn't you tell her about him?"

He ran a hand through his hair. "Let's just say my mother was unwilling to listen to 'such talk'." A sad smile crossed his face before his features returned to his normal unreadable countenance. Chris raised an eyebrow and looked back over his shoulder at the dissipating cloud of dust. Why was it that this mother was so determined to keep herself from showing true concern towards her son. Somewhere, from his brief interaction with Maude, Chris knew she was well aware that her son was hurting. He sighed and turned back to his team. Everyone had their own way of dealing with things, he supposed. He was snapped out of his thoughts by Nathan's voice.

"Hey Ezra, you're right hand looks like it's bleeding again. I think you need to go in for stitches."

"Aw hell." Ezra moaned, when was this weekend going to end?


Maude Standish pressed her cellular phone to her ear and listened carefully. She sipped at her scotch, waiting for the burning liquid to calm her trembling nerves.

It had not surprised her that Parks had begged off their lunch date, explaining that he had suddenly been called back to the main office in Washington. He'd taken her back to Ezra's apartment, walked her to the door, bid her the pleasantries of friendship and high tailed it out of there.

From Ezra's apartment Maude had made a couple of phone calls. Within minutes a limousine was there to take her to a hotel suite. Once comfortably settled in her room she had returned to her attention to the task at hand.

Maude scowled. "I don't care how you do it Jack, you just make sure it gets done." She spoke sharply as she swirled her glass, watching the gentle waves of liquor clash with the melting ice cubes until the ice was conquered and caught up in the uncontrollable spin of the drink.

Maude turned her attention back to the conversation. "Jack listen to me. I want you to dig up anything you can. I don't care if you have to plant false evidence, I want this taken care of now!"

She smiled at the man's response. "Good, you keep me updated. I want to know every detail." With a definitive nod she snapped the phone closed and tossed it onto the writing desk. She stared at the glass in her hand again, this time not seeing anything but the bandages on her son's hands this morning. Bandages required because he'd punched through a glass door. She might have shrugged it off in front of him but from her knowledge of her son she knew Ezra had to have been in torment to lose control that drastically. She closed her eyes tightly, commanding the tears to recede. She would not cry. She was Maude Standish after all, well Maude Kensington now, but that didn't matter. What mattered was making sure that Parks was taken care of appropriately. She might not have been able to prevent him from hurting Ezra the first time, but she'd be damned if she was going to sit back and do nothing about it now.


Ezra turned the Jaguar's engine off and leaned his forehead against the steering wheel for a moment. It had been a very long weekend followed by a long Monday. All he wanted now was to get into his apartment and relax with a strong drink and some soothing music.

He winced slightly as he sat back and reached for the car door handle. The stitches in his hand pulled with a sharp sting. Another reminder that his life had been turned upside down yet again. He smiled faintly as he climbed out of the car and locked it up. His might have been turned upside down but he was finally beginning to realize he had friends willing to help him get through it. His thoughts drifted to Saturday. Not much was said about Parks or Maude after they had left. He knew that there had been some kind of confrontation and he was almost sorry he had missed it. Almost, he wasn't sure if he was ready yet to face Parks, part of him still felt like a coward for feeling that way. His mother hadn't called him yet so he assumed she was still in the states. With Maude, you never knew. He felt his heart twist when he thought of his mother, trying not to hold her at fault for her reactions to their brief conversation on Saturday. He knew better than to expect comfort or emotion from her, but he hadn't quite been prepared for her abrupt departure. Maybe it was just too much for her to comprehend, lord knows he'd spent the last twenty years trying to forget it had happened. He really couldn't blame Maude for not wanting to believe it either.

Ezra looked around, realizing he was still standing beside the car. Quickly he moved to his door and searched for the right key. He was looking forward to nice evening alone. He hadn't been left to his own devices all weekend. Even after he'd returned to his apartment at least two of his friends were there at all times. Just in case he needed them. Someday maybe he'd actually be able to tell them how much that meant to him.

Opening the door, Ezra reached for the light switch but frowned when the light didn't go on. He'd forgotten to open the blinds this morning and the room was now saddled in dark shadows. He looked up at the light fixture. "Bulb must have blown." He muttered to himself. He turned to close the door when suddenly he was shoved hard against it from behind.

"It's been a long time Ezra." The low growl sent his mind spinning back through the years while a sharp pain exploding behind his ear hurled him into oblivion.


David Parks smiled in self congratulatory pleasure, for the first time in two days something was going right for him. He reached down and easily ripped the phone cord out of the wall. He'd searched the back rooms of the place before Ezra had gotten home. No one would be interrupting them tonight. Parks sat in a comfortably overstuffed arm chair to watch Ezra.

Tied in one of the straight back chairs from his own dining room, Ezra's head rested on his shoulder. The cut on his forehead had opened up and a slow trickle of blood was making its way down the side of his face. Parks grinned as he suppressed a laugh. In his unconscious state Ezra looked even more like the small boy Parks remembered. His hair was darker now, more brown than it had been. His face had transformed from the softness of youth to the firm pleasing lines of a handsome man. Ezra had always been pretty. That's what had made it so impossible for Parks to keep his hands off of the boy. Parks stood slowly and approached Ezra. Taking hold of the agent's chin he tipped his head back looking for any signs of wakefulness. Ezra didn't stir.

Parks face grew serious as he enjoyed the feel of Ezra's skin beneath his fingers. Slowly he ran his hand down Ezra's neck until he reached the top button of the younger man's shirt. It was more than he could bare to stop there. Quickly he unbuttoned the silk dress shirt exposing the smooth well developed chest. Parks smiled again as he let his hand linger against the warm flesh. "Damn boy, you must work out." He whispered.

Ezra groaned softly and Parks stepped back. Regardless of his desire, he needed to focus on his purpose for being here and that was to make Ezra and his friends pay for ruining his life.


Ezra struggled against his nightmare. He could feel Parks near him, touching him again. With a sharp cry he woke suddenly. It took him a moment to get a grasp on his surroundings, to remember and to realize the current situation. He was in his own home, tied to his own chair. Parks was sitting across from him with a pleased smirk on his face. Ezra stared at the man, trying to control his emotions. His head hurt and he could tell his shirt had been unbuttoned. That meant Parks had been touching him.

Fear battled for dominance with hatred. He would not allow this man to see the depth of his emotions. This could be looked at like any other undercover case gone awry. He would play the part. Closing his eyes, Ezra took a deep breath and let his defensive shell drop into place.

Parks leaned back in his chair. "It's been a long time Ezra." He repeated himself from earlier.

Ezra merely looked at him as if he was bored. "What do you want Mr. Parks?"

"Such formality Ezra, what happened to Uncle David?"

"You were never my uncle."

Parks chuckled. "No, we were much to close for that weren't we?"

Ezra inwardly flinched but gave no sign that Parks' words had hit their mark.

"Such a pity we didn't get more time together. I missed you when you left, you know." Parks stood and approached Ezra. Reaching out he touched Ezra's hair. Ezra jerked his head away only to be immediately back handed. His head whipped to the side as his face burned from Parks' blow.

"Don't remember the rules very well do you? I suppose twenty years is a long time. I just thought I'd made more of an impression on you than that." David stepped back and grabbed Ezra's chin in his strong hand. "Never, ever pull away from me."

Ezra's eyes flashed but he remained silent.

"You know, the way your friend Buck talked last week, you're quite the agent." Parks began to pace as he talked. "He seemed to think highly of you for some reason." he unconsciously rubbed at his throat. "You know he threatened me don't you? Your whole team did." He paused and sat down in his chair again. "Told me to get my ass back to Washington."

"Why didn't you?" Ezra asked bitterly.

Parks looked at him sharply. "Still have a smart mouth on you don't ya? Keep it closed or I'll close it for you." He sat forward with his elbows on his knees. "But to answer your question, I did go back to Washington. I figured if they were going to make that much of a fuss over nothing I might as well not rile them up any further." He watched Ezra's face closely for any sign that his words were getting to him. "Seems they couldn't leave well enough alone though."

"What do you mean?"

"Ah now don't play dumb with me Ezra. I'm sure you are well aware of the fact my career is over."

Ezra blinked. "I really have no idea what you are talking about." He admitted.

Parks jumped to his feet. "My career is over! I've been charged with insurance fraud and embezzling federal funds. I'm not leaving here until I find out how you and your friends did it."

Ezra couldn't help but laugh. "We did nothing to you."

Parks lunged at hitting him with such force the chair tipped over and brought Ezra down hard on his arms. He grunted in pain as Parks struck out at him repeatedly. "I was set up, you bastard!" He screamed. Ezra tried to separate himself from the pain, from the revulsion of this man's hands touching him even in fists of rage. Finally as Parks calmed himself down and rose to his feet. He stood over Ezra enjoying the pain he saw flash across the young man's face. Reaching down he grabbed Ezra by his shoulders and pulled him and the chair upright.

Ezra felt the room spin as he was set upright. A continual pain shot through his right arm and he hoped it wasn't broken. He knew he'd already popped the stitches in that hand. Parks' was panting lightly from his violent reaction. "I was set up." He said angrily.

"By the time I got back to Washington, somehow evidence had turned up to show that I have supposedly been embezzling insurance payoffs for the last five years. It's false evidence." He added.

Ezra wondered through his haze why the man was defending himself to him, of all people. "What does that have to do with the team?" He found his voice.

Parks looked at him dumbly. "You're friends are the only ones I know who have it out for me. Somehow they orchestrated this whole thing as revenge."

Ezra shook his head then gasped at the wave of nausea the movement produced. "I hate to break it to you but Chris and the others are not responsible for your so called set up."

"Why would I believe you?" Parks asked.

"Just saying. You've heard them, do they really strike you as the sort of men who would lay out an elaborate embezzlement frame up?" Ezra licked his lip, tasting the saltiness of blood.

"No matter." Parks waved away Ezra's explanation. "I know it was them and they'll pay for taking everything away from me."

Ezra raised an eyebrow at the man. "And just how do you think you'll make them pay?"

Parks laughed "I'd have thought you would have developed some common sense by now Ezra. How long do you think it will be before they realize you're missing?"

Ezra didn't respond.

"Let's just wait and see exactly how much you are really worth to them."

Ezra looked up at Parks his expression relaxed and calm. "You will regret this."

"We'll see." Parks reached forward to wipe the blood off of Ezra's lip and smiled as Ezra jerked away. He grabbed Ezra by his hair and wrenched his head around. "Some lessons are learned the hard way."


Chris drummed his fingers incessantly on the smooth polished surface of his desk and looked at his clock one more time. Ezra was late. That fact alone shouldn't have come as any surprise to the ATF leader, after all Ezra made being late a talent. Even though the undercover agent was still within his normal time limit for his tardiness, Chris was unnerved.

A knock on the open door of his office made him realize he was still staring at the clock. "Hey Chris?" Vin looked at him curiously. "There are some men here to see us from Washington."

"From Washington?" Chris frowned wondering if this had something to do with David Parks and Ezra. He really did not want this whole scene brought into the bureau limelight but he feared Parks had gone running to his superiors and reported team seven's threats against him.

"Yeah, I directed them to the conference room with Josiah."

Chris nodded and stood up. "Better go see what they want then. They from the Bureau?"

"Looks like it.."


The two men in question were seated and sipping politely at the cups of coffee Buck had provided. Josiah, Nathan, Buck and JD were already there as well.

"Gentlemen." Larabee extended his hand in greeting and both men stood.

"Agent Larabee, I'm Agent Cox and this Agent Milton, we need to ask you some questions about David Parks." Cox got right to the point as he pushed his glasses up further onto his nose and took his seat again.

"What about him?" Chris sat down in his chair at the end of the table.

"It's true that he was just here in Denver this past week, correct?" Cox asked. Milton was busy scribbling notes on a legal pad.


"Did you have any interaction with him?"

"Some, Agent Wilmington worked with him one on one though. What is this about?"

"You haven't heard?" Milton asked. His voice seemed to match his mouse like appearance and Chris saw JD cover his mouth quickly to suppress a giggle.

"Heard what?" Chris' eyes narrowed.

"Parks was arrested Saturday evening shortly after he returned to Washington." The statement settled like a bomb on the room.

"What for?" Nathan asked.

"Seems for the last five years Parks has been embezzling insurance funds from the bureau. Adjusting reports and claims."

"Wait a minute," Buck tapped his finger lightly on the table top. "Wasn't it his job to find people doing stuff like that?"

"Yes sir." Cox answered.

"And he was doing it all this time?"

"So the evidence says."

"What do you need to know from us?" Vin asked.

"Well, we have on file a call early Saturday morning from Agent Larabee. You were calling with a complaint?" Cox looked at Chris.

"We were having some problems, yeah." Chris admitted reluctantly.

"Of what sort?" Milton asked.

"Let's call it a conflict of interest. Parks and one of my agents share a confrontational past, not bureau related." Chris added hoping the explanation was enough.

"Which agent?" Milton looked up and around the table.

"Ezra Standish, but he's not here." Chris said.

"Where is he?" Milton's eyes suddenly filled with concern.

Chris scowled. "He's late. He is our undercover specialist and sometimes works odd hours."

"Can you attest to the whereabouts of Standish?" Cox asked.

"What are you asking?" Buck's patience was wearing thin.

"You said Standish and Parks had a past. Do you trust Standish?" Cox adjusted his glasses again.

"With my life." Buck answered his voice rising.

"Look," Chris held up his hand to signal for Buck to calm down. " I'm not sure where you are going with this line of questioning but I told you Standish and Parks were confrontational. They had a rocky relationship at best. Why would you question my agent's loyalty?"

"We are just being thorough. We have no real leads right now other than that before Parks was released on bail yesterday he was heard making accusations that your team was setting him up. He claims the evidence against him was planted and is false." Milton looked at Chris.

"As much as we can't stand the man, we had nothing to do with the charges against him. This is the first we've heard of them." Nathan said.

"Yes, we figured that." Cox nodded.

Vin studied the man for a moment before speaking. "What aren't you telling us?"

Cox met his gaze. "He was also heard making threats."

Chris exchanged a look with Vin. "What kind of threats?"

"Against your team," Milton answered. He flipped through his file a minute searching for what he needed. "Quote, 'I'll make Larabee and his team pay for this', unquote."

"What did you mean by leads?" JD asked.

"Parks slipped out of custody while being transferred yesterday." Cox told them.

"We came here first in case he might have targeted your team."

"Ezra!" Vin and Buck said together.

Chris reached for the conference room phone. "I'll try his apartment, Josiah you try his cell phone."


Ezra could no longer hear the individual words coming out of Parks mouth. They all ran together melding and mixing until it was like the man standing before him was actually speaking a foreign language. His head hung forward and as much as he wanted, he couldn't find the energy or strength to hold it up any longer. His vision blurred as his eyes teared up with exhaustion. His body ached and his joints screamed at him for relief that he couldn't provide. Parks' had kept him tied tightly to the chair all night long. His leg and arm muscles cramped mercilessly and if he had had the strength, he thought he probably would have cried out. He'd lost track of time long ago, and knew only that it was day. Whenever he'd drifted to sleep Parks had been there to slap him awake, all the while bombarding Ezra with his hateful words.

At first he was able to block the words out choosing to ignore the references to the past. But Parks had kept talking, growing more graphic as the night wore on. Ezra had tried not to hear the stories, the memories described in such detail. He'd continued to pull away when Parks touched him, earning violent reprimands each time. Ezra didn't care, he would never allow Parks to touch him voluntarily again, never.

Parks repeated again and again that Chris and the others must not have thought he was worth saving since no one had come for him. Ezra had smiled inwardly knowing that Parks was severely underestimating his friends. They would come, he just had to hang on to his sanity until then. They would come.

Ezra was only slightly aware of the sudden commotion in the room. He tried to lift his head to focus on what was going on but failed in his efforts. He felt Parks' thick arm wrap around his neck and haul him backwards, chair and all, while the cold steel of a gun barrel pressed into his temple.

"Get back or I'll see to it that you watch him die." Parks growled at the men who had just burst into the apartment catching him completely off guard.

"Lay another finger on him and I'll shoot you now." Buck snarled back.

"None of this would be happening if you hadn't set me up." Parks said.

Chris stepped forward. "We did not set you up Parks."

"Who else would have?"

"Don't know and don't care." Chris told him while keeping his gun trained squarely on the man.

"I think it would be best if you released Ezra and turned yourself in David." Josiah said softly. His anger controlled and held in check for the moment. Ezra didn't look very good. It was obvious he'd been used as a punching bag all night.

Parks laughed roughly. "Oh, but maybe I want to hang on to Ezra here for a while. I have plans for us. We have twenty years to catch up on." Keeping the gun in place he moved his arm and let his finger trail across Ezra's collarbone.

"Get your hands off him." Vin threatened.

Parks just sneered. " I don't think there's anything you can do to stop me unless you want his brains blown out." He nudged Ezra's head with the gun eliciting a small moan from the semiconscious agent. "Besides," Parks voice deepened, "I like how his skin feels." He ran his hand slowly down and across Ezra's bruised chest.

Ezra felt the rough fingers skim across his collarbone and groaned in pain when the gun was pressed harder into his aching temple. He could hear the voices but nothing was registering now. His only thought was to get away from the touch. Gun or no gun, it didn't matter to him any more as long as he didn't have to feel that touch. He felt the hand sliding down across his chest and with one last effort Ezra pulled away.

Vin saw the disgust flash across Ezra's face as Parks touched him and was ready when Ezra surprised them all. With a grunt of pain Ezra pulled sideways, away from Parks. Vin took the shot.

Parks lurched backwards as the bullet tore through his shoulder and sent him reeling to the ground.

Nathan rushed to Ezra, carefully lifting his head. He felt Ezra try to pull away from him. "Easy Ezra, it's Nathan." He soothed.

Ezra heard the familiar voice and struggled to open his eyes. "Nathan?" He rasped.

"Yeah just relax Ez, we'll get you out of that chair in a minute." Nathan untied Ezra's legs first. Ezra groaned weakly as a cramp hit him. Nathan could see the southerner's thigh muscles protesting the sudden movement and tightening painfully. "I need help here." He called over his shoulder.

Chris looked at Cox and Milton, who had lagged behind during the whole scene. "Take care of this shit." He nudged Parks with his foot, then turned his attention to Ezra.

"Here," Nathan pushed Josiah down next to Ezra. "Hold his leg out straight and slowly flex his foot. The whole leg is cramping. Buck you get the other one." Buck nodded and moved into place.

Nathan moved behind the chair and cursed out loud when he saw Ezra's arms. His hands were covered with dried blood from the open cuts. Vin reached for the ropes that bound him to the chair.

"Easy Vin," Nathan warned. "It's gonna hurt like hell to move his arms." By the time the men had Ezra free from the chair and on the floor the ambulance had arrived. Now unconscious, Ezra was quickly loaded onto a stretcher and Buck gave Chris a push toward the door.

"Go with him, we'll clean up here and follow you."

Chris nodded once and followed the attendants out of the apartment.

When Ezra came to he was aware that he was laying down and hands were touching him. He began to struggle to get away from the touches. He felt someone gently take his hand in theirs. "Hold still Ezra and let them help you." Ezra stopped struggling and searched for the source of the voice. "Chris?"

Chris leaned over Ezra so he could see him better.

"You're going to be fine Ez, you just need to relax."

Ezra closed his eyes and moved his head in an effort to nod.

"I'm sorry we didn't get there sooner." Chris apologized softly, not quite sure if Ezra was still awake.

"Knew you'd come." Ezra whispered hoarsely.

Chris smiled. "How's that?"

"I stay, you stay." Ezra's voice was fading and Chris had to lean closer to hear him. "It's one hell of a promise."


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