If Tomorrow Never Comes


by
Suzy


DISCLAIMER: Don't own them, just like to play with them!! The characters from the television program The Magnificent Seven are the property of Trilogy and The Mirisch Co. I am making no money from their use. This Story is created for entertainment purposes only, no infringement intended. Thanks also to MOG for creating the ATF sandbox for me to play in. Not to be copied without permission from the author.

RATINGS: PG - violence, mild language

NOTES/COMMENTS: Thanks to Lyn for betaing for me. Blame Garth Brooks for the title and the putting the thought in my mind. Thanks for sticking with it guys this is the end.

WARNINGS: Keep your tissues handy – and try not to drip tears on the keyboard okay? I’ve tried and it doesn’t like it!!!


PART 1

He knew he was dying. God how did he manage to get himself into these situations. He knew he was a good agent, so why did he always let himself get into situations like this. He ran a trembling hand across his chest and felt his warm sticky blood, pulsing almost from the tiny hole in his chest. Funny how such a small bullet hole could be so destructive he almost chuckled. Almost.

He knew better than this. Hell even JD knew better then to meet with a snitch with out telling anyone, but the office had been empty and his snitch had been frantic to give him information on an arms deal he was working on, so he hadn’t bothered looking for the rest of his team, he had just left a note of that scrap heap that Buck called a desk as he walked past.

Who could have known that his snitch was the brother of a man he had shot in self defence just last month. Who could have expected him to pull a gun on him, and then pull the trigger laughing as he hit the ground, kicking him repeatedly in the ribs for good measure. Screaming insanely at him to pay for what he did to his family. Did the lunatic think he didn’t already pay for killing the people he had, sleepless nights, nightmares, waking up in a cold sweat seeing the faces of the men he had killed. Sure it was all in the line of duty and the men he had shot deserved his bullet if nothing else. But that didn’t mean that it didn’t weigh heavy on his soul and his conscience. A life was still a life.

Dear Lord, his chest felt like it was on fire. He pulled himself painfully to a semi seated position against the wall of the warehouse, that simple movement exhausting him. He knew he should be trying to stop the flow of blood from his chest, but he also knew that no-one would find him in time so why waste the precious time that remained to him in futility.

He thought about his friends, and the pain he knew that his stupidity would cause them. He smiled to himself, a few months ago he would have thought that they wouldn’t miss him, but now he knew better. He realized now that he meant as much to them as they did to him. It had been hard at first for him to accept that, it still was sometimes, but he was part of a family now and he hated knowing what his death would do to his family. He knew that any one of them would gladly lay down their own life to save his, just as he would give his life in a heartbeat for any of his comrades in arms.

Worst of all he hated that Chris was going to see what a stupid mistake he had made, a mistake a stupid rookie wouldn't make. Yet here he was possibly the best undercover agent in the ATF and he had made the biggest mistake of his life. Not to mention that he was about to pay for that mistake in the worst possible way. Chris never said anything when one of them fouled up, but he hated to see the man who despite being his boss, had come to be almost a big brother to him upset by things that happened. He would miss the silent camaraderie that he had fought so hard to accept with the quiet man, but not nearly as much as he would miss the kinship and the quiet sense of family that Chris bestowed upon him with just a simple touch.

He knew he had never been as open as he could have been to his friends and that pained him more than the oozing wound in his chest. He wished that he had some way to leave them a message, someway to tell them just how much they did mean to him. Someway to let them know not to feel the guilt that he knew they would feel, regardless of the fact that they had nothing to do with him being here.

PART 2

Buck ran into his cubicle and rummaged on his desk for the paperwork he had to work on over the weekend. Damn he hated missing a good party. He ran his fingers through his shaggy hair as he tried to think where he had left the report he was looking for. Suddenly remembering, he scrabbled around in the assorted files and papers in a stack on the corner of his desk. He pulled the thick report out and whacked his hand across it never noticing the small square of yellow paper that fluttered down to land on the floor in the middle of the office.

Walking to the door, he flicked the overhead lights off, surprised to see light still glowing from Ezra’s cubicle.

“Don’t be too long Ez” he paused “This is your party remember” he called as he walked through the already swinging door and towards the elevator, the party already on his mind.

He dropped the files onto the front seat of his truck, before wandering into the saloon and finding the rest of his team. Clapping JD across the back he pulled up a chair and sat on it backwards his arms resting across the back as he lifted the beer that JD proferred and took a long slug of the cool liquid before he looked up at his friends.

“It would be nice one day if we could all use the same timezone” Chris spoke wryly looking at his tardy agent.

“Hey Ezra’s later than I am” he raised both hands in a gesture of surrender

“Damn party in his honour and still he’s late” Nathan shook his head

“Now brother you know he wouldn’t be Ezra if he wasn’t late” Josiah spoke from his seat beside Nathan

“He was still in the office when I was just up there” Buck stated

“Well I’ll give him a little while then go and drag his sorry southern ass back here” Chris spoke as he signalled Inez for another round of drinks.

Chris was proud of his friends and agents, they all worked damn hard, but today Ezra had received commendations for a recent bust. The first since he started with them. They all knew that he deserved that and more but it was gratifying to see the powers that be acknowledge it after all the innuendo that followed him from Atlanta. Each and every one of the men was proud of their ‘brother” and wanted to share their feelings with him.

He waited for another 40 minutes watched his men starting to get antsy. They were all hungry and wanted to move on to the CDC where they were going to continue the party. He looked up straight into the crystal blue of his partners eyes.

“Want me to go get him Pard?” Vin spoke softly reading the thoughts tht were going through Chris’ mind.

“Nah I’ll go, you know how he is about parties” he laughed “He’s about to be ordered to attend” Chris pushed his chair back and walked slowly from the bar.

When he reached the office he flicked the light on and walked across to Ezra’s cubicle. Seeing his lamp on he flicked it off, and looked for some sign that something wasn’t right. The desk was immaculate as always not a thing out of place. His briefcase wasn’t in its usual resting place so Chris figured that he had passed him on the way. He looked up when he heard the door swing open, ready to chew Ezra out for keeping them waiting, only to see Vin enter the office.

“I’ve got a bad feeling Chris” Vin spoke direct and to the point as always

“Me too” Chris spoke absently

“he’s not avoiding us any more Chris, he’s one of us, he wouldn’t miss this” Vin spoke trying to remember the last time he had seen Ezra.

“See if you can get Josiah on his cell phone and get the others back here, something is going on” Chris spoke more than a little concerned about his black sheep.

He flicked Ezra’s computer on, seeking his electronic scheduler knowing that the southerner kept immaculate records and should have details of his day in there somewhere. It wasn’t ten minutes later when the rest of the team burst through the door. All thoughts of partying straying from their mind, all now worried about their companion. Past experience had taught them when Vin had a hunch, you listened and you believed. This time they hoped he wasn’t right.

PART 3

Ezra pressed his hand tight against his chest, feeling the blood oozing between his fingers, he didn’t want to die damn it. Not when he had found so much to live for, for the first time in his life he had a home, a family, hell he felt like he belonged.

He pulled himself up higher against the wall, spots dancing before his blackening vision as that small movement sapped him of so much strength. When had he become such a weakling that a small movement like that could exhaust him? He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so weak or so cold. So very, very cold. Deep in his consciousness he knew that he was weak and cold because he was dying because the vital blood that gave his body life were flowing from his body pooling on the ground around him.

--oo0000oo--

“Where’s Josiah?” Chris asked as he shepherded his men into their conference room

“Checking the Building log to see what time he left” JD spoke softly

Chris nodded thoughtfully “Who saw him last?” they all sat in silence for several minutes trying to recall when was the last time they could remember talking to him, then looked to Buck.

“Hey I never saw him, but his light was on so I assumed he was still working’ Buck shrugged his shoulders dejectedly

“Perhaps this will help gentlemen” Josiah spoke from the doorway holding a small post it note in his big fingers

“What’s that?” Chris asked

“A note to Buck from our missing colleague”

“Well spit it out Josiah” Vin muttered impatiently

“Mr Wilmington, I have an urgent meeting with a contact. Very Insistant. Regarding new case. Warehouse district. It is 3.50pm now, have no fear I will return by the allotted time for the festivities to commence. ES” Josiah read.

“It’s 7.30 now, where the hell is he?” Buck spoke in frustration.

“Has anyone tried his cell phone?” JD asked thinking of the logical way to contact him

“You know as well as we do that nine times out of ten that thing is either turned off or in his briefcase” Nathan spoke as he remembered the conversation they often had with their missing member regarding his cell phone.

Vin picked up the phone that sat on the table in front of him and punched in the numbers for Ezra’s phone. Listening to it ring, he sat for several minutes.

--oo0000oo—

Ezra listening to the incessant buzzing noise, annoyed for several minutes as it roused him from sleep. Who on earth was playing that incredibly bad version of Abba’s Ring Ring and why did it sound so close to him. It wasn’t until it had stopped and then started up again he realised what it was. Why hadn’t he remembered that he was carrying that damn cell phone. It took every ounce of his strength, but he slipped it from his trouser pocket and pressed the call key. Weakly sliding sideways he rested his head against the tiny phone, trying desperately to hear who it was, to get himself help and maybe just maybe stay alive.

--oo0000oo—

“this is useless Chris” Buck spoke pacing feeling guilty that the note had been left for him and he hadn’t seen it, watching as Vin dialled the number a second time.

“Give him time Buck” Chris stated trying not to show his concern.

None of them were prepared for the weak but unmistakable voice when the phone finally clicked into an open line on the speaker phone

“Help me” the whispered words were like a knife in all their chests

“Pard, talk to me” Vin spoke calmly his mind racing, he had never before heard the futility or pleading in the southerners voice and it shook him badly

“Mr Tanner” he spoke slowly “need to say goodbye” he spoke slowly trying to catch his breath between words

“Ez, tell me where you are” Vin asked “Where are you Ez?” his hands were trembling as he moved the phone closer so he could speak more normally

“Warehouse district” he mumbled “Can’t remember” he frowned at the pain trying to remember caused him

“So Cold” all of the men looked at each other, knowing now at least part of his problem, it was a hot summer night, the only way he would be cold was if he was in shock or suffering from loss of blood or both. They all knew the feeling because they had all been there before.

“Ez talk to me” Vin spoke sharply fearing that his friend had drifted away from them

“Sorry” Ezra spoke his words slurring, bringing tears to the eyes of his team mates “So sorry”

Chris motioned for JD to follow him out side the conference room

“I don’t care how you do it JD, who you have to hack or what you have to do get that call traced and find him.” Chris didn’t have to tell him twice he already had a phone in his hand calling the phone company

“What are you sorry for pard” Vin spoke trying not to let his tears show in his voice as he watched Chris walk back into the room

“Let you down” the slurred voice spoke weakly

“You listen to me Standish” Chris spoke trying to muster his voice into all the anger he could “The only way you are letting us down is by giving up. You hear me. You fight” he spat

“ So hard” he paused understanding the anger and frustration he heard in his boss’s voice, it seemed to slice through the cloudy layers of his mind, “Mr Larabee” he finished his original thought.

“Ezra” Nathan spoke softly “Can you tell me what is wrong with you?” he asked trying to ascertain his injuries

“Hurts” was the only slurred word they received in answer

“We know Ez we know” Vin spoke softly “where does it hurt”

“Bullet” he fell silent again, all of them holding their breath until they heard movement from him again “inch above right nipple”. A shudder went through them all as they realised how close that bullet wound had come to killing him instantly.

“broken Ribs” he slurred fading out again. JD burst into the room, “they’ve got him he’s in one of three empty warehouses” he spoke with a shrug “It’s as close as they could pinpoint” but then he looked up from his feet again “I figure we look for the jag”

“Ez” Vin spoke softly “do you think that you can disconnect the call, so I can call you from my cell phone”

“Wanna sleep?” came the slurred response

The roar of six no’s from the men in the room was deafening and shook him momentarily from the blackness he was rapidly sinking into.

“Ez hold on” Vin spoke gently “We’re on our way” he tapped the phone and ran from the room following the others as they ran towards Chris’s vehicle.

PART 4

Ezra shivered and curled himself tighter into a ball, desperate to stay awake, needing to hear and see his friends again before he gave into the relentless spiralling darkness that beckoned him. He grimaced as he tried to pull himself back into the light once more, he didn’t know why but it was important to him to see these fine men one more time. Hell, maybe it was just for completion, maybe it would just close the book on his sorry misbegotten life or maybe just maybe it was because these men meant more to him then he would even meant to himself and he needed to say goodbye to them, allowing himself to pass into the next realm guilt free.

There were so many things he should have said to them already, so many things that had been left unsaid, because of his reticence to bind his being to the other six as they had so readily done, or maybe because they were all proud strong men who didn’t willingly speak of their emotions. Either way he hoped they knew what they had meant to him. Each and every one of them had pushed his way into his heart no matter how hard he had tried to fortify his emotional defences against the invasion.

He wasn’t rightly sure what had happened when he had become part of Team 7, but he did know one thing, they had become part of the one soul. Surely they had their own personalities, their own beings, but together they were one, and he was honoured, no humbled to have been part of this cohesive team. That was their strength, alone they were fallible, hell, he was testament to that, but together they were invincible. Chris was right, he had known that he would run out on them, breaking the union, proving their infallibility, making the team that had become immortal in their own time, mere mortals again. His only wish was that Chris realised he would never leave them willingly, he would sell his soul to stay with these men into eternity.

--oo0000oo—

Vin sat sideways in the seat watching the skill and desperation that his friend and leader drove with, he knew that it was tearing his friend apart that he may not be able to save one of their own, but they had to try. They would not give up on one of their own, no matter how worthless the situation may be. For the last ten minutes he had been desperately dialling Ezra’s cell phone number only to be diverted to his voicemail. He knew that meant that Ezra had been too weak to terminate the last call. One of them should have stayed at the office and kept talking to him, kept him alive, but none of them had wanted to miss going just in case the worst did happen. Damn they could be going just to find his body, none of the team needed that.

He knew their start had been rocky but, together they had forged a bond stronger then blood, there was nothing these men would not do for each other, himself included. They had all had their own partners within the team when Ezra joined, maybe that’s why he still felt the need to do things on his own. Vin knew that in a team of seven there had to be one loner, but he had always felt a strange kinship with the elegant southerner, and he wasn’t yet ready to give up on him. They had all of them, each and every one, somehow been given a raw deal in life and Chris had found them and drawn them into his little family of agents, all with their own job to do, giving them a firm and binding hand to cling too and the resulting loyalty to him was unshakable. Maybe that was why when one of them was down the other six would move heaven and earth to bring the fallen member back into the fold.

He knew that Ezra’s chances were fading with every moment that passed, but all he could do was wish for Josiah’s faith and pray for their injured comrade, pray that he had the strength and the will to hold on until they could bring help to him.

--oo0000oo—

Ezra lay on the cold concrete floor, his body beginning to tremble and twitch with the cold, his weak thready pulse no longer pushing the blood to his extremities, his hands and feet tingling, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his death was near. He was not a praying man, but he prayed that he could hold on long enough to see his friends one last time. He needed to see them again, one final time before the light that was beckoning him claimed his soul. He coughed weakly, closing his eyes against the bright light as he fought against leaving the men he was proud to call brother.

PART 5

They drove almost aimlessly into the warehouse district, listening to JD’s voice on the police radio giving tinny directions to their destination, until Vin saw the Jag. Parked in the shadows of one of the deserted warehouses. He was out of the car before Chris had even stopped.

“Dammit Vin, we don’t know what the situation is?” Chris called after him

“Like hell we don’t Ezra’s dying I don’t need to know anything else” he ran towards the door his gun drawn. Chris followed his partner into the warehouse closely followed by the rest of the team that had pulled their car to a halt behind them, who were followed by an ambulance, its lights and sirens blaring into the darkness.

Vin’s keen eyesight scoped the inside of the warehouse and quickly realised that there was no danger, but his eyes softened as he saw his fallen friend crumpled against the wall on the opposite side of the warehouse. Holstering his gun he sprinted across the wide concrete expanse, closely followed by the others. He stopped several feet from the wall, his heart in his throat as his eyes recognised what he saw. In his mind there was no way Ezra could be alive. He dropped to his knees in front of him, tears in his eyes as he watched the site before him. Ezra was laying, deathly still, in a pool of blood, his skin blue tinged no longer receiving the life giving oxygen it needed.

The team was held momentarily motionless, by what they saw at his side. Having no other way to communicate it appeared that Ezra had left a message for his teammates. Three words, written in the only means he had available to him, his own blood. Proud, brothers, forgive. His hand still resting at the end of the last word as if the effort to write it had exhausted him.

Vin was the first to move, shaking his head to clear it of the thought that Ezra was dead. He refused to believe that could be true. Moving to his side he rolled him gently over and cradled him against his body, as if trying to give him some of his own life.

--oo0000oo—

Ezra wasn’t sure what was happening but he was sure of one thing, he didn’t like it. It was almost like he was watching himself from outside his own body. He didn’t know what the hell was going one and no matter how hard he fought against the situation, he couldn’t change the feeling. He hated not being in control.

He couldn’t stand the pain of watching his friends, people it had taken him so long to accept as his family, looking so completely destroyed. The way they stood there their shoulders slumped in defeat. He wanted to grab them by the shoulders and say Look at me, you’re here now I’ll be fine, we’re whole again. But somehow he knew that wasn’t going to happen.

He looked deeply at his friends as if trying to memorise their faces for eternity. Chris, the strength and the backbone of their little family, the man who held them all together in times of crisis. The man who with just one touch of his hand could make any of his men calm. Who despite being the leader of their elite outfit was more like a big brother or father to most of the team. A man whose regard and appreciation had come to mean more than he could ever know to Ezra over the past months.

Ezra noticed that Josiah stood slightly apart from the others, probably praying for his unworthy soul Ezra thought. Josiah was the faith that carried them all through near tragedy time and time again. His faith in his religion was what helped him to cope with the darker side of his work, and Ezra hoped that he knew how much he appreciated the fatherly guidance he always seemed to know just when to give him.

Buck, the man who often seemed the bane of his existence was the joviality of the soul they became when together as one, although at the moment he seemed more than a little distraught. Funny he thought his passing would upset the big man, but apparently he was more important to him then Buck had let on. Oh if only he could go back and change things now.

Nathan knelt at his side, checking his wound and trying to help him. Trust the gentle nurturing Nathan always trying to help the lost cause. Couldn’t he see that he was beyond help. Ezra begged him in his mind to turn his attention to the other team members. They would need his nurturing now more than Ezra would himself.

Ezra turned his attention to the two youngest members of the team. Why did they have to bring JD with them. He shouldn’t have to have his innocence trampled seeing the death of a friend. Ezra had a great respect for the young Mr Dunne, he smiled wryly to himself. If only everyone had a little of JD’s innocent heart and soul the world would be a better place. He watched Buck enfold him in a tight embrace, hoping that his big brother would see him through this.

He finally turned his eyes on the final member of the team, knowing that Vin’s reaction to his death would hurt him the most. Vin, the courage of their united soul, knelt at his head cradling him against his chest, tears flowing freely down his pallid cheeks. Perhaps his closest friend on the team, a fellow loner who had happily merged his soul into the family. Ezra knew that his stupid rookie mistake was hurting him but there was no way he could help him. He watched as paramedics pulled Vin away from his body and laid his body flat on the ground, pushing Vin roughly out of the way.

Feeling strangely pulled away, he cast his eyes around his friends again. The Strength, faith, courage, humour, innocence and nurturing and for the moment his cunning once again united by a strong sense of justice before the world went black around him.

PART 6

The six men stood motionlessly, watching as the paramedics worked frantically on their fallen member, willing him to continue breathing.

Vin stood and ran a blood covered hand through his hair, he knew they had cut this fine, maybe too fine, but he had felt Ezra’s faint heartbeat under his fingers, and he knew that while he still lived there was hope for him. He watched helplessly as they pushed the rest of the team out of the way and worked frenetically. Hooking Ezra up to oxygen, fluids and live giving plasma, before they lifted him onto the gurney and prepared to rush him to the hospital.

“Do one of you want to come with him?” the paramedic asked quickly as they started to wheel him out of the warehouse. They had all looked at each other tensely, each wanting to be there for their friend, before Chris pushed Vin towards the door.

“Go on” he urged “Stay with him, we’ll meet you there” Chris hugged his best friend and left him to follow their comrade. Turning just in time to see Buck lifting the blood covered cell phone from the ground. Wiping it clean with a handkerchief he turned it over in his hands before he looked up and spoke his eyes liquid.

“I’m guessing our Ezra is gonna be more careful with his cell phone in future” he spoke a small smile on his face trying to lighten the moment, never once accepting or acknowledging the fact that Ezra might not make it.

“We’d better be on our way brothers” Josiah spoke softly clapping the pale JD on the back.

“You go on I’ll catch up. I’ll wait here for the clean up team” Chris ordered them quietly, his back to all of them

Buck slipped his keys from his pocket and threw them to JD “You drive the truck Kid, I’ll wait here with Chris”

The other three watched the two of them speculatively before they turned and moved briskly to the truck, driving off to leave them alone in the deserted warehouse, the musty smells of the disused building momentarily overridden by the coppery scent of Ezra’s blood.

“Wanna tell me what’s more important than being with Ezra at the moment?” Buck asked quietly as he watched the arrival of several cars of men arrived to find whatever clues they could from the warehouse

“Nothing Buck” he spoke softly “Just needed a minute” he knelt in front of the words that Ezra had written

“What is he apologising for?” he asked quietly “He hasn’t done anything wrong” he shook his head.

“Think about it Chris” Buck spoke and shook his head in amazement at his usually astute friends lack of insight “Damnit Chris. For such a bright guy sometimes you sure are stupid” he shook his head “I would have written the same thing” Buck spoke looking deeply into his oldest friends eyes “he was trying to say goodbyes to his brothers, telling us he was proud to work with us” his tear heavy eyes overflowed

“Sometimes you amaze me” he spoke slowly, “surely you know what he wants forgiveness for, he told you on the phone”

“He can’t think that I think he’s running out on us?” Chris spoke recognition dawning

“Well I surely think he does?” Buck spoke his hands on his hips watching his oldest friend assimilate the facts before him as he read the words on the ground over and over “You don’t know do you?” he asked softly

“Know what?” Chris looked up into Buck’s face

“He would die before he would willingly disappoint you” Buck stopped “Dammit any of us would”.

“Damn stubborn fool” Chris spoke as he stood

“C’mon” he started to walk out “Let’s go see how he is doing”

Buck wiped his eyes and they both hurried to the waiting truck and started the trek to the hospital

“You know Ezra’s gonna pitch a fit when he finds we left his jag in the warehouse district overnight”

“Not when he finds out that we sent JD back for it in the morning!” Chris smiled for the first time in hours as he realised that Ezra would not rest until he had seen the car for himself.

They drove quickly and efficiently to Four Corners Mercy General, parking and moving into the ER, it didn’t take them long to find the rest of the team. JD was seated in a plastic chair, one foot tucked underneath him, the other tapping absently on the ground, his shaking fingers nervously twisting the sides of a Rubik’s Cube. Josiah stood leaning against a wall, his head bowed, his hands in his pockets. Nathan leaned against the nurses station trying to wheedle some information out of the duty nurses. The one that worried Chris the most was Vin, He sat against the wall in the corner, a forlorn figure huddled there beside the torn sofa, Ezra’s blood on his jeans and shirt, traces of it in his hair, from where he had nervously been running his hands through it in his frustration. Going directly to his partner Chris knelt in front of him and waited for him to speak.

“We’re gonna lose him Chris” Vin spoke flatly

“He’s still alive Vin” Chris paused choosing his words carefully “While he’s alive he’s fighting”

“Not even Ezra can tempt fate this badly and win” Vin spoke looking up into his best friends eyes

PART 7

Chris looked into the tear filled blue eyes of his best friend and partner, knowing that the situation was grim if Vin had lost hope.

“Hell you know Ezra fights hardest when he’s dealt a losing hand” Chris spoke softly one strong hand clasping his friends as he stood to try and find some answers.

He straightened and drifted from man to man trying to give as much reassurance from a simple handshake or clasping their shoulder as he could, hell he even tousled JD’s perpetually mussy hair as he walked further from his men towards Nathan and the Nurses Station, all the while knowing he wasn’t going to like the answers he received.

Nathan looked up as he saw him coming and moved towards his friend and leader. He could see the toll that Ezra’s condition was taking on the other man’s soul and wanted to help him any way he could.

“Is there any good news Nate?” he asked quietly his eyes never quite meeting the dark eyes he knew wouldn’t lie to him

“Only that he is still breathing” Nathan spoke softly knowing that his new would cut each and every one of the men soul deep, but none deeper than Chris. Chris had brought the team together, he felt responsibility, right or wrong, every time one of his men was hurt. Fought against the bad guys or the bureau to keep his men safe and together. Often against all the odds, and so far it had worked, but somehow he knew their run of good luck was quickly coming to an end. Nathan swore under his breath.

Today was supposed to be a happy day, hell right about now they should be all falling into a pleasantly drunken stupor at the CDC celebrating Ezra’s first Denver commendations. Not waiting for word that their friend had finally given up his tenuous grip on life.

“Nathan just tell me” Chris spoke wearily running his fingers through his blonde hair.

“He was shot at close range” he spoke softly moving them out of the corridor a little “Hell, there’s powder residue on his clothes” he stopped to gather his thoughts

“The perp must have been a short man, it hit Ezra here” Nathan indicated a point on Chris’s chest “and then pinged around inside him for a little bit, broke his collarbone, tore up the muscle in his shoulder before it lodged in the joint here” Nathan ran his fingers over his friends shoulder. “But that’s not his problem” he swallowed hard knowing that this was going to be the hard part for his boss “He lost so much blood that his major organs have started to shut down” Chris’ eyes flew to Nathan’s face trying to gauge the severity of his words “What do you mean?” his voice was little more than a whisper

“His own body is killing him Chris, slowly turning itself off, they’re pushing the oxygen, blood and fluids, and he’s in surgery for the bullet and the fractures, but they don’t think we found him in time” he spoke the last words as little more then a murmur knowing what they would do to the strong man in front of him.

He could do nothing but watch as Chris slid down the wall to sit with his head resting on his folded arms, his elbows resting on his knees, trying to come to terms with the news he had just been given. Wondering how on earth he was ever going to tell the rest of the team.

Buck turned quickly to see if the others had just seen Chris’s slide down the wall. Josiah had seen and gestured with his head for Buck to go and see what was wrong. Glancing at the two youngest members of the team he could see Vin was still seated in the corner, staring at something only he could see, and JD was still struggling with the Rubik’s Cube, an occasional tear falling onto its shiny surface. Buck pushed away from the seat he sat in and walked up the corridor to his friends.

“So what’s the verdict?” he spoke softly bending to crouch beside his leader.

“Hell” Chris spoke without lifting his head “You may as well know” Chris laughed humourlessly “Its ironic really, what the bad guys couldn’t do Ezra’s own body is doing for them”

Buck heard the words but shook his head confused , standing he pressed his hands against his hips and spoke to Nathan.

“what the hell is he talking about?” Buck spoke softly asking Nathan for an explanation as a doctor stepped up to the trio.

“I believe you gentlemen are waiting on Mr Standish’s condition” he spoke gauging the reaction from these men carefully, they were well known of their fierce protectiveness of each other through the hospital.

“How is he?” Nathan asked almost regretting having to ask

“As well as can be expected. I’ll get a nurse to take you all to his room if you like” he stated

“What no fight to get in to see him?” Buck smiled thinking that Ezra must be feeling better than he had looked

“We can’t see a problem with you all seeing him no” the doctor spoke his words tinged with sadness, god he hated this part of his job.

“Well Damn that’s gotta be good” he congratulated the others

“No Buck” Chris spoke wearily “He’s giving us time to say goodbye.” Chris watched the tears forming in his friends eyes knowing how much his next words would hurt “Ez is dying

PART 8

Buck looked from one to the other, and seeing the seriousness on the three men’s faces he knew they weren’t lying.

“Damn” he spat and turned and walked a few paces then turned back “Damn” he spat again. He stopped just in front of the trio and saw for the first time what must be Ezra’s blood smeared on them “I won’t believe it” he muttered again, unable in his jumbled mind and emotions to find any other words, then looked up at the men in front of him his eyes liquid.

“You absolutely sure” he asked the doctor, fixing his face with a piercing glare.

“Well there are no certainties in life, but no we don’t think he will live” he spoke then his voice softened “Though to have survived this far, he is strong, maybe he can prove us wrong”

“well what the hell are we wasting time out here for?” he spoke somewhat harshly

“I’ll go get the others” Nathan spoke quietly making his way back to the waiting room

Buck’s strong hand on his arm stopped him. Nathan looked up into Buck’s teary eyes knowing that the big man was trying to hold onto his emotions to save the younger team members pain.

“Don’t tell them he’s dying Nate” he spoke as a huge fat tear trickled down his cheek, unable to control his emotions any longer “Let them just think he slipped away” he spoke “Please”.

Nathan nodded and turned away, not sure if he had it in him to tell their three friends anyway.

The six of them filed into the ICU room, unsure exactly what to expect, three expecting to see the spectre of death in place of their stylish friend, the others hoping for some sign that he would return to the world they shared together. What they did see took the breath of each of the men as they entered the room.

Ezra lay in the bed, looking small in the huge hospital bed, his shoulder heavily bandaged his arm secured across his chest, tubes running from his chest and his free arm and one that ran discreetly from under the sheet that covered him, back to the multitude of machines that beeped quietly around him. A mask covered his face, feeding him the oxygen that his body had been starved of for too long. His skin was not its usual unblemished self, instead of its usual pink tinges it held a mottled blue grey colour which frightened the three who knew his real condition. However, that was not what held them transfixed in the doorway. Ezra appeared so small and fragile, something none of them had ever connected with him before, and unconscious, his hair falling limply over his forehead he appeared even younger than JD. What really scared them was the fact that they had to concentrate on watching his chest to see for them selves that he really was breathing. Chris was the first to move to his side, the others following almost as if frightened to enter the room.

“Damn, Ezra when did you get so young?” he spoke as he stroked the unconscious man’s bare shoulder, he had forgotten just how fragile human life could be. Slipping back from Ezra’s side he stepped quietly out of the room as Buck took his place beside Ezra.

Hell he was beginning to believe the stories that Team 7 was infallible. Team 7. Even the number was going to haunt him now, always reminding him of the one that they had lost. He could never replace this man on his team just as surely as he knew that now the team would slowly begin to disintegrate in front of his very eyes. Hell they were like the three musketeers, just a few more than three. Whenever they were on a mission it was all for one and one for all and damn the consequences. He smiled at the mental image of the seven of them dressed in Musketeer garb, hell the only one that would be comfortable as a swashbuckler was Ezra, he thought with a strangled sob.

Vin slipped out of the room to find his best friend, suddenly angry at the man that had become the other half of his soul.

“when were you gonna tell the rest of us pard?” he spoke calmly, too calmly, his eyes angry chips of blue fire.

“Tell you what Vin?” Chris asked, suddenly tired of the whole world being on his shoulders.

“That he’s dying” Vin spoke his words tight, not willing to accept the facts that he could see.

“And how would you have liked me to do that?” he asked angry at the young man standing in front of him, he looked at the man in front of him and lashed out at him trying to inflict as much pain on him as he was feeling.

“Hey guess what Vin, He’s dying” Chris spoke his voice flat and full of pain.

“and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

“Chris I’m not JD” he spoke “You don’t need to protect me. Hell you don’t need to protect him. Give the Kid some credit. But, I can take the bad news, I need to know pard” he spoke all fury leaving him as he saw his best friends pain.

“I can’t tell you that, because I won’t accept it” he spoke harshly “Dammit until he is gone, I won’t accept that he is dying” Chris sank back against the wall “Can’t you see if I accept that he is going to die, I have failed him in the worst possible way”

Neither man was prepared for the voice from the doorway, a scared young voice, from a man who had seen too much too soon, quickly eating up his youthful innocence.

“He’s dying?” he murmured, he shook his head slowly, not believing the words he was hearing from two of his hero’s, before he turned and ran down the corridor.

“Aw hell” Vin spoke almost ashamed of starting the verbal sparring that had caused this, as he took off after the kid down the corridor.

PART 9

JD ran down the corridors, needing to get away from the sterile hospital smells and sounds. Just to get away from all thoughts of any of his friends needing medical attention. There wasn’t much in this life that he couldn’t bear, contrary to the thoughts of his partners, but seeing the men that he worked with and admired driven to tears was one of them. Coupled that with the fact that one of his best friends was dying, and it was all too much for him to take at once, he just needed to get outside and breathe some fresh air, just for a little while, so he could compose himself and try to make some sense of what should have been a happy day.

“JD” Vin called from behind him “Wait up” he asked

JD kept up his light jog towards the front door of the hospital, not wanting to stop until he got outside and the breeze could dry the moisture on his cheeks. He knew that the others thought of him as a stupid kid sometimes who couldn’t control him emotions, well dammit this time he was going to make Ezra proud of him. This time he would show them all that he could control the tears that hovered when he was upset, this time he would be there for his friends. Now all he had to do was convince himself of that.

“Wait up JD” Vin grabbed him by the arm

“Leave me alone Vin” he muttered shrugging Vin’s hand off

“Nope” Vin stated flatly, not wanting to leave the kid alone with his thoughts, he knew the way his thoughts were heading, he could read them clearly on the younger mans face

“JD come back inside” he started

“I don’t need company Vin” he was growing a little angry at the concern for him when Ezra was laying inside dying “And I sure as hell don’t need a babysitter” he pulled away from Vin and walked further into the shadows, both men standing in silence for a few moments.

“why?” JD turned on Vin, his eyes liquid with his tears

Vin knew exactly what JD was asking but he had no answers for the young man, he was still reeling with the fact that they weren’t going to be able to save their colleague and friend, hell their brother, in all the ways that counted.

In his heart he knew why the others were keeping the true severity of his condition from them, but that didn’t make it any easier to bear. God above only knew it was hard enough to say goodbye to someone if they were snatched from you but to know that they were dying and putting up a brave face for them was almost too much for one person with the compassion of JD to cope with.

“Dunno JD” he spoke quietly his voice flat with the pain of their sorrow “It’s gonna hurt like hell, but unless the big man upstairs changes his mind, we’ll just have to get used to it”

“Never” JD spoke his voice full of his vehemence “We can’t forget him. He’s one of us. How could you even think that?” JD was growing angry at the near silent man at his side.

“I didn’t say forget him JD” he spoke softly looking into the liquid eyes of his friend “I said get used to it. Won’t make the pain any less, but it might make it more bearable to think of the times we’ve had together.”

He folded JD into a tight embrace, trying to provide and seek comfort at the same time, knowing that the six of them were going to need all their combined faith and strength if they were going to get through this night.

Chris stood behind the thick glass doors that stood between him and the youngest members of his team, torn between going to them to try to comfort them or to stay away from them before he caused them more pain. He didn’t know how he was going to pull his jaded soul through the loss of the black sheep of his team, and he sure as hell didn’t know how he would even begin to help the innocent and trusting soul of their youngest.

For that matter, he thought of the pain he had seen in his sharp shooters eyes, Vin thought he had seen it all and had closed his soul off from more pain, but he could see the suffering in his best friends eyes as he had climbed into the ambulance with Ezra. He knew that besides himself Ezra was his closest friend and losing him would be like ripping his heart out, and he knew that inconsolable would not be a strong enough word to encompass the shattered emotions of his men.

PART 10

Chris pushed his fists into his pockets and walked back towards the intensive care unit, he didn’t want to go back there, but he couldn’t desert his friend. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there for Ezra, it was just that he didn’t want to see him slowly fade from life before his eyes.

The undercover agent might not have the boisterous, loud soul of Buck, the quite yet imposing presence of Vin or the innocent zest for life of JD, but he had always had a vitality that Chris himself would have liked. Chris knew there was sadness in his childhood, regrets in his youth and unnecessary guilt in his adult life, that had caused him to be the person that he was, he always knew that one day he would realise that he fit in with the other six men that were now a family. The underlying sadness of Ezra’s persona was changing though and it broke Chris’ heart to think that the man who had finally turned the corner and was beginning to look forward to life, not though his usually jaded eyes but with a zest for life he had never seen, may be losing his grip on it. Damn, Chris fumed inwardly, wanting no needing to punch something, every time Ezra almost had his life within his grasp it seemed that it was snatched from him. Teasing him into believing that he could have a life just like his friends.

He was so deeply engrossed in his thoughts that he only noticed the doctor’s presence when he touched his arm.

“Mr Larabee?” the doctor spoke quietly not wanting to intrude but needing to speak to the man who guarded over his men like an avenging angel, he knew that he felt their pain as deeply as they themselves felt it but there was nothing that medicine could do for him, his pain was in his soul.

“He hasn’t” Chris spoke his voice little more than a whisper

“No” the Doctor shook his head blanching at the way the big man’s skin blanched when he thought his friend was gone “Actually he seems to be improving a little” he smiled, a tight strained smile, offering hope but no promises.

“What is it?” Chris asked wondering why he had been singled out by this man

“I have to tell you of Mr Standish’s wishes” he spoke knowing that he was going to be inflicting on this man

“What wishes?” Chris was truly confused, all he wanted was to get back to Ezra, knowing that he would soon be gone from their lives forever, needing to spend a little time with him before he went.

“Several months ago Mr Standish approached the hospital and arranged for a living will to be drawn up” he started to explain.

“And?” He knew he wasn’t going to like this, so he gritted his teeth and willed the doctor to continue

“He has named you his next of kin” he ended his short explanation, wondering if he would have to pick the man in front of him off the ground “You have his power of attorney should anything happen to him.”

Chris rubbed his hands over his face “Damn you Ezra” he muttered to himself

“Don’t do this to me” he took a moment to compose himself before he looked up at the doctor again “There’s more isn’t there” he stated flatly knowing that the revelations of his agent’s trust in him weren’t over yet.

“Actually yes” he lifted a thick linen envelope that he held in his hand to present to Chris “This was highly unusual, but he insisted that we do it for him” he lifted the envelope to Chris’ hand and waited from him to close his cold fingers around it.

“He requested that should he ever be killed or mortally injured in the line of duty that you were to be given this letter” the doctor spoke “He stressed that it was vital for this to be given to you and you alone” he finished

“Thank you Doctor” Chris spoke numbly

“If you like you can use the doctors lounge” he explained further at Chris’ blank expression “I thought you might like some privacy while you read it” Chris merely nodded, following the doctor to the room in question, his long fingers running over the obviously expensive paper. Paper as elegant as the man who used it.

Chris sat on one of the deep sofas, desperately wishing he was anywhere but here. He didn’t want the responsibility for any of this, but he knew that he owed it to each and every one of his brothers to accept Ezra’s wishes and follow them if it was at all possible. Damn that man made it hard for you, just when you thought you had each of them pegged one of them went and did something like this. He shook his head trying to clear his thoughts, procrastinating wasn’t going to help him. He ran his finger under the edge of the envelope effectively cracking the thick red seal that crossed the envelope lip. Reaching inside, he lifted the thick swatch of papers out. Taking a deep shuddering breath, he opened them and began to read.

PART 11

Chris slid his fingers across the sharp fold in the paper, hell even his correspondence was like him, sharp elegant and refined. Unable to put it off any longer, he looked down to read the letter. He wasn’t expecting, however, the raw emotions that assailed him when he saw Ezra’s neat precise writing, the actual thought that he would never see that writing again, hit him from out of nowhere and curled around his heart like an icy hand.

Dear Mr Larabee, He read

It is with the greatest of sorrow I write this missive for you. For you see I know that if you are reading these words, then somehow I have met my end. It’s rather funny you see, that for so long I have not feared meeting my maker, in fact there have been many occasions when I would indeed have welcomed it. Somehow that all changed when I joined our little team of misfits and loners.

I know that when you first found me none of you could stand to be in the same room with me, especially after the fiasco which was our first mission together, but I can tell you the exact moment that I knew just how much each of you meant to me. Last Night. I realise that last night means nothing to you whilst reading this, let me draw your attention to the night that I refer. I was planning to spend my 32nd birthday alone with a brandy bottle at home, but you ordered me to your ranch. I don’t know what made me go, perhaps the sincerity in your voice when you asked and later the threat, I will never know. All I do know is that I will be eternally grateful to you for your invitation.

You see for all my elegance and refinement, the social skills and the quick wit and responses I have built my life around, I have never felt like I belong. Until last night. Sitting on the grass at your ranch swilling warm beer from long neck bottles, surrounded by men that I would lay down my life for, I finally found acceptance, hell I found a family. You will never know how much that meant to me, and I only pray that in my passing I have not let you down. I have thought about the relationship that we all share at length over the last few hours and I have reached a conclusion.

We were all misfits before Team 7 for a reason, we were all parts of the one soul, searching for their other segments. In Team 7 we have found them. I know that you don’t understand what I speak of, I’m not even sure if I can understand it, let me explain it to you.

First of all there is young JD. Why that boy chose a career in law enforcement is beyond me, but he is the most pure and innocent soul in the ATF, you probably know that. He is the innocence we have all lost or pushed aside when life hardened us into the souls we have become. He is the innocence of our soul and we should protect that innocence always, please don’t let him lose his faith in fellow man the way that we all have.

The other half of his soul that charming reprobate Buck, for all his faults and oafish habits, I do believe that he is the one person I wish I could be like. Even in the worst situation he is the eternal optimist, perhaps that is why the two of them are like two halfs of the one soul, or the reason why they were drawn to being partners right from the very start. Perhaps if I had found the same kinship earlier in life I might have turned out differently, but like that song you all listen to, Our lives are better left to chance, I could’ve missed the pain but then I would’ve had to miss the dance. And trust me Mr Larabee, I wouldn’t have missed this dance for the world.

Chris couldn’t help himself he dropped the linen pages to the floor and held his head in his hands sobbing, all thought of being the strong hard man they knew evaporating in the face of his sorrow, knowing the song, that Ezra wrote about. A song that fitted their team so well. Because he knew that not one of the seven would have changed a moment of their previous lives if it meant that they would have missed the time they had spent together.

PART 12

Chris, cried like his heart was breaking, reading this letter from a man who revealed so little of his emotions in life, was hurting him more then he could have ever imagined. Composing himself little by little, he lifted the pages from the floor and wiping his eyes, and trying to gather back some of his usual composure. Every time he tried to continue reading the words of The Dance kept flooding back through his mind and bringing a fresh sheen of tears to his eyes.

Every soul need faith, and ours in Josiah, he has enough faith for all of us and then some, that man’s faith is beyond reproach and I’m afraid puts mine to shame, perhaps that is why we have lasted as a team for so long, Josiah’s faith has cloaked us all in its mystical shrouds. I know of all of you he will be the most comfortable at my passing, because I know he believes that my soul will be travelling to a better place. Let me just say that I wish I had his faith.

Gentle Nathan, how many times would one of us have died without Nathan’s healing touch, never caring for his own safety if one of us was hurt, he is the nurturing of our soul, for without nurturing we would just be the collective of souls trying to find our own way in life. Like the rest of you I am sure he will never realise exactly how much he did mean to me and for that I am truly sorry, I should have told you just how important you truly are to me.

I have left possibly the two people I feel closest to in the hopes that I may be able to articulate my jumbled emotions enough to put them on paper for you. Vin, probably doesn’t know it, but he is probably my closest friend in the world. He is the courage of our soul, and I know that I would be a happy man if I had a thimble full of his noble courageous character. The way he continues to live in that run down neighbourhood, not because he has to, but because he wants to, that is true courage of his character to remain and help the children of his home. Perhaps that is why we are such an effective team. Vin’s courage will not allow us to give in, just when we think we are defeated, we garner the courage to continue.

Finally there is you Mr Larabee, the man in black as you know you are known, you carry your own grief like a cloak, yet you have the strength of character of a dozen men, and the ability that no matter how much you are grieving to sooth the souls of those around you with just a look or a touch. You had the foresight and ability to hand pick each of us, seeing something in all of us that none of us knew we possessed, and for that I thank you. You saw something in me that I didn’t even know existed, and that brought a purpose to my life and my soul that I had never known I had. No matter how I have fallen, I pray that I have fallen alone and not taken any of those brave souls with me. Souls that deserve to be with you into eternity.

My only regret in dying is that I am leaving the family it took me 32 years to find. I know I should regret leaving my mother, though while I love her dearly, she is hardly a mother to me, a fact I will regret to my dying breath. Please do not mourn me, I am only the cunning of this soul and not worthy of your grief, but remember that I will never forget you and will carry a piece of all you with me into eternity

Chris folded the letter and stood walking across to the windows trying to compose himself enough to return to his men. He had never imagined that Ezra felt quite as deeply about the men on the team, oh sure he had known that he was close to them but he had never expected the depth of clarity that Ezra had written of. Chris knew that he was right, hell for the very reasons that Ezra gave he had gathered the men of Team 7 to him and formed a formidable team, but his undercover agent was wrong, he wasn’t cunning, he was the team’s intuition, he always knew exactly what was going to go down, he could read people like a book and had an uncanny ability to hide his own emotions in the process. Shaking his head he frowned, knowing that the team would never be the same again, hell they probably wouldn’t even be a team any more, nobody could replace Ezra, in their hearts or in their team.

Wiping his hand wearily across his face he turned back to the door and towards a man that he now knew better than he had thought he ever would, and regretted having this insight deeply. Knowing that without his death he wouldn’t have been any wiser. He didn’t think he could live with that pain.

The Dance (Garth Brooks)

Looking back, on the memory of

The Dance we shared

Neath the Stars above

For a moment all the world went by

How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye

And I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end

The way it all would go

Our lives are better left to chance

I could’ve missed the pain

But then I’d have to miss

The dance

Holding you

I held everything

And for a moment wasn’t I the king

If I’d only known how the king would fall

Hey whose to say you know I might have changed at all

And I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end

The way it all would go

Our lives are better left to chance

I could’ve missed the pain

But then I’d have had to miss

The Dance

It’s my life

Its better left to chance

I could’ve missed the pain

But then I’d have had to miss

The Dance

PART 13

Chris walked down the corridor towards the room where his compatriots were, a plan hatching in his mind as he walked. Standing at the door of the room for a few moments he watched the men he was proud to call family.

Nathan and Josiah sat in chairs against the wall. JD sat his knees drawn up to his chin on the end of the bed, his had resting on Ezra’s leg, Buck and Vin stood on either side of the bed. Buck with his fingers curled around Ezra’s, Vin stood on the other side of his friend, his hand resting gently against the side of his face. He didn’t know how long he stood there watching his men trying to give their strength to the man in the bed.

“How is he?” Chris asked softly his voice sounding strained to his own ears

Six pairs of eyes looked to their leader and if they noticed the damage done by his tears none of them said anything.

“A little better they say” Vin spoke

“Still don’t offer him any hope” Buck’s voice was flat, almost as if the life was taken out of it. Chris thought back to the words he had just read and knew that here was where they would make their stand, angry at his team for just accepting his apparent approaching death as a fait accompli.

“This has got to stop right now” he stated “He knows we are here dammit” Chris cursed “We are not giving up on him”

“He WILL not die” he spoke. “If he is not strong enough to fight, we will fight for him”

“How the hell do we do that Brother Chris?” Josiah spoke a little angry at his leader for raising their hopes in what appeared to be a hopeless situation

“We do what we do best” he explained to them, seeing their blank faces he continued “We work as a team” he watched the expressions on their faces change as he explained, using Ezra’s own words as he spoke “Josiah, where is your faith now, just blindly accepting that he is dying, why can’t you have faith that he can survive” he turned back to his oldest friend “Or you Buck, you can always see a bright side to every situation, but now, now you just lay down and believe it” he was growing angry as he spoke “I won’t let any of you give up on him” he paused “He is part of this team” he glanced at each man “Part of this family, he needs our help and we are not going to fail him” he finished watching a new fight enter the eyes of his team, knowing that they would fight with everything they had in them to keep their team mate alive.

“So Cowboy” Vin spoke softly “What do we do?” knowing that the impassioned plea from a man who hardly spoke three words strung together at once had come from somewhere

“Buck, I want you to take JD and go home, bring back a CD player and any of your regular CD’s that you can carry” he spoke

“Any choices?” Buck frowned at him wondering if he had finally lost his mind

“That one that you are always playing for a start” he looked up

“Garth Brooks” Buck asked and waited for Chris’ nod “Good Choice”

“Josiah, Nathan” he spoke “you may as well try and get some rest. Vin and I will stay here with him for a while” he watched as his team began to move, once again having a purpose.

“We have to be his strength and his courage to fight now” Chris spoke to them all

“I won’t let him down” he stated and no one doubted him for a minute. “He’s not alone in this and he is not going to be”

It was only a few minutes before Vin and Chris were alone in the room with Ezra.

“Okay Pard” Vin spoke “where did this come from?” he looked across to his best friend.

Chris leaned back in his chair and considered not telling the man who knew him so well, but he realised that he couldn’t lie to him.

“Ezra left a living will here” Chris spoke “and a letter for me”

“What did he say?” Vin asked knowing now that the letter was what had shaken Chris so badly. Chris slipped the letter from his pocket and slid it between his fingers for a few seconds before passing it across the bed to Vin.

“Can I have a few minutes alone with him Vin” he spoke softly “I have a couple of things to say to him”

“Sure thing cowboy” Vin answered wanting to try to read the letter in peace. Chris waited until he heard the door close and stood beside the bed. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say to his friend, but he knew that he had to speak to him, to try to let him know that his friends were here for him.

“Ezra you damned southern fool” he spoke, his hand closing around Ezra’s cool fingers “You think you have us all pegged don’t you” he started “Well if you can read why the rest of us fit together so well, why can’t you see where you fit” he leaned down until he was speaking right next to Ezra’s ear “you are not our cunning, you are our intuition, and we sure as hell need you. I’m not gonna replace you Ezra, without you the team will fold.” Chris spoke using any means he could to get him to hang on and fight “We aren’t gonna let you go Ezra, we’ll let you rest and be your strength for now, but you have to fight” he spoke softly to his fallen friend “Hell Ezra, the team needs you, this family needs you, dammit most of all I need you” he cussed “I will not let you slip away because you think you are not worthy. You hear me”

Chris moved back from the bed unsure if Ezra had even heard him, hoping that at least some of the things he had said had filtered into Ezra’s subconscious thoughts as he fought for his life.

PART 14

“You think he heard you Cowboy” Vin spoke softly from the doorway Chris looked up a little embarrassed that he had been overheard, then spoke “I dunno Vin I just don’t know”

“Who would’ve thought eh?” Vin spoke softly as he handed the letter back to Chris nodding toward the letter

“I can’t help but feel that I have let him down somehow” Chris spoke

“How exactly?” Vin asked “You backed him with Atlanta, when every one else had written him off, you gave him the new start he needed, but most of all you brought him to the family he now has.” Vin explained to him “Hell you gave us all hope and a family, work we could be proud of”

Chris fell silent as he watched the conman, so still in his bed.

“Besides, he can’t die” Vin laughed “Cos I sure as hell don’t want his condo”

“what the hell are you talking about?” Chris spoke

“What he wants done with his belongings” Vin spoke “In the letter” he took the letter from Chris’s hand and extracted the thick letter that Chris had already read from the envelope then pulled a smaller letter from the bottom of the envelope, before handing it to Chris. Chris took it from him and opened it slowly.

Mr Larabee, he read

My possessions are to be divided between the members of team 7 as follows: My Jag is to go to Mr Dunne, perhaps it will stop Buck’s incessant wailing over the motorcycle he currently uses, I know that he will treat her with the respect and dedication she deserves. My silver hip flasks are to go to Nathan, perhaps he will be able to put them to a medicinal use. My literature collection is to be given to Josiah, I know that he is a man that appreciates fine reading. My bed is to go to the lothario of our team, after all since it is the best that money can buy it should go to the man who garners so much pleasure from carnal desires. My condominium is to go to Mr Tanner, hopefully it will provide him a respite from the horrors of purgatorio. Finally my liquor cabinet and all its contents are to go to you Chris, because I know that you will appreciate it as it should be. I hope that these items can bring you as much pleasure as they have brought me. ES

“Dammit Ezra, I don’t want your whisky” he shook his head amazed at the apparently emotionless way that the southern had organised his own death.

“I wouldn’t say that so quickly Chris” Vin laughed at the thought “He has twelve year old scotch in that cupboard.” He smiled wryly as he realised that Vin was trying his hardest to put him more at ease.

For the next four days, Ezra was never alone, two of the seven were with him at all times, talking quietly to him, somebody always touching him. It was not unusual for one of them to reading the stories from the local paper to him, or passages from some of his favourite books, all the while country music playing softly in the background.

His condition was slowly improving but the doctors appeared concerned that he had not yet even briefly regained consciousness. His organs had slowly started to function on their own once more, even his dialysis treatments ceasing on the third day after his shooting. His continued unconsciousness casting a shadow over his complete recovery, though the rest of the seven never giving up hope despite the fact that every day spent in unconsciousness was possibly one step closer to finding a brain injury.

Chris, had after gentle urging from Vin allowed the other 4 members to read the letter that Ezra had left for him, all of them realising exactly why Chris had fought so hard to make them become Ezra’s strength. Each of them redoubling their efforts and spending as much time with their fallen friend.

Buck was sitting in a chair beside his bed, singing along softly with a song playing on the CD player, listening to JD read the local paper to Ezra, not really paying attention to anything until the CD stopped. He stood to change the CD and was startled badly.

“Buck” a hoarse voice spoke “Anything but country please” he murmured slowly

Both JD and Buck let out war whoops of Joy that caused Ezra to wince and moved to his bedside.

“Dammit Ezra” Buck spoke “It damn good to see those eyes open”

PART 15

Ezra fought to keep his eyes open, he was so tired, but he felt so alone, floating in the darkness of sleep. He needed to be with his friends, amongst the family that he was part of, to know that the people he loved were safe and well.

As he fought his way through the veils of blackness, he listened to the soft sounds of JD’s voice reading something, haltingly his voice faltering at times. Dear God, what had made the boys voice so defeated, missing its usual exuberance. Ezra wondered what had happened to him to cause it and how he could help him.

Another voice filtered through his sluggish levels of consciousness, a rich deep voice singing gently to a song that he knew so well. A voice that too had lost its normal joy for living, turning his head the barest inch, he opened his eyes, only to see a sight that shook him to his very core. Buck was stretched out in a hospital chair his long legs stretched in front of him, his head tilted backwards, his eyes closed singing the mournful strains of the CD he always tortured the rest of the team with. This was nothing unusual but the persona of deep sadness that enshrouded the big man was almost visible and if he had been an emotional man the sadness in Buck’s voice would have brought tears to his eyes.

Frowning, he cast his mind back through his memories hoping to recall something about how long he had been here. He vividly remembered the shooting that he had been so sure would end his life. Something about the whole event seemed so surreal to him playing over and over in his mind, but what concerned him, was the dreams that had swirled through the inky blackness of his mind. Dreams of the men he called family, their voices with him constantly calling him back from the depths that were claiming him. Closing his eyes in frustration of his own weakness he tried desperately to stay awake, he didn’t want to go back to the black void that held him in its grasp.

He must have drifted away again, he could hear the sounds of silence begin enshrouding him as the music drifted into silence. The sounds of a chair scraping against the floor as its occupant stood, he realised then what he was hearing.

Struggling to open his eyes and stop the inevitable, he drew a shuddering breath and spoke.

“Buck” his voice sounded, hoarse and shaky even to him “Anything but country please” he murmured slowly

Both JD and Buck let out war whoops of Joy that caused Ezra to wince and moved to his bedside.

“Dammit Ezra” Buck spoke “It damn good to see those eyes open”

Ezra looked up into the big man’s face and was embarrassed almost to see the sheen of tears filling his deep blue orbs.

“Tears” he spoke softly, not sure he wanted to know what had caused this display, but knowing that he needed to somehow.

“Aw hell Ezra” Buck spoke unashamed of his emotions “We didn’t think we would ever see your eyes open again” Buck motioned for JD to get the medical staff and contact the rest of the team, as he helped Ezra to swallow a few sips of water.

He closed his eyes briefly, and as he did he felt Buck grasp his hand strongly and tightly, almost as if he was telling him he was there for him. Ezra couldn’t begin to explain the feeling of belonging and family that washed over him with that small gesture. A sensation of coming home as he dimly remembered words that had been spoken to him while he was suspended in the inky black shroud hit him like a physical blow. Words of belonging, words of family, all spoken by a man whose opinion meant everything to Ezra.

“He WILL not die, if he is not strong enough to fight, we will fight for him”

“Well if you can read why the rest of us fit together so well, why can’t you see where you fit”

“We aren’t gonna let you go, we’ll let you rest and be your strength for now, but you have to fight”

“The team needs you, this family needs you, dammit most of all I need you I will not let you slip away because you think you are not worthy. You hear me”

Ezra tried to fight the need for rest as he remembered the snippets of conversation that had coaxed him back from the never land that he was in, he realised now that he was wrong he did belong with these men, together they were invincible, and while one of them still drew breath he would protect and aid the others until he no longer was able.

Buck watched a gentle smile cross Ezra’s lips as he drifted back into the calming sleep that he needed to rebuild himself, knowing now that he would recover, Buck could relax and wait for his friends to return to the best news any of them could dream of.

PART 16

FOUR WEEKS LATER

Ezra lay on the grass behind Chris’ ranch house, gazing absently at the stars listening to the others talking quietly, a long neck bottle of beer clasped loosely in his hand. The others were all still inside the house, but Ezra had needed a few minutes to himself, time to think and reflect on all that had happened to him recently.

The others were slowly growing more comfortable with his physical condition, well enough not to follow him wherever he went anymore anyway. It was almost like he was a child and he had managed to accrue 6 fathers overnight. Even JD was treating him like a child. In the past it would have annoyed him to have them babying him, but now it was different. He didn’t know how, it just was. Perhaps it was because he knew that they did it out of caring not out of responsibility. Funny how almost dying puts things into perspective for you. Never again would he take his relationship with these men for granted, because he knew in his soul, without a shadow of a doubt that these men were what had kept him alive. Oh not medically, but emotionally they sustained him until he could find the will to fight for himself, and he would be eternally grateful for that.

He had been a little embarrassed when he had found that they had read the letter he had left for Chris, but now there was nothing he could do about it, his heart and soul were out on a open platter for them to destroy if they so desired, but that was not how these noble and honourable men operated. They took the knowledge of his open emotions as a precious gift and guarded their gift diligently. Sure they would have their differences in the future, but underneath it all they were brothers and that was all that mattered.

They wouldn’t let him recuperate at his own home, oh no, he had to be where they could keep an eye on him, so for three weeks now he had been living in Chris Larabee’s guest room. Closely guarded by the men who had become the most important people in his life, he smiled as he remembered the feelings of belonging that had assailed him as he had woken, what seemed a lifetime ago. He had thought the feelings of belonging and kinship would leave him, just as any ‘friends’ he had ever had did, but it seemed that each day they just kept getting stronger. Binding him even tighter to the men that he was now proud to call brother.

“Whatcha smiling at Pard?” Vin spoke as he sat on the grass beside Ezra

“Nothing actually” Ezra spoke softly “Just Thinking” he took a long pull from the beer that was still cradled in his hands.

“That could be dangerous” Chris spoke as he sat on his other side , resting his elbows on his bent knees.

“Can I take it gentlemen, that I have been dallying too long in the evening air” he spoke thinking that Chris and Vin had been sent to bring him back into the warm air inside the house.

“No Brother” Josiah spoke and Ezra tilted his head to watch the rest of the team all taking up position on the grassy expanse “You looked so contented we thought we might join you”

“Well hell” Ezra drawled “There goes the peace and quiet” the humour in his voice making all of them laugh

“What are you thinking about?” JD asked softly

“Nothing Really” he shrugged “Everything” he knew that he wasn’t going to get away with a non answer he responded the most honest way he knew they would all understand;

“Just thinking how much I am enjoying sharing this dance with all of you. Hoping that you know that if tomorrow never comes, just how much you really mean to me”

Each of them thought about it for a minute remembering Ezra’s letter and the song he indirectly referred to, nodding silently content to share the silence with the men they were all proud to call brother.

THE END

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