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After... Mag7, ATF AU, Gen (2/3)

Title: After
Characters: Ezra and Buck, as well as all the others
Warnings: Big time language (sorry), reliving of violent times, major angst
Summary:  This is the next installment in the story arc started in Gone Wrong.  If you haven't read that one first, I suggest that you do (otherwise, you might get a little lost).  After the events of Gone Wrong, Ezra's life, and that of the rest of the guys, starts on the road back to normal.  But things aren't as happy as they seem.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Ezra entered the office at 10 o’clock the next morning. Again, he felt like all eyes were on him from the moment he got out of his car in the parking garage. The appointment had gone well, and the last of the stitches were removed. No matter how many times he had stitches removed, he would never get used to the creepy feeling of the suture being pulled from his skin.

 

The scars were an angry pink, but the plastic surgeon had said that they would fade. She had given Ezra care sheets on how to make the scarring less noticeable, and had given him some creams as well that would help. She also told him not to do any strenuous pulling exercises, due to the nature of the injury. The skin could, she explained, pull apart a bit while it was still healing. And it was still healing; probably would be for another week or so. But the skin, although weak due to the newness of it, looked good. She told him he was lucky that there would be minimal scarring.

 

Ezra had laughed at that. This, this was minimal scarring? The jagged line down his sternum looked so much more than minimal…

 

Getting to his desk with as little face time as possible had been the goal, and he was more or less successful. A couple of secretaries and several other agents had greeted him, but other than that it was business as usual.

 

Laying his briefcase on his desk, he sat down. Chris’s door was shut, and the rest of the bullpen was empty. Being just a little after ten, Ezra surmised that JD and Vin were probably out scavenging for a mid-morning snack, Buck was probably off doing what Buck does, and Nathan and Josiah were around… somewhere.

 

Chris’s door opened and the blond leader came strolling out. He stopped when he noticed Ezra at his desk. “You just get here?” he asked as he changed his course to come over to the southerner.

 

“Just this very moment,” he replied, his voice more pleasant that Chris had heard it in a while.

 

“How did it go?” Chris asked as he sat on the corner of Nathan’s unoccupied desk.

 

Ezra leaned back in his chair and sighed. “About as expected. Stitches are out, scars look horrible, but the doctor said it was minimal.”

 

“You don’t think so?” Chris asked, perplexed.

 

“No.”  He blew out a tired breath. “No I don’t.” He looked directly at Chris. “Even if the scars were miniscule, it would be too much. I’ll never be rid of what that asshole did to me.” 

 

Chris shifted from the desk to Nathan’s chair and rolled it towards the southerner. “Ezra, what he did to you pales in comparison to what he could have done to you. He could have killed you. He could have killed Buck. We may never have found you. Either of you. But we did. And you’re here.” He paused, then added, “I don’t know what I would have done if we hadn’t found you when we did.”

 

Ezra looked at Chris, seeing the sincerity in his eyes. “I know Chris. It’s just hard to get my mind around things right now. You know, I still see him sometimes? I see him every time I look at myself in the mirror in the morning,” he spoke quietly, placing his hand at his chest.

 

“It’ll get better Ezra. I promise it will.”

 

Ezra nodded. “Chris? Please don’t tell the others about this.”

 

“About what?” Chris asked.

 

“I’m having… trouble… with this.”

 

“I would be more worried if you weren’t having trouble with it,” he paused, then nodded. “All right Ezra. But don’t shut us out.”

 

Ezra nodded, but kept his eyes down. Chris slapped his knee lightly as he got up from Nathan’s chair and went to get some coffee.

 

*** 

 

Within the hour the team had reconvened in their bullpen, JD and Vin having successfully pillaged some donuts and snacks from who-knew-where, Buck boasting about a phone number from the new secretary on the third floor, and Nathan and Josiah drinking something nasty-looking from a juice bar that had just opened up on the block.  Chris was in his office again, having left the door open once he returned from getting his coffee after their little chat earlier.

 

No one had mentioned Ezra’s injuries, or the fact that the appointment to have the rest of the stitches removed had been this morning. It was unnerving to the southerner. Usually Nathan would ask a million questions, but he sat silently, rummaging through files on his desk. Even Josiah was silent, contentedly sipping a drink that truly looked like mud. Ezra wondered how it made it up the straw…

 

“Ezra,” Nathan’s voice chimed in but he never looked up from what he was doing. “Don’t itch.”

 

Ezra was shocked to realize that he had his hand on his chest, rubbing the scar through his shirt. “I’m not.” He dropped his hand down immediately.

 

Nathan looked up at him. “They give you anything to put on it?”

 

Ezra sighed dramatically. “Yes, but I wasn’t itching.”

 

“Right.” He locked eyes with the southerner. “Do you need help putting it on your back?”

 

Understanding dawned on Ezra, and he curled his mouth in a half smile. “You’re dying to see, aren’t you?” There was humor in his tone as he spoke. Nathan had been watching Ezra so nonchalantly that even Ezra hadn’t noticed. The southerner was impressed.

 

Nathan sighed, “Yes,” he admitted somewhat disappointed. He’d thought he was being slick.

 

Ezra looked around at his other teammates. “You’re all a bit curious, aren’t you?” His voice still held a tone of humor.

 

Smiling at the looks of obvious curiosity in his teammates’ faces, he loosened his tie and started unbuttoning his shirt. He sighed dramatically through a half chuckle, motioning with his arms as he spoke, “I don’t want to be on display, so gather round.”

 

Ezra sat back in his chair as five sets of eyes gathered around. All were morbidly curious, having not seen the injury either at all or not in over a week. Buck made no move to leave his chair, but feigned interest as he leaned to make it look like he wanted to see. He didn’t want to give Ezra the impression that he didn’t care.

 

What am I doing? Ezra thought to himself. When he first realized what Nathan was trying for, he felt a sense of familiarity, a sense of normalcy. There had been plenty of times that they had all sat around and traded war stories, showing the scars that went with them. But as soon as he started to undo his tie, he traveled back to that warehouse. Slowly, he continued to unbutton his shirt, hoping to give his racing heart a chance to slow. He worried that the rest of the team would actually see it thundering in his chest. It felt as though the organ would break open his rib cage. But he couldn’t not continue at this point. He could do this. These guys were his family. But that didn’t make it any easier. What if they think I’m horribly disfigured

 

Ezra took a calming breath as he pulled the shirt open, the scar becoming visible. Though jagged and quite pink, all the stitches were out. The five inch jagged gash ran down the sternum and was about half the width of a pen. Ezra controlled his breathing so as not to show his nervousness. He looked at each man’s face in turn, gauging their reactions. Nathan looked on intently, bent at the waist to give his medical eye a better look at the work done. The others stood back, watching the reveal with a less intense, but no less interested, gaze. 

 

“May I?” Nathan asked, looking into the panicky green eyes of the southerner.

 

“Sure Nathan.” Ezra’s heart fluttered in his chest in what could only be fear at Nathan’s question. Nathan reached and ran his fingers over the scar, feeling for who knows what, but apparently liking what he found. 

 

While everyone’s attention was elsewhere, Buck got up and left his desk. There was only so much he could take of this. He headed to the kitchenette for coffee.

 

“She does good work,” Nathan commented. Ezra hoped the medic couldn’t feel his heart’s panicky beat within as he felt the length of the scar. “That feels real smooth. She tell you to watch out for pulling on it?” he asked as he looked at the southerner.

 

Ezra nodded. Maybe he wasn’t as damaged as he thought. Nathan wouldn’t hold back about something like that. 

 

Dropping his hand back down, Nathan repeated his earlier question, “Do you want help putting that stuff on your back.”

 

Swallowing once, Ezra replied, “Thank you Nathan.”

 

The two left the office heading for the men’s room. 

 

***

 

Josiah had seen Buck get up and leave his desk, and followed him discreetly into the kitchenette. Walking through the door, he saw Buck leaning with his palms flat against the counter, head hung. 

 

“Buck?” Josiah asked.

 

Buck raised his head, but didn’t turn to face the big man. “Josiah,” he said softly.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

Buck laughed to himself; a short, wry chuckle. “No, Josiah. I’m not alright.” Buck turned and leaned back on the counter, looking at Josiah’s face. Josiah could see the pain within his friend’s blue eyes. Buck turned and looked out the window, then bent at the waist and rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans. He rested his hands just above his knees and didn’t look up as he spoke. “I’m not alright at all.”

 

Josiah nodded and sat at the table. Buck remained standing. Josiah was going to let him set the pace of this conversation, and sat quietly as the mustached man warred with his thoughts.

 

After a full minute of silence, Buck spoke. “I can’t… I can’t look… at the scars. I don’t want to. If I can’t see them then I don’t have to remember how he sounded when he was… screaming.” Buck stood and looked at the preacher, seeking direction, advice, consolation, something.

 

Josiah nodded pensively, but didn’t speak. He knew there was more to be said.

 

“Josiah, I don’t know what to do here. I love him like a brother, I love all of you. But I can’t be around him. I can’t… I can’t breathe when I think about that warehouse. About that guy. I wish he wasn’t dead so I could kill him with my bare hands.” Buck stared out the window when he was done speaking, crossing his arms across his chest. Josiah could see his jaw muscles clenching and unclenching. 

 

“Buck,” Josiah began, taking a deep breath and blowing it out. Buck turned tortured eyes to the preacher. “It’s not easy for any of us. So I can’t even imagine what it was like for you, having been there, hearing what you did and seeing what you saw.” Buck dropped his chin to his chest. “But Buck, we need to stick together on this. All seven of us. You can help Ezra, and Ezra can help you. You two are the only two who know exactly what happened in that warehouse. Talk to him Buck. All of us are here for you all the time, never doubt that, but none of us knows what you went through while you were there. We were there after.”

 

Buck nodded and smiled to himself when Josiah repeated the same logic Buck had used on Chris the other morning in the office. The answer had been looking him in the face that day and maybe countless other times before. “Thanks Josiah,” Buck said as he pushed himself off the counter and clapped the big man on the shoulder on his way back to his desk.

 

*******

 

It’s an odd sensation, standing half naked in front of a man who is applying a cream to your back. Ezra was surprised how at ease he felt, even in this awkward situation. His shirt lay on the counter nearby, his back to the healer. 

 

Ezra stared at Nathan’s reflection in the mirror as he applied the cream to the scars on his back, looking for any indication of what his friend was thinking as he touched the wounds.

 

Nathan was trying to keep his composure as he applied the cream to Ezra’s back. Like the scar on his chest, these felt smooth and well done. Nathan didn’t fail to notice that Ezra was watching him in the mirror as he worked. He also didn’t fail to notice that Ezra gripped the sink in front of him with white-knuckle intensity. Was it pain? If it was, it was most likely remembered pain more than actual hurt. More than likely, it was fear. Nathan couldn’t help but let his thoughts wander to the day that they had found both Ezra and Buck in the warehouse. He had been so shocked by the condition Ezra was in that he couldn’t speak. He had also been angry; more angry than he had ever been at another human being.

 

“That bad?” Ezra asked.

 

Nathan was brought out of his reverie by the quiet drawl. His head snapped up and looked at Ezra in the mirror.

 “What?”

 

“Does it look that bad?” Ezra asked. Nathan had stopped applying the cream and the look on his face had changed, prompting the question.

 

Nathan shook his head slightly, silently berating himself for letting Ezra think that. “No. Ezra it looks really good.”

 

Ezra nodded and dropped his head. “Considering,” he added morosely.

 

Nathan couldn’t fault him there. Considering he had been assaulted and slashed. Considering he had been knocked around. Considering it should never have happened in the first place. 

 

Nathan laid his hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Ezra, I was thinking about that day.”

 

Ezra looked up at Nathan in the mirror. His look invited Nathan to continue.

 

Nathan huffed out his breath. “Ezra, when we found you… I was so… scared. But that turned to anger so fast that it scared me. I was so mad at that… animal… that did this to you. I keep thinking, if I hadn’t been in court that day, if I had been there…”

 

“Nathan,” Ezra started.

 

“No Ezra, I need to say this.” He paused and took a steadying breath. “I see you sometimes, you know? I see you in my dreams. I see you hurt and bloodied and in pain. Only in my dreams, you don’t live. And that kills me. Then I see you, and you’re still you, still a pain in the ass, still my friend, and that kills me because the dreams are so real that I feel like I lose you every night. It’s selfish, I know…”

 

“It’s not selfish Nathan,” Ezra said as he turned and faced the black man.

 

“It is. Ezra, I find myself at a loss here, because I feel the need to almost smother you, if only to make myself feel better.    But every day, I find myself doubting if you’ll be here when I’m driving to work.”

 

Ezra looked hard into Nathan’s eyes. “I’m sorry, my friend.” For pushing you away that first week. You and everyone else. “I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. That was selfish on my part.” Ezra started to shrug his shirt back on, mindful of his still not 100% healed body.

 

Nathan helped him get his arms into the sleeves of his shirt. Ezra looked up at his as he worked his buttons. Nathan smiled at him. “Couple of selfish bastards then, aren’t we?”

 

Ezra chuckled. “Indeed sir, we are.”

 

 

 

*******

 

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Buck thought as he got out of his truck. But Josiah had said he should do this. It had taken him an hour and a half to get into his truck and drive over here, debating with himself the entire time. But now he was here, and seemingly ready.

 

He wasn’t. Deep down, he knew he might never actually be ready.

 

Thoughts aside, he started up the walk to the Southerner’s front door. Finding any reason to be distracted, Buck thought on how nice the lawn looked, and how nice a neighborhood Ezra lived in. What an interesting sound his own boots made on the walkway. Despite his best efforts, he found himself at Ezra’s door sooner than he had anticipated.

 

Just knock. Just put your hand out and hit the door. Easy as that. But it wasn’t that easy, and he knew it. Knocking on the door would open up the subject that caused him to lose sleep and to dream dreams that were better suited for slasher movies. His fist rapped on the door, and Buck stood astonished when the sound resonated in his ears. He looked down at his betraying appendage as though he didn’t know from whence it came.

 

The door opened, and a smiling, although somewhat shocked looking southerner stood. 

 

“Ezra.”

 

“Buck?” Ezra asked. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I uh, I… you know what, it’s stupid. Forget it.” Buck turned to leave. A hand on his upper arm stopped him.

 

“Please come in Buck.”

 

Buck nodded and turned back to face his friend. Ezra turned and went back inside, leaving the door open for Buck to enter when he was ready. After only a moment of hesitation, the tall agent entered and shut the door behind him.

 

No turning back now.

 

Shrugging out of his jacket and placing it in the foyer closet, he continued further into the house. Ezra came out of the kitchen and into the living room, sitting on the couch. Buck joined him, but sat on the other end. His discomfort did not go unnoticed.

 

“You alright Buck?”

 

“Yeah. Um, well… yeah.” How do you start this conversation?

 

Ezra nodded slowly. His friend had something to say, no doubt, and Ezra was pretty sure he knew what it entailed, but he wouldn’t rush the man. He reached for his rapidly cooling coffee and took a sip, patiently waiting. 

 

Buck smiled wryly, and chuckled softly as he said, “A bit late for coffee, ain’t it Ezra?”

 

The southerner put the cup back on the table. A half smile played on his lips. “I haven’t exactly been sleeping too well.” After a pause, he added softly, “As I’m sure you can empathize.”

 

Buck nodded and smiled a small smile he didn’t mean. “That I can Ezra.” He sighed quietly. “That I can.”

 

“And that is the crux of the matter… the reason for your visit?” 

 

The direct approach. Buck wasn’t shocked. The two had been dancing around each other for a while now; averted eyes and redirected walking routes, a sudden appreciation of Ezra’s personal space. “Yeah… it is. I just don’t quite know how to start.”

 

“Say whatever you’re thinking, right at this moment. No matter what it is,” the Southerner prompted.

 

“Why doesn’t it bother you?!” Buck almost spat. 

 

“Why doesn’t what bother me?” Ezra kept his voice calm.

 

Buck stood and faced the sitting southerner. He sputtered and waved his hands about with no real purpose aside from showing his irritation. He waved his hands at his own torso before mimicking the motion towards his friend. “Everything! How can you walk around with your normal look on your face, acting like nothing happened?! How can you joke and show everyone your scars and act like it’s from nothing more than a papercut?”

 

“A papercut?!” Ezra almost shouted. He stood and faced Buck. He didn’t mean for his temper to flare, but this had been building. Ezra had been irritated, frustrated and angry for far too long with no outlet. Buck insinuating that he didn’t give a damn about what had happened to him, to him, was the last straw. 

 

Buck recoiled, shaken by the gambler’s outburst.

 

Ezra’s eyes were wild, and his voice rose as he continued. “You think it doesn’t bother me?! You think I don’t get up every day, look in the mirror and HATE what I see?! I see that asshole EVERY DAY! I see him in my sleep, so much so that I try NOT to sleep if I can. So if I have to pretend that that didn’t happen just to get through the day, who the fuck are you to say that I don’t care?!”

 

Buck fired right back. “I was there too! You may not have seen how you looked when he dragged you out, but I did! You may look in the mirror every day and hate what you see, but I can’t get the picture of how you looked laying on the floor of that warehouse, not answering me, out of my fucking mind! Every time I see you, every time I hear you, I can only imagine what he did to you… I can hear you fucking scream!”

 

“Well, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been put through,” Ezra’s voice dripped with disdain. “You can only imagine what he did?!” Ezra was yelling. He reached for the front of his own shirt and ripped it open, buttons scattering and bouncing away. “Have a good look Buck,” he spat as he held his arms wide open. “He tried to flay me open! Imagine that. Imagine what it felt like to have a blade slice you open. Imagine the look of the devil in the eyes of the man doing it to you. Imagine the joy in those same eyes as you try not to scream.”

 

“I thought he was killing you!!”

 

“He was!!”

 

Silence filled the room. Both men stood shocked at the revelation, breathing heavily in the stillness that enveloped them. 

 

Ezra dropped his head and placed his hands on his hips, shirt hanging open. Buck studied the man, seeing that his earlier assumption couldn’t be more wrong. It did bother Ezra, probably more than the southerner wanted any of them to know. “So why, Ezra?” Buck asked softly when the silence got to be too much. “Why do you act like it’s nothing?”

 

“I can’t…” he stammered. “I can’t be… looked at like that…”

 

“Like what?” Buck was confused.

 

“Like damaged goods. I’ve gotten that look most of my life.” He breathed in and out slowly, then added, “Like all I am now is the guy who was tortured...” His voice broke as he added, “that’s not who I am…”

 

Buck’s expression softened as he looked at his friend.

 

“That’s the look,” Ezra commented as he glanced up at his friend’s face. “Don’t you dare pity me, Buck. Don’t you dare!” he snapped.

 

“I don’t pity you Ezra. It’s called sympathy.”

 

“Whatever it is, I don’t need it.”

 

“Tough.”

 

“Tough? What are you, four?”

 

“Fuck you Ezra. We’re your friends. I’m your friend. Don’t act like I don’t have a right to care.”

 

Ezra stared at Buck. “This is not going to be the defining moment in my life. This isn’t going to be the thing everybody is going to refer to.”

 

“What?”

 

“The one defining moment in my life.”  Ezra’s tone became mocking, “‘That happened before the incident, this happened after the incident.’ I won’t let it be that.”

 

“Ezra, this doesn’t define who you are,” Buck said. The southerner turned abruptly and went into the kitchen. Buck followed on his heels. “Where you going? Don’t walk away…”

 

“It doesn’t define me, huh?” Ezra said as he stopped and turned to face Buck.  Holding his arms out again as he had done earlier, he added, “Look around Buck. What do you see?”

 

“Your kitchen?” Buck asked with a hint of a smile. What was he supposed to see?

 

“What don’t you see?” Ezra spat, lowering his arms and placing his hands palm down on the island countertop.

 

Buck shook his head slightly and shrugged.

 

Ezra whipped open one of his lower cabinets and started hurling things out. Buck dodged a pan and a mixing bowl as they clattered by on the floor. Ezra found what he was looking for and slammed it on the counter. It was his knife block with all his knives in it. He whipped open a drawer to reveal his silverware tray, the knife section empty. Whipping open another drawer he reached in and pulled out a handful of different knives… butter knives, breadknives, even one of those plastic green knives that are supposed to be good for cutting vegetables. Once all the items had been slammed onto the counter, he returned his hands palm down to the countertop.

 

“I can’t look at a fucking knife without breaking out into a cold sweat. Even a goddam butter knife,” he said disgustedly. With one swift motion, Ezra cleared the counter sending all the knives to the floor. Over the crashing, he yelled, “How does that NOT define me?”

 

Buck didn’t flinch when Ezra sent everything crashing to the floor. Guilt came to the forefront of his mind. He had goaded Ezra into this. This hadn’t been what he hoped to get out of this evening’s conversation. Knowing Ezra felt like this didn’t make Buck feel any better, like he had thought it might. “Ezra…”

 

“Isn’t this what you wanted Buck? You wanted me to show you it bothered me? You wanted me to lose control and throw shit, break shit, admit to having nightmares and not being able to sleep?” Ezra’s voice was full of contempt. “Does this make you feel better?” The soft drawl was quiet and defeated when he added softly, “Knowing that I’m miserable?” He slumped to the floor, his back against the cabinets. The last question was as much of an admission to himself as it was to the other man. The southerner pulled his knees up and rested his elbows on them as he hung his head. Buck sat next to him, mimicking his position.

 

“We’re human Ezra. We’re not gone be fine right away. So fucking what?” Buck’s voice was soft and kind. “We will be. I know it in my heart.”

 

Ezra’s breath hitched, strangling a sob. Buck put his arm around the smaller man’s shoulders and held him.

 

As they both cried.

 

*******



part three

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
tpena19
Jun. 28th, 2009 06:51 am (UTC)
Ah, cathardic. Good it was with Buck, doubt anyone else would get "it" as much, even if Buck was way off to start. nice ending images too.
winks7985
Jun. 28th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
it totally HAD to be buck. he's hurting in his own way, and only he could get ezra to release his anger and frustration. plus, buck wouldn't be rattled by any type of outburst, having been friends with chris for so long.

i'm glad you're diggin it!
romanse1
Jun. 28th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
OMG that was BRILLIANT! So intense, so realistic! I was on the edge of my seat reading that confrontation! LOVE it! LOVE it! LOVE it!

You get inside their heads and SHOW us so clearly what is driving these characters to act and speak as they do. You've hit the perfect balance between the severity of the trauma and the reactions to that trauama.

So lovely that just as was forshadowed, Buck and Ezra can both be there for each other because you realize they both need it!

I thought the entire scene in the bullpen of Ezra wanting to show his scars and establish normalcy, and having to work through his fear was excellent writing.

Rotfl - Don't kill me, but when you wrote:
...to dream dreams that were better suited for slasher movies.

My mind saw and read slashier movies. I couldn't help but bust out laughing! ; )

winks7985
Jun. 28th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
hahaha "slashier movies!" that made me laugh... :D:D

i'm so glad you liked the "confrontation" scene. i wrote that one night in about two hours in my kitchen, and in order to get the dialog/voices right, i was almost yelling at myself in the kitchen... trying to "hear" what was being said and deciding if it worked. i sincerely hope that no one was walking by outside, cuz they would absolutely believe that a crazy chick lived here!

buck and ezra are definitely there for each other. and it HAS to be buck that is there for ezra. only the two of them can know what it was like in the warehouse. and i love that i got to get buck some validation for what he was feeling when he would hear ezra scream. he's such a sweetie, that you know that any of his friend's hurt hurts him too. especially if he can't do anything about it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
People spend thousands of dollars on therapy; I just beat shit with a hammer.

~~~~~~~

Monsters do exist. Ghosts too. They live inside us and sometimes they win.
~Stephen King

~~~~~~~

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self...
~Cyril Connolly

>^..^<

Oh! An Irishman's heart is as stout as shillelagh,

It beats with delight to chase sorrow and woe;

When the piper plays up, then it dances gaily,

And thumps with a whack to leather a foe.

~~~~~~~

"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MONTRESOR!"

"Yes," I said, "for the love of God!"

~The Cask of Amontillado


ezra

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