Ezra kept his face carefully blank as he looked over the email he’d just received for a second time. He minimized it and looked at the attached document he’d opened. Everything looked to be in order, ever T-crossed and every I-dotted.
It couldn’t be real. He refused to believe it.
It was some sort of cruel joke. Not from Buck or JD, he was certain they would not stoop that low, nor would Mr. Tanner. No, Vin would never do something like this. Perhaps it was something cooked up by Team 3, their undercover agent hated him. It had to be. Just an unkind jest.
Yet the very official looking memo, with what appeared to be genuine transfer papers attached, stared him in the face. It informed him in crisp, bureaucratic language that Agent Standish-him-was being transferred out to the California branch effective Monday, to work under some SAC he’d never heard of. It looked real. He couldn’t deny that.
It was Friday. It said he was expected to move, or at least arrive, in another state by Monday, and no one had bothered to let him know until today. Absurd.
Surely, before this step there would have to be a meeting wouldn’t there? There were protocols that had to be followed.
Of course, Ezra wasn’t entirely sure if anything in those protocols said he had to be at the meeting.
It looked official. It was sent from the right department.
He was being sent away, transferred, again. What had he done? Why? What could he possibly have done? Ezra knew he’d been hard to live with since he came back from their last case, knew the sarcasm was rolling off his tongue thicker than ever and that he had not been careful who he aimed it at. Three months of living hard with scum that would have made the usual degenerates turn away in disgust could do that to a man. He’d thought they understood. They’d told him they understood, Mr. Sanchez had anyway, even if it had been in the midst of what amounted to a scolding for his behavior. The lecture had been surprisingly gentle, and filled with reminders that he could come to Josiah if he needed to. Truthfully, it had been more comforting than anything, not that he’d admitted it at the time. The others knew what he had seen, even Mr. Jackson had been gentle after, after…Ezra swallowed down the bile that was forming in his stomach at the memories, firmly shoving them away.
That had just been a few days ago. Had Josiah known? Did Josiah know now? Mr. Larabee would have had to sign any transfer papers before anything official was sent out, but had he told the others? Everyone was acting completely normal, had acted normal all morning before they left for court.
Ezra couldn’t, wouldn’t, believe they wouldn’t care, that they wouldn’t at least acknowledge, that he was being sent away. Good lord, were none of them even going to say goodbye?
It was Friday. Court was likely to go long enough they wouldn’t be back into the office today. So, perhaps he was wrong, and they wouldn’t.
They’d said he was family. Fool that he was, he’d actually been starting to believe them. He really should know better by now.
He just didn’t understand why.
Suddenly a chill went through Ezra that froze him to the core. He knew what had happened. The rumors had never quit following him, even after almost three years with the ATF and on Team Seven. The whispers whenever a leak was suspected, the murmurs when certain names were brought up. Ezra had ignored it, acted like it didn’t hurt, partly to keep up the facade for himself, and partly to keep the more overprotective of his teammates from seeking revenge on his behalf. It didn’t matter that Ezra had never been, and never would be on the take. Once the rumor of corruption hit a man the stench stayed.
Had those doubts begun to penetrate his team without him noticing? Had they lost their faith in him? Ezra’s head bowed, and he allowed his eyes to close for just a second. Why was he asking? It was obvious they had.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t him!
But when had that ever mattered?
Every time he’d let his guard down before, every time he’d thought he’d found his place, he’d lost it. That was his destiny. There was clearly something inside Ezra P. Standish that said he couldn’t be trusted. Something that only those closest to him could see. That had to be it, because either they left, or he was sent away and it had been like that for as long as he could remember. On auto-pilot Ezra hit print on the memo and attached transfer papers. It still felt so unreal that if he didn’t have a copy he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do the things he had to do to get ready for the move.
The move. He clamped down harshly on the slightly hysterical laugh that wanted to bubble out of him, doing his best to keep his face smooth and unconcerned, and not at all sure he was succeeding.
Still in a haze-if he hadn’t been he would have noticed the concerned looks Buck was shooting at him-Ezra signed out of his email and shut-down the computer, walking over to the printer to collect his papers and was starting to leave when Buck spoke up, doing a bad job of sounding casual, “Hey Ez, you going to lunch already? Thought you said you had a ton of paperwork to do?”
Ezra looked at Buck, looking for the tells that he was hiding something, or feeling guilty, and saw only genuine concern. Perhaps Buck didn’t know? “Ah find mahself havin’ to take care of a few personal mattahs. Ah should be back before yah have to covah for me.” As their team members were in court for almost the whole day, except for Josiah who’d been at a conference yesterday and wouldn’t be back until the afternoon, Ezra knew that wasn’t saying much and hid a sigh when Buck frowned. He headed towards the door again, and Buck stood up now, limping over in his walking cast to block his path, and Ezra felt both annoyed and touched, annoyed that Buck could apparently see through him so well, and touched that what he saw concerned him.
“It’s freezing out, Hoss, you ain’t going nowhere without your coat.” Buck had his arms crossed now and was raising an eyebrow at him like he was JD, and Ezra felt a surge of hope. He was certain now that Buck didn’t know, and, for all Vin and Chris seemed to share a brain, the leader told his oldest friend just about everything. Perhaps there was a mistake? Maybe this was something the higher ups were doing that Chris was trying to fight? Travis had complained before about ‘the brass’, never mind that he was part of it, trying to break up ‘his’ team. It had been nice to hear it, nice to know that even though he and the man may never personally get along well, that he still considered Ezra and the rest of the seven his. But as soon as the surge of hope came it left. Mr. Larabee would have had to sign before any official transfer could be arranged, and being told to report in to a specific California office at 8 o’clock Monday morning was very official. “Ezra? You in there?”
Now Buck was looking downright worried and Ezra hastened to smile at him, “Yah are right of course, Mr. Wilmington. Ah’ll grab it right now.” Buck watched as Ezra put on his coat, hat, and gloves, and then cleared his throat and pointed to the scarf still laying over the back of his chair. Ordinarily this would have led to rolled eyes and a sarcastic remark, but Ezra just grabbed the scarf and put it on, not noticing as Buck’s worry deepened.
“Ezra, is something wrong? You’re scaring me a little here, hoss.” His look of concern was so genuine that Ezra wanted to tell him, wished he could, but how do you even do that? ‘Our boss and your oldest friend doesn’t trust me anymore, and is having me transferred to another team. Only he didn’t tell me, just let me find out when personnel sent over the transfer approval.’ He couldn’t tell him, and the more Ezra thought about it the less he wanted too.
What if that look of concern turned to one of suspicion? Mr. Wilmington trusted Mr. Larabee above all others. The idea that he might stick up for Ezra was laughable. “Nothing concernin’, just time sensitive.” Buck’s appraising look was more than a little suspicious, but he eventually nodded, shuffling back so that Ezra had enough room to pass by him, if barely. He could see Buck still staring after him as he shut the office door behind him, but put it out of his mind as he climbed into the elevator. Ezra had a moving company to arrange and a plane ticket to buy.
Then he was going to find a bar, and get very, very, drunk.