Author: Athea (
Fandom: Magnificent 7, modern day ATF (all blessings to MOG)
Title: Kiss Me Goodbye
Pairing: Ezra/Buck
Summary: Answer to the Rowan Challenge and it stands alone.
Date: 17 February 2004
********* Ezra *********

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. Mother always said I was the slowest learner she'd ever tried to train and she must be right for I definitely missed the warning signs. They were all there for me to see but . . . perhaps I just didn't want to see them. I play so many roles and I let my guard down when I considered myself safely ensconced in my real life.

Real life, how very ironic that thought is. I've been shot, knifed, bludgeoned and violated but none of them hurt the way this does. I lowered my walls and let six men into my heart only to have them trample it into the dirt beneath my feet. I can truthfully say that no bad man with evil intent ever inflicted the damage my so-called-friends have inflicted with a few careless words and their indifference.

Sipping my whiskey, I watch the stars above. If I were a betting man, I'd bet those stars would fall before I'd be loved for myself. Leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I found myself unable to even wish on one of those twinkly bodies. Buck was further away from me right this moment then he'd ever been. He'd been pulling away from me for the last two months.

Or perhaps it was even longer since I'd been undercover for three months before that. Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I felt tears prickle behind my eyelids. Buck had been my sunshine, lightening my spirits with his good humor and cheerful demeanor. He made me laugh, brought happiness into my rather humdrum life and made my body sing with pleasure.

But he was seeing Laura Caster now and there was no time or thought for me. I knew it was only a matter of time. No one had ever stayed with me or loved me unconditionally. I was not a keeper. I smiled at my reflection in the cold glass. I just kept getting fished out and thrown back because I was too cold-hearted or too male or too something.

The moving van pulled up and parked. Draining my glass, I turned back to the cold condo living room. I was packed up and ready to leave. The doorbell rang and I let the movers in. Directing them took my mind off my once-again failure and I actually didn't think about Buck or the rest of Team 7 for the two hours they were there. Once the rooms were empty, I took a last look around and then shut the door behind me.

The cleaners would be in bright and early then they would leave off their key at the office of this complex. I'd never really like it here but then I'd never expected to stay longer than a year or two. Three years had passed and I'd begun to think about sinking my roots even deeper into Denver's soil. Walking down the outer steps towards my Jag, I smiled ruefully. I should have known better.

Truly, I'd let down my guard and been well skewered on Eros' arrow. That damn lump was back and I swallowed convulsively while getting into my car. Blowing my nose, I tucked my handkerchief into my breast pocket and started the car. Pulling out, I headed for the Interstate. It had been years since I'd visited San Francisco so that was where I was headed.

My letter of resignation had been accepted by Judge Travis this afternoon. I'd asked him to let me tell the others myself and he'd agreed. Little did he know, I was such a coward I left Mr. Larabee another letter rather than tell him face-to-face. I couldn't bear to see his disappointment or perhaps . . .

Perhaps I was afraid I'd see relief on that handsome visage. As for the others, I'd left directions for certain items to be delivered after I was gone to the rest of the team.

Why was the car so cold? I turned the heater on high but still shivered as if with the flu. It would be just my luck to come down with a cold at the very moment I was making my escape. Shaking my head, I paid close attention to driving for the next bit. The last thing I needed was to get in a fender-bender that would delay my travel. Already, the lights of the city were dimming and the wide-open spaces stretched out before me for miles.

Unbidden pictures of the afternoon kept flashing across my memory. Vin joking with JD about some basketball game. Nathan's smiles when Rain called him. Josiah stretching wide, all his muscles popping painfully before he got up to get a cup of tea from the break room. Chris and Buck returning from a conference with Team 4 about a possible case to be shared with us.

Buck was laughing and stroking his mustache while he chuckled about the latest cute thing his new lover had told him over breakfast. Did she appreciate his complete attention? When Buck loves, he does it with all of him. It can be quite the heady experience.

I blew my nose again and shoved the pictures away. Setting cruise control, I put in a CD and leaned back to enjoy a medley of my favorite songs. From rock to country, I had a good selection of sad music to listen to. By the time I reached the Utah border, perhaps I'd have put it all behind me. It was a good lesson and one I should have learned long ago.

Mother would be so proud of me. I was finally locking my heart. Sighing, I put my head back and concentrated on driving away from the one man I'd thought was forever and the team that could have been family. I wouldn't make that mistake again.

********* Chris *********

I could feel the vein in my forehead start throbbing. The letter in my hand was short and sweet.

Dear Mr. Larabee;

I am leaving the ATF and Team 7. Judge Travis has graciously accepted my resignation. It has been a pleasure working with such a professional group of individuals but the time has come for me to move on. Within the next few days, packages will arrive for each of the team. They can in no way compensate for my leaving you all short handed but I hope they will prove to be a reminder of our years of working together.

Thank you,
Ezra Standish

Damn it all to hell! I rubbed the wrinkle from between my eyes and picked up the phone. Judge Travis confirmed the letter and was already looking for a replacement for Ez'. I hung up with the strong desire to have the undercover agent's throat between my hands. Or maybe I just needed to give Buck a quick kick in the pants for hurting the Southerner the way he had.

What the hell was I going to tell the others? The bald facts were going to hurt more than just Buck. After three years, we'd grown into a close-knit family or so I'd thought before reading this letter. I should have known something was up when he went silent on us. Well, not exactly silent, more like verbose masking his not talking about anything personal.

Ezra had been happier than I'd ever seen him the six months he and Buck were together. But then my old friend got cold feet and pulled away, going back to the never-ending bimbo hunt and chase. Ezra had gone silent, really silent right before he went under cover. Three months later and it was as if the last three years had never been and he was a stranger joining the team for the first time.

His smile never reached his eyes anymore and his touch-me-not persona had solidified to pure ice. I thought I'd have some time to talk him or Buck around but now it was too late. He'd made the decision for me and it was going to hurt these men I called friends. Hoping against hope, I tried dialing Ezra's number. All I got was the 'that number has been disconnected' message. Getting up slowly, I brought the letter with me into the outer room.

"Conference room, now." I said flatly and went in myself.

JD and Buck were rough-housing and the others came through the door first. Once they were seated, I passed Josiah the letter without saying a word. He read it and sighed before passing it on to Nathan. Our medic read it and frowned before handing it to Vin. Our sharpshooter read it slowly then without any sign of emotion, pushed it across the table to JD.

Our computer expert read it and murmured, "Ah, Ez'."

Then it was slid to Buck and I watched him read it with a completely astonished look. "He can't leave the team. Chris, you've got to call him."

"Already did, his number's been disconnected. Judge Travis is looking for a replacement. It looks like it's a fait accompli, as Ezra would say." I spoke slowly, watching him closely.

"No," he shoved back his chair and got up. "I've got to get over there. Stop him before he can leave."

"Why would you do that, Bucklin?" Vin's voice was colder than the ice cycles hanging outside my window. "You already pushed him out of your life."

Buck shook his head blindly. "No, it was best. I wasn't good enough for him. You could all see that."

What? I blinked and looked at Josiah who was staring at Buck as if he had two heads.

"Buck, what are you talking about?" Our profiler asked quietly.

"You know, when Maude was here, she showed me how bad I was for Ez'. How I was bringing him down to my level instead of trying to rise up to his." His blue eyes showed real fear and I had the very strong urge to find Mother Standish and choke her to death.

"But Ezra didn't complain, did he?" Vin asked in a more normal tone of voice.

"Nah, Ez' wouldn't but I could see the difference when he was dating Miss Granger in that last sting. She was real high-class and they could talk about the same things like art and literature." The regret in his voice made me want to swear.

JD was shaking his head and he reached out to tug Buck back into his seat. "Buck, I love you like a brother but that is the most idiotic thing I've ever heard you say. Ezra loved you more than anybody else and you hurt him bad when you pulled away from him."

Buck was still shaking his head but he sat down again. "I didn't know how to do it any other way. I'd rather cut off my arm than hurt him but I could see me draggin' him down."

I finally decided to weigh in. "Buck, you're an idiot. Do you or do you not love Ezra? I want a yes or no." He nodded faintly but that wasn't good enough. "Out loud, Buck, yes or no."

"Yes," he whispered, his eyes downcast.

"Good, you start thinking of groveling and an apology for being a fool while we find out where he's gone. Vin, you go to the townhouse and find out if he's left already and what he did with his furniture if he's gone. Josiah, go ask the Judge exactly what was said when he resigned and get a copy of his resignation. Nathan, you and I are going to have to actually work the preliminaries of the Swenson case. JD, get on your computer and find out where Ezra is now or where he's going."

I looked at Buck and realized he was going to need a keeper because he wasn't going to be good for anything until we found Ezra. "Buck . . . Buck," he finally looked up. "Go with Vin and follow the furniture."

Everybody nodded and we dispersed to get to work. Rubbing my nose, I wondered just how long a day it was going to be. 'Damn it, Ezra P. Standish. Come home."

********* Ezra *********

Everything was white. My seatbelt was cutting into my chest like a vise and I could hear a soft dripping noise that was irritating the hell out of me. My right arm hurt badly so I couldn't use it to unfasten the seatbelt. Something wasn't right but I couldn't seem to concentrate on what was wrong or even where I was. What in the world was that infernal dripping?

Forcing open my eyes, I saw the interior of my car but things weren't in the right places. Focusing hard, I realized I was sideways. The engine had stopped running but nothing could be seen through the windows but white. Using my left hand, I reached out to rub the window clear of condensation. Still white and nothing but white. Why was that, I wondered fuzzily? My memory held nothing but the sound of a roar and the feeling of going sideways.

Had I been sideswiped by a semi? If so then why did I seem to be buried in snow? The dripping was still annoying me and the cold was growing. I forced my eyes open again and finally found the source of the drip. It was me.

********* JD *********

The phone was ringing and I looked around to see I was the only one here. "Team 7."

Vin's voice was on the other end of the signal. "Moving van left already. Cleaning service was cleaning when we got here. Checked the garbage but nada. Manager says he signed an agreement for the complex to sell the unit and send the money to a local bank."

"Damn, I don't think we can get a court order for the bank." I frowned at the data streaming across my screen. "All his accounts are closed out . . . at least the ones in his name and his two favorite pseudonyms. He's not using any of his credit cards for gas so he must have cash. We don't even know what direction he took when he left."

Vin sighed. "I know, JD. Unless you can think of something else we can check, we're going to come back to the office." He paused and I could hear Buck's voice in the background. Vin's voice dropped to a whisper. "JD, Buck's losing it. Be prepared and tell Nathan we may need something to calm him down."

I bit my lip and thought about my best friend. "I'll tell him. We've just got to find Ezra, Vin. I think he's the one thing keeping Buck going. I wish I'd known he felt so down. He didn't say a word about Maude ever talking to him."

"That woman is a menace." Vin almost snarled. "Like to get her alone so I could tell her a thing or two."

"I'm with you on that," I had a couple of improper thoughts about what I'd like to do to her, too. "Come on back so we can brainstorm some more. I've still got a couple of ideas to try out."

"Will do," Vin hung up.

But I was used to his abrupt phone manners and put the handset back into the cradle. If I couldn't trace the gas he was buying, maybe I could trace the Jag's GPS unit. It was worth a try. A friend had given me a program for hacking into the satellite system that most companies use to track their vehicles. Back when I'd first gotten it, I'd asked the guys for their transponder codes.

Ezra had hesitated but finally given his to me. I still had the numbers somewhere and I went rooting through my files to find it. Ah, hah! Feeding it in, I got a set of coordinates. I was a little rusty on my geography but by bringing up map program I soon had his location in longitude and latitude. That was odd, I thought. He's not moving. Maybe he'd stopped for the night at some hotel.

I couldn't get enough detail so I moved the location to another mapping program and that's when I got a really bad feeling.

********* Chris *********

Nathan and I returned to the office in time to see JD go white and start to pick up the phone. "JD? You find something?"

His eyes were wild and he turned his monitor so we could see a pulsing red dot in the middle of no where. "That's Ez'. His Jag is almost half-a-mile off the Interstate. There's nothing out there but trees and snow. The signal has been blasting out for a while."

I swore under my breath. "Is that Utah?"

"Yeah," he pulled the map back a bit so I could see the almost straight line of Interstate 70. "It's Fishlake National Forest right before it meets up with Interstate 15."

"Nathan, call the Utah police in . . ." I squinted at the tiny town names closest to the little red dot. "Try Richfield first. JD, see what NOAA has on the weather there. Maybe mudslides or a quake or . . . hell, I don't know what all could go wrong. I'll get clearance for us to move out. Buck won't be up to flying us out there but Josiah can. Is he back yet?"

"Yes," Josiah's voice came from behind me. "Did you find him?"

"We found his Jag." JD was looking a little less shocky. "I can try the Search and Rescue Service in the National Forest, Chris."

"Good idea, if there's been a big whatever, they'll know and maybe even already be in place." I beckoned Josiah to follow me in to my office. "Do you still have access to that Lear jet, 'Siah?"

"Yes, I'll call him now to get it fueled and ready to go." Our profiler just nodded and left to fill his part of this rescue.

I pinched my nose hard and sent up a prayer to the Goddess who Looks After Gamblers. 'Let him be all right. If we lose him, we'll lose Buck, too.'

"Cowboy?" Vin's voice was soft and I opened my eyes to see his soft blue gaze.

"Maybe," I said and he nodded. We never did need many words between us.

But Buck was right behind him and the grieving look in his eyes made my heart hurt. "He's all right? Yes?"

"Not for sure, Buck. His GPS is off the highway in the middle of miles of nothing. JD is working on getting it mapped while Nathan is on the phone now to the Utah police. Search and Rescue is a possibility, too."

Buck was already pale but now he was whiter than a sheet. He nodded and turned away. Hopefully, he'd bug JD for a while until I could get back from Travis' office. If we had to take leave to go get Ez' then that's what we'd do. But I'd prefer to have at least a partial blessing from the powers-that-be.

When I returned, everybody was ready to go. "Okay, listen up. We're on Company time but Travis gave us permission to go rescue Ezra. Josiah, you've got the jet?" At his nod, I sighed in relief. "The closest town with an airport is Cedar City so we'll need some ground transportation."

"No, Chris, there's a runway at Greenville I can set her down on. An old friend runs it and he said he'd be there to get us down. He's also got an old army Huey that will get us in a lot closer than any ground transport. Time may be important." Josiah was as solemn as I'd ever seen him.

I swallowed hard at that thought and watched a tear run down Buck's cheek. "Good, let's get out of here. The sooner we leave, the sooner we'll find Ez'."

********* Ezra *********

It was so cold. I've always been a hot weather man and at the moment I was dreaming of a nice hot beach of golden sand with a turquoise ocean spreading out before me like the very nicest oasis. Shivering brought me back with a wrench to the here and now. I'd decided it must have been an avalanche that swept me off the road and buried me here. Once my feeble brain had figured that out, I'd pressed the GPS locater button.

A forlorn hope but I wasn't ready to give up just yet. I'd fashioned a make-shift bandage for my head and the dripping had stopped. Releasing my seat and pushing it all the way back, I'd managed to undo my seatbelt so I could reach the glove compartment. Like the Boy Scout I never was, I had some cold weather supplies with me at all times. The candle I lit and secured to the center console. The silver heat retention blanket I wrapped around me, helping with the constant shivers.

But it was still cold and even cracking the window didn't mean any air was getting to me. How ironic it would be to smother to death. I'd forfeited my old friendships by running away but still I found myself hoping for a Team 7 miracle.

********* Jack Night-Owl *********

Josiah set the Lear down as gently as a feather. He still had the touch, I thought with a smile. It's been a while since he visited me but to good friends time doesn't really matter. The door opened on the side of the jet and six men got out. They were bundled for the cold except for one. His leathers were appropriate for the woods and when our eyes met, we nodded. Funny how one friend can lead you to another.

"Chopper is ready, Warm-Bear." I greeted my friend who gave me one of his famous hugs, like to squeeze the life out of you when his heart is full of emotion. "Put me down, 'Siah and let's get going. The weather reports are not good."

He nodded and we all got aboard my old Huey. It belonged to the tribe but so far I was the only one who knew how to fly it. She was all warmed up and we took off with a roar. Once we were headed in the right direction, I asked Josiah for introductions. He ticked off each one with a little side-bar to explain their roles in the ATF. Chris, the leader; Vin the sharpshooter; JD their electronic whiz; Nathan their healer; and Buck, their strategist.

I don't know about strategy but anyone could see he was hurting badly. Every so often, his lips would move and a tear would slide down his cheek. 'Siah had already told me their undercover expert was the one we were headed towards. Seems Buck and he were maybe more than friends. My co-pilot and I shared a smile, in another time and place we'd shared more than an army tent.

Long ago and in another country, still the memories were good ones and I nodded towards the intercom. Once Josiah switched it on and I had their attention, I filled them in on what to expect. "Search and Rescue is out in full force but most of their attention is on a party of skiers who got caught in the avalanche. I'm cleared to enter the search zone and it helps to have the GPS coordinates, 'cause if we rescue him that's one less for them. The whole mountain is under threat because of the rapid freeze and thaw we've had. We have to be careful not to trigger another avalanche or we could end up burying him even worse."

In the rear view mirror, I could see Buck shivering. The youngster had his arm around him and I could see the healing energy pass from him to Buck. This was a very special group of friends. Continuing on, "Once we get over the target, I'll turn on the heat seeking detection system so hopefully we can get pinpoint accuracy. Do you know if he had any emergency supplies with him?"

"Yeah, he did." The leather clad one named Vin spoke up. "Any idea how long it's been since the avalanche happened?"

"Six hours," I know my voice held sorrow. "If he's close to the surface of the snow pack he's getting oxygen through the ice crystals."

"But if he's really buried then his air is close to running out." Chris said flatly.

"Yes," I acknowledged their pain. "Does he have any training in hibernation?"

"Not exactly," Josiah answered. "But he does practice a form of tai chi meditation that would slow down his intake of air."

"Every little bit helps." I shrugged and gently eased my lady over the target zone. "Flick it on, 'Siah. We're here."

Everybody sat up straight and craned their heads to the port holes to look upon the devastation below. Trees were snapped, boulders strewn about the white landscape like twigs and marbles of a child's game. The black ribbon of highway looked cleanly cut by the tons of snow cascading over it. The heat detector was finally warmed up and we started a slow grid pattern search for their missing friend.

"There!" JD had stopped looking out the windows and moved forward to watch the screen. "That's got to be him unless there was more than one car swept away. How can we tell how deep he is?"

"We can't really but for the moment he's still alive. There's some heat left for him." I didn't want to get their hopes up but something about that huddled shape told me he was still hanging in there. "Vin and Chris, I want you to keep your eyes on the mountain. It's volatile and I don't want us to get caught in another slide once we descend."

I hovered over the spot and hit a big green button on my instrument panel. "If he's ten feet or less buried, we should be able to pick him up."

"With what?" JD had been joined by Buck.

"With my handy-dandy magnet," I smiled and listened to the steel cables run out. "Part of my job is to retrieve metal when found in the forest. Mostly that's cars that have been junked by their owners or old appliances. For some reason, which escapes me, they think of the forest as one big dump."

A vibration twitched the snow beneath us, then another and yet another until the magnet got a good grip. "C'mon baby girl. That's it, hold on tight for me." I swear my Angel hears me and understands what I tell her. The winch was moaning. "Sounds like a good grip to me, baby. Now hold on so I can lift out the pretty car and its driver."

"Ah, Jack," Vin's voice came through the speakers, "there's something happening on the mountain."

"Okay," I coaxed the car up through the snow and ice. "Take a look for me, JD. Is the car upright, sideways or upside down?"

But Buck was the one to open the floor hatch to look. "Sideways, you've got the driver's door. He usually . . . usually locks both doors so they should be tight."

I nodded. "We'll have to take the chance. What do you see, gentlemen?"

"Oh shit," Vin's voice was caught between dismay and a prayer. "We've got snow."

I chanced a quick look and sped up a little, gaining altitude bit by bit. The roar of moving snow grew louder and louder while the winch moved up inch by precarious inch. But finally we were over the highway and moving towards the ambulance, whose flashing lights I could see about a mile down the road. The second most tricky part was coming up.

With junked cars, it didn't matter how I set them down but this one had precious cargo on board so it was going to have to be gentle and easy. Being on its side didn't help the equation but if worse came to worse, the seven of us could rock it onto its tires. Tracy and Bud waved their colored flashlights at me and I blinked mine a couple of times to acknowledge them.

They were good paramedics and they'd know what to do for the injured man. Well, hopefully he was just injured and not dead. Avalanches are tricky things. Still, I'd take them over fires any old day. Mostly we could rescue those caught up in snow, with fires, well we didn't have that good a track record. 50% survival was bad in my books.

Buck was still glued to the floor hatch and JD had joined him, holding on to him and telling him over and over that Ez' was going to be fine. I hoped he was right. Gently, I hovered lower and lower until the sound of metal on highway came to me. Tracy was giving me hand signals so I knew which way to go. With a little flick of the magnet winch, I moved sideways and the big smile on her face told me the car had settled on all four wheels.

Disengaging the magnet, I winched it back up before setting down on the highway. Josiah's team was already out the door and over to the car. I shut Angel down and patted her dash. "Good job, sweetheart. We'll be headed back home in just a bit."

Getting out, I watched them pop open the door and gently ease out the limp body within. I sure hope we'd gotten here in time.

********* Chris *********

There was blood all down his cheek and shoulder; his skin had that pale pink look that usually comes with asphyxiation but the paramedic listening to his heart was giving his partner the thumbs up and a part of me that had been tight and tense finally unwound. Buck was rocking back and forth on his knees beside the gurney, his arms wrapped around his body while he repeated one word over and over.

"Ezra . . . Ezra . . . Ezra," even I could read that from his lips.

"BP is 60 over 32." The woman paramedic told her partner.

"Pulse is 20," the man looked up at us. "Does he practice meditation?"

Josiah answered. "Kai Lung. Once he knows he's safe, he should start to come out of it on his own."

The woman was shining a flashlight into Ezra's eyes. "One pupil is dilated, possible concussion. Head wound will need stitches. Not sure about his right arm but it looks badly bruised. I'm willing to bet he's got striped bruises across his chest and abdomen from the seat belts. But it could have been worse. Let's get him ready to head out."

I nodded. "Buck will ride with him and we'll follow in the chopper."

She smiled at me then looked pityingly at the man still repeating Ezra's name like a mantra. "Glad to have him, Sir. What's the patient's name?"

"Ezra . . . Ezra Standish," Buck stood up with a little help from JD. His eyes were still wet with tears but he had a little smile on his face and he never let go of Ezra's ankle.

"Okay, you talk to Ezra and remind him where he is and why he should wake up." She and her partner raised the gurney to roll to the ambulance. Once he'd been transferred and Buck had climbed in beside him, they pulled out with the lights flashing but the siren off.

"He's going to be fine, Chris." Josiah said with that tone of voice that held hope.

"Yeah, he will." JD smiled at all of us. "It's freezing. Can we please fly out of here? I don't think I ever want to learn how to ski. It's too darn cold."

We all laughed at the comical look on his face and the helicopter pilot motioned us over. Within a few moments we were aloft and speeding to the hospital in Richfield. It had a landing space for the chopper and Jack dropped us off with a promise to make sure his uncle towed in the Jag.

It hadn't even crossed my mind that we'd just abandoned a sixty thousand dollar car on the interstate. I'm glad he was thinking more than one step ahead. He also told us who to call for rooms in the mostly filled up skiers haven. His aunt had a lodge still free, he said. Josiah had pretty good friends, I thought in relief. The hospital's front desk was busy.

They'd found all the skiers caught in the avalanche and they were in the process of being treated. We caused a bit of a stir when all five of us walked in. I've been told we can be a bit intimidating but the nurse at the counter never blinked an eye. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. Mr. Standish is undergoing minor surgery to close the cut on his forehead. He started coming out of his meditation and your other friend was able to reassure him he was safe if not altogether sound."

JD grinned at her. "Cool, is there someplace we can wait for him?"

"Uncle Jack said it might be best to let you go right to his room." She grinned back and I tallied another plus for our pilot. "It's room 206 on the second floor. Take the elevator on the left and turn left. Mindy is working up there and she knows you're coming. The restaurant next door is open until midnight so when you get hungry, you might want to take turns eating dinner. Aunt Maggie cooks a mean pot roast."

We all thanked her and headed upstairs. Mindy showed us where we could pick up a few more chairs so we could be half-way comfortable. I was starving but I couldn't bring myself to leave before Ezra was delivered. Vin was perched on the deep window sill, his eyes taking in the hospital room. It was painted a soft buttercup yellow and although the bedding was white, the metal bed was painted golden.

I'd never seen that before since most hospital rooms tended to be stark, sterile places. Heaven knows we've been in enough of them over the last three years since Ezra joined the team. A pot of green ivy sat on the window sill, its glossy leaves almost polished to a deep emerald. The lights were on a dimmer switch but at the moment there was enough light from the window to flood the place with sunshine.

A noise from the hall brought us all to our feet. A male intern backed into the room at the head of a steel gurney. Buck was at the other end and this Buck looked a lot more peaceful than I'd seen him in a long time. Ezra was silent and that was never a good sign but then he also looked about a quart low. I made a mental note to be sure to donate some blood to their blood bank. It had been almost three months since I'd last given.

It was something we all did since it was little enough to do for our fellow team members. If we didn't need to get blood so often, we might not need to donate whenever we could. None of us had a rare blood type or anything. Most of us were O positive, still it was a way to give back something to our community - where ever that community was to be found. The orderly smiled at us then left after making sure the IV was satisfactorily draining into Ezra.

I didn't know what to say to this man who'd been so badly hurt by us all. I hadn't been paying attention properly or it would have never gotten this far. Standing by the side of the bed, I took a chance and stroked a finger over the swollen right arm and hand. "Ezra, you in there?"

Green eyes, still hazy with pain opened slowly. "Mr . . . Larabee. Thank . . . you . . . for the . . . rescue. Sorry . . . to be . . . a bother."

"You're not a bother, Ez'." JD said from the foot of the bed. "You're our friend. I'm sorry we didn't notice something was wrong earlier."

Josiah was right beside him. "Friends talk to other friends, S- Ezra." He caught himself in mid-word. "Nothing is so bad that together we can't figure out a solution."

Nathan was reading the chart at the end of the bed. "You've got a concussion, Ezra. We'll be waking you up every hour for a bit. I wish you'd come to one of us before it got this bad."

Vin leaned against the bed rail. "Know we can be a right noisy bunch, Ez' but you're real good at hiding in plain sight."

Buck just stood there like a lump, his heart in his eyes and his hand holding onto Ezra as if to a lifeline. For a man who could charm the birds out of the trees, he seemed to be flat out of words. Ezra finally seemed to notice the hand-holding and he tugged a little but Buck just wouldn't let go.

"Mr. Wilmington . . . if I could have . . . my hand back?" His voice was husky, what I call his bedroom voice. I'd only heard it a time or two while listening in on a sting but I have to admit it was sexy as hell.

"Never letting go again, Ezra," Buck finally shook himself out of his funk. "I listened to some bad advice and made a horse's ass of myself. I never meant to hurt you like that. Hurtin' you hurts me even more. But I could see I wasn't good enough for you so I thought if I broke it off, you wouldn't get tired of me."

Ezra frowned. "That's . . . the stupidest thing . . . I've ever heard."

"Yeah, well the guys pointed that out this morning." Buck's little boy look has melted harder hearts than Ezra's. "I love you, Ezra P. Standish and I always will. Please forgive me?"

I know I was holding my breath and it looked like the rest of us were, too. 'Come on, Ezra, say yes. Give us a happy ending here.'

"Buck," he hesitated and I realized how much courage it took for him to try and overcome the fears of a lifetime. "Buck . . . I am . . . amenable to a . . . reconciliation. But I want . . . to know . . . what advice and . . . why you took it . . . without telling me."

My old friend had tears running down his cheeks and the biggest smile on his face, I've ever seen. They needed some privacy for this next part. "Okay, guys. Show's over, I'm hungry and there's a pot roast calling my name. We'll be back in an hour. Play nice, boys."

Ezra blushed and Buck did, too. Now that wasn't something you saw every day. I just knew I had a stupid grin on my face but it felt too good to wipe off. We closed the door behind us softly but we could have slammed the thing for all the notice they took of us. Buck was already leaning in and part of me was ashamed of the voyeur wish to watch them kiss.

You'd think I'd know better at my age. Still, it had been one heck of a long time since I'd gotten that up-close and personal with someone I loved. Maybe it was time to take a good look around. Buck has always swung both ways but I never had. Just maybe I was missing out on something good . . . something true. Sliding my gaze to the man at my side, I wondered.

Maybe it was time.

********* Ezra *********

I hurt pretty much everywhere but I swear I didn't feel anything but Buck's lips when they brushed over mine. He's always warm and I'd been cold for such a long time. He kept moving those heated lips over my face until all I could feel was delicious warmth. Then the hand holding mine began to trail up my arm leaving trails of fire behind in its wake.

Moving injudiciously, I gasped at the pain. He stopped instantly and worried blue eyes gazed down into mine. "Where does it hurt, Ez'?"

"Everywhere," I sighed discontentedly. "Does it seem cold in here to you?"

He kissed me a little harder then left my side for the doorway. "Mindy, honey, could I get a warmer blanket for Ezra?"

I glowered. He already knew the name of the nurse. She was probably blonde and curvaceous and bounced when she walked. But to my surprise, she came in with a bright yellow blanket and smoothed it over me with gentle hands. It had been heated and it felt so very good I hardly kept back my moan. And that's when I really looked at her matronly figure and graying hair.

"We've got plenty of these hot blankets, Mr. Standish. So you just sing out when you get cold. I'll boost up the thermostat a couple of degrees for you. The nicest thing about this new hospital is we got to design it room by room so every room controls its own heat and cooling." She smiled at us both then slipped out.

Buck was already back at my side and had his hand in mine again. "Ez', I know I've disappointed you a lot lately. But you got to know I love you more than anybody else in the whole wide world."

My brain basked under that amazing statement for a long moment before I remembered what he'd said before. "What advice made you dump me?"

And Buck blushed a painful red. "Um, it was in September."

"When my mother visited," I closed my eyes and felt a headache bloom into hideous life. "Mother informed you nicely that you weren't up to the Standish standards - that you were rude, bucolic and nothing but an aberration on my part. You couldn't give her the grandchildren she so longs for."

"Yeah," his voice sounded so defeated and yet again, I cursed my mother and her skewed notions of what was good for me. "I could see it was true, Ez'. You're real intelligent with a wide range of interests, most of which I don't enjoy at all. That Miss Granger from the last sting was real high-class, not a bastard like me."

"Buck, the circumstances of your birth don't enter into this relationship at all. Yes, Miss Granger was a well-read woman with far ranging interests, some of which we held in common. But she was not then and could never be the person who makes my heart sing."

He looked hopeful for the first time in this odd conversation. "You don't mind that I don't enjoy art galleries or opera?"

I chuckled then winced at the sudden movement. "I can always take Josiah to an art gallery or Nathan to the opera. Then I can come home and tell you about what we saw or said. It's no different from your need for the rodeo, when you share quality time with Vin or Chris. You come home and tell me a story or two that make me smile. We're not bonded at the hips. Just . . . at the heart level?"

"Ah, Ez', I really screwed up this time." He leaned over me and scattered little kisses over my cheeks and chin.

"Oh, that feels good." I sighed happily. "Mother is a very convincing person when there is something she wants." My lips parted and his tongue slid slowly inside, entwining with mine in pure bliss. He kept it light, ever mindful of my injuries and the fact we were in a semi-private place.

I knew I could never throw all caution to the wind. I'm much too propriety bound, in fact the exact opposite of him. But they do say opposites attract so perhaps we were a match made in heaven. He pulled away to brush the hair back from my forehead. "I should have asked you flat out what you felt instead of letting her play on my insecurities. I promise I'll never do that again, Ezra. But you got to promise you'll tell me when you feel bad or scared or anything negative. I love you and I always will."

"No more Laura?" I asked tentatively.

"No more anybody but you, Ezra." He vowed with his hand over his heart.

I blushed. No one had ever vowed that before, not to me. I had to clear my throat before I could speak again - that damn lump kept coming back. "I promise no more Miss Granger or anyone like her."

His smile lit the whole room. "What are we going to do when we go back home?"

Ah, that is the rub, isn't it? I had resigned, moved my things to storage and asked to have the townhouse sold. "Well, we'll see if the Judge has already put through my paperwork. I was never really happy with the condo. Perhaps we could look for a house that we could share?"

His smile got bigger if that was possible. "I like that idea just fine, Ez'. There's some land out Chris' way we could look at. The house isn't much but we could work on it and make it into our home."

Home - what a nice word that was, I thought. "We can look at it, Buck. Once I'm on my feet again, we'll hire a realtor and do a thorough search."

He stroked my hand. "I'm going to take real good care of you, Ezra."

What an astonishing thought, I blinked and smiled a little tentatively up at him. "I look forward to being taken care of, Buck. Nobody ever has before."

"Well, you can be a mite prickly, Ez'," he grinned at me. "Kind of like a cactus, you don't let people in close. But I think I know why, darlin'. You've been hurt before, hurt so bad you didn't want to take a chance again. But you're going to take another chance, aren't you?"

I bit my lip before he smoothed it loose with his tongue. We shared another kiss and I found myself smiling through it. When he pulled away an inch or so, I let myself loose. "I am willing to take another chance, Buck, another chance with you."

"Ah, love, I'll take good care of your heart this time and never, ever hurt you again." He promised me then kissed me tenderly while the fingers of his right hand stroked gently through my hair, smoothing away the headache that wouldn't go away. "Rest now, Ezra, the nurse will be in soon to check your reflexes. The sooner you get better, the sooner you'll be able to get out of this place so I can take care of you."

"Stay?" My eyelashes fluttered open then closed. I was so tired.

"I'll stay forever, Ezra. Love you, darlin', love you more than the rodeo."

I chuckled sleepily and let him stroke me to sleep. Once I felt better, we had a future to plan. Perhaps my luck was changing for the better, I thought with satisfaction before falling asleep to Buck's humming.

The end of Kiss me Goodbye

Note: The challenge was rather convoluted but my search through my music CDs ended up with this song and that led naturally to this story.

Kiss Me Goodbye
By Reed-Mason at Leo Feist, Inc
Sung by Petula Clark on her album 'Greatest Hits of Petula Clark'

We choose it
Win or lose it
Love is never quite the same
I loved you
Now I've lost you
Don't feel bad you're not to blame

So kiss me goodbye
And I'll try not to cry
All the tears in the world
Won't change your mind
There's someone new and she's waiting for you
Soon your heart will be leaving me behind
Linger a while then I'll go with a smile
Like a friend who just happened to call
For the last time, pretend you are mine
My darling, kiss me goodbye.

I know now I must go now
Though my heart wants me to stay
That girl is your tomorrow
I belong to yesterday.

So kiss me goodbye
And I'll try not to cry
All the tears in the world
Won't change your mind
There's someone new and she's waiting for you
Soon your heart will be leaving me behind
Linger a while then I'll go with a smile
Like a friend who just happened to call
For the last time, pretend you are mine
My darling, kiss me goodbye.
My darling, kiss me goodbye.