A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON

 

by Phoenix1972 (a.k.a. Jackie)

 

 

A/N: Rated PG, Gen. ATF AU. Four of the boys break down on a desert highway.  This was originally for the Mag7 Daybook Bingo Prompt – Sweltering Heat.  Due to the bumps in the road known as “Real Life” I missed my deadline. Word Count 2,533.

 

 

 

In the middle of the desert along the I-25 somewhere between Albuquerque and the Colorado border, the clang of a hood of a car being slammed disturbed the silence surrounding four stranded ATF agents.  The other three members of their team were probably miles ahead of them and had no idea what had befallen their comrades.

 

Ezra Standish now wished he’d been in the lead vehicle but because he’d had no desire to listen to Pink Floyd’s Greatest Hits the entire trip he was stuck with Larabee, Tanner, and Dunne.  Chris had barely said two words since leaving the diner this morning, and Vin had drifted into silence as J.D. started playing video games.  Ezra had been left to stare out at the passing scenery that, though beautiful, didn’t change all that much.

 

Ezra took a sip from the bottle of tepid water in his hand and strolled over to where Chris and Vin were talking over the hood of the car.  Loudly clearing his throat, he asked, “So what’s the verdict and can you fix it?”

 

Vin scrubbed his dirty hands down the sides of his jeans and replied, “I’m not a mechanic and even if I were we don’t have any parts.”

 

Muttering an assent, Chris pulled out his cell phone, stared at it for a moment, and shoved it back into his jeans pocket.  “No signal.”

 

Ezra silently cursed his luck for the hundredth time as he wiped impatiently at his face and felt an unpleasant dampness building under his arms.  Shedding his suit coat to protect the fine lining, Ezra took his time to carefully lay it across the back seat.

 

“How long do you think it’ll be ‘fore Buck and them miss us?” J.D. called from where he was sitting in the limited shade cast by a lone Joshua tree.

 

“Not soon enough,” Ezra complained as he ducked out of the car and squinted into the unrelenting sun’s late morning rays.

 

“I wonder how far it is to the next town?” Chris asked distractedly as Ezra watched him lean into the car, dig around in the glove box and pull out the road map Ezra picked up at the last rest stop.

 

“You can’t possibly be thinking what I think you are?” Ezra asked as Chris snapped open the map and spread it out on the hood of the car.  “Hot metal,” Ezra called a moment before Chris’s hand came in contact with the hood.  Cursing, Chris snapped his hand away in apparent pain.

 

Ezra smirked as Vin leaned over, being careful not to touch the car, and muttered, “Looks to be about twenty miles or so.  Too far to walk in this heat.  Best try and flag someone down and hitch a ride.”

 

Ezra looked up and down the road seeing nothing but scrubby bushes, trees, and rock in the undulating heat waves coming up off the desert floor.  “There isn’t anyone out here to flag down,” he said.  Turning back to face the others he pointed out, “In fact, I can count on one hand how many vehicles we’ve seen in the last two hours.”

 

“Someone’s bound to come by,” Chris replied as he meticulously folded the map up and shoved it back in the glove box.

 

“It’s damn hot and bound to be hotter before long,” Vin pointed out as he dug a bottle of water out of the back seat and turned to stare back in the direction they’d come.  Chris dropped into the driver’s seat and leaned the seat back.  Realizing Chris and Vin were content just to sit quietly, Ezra meandered over to join J.D.  Dropping down next to the young man, Ezra listened with half an ear to the quiet beeps and clicks coming from J.D.’s video game.

 

~o~

 

Thirty minutes later a shape broke the heat waves coming up off the asphalt, pulling Ezra from his stupor in the shade of the Joshua tree.  Chris and Vin had stayed by the car to keep a look out for traffic and were already standing ready to flag the driver down.

 

Pushing tiredly to his feet, Ezra dusted off his slacks and watched a small car drive by slowly but not immediately stop.  As Ezra hurried to the shoulder he could hear the squealing belts and see blue-tinged smoke coming from the exhaust pipe.  He looked at Chris in question as the car stopped about a hundred feet away and rattled loudly before it belched out a large cloud of smoke.  “This is an option?” he asked as the car suddenly backfired.

 

“They’re not stuck on the side of the road begging a ride.” Chris supplied as he moved to the back of their car.  “I think just one of us should go over there.  Don’t want to spook ‘em.”

 

“Send J.D., he looks the most innocent,” Vin sniggered.

 

“Thanks a lot,” J.D. sighed as he trudged up to the road.  “If I’ve gotta ask then I get a ride, though.”  J.D. waved to the car as he walked up the shoulder.

 

“Don’t forget to show your identification,” Ezra mumbled under his breath as he watched the driver step out and meet J.D. halfway.  As if reading Ezra’s mind, J.D. pulled his badge and held it out for the driver.  As they spoke for a few moments J.D. called for Vin to join them.

 

Shrugging at Ezra and Chris, Vin hurried to join J.D.

 

“What do you think they’re discussing?” Ezra asked as he tried to catch any of the conversation.

 

Chris scrubbed at the back of his neck and watched the exchange.  “Who the hell knows.  I don’t care as long as they can get us a tow.”

 

Scowling at his boss, Ezra breathed a sigh of relief when Vin turned in their direction.

 

“This guy said he’d give JD and me a ride into town,” Vin called out as he jogged back toward the car.  “Apparently the cell signals are pretty spotty until then.”

 

Looking over at the small car with dismay Ezra bemoaned, “There’s no way for at least one more?  I’m dying in this heat.”

 

“He’s got two kids, a slobbery mutt and no front floor boards on the passenger side,” Vin explained as he pushed his sweat-dampened hair back off his face.  “It’s gonna be tight with J.D. and me.”  Vin lowered his voice, “I’m not even sure his car will make it to the next town.”

 

Ezra groaned.  “Dog drool and no floorboards?”.”  At Vin’s nod Ezra thought for a moment before replying.  “I can deal with no floorboards and you can sit with the dog.”

 

Chris’s slicing look spoke volumes and Ezra knew he would not like the answer, but he held out hoping for a reprieve.  If only it hadn’t been for those two chocolate covered faces pressed to the rear window.  A frown settled across Chris’s features and he stated, “You can stay with me.  J.D. called it first and Vin can explain how to get back here to the tow company.”

 

In frustration and maybe desperation, Ezra rounded on Chris.  “I can give simple directions; it’s not that hard.  It’s not my fault we’re in this situation.  In fact I wanted to fly, but no, you said we had to drive.  Didn’t you notice anything wrong with the car before we started out this morning?  You were driving after all.”

 

“Whoa! Time out.  No one is blaming anybody.”  Vin stepped between Chris and Ezra.  “This is a waste of energy and fighting isn’t going to change the fact we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

 

“Vin, take J.D. and go.  We’ll be fine until you get back,” Chris growled, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his fingers.  Ezra could see the bunching of Chris’s shoulders and the tension building in his lean frame.  Chris was obviously trying to keep his anger in check.

 

Vin held Ezra’s gaze as he replied, “Sure.  Hey at least you all got plenty of water and even a little shade out here.”  Vin grabbed his abandoned water from off the front seat and grinned widely at Ezra.  “Chill out.  I’ll be back before you’ll know I’m gone.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Ezra snorted and kicked the tire of the car.  Cringing at the sweat running down between his shoulder blades, Ezra pulled out his handkerchief and mopped at his wet face.

 

~o~

 

“Pray tell me, what is taking them so long?” Ezra complained, squinting into the distance; still nothing but dirt, rock, and undulating heat waves.  He could feel the sun baking him to a crisp as he and Chris waited with the agency’s sedan.

 

Chris had found the bit of shade J.D. had abandoned and stretched out to wait.  Glancing at his watch he replied, “It hasn’t even been twenty minutes.”

 

“You need a new watch because I know it’s been at least an hour.”

 

“Twenty minutes,” Chris reiterated around a jaw cracking yawn.  “Get out of the sun before you cook what little sense you’ve got left.”

 

Scowling at his boss, Ezra ran the toe of his shoe along the gravel and tapped at medium sized rock.  Ezra aimlessly kicked at it in frustration and it wasn’t until the rock was in mid-flight that he realized it was headed straight for Chris.  “Look out!” he shouted loudly and winced when the rock smacked Chris in the forehead.

 

Chris swore in pain as he curled up and clutched at his head.

 

Ezra stood there, mouth agape, in disbelief. When his mind finally engaged he stepped nearer and inquired, “Chris?”  When there was no response Ezra inquired a little louder, “Are you alright?”

 

Pushing slowly to a sitting position, Chris pulled his shaking hand away from his head.  “What the hell?” he asked as he gingerly touched his forehead.

 

Seeing the rapidly growing, purpling lump, Ezra realized in a fit of ire he’d inadvertently injured his friend.  His stomach did a series of acrobatic flips which made his large breakfast this morning seem like a horrible mistake, and he was –for once—at a loss of words.  “I’m sorry,” Ezra croaked as he knelt down next to Chris.

 

Chris looked around slowly before pinning Ezra with a steely glare.  “Did you hit me with a rock?”

 

Pasting on as innocent a face as he could manage, Ezra mumbled, “Not intentionally?”

 

Chris hissed in pain as he lightly felt around the contusion.  Ezra fisted his hands by his sides to keep from touching the wound, and muttered, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

 

“What?” Chris’s eyes widened in amazement.

 

“Let me rephrase that,” Ezra croaked as he pushed to his feet.  He desperately felt the need to put a little space between him and his team leader.  “Kicking the rock seemed like a good idea.  The rock striking you was just more misfortune on this travesty of a trip.”

 

Staring down the empty road, Ezra realized how truly alone they were.  He stood perfectly still listening to the silence until the sound of crunching gravel behind caused him to spin around.

 

Chris strode by him without a word and moved to the trunk of the car.  Using the remote he popped it and leaned inside.

 

Following Chris to the car, Ezra stammered, “Blame it on the heat.  I lost my temper.  It was an accident.”  He waited for some acknowledgment and when none came he pointed out, “You can’t say you’ve never lost your temper.”

 

Pulling an icepack from the first aid kit stored in the trunk, Chris squeezed it until the internal pouch popped and shook it vigorously.  Slamming the trunk lid down, Chris brushed past Ezra to sit in the driver’s seat.

 

“You could at least accept my apology,” Ezra huffed out as he leaned in the open door.  Chris had leaned the seat back and settled the icepack on the lump.  “Chris?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about this.  I’m hot, tired, and if I didn’t have a splitting headache before, I’ve sure got one now.”

 

Thankful that Chris wasn’t seriously injured, Ezra wandered away to sit in the shade of the Joshua tree to leave Chris in peace.  While sitting alone he mulled over several scenarios involving Chris being injured and discarded each and every one as implausible.

 

Ezra prided himself on keeping his cool in tense situations but the desert heat had gotten the best of him and the others would never let him live it down.  Here he had to sit, sweat running in rivulets down his face, his back, and Lord forbid, the crack of his ass.  If only Chris had let him go he wouldn’t have lost his temper and Chris wouldn’t have been assaulted with a rock.  As Ezra slapped at the dust coating his slacks a thought came to him out of the blue.  This was all Chris’s fault.  He’d insisted on driving and staying at a two star motel on the pretense of budget cuts.  Well budget cuts had gotten them into the situation they were now in and this was not an ideal situation. 

 

Ezra felt anger heat his face and the frustration build until he finally cracked.  Jumping to his feet, he stalked back toward the car and stopped just shy of yanking Chris out of the seat.  “How can you just sit there acting as if this God forsaken heat is not bothering you?  Are you not human?”

 

Cracking an eye, Chris replied calmly, “We’re stuck out here and there’s nothing we can do.  Suck it up.”

 

“I need air conditioning and, and room service!”  Ezra flung his arms wide.  “I’m a mess and my suit will never be the same.”

 

“You only have yourself to blame.  I warned you not to overspend the travel budget, but you didn’t listen.  Now we all have to suffer.”

 

“You budgeted too low,” Ezra defended.

 

Sitting up in the seat, Chris sighed, “Do you really want to go down this road again?”

 

“I’m hot!” Ezra blustered as he leaned against the car and glared at Chris.

 

Chris shook his head and snorted.  “You’re making me hot.  Think cool thoughts.”

 

Ezra stared at Chris wondering if he’d lost his mind.  “That doesn’t work.”

 

“Yeah, it does.”  Chris smirked and slid out of the car.  “Tow’s here.”

 

Turning, Ezra saw a large tow truck pulling up on the shoulder.  “Not soon enough.”

 

“Just remember, payback’s a bitch.”  Chris clapped Ezra on the back as stepped around and went to meet the driver.

 

“I told you it was a momentary lapse in reason due to the heat,” Ezra called as he hurried after Chris.

 

The passenger door opened on the truck and Vin hopped down.  “Perfect,” Ezra mumbled as Chris smiled knowingly back at him.

 

Ezra managed to hold his tongue as Vin peered closely at the lump on Chris’s and asked, “What happened to you?”

 

Chris smirked and replied, “Why don’t you ask Ezra?”

 

“Let’s not and say we did.”  Ezra retorted as he grabbed his jacket from the car and stalked to the tow truck.

 

As he climbed up into the cab Ezra heard Vin chuckle, “Some people just can’t handle a little heat.”

 

The End

 

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Jackie 2012