Right Before Your Eyes
Disclaimer: The characters from Mag7 belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy, which is a damn shame. <g> No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Author's notes: My Christmas gift to everyone. If anyone feels like giving me a Xmas pressie in return, I'm more than willing to accept an Ezra and/or Aragorn wrapped beautifully in their birthday suits. <wg> My humble thanks to Serena without whom this story would have never been written. A huge, HUGE thank you to both Sherri and Ra for their amazing beta'ing skills. Any final mistakes are mine.
Summary: A simple case of blackmail rapidly turns into a dangerous case for the team.
The first thing he became aware of as he regained consciousness was the painful throbbing in his head; he was certain that if he so much as blinked it would explode or at least split in two. He squeezed his eyes shut, hiding from the bright light surrounding him, swallowing carefully in order to keep nausea at bay.
After several minutes of absolute stillness, in which he realized he was lying on a cold, hard floor, he decided to try his luck and opened his eyes. He found himself looking at a stone ceiling, its fluorescent light wringing a groan out of him, even as his eyelids once again slid shut.
"Glad to see you are finally awake, Larabee," a voice sounded from close by. "I was beginning to believe that my man hit you too hard."
Larabee? Was that his name? He wished the blinding pain in his head would vanish so he could think clearly, but it was hopeless. The agony was such that it was hard for him to even breathe, let alone form any coherent thought.
Instinctively knowing that there was something very wrong, he forced himself to move, slowly, panting from the exertion until he was sitting with his back against a wall. It was only then that he dared to investigate his current location, bravely fighting off the dizziness and nausea that were assailing him anew.
The room -- if he could call it that -- was entirely built of gray stone. It looked ancient and was stripped bare of any furniture. He was sitting against the wall furthest from the door, while two men stood before him, watching him blankly from a safe distance. Both wore expensive suits, but there the similarities ended. The oldest man, probably in his fifties, was of medium height, with dark eyes that were now watching him shrewdly from a face framed by curly salt and pepper hair. The second man was much taller, bulkier and in his thirties. His stance and the gun in his hand screamed hired muscle.
He couldn't remember ever having met the two men, but then again, he couldn't remember much of anything. Apparently, whilst knocking him out cold they had wiped out his memory as well.
But why was he there? Why had they captured him? And who the hell was he?
"What do you want?" he finally asked, voice hoarse with pain.
The older of the two, obviously the leader, smirked down at him. "Cooperation, Larabee. You have inside information on Jaki Grant's operation. I want to be informed the next time he sells a shipment of weapons."
Operation? Weapons? Was he a gunrunner? Or maybe an undercover cop? Either way... "And in exchange?" he rasped.
The man chuckled softly, a hand reaching inside his coat for a small envelope. "In exchange, I will allow you to keep your dirty little secret," he replied, throwing the envelope into Larabee's lap. "I'm sure your boss would be delighted to receive a copy of these."
Lowering his head slowly, since the nausea was never that far away, he opened the envelope, blinking at the photos inside. Somehow he recognized himself as the blond man in them, so instead he focused on the other person with him. Another man, with intense green eyes and wavy hair, slightly shorter than himself. In itself that meant nothing, but in the context of the photos...
In the first one they were standing very close together, face to face, nearly touching. His arms were wrapped around the green-eyed man's waist, the other man's arms around his neck and they were smiling warmly at each other, the camera capturing the heated mood between them.
The second was more explicit, clearly depicting the existent relationship he shared with the green-eyed man. They were kissing, and by the way their arms were clinging tightly, very passionately. Looking again at the first picture he could understand his involvement with the other man; he was undoubtedly beautiful and those fierce eyes were enough for him to lose himself in.
"The negatives?" he asked, looking up at his captor.
"You will get them as soon as I receive the information I have asked for."
He glared at the man. "So I'm supposed to just trust you on that?"
The other laughed quietly. "It's not exactly like you have any choice in the matter, Larabee. You should be thankful, really; I could have used your pretty catamite as a bargaining chip instead. I'm sure he would be a lively source of entertainment for my friend here. It's been a while since he has had the opportunity to enjoy such exquisite company, if you catch my drift," he finished with a slight leer.
"Leave him alone!" he growled, startled by the anger in his words. Obviously though his mind might not remember his lover, his heart did and it lurched at the thought of him ending up hurt at the hands of these men. "Very well," he bluffed. "As soon as I know somethin' I'll let you know. Where can I reach you?"
The man tsked. "Now, now, Larabee, you don't think I would be that stupid, do you? *I* will contact you everyday at 6 p.m. I'm sure you will have access to the information several days in advance, which will give me plenty of time to act. There is one last thing I ask of you in exchange for the negatives. When the day of the buy comes, you are to do nothing. Understand? Grant has taken over my turf and that will just not do."
Not really understanding what was going on, but knowing he had better keep the charade up, he simply nodded, biting his lip as his head protested the movement.
"I always knew there was a sensible man under that glare, Larabee. My man will escort you to your lover's house. Now, be a good little boy and allow him to blindfold you. I'm sure your young man would be highly distraught to find you bleeding to death at his doorstep."
Gritting his teeth against the urge to punch the man's lights out, he allowed Muscle Man to blindfold him and force him to his feet. He heard the door opening and was dragged through what felt like a corridor until he was suddenly thrust into the back of a van.
Sluggish from what was sure to be a concussion, it took him a few precious seconds to remove the blindfold, and by that time they were already on their way. There were no windows in the van, leaving him with no means to look for familiar sights. He closed his eyes, struggling for control as the bumps from the road caused his stomach to rebel. An abrupt cascade of disconnected images moving through his mind threatened to overcome him; shoot-outs with other men, explosions, blood, people dying, fist-fights and the heart-wrenching image of a car bursting into flames with a woman and a young boy still inside.
Along with the images came conflicting emotions; elation, anger, anguish, desperation, sorrow. By the time the van finally screeched to a halt, he just needed someone to convince him he wasn't going insane. He allowed the man to pull him out of the vehicle, barely registering that it was night-time. They stopped in front of a townhouse.
"Signed, sealed and delivered," Muscle Man grinned. "See ya around, Larabee."
He watched the man drive away through glazed eyes before knocking on the door. A moment later it opened, revealing the green-eyed siren from the photos, his lover, someone he knew he could trust. Someone to shelter him from the storm that was raging inside of him.
"Chris? Is everything all right?" his lover asked softly, a slight frown marring his face.
He walked up to the other man, closing the door behind him, and slowly put his arms around him. "I need you," he whispered urgently.
The green eyes widened slightly, nostrils flaring at the hunger in his voice, his eyes. "Chris?" There was a question in there, but he couldn't understand it. All he knew was that he needed to stop thinking, to stop remembering all the violence and death that seemed to be part of his life.
"I need you," he repeated hoarsely.
A wide smile lit his green-eyed devil's face as his arms wrapped fiercely tight around him, body pressing close. "You've got me, Chris, you've got me."
The soft-spoken words unleashed something inside him, inside them both. Their lips met in a frantic kiss, hands undressing each other as they stumbled awkwardly into the bedroom. How they ended up lying on the bed, he didn't know, but he took full advantage of the situation, touching and kissing the man writhing beautifully beneath him, absorbing the little mewling sounds with his mouth as he tried to devour his lover. Thrusting and sliding against each other, skin flushed and damp they strove for completion, climaxing at the same time, their cries mingling and echoing loudly in the sex-scented room.
It was only then, with his lover's arms cradling him securely, that he finally let go. Seeking relief from the pain, the fear and the confusion, he allowed darkness to steal him away from reality for some much needed oblivion.
Ezra chuckled gently as he watched his lover stir, the aroma of coffee more powerful than any alarm clock. Dark green eyes blinked open, but instead of the expected warmth and affection, there was only confusion.
"Ezra? What --?" Chris sat up slowly, running a hand over his sleep-wrinkled face before reaching for the cup of coffee Ezra was holding out for him. "What am I doing here?"
Something akin to panic washed through Ezra, but he forced it down ruthlessly. "You don't remember?" he queried softly, hearing the fear sneak through his words nonetheless.
There was a moment's silence as Chris obviously tried to recollect, then his eyes widened and he gasped. "Oh, shit," he moaned, slumping against the headboard. "I can't believe I screwed this up so much!"
Lump in his throat, Ezra struggled against the heartache he felt coming. "Maybe you could expand on that? I'm not sure I understand," he said, as he sat on the bed.
"Remember how I stayed late at the office last night because I had some late paperwork to finish?" When Ezra nodded, he continued, "I got everything done around 7 and went down to the garage. I was unlocking the Ram when I heard a noise behind me. Before I could turn, someone hit me on the head."
"What happened?" Ezra asked, concerned.
"When I woke up I had a throbbing headache and I couldn't remember anythin', who I was, where I worked, nothin'. There were two men in the room with me. At the time I didn't recognize them, but it was Sean Carrack and his lieutenant, Eddie Ullman."
"They were the ones that hit you? Why?"
"Carrack wants to get back at Grant for invading his turf. He wants me to tell him when Grant makes a sell, probably plans to take over the whole thing and get rid of Grant. He's goin' to call everyday until I give him the info."
"I'm assuming you are talking blackmail. What did he use against you?" Ezra asked, trying to think of anything Chris might have done that could be used as blackmail material. Nothing came to mind. Chris was as strict as they came with his professional and personal life, but then, everyone had a few family skeletons in their closets.
"You," was the stunning reply.
"M-me?" Ezra stuttered. "What do I have to do with it?"
"Remember the Easton case? When we both went undercover as a gay couple because Easton was gay himself and would trust us more easily?"
Ezra nodded, beginning to understand the agonizing irony of it all. "Yes. Someone from Carrack's camp saw us, thought it was for real and took a few photos for future use," he guessed, succeeding in keeping the sorrow from his voice. A mistake. The most amazingly intense night of his life had been nothing but a terrible mistake.
Chris sighed wearily. "Got in one. Only I didn't know it was only make believe at the time, I really thought we were lovers. By the time they let me go and I started to remember some stuff from our past cases, I thought I had to be the scum of the earth. All I could see was death and fights... I thought you were my lover and I needed..." he placed the coffee cup on the nightstand, his hand covering Ezra's where it rested on the covers. "I didn't mean... Dammit, Ezra! You're a good friend and I... I would never hurt you willingly, I don't want things to change between us."
Giving Chris what he knew must be a weak smile, Ezra shook his head. "Nothing needs changing, Chris. I understand."
"Are you sure? Can you forgive me? I wouldn't want to lose you over this," Chris said, gently.
"You won't, I promise. There's nothing to forgive, Chris. Now, what are we going to do?" Ezra asked, desperately wanting to change the subject before he gave himself away.
"We need to call the others and make some plans. Even if those photos aren't real, if Carrack shows them to the wrong people you could be in danger. We've managed to keep your true identity secret, but I'm well known. Photos of the two of us circulating would endanger both you and every future case."
"All right. Why don't you go take a shower while I call our colleagues? Seeing as today is Saturday we might as well meet here."
Chris nodded, already rising, wrapping a sheet over his body to cover his nudity. "Okay. And Ezra..." he added, just before disappearing into the bathroom. "Thanks."
Unable to say anything for fear of betraying his true feelings, Ezra merely smiled, sighing sadly once the door closed behind Chris. He should have known better, but hearing Chris finally say that he needed him, seeing the hunger in those stormy eyes, had been too much and his will had crumbled.
He shook his head ruefully. Nobody could accuse him of living an uncomplicated life. Certainly, falling in love with your boss had to be a crime somewhere, especially in their line of work and with both of them being male. God only knew when friendship had changed into the all-encompassing love he now felt for Chris.
No. No, he knew. It was all Easton's fault, although the feeling had probably been there for a while. But being forced to play the man's lover, spend twenty-four hours a day by his side, having to kiss him, touch him as only a lover did... It made him start noticing how beautiful Chris' eyes really were, how soft his hair felt under his fingers, how striking he looked in his black garb... How skilled in the art of kissing he was, how Ezra's body tingled everywhere the older man touched. Add lust to friendship and what do you have? Love. Plus the admiration, the respect, the gratitude that had always been there and he had been lost.
He closed his eyes as he recalled the previous night, their passionate lovemaking. How could he go back to being friends with the other man? How could he forget? No, never that. He would just have to store that memory in a protected corner of his mind and heart, cherish it, and bring it out whenever things got too hard, whenever his control on his emotions slipped. Surely that would be enough.
Shaking his head curtly to chase away the gloom, he rose, feeling twice his age, and went to call the others. They had some bad guys to take care of.
Buck watched with an amused eye as Nathan carefully examined the large lump at the back of Chris' head, all the while muttering under his breath about hard heads and stubborn fools. The EMT had barely made it through the door and he was already hovering over Chris, asking question after question without giving his scowling patient any time to reply.
"What the hell were ya thinkin'?" Nathan finally asked, apparently satisfied there was nothing wrong with the blond. "You had a concussion! You should've gone straight to hospital!"
Chris' scowl intensified. "I wasn't exactly in my right mind at the time, Nathan. Besides, I'm fine now. No dizziness, no nausea, just this damn headache."
Josiah handed him a glass of water and a couple of aspirins. "Here, brother, take these. You'll feel better."
Buck waited while Chris took the aspirin, then shook his head. "I don't get it. For someone as smart as Carrack's supposed to be, this stunt was beyond stupid. He can't seriously think you'd just give in to blackmail?"
"He's probably desperate," JD ventured. "Grant has taken over his business and killed most of his men and associates. Team 3 has been monitoring his activities and, according to Graham, Carrack hasn't done any solid deals in over six months. This is probably his last chance to get his operation back online."
"So, what do we do?" Vin asked, from his lazy sprawl on the couch. "And how did he know we were closin' in on Grant in the first place?"
Chris rubbed his forehead tiredly. "When Grant first showed up in Denver we used informants to get to know more about the man, remember? Word probably got out, and if Carrack paid enough it wouldn't be hard for him to learn which ATF team was lookin' for the information. He obviously doesn't know the identity of the agent undercover though, or he would've gone straight to the source instead of takin' such a chance with me," he looked at Buck with a rueful grin. "Considerin' how many married women you chase, flirt with and harass on a regular basis, he would've had blackmail material for a lifetime."
Buck chuckled. "I'm not that bad, pard. Besides, I'd've told him to stuff it."
"And he would have promptly beaten the information out of you," Ezra drawled sarcastically. "How did you manage to leave Grant's side? I didn't think he would go anywhere without his new trusted bodyguard."
"He's entertainin' a lovely young filly today, told me to scram," Buck replied with a leer. "I was home when ya called. He's expectin' me back tomorrow mornin'."
It was unusual for him to go undercover, especially alone, but Ezra had been under for the last three cases, and it was decided to give him a break on the new assignment. Having the cops bust one of Grant's bodyguards for drug possession and then having Buck save the gun dealer from a staged mugging hadn't been all that difficult. Grant had been so grateful to have his ass saved -- and in one piece -- that he had offered Buck the job on the spot.
"Think it's goin' to be long before he sells the last shipment of weaponry he stole?" Nathan asked.
Buck shrugged. "He's makin' calls, settin' things up. Shouldn't take long now, maybe two, three days," he looked at Chris. "But what about Carrack?"
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't know who Ezra is. He threatened to send copies to 'my boss'. As blackmail goes, it would've been much more effective if he'd threatened to share Ezra's identity and the photos with the criminal world. Now, Travis knows the photos aren't for real, since he read the Easton report. Even if he didn't and it was real, I never gave a damn about who knew who I was fuckin'."
Buck was surprised to see Ezra flinch slightly at the words. It only confirmed his observations during the Easton case; Ezra was in love with Chris and the man was just too blind -- and stupid -- to see what was right in front of him. It also made him wonder if both of them weren't hiding something about the previous night. If Chris had believed them to be lovers and had shown up at Ezra's door late in the evening, why had they only called the others that morning? He would have to catch Ezra alone soon and have a word with him. Chris would only glare and refuse to answer any questions. Not that Ezra was any better, but with the Southerner you never knew.
"So the problem is what if Carrack decides to show those photos to anyone other than Travis," Josiah surmised. "What's on your mind, Chris?"
"As I see it, there's only two things we can do. We could risk having him arrested for kidnappin', extortion, blackmail and interference with a government investigation. But by now he probably has a hundred 'respectable' witnesses who saw him somewhere at the time I was with him, and with a good lawyer he would be out on bail before we were even done with the paperwork. I would still try it, if not for the photos. The moment he saw us comin', he would no doubt use them. It would be child's play to have his lawyer or an associate release them on the streets. There are just too many things that can go wrong, and I'm not willin' to try it."
"We could use the tape from the surveillance cameras in the garage," JD chimed in.
Chris shook his head. "I'm sure it only shows Ullman hittin' me and throwin' me into the van. Carrack would know about the cameras and wouldn't set foot in the building. And if we had Ullman arrested, Carrack would just let his man take the fall for him. Ullman knows better than to finger his boss, so we would be back to square one."
"What else's on your mind, Cowboy?" Vin prompted, with a knowing grin.
"We take care of this ourselves. We know he's in hidin', tryin' to escape Grant's hitmen. So he should have the photos and negatives with him. We beat the crap out of him, take the negatives and warn him to stay away from us or else."
"Chris, I don't think that's such a good idea," Ezra began, a concerned frown on his face. "If Travis were to find --"
"I won't have you harmed, Ezra!" Chris interrupted angrily, jumping to his feet. "That bastard wouldn't hesitate for one second to spread those photos around if he found out who you were. Your life wouldn't be worth a dime! There's nothin' we can do legally, nothin' that would keep him down for long. But scare the shit out of him and get those negatives back and he'll lose his trump card. You're one of my men, I won't let anythin' happen to you," he finished, his voice softening as he looked down at Ezra.
Buck watched the interaction between the two men, Chris' overreaction to the thought of Ezra's life being in danger, and realized that while not aware of how telling his expression and worry really were, Chris was also in love with Ezra. Just slow on the uptake, the ladies man thought ruefully. While Chris would definitely go overboard to save and protect the others, it was the first time he actually suggested beating the shit out of someone.
"What's the plan, ol' dog?" he asked. No point in trying to stop Chris. Might as well go along with him and try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum. Besides, it wasn't as if Carrack didn't deserve it.
"Josiah, Nathan, contact Graham, see if he or any of the team knows where Carrack is. If not, talk to the usual sources. I want to know what hellhole Carrack is hidden in. Once we know, the two of you, Buck and I will pay him a little visit." Chris said, a wolfish grin taking over his grim expression.
Buck shook his head with a chuckle. Chris was in full protective mode and nothing would be able to stop him now. It would definitely make for an interesting day.
Buck walked in the kitchen, leaning against the doorway while he watched Ezra making some coffee. "You okay?" he asked, quietly.
"Fine, Mr. Wilmington," was the predictable reply.
Buck chuckled. "Liar," he accused fondly. "Want to tell me what happened between you and Chris last night?"
Ezra's whole body tensed at the question, but he never stopped working or looked back. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he answered, his voice curt and unemotional.
"Don't bullshit a bullshitter, Ez," Buck told him gently. "Ya said it yourself, Chris got here around midnight, you called us this mornin'. What happened between his arrival and your call? Why didn't ya call as soon he walked through your door?" When no reply was forthcoming, Buck decided to risk it, "Somethin' *did* happen, didn't it? Somethin' you weren't expectin'?"
Ezra shook his head, his whole posture exuding desperation. He planted his hands firmly on the counter, his shoulders slumping forward until he was nearly bent over the marble top. "Mr. Wilmington, Buck... please, I..."
"Ez, it's okay, honest. We know how ya feel about Chris."
His words got the desired effect, as Ezra finally turned to face him. "What?" he muttered roughly.
Buck sighed. "Ez, the only one dumb enough not to notice is Chris himself. We all saw the changes in you -- in both of you -- durin' the Easton case. Ya just gotta give the ol' dog some slack, he can be a little slow sometimes," he grinned, pleased when Ezra returned the smile, albeit a little hesitantly.
Ezra cleared his throat awkwardly. "So you gentlemen are all aware of my feelings for Chris? And... you don't mind?"
Buck laughed softly. "Well, Josiah and Nathan had a bit of a shock at the beginnin', and JD's eyeballs just about fell out of their sockets at the idea that you two might be fallin' in love," he snickered, his expression then turning serious. "But the bottom line, Ezra, is that we are your friends. And friends stick together. Ya get what I'm sayin'?" Ezra nodded, obviously relaxing in the face of his friends' acceptance. "Good."
"You really believe he is falling in love with me?" Ezra asked dubiously.
"No. He was fallin' in love with ya durin' the Easton case. Now it's... What's that phrase ya like to use? It's a 'fait accompli'. His heart knows it, but the message is takin' some time gettin' to his brain." Buck quipped, sharing a chuckle with Ezra. "So, feel like sharin' what happened last night?"
"We made love," Ezra replied candidly. "He thought we were lovers, I didn't know he had amnesia. All he said was that he needed me and I thought he had come to share my feelings. He was quite upset this morning when he realized what we had done."
Buck nodded in understanding. "Give him time, Ez. Between what he was already feelin' and last night, it'll come to him why he's suddenly so determined to go on the warpath with Carrack." He waited until Ezra poured the steaming coffee into seven mugs, before patting the man's shoulder gently. "Come on, hoss, let's join the others. They should know where to find Carrack by now and I for one can't wait to see Chris in action. It's been a long while since I've seen him go all 'Navy Seal' on someone. It's gonna be a beaut."
Ezra snorted. "I bet. Will any of Mr. Carrack's bones survive intact?"
Buck gave him a cheeky grin. "That, pard, is anyone's guess."
Graham had indeed known where to find Carrack and was more than happy to share the information, especially after being told Larabee wanted to have 'a word' with the man. Carrack was holed up in a room above a porn shop, owned by one of his last remaining friends, in one of the worse neighborhoods in Denver.
Buck followed a still seething Chris, and the equally worried Nathan and Josiah, into the shop, hardly managing to hide his laughter as Chris turned to the effeminate man behind the counter and growled, "Beat it or lose your teeth!"
The green and pink clad man blinked twice, obviously in shock, then evidently deciding discretion was the better part of valor, rushed out the door without so much as a last glance back.
They took the stairs to the first floor, guns ready, stopping before a sturdy-looking wooden door, hearing two men talking quietly inside. Chris lifted a leg and with a powerful kick slammed the door back on its hinges, revealing a shaggy old room and its two occupants. Ullman was sitting on one of the twin beds while Carrack, who had been behind a small desk, was now half-standing in stunned surprise.
"Don't get up on our account, Carrack," Chris drawled sarcastically. "Josiah, keep your gun trained on these two assholes. They so much as twitch the wrong way, shoot them."
"What the hell do you want, Larabee?" Carrack spat furiously.
"You didn't really think that your blackmail would work on me, did ya? I want the photos and the negatives. Where are they?" When Carrack remained silent, Chris ordered, "Buck, Nathan, search the room."
It didn't take Buck two minutes to discover a manila envelope hidden underneath one of the mattresses. "Got it," he said, after checking its contents and finding what they were looking for.
Chris turned to Carrack. "Are those the only negatives you had made?"
"Yes." Carrack snapped, the rage clear in his eyes.
"I'm not sure I believe you," Chris stated in an even tone. "You wouldn't lie to me, would you?" He approached the desk where Carrack was sitting, and in one swift move, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and slammed the man's face into the hard table top, grinning as it impacted violently, blood splattering the smooth surface as Carrack's nose broke. "Are those the only negatives?" he repeated in a deadly voice.
"Yes! Yes, damn you!" Carrack hissed, his face still pressed against the desk by Chris' hand.
"Good. Now, one last thing -- you come near me, my men or any of the people close to me ever again and you will *not* live to regret it. Are we clear?" Carrack nodded once, still imprisoned by Chris' relentless grip. "We got what we came here for, so we'll leave now. Remember my warning, Carrack, you'll live longer."
They left the room slowly, guarding their backs against an unexpected attack, but neither Carrack nor Ullman tried to follow them. Climbing into the Ram, Chris drove them back to the townhouse, where Ezra himself destroyed both the photos and the negatives. Their work was done.
Carrack pressed a handkerchief to his bleeding nose, watching through the window as Larabee's truck drove away. "Ullman."
His man moved closer. "Yes, boss?"
"I want you to take me to the hospital. While I'm there, comb the streets. Make it known that I wish to speak to Grant, that I have some information he needs. That I will exchange it for our safe conduct out of Denver. I may have lost the war, but I'm taking Larabee down with me," he vowed quietly, already planning his next move.
Chris took another gulp of his beer, a wave of contentment washing over him. Ezra was safe from harm and his men were all together under his watchful eye. They were spread throughout the living room, relaxing after a hearty take-away lunch at the townhouse. Since they were off-duty for the weekend and Buck got to stay until the next day, they had decided to make the best of the hours left in the afternoon, watching TV, reading, playing computer games or, in Josiah and Ezra's case, playing chess.
He found himself watching Ezra; the way his casual clothes seemed to fit perfectly, enhancing the appealing body hidden underneath; the way the younger man tousled his hair as he ran his fingers through it, eyes locked on the chess board in fierce concentration. Chris knew he had made a mistake the previous night, a mistake that might have cost him Ezra's friendship and he was surprised at how much that thought hurt him.
But somehow, it was impossible to prevent the images from their night together from coming forth; the way Ezra had responded to his touch, the way he had moaned and whimpered as Chris paid tribute to every battle-scar on the otherwise smooth skin. The way it had felt to crush their bodies in a heated embrace until it was hard to know where one began and the other ended. The way it felt to kiss those pliant lips until they were both panting for breath.
The ringing of his cell phone snapped him out of his daydreaming. "Larabee."
"Chris, it's Graham. We may have a problem."
"My men have been keeping tabs on Ullman and Carrack all day. After your visit, Ullman took Carrack to the ER, then left and made it to the streets. He's been asking about Grant. According to one of the snitches my men talked to, Carrack wants to exchange information for the chance to leave Denver without Grant's dogs snapping at his feet. This can't be good."
Chris frowned. "No, it can't. Seems I underestimated the little shit. I have a pretty good idea what information he wants to share with Grant. Thanks for the heads up, Graham, I owe you one."
"No sweat, man. You guys have saved our butts on more than one occasion. I'll let you know if something new comes up."
"What's up?" JD asked, when Chris hang up.
"A lot," Chris replied, rubbing his forehead as the remains of his headache made itself known. "Seems Carrack is tryin' to find Grant and make a deal. Grant lets him leave Denver and in exchange he gives Grant some information. It isn't hard to guess that the information is about us bein' on to Grant and havin' someone inside his organization. So, Buck, you're not goin' back tomorrow. Even if Carrack doesn't know who the undercover agent in Grant's organization is, it won't be difficult for Grant to put two and two together. As of now, the operation is off."
"What about Travis?" Nathan asked softly. "He's goin' to be mad as hell that we ruined the case."
"I'll tell him the truth on Monday. He won't like it, but he'll understand. Anyway, the case isn't over. Ezra and Vin have a large network of snitches. Let's keep on 'em, keep them alert for when the deal goes down. With some luck, we may be able to spoil things for Grant."
"And Carrack?" Vin asked with a frown.
Chris shook his head. "It pains me to say it, but the bastard'll get away scot-free. Neither us nor Graham's team have anythin' solid on him. We could still try to pin the kidnappin' and extortion charges on him, but we would have to do a lot of explainin' and in the process we might risk revealin' Ezra's identity," he sighed. "At least he'll be leavin' town. That alone is worth it, especially if we nail Jaki Grant. Ezra, Vin, I want you to talk to all your informants first thing Monday mornin' and tell them that any valid information will be rewarded with twice the usual amount. That should help keep their eyes and ears open."
Ezra made a face at his words. "I refuse to go anywhere 'first thing' on Monday morning. I do need my sleep after all, and it's not like any of my sources will be up themselves at such an ungodly hour."
Chris gave him a mock scowl. "If you're worried about missin' out on your beauty sleep, don't. Considering how long you've been tryin', it should've worked by now."
Ezra blinked at the veiled insult to his looks, then smiled sweetly. The pillow he threw managed to hit Chris squarely in the face.
Late Sunday morning, Chris was preparing a light lunch for himself when the phone rang. He rushed to the living room and picked the receiver up. "Yeah?"
"'Mornin', Graham. Any news?"
"Yeah, and none of it good. Grant and Carrack met this morning on neutral ground, arranged by a third party. We don't know what was said, but they shook hands and parted ways. Tom and Jack followed Carrack and Ullman to the airport and watched them board a private jet. Chris, it exploded as soon as it took off, it's been on all the news channels for the last two hours."
"Shit," Chris whispered. "Grant *is* one mad son-of-a-bitch. Okay, I'll assume Carrack still warned Grant he was bein' investigated by us, and that Grant decided to get rid of him anyway. Nothin' we can do now, but wait for word from our informants."
"Okay. Since we don't have a case anymore, we'll probably be free for a few days. You guys need anything, let us know and we'll be there."
"Will do, and thanks again. See ya tomorrow."
"See ya, Cowboy," Graham quipped, laughing when Chris mock growled at him before hanging up.
Chris returned to his lunch without much enthusiasm. Things just seemed to be getting more and more complicated. What had started with a simple attempt at blackmail was slowly getting out of hand. And Chris definitely didn't like it when he wasn't the one in control.
The tip, when it came, was almost too late. It was Wednesday afternoon when Vin got a call saying that Grant was finally selling a large shipment of weapons... In less than an hour's time. The location was an abandoned oil refinery on the outskirts of town, and Chris barely had enough time to get his men ready, call teams 3 and 5 for help and be on their way.
The refinery was huge and there was no evidence of any vehicles on the outside upon their arrival. That didn't mean anything, since the building was large enough to house a hundred cars inside, but it gave Chris a sense of foreboding that he couldn't shake. Making sure that every man wore a vest and had their headsets switched on, including the other teams, he nodded.
"Let's do this, people. Spread out and be careful. Grant and his men make Hannibal Lecter seem like a choir boy by comparison. No heroics; anyone in trouble calls for help. Let's go."
He watched as every man instinctively took a different entrance before choosing his own way. This was the part he really hated about this job; having to let his men rush headfirst into danger, knowing that any false step could be fatal. Hopefully that fear would always remain with him; the day he walked into a bust with the certainty that nothing would go wrong was the day he would retire.
Ezra moved slowly as he crossed through the refinery, deeper and deeper into its heart, careful to keep his footing light and his gun ready. So far he had seen no sign of Grant, his men, or the buyers -- although he had come close to shooting Cole from team 5 as the man made the mistake of running past him.
He walked into a large room, spotting dozens of large crates that were sure to hold the weapons Grant hoped to sell. The only question on his mind was, where the hell was the man? The whole thing was beginning to feel more and more like a setup. It seemed strange to him that Grant would risk selling the weapons so soon after finding out that the ATF was hot on his trail. Even without Buck undercover in his organization, it was still a dangerous stunt to pull. The man was either a fool, fearless... Or very, very intelligent.
He frowned as he spotted a large backpack hidden between a few crates. Approaching cautiously, he crouched down and unzipped it, breath leaving his body in a gasp as he recognized the object inside.
"Abort the bust! Everyone get out of the building!" he shouted into the headset. "There's a bomb in here!"
"Shit!" Chris swore, loud and clear through the radio. "Ezra, does it have a timer?"
"Wait a second." He holstered his gun, turning the bomb with feather-light fingers, conscious of the fact there was enough explosives in it to turn the refinery to dust, especially if any of the oil tanks had any residue left. "Fuck! Thirty-two seconds! Move it!"
"It's not enough time to get everyone out of here!" John Leeson, the leader of team 5 said, his voice unsteady.
"Lord, I hate my life sometimes," Ezra whispered, knowing what he had to do.
Grabbing the backpack, donning it and making a mental count of the seconds ticking by, he began a mad dash for the closest exit. "Get out of the way!" he shouted as he collided with several agents in a corridor.
23 seconds, 22, 21, 20...
"Ezra, what the hell are you doing?" Chris' voice sounded nearly panicked through the headset.
"Not now, Chris!" he growled desperately, turning another corner.
...19, 18, 17...
Why, oh, why, did the damn building have to be this wide? He felt like a rat in a maze, the harder he tried, the further away from his goal he got. Sweat slid down his temple, coating his forehead and making his eyes sting. His burden was heavy at his back and getting heavier with each step, and he was starting to have trouble breathing.
...16, 15, 14, 13...
Light loomed ahead and he grinned inanely as he reached an exit. Only to groan in dismay. The grounds were crowded with the agents who had managed to leave the refinery, surveillance and ATF vehicles were parked everywhere, close together, and allowed him no free space to get safely rid of the bomb.
...12, 11, 10...
Then, like a parched man weeps at the sight of an oasis, so did he spot his salvation. Far away from all the other vehicles and agents stood Leeson's car, the driver's door wide open. It wasn't ideal, but it would have to do.
"Get back inside the refinery!" he shouted to the men around him, who didn't hesitate to obey.
...9, 8, 7, 6...
Running toward Leeson's brand new Chevy truck, he dragged the backpack off and threw it inside the vehicle, mentally cursing himself at his insanity. "Mother told me there would be days like these," he muttered absently, slamming the door and racing to get as far away from the bomb as possible before it went off.
...5, 4, 3, 2...
"I'm not going to make it," he whispered to himself, knowing time was at its end.
Burning heat scorched him as the force of the explosion propelled him through the air, his ears throbbing painfully at the violence of the noise caused by the blast. He landed hard on his stomach, barely managing to protect his face from hitting the concrete. He cringed as a rain of torn metal landed all around him, the hood of the Chevy crashing mere inches away.
When it was finally over, he rolled slowly onto his back, eyes closed, arms stretched away from his body. A chuckle escaped his lips, then another and another, until it turned into full belly laughter. Damn, it felt good to be alive!
"Somethin' funny, pard?" Vin's voice, sounding very close.
Ezra sighed. "I am... feeling quite pleased with myself at this moment, Mr. Tanner," he replied softly, before finally opening his eyes.
His six friends must have been right behind him during his marathon run, for they were all there, sitting around him, different expressions showing on their faces, from absolute relief, to amusement, to understanding and pride. Well, not all of them were sitting. Chris was on all fours, straddling Ezra's body, an unreadable look in his eyes.
Before he could question the blond, Chris pulled the headset off Ezra's head, throwing it to join the pile of discarded equipment next to Josiah. Then, gazing down at Ezra with fire in his eyes, he spoke, "You stupid, aggravating, annoying, brilliant, brave, *beautiful* man!"
And before Ezra could even blink, Chris was leaning down, warm breath brushing over Ezra's skin and making him tingle in anticipation. His eyes closed of their own volition, and then thought abandoned him completely as he was kissed with a hunger that left him weak and trembling with arousal. Lips claimed his, soft and demanding, hot and teasing in turns. He responded in kind, pouring his love into their meld, nibbling at Chris' bottom lip and grinning as the other man moaned. When they finally parted, they were both smiling and the others were chuckling and wolf-whistling at them.
"You do realize you just outed us, not only to our friends, but to half of the ATF, don't you?" Ezra asked, breathlessly.
"Nah. I asked Graham to keep everyone away until I gave the all clear. Besides, I couldn't care less who knows."
"What exactly is there to know?" Ezra queried softly, looking up at Chris.
"I've been doin' a lot of thinkin' the last few days. I knew -- I felt -- that somethin' had changed between us durin' the Easton case," Chris began, "but I don't think I was ready for what it meant. That night we spent together... I haven't been able to put it, or you, out of my mind, Ez. I get it now. I got it the moment I realized what you meant to do with the bomb and that you might get killed. I love you," he smiled down at Ezra. "I'm sorry it took me so long."
Ezra gave him a wide smile, feeling his heart swelling with happiness. "It's quite all right, Mr. Larabee. I had noticed that I'm the brains in this outfit."
Chris gave him a mock glare. "Are you callin' me dumb?"
Ezra laughed. "If the cap fits," he pressed Chris' ATF cap down until it was nearly down to his eyes, "wear it."
Chris cuffed him lightly on the head, then jumped to his feet, pulling Ezra up with him. A roar of clapping, whistling and loud cheering reached his ringing ears, and Ezra turned to see the agents from teams 3 and 5 by the main entrance of the refinery, waving madly at them. For a moment, the irrational thought that they were reacting to the kiss crossed his mind. Then reality re-asserted itself and he realized that there were several vehicles between them, which made it impossible for the others to have seen anything.
"They're showing their appreciation for your selfless action," Josiah told him, evidently having understood his confusion. "You did a fine thing today, brother."
A man stood out from the crowd, getting closer, and Ezra sighed as he recognized John Leeson. The other agent possessed an impressive bulk and height, only matched by Josiah, although he was a good ten years younger. He was stalking towards Ezra, a mix of frustration and laughter lurking in his hazel eyes.
"Standish!" he growled. "That damn truck was brand new, you maverick! Brand new! I got to ride it for all of two days! Couldn't you have thrown the bomb somewhere else, for Pete's sake?" He stood face to face with Ezra now. "I swear, if I wasn't insured I'd kick your lily white ass all the way back to the office!"
Ezra raised an eyebrow at that. "You mean you would *try* to kick my ass, don't you?"
Leeson snorted, but refrained from further comments. His expression turned suddenly solemn. "Ezra, that was probably the craziest, bravest thing I've ever seen in my life and I've been in this business for a long time. Graham and I were talkin' just now... We'll make sure you get a commendation for this. Your quick thinking saved a lot of good men today." He tousled Ezra's hair with a grin. "You're a damn hero, kid." A parting wink and Leeson was gone, leaving Ezra gaping at his back.
He looked up at the clear blue sky, wondering about the twists in his life, aware of Chris coming closer. "What are you doin'?" the blond asked.
"Waiting for the sky to come tumbling down, lightning to strike, that sort of thing," he murmured. "You know what they say, no good deed goes unpunished."
Chris chuckled at the sarcasm. "I don't think that's goin' to happen today, Ez. You did good. No matter what you seem to think, nothin' bad will come of it." He wrapped an arm around Ezra's shoulders. "Come on, hero, let's go back to the office. We gotta think of a way to get Jaki Grant before he gets us."
Chris looked at his watch for the hundredth time as he waited for the appointed hour of his meeting with AD Travis. Graham and Leeson had already given their accounts on the failed bust. In ten minutes time, it would be his turn.
They had gotten back to the office an hour earlier and everyone was keeping busy. Vin was trying to locate the snitch responsible for the false tip, Ezra was out on the streets talking to his informants, Nathan and Buck were going through every piece of information available on Jaki Grant, and JD and Josiah were on the phone with several of Boston's authorities, Grant's previous hunting grounds.
A soft knock on the door and Vin was walking into his office, face grim. "Hey, Cowboy."
"Vin. You found him?"
"Sorta. He's dead, Chris. I tried a few of his favorite haunts, was checkin' a bar downtown when I noticed the squad cars outside. A customer found him in the bathroom. Coroner says probable cause was an overdose. I left it to the cops; it's not our problem anymore. I don't think we'll ever know if he sold us out, was threatened or if he thought the info was good. Knowin' the little weasel, I'd bet it was the first one."
"But you don't think it was an accident, do you?"
Vin shook his head. "Hell, no! Lowen had been shootin' up for years. Too much of a coincidence 'im OD'ing hours after we nearly get blown ta pieces because of the info he gave us. Grant had him killed, couldn't chance a loose end. He's bound ta know we escaped his little setup. Reckon he's none too happy right 'bout now."
Chris rubbed his face tiredly. "Right. Let's hope the others have better luck. Come on, I have a meetin' with Travis. You might as well come along. I might need the moral support."
JD put the receiver down wearily, having lost count of the number of calls he had made since being back in the office. He was exhausted, hungry, hot, sticky and probably stunk worse than Pepe Le Pew. And it was only 5 p.m. on what was rapidly becoming one of the worse days in his life.
The phone's shrill cry made him sigh, but not wanting to risk missing any vital information, he was quick to answer. "JD Dunne."
"Mr. Dunne. I've been trying to get in touch with our leader, but his cell phone appears to be switched off."
"Hey, Ez. Chris and Vin are with AD Travis, might take a while. Something wrong?"
"I'm not certain. I called one of my informants and arranged for us to meet in about thirty minutes time. For some reason, the whole phone call struck me as odd. The man was too eager, and sounded extremely nervous. It might be nothing, but..."
JD looked around the office, realizing Nathan and Buck hadn't returned from the file room yet, and that Josiah was still talking to the ATF in Boston. "I seem to be the only backup available, Ez."
Ezra's voice sounded amused as he replied, "I'm sure the two of us will be able to handle the situation, JD. Meet me in front of the Larimer parking garage as soon as possible. Let one of the others know where you are heading, just in case."
"Right. I'm on my way. See ya in fifteen minutes."
JD hung up the phone, scribbled his destination on a piece of paper, and gave it to Josiah. The older man nodded in understanding before turning back to his call. Snatching his coat from the back of his chair, JD rushed down the stairs, not wanting to wait for the elevators. He had something exciting to do at last.
JD surveyed the place quickly. The second floor of the parking garage was nearly full, almost to capacity, making for some very good hiding places. He followed Ezra quietly, keeping close, alert for either the man they were looking for or any trouble. They chose a shady corner against a concrete wall to wait, keeping a comfortable silence until the sound of footsteps moving closer forced them out of the shadows.
He kept a few feet away as Ezra met with the man, close enough to hear the conversation, yet far enough away not to intrude and to stand guard.
"Steals, what have you got for me?" Ezra asked.
"I need to know somethin' first," the nervous little man said. "You're payin' double this time, right?"
"If the information is worth it, yes. Why?"
"Ya heard about Lowen, man? I'm splittin' town as soon as I get out o' here. Don't intend ta end up like him."
Ezra tilted his head in puzzlement. "Lowen?"
"Vin's informant," JD supplied. "The one who told us about the bust. He's dead."
Steals nodded emphatically. "Not by accident neither. Grant had 'im killed. I'm not waitin' for my turn."
"Very well. What can you tell us?"
"There's gonna be trouble, big trouble. Grant is plannin' to expand his business."
Ezra frowned. "How? Carrack was the last gun dealer with any weight in Denver and Grant got rid of him already. He's the new lord and master of the weaponry trade."
"Not guns, man," Steals huffed. "Other stuff. Drugs. He's been askin' around about Wright's operation, anythin' from Wright's personal habits to how his organization works."
JD felt a shudder taking over his body. There wasn't a law enforcer in Denver who didn't know who Frank Wright was. More commonly known as Denver's Baron, Wright was *the* drug dealer. His organization was large and well run, no opponents managed to last long, and nothing went down in the city without him knowing about it. Some people called him 'El Capo', a Mafia reference that suited the man like a glove. If Grant tried to take over his operation, he would start a war; a *very* bloody war.
Ezra nodded slowly, his thoughts obviously along the same line. "How did you come upon this information?"
"Lowen and I were friends. He knew some of Grant's men, heard it from them. I talked ta him yesterday and, man, he was scared shitless." Steals swallowed thickly. "There's more. He... he told me about the bomb in the refinery. Grant paid him a lot of money to set you guys up. I'd watch my back, if I was you. He wanted to make an example out of the 'Magnificent Seven', to show he could outsmart the fox, if ya get my drift. I don't think he's gonna leave it at one try."
"If you knew about the setup yesterday, why didn't you call me?" Ezra asked angrily.
Steals took a fearful step back. "Hey, man, I might be afraid o' you, but I'm even more afraid of Grant. The man's psychotic! But... what he did to Lowen..." he shook his head. "You just don't do that, man. He was just a harmless junkie. And nobody will be safe if Grant goes after Wright. I might not be worth much, and yeah, I'm gettin' outta town for a while, but this is still my city, man."
"All right, I will give you the money. But Steals... if you are lying to me, you will be very, very sorry. Do we understand each other?" Ezra sneered nastily.
"I wouldn't do that ta you, man. Never let you down before, did I?"
JD was watching Ezra reach for his wallet when his sixth sense kicked in. Glancing around, he suddenly noticed the moving shadow flickering between cars. "Look out!" he shouted.
He shoved Ezra down behind the nearest car, following close, covering the undercover agent's body with his own even as he drew his gun. The bullets missed them by a split hair... but they didn't miss Steals. When JD finally dared to lift his head, the snitch was lying a few feet away, a bullet wound between his open, unseeing eyes.
Slowly, both he and Ezra crouched against the car, but the slight movement was enough to cause a new attack. They fired back blindly, not having the exact location of the assassin, until finally Ezra gestured for him to stop shooting. They were simply wasting ammunition.
A heavy silence ensued, both sides trying to come up with a strategy to get the upper hand. A soft sound alerted them to the fact that the other man was on the move, probably searching the rows of cars for them.
Ezra patted him on the shoulder, leaning closer with a wicked grin, his lips almost touching JD's ear. "Let's try something, JD," he breathed. "Move a few rows over, but be careful not to make a sound. I will draw him out and if you get the chance, take him out."
JD nodded slightly, heartened by the fact that the other man trusted him to be able to keep him safe. He moved away slowly, hardly breathing, finally stopping a few rows away from Ezra. For a few oppressive moments quiet reigned, then a voice echoed loudly in the garage.
"We are ATF agents," Ezra shouted. "Throw your weapon away and stand up with your hands behind your head."
His reply was a bark of laughter and more shots fired. As soon as he heard the first shot, JD didn't waste any time. Rising from his crouched position, he fired two shots at the assassin, whooping as the bullets hit the target.
"Ez, you okay?"
"Fine, JD." Ezra answered as he walked over to the downed body. "And yourself?"
"I'm cool. He alive?" JD asked, seeing Ezra check for a pulse.
"No. It would have been nice to question him, but I can't say I'm overly distressed at his demise." Ezra remarked with a smirk. "Thank you for keeping me out of harm's way, Mr. Dunne."
"Don't mention it. Besides, Chris would throttle me to death if you showed up at the office with so much as a scratch." JD quipped. "Now, what?"
"Call the police, let them handle this mess. We need to get back to the office. If Grant *is* going after Wright we need to notify all the local authorities. Whatever Grant is planning, it will certainly be a bloodbath."
When they left the parking garage it was already getting dark. Ezra gestured towards the Jag parked across the street. "Let's take my car. We can return for your bike later."
They were waiting for a break in the traffic to cross over to the Jag when Ezra felt a gun pressing against his back. Beside him JD tensed as well, even as a voice spoke softly from behind them. "Gentlemen, we mean you no harm. Our employer wishes to have a word with you. You will be allowed to keep your weapons if you promise to behave."
Curious in spite of the situation, Ezra nodded to JD, a warning to keep still until they knew what they were up against. "Very well," he said to the two men currently holding all the cards.
The words were barely out of his mouth before a black limousine was pulling up to them. One of their captors opened the door. "Gentlemen, please."
Ezra climbed in first, followed by JD, their backs to the driver, then finally the two goons. He heard JD's gasp of surprise as he recognized their 'host', hand automatically going for his gun. Ezra grabbed his arm and shook his head silently.
"Very wise of you, Mr. Standish. I'm sure you also know who I am?"
Ezra looked at the sixty-something man sitting in front of him, taking in the snow-white hair and the shrewd brown eyes, finding it hard to reconcile the 'grandfather' vibe the man gave out with all the stories he had heard since moving to Denver.
"Yes, I am aware of who -- and what -- you are, Mr. Wright," he said as he felt the limousine take off. "I am, however, somewhat surprised that you know who *I* am."
Frank Wright smiled slightly. "I make it my business to know who's who in the law enforcement world. When word of the 'Magnificent Seven' began to spread about two years ago I was curious. True, not many people are fortunate enough to put names to the faces, or vice-versa, but then again, I'm not just anyone."
"How did you know where we were?" JD asked with a scowl.
"My men have been trailing one of Jaki Grant's... associates, his favorite iceman. I assume you killed him?"
Ezra nodded. "Yes. The question is, how did *he* find us?"
"I'm afraid he followed your young friend," he gestured towards JD, "from the federal building. I came as soon as I was informed of the situation, but when I spotted you leaving the garage, I realized you had taken care of the problem yourselves. You see, Grant wanted his man to finish what the bomb at the warehouse this afternoon failed to do."
"And what is it that you want?"
"To make a deal," was the simple reply.
"We don't make deals with crooks!" JD spat angrily.
"JD!" Ezra scolded.
But Wright waved a hand dismissively. "It's quite all right, Mr. Standish. You have to appreciate youthful enthusiasm. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever that young."
"About that deal?" Ezra reminded after giving JD a final warning glance to keep quiet.
"Ah, yes. I am an old man, Mr. Standish, and as such, I tend to avoid things that might be... harmful to my health. Jaki Grant is the latest of such things. I am aware of his ambitious plan to take over my operation and while I know that I can face him -- and win -- I would rather not. Besides, it is bad business to kill federal agents and this grudge he has against your team is not beneficial to anyone. I have tried to keep away from his deals, and I didn't intervene when I felt I should have, but no more. Carrack wasn't a close friend by any means, but with him there was honor amongst thieves. He stayed out of my way and I stayed out of his. I was the one who arranged for him and Grant to meet last Sunday and was very displeased to hear that, in spite of his promise, Grant had Carrack killed anyway. This must stop."
Ezra tilted his head curiously. "And what do you propose to do?"
"Lewis," Wright gestured to one of his men, who handed a thick A4 envelope to JD. "Inside you will find all the information my men found on Grant. From the warehouses where he keeps his weapons, to his several hideouts; a list of his men, suppliers, etc. It's yours."
"And in exchange?"
Wright shook his head. "Nothing much, Mr. Standish. I simply avoid a war that would cost me money, men and probably years of my life. I believe it's a fair deal. There will be no future favors asked, and your identity is safe with me. Unless, of course, you step on my toes, but considering I deal with... chemicals, that's highly unlikely." The limousine pulled to a stop. "It's been a pleasure, gentlemen. Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope never to see you again."
Ezra stepped out of the vehicle after JD, startled to find himself in front of the ATF building. They watched as the limousine drove away, before looking down at the envelope JD was carrying.
JD shook his head. "What a revolting turn of events this is," he groused in his best Daffy Duck voice.
Ezra chuckled. "Come on, Loony Toons, let's go up. I'm sure the others will have an APB out on us by now."
Chris was stalking out of his office before the elevator doors slid shut behind his two missing men. "Where the hell have you two been? The Larimer parkin' garage is crawlin' with cops -- not to mention two dead bodies -- and we just got word that the Jag and the bike are still there!" Then, looking at the serene green eyes regarding him warmly, he breathed, "Fuck it."
He reached for Ezra, who went easily into his arms, nestling against Chris' body. He kissed the younger man passionately, relieved to have him close once more, 'humming' as the sweet, pliant lips moved against his, parting and allowing their tongues to mate sensually.
Breaking the kiss, he tightened his hold on Ezra's body, resting his forehead against the other man's. "Was worried sick, you bastard," he whispered. "Where have you been?"
"I'm sorry, Chris," Ezra murmured, fingers brushing tenderly over his face. "We didn't have any choice in the matter. We have news, important news. We are sitting on a timebomb and there's no telling when it will go off."
Chris moved slightly back. "That bad?"
"Okay. Ladies, conference room. Now," he ordered, letting Ezra go reluctantly.
When they were all sitting at the table, JD told them about what had happened while Ezra opened the envelope and browsed through the information inside.
"Well?" Buck asked when Ezra was done.
Ezra exhaled slowly. "We have enough information here to put Grant away for several lifetimes. Wright's men were nothing if not thorough. Over a hundred pages with dates, places and names from past transactions, future transactions, warehouses, safehouses, phony companies Grant uses to launder his money, a list of his men; along with addresses and possible favorite haunts for each name..." he turned to Chris. "You better call for every available team to help with this. It's going to take days to go through all this, and I believe we should hit the main locations tonight. With any luck, we might get Grant himself."
Chris looked down at his watch, noting it was past seven already, and nodded. "Okay. Josiah, call Travis, tell him what's goin' on. The rest of you, start callin' everyone. Start with teams 3 and 5, they are still on standby. Find out who's free and let everyone know we're takin' volunteers as well. All agents on cases, who aren't doin' anythin' tonight, are more than welcome. Oh, and call Lieutenant MacAulay, I'm sure the cops would love to get in on this as well."
He went back to his office, turning to find Ezra closing the door behind him, separating them from the pandemonium the others were creating outside.
"Are you all right?" Ezra asked softly.
Chris smiled ruefully as he sat on a corner of his desk. "I'm... disappointed. I could hardly pay attention to what Travis was sayin' earlier at the meetin'. Couldn't stop thinkin' about us. Spent the whole time plannin' our night."
"Oh?" Ezra smiled coyly, sauntering closer. "What, exactly, did you have in mind?"
"Soft music, gourmet dinner, candlelight... and you."
"Ah, Chris." Ezra's expression changed from provocative to loving in a heartbeat. He ran his fingers over Chris' hair gently, eyes glowing with affection and amusement. "Don't you know by now not to make any plans? This team has a very unnatural knack of getting caught in misfortunes that can run the best-laid plans to ground. We don't seem to be able to do things the ordinary way."
Chris chuckled, hands moving to hold Ezra by the waist. "I know, I know. I mean, look at us! We couldn't go about this like the rest of the world. First we go to bed, *then* we date!"
Ezra shook his head slowly, lips touching Chris' in a light caress. "We have been dating for the past two years, Chris, we just haven't noticed it before. The shared coffees at Starbucks, the times you took me out to dinner under the guise of helping me relax after a tough case, the times I spent at the ranch when I got injured, the movies we ended up seeing alone because the others weren't interested... Not to mention the constant bickering!" he grinned.
Chris looked at the man in his arms, realizing that Ezra was right. They had been traveling that road for a long time, and now they had finally reached their destination.
"I love you," he whispered, a peace he hadn't felt in years settling over him.
"I love you, too," Ezra replied, then sighed softly. "I should get back to work. It's going to be a long night."
"Yes, it will."
"So, what are *you* going to be doing while we slave away at the phones?" Ezra asked abruptly, giving him a suspicious look.
Chris grinned cheekily. "Ordering pizza."
AD Travis hadn't reached his position in life by being an idle pencil-pusher. Half an hour after receiving the call from Josiah he was back at the office, looking over the information provided by Wright and practically glowing with glee at the thought of finally arresting Grant. An hour later, he had put Chris in charge of the whole operation, had called a judge for the necessary warrants and was planning on taking part in a few of the busts himself.
By midnight they had the green light; the sting was on.
It was past four in the morning when team 7 made it to their last raid before stopping for some much needed rest. Wright's information had more than paid off so far. Over a hundred men from several law enforcement agencies had made sure that every single one of Grant's warehouses had been raided and the countless crates of weapons found there confiscated. His suppliers and his top men were already being questioned, the remaining still being hunted down.
It only left the man himself.
One of Grant's goons had revealed his boss' current location and Chris and his men were there to take him in. They parked the Ram and Josiah's Chevy truck a few yards away from their target, then Chris led the way towards the back door of a fairly discreet building, keeping low and stealthy.
He checked the perimeter through narrowed eyes, gun drawn, index finger absently caressing the trigger. The street was deserted and eerily quiet, only the occasional sound of a streetlight buzzing over them.
Reaching their destination, Chris waved Ezra over to join him, the undercover agent picking the lock effortlessly. The door swung open silently, and after checking that it was safe, Chris went in first, scanning the house for their prey. Listening to the muffled sounds filtering in from somewhere upstairs, he gestured for Vin and Ezra to follow him, the other four doing a sweep of the downstairs floor.
The noise grew louder as they climbed the stairs, and the three men shared an amused grin as they realized what it was that Grant was doing. The 'Oh, God, yes!', and 'Fuck, yes!' echoing repeatedly in the room, shared by both a male and female voice, along with the rhythmical squeak of a mattress, was a dead giveaway.
"Might as well let the man finish," Vin whispered with a smirk.
"Chris," Nathan's voice whispered through the headset. "We found three of Grant's men downstairs; we're gettin' them out. The rest of the floor is clear. You're on your own for a while."
"Check." Chris breathed back.
The coupling inside the room seemed to be growing to a crescendo as the woman's voice shouted an ecstatic, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" in sync with the man's "I'm comin'! Fuck, I'm comin'!" A shared groan and silence reigned once again within the house.
"Now?" Vin mouthed.
Chris nodded. "Now!" He kicked the door open, grinning wolfishly at the stunned couple on the bed. "Out!" he ordered, glaring at the woman.
She jumped out from beneath the covers at the harsh command, grabbing her dress from the floor, and rushed out of the door. Once he was certain she that was gone, Chris stepped fully into the room, feeling Ezra and Vin do the same.
"Larabee." Grant growled.
Chris smirked. "I see my reputation precedes me. Put your clothes on, Grant. You're under arrest."
With a nonchalance that Chris couldn't help but admire, Grant rose from the bed, oblivious to his nudity. Careful to keep his movements slow and non-threatening, he donned his jeans and shirt, then sat down on the bed to put his shoes on.
"Now what?" Grant asked when he was finished.
"Now you go down for the count, Grant. We have enough evidence to put you away for life," Chris replied smugly. "You really should be more careful whose toes you step on. Frank Wright was more than willin' to help us get you off of the streets."
"Bastards!" Swift as a snake, Grant dove for the gun under his pillow, but he wasn't quick enough. Before he could even squeeze the trigger a shot echoed loudly in the room, the bullet hitting Grant's shoulder and thrusting him violently against the headboard.
Vin sighed as he holstered his gun. "That was pretty stupid, mister. Coulda saved yourself a lot o' pain if ya'd gone quietly."
"Not his style," Chris groused, watching the glare Grant threw them as he tried to staunch the blood flowing from his wound. "Once the others get here, think you guys can take over for me?"
Vin gave them a knowing smile. "Sure, we'll handle it. The case is over. All we need is ta tie some loose ends. 'Sides, Travis already said he ain't expectin' us back at the office till the afternoon. Ya two lovebirds get outta here."
Chris gave a grateful nod. "Thanks, Cowboy."
Two minutes later the rest of the team was back, along with a few cops, and Chris and Ezra left them to it. They exited the house leisurely, this time through the front door.
"So, now what?" Ezra asked as they reached the Ram.
Chris tugged him gently closer, hands settling easily on his hips. "Well, we can go back to the office, write our reports, maybe go through a few more safehouses or warehouses on the list..." he breathed, giving Ezra a tender kiss. "Or..."
"Or?" Ezra prompted huskily, swaying impossibly closer.
"Or we can go to the ranch."
Ezra raised an eyebrow teasingly. "And do what?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe boff like bunnies, do the wild thing, boink like minks, do the nasty, meld in the dark, do the bone dance, do the horizontal tango, get jiggy with it, knock boots, rock the Kazbah, nail each other to the mattress..." Chris replied, his expression mock hopeful.
Ezra laughed, delightedly. "You say the most romantic things."
"Well, what do you say?"
"I believe that's the best offer I've had in a very, very long time," Ezra replied warmly.
Together they climbed into the Ram and drove away into the night.
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