Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story belong to MGM, Trilogy, and The Mirish Company. No profit is being made from this work.
Author's Notes: This story initially appeared in the first ATF Virtual Season.
Vin Tanner pulled the door shut behind him with a sigh. It had been a tough two weeks for him and his friends on the ATF team, and exhaustion and tension had wrung him dry. This was the first night he had made it home before midnight in that time and Vin wanted to savor his bed and get a fresh start on his search in the morning.
It was a search that his hope for a successful outcome was waning. He wondered how much more time they had before they would be called back to work on another case, forced to leave the file on Chris's desk marked "missing".
Heading for the fridge to grab a beer, Vin sighed as the telephone rang. What was it now?
In another part of town, up in the mountains on his secluded ranch, Chris Larabees thoughts mirrored those of his friends in Purgatory. He was frustrated, he was angry... and he was tired. In a few days he knew AD Travis would force him to call off his search and the inevitable would happen.
He would be forced to give up. Not something he ever liked to do, but this time he would have no choice. If they didn't find the object of their search soon, all hope for his survival would be gone.
The strident tone of his cell phone reached his ears. Muttering in anger at the interruption to his first quiet night in weeks, he was curt in his greeting.
"What do you want?" Chris practically snarled.
"Mr.Larabee?" Came a tentative voice from the other end. It was Debbie one of AD Travis' secretaries. "We just got a phone call from an informant... do you know where Vin is?"
"What's wrong?" Chris immediately went from irritation to concern. "What's happened?"
"Hopefully nothing, " Debbie's sounded nervous. "An informant said a contract is out on Vin, and it's supposed to go down tonight...."
Chris didn't even wait for an answer; he shut the phone, grabbed his jacket and keys and headed for the door. It was 11:30; Vin might just have gotten home from Inez's.
There was no answer, so Chris hastily dialed another number. A sleepy voice answered.
"JD, grab Buck and meet me at Vin's, we got trouble. Call the others." Chris hung up knowing that in ten minutes his entire team would be mobilized.
All but one, he sadly added. One was lost and probably gone forever, and Chris' emotions spiraled back into the despair he had felt when he had found about his wife and son's death. Another person close to him killed. Now Vin was in trouble. He dialed the number again, only five more minutes and he would be in Purgatory, which was located on the outer edge of town, somewhat close to Chris's farm.
"What?" Came a slightly annoyed drawl.
"Vin get out of there! Someone's gunning for you! I'm on my way." Chris wasted no time, knowing Vin wouldn't either.
Instead of an answering affirmative, a loud explosion of sound came across the phone, and then the connection went dead.
"VIN!" Chris yelled into the toneless line. Cursing, he drove even faster.
"What?" Vin said testily to whomever it was on the other line.
"Vin get out of there! Someone's gunning for you! I'm on my way." Chris sounded agitated, and Vin knew that tone, but before he could reply he was thrown to the floor as the back bedroom exploded into a ball of flames.
Vin lay there slightly stunned before his foggy brain realized what had happened. A bomb. The resulting fire blocked his way to his door and Vin took to the fire escape, then paused. If someone was after him, chances were they might be waiting for him to exit this way. As the flames grew closer, Vin realized he had no other choice. It was either burn or possibly get shot.
With a mumbled curse and a decidedly shaky step, he eased himself onto the fire escape. True to his luck, a shot hit the wall right next to his head as Vin moved away from it. Vin looked down, he was too far up to jump, but he needed to get down and fast. Remembering the kids new sport, Vin shrugged fatalistically, grabbed the siderail, and jumped....
Buck slammed his Chevy truck into park and leapt out of the cab. JD not a second behind him. What had been Vin's apartment was engulfed in flames and Buck could have sworn he had heard gunshots coming from the alley.
"Follow me Kid!" Buck didn't even have to look, he knew JD would be right behind him. Another shot rang out as Buck closed the distance to the alley and a muffled, painful curse floated to him as well.
"Vin?" JD looked around the corner, to see Vin hobbling towards them, ducking and looking over his shoulder.
Both Buck and JD covered their friend until he could reach them and then backed their way out to the street. No one saw any sign of the shooter.
Chris's car screamed to a halt, and right behind it Josiahs.
"You ok Vin?" Chris rushed up and led Vin to the curb.
"Yeah, just twisted my ankle." Vin grimaced as he took his boot off. "Damn Chris. You couldn't cut it any closer?"
"I just got the tip right before I phoned you. You sure your OK?" Chris looked around, the inhabitants of the building were already containing the fire as the firetrucks and police rolled up.
"Yeah." Vin shook his head.
"Larabee?" A police Sergeant walked up to the five by the curb. "Everyone alright here?"
"I'm fine Raphael." Vin noticed the local police Sergeant. "My apartment is fried though. And there was a shooter in the alley, so you can send your boys there."
"Another shooter?" Raphael Martinez knew as well as anyone, another of Larabees team had been gunned down. He knew he would be taking his life into his hands, but he had to ask them. "Any connection Standish's death you think?"
Chris' face fell into the familiar lines of anger and pain. He had been thinking the very same thing. What if the nightmare wasn't over, but only beginning? "Do you think the locals will cooperate if we asked them a few questions?"
"Yeah, I reckon they will. They aren't much for people torching their homes." Vin felt keenly the loss of his friend. But no body had yet been found, so he still held out hope.
"Where's Nathan?" JD asked, he figured the man would be here too.
"On his way." Josiah looked away from the crowd. "He was at Rain's."
"Damn." Vin swore. "Hate to call him away from her for this."
"You know he'd kill us if we didn't call." Buck reasoned as Josiah went back to scanning the crowd.
"See anything?" JD asked, also looking through the crowd.
"Nothing out of the ordinary, a few homeless, locals, and the usual vultures, you?" Josiah had often told JD that bombers and killers sometimes stayed around to view their handiwork.
"Same." JD saw a homeless man shuffle away from the scene, apparently seeking the peace of whatever he called home. He often wondered what happened to these people to be so down as to loose their very homes. He was by no means innocent, but he often wished there could be more done for the poor unfortunates who lost everything they owned, usually including themselves. Turning his thoughts back to the task at hand, he scanned the area for anyone suspicious.
Ezra sighed and looked back down the dark alley at the carnage behind him. He had done it. They hadn't recognized him at all.
Part of him wanted to believe they would see through his disguise and he could erase the haunted look he had seen on Chris Larabees face when his name had been mentioned by the police Sergeant. But the success of his mission and indeed all of his friends lived depended on him remaining 'dead'.
Ezra sobered and rubbed his hands over his bandaged torso, the wounds underneath only just beginning to heal. He had been lucky, but not that lucky. The shot that took him over the bridge railing and into the river hadn't killed him, and Ezra had managed to survive the freezing water he had found himself in afterwards.
As he slipped further away from the comfort of his friends, he realized the man must be near, and would call his employer. Ezra had to find him and get a look at him. And also get close enough to listen to his conversation. But he couldn't help thinking back to how this all had started.
One minute he had been sitting on the edge of the bridge, laughing at Buck and JD fishing antics, the next, cold water rushed over his head and a searing pain flared up in his left side. What the hell... the thought was torn from his head as he hit a rock and bounced off it, rapidly being pulled down the river by the current.
It had been a weekend fishing trip that Vin and Chris had bullied Ezra into attending. Not that Ezra actually wasn't going to go, but Ezra was always amused at their 'persuasive' arguments. It was the weekend of Buck's birthday and JD had planned the whole weekend in the mountains fishing.
Since the last fishing trip didn't do so well, Chris laughed that maybe sticking to the land would be better. Oh how wrong he was.
He had clambered to the safety of the rocks and lay there panting in exertion, putting pressure on the wound on his left side. It had been an in and out shot, mostly hitting the muscle. But damn did it hurt.
While he was waiting for the world to stop spinning long enough to get out where he could be seen by rescuers, he heard someone approaching, talking on their cell phone.
"Yeah I hit Standish. As soon as I'm sure he's dead I'll head back." The gravely voice said angrily. "No, I did not get anywhere close enough so that Larabee or his pets could see me."
There was a pause.
"No, next is Tanner. Larabee will watch as his agents drop one at a time right in front of his eyes and not be able to do a thing about it." There came a malicious laugh. "I know you'd approve. You paid me to make him suffer... well I'm going to do just that. Next contact after Tanner is gone."
With that Ezra heard the man no more, unconsciously he had shrunk back into his hiding hole and waited until he was sure he couldn't be seen. What should he do now? He wanted so badly to tell the others what had happened, but he didn't want to lose this guy. But he realized that if he popped up alive, he would not only be an easy target, and he couldn't find who was trying to kill him and the others off.
So Ezra had adopted his role of homeless person and remained 'dead'. He often wondered if his apparent death had affected anyone, and had managed to convince himself that it wouldn't. It had made his work away from them easier. But the naked pain that had been on all their features, was enough to make him want to break his cover and reassure them. But all his work would have been for nothing.
He was close, very close, to discovering who hired the assassin, and he wasn't about to let him get away now. He had tried to go after Vin tonight, and Ezra had anonymously gotten a call in and alerted the man. He was safe, but hopefully the killer wouldn't go after him again soon. Ezra had taxed himself just to get here and make sure his comrade was alright.
He had found out through the word on the street, and other of his sources in....unsavory areas, that someone in the home office was after Chris and the others. But mostly after Chris. They wanted him destroyed before he was granted the mercy of death. But who wanted that kind of viscous revenge on one of their own? That Ezra needed to know. And to do that, he had to find the actual assassin and listen to his call in.
Then Ezra got lucky. Stepping around the Dumpster in the ally, the man he had been searching appeared. Ezra began his 'drunk homeless man' routine and staggered by his man. True to form, his quarry didn't even take a second look. No one looks homeless bums in the face, they were invisible. It was a good cover, but Ezra would rather wear the Armani instead.
"Yeah the bomb went off on schedule." The man said, tension in his voice. "No, Tanner is still alive, he got out of the building and before I got a good shot off he jumped down the fire escape."
Ezra chuckled, trust Vin to do the impossible and unlikely. Ezra wondered how his yet unnamed adversary was taking this news. He didn't have long to wait.
"I KNOW I WAS SUPPOSED TO KILL HIM!" Came an angry response. "BUT HE JUMPED DOWN TWO STORIES TO THE GROUND!"
A pause, Ezra was hoping for a clue.. he wanted this over and done.
"Well be that as it may. Larabee now knows someone is after his men, so we can turn up the heat. And you had better find out who tipped Larabee off, he arrived way too fast to be mere coincidence. Someone had to have called in."
Ezra knew his 'anonymous' call to Judge Travis' office would be found, hopefully he would have time to wrap this up before a voice analysis could be completed. Whomever this was, he was connected and clever. So far none of his contacts knew anything of his identity other than it was a man in the ATF bureau office itself. Now all he needed was a clue.
"It came into Travis' office?" The assassin sighed. "Who could be on to you there?"
Ezra was startled... this someone worked in the Travis' OFFICE? Running over the people in his head, Ezra tried to come up with a name... who there would hate Chris this much?
"Well you better find out. I'm going to go after the two 'brothers'
next, and soon. Larabee won't know which way to turn. Yeah.... OK.... give me a couple of days. I'll call after again."
The man shut his phone off and walked out of the alley, again right past the 'passed out' Ezra, never looking twice at him.
As soon as the man was gone , Ezra righted himself and headed for the telephone. There was something he had to do.
"I tell you I'm FINE Chris!" Vin snapped, limping towards his office.
Ever since his attempted assassination, Chris refused to let the rest of his team alone and it was driving everyone nuts. Oh, they all understood Chris's reasoning, but it was his smothering they all could do without.
Tempers were short, and no one had any leads. Josiah had searched back through every file of every bust the 7 had made, and come up with nothing. Nathan had immersed himself in the latest search reports, hoping against hope the seventh member of their team would be found. Buck and JD had taken Chris's temper into consideration and had convinced the office managers that the unused wing on the fifth floor could be made into a pro-tem barracks. Now all the rest of the team was staying there for the night.
Vin had taken his injury in stride, not letting up for one second his usual routines, including his daily visits to the now under construction, burnt out hovel he had called home. Chris usually went with him, and the two had managed to salvage all of Vin's belongings they could.
Chris disappeared into his office and sat heavily on his desk. When had it all began to unravel? Everything was going so well, and then disaster. Ezra was gone, probably dead. Chris felt a pang at the thought that he was accepting the fact his friend and colleague might have died. He didn't WANT to believe it... but what choice did he have. It was only the fact that Team 7 was so highly regarded that the search was even on at all. If something wasn't found soon, Chris knew it would be called off.
As if prophesizing his last thought, his phone rang.
"Larabee." Chris said tiredly.
"I'm sorry Chris." AD Travis' voice came from the other end "They called the search off this morning."
"Thanks." Chris whispered all hope dying with each passing second. He felt himself slipping into a black pit of despair he wasn't sure he could get out of this time.
"But I do have some good news." Travis sighed , and Chris could hear the heaviness in his bosses tone. "We got a clear voice file on the informants call-in."
"Anything familiar?" Chris frowned, wondering who knew the number of Travis' private office line.
"Nothing yet, but we are doing a voice match ID search through our database. We should have something for you in a couple of days at the most." Travis sighed, frustrated at the lack of progress as well.
"Keep me posted?" Chris knew Orrin Travis may not have always seen eye to eye with Ezra, but the man had admired his abilities. If nothing else, Travis mourned the loss of the best team he had ever put together. It wouldn't be the same without one, nor could the one missing ever be replaced in the rest's eyes.
The two signed off, both weary and making the motions to get through another day. Chris rose from his chair to give the unpleasant news.
"Hey , kid, you ok?" Buck looked over at his unusually silent partner. He'd been like this since Ezra had....gone missing. Buck had hoped that having JD help him fix up the offices as bedrooms, the kid would have something to take his mind off his troubles.
"Fine." The one word reply held no emotion.
Buck turned to look and wasn't surprised to see his roommate sitting on one of the newly erected bunkbeds, head in his hands.
"Sure look it , Kid." Buck squatted next to his friend, knowing nothing he could say or do would make the kid feel any better.
JD smiled half- heartedly, knowing his brooding was driving Buck crazy, but he just didn't have the energy to keep up a brave front anymore.
"I just don't ...." JD sighed. "I can't do this anymore Buck."
JD's quietly defeated tone caused the older agent to flinch.
"Do what JD?" Buck sighed, hoping the kid would let it out in the open, let himself deal with whatever he had been repressing.
"No one talks about him, it's like he never here." JD turned serious eyes to his friend. "It's like Ezra never was one of us."
Buck sighed. He had deliberately not been talking about Ezra to JD to both save the kid from pain, and also in a selfish way, save himself from it as well.
"I think it's just because it hurts to think we might have lost him JD." Buck knew Josiah hadn't given up any hope, but it seemed maybe the others might have. But no one was talking, so who could really know.
"And if that phone call hadn't come in, we might have lost Vin too." JD looked even more anxious now. "What if one of us are next? Will we be so lucky?"
"I'd like to think so." Buck grimaced, he had been thinking the very same thing. "Hopefully we'll get a voice match, we already got a location."
Nathan and Josiah had gotten a call that the phone call had come from a phone booth in the seedy side of town, very near to Purgatory. Mostly a group of homeless and gang members inhabited the dark alleyways, so maybe they could catch a break when the Denver PD asked their questions. Surely a stranger would be noticed there.
"We'd better get back before Chris comes after us." JD grinned feeling slightly better now he had voiced his fears.
"Too late." Chris Larabees gruff voice intruded from the doorway. "Come to my office, I need to talk to you."
With that the man was gone, and JD and Buck followed, a sense of dread filling them both.
"Yo E!" A voice hailed from the shadows.
Ezra turned at the intrusion on his musing. He recognized one of his contacts, a homeless man with whom he had paid the last of his ready cash to and in return got his wonderful 'disguise' and a spot to rest during the day while he prowled around at night.
"Marty," Ezra returned the hail, his voice raspy with lack of sleep. "What is it?"
"Someone knows about you man." Marty limped out of his 'shack' and up to his guardian angel. Well that's how Marty thought of the man. "They are looking around for the one who made the call from the payphone earlier...it was you wasn't it?"
Ezra frowned, that was fast even for the AD's weight that was undoubtedly behind it.
"Are you in trouble man?" Marty looked anxiously around.
"Not as of yet." Ezra whispered and walked to the slightly rickety bench in the dimly lit alcove.
"You ain't bringin' trouble here...." Marty looked sheepish. "I mean I owe ya an all, but I can't... I mean..."
"I will be long gone soon Marty." Ezra reassured the frantic street dweller. "And I promise you, they will not come looking for me here again."
"OK, man." Marty nodded his head. "I'm going to the blood bank today, so the shack is yours. I'll wake ya when I get home."
"Thank you." Ezra whispered, watching the man shamble singing with off- key tunes only he could hear.
Marty was a tragic case. One bright and brilliant as a child, he was pushed too hard by an unfeeling parent and his mind snapped. He ran away and Ezra was sure he never saw his family since. How long he had been in Denver was unknown, but Ezra knew he couldn't be more than 21.
Ezra had only figured out his past after Marty had told him on one of his more lucid nights. Ezra knew he would never betray the trust the man showed him, and realized he could have ended up the same way. Losing everything he had believed in because of others insecurity and paranoia. But Chris had saved him, and his career, and that strengthened Ezra's resolve to do what he was doing. And if all worked out, he would be back with his family soon, and be luckier again than the poor friend he had made on the street.
Tomorrow he would sneak into the ATF building and find out what he could about the identity of the man he seeked. But for now he needed to sleep. grimacing as the pain in his side grated against his nerves, Ezra struggled over to the shelter and crawled inside, falling asleep the instant his head hit the dirty blankets piled there, and fervently wishing for his own featherbed.
Nathan Jackson sat in a darkened office staring out the window. They had called off the search. No body was found. After Chris stoically told them of the cancellation of the search, each of the remaining six had sought solace alone. But Nathan knew that soon all six would come together to grieve, and deal with the loss of their teammate.
Nathan was surprised at just how much he had been missing the annoying southern agent. They never got along real well, never really saw eye to eye on major issues, but somehow Nathan was truly devastated at the loss of his co-worker. Or was that friend? Yes, Nathan decided, Ezra had been a friend.
Nathan sighed, wondering who the unknown assassin was and why the group was under such a heavy hitters eye. Obviously it had something to do with them all after the attack on Vin. Almost unbidden, Nathan heard Ezra's voice in his head. Don't look for who... look for why, the who will irrevocable show itself soon after. And God help the 'who' after they found him.
Turning away from the window, Nathan saw a large figure in the doorway watching him.
"Josiah?" Nathan asked, noticing the decidedly slumped posture of his friend.
"Maude refuses to believe he's dead. Kept telling me until they found a body, she was assuming he was alive." Josiah's voice was soft and full of sorrow. "I can't say as I blame her Nate. Something just isn't right."
"Yeah, I can't say as I can believe it either. If one could cheat death it would be that slick con artist." Nathan sighed, he felt the same when it came right down to it. Something in him just couldn't make himself believe Ezra was gone.
"JD wants to hold a memorial for him." Josiah sighed and ran his hand over his haggard face. "Poor kid sees his family dying like his mom did. Just fading away from him and he can't do anything about it."
"I'm not going anywhere." Nathan said, conviction in his tone. "We have a killer to catch, don't we?"
Josiah smiled, "Oh yeah."
Chris was angry. No he was beyond angry. Ezra was shot, missing and presumed dead, Vin's apartment had been blown up, and now all their clues into the voice match seemed to have disappeared right before his eyes.
"What do you mean you 'misplaced' the recording?" He yelled into the phone. He listened to the panicked reply. "Then I suggest you FIND IT."
With that he slammed the phone down into it's cradle, swearing.
"Trouble Brother?" Chris looked up to see the others filing into his office.
"They lost the recording of the informants voice." Chris snarled, anger barely contained. "Our one dammed lead and the........"
"People working with the use of their 'Mongoloid cognizance'?" Buck helpfully supplied, using one of Ezra's favorite phrases.
Chris shook his head and let out his breath. "Something like that."
"Any clues from the investigation from where the phone call was made?" JD sat on the sofa.
"Nothing. Only locals apparently, and none of them have anything to gain by informing. It's a dead end." Chris sat down and looked over the rest of his team. They all looked at him, expecting him to give them direction, purpose. But Chris just felt empty. No leads, no clues. Just one missing agent and an attempt on another.
"I remember something Ezra used to say." Nathan spoke up, startling the others. "He said...'find out WHY something is happening...the WHO will come later.' Maybe we are going about this all wrong. maybe we need to find out why we are being targeted."
"Well, lets narrow this down a little..." Josiah leaned forward in the chair he sat in. "What do we know? And what do we think the killer SHOULDN'T know."
"Yeah!" JD piped in "Like how the guy knew where we were on the fishing trip!"
"And the layout of my place." Vin said "Not to mention how he got in there to plant the bomb."
"What about how he knew what trail we took up there at the mountain stream?" Buck interjected. "I mean, just cause someone tells someone where we went, how did he find us in that park?"
"Well..." Chris frowned. "I think the only person I told as to where we were going is the AD Travis. I know Ezra didn't say anything, he told me he had to lie to his mother, she was trying to get him to go to Greece with her for the long weekend."
"JD and I didn't tell anyone." Buck looked at Nathan and Josiah.
"I didn't say anything." Josiah shrugged.
"I only told Rain." Nathan looked up at the others, "No way she would say anything though, you all know that."
"So are we looking at something here that is a leak?" JD frowned.
"It's a possibility." Vin spoke up. "It would explain how the tape disappeared too."
"OK, say it is a leak in this office, or Judge Travis'. How do we narrow it down?" Chris didn't like the logic this train of thought was following, but he could see it's reasoning.
"Well," Vin frowned. "Anyone in either office got cause to hate all of us?"
"Or one of us." Josiah interjected.
"Let's find out." Chris looked at his team. Direction and purpose given, they filed out to do their stuff. Then he turned on his computer to look in his own personal files.
Ezra sighed and looked , with some trepidation, at the building in which he had worked for the past few years. he knew it like the back of his hand. He knew he had to get into it to see if he could uncover any clues to the assassins bankroller. He knew it would be damned near impossible , too.
He huddled around a steam vent with a few other homeless, all enjoying the heat it provided, and he listened. Especially to the guards in the gatehouse. He learned with some surprise Larabee had him and his men staying in the building doing 'work'. The guards thought it was because Larabee was being a bastard. Ezra knew he was keeping his men together and safe. But if the killer was in Travis office, would they be truly safe? He doubted it.
It was turning to night and still Ezra hadn't found a way inside. Going in through the front door was ludicrous. The service entrance he knew was very well guarded. the only other way he could think of was the garage. But for that he needed to get into a delivery truck to get by security. Then Ezra saw something that made his heart stop. It was the assassin, apparently using the same entrance Ezra was contemplating.
Ezra watched as the man drove a delivery truck to the gate guard and presented a waybill for their inspection. Wasting no time, Ezra dove under the large van and held on to the undercarriage. Undignified, but effective. he had no doubt the assassin would get in to the building, now all Ezra had to do was follow.
Ezra gasped as the sudden lurch of the truck pulled at the wound on his side. This was going to be painful. As the truck descended into the lower parking garage, Ezra saw his chance and dropped to the floor, rolling away from the truck after it passed and hid himself in the shadows. He knew on this level where all the cameras were and how to get around them. Now all he had to do was get inside.
Before he could get to the side door, the elevator opened and Ezra dove for cover next to Josiah's Suburban. A lone figure exited the elevator and sat on the steps. It was JD.
The younger agent sighed and ran his fingers through his long bangs. He looked dejected, angry and defeated. Ezra stifled the impulse to show himself, knowing that it was almost over was his only comforting thought as he watched the younger man sit.
A familiar meow announced the presence of Cuervo and Ezra absently began petting the cat. he and Cuervo had a good relationship. Ezra fed the cat and Cuervo almost never tried to trip him. Ezra grinned at the thought of all the people the cat had tripped up with its antics, and if you were a stranger to the garage, he hissed and spat, not allowing intrusion.
JD sat seemingly staring into space and Ezra became nervous. The assassin had to be in the building by now, and he was wasting time sitting here unable to get inside. Suddenly the shrill tones of a cell phone blared into the garage.
"Yeah" JD listlessly answered the phone. "I'm fine, Buck."
Ezra grinned, he could almost guess what the mustached agent was saying to his roommate. If Vin had been with him, he would be laying bets on what JD would say next. A pang of regret hit his face, he did miss the comradely of the others, but soon he would be able to end this. Soon he could go home.
"No I havn't left the building." The scorn in JD's voice unmistakable. "I'm in the garage, thinking. No I'll be right back. Yeah I know I shouldn't be alone."
Ezra whispered to himself. "Your not alone, JD."
"Chris got something ?" JD sounded hopeful. "Ok I'll be right up."
JD opened the door to the elevator and stairs and Ezra saw his chance, now all he had to do was distract the boy. Making a silent apology to Cuervo, Ezra gently tossed the cat towards Vin's jeep on the other side of the lane. As Cuervo yowled in surprise, finding himself suddenly airborne, JD turned away from the door, cell phone on his ear still talking to Buck.
"What the..." JD said then laughed as Cuervo looked disgustedly around. "No, I'm alright, Buck! Looks like Cuervo fell asleep on Vins Jeep and fell off it again! I'm on my way up."
Ezra took the opportunity and headed through the door JD had opened and raced up the stairs, ignoring the pain from his side and knowing he probably had pulled some of his stitches. Time was running out and Ezra didn't intend to let the assassin hurt anyone of his teammates and friends ever again. But where was the bastard? Where to begin.
"JD's on his way back up, Chris." Buck said grinning, but his eyes sad.
"He OK Brother Buck?" Josiah asked, knowing JD was taking Ezra's death the hardest of them all.
"Yeah, kid will be fine." Buck turned towards their leader. "So we figure out where the tape went?"
"It was taken out of evidence by someone from Travis office. We are trying to find out who, but the messenger who took it got an interdepartmental note and authorization, so he was useless."
"Stranger and stranger..." Josiah suddenly looked up. "What if someone in that office is who we're looking for.. anyone there we don't like?"
"Well, Travis has alot of people working there. Alot of former commanders as consultants and such." Nathan interjected. "Maybe we've had a run in with one of them somewhere in our past?"
"Can we get a current roster?" Vin spoke up.
"I'll phone Travis." Chris got up, then turned back to the group. "When JD gets here, keep together, we may not be as safe as we think."
All heads nodded as they went back to looking for enemies among allies.
Ezra got to the floor where the offices for team seven were and went up one floor. He knew the ventilation systems from the schematics he had memorized, and knew he could get into them up there, be unnoticed, and get into a position to observe his friends. He knew time wasn't on his side, the assassin would strike soon.
He ditched his jacket and a couple of layers of sweaters. It was hot in the building compared to the outside. He re-donned the jacket, checked the readiness of the handguns he had hidden in it, and climbed into the ventilation systems. Moving as quickly as his battered body allowed, he rounded his way down to the ducts over Team 7's conference room. He had seen nothing of the assassin on his travels, so now it was a waiting game.
He looked down as everyone spread papers all over the table and began going through them, hoping to find the link to the threats. There was no jovial by-play, Ezra noticed. No talking of any kind. Just the sheer determination to find and catch the perpetrator. Ezra then began to get a bad feeling. As if reading his mind, Buck looked up suddenly and frowned.
"Shouldn't JD be back by now?" Buck went to the door and looked out. No JD.
"Try his cell phone again." Chris said, looking worried.
Ezra felt a feeling of utter dread creep over him. Something was wrong. Making a decision as Buck announced there was no answer, Ezra backtracked towards he elevator shaft. When he got there he saw something that made his heart turn to ice. JD's jacket lay in the empty elevator car, Door propped open, Ezra could clearly see inside. A note was on the lapel.
Before he could drop down to look at the note, Buck and Nathan arrived. Buck turned white and raced to the elevator. Nathan cursed and call
"CHRIS!" Nathan bellowed, fear in his voice.
The others came running, knowing something bad was going down.
Chris arrived to see Buck holding the jacket and the note in his trembling hand.
"What is it Buck?" Chris asked, lips a thin, grim line.
"He has JD..." Buck swallowed. "Wants us on the roof in ten minutes or he kills the boy... slowly."
Vin cursed heavily and turned towards his office.
"Where you going , cowboy?" Chris asked.
"To get my gun." Vin hissed, disappearing and then re-appearing a few seconds later carrying his rifle. All the others were armed with service weapons, but Vin knew if he could get a good shot with the rifle, he would take it.
"You know this is a trap." Josiah said quietly.
"Yup." Chris answered, heading into the elevator.
"Got a plan?" Nathan asked, joining him.
"Yup" Chris grinned.
"Front door?" Vin sighed, knowing this could get very bloody.
Chris didn't even answer, just pushed the button for the roof once all were inside. Even in the seriousness, none of them could hide a smile. Some things never changed.
Before Chris and the others entered the elevator, Ezra crawled to the service hatch and gently let himself down onto the top of the car. The roof was a good ways up and there was no way Ezra would be able to climb all the way up through the ducts. he didn't have the strength. Just the thought of that.... miscreant...., holding JD hostage gave Ezra the strength to keep going. He mustn't let the man escape, he had to learn who was behind it all, or everything he had done, everything he and they had suffered would be for nothing.
The elevator slowly rose towards the roof and Ezra knew he would have to be positioned just right to hit the small service entrance, or get crushed up against the ceiling. Standing up on the swaying car, he placed himself on the top of the escape door, knowing that one hard tap and those below would hear him, and like as not start shooting first and asking questions later.
It was an eerie feeling watching the ceiling get closer and closer and then disappear as he hit the service compartment. he found himself looking at the mechanics of the elevator and shuddering. There was a bomb!
Ezra stared at the bomb, no counter, just remote detonator. Should he spend time disarming it? Or go try to find the assassin and JD? Prudence won out and Ezra reluctantly walked forward and studied the bomb. Obviously, the assassin hadn't thought anyone would be up here, and Ezra easily discovered which wires to pull, but it would be complicated, and he didn't want to set the damned thing off too early.
Ezra felt the heat and a sticky wetness at his side and sighed, he had pulled stitches, but tending to himself would have to wait. Once he had disarmed the bomb, captured the assassin and gotten the information he needed, he could collapse. But not before.
One wire out. Ezra concentrated, his vision strained into the lack of light to properly grab the right wires to complete his task. It was taking way too long. Chris would have engaged the assassin by now, and Ezra needed to be there, but this had to be done first and Ezra couldn't spare any time to ponder what the others were doing. He would just have to do his best and see where things go from there.
Chris exited the elevator and pulled his gun. He knew whomever had JD would know they would be armed, so wasting time didn't seem to be a good idea. The others followed, equally focused on the task. As Chris stepped out onto the flat, open area of the roof, a voice from behind the air condition unit stopped him.
"Come out into the open, throw the guns off the roof, please." The voice was strong and full of complacency. "Including the rifle Mr. Tanner!"
Cursing, Chris looked around. They would be sitting ducks out here in the open, it was a bad play. He hesitated.
"Do it or I shoot the boy in the leg, right where he will bleed to death in a matter of agonizing minutes." The voice came again.
"How do I know he's still alive?" Chris called out, moving into position, but keeping his gun. He knew the others would follow his lead.
A shot rang out and Chris winced as a scream tore through the air. the voice unmistakable, it was JD.
"JD!" Buck yelled, trying to rush forward only to be held by Josiah and Nathan.
"That proof enough for you?" Came the gleeful shout. "Now I want all the guns over the side. I'll give up the boy as you move over to the far corner away from the door."
"What do we do?" Nathan whispered, his main concern the possible injuries their youngest teammate had just suffered.
"We give him what he wants and then rush him as he heads down the stairs." Chris tossed his gun over the side, hearing it hit the fire escape. Grinning the others followed suit, all trying to hit the ledge.
"Very good, 'gentlemen'." Sarcasm rippled from the unknown voice. "Now over to the far corner and your young agent will join you."
As they moved a thought suddenly occurred to Chris. "You going to shoot us then?"
"No, I have another plan." A man stood with a gun to JD's head. They could see JD had been grazed in the leg on the fleshy part of his right thigh. Messy, but not terrible life threatening.
Once at the indicated corner, the rest of Team 7 faced their tormentor. "Now what?" Chris asked.
"Now you all can kiss you asses goodbye." The mans grinned. I planted enough explosives on the roof to take this top floor apart. Enjoy the rest of your existence!"
Before anyone could move, the man threw JD towards the edge of the building, causing him to start to fall over the edge. Immediately they rushed to pull him to safety, and when they looked up, the man was gone, the door loudly closing in his wake.
"Damn! Lost him!" Vin ran to the door, finding it closed. "How's JD?"
"I'm fine." JD mumbled, embarrassed he had been caught. "Sorry guys."
"Don't worry about it, JD." Chris sighed, heading over to the fire escape to retrieve his guns. "We still have a shot at him. Let's hope the bomb he was speaking about isn't set to go off as soon as he gets to the bottom floor."
Retrieving their sidearms, the agents headed for the door. The sound of a gunshot stopped them all in their tracks.
Ezra startled as the first shot rang out. Dear God, what had happened? One more wire and he would be able to go and see. As he tripped the last wire and tore the detonator away from the C-4, he heard the roof door open.
Ezra looked down as the man started down the stairs. Quickly taking out his gun and pocketing the wire, Ezra jumped down behind the man.
"Going somewhere, " Ezra drawled, leveling his weapon at the assassin. It was payback time.
The man turned and stared at Ezra as recognition stole over his features. "You.... but.... your......"
"How very articulate." Ezra gestured for the man to lose his gun. "Now if you don't mind, let loose of your gun, I have a few questions to ask you."
"And why should I answer?" The man pulled out the remote for the bomb. "If you don't back off, your friends are all dead."
Ezra sighed. "Go ahead."
The finger started to inch towards the trigger of the remote.
"But I have to warn you," Ezra reached into his pocket and pulled out the detonator from the bomb, grinning wickedly. "It won't work."
With a cry of pure rage, the assassin moved to fast for Ezra to track. He got off a hasty shot just before he was barreled into, knocking him back into the wall. Lost in a haze of pain, he struggled to get to his feet again as the assassin picked up his gun and headed back to the roof.
Ezra struggled to his feet, ignoring the renewed fire in his side and followed. He wouldn't let him get away that easily! He opened the door and headed to the roof.
Peeking around the corner he found his assassin in a stand- off with the others.
"Put it down and you won't die." Chris snarled, deadly serious.
"As tactful as ever..." Ezra whispered, trying to figure out the best way to not let the assassin die before he could beat some information out of him, but not let the man harm any of the others.
"What have I got to lose!" Snarled the assassin back. "At least I can take one of you with me!"
With that Ezra saw no option, and rushed forward tackling the man, bearing him down to the floor. Startled curses and muddled voices all were background noise as Ezra struggled against the assassin for possession of the gun. It was a struggle for life and death, and one Ezra wasn't about to lose.
Suddenly a punch to Ezra's gut caused the weakened man to cry out in agony, and Ezra felt his grip loosen. He was only half-aware at the assassins triumphant cry, only half aware as a lone shot rang out. But the body falling on his woke him up as he realized his only lead had been shot.
Ezra rolled over, trapping the gasping assassin below him. Taking him by the lapels of his jacket, Ezra asked, "Who hired you?"
The assassin grinned and spit into Ezra's face, then his eyes rolled up into his head and Ezra knew he had died.
"Damn it!" Ezra yelled, bowing his head. All for nothing......he had failed.
So lost in his misery, Ezra failed to notice the stunned faces kneeling down next to him, until a soft voice intruded on his senses.
"Ezra?" JD whispered, voice full of disbelief and shock.
Ezra glanced up at the faces of his teammates, seeing their surprise, and felt even more wretched. He had put them through all this pain and for what. Only to fail. The roof started spinning and he felt someone touch his wounded side.
"I'm sorry." Ezra whispered, just before giving into the darkness he had kept at bay for so long.
Ezra sat in the interrogation room of ATF's internal affairs. It had been three hours since the assassin had been killed, and Ezra had been here ever since he had regained consciousness. News of his resurrection had spread, and everyone wondered what it was all about. But Ezra had been stubborn, and refused to see anyone except AD Travis. Not even the members of his team.
They had finally acquiesced and he had just finished telling the AD everything he knew from beginning to end. Travis hadn't been pleased to learn someone in his office was a traitor, nor had he been especially happy Ezra had gone and done this all on his own, but in the end he had complimented Ezra on his work and told him to leave the rest to him.
Whether that meant he would be fired, fed to the IA wolves, or re-instated, Ezra didn't know, but the thought of facing the others alone made him wary. What did they think of him now. Would they understand?
The door to his room opened and Orrin Travis stood there, an unreadable look on his face. Suddenly he tossed a badge to Ezra who neatly caught it in his left hand.
"Get back to work , Agent. And to make sure you get to the hospital to get yourself checked out, I'm remanding you to the custody of a few men who have some words to say to you." As the Judge nodded to the men behind him an exited, Ezra was suddenly faced with six unsmiling men.
"Gentlemen?" Ezra said, uncertainty coloring his usually calm voice.
"You heard AD Travis." Chris leered, enjoying the usually suave undercovers discomfort. "Lets take him to the 'appropriate' place."
Before Ezra could protest, he was taken by his good arm and herded towards he parking garage, Cuervo hissing at him, still disgruntled Ezra had used him as a diversion in such an undignified manner.
Ezra was thrust into Chris's truck, as the others clambered in the king cab. Protests to the contrary that he was alright fell on deaf ears as his teammates took turns scolding him for making them think he was dead. By the time they arrived at Four Corners Mercy General, Ezra was quite ready to be admitted, if only to get away from the ass-chewing he had received. Damn, all he wanted was a hot bath and his featherbed.
"After they check you out." Chris grinned at Ezra's astonishment, he hadn't realized he had spoken aloud.
"Yeah, all that homeless living must have made you loose some of your marbles, huh?" Vin teased, more than grateful their friend was alive.
Ezra shot Vin a dirty look as the others laughed and steered him towards the Emergency room doors. All was back to normal .....for now. But was it over for good?
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