Chris pulled his truck to a screeching halt outside of Ezra's townhouse. How he got here in one piece, having not caused any traffic accidents at the speed he was going, Chris had no idea. He knew the others were only a matter of minutes behind him, all of them having left the office in a similar manner.
Chris exited the truck, leaving the door open. His gun was drawn and he began to advance on Ezra's front door in a crouching stance. He really should wait for the others, but…
The phone in Chris's office rang shrilly that morning. He answered it in his usual, gruff way. "Larabee."
The voice on the other end was cruel. "I know." There was almost a sing-song quality to it.
Chris was confused. "I'm sorry?"
"Who is this?" he asked, a sickening feeling creeping up his gut.
"I know who you are, Mr. ATF Man."
Chris was filled with a sense of unexplainable dread. He glanced out his open office door and took a head count of his team. All were there… except…
He looked at the clock on his wall. It was still within the time that Ezra would normally show up at the office.
"Who the fuck is this?" Chris snarled.
There was a rustling on the other end, and the distinct sound of flesh hitting flesh, followed by a grunt. More shuffling, and a new voice came on the line.
"Chris…" Ezra's voice sounded pained.
"Ezra?! What's going on?" Chris flagged Buck's attention through his open door, making a motion with his free hand signaling 'Round em up'. Buck was in motion.
Ezra had tried to reply, but there was another thump and the sound of shuffling, and the original voice came back on.
"You should never have crossed me," was all the voice said. Then the receiver was placed on a surface, but not hung up. The line remained open.
"EZRA!" Chris said, concern and panic in his voice. He could hear something muffled in the background. Chris hit the mute button on his phone before he called out.
"JD! Run a trace on my line. It's still open."
"On it Chris." JD replied.
"Chris, what the hell happened?" Buck was in his office now. The others weren't far behind.
"I don't know Buck, but I think O'Brien knows who we are, and who Ezra is."
Buck looked at his friend, his face a mask of panic, the clear question of 'How?' written on his face. Chris put the receiver down on his desk, and resignedly hit 'speaker.'
Buck came up close to the phone and listened. The distinctive thwack of fists and flesh, muffled grunts, and indistinguishable voices were the only things to come through on the speaker.
"JD!" Chris yelled.
JD came running to the door just as Chris yelled. "Chris, it's Ezra's phone. It's his house line. His second line." Ezra had a second phone that was unlisted that he used for his undercover work. It was, by all rights, untraceable. He used it when recording conversations or making contacts so that nothing could be traced back to him or the rest of the team. The line, like Ezra's undercover identities, was untraceable and clean. JD was shrugging into his jacket as he spoke, "They're at his house."
Shaking his head, trying to expel the memories of the last hour, Chris continued his advance on Ezra's front door. As he approached, he could plainly see that it had been kicked in. They had taken the Southerner by surprise. Chris could hear the first of the other cars pull up, and knew it was the rest of the team. Chris glanced over his shoulder briefly and saw Buck and Vin approaching the townhouse much the same way Chris had just done. Josiah, Nathan and JD were pulling up and spilling from Josiah's suburban. Without speaking, Chris laid out their plan of entry. Three in the front, three take the back. Josiah, Nathan and JD went around the building and out of sight.
Giving the others a minute to get into position, Chris placed his hand on the slightly opened door. He opened the door slowly with his left hand, pushing it back until it touched the wall. He advanced slowly, Buck and Vin right behind him.
Opening the closet in the foyer, Vin nodded a 'clear' to Buck and Chris. They advanced on the living room, only to find it in disarray. The wooden coffee table lay broken in bits, the overstuffed chair overturned, and the couch askew. They met up with Josiah, Nathan and JD, the trio having come through the back door, which was also battered.
Chris signaled for Nathan to take to back bedroom with Josiah, and for JD to cover the study with Vin. Chris and Buck approached the kitchen.
Broken glass littered the floor. Appliances that usually sat on the counter lay on the floor or scattered on the counter. The refrigerator door hung open, and all the meager contents either lay on the floor just outside the door or scattered on the shelves within.
Vin and Josiah came to the doorway of the kitchen only to meet equally concerned eyes.
"Nothing," Vin said.
"Same," said Josiah.
"Nathan and JD?" Chris asked.
"Checking outside," replied Vin.
Josiah walked over to the counter and looked at the destruction. "Brothers?" he asked, garnering their attention. The three of them joined Josiah at the counter. "Is this what I think it is?"
Vin started at the counter. It was blood.
"What the fuck happened in here?" Vin mused aloud, not expecting an answer.
Chris walked over to the kitchen table. As he reached to right it onto its four legs, he beheld the scene in between the tabletop and the wall. All color drained from his face as he stared.
Buck, Vin and Josiah came to his side immediately, unbidden. They too gaped at the scene before them. A small pool of blood decorated the stark white floor in the small space created between the tabletop and the wall, as though someone lay there for a while, bleeding. Bits of blood were smeared around. A large, bloody boot print tracked away from the mess.
JD and Nathan came in through the back door. "Outside is clear," Nathan said and they joined the others in the kitchen.
"Oh my god," Josiah quietly stated. Vin and Buck righted the table, placing it out of the way. It wobbled due to a cracked leg, but was still upright. Josiah took a step away, but stopped when he kicked something small and it skittered across the floor. It didn't sound like broken glass.
Vin stooped down and picked up the object. He almost choked on is own breath as he looked at it. Still squatted, he held his hand out to the others and presented the object.
It was a gold tooth.
JD backed out of the kitchen after seeing what Vin held. His head swam as he tried to wrap his mind around the situation. What kind of force would have to be used in order to knock a tooth out of a head? That thought had him feeling sick. He turned for the bathroom, intending to splash cold water on his face.
He entered the room and turned the faucet on. Nathan followed him and stood at the doorway while JD hovered over the sink.
"JD, you all right?" he asked. JD's head hung and he watched the water run. Both of his hands were on the countertop.
"No. No Nathan, I'm not all right. What the fuck happened?" he asked as he looked at Nathan in the mirror.
Nathan looked back at JD's eyes in the mirror's reflection. "I don't know JD. We'll… find… him, JD what's wrong?" As Nathan had been speaking, JD's expression had changed. His eyes squinted in the mirror, then opened wide as he turned and shoved past Nathan to the shower. He whipped the partially open shower curtain all the way open, staring at the blue tile.
"Jesus Nathan, look at this…" JD's hand caressed the holes in the shattered tile. "That's a fuckin bullet hole."
"Shit. Chris!" Nathan yelled. Within ten seconds, the doorway was crowded and Chris had entered the bathroom.
"Nathan?" Chris asked.
Nathan pointed to where JD was still caressing the tile. "Bullet hole," JD sadly remarked.
"But no blood," Nathan added, as much for himself as for the rest of the guys.
They made their way back out to the living room. Josiah righted the overturned chair and sat in it heavily. "So what do we do?" he asked.
The other five took up various positions around the room.
"We call Travis, get the FBI involved, you know the drill," said Buck.
"It's O'Brien. I fucking know it is," Chris fumed.
"We can't just go after him Chris," Vin said. Even though that was exactly what he wanted to do himself. "He'll get off in the end if we don't go by the book."
"I don't give a flying fuck about the book, I'm gonna kill him." Chris paced back and forth in Ezra's living room.
"Chris…" Buck started.
"NO! For all we know he killed Ezra and dumped his body somewhere!" Chris was yelling, his thoughts irrational. "He wanted me, wanted us, to know what would happen… to make an example…" Chris grabbed two fistfuls of his own hair in agony. "I fucking did this!"
"No you didn't Chris," Josiah's deep voice was calm, but he made no move to stand.
"Chris, calm down," Buck said. "We'll find him. This is not your fault." He moved to Chris and laid a hand on the distraught leader's back.
Chris bent at the waist, putting his hands on his knees. He felt sick. "Yeah it is. I told him… I told him we needed to nail this guy. I told him to get closer. I gave him shit about doing his job. I pushed him too hard…" Why did he do that? Why, for that matter, did Ezra listen to him? Of all times to start listening to him…
Buck looked up at the rest of the team. He took charge. "Vin, get on the phone to Travis. Let him know what's going on. JD, dump Ezra's phones, try to get a location on his cell, anything you can think of, and I don't care what you have to do to do it." The two moved off, accepting their tasks without question. "Josiah, Nathan, I know we already trampled this place, but call the PD and get a forensic team in here. I want a K9 unit to check the grounds. If he's here, we'll find him."
Chris kept his head down, unable to face the reality of the situation. He spoke without looking up, "Jesus Buck, what have I done?"
Buck steered Chris to the seat recently vacated by Josiah. "Chris, I need you to tell me what was said on the phone. What did the guy say?"
"He kept saying 'I know.' I didn't know what he meant. Then he called me 'Mr. ATF', and put Ezra on the phone."
"How did he sound?" Buck asked.
Chris looked harshly at his friend. "Like he was getting the fuck beat out of him Buck, what do you think?"
"But it was definitely him? You're certain of that?"
Chris looked at Buck like he had two heads. "What are you getting at? Just spit it out."
"He didn't die here Chris." Buck's voice was low, barely more than a whisper.
"Chris, we left as soon as we had the location. You talked to him then. We got here 20 minutes later. The blood in the kitchen," he nodded his head in the direction, "is older than that. All the destruction, that would take time. I think they took him with them. You said it yourself. They don't just want him, they want us. I think they have something else in store, and for that they'll need Ezra alive. So right this moment, I know, in my heart, he's alive. As long as he's alive, we haven't lost." Buck looked behind him, seeing where the others were. "I need your head in the game Chris. We all do."
Chris nodded and sat up. The others started to reconvene in the living room. JD was in the study, using Ezra's computer to try to find anything useful.
"Travis is on his way, he called the feebs," Vin announced as he rejoined the group.
"PD and K9 are en route as well," Josiah said.
"All right," Chris said. "What do we know about O'Brien?"
Ezra Standish slowly began the ascent back to consciousness. As his muddled mind started to come out of the fog, he wondered where he was. He lay facedown on a hard surface, arms secured behind his back. The right side of his face hurt immensely.
What the hell had happened?
His tongue pushed forth out of his parted lips, trying to deliver some moisture to the cracked and swollen flesh. He felt the space where his gold tooth should be. He started to remember.
It had been a normal morning. The O'Brien case was going well enough. He had yet to get close to O'Brien himself. He had been undercover with the arms dealer's organization for almost a month and a half, but it was proving difficult to move up. Still, it wasn't all for naught. He was collecting some damning evidence as he went. Regardless of whether or not he would get to meet and work with the man himself, Ezra was determined to bring O'Brien's organization down. He was supplying guns to local gangs and drug dealers, and just two months ago, two of Denver's finest had been gunned down with O'Brien's merchandise. Needless to say, everyone wanted him put out of business, and soon.
Just last week, Chris had, in his own way, implored Ezra to try harder. 'No shit,' Ezra had thought. But he understood the pressure Chris was under. So he did try harder. He wasn't stupid about it, but he made moves and comments to people in O'Brien's organization sooner than he normally would have. All to no avail. The progress was no better.
This was what Ezra had been pondering while he sat in his living room this morning, lounging in his jeans and tee shirt, two days worth of growth on his face. This is what Ezekiel Murphy looked like, what he wore, and generally how he acted. Not that Ezra was complaining. The growth tended to be a little uncomfortable, but the casual clothing was a nice change. He was due to meet up with the rest of the guys at the office briefly this morning before going off to continue being Zeke Murphy.
Then, as one, his front and back door crashed open, and three men came rushing in. Ezra had launched himself out of the overstuffed chair he had been sitting in, turning it upward. He was sprinting behind the couch, heading for the table near the kitchen doorway, where his gun lay. He didn't make it. He was struck across the face, followed by a blow to the gut, and in one smooth fluid motion, he was launched over the back of the couch and landed on the coffee table, shattering the wooden piece of furniture.
Winded, he rolled to his hands and knees, ready to ward off another attack. Two of the men came for him, while the third stayed off to the side, leaning on a cane. Ezra vaulted the couch, turning to head for the study, where he kept his backup piece. He expected a bullet to the back at any point, so he never saw the blow come from the man with the cane. Hit squarely in the stomach with the cane, he bent over and started to stagger backwards, entering the bathroom. He stumbled, landing in the bathtub with a thump. He was trapped, but would go down fighting. He looked up at the doorway, now filled with the man with the cane, now not leaning on it at all. He held the cane, which Ezra could now see looked more like a stick, in his left hand, about halfway down the stick's length. In his right hand was a 9MM with a silencer screwed into the end. Ezra readied himself for the bullet that would end his life.
He had turned his head instinctively from the danger, eyes closing. One shot was fired and passed so close to his face that he felt the heat from the bullet as it impacted with the blue tile. He recoiled from the shattered porcelain. The second shot impacted on the other side of his head, still too close for comfort. When no third shot came, Ezra slowly opened his eyes and looked at the man who had just shot at him.
The man stood like a statue, gun still trained on Ezra. He spoke with no emotion, "I hear you're looking for me."
So this was O'Brien.
"There are better ways to garner my full attention, sir," Ezra said with as much bravado as he could muster. His heart was thundering against his ribs, his panic full blown.
"Shut up." He turned his head over his shoulder but didn't take his eyes off of Ezra. "Rick, Jimmy, get him out of there."
The two men who had barged through his doors not three minutes earlier made their way into the suddenly too small bathroom as O'Brien lowered the gun and backed out. Rick and Jimmy wrestled Ezra to his feet. Once upright, Jimmy shoved him out the open bathroom door and slammed him into the wall opposite. Ezra turned to glare at the man, but Jimmy just gave him a look that could kill and pointed towards the kitchen where O'Brien had gone. Ezra started that way, and saw the two gunmen exchange a look before Rick headed in the opposite direction towards the study and the bedroom. God only knew what he was doing, but Ezra had a sick feeling in his stomach.
"Come here Zeke," O'Brien said from Ezra's kitchen. The man had sat down at the table, his cane-stick laid out in front of him. One of his hands rested on the object, never wavering from it. Ezra walked cautiously into his kitchen, stopping when he stood in front of the man. Jimmy stayed right behind him. "Sit."
"I would prefer not." Ezra was trying to stay calm, with Jimmy behind him, Rick somewhere in his house, and O'Brien sitting staring at him intently. If he sat, he would take away his only control in the situation. His mind was already racing trying to figure a way out of this.
"You have been very interested in my operation as of late." O'Brien's gaze never wavered. There was a lilt in the man's speech pattern that held the faintest hint of a faded brogue.
Ezra stared back, but said nothing. His face was impassive, as though he was not fazed by the fact that these men had invaded his home and taken shots at him. He was, in fact, taking stock of where his guns were.
"Why?" O'Brien elaborated when the southerner stayed quiet.
Ezra smiled at the arms dealer as if the answer were simple. "I don't wish to be in this position all my life. I'm simply interested in making money, both for me and for you." There was a gun in the drawer next to the fridge. "Might I interest you in a drink while we talk?" Ezra started to move towards the fridge but ran into the wall known as Jimmy. Ezra looked into Jimmy's eyes, and Jimmy shifted his glance towards his boss. Ezra didn't know what was communicated between the two men, but Jimmy looked back into Ezra's eyes and turned towards the fridge.
Shit. That was stupid.
Ezra glanced back at O'Brien, who had the silenced 9MM out again and trained on him. His other hand tightly clutched the stick. Not good.
Jimmy opened the fridge and started rifling through it, scattering the contents however he so desired. Once the fridge had been thoroughly searched, Jimmy started going through the drawers nearby. He found the gun in one of the drawers. Turning towards his boss, he held up his booty.
"Sit." O'Brien's voice held no humor. He gestured to the chair with the barrel of the gun.
Ezra complied, but did not face the arms dealer directly. O'Brien's grip on the stick slackened slightly. Ezra's chair remained askew so that he could watch O'Brien and Jimmy, who was now rifling through other cabinets looking for further hidden armory.
"I don't know you. I don't trust you. What makes you think that being in my operation only a little over a month, you could meet with me, or that you could possibly have anything to offer?"
Ezra didn't answer as he licked his lip, keeping an eye on Jimmy. Jimmy crashed plates to the floor, shattering them as he went. Pots and pans were removed haphazardly and strewn about. After a short minute, Jimmy turned to O'Brien and said "Nothing else." No, thought Ezra, that was the only one in the kitchen.
Jimmy's attention now back on Ezra and his own boss, the 9MM was put away yet again.
"Well then," said O'Brien. "Let's start with an easy one. What's with the phones?" He nodded towards the counter where Ezra kept his two land lines. One phone was black and the other white, and they sat right next to each other on the counter. The black one had tape over the receiver, keeping it attached to the base.
"What's with the stick?" the Southerner retorted just as quickly.
O'Brien smiled. "You tell me, I'll tell you." The man's smile could only be described as evil.
Ezra turned towards O'Brien to face him squarely. He was trying to come up with a good reason for the second phone. He was about to spout out a tale about always being prepared when something sailed over his shoulder to land face up on the table. Rick now stood behind Ezra with Jimmy. He was breathing a little raggedly. Ezra had turned to look at the gunman when the object flew through the air. He had never even heard Rick come into the kitchen. He kept his sight on both Jimmy and Rick, ready for what would undoubtedly come next. On the table, face up, staring unwaveringly at O'Brien, was the object that just may cause his death.
His ATF badge.
Chris and the others returned to their office, where they could better investigate Ezra's disappearance. Currently, they were camped out in the bullpen, rifling through all the information they had on O'Brien. It wasn't much. The man was the son of immigrants from Ireland, with suspected ties to the IRA. The man had been in the gun trade for so long that they didn't doubt that it was handed down from his own father.
Charles O'Brien was a vicious man. He did not take well to being crossed, and had murdered his own people when he felt they had betrayed him. The conditions that his own people's bodies had been found in had all of Team Seven worried… these were people O'Brien knew and trusted. What would he do to someone he didn't trust to start with? What if he had found out Ezra was an agent?
O'Brien seemed to like to carry out his own punishments, rather than rely on hired muscle. He was known to carry a 9MM with him at all times, rumored to even bring it to church every Sunday. He was not shy in using it. Some of his own people had been found with shot out kneecaps, extensive bruising, and broken bones. One of the descriptions they had from the FBI, who had been watching him for a long time according to the files, had O'Brien as carrying a cane, while a contradictory report had him in sound health.
"Hey, how come there's no pictures of this guy, O'Brien, in any of these files?" Vin asked. "Is he really that hard to get to?"
"Appears so," a somber Josiah put in. It was true. The only photographs of the man were of his old school pictures. The man seemed to have disappeared after his 18th birthday. There wasn't even an active driver's license photo of the man.
"Wait, I got one here," Nathan sprang out of his seat and brought a fuzzy picture to the center of the room and splayed it out on Ezra's empty desk. "It's not great, but it's something." The picture had been taken from a security camera across from a bank in Denver. It showed a grainy image of two men speaking, one of them holding a cane.
"That's not much Nathan," said Vin as he sat back down in his desk chair.
JD's eyes were transfixed on the picture. As the rest of the team, one by one, returned to their seats, JD picked up the picture.
"JD, son, is there any way to clean that picture up?" asked Josiah, taking note of JD's interest.
JD never lifted his eyes from the photo as he answered Josiah. "Doubt it Josiah, this was already cleaned up by the FBI, so it's about as clean as it will get."
"What's so interesting about it then?" asked Buck from his desk.
JD squinted his eyes at the picture again, then looked up at Buck. "This ain't a cane."
"What?" Buck asked, rising out of his chair to look again.
"It's not a cane." His voice was more sure now.
"So?" Buck asked again.
"This guy doesn't need a cane. We're not looking for someone with a limp or anything like that."
"How can you be so sure of that, son?" asked Josiah. Chris was at the door to his office, having been there since Nathan announced he had a picture. He looked at JD with the same interest as the rest of the team.
"Because this," he turned the picture to show the cane, "is a shillelagh."
"Just looks like a walking stick JD," Vin commented.
"It is, Vin. But this guy is Irish, right?" At the others' nods he continued. "I'm willing to bet that that thing is a shillelagh." He put the photo back down on the Southerner's desk. "A shillelagh is a stick made of wood, with a big knob on the end." He gestured with his hands. "The knob on the end is a rootknob, and it packs a fuck of a punch."
"How do you know this JD?" Nathan asked.
"A wannabe gang in Boston used to carry them, thought it made them look tough. This is when I was on the force there. This gang thought we couldn't do anything to them because they were just 'walking sticks'." He turned to his desk and grabbed something. Turning back to the rest of the team he held up his mug with the Boston Celtics logo, with the leprechaun. "This is one too." He pointed to the cane-like item the leprechaun was leaning on.
"Don't look too bad," Buck commented.
"Yeah, this one don't, but I've seen the root knobs hollowed out and filled with lead. They call that a 'loaded stick.' The ME in Boston said it was the same as getting beat with a golf club. Some of them have leather straps on the other end, so you can swing it like a billy club. They traditionally go for elbows and knees, but these things will fuck you up." He paused, considering. "I been hit with one of these things, and it was just a glancing blow, but it put me out of commission for a couple of days." He picked the picture up off the desk. "If this is the guy that has Ezra, we need to find him fast. If he's got one of these things, I'm willing to bet he knows how to use it."
"How does that help us?" Chris asked from his doorway.
"You're looking for a guy with no limp, who will be carrying this thing with him wherever he goes," JD said, pointing to the picture. "I've never seen one of these things used as a cane. Walking stick, yes; stupid keepsake, yes; weapon, hell yes. Never a cane."
"Wouldn't hold the weight," Nathan added.
"It would make sense," Josiah added. "Fits with the profile that the FBI put together. It would be a very effective display of his authority and power."
"And it looks like he's got short dark hair," JD continued. "He might even have a little bit of a brogue, if his parents are from Ireland. Like Frankie Corcoran." Francis Corcoran was a local cop who had worked with Team Seven a few times. He was always a happy guy, and a good cop. His gentle accent flitted through when he said certain words or phrases. "It's a start."
"Put the word out," Chris said as he walked back into his office.
Ezra ran his tongue in the groove that, until recently, was occupied by his gold tooth. That was going to suck to replace. Well, that was, if he got out of here in one piece. That had hurt something fierce when it got knocked out.
Jimmy and Rick both reached for Ezra at the nod of their boss. Both took turns taking jabs at him, splitting his lip and blacking his eye. Several hard blows to his abdomen had him gasping for breath. Rick took over and pushed Ezra into the counter. O'Brien had gotten up and walked over to the phones while Jimmy and Rick had their fun.
Rick hit Ezra with a particularly nasty left, and Ezra fell to the floor.
"Pick him up." O'Brien said with no feeling, not looking at Ezra or his own men.
Jimmy grabbed the dazed southerner's arm and hauled him to his feet, while Rick rubbed his knuckles of his left hand. Ezra shook his head several times trying to clear it, to no avail. He stood slightly hunched over, trying to protect his battered midsection.
"So this is a work phone?" O'Brien looked at Ezra while his hand rested on the black phone.
"Something like that," Ezra drawled with a smirk. Blood flowed from his nose and his cracked lip. The ringed collar of his tee shirt was growing increasingly red as the blood trickled down his neck.
"I see," O'Brien answered back. "So… The ATF is onto me, huh?"
Ezra smiled back at the man. O'Brien's only reaction was a smirk of his own, with a slight nod of what looked like appreciation.
"The 'stick' you were interested in," O'Brien held up the knotty black and brown wooden object, "Is a shillelagh. It was my grandfather's, you see. Back in Dublin, many years ago, he used it to keep himself safe. It is quite the effective weapon," the man said as he appraised the item with a keen eye. He focused his attention on Ezra and said mockingly, "and I don't leave home without it."
Ezra continued to smirk at this man. It was a stick, but he spoke of it like it was the crown jewels. And yeah, Ezra had taken a blow from it in the stomach earlier, but it wasn't anything 'spectacular' like this man was making it out to be. If you asked O'Brien, he probably thought he was carrying around the Spear of Destiny.
The moment was shattered by a punch from behind to Ezra's kidney. He grunted and started to crumple, but hands caught him. Instead of straightening him like he expected, he received a backhanded strike from the man's shillelagh. Ezra was knocked off balance, slamming his already abused face into the counter. His head bounced with a thump. The same hands flung him towards the kitchen table he and O'Brien had just so recently vacated. He impacted the surface and toppled the table to its side. He landed on the floor in the space created between the tabletop and the wall. He lay there unmoving, mouth agape, blood flowing from his nose and his mouth. The last thing he did before he passed out was spit out his tooth so he wouldn't choke on it.
Some time later, who knows how long exactly, Ezra was manhandled into a semi-standing position between Rick and Jimmy, and a phone was thrust into his face. "Call your boss," O'Brien ordered flatly.
Ezra stared at the man contemptuously. "Go to hell."
O'Brien let the phone come down away from the southerner's face. Rick and Jimmy pushed his semi-standing body to the floor. Ezra grunted as he hit the floor, but was able to catch himself from slamming against the floor with his arms. All he wanted to do was curl up, to rest, to be out of this situation.
O'Brien stared at the downed man, then nudged the Southerner with his boot and rolled him slowly to face upwards. Holding his hand out to Rick, he received a small item. It was Ezra's cell phone.
"Then I'll call him." He opened the phone and started to scroll though the numbers, looking at the speed dial names. "Not many numbers in here, my friend," he half chuckled. He scrolled through the phone for another minute, then huffed his breath and asked "Which one is it?"
Ezra glared at him, making no move to answer.
O'Brien sighed. "If you don't tell me, I will call them one at a time, and for every one that I call that is not your boss, I will kill them. Do you understand me?"
Ezra considered this for a minute, but still stalled for an answer. Jimmy kicked him hard in the side and he grunted in pain.
"Fine then, let's start with… Vin cell?"
"No..." Ezra grunted out. He didn't want to think about the possibility of O'Brien going after Vin, hell after any of them, just because Ezra wouldn't tell him which number to call. Especially with that fucking stick.
"So who should we start with then?" he smiled evilly.
The southerner blew out a breath, trying to get all of his wind back. "Chris." He closed his eyes and rested his head against the linoleum floor. God, he was disgusted with himself, "Call Chris."
O'Brien nodded curtly, finding the number in the cell phone, but using the land line phone he had just thrust in Ezra's face. 'God, he wants them to know exactly where we are.' Ezra thought as he rolled onto his side, clutching where Jimmy had kicked him.
Larabee obviously answered on the other end, and Ezra heard O'Brien simply say, "I know."
After the phone call had concluded, Ezra, barely conscious, had been slung over someone's shoulder and taken out to a car where he was unceremoniously dumped into the trunk. The lid smacked closed with a decisive 'click'.
And now, here he lay, wherever 'here' was, looking more and more screwed by the minute.
Jimmy Rourke fished a handful of change out of his pocket. He had memorized the phone number earlier when O'Brien had called it. As he approached the pay phone, he looked over his shoulder. He had slunk away from his boss under the pretense of an errand. In truth, he had a very important phone call to make. He only hoped that there would be someone at the other end.
Depositing the change, he punched the numbers, keeping his fingers inside his long sleeves so as not to leave any fingerprints here.
The phone was ringing.
"Larabee," Chris snarled into the phone.
"Your man isn't dead," the voice replied in a rushed, quiet tone.
"Who the fuck is this?" Chris's tone was deadly. "Where is he?"
"I don't have time to explain. O'Brien took him this morning, but he's still alive. He's beat up pretty bad, but he's alive. I'll do what I can."
With that, the phone call was disconnected.
FBI Agent Jimmy Rourke made his way back to his "boss's" headquarters. He had been undercover for two years with O'Brien. And now to find out the Denver ATF had sent their man under while he was under. Two years of his work, his life, could be blown because of this… this… shit. Why didn't the agencies talk to each other? Now he had to deal with a spooked arms dealer, and find a way to get a blown undercover agent out alive. Jimmy wasn't even sure if that was going to be possible.
He had almost shit himself when Rick had found the agent's badge. The gun in the drawer, and the doubtless others that were hidden somewhere in his home, could be easily enough explained away as either paranoia or preparedness. But the badge…
It wasn't like Zeke thought they would be coming to his home. Shit, he's not Zeke, thought Jimmy. He's Ezra. Ezra Standish. And didn't he just have to be one of Larabee's men. That fact alone was the sole reason Jimmy had jeopardized his own well-being to make that phone call. If he didn't let Larabee know that his man was still alive, he had no doubt that the Magnificent Seven would rain holy hell down on O'Brien's organization. Then the last two years' worth of work would be all for naught, because Larabee would be out for vengeance. This had to be done by the book; especially this late in the game.
The FBI was a matter of months from putting O'Brien away for life. Jimmy was so close. Then this shit happened. Jimmy had heard about the two local cops getting killed with O'Brien's merchandise, but he was surprised that the local ATF branch had gotten a man in as far as they had. No one knew Standish was an agent until this morning when, with his badge staring up at O'Brien, Jimmy had helped kick the hell out of him. In all his years in law enforcement, Roarke had never struck another agent or officer. Until this morning. Jimmy had tried to pull as many punches as possible, but he couldn't keep from hurting the downed agent. When this was all over, he would apologize.
If they were both still alive.
"It was too short," JD said apologetically. "I can only tell you it came from Denver."
"Dammit!" Chris almost shouted as he slammed his hand against his desk.
"Easy now, Stud," Buck said. "At least we know he's alive."
Chris locked eyes with Buck. "Only if we believe what that guy said! How the hell do we know if he's telling the truth?"
"It's better than anything we got so far," Buck replied.
Chris just looked at Buck like he had grown a set of horns.
"He said O'Brien took him, right?" asked Nathan.
"There would be no benefit to someone saying that O'Brien took him if O'Brien didn't take him." Nathan huffed as he tried to figure out his own logic. "The only people outside of this room that know he's gone are the police and forensics, and we sure as hell didn't tell them we thought O'Brien was in on this. At the same time, no one knew what Ezra was working on, except Travis and the higher ups, so the only person who could have made that call, who knew Ezra was taken and knew that O'Brien was suspected…"
"One of O'Brien's guys?" JD interrupted. "You really think one of his guys are gonna roll on him? Knowing what he's done to his own people in the past?"
"I don't know JD. Who else would know?" Nathan said.
The six men just looked at each other. No one had any better guesses.
"So where does that put us?" asked Vin.
"Square one. Again." Chris ran his hand down his face. "We either believe this mystery caller and wait for him to 'do what he can' or we keep trying what we've been trying. Doesn't matter, we aren't making any progress." He ran both of his hands through his already mussed hair, lacing his fingers together at the back of his neck and gazed out the window. He shook his head in disgust as he loudly huffed his breath.
"You're not giving up are you?" asked Vin.
Chris looked at Vin, and waited a fraction of a second too long to answer.
"You are…" said Vin, rising from his seat, staring at their leader. "You don't think we're gonna get him back." He paused, then raised his voice as he spoke. "How can you give up on him? How can you expect us to keep looking if you feel like it's hopeless?"
Chris didn't have an answer. "Vin…" he began.
"That's a real shitty thing, Chris," Vin said as he turned and left the office, slamming the door on the way out.
There was silence in the office after Vin's departure.
"Guys…" Chris began, "I'm not giving up on him. I just don't know what to do."
"We'll find him," said Buck. "I don't care what we have to do, but we'll find him."
"So how did this happen?" Charles O'Brien paced back and forth as he spoke. Jimmy and Rick sat lounging nearby.
"I don't know boss," said Rick.
"I want to know how he got in. Then I want whoever let him in dealt with!" O'Brien roared.
Jimmy and Rick both nodded solemnly, but said nothing.
"We need to know what he knows," mused O'Brien. "What the ATF knows."
"Maybe we should just clear out of town for a while boss," offered Jimmy.
"Oh, we will. But I want this fucking mess dealt with. And I want to now how much the ATF knows. We may need to take more drastic measures…"
Jimmy felt his stomach drop. He didn't know what Standish knew, but he hoped it wasn't much. If O'Brien found out exactly what the ATF had uncovered about the whole operation, then Jimmy's information could be at risk. O'Brien would change his ways, again, and the FBI would be set back another few months' work, at least. However, if Standish didn't know anything, or if he somehow managed to not tell O'Brien what he knew, Jimmy's information would still be solid.
Jimmy knew that he didn't have enough to get O'Brien locked away for good. He had to keep his cover intact. But what about Standish? One way, Standish would end up dead and the info would be safe. The other way, the info could be compromised, but Standish might keep his life. Both ways sucked.
Ezra rolled onto his side and tried to figure out where he was. Was it an office building? If it was, it needed work. The floor was bare concrete, the rug having been torn up. The sheetrock was in the process of being replaced, and the joints hadn't been finished yet. Maybe a new construction?
Ezra could only see out of his left eye, his right one was swollen shut. Christ, he felt like he had been hit by a bus. The inside of his cheek had been torn open by the edges of his teeth, especially the void of where his tooth had been. His mouth tasted like blood. He doubted the taste would ever go away. It was nauseating.
He craned his head upward towards the door when he heard it open. The figures that entered were blurry at best, but he could tell from the sizes of the individuals that it was Jimmy and Rick. They picked him up and dragged him into the next room, which again seemed office-like in nature. He was dropped to the floor again. God his head hurt. Everything hurt.
He felt his bonds cut and his arms freed, not that he could do anything with them. He felt so wiped, all he wanted to do was sleep. He put up no resistance when he was flipped onto his back, his arms laying slack beside him.
"He dead?" O'Brien asked, almost laughing.
"No sir. He's just out of it," replied Rick.
"Wake him up."
Jimmy reached for a bottle of water that was sitting on the nearby desk. He walked over to the Southerner and dumped it on his face. Ezra sputtered as the water doused his face, but didn't move his body from his prone position. He lay his head back down with a soft thump.
"Hey there, Zeke," said O'Brien. The disdain dripped from every syllable as he used Ezra's undercover name.
Ezra glared at him.
"So, Agent Standish, was it? I would like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."
"I mind," Ezra croaked out, closing his eyes.
O'Brien nudged him with his shillelagh. "Oh, it won't be so bad." O'Brien actually sounded… was it friendly?
"Says you," Ezra drawled. He opened his eyes to look up at his tormenter. And the fucking stick. Seriously? he thought.
O'Brien used the knobbed end of his shillelagh to nudge Ezra's chest and abdomen, eliciting a groan. "I bet that hurts," he mused aloud.
"Not so bad," Ezra grunted out. He lied. It was bad. He imagined his whole torso to be a large bruise. But damned if he was going to admit his pain to this man. O'Brien leaned the knob onto the southerner's stomach, just below his sternum. Ezra whooshed his breath out with a small grunt as O'Brien pushed down. He raised his hands and tried to swipe at the offending object. The pressure eased up, and Ezra took a cleansing, painful breath.
Jimmy hung back, watching the scene with trepidation. There was nothing he could do for Standish without jeopardizing his own identity or the case. He was torn. He caught O'Brien nodding to Rick, then gesturing towards the downed agent. Rick knelt down next to Standish, who was still battling to remain conscious. Jimmy watched as Rick put his knee on the downed man's ribcage and let his weight come down on that knee.
Standish's eyes opened wide and his hands went to Rick's leg, trying to dislodge him.
Ezra lay there, taking deep cleansing breaths with his eyes closed, trying to bring himself all the way out of the muddled state of consciousness he was currently floating around in. He felt a pressure on his chest and swatted it away, groaning. Once the pressure was gone, he resumed his deep breathing. Even breathing hurt.
Ezra vaguely sensed that someone was near him. Then he felt something on his chest where the first pressure had been. Then it got heavy. Ezra's eyes flew open in a panic. The weight had made breathing difficult, almost to the point of impossible. Every little bit of breath that went out of his lungs was replaced with less and less of a breath in. He raised his free hands, as weak as they were, and tried to dislodge Rick's knee from his battered ribcage, to no avail.
Just as suddenly as it had started, the pressure stopped. Ezra sucked in his breath and coughed. He panted, staring at the cold eyes of Rick, whose knee still rested on his ribs.
"Well Agent Standish. I appear to have your undivided attention now," O'Brien said as he came into Ezra's line of sight. "Now, I'm going to ask you some questions. And I'll know if you're lying. So we'll start with an easy one. What's your name?"
Ezra stared at the man, but didn't answer. Immediately, he felt the pressure on his chest increase and he couldn't breathe. He struggled to dislodge the knee from his chest, again to no avail. Rick caught his hands and pinned them to his chest. Ezra was helpless, at their mercy. He was starting to see spots in his vision when the pressure finally let up. He sucked his air greedily.
"Let's try again, shall we? Your name?"
"Standish," he rasped out, still sucking at the air. His heartbeat pounded in his ears as his blood rushed through his panicked body.
"Your full name."
"Good. Who's your boss?"
"No…" he rasped out. The pressure was immediately back, and seemed harder this time. Ezra struggled, but to no avail. Panicking, he groaned out loud, a sound of frustration and fear. The pressure let up.
"I already know the answers to these, Agent Standish. These are the easy questions. Try again?"
"Good. Now, what have you told Chris Larabee and the ATF about my operation?"
Jimmy looked on anxiously.
Ezra met the arms dealer's gaze and rasped out, "Nothing." It was the best lie he could muster.
Again the pressure. Again the spots dancing in his vision.
"I don't believe you," O'Brien said.
"Believe whatever you want, it's the truth." The pressure started to decrease slightly. "I was on my way… there this morning… when you… came by…"
"A month and a half, and this was to be the first day you were going to tell them anything? I don't think so."
"They've got nothing on you!" Ezra spat. "I was going there today and they were going to take me off the case!" He panted.
O'Brien seemed to consider this for a moment. He nodded at Rick, who got up off of the Agent. Ezra lay on the floor, arms spread out to his sides and heaved large breaths, trying to calm his rattled nerves and appease his battered body. Once Rick was clear of him, he rolled to his side and brought his arms to his chest protectively and drew his legs up.
Rick and O'Brien stepped away from the downed man over towards where Jimmy stood. O'Brien leaned on his shillelagh with both hands and seemed to be in thought.
"What do we do?" asked Rick.
"Well pack up and move locations. We've been here too long anyways." O'Brien seemed bored with the whole situation.
"You believe him?" asked Jimmy.
"It doesn't matter," O'Brien replied.
"What do you want to do about him?" Jimmy asked, motioning towards the agent.
"Get rid of him. Your choice how and where."
Jimmy nodded in acknowledgement. He was to kill Standish and get rid of the body. O'Brien started to walk away, then turned towards his men.
"Jimmy, I want Larabee to find the body. I want the ATF to get the message." The man smiled his evil grin.
Jimmy nodded and turned to Rick. "Let's go."
"So what's your pleasure?" Rick asked from the driver's seat. They had loaded the southerner into the trunk none-too-gently. Jimmy tried to discern what kind of damage had been done to the man. Standish's face was the most obvious injury, the right side swollen and bruised, gashed and bloody, eye swollen shut, but that was all Jimmy could tell of the man's injuries without making it obvious what he was checking. The damage that had been done to the man's torso remained hidden by his clothing. But still, blunt force trauma could kill. And he'd seen O'Brien do it before. He'd seen men beaten this badly die. Jimmy hoped he didn't have to face Larabee if his man succumbed to his injuries.
"Jimmy?" Rick asked.
"I'm thinking." And he was, but he was trying to think of a way to get Standish to safety. "Rick, you still got this guy's cell?"
"I think so." Rick started rifling around through his pockets. After his short search, he held out the agent's phone. "Here. What are you thinking?"
"Kill Standish while I have Larabee on the phone. Then I'll leave the phone with him." He smiled a wicked grin he didn't mean.
Rick considered it for a minute. "Nice. Where?"
"Fuck, I don't care. Let's just get this done, I'm hungry," Jimmy replied, acting as bored as he could muster. In reality, his heart was thumping so hard in his chest he thought he could hear it hit his ribs, and there was no way he could eat anything right now without it making a swift return. He ran his hand over his face.
"Alright. Next turnoff work?"
The car came to a stop at a rest area. There were no lights, no people. The road wasn't heavily traveled in the evening. The trees nearby offered the cover they needed. Jimmy and Rick got out of the car and went to the trunk. Once it was opened, they took the barely conscious man out of the trunk and walked him the ten feet to where the trees began, draped between the two of them. Dropping him to the ground, Jimmy took out the cell. Before dialing, he turned to Rick.
"Have the car running. If I want Larabee to hear the shot I can't use the silencer."
Rick nodded and started back towards the car. It was understood that they should leave immediately after they were done. Normally, it wouldn't be done this way, but O'Brien wanted Standish found.
"I'll leave the door open," Rick said before walking away.
Jimmy looked at Ezra, whose face was resting on the ground where he lay on his stomach. His shallow puffs of breath stirred the dirt near his nose. Other than that, the agent didn't move.
Please, just stay down, thought Jimmy. It's better if you do.
Looking back over his shoulder to where Rick waited in the car, door open and engine running, Jimmy dialed Chris Larabee from Standish's phone and waited, gun in hand.
The six remaining members of Team Seven were gathered around the conference room table with Travis. They were going over what little progress had been made by all parties in locating their missing agent.
Chris's extension lit up as the phone rang, causing several people to jump in their seats.
With only the slightest bit of hesitation, Chris stood and reached for the phone and hit the light signifying his line. "Larabee."
"I have a message for you." The phone was on speaker.
"What message?" Chris's voice didn't hold the same bite it usually did. Instead, it held a tone of panic.
"You should never cross Charles O'Brien."
Chris flinched and dropped into his seat as three rapid gunshots came through the speaker.
Ezra lay with his battered face on the ground. Jesus, he hurt. He heard a muddled voice speaking near him.
"I have a message for you," Jimmy said.
Is he talking to me? thought Ezra.
"You should never cross Charles O'Brien."
The three shots that followed each other rapidly hit the dirt near Ezra's face and shoulders. He flinched slightly, but otherwise didn't move. He was too weak. Then he felt something hit him in the back, and he felt it slide off to the side next to him. He heard a strange squawking coming from the item. A phone?
Jimmy squatted down and took a pulse, mostly for Rick's benefit. He said in a low voice, "You owe me one."
With that, Jimmy got up, turned and left. He didn't look back. Ezra heard the car door shut and the car take off.
"JD, please tell me you got something," Buck implored. When Chris had dropped into his chair and sat, shocked, Buck had taken charge again. He picked up the phone receiver and began barking into it, at the same time gesturing for JD to start a trace on it. Chris hadn't been able to speak for a full minute, his face a mask of despair. When he did speak, he softly decreed, "They killed him."
With the line still open, JD was able to get a trace and a location. "He's by the rest stop on 41," JD replied.
"Call the local PD. Have them send the ambulance and forensics," Buck said resignedly.
"Let's bring our brother home," Josiah said sadly as he clapped Buck on the shoulder.
Two cars pulled up to the rest area ablaze with rolling lights. Six sad looking men piled out of the two vehicles, not ready to face the loss of one of their own. Vin was the first to move towards the area where all the action was happening.
Approaching a uniformed officer, he asked, "Where is he?"
The officer pointed over to an area busy with activity. Vin moved towards the area the officer indicated. Behind him, the other five had started to move at a slower pace. No one wanted to face this. As Vin reached the trees, he could see paramedics working on someone. His stomach dropped, and he broke into a run. Was Ezra alive?
Vin skidded to a stop on his knees next to the paramedics. "Ezra? Ezra can you hear me?"
"He's out," one of the medics said. "We had to sedate him. He came to and started fighting like hell."
"How is he?"
"He's had the shit beat out of him, but he's stable enough to move."
Vin was confused. "What about the gunshots?"
The medic looked at him. "Sir, he wasn't shot. Now excuse us, we have to go." And with that, the gurney was wheeled to the waiting ambulance.
The other five members of the team intercepted the gurney and Nathan insisted on riding with the Southerner. There were no arguments; no one wanted Ezra to be alone.
Chris, Buck, JD and Josiah joined Vin in the spot where Ezra was found. Vin looked up as they approached. "Did you see?"
"Yeah Vin, we saw," Chris answered.
"Never give up on that man," Vin said heatedly as he pointed to the departing ambulance. "He's like a damn cat," he added in a more subdued voice.
"We heard him get shot," Chris said as he looked around. He couldn't look at Vin right now, knowing that Vin had been speaking directly to him.
"No, we heard the shots," Vin said, pointing to the ground. "They went here, here and here."
"The guy missed? Three times?" Buck asked.
"I think he hit exactly what he was aiming at," said Josiah.
"So there's someone on the inside of O'Brien's organization?" JD asked quietly.
"Maybe JD. Come on, let's get to the hospital." Chris turned and went back to the vehicles.
No matter how many times they had been here, it was never easy.
Ezra's face seemed even more colorful under these lights. His skin looked pale, but that could have been from the contrast of purples from his bruises. There was extensive soft tissue damage to Ezra's face, They would have to wait for the swelling to go down before they could tell if there was any permanent scarring. A gash on his face, his lip and the inside of his mouth had required stitches. His jaw had been broken and had required two screws and a plate to hold it together. The scarring should be minimal, the doctors said, but it would depend on the other soft tissue damage of the face. Two of his teeth were loose on his right side, and his cheekbone had been cracked. The cheek injury shouldn't need surgery unless it caused a cosmetic problem. His torso had been battered. There was a large bruise on his sternum, and many of his intercostal muscles had been strained. His chest wall was also bruised. Nathan had explained to them that this meant that even breathing would be very painful for the Southerner, and he would need help doing everyday things while healing. More worrisome, though, was the bruising to his kidney, causing small amounts of blood in his urine, and the concussion he was sporting.
In short, Ezra was a fucking mess. He was in considerable pain, the doctors said, and would be for a while. Due to the broken jaw, Ezra was only going to be able to eat soft foods for a while, giving the bone time to heal. He would be living on painkillers for a while and Nathan assured the medical staff that all their instructions would be followed to the letter.
Chris sat next to his agent's bed, staring at the bruises on his face. He shook his head and looked down at his own feet. Ezra had been awake earlier, but still didn't seem all there. He flinched and stiffened when Buck touched him, so by unspoken agreement no one else tried to. Ezra obviously couldn't see out of the right eye, being swollen shut, so part of the reason for flinching could have been just plain surprise. He had fallen back asleep shortly after that.
At Nathan's suggestion that they go get something to eat while Ezra slept, they had cleared out. Chris stayed. He didn't feel right leaving Ezra alone yet.
Still staring at his own feet, he hadn't realized Ezra had awoken until he spoke.
"It's not your fault Chris." The voice was weak and tired, raspy.
Chris looked into the one open eye. He nodded. He wouldn't win that battle with Ezra. Not now, not ever.
"Why did you pick now to start listening to me?" Chris asked in a quiet voice.
Ezra snorted then grimaced in pain. "What, about getting closer to O'Brien?" His words were slightly distorted due to his facial injuries.
"I thought I was supposed to listen to you." Chris just stared at him. Ezra sighed. "I did what I had to do. I would have done it regardless of what you said."
"It wouldn't have happened if…"
"If what? If I had just kept trudging along at a snail's pace? The only way it wouldn't have happened is if I didn't do my job."
Chris nodded again.
They were both silent for a moment before the door opened. Vin slipped in soundlessly and walked up to his two friends. "Hey Ez."
Ezra turned his face as much as possible and turned up the unbruised corner of his mouth in a poor impression of a smile. "Vin."
"Got something of yours. I kept it, figgerin' you'd want it back."
Ezra looked at Chris, then back at Vin as he fished into his jacket pocket and pulled out a plastic baggie. He handed it to Ezra, who looked at the object in the bag. His gold tooth.
"Thanks Vin. I, uh, I didn't think I would see this again. For a while, I didn't think I would be needing it again…"
Vin looked at Chris while Ezra stared at the baggie. He looked back at the Southerner and asked, "You wanna talk about it?"
Ezra let the hand with the baggie fall to the bed. "No," was the simple answer.
"Alright. If you do…" Chris let it hang.
Ezra nodded slightly, and winced in pain.
Ezra had to stay in the hospital for three days. When he was finally discharged, he returned to his house and was not left alone. Josiah was concerned that Ezra may have a problem with staying in the place where the attack had happened. His doors had been replaced and the apartment had been cleaned since the attack, but Josiah felt that he shouldn't be left alone for a while. Plus the fact that with his rib injuries, he wasn't going to be able to do a lot of day to day activities, like reaching a shelf or picking up something that was dropped.
Surprisingly, Ezra didn't fight them on it. He seemed to enjoy the company and was grateful to have the added security of his friends staying there. They knew he'd never admit it but Ezra had been worried about going back to his home.
When Ezra finally returned to work, he was still in pain, stiff and lacking his usual grace. As he continued to heal, the bruises faded, the stitches were removed, and he had his tooth replaced. He started smiling more and joking around. He didn't flinch when people would touch him. He started to return to normal. Slowly.
O'Brien was off the radar. He had packed up and left town, and no one heard a thing about him for several months.
Judge Travis exited the elevator with his visitor in tow. He still shook his head about the whole situation. He should be angry, but he couldn't make himself show anything other than thanks. This man had been a godsend.
Jimmy Rourke followed Travis off the elevator, his FBI credentials hanging from the breast pocket of his suit. His heart pounded in his chest. He knew Standish had survived the ordeal, but he hadn't contacted him until now. He had contacted Travis first, giving the man the details of what had happened. Rourke had hoped to gage the AD's reaction to the events, and maybe garner an ally in approaching Standish. If the AD reacted badly, then Jimmy thought he would leave the full explanation to Travis.
Travis had at first had a look of anger on his face, but as soon as Jimmy finished relaying his tale, Travis couldn't help but smile. He even shook Jimmy's hand. Jimmy was nervous to meet Standish as himself, and not as O'Brien's goon. He had felt awful about the whole ordeal, and hoped Standish would understand. But even if he wouldn't understand, Jimmy had to try.
The two men walked side by side as they came to the office of Team Seven. Travis opened the door and walked in, holding the door for Rourke behind him.
"Hey Judge," JD looked up from his computer at the duo.
The rest of the team in the bullpen looked up at the kid's announcement and all added their greetings, while looking skeptically at the FBI agent.
Rourke smiled tightly, knowing he was being sized up by these men. . He knew the stigma that came with being an FBI agent, especially with this team.
"Boys," said the Judge. "Where's Standish?"
"Why?" asked Vin, taking a protective tone with his superior. FBI and Ezra Standish never mixed, and the Team was always wary when the two were on a collision course. The rest of the men were slowly rising from their desks, taking seats on corners or standing.
"Nothing's wrong boys," the Judge elaborated. "This is Special Agent Jimmy Rourke. He just wants to talk."
"He's in with Chris, Judge," said Buck thumbing towards Chris's closed door. "I'll get him if you want."
Buck nodded and went to Chris's door.
"Yeah?" Chris yelled at the closed door. He and Ezra were going over an upcoming assignment that would require Ezra going undercover for the first time since the attack. The meeting was more for Chris's well-being, Ezra reassuring Chris that he was up to the job and going over the cover story and persona he was going to use.
Buck poked his head in. "Hey Chris, sorry, but the Judge is here and he's got a feeb with him. Wants to talk to Ezra."
Ezra turned and looked over his shoulder at Buck, a question in his eyes, then turned back to Chris and cocked an eyebrow. No, he didn't know what this was about. Chris and Ezra got up and followed Buck out of the office. Ezra exited first and halted mid-step. Chris had to sidestep him in order to avoid running into him. Chris looked questioningly at Ezra's face, then looked at the FBI agent across the room. The tension was electric.
"Ezra?" Chris asked.
"What the fuck is this?" asked Ezra. His gaze wavered between the FBI agent and the Judge. Ezra's body was rigid, remembering this man hitting him. Remembering the hurt. His heart pounded in his chest as he tried to calm himself by taking deep breaths. Had he been alone, he would look for an escape or ready himself for a fight.
The rest of the Team tensed at Ezra's use of language. They all took defensive stances, ready to pounce; something was more wrong than it appeared.
"It's not what you think, Standish," the Judge began. "This is Special Agent Jimmy Rourke."
"This might have been a bad idea," Jimmy said to the Judge.
"Ezra?" Buck asked from next to Chris.
"This gentleman," Ezra gestured towards the agent, "is one of the men that visited me that morning with Mr. O'Brien," he drew a breath, then continued, "and then proceeded to kick the hell out of me." Ezra's voice was calmer than he actually felt, but held an air of confusion. Did the judge just say agent?
All eyes in the room, save Travis's, landed on Jimmy, whose gaze remained fixed on Standish. "And I'm sorry about that," he began.
"So what, he's just supposed to be fine with that because you're an agent?" Vin said as he slowly advanced on Rourke. "He's just supposed to forgive you, is that it?"
"I don't expect to be forgiven. Shit, I don't even expect to be listened to, but I want to set things right."
"So set it right," Buck nearly spat, his tone full of venom and incredulity.
"If you want to say it to me, you can say it to them," Ezra nodded towards the rest of his team, still on alert.
"Boys," the Judge said. His tone told them all to calm down.
Ezra nodded and crossed his arms over his chest. The rest of the team backed down, understanding that there was no threat to their team member.
Jimmy took a breath before he began. "I was undercover with O'Brien for almost two years. It wasn't supposed to be that long when we started, but he kept changing cities and tactics, and I had to follow him. We went to your house that morning intending to find out what it was you wanted. I think you were about to be brought into the fold. But then Rick found your badge."
"Shit," said Nathan quietly. No wonder they beat the hell out of him.
"I never meant for any of that to happen, Standish. Believe that."
Standish bowed his head, seeming to consider what Jimmy was saying.
"You helped kick his ass, how could you do that? Especially once you knew who he was?" Nathan asked.
"I had to." He spoke directly to Ezra. "You have to understand how deep I was and how much was at stake." Jimmy spared a glance toward the other men. He wanted them all to understand, but their faces held a hardness that he wasn't sure he could get through with his explanation. "The FBI should have let you guys know that there was someone on the inside, then you could have backed off. I don't know why they didn't." Rourke's voice held a sadness.
"But you stood there, you helped…" Nathan couldn't quite get his head around the fact that this agent could knowingly strike another agent, even if he had his reasons for doing so.
"I wouldn't have let it go too far. You don't have to believe me, but it's true." Jimmy looked back to Ezra, who had raised his head to meet the FBI agent's eyes. "I wouldn't have let them kill you."
Ezra nodded slightly at the agent.
"It's of little consolation now," said Josiah.
"Did you make the phone call?" asked Chris. "You'd 'do all that you could'. Was that you?"
Rourke looked at the blond leader. "Yeah, it was me. I had to let you know he wasn't dead, but I also couldn't have you come storming in."
"Did you dump him?" asked Josiah, a fire in his voice that was not quite anger, but close. "Left him like a piece of trash?"
Ezra winced slightly in remembrance. Coming to in the woods and fighting as the paramedics tried to help him was about all he could remember. And pain.
Jimmy looked at the tall profiler, remorse in his own eyes. He had noticed Ezra wince when the older man had spoken. "Yeah. That was me." His voice was laced with self-loathing.
"We thought you fucking killed him!" JD, who had been quiet up to this point, nearly yelled.
"JD," Buck said.
"No Buck. Three shots. We all heard the three shots. We all thought he was dead. What the fuck was that?" JD couldn't stop thinking about that day, that call. He remembered the looks on everyone's face. Chris looked shattered, Buck was angry but took charge, Nathan had been on the verge of tears, Vin had launched out of his chair in the conference room and stared at the phone, then started pacing like a wild animal, and Josiah looked defeated. JD could only imagine the look on his own face that day, a mix of confusion and hatred, then flooded with grief. They had all been so… broken.
"I had to. We were lucky I was tasked with it. If it had been Rick, he would have killed you," he looked at Ezra, who had his head bowed and was staring at the floor.
"I'll be sure to send him a Thank-You card then," said Buck acidly.
"He's dead," Rourke said.
"How?" asked Chris.
"At the bust. He went to take out a downed agent, and our sniper took him out. Rick's dead too."
"So much for getting enough information to keep him behind bars the rest of his life," said Buck.
"He's dead, but so is his operation," said Rourke. "All the players are done. The organization is dead."
"So that's supposed to make us feel better? The ends justify the means?" Buck spat.
"No, but you have to understand that this was bigger than me, bigger than you," Jimmy spat back. "Look, I don't know what you want me to say."
"Boys," the Judge said, "I know that this is hard to comprehend right now, but without Agent Rourke's role in this, Ezra would have been killed. We wouldn't be having this conversation at all."
"Doesn't make it any easier to swallow Judge," said Chris.
Ezra had been quiet, his gaze downward, listening to his teammates attack Rourke's motives. Abruptly, his head came up and he moved towards Rourke. Jimmy was ready to ward off a punch or a verbal attack. Ezra stopped two feet away from Jimmy and stuck his hand out. He looked Rourke in the eye, and said, "Thank you, Agent Rourke." For saving my life.
Jimmy took the hand without hesitating. He shook it firmly, looking into Ezra's eyes. He nodded once, accepting the thanks. "Agent Standish." He held the Southerner's gaze a moment longer, communicating his own thanks with his eyes.
Ezra nodded back, giving a half smile that showed off his replaced gold tooth, and slapped Jimmy lightly on the right arm before releasing his hand and heading for his desk. Both men had been genuine in their thanks, Ezra thanking him for saving his life, and Jimmy thanking Ezra for listening and understanding. The rest of the Team stood staring, some with mouths agape, that Standish could just all of a sudden let bygones be bygones. But everyone understood that nothing else was to be said to this man about what he had done. Ezra had put an end to it when he shook Rourke's hand.
"Gentlemen, Judge," Roarke said, nodding, "I have a plane to catch back to Columbus. Thank you for seeing me." Jimmy turned and left, heading for the elevators. The Judge nodded to the team, then turned and followed the FBI agent out.
When the two men were gone, JD turned to Ezra. "Why'd you thank him?"
Ezra sat back in his chair, looking thoughtfully at JD. "He was sincerely sorry."
"And that makes it fine?" he returned.
"No, far from it. But it's a start."
"I don't know if I could thank the guy who made my friends think I was dead," said JD.
"He saved my life JD. Any way you want to look at it, he saved my life. He made you think I was dead, he made O'Brien and Rick think I was dead, which is better than actually making me dead."
"I'm still angry about it," JD said.
"You have every right to be, but the anger will fade, eventually. Then I hope you'll be able to see the situation for what it really was." Ezra sat up and started to pull some files out of his desk. Around him, the rest of the team started to settle and get back to work. They had been listening to his conversation with JD, and seemed to accept Ezra's explanation. For now, anyway.
Chris shook his head and went back into his office.
As the boys fell into their routine of the day, Vin leaned over from his adjoining desk and spoke quietly to Ezra, "You get him, don't cha?"
Ezra looked at Vin and smiled a half smile. "Yeah, I do. I know what it took to do the job he just finished. And he still wanted to come and try to set things right."
"Mighty big of him." Vin's tone was serious, understanding what Ezra had been trying to say to JD.
"Yeah it was. It's hard, you know? Being the guy who deals with the other side. It's the nature of undercover work, but I know what it's like to get those looks of 'which side is he on?' Two years is a long time to do anything." He paused and ran his hand over his face. "I don't know if I could have done it."
"Helped kick his ass to ultimately keep him safe. And after two years with people who would just as soon kill me if they knew who I really was. One simple slip and that would be the end of his life, and mine. He had to do what he did. That's a shitty situation any way you look at it. But at the end of it, Agent Roarke still remembered who he was. Enough that he wanted to come and make sure things were all right between us." He took a deep breath, his ribs still ghosting a pain that was now more healed than not. "I've done some things while undercover that I'm not proud of, Vin. I've never been faced with a situation like the one he was in, but I do understand the necessity of his actions."
"Yeah." Vin leaned back in his chair and kicked his feet up on his desk, crossing his legs at the ankles. He cocked his head to the side to look at the Southerner. "Glad it turned out the way it did though."
Ezra smiled. "Me too."