Under Pressure

Disclaimer: The characters of the Magnificent 7 belong to MGM, Trilogy and Mirisch. No profit is being made off this story.

Sequel to "Limits" --this story was actually written first and started the whole "Townsend Series"

Ezra stared down at the spotted linoleum floor and sighed heavily as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Above him, florescent lights hummed and flickered, giving the basement hallway a dark and eerie feeling. JD referred to the wing as 'the dungeon' and seeing as it housed the Internal Affairs offices, the nickname had stuck for Team 7. Ezra was beginning to think the moniker was a little too appropriate.

"You doing alright, Ezra?"

Standish looked up at Chris' question and met the man's inquiring gaze. "I'm fine."

"Like hell you are," Chris mumbled with an indignant snort.

Ezra grinned briefly. "Why wouldn't I be, Mr. Larabee? It's merely a routine run down of the case after all." His voice stayed neutral but it wasn't hard for Chris to catch the flash of panic in the light green eyes.

"There's nothing you should be worrying about," Larabee stated emphatically.

Ezra shook his head. "No, nothing at all." The sarcasm in his voice was thick.

"Ezra." Chris started but Standish cut him off by pushing himself to his feet and turning his back. He watched as Ezra swayed, then righted himself and moved as gracefully as bound ribs would allow, towards a water fountain at the end of the corridor. Chris couldn't help but wonder how in the world Ezra thought he was going to get a drink. The man could barely stand up on his own without falling over, let alone bend down at a fountain.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Chris glanced at his watch again. They'd been sitting out in the hall for a half an hour now, waiting for I.A. to call them in for a meeting that should have started 20 minutes ago. A power play-- making them wait. It seemed that I.A. tried to keep its targets always off balance, regardless to their protests to the contrary. The waiting was not helping his usually patient undercover agent at all.

The last three weeks of work were showing on Standish. The stress of living a different life, cut off almost exclusively from his team. On top of the normal pressures of undercover work though, Ezra was dealing this time with the fact that he hadn't finished the job. He hadn't sealed the deal and hadn't delivered the "bad guy" to authorities with all the finesse he was infamous for.

Larabee smiled when he realized that Ezra was standing in front of the fountain now, contemplating his options. He wondered if the stubborn idiot would go ahead and aggravate his ribs and ignore the vertigo that he denied suffering from thanks to a concussion…just to get a drink and avoid his boss.

After a moment, Ezra's shoulders straightened and the Southerner turned and headed back toward the plastic chair he'd abandoned. He didn't look at Larabee as he settled again in the seat.

"They'll be calling us in soon," Chris stated confidently.

"I'm familiar with this game, Mr. Larabee."

Chris frowned at Ezra's resigned tone. "There's nothing to worry about, Ezra. This is not resting on you."

Ezra chuckled bitterly and winced as the action pulled at his side. Unconsciously, he wrapped an arm protectively around his ribs. "I'm not sure how you can make such a statement with a straight face." He leaned back and rested his head against the garish cinder block wall. The cheap off-white paint that failed to hide the wall's rough texture succeeded in making Ezra look pale and sickly.

Chris could read the disappointment in his friend's countenance and knew it was aimed inward. "It's true, Ezra. Nothing to worry about." He found his voice finally.

Ezra rolled his eyes in Larabee's direction but didn't turn his head. "I didn't see anyone else flushing the entire case down the drain," he pointed out.

"You didn't blow this case."

An eyebrow rose skeptically. "I believe I was the man assigned inside. It was my responsibility to get close to Townsend and gather the evidence you needed to make the arrest, was it not?"

"Yeah, it was, but…"

"Alright then," Ezra interrupted.

"But…" Chris reiterated. "You didn't lose this case. I pulled you out."

"I could have handled it," Ezra threw out defensively.

Chris shook his head. "Ezra, you spent three weeks with Townsend. You did get close to him and you found what evidence you could, but you spent almost 21 days coming up with very creative ways to avoid his 'gifts'." He ignored the flinch at the word 'gifts' and went on. "You weren't sleeping well, you couldn't keep half of your meals down and you were so sick and exhausted that you wrapped the man's BMW around a tree. No one can handle that kind of pressure alone and no man should be asked to."

The hall was quiet save for the constant humming of the lights and the sudden start of the fountain's compressor. Ezra's eyes were closed and Chris watched him process everything he'd just said. He still shivered inwardly at the memory of Standish's cold and empty voice when he would call to check in with the team. There was never time to get any real answers as to what was going on, what was bothering him so deeply, but there was obviously something different about this case so Chris had assigned JD to a deeper background check of Townsend. That's when they had found out what kind of man Ezra was dealing with.

Townsend had brought Ezra, or Eli Simpson, onto his plush estate and paid him to double-check his accountant's records, offering him a suite to live in for the duration of his stay. Every day Ezra was living a lie, risking his life to search for evidence implicating Townsend in selling illegal weapons, while every night Townsend was offering him entertainment, "gifts", little girls.

"I should have been able to," Ezra whispered. "I should have been able to find something, anything to just put him away." He insisted, his eyes still closed.

"I couldn't ask that of you, Ezra, it was making you sick. That accident could have been so much worse." Chris reminded gently.

"But he's still out there. He's still hurting those girls." Ezra's voice cracked slightly.

"Then you'll give that information to Children and Family Services and we'll go after him again if we're reassigned, but this time we go in as a team and we take the bastard down together." Chris voice became fierce. "There is no way we're going to let this son of a bitch stay on the street. Even if they take the case away from us I'll make sure whoever gets it knows exactly what kind of man Townsend is, and I promise you, Ezra, this piece of trash is going down…one way or another."

He was relieved when Ezra finally gave a small if reluctant nod. "And what about them?" A slender hand waved in the general direction of I.A.'s conference room. "They're all fired up to press me with questions about why I had to be pulled out." Ezra opened his eyes and watched Chris as he waited for a reply.

"What the hell do you think I'm here for?" Larabee grinned. "Besides, they've already questioned everyone else. Between Nathan's ranting about physical safety, Josiah's philosophical observations, Buck's innuendos, JD's techno-talk and Vin's reluctance to talk…you throw in your B.S. and my bad attitude and I think our team can handle I.A. just fine. After the seven of us, these suits aren't going to know which way is up. They'll be begging us to go and leave them alone for the day."

Brad Andrews put on his sternest look and opened the door of the conference room, ready to call in the last interview of a very long day. Instead of finding two nervous and anxious agents, as he'd expected, he found the two men laughing softly. He frowned.

"Agent Larabee? Agent Standish? We're ready for you now," he said after clearing his throat.

"About time." Agent Larabee stood and extended a hand to assist Agent Standish from his chair. Both men nodded respectfully as they passed him and entered the small crowded room, but Andrews didn't fail to miss the glints of mischief and challenge in both men's eyes.

"Aw hell," he muttered, realizing that this interview, like the five others today, was not going to go exactly as I.A. had planned and more than anything…he really wanted this day to be over.