Prologue - Pawn or Prize

Disclaimer: the M7 characters belong to MGM, Trilogy and Mirisch, No copyright infringement is intended

I am combining the last two stories of the Townsend Series because the fourth part "pawn or prize" is rather short and leads directly into the fifth part of the series.

Ezra moved his head out from the warm spray of the shower and paused, straining to hear over the water. After a moment, he ducked back under the shower, deciding that the sound was all in his imagination.

The water felt good as it washed away the stress of a long day. Fridays were usually relaxing days at the office but it'd seemed like an entire week's worth of tension had built up for Standish today alone. First there was the computer problems that delayed his paperwork and then his phone had gone haywire causing him to miss god knew how many calls. By the time the end of the day had rolled around he'd been more than ready for a night at the Saloon with the team…except that the guys all had other plans.

Ezra rinsed the shampoo from his hair and turned his face into the water again. He supposed he could have gone out on his own but instead he'd come straight home and now he was actually looking forward to a quiet night, a bowl of cocoa crispies and some inane TV movie of the week.

Hearing the change in water pressure, Ezra turned the flow off before the temperature ran cold. Quickly he dried off and slipped into a clean pair of boxers and his most comfortable sweatpants. He moved toward the kitchen, pausing once in the hallway as a sense of unease settled over him. Casting a quick glance into his spare room and computer room he moved on and checked the living room. The blinds of the sliding glass doors were open, affording him a clear view of his patio and small yard. Nothing seemed amiss and yet he still couldn't shake the niggling feeling that something was wrong. Finally, he sighed and shook his head, inwardly cursing himself for bringing the stress of the day home with him. He grabbed the remote from the coffee table and flipped on the evening news, listening to the stuffed shirt behind the broadcasting desk while he entered the kitchen.

The linoleum was cold on his bare feet reminding him the spring wasn't quite here yet. Quickly, Ezra grabbed a bowl and spoon from the drainer and set them on the counter. He had just grasped the box of chocolate cereal in his hand when he heard a noise behind him and spun around. The first blow caught him before he'd turned completely, sending him back into the counter. The second blow sent him into darkness, insuring that he offered no resistance.

Chris glanced at his watch and then at his phone again, his fingers drumming rhythmically on the desktop in a beat that would have driven him mad if it'd been coming from anyone else. The phone rang suddenly, startling him despite the fact he'd been waiting for it.

"Buck?" he answered anxiously.

"He's not here."

From Buck's tone, Chris knew it was bad. He'd started out annoyed when Ezra didn't show up for work on time, but it was Monday and Standish had never been much for punctuality. By 11:30 the annoyance had turned to anger. Even Ezra usually had the decency to call when he was going to be that late. The anger was displaced with concern when Standish didn't answer home or cell phones, and none of the team had seen him since early Friday evening.

"What else?" He heard Buck swallow nervously.

"The TV was on and the place was open."

"Not locked up?"


"Any sign of a struggle?" Chris ran a hand over his face as multiple scenarios ran through his head.

"There's a box of cereal spilled all over the kitchen floor and Vin found blood on the counter

A shiver ran through Chris. "How serious?"

"Not a lot," Buck's reassurance was weak.

"Call the authorities and get right back here," Larabee ordered. He had no idea where they'd start looking but he knew he needed all his men available.

"We're on our way."

"What's going on, Chris?"

Chris looked up at the sound of Josiah's voice. "The place was empty." He met the profiler's gaze. "There are small signs of a struggle, nothing definitive."

"Want us to start putting out feelers?" Sanchez questioned, his voice calm though his expression betrayed his concern.

"Yeah, check for anything out of the ordinary." Chris paused, frowning. "Oh and one of you find out what Maude is up to these days.

Josiah nodded somberly and headed back into the main office.

The phone rang again and Chris stared at it a moment, deciding whether he really wanted to answer it or not. "Larabee," he answered finally.

"Agent Larabee? This is Agent Ronnie Woodworth of the FBI."

Chris scowled, trying to remember where he heard the name before as the man continued, "We worked together on the Townsend case."

"I remember." Chris closed his eyes, knowing suddenly that things were even worse than he imagined.

Woodworth was talking again. "I needed to let you know that Brian Townsend was released Thursday morning on bail."

"What the hell do you mean he was released?" Chris hissed into the phone, wishing it was possible to reach the other man physically. "Besides gun trafficking and child abuse, the man was in for attempted murder of a federal agent!"

"I don't know the reasons, Larabee!" Woodworth spit back. "I just know he was released and figured you'd appreciate the update, knowing your team's history with the man."

Chris bit back a litany of curses. "Why am I just hearing about this now?" If he'd known Townsend was out, he never would have left Ezra on his own all weekend. All weekend…had Ezra been missing the entire weekend without anyone even knowing he was in danger?

"We were just informed of the development this morning. I called you as soon as I could. I'll keep you updated."

"How kind," Chris snarled as he slammed the phone back onto the cradle. It rang again instantly and he grabbed it.

"Larabee!" he snapped.

"Ouch. Cantankerous today aren't we? Missing someone, Agent Larabee?"

"Townsend, you…" Chris started but was cut off abruptly.

"Don't be a fool, Larabee. Just shut up and listen. You'll find Standish if you're smart enough. He's closer than you think."

"I'll kill you myself." Chris rose to his feet.

"Oh you'll want to, but this is my game of revenge, Agent. You started it when you tried to take me down, so get ready to play. I let him live this round…that's if you get to him before it's too late Think of this as a reminder of who's in control. Until next time…"

Chris threw the phone, his anger soaring with Townsend's taunts. "Buck! Vin! Josiah! Get everyone in here now!" he yelled, seeing that Wilmington and Tanner were back. He turned in frustration, glancing out the window as he wondered what Townsend had meant when he said Ezra was closer than they thought…and froze. Fear and shock rocketed through him. He stared, unable to comprehend what he was seeing.

Across the street, from roof of the fifteen-story bank building, Ezra hung, suspended upside down by a thick rope that was knotted around his ankles. Standish was bound, duct tape striping his body at his ankles, knees and chest. He was shirtless and Chris could see the bloody cuts and bruises that dotted his bare chest despite the distance between them. Ezra swayed gently in the steady wind, half of his abused face was covered with a duct tape gag, and Chris couldn't tell if he was conscious or not.

Helplessness washed over Larabee before he snapped out of his daze. He ran, pushing past Buck and knocking the larger man back into the wall.

"Chris?" Buck questioned loudly as Chris rushed out of the office.

Vin looked from the door of the outer office to Buck and then into Chris' office, searching for answers. "Shit!" he gasped at the sight and was following Larabee at a run "Call for help!" he shouted to the others as he disappeared.

In seconds, Nathan, Buck and JD were following Chris and Vin to the roof of the next building while Josiah stayed behind. Quickly, Sanchez dialed 911 and moved to the window. He placed one large hand flat against the glass, wishing he had the power to reach through it and grab onto his injured friend. "We're coming, Ezra. We're coming," he whispered, his eyes never straying from Ezra's form.

"Ezra!" Chris burst out onto the roof with a shout, forgetting that Ezra couldn't respond. He scanned the area, searching for the rope that held Standish. He found it just as Vin joined him. "There." Chris hurried across the roof and peered over the edge as Vin knelt to examine where the rope was tied off.

"It's fraying," he told Chris fearfully. "We can't wait for the fire department."

"Who said anything about waiting?" Buck asked, coming up behind them.

"We can get him." JD insisted, peaking over the edge.

"We're here, Ezra!" Chris shouted down at Standish. "We'll get you up here in no time." They were fifteen stories up and Ezra was dangling down four.

Nathan stepped up and grabbed Larabee's arm. "Be careful," he warned. "We don't know what condition he's in and can't go banging him against the building."

"We won't," Vin stated confidently as he motioned where he wanted Buck to grab onto the line.

For Chris, it felt like time was crawling. He could only imagine how Ezra was feeling. Carefully they maneuvered the battered man closer to their grasp. Josiah joined them, and with his added muscle they were able to move quicker. As soon as Ezra's feet were within reach, Chris and Vin grabbed a hold of him. As they eased Ezra over the ledge and onto the safety of the roof they could hear the sirens approaching.

Ezra barely flinched but his eyes remained closed tightly as Nathan quickly removed the tape covering his mouth. Josiah and Buck worked on the bindings around his legs while Chris freed his arms. "You're going to be okay, Ezra. We got you," Chris murmured, thankful his friend was conscious as he worked to warm the icy limbs. His anger boiled as he saw the abuse Ezra had suffered up close. It was obvious that the undercover agent had been well worked over.

Ezra's swollen eyes blinked open and met Chris' gaze. "Tow'sed," he rasped hoarsely.

"JD, get some water," Nathan ordered.

"We know," Chris whispered, ignoring the surprised expressions of the others and helping support Ezra as the Southerner tried to sit up.

"Lay still," Nathan reprimanded gently.

Ezra shook his head, wincing at the movement. "He's playing game." He looked at Chris again, fear flashing in his bloodshot eyes before he recovered his control. "Am I the pawn or prize?"

Chris felt the others watching him and waiting for his response but he didn't look away from Ezra. "Neither if I can help it," he promised, smiling gently as Ezra accepted his word and closed his eyes again, relaxing into Nathan's care. Chris cast a glance at the others, catching the fierce outrage and determination in their faces. Townsend might think he was in control, but he'd screwed with the wrong team. He might try and force them to play in his game, but he sure as hell wasn't going to force them to play by his rules.


a/n- this portion answered a challenge to have a character 'on the edge' - we had to have them stuck up high somewhere!