As stings go, it was standard and boring; especially on the sidelines. The DEA ran the 'buy'. As planned, the Under Cover and his two accomplices were arrested, maintaining the UC's cover.
The buy took place at an old power station that sat near a freeway underpass, near a body of water. Vehicles could not be hidden easily, and really the only way to come up on it was fast and hard. And there really wasn't a very good lookout or vantage point if you were inside the small brick building. The windows were covered in metal mesh over plexiglass, which had been damaged by years of non-use and the weather. If you were inside the building, you would have to employ a very good lookout system.
Be that as it may, Team Seven stayed a reasonable distance from the actual buy. They, along with several DEA agents, remained in their positions and maintained the perimeter surrounding the power station.
The entire buy was completed without a shot being fired.
"Showoffs," Nathan grumbled good-naturedly. "It's not like you can shoot people using bags of drugs. Try busting gun sellers."
Josiah, who had paired up with him at this point in the perimeter, chuckled knowingly as the two of them walked the scene aiding in the cleanup.
Ezra was walking his part of the perimeter, and veered towards two of the DEA agents that had been in the action of the raid. He smiled as he approached.
"Not bad," Ezra said.
The two men, one whose vest said 'Webster' and the other 'Cunningham' turned. "Thanks," Webster said.
"Tricky place to stage a raid," Ezra conceded.
"It was, but we've had worse," Cunningham said. "Bet you have too."
Ezra smiled knowingly. "Indeed."
"Isn't it true that some guy got slashed up at one of you guys' raids?" Webster asked.
Ezra was thrown off by the bluntness of the question, and before he even had a thought to answer, Cunningham slapped his teammate with the back of his hand. "Jesus Ron, that's just not cool. You don't go around gossiping about that kind of shit. It's bad karma."
Webster looked remorseful. "Sorry," he said apologetically.
Cunningham turned to Ezra as he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pants pocket. He gestured to Webster as he spoke to Standish. "Ron's new. He doesn't know all the ins and outs of this shit yet. Don't mind him. Smoke?" he held out the pack to Ezra.
"No, thank you," Ezra replied, thankful for the change in conversation. "Those things will kill you."
Cunningham smiled as he lit up. "Shit, if I live long enough to be killed by these, I'll consider myself lucky." He puffed once, then held out his hand to Ezra. "Jerry Cunningham."
Ezra shook his hand. "Ezra Standish."
"No shit?" he said, disbelievingly.
Ezra smiled. "No shit."
"I've heard your name before. Good to meet you."
Jerry took another drag on his smoke. "Hell of a thing, this undercover shit. Mark, our UC, he's pretty damn good. But I don't think I could do it. I don't know how you guys handle it."
"Us guys?" Standish asked, surprised that this man knew what his specialty was.
"Told you, I've heard your name before."
"That could be a bad thing, in my line of work," he said, smiling. "So, who else got picked up today?" Ezra asked, looking over towards where the suspects had been taken for transport.
"Well, let's see. One of those fellas, he won't say a damn thing. The other one, we got a name. What the hell was it…? Ron," Cunningham turned to his partner. "What's that older guy's name?"
"Uh, something Spanish. Galvez, I think. Think his first name is Raul or something like that." The young agent shrugged.
"Rafael Galvez?" Ezra asked.
"That's it," Webster confirmed with a nod. "I was close."
Ezra couldn't breathe. Why was he dizzy?
"Well gentlemen," he managed to say. "I must resume my duties."
"Nice talkin' with you, Standish," Cunningham said, reaching to shake his hand again.
Ezra took it and shook it robotically, turning away and walking at as normal a pace as possible towards the cars.
He was here.
Buck stood by the suburban, conferring with Chris and Vin. Josiah and Nathan were still off somewhere. All of them had finished their perimeter search, with nothing useful to report.
JD came walking up to Buck at a fast pace.
Buck turned as soon as JD came into view, his conversation forgotten. There was concern written on the young agent's face.
"Buck," JD said, keeping his voice low. "Where's Ezra?"
"Walking the perimeter, like the rest of us. He got the back." He gestured to the area beyond the cars and the building. "Wh—"
JD cut him off. "Galvez is here."
Chris turned and faced JD directly. "What?"
"Galvez. He was one of the 'associates' that they arrested."
"Shit," Chris said. "Buck, get the guys. Find him. I don't want Ezra to run into the guy."
Buck was already in motion.
He was here. He was here.
The sonofabitch that outed him and Buck to Mendez was here. Ezra stalked back up the hill towards the power station, intending to make it to the cars beyond. Galvez would be there.
The man responsible.
The man at fault.
The source of his pain.
He needed to see him.
If he could look into his eyes, maybe he could understand.
He needed to understand. He needed it to stop.
Nathan and Josiah had stopped when Josiah's phone rang. On the other end, Buck relayed Galvez's part in the bust.
Josiah's face remained impassive during the call, but Nathan saw his eyes immediately start to search the surrounding area. Jackson waited patiently as the phone call ended.
Josiah exhaled slowly as he put his phone back on his belt clip.
"What?" asked Nathan.
"You won't believe this. Galvez is here."
Nathan looked up to the sky in disbelief. He turned and started walking, Josiah keeping stride right beside him. "We gotta find him," Nathan said.
"Before he finds Galvez," Josiah said. "God, what are the fuckin' odds?"
Buck saw him first. Ezra was walking at a normal pace, but he had a look on his face that was a mix of pain, confusion and hatred. It was a subtle look that anyone who didn't know him very well would miss. But Buck had seen that look before – that night in Ezra's condo between the two of them.
Standish looked possessed.
Buck walked quickly, trying not to garner any attention from the lingering DEA agents, but still needing to get to his friend before he made it to the car that Galvez was sitting in awaiting transport. He came to a stop directly in Standish's path, holding his arms up away from his sides, towards Standish's shoulders, hindering his friend's progress.
Ezra came around the brick building with one thing on his mind: Galvez was here. His gaze landed on the unmarked cars sitting not 40 yards from him. His eyes found their target sitting in the back of the dark blue sedan. He walked with a purpose, his stride calm but determined, and he tried to keep his face impassive. He casually flicked the safety strap on his holster so he could grab his weapon more easily if he needed it.
Then there was an object in his way. He moved to the side, but was unable to pass. He focused on the obstacle.
"Don't," Buck said.
"No." Buck stood his ground. At this point, the others had seen where their two teammates were, and they were converging on them.
"I'm not playing here Buck. Move."
"You don't want to go there," Buck said, holding a finger in front of Standish, almost as if asking him to wait a minute.
"Pretty sure I do," he said, more intent on getting to his destination now that he had been thwarted.
Buck put his hand on Ezra's chest to stop him from proceeding.
Ezra pushed the hand away and shoved Buck backwards. Buck's balance never wavered. The two men seemed to struggle for a grip on one another as arms grasped and released each other in a power play to gain the upper hand. Buck maneuvered them towards the side of the building out of anyone's line of sight.
Someone came up behind Ezra, trying to pull him back from his shoving match with Buck. The southerner's response was far from expected.
Spinning around, Ezra swung his right fist towards his assailant, connecting with an unsuspecting face, sending his 'attacker' to the dirt.
Once Standish's back was turned, Buck wrapped his arms around him from behind and propelled the southerner forward, getting him further around to the side of the building.
Ezra kicked out in a blind panic. He was here. It was happening again.
A foot connected with a shin and Buck yowled as he let go.
Ezra spun, keeping his back to the brick wall of the building, crouched and ready to fend off an attack. Figures danced around him - blurry figures with unclear faces. His heart thundered in his chest, his breathing came in quick pants. Not again. They wouldn't be so lucky this time. This time he intended to fight. The figures came into focus… Mullins. Mendez. Galvez. Emilio.
Not this time.
Vin got himself up out of the dirt, his nose bloody and dripping. JD helped him up and steadied him. Ezra sure could pack a hell of a punch.
"Ezra…" Buck tried.
Ezra had his back to the brick wall and faced his teammates in a fighting stance. The panic and the fear was plain as day, illustrated across his pale features.
"What happened?" asked Nathan as he joined the group. He went to Vin to check his bleeding nose.
"M'fine," Vin mumbled. It sounded like he bit his lip when he was punched. He spit blood onto the ground nearby.
"He just freaked out," JD said. "Now he's looking at us like we're gonna kill him."
"I don't think he sees us," said Josiah.
Ezra was ready. Never again. Never again would he be submitted to the kind of things Emilio had done. He would die first.
'Mullins' moved towards him.
He lashed out violently.
Buck reeled from the kick that landed in his gut, the wind knocked out of him. He knelt down on the ground in a three point crouch and tried to breathe slowly. As his breath started to return, he managed to squeak out, "Fuck."
Why did they wait around like that? No fight he had ever been in had worked out this way. Bad guys didn't take turns. Not that he was complaining. The one at a time stuff only happened in movies and bad TV shows.
'Galvez' waited in the background, looking on anxiously. Wait, that wasn't right. Galvez wasn't there…
'Mendez' inched closer, then stopped.
"Come on you bastard! I'm ready for you this time!" he snarled.
"Come on you bastard! I'm ready for you this time!"
"Ezra," Josiah tried. "Ezra, listen to my voice. Come back to us."
"Careful, Josiah," Vin said nasally. "He still has his gun."
Josiah stopped his approach and tried to see where Ezra's gun was.
"No he don't," Buck croaked from his crouch. He held it up to show them that he had managed to snag it from the agent during their shoving match.
Josiah inched closer.
Ezra moved around like a cornered animal. An angry cornered animal. One that had nothing to lose and everything to gain by defeating his opponent.
'Mendez' moved to his left, so Ezra countered with a similar move to his left, always keeping his face to 'Mendez'. He slowly moved away from the wall, keeping his opponent in his sight.
He was so focused on the man he faced that he left his back open as he moved inches away from the wall.
Chris saw the opening as Josiah moved to his left. Chris moved to the right as Josiah kept Ezra's attention. Chris came up against the wall to Ezra's left and hugging it, slowly made his way towards Ezra's partially exposed back.
This had to stop, and before Ezra accidentally killed one of them.
The feeling hit him suddenly, that of being exposed. He swore his heart stopped as he realized… where was Emilio?
Then he felt his arm grabbed from behind and twisted painfully around and up behind his back.
He threw his head back in a desperate move. He kicked backwards trying to find legs. He clawed with his other hand, trying to find purchase on anything.
He was failing.
"Ezra!" Chris ground out through clenched teeth. He had managed to wrestle Ezra's left arm up and behind his back, but the man kept struggling and was coming close to getting loose.
In a move Chris had never in a million years thought he would have to perform on one of his own men, he shoved Ezra into the brick wall and pinned him there with his own body. Ezra's right hand was trapped between his own torso and the wall. Chris got his legs in between Ezra's and pushed them apart, keeping the man from kicking backwards and hitting him.
"Josiah," Chris barked out between panted breaths. "Make sure no one is on their way over here."
Josiah hesitated a moment before turning to go around the side of the building and make sure that no one walked into their situation.
He was failing. Emilio had him. He was going to cut him, again.
His heart almost escaped his chest as his face hit the wall and his arm was pressed further up between his shoulder blades. He felt his legs part, and he realized he couldn't fend off his attacker.
"We're not done yet," Emilio's voice said in his mind.
Ezra threw his head back.
Chris only just managed to get his nose out of the way when his agent threw his head back. Even with his quick reflexes, Ezra managed to make contact with the blonde's cheekbone, sending flesh into his teeth within his mouth.
"Son of a bitch," Chris growled.
He twisted the arm tighter, partly out of fear and partly out of anger. How had it gotten to this?
"Chris," Nathan was shouting from next to Vin, who was still dazed. "You'll pop his shoulder!" The concern was clear in his voice.
"And then you'll fuckin' fix it!" he shouted back, not looking. It was time to end this.
Standish was still panting and thrashing, his muscles in his neck clearly straining in the attempt to get free. Chris could feel the muscles in Ezra's arms continue to try to push back and fight.
He was pinned. He was trapped. He was bested.
He had failed again.
Standish strangled a sob as he thrust his own head toward the wall. Chris immediately moved his right hand to hold his agent's head still against the wall.
Ezra released a growl from deep in his throat that grew into a sound of pure frustration and despair.
Chris breathed deeply, then spoke as calmly as he could. "Ezra, stop."
Ezra pushed one more time, as if trying for one last chance at being free.
"Ezra, I need you to calm down," Chris pleaded, not letting up on his grip. His own muscles were beginning to quiver from the strain of holding his struggling agent.
Standish released a shuddering breath, ending in a strangled sob.
Then he went lax, his muscles finally giving up their fight.
Chris was suddenly unsure if Ezra was even going to be able to stand if he let him go.
"Is he ok?" JD asked Nathan.
"He will be."
"Ezra," Chris said, removing his hand from his friend's head. He could see now the tears that ran down his face.
"Not again. Please. Not again," he pleaded quietly.
"Nathan," Chris called over his shoulder. Nathan made his way over to the two men. "I'm gonna slowly let him go. I want you near."
"No, I think it stayed."
Chris slowly removed his weight from Standish. Ezra's right hand was freed and slowly came down to his side. Chris slowly untwisted the left arm from his back. Ezra started to slump down, and Nathan stepped in to turn him so his back was against the brick. Chris and Nathan eased him onto the ground.
Ezra's eyes were screwed shut, his face tormented. Nathan squatted down next to him and started talking calmly to the distraught agent.
He could hear the voices. He could. But if he opened his eyes and it was some sort of cruel trick… if somehow Emilio's face was there but Chris's voice came from the mouth, he was sure he would just roll over and die. He couldn't bring himself to open his eyes. He breathed deep shuddering breaths.
"You all right?" Buck asked Chris as he backed away from Ezra and Nathan. Wilmington held Standish's gun in his waistband, and held his arm around his tender midsection.
"I haven't had to do that since…" he let it hang, his voice trailing away.
"I know," Buck said, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder.
Chris blew out a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair and then down his face.
"Says it all, don't it?"
In one last bit of strength and hope, Ezra opened his eyes. He expected that face of his nightmare to be smiling at him, pleased at its own evilness. When Nathan's kind, sympathetic eyes met his, he closed his again immediately. It was too real. Too real.
He was losing his mind.
Nathan continued to talk to Ezra. He seriously doubted that Ezra was hearing what he was saying, but he hoped his voice would have a calming effect on his friend.
Ezra opened his eyes again, this time with more recognition in them. He looked at Nathan and blinked slowly.
"It wasn't real?" he asked hoarsely, closing his eyes.
Nathan shook his head. "No, Ezra. It wasn't real. Whatever you saw wasn't real."
"It felt so real." He opened his eyes and looked around at his friends. Vin's lip was puffy and bloody. Buck held a protective arm to his midsection as he talked to Chris nearby. Chris had a haunted look in his eyes as he glanced over towards him. JD stood near Vin, keeping his distance and giving space to the southerner, while keeping an eye on Vin.
"Josiah?" Ezra asked.
"Went to make sure we didn't have an audience," Nathan said. He no sooner finished speaking and Josiah came around the corner.
"Welcome back," the big man said, looking down at Ezra, still sitting on the ground with his back against the wall.
"Everything ok over there?" Chris asked.
"No worries. Cars are gone. Just the cleanup detail left. We're free to go as soon as we're ready."
"Can you walk?" asked Nathan.
Ezra stretched his leg out in front of himself. "I think so. They feel like jelly."
"You were fighting pretty hard," Nathan replied.
He was fighting like hell. Buck remembered Vin saying that at the warehouse. He shook his head sadly.
"Let me help you," Josiah said, leaning down and helping Ezra to his feet.
"How about you?" Nathan glanced at the Texan.
"I'll live. I've had worse." He dabbed his lip with his sleeve.
The battered members of ATF Team Seven made their way back to their suburban and got in.
JD, who had been fairly quiet up to that point, chewed worriedly at his lip. Ezra looked at him, easily spotting the tell. "What is it, JD?" Ezra asked.
"Just ask," Ezra said, somewhat peevishly.
"What were you trying to do?" he asked tentatively. He knew it really wasn't the time, but he just witnessed one of his friends seriously snap.
Ezra took a deep breath and blew it out through his nose. He knew everyone wanted to know what, in fact, he thought he was doing. "I wanted to see."
"See what?" JD pushed.
"And do what?" JD continued to push.
"I don't know," he replied tiredly, closing his eyes. Josiah started the truck and pulled away.
The ride back to the Federal building was made in silence.
They trudged back to their desks. Everyone was spent. Fuck inter-agency cooperation. Fuck fresh air and exercise too.
Ezra pulled out his bottle of Advil and dry swallowed two. He then wordlessly tossed the bottle to Vin, who caught it with ease and took out two pills for himself and tossed the bottle back. It was as much of an apology as was needed.
Nathan caught Ezra's eye, and motioned towards his watch. Ezra glanced at the time. It was 3:15. His appointment was at 4. He nodded at Nathan.
Focusing on his computer, he pulled up his email. He wrote a short one line email and sent it to Nathan. Will you come with me?
He stared at the screen, waiting for the response from Nathan, sitting only a few feet away.
His email alerted, signifying incoming mail.
He opened it. Of course.
Five minutes later, they both wordlessly started to gather their things. Ezra's email alerted again. He opened it, seeing it was from Vin.
Just to let you know, I just got word from a friend of mine that they have Galvez in the building here, on the third floor. If you want to see him, you could. I understand why you want to.
Ezra looked up at the Texan, who just nodded at him.
Nathan and Ezra exited the elevator on the third floor and made their way towards the room Galvez was being held in for questioning. Vin had made arrangements for Ezra to see Galvez, using a cover story that the man matched the description of a suspect that the ATF had wanted to question in connection to another case.
Ezra walked into the observation room with his normal look of indifference. He greeted several of the officers holding Galvez in a jovial manner.
When the door to the observation room closed softly behind him and Nathan, his look of indifference fell. On his face he wore a confused, contemplative look. He watched the little man sitting at the table in the other room. He was short and old, his skin sagging under his chin and making his Adam's apple a lost feature. The sun spots on his face and balding head starkly contrasted with his gray tufts of hair. He wore thick glasses that continued to slip down the bridge of his nose, and he squinted even through the prescription.
The man who had outed him and Buck, the man who Ezra was sure was a pure kind of evil, looked like nothing more than someone's sweet old grandfather.
Galvez stared at the mirror in the room, knowing full well that it was a two way. Ezra stared back, looking in the man's eyes. The man responsible. The man behind all of his pain. The man, who he was sure if he looked into his eyes, he would understand the evil that had been perpetrated against himself, and could go on with his own life.
And looking at the sad little man, Ezra realized that he didn't understand. Not one bit.
After several minutes, Nathan walked over to his friend staring through the observation window. "Ezra?"
Ezra took a breath but didn't look at Nathan. He jutted his chin slightly in answer.
"Let's go," he said softly, laying a gentle hand on Ezra's shoulder.
Ezra blew his breath out his nose, and nodded slightly. He then took another shuddering breath, and turned and headed for the door, his friend at his side.