azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Ulterior Motives
Rating: PG
Warnings: Strong Language, violence and drug use.
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
AU: ATF
Main Characters: Ezra, and the rest.
Summary: When Ezra is informed of the death of a friend, he finds out that there is an ulterior motive behind it.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Notes: This story takes place two months after 'The Betrayal' and refers to that story. Lenny Hoskins is my creation.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 37,801



Ezra Standish stepped off the elevator onto the seventh floor of the ATF building, the bright fluorescent lights that beat down on him from the ceiling didn't help his headache, a mixture of too much alcohol, a late night and early morning caused his head to ache in a way it hadn't for quite a while. He adjusted his jacket and prepared himself for the normal early Monday pleasantries, he still couldn't understand why some people could be in such a good mood at eight thirty on a Monday morning, and it was beyond his boundaries of understanding. It would be Vin's office that he passed first, the ex-bounty hunter was usually quite but for some reason he went out of his way to be loud on this particular day of the week, they all did. He picked up his pace hoping to pass the always-opened doorway before the quiet man would see him. But as usual, lady luck was refusing to be on his side.

"Morning Ezra!" Vin called out to him as he passed his office, he smiled at the response.

"You don't have to tell me twice." He muttered loud enough for Vin to hear.

He groaned and hung his head when he saw Buck and JD heading towards him, there was no way out of this dreadful predicament, he would have to face them and hope his death would be quick, or better still theirs. He could usually take a lot from these two and give back just as much and usually more but not today, he didn't need their youthful humor not after the way his day had so far been. And it was still only eight thirty five in the morning. Maybe he could take a very long lunch break and leave early.

"Hey Ezra." JD smiled at him, his young face showing the knowledge of what was about to happen, he brushed his dark hair off his face and stood back to enjoy the moment.

"Nice to see you so bright and early Ezra and only half an hour late." Buck slapped his back causing the southerner to put his right foot forward so he wouldn't fall flat on his face, his morning coffee spilled onto the carpet.

"It would be nicer if I didn't have to see your ugly face at this ungodly hour of the day!" Ezra retorted he placed the coffee into his right hand and wiped his still burning fingers on Buck's shirt; the older man ignored this or didn't notice.

"You’re just jealous because this handsome face," he wiped the moustache that grew with the smile as it lined his cheeks, "gets more girls than you do."

"Whatever!" Ezra pushed his way pass them, he was grateful that the worst of it was over. God he hated Mondays.

As Ezra continued on past the potted plants that lined the walls, he noticed that they needed watering; the damaging air-conditioning seemed to dry them out quickly but he knew the business that hired the plants out weren't due in until the end of the week. The plants would have to suffer for another five days, they would survive, they always did, and he just hoped that he survived this day.

And he knew it was not going to be a good day. His alarm clock had broken that morning; it didn't help though that he had thrown it against the wall. An older woman had done her best to entice him into her car when he had left the coffee shop that he stopped at every day on his way to the office; he politely refused the offer then told her what she could do with it and now this. Every day greetings that had to be made every day. Why couldn't you just say hello and goodbye once, it wasn't as if you were never going to see the person again.


Then there was the meeting they were going to have at nine to discuss the present case, he would have to explain why he wasn't getting any results. They were trying to bring down a man named George Merchant for smuggling firearms into the country and so far, Ezra had nothing on him, he had been able to get close to the man by pretending to be a buyer but so far, he hadn't accepted Ezra's offers to take the firearms off his hands. He knew the man didn't suspect him of being an undercover agent because if he had Ezra knew he wouldn't be on his way to his office, he would either be dead or recovering from a serious wound that had been inflicted upon his person on the off chance it would kill him.

The next office was Nathan's but it was unoccupied, he continued on hoping the same empty peaceful space would occur in Josiah's office but he was to be disappointed, it not only held Josiah's large form but also Nathan's, he had to put up with two greetings at once.

"Good morning Ezra." Josiah and Nathan spoke together.

"No it's not!" He didn't mutter this time but made his feelings known to the two men who continued to smile at him through the doorway. He sneered back at them then headed to his own office at the end of the hallway.

He finally reached the small office and the tension began to leave his body as he entered the small room and made his way around the desk and sat in the large comfortable leather chair and began to alleviate his caffeine addiction. He looked over the top of the foam coffee cup and he saw the picture frame that hung on the wall next to his office door. It had been positioned in such a way that he would always see it, the dark wooden frame was still the only piece of homely furniture in the office, it stood out against the stark white walls. The picture had been given to him after the undercover operation to flush out a rogue agent had gone wrong. Seven men filled the photo; one of the faces was his own. The present had been their way of saying welcome to the family. The group photo made him think about Lenny, he would never have gotten through that nightmare without him. He hadn't spoken to him for a couple of weeks, his old friend and mentor was working on a case that had taken him out of town. His location had been a secret and even Ezra, a fellow Federal Agent, couldn't be informed of it.

"Ezra!"

"Good Lord." Ezra moaned, the voice and tone was unmistakable, he wasn't even going to get to finish his coffee.

"I'm waiting!" Chris, the leader of the elite group yelled out once more to his agent.

"How does he even know I'm here?" He asked himself aloud.

Ezra reluctantly pushed himself out of his chair and away from his comfort zone then headed towards what he knew to be the danger zone. He grimaced at the amused faces that watched his death march to their leader's office. He stopped just before he reached the door and took a deep breath, and then after putting on his poker face he entered the much larger office.

"Morning Ezra." Chris smiled up at him; he motioned to one of the two chairs that sat in front of his desk.

Ezra sat in the one that was closest to the exit that led to freedom, he didn't offer a reply to the greeting, he knew it was an in-house joke with the group; they went out of their way to make Monday mornings worse for him.

"How has your day been so far?" Chris enjoyed seeing the younger agent when he was riled. Too often his poker face hid what he was really feeling and his calm demeanour hardly ever allowed them to see a different side to him these days so on these sort of occasions they all made the best of it and got as much enjoyment from causing the southerner's feathers to become even more ruffled as they could.

"The first hour and thirty minutes have been worse than hell and it's getting even more disastrous as each minute passes. Some woman even had the nerve to proposition me this morning?"

"And you turned her down?" The smile continued to grow on Chris's face.

"She was my mother's age!" Ezra grimaced and sunk lower into his chair. "Are we going to get to the point of why I am here Mr Larabee?"

"Just wanted to say good morning and ask how your day was." Chris looked down at his paperwork to hide the huge smile that creased his rugged features; he knew that Ezra would now be throwing him a look that would kill a normal person. "And to remind you about the meeting."

"So you just wanted to make my morning even more miserable?" Ezra couldn't believe he had to go through this routine every Monday, did these men never grow up, and do they not tire of playing these jokes on him.

"Yeah something like that Ezra." Chris lifted his head and smiled up at the now standing figure. "I needed a bit of cheering up and well," he shrugged his shoulders, "sometimes you just make it too easy for us Ezra."

"Now that you've had your fun can I go?" Ezra sarcastically asked him.

"Are you ready for the meeting?" Chris knew that Ezra was becoming frustrated with the case, he wasn't getting anywhere with it and he fully blamed himself for the failure.

"Yes I am." Ezra said carefully.

"It's not your fault Ezra." Chris looked him in the eye hoping to see some sort of reaction that told him his agent believed his words but his calm facade hid everything.

"There is no other reason to explain why he isn't willing to sell firearms to me." Ezra explained.

"Yes there is, we just don't know it yet." Chris waited for a response but he didn't get one. "Go and finish your coffee Ezra, you look like you need it."

"Not that it's still going to be warm." Ezra muttered to himself as he left the office. "Mondays, why do we even have to get up on Mondays . . .?”

"What was that Ezra?" Buck asked him as he passed the smaller man on his way to the photocopying room.

"I said you were butt ugly!" Ezra continued into his office, ignoring the smirk on Wilmington's face, he fell heavily into his chair and silently groaned. "Could this day get any worse?" Ezra now worried that he was actually going to get an answer to his question so when his phone rang he practically jumped out of his seat.

"Standish!" He growled into it, challenging the person on the other end just to try to make his day worse.

"I take it you haven't been told yet?" The strange voice asked him.

"Told what? And who the hell are you?" Ezra didn't recognise the male voice, the tone was even, the voice soft but he could tell the person was mocking him.

"You'll get an answer later, I'll call back then." The line went dead.

His day just got worse and he wondered for a moment if Buck was playing one of his practical jokes but didn't think he would go that far. He decided to let it go for now and if they did ring back he would confront Buck about it and if the practical joker had nothing to do with it, then he would begin to worry about it. He pushed the uninformative phone call to the back of his mind and tried his coffee; he spat the cold mouthful back into the cup.

"Come on Ezra! Chris and the others are waiting." Vin had already called to him once on his way to the meeting room but the Federal agent had ignored him.

"It's not even nine o'clock yet Tanner!" Ezra retorted.

"I beg to differ there Ezra, look at your watch." Vin smiled at him and walked away.

Ezra looked down at his silver banded watch and saw that it was nine, five minutes after actually, which meant he was late for the meeting he had arrived thirty minutes early for, where the hell did the last twenty minutes go. He swore under his breath, this day just kept getting worse. After the meeting he was definitely, going back home to bed, but a long stiff drink would be even better. He grabbed the Merchant case folder off his desk and quickly walked to the conference room.

He entered through the open doorway and left the thick wooden door open, he ignored the watchful glares that followed him to the chair next to Larabee, and it had been left empty just for him. He looked at Chris then quickly diverted his eyes.

"You get here early and you’re still late." Chris smiled at him. "I thought you were prepared?"

"I am, I was distracted by one of Wilmington's practical jokes." Ezra looked across at the man who had a look of pure innocence on his face.

"Buck?" Chris raised his eyebrows at him.

"Wasn't me." He denied as he raised his arms in a gesture of surrender, he would have to ask Ezra what had happened then find out who had done it so he could congratulate him; it was a gifted person who could distract Ezra.

"Let's just get on with it shall we." Chris leaned back in his chair and motioned for Ezra to begin.

"I have another meeting with Merchant on Wednesday at ten, I will give him an ultimatum, and if he doesn't take my offer then I'll leave." Ezra explained. "I have word that no one else wants to take the weapons off his hands, so if I make him think that I won't either he may change his mind. It might take him a few days but I'm sure he'll come around."

"And you’re sure he doesn't know you’re undercover?" Chris asked.

"There's been nothing to indicate such a discovery." Ezra shifted in his seat, his usually calm facade had been affected by the phone call, if it hadn't been arranged by Buck then who it was and what was he to be informed of. "He would have tried to affect my disappearance by now if he had knowledge of my treachery."

Chris nodded. "JD?"

"Nothing on surveillance to show that he knows who Ezra really is, hasn't even talked about him." JD shrugged.

Chris looked towards the open doorway when a phone began to ring. "JD go and get that will you." he ordered the youngest agent of the group.

"I'll give it until the end of next week Ezra, if he doesn't show his hand by then, there isn't much more we can do." He saw the flash of guilt that appeared in the southerner's eyes. "You did what you could Ezra, you can't win them all."

Ezra bit down on the retort that wanted to retaliate against the hidden blame that he knew was aimed in his direction, the agent could feel everyone's eyes on him, he knew his own eyes were showing what he was feeling so he put his poker face back into position and nodded at his boss.

"Hey Ezra it's for you, some FBI guy on your phone." JD announced as he walked back into the conference room.

"He has a name Mr Dunne. Lenny, remember! And I expect you to give him the courtesy he deserves next time!" Ezra growled at him as he pushed himself out of his chair and walked towards the door.

"Ezra it's not Lenny." JD informed the retreating back but Ezra hadn't heard him.

Chris stood up and followed the angry agent out of the room; he was going to talk to him in private after he finished the phone call. He waited and watched him through the doorway; he kept his distance so Ezra could have the privacy he required.

Ezra stormed into his office, his mood already lifting at the thought of talking to Lenny, he could confide in him, tell him anything, he trusted the man with his life and emotions; it was something he was yet to do with the other six men he worked with. He picked up the phone and began to pace the area that was restricted by the phone cord, unaware that he was being watched by the group's leader.

"Lenny where the . . . “He was interrupted by the other person, his pacing also stopped, he now stood with his back to the open doorway. "Agent Thompson, yes I remember, you’re a friend of Lenny's." He felt his stomach turn, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. "Has something happened to Lenny?" Ezra listened as his world broke apart. "How do you know it's him?" It was barely a whisper but the man in Atlanta heard him. "Are you sure? . . . God no . . . he can't be . . .”

Ezra dropped the phone, then he dropped, his legs no longer supporting his weight, the back of his head hit the desk on the way down but he didn't register the pain, he was in shock, he didn't even hear the concerned voice's that called his name or the gentle hands that tried to get his attention. He didn't hear Chris take over the phone conversion, he was in shock. Ezra drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, hugging himself, hoping that it was all a dream but it wasn't. He didn't even realise he had begun to shake.

"Nathan!" Chris saw the phone fall from Ezra's hand, it swung on the short cord that stopped it from hitting the ground, and then watched as Ezra's knees buckled before he followed the phone's example. He ran into the office and dropped to his knees next to Ezra, he felt the others run into the office behind him.
Nathan ran out of the conference room, thinking that Chris had done something to himself but he saw the dark clad man running into Ezra's office, it was only a matter of seconds before he joined Chris at Ezra's side.

"What happened?" Nathan asked.

Chris ignored him and grabbed the phone. "This is Agent Larabee, who the hell am I talking to?" he listened to the short introduction. "Do you mind telling me what you just told Ezra . . . because at the moment he's sitting on the floor not responding to any of us that's why?" His face paled as he listened. "Oh God." he turned around and looked down at Ezra. "You're sure? . . . How? . . . What happened?" he knelt back down and watched Ezra's face; he knew exactly what his friend was going through. "I'll call you later for more details, I want to take care of Ezra first . . . yeah I will . . . thanks."

"What?" Vin asked Chris when he hung up the phone; he saw the pale colour of his complexion and knew something was seriously wrong.

"Ezra?" Chris ignored those around him, his concentration aimed directly at Ezra. "Ezra?"

Ezra was beginning to find it difficult to breath, he could feel tightness in his chest, his breathing quickened, his vision was also becoming blurred, and he couldn't understand what was happening. He wanted none of this, all he wanted to do was go back to this morning and start the day over; he knew things would happen differently.

"He's hyperventilating." Nathan noticed Ezra's rapid breathing and the grimace of pain that crossed his face, he had put his hand against his chest, he sat down in front of him and used his large hand to take the southerner's chin, and he lifted his face so their eyes would be level with each other's. "Try to calm down Ezra and breathe normally." Nathan felt Chris lean towards him and heard the words that were whispered into his ear. He kept his shock to himself; he needed to stay in control so he could get Ezra to calm down. "You're not alone Ezra, where here for you, we'll help you." He watched as the smaller man's eyes finally focused on him. "Try and breath normally . . . that's it Ezra . . . you’re not going through this alone Ezra, we'll be here for you . . . that's the way Ezra, take in a deep breath, that's it. Better?"

Ezra's mind finally registered the voice that spoke to him, the words telling him that he wasn't alone; he concentrated on his breathing and felt the tightness leave his chest when his breathing levelled out.

"Nathan . . . he's dead . . . Lenny's dead."

"I'm so sorry Ezra." Nathan didn't remove his hand from Ezra's face.

"Someone killed him . . . he . . . he . . ." Ezra looked away from him, he couldn't look at Nathan anymore, he pulled away from all of them and withdrew into himself and built his wall back up making sure that it was even thicker than it usually was.

"Ezra?" Chris called to him again. "Shit!"

"What happened Chris?" Josiah asked him, his heart had sunk with Ezra's words, none of them had really liked the arrogant Federal agent but they had put up with him because of the special relationship he had with Ezra. Hoskins had been the closest thing Ezra had to family, more so than his own mother. They were like brothers and now the only man that Ezra could actually talk to; to share his feelings with was dead, murdered. And what hurt Ezra hurt them.

"Later Josiah." Chris didn't look at him, he continued to watch Ezra, and he knew he was shutting them out.
"Nathan?"

Nathan was also watching Ezra, he had seen the thin trail of blood that ran down the back of his neck, he turned the southerner's head towards Chris and used his fingers to probe the small cut, and a lump had already begun to form.

"He must have hit his head when he fell." Nathan told Chris when he showed him his blood covered fingers.

"Should we take him to the hospital?"

"No, it's not serious, we should just take him home, and I can stop at a chemist and get him something to help him sleep." Nathan told him.

"You can't get sleeping pills without a prescription Nathan." Vin spoke but even he didn't take much notice of what he said, he had to say something to try to break himself out of his own shock. He was actually saddened by Hoskin's death and he knew how it would affect Ezra, Lenny had once told Chris that Ezra had loved him like a brother. Ezra would be devastated, and the man never showed his emotions which was only going to make it more difficult for him to cope with his friend's death.

"Natural relaxants Vin, a few will do just a good a job as a sedative." Nathan informed him

"I'm fine Nathan." Ezra whispered but still didn't look at anyone.

"You're not fine Ezra and you’re not going to be for a long time, now let us help you." Chris looked into the green eyes, there were no emotions, but he knew there would be, Ezra would be feeling numb at the moment, but later the realisation of Lenny's death will hit him and that's when he was going to need them the most.

"Come on Ezra, where taking you home." Nathan began to pull him up but needed Chris's help because Ezra wasn't willing to give him any assistance.

"Home?" Ezra looked over his shoulder at Nathan.

"Don't worry Ezra, we'll be there with you, we're not going to leave you alone." Nathan assured him.

They guided him out of his office past the pale faces of his friends and towards the elevator, Chris and Nathan holding an arm each supporting the southerner's weight. Ezra continued to walk on shaky legs, oblivious to the two men who helped him walk or the men who followed them.


________________________________________

Nathan sat in the back of Chris's dodge, Josiah was on the other side and Ezra was in the middle, their own large frames making him seem even smaller. Vin sat in the passenger side in the front and Chris drove, it was a thirty-minute drive to Ezra's townhouse apartment and during the entire drive the southerner didn't say a word, his eyes stared at some distant sight that only he could see. No one was looking at the scenery that sped by, Chris's eyes were on the road but he occasionally glanced into the rear-view mirror, only seeing a small part of Ezra's face, the others watched the southerner constantly.

Chris parked the black dodge in the quiet street, he left the garage empty for Ezra's jag, JD was following them in it, and Ezra hadn't given any of his normal protests about the younger man driving his car. Buck was also following but was going to stop at the chemist in the Denver Memorial hospital on his way and get the relaxants that Nathan wanted for Ezra.

Nathan gently pulled Ezra from the car and led him towards his front door, Chris, Vin and Josiah followed them up to the vine-covered entrance. Chris pulled out the door key that he'd removed from Ezra's key chain and opened the front door. He turned on the light to illuminate the darkened hallway and stepped aside so the others could enter the neat townhouse. As they walked through the apartment they couldn't help but notice that the unpacked boxes still cluttered up small areas of the apartment, Ezra still hadn't unpacked them.

Nathan took Ezra into the kitchen and sat him down at the table; he then went into the bathroom to get the small medical kit he knew was there. The younger agent always took care of his own injuries when he could; he had always refused the caring attention that other people offered him. Chris and Josiah sat down, each taking a seat next to the younger agent so he would know that someone was there with him. Vin leaned against the kitchen counter and watched his friend knowing the inner turmoil that was going on inside him; there would be a torrent of emotions that he wasn't willing to share with them.

When Nathan returned he began to carefully clean the abrasion on the back of Ezra's skull, it had only been small but bled as though the wound was larger, part of his shirt's collar was now stained an ugly red. He heard Ezra's quick intake of breath when he applied some antiseptic to the wound.

"Sorry Ezra, I'll be more careful." The only answer he received was a barely perceptible nod of the head. At least he was listening to them; he just wasn't ready to respond to them.

They heard the door open, and tensed up until they saw JD's familiar face; the young visage was full of concern and worry. He joined the others at the table and quickly glanced at Ezra, he wanted to ask how he was doing but knew it would be a stupid question, and he could see how he was doing. His friend was being torn apart inside and it seemed like there was nothing anyone could do to help him.

Josiah continued to watch Ezra's profile; his head hung low, his eyes staring at the table in front of him. The larger man put his hand on Ezra's shoulder and squeezed it in an attempt to offer the young man some comfort. His hand moved from his shoulder when Ezra didn't refuse the touch and found its way to his hand, Josiah gripped it and held on when he wasn't pushed away. Chris followed Josiah's example and put his arm around Ezra's shoulders, it was an awkward thing for him to do but he had to put his own feelings aside and think about Ezra.

The silence that hung in the air like a shroud was broken when another entrance was made into the two-bedroom apartment, Buck noisily made his way up the hallway looking into each room, he didn't know where they would be, and he found them gathered around Ezra in the kitchen. The four chairs at the table were already occupied so he handed Nathan the purchased relaxants and joined Vin at the counter.

"Some water please Buck." Nathan leaned over the table towards Ezra. "Ezra?" He waited patiently until the slumped head lifted and the green eyes returned his gaze, the emerald orbs were glazed over. "I'm going to give you something to help you sleep Ezra . . .”

"I don't want to sleep Nathan; it's in the middle of the day." Ezra muttered then returned his staring eyes back to the empty kitchen table.

"You're in shock Ezra. I want you to get some rest." Nathan informed him.

"Shock, I haven't suffered an injury Nathan." Ezra's voice had become a whisper as he remembered the phone call he had taken, the other Federal Agent had told him that Lenny Hoskins was dead, that he'd been murdered.

"Not physically Ezra but emotionally you’re in shock." Nathan took two of the pills out of the packet and took the glass Buck handed to him.

Ezra thought about it for a moment, maybe sweet oblivion wasn't such a bad idea, he wouldn't have to continue living this nightmare and maybe when he woke up he'd find out that it was all a dream after all. The darkness the pills would supply could stop him from feeling the emotions that were boiling inside him, they wanted to escape but he held onto them with a death grip, he wasn't going to break down in front of these men. Yes, they were his friends but he wasn't comfortable showing that side of himself with them, they weren't like Lenny, he had never judged him. The man had meant more to him than life itself, he was the only person he could confide in, to tell his secrets and fears and now he was gone. Some Bastard had taken him from him. He wanted to forget so he took the pills and swallowed them with the help of the water.

"They'll take about half an hour to work Ezra." Nathan didn't think he would have taken them so easily.

Ezra began to feel uncomfortable under the scrutinising gazes of the six men who stayed close to him, the room was beginning to close in on him, and he needed to get away from them. He got up out of the chair and slowly made his way to his bedroom, he sat on the bed and placed his elbows on his knees, his hands held his face, hiding it from the person who followed him into the room.

Chris sat down on the bed next to him. "Ezra, I know there's nothing we can say that will help you or make you feel any better but I want you to know that we're here for you. When you’re ready to talk about it we'll be ready to listen."

Ezra nodded his head but it was only a small nod, his hands restricted the movement. Of all the men in the group Chris was the one who knew how he was feeling; the man's own family had been murdered five years ago and he was still suffering from it. He wondered if he would still feel the same about Lenny's death in five years time or even then, he knew he would, Lenny was a person he would never forget.

"I need a shower, might help me relax." Ezra quickly got off the bed and walked into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. He leaned against the door and slowly sunk to the floor, the tears already flowing from his eyes, he wasn't able to hold them in any longer, and he broke down and allowed them to continue.

Chris knew exactly what Ezra was doing but he wasn't going to disturb him, he leaned against the door and listened. He just wished Ezra would allow them to comfort him instead of shutting himself away from them.

The door that separated him from Ezra physically was just as thick as the wall he was using to keep them away emotionally. Chris waited for fifteen minutes before the noise began to settle down, and then softly knocked on the door.

"Ezra?" Chris leaned his forehead against the door; the coolness of it against his skin was comforting as he tried to control his own memories of his wife and son's deaths. Watching and listening to what Ezra was going through was bringing it all back to him.

"I'm fine . . . I'll be out in a minute." Ezra told him, he wiped the tears from his eyes and pushed himself up off the floor, he was beginning to feel numb again. His chest and stomach ached with the emotional outburst. He looked into the mirror at the face that looked back at him; his cheeks were damp and his eyes bloodshot. Ezra turned the cold-water tap on and washed his face then dried it with a towel. The blood shot eyes were still there but there wasn't anything he could do about that. He took in a deep breath and left the bathroom, he kept his green eyes downcast so Chris wouldn't see that he'd been crying but he knew he was stupid to think the older man didn't know it already, his tears hadn't been silent.

"Let's get you into bed Ezra, those pills should be working soon, don't want you falling asleep on the floor."

"I can get myself to bed." Ezra told him, he sat down heavily on the bed and pulled his boots off, he got into the still unmade bed he'd been forced out of early that morning when the alarm clock and gone off. He pulled the covers up over his shoulder and made himself comfortable on his right side. He could feel his muscles relaxing and then become heavy, his eyelids closed. Ezra didn't fight the feeling, he wanted to sleep, he didn't want to feel anything or think about what had happened. He could hear his own breathing and concentrated on that, after a few more minutes the welcoming darkness took him into its embrace.

Chris watched, as Ezra seemed to relax, then fall asleep, he waited for ten minutes to make sure then pulled the cover back, he carefully removed the jacket, gun, and holster and tie that Ezra had forgotten about and undid the first couple of buttons on his shirt. He placed the covers back over him then left him to sleep.

The dark clad leader of the group walked back into the kitchen and sat down at the table, he took the coffee that was offered to him and began to tell the others what the Agent on the phone had told him. "Agent Thompson said that Lenny was found in his burnt out car," he let the knowledge that Lenny would have been in the same condition sink in before going on, "after the first initial post mortem examination they found a bullet wound to his skull."

"What makes them think it was Lenny? If the body was burnt they wouldn't have been able to identify it." Vin asked him.

"Lenny was working on a case here in Denver; he went missing a few days ago. They found the car outside of town; the make and model matched the one he was using. There was a metal prosthesis in his left elbow, apparently Lenny had one surgically inserted six years ago after a gunshot wound shattered his elbow."

"What sort of prosthesis?" Nathan wanted to know.

"He didn't say, I'll ring him shortly and get some more information."

The phone in the lounge room began to ring. Chris rushed into the room and picked it up before the noise had a chance to wake Ezra.

"Larabee." He announced into the phone.

"I want to talk to Standish." There were no introductions from the other end.

"He's not available. Who am I speaking to?" Chris could feel the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand up; there was something wrong with this phone conversation.

"I tried him at the office but he wasn't there, none of you were and I take it that because you’re at his home that he's been told about Hoskins." The tone informed Chris that the caller on the other end was actually smiling.

"Who the hell is this?" Chris growled into the phone. He watched as the others walked into the room to find out what was going on.

"Why, I'm the man who killed Lenny Hoskins." There was a pause of deathly silence. "I'll call back tonight. I want to speak to Standish, no one else."

Chris heard the click of the disconnection when the caller hung up, the phone was still held against his ear, and the meaning of the words was still sinking in. Whoever killed Lenny was after Ezra, there was no other explanation for the phone call.

"That was someone claiming that he killed Hoskins." Chris told the men who had gathered in the lounge room.

He didn't look at them, his blue eyes were staring at the phone as though an image of the man who had been on the other end would appear in his mind but he heard the muttered curses, the sound of escaping air also reached his ears when someone sat down on one of the two comfortable sitting chairs. The man's words kept repeating themselves in him mind. He wanted to talk to Ezra, that meant he was either going to try to hurt him emotionally by telling him what he did to Lenny or he wanted something from him. He shook his head in frustration, Ezra didn't need this, wasn't it bad enough that he had to suffer from the death of a close friend, now he was going to have to deal with the person that had caused his loss.

"What did he want?" Buck asked him.

"He wants to talk to Ezra, said he'll call back tonight." Chris answered without turning to face them

"Are you going to let him?" Josiah looked over his shoulder at the closed door that hid Ezra's sleeping form; his own head hung low at the thought of what the young man was already going through.

"If I don't he'll find another way to talk to Ezra." Chris's words echoed what everyone was thinking. "I want us to be here with Ezra when he does, he's going to need us, but I know he's also going to refuse our help so we'll have to do it without him knowing it."

"So we're going to be ready for him then." It was a statement from Buck not a question, he knew there was nothing they could do to prevent the hurt that this man wanted to cause Ezra, all they could do was be there for him and protect him physically, if he would allow them to that was.

"Yeah," Chris finally turned to face his men, their expressions telling him that they too were ready to do anything to protect Ezra. "You and JD go back to the office, get everything you need, I want this phone tapped, twice if you can do it, also Ezra's car and mine, I want a wire in the coat that he was wearing today and one in the beige coat that's hanging on the back of his bedroom door." He took a deep breath then let it out; his shoulders fell back down as the air was released from his lungs. "After Ezra talks to this guy he's going to want to go after him and he'll try and do it without us, he's too slippery so I want to be prepared for when he does get away."

"When! You mean if?" Nathan pointed out his mistake.

"No Nathan. Ezra's to good, even for us, it'll be when." Chris assured him with a slight smile playing on his lips but he didn't feel any humour to go along with his statement. "Buck, JD get going and get back here as soon as you can."

________________________________________

Chris sat in the chair that faced Ezra's bed, he hadn't been able to sit in the outer rooms with nothing to do but wait so he decided to spend the time that he had to wait for Buck and JD to return watching Ezra as he slept. He had regretted the decision but couldn't remove himself from his vigil. Each time he looked at the man in the bed he was reminded of what he was going through, these thoughts brought back his own bitter memories, a nightmare that he had begun to end through the friendship of the other six men on his team. But the nightmare had returned and he was concerned that it would get in the way of what he needed to do to help Ezra; he couldn't allow himself to dwell on his own past. Ezra needed him now but each time he tried to force the feelings to the back of his mind and think about Ezra, the pain and guilt came back with a vengeance.

He was about to stand up and leave the room when he heard the gentle knock on the door, he quickly looked towards the bedroom door and it opened to reveal Josiah’s concerned face. Chris was grateful for the distraction.

Josiah stepped into the room when Chris turned away from him, he had seen the emotions crossing his face, they weren't hidden, the normal control that Chris had was faltering, and he was going through his own family's death all over again. He moved to the bed and sat down; he looked down at Ezra's peaceful expression then leaned forward and wiped the Southerner's cheek with his hand.

"He's going to go through hell isn't he?" Josiah spoke quietly.

"Yeah, it's going to be even worse for him because he won't let us help, he's not going to talk to us about it."

Chris muttered as he looked down at his crossed ankles. He couldn't look at the two men; it was even harder to look at the sleeping form that was in a reprieve from a torrent of emotions that could eventually destroy the Southerner if he didn't deal with them.

"What about you?" Josiah turned his caring gaze towards Chris. "This must be bringing back a lot of painful memories."

"You’re right, I want to run and hide from Ezra but I can't, I have to push what I'm feeling aside and help him." Chris admitted.

"Could be an opportunity for you to deal with your emotions Chris, if you push them aside you'll be doing the same thing that we expect of Ezra. You should use those feelings to help yourself and Ezra to get through this."

"I wouldn't know how to Josiah." Chris returned the larger man's stare.

"You wouldn't know how to help yourself or to help Ezra." Josiah smiled at him.

"Myself. Ezra I can help, I can protect him from physical harm and help him deal with the emotional side of this but only if he'll let me help." Chris told him.

"We'll all help him Chris." He looked back at Ezra. "He won't have a choice in the matter."

"Uh huh." Chris nodded, his eyes also turned to Ezra.

The next few minutes of silence was deafening, each man no longer knowing what to say to each other. Their eyes continued to watch the sleeping form and the thoughts of what Ezra was going through continued to plague their minds. They held their breaths when they heard Ezra take in a quick breath then roll over on to his stomach. When he had released the air, he was holding in his lungs Josiah moved closer to the smaller man and adjusted the blankets around his new position.

"What did the Judge say?" Chris remembered that he had asked Josiah to call him and explain what had happened.

"He agreed with you, thought it would be best to put the Merchant case on hold for now. Vin's going to contact Merchant's man and tell him that Ezra's changed his mind but will contact him later if he decides to buy after all." Josiah explained.

"It's what we were going to do anyway if Merchant didn't bite on Wednesday." Chris nodded his head.

"Yeah but Ezra won't be too happy about it." Josiah warned him. "Even with what he's going through he's still going to think he let you down."

"I'll just have to convince him otherwise." Chris stared at the slack features of his undercover agent.

For some reason Ezra took it upon himself to take full responsibility for any failures in an operation. Chris knew that Ezra wanted to prove to himself more than the rest of the team that he could be trusted. What had happened with the FBI made him feel that he would never be trusted again, only one man had believed him when he denied the rumors of being on the take. Everyone had lost their respect and trust for the undercover agent and Ezra had not been able to work under those conditions. His superior had put him behind a desk and told him that it was for his own safety, that if people didn't trust him they may not back him up but Ezra knew the truth, he was sitting behind a desk because they didn't trust him. They thought he was bent and would not risk their own lives by working with him. If it hadn't been for Lenny Hoskins Ezra probably would have ended up doing what his mother had trained him for all his life. To be a con man who worked on the wrong side of the law.

Chris had needed the best undercover agent there was and when someone had mentioned Standish's name he put out feelers in regards to recruiting him. Chris had only found out recently that Hoskins had grabbed hold of those feelers and didn't let go until his superior agreed to the transfer. When he first met Ezra, he knew there would be a clash of personalities. The man was disillusioned with his job and the people he worked with, the FBI agent had expected the same sort of treatment from the small group of men that made up the ATF team that he had been transferred to without his knowledge until after the fact. The Southerner had even run out on them on their first case together but he returned, Chris had been angry but he understood the reasoning behind the abandonment of his team and gave the agent another chance. He had seen the immediate change in Ezra's eyes and the man had proven himself to the rest of the team on each operation they had undertaken but he was still trying to prove himself, and he was taking risks in doing so.

But then they had almost ruined everything with their reactions to an undercover operation that Ezra had taken on to capture ATF agents that had gone bad, it had nearly cost him his life and his friends. Again, if it weren’t for Lenny Hoskins Ezra would be somewhere else now. Chris had hated Ezra's friend with a passion that burned within him, the man had been arrogant since the moment he met him and for some reason he enjoyed aggravating him. He had reminded him of himself for a moment but he threw that idea straight out the window, he had wished that he could have done the same thing to the agent. But he had to admit that the man had something when it came to Ezra, they had been close, and they were like brothers. He had saved the friendship and the team even though he didn't like any of them; he had done it for Ezra because he knew that his young friend belonged with the small family that made up Team 7.

But now Lenny Hoskins was dead, murdered and Ezra was devastated, the only emotions he had displayed had been hidden behind a door where no one could see him or reach out to him to help the tormented man through his emotions. Chris wasn't going to let that happen again. Ezra needed help and he was going to give it to him, things weren't going to be like before, they weren't going to allow him to deal with any of this on his own. Chris knew he would refuse their help, he would push them away and when he'd finally realise that they weren't going to leave him then he would use his words and anger to hurt them thinking that his treatment of their feelings would keep them at a safe distance. He would be wrong.

A second knock on the door brought the leader back from his thoughts.

"We've got everything set up." Buck informed Chris but he was looking at Ezra, the sympathy and concern wasn't hidden behind a false facade, he was going to let Ezra see how he felt. He had caused Ezra a lot of hurt the last time and he wasn't going to do it again. "Just have to do Ezra's jackets." He reached around the door and grabbed the coat that hung on a hanger that was attached to a hook; he caught the one that Josiah threw at him. He nodded silently then closed the door behind him.

"We'll wait until he's finished then I'm going to call Agent Thompson and get some more details from him."

Chris leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, it was a way for him to stop looking at Ezra without Josiah knowing it.


________________________________________

Chris put the phone in speaker mode so everyone could listen to the conversation that was also being taped. He dialled the number to the FBI Agency in Atlanta; he waited several seconds before it was finally answered.

"This is Agent Larabee, could I speak with Agent Thompson please."

"Can I ask what's it in regard to please Sir." A soft female voice demanded in a less than pleasant tone.

"Don't know why she bothered with the please." Buck muttered under his breath.

"It's in regards to the death of Agent Hoskins." Chris kept his patience.

He heard the ugly sound of music and knew he had been put on hold; his patience just began to run out. He hated being put on hold.

"Agent Larabee?" A male voice made itself known to the agents that crowded the table where the phone had been placed.

"Thompson?" Chris wasn't sure.

"Yes. How's Ezra doing?" Chris heard the concern in his voice, he was surprised, and he had thought that Lenny was the only friend that Ezra had in the agency after the rumours had started. "Agent Larabee?" The voice called to him.

"Not so good, we sort of have him sedated at the moment." He informed him.

"They were close." The voice was solemn.

"I take it you were also Agent Thompson?" Josiah asked him.

There was a pause on the other end and Chris filled it quickly. "I have you on speaker phone, Ezra's team is here, I didn't want to have to repeat everything and besides they might think of something that I haven't asked."

"Sure that's okay; it was the question more than the new voice. Yeah we were close but Lenny and Ezra was like family." There seemed to be hesitation coming from the Agent. "Larabee, I have something to tell you and I think you’re going to be pretty pissed off by it, I know I was. If they had told me everything I wouldn't have even called Ezra, he wouldn't be going through this now. It's my fault. When he wakes up and you tell him what I'm about to tell you, can you also tell him I'm sorry and if he wants to call me he can, I'd like to talk to him."

"Sure. What's going on?"

"I don't even know if it was Lenny in that car." Thompson waited for the shock to wear off.

"What do you mean?" Chris asked him while he kept his anger in check.

"I only got the preliminary report, a full examination has been completed and I only just finished reading the report that was sent to me. I'll give you the main details and then like me you can keep your fingers crossed."

"Were listening." Chris told him.

"The car was Lenny's, we mark them so when this sort of thing happens it's easy to identify. The body is something different, it was burnt beyond recognition but like I said before there was a prosthesis, they were able to make out part of an item number on it, an agent chased it up with the manufacturer, now here's the interesting thing, it was only made four years ago . . . "

"You said that Lenny had his inserted six years ago." Nathan repeated the information.

"That's right, there's something else, and all of the victim's teeth were removed." Thompson continued. "So there's a few things to think about. One, they didn't want us to identify the victim and they didn't know about the prosthesis. Two, Lenny had another pin inserted into his elbow four years ago without our knowledge. And three, this is the one that I'm leaning towards, they wanted us to think it was Lenny, they removed the teeth because it would take us longer to identify him, the fact that the prosthesis isn't old enough also indicates that they would know we'd eventually find out it might not be him. Once they check the skull and pelvis bones they might be able to determine the victim's age but that's going to take a while and if Lenny is still alive then we haven't got much time."

"I agree and I'm glad to know that we're dealing with someone who knows what they're doing." Chris told him.

"Like I said, Lenny was a friend and I had a problem with Ezra before but Lenny showed me his record since joining your team and I believe his proven himself, Lenny wouldn't leave me alone about it, it's his mission to change everyone's mind about Ezra, I was the first. I want to help him as well as Lenny."

"Then I'm going to be honest with you Thompson, the killer has tried to contact Ezra, I spoke to him earlier and he's calling back tonight, wants to talk to Ezra and no one else."

"Do you have any idea why he wants to do that?" The agent asked.

"No, he hung up but we've got everything tapped, including a couple of Ezra's jackets, his car and mine and two taps on this phone." Chris explained to him, he wasn't really angry at the agent on the other end of the line, he had been given incorrect information and without knowing it did, what he thought was right by contacting Ezra.

"Where exactly was the car found?" Josiah asked to change the subject.

"Ten miles outside of Denver on the I98 highway, the car was found in a clearing that was within sight of the road, couple of guys doing road works found it, saw the body and called it in."

"What was the case he was working on?" Chris demanded.

"I can't tell you over the phone, if you can have someone go back to your office, I fax the information to you." Thompson wasn't going to hold back, he also wanted to find out what had happened to Lenny or if he was still alive, he wanted him found.

"You know the number?" Buck asked him.

"Yes, you call me when you get there; I don't want someone else getting this."

"I'll head over there now." Buck stood up and left the room.

"Anything else?" Chris spoke before someone else could.

"No, I've given you everything I have. What about you?"

"Nothing but I'll keep you informed, I call you tonight after this guy speaks to Ezra."

"Thanks." Thompson gave Chris his home and pager number then hung up the phone.

"Some good news for Ezra." Vin grimaced. "Now instead of being an emotional wreck he's going to worry himself sick."

"We can deal with that Vin." Chris couldn't help but smile. "It's a relief but where going to have to hurry, if Lenny isn't dead now he soon will be."

"It also means that someone is going to use Lenny to get to Ezra, you can't let him go off on his own now." Josiah told him.

"You’re right Josiah but like Chris says, it's going to be very hard to stop him, he's been in worse conditions than this and has found a way out." Vin reminded him.

"We'll have to make it look good though so he won't suspect anything then follow him." Chris told them. "In the meantime we work on finding Lenny."





Part One | Part Two


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