The Leak
by Chris J. Ueberall

 

Pairing: Ezra/Buck
Rating: R
Category: ATF, Case Story, Drama, First Time

Disclaimer: The characters from Mag7 belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy. No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.

Summary: Some busts go wrong, and one of the Seven takes the blame.

Notes: Thanx to Lyse for beta-ing. And to Agel for editing and publishing it in 'Diverse Doings 9' (May 2002). This is for Valentine! (You owe me, girl!)

 


Present

Breathing deeply, Buck Wilmington tried to get the fury under control that threatened - again - to consume him. He knew that the man standing on the other side of the room didn't deserve the fallout, was actually the last person to deserve his foul mood, but he just couldn't get rid of the anger. Only looking at the figure which seemed so unimpressed by the whole situation brought it all back.

"You have to let it go, Buck." Having finished putting his clothes away, Ezra Standish slowly wandered towards him. "It's not worth the energy."

"I think it is and I just can't," Buck contradicted. "They have no right to do this to you."

"They believe they have."

"It's just rumors, no proof, you haven't been convicted. Every bastard is innocent until the jury says otherwise - why not you?"

Ezra shook his head, a sly smile crossing his handsome features. "Not every bastard gets the benefit of the doubt, surely not from those in law enforcement who are aquainted with him. And if it was someone from Team Three or a police officer you've never met you wouldn't think about it twice."

The undercover agent had a point there, Buck had to admit that. He tried to imagine his reaction if another ATF agent - one not belonging to his 'family' - had been accused of selling information. He would have been disgusted, angry ... and then he would have taken one look at his Southern friend, remembering the rumors about him, the unfairness of it, and would have waited for proof to come forth.

"I'd wonder if he was on the take, and I wouldn't invite him for a drink, but I wouldn't call him names, threaten him or slash his tires. And if it was someone I thought I knew then I wouldn't let him down until there was any real proof."

Ezra smiled at him. "That's what makes you a better man than most. And I'm very lucky indeed to have you as my friend."

Buck grinned, his anger vaporized. "You deserve only the best. And it's me who's the lucky one."

With that he bent down and kissed the smaller man, who responded eagerly. Arms came around Buck's bare waist, stroking his back, drawing him close.

Buck groaned, pressing his body against his lover. He let his own hands roam freely over the silk-covered back, mapping the well-shaped muscles beneath it. Without losing contact, they made their way to the bed, and Buck let himself sink onto it, drawing the Southerner with him. For some time they just lay there kissing and caressing each other. It was enough, but it was also a clue to how weary they both were, how stressful the day ... the whole week had been.

Buck marveled at Ezra's strength, knowing that the undercover agent had gone through all of this once before - alone. Cast out by his own team, thrown to the wolves. It must have been ten times worse than what was going on now, and Buck wondered how he had survived it. But it explained a lot about the Ezra that Team Seven had first encountered. It also showed what powers of healing a little trust and love had, and Buck would be damned before he let any slimeball's scheming destroy what thirteen months of friendship had built.

Rearranging their positions, so that he was now partly lying atop his friend, he nuzzled at the Southerner's ear, cheek and neck before looking up and whispering: "I love you."

Pale green eyes sparkled up at him and a gentle hand caressed his mouth. "Having you here with me makes this whole situation bearable," Ezra said with a smile. "And no matter the outcome of this ... play, I will never regret it, because we wouldn't be together otherwise."

Buck had to admit that Ezra was right; the accusations, Chris' behavior, the whole set-up had forced him to reveal his feelings for the undercover agent and unexpectedly have them returned. It was the only good thing that had happened in the last two weeks, but it was without a question outstanding.

"It'll be over soon," Buck stated, rolling aside and pulling the bedcover over them. "Then they'll all find out what's really going on."

"Yes, the truth will be known," Ezra commented with a tired sigh, "soon." Settling himself comfortably within his lover's embrace he fell asleep almost instantly.

Smiling at the precious man in his arms Buck promised silently that no further harm would come to him, that he would always be there to protect him. Kissing his beloved good-night he followed his example, leaving all worries behind.


Two weeks earlier

Chris Larabee, leader of the ATF division generally dubbed 'The Magnificent Seven', glared coldly at the man in front of him. Captain Don Lertes, Denver police, had been speaking for a while now, repeating again and again what was clearly obvious, and Chris' control was wearing thin.

"The third one in a row. There has to be a leak, Larabee. And it must be in your team."

That last point was new and finally Chris let some of his anger seep into his voice. "And your team is not to question, because ...?"

"Because they didn't know about the bust until this morning. There wasn't enough time for the place to be as clean as we found it. I doubt you could say the same about your team."

Unfortunately Chris couldn't. His men had known about that particular bust for days now. As much as he hated Lertes, he had to admit the man had dug the hole well into which Team Seven just fell.

"Listen, Larabee," the police captain said in a tone of fatherly advice that Chris didn't like at all, "I understand loyalty. But you have to face the truth - there is a leak in your team, and we both know who it is. There have always been rumors about him being on the take."

"And they were just that - rumors." He wouldn't have taken him into Team Seven otherwise, would he?

"Because he's good and there never was any proof. But we know it's true. Now we know. You should acknowledge it before he takes the whole team down with him. Including you."

Since Chris knew that Lertes would have liked nothing better than seeing Team Seven go down, he didn't really appreciate the advice. But he knew when it was time to act.

Suppressing a sigh, Chris turned away from the captain and walked towards his friends, who had clustered around the conference table. Tired and disappointed, they were talking loudly among themselves, not listening to the discussion between the two team leaders.

All - except one.

Green eyes were suspiciously cast his way and it was with a hollow feeling that Chris met this cool gaze with one of his own.

For almost a minute nothing happened, but then the others noticed the staring contest between him and Ezra and became confused. Silence settled around the table. Until J.D.'s youthful voice asked: "What's wrong, Chris?"

Chris felt a heavy weight on his shoulder, but it had to be done. "Everything, if you haven't noticed. Three busts going to hell like that. That's no coincidence. We have a leak. And it is within Team Seven. There is no doubt about that."

The shocked outbursts he had expected didn't come. Everyone was looking at him as if he'd suddenly spoken Chinese, not really understanding what he had said. Again everyone except one.

Buck finally found his voice. "Wait a minute, Chris, what are you saying ...?"

Chris ignored his friend, knowing that he had to get through this speech fast or he wouldn't be able to do it. "And we all know who the leak is, don't we?" He was looking at Ezra again, who looked right back, unfazed by the implied accusation.

"So the time has come," the undercover agent said in a calm and controlled voice. "How do we do it? The civilized way or the more ugly version?"

Chris swallowed, this hurt more than he had anticipated. "Give me your gun and your badge," he forced out, his eyes never leaving the younger man.

"Civilized then. I'm more than grateful." Ezra put the items on the table. "Am I supposed to see myself as being suspended?"

"Damn right you are!" Lertes intervened, his fist hitting the table. "But don't think it stops there. We'll get your slimy ass into prison. I'll see to it myself!"

The only reaction the captain got was a cool green glance that swept his way for a second to immediately return to Chris Larabee.

"You're off duty," Chris answered the question as if there hadn't been an interruption. "Clear out your desk, but don't leave town. And don't do anything foolish. We'll be watching your every move."

"That gives me a feeling of being highly protected and cherished, Mister Larabee. Thank you very much." A sardonically lifted eyebrow underlined that comment, then Ezra got up and without another word or even a look towards his teammates the undercover agent left the room.

Silence lay heavily between the remaining men.

Taking in the expressions of his friends, Chris realized that they were in severe states of shock, though ready to explode, but Lertes' presence held them in check - for now. They didn't want to give the captain more ammunition against Team Seven than he already had, but caution could overcome fury only for so long.

"Lertes ..." Chris started, but the captain didn't let him finish.

"I'll put him under surveillance. I don't think your men should do it." A growl rose from the table and irritated Lertes looked around, finding himself the recipient of five hostile glares. He wet his lips in a nervous gesture, than turned back to Team Seven's leader. "I'll leave now. See you later." And then he made a hasty exit.

Again silence ruled the room, but it was only the silence before the storm. Chris had just enough time to make eye contact with Vin and give him his instructions with a short nod, before the storm erupted.

"You better have a good explanation for this!"

"That can't be true, Chris!"

"How can you do that?"

"Ezra would never ..."

The voices - questions and accusations - ran into one another, overlapping each other, and it was difficult to know who said what. Finally Chris grabbed onto Buck's comment that Ezra would never betray them.

"So you're saying it is someone else from Team Seven? You're volunteering, Buck?"

That stopped everyone.

"Are you sure that the leak is with us?" Josiah asked in a more reasonable voice.

"Unfortunately yes. Lertes has made sure that his team can't be blamed. Hell, I don't like this any more than any of you. But it is one of us. And as much as I hate to say that, it has to be Ezra. He's the only one capable of doing it."

"I still don't believe it," Buck said angrily, his eyes blazing dark blue fire at his old friend. "And I can't believe that you believe anything that slimeball tells you. You'll have to do better than that to make me believe that Ez betrayed us." He looked around for support, and his eyes darkened even more, when he got none. "You can't believe that of Ez! He's a friend!" His gaze fell on J.D. who looked down at the table.

"J.D.?"

The young agent looked up and everyone could see that his brown eyes were filled with tears. "I don't think Ezra would do that, but it can't be anyone else, either. Can it?"

It was clear that J.D. was torn between his friendship with the undercover agent and the deep-rooted faith in his team leader. Coming from anyone else the accusation would have been laughed off, but coming from Chris it shook his world.

"Maybe he doesn't know that he's the leak," J.D. then suggested hopefully.

"With anyone else it's a possibility, but with Ezra ... no way," Nathan replied. "He doesn't give you the time unless he's double-checked that it would be a good idea."

"So maybe it isn't Ezra, but someone else who doesn't know when to shut up!" Buck growled, standing up so that he now towered above the medic.

Realizing that the situation was getting out of hand Chris intervened. "You're volunteering again, Buck?"

This time Buck didn't back down. "Might as well. Wouldn't change a thing, would it? You're already set on Ezra. There's nothing to change your mind now."

"No there isn't. I know it's him. The question is not what he's done, but what we're gonna do."

"Damn you." Buck swallowed hard. "What about you, Josiah? No word of defense for your 'son'?"

The profiler tore his gaze away from Larabee, whom he had watched intensely, and looked towards Buck with an expression of contemplation. "As much as we like to think it's possible, we cannot look into another's mind. The obvious answer might as well be wrong as right. There are a lot of reasons why a man might betray a secret. I guess we have to wait and hope that the answer will be satisfying."

"Bastard! All of you! I'm out of here." Buck turned around, kicked a chair that stood in his way and marched out of the room.

The office shook when he slammed the door on his way out.

"Chris ..." J.D. started, but Chris stopped him with a gesture. "The matter is settled. Nothing will be said about this anymore. And now I'm sure everyone has some work to do."

Quietly the rest of Team Seven left the conference room one by one. If anyone noticed that Vin wasn't among them, he didn't say.

Buck was furious, disappointed and frightened. Furious about what had happened, disappointed in his friends and frightened that he would lose the man he had come to love.

Angrily he hit the elevator button that would bring him to the garage. He prayed that he wasn't too late, that Ezra hadn't yet left the building, but had been delayed by clearing out his desk and locker. Seeing the undercover agent standing next to his Jag, Buck breathed deeply in relief.

"Ez!" he called, unsure what he was going to say.

The younger agent whirled around, almost as if he expected an attack. When he recognized the caller, relief and then surprise flickered over Ezra's face before his usual mask of indifference fell back into place.

"Mister Wilmington." The voice, too, was neutral.

Buck sighed inwardly. The undercover agent seemed unfazed by the situation, as if he didn't care. That was not the reaction you would expect of a man falsly accused, and it wasn't helping Ezra's case along. But that was Ezra for you, never showing his emotions, always giving the impression that everything was all right, that he had everything under control. Even when he must have been dying inside. It had taken some time to see behind the façade that the Southerner had placed around him, but Buck had done it. And he had thought the others had too, though it seemed he had been wrong there.

"Mister Wilmington, why are you here?"

The question brought him out of his musings, and he realized that he was just standing there and looking at the other man, obviously irritating him. "I don't think it was you, Ez," he told his friend briskly. "I know you're no traitor. I'll never believe that."

Pale green eyes widened in surprise. This was clearly not what Ezra had expected. "Well ... I ... Buck ... Thank you." The Southerner swallowed. "The trust is appreciated." An unreadable expression crossed the handsome face, then the mask returned. "Though probably misguided."

"I don't believe that. I know you." It was all Buck could do not to add 'and love you', but he wasn't sure how the other man would react to that.

Ezra closed his eyes briefly, then he seemed to have come to a decision. "What if I told you that it was true?"

That shook Buck to the core. What was Ezra playing at? He couldn't be the leak! But what if he was? Could he have been so wrong about him? Everyone else seemed readily able to believe they had erred, but he couldn't, he just couldn't.

He remembered Josiah's words. Maybe there had been a reason, a good reason for Ezra to tell about the busts. Someone being threatened, maybe? It would be so like Ezra to take the blame rather than tell them or ask for help.

"I see, Mister Wilmington, that has given you something to think about," the undercover agent stated coldly, already turning away from him. "Good ..."

"Doesn't matter," Buck told him. "You'd have your reasons to do it. I know that. And I'm with you, whatever they may be."

Again it were Ezra's eyes that told him that the younger man was totally overwhelmed by his words.

"I ..." The undercover agent swallowed nervously, as if he wanted to say something but found it difficult to form the words. "My reasons might not be noble at all," he finally said. "Your loyalty might be thoroughly misplaced, Buck."

To Buck's ears it sounded like a feeble attempt to push him away, and not at all like a warning. But he considered it nevertheless, only to realize that he really didn't care. Even if the reason for the betrayal was nothing more than greed, it wouldn't change his feelings for the other man. And while it would disappoint him, it wouldn't really shock him. Everyone had a weakness - his was a pretty face. There had been more than one occasion when he had told his love-of-the-week confidential information and it was luck more than anything else that until now nobody had been wounded or killed through his stupidity.

And it wasn't as if Ezra had risked anyone's life. No one had been hurt. Only a lot of working hours had gone down the drain. No big deal.

He shook his head. Excuses - that was all this was. Not so much for Ezra as for himself. And there was no point in this. He had it bad for Ezra - that was the only excuse, the only reason worth mentioning. He never had loved anyone this much before.

Starsky and Hutch or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - it didn't matter as long as he was with Ezra.

"Don't care," Buck said and took a step closer to the smaller man, looking straight into the green eyes. "I'm with you." He knew his eyes revealed his true feelings when a faint blush crept over Ezra's cheeks and a beautiful yet shy smile replaced the mask of control.

For a moment time seemed to stand still and all that existed was him and Ezra. He leaned forward, intending to kiss the smaller man and he saw Ezra swaying towards him, but then the undercover agent caught himself and broke eye contact.

"This is neither the time nor the place for ... this," Ezra said in a hushed, breathless voice. "We should talk about it later." This time Ezra turned around and slipped into his car. "Good-bye, Buck." And then he was off.

"Take care, Ez," Buck whispered, then returned slowly to the elevator. He had a lot to think about.

When he walked into the office he noticed that Josiah and Nathan seemed busy at their desks, while Chris and Vin were nowhere to be seen. J.D. stood beside the coffee-machine, but as Buck sank down at his desk the younger agent came over and handed him a sheet of paper.

Frowning he looked down, it was a note in Chris' writing.

No talk about today in the office or anywhere else.
We'll meet tonight at my place. Make sure you're not followed.

Hope surged through him, followed by fear. It could mean anything. Maybe Chris wanted to give them all a chance to really talk about what had happened, how they felt and how they would deal with it, so that the team would not fall apart over it. Or he just meant to tell them how they would deal with the traitor in their midst. You never knew with their leader.

Buck told J.D. with a nod that he understood and would come. And he knew he would be there. He had to be there, if only to defend and protect his love when no one else seemed to be inclined to do it.


Buck sighed at the sight of the four cars already waiting at the ranch. It seemed he was the last to arrive except for Vin - and Ezra.

He shook his head; of course the Jag wouldn't be here, Ezra wouldn't be here ... but a tiny voice in the back of his mind had hoped ...

Striding into the house, he was surprised to be greeted by J.D. who held a bug detector in his hand and thoroughly examined him. When he got the all clear from his friend he walked directly to the main room, still wondering what this was all about.

Did Chris expect Ezra to have bugged them? But that would mean that their leader thought it was more than a one or even three-time event, that Ezra might actually deal in information. The idea was absolutely ridiculous. They couldn't believe that! When Buck entered the room he was almost boiling with rage.

"About time." Chris' greeting was like fuel on Buck's fire.

"I've just come to kick your sorry ass, Chris! And to give you my badge, too." With that he slammed his badge on the table.

"Buck ..." Nathan's expression was one of disbelief.

"What?" Aggressively he looked at the medic, but it was Josiah who spoke next. "You're furious and overreacting, Buck, you should ..."

He didn't let him finish. "Of course I'm damn furious! I thought you were friends, I thought we were family! All of us! But your loyalty to Ezra was really touching. You could all be Fibbies for what it's worth!"

"That's enough, Buck." Chris' voice was determined, yet understanding, but Buck was too angry to notice.

"No it isn't, Chris, it's not even started. Ezra has proven more than once that he's one of us. How could you leave him to hang? How could you?"

"Because ..." the team leader began, but it was another voice that completed the sentence.

"Because he had no choice."

Buck whirled around, his mind in turmoil as he drank in the sight of Ezra standing just inside the door, J.D. and Vin behind him.

"Ezra," someone said in astonishment, but Buck had no idea who it was.

"Your defense of me is very touching, Mister Wilmington, and I'm forever grateful, but as I said before, your trust is misplaced." With that Ezra entered and nodded towards Chris, who greeted him with a smile, but spoke to Vin.

"You've been followed?"

Vin grinned. "The whole day. But not now. They think Ez is at home sulking."

"I do not sulk, Mister Tanner. The more likely reaction would be to drown myself in alcohol. And that's what it will look like tomorrow."

"Did they bug your phone?" Team Seven's leader asked his undercover agent.

"Certainly. But they won't get anything tonight since I took the receiver off the hook."

Buck finally found his voice again. "What is going on here?" He had a pretty good idea what was going on, but he couldn't quite decide if he liked it or not.

Ezra turned towards him, an apologetic smile on his face. "I am the leak, Buck. It is due to me that our last three busts went to hell. I'm sorry. And I sincerely hope you take your badge back, as I plan to wear mine again when this is over."

"So this is an undercover operation," Josiah stated in a tone that implied that he had already suspected this outcome.

Chris nodded. "Yeah, he did it on my orders. We all knew that the busts would gain us only a little success and I decided we could survive losing them if that meant we got a much bigger fish. Even if this fish isn't exactly the kind we're normally after."

"But why not tell Lertes, why leave Ezra to take the blame? And why didn't you tell us?" Being left in the dark was something that Buck hated with a vengeance.

"Both for the same reasons. Lertes is the fish we want to catch," Chris explained and sat down; the others followed his example. "He gives away information much more important than these busts, and we want him stopped. That's what the whole thing is about."

"Why not tell us?" Nathan repeated.

"We didn't know when the plan would finally come together and I wanted your reactions to be genuine. Lertes had to be convinced."

"But ..."

Chris waved J.D. into silence and continued. "And we expected Lertes to bug the office, our cars or even one of us. He's a professional, he'd make sure to cover his tracks. That's why I couldn't tell you, okay?"

The men nodded.

Buck looked at Ezra, who looked right back at him. He thought back to their conversation at the Jag and realized that a lot of what the undercover agent had said had been meant for the ears of an eavesdropper. Ezra hadn't been able to really speak his mind. Still there had been enough going on just been between the Southerner and him. And he didn't want to take it back.

"The Jag was bugged, by the way," Vin piped in as if he were talking about the weather. "Lertes' men work fast."

At these words Ezra paled a little bit and Buck could read fear in his expression, while he felt his own cheeks darken. Whoever had listened to their conversation had probably also watched them and only a totally oblivious person could have missed his declaration of love.

Buck breathed deeply, then shrugged. He hadn't planned to hide his relationship with Ezra from his friends - if such a relationship ever came about - and when this operation was over everyone else would believe the scene to have been part of the set-up. There was nothing to worry about.

He smiled at Ezra and saw how the fear was slowly changing to astonishment, relief and finally acceptance.

"So, what exactly is the plan?" J.D. wanted to know.

"Oh, that's fairly easy," Ezra began to explain. "Mister Larabee will make it known that I have some knowledge of undercover agents very close to a certain high-ranking villain. And that he is afraid I might sell that information, now that I am in a more-or-less unemployed status and very likely will soon be in need of a lot of money."

"Which villain?" Nathan asked.

"A certain Gregory Cannon. Drugs, firearms, prostitution - you name it, he's in it."

"That information would be worth a lot," Josiah commented and Chris nodded.

"That's what Lertes will figure too. But because of the close surveillance he and we will keep on Ezra nobody will be able to contact Ezra - only Lertes himself."

"How?" J.D. asked.

"By taking me in for questioning." The undercover agent smiled slyly. "He will probably start with threats, but in the end he will offer a bargain, maybe money, probably help to get me out of my predicament. Whatever it will be, it will be recorded and get him hung. And if we play our cards right we might get his villain friend, too."

"That sounds easy," Buck admitted.

"Sometimes simple is the best," Josiah muttered.

"But it leaves Ezra pretty much without back-up, doesn't it?" J.D. wondered. "What if Lertes goes after Ez when he has the information?"

Ezra just shrugged, but Chris nodded and sighed. "I don't like that part much, but we'll have to give Lertes some rope. He needs to get the information and he can't get it too easily or he'll see through it. If it gets out of hand we'll get Ezra out, and leave Cannon be, but we'll have to wait at least long enough to get Lertes."

"Don't worry, Mister Dunne. I'll be all right." The Southerner smiled at the young man.

"How do we stay in contact with Ez?" Vin now wanted to know.

"We don't," Chris said, shocking his friends.

"What do you mean 'we don't'?" Buck questioned.

"Ezra is supposed to be a traitor - it would look a little bit odd if we stayed in friendly contact with him, wouldn't it?"

"But he's only suspected to be the leak - there's no proof. Why should we believe it? He's our friend after all, we wouldn't abandon him." J.D. thought that over for a moment then added, "Some of us, at least. I see that you can't take his side, having set it up and all," he looked at Chris, "but we don't need to agree with you. We didn't, in fact."

"And I didn't expect you to." Chris rubbed his eyes. "Actually I expected you to go ballistic on me for even suggesting such a thing, but ..."

"And we did," Josiah put in, before Ezra could get it wrong and believe that none of them had defended him.

"Yes." Chris nodded. "But after Lertes was gone." He lifted a hand to stop any protest. "I know why you waited. But Lertes doesn't. To him, it looked like you all believed it. And since our office was unfortunately not bugged and neither were any of us, I'm afraid it would look suspicious if someone sided with Ezra now. I admit the plan backfired, but that can't be helped." He looked apologetically at his undercover agent, who shrugged.

"C'est la vie."

Buck couldn't believe his luck, realizing that the scene with Ezra and he would come in really handy now - the whole operation would benefit from it. He turned seriously towards his old friend.

"Uh, Chris ..." he coughed, getting everyone's attention.

"Yeah?"

"You remember me being really pissed and running from the office today?"

Team Seven's leader rolled his eyes at the rhetorical question. "I remember."

"Yeah." Buck smirked. "You know I ran to Ez and kind of told him that I don't believe the crap and will always be his friend."

At that Chris sat up straight and his expression turned feral. "Where did you do that?"

"In front of the Jag."

A grin spread across Chris' face, then it vanished and he threw a Larabee-glare Ezra's way. "And when were you planning on telling me that?"

The undercover agent didn't answer; his expression gave nothing away. But they all knew anyway that he wouldn't have said anything.

"Damn you, Ezra! You knew that I didn't like the whole plan from the moment Travis suggested it, and I only went with it because I thought you'd have back-up. So why didn't you say something?" Their leader bristled with anger and frustration.

The Southerner's eyes darkened at the shouting, but he held Chris's gaze. "I've been through this before, I can do it again. I don't need help. It will be easier being on my own."

"The hell it will! Don't give me that crap, Ezra!" Chris rose from his seat. "You know the other teams, not to mention the police, will think you sold out. They'll treat you like dirt. Some idiots might actually try something! So don't tell me you don't need back-up, because we both know you do!"

Ezra didn't say anything, but his eyes glittered with emotions. His lips were tightly pressed together, as if he was trying to keep something in, but Chris wouldn't have that. He wanted to break through that damned control.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Ezra! Afraid it'll ruin your reputation as a tight-ass loner or what?"

"Chris!" Josiah warned and Buck growled at his old friend, but for good or bad their leader got his reaction.

Ezra jumped up, his eyes burning with ire and tears. "What if I am?!" His hands clenched to fists. "Of course I know what's in store for me! I've been through this before. I know how it's like to be treated like a cockroach, always looking over your shoulder afraid that those who should guard your back will be the ones stepping on you! I know that! It's hell! And I don't want anyone to go through it! Certainly not my friends."

The last was said without any heat, and Ezra's face reflected the weariness in his voice. "It changes you, Chris. It changed me. Please, let me do it on my own. I survived it once, I can do so again."

Chris shook his head. "I can't, Ez," he replied gently, his voice full of tenderness for the younger man. "I know you could do it alone. But you don't need to - that's the whole point. And I want to make sure that there is always someone there to remind you that this is an assignment and not a repetition of your FBI days. Someone you can turn to, someone who will guard your back. You aren't alone anymore, Ez. You just have to accept it." He held out his hand to the Southerner. "Understood?"

Their gazes locked, then Ezra reached across the table and took the offered hand. "Yes, sir."

Chris looked heavenwards but held his tongue. The others smiled at their leader and their undercover agent, relieved that the two outbursts had actually cleared the air and not hurt the group.

"Okay, Buck. You'll be Ezra's contact. You'll come to work as usual, but you'll make it more than clear that you didn't like my handling of the situation."

"Won't be a problem," Buck muttered. He disliked the whole plan.

"And you'll spend as much time as possible with Ezra. The moment you're off duty you're with him. Make sure everyone knows you're supporting him. Most thugs'll think twice before going against the two of you. We'll keep a close surveillance on Ezra, so your backs should be guarded most of the time. But we can't be there around the clock. Try to find a reason to stay at his place as often as possible."

A grin spread over Buck's face. "Oh, I guess I can think of something." He blinked at the Southerner, who just rolled his eyes.

"Good." Chris nodded. "I think you two should talk about how you'll be handling it. Take your time and be thorough." He looked around the table. "The rest of us will see if there's anything edible in the kitchen."

As one J.D. and Vin jumped from their chairs.

"Join us when you're finished." With that Chris turned and left the room, followed by four hungrily cheering men.

Left alone, Buck and Ezra looked at each other, each trying to read the other's thoughts. Taking in the tired appearance of the younger man, knowing how much energy the fight with Chris must have cost Ezra, Buck decided to put talking aside for the moment in favor of action. In one swift movement he stood and stepped around the table.

Pale green eyes looked at him, questioning his intentions.

He smiled lightly, then grabbed the smaller man's shoulder and gently drew him into his arms. There was a short resistance, then Ezra gave in. His head leaned against Buck's chest; his arms went around the other man's waist.

For some minutes they just stood like that, swaying slightly, not talking, not thinking, just enjoying the closeness, breathing in time.

Then Buck chuckled, breaking the spell.

"May I ask for the reason of your merriment?" Ezra asked, leaning back a little to see the taller man's expression without leaving the embrace.

"I just thought that the reason to stay overnight wasn't hard to find." He smirked.

Ezra nodded. "Playing lovers ..."

"Being lovers," Buck clarified.

"Being lovers will justify any visit of yours, that I have to admit," Ezra said, "but do you realize that the surveillance teams will talk about it? And I don't mean our friends. You might never live it down, Buck. Being a gay cop is one thing. Being the friend of a ... traitor another. But being my lover is bound to get you in trouble. I don't want that. You might lose friends over me."

Running a gentle hand along the troubled face of the man he loved, Buck wondered what words would ease his friend's worry. "As I said before, Ez, I don't care. Those who have problems with it aren't my friends. And anyway, the only people who really count are in that kitchen over there, and I'm sure they won't mind. I admit I didn't exactly plan to broadcast my feelings for you over the radio, but when it comes down to it I don't care who knows. I love you, and if someone can't deal with it then it's their problem not mine ... or yours."

At the mentioning of love Ezra stiffened in his arms, and Buck could see the emerald eyes widen.

"Love?" the Southerner asked.

Buck nodded. "Yes, love. I love you. Have for a long time now. I told you at the Jag."

Ezra shook his head. "You didn't. You never used that word."

"It was implied, Ez. I wouldn't change to the dark side for anything less."

"The dark side?" the undercover agent echoed, then smiled. "I have to say that was the most intriguing declaration of love that I've ever heard and believed. And although I know that in the end your honor and sense of justice would stop you from following me to the dark side, if I really were inclined to fully go that way, I must admit to feeling the same. I ..."

"You're saying you love me too, right?" Buck interrupted. Usually he loved the way the Southerner wielded his words, but at that moment he just wanted to hear one short sentence, containing only three or maybe four words.

Ezra laughed out loud. "Yes, that's what I'm trying to tell you. I love you, too, Buck. I love you with all my heart."

So it was actually more than four words, but Buck didn't care. He smiled broadly, then bent down and kissed the smaller man.

Wearing a similar smile, Ezra welcomed him, and soon the intensity of the kiss swept away any thoughts as well as worries or doubts. They were a match and they knew it.

Standing in the doorway, Chris grinned at the tableau in front of him. He had hoped for this outcome, had hoped that this assignment would be good for one thing, at least.

"A dangerous game, Chris," Josiah whispered into his ear. "We could have hurt Ezra badly."

The team leader swallowed. "I know. But I had ... faith in us. In our group. Buck always claims we're a family. I trusted in that." He turned around and grinned. "And it worked, didn't it?" he asked, slowly pushing the taller man away from the door.

Looking at the two men still kissing and obviously lost in each other, Josiah nodded. "Yes, it worked. Thank God for that." Smiling contently he allowed Chris to drag him back to the kitchen - for this night at least, everything was all right.


Present, two days later

"I'll kill him!" Buck growled and slammed his fist against the wall of the surveillance wagon, making everyone jump, except for Team Seven's leader, who was close to mirroring the action.

Taking a look at the shocked and angry faces of his friends Nathan shut off the speakers and put on the headphones. The assignment wasn't going as planned.

"If the bastard touches him one more time I ..."

"That's not helping, Buck," Josiah intervened, pointedly looking at Buck's raised fist. "It's not helping Ezra."

"But sitting here, listening to him being beaten up and raped does?" Buck had only spoken aloud what everyone had been thinking; it was like a bullet striking through all their hearts.

"Ezra won't let him do that," J.D. whispered into the following silence. "He'll fight him off."

"Ez is cuffed, he's alone with a man double his weight, alone on the other's turf, in a soundproof room. I doubt he can fight him off," Vin contradicted.

J.D. blanched, while everyone else looked angrily at the sharpshooter. Vin didn't blink. "Just stating the facts. He won't get out of this on his own. We'll have to get him."

"If we walk in now, Lertes will know that it was a set-up. He'll find a way to weasel himself out. Ezra did good, but Lertes can still turn everything around by saying he was just testing him. Until he gets in contact with Cannon the whole tape proves nothing." Chris had his hands clenched in fists and his whole being radiated disgust at his own words, but he was the leader; it was his job to point that out.

"So we let him go on so that the tape at least proves that he's a pervert? It's Ez in there, damn you!" Buck's eyes flashed blue lightning at his friend.

"I know that!" Chris shouted back, grabbing the other man's arms. "But do you really think we should blunder into that scene and blow the whole assignment wide open? After all what Ezra's been through to get it this far? Do you think that Ezra would want that?"

That brought Buck's raging mind to a halt. Chris was right; Ezra had been through hell to spring this trap on Lertes; he would expect them to see it through to the end, but ...

"We're not talking about a little roughing-up here. You heard that slimeball. He wants Ezra, and he'll take him by force if he fights. Even Ezra won't see that as an acceptable risk in the line of duty. He needs us; we can't let him down."

"Besides Lertes might find the bugs if he ... paws at the wrong places," Vin reminded them.

Chris nodded. "You're right. Damn!" Now it was Chris' turn to demolish the van. "I should never have agreed to this whole thing!"

"You couldn't know what would happen," Josiah stated reasonably.

"Still, I ..."

"We don't have time for this, Chris," Nathan interrupted, pointing at his headphones. "He's beating him again."

"Lertes threatened that he'll tell Buck that Ezra's a crook if he doesn't cooperate or tells someone later," Vin piped in, holding the second set of headphones to his ear. "Sounds as if he's going for his pants now."

As one Buck and Chris stormed to the door, but suddenly Josiah stood, stopping the latter. "Let Buck go alone. This way it might seem like a very worried lover looking for his partner. We might still get the operation done as planned."

"Lertes won't let Buck just leave with Ezra. It's his police station after all, and he took Ez in for questioning officially," J.D. pointed out.

"That's why we'll go too, but it'll look as if we were after Buck, trying to stop him doing something stupid, not as if we came for Ezra." Chris grinned a deadly smile. "Go, Buck. Save your lover. We'll make up the details on the spot."

But Buck had already left.

Buck ran all the way to the building, but once inside calmed himself long enough to charm the information he needed out of a middle-aged police secretary, who believed the ATF agent to have urgent business with the captain and pointed him towards the interrogation room.

There he encountered a detective who knew who he was and wouldn't let him through.

"Tell me that my friend has an attorney with him and I'll just stay here and do nothing," Buck said, trying to not sound as frightened and angry as he was. He wouldn't have a reason to believe anything happening to his lover - at least not anything as ugly as was actually going on.

The detective didn't lie, but tried to explain. "Standish isn't under arrest - no need for a lawyer."

"If there's no need for a lawyer it means he can go whenever he wants to. I'll just ask him if that might be now." And with that Buck sidestepped the man and with three large strides was at the door and opened it wide.

He didn't need to act surprised or shocked. Theoretically knowing what he would barge into hadn't prepared him for the scene. Ezra lay on his back in one corner of the room, his feet in the air busy kicking at Lertes in an effort to hold the man at a distance. A closer look revealed that Ezra's shirt was slightly torn and that his trousers had been pulled down to his thighs.

Lertes was sporting a bloody lip and scratches on his cheeks, but all Buck saw was the opened pants.

For a second every action in the room froze. Then rage consumed Buck and broke his paralysis. With a roar he attacked the police captain, fully intending to kill him.

On a normal day Lertes might have been a challenge, but right then Muhammed Ali wouldn't have stood a chance against Buck.

Buck grabbed the man and slammed him against the wall, then threw him onto the table, which broke in two under the onslaught. Not giving the police captain a chance to react, he pulled him up again and rammed him against another wall. Only when Lertes sagged in his grip, obviously unconscious, did he let go.

Ignoring the detective who carefully walked around him towards his captain, he turned away from his prey and went to his lover.

"Ez?" he questioned.

"Help me, please." Ezra was struggling to sit up and pull his trousers back up to his waist.

Buck helped him, then set him on his feet. When Ezra hissed in pain and swayed slightly, he drew the man closer to his side, steadying him.

"You all right?" Buck asked.

"I'm not sure," the undercover agent said between gasps. "He hit me several times; right now it hurts to breathe, not to mention moving."

"I'll get you to a doctor." Buck was worried, for Ezra to admit he was in pain the pain had to be bad. Carefully he led the smaller man towards the door, but the policemen standing there, seeing the battered wreck of their superior, wouldn't let him pass.

"You'll stay right here, both of you." This came from the detective who knelt at Captain Lertes' side, leveling his gun at Buck. "You attacked a police captain. You'll lose your job over this."

"You'd better worry about your own job! Your boss abused a fellow lawman while you looked the other way. The question will be asked how many innocents have been treated that way and who knew about it and always turned a blind eye."

"He's not an innocent, he's a crook!" the detective said defensively.

"He's innocent until the jury says otherwise. I don't see a jury here, do you?" Ignoring the weapon Buck made a move as if to go, only to find himself and Ezra facing three more guns.

He growled at the policemen blocking his way.

"My friend needs a doctor, and you'd better be prepared to shoot an ATF agent if you think you'll stop me from getting him out of here."

"Put the weapons down at once!" A voice laced with authority and menace could be heard over the crowd and then Chris Larabee and Josiah Sanchez filled the suddenly free doorway.

"Buck?" the leader of Team Seven asked sharply, apparently asking for an explanation while in truth wondering how Ezra was doing.

"He beat Ezra pretty hard, Chris. I was just giving him some of his own medicine."

As if on cue Lertes groaned loudly, announcing his return to the living. Sending a disgusted look towards the captain, Chris then nodded and stepped into the room to let the lovers pass.

"Nathan is outside. Let him take a look, then we'll get Ezra to a hospital."

"But ..." the police detective started, not happy with how things were going.

"But nothing," Chris interrupted. "Listen closely, Mister. Nobody hurts one of my men and gets away with it. No one. Is that clear?"

"But he's ..."

"What part didn't you get? He's still one of my men, no matter what's said about him. Team Seven will deal with it, and only Team Seven. Understood?"

A Larabee-glare let the detective swallow what he wanted to say; he just nodded and then looked away to concentrate on taking care of his superior.

"Tell that to Lertes too," Chris said by way of leaving and with Josiah in tow left the building.


"I'm all right, Buck, really. It just occured to me that it would be a good idea to sound mortally wounded on the tape instead of barely hurt," Ezra explained for the fifth time since being bug-free.

Naturally it hadn't saved him from the trip to the hospital, as Ezra had certainly known that it wouldn't, but it was an obvious attempt at normality, for which Buck was thankful. Of course he didn't actually believe it.

"He beat you, Ez. And I know you're in pain. You won't leave here until the doctor says you're all right."

"But ..."

"The doctor cleared him," a well-known voice said by way of greeting and Ezra looked up at Chris with an expression of pure gratitude. "Doc says Ezra's just bruised and has two broken ribs. Certainly very painful and he shouldn't walk around, but no reason to stay here any longer and make the staff's life miserable."

"I could have told you that. Actually I did, several times, in fact. Why would you believe a perfect stranger, but not me?" Ezra wanted to know, grabbing his shirt and putting it on.

"Because the doc gets paid for knowing things like that, while you just get paid for getting things like that," Buck commented.

"The logic of that statement fails to ..." Ezra started, but stopped when Josiah walked in.

"Something happened?" Chris asked alarmed.

Josiah nodded. "Lertes made a call to Cannon. He seemed in a hurry, probably scared of what Ezra might tell us and what we might believe."

"And we have it on tape?"

"Yes, all of it. The wonders of modern technology - not even a public telephone booth is safe anymore. J.D. did a very good job with the new equipment." The profiler smiled.

"Good." Chris grinned. "We nailed him."

Buck, too, was delighted. "That means it will be over soon."

"It will still be several weeks until we have Cannon as securely wrapped as Lertes," Ezra reminded them and Chris nodded.

"You're right. But as far as you and Buck are concerned, it's over."

"What?" There was a hint of panic in the question and Chris hastened to assure the Southerner.

"Both of you will vanish for the next few weeks. Officially we'll tell everyone that we've put you somewhere secure where you can't harm any operations. But at the same time, we'll spread a rumor that Buck took off with you and that we're just trying to cover him."

"And what will be the truth?" Ezra inquired.

"Vacation," Buck said with a smirk. "You and me and a beautiful place and weeks to relax and ... do other things. It'll be better than Christmas!"

"Really?" The undercover agent looked questioningly up at his boss.

Chris nodded. "You've done more than enough. And I'm sorry I put you through it."

"You didn't force me into this assignment. Actually, if I remember correctly, you were against it. I, on the other hand, practically volunteered, so there is no reason to feel guilty over it." Ezra smiled lightly. "And there have been compensations for the discomfort."

Looking from Ezra to Buck and back Chris grinned and smiled. "I'm happy for you two."

"So am I," Josiah added, "and the others."

At that the Southerner looked slightly shocked. "I've expected that both of you had ... realized the nature of our relationship, but do I have to understand that the others know too?"

"We all know, Ezra. Buck's not that good at hiding a secret," Josiah said gently.

"I was never trying to keep it a secret," Buck piped in. "I didn't think I needed to."

"So it won't cause a problem?" Ezra asked looking at their leader. "What about the fraternization rules?"

Chris shrugged. "Hell, Ez. We're all close to each other. There wouldn't be a Team Seven if I took those rules to heart. And if problems arise we'll face them together. That's what friends are for." He smiled at the younger man, then turned to Buck.

"We'll leave you two now so that you can start on your escape plan. Your car is clean and so are your clothes. Make sure you're not followed and everything will work out fine." He smiled at the lovers, then followed Josiah to the door.

"Chris."

Ezra's call stopped him and he looked back.

"You were right. It made a difference," the undercover agent said earnestly. "I never forgot that it was just an assignment. I always knew you'd come when I needed you. It wasn't hell, it was just a bad dream and you know, once you're awake nightmares tend to be gone."

Swallowing heavily Chris nodded. "Take care," he told his friends, then left.

"So where are we going?" Ezra wanted to know, while reaching for his jacket.

"To a wonderful secluded place where I plan to have my wicked way with you," Buck answered, taking the jacket from his lover to hold it open for him. "It'll hurt less this way," he explained.

"A shining knight and a gentleman, what more can anybody wish for?" the Southerner asked rhetorically as he slipped into it.

The comment reminded Buck of the scene in the interrogation room and he became serious. "How are you really?" he inquired, turning the smaller man to face him.

"I'm all right. You heard what the doctor ..."

"I don't mean your ribs," Buck interrupted. "What about the rest? Lertes nearly raped you, for god's sake!" The anger he had felt earlier came back with a vengeance. "I wanted to kill him. I would have if he ..."

"Buck!" Ezra's voice broke through his rage. Gentle fingers caressed his cheeks, outlined his mouth. "Nothing happened. Or at least nothing that a long hot shower and a very good lovemaking with the man I love won't cure."

One hand wandered to the nape of Buck's neck and drew his head down into a kiss.

"I knew you would come and rescue me," Ezra said quietly when they broke apart. "I admit I really didn't like the indignity of the situation in which you and that detective saw me, but that's mostly my hurt pride speaking. Believe me, this was nothing. He didn't get far. I, on the other hand, got some pretty nasty kicks in. I bet that he won't bother anyone with his ... libido for at least a week."

Despite his worries Buck had to grin. "I'm shocked. Didn't think a gentleman would do that."

"A gentleman wouldn't," the Southerner agreed. "But a damsel in distress might and at that moment I felt a closer affinity to that role than to the former."

"A damsel?" the taller man echoed amused.

"Definitely a queen," Ezra deadpanned, and both of them laughed out loud, though the undercover agent stopped himself, when his ribs protested to the movement.

"You're evil," Buck said finally. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

"You've been saying it all the time, lover."

The answer warmed his being to the core. "That's a good thing, because you deserve to hear it around the clock. I love you." And with that he swept the Southerner into another kiss, actually lifting him from the ground for a second, mindful of the broken ribs.

"You don't need to get too deeply into the damsel in distress angle of the story, Buck. I can take care of myself and I'm not a woman." There was a warning note in Ezra's tone, but a teasing glint in his eyes, so Buck didn't really feel chastized.

"But can we hang on to the knight in shining armor part? I always wanted to be a knight," he asked. "Sir Buck Wilmington, protector of widows and orphans, hunter of dragons and virgins ..."

"Stop that at once!" Ezra ordered. "Laughing hurts." His voice became soft. "You'll always be my knight, though we might have to work on the shining armor part."

Buck smiled lovingly down at the undercover agent. "Then let's follow tradition and do what they do in fairy-tales.

"Meaning?" Ezra asked.

"After beating the bad guy, the hero takes his beloved and together they ride into the sunset to live happily ever after."

"Sounds like a good plan to me," Ezra agreed. "Let's get started."

"As you wish," Buck muttered, grinning widely as they walked to the door. Hand in hand they sneaked out of the hospital towards their furture, never noticed by prying eyes.

THE END

21/25 December 2001

 

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