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Five Days in April|
The first time Vin Tanner woke that night it was to a pair of green eyes that glowed a soft welcome as Vin felt his own face break into a smile.
"What are you doing here Ez?" Vin's voice was whiskeyed honey as his efforts to sit up were thwarted by two strong hands urging him back down against the firm mattress. "Not that I'm complaining or anything." Vin added with a wicked grin as Ezra covered his lips with his.
"That's a relief." Ezra Standish chuckled softly moments later as he drew back a few inches. "I'd hate to think that I wasn't welcome in my own home and my own bed anymore."
"Our bed Ezra. Our bed, our home."
Their eyes locked as Ezra nodded. "You have no idea what it means to me to know that you're here." Ezra's voice was shakier than he intended as his exhaustion and fatigue caught up with him. He exhaled slowly. "I just wish that I could spend the night here with you but I only managed to break away for a little while. If I'm gone all night they'll get suspicious." He stared at his partner for a long moment. "I shouldn't be here but I needed to see you. Needed to touch you. Needed to know that you miss me as much as I miss you."
"God Ezra, of course I do. These last few weeks have been hell. Not knowing where you were. Not knowing if you were okay or not. I think Chris is about ready to kill me if I ask about you one more time." With his finger he traced the dark circles under his lovers eyes. "I don't care who Travis owes a favor to. This is the last time you go this deep undercover. Damn the DEA. This was supposed to be an easy in and easy out. It's been six weeks."
"Well we all know what they say about best laid plans Vin...." Ezra drew a hand through his midnight black hair and fingered the scruffy beard he'd grown for this job. "It will be okay. It's just taking longer than we thought it would for me to find out who the Gambino Family's contact in the DEA is and how they're smuggling their stuff into the states." Ezra sighed in frustration as he began to unbutton his shirt. "I feel like I'm walking on eggshells with this one Vin. The old man is crazy like a fox and his boys are crazy like just plain insane. I think they're beginning to trust me but they're not telling me anything and every room in that estate has locks and security codes. Makes me wish I paid more attention to JD when he goes on about breaking codes."
A shadow crossed Vin's face at the worry in his partner's tones. It didn't match with the usual air of confidence the undercover agent wore like a second skin. God knew Ezra had his share of insecurities, but none of them related to his ability to do his job.
He watched as Ezra sat on the side of the king sized bed they had purchased when they had first moved in together last month. He noted with growing concern the way Ezra twisted the silk shirt he had just taken off in his hands, a sure sign that Ez was preoccupied since the southerner would otherwise have carefully placed the designer shirt in the hamper.
"Ez?" Vin kept his voice soft, neutral. "Tell me."
Ezra shook his head. "It's nothing. It will be okay."
"It's not nothing. Come on Ezra. We've been through this already, remember. We agreed- no more secrets, no more silences, no more shutting the other person out."
"I know. I'm sorry." Ezra stood up restlessly. "I've got to get back. I'll be in touch, okay?"
"Ezra." Vin caught him before he reached the bedroom door. "Why are you here?"
"I told you. I missed you." The gambler's voice lowered. "I love you."
Vin felt the familiar glow spread through him as he heard those words even as he forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand. "Come on Ez. The truth. We've been together how long and you've never broken your cover unless...." Vin's expression hardened. "Did they hurt you? Dammit Ez if they hurt you you're coming out I don't give a damn what Chris says or how mad the Judge gets...."
"Shhhhh." Ezra placed a finger against Vin's lips. "I'm okay. Really."
"Then what happened..." Even in the shadows Vin could see Ezra pale skin "Ez talk to me."
Ezra started to shake as he let Vin guide him back to the bad. Vin helped him under the covers, gathering the blankets around the both of them as he pulled Ezra close to him. He could feel Ezra's shaking subside.
"The family was having a party at the estate tonight. I was told to arrange extra security. There were guests flown in from everywhere. The two sons were having what they called a birthday party for the old man. I thought it was a good thing when they first told me about it. The extra security needs would give me a reason to poke around some of the storage rooms next to the guest rooms on the lower level. I didn't think I'd find much because they're not as heavily locked, but after this long in I was getting desperate to find anything."
"The guests had arrived and the ballroom was packed so I slipped out. I made some noises about making a perimeter check and slipped down a back staircase. I had barely reached the first storage room when I heard a noise from the guest rooms down the hall. No one was supposed to be in there, not with the party in full swing so I decided to investigate." His voice choked and he gulped a deep breath of air. "The two sons were in there. James and John. You know their mother named them after the apostles. Thought it would make them more likely to get into heaven. I guess she knew even then they were headed for hell." Ezra shook his head. "I'm sorry I'm digressing. I looked in the door and both sons were in there. Only they weren't alone. There were three or four of their personal bodyguards with them. All heavily armed." Ezra paused as a bleak expression crossed his face. "And in the middle of them was this girl. A kid really. Thirteen. Fourteen at the most. They.....they were raping her. Taking turns. Hurting her." Ezra's hands shook despite Vin's hold on them, despite the other man's reassuring murmurs. "I wanted to kill them. To hell with the mission. To hell with the DEA. To hell with anything else but saving that girl."
"Ezra you didn't..."
"No I didn't. I wanted to, but I didn't. I knew that charging in there would just get both of us killed. There were too many of them and they were too heavily armed. Dead I couldn't help her." Ezra moved closer to Vin. "I didn't know what to do, but I knew I had to stop them and that sheer force wasn't going to work this time. So I went to another guest room and I took a lighter and I set the room on fire. The smoke set off the sprinklers and the fire alarms. I saw them leave the room and I went in. I thought I could get her out in the confusion. I didn't care about anything but getting her out of there. So I went back in the room only......" Ezra paused, his voice barely more than a thread. "I was too late. She was dead. I stood there looking at her- the bruises, the blood, the strange angle of her neck and all I really saw were her eyes. They were beautiful. Bright blue. Innocent. Staring at me like I could still save her only I couldn't. I couldn't save her. I couldn't stop them." Ezra was crying now, dry heaves that sent shudders through both of them. "Those bastards killed her and all I did was stand by and watch."
"Shhhh. It's okay Ez. There was nothing else you could of done. It's not your fault."
Ezra didn't seem to hear him. "I stood there and I looked at her body and I felt so damned dirty inside. I barely made it to the bathroom before I started vomiting." Ezra's green eyes looked up and focused on his lover. "I don't remember leaving the estate. There were fire trucks and sirens and party guests screaming and I just walked out. I couldn't be there any longer." Ezra's fingers traced the contours of Vin's face. "I needed you. I needed you to hold me. I needed you to touch me. I needed you to make me feel clean inside again." The last was said in a broken sob.
Vin held his lover in his arms as the anguish poured from him in bitter waves. He knew Ezra Standish better than anyone and he could only imagine what it had cost the other man to stand there and watch them hurt that young girl. "You did all that you could do Ez."
"It wasn't enough."
"Sometimes its not. We both know that. It doesn't mean we stop trying." His hands filtered through Ezra's dark hairs. The temporary color looked good but Vin preferred his lover's natural locks. "I love you Ezra. Don't ever forget that."
"It's the only thing that keeps me sane." Ezra whispered. "I couldn't do this if I didn't have you."
"Maybe you should get out Ez. We'll find some other way to take the Gambino family down. Some other way of finding the traitor in the DEA."
Ezra shook his head. "I've never left a job undone before Vin and I don't plan to start now." His jaw clenched slightly. "Besides I want to make sure those bastards pay for what they did tonight."
"You witnessed a murder Ezra. They can at least get them on that."
"It's not enough. Their lawyers would have them walking in less than twenty minutes. You and I both know that. And even if they could get the charges to stick, someone else would just take their place in the family business or they'd run it from a prison cell." Ezra's voice turned cold. "I want them destroyed. Completely. Totally. I want to go to sleep at night knowing that no child is going to be hurt because of that family or their drugs or their guns or anything." A pause. "I owe it to that girl. I couldn't help her but I can make them pay for what they did."
Vin hesitated, torn between a desire to try to talk Ezra out of going back to that estate and tying him up to take him to some desert island where no one would ever hurt him again. He settled instead for a simple. "Be careful."
"Always." Ezra smiled against his lover's chest. "I'm sorry Vin. I didn't mean to spend all of our time talking. I had other things planned." A soft sigh. "I have to leave in a bit. If I get back soon I can make up some excuse for my absence."
"Save those plans for when you come back for good." Vin dropped a kiss on Ezra's forehead. "Right now its enough just to hold you like this."
"You're wrong Vin." Ezra corrected him gently. "It's not just enough. It's everything."
And with those words still ringing in his ear, Vin fell back to sleep. The second time Vin woke up that night it was to the ring of the cell phone he kept by his bed. He looked around but there was no sign of Ezra anywhere. He sighed heavily as he realized that the other man must have gone back in. He glanced at the clock by the bed. 4:52 AM.
"Tanner." His voice was heavy with sleep.
The tone of his leader's voice had Vin wide awake, sitting up, and his heart beating faster.
"Chris? What's wrong?" Please don't let it be what I think it is. Please.
Vin didn't let him finish. "I'm on my way."
As he hung up the phone, Vin felt his world began to crumble.
DENVER 20 MINUTES LATER
Chris Larabee had built his reputation on remaining cool and calm in a crisis, there were very few things that could ruffle the feathers of the Team 7 leader.
Knowing that one of his men was in danger and there was nothing he could do to help was one of those things.
Which explained the soft curse that escaped his lips and the combination glare/frustrated glance that he threw JD's way as the younger man frantically ran his fingers across the keyboard.
"I want answers JD." Chris's voice was rough with concern. "What the hell happened to Ezra? Where is he?"
"Easy pardner," Buck Wilmington's drawl flowed through Chris's ear as the other man placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "We're all concerned about Ezra but tearing into JD isn't going to help."
Chris let out a deep breath and shook his head. "I'm sorry JD.."
His apology was cut off as JD shrugged. "Don't worry about it Chris. I'm just as worried about Ezra as you are." The younger agent stared in frustration at the computer. "There's nothing. According to this, the Gambino's aren't on any commercial flight out of the Denver area or out of any airport in the West for that matter. Neither have any of their usual charters filed any flight plans. No activity in any of their banking accounts, including their overseas accounts or the so called secret accounts spread across the Caribbean. It's like the entire organization has suddenly ceased to exist."
"That makes no sense JD." Buck stared over his shoulder at the computer screen. "We're talking about a million dollar organization. Warehouses. Shipping. Casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City."
"Transferred to other owners or simply sold outright. Everything has been let go."
"You can't liquidate that much in assets that fast without someone knowing about it." Buck let a low whistle. "Next thing you know we'll have aliens marching down in Main Street."
"Start gathering the confetti then," A low voice broke into the discussion from behind them. "Because that's exactly what the Gambino Family has done." Nick McLafferty strode into the office and began dispensing manila file folders to the men present. "These are from the men I had keeping tabs on them. When your man didn't check in and there was no sign of activity on the estate, I had them go ahead and enter. These are the pictures they took." The DEA agent in charge explained. "There was a minor fire in some of the guest rooms, but the local fire department had that taken care of in less than twenty minutes. It threw a wrench in a party the boys were throwing for dear old dad, but it wasn't that big of a deal. The whole thing was over shortly after midnight."
"And?" Chris allowed himself to throw a hint of sarcasm into his voice. He didn't like the other man, hadn't since Judge Travis and the other man had shown up in his office asking to use the ATF's best undercover agent for a DEA mission. He hadn't been comfortable with the decision to lend them Ezra when it had first been made, he liked it even less now.
"Look at the pictures Larabee. Even you should be able to tell me what's wrong with them."
"There are no people in this picture." JD ignored the tension between the two bosses. "The rooms....everything ..they're empty."
"Nice to know some of you are observant," McLafferty growled. "My men found the estate empty. Not even servants were around."
"You had the estate under surveillance. How could they have all disappeared like that?"
McLafferty shrugged, his dark hair falling across his forehead. "Forensics is going over the place with a fine tooth comb but so far nothing out of the ordinary. As to what happened, I'm willing to go with Wilmington's suggestion and call it an alien abduction. It's the only thing that makes sense."
Chris stared at the pictures and then tossed them down on the desk. "I don't give a damn how it happened. I want to know where the hell Ezra is."
"I'd like to know that too." A quiet voice fell into the silence that followed Chris's statement as Vin entered the office. His voice dropped into a cold monotone. "And if somebody has hurt Ezra, I'm going to kill them." A pause. "As slowly as I can."
After filling in Vin and the newly arrived Josiah and Nathan on the situation, the six remaining team members and the DEA agent converged around the conference center.
Vin's fingers were locked together in an effort to calm himself down. He had to stay focused if he was going to save Ezra. He refused to believe that Ezra was dead. If his soulmate was dead, he'd have felt it, he'd know it on some level.
And as long as Ezra was alive, Vin was going to move heaven and hell and the planet Neptune to rescue him if he had too. Whatever he had to do. No question. No hesitation. Just Ezra back where he belonged.
"Are we sure Ezra is with the Gambino Family?" Nathan asked. "Maybe he's someplace else entirely."
"I'm not sure if he's with them now," McLafferty pointed out. "But my men saw him return to the estate around 2 AM in the morning. He failed to make his 4:00 check in which is what made us suspicious in the first place."
"Returning to the estate? Where was he coming back from?"
"From seeing me." Vin stated calmly. "Ez came home for a short visit."
McLafferty pushed his chair back. "What the fuck? This guy is supposed to be the best the ATF has to offer? Even a rookie knows you don't break cover in the middle of an assignment? Damn it. He risked months of investigative work for a quick fuck by his boyfriend."
In the blink of three seconds Vin had McLafferty pinned against the conference room wall, the knife he kept strapped to his calf pressed against the DEA agent's neck.
"Vin!" Chris attempted to calm the sharpshooter down but Vin held his ground.
"I ever hear you talk about Ezra like that again and the DEA will be recruiting a new agent. Do you understand me?" When the other agent refused to acknowledge him, Vin pressed the blade closer. "Do you understand me?"
McLafferty nodded and Vin took a step back.
"You crazy motherfucker!" McLafferty exploded. "I'll have your badge for that little stunt. I'll have you up on charges of assaulting a superior faster than your head can spin."
"Assault. I didn't see any assault." Chris shrugged casually as Vin returned to his seat. "Did you boys see any assault?"
One by one each of the remaining seven shook their head no.
McLafferty swore in frustration, but none of the men blinked.
"To hell with it. I'm more interested in locating the Gambinos than playing any of your games."
"For once and I do believe it will be only once, you and I are in agreement. We find the Gambinos and even Ezra would say it will be safe to bet that we'll find Ezra with them."
"Unless they caught on to him. Unless killing him is part of this disappearing act they're playing." Nathan hated himself for saying it, but he knew somebody had to say it. "They could have killed Ezra and left the body somewhere by the side of the road."
Bleakness flared in Vin's eyes before it was banished by defiant hope.
"So what are you saying?" JD protested. "That we just give up on Ezra. We can't do that. Ezra would be the last one to give up on us and you know it."
Chris' glance circled the men present as he shook his head. "We're not giving up on Ezra." His eyes met McLafferty's. "And we're not letting anyone else give up on him either." He paused. "So let's do this the way it's supposed to be done. We've got a missing agent. A missing target. No real clue about what happened." He let out a short breath. "All right. We've been in tighter spots and come out intact. What I need now are some suggestions people and I needed them five minutes ago."
After a moment of silence, the room filled with voices clamoring suggestions and coming up with ideas. In the midst of the active conversation, no one seemed to notice Vin's unusual silence.
He didn't remember how he got there or what happened in any clear detail. His head pounded, his jaw was broken, a few ribs cracked, and he'd coughed up blood once or twice since he had been awake. There were also open cuts on his legs that blood was still slowly seeping from. He felt like he had been hit by a truck only this truck had arms and legs.
He was also handcuffed to some object that wouldn't budge and his legs were bound together.
His mouth wasn't gagged, whether that was because they didn't think he could speak with his jaw smashed into or whether no one would hear him if he screamed he wasn't sure. Ezra Standish would have sworn if he was capable of it. Somehow they had caught on to him which meant he wasn't here because they decided he needed a little peace and quiet.
A thought which brought up another question, where was he?
Ezra could see very little in the dark which meant it was either still night, which he doubted, or he was underground. He could barely discern the outline of pipes running across the room. He could feel cold concrete beneath him.
A basement? Maybe some kind of catacombs.
Ezra winced as he drew in a deep breath as another realization hit. He wasn't alone.
There were rats down here with him. And judging by the way they were gnawing on the open cuts on his legs, they were hungry rats.
Vin Tanner stood in the doorway of the condo he had recently began sharing with his lover, a stunned expression on his face. Slowly he took a step forward.
"Ezra?" He kept his voice soft and unhurried as if he was speaking to a child who couldn't quite comprehend what he was saying. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Ezra's threw the words at Vin in a distracted, half-listening, half-not manner.
Vin paused for a second, reviewed the situation, and then shook his head. "Uhmmm. No." He took a few steps closer to Ezra. "You want to explain to me why you're staring at splotches of paint on the wall? And while you're at why are there splotches of paint on the wall?"
"I put them there."
"You put them there?"
Ezra nodded, the gleefulness of his expression triggered a reluctant smile from Vin. Ezra nodded solemnly. "Matt and Sherri told me to."
"Right." Vin took off his jacket and threw it casually on a leather chair. "When did you start hearing in voices and why would you name them Matt and Sherri? Why not Bruto and Popeye? Or Bugs and Daffy?"
Ezra laughed and Vin found himself kneeling behind his lover who was sitting cross-legged in front of him. Lovingly, he dropped a kiss on his cheek and felt Ezra snuggle back against him in response. "So," Vin whispered in the other man's ear. "You want to tell me what's going on or were you planning on making me play a guessing game all night?"
"Vin...we talked about this last night."
Last night.... Vin stopped to think. Dinner at the French place Ezra liked. Beer and darts at the tavern he liked. Then back to the condo for a night of what they liked. In between there had been conversation about where to go when Chris finally got around to giving them a vacation whether or not Vin's jeep was a deathtrap or .... He shook his head. "Ezra when you talked about giving the condo a new paint job this wasn't what I had in mind."
Vin stared at the wall that was covered with sections of sage green, plum, cream, and another color that he might have been sand but he wasn't sure.
"You don't like what I've done?" Ezra pouted, his lower lip trembling.
"Come on Ez.... I didn't say that." Vin groaned silently knowing that he would do anything, say anything, put up with anything if Ezra would just stop. "It's very....colorful." He offered lamely.
Ezra laughed and then laughed again at the expression on Vin's face. "It's not going to stay that way. I just couldn't make up my mind which color I wanted...."
"So you decided to try them all."
"Something like that." Ezra nodded. "I was watching HGTV...."
"You know it still shocks me that you're addicted to that channel."
"I'm not addicted."
"Ez...If I was to turn on that TV what channel would come on?"
"HGTV." Ezra whispered softly, then he brightened. "So I'm addicted. You can't say anything to anybody anyway or I'll tell them about your collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel tapes."
Silence for half a second and then Vin shook his head ruefully. "I guess that's the definition of a real relationship- when you have mutual blackmail material on each other." He began to massage Ezra's shoulders. "So what did good old HGTV say about which color to use."
"I was watching Matt and Sherri on Room by Room. It was incredible Vin. They took this plain old dining room and made it resemble those mansions in Louisiana. Anyway Sherri couldn't decide between a China Red for the walls or a Crimson Red so Matt told her to paint some of the color on the walls and see which she liked best in the light the room got through the day."
Vin's shoulders shook. "So you told Chris you needed the afternoon off so you could watch paint drying on the walls."
"So you picked one yet?"
A long sigh. "Unfortunately no. None of them seem quite right. I was contemplating going back to the paint store and perhaps procuring additional samples...maybe a darker green or a more neutral tan...." Another sigh. "It's hard to know which color is the right one to pick."
"Just pick one Ez. Whatever you pick, if we don't like it we can just paint over it." He looked around the condo. "I'm not quite sure why you want to redecorate anyway. I thought you liked the condo. Always thought it reflected your tastes."
Ezra spun around until his green eyes were looking into Vin's blue ones. "That's the problem." Ezra explained. "This isn't my condo anymore. It's ours. Our home. Our place. It should look like its ours. It should be a part of us just like we're a part of each other." A soft murmur. "I want it to be our home."
"Ezra.." Vin lowered his head for a kiss and was breathless when he raised his head again. "Don't you understand? You are my home."
"You're mine too Vin. I know that. It's just that neither of us have really had a home of our own before. You grew up in foster homes and I grew up tagging after Maude on whatever con she was running at the time. It didn't matter whether it was the fanciest hotel in town or the backseat of a car, they were never home. And this place...it was always my house but it was never really a home until the first night you shared it with me." Ezra groaned. "And could I sound anymore like a hallmark card?" He shook his head. "I'm sorry Vin I don't mean to get all mushy on you but...." He stopped when he realized that the other man wasn't listening. "Vin? What are you doing?"
Vin's gaze didn't move from the wall. "I'm trying to decide which color reflects the light from the window the best..."
And a smile broke across Ezra's face as he settled back against his lover and proceeded with great satisfaction to watch paint dry.
"Damm it." Vin Tanner exploded as he put the paper he was studying down. He turned to the man sitting across from him. "This isn't doing any good Josiah. We should be out there looking for him. Not going through financial statements we've already been through twenty times." He bent his head, fear and anguish hitting him.
"Vin..." Josiah reached out and grabbed the other man's hand, waiting until Vin looked up. "Ezra is going to be okay. He's tough. You of all people should know that."
"I know that." Vin shook his head. "Sometimes I think Ezra is tougher than any of us if for no other reason than that's he had to be. But he's not superman. And if the Gambino's know who he really is...." Vin's voice cracked. "I can't even begin to think about what they will do to him."
"Then don't." Josiah offered. "Just think about what YOU will do to him when you have him back safe and sound." He paused. "And you will...we will get him back safe and sound."
"Is that a promise from God?"
"No." Josiah's voice thickened. "It's a promise from me."
"And me." JD's voice cut across the room and he blushed when the other two men turned to stare at him. "I'm sorry I didn't mean to interrupt...." He forced himself to stand straighter. "I just wanted you to know that I don't think Ezra's dead and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get him home."
Vin almost grinned. "Thank you JD."
"Oh I almost forgot. Chris checked in. He and Buck haven't gotten any info from their contacts. Nathan still helping that DEA jerk...I mean McLafferty review the surveillance tape. But no luck yet." JD hesitated. "It's like they disappeared into thin air which is impossible. Of course it was impossible for them to leave the compound at all considering that no one saw them leave."
Vin looked up at JD. "What did you say?"
"I said it was impossible for them to get out without anyone seeing....." He stopped at the arrested look on Vin's face. "What? What did I say?"
"Nothing. Everything. What you said about impossible....it just reminds me of something Ezra told me once. If the probable is impossible than the impossible has to be probable."
"Think about it JD. They couldn't have left the compound by conventional means. The surveillance...the satellite photos...something would have shown up by now, right?"
"So you're saying they did disappear into thin air? Or maybe Buck was right about aliens?"
"No. What I'm saying is that the Gambino family had an escape route...one that wasn't noticed by either the DEA agents watching the estate or the Satellite pictures?"
"But that would have been impossible the only way to avoid the cameras would have been to dig.... a tunnel? You think they used a tunnel?"
"It makes sense." Vin was already heading towards the exit, JD and Josiah flanking him. "Rats dig tunnels don't they?"
Ezra had long ago accepted the fact that he would probably die in the line of duty. You couldn't do what he did for a living and not become at least okay with the idea of your own death. Since he and Vin had connected, he had become less with the idea of dying preferring instead to focus on the many years he had ahead of him and the chance to spend those years with Vin. Still he had always known every time he went on assignment that it could go wrong. He could be shot. Stabbed. Beaten.
He had just never imagined that he would be chewed to death.
And he wasn't going to let it happen.
Ignoring the fact that the feel of the rat nibbling on him made him want to vomit or split into multiple personalities, Ezra instead used the handcuffs encasing his hand and began pounding on the pipe he was attached too, hoping that the noise would scare the rodent away.
No such luck. The rat didn't seem to mind the noise. Maybe he was used to fast food restaurants. Ezra grimaced.
You are not going to be rat food he told himself sharply. Shark bait you could have lived with. Or maybe you should say died with. But rat food. Nope. Wasn't happening.
He banged against the pipe and felt the rusty metal give slightly. Suddenly, he began to frantically bang against the pipe, ignoring the fact that the metal of the cuffs was digging into the flesh at his wrist.
The pain was worth it when the pipe broke and the basement was flooded with hot water.
The water burned Ezra as he tried to struggle to his feet or at least his knees since his feet weren't cooperating due to the rope tying them together.
Still Ezra could live with what he knew would be painful burns, especially where he was already cut, the pain dimmed by the fierce satisfaction of seeing the rats pushed back by the heavy pressure of the water.
1 for Ezra. O for the rats.
Ezra had very little time to celebrate his victory as the room filled with a glaring light and Ezra realized that he had to deal with another rat, only this one was of the two legged variety.
And the four men who accompanied him were armed with high powered rifles that would make even Vin drool at least a little.
Rifles that were trained at him. And at a distance from which there was no possibility that they would miss.
J.D. stared at his teammate in disbelief and one dark brow rose slightly in a perfect imitation of his roommate as he shook his head. "You do know you're crazy Vin, don't you?"
"Isn't that a Patsy Cline song?" The sharpshooter asked as he continued to bang on the wooden floor with a shovel. "Personally I'm more of a U2 person myself. Ezra now he likes BB King and Billie Holliday unless he's depressed in which case he plays this god awful band from some group called Survivor." Vin shudders as he continues to bang. "Personally I think it makes him more depressed but then again I have to think of ways to get him out of his depression so I'd be stupid to complain."
"Hey! I got him that CD for Christmas last year. I'll have you know that Survivor is a classic example of an 80's band and knowing how much Ezra likes old things...."
Josiah sighed. "Son. Ezra likes antiques. A CD from the 80's is not an antique." He stared at the teams youngest members. "Of course to someone who was born after Watergate..." He shrugged. "I suppose last week seems positively prehistorical."
"Don't worry about it none Josiah," JD grinned as he twirled a pretend mustache and put on a slight southern twang, "I've already got your room at the nursing home reserved. Reckon we can move you in next weekend."
"Of course if you're feeling the need now I can see if they're willing to take you early...."
"JD!" Josiah stared at the younger man and then gave a slight shrug. "Remind me to have a talk with Buck about the kind of influence he's being on you."
Vin half listened but mostly ignored his teammates, too caught up in the task he had set himself. There had to be a tunnel or something leading out of this damned basement. It was the only thing that made sense unless he bought into the little green men theory and he wasn't that desperate yet. Almost but not quite. He kept banging on the back of the shovel he had dragged out of the back of his truck, the one he and Ezra used on those rare occasions when Vin could drag his lover camping. He would pound on the floor and then listen carefully for anything odd.
He stopped. Pounded. Listened again.
"Got it!" He yelled at JD and Josiah.
"It does sound hollow."
"Damn a secret tunnel. Next thing you know we'll find the Bat Cave or Injun Joe's skeleton." JD took the crow bar he had picked up and started to lift off floor boards. "Too bad Buck decided to follow up on that rumor that snitch of his heard in old town. Nathan and Chris better get here soon or they're going to miss the fun."
Vin shook his head as he began to pry at the wooden floor boards with the shovel, intent on prying them loose. After the first few boards, the rest came off fairly easily and before they knew it, a fairly large area of floor had been removed to reveal what was obviously a hatch covering the opening of a tunnel.
"It's locked." JD sighed.
"Not for long," Josiah replied as he aimed his gun and shot the padlock off.
Vin whistled. "Nice shooting."
"At this distance even an old man like me can't miss." He mockingly glared at JD.
Vin missed JD's sticking his tongue out at Josiah as he opened the hatch. Using his flashlight, he tried to see the bottom of the tunnel and failed.
"Damn it. They must have used this as their escape route."
JD bent to examine the concrete wall of the tunnel. He wiped his finger along the side and paused.
Something in his voice caught Vin's attention.
"It's blood. Fresh blood." JD took his flashlight and lit up the sides of the tunnel. "Lots of it."
"It might be their blood. Maybe Gambino or one of his sons or their men or...."
"It could be Ezra's."
JD nodded, all kidding stopped as the seriousness of the situation sunk in. He stared at the blood on his finger and shuddered.
"What do we do now?"
"We wait." Josiah said. "Chris and Nathan will be here in any second with the DEA as back up."
"Like hell we'll wait." Vin's voice echoed loudly. "I'm not going to sit here and wait with Ezra's life on the line. I won't. I'm going in."
"You'll need a rope." JD nodded. "I think I saw one in that store room we passed."
"Vin," Josiah tried again. "I know that you're worried about Ezra but if you go in blind you're going to make things worse..."
Vin shook his head. "If that's Ezra's blood than things can't get any worse."
"I'll go with you."
"Thanks but if Ezra's down there than I'm going to need to be as quiet as I can be and twice as sneaky."
The two men locked eyes for a moment before Josiah nodded and JD scrambled back down the hallway to find the rope.
"Vin did I ever tell you that I have a preference for roses, white roses to be exact."
Vin stared at him in confusion.
"I just want to be sure that you know what kind of flower I want at my funeral." Josiah handed the tracker his gun. "Cause the good Lord knows that Chris will kill me when he finds out I let you go in by yourself."
"What exactly do you think it is you're doing Ezra?" Vin's voice cut across the room as he stared at his lover.
"I would think that would be obvious Mr. Tanner," Ezra's voice was shaky and uneven. "I'm getting ready to go to work."
"Like hell you are," Vin instincts had him across the room just in time to help Ezra stand as he started to waver. "Ezra you're sick. You're running a fever. Hell, I think you're burning up."
"Nonsense." Ezra tried to steady himself. "I'm just a little flushed.." He closed his eyes to keep the world from spinning. "And tired. Nothing that a cup of caffeine couldn't cure."
"More like it's nothing that a week in bed wouldn't cure." Vin used his strength to gently push his lover back on to the bed. "Now lie down and take your clothes off Ezra before I take them off for you."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Didn't we go through that one last night?" Ezra paused. "Or was I somehow not satisfying enough the first time?"
Vin grinned. "Hell Ez you know that you more than satisfied me. I think everyone in this building knows that you more than satisfied me." He smiled at Ezra's blush, barely noticeable over the flush of fever. "Stop trying to change the subject and get back in bed."
"Are you trying to spread your germs Ezra?
"I think it's a little late to worry about that one, don't you?" Ezra started to cough and climbed back under the blankets, barely taking the time to undress.
"I'm going to go call Chris and tell him neither of us will be in this morning. Then I'll see if I can find any cold medicine in your cabinet and maybe fix you up some orange juice. Or seven up. Had a foster mother once who swore that seven up was the best thing for a cold." Gently Vin tucked the blankets around Ezra. "I'll be back in a sec."
Blue eyes turned to him.
"Thank you." A pause. "This is the first time I can remember someone taking care of me when I was sick."
Vin looked at his lover for a long moment.
"The first time?"
"But not the last time." Vin smiled and he repeated the phrase, making sure the other man heard the unspoken message it contained. "Remember that. Not the last time Ezra."
Ezra watched his lover head into the kitchen with a contented look on his face despite the illness. "No not the last." He pulled the blankets around him wondering how it was possible to be so sick and so happy at the same time.
Ezra opened his eyes slowly, trying to ignore the sharp edges of pain emanating from the cuts and burns and bitemarks set in random patterns along his body. He wasn't in that room anymore, didn't know where he was other than someone's bedroom. Couldn't remember anything except those damned rats chewing on his flesh and his desperate need to kill the slimy little bastards.
He had a feeling that he was never going to forget those rats. Maybe he could get Gus at the firing range to substitute pictures of rats for the traditional target the next time he went in. Or better yet, maybe Chris had some of the live little bastards hanging around his ranch and wouldn't mind if Ezra took to hunting them with his semi-automatic.
Ezra shook his head. There would be time enough to indulge his rat hating fantasies later. Now he had to figure out what had happened. Obviously they had moved him from that other room. But why? Why not kill him there? Why keep him alive? Gambino was too smart to not know that keeping him alive meant the others would be looking for him. Which made him wonder what they were waiting for at the same time he was ignoring the growing pit in his stomach which told him that he knew exactly what they were waiting for.
His hands were chained to a bolt in the wall above his head. A bolt that didn't budge at all when he pulled at it. He stared at the men standing near the doorway of the room, recognizing Johnny Gambino and a few of his personal bodyguards. They were all heavily armed.
"I suppose this is the part where I get to make my last request." He was proud of himself for keeping his voice even and confident. "And may I say that I am hopeful that any blindfolds you might have are at least clean if not made of silk."
"Nice show of bravado," a mocking voice caught Ezra's attention as an elegantly dressed figure moved forward. "But there's no need to play games anymore Agent Standish," Johnny Gambino eyes raked over Ezra's form. "Or should I say that there's no need to play those kinds of games....other kinds of games that might be more.....pleasurable on the other hand..."
"Go to hell." Ezra stiffened, remembering what had happened earlier in the evening, the pit in his stomach was now a black hole that threatened to swallow him whole.
"Oh I probably will. But not today. And not before I send you there first." Johnny stepped forward. "You could die Agent Standish. And it wouldn't be an easy death. In fact I imagine it would be quite brutal and extremely painful. In fact you might just prefer that firing squad by the time we are done with you."
"Knowing you I wasn't exactly expecting finesse and sophistication."
The slap across his cheek propelled Ezra backwards a few inches, but he didn't flinch or show any other outward emotion.
Johnny chuckled and then shook his head. "So brave. So noble. Fighting the good fight until the end. Such a travesty." Johnny kneeled on the floor besides Ezra. "Don't you get it? There are no good guys left in the world, just evil and less evil. Our government sends you and the others who have come before you to try to find the evidence to bring my family down. It never works and do you know why? Because that same nameless government official who sends you into the field waits until he or she is alone and then picks up the phone to let us know you're coming. They sell out their soldiers for a few extra dollars in the bank. They have no honor your superiors. They are cowards who don't care who they hurt as long as they are compensated."
Ezra shook his head. "And I suppose you are going to tell me how honorable you and your men are" Ezra grimaced. " Honor among thieves and all that bullshit"
Johnny smiled. "A myth. There is no honor among thieves." He shot a look at Ezra as he stood up. "Something I would have thought your sweet mother would have taught you well." He grinned at Ezra's look of surprise. "Oh yes, I know all about you my dear Ezra. I found your story...fascinating. Your mother was a grifter, running con after con, a different city, a different home every time you turned around."
"You know you can spare the rendition. I was there. I haven't forgotten."
"No, I don't imagine that you have. Or that you could. Nonetheless, despite all the obstacles you were a bright kid, succeeded in school despite the fact that you barely attended the same school for longer than a month. Found yourself a mentor who believed in you and you found yourself in Quantico. One of the FBI's most promising agents until..."
"You know if your plan was to bore me to death it's succeeding." Ezra interrupted the other man. "While I appreciate your concern over my troubled past, can we cut to the chase here? If you're going to kill me, kill me because I do believe that enduring your company for a moment longer is in violation of the Geneva Treaty regarding cruelty to prisoners."
"Ezra....Ezra...." Johnny shook his head. "You are not my prisoner. And there is a purpose to all of this. You see I've always been a believer in not wasting things that had potential and you have potential. You don't belong on the side of the good guys, Ezra. You never have. Someone like you... someone for whom lying and cheating are part of your genetic code. Hell, I mean look at yourself. You lie for a living, pretend to be someone your not, pretend to be someone who can be trusted when you know you'll betray that trust." Gambino stared at the agent. "You're good. If my brother and I hadn't known ahead of time to expect you, you might of gotten past our defenses. Might have gotten some real information. A talent like yours should be put to better use, don't you agree? Come work for me and the world and anything you desire in it, could be yours."
"There is nothing in your world that I want. Nothing you could offer me. Nothing you could tempt me with." Ezra spat at the other man. "I'd rather be dead than working for you."
"I was afraid you would say that but I do believe you have misunderstood me. I wasn't offering you your life. I expected you to go the overly dramatic route and offer to die rather than contaminate yourself with my presence or some other pretty little glorified speech. Would have been disappointed if you had taken me up on my offer. I want your loyalty Standish and I know you well enough to know that you would sacrifice your own life in a heartbeat." Gambino grinned. "Unfortunately, it's not your own life you'll be sacrificing but that of your teammates."
"I don't think I understand." Despite the slowly drawled words, Ezra was afraid that he did understand.
"Then let me spell it out for you as clearly as I can. I want you to work for me Ezra. No more than that. I want you to belong to me...to our organization. I want to own you."
"You want a pet, I hear those mechanical dogs they sell at toy stores don't even bark at scum like you."
"My brother and I could use a man like you working for us." Johnny continued softly. "Someone with both the ability to imagine and the cunning needed to make the dream a reality. Someone who could lie to our enemies and to our friends but who we could count on to be truthful and loyal to us. A man of your unique talents would do well in our organization."
"You're repeating yourself and boring me." Ezra sighed languidly. "If there's a point get to it before I lose interest completely."
"Oh I think you will be interested. You see it's like this, you will join with us Mr. Standish. You will be our devoted....shall we say employee for now."
"And if I don't?"
"Then your teammates will pay the price. I know that you won't join with us to save yourself, but to save your teammates.... I don't think there's much that you won't do to save them."
"What the fuck?" Ezra exploded as he tried again to pull the chains out of the wall in impotent fury. "Leave them out of this."
"No....I believe I will keep them very much in this. You see they are what I will use to break you.... body and soul."
"You can't touch them."
"You think not? How did I know you were coming? Who you are? What you want? I have my contacts. My sources. Sources that are so close to your "Magnificent Seven" that they could reach out and touch them....or if I give the order kill them."
"I don't believe you."
"I didn't think you would which is why I've arranged a little demonstration for you." Gambino checked his watch. "In just a few minutes one of your fellow teammates, while out searching desperately for their missing team member, is about to learn just how explosive law enforcement can be. That's right Mr. Standish, one of your partners, your friends, is going to be dead in, oh I'd say, ten minutes. But he won't be the last. If you don't agree to my terms I will see to it that one of them dies every hour until you do."
"You're crazy!" Ezra swore. "What if I agree? You won't be able to turn your back on me or trust me for a second."
"I think I will. You see you don't know who my sources are so you will never know if your friends are safe. One wrong word or move from you and my contacts will eliminate your friends." Johnny smiled. "The way I see it, you'll be mine or they'll be dead. A simple enough choice I grant you but I'm sure you'll appreciate the quiet elegance behind it."
"Now I know that you probably need some time to think things over, so I'll leave you alone for a few minutes." Gambino glanced at his watch. "Only I wouldn't take too long if I was you. You've already lost one team mate by now and I'd hate to see you lose another."
As Ezra sat in stunned silence, an explosion rocked one of the seedier sections of Denver as a pick up truck parked outside a tavern exploded with its occupant still inside.
Chris Larrabee's expression was grim as he shut the engine and jumped out of the SUV and slipped behind the yellow police barrier. His gaze drawn to what was left of Buck's pickup. Carefully he stepped over a still smoldering piece of metal.
His heart in his throat, he approached the fire captain, flashing his ATF badge.
"What happened here?" He gestured behind him.
"Looks like a bomb, professional job. A pack of C-4 explosives set to go when the ignition turned over. Poor bastard didn't have a chance."
Chris took a step backwards. He'd heard the report on the radio but he hadn't believed...hadn't allowed to let himself believe...god damn it he should have done something...anything...
He whirled at the sound.
"My god Buck!" His agent sat on the bumper of the back of the ambulance, waving off an EMT's attempt to treat him. His clothes were covered with dirt and slightly charred and Chris could see a cut across his forehead, but other than that he looked okay.
More than okay. He looked alive.
Buck shrugged. "I'm still not sure. I was inside checking with a contact of mine. I'm in there fifteen, twenty minutes at the most when I spot this kid breaking into the truck. I race out here to stop him but before I can do anything there's an explosion and ....damn it Chris he was just a kid. He didn't deserve to die because he wanted to take a joyride in my truck." Despite the EMT's efforts to get him to stay calm, Buck stood up angrily. "What the hell is going on?"
The team leader's gaze was as hard as stone. "I don't know. But I aim to find out."
Slowly making his way down the inside of the tunnel, Vin held tight to the rope with both hands as he repelled against the smooth cement walls. As he went down, he forced himself to not think about Ezra and what could be happening to his partner, but to focus instead on the job. On what he needed to do to get Ezra out of this and back home where he belonged. The tunnel was deeper than it had looked from the top, he figured that he had come down fifty....maybe a hundred feet and he couldn't see the bottom yet.
He swore softly when he realized that they had stopped feeding him rope from above.
"That's as much rope as we have Vin." Josiah's words echoed in the tunnel. "We're going to pull you up."
"NO!" Vin shouted. "Ezra's down here. I know it."
"There's no choice Vin. We'll have to find another way down."
"There's no time." Vin tried to protest but to no avail. He swore again as he felt the rope being pulled up. Holding onto the rope with one hand, he reached with the other hand into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. Praying hard, he dropped the quarter. When after a few seconds he heard it hit the bottom, he breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm going to let go."
"You're crazy!" Josiah yelled back. "You don't know what's down there."
"Don't care." Vin's voice was even. "If Ezra's down there, than that's where I'm going."
And with those words, Vin let go of the rope.
"Wake up Ezra!" Ezra's eyes opened wide as his felt his hair being jerked back with a snap. "Come on Sleeping Beauty. There's something I want you to see."
Ezra blinked. Where was Vin? Why wasn't he there next to him? It had been so long since he had woken up without Vin by his side that this seemed weird. Abnormal.
Then he found himself staring into the cruel and mocking eyes of Johnny Gambino.
"You drugged me." His mouth felt like it was filled with cotton and his body ached from being tied up and the earlier beatings he had received. Not to mention the numerous rat bites that he was trying really hard not to think about.
"We just wanted to make sure you were in a good mood when we shared our news with you." Johnny laughed as he stepped away from Ezra towards the TV in the corner of the room. Grinning he turned it on.
"The explosion occurred fifteen minutes ago in front of Red's Tavern. Authorities confirm that the target of the bomb was an ATF agent whose team was recently responsible for the arrest of several members of the Gambino family. Sources also confirm that there was a single fatality at the scene and another victim has been transported to a local hospital."
Ezra closed his eyes. A single fatality. Fatality.
His voice was harsh. "Who?"
Johnny smirked. "Wilmington."
Oh god. Buck. Ezra's mind was flooded with images. A laughing Buck, cigar in hand, trying desperately to bluff his way through a game of poker at Chris's place. Or Buck with a deadly gleam in his eye as covered his back in a shoot out in a dark alley. Buck snatching the last piece of pizza after he and the rest of the team helped Vin move into the condo.
Buck's quiet support of his and Vin's relationship from the very beginning.
"Now Ezra...is that anyway to talk to the man who holds your fate in his hands." Johnny approached the agent, his eyes gleaming with a mixture of lust and madness. He ran his hands across the undercover agent's chest. "Be nice and maybe I'll let you choose who dies next." He laughed as Ezra looked up with startled, hate filled eyes. "Who would you choose my dear Ezra? Dunne? Sanchez? Larrabee? Jackson?" His voice dropped. "Maybe the Texan. Tanner? How would you like to see him die? A single bullet to the head? An accidental drowning?"
Ezra struggled with rage against his bonds. "Go to hell."
"No problem. But I intend to drag you with me." Johnny smiled. "Of course you could stop this right now. You could stop all of this. One simple word from you and all of your friends are safe. No one else has to die."
"What do you want?"
"I already told you. I want you. By my side. In my bed. Willingly. Or at least pretending to be. I want you body and soul. I want you to belong to me my dear sweet Ezra."
"Because I think you'll be useful. And because I want to destroy you just like you've destroyed my family."
"Why not just kill me and get it over with?"
"Too easy. And not as much fun."
Ezra closed his eyes again in anguish. There was no real choice. There had never been any choice.
"I..." His voice cracked and he tried to regain his composure. Please Vin understand. "I will do whatever you want."
And as he felt an unfamiliar stab of fear push through him and heard Johnny's laughter, Ezra knew that he was well and truly damned.
Vin used a flashlight to make his way down the corridor. He'd been right, the Gambino's had a whole secret compound built into the earth. He'd seen evidence of a communications center, ammunitions, storage, supplies, etc. Hell you could probably survive a nuclear war down here and not even feel inconvenienced.
What he hadn't found was any sign of Ezra. At least not yet.
Vin kept moving, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong with Ezra. He was more scared for Ezra now than he had been at any time since he had turned up missing. Up until this point, he had felt Ezra's strength with every beat of his heart. But that strength was fading and he knew, he just knew, that Ezra's will to survive was fading also.
Stay strong Ez. I'm coming for you.
Hearing a noise, Vin kicked open a metal door. And almost gagged when he saw the dead rats floating in the hot water. Somehow managing to ignore them and being careful to stay out of the steaming water as much as possible, he made his way to a corner of the room and frowned. Staring down he could see where they had kept a prisoner tied up. And he could also see the smear of blood.
His jaw clenched. They had hurt Ezra which meant they were dead men. They just didn't know it yet.
"So...." JD began as he looked over at Josiah. "Do you think Chris will at least give us a chance to explain before he kills us?"
"Maybe." Josiah paused. "If you grovel enough."
"Grovel? I don't...." JD stopped as tried to imagine the man in black's reaction to the news that they had not only not found any information on Ezra but they had managed to lose Vin as well. "I can do grovel. I majored in groveling at the academy you know."
"I don't think you have to go that far JD." Vin almost sounded amused as he approached the other two men.
"Vin!" JD looked down at the tunnel and then over at Vin who had so clearly not come up the tunnel. "How?"
"An elevator hidden in a storage area. The Gambino's have a compound down there that makes Hitler's bunker look like a caddy shack, complete with a road leading out. My guess is that's how they got without anyone noticing and that they took Ezra with them."
JD nodded. "So what do we do now?"
"Easy. We get Ezra back." Despite the softness of Vin's words they all understood the vow that he was making. "No matter what."
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Story posted to The Magnificent Two