Lest I Should Forget
Team 7 had spent the night at the hospital, most of them taking up well-worn space in one of the waiting rooms, trying to make themselves comfortable on the narrow little sofas. Chris and Buck, when they drifted in, had stayed in Vin's room, not speaking, just brooding. Buck was brooding on Chris; Chris was just brooding.
The dismal mood of the night before held sway as they stretched and groaned and prepared to leave for the day. Josiah would stay with Vin, somebody would need to or he would tear himself apart getting out of bed, and as for the rest, they knew their work on the Trainer case was far from over. They all took time to go home first, knowing that this was one day Travis would not be requiring punctuality of any of them.
Buck brought coffee to the office. Starbucks. He didn't care that Chris would be pissed at the gesture, so very Ezra; it made him feel good. And, maybe out of sheer spite or orneriness, he was honestly hoping Chris would be pissed. JD brought pastries in answer to Buck's coffee, and some muffins, and as an afterthought bought a blueberry scone. He placed it on a napkin on Ezra's desk and just left it there like a memorial wreath. Nathan smiled at it, and said hello to the two of them, but pretty much they were silent until Chris came down from Travis' office around 10 am.
Chris looked like they felt, like the wrath of God, and stood there in the doorway to his office running his hand through his hair. The hand made a path over his scalp and down to the back of his neck, which he held, gripped, before turning around and letting them all know his first order of business.
"Travis is bringing Team 4 in on this. He knows we need a few days to adjust and figures we could use the help." He took the hand off his neck to wave it in the air like he couldn't care less. "He wants us to go by the hotel and collect all of Ezra's stuff there, and store it in the town house until we can figure what to do with it. He's gonna try to find Maude." Chris snorted at that, disgusted, and made a face like he'd just sniffed limburger cheese. "When and if she ever resurfaces, then she gets to decide what to do with everything at his home. I figure," and he paused then, sincerely weighing it, "that we should take something, whatever, some part of, I don't know, something. I know Josiah would like his Dizzie Gillespie albums. I'm not talking furniture or antiques or electronics. Anyway, if you see something of his that means something, then feel free. Maude won't care, or notice. Then after that, this afternoon, we have to kick ourselves into gear and focus on finding Trainer."
Another pause, his jaw clenched so hard that the whole room could probably hear molars grinding, Chris spit out words from between tight lips. "I don't need to stress just how badly I want to find the motherfucker. And Travis agrees that ... what the fuck is that doing on his desk!?" He abandoned the beginning of his sentence and pointed a shaking accusatory finger at the innocent scone. "That had better not be somebody's idea of a joke because I will personally rip out your lungs out through your eye sockets."
No one in the room was certain if there would be eye-socket ripping whether or not it was a joke, so everyone sat very still.
Chris swooped down on the desk and snatched the biscuit in his fist, strangling the life out of it and tossing it into the nearest waste basket. Turning furious eyes on his teammates, he took several loud breaths through his nose, like a bull preparing to charge. "I am going to clear out his desk myself this afternoon and I had better not see one fucking thing on it ever again." He speared each of them with a murderous stare just to emphasize his point and stormed into his office, slamming the door behind him.
Buck shushed JD with a discreet wave of his hand just as the kid was about to speak. His blue eyes were understanding and comforting as they shared a look, and then Buck said, "Don't worry about it."
"I just wanted to ..."
"I know, kid, I know. Don't, just don't." Don't try to apologize or talk to Chris about it. Don't worry about it or let it make you feel worse. And for God's sake don't ever do it again.
Buck knew Chris would handle things badly, or not handle them at all, and it would be walking on egg shells for a while around the office. This was like taking a step back in time, many steps, back many years that he didn't want to think about. Years of acting as Chris' buffer, keeping everyone away from him and him away from everyone else. Right or wrong, he knew he'd have to break into Chris' desk at regular intervals to make sure he wasn't hiding a bottle of whiskey in there.
A few tense minutes later and Chris re-emerged, flinging his door open with as much force as he had closed it. "Let's go," was all he said, and no one in room had a doubt as to where.
On the elevator to the basement Chris told JD to ride with Nathan, and ordered them to grab some boxes on the way out. Maybe, on any other day, he would have asked them to, and if they noticed the slight change, they sure as hell didn't say anything. When he was alone in the truck with Buck, Chris turned and interrogated him about the stupid scone.
"Chris, it was just JD. He said it didn't feel right going to Starbucks and not getting Ezra a scone."
"And was that your bright idea - the coffee? Christ Buck, like we need to be reminded he's not here."
"Just a reminder he's not forgotten, pard."
Chris threw him a look that would curdle milk and took off out of the parking garage.
For the time being, Buck was going to pretend they hadn't had their conversation last night, not that Chris would remember it, or even suspected that Buck suspected anything. But all the same, playing it safe sounded, well, safe. All of them loved Ezra, maybe some more than others, but they would all miss him something fierce, so Buck wasn't going to act as if it were otherwise.
And he'd be damned if Chris was going to light into JD just because the kid handled grief better than he did.
It was a forcefully silent, tense drive. Rush hour traffic was thinned out; they'd be at the Regency in fifteen.
+ + + + + + +
When he arrived at the hotel, he stood there a moment running his thumb over his lower lip and staring at the entrance. It was familiar, more familiar than it should be for a place he didn't remember. He entered, and let his feet lead them where they wanted.
They wanted to go to a suite on the fifth floor. He stood outside his door, assumed that it was his door, and thought about how to break in. His key was no good, but the housekeeper's would be, and he found her down the hall and around the corner. He bumped into her, apologizing for his clumsiness, and picked her pocket with astonishing agility. It came with an astringent feeling, growing on him like a choke vine, that he must be a criminal, no matter how he felt or what he thought about himself. He didn't feel like a villain, didn't know if he could shoot someone if he had to, but bits and pieces of things were floating through the viscous matter of his mind, and all of them were unpleasant.
The only memories he had were of lying, cheating, sneaking, and hiding. It did not bode well.
That the maid had not yet visited his suite was manifestly clear. Things were strewn everywhere, tossed, dumped. Ransacked. Immediately he felt on edge, on his guard, and drew his gun without thinking.
Assuming a pose that felt all too natural, he began to search through the rooms, three of them, opening the closets with the nose of his pistol and always keeping one eye on any given door. No one. Whoever it was had come and gone. He breathed a sigh and re-holstered his gun - one of his guns, he reminded himself.
But this was it, the hotel room with the green bed spread. He remembered it! Some of it anyway. It had a wide balcony overlooking the pool. He was still convinced that he lived in Denver, which made the use of a hotel room that much more confusing, but if he were a criminal, perhaps he needed a neutral base of operations. What that in mind, he began to look around, picking through the things in the rooms, searching for more clues.
He was wealthy, that much was certain, and he had very refined tastes. Expensive clothes. Diamond-studded cufflinks. Silk ties. Several pairs of shoes - hurray. There was a briefcase after all, but it had been forced open and its contents spilled. Papers, more documents. More names and dates and figures that he couldn't comprehend. Incriminating evidence. He put them pack in the briefcase and closed it.
There was a bottle of brandy, spilled and broken, but only one glass. Drawn by an instinct he was beginning to trust, he walked to the bed and felt behind the headboard, down towards the floor, where it was closest to the wall. Eureka! He had no idea what he had found, but that he knew it was there was a wonderful thing. He put the little paper-wrapped parcel in the brief case and felt as though he'd accomplished something grand.
Clothes. Bath. Toothbrush.
A man can tell a lot about who he is by what he keeps in the bathroom, he mused. Expensive cologne smashed on the floor, the entire room filled with its scent. Mouthwash, undamaged. A manicure kit.
He stood and smiled with wonder at the old-fashioned cake of shaving soap and attendant shaving brush of soft animal hair. There was also a straight-razor folded neatly in upon itself. How archaic.
He knew the shower would make too much noise, and a bath would take too much time, leave him too vulnerable, so he took a moment in the bathroom to stand in the tub and wash himself with a warm cloth. Personal hygiene would have to bow to caution in this case. This case. Case.
That word had weighty significance that he couldn't place. Damnit! The more he tried to remember, the more his head hurt, and his head hurt enough as it was. Thank God he had aspirin.
As he brushed his teeth, he caught sight of something shiny, and he stopped. He pushed up his right lip and eyed with wonder the gold tooth that peeped out at him. There was a memory there, a strangely fond memory of losing a tooth in a rugby match when he was young. Lord, had he ever been that young and guileless? Maybe, once, for a moment. Strangely, there was a lot of bitterness in him for a man who had no memory. He shrugged in resignation at his image and finished brushing his teeth.
The sensitive skin on his stomach - his pleasantly washboard stomach, he noted - and his shins were beginning to blister, but he had nothing with which to treat the wounds, so he dressed carefully, in his own clothes for a change, and stuck his backup gun in the rear of his waistband.
And then he was back to square one - standing in a place he didn't really remember trying to figure out what to do. He still felt he needed to be somewhere, needed to get some vital piece of information to someone.
Suddenly the hairs on the back of his neck began to bristle, and he stood very still, listening.
Footsteps and voices neared and then stopped at his door. Panic, fevered panic rose upon him and he ran for the balcony, flinging open the door and hiding just out of sight, just in time.
"Holy shit, guys. Looks like we weren't the only ones who had this idea."
That voice he recognized, young and bright. Vaguely Bostonian.
"JD, keep watch at the door. Buck you're with me."
That voice he knew too, only it brought forth such a surge of conflicting reactions he nearly keeled over onto the cement.
+ + + + + + +
"It's clear. Damnit!" Chris was standing in the center of the bedroom, surveying the damage, wishing to hell he knew what Trainer and his thugs would have been looking for. "I will put a bullet between his eyes next time I see him."
"Um, Chris, somebody's been here, pretty recently." Nathan was in the bathroom, rubbing his forehead and pursing his lips.
"I'd say that's a given, doc, but what'd ya find?" Buck still had his gun drawn, not entirely trusting that the place was clear.
"Guys," Nathan came back out to the bedroom, "there's two wet towels in there and water in the tub. Somebody was here real recently and made himself at home."
"What're these?" Buck was holding up the discarded pants and shirt, tilting his head like a dog hearing something that sounds a lot like dinner. "So he just came in here and trashed the place, took a shower and changed into Ezra's clothes?" Whoever it was must be one mighty weird guy.
On the balcony, Ethan had drawn his gun and was listening in rapt attention. Whoever was inside sounded too familiar to be an enemy, to inquisitive to be trustworthy, and at least one of them wanted to put a bullet between his eyes. If he could just make it to the door and out, he could escape.
"Guess we better call the lab guys and have them dust for prints and such. We better not touch anything else." A pause, a sequence of beeps, then, "This is Larabee. Tell our little ATF forensic junkies that we need them at the Regency downtown, Suite 512. Yeah. We'll be here."
Ethan felt his heart plummet. The ATF. The last people he wanted to see. Or were they? Part of him wanted to run to that gruff, surly voice and grab hold of the person it belonged to, and never let go. The more rational part of him told him to beware, told him to stay put, reminded him that he was a criminal who had in his possession a lot of very damning evidence and only nebulous glimmers of a memory.
"JD," Chris shouted around the door to the bedroom, "you can come in now. Lab techs will want to run a clean sweep of the place, so don't touch anything. I'll have the phone company give us a printout of all the outgoing and incoming calls. Maybe our guy stopped to use the phone after he showered and changed clothes." Bizarre as that was.
Ethan wished he could better hear their conversation, over the ringing in his ears. However, all of the men were in the bedroom now, which meant that past this abominable fichus plant was an entrance to the living room and a path to the exit. He whipped his head around the visual encumbrance, marveling that he knew the word encumbrance, and spotted a clear path to the door. It was now or never.
With infinite care and stealth, he opened the door leading onto the balcony and began his silent pursuit of the front door. The men were talking again in the other room and he tried to block them out, listening only to the lack of sound he was making as he tiptoed across the carpet. His own breathing sounded uncommonly loud to his ears and his hands shook, one carrying a gun, the other a briefcase, and he was holding onto both for dear life. A movement and a gasp crushed his hopes for escape.
JD thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye as he crossed the bedroom, and did a double take, then nearly fell backwards on the bed, sucking the air out of the room and covering his mouth with his hand.
Guns drawn immediately, Buck, Chris and Nathan took position beside and in the doorway to the bedroom. And they froze.
The freezing happened on several levels. First, there was a 44-caliber handgun pointed directly at them. Second, Ezra was pointing it. Chris blinked a thousand times in an effort to convince himself he wasn't imagining things, but the fact that everyone else was staring at what he was staring at meant that he hadn't simply gone insane. Buck was holding his breath, perhaps making up for the fact that JD was panting. Nathan was the first one to speak.
"Ezra. Ezra, it's us now. You can put down your gun."
This produced absolutely no results except for a slight confused expression that filled the man's eyes as he stood there, looking at them as though they were extraterrestrials. Or enemies. Chris moved then, motioning for all of them to lower their guns. He dropped his gun arm to his side and raised the other hand in front of him, palm out, an effort to calm, and he took a step forward.
Ethan dropped the briefcase to the floor with a thud and cupped that hand beneath the grip of his gun, steadying his aim on the blond man approaching him. The eyes. The man's eyes were hauntingly familiar. Not gray, no, but gray and green with a rim of yellow around the iris. Changeable with his moods. He had a glare that could reduce most men, maybe entire cities, to rubble. He knew those eyes better than he knew his own. That didn't mean much under the circumstances.
"Ezra?" Chris tried to keep his voice steady and calm. "Ezra, it's Chris, your friend, your boss. We thought you were dead, pard." A shake of a chestnut head warned him to stay where he was, but the frightened look in the green eyes implored him to keep coming. "We thought you died. In the fire. You can put your gun down. It's Chris."
"Chris. Chris Larabee?" Ethan wanted to be sure, perfectly sure they were on the same page. What a poor liar, to be telling him that he worked for Chris Larabee. He could hear snippets of conversations in his mind, distracting and confusing him. This was a man to be feared.
A mean, relentless son of a bitch with a drinking problem. He never was the same after his wife and son got blown up. I'd personally shake the hand of the genius who pulled that off. And he sent you to prison for five long years.
Those thoughts conflicted garishly with the softer ones that spoke of love and friendship and burning desire.
I'll always be here for you, just not in the way you want me to be. We can't. And you know it as well as I do.
"Yeah, Ezra. It's me." Chris kept walking, very slowly, keeping his gun down and his hand out, only he flipped the palm upwards, not expecting Ezra's gun, only asking him to trust him. To take his hand. To show some sign that he knew him at all.
Ethan read his expression, the unvoiced relief and near joy in the blond's eyes, and was caught in a moment on the horizon of his mind, seeing the same unfettered happiness, the openness, the want. And also a wariness, a fear keeping all the rest at bay, that had nothing to do with the gun aimed at his chest.
Donning a seamless, broad smile and a purposeful light of hope in his eyes, Ethan reached out and took Chris' hand, lowering his weapon against his thigh and pulling the two of them close together. He forced a shaky breath of relief and ran his hand up Larabee's arm to cup his jaw, and before the man could say anything, Ezra raised his chin and drew their lips together.
He kissed Larabee fully, like he was trying to capture his soul; open jaw, moist breath, delving tongue, losing his hand in Chris' hair and plundering his mouth. He felt a hand curling about his waist and heard a whimpered moan as the world dissolved and he kissed the familiar stranger with all the tangled, lost, disoriented emotions in his being.
Then he cold-clocked Chris with the butt of his gun, and made a dash for the balcony.
Ethan snatched the briefcase from the floor mid-stride and, giving absolutely no thought to the utter madness of his actions, leapt over the rail of the balcony and plunged fifty feet into the hotel swimming pool. The briefcase flew from his hand upon impact and he skewered the water like a scythe, feet hitting bottom, legs propelling him back to the top where he surfaced spluttering and dazed.
Perhaps not the wisest of decisions in retrospect, as he felt most of the wind knocked from his body and the ringing in his ears increased with a vengeance. Sheer instinct drove him on, compelled his limbs to swim, hands to recover the case, knees to bend and straighten as he stepped out of the water and began to lumber towards the nearest exit. Heedless of the shouts of alarm and gasps of concern from passersby, he jogged across the ground feeling he was still upon the water, on a ship, the earth rolling and unsteady beneath his feet.
He left the hotel grounds and a suite full of stunned ATF agents behind.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was reeling - from more than just the blow to the head - and had fallen to his knees, holding his scalp against the flow of blood he felt trickling between his fingers and down his face.
Buck had reacted first, not running to Chris, who had a head harder than rock, maybe made of rock, and had sped to the balcony, watching Ezra gracefully leap over the railing like he was in a ballet, like it wasn't five stories to impact.
JD was right behind him and they both turned their heads as Chris shouted, "Go after him!", JD thinking for just a second that Chris meant that far more literally than he had. Buck yanked him away from the edge he was about to jump over and spun him in the direction of the hotel room door, shoving him into a flat out run. They still had their weapons drawn, which proved very distressing to the hotel guests who ducked, screamed, flattened themselves against walls, and generally tried not to get bowled over by the two galloping, shouting, gun-waving men.
Nathan was at Chris' side pressing a towel to his head and telling him to stay still a minute. A minute sounded inordinately long to Chris, already struggling to stand and give chase. "Chris, you're in no condition to go charging down there. Let JD and Buck catch him."
"What in the hell went on just then? What was that?" Ignoring Nathan, Chris finally managed to stand, holding the towel to his head as he marched out of the suite. "Get Josiah on the horn and tell him to get his ass down here. I'll call Travis and tell him to postpone the funeral. Shit. Why the hell would he hit me?"
He was unable to make sense of any of it and tried to find his balance through the pain as he moved down the hall. Behind him, Nathan was talking to Josiah and hurrying to keep up.
"Josiah, we need you to get down to the Regency. Meet us in the lobby. You'll never guess who we just saw. No, it wasn't Elvis. How's Vin? Okay, meet us in ten."
Winded, discouraged, and more than a trifle baffled, Buck and JD met up with Chris and Nathan just as they reached the front doors. Chris looked like a man who wanted an answer to an impossible question, and stood there dressing them down with his livid gaze.
"Witnesses said he just took off running, but there's no sign of him." Buck leaned over, resting his hands on his knees and catching his breath.
"Well, you two obviously didn't try very hard."
"We don't even know the direction he went, Chris ..."
"How difficult could it be to follow the big, wet footprints, JD ..."
"You wanna go after him, Larabee, be my guest." Buck straightened to his full height, enjoying that one advantage he had over his friend, and tried to return Chris' glare. "But you know Ezra. He can disappear in plain sight like David Copperfield if he wants to. What in the hell went on up there?"
"I'm gonna have DPD put out on APB on him ..." Nathan had his phone still in hand and was dialing.
Chris grabbed it and folded it closed, shaking his head, staring out the doors like he was seeing a ghost - which in his mind, he had. "No. Not a word of this, not to anyone. Whoever ransacked his room thinks he's dead. Best keep him that way for a while 'til we can figure out why he would ..."
A faraway gaze ended that sentence. Why he would return to his hotel. Why he would act like he didn't know them. Why he would, well, do anything he did up there, not that Chris wanted to remind everyone that he had kissed Ezra as hard and as totally as Ezra had kissed him.
"None of this makes any sense. What does Ezra have that they want?" Then he stopped being a Senior Agent in Charge long enough to let a brilliant smile split his face. "At least this spares me from having to find something nice to say at his funeral."
"You mean you're capable?" JD snapped his mouth shut even as the words spewed out - but Chris didn't appear to have heard him. Or, he was just in a freakishly weird mood, because he was still wearing the wide smile as they went to meet the ATF Forensics team entering the lobby.
+ + + + + + +
Team 7 hovered outside the door to Ezra's suite, letting the forensic guys do their thing. Lots of dusting for prints and shining blue lights on everything. Many rolls of film. Josiah arrived somewhere during the proceedings wearing an understandably inquisitive expression, and Chris commandeered a pass key, ushering them all into an empty room. He tried to scrape his hands through his hair, only to wince when he encountered the blood-matted patch above his wound. Everybody else situated themselves around the room and waited for him to talk, some patiently, some very impatiently, but those some had learned their lesson in the lobby and were now chewing on their thumbnail to give their mouth an occupation.
Chris stopped pacing, restarted, and stopped again to stand in front of Josiah, the only man in the room with a Masters in psychology. "Ezra isn't dead. He's alive." Redundant, but to the point. Josiah didn't erupt in spontaneous relief but remained seated wearing his professional neutral expression - so Chris continued. "When we arrived, he was already here. He had taken a shower and changed clothes. And then - "
Chris stopped and shut his eyes, replaying the scene, a scene he still had trouble believing and he'd been there. "Then Ezra looked like he was trying to sneak out. When JD spotted him, he drew his gun on us." Opening his eyes to a narrow slit, like he was trying to peer through dense fog, he continued haltingly. "He, we, he ... We lowered our guns and tried to get him to ... It was as though he didn't know who we were. Ezra just stood there, and then he repeated my name like it was the first time he'd ever heard it. And when I finally got close enough, he kissed me, then hit me over the head with his gun and catapulted off the balcony into the swimming pool. And disappeared."
Satisfied that Chris was done, Josiah cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap. "Was his room ransacked when you got here?"
"And housekeeping hadn't come? He hadn't tried to straighten it at all?"
"No. But he was there long enough to shower and change clothes."
"That's typically the first thing he'd be worried about. How did he look - when you all saw him?"
The question was directed at the entire room, and JD felt the muzzle was off, so he quickly offered, "Like he was sneaking out of the room. Like he didn't want to be seen."
"I meant physically," Josiah explained, "I meant did he appear badly injured?"
Pondering the statement, each of them donned very serious expressions, looking off in different directions as though they were watching the scene unfold on the walls. Nathan eventually spoke for everyone. "He wasn't bleeding, showed no signs of having been shot or hit by debris. He wasn't limping or favoring any limbs. But he did look burned. Not disfigured burned, but scorched. Sunburned. Beet red."
Josiah nodded pensively. "And he didn't say anything - other than your name." It was a clarifying statement, more than a question. "And did he ever lower his gun?"
"Yes, yes, he lowered his gun before he ... " Chris trailed off, embarrassed now as he hadn't been before.
"Before you kissed him," JD picked up the narrative, happily. He got elbowed in the ribs for his trouble, and hissed at Buck. "Well, he did."
"Okay," Josiah interjected, "Ezra lowered his gun before he kissed you - probably as a distraction - hit you - instead of killing you - and then he ran away by means of a fifty foot drop. Correct? Okay. Nathan, how much concussive force do you think the warehouse explosion carried?"
"A lot." A very technical amount, that.
"Enough to blow him right out of his wits?"
"Maybe." Another very precise answer. "But nobody could have survived that if they were still inside. Oh." A light bulb seemed came on over Nathan's head. "But what if he wasn't inside?"
"What if he made it out, or wasn't in the direct path of the explosion?"
"Wait a minute." Chris was either not following this train of thought, or was at least a few box cars behind. "So he gets himself blasted out of the building and then just walks his way into Denver and ends up here? He remembers his hotel room, but not his teammates. He remembers to change clothes and grab his briefcase, and then clocks me on the head with his gun?"
Josiah and Nathan both shrugged in response - like that made as much sense to them as anything would at this point. Exhausted, Chris gave up thinking for a moment and sat down on the bed.
Buck was smoothing out his bedraggled moustache and spoke past his fingers. "Why don't we go back to the scene and see what we can find? I mean, he wasn't there when the fire trucks arrived, or at least not right after when they started sifting through the rubble. Right? Ok, so, he had to have gone somewhere. If he wasn't dead at the time, obviously, and he was far enough away not to be hurt like Vin, then there has to be some evidence of his movements. Right?"
"Vin was near more glass, right?" JD offered. "Up top." He pointed to the ceiling, as thought they might be unsure of the direction up. "And he fell twenty feet - onto his head."
"He could have been behind that wall."
Nathan seemed to think he'd seized upon something important, and everyone turned to listen. "There was one wall standing, remember? Solid steel, eight inches thick. Load-bearing. What if he was on the other side, through the doorway and got whooshed out?"
"Whooshed? Is that a clinical term?" Buck chuckled at himself, and Nathan glibly flipped him off.
"But why wouldn't that kill him?"
"It should have," was Nathan's honest reply, looking at Chris unapologetically, offering nothing by way of explanation.
"Ok. But it didn't."
"But it may very well have knocked him silly." Another highly clinical explanation.
"Well then, let's go." Chris slapped his hands against his thighs and stood, like it was a done deal. "Why not start at the beginning?"
"A very good place to start," Buck and JD chimed in unison.
Josiah gave them a weary look that clearly said Heaven help us, while Chris just shook his head in disgust. They left en masse, stopping to tell the Forensics team where they were going, and took the elevators down, in silence, feeling less reassured than they should. Less depressed, but definitely less certain of anything that had happened twelve hours ago. And they all needed sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Ethan stopped running when he thought he was going to pass out. His lungs burned and his head swam. No, he wasn't going to think about swimming again. Pain had reawakened in every part of his body, and he felt as though he had dropped onto the cement in stead of water. His entire left arm was numb from impacting on the surface of the pool.
How brilliant it had been of him to surmise that Larabee would be receptive to such a shocking thing as that kiss had been. What a marvelous distraction it had proved to be. Of course, he didn't want to contemplate exactly how distracting it had been. Or how good it had felt. Or how right. Or any number of things he could have said to describe the moment. Terrifying was one. But surely it had been the right thing to do.
To hit the man and escape had been the right thing, his mind clarified. Just to be sure.
Lack of knowledge of his surroundings didn't unsettle him as much as it might have, should have perhaps, but he was getting used to the feeling. He hadn't been followed, or at the very least wasn't being followed at that moment, so he rested against the side of a building and tried not to throw up. His left hand was cramped around the handle of the waterlogged briefcase and his right was still holding his gun. His gun that he had drawn so easily, instantaneously.
One thing was certain, he drew the gun out of reflex and was prepared to use it. More proof that he was a criminal. Idly, he wondered if he had ever killed anyone. He must have. A number of his only memories were of deaths, were of dead bodies, shooting, being shot. He didn't feel safe anywhere, least of all on the open street in broad daylight, so he made the decision to find somewhere to hide.
Downtown. He was still downtown, which meant that in a city this large there must be a number of homeless shelters, or better yet, seedy hotels in which a criminal at large could hide. Sleep sounded necessary, and with that thought in mind, he began to walk at as quick a pace as he could manage, in a direction not facing the sun. Which must logically be west, his mind whispered. Lord, how his head hurt. Another wave of nausea pummeled him and he stumbled against the nearest wall. He was stronger than this, he chided himself. He could overcome this. He could overcome anything he put his mind to, another voice echoes in his ears.
His mother's voice, but this did not fill him with peace, only a strange mixture of acrimony and resentment. Or maybe it was just the bile in his throat leaving that unpleasant taste in his mouth.
Whichever, he resumed walking and continued on his uncertain path for some time until he saw another hotel in the distance. Salvation. It was unkempt and poorly lit and a number of women who made no pretense as to their profession were lingering about in the lobby, but Ethan paid for a room and slowly ascended to its door.
It too was unkempt and poorly lit, and the bed was certain to be crawling with things unmentionable, but Ethan couldn't quite muster the indignation to care. He sat on the edge of the lumpy mattress and placed the briefcase beside him, forcefully uncurling his fingers. He felt compelled to open the thing and see how badly its contents fared. So he did, and it turned out to be not as bad as he had anticipated. Good. He would look at them later.
He was leaving a very wet spot on the matress, so he stood and stripped, laying out his clothes upon the other disreputable pieces of furniture in the room, hoping that when he woke up at least his pants wound be dry. As much as he shuddered at the idea of climbing into the bed wearing only his boxer shorts, silk ones at that, he did just that without much regret. The entire room now smelled of chlorine, an improvement when he thought about it, and the tang brought vague memories to life in the aqueous matter of his brain.
Many pool-sides, iced drinks, laughter. And something darker. A memory of being choked, gagging, held down by cruel hands. He wished for the life of him he could remember pleasant things, that not everything he knew had been ugly or fearful. Or idle and indolent. No, he wished to escape that, the feeling of doing absolutely nothing good or productive in his life, and he felt that he had escaped it. But to what? And now he was alone, trapped in his own mind like a firefly in a jar, thoughts battering themselves to death against the walls of his amnesia.
Abruptly, he recognized one of those flittering thoughts and tried to capture it. The house he had remembered, the place with the tall windows. He was by the pool looking at the back of the house, and he knew it belonged to him. He lived in a place with a pool and a fenced-in yard and one large tree. Oak. Ash. Maple. Birch. That was the name of his street!
He nearly sat straight up, dizziness preventing him from doing so. Home. He needed to go home and tell someone something. Something depended greatly on his going home, and now he knew his street. Happiness. He fell asleep with a faint smile on his lips.
All was not lost, even if he was.
+ + + + + + +
"Well, where should we start?" They were back, returning to the scene of the crime no less, and they were standing in a semi-circle, each man looking as indecisive as the next. Chris, for once, was looking to them to lead him, and was, for once, looking pretty hopeful. "You wanna start with the alleged, life-saving, load-bearing wall?"
Everybody headed that way but Josiah, who had his own inscrutable methods of reading a crime scene. He watched the others walk through the rubble and squatted down on the ground, picking up loose rock in his hand. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply and let his mind and body relax, searching for inspiration and direction by the only method he knew how. Prayer. He didn't guide the prayer, just let it guide him.
Chris had given up on anything so transcendental years ago, not that it was helping him any at that point, but that's why he surrounded himself with such perceptive minds. Nathan appeared to be doing some sort of arithmetic in his head, probably judging force of impact, the amount of explosives used, the distance from the epicenter to the wall, all sorts of factors that Chris couldn't begin to sum up. JD and Buck were talking in hypotheticals, tossing round conjectures as to where Ezra might have been at the time of the blast and how he avoided serious injury, why he didn't recognize them, why he leapt off the balcony, what was in the briefcase he carried. Chris glanced at Josiah, still crouched on the ground, and decided to look the one place that had been out of their line of sight at the time: the back.
Getting inside people's minds was Josiah's job. This shouldn't feel so difficult, then; he should be able to construe the motivations of someone he knew so well. Except that none of them really knew Ezra, a fact that had saddened him on more than one occasion. Ezra always appeared - to him - to be a sheep lost from the fold, and not just liturgically, although if asked, he would be willing to bet Ezra had more faith than most. Just no religion.
This was all beside the point - where was he?
Ah yes. A man who doesn't know his friends, but knows the last place he stayed. A man who lives through an explosion and has to seek refuge. A man who lives through an explosion and considers his friends his enemies. A man who wakes up and walks back to his hotel. Only it wasn't his hotel, and if he had woken up, that meant he had to have slept somewhere. It didn't appear that he had slept in the hotel or else whoever had broken in would have found him. He had to have been somewhere else all night.
With that thought in mind, and another thought he had been waiting for the proper occasion to voice, the profiler rose and joined Buck and JD in the remains of the warehouse.
"Buck, was the back of Ezra's head burned? Was there any hair missing?"
"Not that we saw for that brief flash when he ran."
"Thanks Buck." He nodded to himself and turned to do something characteristically odd, walking several feet outside the building and lying down on the ground.
After a minute or two, a shadow fell across Josiah's face, and he opened his eyes. Chris was wearing a furiously impatient expression, and Josiah winked at him. Then he rolled over onto his hands and knees and began to crawl across the pavement. Another minute or two of this and he stopped and sat back on his haunches, pointing to a corrugated tin building about fifty yards away.
"If I were a man who had just been thrown from an exploding building, I would want to escape the fire, put something between me and the heat. And no one saw him, at any time, after the blaze, which meant he was out of sight." He stood then, and walked towards the swath of grass behind the building, stooping like a bloodhound on a scent. Shortly, he stood up again, turning and showing all of his teeth in an exceedingly pleased smile. "Nathan!" His booming bass voice filled the air. "I think I've found him!"
They came running, the three that remained inside, and everyone crowded around Josiah who was pointing at the ground. Nathan squatted down and sucked in a lung-full of air, gesturing for the others to join him. They looked like hoof prints, the round gouges in the earth, grass and mud displaced, just as if -
"Someone crawled along the ground. Look. He was dragging his feet. And the imprints here, they're like hand holds, like rock climbing."
The five of them moved in a line, hunched over like geriatrics, following the trail that lead towards, "That building there," Nathan was pointing again, just as Josiah had done.
They didn't waste time scurrying to it, and there, the signs were even more unmistakable. A staccato trail of blood was smeared along the metal wall of the building, the blood Ezra had left from his wounded hands.
"We're doin' pretty damn good, even without Vin," JD whispered low, like somehow this was a moment for observing silence.
"Shit," Chris said then, "We haven't even told Vin. What time is it? If he wakes up and we're not there ... He'll have escaped by now." As though he were escaping prison. "That's next on our list of places to visit."
Josiah walked ahead a little, stopping where the trail of blood stopped, and closed his eyes again. "He either stayed here, behind this building, or went on to the trees. But he was walking, so unless you all are better at tracking than I think you are, there's no way to tell for sure." It would be nearly impossible to track the man on debris-strewn pavement unless he was seriously leaking blood.
"So he crawled away from the fire and slept out here somewhere, and walked back into town at first light."
Chris looked at Buck approvingly, and followed with his own deduction. "Which means that whoever broke into his suite probably did it while we were at the hospital with Vin." And while he was at the bar drowning his sorrows, he thought with a grimace of self-censure.
"So this tells us what happened, more or less. Good job, Josiah." Nathan patted him on the back, proud as always. "But it still doesn't shed any light on why he pulled his gun on us."
"Or why he was in his hotel in the first place," Chris back-tracked. "Or what Trainer was looking for."
They were back to that, still at that, and none of them had even the faintest suggestion as to why.
Even when the others had walked to their vehicles, preparing to leave, Josiah remained standing at the corner of the outbuilding, eyes closed, humming to himself. If he were an undercover agent, what would he do? What would he be doing now?
+ + + + + + +
Ethan awoke drenched in a cold sweat. Vaporous shreds of a dream still haunted him, and he was breathing from some great exertion his sleeping self had undertaken. Dusk had fallen on the city while he slept, unless it was just the dimness of his vision. Rubbing his eyes proved that it was, in fact, twilight, and not just inside his own head. He was hungry again, and horribly thirsty. His clothing was unhappily not quite dry, but he dressed anyway, feeling that nagging sense of urgency that had plagued him since, well, for as long as he remembered. That notion made him laugh; it didn't count for much. His memory extended almost exactly 24 hours.
Stumbling across the briefcase reminded him that he had yet to open the package he had retrieved from the hotel. He took a moment to turn on a lamp and inspect his booty. The weight of the thing felt familiar, and the shape. It was a little black book. A cliché, then. No mystery is complete without a little black book.
He was nervous about opening it, but did so, and when he did, it was like opening a window over the grand canyon. An impossibly wide, yawning, spectacular amount of memory, for someone who has none, came jumping up at him.
The numbers on the scrap of paper in his wallet were the combination to a safe - a safe from which he had taken this book - this book which contained names which corresponded to the code names - the code names in that leather bound journal he had been wearing in his trousers. Money, names, shipments. Weapons. Clattering like dishes to the kitchen floor, memories broke upon the opaque surface of his mind, and he could see himself retrieving the book, hiding it in the hotel room, making a phone call, drinking a glass of brandy. Trainer.
He worked for a man named Trainer and this belonged to him. It was the key, the thing that would be able to decipher the log book. Trainer was a gun smuggler, an east coast-west coast intermediary. He was like a regional Don of illegal weapons trade. And Ethan remembered his phone number.
This was huge.
He sat there, dazed and blinking, sweating again. He needed to get these things back to Trainer, and then hopefully the man would be able to fill him in on what happened before. Before everything.
Rising unsteadily to his feet, he started to scrub a hand across his face, and then stopped himself, knowing that would only hurt. Home, he should head home and change clothes and find something to eat. Keys! He reached into his pocket and grabbed the keys, fingering them and deciding that one must he a car key. Which meant the other must be a key to his house. And that meant that he had a plan and a purpose, and those were awfully reassuring things. He found the telephone next to the bed and called for a cab.
Birch street, he told the taxi driver, who asked what part of Birch street, to which he had no answer. He told the driver to arrive at one end and he would walk until he got home. That sounded good, even possible, considering that he'd been running on instinct this entire time. However, even as he congratulated himself on that, he remembered how much of an instinct it had been to kiss Chris Larabee. His enthusiasm wilted as he rode in the back of the cab, ignoring the music from the front seat and the jabber on the CB radio. He had absolutely no explanation for the heartache he felt when he thought of that man - a man who had sent him to prison, evidently, but a man he thought he knew. Knew well.
He has horses and drinks Johnny Walker. He has an incomparably dreadful temper, and the most piercing, intense eyes. He's known Buck for a dozen years and the two of them were detectives in Denver Homicide. He is ferociously defensive of his team, and protects them like family. He had a wife and son who were killed by a bomb meant for him, and he's never brought their killer to justice.
He smells like leather, and hay, and Kenneth Cole cologne, and smokes when he drinks, and hides his smiles behind his glass. And hides his pain behind his anger. Larabee grills in his backyard every Sunday when he invites his team to his ranch. On Saturday mornings he and Buck exercise their horses. Buck! Another name he almost forgot he remembered. That was a truly incongruous thing to think.
"Obviously I've spent a considerable amount of time studying Mr. Larabee, learning his movements and habits." That had to be the explanation - not the tugging, longing, mawkish sentiment welling in his eyes as he thought about him.
"You talkin' to me?"
Ethan was startled from his reverie by the cab driver's voice and he stammered for a moment. "No, no, sir, it's nothing." Nothing worth thinking at any rate.
"Well anyway, we're here." And they were. They were on his street. Ethan paid the fare, tipped handsomely, and stepped out onto the pavement just as the street lamps were coming on.
It was unsettlingly eerie, déjà vu all over again, standing on that street, carrying a brief case. Going home. And he saw his car. He nearly sprinted to the thing, sitting all sleek and low in his driveway. A Jaguar XKG.
His heart was pounding as he bounded up the walkway and the steps and stood at his doorway. That he didn't remember the front of the house wasn't of much concern, as the key fit in the lock and the door swung open soundlessly on its hinges. Directly he walked into the kitchen, took out a glass, and poured himself cranberry juice from the fridge as though he'd done it all his life. It was exhilarating!
He set the briefcase on the counter, and set about making himself an omelet.
Oh blessed Lord in Heaven, it smelled good. And tasted better. As did the toast with mascarpone cheese and strawberries he consumed thereafter. And the prosciutto which he discovered with a small dance of glee. Which he ate wrapped around the slivers of melon he found wrapped up in the vegetable crisper.
He didn't ever remember being this hungry, but then again that was rather stupidly axiomatic, and saints be praised there was a cappuccino machine in the corner. His thoughts were chaotic, rambling, and his face hurt from the enormous grin he couldn't wipe off.
He started to think that he couldn't remember ever being this happy, but stopped himself. Those post-facto realizations were beginning to come with an massive amount of fear and sorrow - fear of learning his sordid past coupled horribly with perverse sorrow that he couldn't remember it.
No, he didn't have time for any of that. Showing emotion can get you killed, or at least can get you to having a conversation with your coffee. He set down his cappuccino and went into the living room to use the phone. There was a phone in the living room, and not in the kitchen, and he knew that, and that was a marvelous feeling.
Briefly he wondered whether or not his phone might be bugged, so he pried open the face plate and inspected the insides. Nothing. That didn't mean they didn't have a wire on his phone line, but he was willing to risk it. Dialing the only phone number he seemed to remember, he waited three rings before someone answered.
"I would like to speak with Mr. Trainer, please. This is Ethan Saunders."
+ + + + + + +
At long last, after prying Josiah out of his thoughts, the team had eaten a very late lunch, very quickly, and had gone back to the Federal Building. Someone had to talk to Travis, and naturally that someone was Chris. Travis promised him all available resources to help locate Ezra and bring him in safely, in whatever condition. Team 4 was not to be told; they had their assignments and would remain on the Trainer case while Team 7 was busy with, let's call it, a 'classified' mission. Travis was greatly disturbed by the thought of possibly having an armed, trained, delusional, rogue agent on the loose, but Chris convinced him that Ezra was of no danger to any of them, and probably of no greater menace to society than he was normally.
Normally he was only a menace to Chris.
No, that wasn't fair. He was a distraction, to be sure, and a bloody nuisance at times. But beyond that, above that, he was a friend, no matter how precarious the friendship, and he was terribly loved - no matter how impossible the situation.
Chris refused to remember what it felt like to believe him lost. It was better to forget, just wipe that off the table and set things back up the way they were. They way they had been. He could just forget the night before, and sobbing his eyes out as he stumbled drunk and despairing, and promising himself that if he could have just one more day, one more chance, he'd give anything and everything just to hold him. Because that's fucking pathetic.
He would forget, and he could go back to how it was before. As if in the history of the world that has ever worked for anyone.
The sun was just dipping toward the horizon when Chris finally emerged from the meeting with Travis. He rounded up his team from where they were wandering idly about, and piled them back in their cars for the drive Denver Memorial. And they arrived just in time. There seemed to be a crisis in the ICU, and none of them had to speculate as to the cause.
"Damnit, Tanner, you ain't got the sense God gave a radish! You cannot just get up and wander about!" If Chris hadn't said it first, Nathan was going to.
"I could if'n I had my pants," Vin shot back, as irritably as a man can shoot back while strapped face down to a bed with his naked rear end on display for the world. They were preparing him for surgery and a move to the burn unit. "They want to take skin from, well, from places on my body that likes its skin where it is, and try to grow it on other parts of me. And it hurts!"
That admission alone was a terrible testament to just how badly it hurt. Vin who once walked on a broken leg for six weeks before complaining of a slight ache. Vin who had once been shot in the arm and had returned home to remove the bullet himself with a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
God help them, everyone in the room snickered.
"Mr. Tanner, you have to have the surgery or you'll have horrible, deep scars for the rest of your life. And the wounds as they are can get infected so easily ... you have no idea how easily. And you still have a concussion." The nurse this time, much more kindly than she should be feeling. She was a regular, or rather, they were regulars and she knew all of them. Had dated Buck. Although that wasn't news.
"I'll be fine, Goddamnit!"
Buck leered and stuck out his hand, accepting a ten dollar bill from JD who handed it over without a fuss.
"What'd you bet," Josiah whispered loud enough for all to hear.
"I bet on the inside of five minutes. JD thought it'd take longer than that for him to stop bitching and moaning."
"I'm still here, ya bastards." And he was in the middle of a world-class pout. "And my ass is wavin' out in the breeze. And I have this damn tube stuck up my ..."
"It's called a catheter, Mr. Tanner." The nurse actually blushed as she said it, and mouthed to the rest of them that she thought his rear end was really very cute.
The resulting giggles and titters brought forth a heated and colorful stream of invectives from the bed. And then they remembered why they had come, the mood shifting, and Chris asking the nurse to please leave them alone for a moment. Cheeky devil that he was, Buck took three tissues from a box and placed them over Vin's exposed posterior, being careful not to actually touch him, muttering that he'd have to wash with steel wool and borax if he did.
"Go to hell, Buck. What's wrong, Chris?" Vin could feel the mood swing when it hit, and wished he could look at them as they talked. Usually one look from Chris said more than a whole lot of talk. "Would some of ya come over to this side where I can see ya?"
Chris and Buck went around, exchanged a brief glance, and Chris figured he'd go first. "Ezra isn't dead, Vin. He made it out."
Vin smiled wide; he just knew it. Slipperier than a greased hog, that was Ezra. "How'd he get out?"
"We don't know for sure, but we saw him in his hotel suite. And, well ..." Chris looked to Buck for help.
"I don't know that he knows us, Junior. He pulled his gun on us and wouldn't come with us. He didn't look like he had any clue who we were."
"Do ya know why he returned to the hotel?"
"Do ya know where he is now?"
"Maybe he went home."
That was such an absurdly simple thing. After all, why wouldn't he go home?
"Wouldn't he figure we'd look there?" Nathan had thought of it, but dismissed it as being too blatantly obvious.
"No." That syllable was drawn out and blithely surprised, Josiah putting his hand to his forehead, clearly wondering why he hadn't come up with it first.
"No, he'd figure we'd figure that," JD followed, feeling uncommonly obtuse, "Like Buck said, disappear in plain sight."
"And I'm the one with the concussion. Jeez," Vin could be heard muttering from the bed.
"We'll be back to check up on you. Be. Good," Chris admonished, "Or I will make Ezra determine your punishment." And that was a threat indeed.
They rushed back to their cars and sped off across town, all the while, some lingering feeling nagged and pressed and bothered both Josiah and Chris.
Needless to say, it wasn't the same feeling.
+ + + + + + +
Mr. Trainer had been very surprised to hear from him. They talked as though they were old, dear acquaintances, and Ethan informed him that he had something that belonged to him. They would meet in an hour - and where was he now? He was at home, and no it would be safer to meet somewhere else - just in case his home was being watched.
Ethan was enjoying his second cup of cappuccino, allowing himself a moment of relaxation. He had changed clothes again, totally astonished by the number of closets he had full of nothing but clothes, and had slathered his chapped face with a very thick Vitamin E and Aloe balm.
Chapped - there was a euphemism if he'd ever heard one. No matter; his skin would heal, and his memories would return, and he would be alright. Now if he could just make himself truly believe that, maybe his head wouldn't hurt so much. Although he had, with great elation, discovered a bottle of prescription pain relievers in his bathroom cabinet, and they should kick in soon.
If he had taken the time to really look around, perhaps more of his memory would have returned. If he had checked his voicemail, maybe he would have remembered the real reason he felt so compelled to return home. If he hadn't been standing in his living room, looking out those long plate glass windows, he would have been able to escape out the back door.
The scratch of the key in his lock didn't give him enough warning. He nearly dropped his cup.
Too many thoughts leapt out at him - the briefcase still in the kitchen, the smell of food that would give him away, how many bullets he had in his gun, the fact that there wasn't any good place to hide, the fact that he didn't have time to think. He dropped to the floor, placed his cup gently on the dark wood, and slunk behind the leather sofa. That would have to do. The people who opened his door, and there had to be several by the scuffle of feet, didn't enter straight away. There was a pause, and then his worst fears were confirmed as Chris Larabee spoke.
"He's been here. Recently."
"Smells like coffee and eggs." Other than Vin, JD could put away more food than any of them, more than was conceivable for someone his size. "Should we draw our guns?"
Chris didn't want to say yes, but he knew they had to. So he nodded and indicated that they should say anything else; they had probably already given themselves away. Using hand signals, he indicated that Josiah and Nathan should go upstairs. He and JD would take the rooms on the main floor off to the left, the study and den and whatever else was back there. Buck would keep an eye on the front door, after making sure the kitchen and pantry were clear. They nodded their agreement and split up, moving carefully, guns drawn but not cocked.
For all of them but Chris and Josiah, this was the first time they had ever been to Ezra's. Burnished wood and carved furniture, everything polished within an inch of its life, not a book or glass or carpet fiber out of place. Triple-glazed windows forbade any peripheral noises from infiltrating the town house. Ezra's inner sanctum. A Chippendale hutch with fine china. A fireplace with no ashes, and an fanciful antique clock on the mantle that still kept its time, inner pendulum ticking steadily. Chris knew that on the half hour little people came out and danced. It was Bavarian. A gift from Maude.
Everything seemed so perfectly neat and quiet and pristine, and incredibly lonely. JD was afraid he would break something if he breathed too hard. It was too quiet. Josiah and Nathan appeared at the top of the stairs giving the 'all clear' signal; it was the same from Buck, and he indicated he would go outside to see if the car engine was warm.
Bedrooms not slept in, no papers disturbed in the study, no towels used in the bathrooms, the only things that had been used recently were the dishes in the kitchen. Chris was beginning to think they had arrived only moments too late, and directed JD to return to the living room, to watch the front while Buck went out to check on the Jaguar.
The silence was starting to get to him; JD felt creepy. Creeped out. And then something caught his eye. A darker smudge of a vague reflection in one of the tall windows. Why hadn't any of them thought to check behind the sofa? That was sheer stupidity. On cat feet JD moved that way, hands shaking as he held his gun, and he stopped, head askew, when he saw the little cup of cappuccino sitting so out of place on the floor.
The clock over the mantle chimed the hour, a sprightly tune ringing suddenly loud in the silence, and JD whipped around, taking aim, then heaving a very foolish-feeling sigh at his own nervousness. And then he felt the cold nose of a gun pressed hard behind his right ear and the hiss of a command to drop his weapon. Talk about feeling foolish. JD didn't say a word, just did as he was told, tossing his gun onto the sofa.
Ethan maneuvered around the couch and wrapped his left arm around the young man's shoulder, keeping that arm secured to his body, while levering his own hand beneath the chin in front of him and tilting the head so that it partially obscured his own. He was taller than his captive, but not so much so that any of the ATF agents would try to shoot him. He had a human shield. The front door re-opened at the same time as Larabee rounded the corner from the study, and everyone in the room froze, unblinking and tense.
"Remove yourself from my door or I will kill him." Ethan walked clumsily with his captive until he was certain his back was to a wall, the wall between the kitchen and living room. JD moved with him, knowing this was Ezra and pretty darn certain that Ezra would shoot him. His fearful eyes pleased for help from either Buck or Chris, but they didn't look like they had the first idea what to do in this situation.
Chris held out his left hand, keeping Nathan and Josiah from descending the stairs as he heard them on the steps. "Ezra, you do not want to do this. That's JD you've got there, and you do not want to hurt him. You know him and he knows you."
"Nevertheless," Ethan sneered, and Chris flinched when he said it. "I will hurt him if you do not allow me to leave."
"JD, you doin' ok there, pard?" Buck's first concern, as always, was JD, but he kept his gun trained on Ezra. As much of Ezra as he could see. God help him if he actually had to pull the trigger. He didn't want to shoot either of them.
JD licked his lips and responded in a voice smaller than he knew he could produce. "Yeah. I'm okay."
"But he will cease to be so if you and your friends do not put down your weapons." Ethan increased the pressure on JD's neck with his gun, making JD let out a small yelp.
"Buck, move away from the door."
"I can't let him leave, Chris."
"Do you really want him to shoot JD? Cause he will."
It was the worst sort of epiphany to realize that. Chris could tell beyond a doubt that Ezra was going to shoot any or all of them in order to escape. In a hostage situation, you have to protect the hostage. JD was the hostage, and that made Ezra the hostage taker.
"Everybody put down your guns. Buck, get your ass away from the door." Slowly, inch by inch, Chris bent down and placed his gun on the floor, all the while keeping his eyes locked with Ezra's. "Goddamnit, Buck, do as I fucking tell you!"
Buck appeared to struggle with the command for a moment longer, and then capitulated, walking steadily away from the open door and tossing his gun to the floor with a loud crack. He stood by the fireplace huffing and seething, looking far angrier than JD had ever seen him.
"Very wise decision," Ethan scoffed, a cold smile hanging on his lips. "Now, if you will excuse us." He kept a firm hold on JD and edged along the wall, past the doorway to the kitchen, around the side table in the entryway, stopping only as Chris had the nerve to address him again.
"Ezra, you don't want to do this. We're your friends. You would never hurt JD." Please let that be true. Please don't make me shoot you.
The response was low and controlled, but powerfully intense for all its calm. "My name is not Ezra, as you well know, and you have no idea what I am capable of."
Chris and Buck could only watch in helpless confusion as their friend and teammate drug another friend and teammate backwards out of the house. The instant the two were out of sight, they picked up their guns, and Chris told Josiah and Nathan to go out the back door and circle around front. "Shoot him if you have to, but we can't let him take JD." They didn't want to follow that order, but knew they had to, and jogged to the kitchen as Chris and Buck went to the front door.
Ethan told JD to keep both his hands on the hood of the car, head down, don't move an inch, while he crouched on the other side of him and opened the driver's side door. It was a good thing, really, that he already had the car door open and that both Chris and Buck had their weapons ready. A long black sedan pulled up to the curb, two windows were rolled down, and a hail of bullets ricocheted off the side of the Jaguar.
Chris and Buck flattened themselves on the inside of the town house and took turns returning fire on the street. Ethan pulled JD down behind the open car door and returned a little fire of his own. Josiah and Nathan ran to the front and threw themselves to the grass, taking aim at the black sedan.
"Who the hell is that!" Chris let his spent clip clatter to the floor and loaded a new one.
"How the hell should I know!" Buck popped his head around the door frame and took aim at the tires of the foreign car, one of them hissing loudly as it deflated. "That ought to start something."
And it did.
The opposite doors of the sedan opened and slammed shut, new gunfire coming at the house from across the hood and trunk of the vehicle. Ethan used the confusion and distraction to pull JD around and shove him head first across the front seat of the Jag. It was a strange action, given that a moment ago he had been so willing to blow the kid's head off and was now trying to save his life, but at that moment he didn't stop to consider it. He slid in behind JD, pushed him out of his way and started his engine. The car was in reverse before he had his door closed, and he kept his head down as he backed partially out of his own driveway and then bowled over the hedges in lawn next door as he made his escape.
Two of the gunmen from the sedan stupidly came out of hiding in an effort to shoot the Jag, and died where they stood. The third died a moment later when he made a run for cover across the street.
"Josiah, Nathan, you two okay?"
"Yeah, Chris. You? Buck?"
"We're fine, Nate."
"Buck, put out an APB on his Jag. Let them know he's armed and dangerous and has a hostage. Shit! What in the hell happened here? Goddamnit!" Chris pulled out his own phone and called in the shooting, knowing that this just meant more time they would have to waste with the local PD while two of his agents were out there, and he wasn't sure which one was in the greatest danger.
Josiah and Nathan moved their vehicles to block off the street as they were forced to wait for the DPD. Chris ended up sitting on the front lawn holding his head in his hands, while Buck was pacing the drive, every now and then swearing aloud and throwing angry questions at the air. This was a scenario none of them could have anticipated and had no real idea how to handle.
Nathan hung back, watching the street, watching Buck, watching Josiah approach Chris and take a seat on the grass facing him. "He'd never hurt him, Chris."
"Wouldn't he? You didn't see him in there. Fuck!" That word seemed to make up for a lot of things Chris would like to say in any given situation. He used it in every part of speech, Ezra once noted with disdain, adding that it would do him credit to learn at least a few more creative, if not less inappropriate, ways to curse. "Not only does he not appear to know us, he doesn't know who he is. You heard him."
Like great cogs slipping into place, the feeling that had been nagging Josiah for the past six hours finally clicked. Finally made sense. "Oh my God." A very rare blasphemy from Josiah got Chris' full attention. "No, I'm afraid he does know who he is. All this time we've been asking why he would return to his hotel room, and what Trainer could be looking for ... except that it's not Ezra's hotel room, Chris. It's Ethan Saunder's."