Ezra stared at the digital timer in resignation. If he weren't about to die in less than ten minutes, he'd be worried that his boss would kill him. Chris Larabee was not a man known for his calm disposition in the best of times, and this certainly was not the best of times. In fact, Ezra was having a difficult time recalling a situation which had been worse. Although, his last few months in the FBI had been close. Staring at a timer that inevitably counted down to his demise while he was unable to do anything about it, however, was making him think back about the FBI with an almost wistful nostalgia. A sudden noise jerked Ezra out of his thoughts, and he turned his head quickly. Perhaps his captors had had a change of heart? His eyes widened when he discovered the cause of the noise. And he'd thought that things couldn't get worse...
Vin rubbed his shin where he'd run into a steel bar that was sticking out. In the dim light, he'd missed it, and he was pretty sure it would leave a bruise. Mentally shrugging, he continued onward. He wasn't exactly sure what had been going on in this part of the warehouse he'd been calling home for the past year or so, but from the wires and lumpy clay-like substance he'd found attached to the wires throughout the building, he knew it couldn't be good. Finally, he'd discovered that all of the wires led to this spot. He'd seen enough movies to know that he really should be getting as far away as possible, but he wasn't quite ready to give up his home just yet.
"Run! You must leave immediately!" Ezra cried out. The last thing he'd expected or wanted to see right now was a child appearing in this death trap. The boy couldn't have been more than ten or eleven, with large blue eyes and messy brown hair that came to his shoulders.
Startled, Vin paused, his eyes easily finding the well-dressed man handcuffed to a steel girder. Then he turned to follow the wires and saw the box with the red numbers steadily counting down. Sucking in a breath, he ran over to the table, hoping to find a way to disable the device.
"No, no, don't touch it!" Ezra exclaimed. At this rate, he wouldn't have to wait for the timer to run out; he was going to die of heart failure first. "It's probably booby-trapped," he added in a calmer voice. When the boy stopped and turned back to look at him, Ezra breathed out in relief. "You need to leave," he said again.
Vin frowned. He wasn't going to just go and let this guy get blown up. His objective changed, he began poking around, looking for something he could use to get the cuffs off.
"What are you doing?" Ezra asked, his voice rising again when the boy didn't make any move to exit the building. "Didn't you hear me? The building is going to blow up in..." Ezra glanced at the timer. "Eight minutes."
Huffing in frustration, Vin mimed turning a key and then cutting and then returned to his search.
Was the child deaf? Ezra jerked at his cuffs again in frustration. Wait... "Are you looking for something to release the cuffs?" he asked in amazement. The child gave him a look that left no doubt that the boy thought he was a complete idiot. Stunned, it took Ezra a second to remember that he had a spare handcuff key just for such occasions. Of course, he'd assumed that he would be able to reach his feet... "There's a key. It's in my shoe." Ezra held out his foot. "Although, I really believe you should be running out of here now as quickly as you can. If you insist upon releasing me, I would ask that you hurry."
Vin listened as the man rambled on--he sure did talk a lot--and wasted no time in getting the shoe off. Once that was accomplished, he easily found the key, but then he had another problem. The handcuffs were up above the man's head, and Vin just wasn't that tall. Sticking the key in his mouth for safe keeping, Vin glanced around, his heart pounding as he noted that the numbers just kept counting down. Finally, he spied what he'd been looking for--a crate that was big enough for him to stand on, but not so big that he wouldn't be able to move it. Dragging it over to the man, he stood on it and could just reach the lock. He stood on his toes and, after almost dropping the key from sweat slicked fingers, he managed to get the first cuff off.
As soon as he heard the click, Ezra was bringing his hand down, palm up for the key. "I'll get the other one, you start running for the door," he instructed. This time, the child heeded his advice. He placed the key in Ezra's hand and jumped off the crate without a word. Ezra had the other cuff off and was following an instant later.
They'd just made it to the door when a powerful force slammed into Ezra, propelling him forward and on top of the boy. Ezra's last thought before the world went dark was, 'Well, there went that $400 pair of shoes.'*****
Vin blinked slowly, trying to figure out where he was and what had happened. He ached all over, but especially his head and arm, and there was a weight pinning him down. Wriggling, he managed to crawl out from under whatever it was. As he turned around to identify it, he saw that it was a man... and then he remembered. There had been a bomb in the warehouse! Looking up quickly, he saw the remains of the building that had been his home. Well, that was a lost cause. He sighed heavily. It hadn't been much, but it was shelter, and no one had bothered him. Now, he'd have to find another place... and replace his meager belongings. In the distance, he could hear the wail of sirens and knew he needed to get out of the area. No way was he going back in the system. Managing to get to his feet, he was just about to take off when the man moaned, reminding Vin of his presence. Squinting against the pain in his head, Vin knelt down next to the man and shook him gently with his good hand.
"Oh gawd, what hit me?" Ezra groaned out. He reluctantly opened his eyes and found himself staring into the wide, blue eyes of the child from earlier. He noted blood trickling slowly from the child's temple and frowned. "You're injured," he stated.
Vin shook his head and immediately regretted it, squeezing his eyes shut to combat the pain and dizziness. When he opened them again, the man had managed to sit up and was reaching towards him. He jerked back reflexively, causing his arm to flare up in pain.
"I apologize. I didn't mean to frighten you," Ezra said, softening his voice as he noted the child's wince. If the boy's headache was anything like his, he could certainly empathize. Standing up carefully, Ezra looked morosely down at his stockinged foot. He didn't relish the idea of walking through this neighborhood in just his socks, but there was no help for it. Keeping one shoe on just didn't make sense. He faintly heard sirens and knew he had to make a decision--stay and give a statement or disappear? From the tugging on his sleeve, it appeared that the boy had a definite preference. "You think we should depart, hmm?"
Vin nodded, careful not to move his head to much, and then started off in the opposite direction as the sirens.
Shaking his head, Ezra followed him. "Oh yes, Ezra, this is an excellent idea. Let's follow the injured urchin to who knows where. Of course, the child did save your life, so I suppose it's not a completely stupid idea," he muttered to himself. What he really needed was a phone. He was sure Chris was cussing him out quite heatedly by now, as it was well past the time of his last scheduled check in. "Hey," he called out.
Stopping, Vin turned back and eyed the man with impatience. Didn't he understand that the cops would be here any minute?
Ezra easily caught up with the child. "Do you happen to know where I could find a phone? I need to make a call," Ezra said.
Vin thought a minute and then slowly nodded. There was a pay phone just a few blocks over. He checked it often for change. Moving forward once more, he accidentally jostled his arm and was taken by surprise when he suddenly went hot and then cold and then his stomach was heaving. When arms suddenly came around and braced him, he didn't even have the strength or reason to pull away.
"Broken, most likely," Ezra said softly, gently rubbing the boy's back and being careful not to touch the arm. Not much had come up, and he wondered just when the boy had eaten last. "Better?" he asked.
Sitting up shakily, Vin nodded again.
"Good." Ezra moved so he could see the boy's face. Placing his fingers under the boy's chin, he tilted the head up so he could look in the boy's eyes. He swore silently as he noted that the pupils were uneven. "Ready to continue?"
In response, Vin got to his feet, clutching onto the man's arm with one hand as the dizziness assailed him once more. When he started to pull away, he was surprised when the man placed a hand on his own.
"If you don't mind, I do believe we'll make better progress if we support one another. Don't you agree?" Ezra asked. He could read the wariness in the boy, but he was afraid the child was close to collapse.
Vin stared up into the green eyes and could see only concern, nothing that suggested the man might want something he wasn't willing to give. Tightening his grip on the man's arm, he tugged gently in the direction they needed to go.
Breathing a quiet sigh of relief, Ezra allowed the boy to lead him. He just hoped the boy had the stamina to make it to the phone before his strength gave out.
After what seemed an eternity, but in reality was most likely less than twenty minutes, Ezra finally spotted the phone on the wall of the building ahead. He was limping now, his socks not much protection against the debris that littered the alleys they had taken. It was then that his guide simply crumpled to the ground. Scooping the boy up in his arms, Ezra was startled at the light weight. Well, he would just have to ensure that the boy had a decent meal or three...*****
Chris scowled down at his undercover agent, who was sitting on the pavement, leaning against the wall with a child in his arms. Both of them looked a bit worse for wear. "Who's the kid?" he growled.
Blinking, Ezra squinted up at his boss, whose dark presence was quite effectively blocking the sun. "Ah, Mr. Larabee, how kind of you to come fetch me yourself. I do hope that you have brought along Mr. Jackson, as well?"
"What have you done to yourself this time, Ezra?" Nathan Jackson asked as he came up from behind their leader and set his kit down next to Ezra. He frowned as he noticed the child. "Friend of yours?"
"Yes," Ezra stated firmly. "I believe he is in more need of your services than I. From what I could tell, he is suffering from a concussion and quite possibly a broken arm, as well."
"Has he been out long?" Nathan asked, his dark eyes growing concerned as he carefully examined the boy.
"Since just before I called. But before that, he seemed lucid," Ezra said.
"What's his name?" Nathan asked. He peeled open the boy's eyelids and noted that Ezra had been correct--definitely a concussion.
"I'm afraid I have no idea. In the short time during which we've been acquainted, he has not uttered one word."
"What the hell happened?!" Larabee demanded, his all-too short fuse long since burned out.
Ezra sighed, letting his head fall back against the brick wall. "It would seem that my cover was blown, Mr. Larabee. Needless to say, Mr. Henderson was none too pleased to discover that he nearly allowed an ATF agent into his inner circle. To show his displeasure, he had a couple of his minions cuff me to the beams of a warehouse and blow it up. Were it not for the timely arrival of this young gentleman, you would have been sifting through the debris for my remains."
"Chris, we need to get this kid to a hospital. Ezra was right--his arm's broken and he has a concussion," Nathan broke in before Chris could say anything. "Here, take him while I tend to Ezra's feet. I think he'll be needing a tetanus shot, at the very least." Without waiting for agreement, he placed the boy in Chris' arms.
Startled, Chris found himself holding the child, who seemed rather insubstantial. With a sigh, he headed for his truck. He was just about to settle the boy in the cab when he felt the small body tense. Looking down, he found huge, blue eyes staring up at him with a combination of fear and confusion. He held the gaze steadily and felt a curious calm descend upon him at the silent scrutiny. The fear was being replaced by curiosity, and the boy's muscles gradually relaxed. "I'm Chris," he said softly. "I hear you saved my agent, Ezra," he added with a nod towards the building.
Following Chris' gesture, Vin stretched up to see out the window. He saw the man from earlier being helped up by a black man.
"Nathan's helping him now. He's our medic," Chris said.
The movement had set Vin's head throbbing again, and he closed his eyes. For some reason, he felt safe with these men, and if he wasn't, well, there wasn't much he could do about it anyway. The darkness was beckoning, and he didn't fight it.
Chris sighed. He didn't know how a kid managed to get caught up in their latest case, but he could guess. From the looks of the boy, he'd been living on the streets, possibly even in the warehouse from which he'd rescued Ezra. It was a sad reflection of society that there were children forced to fend for themselves on the streets rather than being in loving homes where they would be safe. His expression darkened, however, as he thought of his own lost family and the fact that a loving home was no guarantee of safety.
"Better put him in the back, Chris. I'll sit with him," Nathan spoke from behind him, supporting some of Ezra's weight before transferring the man's grip to the side of the truck.
Giving a quick nod, Chris stepped back to allow Nathan to get in the truck first and then handed over the limp body of the child.
"Better add malnourished to the diagnosis," Nathan muttered under his breath as he easily situated the boy so that the seat belt was around him properly.
"Yes, I noticed that it appeared he had missed a few meals," Ezra stated as he eased into the truck once Nathan had gotten himself and the boy settled in the back. Nathan had loosely bandaged his feet and slid plastic bags around each one, but they were still bleeding sluggishly from some of the deeper gashes.
Chris grunted and started the truck. He was still unsettled by the feelings he'd experienced when the boy had looked into his eyes... waking up something that had long been dormant... and he wasn't sure he wanted it to come out of hibernation. It hurt too much.*****
"I put a call in to Child Protection Services," Nathan said as he sank down into the chair next to Chris. "They said they'd send someone over, but as short-staffed as they are, it could be awhile. Any word on Ezra?"
Chris shook his head. "Not yet. He's probably giving the doctor an earful."
"I think he had a slight concussion, as well, so he might be making even less sense than usual," Nathan said.
"I must protest such slandering of my person," Ezra said as a nurse wheeled him next to Nathan's chair. "I always make perfect sense."
Chris decided to ignore the whole question of Ezra's "sense," and asked about what was important--"What did the doctor say?"
Ezra sighed. "Mild concussion and I'm to stay off my feet for at least a week. He had to stitch a few of the wounds and placing weight upon them might cause the stitches to tear."
"Sounds about right," Nathan agreed with the doctor's assessment.
"Guess you'll be on medical leave for the next week, then," Chris stated. "But I still want your report by tomorrow morning."
"Yes, yes, of course, Mr. Larabee. I would not dream of procrastinating in the writing of the most marvelous events of this case. I'm especially looking forward to recounting the thrill of almost becoming one with the rubble of a derelict warehouse."
Rolling his eyes at Ezra's dramatics, Chris stood up. "So, you're good to go? No need to stay for observation?"
Ezra narrowed his eyes. "I am cleared to leave, yes, but I am in no hurry to depart. Has there been any word on the child?" he asked.
"The doctor was applying a cast to his arm when I left," Nathan offered, his gaze darting from Ezra to Chris and back. "He will be needing to stay for observation, and he's getting an IV. In addition to malnutrition, he was also suffering from dehydration."
"He's not our problem, Ezra. Child Protections Services is coming for him," Chris stated.
"He saved my life. Forgive me if I wish to see that he is well-cared for, rather than leaving him to the less than tender mercies of Child Protections Services," Ezra retorted, the bitterness with which he voiced the agency's name surprising the other two men.