On Second Thought
Disclaimer: Dont own them and dont pretend to. Well sometimes I do but that is entirely besides the point.
Authors Notes: This is a sequel to Good Intentions which is sort of a sequel to The Informant. Lila also appears in the story Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. (Just in case you were wondering) The game "Undercover Detective" doesnt exist. I just made it up to further the plot. Thanks to Mog for the Universe and thanks always to Sara but especially for the "that hurts, right here" move. She does it all the time :-)
Ezra Standish moaned when the distinct sound of his alarm permeated his dreamless sleep. He rolled over and smacked the snooze button forcefully. "Just a few more minutes," he muttered as he pulled his down pillow over his head trying to escape the morning sun that was streaming into his window. The alarm continued its incessant ringing only after five more minutes of rest for the undercover agent.
He groaned and buried himself further into his sheets. The evil apparatus kept going off but the tired agent didnt feel like raising his hand to smack it again. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that he had set his alarm for some reason on his day off but he couldnt quite remember it at the moment. Therefore, he really didnt care.
He heard the door to his room open and someone walk over to the bedside table on the padded carpet. "Damn it, Ez. If yer not going to get up, then why set the damn thing?" The tired female voice asked him as she turned the alarm off viciously.
He pried open his bloodshot green eyes to look at the young woman who had ceased the aggravating noise. She looked as tired as he felt. He couldnt blame her. She had gone to bed about the same time and it had been her nightmares that had awoken them both up at some undetermined hour last night.
"Good morning to you too." He croaked out.
"Whatever. Youre the one thats getting up. Im going back to bed." At the remark he fully expected her to go back to the room that she had been occupying for the past few weeks. Instead she crawled into the empty space next to him. She then proceeded to kick him out of bed, literally. Ezra landed on the floor with a thud. The cold air hitting his skin forcing him to semi-consciousness.
"This is the thanks I get," he mumbled his southern drawl thick with sleep.
The only answer he received was a soft snore. She had already drifted back off to sleep, hugging his pillow and curled up on the warm spot he had just left. He smiled. At least she was becoming her old self again.
Now why was he up at this God forsaken hour if he didnt have to go to work? His stomach rumbled. Oh yes. Food. If the either of them wanted to eat sometime today he would have to go to the grocery store.
Ezra stood and stretched, grimacing when his shoulder made a loud popping noise. He yawned and ran a hand through his hair that was standing up on end. He shot a look back at his bed and scrutinized the figure that lay there. She was definitely looking better but there were still dark circles beneath her eyes.
Every night had been different and yet the same after the incident in the shoe factory. Lila would retire for bed only to be haunted with nightmares. Sometimes, she let loose a scream that would wrench them both from sleep. Other times he could hear her almost hysterical sobbing through the door. At these moments, Ezra would wake the sleeping child, and hold her until she fell back asleep. But even the rare times in which he didnt have to leave the comfort of his bed and would receive a full nights sleep, he would wake up in the morning to find her curled at the end of his bed or on the floor beside him.
He had thought that the dreams were lessening their hold on her. That was until last night when a desperate scream tore from her throat. He had shot from the comfort of his bed, trying to disentangle himself from his sheets. Instinct made him grab his gun from inside the night table drawer. Then he sprinted across the hall to her room.
The images from last night unnerved him even now. Lila had her eyes squinted shut, tears streaming from the corners. She was thrashing about in her bed yelling his name. Talking to her and shouting her name didnt release her from the throes of the dream. He had to physically shake her out of it.
From what he gathered, the dream had changed from its usual appearance. This time, instead of Max Marcum lying dead on the floor of the old shoe factory, it had been someone else. She wouldnt say who but he guessed from the way she had held onto him with such fierceness that it had been himself.
The undercover agent rubbed his eyes and headed for the shower. Well, right now she was fine and their most immediate need was food. He smiled. He had never gone through so much food in his life. And it wasnt just because he was now sharing his apartment with a growing teenage girl, it was because his six friends were always over devouring any substance he had in stock.
Ezra didnt like leaving Lila alone in the apartment. Part of him didnt want to leave her alone in her current emotional state and the other part of him didnt want her to run off before she was better. Today, JD would be over while he made the run to the grocery store.
Ezra stepped out of the shower, feeling refreshed and somewhat awake. He slipped his flannel pants back on and returned to his room while toweling his hair. From the prominent lump under his comforter he deduced that Lila was still asleep. Well at least one of us is getting much needed rest.
The ATF agent grabbed clean clothes and returned to the bathroom to get dressed. After a few minutes, a knock at his door announced JD. Ezra exited his bathroom dressed casually in khaki pants and a polo shirt and headed to the door.
"Hello, Mr. Dunne."
"Hey, Ez!" JDs exuberant voice sliced through the silent apartment.
Ezra put a finger to his lips. "Lila is still asleep." JD looked quizzically at Ezra. It was usually Lila who was up before Ez. "Rough night," was the southern response to the younger mans unspoken question.
JD nodded. He had overheard Ezra talking to Josiah about emotional well being and other things. He had assumed that they had been talking about Lila. She had been pretty shook up over Max Marcums death, even though she had just been protecting herself.
JD remembered when he had first killed a man. It wasnt until he had joined the elite ATF team that he had actually killed someone. It had taken a few weeks for the shock to wear off and even now he still had some dreams about it. Buck had told him that they all did at some time or another and that it was perfectly normal to have such a reaction. But from JDs vantage point, it was still bound to be hard on both Ez and Lila.
Ezra nodded toward the package in JDs hand. "New game?"
JD smiled. "Yeah. I figured it would be fun to play."
Ezra shook his head. He didnt understand their fascination with video games. Sure they were fun for an hour or maybe even two. But the way that JD and Lila played for hours on end, had him baffled. Ezra silently groaned. It must be a sign that he was getting old.
"Please keep the noise to a low roar until she rises from the dead."
"Oh sure, no problem, Ez."
"I should be back within the hour." Ezra stated as he slipped on his jacket and grabbed his wallet and keys from off the coffee table. Ezra was a little wary in leaving Lila with just JD. Usually, it was JD and Buck but the older of the two had been called into work at the last minute. But he trusted JD with his life, and what could happen in one hour? Without a second thought, Ezra walked out the door.
JD plopped down on the leather couch and switched on the tv making sure that he kept the noise down. He pulled the Playstation out of its resting place in the entertainment center. He had lent the game to Ez and Lila. He didnt mind at all. That just meant he had an excuse to come over to Ezs apartment. He liked hanging out at the undercover agents place.
Ez was a good friend. He treated JD like an equal and not like the kid everyone else treated him as. The fact that he even trusted JD to watch over Lila while he was gone was evidence in itself. JD knew that Ez loved Lila like a daughter and was fiercely protective over her. But he always wondered why Ez let her leave and go back to the streets.
He had asked Josiah once. The older man had tried to explain. It had something to do with Ez not having legal rights and Lila not wanting to be a burden. There was other stuff about Lila being on her own for too long and was finding it hard to deal with new friends and people she could trust. It was almost the exact same answer Josiah had given JD when he had asked about why Ez didnt hang out with them and didnt ask them for help when he first joined the group.
JD still couldnt see what the big deal was. Of course they all needed help at some time or another. It was inevitable. And even he had a hard time asking for help, but thats why you have friends. So they can help you and you can help them. Its simple. The young agent absently ran a hand through his dark unruly hair and sighed. Hed understand when he was older.
JD pushed the power button on the Playstation and banished the serious thoughts from his head. Now all he was going to concentrate was his new game. He was sure that when Lila woke up, they would be able to defeat the game in a few hours. Besides, he was an ATF agent. How hard could "Undercover Detective" be?
Lila hugged the pillow tightly and tried to snuggle deeper into the comfortable down blanket. She was tired and she wanted to go back to sleep but found it impossible. Damn Standish. Him and that damn alarm. She was usually up before him in the mornings but last night had been rough. She didnt get much sleep. And she guessed Ezra didnt get much sleep either. She would have to apologize for kicking him out of the bed this morning.
The young girl reluctantly opened her eyes and looked at the alarm clock. Eight oclock. Well she guessed it was time to get up. She didnt really feel like it but JD was probably already here and she knew he was bringing a new game. She slid out of the cozy bed and walked to her room.
She rummaged through the chest of drawers and found her old torn jeans and a well worn sweater. Ez had bought her all new clothes. Actually, he had given one of the secretaries at the office his credit card and told her to go buy clothes that a fourteen year old girl would like. Lila did appreciate it but she still liked her old clothes. He had threatened to burn them but Lila and Ez had eventually reached a compromise. When she was going out she would wear the new clothes but if she just planned to stay inside she was allowed to wear her old ones.
She brushed her long dark hair. Occasionally cursing when she hit a knot. Ez had wanted her to cut it short. She had said no.
Lila left her room and walked down the hall to the living room, her bare feet making no noise on the thick carpet. She saw JD sitting on the couch engrossed in the new game.
"Hey Lila," he answered not looking up from the screen.
Lila went into the kitchen and grabbed some orange juice before joining JD on the couch. She sat down beside him and watched him play.
"Whats the game?"
"Its called Undercover Detective."
"Sounds lame." she answered watching the 3D graphics.
JD shrugged his shoulders. "I guess it does but its actually really cool. Your character is an..."
"Let me guess, undercover detective?" Lila noted her voice laced with sarcasm.
JD laughed. "Yeah, youre right. It does sound lame. But anyway, you run around and collect clues and fight off the henchmen. Then at the end of the level you have to guess where to go to next. If you get it wrong you have to play the level over."
Lila took a sip of her orange juice. "Dont you do this on a daily basis?"
"Yeah but I dont get to blow stuff up. Check this out." JD hit a button on the controller and the screen erupted into brilliant hues of orange and red.
JD smiled. "Grab the other controller. Its two player. We can both play the level at the same time and help each other out. We can beat it faster that way."
"Sweet!" Lila set her oj down on the coffee table and picked up the controller. Soon another character popped up on the screen. "Hey can I shoot you?" she asked with humor in her voice.
"Hey!" JD shouted when his character died on the screen. "Fine then, just wait til I come back to life."
"Oh, Im shaking in my 3D boots."
"You better be! Oh, and you can either shoot your enemies or engage them in hand to hand combat."
"So I can punch you too?"
JD sighed. "Youre worse than Buck."
Lila smiled. "I learned from the best."
"Dont you mean the worst."
A few minutes later, Lila and JD were furiously pressing buttons and manipulating their characters on the screen. It had only taken them a few minutes to reach the end of the level. Now they were facing the last few henchmen. JD took a second to push his hair away from his eyes. The action caused his character to get hit by a stray bullet.
"Oh no, Im dead!" JD cried out.
"Well, rejoin the game!"
"I cant. Not until this level is done. Youre on your own."
Lila sighed. "Crap! Theres no way I can take all of them."
JD pointed excitedly at the TV. "Watch out behind you. Shoot him!"
"I cant, Im out of ammo."
"Watch the guy coming up the stairs."
"Crap!" Lila exclaimed. She turned the 3D persona around and engaged the man coming up the stairs in hand to hand combat. They grappled for a few moments while Lila punched buttons on the control pad. Her character grabbed the other and threw him back down the stairs. The game followed the action and focused in on the dead henchman lying at the bottom of the screen.
Lila watched the thug fall and all of a sudden it wasnt a game anymore. Visions of the day that she had gotten caught snooping around assaulted her memory. The 3D man turned into Max Marcum. She had killed him again.
"Good job, Lila. You won!" JD turned to face his friend. "Lila?" he asked. She was staring at the screen in shock, her face pale and her hands trembling. JD shifted his gaze back to the TV and realized what was going on. Quickly, he grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.
"Lila?" he asked again and tentatively reached out and touched her arm. At his touch, Lila jumped and dropped the controller.
"What?" she asked harshly as she stood and retreated to the kitchen.
JD rose and followed. "You alright?"
"Fine." She wasnt about to admit to JD that she had just freaked out. What was her problem? It was just a video game.
Lila shot him a cool gaze. "Youre almost as bad as Ez."
"I learn from the best." he smiled.
"Dont you mean the worst?"
The two stared at each other for a moment sharing an awkward silence. Lila shifted her gaze to the dirty dishes in the sink. "I really should do these before Ez gets back."
JD shrugged. He wasnt about to let her change the subject. He could tell that it had shaken her up. He thought back to his own experience. What had helped him? Well, Buck of course. But what else? He remembered having to go back to where it happened to help the clean up crew. That had helped a little. Maybe, it would help Lila.
"Forget them. Lets go out."
"Where to?" Lila asked suspiciously.
JD shrugged his shoulders again. "Out."
Lila looked around. She had been indoors a lot lately. A little outing wont hurt. Ez wouldnt mind. Besides, hes out. And she would be with JD.
The pair grabbed their jackets and Lila slipped on a pair of tennis shoes. Without a second thought, they walked out the door.
Ezra Standish was stuck right in the middle of the worst traffic jam ever. The hour that this excursion was supposed to take and been stretched into two hours and it looked as if it would take even longer. Traffic was at a standstill all because some idiot decided to run a red light. He sighed and relaxed against the leather drivers seat. It certainly didnt look like he was going anywhere anytime soon.
Ezra closed his eyes. Maybe, he could catch a little nap. He certainly hadnt been getting enough sleep since Lila had been staying at his condo. He didnt blame it on her at all. He blamed it on that damn bust, that insane gunrunner and partly on himself. He couldve prevented it. He shouldve prevented it. But as Josiah would say, its all in the past. He couldnt change it. He could just try to help.
A honking horn broke him from his reverie. He snapped his eyes open. Amazingly, the traffic had cleared. "That was quick," he muttered. Then he looked at the clock on his radio. "or not." What he thought was a small catnap had actually been a thirty minute rest. He sighed. As soon as he got home he was heading back to bed.
Ezra knew something was up when he didnt see JDs Kawasaki Ninja in the garage. He just didnt know what. The undercover agent opened the door to his condo while juggling his two bags of groceries. "Lila? JD?" he called as he stepped into the low lit apartment. No answer.
He crossed to the kitchen and set down the paper bags. "Lila? JD?" he called again. Still no answer. Standish searched the kitchen and living room for a note and found none. It was evident the two left in a hurry. The game was still pulled out of the entertainment center and an almost full glass of orange juice still rested on the coffee table. From the way it lay on the coaster, he knew it was Lilas. She was the only conscientious one of the bunch.
For a moment, fear seized him. God knows what couldve happened in the two hours he was gone. Ezras breath quickened and his palms grew moist as he thought about all the possible scenarios. Kidnaped by old enemies? A serious injury? Did Lila run? He forced himself to be calm. There was a reasonable explanation. Maybe they went to Buck and JDs, or they couldve gotten hungry and decided not to wait on him. They couldve gone out to play basketball or to roller blade. It was himself, in fact, that insisted they not play in the condo. Yes, they were fine. But to be on the safe side, hed call Buck.
Ezra swiftly walked to the bedroom and picked up the cordless phone. Bucks number was on speed dial so it only took half a second for the phone to start ringing. After four rings, Bucks voice mail picked up. Damn! He wasnt at his desk.
Ezra hit the next memory button on the phone.
"Nathan." Ezra started, not worrying about pleasantries. The ex medics ears perked up by the sound of the southern voice and the use of his given name.
"Have you seen JD and Lila?"
A pause. "No, are they missing?"
"Well, I wouldnt be calling if they were here." Ezra spat. "I mean, yes." He amended.
"Ok, Ez. Calm down." Nathan tried to calm the agitated southerner. "Buck just left. Call his place. They are probably there."
Ezra nodded. Yes, thats where they were. "Thanks Nathan. If you see those two, tell them to call me."
Nathan smiled. "Should I tell them that theyre in deep shit?"
Ezra half-heartedly smiled. "Dont warn them."
The green-eyed gambler turned off the phone and began pacing around his apartment. Again, he tried to calm himself. They were just out. Nothing is wrong. Nothing. He sighed.
Since when did he even care about anyone beside himself? Since when did he care about a naive young agent and a smartass street girl? Surely, he hadnt changed this much. He knew he had changed. That was evident. He had friends that he cared for and cared for him. But when did friendship change into something deeper?
He shook his head trying to clear his thoughts. He had been worried before. Worried for his job, worried about a poker game. But this, this was soul wrenching. It was on the same level as worrying about one of his comrades in the hospital. He hated this feeling.
Quickly, he dialed the trash bin.
The mustached agent knew something was up when the southerner used his first name. "Something wrong, Ez?"
"Yes and no. Are our two favorite miscreants over there?
"You mean JD and Lila? No, theyre not here. What theyre not there?" Buck asked his voice laced with worry.
Ezra pitied the man. He must go through this alarmed state all the time. "No, they are not here and they are not at the office."
Buck took a deep breath. "Theyre probably out horsing around. Give them an hour or two. If theyre not back. Give me a call."
"I will notify you if they do appear before the allotted time."
"OK Ez. If I see them then Ill tell them to call you."
Ezra hung up the phone. Buck was right. He was, as Lila would say, freaking out for nothing. He returned to the kitchen to finish putting the groceries away.
Lila pulled off her helmet, jumped off the bike and gazed at the old, filthy building. A lump appeared in her throat and fear began to take control. She felt her muscles tense and her breath quickened. She shoved it away. This was not the time to freak out. It was just the building. But JD better have a damn good explanation.
"What the hell are we doing here?" She asked trying to keep the waver out of her voice.
JD pulled off his helmet and dismounted from the bike. "Well, I thought it would help."
"Help?" she squeaked. "This is the last place I want to be."
JD ran his fingers through his hair. He sort of knew he would get this reaction. "Look, when I killed someone..."
"I didnt kill him! Ez said it was a freak accident!"
"I mean..thats not what I meant.." JD shut his mouth before he dug himself further into the hole. He took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts. "It helped me to go back to where it happened."
"First off, I dont need help. Yours or anyone elses. And second, I dont want to be here."
JD approached the distraught teenager and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Lila, trust me. Alright?"
Lila relaxed. "For a few minutes."
JD smiled reassuringly. He put his arm around her shoulders in a brotherly hug. "Come on." Without a second thought, the two entered the building.
Lila stepped into the building and instantly sneezed. It was still as dusty as it had been a few weeks ago. She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her shirt. The two walked around aimlessly for a few moments. Both occasionally sneezing. They passed a dried blood stain. JD watched Lilas expression. She seemed unfazed by it. Taking that as a good sign he gently guided her toward the staircase. He could feel her tense but gave her shoulders a comforting squeeze.
Lila looked at the floor. It looked like a perfectly normal factory floor. But Lila could see the outline of Max Marcums body in the dust. All of a sudden, the outline became flesh. He was there, staring at her through dead eyes. She could still hear the gunfire, the yells of the ATF team, and the audible snap of his neck. She could still taste the blood that collected in the back of her throat and smell of her sweat mingled with that of Maxs as they tumbled down the stairs. No, it wasnt real. It was over. It had been over for weeks. Lila gulped several times and took a step back.
JD had been watching her but her face was impassive. She had picked up Ezs habit of concealing everything. So, he was totally caught off guard when she turned and ran.
She ran. It was the only thing she could do. But no matter how fast she went, how hard she pumped her legs, they were still there. The memories followed. Why couldnt they leave her alone? Why? She shut her eyes tight but it still didnt help. And she still ran.
She could hear someone behind her, yelling her name. Oh God, theyre after her. Run! She tripped once over an old box, landing hard on her hands and knees. She panted for air. But she could still hear them behind her. Run! She picked herself up off the floor, not minding the blood on her scratched palms. She took off again, still keeping her eyes closed. Not caring where she was going, only of how fast she could get there.
She heard the person behind her shout out a warning. Lila snapped her eyes open and saw that there was no floor in front of her. Desperately, she tried to stop but her momentum pushed her forward. She went over the edge and fell.
JD ran after the fleeing figure. He shouted her name but it only seemed to spur her on. JD always thought that he could run fast. He could do a mile in under seven minutes but he couldnt keep up with the fear that was driving the young girl. There was no way he could catch her. But he ran.
What was he thinking? Well, he thought he could help. He shouldve just left it alone. But nothing that Ezra did seemed to help. He had to help. She was his friend. He watched her fall over the empty box. If anything happened to her, Ez was going to kill him.
Fear gripped him when he saw the storage chamber. It was something left over from the factorys glory days. A small basement built into the floor for storage. Thats where the smugglers must have been keeping the guns. Whoever removed the boxes forgot to put its cover back in place. And Lila was heading right for it.
"Lila! Watch out!"
He saw her try to stop at the last minute but her momentum pushed her over. She fell in and disappeared from his sight.
JD screamed her name as he rushed to the edge. He peered into the black pit. His gut wrenched when he saw her lying on the bottom of the pit, on her side, unmoving. Her long hair covered her face. "Lila!"
JD looked for a way down without killing himself. It was around a 12 foot drop. He could jump but couldnt risk himself getting hurt. And once in, there was no way out. His eyes spied an old ladder leading into the chamber. It was old, decayed and rickety. But it was better than nothing.
He scrambled over to it and began his descent. The wood creaked and groaned under his weight. JD gulped. That wasnt a good sign. He stepped on the next rung of the ladder. It gave underneath him. That was the only signal the rest of the ladder needed. It crumbled sending JD to the floor.
He managed to land on his feet. Pain flared in his right ankle but he ignored it for the moment. All he cared about was the crumpled figure on the floor. He made it to her side, afraid to touch her. Nathan had once said to never move someone with a possible neck injury. "Lila?" he asked softly, gentling touching her shoulder. She moved and groaned. "Lila?"
The teenage girl rolled onto her back. She pushed her hair away from her face and touched the gash that ran from her eyebrow to her temple. She felt the stickiness there and the forming lump. She tried to sit up but the dizziness forced her back down.
"You alright?" JD asked. He knew that she had a concussion and he could see the blood flowing down the side of her face. He just wanted to know if she had hurt anything else.
"Well, let me see, I just freaked out, ran, fell into a pit in the middle of the floor. Yeah, Im fine." she answered back her voice infused with sarcasm. She winced. Even her own voice hurt her head.
"At least youre fine enough to be sarcastic." He answered.
"Sorry. Are you alright?"
JD shrugged and turned his attention to his ankle. He could feel it swelling and it hurt to move. "Ive sprained my ankle."
Lila sighed. "Great." She forced herself into a sitting position and leaned against the wall. She looked around the small basement they had fallen into. The only way out had been the ladder but it was now in pieces on the floor. There was also a small crate in the corner. "Were not getting out of here anytime soon." she sighed. "No one knows where we are. And Im guessing you dont have a phone on you?"
JD met her blue gaze. "Sorry."
"Not your fault." She smiled at JD and winked. "Ez is going to kill us."
E-mail: The Immortal