Saints and Angels
Authors Note/Disclaimer: I dont own the boys, though if I were them I would go free agent. Thanks to Mog for creating the ATF universe for the guys to live in. This follows Faces From The Past, If Youre Gone, and Much in Common, and will make much more sense if you read those first. Saints and Angels belongs to Sarah Evans. Your Song is Elton John. Their inclusion is a form of homage, no infringement intended. Thanks as always to Rhonda for doing Beta work, Hily-beanl, Leste, and the M.O.M, who encourage my writing, and to those of you who read it.
This one is for Greta, who loves these stories. Sometimes, from the worst trials come the best rewards.
Warning: ANGST, lots of it. Also, romance between Ezra/OFC.
It was supposed to be an evening of celebration. Team 7 had just wrapped their fiftieth successful case when a Denver federal jury had delivered a guilty verdict against gunrunner Homero Ortez, while Lili and her assistant Steven had just blown the lid off a ten-year-old case that was now going to grand jury with a lock box of evidence. So, she had sent Steven off with his new fiancé and money for dinner at any of Denvers finest restaurants, and she had joined Team 7 for chili fries, nachos, and drinks at the Saloon. Ever since she had helped pull Chris back from the edge a few weeks before, she was as much in the family as Nettie and Casey or Mary were.
Ezra had smiled when she walked in. Things had been a bit strange in the past month between the lovely criminologist and himself, ever since she had shocked them all by turning down a transfer to Rome to serve as Special Agent in Charge of the Roman consulate, and a semi-proposal from Simon Berelli, the US Attorney being stationed there. All she would tell him when he had asked her was she wasnt ready to leave home. Still, Standish had behaved badly and he knew it. His jealousy had gotten the best of him at times and he had come off as hostile. He knew he had never really apologized to her for those times, and yet she was just as kind as ever. But, over and over his mind returned to Josiahs explanation for why she had begun seeing Simon in the first place. Maybe she got tired of waiting.
Lili saw the guys as soon as she walked in. She had worked out at a gym a few blocks from the office, and then changed into a dark green sweater and jeans, with some heeled boots. Her hair was still slightly damp and was curling a bit at the neck. She had been letting it get longer and it really was time to decide what she planned to do with it. She had brought her makeup bag, but left it in her gym bag, choosing to just throw on some lip-gloss. She had capped her look with an old, old black leather jacket. It had been her brothers, and it was big enough to hide the bulge of her shoulder holster, the constant reminder that federal agents never really went off duty, they just occasionally got sleeping and eating breaks. She saw Ezra smile as she moved toward the table at the back of the bar. Inez had already put a round of drinks on the table, and she noticed with surprise that Chris was having coffee. Glad to see our little talk did you some good, Larabee. She smiled at Vin too. Sometimes, the way his eyes lit up when he laughed reminded her so much of Billy, her chest hurt, but having the sharpshooter there eased the same pain. In fact, all of these men had become family somehow in the past few months, breaking down all the carefully created barriers she had made in the past seven years.
"Evening, Miss Lili," Josiah greeted as she walked up to the table. JD dropped his feet off the empty chair he had been holding for her and Buck took her coat.
"So, next rounds on me, all right boys?" she said, dropping her purse on the table and noticing the audible clink of gunmetal. The boys all looked amused. "What?" she said, then remembered she was wearing the shoulder holster. "Oh, right. Well, an ounce of prevention."
"I swear, she has a better arsenal than you do, Tanner," Larabee said, deadpan expression on his face.
"I wouldnt doubt it none, cowboy," the Texan replied, sipping at his beer. The blue eyes sparkled with laughter at Larabees crack. Vin knew how close he had come to losing the man a little over two weeks ago, and he knew that without her, he would have lost a brother, the team would have lost their leader, and his life would have been back out of control. They all carried a debt to the woman at the table, one that couldnt be repaid in ten lifetimes. "And ladies dont pay fer drinks, Lil Bird, you know that."
"Keep using that nick name, Tanner, and one day, I am going to shoot you," she said, secretly laughing. He had dubbed her that after Inez had begged her to fill in for the house entertainment one night a month ago. He was the only one brave enough to call her that, and they were pretty sure the lady would give as good as she got as soon as she came up with something.
"How was your work day, Lili Grace?" the southerner asked.
"Absolutely fabulous," she replied, claiming her Shirley Temple off the tray and drinking a bit. "Working this back case with some great entomology involved. Reading some work by a man who runs the forensics unit for Las Vegas County over in Nevada."
"Entomology?" Dunne asked.
"Bugs, brother Dunne," Josiah replied.
"Actually, maggots," Lili said. At that, Ezra, JD, and Buck all turned a little green while their friends laughed and conversation began flowing like water.
After an hour, however, the distinctive sound of a cell phone cut the air, and the table erupted in a motion of people looking for the device. She pulled the Nokia out of her purse. "Mine," she said, hitting the answer key. "MacKenna."
The guys were about to resume conversation when she stood quickly, dropping her glass. The sound of shattering glass brought Inez over quickly, but she didnt seem to notice as the blood drained from her face. "What??!! Slow down, Jake, I cant... WHAT!!!?? When??!! Oh, God...Where are you? Im on my way. Ill be there as soon as I can get a flight. Hang on Jake, just tell her to hang on..." she pressed the end key and slammed her fist down on the table. "Goddammit!"
"Lili," Ezra said. "Lili Grace, what is it?"
"I have to get to DC, now," she said, using her free hand to scroll through her cell phones phone book. Finding a number, she hit call and waited a second. "Michael, its Lili. No, Michael, this isnt a social call. I have an emergency, and I need to be in DC yesterday. How close is the jet to Denver? Can you get it here? One hour? Thanks Michael, Ill call later to explain." She hung up and the fight that had been present a minute before drained out of her. She sunk back into her chair and dropped the cell phone on the table. Her head dropped into her hands and she shook hard, trying to stop the tears.
"Lili," Standish said, dropping next to her. The rest of the team was silent, watching in anticipation. He carefully put a hand on her shoulder and felt the sobs inside her that she was working so hard to keep at bay. "Lili, what happened?"
Taking a ragged breath, she looked up. "That was Jake Lloyd, my mentor Thomass son. Thomass wife Marian was driving back to their farm from a district meeting of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in DC when a drunk crossed the line and slammed into her head on. Shes at GW and they dont think shes going to make it to noon tomorrow," Lili said, pausing as pain sliced through her. The undercover agent kept his hand on her shoulder, the other taking one of her free hands. "The Lloyds lost their youngest, Beth, to a drunk driver about nine months before I took my internship. They were hurting like I was at the time, and they just kind of took me in. Ive had Thanksgiving and Christmas with them for the past ten years. I was supposed to host this year...they were coming...here. " She stopped as a sob over took her. Ezra immediately moved, holding her against him as she cried for a few minutes. The pain in her chest seized hard and for a minute, she couldnt get her breath.
The calm voice of leadership spoke up. "Vin, you and Ezra take Lili out to her place, help her pack a bag. Josiah, call AD Travis, and have him get in contact of SAC Donaldson. Tell him she needs emergency leave for at least one week. Nathan, I want you to call the hospital in DC and see what exacts you can get. JD, you and Buck head out to the airport and use whatever means necessary to get that plane special clearance. I am going to go get my horse trailer and move Berowne over to my place," Chris said.
Ezra helped pull her up. He threw some money for the round of drinks on the table, and grabbed their coats and her purse, fishing out her keys. "Ill drive," he said quietly. He tossed her jacket to Vin, then helped her up. "Come on, Lili, its going to be all right."
Larabee grabbed Tanners arm. The silent communication they shared kicked in. Shell need something black for the funeral, pard. Dont forget.
I know. Ill make sure she gets the right stuff. With a parting look, the Texan headed after the undercover agent and the grieving woman.
+ + + + + + +
An hour later, they stood on the tarmac of the Denver International Airport next to the Lear Jet owned by MacKenna International. Sanchez held her suitcase and garment bag as Lili, composed and pale, turned to thank her friends.
"I owe you all for this," she said. "Thank you."
"Hell, Lili, aint nothing more than we owe you in return," Buck said, hugging her quickly.
"SAC Donaldson talked to Steven, and said to take as much time as necessary," Josiah added. She took her suitcase and garment bag from him.
"Let us know if you need anything," Larabee said. "Anything at all."
"Take care of yerself," Vin added. "Dont ferget ta eat."
"Dont go making yourself sick," Nathan put in.
"Its going to be okay, Lili," JD said, with as much youthful optimism as he could muster.
She bit her lip, a few tears coming into her eyes. She knew she didnt have the time to cry at the moment, so she forced a smile. "Yeah, well, dont get yourselves shot or anything 'til I get back. More than one hospital visit in a week is more than I am up for."
The rest of the team seemed to sense that Ezra needed a minute with her, so Chris called out, "Get her on the plane, Ez, well meet you at the cars."
Ezra nodded as the men moved away, leaving them alone. He sighed and looked at Lili, amazed she wasnt even trying to mask the pain in her eyes. "Lili, I never said I was sorry for my behavior earlier this fall..."
"It doesnt matter now, Ezra. We were both going through a lot, and said things we didnt mean," she replied.
"It doesnt excuse me from acting like an ass," he said. He paused. "You dont have to do this alone, Lili. I have leave coming, we all do. If you need us, we can all go."
"No," she said firmly. "No, Ezra, though I do thank you. I have to be able to hold it up when I get there, and if I have someone to fall back on, I wont be able to do that. Thomas Lloyd picked me up out of a situation like this once, and I owe it to him and his family to be the strong one now."
"I understand," Standish replied, knowing the necessity for complete control all too well.
"Ill call you when I get to DC," she said, hugging her friend as best she could with the luggage. She held on for a second, absorbing the strength he offered then pulled away and climbed the steps into the plane. He watched as the hatch closed behind her and saw her form in the window a few seats down. She waved goodbye as the ground crew pulled the blocks on the wheels and the plane kicked on, taxing toward the private plane runway.
Ezra stood a moment longer, watching the plane lift into the night. "God speed, Lili Grace. Come home safe again, love."
Her plane had touched down at Dulles a few hours later, and a company car Michael had thoughtfully provided met her. The trip to GW was quiet, with Lili calling ahead to let them know she would be there, and a short conversation with Ezra to let him know she was there in one piece.
Thomas Lloyd, looking far older than his 55 years, waited for her in the lobby of the hospital. Large dark circles showed under his eyes as he took in the sight of the young lady he had known when she had worked under him, the woman who had lost so much to the job and stuck by it, the competent leader he had helped to mold. "Lilian Grace," he said. Nothing more needed.
"Thomas, I am so sorry," she replied. "Where is she?"
"They have her up in ICU," he said. He took a slow breath, keeping the careful composure necessary in his line of work. "Lili, I think she is hanging on to say good-bye to you."
The pain seized up in her chest again, but she bit it off. Strong enough, you damn well better be strong enough. "Can we go in?"
Thomas nodded. "Jake and Anna are in there now, but they are waving the visitor max at my request." She squeezed his hand as the two of them headed for the elevators.
Marian Lloyd, a vibrant woman the last time MacKenna had seen her, looked like a shell now. Her short hair, still lovely and blonde, splayed on a pillow that had more color than she did at the moment. Her eyes were closed, and she might have thought she was at a body viewing expect for the constant beep of machinery that assured her the womans heart was still beating.
Jake Lloyd and Anna Lloyd-Pierce turned as she entered, and Anna immediate threw her arms around Lili as she sobbed. "Shhhhh, Anna, I know. But you dont want your mom to see you cry, do you? Therell be plenty of time for that later." She felt Anna calming down, and carefully handed the young woman to her father then turned to Jake.
"Its been a while, Lili," he said, accepting the quick hug she offered. "Wish I could see you under better circumstances."
"Me too, Jake," she replied. "How are Melissa and the kids?"
"Theyre good. Melissa has Jenny and Tyler out at the farm. Theyre too young to understand all this," he said, looking down at the frail hand he held.
"I think were all too young to understand anything like this," Lili sighed. She moved around the ICU bed and took up Marians other hand. "Has she been awake at all?"
"In and out," Anna said softly. "Her doctor thinks it wont be long now."
Just then, the eyelashes lying against the deathly pale cheek, opening to reveal a pair of pain filled, ice blue eyes. "Hey, Mama Marian," the young woman said, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. "How are you?" She felt Marian squeeze her hand, unable to speak thanks to the respirator. She knew the effort was costing her. "Well, you look pretty good. Now, you need to rest, Marian, and get better. Youre all coming to Denver this year for Thanksgiving, remember, my treat. Well all go skiing." She knew it was a lie, but it was all she could think to say.
She watched as Marians still awake eyes bored into her own. This is not your fault, Lilian Grace. The head on the pillow inclined just a little bit to indicate the family. Take care of them for me.
She squeezed the frail hand gently and nodded. "You try to rest now, Marian," she said, motioning Thomas over to take her place. She moved to the foot of the bed, thinking that if God was going to throw them a miracle, now would be a good time. Anna had moved over with Jake and the two of them held on to their mothers hand. As time passed, the beeps of the monitors slowed, the respirator shut down, and Marian Catherine Hansen-Lloyd took her last breath. And the hardened FBI agent wept.
After they had left her at the airport, none of the guys felt like continuing the celebration, but no one felt like being alone either. Chris quietly offered to have everyone over for the night, and a system for getting cars squared away was worked out. Josiah drove Nathan, Buck, and JD with him to pick up their vehicles, while Vin drove Ezra in Lilis Jeep Cherokee to the bar to pick up his Jag, and then the two of them drove out to the ranch.
"Helluva night, eh Cowboy?" Vin said, flopping down on the sofa.
"You can say that again," Larabee replied, dusting himself off. He had just finished settling Berowne in for the night. The large roan hadnt taken too kindly to anyone but Lili handling him at all. "Beer?"
"You dont happen to have any lager do you, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked.
"Sorry, Ez, none of your fancy stuff around," he replied. "I could call Buck and have him pick some up."
"American brew will be fine, I suppose," the southerner responded, sighing and starring into the fire that crackled in the fireplace. "No need to trouble Mr. Wilmington out of his way."
"No need ta trouble Mr. Wilmington? You okay Ez? You usually like to trouble Buck from here to kingdom come," Tanner said, handing the undercover agent a bottle of Coors.
He was quiet for a while, leading both other men to believe he wanted to drop the matter. Then, softly, his voice cut the dimness of the room. "She shouldnt be there alone, Vin. I should have gone with her."
"Ezra, sometimes in life, we have ta do the hard things, the real hard things, alone," his friend said. "The important thing is knowin you have friends ta back ya up."
The undercover agent nodded but said nothing. He knew Tanner was right, and that she had been too, when she said she had to go this one alone. But he would be damned if she would have to grieve alone when she came home.
The rest of the week, she did what she could to ease the transition for the Lloyd family. Marian had left a detailed will, in case of accident, as to her final wishes, and she was glad to be able to turn things over to the funeral director. Vaguely, she realized he was the same man who had handled Jesses funeral seven years ago. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
She called home everyday, talking to Ezra, or all of the guys on conference at the office. Sometimes, she called Josiah, asking what the religious way to say something was for the eulogy she was writing, or Vin, who had helped her compose some poetry for the occasion. Now, on Friday, she walked just behind Thomas, Jake and his wife Melissa, and their two children, and Anna and her husband Daniel, and their sons. She took a seat in the family pew at Thomas and the childrens insistence, and listened as the minister gave the service. The casket was closed with a picture of Marian on top surrounded by flowers. She almost didnt hear the minister ask her to come forward when he had finished and it was time to give the eulogy.
"I am not blood kin to the Lloyd family," she began. "But they have been as influential, if not more, in my life than my own family was. I came to the Lloyds as one of the kids Thomas mentored through the FBI honors internship program, and I left them just this year to take over running my own lab. Before I knew Marian, a drunken boater killed my older brother Billy, the dearest person in my life, during a crew practice at his university. I never thought I could find someone to understand that pain until Marian told me the story of her daughter, Beth, who was killed by a drunk driver. It was through this tragedy that Marian began the biggest quest of her life. As a district organizer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Marian made a vow that no other family would ever receive the heartrending phone call in the early hours of the morning asking them to identify their child on a cold slab in a morgue, and that no more innocents would die from this preventable death. It is highly ironic, then, that she herself would become another statistic. So hard to conceive is this, that we might question God as to how he could let this happen. But a good friend told me something this week, something that focused the picture just a bit. God needed an angel like her. Someone to do the kind of work she was doing, but do it on high, and to reach down and watch over those who cant watch over themselves.
"Marian was first and foremost, a wife and mother, and by extension, a grandma. Jake, Anna, and Beth were the pride of her life. I remember sitting with her, marveling at tiny handprints in clay, and sawdust Christmas ornaments that looked like cow poop, and listening to her describe the amazing sense of fulfillment her children brought her. She loved her grandkids just the same. We never talked on the phone or over coffee when she wasnt bragging on first steps and baby pictures, coloring book pages and first haircuts.
"She was also devoted to her husband. Lord knows its not easy to love a law enforcement officer. The knowledge that some day, they just might not come home cripples so many marriages. But Marian was strong in love and in faith. She looked at Thomas as if they were newly in love, everyday of her life. She once confided in me that she couldnt believe he had chosen her to love, but knowing her, it was easy to understand. She once showed me a single rose, from their first date. She had saved it all these years. That was the kind of love she gave.
"Marian took me into this family, allowed me to be a part of something wonderful, something my own parents never gave me. I know it is a blessing that has saved my heart, my soul, my sanity, and my life, and none of those is exaggerated. I really cannot begin to say just what she meant to me, so I will leave you with a verse, by another friend of mine.
"Who notices one candle in one hundred?
Who notices one torch among the many?
Who notices how brightly burns the light?
No one does, until there isnt any."
Slowly, she returned to her seat, eyes shining with tears, as the hymn Amazing Grace began. Sitting there, she added her pure alto to the congregation, and closed her eyes, imagining the smile now gone.
After the service, at the reception, Jake found her standing on the veranda of the old farmhouse, looking out at the field. "Thank you, Lili," he said quietly. "It was beautiful, I am sure Mom loved it."
She sighed heavily; listening to the sounds inside the house as people shared stories about Marian, from college sorority sisters to members of MADD. The house seemed filled. "I wonder if she ever knew just how many people loved her?"
"She knew you did," he said. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small burgundy velvet bag. "She wanted you to have this."
She took the bag and opened it. Shaking it gently, she gasped when a small necklace with a porcelain pendant painted with a rose fell out. "I cant take this, Jake. It was a family heirloom. It should go to Anna, or your little girl."
"You were one of the family, Lili," Jake said, taking the pendant and putting it on her. "Anna has Moms engagement ring. Sarah will have her locket when she is older. This is yours, a reminder that no matter what your real parents thought, Mom loved you like a daughter."
Tears ran freely down her face as she fingered the delicate pendant. She couldnt find the words, simply hugging Jake hard for a long minute before joining him inside. She flew out tonight at nine, and she still had to pack.
How the bust had gotten fucked up was beyond Chuck Robinson, head of ATF 4. The guns should have been in the warehouse, no doubt about it. His team, and Team 7, riding back up, should have made a clean sweep of 50 Baretta handguns and 50 military ready AK-47 rifles. However, when the crates were opened after they had secured the perps, they were empty. The show weapons, the ones displayed to his undercover agent, were enough to hold the suspects until grand jury convened the next week, but to make a case, they need the full load.
"I dont understand it, Larabee," Robinson said. "They should damn well be here."
"Dont look at me, Chuck," Chris said. "I dont see a way out of this anymore than you do." He was standing knee deep in straw from the crates their men had just demolished. "Well find something."
"If I lose this one, Chris, there will be hell to pay, and the next time I catch up with these little shits," Chuck said.
"They really will go down," Larabee finished.
She was in the air over Kansas when she realized she didnt have a car waiting for her in Denver and no particular way to get out to her ranch. It was a perfectly dreadful end to a perfectly dreadful week. Her flight had already been delayed almost four hours due to mechanical problems. Sighing, she pulled out her credit card and inserted it into the slot next to the phone on the seat in front of her.
The phone rang three times before she heard a muffled "What?" Checking her watch, she realized just how late it was.
"Im sorry, Ezra, I shouldnt have called "
"Lili," the voice said, instantly alert. "Lili, dont hang up. Where are you?"
"At the moment, Ezra, at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet," she said, sighing.
"Are you alright, Lili Grace?" he asked.
"No yes for the moment, I suppose I am," she said. "Can you have a taxi meet me at the south terminal entrance in about an hour?"
"No," he said. "Im coming to get you."
"Ezra, its late, and its a long drive out to the ranch," she said. "Ill be okay with a taxi."
"I am coming to get you," he reiterated. "Because its a long drive to the ranch. You can stay here tonight. I have a guestroom. What flight are you on?"
She gave him all her information. "Thank you, Ezra. I thank you."
"You arent alone, darlin. Ill see you in an hour."
He sat on the hard seat of the plane terminal gate, flipping through the previous days Washington Post. Lilis plane would be at the gate in a few minutes, and he had no idea what to say to her. He had been no more than three when his father had died. He was never close to his grandparents, and their deaths were never major events. What did one say to a person in a time such as this? He really had no idea.
He heard the woman at the check-in desk announce, "Flight 247 from Dulles to Denver will now be disembarking at Gate 34. Luggage may be collected at South Terminal Carousel One. Thank you for flying with us." He rose and walked to the area near the door to the jet walkway. The door opened and tired looking businessmen exited the plane, hauling briefcases and laptop caddies. Families with children exited after, often with the little ones fast asleep. Just when Standish thought he had been mistaken about the flight, she exited the door, carrying a small bag and looking broken and exhausted. She didnt seem to see him at first, running on autopilot after a non-stop hellish week. Then she looked up, and her eyes met his. He felt his heart breaking for her as tears filled her haunted chocolate eyes. He stepped forward to meet her, and she just dropped her bag and let herself be caught up in his embrace.
"Welcome home, Lili Grace," he said softly. "Welcome home."
+ + + + + + +
"Larabee," the voice growled into the phone.
"Good morning, Mr. Larabee," he said softly. Lili had just cried herself to sleep a little while before, and now he sat with a scotch in his hand at the kitchen counter, quietly checking in with his team leader.
"Ezra, do you have any fucking idea what time it is?" the gruff team leader growled.
"I believe its just after four in the morning, Mr. Larabee," he replied. "However, you asked me to update you when Lili spoke to me again."
"How is she, Ez?" Larabee asked, his voice immediately softening.
"At the moment, asleep in my bed," Standish replied. Chris nearly dropped the phone. "I picked her up at the airport at three, and she was in no condition for the long drive out to her ranch. She will have my bed, and I shall partake of my own guestroom."
"Physically and emotionally exhausted," he said. He paused for a long moment. "I was with her when she found out her own parents had died, Chris. She was no where near like this."
"Damn," Larabee said. "Ill call the boys early tomorrow and let them know. Do you want to bring her by the ranch for dinner with everyone?"
"I dont know Chris," the southerner said. "Let me see how she is when she wakes up tomorrow. Today whenever."
"Get some rest," the blonde man said. "Shes going to need you in the morning."
"Good night, Mr. Larabee," Standish said, hanging up. He tipped back the rest of the scotch and rinsed the glass, then headed for the full bed in his guestroom.
+ + + + + + +
Lili had indeed wanted to accept the offer to come for dinner at the ranch and had asked that the offer be extended to Mary and Billy, Nettie and Casey, and Rain. She had looked a little brighter when Ezra had brought it up at one the next day, when she had woken up. "Itll be good to feel normal again," she had said.
The dinner was nice, conversation kept light. But the true highlight had been when Billy had arrived and ran to "Auntie Lili" for a hug and to give her a picture. It was a house in the clouds, and there were three childish angels in front of it, two men and one woman. "Thats your brother Billy, and thats my daddy," Billy had said. "And that is your friend in the middle. Theyre taking good care of her, I know." The tears had leapt to her eyes and she pulled the little boy into a very tight hug.
"Thank you, Billy," she said softly. "Its a wonderful present."
The rest of the weekend was spent resting for the tired criminologist, and despite the offer for more time, it was spent preparing to return to work on Monday. Ezra had told her about the problems with Team Fours bust, and she had talked to Steven about the other cases that had broken and the requests for help from Denver area agencies. Going back to work was apparently part of her plan to return to normalcy, and he knew he had to let her.
+ + + + + + +
We're only human, baby
We walk on broken ground
We lose our way
We come unwound
Steven had come into the office early and was working on all the paper work for the cases the lab had processed in the last week. He hadnt really expected his boss to come into the office on Monday and was surprised when he looked up and saw her. "Welcome back, Lili," he said, standing up.
"Thanks, Steven," she said. "And thank you for keeping everything running here with out me."
"No problem," her assistant replied. He looked down at his desk. "I am working on the reports for the last week now. We only had three holdover cases. Two had to be sent in to Quantico for processing, and the bust ATF 4 worked last Friday."
"Chuck Robinsons bust?" she said. "The one where all the weapons seemed to vanish into thin air?"
"Yeah," Steven said. "I went over the warehouse myself with the best team we had. The place was clean, Lili. There was no where to hide those weapons."
"Damn," she mumbled. "Poor Chuck, how long before the perp walks?"
"He has about a week to figure out where those weapons are and how to get them," he replied. "Otherwise, the guys go free."
She rubbed the bridge of her nose with her right hand. "Okay," she said. "When you finish, bring me the files so I can take a look over them, and a list of what we expect to go down this week." She smiled again, looking down at her young assistant. "You did well, Steven. It will go on your next reports. Keep this type of work up, and youll be running a unit all of your own." She left him at his work and headed for her own office to begin the workday.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra sat at his desk, looking over a few dossiers on men the team might be going after in the next few months. The files all had their own particular charm, but his mind kept wandering back to Robinsons bust. There was no logical reason the weapons shouldnt have been in the warehouse. Glancing up, he saw Vin was also a thousand miles away, and he would bet money that both of them were focused on the same mystery. Tanner caught his eye, realizing that the southerner had been watching him. Both of them chuckled for a minute, then checked the clock. "Reckon its lunch time," the Texan said.
"Astute observation," he agreed. "Shall I inform Mr. Larabee we shall be taking a break, or do you wish the honor?"
"Ill tell him," Tanner replied. Rising, he sauntered over and knocked on the door to Chriss office.
"Come in," said the voice through the door. He poked his head in, and made eye contact with Chris, who was on the phone. Larabee shot him a look.
Lunchtime, Cowboy. Want us to wait for you? the sharpshooter smiled.
Nah, I have a lunch meeting with Travis. You tell the boys to go on ahead, but be back by 1:30. Larabee focused back on the phone as Tanner nodded, and headed back out.
"Lunch, boys," he called into the bullpen. "Chris wants us back by 1:30."
"Hallelujah," Buck said, grabbing his jacket. "No pizza, JD, we had that all last week."
"But Buck, this place still has fifteen other pies we havent tried yet," the kid responded. "Wheres your sense of adventure?"
"I left it at home with my antacids, kid," the rogue replied, snatching JDs hat and running toward the door, with the kid in full pursuit. Josiah and Nathan just shook their heads and followed the two.
Meanwhile, Ezra was on the phone. On the second ring, it was picked up. "Forensics, Agent MacKenna speaking," Lili said over the line.
"Its Ezra," he replied. "Were going to lunch, if you would care to join us."
"Thats sweet," she said, "but I have tons of reports to go over, so I sent Steven over to the deli for take out."
"How is everything?" he asked.
"Steven kept everything up beautifully while I was gone, but I still have to go through all the reports, sign off," she replied. "I need to go through and read over the three holdovers too, see what I can find."
"Three holdovers?" he asked.
"Two FBI cases that needed more extensive testing than I can do here," she replied. "And then Chucks case. Anyway, I had better let you go, you need to eat."
"Dinner?" he asked,
"Well see," she said. "Bye." He hung up and turned to find Vin looking at him expectantly.
"Ready, pard?" the sharpshooter asked. The southerner nodded. "Ya can see her later. Shell be there."
"Lets get that meal, Mr. Tanner," Standish responded. Still, he couldnt shake the ominous feeling of dread he suddenly felt.
+ + + + + + +
Lili munched on her chicken Caesar pita over the reports on Team 4s bust. She had already gone over everything else and closed it out by the time Steven had come back from the deli. Now, as she read over the statements of the agents at the scene and looked at the crime scene photography, she could understand their consternation. In the photos, there was absolutely nowhere to hide those weapons. She sighed and was about to set the file down when an old memory came to her.
She was six years old at the time, and had been playing hide and seek with Billy and some of his playmates. She had found the room in the ancient mansion purely by chance and it seemed like the perfect hiding place. She had crawled into the small place and shut the door, accidentally locking herself in. Billy and his playmates had assumed she had decided to quit playing. Only when she didnt show up for dinner did Billy worry. It took two more hours for the servants to find her, and by that time, she had become nearly catatonic. To this day, she was horribly claustrophobic in small spaces. It was only through this shear force of will that she could ride in elevators and do investigations in small spaces without going into a full-blown panic attack.
She later learned that the small, hidden room dated back to before the Civil War, and had been used to hide slaves on the Underground Railroad. And then it hit her. "Hot damn!" she yelled. Steven almost dropped the test tube he was working with, than ran into her office.
"Lili, what is it?" he said.
"I need the original architectural layout of that warehouse and any recent alterations to the property, as fast as possible," she said. The younger agent looked at her blankly. "The warehouse from Team 4s bust. Forget everything else, Steven, time is of the essence."
Thirty minutes later, Lili was pouring over the four sets of blueprints in front of her. "Steven, did you say that the one wall looked like it had been redone recently?"
"Yeah," Steven said, "the west wall. The stucco looked newer than the other three walls." She smiled cheerfully.
"Steven, call Chris Larabee and tell him to get his and Robinsons teams to meet me at the warehouse," she said, pulling off her jacket and pulling on her bulletproof vest. She pulled the jacket back on over the vest and holstered her gun.
"You should take back up with you," her assistant said as she headed out the door.
"No time," she hollered back. "Just call Larabee."
Steven watched her head out the door, then picked up the phone on her desk and hit the speed dial marked Chriss cell. "Agent Larabee, this Agent Steven Masters in Forensics. Lili thinks she has something on Agent Robinsons bust and she wants both your teams to meet her at the warehouse. She didnt take any back up, Agent Larabee, and I have a really bad feeling about that. Please hurry."
+ + + + + + +
The boys had just finished lunch and were walking out to the cars when six pagers went off. "Chris," Buck said, checking his. Vin already had his cell phone out.
"Whats up pard?" he asked. He was silent and his face darkened. "She did what? Well meet ya there." Hanging up, he turned to the rest of the team. "Lili thinks she found something ta break Chucks bust, and she went ta the warehouse, wants us ta meet her there. She didnt take backup." As soon as Ezra heard what Tanner said, he took off running for the Jag. Josiah and Nathan immediately headed for the Suburban, and Buck and JD made for Bucks truck. The Texan managed to jump into Jag as Standish threw it into drive and headed for the warehouse.
+ + + + + + +
Lili climbed out of the Cherokee at the entrance to the warehouse and pulled out a small sledge and an exacta knife. She walked up to the door and used the knife to cut the police tape sealing the door. With a creak, the old door swung open and she stepped into the semi-dimness of the warehouse. Straw remnants still lay everywhere from the rapid search of crates the week before, as she quickly made her way over to the west wall of the huge room. She reached out tentatively and tapped it, praying she was right. The sound came just as she expected. Hollow. The forensic specialist grinned quietly as she pulled back her hammer and hit the wall hard, watching the plaster crumble.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was waiting for them outside the building when they got there. Lilis SUV sat to the side, locked to the outside world. "Shes already in there," Larabee said. "Couldnt get Chuck on the phone, his guys are backing up Team 2."
"What are we waiting for?" Ezra asked. The leader nodded and the seven men headed in the warehouse doors.
+ + + + + + +
The wall had crumbled easily as she wheeled the hammer. And behind it, crates. And in the first crate, handguns. "Hot damn," she mumbled, picking one up with latex hands and admiring it. It was good quality, but to have shipment like this hit the streets would be an apocalypse. Especially if the other crate was full of rifles. She set the gun down as she heard the cars pull up outside. This ought to make a few peoples days. She slowly began walking towards the door, when the niggling feeling she was being watched caught her. She saw the boys enter and was about to wave when her intuition told her all hell was going to break loose.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was the first through the door, followed by Vin, who had grabbed a sniper rifle out of Chriss truck for no apparent reason. The warehouse had to have been secured or she wouldnt have gone in. He knew enough to know she wouldnt do that. He looked up and saw her, smiling at them as she crossed the floor, and almost looking like she wanted to wave, then stopping cold. Standish felt his gut clench.
Tanner was unsure why he had grabbed the rifle, only that something told him all was not right, and he wanted the option of a distance weapon. As he, Ezra, and the others approached her, the internal alarm got louder until she stopped advancing. He saw her turn and suddenly knew, with sickening clarity, what was coming.
+ + + + + + +
Lili had stopped and turned fully around, putting her back to the men, when the first report of the rifle split the air and she felt something slam into her right shoulder. She was thankful for the vest for only a second when she felt the blood from the first bullet as it ripped through the vest and into her body, tearing muscle, flesh, and pulmonary systems as it went. The second shot immediately followed the first, a third and fourth behind it. She felt each impact, one to the lower left chest, one to the right abdomen, one to her right thigh. All she felt now was the impacts, and a brief fleeting thought ran through her mind. Armor piercing bullets. Aw hell. With the last shot, her body had been thrown off balance and she flew backwards, cracking her head on a crate nearby. She was out of it before she hit the ground.
+ + + + + + +
When she turned, it hit Ezra what was about to happen, but like a man watching a film, he was powerless to stop it. He heard a noise over the sound of the first four gunshots, and only realized later it had been the sound of his own scream. "NOOOOO!" He began running forward into the line of fire, and watched as her body slammed first into the crate with a sickening crack, then crumpled to the ground, as a two more shots rang out.
Larabee watched it happen with a morbid fascination, a detachment. She was a CSI, she couldnt be shot. He saw Standish running forward, saw Tanner take aim at a figure on the rafters, saw Nathan turn and run to get a med kit out of the Suburban.
Vin had raised the rifle on reflex, found the shooter, taken aim, and squeezed off two shots. They were kill shots for sure, and if they hadnt been, the fall from the three story high rafters would finish the man. Damn it, should have been faster. Then he dropped the gun and followed the southerner.
Josiah pulled out his phone and dialed 911. "This is ATF Agent Josiah Sanchez, we have an officer down in a warehouse on the corner of Labor and Morrison. Request immediate medical assistance "
Buck had moved immediately, gun drawn, to check the shooter. The man was dead, blood pooling under him from his lifeless body. He turned back and signaled Chris, who still seemed to be in shock.
Ezra slid to a stop and saw blood pooling under her leg. He immediately threw off his jacket and put pressure on the wound there. He could see Lilis bulletproof vest, and took comfort in the fact that what he was dealing with was probably the only damage. Still, there seemed an awful lot of blood for one wound. And she was unconscious. "NATHAN!" he yelled.
Nathan ran back in the door, carrying the well stocked kit he kept whenever the team was out. He made it over to Vin and Ezra in record time, finding the southerner trying to staunch the blood flow from the leg wound with his coat. "Wheres she hit?"
"Her leg," Standish replied. "She was wearing a vest." Both men breathed a sigh of relief, but Vin noticed something warm against his hand as he knelt near her head. He looked down to find blood seeming to seep out from the vest.
"SHIT!" he said. "Shes bleeding out up here too!" Nathan immediately pulled off her jacket with Tanners help, and saw the holes in the vest.
"Dammit," he said. "I need more hands over here!" Quickly, he removed the vest. Three new bleeding wounds stared back at him. In the distance, he could hear sirens. "I need to check for exit wounds," he said. Carefully, they rolled her off the floor and slid the vest out from under her, but no exit wound could be found. "Okay, set her down easy. Ez, keep pressure where you have it. Vin, you take this and apply pressure to her shoulder. Josiah, you take the gut shot, but easy. Dont want to aggravate any inside tearing." Jackson took gauze and applied it carefully to the chest shot, checking for broken ribs. He used his hand then to take a pulse. It was weak and her breathing was way too shallow. Dont you do this, Lili. You and Ez are too close for you to quit this game now, hear? Where the hell is that rig?
Buck had wisely sent JD outside to wave the ambulance crew over, but now that the rig pulled up, the youngest agent ran in with the paramedics and stopped to see the sheer amount of blood on the floor. He felt his stomach begin the revolt and knew he was going to lose it. Turning, Dunne ran back outside and into the nearby alley, retching his lunch up next to a dumpster.
The paramedic crew quickly packed and wrapped the gunshot wounds as Nathan gave them a run down. "Pulse is weak, breathings way too shallow. Shes been down about seven to ten minutes. BP probably aint too good. Shes 30."
"Anything else?" the paramedic leader asked.
"O-Positive," Ezra said numbly, watching as they quickly strapped her to the gurney.
"Her blood type," Standish replied. "Shes O-Positive. Donates regularly she told me she was going to " He didnt finish.
"We need an extra set of hands," the driver said. "Can you come, Agent Jackson?" Nathan nodded and followed the others out to the rig. "Were taking her to Four Corners General. Can you notify the next of kin?"
"I am her next of kin," the southerner said softly. Chris turned to look at him. "She had no one else, Mr. Larabee, when it came time to renew all her paperwork, she asked me." He watched numbly as the ambulance drove away. His pants were soaked in her blood and splatters of it covered his shirt.
"Lets go. Well meet them at the hospital," Larabee said.
"Brother, give Vin your keys and well go get you a change of clothes," Josiah said. Mindlessly, Ezra handed his Jag keys over to Tanner. Then he followed Chris to his truck. Buck went to collect JD, and then follow them to the hospital.
After they pulled away, Vin walked back into the warehouse with Josiah. Walking over to the body of the shooter, he wondered briefly who the man was. How had they missed someone in the sweeping raid they made the week before? Suddenly, all he wanted to do was inflict some damage. He reared back and kicked the corpse at his feet hard with his boot. Bastard had shot one of the best ladies the Texan had ever known, and he was damned lucky he was dead, because if she didnt pull through, he was going to dig him up and shoot him again.
"Come on, Brother Vin," Josiah said. "The Lord will take vengeance for us." He waved in a second ambulance and members of the DPD to secure the scene and transport the corpse to the morgue.
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