ATF Alternate Universe
Ezra Standish was bored.
He glanced at the screen for the hundredth time, trying to be interested in what he was typing but his mind kept wandering, despite his best efforts to concentrate on his work. His thoughts seemed to be in a state of flux today, unable to focus on any one subject. He looked away from his screen and rubbed his eyes, hoping that the digital clock on the edge of his immaculate desk would tell him that it was definitely time to go home. Unfortunately, the green illumination did not offer him that respite but did let him know that it was nearing lunch which was not quite as liberating as going home for the evening but Ezra was not about to quibble over small consolations.
Outside, it was a nice warm summer day. It was the kind of day that made one question the need for walls and air-conditioning and all those annoyances that came with being pent up inside four walls for too long a time. He eased back into his chair, considering how he would spend the hour of freedom from this place and entertained himself with the quaint idea of lunching outdoors, perhaps in the balmy surroundings of a local park or an arboretum he knew not too far from here.
Allowing his sea-coloured eyes to sweep over the room, Ezra saw the rest of Team 7 wearing the same look of boredom on their faces. All except Chris Larabee, who was gazing at Mary Travis over the stack of papers he was supposedly working on while the journalist was typing away at the computer screen at a vacant desk. Of course the man was doing everything possible to hide the fact that he was basking in the loveliness of the blond woman who had undoubtedly captured his heart in the opinion of every man in the room, no matter how Chris may deny it. Ezra rolled his eyes, wondering why the leader of Team 7 just did not tell the woman how he felt. Instead, they danced around each other like mating alligators that Ezra had once chanced to see during a trip to Florida.
The others were just as similarly enthused about being here today. Vin Tanner was at his desk, with his back faced away from the rest of the team. The sharpshooter was cradling his phone between his ear and shoulders while speaking in soft tones to someone who could only be Alexandra Styles to engender that much secrecy, while Buck was reading a magazine with his feet on the table. Ezra gave it about another ten minutes before Chris emerged from his office and shouted at his old friend to get back to work since the magazine in question happened to be a jumbo edition of Sports Illustrated. JD eyes were fixed firmly on his computer screen but Ezra had no doubt that what had captured the youth's attention was not at all a report but rather the umpteenth level of Tomb Raider 3 which he helping the buxom Miss Croft traverse. Nathan and Josiah were at the coffee machine in the hallway, lingering there and staring longingly at the clock, waiting for it to strike twelve just as he was. qqq Ezra turned back to the screen and frowned because he still had not managed to put more than three words the embarrassment of two days ago when he had mistakenly dragged all his comrades to the Denver Art Museum. Ezra had been certain that Julia, the mysterious thief who had captured his heart and affirmed with every encounter that he was well and truly head over heels, would be attempting a possible heist of a priceless DaVinci painting on display at the premises.
Team 7 had staked out the place, mobilising museum security and coordinating with their head of security in preparation for her arrival and arrest. Unfortunately, after they had apprehended her, it was discovered that Julia or the Fox as she was called by Interpol, was gainfully employed by the museum director to test their security measures in the protection of the Davinci. Not only did they come out of the experience with egg well and truly on their faces but Chris Larabee had found himself with a great deal of explaining to do to everyone.
Ezra had not believed that it was possible for anyone to scream for an hour straight but Chris had managed to prove once again, he was capable of any feat, especially that one. Ezra could hardly blame him of course. The leader of Team 7 had spent half the night apologizing the museum owner, Mr Packard and then the other half of it explaining it to the Assistant Director, assuring the man that they were not going to be slapped with a lawsuit. Needless to say that when he came to work the next morning, the first person he wanted to see was Ezra.
The ATF agent flinched just remembering how furious Chris had been during that interview and had been in a foul mood for the rest of the day until he volunteered to take Mary Travis to her son's baseball game. Secretly, Ezra wondered what had happened at the game to assuage such a foul mood because Chris was smiling when he returned.
However, even enduring Chris Larabee in a foul mood was not as bad as seeing the hurt in Julia's eyes when she realized that it was he who had set her up. Considering how she had saved his life when the mobster Bertenelli had come gunning for him at his apartment, followed by the most erotic experience of his adult life, Ezra felt like something of a cad for his betrayal. Unfortunately, there was no way he knew of to make reparations because he had no idea where she would turn up next. The woman was like a jack in the box, appearing just long enough to throw his entire world into disarray.
"Julia!" Ezra gasped in surprise as he saw his lady fair walk through the front door of the offices occupied by Team 7. Unlike the previous times where she had been clad in soft figure hugging leather that emphasised every glorious curve of her form which Ezra had now committed to memory, on this occasion she was dressed like a woman out and about for the day. She was wearing an expensive dark blue suit with capri pants and heels and still managed to look utterly spectacular.
When Ezra had seen her previously, she had moved with the stealthy caution of a cat. However in the broad daylight, she was a woman of the world, exuding bold, confident sexuality as she moved, capturing the attention of every man that she happened by. Julia strode into the office, completely ignoring the fact that only two days ago, everyone in this room had been poised to arrest her. Her arrival sparked astonishment from the rest of his comrades as she entered their private bastion, supremely confident and oblivious to the history that existed between the Fox and Team 7.
The stir caused by her appearance rippled through the room like the swell of a wave. Vin immediately hung up the phone; Buck actually tore his eyes from the curves of Kathy Ireland in thong, while Lara Croft met a grisly end at the bottom of a fire pit when JD forgot all about the game. It drew Josiah and Nathan away from their conversation and caused Mary Travis to forget about her story. Finally the effect reached its climax at the door of Chris Larabee's office as the leader of Team 7 emerged form behind his desk at the sight of this interloper who had dared to intrude upon his exclusive domain. Ezra swallowed as he saw the storm forming on Chris' face as he strode out of his office towards the woman who had barely given Ezra a second glance as she passed by his desk and caused him a stab of pain by her avoidance.
If things could not descend any further into the unexpected, Mary Travis rose from her desk at that moment and went towards Julia, exclaiming loudly with a warm smile on her face. "Julia, what a surprise!"
The jaw of every man in the room dropped collectively.
"You know this person?" Chris sputtered in astonishment as he saw Mary and Julia exchange a warm embrace reserved those who had been friends for a long time, before giving each other a small peck on the cheek.
"Of course I do," Mary looked at him when she and Julia parted, with an expression that alluded to what business it was of his. "Julia's my oldest friend."
"We sure are," Julia gave Chris a smug wink while Mary's attention was focussed in Chris' direction. She missed the look and turned her back on Chris after a moment's deliberation, deciding that his interest was not required when her affairs with Julia were a private matter.
"Well darling," Julia said regarding her best friend. "I thought since we are going to be occupying the same zip code for some time, we can do the catching up thing and go grab some lunch."
"That sound great." Mary smiled, although she was a somewhat confused by all the stunned expressions around her, particularly that on Chris and Ezra's face. Chris mostly because he could not believe that this criminal had allied herself with a woman he cared for deeply and Ezra because Julia had been under his nose and within reach all the time and he had no idea of it.
"I'll just get my bag." Mary started towards her desk when suddenly Chris found his voice.
"You can't go to lunch with this woman!" Chris barked. "She's a goddamn thief for Christ's sake!"
Mary whirled around in her retreat stared at him as if he had finally gone insane. "What are you talking about? Julia's an art dealer!"
It occurred to Ezra at that point that Mary had no idea what Julia did for a living and debated whether or not to press the issue. It was obvious that Julia and Mary had been friends for a very long time and such friendships especially considering Julia's vocation, appeared to have been maintained because Mary meant a great deal to her. He was not about to break faith with her a second time although he could not say the same for Chris who had switched into protective mode and could not be reasoned with to hold his tongue on the subject even if Ezra had bothered asking.
"That's right an art dealer with a few little security jobs on the side," Julia said quickly, prepared for the outburst and having covered all her bases prior to her arrival here. She had expected them to try revealing her secret to Mary and was ready for them. She gave Ezra a look to warning to take cover because by the time she was done with Mr Larabee and him, there was not going to be much left standing and the last thing on their minds would be what she did for a living. "I'm afraid Mr Larabee and I have had a previous run in."
"Run in?" Mary stared at them both blankly, wondering what on earth an art dealer would have to do with ATF business and defied Chris to explain it to her.
"Ezra?" Chris folded his arms and glared at Ezra because the gambler had been the real culprit of this mess he now found himself in with Mary. "You can do the honours." He commanded and it was not a request.
"Its somewhat embarrassing really," Ezra cleared his throat and tried to articulate into words the fiasco that was their stake out of the Denver Art Museum. After much deliberation and carefully placed words to ensure he would not have his friends or Julia head hunting when he was done, Ezra explained what had happened, softening the brutal truth as possible. Still, even he had to recognise that no amount of erudite speech was going to accomplish this to any satisfaction, even if the words were sung in prose and written by the Bard himself.
"Unfortunately," Julia retorted once Ezra had completed the tale, spearing him with sharp points of her emerald eyes because she was still very angry with him. "These Keystone cops can't get it through their heads that they made complete jackasses of themselves by harassing a professional trying to do her job."
"You are a professional all right," Chris hissed, not about to let this woman get the upper hands or squirm out of what being what she was, especially in his own department. "A professional thief."
"Unless you have the facts to prove that Mr Larabee," Julia took a step up to him and stared him down, not at all effected by the Larabee glare that would have most men fleeing. "I suggest you keep those remarks to yourself before I have a lawyer slap you and your team with a lawsuit for slander and defamation of character. I have committed no crime in this country so you might consider taking a walk around the block to explain that to yourself or will we need books with pretty pictures?"
Ouch. Ezra thought to himself and fought to keep stifled the smile that was threatening to steal across his features as he watched the woman he loved give Chris Larabee as good as she got. The reaction was shared by the rest of Team 7 who found to their astonishment, that they were starting to like this fiery red head that had been thrust into their midst and that liking was starting to include a feeling of respect as well.
"You're guilty lady!" Buck declared though, still determined to uphold their honour and interject before Chris did something they would all regret because the expression on the team leader's face was surpassing smoldering and quickly reaching critical mass.
"Oh yeah?" She regarded the tall man and said with smirk of defiance and cocky self assurance. "Prove it."
"Give us time," Chris bristled having come to the firm conclusion that the woman had come here merely to rub their noses in it and he was not about to give her any more amusement at their expense. "We will." He said confidently.
Julia offered him a cold smile with a brow raised when she turned back to Mary, who was very confused by everything that was going on and wanting to get Julia out of here so that her old friend could explain things to her.
"Oh by the way Mary, do you know who I saw this morning?" She said changing the subject completely. qqq Ezra failed to understand what Julia was playing at by coming here not to mention this game of cat and mouse she was indulging with Chris Larabee. The leader of Team 7 was not the person to toy with mostly because Chris' reaction could be extreme and yet as he watched the sparing, Ezra had the oddest feeling that Chris was not the feline in this little drama. In truth, the gambler had hoped that she had come to see him, in order to give him a chance to explain that he was his job and part of his reasons for setting her up was so that he could see her again. Certainly, it was hardly the most gentlemanly way of capturing a lady's attention but she had the consistency of smoke. Julia was the most elusive and utterly compelling woman he had ever met that he was willing to go to any lengths to find her again.
Even setting her up for arrest.
"Who?" Mary asked, coming to the conclusion that she was going to get Julia out of here before Chris became any angrier. She had no idea what had transpired to cause such a venomous exchange between Julia and the ATF, but she did know the ATF leader well enough to be familiar with that temper of his and could tell that he was about to blow a gasket.
"Gerard Whitman, the accountant you recommended." Julia replied and then shifted her gaze long enough to give Chris a look of utter deviousness that signalled immediately to the man what was coming.
Ezra Standish and the rest of Team 7 suddenly bore witnessed to the most amazing thing.
Chris' eyes widened in nothing less than absolute terror. The emotion surfaced for only a brief second, with a guilty twitch that would have been missed by anyone who did not know him but to his comrades who did, it was unmistakable. The stony expression on Chris' face wavered and left Ezra wondering what on earth had brought on such uncertainty because nothing ever shook Chris Larabee, not as long as the gambler had known him anyway.
If that was not amazing enough, Ezra then saw Chris starting to withdraw, no he corrected himself, retreat. Chris was taking one slow step backward and then another, slowly shifting himself out of Mary Travis' reach with Julia enjoying every second of it.
"How is Gerard?" Mary asked, glad that they were moving onto a less volatile subject.
"Oh he is just fine but somewhat disappointed." Julia answered, keeping her eye trained on the prey now she had him in place for the kill. Chris was visibly squirming now and everyone except Mary could see it.
Ezra exchanged glances with Vin who was closest to Chris and would know better than anyone why their leader was behaving like a cat on a hot tin roof about to leap off the edge into an abyss. The sharpshooter shrugged, unable to answer but just as transfixed by events as he was.
"Disappointed about what?" Mary inquired, noticing the interplay taking place between Julia and Chris and felt her confusion growing. There was a moment when she thought that there was something deeper than just animosity at work here and felt a stab of jealousy thinking that Julia might have captured Chris' interest.
"About you being a lesbian and dating an office girl in this building." Julia replied bluntly, padding nothing.
"What?" Mary stammered almost stupefied with shock, almost as much as the men around her. It was almost a full second or two before she could respond enough to speak.
"Where the hell would he get an idea like that!!?" She demanded, her voice revealing her mortification as more furious thoughts crossed her mind and the full implications of such an allegation started to impress itself upon her. Suddenly, the nightmarish scenario that Gerard's belief in such a thing might have allowed him to make this known to Evie, Orin and .
OH GOD! Billy!
With a look of utter innocence as she saw Chris Larabee trying to make it back to his office in one piece, Julia answered Mary with saccharine in her voice. "Why Mr Larabee of course, during some baseball game I believe you two attended. Apparently, Gerard thought that you and I were involved previously, can you imagine that?" She laughed shortly as the others began to understand what had happened and were mixed in their feelings but in agreement about one fact;
Chris was in a lot of trouble.
"Of course, I set him straight that you were not that way inclined although he took a bit of convincing." Julia continued the massacre and Ezra saw Chris flinching with each word she uttered. "It seems Mr Larabee had told him that you wanted it kept a secret."
Mary Travis said nothing.
However, her eyes were another thing entirely. Ezra watched in morbid fascination like a man who was witnessing a terrible automobile accident and wanted to see the bodies left in the wreckage. He watched almost mesmerised as her blue grey eyes went ballistic, then nuclear and then fusion, all in the space of two seconds before she spoke very calmly, not even turning her gaze in the direction of Chris when the words finally escaped her lips. Ezra had never seen the leader of Team 7 so afraid in his life.
"Don't you dare take another step Mr Larabee." Mary growled in a low voice and then turned to those in the room with a smile almost as sweet as the one Julia had offered just before she threw Chris to the wolves. "Gentlemen, I would like some time alone with Mr Larabee, could you please give us a moment?"
"I am so out of here." Vin replied and Ezra had no idea that it was possible to make for the door so quickly.
"I'm going to McDonalds." JD offered a similar excuse, wishing to be away before the blood started pouring.
"I'm going to church to pray for a friend." Josiah retorted, genuinely meaning it.
"I'm going to get fresh bandages." Nathan whispered under his breath and made a similarly swift departure.
"I want to watch." Buck Wilmington grinned, always one to enjoy it immensely whenever Chris was in a state of discomfiture. It brought balance to the man's universe to know that Chris was just as human as the rest of them. However, this time it was not meant to be when Ezra wrapped a hand around Buck's shoulder and towed him out of the room, despite his vocal protests.
"I'll leave you two alone," Julia said to Mary even though she was sure her old friend was not listening. As she started to leave the room, she paused long enough to sing out to Chris. "Oh Mr Larabee?"
Chris looked up and squinted his eyes in delivering a glare that would have incinerated her on the spot it he had the supernatural ability to wish it so. He was rewarded with a satisfied smirk from Julia that made his want to go find his gun, although judging by the sound of Mary's voice, he might need one anyway just for his own safety.
"Have a nice day." Julia grinned before turning on her heels and walking out of the room.
+ + + + + + +
"What are you trying to do to me?" Ezra demanded of Julia when he met her in the hallway from where spring slaughter of Chris Larabee was taking place.
"Do to you darling?" Julia batted her lashes and gave him a look of pure innocence as she walked down the corridor towards the elevator. It was a look she was using to the hilt today. "I am doing nothing to you." She replied sweetly and pressed the elevator button upon reaching at the huge stainless steel doors.
"Do you know what Mr Larabee will do to me on account of you pulling this stunt on him?" Ezra demanded unable to imagine the carnage that was going to follow once Chris got him in his sights again. Chris was furious enough with him over this whole issue of the Fox that had his interest bordering on obsession and after the farce at the Denver Museum, Ezra would be surprised if he survive the next 24 hours with his limbs intact. In particular, the appendage that she had lavished so much attention during her last visit to his apartment.
"I can't honestly say," Julia said blithely, showing no signs of interest in his predicament as the elevator doors slid open and she stepped inside, with enough stiffness in her body language to show that she did not want company on the trip down.
"However," she added with a little wink and a smug smile just before the doors closed between them. "I would say that now, we are even."
To be continued...
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