Bright and early the next morning, Buck and Ezra were at O'Hare for their flight to Denver. When booking the flight, Buck had had the forethought to inquire about wheelchair service to get Ezra through security and to the gate. He thought his friend might be upset with the idea, but Ezra ended up welcoming it. After the experience of traversing BWI on crutches, he hadn't been looking forward to doing it again.
Security wasn't been backed up and they made it to the gate with just under an hour to spare until their flight would board. Ezra opted not to remain in the wheelchair assuring the airline personnel he'd be able to make it to the plane under his own power. Again, he and Buck were offered the option to pre-board. Unfortunately, this time the flight was fully booked and there was no chance of being bumped up to business class.
They'd been seated in the gate area for a few minutes people watching. "You know, I'm certain we passed a Starbucks on our way here from security." As he made the observation, Ezra kept his voice disinterested.
"Huh?" Passing flight attendants going to and from nearby gates distracted Buck so he didn't hear his friend.
"I said I thought we'd passed a Starbucks on way from security."
Buck caught the note of hopefulness in Ezra's voice but decided to have a little fun with him and pretend he didn't hear it. "Yeah. I guess we did. There's probably a bunch of them in here what with everyone going here and there."
"Yes. I suppose there probably is." Ezra was quiet for a few seconds before he spoke again. "It's a pity the coffee in the hotel restaurant wasn't very good this morning...and that the Starbucks in the lobby hadn't opened yet."
Buck had to cover his face with his hand when a chuckle almost escaped as Ezra upped the ante going so far as to pull out the puppy dog eyes that worked so well for JD. He wondered just how far his friend would go before he'd outright ask him to get him a cup of coffee. He snuck a quick look over at him. Ezra was lightly fingering the bruise under his eye from where Banks had hit him. The swelling had gone down so he was able to open both eyes almost completely but the bruising around both still gave him the appearance of a racoon. That, coupled with the stitches in his chin, the split lip, and the assorted bruises dotting his face gave him the appearance of being in a losing boxing match. Again, Buck felt the guilt that he was the cause of Ezra's injuries and heaved a sigh. "I can go get you a cup if you want."
"No. No. I don't want to trouble you."
Now Ezra was milking it for all it was worth. "No trouble. I might just get myself one as well." Buck stood up and made sure his wallet was in his pocket. "What do you want?"
"Venti Americano," Ezra quickly answered as he reached for his phone. "I insist on paying, however. I can just order it and whatever you'd like on the mobile app and then you'll only need to pick it up."
This time, Buck didn't hold back the chuckle. "Of course, you'd have a coffee app." He told Ezra what he wanted and waited while his friend put the order in via the phone app. "Be back in a jiff," he said once it was placed.
Once Buck was gone, Ezra reached into his carry on for the copy of Newsweek he'd picked up at the hotel giftshop. He'd only read a few paragraphs of an article before he felt a slight throbbing behind his eyes and sighed. He knew from previous experience with concussions it could be up to a week before he'd be able to read more than the lightest of fluff without triggering a headache. He closed his eyes and gently rubbed across his forehead. Hopefully, the slight throbbing wouldn't turn into a full-blown headache.
A loud voice called out, "You little pipsqueak. You're everywhere I go," causing Ezra to jerk his head up and snap his eyes open. He was dismayed to see David Banks, the man Buck dubbed the Jolly Green Giant, bearing down on him. He didn't have time to wonder how the man made it out of police custody and was in the airport before the man was looming over him.
"I told you I'd make you pay." He reached and grabbed Ezra by his shirt front and jerked him up from the chair.
Ezra couldn't believe his luck. Three times running into this man and being manhandled and assaulted by him was more than he could take. He stumbled a bit when jerked from the chair but quickly regained his balance and broke Banks's hold on him. When he did, Banks started to throw a punch.
The fist coming toward his face was the last thing Ezra saw clearly. It was as if he were looking through a fish-eye lens and the sounds around him seemed to come from far away. Fueled by adrenaline, he blocked the punch despite being hampered by his injuries. Lightning fast, he threw one of his own. The next thing he was cognizant of was being on the floor with his knee pressed to Banks's sternum and his forearm braced under the man's chin pushing his head back as someone pulled at his shoulder urging him to let go.
Buck was walking back with the two cups of coffee when he saw a group of people gathered by the gate his and Ezra's flight was leaving from and wondered what was going on. As he got a little closer, he could see two bodies on the floor in what looked like a struggle. The one on top was wearing a very fashionable charcoal grey Zegna suit. "Oh crap," he said as he identified Ezra as one of the combatants. He tossed the cups of coffee in a nearby trash can and ran to intervene. He got there just as security did.
"What the hell's going on?" he asked as he grabbed Ezra's shoulder and pulled him back. "Ezra! Let him go."
After several entreaties to let Banks go, Ezra finally turned to look at Buck. His eyes blinked as if he were coming back to himself. "Buck?" he questioned unsteadily, his chest heaving with his breaths.
"Yeah." Buck carefully helped Ezra to his feet and settled him back on one of the chairs as security approached them. He waved them back and pulled out his ATF ID. "What the hell happened?"
"He...I...," Ezra began to answer, but couldn't pull his thoughts together.
"I saw everything," a deep voice said. Buck glanced in the direction of the voice and saw a tall, well-built man stepping forward. "The little guy was just sitting there minding his own business and this guy comes up and grabs him. He was yelling about making him pay and tried to punch him, but the little guy blocked it and laid him on the floor with one punch." The man seemed impressed by Ezra's fighting skills.
Buck crouched beside Ezra. He saw that his friend was breathing hard and looked a little dazed. "Hey? You ok?"
Ezra gave a short nod. "Fine. I'm fine," he mumbled.
Buck wasn't convinced. Ezra might have been doing better with the concussion, but brawling didn't top the list of care instructions the doctor had given. He looked critically at Ezra for another few seconds before nodding and standing up. He started to explain to the responding officers the two separate incidents had had occurred with Banks. However, they all found themselves in the security office.
By the time they made it to the office, Ezra had come out of the daze he was in at the gate.
In addition to the passenger who'd described the events at the gate, two other passengers and the airline gate agent had all corroborated the story. Banks found himself being escorted out of O'Hare for the second time in three days by the police. Unfortunately, in the time it took to straighten everything out and fill out the paperwork, Buck and Ezra's flight had departed.
The airline booked them on the next available flight to Denver and offered them complimentary access to the first-class lounge where they could wait the three hours until the flight.
"I suppose one of us should call Mr. Larabee and let him know about our latest delay. It's a pity the bruising on my knuckles makes it painful to hold the phone."
Buck eyed Ezra's right hand where he had it flat on the table between them with an icepack on it. "You got two hands," he grumbled but he pulled out his phone and dialed Chris. The call was short. As soon as he heard Buck's voice, Chris immediately anticipated what the call was about. "He's going to kill us," Buck said as he ended the call.
"And why do you say that? I couldn't hear any shouting."
"That's just it. He was way too calm...and he wants to see us both tomorrow morning."
Ezra paled visibly at Buck's words. "You're right. He's going to kill us. He's probably planning how he's going to hide our bodies."
M7 M7 M7 M7 M7 M7 M7
After all the difficulties and delays, to Ezra's and Buck's immense satisfaction, once they boarded the flight to Denver, everything went off without a hitch. Just over two hours after take-off, they were on the ground in Denver.
"I was beginning to believe we weren't going to make it."
"You and me both, Hoss." Buck pulled in a deep breath. "It's good to be home."
Wheelchair service had also been arranged for their arrival in Denver and it was a good thing. The knuckles of Ezra's right hand were so bruised and swollen, it made using the crutches nearly impossible for him.
As they exited the security area on their way to baggage claim, they saw Nathan headed their way. "Good lord. I'll be lucky if he doesn't put me in traction," Ezra said loud enough for only Buck to hear.
"Could be worse. I could have been Chris."
"Yes. At least we get to put off our imminent demise a bit longer. How fortunate."
"Hey, guys," Nathan said when he caught up with them then whistled softly under his breath. "Chris said you'd had a bit of accident, but I wasn't expecting this."
"You should see the other guy," Buck half-joked.
Nathan looked down to where Ezra was cradling his right hand in his lap. "If your hand looks like that, he must look worse."
"Suffice to say, he won't be forgetting us any time soon. Let's continue on to baggage claim. I'd like to see my bed before tomorrow morning is dawning."
They arrived in baggage claim to an airline employee calling out their names. Although they'd missed their originally scheduled flight, their luggage hadn't and had arrived before them. It had been pulled aside and was in the lost luggage office. Both men were grateful that they were able to just collect it and leave before the baggage from the flight they were on made an appearance.
The wheelchair was only able to go as far as the exit door and it was obvious Ezra wouldn't be able to traverse the parking lot. He was barely able to grasp the crutch with his right hand because of the swollen and bruised knuckles. He was left with no choice but to sit on a bench in the pick-up area and wait for Nathan to get his Explorer and pick him up there. Buck volunteered to wait with him but, instead, Ezra pulled his keys from his pocket and handed them to him. "You may as well drive my Jag back so it's not in long term parking any longer than necessary."
Buck accepted the keys knowing how much trust Ezra was putting in him. "Don't worry. I won't put a scratch on it...and I might even stick to the speed limit."
"Please see that you do."
Ezra had to wait only a few minutes after Buck left to get the Jag for Nathan to drive up. "Where'd Buck go?" he asked as he started putting the luggage in the back.
"Mr. Wilmington has agreed to drive my vehicle back, so it doesn't keep accumulating long term parking fees. He'll meet us at my home." Ezra made his way over to Nathan's explorer using just one crutch. It wasn't as easy as using two, but until he could easily grasp with his right hand, it would have to do.
As Ezra settled in the passenger seat, Nathan gently took his hand and examined his bruised knuckles. "You sure you don't need to run by the hospital and get an x-ray. You could have broken something."
Ezra extricated his hand from Nathan's grasp and slowly flexed his fingers. He tried to hold back a wince at the pain. "Just a bruise, Mr. Jackson. There's no need for yet another hospital trip. I've had my fill of the establishments to last a while."
"If you say so, but you let me know if you change your mind."
"I highly doubt it." Ezra settled back in the seat. Once the door was closed, he let out a pained sigh. The few hours sitting cramped on the plane had done nothing good for his various injuries. Getting home to his own bed was all he had on his mind now.
When they'd first arrived at the airport in Baltimore, he'd had a mental countdown of how long it would be before he saw his home. It was now so far past the nine hours it had been when they'd first arrived at the airport and seen that their flight was delayed that he'd lost track All he now knew was that in a half hour at most, he'd be home.
It didn't take long for Nathan to figure out that Ezra didn't want to talk. His few inquiries about the seminar he and Buck had attended were met with short, often one-word answers. He debated making a detour to the hospital despite Ezra's stated desire not to but, ultimately decided to accede to the other man's wishes.
After a mostly silent drive, they were soon pulling into the driveway at Ezra's townhouse. "Looks like Buck beat us here...and you've got company," Nathan said as he spotted Chris's pickup parked on the street.
Ezra, who'd been lightly dozing for most of the ride, picked his head up and looked around. He saw his Jag parked in the driveway in front of them. Following where Nathan was pointing, he also saw Chris's pickup. "Aw hell. He couldn't wait until tomorrow."
"Must be anxious to see you." Nathan finished parking then helped Ezra from the Explorer. Since neither Buck nor Chris were in sight, he assumed Buck had used Ezra's keys to let them in. He started to pull the luggage from the back while Ezra made his way to his home.
As he reached the door, Ezra realized that since he didn't have his keys, he'd have to ring the doorbell. Before doing, that, he grasped the doorknob and tentatively turned it. He was pleased when it opened. There was nothing more undignified than having to request entrance into one's home.
As he stepped through the door, he saw both Chris and Buck seated on one of the couches with bottles of beer in hand. "Please, do make yourselves comfortable, gentleman," he quipped as he shut the door behind him. He hobbled to the nearest chair and dropped into it, letting out a sigh of relief. As soon as he did, as orange tabby cat shot out of the kitchen and leapt up to his lap. he automatically started to scratch behind her ears, and she curled up contentedly.
"Now that's the darndest thing," Buck said as he watched the cat. "She went running when we came in."
Ezra shrugged lightly and smirked as much as his split lipped allowed. "I always said Kenny had taste. To what do I owe the pleasure?" he directed at Chris as Kenny made a contented purring sound at the attention she was receiving.
"I thought the two of you might like to know what you did these last couple of days."
"You mean besides getting our frequent visitor cards punched at hospitals and airports?" Ezra snarked.
Chris chose not to respond to the snark. "Do you know who David Banks is?"
"Oh good lord," Ezra groaned. "Not him again."
"Other than some kind of crazy bully, no idea," Buck said ignoring Ezra's outburst. "There something we should know about him."
Before Chris could answer, Nathan came in with the luggage and set it by the door. He took one look at the other three and decided the best place he could be was anywhere but here. "Buck, you going to need a ride home?"
"I'll see he gets home," Chris said.
"Then...uh...I'll just be going. I'll...uh...see you tomorrow." He quickly left before the others had finished saying their goodbyes wanting to get while the getting was good.
Once Nathan had left, Chris tossed the file folder he'd been holding on the coffee table. "I'm sure you're both familiar with Silas Bartholomew."
"The gun runner?" Ezra questioned. "What's he got to do with Banks?"
"David Banks just so happens to be his nephew. Our next assignment was to infiltrate Bartholomew's operation...which Banks is a part of. It's why he was coming to Denver. You," he said pointing at Ezra, "were supposed to be going undercover and infiltrate Bartholomew's gang." He carefully looked Ezra up and down taking in all his injuries. "That won't be happening now. As a matter of fact, the entire assignment has been scrapped."
Ezra and Buck traded looks and Ezra had a sick feeling the blame for the blown assignment was going to fall squarely on him...not that it was his fault that his cover had been compromised before he even went under cover. "Mr. Larabee, we cannot be held responsible..."
"Yes, you can," Chris interrupted. "Now, the two of you are going to sit there and keep your mouths shut until I'm finished."
Buck bristled at Chris's words and picked up where Ezra had left off. "So, we're just supposed to sit here and take the blame for Bartholomew getting away even though we had nothing to do with it and didn't even know who Banks was. Hell, if he hadn't been hassling Missy, none of this ever would have happened. We're we just supposed to let him do that? Hell, if it hadn't been for him, Ezra would have never gotten hurt and we'd be able to go ahead with the whole thing." Buck looked over to Ezra to back him up. "Tell him, Ez."
Ezra looked between Buck and Chris. Buck seemed to have wrapped himself in righteous indignation that they could be to blame for a case that had never even been opened. Chris, though, looked like he was actually amused. That, more than anything else, put Ezra on edge. "Is there something you're neglecting to tell us, Mr. Larabee? If I didn't know better, I'd say you look like the cat that got the canary."
"I just think it's interesting that the two of you have both jumped to the conclusion that you did something wrong."
Buck and Ezra now looked baffled as to what Chris was getting at. "You wanna just tell us what we did, Stud. No sense keeping us in suspense."
"Ok. What you did was put the fear of God in Banks. I take it at some point you identified yourselves as ATF agents to him."
The two thought for a second then Buck straightened up. "On the plane when he gave the flight attendant a hard time." He looked over at Ezra. "It was right after he hit you. I don't think you were really in a state to know what was going on." He turned back to Chris. "I told him I was an ATF agent and Ezra was my partner. Why?"
"Well, when he ran into the two of you the third time, he got it in his head that you were tailing him. And, get this, he asked for a deal. He'll provide all the information needed to take Bartholomew down if," Chris picked up the folder and flipped through it until he got to the page he wanted, "The pipsqueak maniac and his lunatic partner were kept far away from him." He took in the poleaxed expressions on his two agents. "Seems Banks thought the two of you were tailing him." He threw the folder back on the coffee table and picked up his bottle of beer and took a swallow. "He's going to be on a plane to Denver tomorrow. We're going to get everything we need to take Bartholomew down without having to do anything. Judge Travis is talking about giving you boys a commendation."
"A commendation?" Buck parroted.
"Not a suspension?" Ezra added on.
Chris let out a laugh at the shocked and dazed looks on his agents' faces. "You boys are heroes and all you had to do was go to a seminar."
"So, you're not here to kill us," Buck clarified.
"And hide our bodies," Ezra added on.
"Nope." Chris tilted the bottle of beer to drink the last with a smile still on his lips.
"Hell, Stud, you could've called and told us this."
"And miss the looks on your faces?" Chris let out another laugh. "No way was I going to pass on that." He got up and went into the kitchen to throw the empty bottle in the recycling. "By the way," he said coming back into the living room. "You both have tomorrow off." He grabbed his coat from where he'd draped it over the back of the couch. "You want me to run you home, Buck."
Buck was softly chuckling at the turn of events and shook his head. "I told Ezra I'd give him a hand unpacking. "I'll be fine."
"Suit yourself." Chris pulled his coat on and started toward the front door. "I'll just let myself out. I'll see you both day after tomorrow."
"Can you believe that?" Buck asked once Chris had left. "We managed to break one of the biggest gun runners and we didn't even have to do anything."
"Yes. I must say, it's the first time I'm being put in for a commendation for falling down some stairs."
"About that, Ezra, you know how sorry I am."
Ezra waved off the apology. "I know. I didn't say that to make you feel guilty." He looked around the living room then over to the suitcases by the door. "You don't have to stay and help me unpack. I'm sure I can handle it on my own."
"It'll be fine. I'll just get that done for you then give JD a call to pick me up." Buck pointed toward the kitchen. "You want me to get you anything?"
"A bottle of water, if you don't mind." Kenny chose that moment to let out a loud meow and bat at Ezra's chest. "Would you also mind putting out some wet food for Kenny and checking her water bowl. I believe she's trying to tell me it's past her usual dinner hour."
As Buck started to the kitchen, Kenny hopped off Ezra's lap. It was as if she knew Buck had been asked to provide her dinner.
As Ezra sat sipping from the bottle of water, he instructed Buck on what to do with the items in his luggage. By the time Buck was done and had started a load of laundry, Ezra could feel his eyes starting to get heavy. "I believe I'm going to turn in early. I hope you don't think me a rude host if I don't wait for JD to arrive."
"No problem. You head on to bed. I'll give JD a call and let myself out when he gets here."
"You're probably anxious to finally get to your home as well," Ezra said while trying to hold back a yawn.
When Ezra struggled to get up without putting pressure on his bruised hand, Buck quickly helped him up and then steadied him to the bedroom. Without waiting to be asked, he pulled a pair of track pants and long-sleeved t-shirt out of one of the dresser drawers and put it on the end of the bed for Ezra to change into.
"We made a good team," Ezra observed as he loosened his tie.
"That we did." Buck reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of slips of paper. "I even got a couple of phone numbers from the flight attendants for when they're in Denver. You make a great wingman," he said with a wide smile.
Ezra couldn't help rolling his eyes. "Mr. Wilmington?"
Buck let out a quick laugh. "Yeah. You have a good night, too." He went back to the living room and picked up the phone to call JD but, just as quickly put it down. Ezra's couch was comfortable. It wouldn't be a bad idea to spend the night just in case Ezra needed a little help. He went back to Ezra's bedroom to let him know.
"More tired than I thought," he whispered when he saw that Ezra had only made it as far as stripping down to his boxers and undershirt before fallin asleep. He lay with his legs still dangling off the bed.
Being as quiet as he could, Buck maneuvered Ezra into a comfortable position and flipped the comforter over him. The sleeping man made a small sound and snuggled into his pillow.
Once Ezra was comfortable, Buck started picking up the discarded pieces of clothing and folded them neatly over the chair in the room. While he did so, Kenny came into the room. She eyed what Buck was doing then hopped up on the bed, curling against the small of Ezra's back. Buck waited until she was settled before he went over and scratched her head. "You keep an eye on him." The cat looked up at him briefly and meowed softly in agreement then settled back against her human.
Buck turned out the light and closed the door partway. "Yeah, Hoss, we make a good team," he whispered before going back to the living room. The simple little seminar that both he and Ezra had complained about going to had ended up being so much more. They managed to bring down a gun runner without having to lift a finger – if you didn't count Ezra's various injuries – and he'd gotten a little more insight into his enigmatic friend...and Ezra had learned to trust just a little more.