Disclaimer: Own nothing and no one, except this setting.
Parts: Two Parts, Seven Chapters.
AU: NYC AU
Note: Answer to Sept. '04 challenge offered by Helen: "What I'd like to see are stories which explore events which are pivotal in establishing the standard canon/fanon relationships amongst the guys. This can be initial meetings or critical early encounters…."
So, this takes place in the NYC AU, and the players are Ezra and Josiah. I've been thinking about this for a long, long time. Finally getting around to writing it.
Description: 100 Center Street, Criminal Court House, Manhattan--three years before the events in Equitable Action. Two lawyers meet for the first time….
CHAPTER ONE: TWO SIDES, SAME COIN
Josiah closed his eyes as the verdict was read, not wanting to see his client's face. He already knew what it was, having seen it in the jury's faces when they sat down and focused their attention on his defendant. You could always tell. The judge was speaking now, her tones a low monotone across the plain wooden courtroom.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"
"Yes, your honor."
He felt his client grip his arm under the table, the man's shaking causing the public defender's arm to shake as well.
"And how do you find the defendant?"
"Guilty, your honor."
The grip on his arm suddenly jerked, then released, and the nineteen year old boy's cry echoed through the chamber.
"But I didn't do
it!" he screamed, jumping to his feet.
"I wasn't even there! She
was lying! I never stole nothin'! I didn't—"
Josiah was on his feet now as well, gripping the boy, trying to pull him down. The judge was hammering her gavel, ordering quiet, and Josiah grimaced at the bailiffs as they took steps to close in on his hysterical client. Eventually, he got the boy calmed down and crying on his shoulder. After a moment, when he was calm enough, Josiah nodded to the judge, and she pronounced the boy held over for sentencing. Not that it meant much—Grand Theft Auto had mandatory sentencing guidelines. The bailiffs approached, the taller one unlooping the handcuffs from his belt….
Josiah was sitting in the small coffee shop up the street from the criminal court house, letting the steaming mug of black coffee grow cold as he poured over his notes from the trial. In another day, he'd have the transcripts, having already placed in the rush order. His pressed the black felt tip pen on the legal pad, watching as it formed a black ink stain that spread across the paper like blood from an open wound.
It had come down to the usual case of 'he said, she said.' There were no errors that he could see, nothing obvious that he could appeal. The facts had been decided upon, and it came down to the fact that the girl had sounded better on the stand, had the better evidence, and, most importantly, had more people sitting on her side of the courtroom….
And yet, Josiah had believed his client. Believed the scared boy was as innocent as he appeared.
There has to be something here, he swore to himself. Something to change this….
"Hey, Sanchez," a quietly confident voice called, causing the public defender to look up. He found himself looking into the handsome brown eyes of A.D.A. Stephen Travis. The young man grinned.
"Can I join you?"
"Oh," Josiah looked at his legal pad, saw that the ink blot had filled about a square inch, and lifted it off the paper. "Yeah, sure. Of course." He smiled up at his friend, "It's good to see you. Been a long time."
"Yeah," Travis sat, placing his mug of the same black coffee on the table. This coffee shop was one of the main hangouts for the lawyers and civil servants working down on Center Street, and they sold more mugs of burnt-tasting black coffee than anything else. It was more popular than breathing amongst the clientele. The stuff could peel the paint off a Buick, but it kept them all going.
Josiah continued to smile, "How's your dad?"
"Ornery as ever." Travis took a sip of his coffee, grimaced for a second, then took another. "Swears he's retiring soon."
"Orrin?" Josiah chuckled, capping his pen and putting it away. "That'll be the day. The great Judge Orrin Travis, playing golf in Florida and wearing plaid pants? I just can't see it."
Stephen laughed, nodding, "Me neither." He took another sip, then lowered the mug, glancing at the legal pad Josiah was flipping closed.
"I heard about the Madison kid," he said conversationally. "I'm sorry."
Josiah just shook his head. He had lost cases before. Hell, to be honest, he lost on average about a quarter of the cases he tried, which was better than most, but it still stung to lose one when you were dead certain the client was innocent. In the rest, when he knew the client was guilty, if he couldn't plea them out, he would steer the trial towards the sentencing. To give them their fairest chance. Here, with no family or friends to back this kid up, and the weight of the mandatory guidelines curtailing the judge's ability to act equitably, he knew the sentencing was going to be hard.
"You do your best, and that's all you can do," Travis said. "Lord knows…on my side of the table we lose, on average, what, over half of all our cases? I mean, I had a guy last week I was certain was—"
"Stephen," Josiah sighed, "let's not talk about it."
Travis smiled grimly, and nodded.
"No problem. Then, how about on to happier subjects? I hear, for example, that you're thinking of hanging up your own shingle?"
Josiah couldn't resist. He had to smile at that one. He was up for mandatory retirement in a few months, with a nice pension coming to him and some real time off.
"Yup," he took a sip of his coffee, grimacing a little to find it mostly cold. "Found myself a small office space in the 4C building over on 42nd. Got Mitch Sachs negotiating a lease for me. If it all works out, by September 1, I'll be Josiah Sanchez, P.C."
"P.C….impressive. Going to hire on any associates?"
"What? Hell no. Just me, a secretary and maybe a paralegal, if I can afford one. Don't want to be the one running around filing papers and sitting in the waiting room, trying to push motions if I don't have to. Too old for that."
"And you've got the capital?"
"With my pension from here, yeah."
Josiah pursed his lips, then nodded, "Of course."
Travis arched an eyebrow at the flippant response, then narrowed his eyes, "Paying clients?"
Josiah watched him a moment, then looked down. "I'll find a way." He was going to be a defense lawyer, of course, which was nowhere near as well paying as being a plaintiff lawyer. He'd be paid "reasonable" attorney's fees if he was successful, per court order. If he wasn't…well, he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.
Travis shook his head, smiling sadly at his friend. He knew what his friend was thinking—stubborn, romantic fool. He took another sip of his coffee, put it down and leaned forward. Josiah was staring down at his legal pad again, getting distracted once more by the case from this morning.
"Hey," the A.D.A. said, tapping the table in front of his friend to get his attention. When Josiah's blue eyes lifted, Travis smiled, "Did you know Standish's case is back?"
That immediately piqued the older lawyer's interest. Ezra Standish wasn't even thirty, and yet was already one of the top litigators at a large downtown firm, Farron & Lightfoot. They had him trying cases when he was a second year, which was practically unheard of at a large firm, and now, after five years with the firm, he was one of their aces, if not the ace. The boy was born with a silver tongue in his mouth and, to the minds of pretty much everyone who had ever seen him in court, would probably someday rank as one of the greatest litigators of his time.
"The Duvall case? I thought they were going to plea?"
"Couldn't come to an agreement. Standish is sure they're going to win. He walked out on the D.A. Can you believe the gall?"
Josiah's eyes were bright as he answered, "Standish can't be serious. I heard the facts. That'd be like trying to prove the sky is red instead of blue."
"Totally, which is why the D.A. took a hard line, but Standish wouldn't budge. To be honest, it makes me glad I'm not the one facing him. He's got to have something."
"But your boy Meyers still thinks it's open and shut?"
"Yes. I mean, it should be, but, with Standish defending that lowlife…." Travis trailed off, lifting both eyebrows.
Sanchez nodded, "So…when's it start up again?"
"Actually, a couple of days ago, but Meyers is bringing up his best witness tomorrow—the neighbor. I was going to go watch for a bit, see some of the show. Standish should be in rare form. Care to join me?"
Josiah stared down at his pad again. He wasn't going to get anywhere without the transcript, which wouldn't be ready until tomorrow afternoon in any event. After a moment, he nodded and looked up.
The courtroom was crowded, but, as both Stephen and Josiah were well known fixtures of 100 Center, they were able to sneak in the secret door on the side of the gallery and grab some space at the end of an aisle. The room was one of the larger ones in the criminal court house--two stories high with a balcony, which is where they were sitting, affording them a bird's eye view. They arrived not long after the judge, an older, conservative man named Lippert, had called the court to order and A.D.A. Meyers called up his witness—the fourth one he'd called since the trial started, delayed only by a day for the plea bargaining—but the one he considered his ace in the hole against Duvall.
Lester Duvall was a corporate giant, an investor who had made a killing on the stock market by investing vast sums and, to the minds of a handful on Wall Street, getting very lucky. Duvall, of course, attributed it to savvy, which, considering how much he made and continued to make, was probably more accurate. He was not a stupid man, which was why, when he got into this "little trouble," he went straight to Farron & Lightfoot and demanded to be represented by Standish. The man did his homework.
Of course, this "little trouble" was a double homicide. His wife and her lover, murdered in his apartment—while Duvall was there. He admitted as much, but still swore he had nothing to do with it. Duvall, who was close to six foot three and built like a linebacker, had insisted he had been sleeping blissfully unaware in another room, wearing earplugs, when they were killed in the massive apartment he owned facing Central Park. The walls were too thick to hear either the adultery or the robbery, so he insisted, and with the earplugs….
It was a ridiculous case. Of course he was guilty. Everything pointed to it. Even Duvall's neighbor had come forward to describe the argument he had heard beforehand, and the subsequent shots. Who else could have done it?
Ah, that's where Standish came in. Standish could make even the obvious appear…doubtful.
And he was in fine form today.
Josiah leaned forward, like everyone else, his attention rapt as Standish started to cross examine the neighbor on the stand. It was like watching a play. His questions were reasonable, understandable, and straightforwardly…quixotic. The neighbor would say "no," meaning "yes," would stumble with the realization, then stumble some more to try and explain. But Standish was too quick, moving on, leaving doubts where once there had seemed solid facts. Could the neighbor distinguish the voices? What were they saying? Could he even tell the gender? Was he sure of the time? And weren't the walls supposed to be soundproofed?...It was like watching someone pull apart a building, stone by stone, until there was nothing left but rubble.
Meyers began to turn red. He was getting frustrated.
He stood from time to time, yelled "objection"…but didn't have anything to object to. Overruled. The judge might as well have said, "dismissed." Meyers got redder, staring daggers at the back of the smooth talking litigator from the big, rich New York law firm who was ruining his witness. Without this testimony….
Hell, if Standish knocked this testimony down, then what else could he do?
Meyers snapped a pencil in half, his eyes narrowed. Fact was….
Standish owned the courtroom. He owned the jury.
Hell, he probably already owned the verdict.
Josiah leaned back, feeling the winds change, and…started to get angry.
He knew as well as Meyers did, and most of the rest of the room did, that if Standish kept this up, Duval would get off.
And so he got angry. He didn't mean to, but it was like an unwanted burn inside his chest, a throbbing pain at the back of his head. The more he listened to Standish change the course of the case to his favor…the angrier he became.
Every word out of Ezra's mouth rang like fingers on a chalkboard in his ears. A sour taste upon his lips. A rotten smell inside his nose.
He couldn't stop the well of ill-will he was feeling, couldn't stop the rage boiling up inside. Soon, he wasn't merely angry—he was furious.
And not because Standish was winning.
But because he was jealous of him. Jealous because he had failed to save an innocent boy…and Ezra Standish was going to get a guilty man OFF.
His hands gripped themselves into fists. A vein started to throb in his forehead. The blue eyes narrowed.
Stephen Travis had been leaning forward as well, enthralled, like everyone else, in the dance Standish was leading below, but even then, he still felt the shift in the stance of his friend sitting next to him. The A.D.A.'s brown eyes slipped down, saw the clenched fists, then lifted to Josiah's bilious face. Suddenly, the case seemed unimportant.
"Josiah?" he whispered, worry lacing his tone. "Are you okay?"
"I need some air," the older lawyer hissed, standing up abruptly. Josiah was not a small man, and, even despite his position on the side of the balcony, the sight of his broad, powerful figure standing up caused the eyes of the judge, witness and bailiff's to look up.
It was like a ripple effect. Everyone turned to see what they were looking at—jury, runners, audience, attorneys….Ezra had been halfway through another question when he saw the witness distracted, and he turned around, lifting his gaze towards the public defender in the balcony. For a brief moment, Josiah's blue eyes met the young man's pale green ones.
And then Josiah was moving, sliding past some onlookers crowded along the wall, he reached the side door and left.
The moment gone, Standish smoothly resumed his questioning, as if nothing had happened. It was quickly forgotten, and the play continued.
Up above, Stephen Travis frowned, concerned for his friend. Once he was sure that the courtroom below had resumed its normal pattern, he very quietly slid out of his seat and followed Josiah out the door.
But when he reached the quiet marble hallway, there was no one to be seen.
CHAPTER TWO: SEEKING SOLITUDE
The Criminal Court House at 100 Center Street is a study in Art Deco. Tall, rectangular, and imposing, it smacks of the era it was built—the elegance and art of the forties. Hidden details, simple but beautiful touches, counterpoised with a fortress-like structure and a forbidding presence. Inside, the burnished brass fixtures, cool marble floors and dark wood walls cause chills in the hardest criminal, promise retribution to the most vengeful plaintiff, and leave even the most confident witness a little unsettled.
But most obvious of all are the ghosts that haunt its halls--both dead…and alive.
Josiah strode down the marble halls, walking past the many scattered people sitting on the benches, standing leaning against the walls, waiting for whatever it was that they were waiting for. He passed police officers standing at attention, guarding cuffed prisoners, and police officers simply looking bored, drinking coffee out of paper cups, waiting to be called into the courtrooms as witnesses…or as defendants. He nodded perfunctorily at the suit clad lawyers whispering in corners with clients, or talking with other lawyers, or pacing outside of chambers, waiting to speak with some judge or other. He stepped out of the way of assistants, clerks and paralegals running down the halls, carrying files of briefs, trying to add that final piece of evidence clutched in their hand.
When he finally reached the stairwell he wanted at the farthest point away from the main halls—a worn marble spiral staircase that had seen better days—he breathed a sigh of relief.
Many used these stairs between the ground floor and the second floor, but no one used it between the ground floor…and the basement floors.
Josiah didn't even look up as he past the ground level, he just kept moving down.
Past the basement.
Past the first sub basement….
Until, finally, he hit the bottom. Sub-Basement Level 2.
The halls were deathly quiet down here, a complete change from the tension and noise of the other floors. It was a storage floor, where old files were kept and things were forgotten. While someone obviously mopped the marble flooring every so often, it still smelled of dust and disuse. As if the whole floor belonged in an old movie, stuck on a reel that no one had looked at in fifty years.
It was exactly what he needed.
When he left that courtroom, he'd wanted to put his fist either through a wall, or through someone's face. More than that…he wanted to drink. He'd wanted to drown himself in whiskey and bourbon and forget that anyone else ever existed. Especially the perfect, winning, flawless Ezra Standish.
He moved with a steady stalk down the hall, then turned sharply at the first corner, aiming for the doorway he saw at the far end.
As he got closer, and saw the welcoming sign on the door, he almost smiled.
He already felt calmer for seeing it.
And all it had on it were three little words:
"Out Of Order."
He'd found this place years ago. He couldn't really remember when, exactly, but it had been at least as long as ten years. Probably longer. He'd gotten lost. The elevator he'd been riding in had gotten stuck—as they often did in this building—and, after pushing lots of buttons, yelling for help, and finally jumping up and down, the whole carriage had shuddered and started to move slowly down. When it hit SB2, the doors opened. Not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, Josiah had jumped out of the rickety contraption and headed down the random hall, looking for a stairwell…and a men's restroom.
He'd been on the elevator a while.
He saw the restroom first. Down at the end of a longish hall, the green door at the end promising salvation. Every floor had restrooms in the same place, so he didn't even think to question as he strode towards it.
That is, until he reached it, and saw the "Out Of Order" sign hanging from a rusty nail over the sign for a "Men's Shower Room."
His first thought had been, 'showers? 100 Center Street has showers?'
The second thought has been about the "Out of Order" sign—in particular, at the fact that it looked ancient. The edges were brown and curling, the laminate had cracked, and the paper itself was that sort of faded creamy brown color one thought of when imagining first editions of books. It even smelled old.
After a few moments, he had sighed, turned and moved away, eventually finding the marble stairs to take him back upstairs, and to a working restroom.
A couple of months later, he'd returned. He had wanted to see what the shower rooms looked like.
The "Out of Order" sign was still there. It hadn't been disturbed at all.
That, he hadn't expected. The City of New York was lazy sometimes…but it wasn't usually that lazy.
At this point, Curiosity had gotten the better of Josiah, and, so, he had tried the door.
The handle rattled, not budging. Locked.
For a moment, he'd stood there, staring at the simple locking mechanism keeping the door shut. Every rational thinking bone in his body told him to forget it. Go back upstairs, back to the rest of humanity. It's just a disused shower room, one which was probably manky and ugly.
Problem was, Josiah also had a strong irrational side of him. And it was that side that pulled out his wallet, grabbed the hard, laminated bar membership card, and used it to jimmy the lock open. Better than a credit card, Josiah had smiled as the door opened.
And that's how Josiah had found his secret haven.
As he had done many times since that first time, all those years ago, Josiah pulled out his wallet and removed the latest version of his bar membership card. The laminate was scratched from just this very kind of abuse, but he didn't care. Sliding it between the frame and the lock, he fiddled for a couple of moments before hearing the lock click.
The sense of calm this room afforded him was unbelievable. He felt the anger and jealousy draining away, even before he crossed the threshold.
The inside of the room was as it always was. At first view, it looked like any other men's lavatory. On the right hand wall were four ceramic sinks, over which four mirrors hung (one of which was missing the glass). On the left were four stalls, painted a leafy green color that had peeled in places to reveal the whitish, rusty metal underneath. On the far wall, straight ahead, were the urinals. Above them, four rectangular "windows" slanted up towards the ground, and somehow allowed real sunlight to filter down into the room. A clever trick of architecture. The color scheme was predominantly cream and yellow, with hints of green, like the stalls. When the sun was bright, like today, it added a sort of sepia quality to the atmosphere.
But the best part was not obvious.
Josiah shut the door behind him, hearing the lock click back into place, and thought for a moment before hitting the light switch. The sun shed some a nice, diffuse light, and there was enough emergency lighting to avoid turning on the main lights. He himself had replaced the bulbs in this room several times, so he knew they all worked, but it was a pain doing it, so he avoided turning them on when he didn't need to. Like now.
Walking down past the stalls, but before reaching the urinals, the room suddenly opened up on the left, to another long room that ran parallel with this one, just offset a little. Together, both rooms were shaped approximately like an "h", with the showers in the smaller part. There where four shower stalls in there altogether, along with two long wooden benches.
Moving almost habitually, Josiah slipped past the edge of the stalls, turned left through the large open door and into the shower room. Sunlight filtered in here as well, from the slits above the benches. Feeling calmer, he sat down on the first bench, swung his legs up, and lay down on his back, with his hands behind his head.
For a while, he just stared at the ceiling. His thoughts that, until recently, had been swirling like a cyclone around the image of Ezra Standish, began to fade. And, before he knew it….
He was asleep.
CHAPTER THREE: SHATTERED IMAGES
Josiah's eyes flew open, and
for half a second, he was horribly disoriented, staring up at the white,
peeling ceiling above his head and trying to remember where he was.
A moment later, he was sitting up off the bench and rubbing at his dry eyes, shaking off the nap he hadn't meant to take and trying to recall both what had woken him so abruptly, and why he had come down here.
He could tell from the shift in the rectangles of sunlight across the floor that some time had passed—probably several hours considering it was now a lot darker in the room. Lifting up his watch, he was trying to make out the time when he heard it.
Someone was fiddling with the lock on the door.
A sudden, irrational nervousness caught at his throat as he realized that the rattling handle was probably what had woken him up. Now, he stood up and pressed himself up against the wall next to the entrance to the showers, holding his breath as he heard the lock click...and the door to the hallway opened.
Fear gave away to annoyance as he heard the sound of someone stepping into the main room, and the door shutting behind them. From the click of the shoes, he knew it wasn't a maintenance worker or a security guard-it was someone else. Someone who was invading his space. A moment later, he heard the click of the switch, and he had to cover his eyes a little at the sudden glare as the lights were turned on. Blinking up at the overly bright bulbs, he grimaced, covered a soft sigh, and tried to decide whether to make his presence known or not.
A large part of him didn't want to. This place was his. He didn't want to share it.
Some of the anger from earlier bubbled again inside his chest. He was feeling intruded upon, as if some stranger had just walked into his house without asking, and it was only through a great effort that he forced himself to calm down. After all, technically this place wasn't his.
Still felt like his though.
He peered around the corner, using the third and fourth mirrors, both of which he could see from his position, to see who it was.
The man had his head down, reaching the third sink and placing his hands on both sides of the ceramic bowl. He leaned forward, putting his weight on his arms, his shoulders slumped, head bowed forward so low that Josiah could barely make out the dark brown hair.
Then, slowly, the stranger raised his head to look in the mirror.
Josiah nearly choked when he saw the face reflected back, quickly retreating back behind the wall, pressing the back of his head against the cool tile.
It couldn't be! Him! Of all people! His eyes drifted upwards, peering up through the ceiling, unable to avoid wondering if this was all some kind of cosmic joke! If it was…it was an incredibly cruel one.
That rat bastard! How dare he be here!
Damn it! Josiah felt his rage returning, his hands gripping themselves into fists again. He pushed away from the wall, planning on turning, walking in there and giving that whelp a piece of his mind. He would not let Standish ruin his….
The sudden explosive shattering of glass startled the older lawyer so much he nearly jumped out of his skin. He fell back against the wall, mouth wide open in surprise, and peered around the corner again.
Ezra was standing still before the third sink, breathing heavily, staring down at his right hand, which was quite quickly growing redder and wetter as blood pooled out from the cuts on his knuckles. Above him, the third mirror was completely shattered from where the young man had obviously tried to drive his fist through it.
Dumbfounded, Josiah watched as Ezra blinked a few times, almost drunkenly, still looking at his bleeding hand.
"Well," the young lawyer said softly to himself, his voice quavering slightly, "that was stupid."
And that's when Josiah realized…Ezra was hurting. Really hurting. Pain was etched clearly in every line of the young man's normally smooth face. And not just because of his hand. The older man closed his mouth and pressed his lips together tightly, not even noticing that all his anger from earlier had completely disappeared.
Now he felt like he was the one intruding.
He watched as Ezra shuddered slightly, then looked at the fourth sink. Moving over to it, he turned on the hot water faucet, and Josiah realized something else. Ezra had obviously been here before. The fourth sink was the only that actually had hot water. The rest just spewed cold water, if anything at all.
The young lawyer's bleeding right hand was shaking now, as he gingerly placed it beneath the water. He appeared mesmerized by the red water pooling and running down the drain. Almost as if he wished he could wash his entire self along with it.
It was too much. One thing Josiah Sanchez could never do—he could never ignore anyone in pain.
Turning, he walked a little deeper into the shower room, to the small cabinet there, and withdrew a towel. He had about half a dozen in there because, believe it or not, one of the showers actually worked.
Putting the towel over his arm, he squared his shoulders and turned around. Without necessarily meaning to, he walked almost silently into the other room and stood a few feet behind the other man. Ezra was leaning against the sink now, his eyes closed, the still bleeding right hand no longer under the water but resting against the side of the sink, staining it.
"Son?" Josiah called softly.
Ezra frowned, and opened his eyes, as if not sure he had just heard a voice. Slowly, his eyes drifted up to the mirror over the sink…glanced at himself, then shifted and focused on Josiah.
It was like someone lit a fire under him—suddenly, Ezra leapt back about three feet towards the door, his eyes wide and a little wild, feet scrambling to move quickly. He had pressed his right hand to his chest protectively while the other was raised up in a warding off gesture.
"Jesus Christ!" Ezra shouted, panting through the adrenalin rush, anger, fear and shock all warring for control of his features. "Where the hell did you come from!"
Josiah gave a sheepish smile, "Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." He shrugged, "I was already here when you came in. You actually scared the crap out of me first."
Ezra stared at him a moment longer, absorbing this without blinking. It was interesting—Josiah could see that the other man wanted to put his mask back on—the one that had made him the legend he was in the courtroom—but he was clearly unable to do so…yet. It meant Josiah could still clearly read everything that was going on inside the younger man.
After a moment, Ezra closed his eyes, put his head down, and took a deep breath. When he looked up again, he seemed to be back in control, though the poker face was still eluding him.
"I…apologize," he said, swallowing thickly. "I…did not think anyone else would be in here."
"Ditto," Josiah replied. Then he looked down at the bleeding hand, which was still shaking a little. He held out the towel, "Here. Wrap it in this."
Ezra looked at the towel, frowning a little. And Josiah chuckled, quickly guessing what the younger man was thinking—how old was that towel?
"It's clean," he promised. "I take them home and wash them. Trust me."
Ezra looked up again, meeting Josiah's eyes. The last two words had done something to him, causing the young man's brow to furrow slightly. After a moment, he stepped forward and took the proffered towel. With a nod of thanks, he started clumsily to wrap it around his hand.
"Here," Josiah said, "let me."
Ezra continued to watch him warily, but didn't stop him as Josiah pulled the right hand towards him and examined it.
"There's still some glass in here," Josiah said, turning the hand a little in the light to see the cut knuckles more clearly. "I've got a swiss army knife with tweezers. I think I should try to clean this for you first, before we wrap it." He looked up, seeking permission in the pale green eyes.
Ezra still hadn't managed to hide his emotions, his wariness barely covering his obvious unease, so Josiah smiled.
"Come on," the older man said, pulling Ezra with him towards the other room. Pushing him down onto one of the benches, Josiah pulled out a swiss army knife from his jacket pocket. Ezra arched an eyebrow.
"They let you through security with that?" he asked.
Josiah grinned as he pulled the tweezers out of the tip, "No. I put it in the bin…and then George gives it back to me on the other side."
"The security guard with the dark brown hair and black framed glasses? Calls every man he doesn't know, Joe-Bob?"
Ezra had to smile, "Oh…him."
"Yeah. He's been here almost as long as I have."
Ezra smiled again, then hissed as Josiah attacked a splinter sized piece of glass he found embedded in the skin with the tweezers. After that, he didn't make another sound until Josiah was finished. When the older lawyer put his swiss army knife away, he got up and took the towel.
"Stay there," he ordered. Ezra nodded, leaning back against the tiled wall and letting his stinging hand rest on his leg.
Josiah headed back over to the fourth sink, doused the towel in warm water, then returned. Gently, he picked up Ezra's hand, cleaned it, then began to wrap it. The towel was big and bulky, but it was better than toilet paper, and would do the trick until Ezra could get a proper bandage.
"You'll probably need stitches," Josiah informed him. "You should go to the hospital, get this looked at."
Ezra had closed his eyes again, and, at the statement, sighed.
"Thank you, Mr. Sanchez, but I'm afraid I can't. I need to return to my office, to prepare for tomorrow."
Josiah stopped in the middle of wrapping the towel up the man's arm, turning his questioning eyes on the younger lawyer. Ezra felt the change and opened his, and the smallest of smug smiles graced his features.
Josiah almost smiled back, unable to resist such a cheeky smile. "So," he said conversationally, "you know who I am."
"Of course," Ezra almost sounded bored as he took the last bit of the towel from the other man, in order to finish the wrapping job. "Josiah Sanchez, public defender, nearly twenty years of service and retiring at the end of this year." He smiled, "the City is about to lose one of its greatest assets."
"Hunh," Josiah shook his head at the compliment, assuming the other man didn't mean it. "Sure they are."
"Actually," Ezra looked up, and Josiah was surprised at the sincerity there, "I'm not kidding. The City really will suffer without you. You’re," he shrugged, "probably one of the best lawyers it has. One of the best in the city, truth be told."
Josiah's eyebrows scrunched together, examining the man's face, trying to find the joke. He appeared nonplussed when he couldn't find it.
Ezra smiled again, brightly. "That's all right," he assured the other man, "you don't have to believe me." He looked down at the massively bundled right arm and laughed, "Well this is going to be interesting to explain to the guards. They'll think I'm smuggling some vital piece of evidence out." He laughed again, "No sir," he mocked, lifting up the arm, "there's no Exhibit A bloody knife hidden in here. I just felt like cocooning my arm for the evening. It feels the cold more than my left hand and with the winter we're having…." He trailed off, his smile fading slightly as he stared down at the towel. After a moment, he was serious again, and the mask finally fell into place. Josiah swore he almost heard it 'click.' When Ezra looked up and smiled brightly at Josiah, it was the smile of the self-assured, slick, rich law firm lawyer that had made the public defender so furious earlier today. But this time, Josiah realized just how much was hidden behind it, and he felt nothing but sorrow.
"Thank you again, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra said, standing up and backing towards the entrance. "I very much appreciate your help. I'll replace the towel and," he looked into the other room, "the mirror. I also, of course, won't intrude down here again. I did not know that someone else," he waved his left hand around a little, "used it as I did. Though, I did wonder how, in three years, none of the lights ever burnt out." He looked up, smiling at the bulbs overhead, as if pleased to have one mystery solved in his life. "Now I know."
Josiah's own smile had disappeared from his face, watching with expert eyes as Ezra continued to back away from him. His scrutiny was clearly disconcerting for the other man, because his backpedaling began to increase in speed.
"In any event, you obviously would like to return to your…solitude. Thank you again." And he turned, headed swiftly into the other room and straight for the exit.
Josiah sprang to his feet and followed him, frowning as Ezra reached the door, feeling a mess of conflicting feelings inside. He couldn't let the younger man just leave like that, still in so much pain, but at the same time, what right did he have to interfere with his life? Confused, he watched as Ezra's left hand touched the handle, and paused. Clearly, Josiah wasn't the only one having a fight with himself. Finally, with a defeated sounding sigh, Ezra depressed the handle.
"Wait," Josiah called, still not certain he was doing the right thing, but not ready yet to let this moment pass by. "Hold on. Don't leave yet."
Ezra didn't move, he just lowered his head and glanced over his shoulder at the older man.
"I, uh," the mask slipped, pain showing in those green eyes again, "I need to go, Mr. Sanchez."
"Not right now you don't."
A fake smile graced the younger man's expressive face, "I have a great deal of work to do. If there is something you need, I'm sure you can call my office and—"
"Do you want to talk about it?"
That shut Ezra up. The jaw tensed and loosened. He attempted another smile and looked more fully back at Josiah.
Josiah glanced at the shattered mirror, "About why you felt the need to destroy public property."
Ezra opened his mouth, as if to argue that he had done no such thing, but the words appeared to die in his throat. He released the door handle, allowed the door to lock back into place, and turned. He stared openly at Josiah, no longer bothering to hide the agony roiling around inside him.
And Josiah nodded. He was staring at a guilty man. Guilty of what, he didn't know, but there was no questioning the younger man was drowning in it.
"What did you do?" he asked quietly.
Ezra just continued to stare at him, his breathing steady. After a moment, his eyes drifting down to the tiled floor and closed.
"Ezra," Josiah took a step forward, "you can trust me."
The green eyes opened, squinted a little, then looked up. There was something akin to surprise in them, even as the soft voice admitted, "I know."
Ezra sighed softly, then straightened his shoulders, obviously having reached some kind of decision. "I can't." The chin lifted, "Not unless you take me on as your client."
Josiah's eyes widened a little, "What?"
"Will you take me on as your client?"
"Ezra," Josiah shook his head, "I'm a public defender. I can't just—"
"Mr. Sanchez," Ezra drew the bound arm closer to his chest, "Please."
Josiah sighed, "Look, let's just talk about this for a minute. I give you my word that I will not betray any confidence you give me. But I can't just take a case, knowing nothing about what it entails, or what interests may be involved. You know that." He licked his lips, "Can't you just give me an idea?"
"Am I your client?" Ezra asked again, his voice insistent and a little strained. Josiah realized he was staring at a man on the edge of the precipice, about to jump, but willing not to if someone would just take his hand and pull him back. He had seen it before, in clients who were desperate for someone to save them, keep them safe and free, but unable themselves to see any real chance of salvation. Most of the time, they just needed someone to stand at their side, even if it was only to see them fall. The look in Ezra's eyes was that of a man already lost, but not wanting to be out there alone.
Oh God, Josiah shivered. He was too old for this. Too old, and, Lord, did he want a drink. And a way out of this. He couldn't accept Ezra's plea. Not now. Not when he was so close to escaping this whole depressing world. He couldn't afford the time or the energy…or the possible danger that he knew, just knew, Ezra would put his career in. He had to say no….
Something in the older lawyer's eyes must have reflected his thinking because, suddenly, Ezra was smiling. A full, slightly nervous but understanding smile. The young man chuckled softly, shook his head and sidled back to the door behind him.
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I really did not mean to put you on the spot like that. I don't know what came over me." He shook his head, holding the towel wrapped arm closer, still smiling and resting his hand back on the handle. "It was a silly idea. I don't need..." He laughed again, shrugging. "Silly. As I said, what I do need is to get back to my office. I've a long day ahead of me tomorrow, and I need to look over my notes before—"
"All right," Josiah said quietly. "I'll be your attorney."
Ezra's smile fell instantly. He blinked for a moment, then, softly, "Are you sure?"
Josiah smiled back at him. It was a strange thing, but he was sure. All his previous doubts had suddenly seemed superficial and cowardly when he saw the spark of hope die in Ezra's face a few minutes ago, thinking the public defender was turning him down. One of the most intelligent, talented young lawyers in New York had asked for his help—his help, of all people, out of the literally thousands of other attorneys in New York. How the hell could he turn that down?
"Yes," Josiah stood up and indicated the shower room again, "Step into my office, Mr. Standish, such as it is. You are now protected by attorney-client privilege. Now tell me why you just drove your fist through your reflection like a man possessed?"