TITLE: Second Guessing
CHALLENGE: 2nd Anniversary Challenge
UNIVERSE: ATF/AU, Traviner Variant
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Nathan, Ezra
ARCHIVE: Yes Please
SPOILERS : None that I know of.
NOTES: Follows Questions in French, Warning Discusses the Tragedy at Columbine High, Apr 19,1999
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belongs to Mirisch Entertainment Inc., with all rights and privileges thereof. This work is a work of fanfiction, for the amusement of the author and fandom who have nothing else to do since they aren’t making any more episodes of the show. No money or other renumeration has exchanged hands, this is just for fun, guys!
The 2nd Anniversary Challenge: offered by NotTasha Oh, a way long ago when the Earth still rotated around the sun, on August 28, 2001 to be exact, a group of readers and writers came together to form the Magnificent Seven Challenge group. We'd come from Magnifiction, where we enjoyed the challenges there and hated to see them end. We lived happily for a time at CommunityZero until they got stingy and wanted money for their services. We switched to YahooGroups and set up a Library at TopCities until they too started tightening the thumb screws, forcing us to move once again to our new library home at e-fic.com. Ah, those CommunityZero salad days seem long ago now, don't they? Well, in spite of the changes, we flourished. At our first anniversary, a challenge of Seven Elements was thrown down. Some writers were brave enough to take it on. Now, at the SECOND ANNIVERSARY of the Mag7Challenge, another challenge is foisted upon you. Who will be strong enough to meet these stipulations? Who will prevail? Who will figure out how to get all these bits together into a story that makes sense? Again, you have until the end of August 2004 to respond. All of the following elements must be part of the story in some manner or another:
1) Since it is our second anniversary, the number TWO becomes important. The story must deal with the guys in pairs. Break them all down into twos. Yes, they are an odd-numbered lot, aren't they? That means you'll have to swap the guys around. Try to keep them always in twos. You CAN have more than two together in a scene if you must, but the extras must play a very minor role in that scene. You can write a story that focuses on just one pair, but the others must also appear somewhere.
2) Someone will do something twice -- I know that sounds lame, but you must deal with it;
3) Once again, it must combine two of last year's challenges! From Sept 2002-Aug 2003 i.e. An original female character loses one of the guy's horses; A poetic journey to Las Vegas (yes, that challenge is included); Bones snapping while a relative pays a visit; A mythical tempest. You know the drill, take the entire challenge from TWO months and put them together, including everything the previous challengers insisted on;
4) It must contain five of the following words (you only need to use five, you CAN use more if you choose): pair (or pare), lumpy, flip, dubious, luggage, barter, shoo, doubt, mangle, bicker;
5) It must contain ONE of the following props (only ONE) and the item should be important to the story: a bottle filled with something unknown, a wagon with a broken wheel/car with a flat tire, a ridiculous coat, a wedding invitation, a leaky bucket, too few boots (or shoes), an incriminating note, an empty jail cell, marbles, OR a quagmire. ONLY ONE, dammit!
6) At some point one of the guys should utter a well-known quote
7) Okay, I know that #7 caused grief last time, so in honor of the number Seven, and since I've already stipulated that you need to break the guys into twos, I want one magnificent scene with all seven of them at the end -- silhouetted against the sunset, bitching at a bar, relaxing in the shade, recovering in the hospital... whatever. They must all be together at the final scene.
< Morning Traffic, en route to the Rout Federal Building, Denver, Colorado, Apr.1999>
Nathan tried not to be annoyed. It wasn’t as if it were really awful, but it was bad…As it continued, the medic weighed the odds of what Chris Larabee would do if he shot Buck. That would be bad, but it would be justifiable homicide after listening to Wilmington sing every known Jimmy Buffett song, off key!
He’d tried to be considerate, tried to be forgiving, tried to be understanding. After all, with JD in the Hospital, it was hard for Wilmington to function at all, and singing was a way of relaxing. But enough was enough! Since his vehicle had broken down and the repairs were going to take a while, he was stuck riding with Buck into work. He should be grateful for the rides, but this was getting ridiculous. He’d almost welcome Buck’s continuing stories about his ‘romantic’ conquests. How any woman would put up with his line of bull, Jackson would never know!
The fourteenth time Buck started working his way through the album “A White Sportscoat and a Pink Crustacean”, Jackson snapped. Normally unflappable, the medic had had it. He had been forced to listen to this for a week now and enough was enough!
“Shut up!” Nathan roared, all politeness forgotten. “I don’t want to hear another Jimmy Buffett song!”
“Okay,” Buck said slightly startled by the outburst, but unperturbed. There was a few minutes of silence and then Buck began to hum absently…Then he launched into Elvis’s ‘You ain’t nothing but a hounddawg.’
Jackson buried his face in his hands. Even listening to his sister’s lecture on the phone last night had been better than this. Maybe he should use the gun on himself rather than Buck.
Then he wouldn’t have to worry about Chris’s retaliation.
<RMETF Seven’s offices, Rout Federal Building, Denver Colorado, That Morning>
Chris Larabee might never have known about Nathan’s desire to shoot his oldest friend, but he sure acted as if he’d read the medic’s mind that morning. He called Nathan into his office even before the medic had had a chance to sit down or to drink his first cup of coffee of the day.
“I need you to work with Ezra.” Chris said without preamble. “Since you want to go to your sister’s wedding, and you haven’t got time off left, this is the only way that I could arrange it. You’ll be able to attend, but I need you and Ezra to work with Harrison on the Priamris case. It’s not one of our normal Ops, but Harrison asked for help and the Powers that be decided he needed it.” Larabee glared at the medic who was grimacing as if he’d encountered something foul. “Look, It gets you to that wedding. It gets Harrison the help he needs; he’s really out of his depth with this one. If it comes off well, we get Priamris’s whole operation off of the streets…And,” He continued in a deadly quiet tone. “It will prove to the higher ups that you can work with Standish like a professional. The Judge was very unhappy with what happened in January. More importantly, So was I.”
Nathan looked up and caught the direct gaze of his boss. “I was very unhappy with your actions during the Somerville situation…It wouldn’t have been a ‘situation’ without your help, Nathan. I’ve given you some time to try to come to terms with what you did and why it was wrong, but I’m hoping that my trust isn’t misplaced. You’re an intelligent man Nathan. I wouldn’t have picked you for this team if you weren’t, but I still have problems with your behavior about Ezra. He’s a member of this team, and he’s proved himself to me and to the others time and time again. He doesn’t need to have to prove himself every second to you. I’m getting really tired of this. You know that you misjudged him when he first arrived here from Atlanta, and you’ve been on his case ever since.” Chris paused, a deadly quiet pause. “This is the last time I’m going to put up with it, Nathan. I’ve read your background reports. Hell, I’ve even talked to Ernie and Helen about this. I don’t want to lose you, but Alex and the others appear to be correct. I have not seen anything in your background to explain your continued disgruntled attitude to Ezra. This is it, Nathan. I want an explanation or a resignation.”
Nathan looked at Chris in astonishment. “It’s been a hard couple of weeks for everyone,” Larabee continued. “What happened at the high school has really devastated a lot of people. Ezra seems to have taken it especially hard. You know how shattered he was. You were with us that day. I don’t know how you can get past his reaction to what happened. It’s going to be a long time before I can. I need a team, not a bunch of agents who are unable to work together. It’s almost been a year,” he paused and added. “A rough year, a very rough year, but Ezra’s been aboard for almost a year and you a full year. I’ve overlooked idiosyncrasies to try to get us working together like a team, but you seem unable to work with Ezra without snipping at him. He’s never done anything to you that I can find, Nathan. Ezra does damn fine work and it’s harder work than I care to contemplate, so what exactly does he have to do to win your acceptance?”
“I ain’t causing trouble…” Nathan began, offended and a little frightened. How dare that flippant Southern Jackass get him in trouble! If he got fired…there was no where for him to go! He didn’t want to leave the team, not at all. Why the hell had Ezra complained to Chris? How dare he take offense at honest rebukes for his behavior! That Southern fried idiot had no more moral fiber than the people they arrested did. Why was he the one in trouble? Chris should be lecturing Standish, not him. He hadn’t done anything wrong and now he was going to be kicked off of the team!
Larabee sighed, reading everything that Jackson was feeling as it was painted across the medic’s open face. He’d hoped that the reality of what Nathan had done in January would have brought the man to his senses…it obviously hadn’t. Keeping himself in check was harder than he’d thought. He’d led SEALs who’d been less trouble to deal with than Jackson was…. Even Jordan was a cakewalk compared to the man in front of him. The man was good, a proven asset in all things except his contempt for his teammate.
Judge Travis and the rest of the ‘Brass’ thought the mouthy Southerner was his major headache, not so. Chris gave Standish the room he needed, even the ‘arguments’ he needed, because he understood the pressure of both the work and the ‘artistic temperament’ required to fulfill the role. Ezra had more than enough on his plate and Chris was still disturbed by the distance the Southerner maintained against the rest of his team. Only Vin had made it into Ezra’s confidence and that still somewhat conditionally.
The others had attempted various ways of getting Ezra to accept them as more than acquaintances, but they were struggling against some serious history. Chris could read that much between the lines and Ezra’s file seriously frightened him. He hadn’t seen so many blacked out classified lines in anything even when he was a SEAL and that was saying something since he’d done enough to have blacked out passages himself.
The one thing that Ezra didn’t need was Nathan on his case, and the one thing the man was going to get was an assignment with Nathan…as Primary. Oh joy.
“Nathan, I’m serious." Chris said, hoping that the medic would finally get it. "I want to know where this is coming from. We can’t solve your problem unless I understand it.”
“Ain’t my problem! It’s his!” the medic exploded.
In the outer offices, Nathan’s voice could be heard clearly. Vin and Buck found themselves exchanging worried glances.
Tanner was Ezra’s partner and damn protective. He knew far more about the Southerner and his secrets than he’d ever admit to and he was smart enough to recognize that he’d only scratched the surface. Sending Ezra out with Nathan was a bad idea, but as Primary? That could be a deadly combination. Ezra was still very unsettled by what had happened at Columbine. He’d taken several sessions with Mike over it; a rare occurrence in the year Vin had ‘officially’ known him. And even then, Vin hadn’t been anywhere near close to him before, but he’d known that Ezra’s other ‘self’ didn’t reach out to anyone. It was not accepted or even possible, Classified knowledge and all that.
He’d spent the last week and a half staying over at Standish’s townhouse. A frantic call from Ezra, who’d awakened to find a most unsettling carving on his kitchen table, had made the Sharpshooter unwilling to leave his partner alone. Standish tended to sleepwalk when upset, a thing that worried Vin greatly. The fact that the sleeping Ezra carved wood terrified him. All those sharp chisels and knives… Mike Stoddard, Ezra’s therapist told him not to worry, but Tanner was almost as frightened by the carving, as he was the fact that Ezra kept trying to open the balcony doors. He’d nearly fallen once, but Vin had been there that time.
What would happen if he wasn’t there?
The pressure of working, and with Nathan as Primary there would be pressure, which would keep the sleepwalking in check. Ezra only did it when he was safe at home. Mike said that it was a safety valve, a release of all his stored emotions that caused the walking and the carving. No one could say that the powerfully grieving mourning figure that Ezra had carved wasn’t connected to the incredible sorrow that the Southerner had felt over the massacre at the high school, but it was disturbing none the less.
Looking at Buck, Vin could read a similar level of concern. Wilmington might not have much information when it came to Ezra, but the ladies’s man was a creature of emotions and skilled in reading them. The Southerner rarely gave anything away, using various ‘masks’ to hide his feelings behind, but Buck was starting to see something of the man behind them. Standish’s reaction to the aftermath of the 19th worried him just as much as they worried Vin. Ezra had seen too much pain in his lifetime. Neither man needed his file to know that.
They both liked Jackson, he was one of the team, except when it came to Ezra. It confused Vin that Nathan was so anti-Ezra, even after all that Southerner had done. Buck kept telling everyone to relax and wait. He knew that Nathan would come around. It couldn't be too soon for Vin. It wouldn't be soon enough for Chris. JD had commented the day before that Chris had two constant medical problems...A permanent migraine from trying to out think the cagey undercover agent, and an ulcer from having to talk to Nathan. Everyone respected the medic and his abilities and they understood his pressured lifestyle more than the man realized, but sometimes Jackson would get on his high horse and no one could reach him. Not even Josiah.
Various discussions and arguments had ensued over why exactly Nathan disliked Ezra so much. JD was sure that it was the fact that Ezra was white and from the South. Chris would say that he was too hooked on being right and couldn't see the forest for the trees. Sometimes right wasn't right. Vin had given it up as too confusing. He couldn't figure Nathan out without a map and a compass. Some people just had to be lived with. It didn't mean that Vin disliked Nathan, the opposite was true, but Vin was protective of Ezra and that tended to put him at odds with the medic. What Josiah actually thought about the conflict between his 'best' friend and the man he was coming to care for like a 'son' was anyone's guess. The big man never revealed anything, just appearing calm and willing to listen to anyone. Vin had talked it over with him many times, but he'd never reached any conclusions there either.
Buck was holding out for time. He would claim when asked that Nathan had too much on his plate to see what he was doing. Once he processed it, he’d be fine, but it might require a thump up the side of the head. More than once the tall ladies's man had offered to do the honors, just like he did to JD. The comments would often break the others up into laughter, relieving the tension the conflict caused. It had kept them going in spite of the situation, but it had to break soon. Chris wouldn't tolerate it anymore.
Larabee was not known for his patience, and it was getting to be a record that he’d held his 'Demon' temper in so long. He'd had long conferences with every person he thought could help, even Nathan's almost fiancée, Raine. But nothing that he'd come up with had helped at all. Chris was still trying hard to keep his men at a distance, fearful of connections and more loss, but slowly the situation was drawing Larabee out of his self imposed distance.
He'd even talked to Ezra about the situation, though the Southerner had politely re-directed the conversation so that nothing was properly discussed, especially his feelings. Standish was still, well, Offstandish. The man was still isolating himself which didn't lend itself to teamwork any better than Jackson's 'moral' crusade. Endlessly polite, Ezra maneuvered around the people he dealt with. The Southerner's sarcasm was not often heard directed at Team Seven, but they'd all heard him flay several people alive with rhetoric alone. There was a private bet going as to how long it would take the man to reach the breaking point with Nathan's Holier than thou attitude. It was hoped that when it broke, it would help to bring down Ezra's fortified walls and let them bring him into the family they were building. They still had a long, long way to go.
Buck gave Vin a little half smile, an attempt to calm the Texan’s worry. It wasn’t working for either of them, but Wilmington gamely tried. He began telling Vin about his last date, more out of the need to drown out Jackson’s angry voice than to really talk about it. Tanner nodded, fully aware of what wasn’t being said.
It had taken more than three hours to talk to Larabee. Nathan still wasn’t sure Chris had any idea of what he was thinking, but it didn’t seem like he was going to be tossed out of the Seven anymore. However, the whole conference had made him feel more than a little sore about dealing with Ezra. He sat down at his desk and tried to look busy when Josiah finally arrived at work.
The big Agent, nicknamed ‘Preacher’, had been living up to the moniker lately. Many Agents from all over the building had come to talk to him because of what had happened, so Larabee had assigned him to an open shift. As long as he got his hours in, it let him do what he needed to help the others. The Judge approved, very much so, putting the man in for special duty overtime. Although Josiah was stressed by all the demands on his time, he made himself available to talk to his 'brothers' at any time. It would distress the man if they didn't come to him just because they thought he might be more than a bit over-extended. Sanchez's down to earth, common sense approach had helped a lot of people, but it made Nathan more than a little uncomfortable. Being in the right way was very important to Jackson; it was a huge part of who he was. Josiah kept trying to tell him that there were other 'rights' than his and it wasn't setting well with the medic. He didn't like the conversations on the topic and would usually try to get them off onto something else. Right was right, it was the same for everyone. Having had such a colorful upbringing often led Josiah off into strange places. Nathan just didn't want to get into it today. He didn't have time.
Certainly, Nathan didn’t want to discuss his morning ‘talk’ with Josiah. He was sure that he didn’t want to hear what Josiah would want to say about it. Josiah felt ‘paternally’ protective of that annoying Southerner, a fact that Ezra certainly didn’t appreciate, and was often harsh with those who hurt the young man. He could get 'Old Testament' when defending Ezra, no matter if the man was in the right or not. Sanchez could also be loud.... very loud. The whole third floor had been earwitnesses to the last argument they'd had about Ezra during the Somerville situation. Nathan couldn’t hide his frown. It bothered him sometimes that Josiah expended so much energy on Ezra and the man still shied away from him every time. Trying to avoid Sanchez’s knowing look, Nathan picked up his phone mail for the second time today. He normally answered it four times a day so that he wouldn’t miss anything important.
Professor Allmand was calling to remind him that he had an extra seminar scheduled for next week, the day they were scheduled to return from Portland. He’d have to reschedule it again. Toby, from the Training Division, was calling about his Rectification. Paula called about all four of his grants, the TMS, the Digby, the Brandon, and the CCFCH. They’d been renewed for another year. His good grades saw to that. It was such a help that there was money available for people who had to work as well as try to get an education. He would never be able to attend Medical school without those special grants. Even if he had to be under the minimum requirements every quarter, it felt good to keep working his way to being an actual Doctor. Agent Everett, down in Forensics, want him to attend another seminar on evidence gathering. It was a secondary specialty on the team, and the reason that he’d been named Primary on this case over Ezra. He was pretty sure that Chris would never have given this case to him as Primary if he could have avoided it. Three more calls about his mortgage. Two from Cass Winters about the African American Cultural fair. And no less than FOURTEEN from his eldest sister, Zipporah, about the wedding.
Zipporah had called him every couple of hours for the last several days. He’d made a list of all of the things that she intended for him to bring to their sibling’s wedding. He’d checked it over and was certain that most of it could be gotten in Portland when they got there. What he knew that they needed and didn’t have was already packed in his bags. He’d been hoping that he could go, but was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to. Aunt CC had even implored the spirits for luck.
It had worked sort of…
Now he just had to get through his mountain of commitments and he could go. So what if he had a Southern rascal to tote along... He could do this!
Raising his head, he found Josiah looking at him questioningly. They were officially partners, but had lost much of the closeness they’d shared in Kansas City. His time commitments were always in the way of him spending much time with Josiah, something he regretted. The only time they got together much now was at the weekend Bar-be-ques at the Larabee Ranch. Even then he couldn’t stay as long as the others, not and get some time in with Raine.
Raine, now there was something to think about. He loved her so much, but all of this work prevented him from spending time with her. Her schedule wasn’t open either, graveyard shift at the hospital right now and for the next several months, but somehow she had more time than he did. She’d made friends with several of his siblings, by phone if nothing else. Somehow Doctor Laury had made sure that she’d had time off to go to the wedding.
He’d had to scratch out this time because he used his available time off to try to keep up with the classes he had to finish to get his degree. It would be worth it one day. He’d finally be a doctor. Josiah was still looking at him, like he used to in the old days when he felt Nathan needed to talk… Not today! Not with the preparations to take fourteen days in Oregon off of school, a case that he knew next to nothing about, and the fact that he'd have to drag Standish to a family gathering! What his mother would think of Ezra Standish, he didn't want to contemplate. He had to call his professors and get the schedule as well as arrange tapings of the lectures that he’d miss. He needed to call about his car and it's repairs and straighten things out with the mortgage on his ‘fixer-up’. When it was done, he’d have a fine house, suitable to raise a family in with a pretty doctor, but right now it needed lots of work. Raine tried not to complain about the heat, but it would take several months before he could afford to replace or repair the air conditioning.
Feeling more than a little overwhelmed, he decided to go off to his corner, down near the lounge at the end of the hall. There were a lot of calls he wanted to make that he didn’t want the others to overhear. There was that big brass planter pot there too. It would make it easy to avoid Ezra when he came in. There was no point in trying to deal with the man more than normally required. He didn’t notice when Josiah followed him down the hall and sat in a shadowed corner watching him. Nathan Jackson had too much to get done.