The May 2001 Challenge: offered by Jean Genie

This one is a song fic; The theme is Time. "Time it is a precious thing, Time brings all things to your mind, Time with all its labours along with all its joys, and Time brings all things to an end." Only rule is strictly no death fic!! No word limit but please, no epics. Any character from the seven that you choose may be the focus.

TITLE: Time of your Life
UNIVERSE: ATF/AU, Traviner Variant
ARCHIVE: Yes Please
SPOILERS : None that I know of
NOTES: a sequel to Counting Down to 72 (July 1999)
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belongs to Mirsch 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!

<Ezra Standish’s townhouse, Aurora, Colorado July 1999>

Vin Tanner kicked the open door wide and entered the townhouse banging himself on the doorknob. Behind him JD quickly got of the way of the medic and profiler who were supporting the townhouse’s barely conscious owner between them. If he had been drunk, it would have been the occasion for humor and teasing for months, but he wasn’t drunk. Ezra Standish was drugged out of his mind . . .

It was bad enough that the undercover agent had been sent off to work a case in Idaho Falls without them. It was unthinkable that the southerner had been left in the hands of the criminals that he was investigating by his "backup." It was beyond obscene that Ezra had been put in a position where faking a suicide attempt for a cop had been the only way to escape being murdered. Vin was a man of simple ethics and direct consequences. That was one reason Chris Larabee, their boss, hadn’t taken him with him to confront the Special Agent in Charge and the Head of the Idaho Federal station.

Larabee had, however, taken the huge profiler, Josiah Sanchez, with him. Sanchez had a paternal streak when it came to the southerner, and it showed. SAC Carver, the man in charge of the debacle, had capitulated rapidly faced with the Larabee "Glare" and Sanchez’s "Old Testament" preparations. It was unlikely that the Federal government would have put up with Sanchez trashing his fellow agents, but the threat was more than enough, especially when young JD Dunne’s computer investigation turned up more than enough to hang Carver and his whole team. Not to mention the video tapes . . .

Buck had groused at being left out of the fight, but had satisfied himself by terrorizing the young and annoying Doctor Cousins, and "making time" with a pretty redheaded nurse. Nathan had checked and rechecked every physical symptom, all the charts, demanded information from a dippy Pharmacist’s assistant, and argued with Josiah about getting to read Doctor Previns’s notes about Ezra’s psychological status.

Vin wondered about that. When the medic pressed, Sanchez told him to "soak his head" and implied that if Jackson brought it up again that he’d perform the action himself. Nathan eased off, recognizing when Josiah had reached a limit, but kept pushing obliquely. The rest of the team had made themselves "busy." Tanner, himself, had spent all the time they were in Idaho sitting with the southerner. Knowing Standish’s well-founded fear of hospitals, Vin was unwilling for him to be stuck in one alone. Especially when he couldn’t defend himself. Ezra was not up to his usual behavior and he didn’t want people, especially the "Terrible twosome" to take advantage. Most folk would say the obnoxious agent deserved some retribution, but Standish wasn’t as deserving as they made him out to be. Besides, it wouldn’t be standing up for the Tanner name if he let something like that happen, not to his partner, and especially not to a friend.

JD, following him into the townhouse, bumped into a packing box, knocking it over.

"Careful!" Buck hissed from behind them. It was 3:00 a.m. and they were all sure that the townhouses had a noise clause. JD moved more cautiously but he gave the boxes a worried glance. Vin laughed quietly, in the year Standish had been on the team, this was the first time the rest of them had been in the townhouse. He’d been here before, often, but none of the others had ever bothered.

It had taken a lot of convincing, but Ezra had finally opened up a little to his "partner". Vin found himself very glad that the others had been such obvious working pairings. He didn’t think the enigmatic southerner would have lasted long paired with anyone else. Maybe Josiah, but there was that dammed "Paternal" tie. Josiah claimed to be expert on the undercover agent, but Vin knew that it was wishful thinking. Ezra would do the things that Josiah demanded from him but would never actually let the older man close to the truth that lurked behind the illusions. For a moment, Vin Tanner silently cursed his own government and it’s secrets. How much did one man have to go through? Especially if he could never discuss them with someone who wasn’t "Cleared" for them?

As usual, the townhouse was immaculate but except for the major pieces of furniture the place was filled with unpacked moving boxes. Ezra Standish wasn’t going to waste the energy repacking if they sent him away. Vin echoed JD’s grimace. When were they going to get it through to the battered undercover agent that they were family and that this was home?

Nathan gave a little curse when he tripped coming in behind them. He nearly fell, taking the drugged man with him. Josiah steadied them both and got them across the threshold. Chris and Buck followed behind and Buck shut the door. For a moment they all looked around curiously.

"He’s got a lot of space." Buck commented. "Two whole floors."

"Two mostly empty floors with packing boxes in the livingroom.". Josiah said, he made a face that indicated that the profiler’s brain was starting to kick in, in spite of the late hour. He grimaced in a way that said he’d found something disturbing about this newly revealed facet of the southerner’s behavior. Sanchez was plainly intending to add it to the analysis and would be talking about his conclusions soon enough. Vin hoped when he was finished the Team would be able to understand what he came up with, even though it would probably be wrong. The ‘Preacher’ thought very highly of Ezra but he was given to analyzing the younger man without all of the facts. Sometimes Vin worried about what would happen if the team knew more of the southerner’s hidden life. Some secrets are meant to be kept, and kept close. Tanner hoped that if some of it came out that they’d be as protective of the man as he was now. Ezra deserved better than life had given him and was very, very slow to trust ever again.

"Where’s the bedroom?" Chris asked, taking charge.

"This way." Vin said and led them off, ignoring Larabee’s raised eyebrow and Buck’s inquiring expression. This was his partner’s home, did they think he’d never been here? Just because it wasn’t "convenient" to tackle Standish at home for the rest of them . . . Aurora was only a "suburb city" of Denver, easy to get to. He gave both men a variant of the ‘Tanner Grin’, trying to feel more hopeful than he did, and opened the door to the bedroom.

The bedroom was barely furnished. It looked like an inexpensive hotel room, without the ugly bedspread though. Ezra would never have had an ugly spread in the townhouse, much less in his room.  On a second glance though, the furniture, for all it’s sameness, was stolid wood and therefore expensive. Every piece matched the semi Victorian style, and Nathan gave it a frown.

Ignoring Nathan’s disapproval of the furniture, Chris pulled the spread and the blankets back. Josiah, getting a little cooperation from the frowning medic, maneuvered his barely conscious burden onto the bed. Vin leaned over and helped remove Ezra’s shoes and socks. He could sleep in the hospital issued sweats. Sanchez tucked him in like a small child. For a moment Vin was worried that he’d kiss him goodnight, but Josiah sensibly restrained himself. This whole incident had the profiler behaving like Standish was a critically ill ten-year-old. Fortunately Ezra wasn’t aware enough to take umbridge at the situation.

Josiah led Nathan out of the room, but Chris stayed watching the undercover agent sleep. Vin bustled around the room locking all the doors even the closets. Larabee looked at him strangely and Vin shrugged, indulging in the silent communication that they shared and drove the team crazy with.

That’s the way he likes it. All locked up. Everythin’. Needs ta be this way, Cowboy.

Chris looked and found that every drawer and door were fitted with a lock. He frowned, they were going to have to do something about the agent’s paranoia. If they made it through this . . .

Ain’t no good eatn’ yerself up with guilt. It weren’t yer fault.

Maybe If I’d been watching him better, it wouldn’t have come to this! He wouldn’t have . . .

Whoa Cowboy, Ez didn’t try ta kill hisself. It was the only’ way he could escape. It weren’t yer fault about the rest o’ it either.

Yeah, right. Chris ran a hand through his short cropped blond hair. I didn’t watch out for him, I’m his boss, his friend... and I didn’t do anything to help him!

Didn’t do anythin’? Who was it then who yelled and glared his way up ta and past the Judge? They did this ta Ez, not you! He KNOWS that ya didn’t want him ta go. He knows that ya tried ta protect him. When he’s better, he’ll tell ya . . . Maybe ya’ll get yourself a new saddle. Vin grinned, trying to lighten the mood by teasing Larabee with Ezra’s tendency to avoid "saying" thank you by fixing some problem for his benefactor without explanation. And Larabee needed a new saddle in the worst way.

Tanner gave him a squeeze on the shoulder.

"I’m goin’ down the hall ta the bathroom. Ya best head out, he won’t sleep deep with anyone here, even drugged.". Vin gave him a second squeeze on the shoulder. He’s goin’ ta be all right, Cowboy. It’ll jist take some time.

After a couple of long minutes staring at the sleeping agent, Larabee left the bedroom and headed to the kitchen. He could hear Buck grumbling as he opened and closed cabinets.

"Don’t have anything to eat. No wonder he’s a skinny little runt!" Wilmington groused. The big man slammed the refrigerator door. "Only things he’s got in there is a bottle of some weird spread and a hunk of foreign cheese. We’re going to have to do something about his eating habits." Buck gave a theatrical shudder.

Chris gave a slight smile. "When you call, make sure you get enough for all seven of us."

"Chinese?" Buck asked. Chris nodded at him. "I’m not real sure that Shen’s got Aurora in his delivery area! Going to have to pay extra." He said referring to one of the all-night restaurants that served the nightowls at the Federal building.. "Probably have to call in a marker." The big man sighed and Larabee knew that he was thinking of the pretty restaurant receptionist Wen May. Leave it to Buck to chase every woman he could find.

"I’ll send Nathan out to the supermarket later on." Chris ignored the face Buck made. "He’ll get some basics in here. We’ll take the rest as we have to."

"Planning on staying long, are we?"

"Ez has to get off of that medication. I don’t want him doing it alone."

"Can’t he just stop? I mean you know how he is about taking any kind of med, and this one he’s allergic to for Pete’s sake."

"He’s not allergic, just sensitive to it. It has some pretty odd side effects with him. All that rambling is unusual, Previns told me. He can’t quit it cold turkey. It’s built up in his system after the past couple of days and he has to gradually taper it down." Chris frowned. "Can’t go back to work until he does." Buck stared at him. "Federal Regs, Buck, no active agents on anti-depressants or mood altering meds."

Buck gave another theatrical sigh to say what he thought of that idea and pulled out his cell phone to order a large bit of food from Shen’s place. It might not be the fanciest eatery in Denver, but the portions were enough to keep these chow hounds fed. Chris found himself smiling, must be the tension release he thought.

He looked across the open breakfast nook, into the living room where his profiler and medic were quietly arguing. Larabee wasn’t sure he wanted to know. For a moment he wondered where JD went, the young computer expert was nowhere in sight and he knew that should worry him . . . Then he decided that whatever disaster the ‘Kid’ created, he’d deal with later, he was too damn tired right now.

Vin arrived in the kitchen moments later and looked at his boss and best friend. Chris had a tight pained expression on his face. The vein wasn’t throbbing so he wasn’t angry, just stressed. The sharpshooter followed Larabee’s gaze into the living room at the two arguing men, shook his head and started opening cabinets. His expression mirrored Buck’s from a moment ago, though he didn’t know it.

"No food?" He asked.

"Buck put an order into Shen’s" Chris answered absently. Vin nodded in response and although Larabee couldn’t see it, he nodded back.

Tanner found himself a chair and sat down. He was tired, they all were. This 48 hours would go down in Team Seven history.

<Two days ago, Rout Federal Building, Denver. RMETF Team Seven offices>

Chris Larabee stood in the door way of his office and drank a cup of coffee. His agents were scurrying around, trying to get reports done. He hid a smile, it wouldn’t do to let them know how much he cared about them, this lot would drive him crazy if they knew that. Everyone was in place, except for the southern undercover agent. Larabee grimaced thinking about how Standish had literally been wrestled out of his protection and sent off to help with a case in Idaho Falls. SAC Carver had better be taking good care of ‘his’ agent or Else Chris would be having ‘some words’ with him. He wished the Judge had let him send Vin along, just to make sure. Standish had a way of irritating people that was beyond anything he’d ever seen before. Ezra was the best, but his attitude often got him into more trouble than he could handle. It would have been better if he’d been able to send Vin along with him, at least as a buffer. The sharpshooter rarely got upset about anything, preferring to let it slide off like water off a duck’s back.

Even the hi-jinx the two could get up to were preferable to having any of his men out there alone, but most especially Standish. Ezra had to be handled carefully. Larabee was very certain that Carver was not up to the challenge.

"Ain’t got all day, Ladies" Chris teased. "At this rate, ol’ Ez will have his reports done and be back from assignment, before you get done on a bust that happened before he left!" His hidden smile dimmed as Senior Special Agent Mills walked past heading for the FBI end of the floor. The Special Agent made it a habit to come in and harangue him about how ‘unsuitable and untrustworthy’ Agent Standish was.

The man had been doing it since he arrived in Denver, about two weeks after Ezra had transferred from Atlanta and the FBI. For the life of him, Chris couldn’t figure the connection. Mills had come from D.C. and it was unusual for an agent to leave a comfy position at the national station, especially to come to a same level position in a regional station, like Denver. From the file, what there was of it, there was no point at which Mills and Standish connected, but for some reason Mills pushed to have Standish removed, kicked out, or arrested. He wouldn’t let up.

Every report had to be checked and rechecked, for accuracy, Mills said. Standish’s bizarre expense accounts were fortunately, Chris’s own province to handle, otherwise Mills would be in those too. It had been Mills who insisted to the Head of Operations, Denver, Bob Muhulland, that Ezra should go to Idaho Falls. Chris resented that, but he resented more the weekly stack of personnel files of ‘more worthy agents’ that Mills sent hoping for Standish’s replacement. Larabee told him, as politely as he could manage through clenched teeth, to go to Hell. The Judge had backed his decision, at least in public, but Standish was not one of Travis’s favorite people either. Ezra hung on by the skin of his teeth, but the constant complaints, coupled with the now daily phone call from Idaho Falls, had his continued existence as a Federal Agent in doubt.

His men were trying to look busy typing, but he knew them better than that. They’d seen Mills go by and knew he’d be back to test Chris’s temper. The ‘boys’ weren’t happy with the situation at all. They were, by and large, oddballs, and somehow this team had become a family in the year they’d been together. They might criticize each other, but let someone else do so? Wait for the explosion. Even Nathan Jackson, the team medic, who wasn’t Ezra’s greatest fan, found the constant harping on the undercover agent’s character very hard to take. Once Ezra was back, safe and sound, Chris was going to push for a one goes, all go policy. This was very detrimental to his team’s efficiency and he wasn’t going to let it happen again.

Over in the corner, Vin Tanner looked up from his desk and grinned at his leader. He had picked up on Chris’s bloody minded thoughts under the worry. Mills had best watch his step. The sharpshooter wasn’t by and large a forgiving man when it came to someone hurting one of his team. Tanner continued to softly speak into the Dictaphone that Ezra had somehow gotten for him. It was interesting that the former Army Ranger, decorated Federal Marshal, and skilled Bounty hunter had had almost as many complaints as Standish, but they’d gone away shortly after the Dictaphone’s arrival. Someone had read the Senior Staff a huge riot act about Tanner and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whoever it was Chris blessed them daily. He didn’t have to justify the best shooter in Federal service anymore, he just wished someone would do the same for his touchy undercover agent.

"Hey Kid, shake a leg! I’ve got a date!" Buck yowled at JD Dunne. The young computer expert raised both eyebrows and shook his head. Chris inwardly blessed his old friend for breaking the waiting tension. His team did not like Mills and frequently came close to insubordination wanting to show the man what they thought of him.

"I’m finished Bucklin, ya ain’t got ta wait on me." Tanner drawled. Now that Vin had the Dictaphone, he was frequently one of the first finished. It was interesting that Vin’s reports were now some of the clearest and most concise that Chris had to deal with. He’d made a fool of himself trying to help Vin before the device, all of them had, except Ezra. Buck had tried to help and made Vin madder than a horse with a sore foot. JD had made some stupid remarks that showed how very inexperienced he was and shouldn’t have made, given how much the older agents helped him out. Josiah’s rambling pronouncements had the sharpshooter more confused, and Nathan, well Nathan’s attempt, was almost the last straw. His suggestion that Vin should take some remedial courses was made with that irritating self righteous tendency of his. The rest of what Jackson had said and implied was best left forgotten. His own attempt hadn’t been much better, but he’d only stressed Vin out, not insulted him.

Ezra had been able to get through where the rest had failed. Somehow the prickly southerner had gently gotten through Vin’s defenses and given him both the help and support that he needed. Standish didn’t like showing that he had a more considerate nature than people realized from the thorny and often sarcastic shell he showed the world. Self defense, Josiah had said. It made Chris wonder what had been so awful in the southerner’s past that he had to hide so much of himself from people who cared about him. They had met Ezra’s mother Maude, which went some way to explaining it, but not all the way . . .

The phone interrupted Chris’s revery. He frowned when he saw the digital display. He didn’t recognize the number but it was the Idaho area code, and he was not in the mood for more of SAC Carver’s complaints about Ezra. Grabbing the phone, Larabee growled into it.

" I don’t have time for more of your complaints Carver! Let Standish get on with his job and get him back here! I’m not interested in insubordination or attitude problems. He’s the best and you’ve created enough problems by taking him while we needed him. You aren’t the only one with a big bust in process." Chris paused for breath.

"I’m sorry, I’m not Carver, Agent Larabee." The unfamiliar voice startled him. Chris signaled JD to start a verification trace on the line. Suddenly all of his team’s attention was on the phone conversation.

"Who is this?" Chris demanded.

"My name is Doctor Previns. I’m treating a man who was brought in as Allen Dawson, but I think his name is actually Ezra Standish and that he works for you." The voice on the other end of the line was tired. Chris tried to back pedal, but he’d used Standish’s name before he knew that this wasn’t Carver.

JD verified with a note that the call was coming from the hospital in Idaho Falls.

Now knowing that the call was legitimate, Chris asked. "How badly is he injured?" Across the room, Vin went pale, Josiah stopped playing with his Chinese chiming balls and sat down correctly in his chair, Nathan rushed to pull out Ezra’s medical history from his desk drawer, Buck’s expression turned stormy, and JD was wide eyed and frightened.

"He’s not injured, he’s in the Psych ward under observation. Attempted Suicide." Chris went from angry red to pale white. The comment shocked him like a punch in the gut. Suicide! For a moment, Chris couldn’t catch his breath. Nathan was suddenly at his side, thinking he was going to pass out.

No! Chris denied silently, They weren’t going to lose him. He wasn’t going to fall. After a moment Larabee could hear the voice on the phone calling him. "Agent Larabee? Are you still there?"

"We’ll be there as soon as we can. Keep him there." Chris commanded desperately. Just keep him alive . . . He was breathing in air but he still felt like he’d been hit by a truck. The other members of Team Seven were watching him with anxious looks. Vin, in particular. Ezra was his partner and he was very protective of the southerner. If they lost him how would Vin handle it? Especially, if it was by his own hand. This would destroy them all. Standish was a tightly controlled personality, heavily guarded and shielded in his personal life, but surely, surely there should have been some warning about this? Surely someone would have noticed! Damping down his own terror, Chris tried to make sense of the words being spoken by the voice on the phone.

"It’s taken most of the 72 hours just to get information out of him. He’s pretty wary of people. However, he hasn’t been relaxed enough to sleep much, mostly dozing, and I think he’ll collapse soon. He should still be here when you get here. If I have to, I’ll readmit him but I’m hoping it won’t come to that." Previns said goodbye and hung up the line.

"Deborah!" Chris yelled for their much overworked assistant. Deborah Rinaldi knew that tone of voice and didn’t keep Larabee waiting. He gave her instructions and she rushed to carry them out. Chris usually didn’t make demands of his support staff, but they all knew that when he did, they’d best hurry.

"Pard?" Buck began but Chris cut him off.

"We’re going to Idaho Falls . . . " whatever else he’d been about to say was forestalled by the appearance of SSAC Mills in the office area. Chris strode across the room like an avenger. He grabbed Mills by the collar and yelled. "You son of a Bitch! I don’t care if you are the most senior agent in the area, I don’t care if you are the director’s best friend, Hell! I don’t care if you’re the president’s best friend. You stay away from this office and Keep your Damn hands off of my men. Do you hear me?" He was literally shaking with rage. They’d taken Ezra and pushed him into trying to take his life! Someone was going to pay for this, in blood.

Mills nodded weakly, surprised by the onslaught. He’d been so sure that he was making progress with the ‘situation’ but this convinced him that he was wrong. Team Seven wouldn’t turn loose their ‘pain in the ass’ to face what he deserved.. This was a misjudgement of the highest order, the loyalty was too great, and he’d be lucky to get clear of it for now. The look of wild rage in Larabee’s eyes would stay with him for a long time. Chris let go of him and ignored the now large crowd of interested agents. His shouting had been heard all over the building.

Deborah returned with the arrangements . . .



Buck had been certain that that was one confrontation the airport would never forget. Security he was sure now had pictures of all seven of them posted so that the guards wouldn’t get into the same situation again. Standish’s they already had up from the hostage situation last year, shortly after he’d arrived in Denver, but the rest of team were now part of the "be aware and survive" lecture for security.

The airline workers had had almost as difficult a time with them. Because of the late booking, They’d been late to the gate, and the flight, to Salt Lake International, had to be held. Then team had been broken up among the other passengers on board, a move sure to cause problems. Vin had a seat over the wing where he could watch the rest of his team. Buck sat across and down from him, JD in the row behind the Rogue. The normally gregarious agent wasn’t flirting with the air hostesses but was sitting with a very deeply worried frown on his face. JD was in the seat behind him obviously frightened, it had only been a little more than a year since his mother’s death. Nathan was quickly becoming an annoyance to his seat mates as he shifted back and forth in his seat, worrying about the care that Ezra was getting.

The profiler, Josiah sat a few rows up and kept a close eye on their leader. Whatever the doctor had told Larabee had the effect of both setting the man off and terrifying him. Chris was still pale and uncharacteristically agitated. Normally when he was tense, Larabee was calm but controlled, ready for action. Right now he seemed confused.

The Flight to Salt Lake hadn’t been quick enough, but soon they were there. They disembarked ignoring the weird looks from the crew and rushed down the corridors of the airport to the private charter area, where the usual charter flight to Idaho Falls was delayed waiting for them. The charter had been quiet, except JD had started tapping on things, and they soon landed, to the relief of another crew, in Idaho Falls‘s small airport. A panel van was waiting for them and Nathan with JD’s directions on the laptop drove them to the Hospital.

Chris threw himself out of the van before they were even parked and stormed across the lot to the hospital’s main entrance. He would have burst into the lobby that way but Buck stopped him and made him put his badge and ID around his neck. The others followed suit, not wanting a tussle with hospital security. They had rushed through the floors in the wake of the ‘man in black’ until they reached the Psych unit. The other five had been shocked, but followed him onto the ward. There a large Tongan orderly had stopped them and a thin old man, Doctor Previns, had led them into a family waiting room and discussed the case . . .


Returning to the present, Vin shook his head. It had taken time to get through all the paperwork and get Standish free. Time in the waiting room, time in the hospital room, time while Larabee led an attack on the Idaho Falls station, and yelled at the Head of Operations, Idaho, about what his men had done. Time on the direct Charter flight back to Denver, where Ezra had talked about strange things and kept mentioning ‘three brothers’. To be truthful, Vin wished Chris had sent him to go get the Chinese food, he wanted to be active, doing something. His hidden worry was not eating him alive anymore. Ezra was safe, and it was just going to take time to get him over the drugs he’d been given. It was just going to be a long wait. Waiting without purpose was not a good thing for Vin.

Chris headed into the living room to deal with the arguing pair, so Vin decided to check on the missing member of the team. What was the ‘Kid’ up to? He found JD in the second bedroom with the contents of one of the many sealed packing boxes spread out on the bare mattress. Vin’s moderately good humor evaporated.

"What the Hell are ya doin’ JD!" He snapped, enraged, grabbing at a chunk of concrete that JD held.

"I was helping!" The kid exclaimed. "Ezra needs to unpack."

"You don’t get inta someone else’s stuff without permission! Especially Ez’s! Ya can’t make him feel secure about bein’ here . . . about bein’ safe with us if ya get inta his private things without askin’!" Vin was almost frantic. He understood how much the southerner guarded his private life and knew that this could set things back between the skittish agent and the rest of his team. There were too many sinkholes in Ezra’s life, too many things that brought back pain. Half the reason so much of Ezra’s life was packed away in boxes was that the man couldn’t handle it. There was far too much grief there. Vin found himself thinking of the things he’d done with his partner, simple ordinary things that friends do, things that had later been revealed to have almost put the weary southerner on his knees with trauma. Ezra was a private man because he had to be. Too many secrets. Every time Vin found out more he hoped it was the last horror, but he knew that it wasn’t. Standish kept the boxes closed, kept the pain packed away.

Tanner worried that someday all of this, this family they’d built, Team Seven, would just be another box in the Southerner’s collection. It took keeping the memories locked away for the man to feel safe. How could they ever regain Ezra’s fragile trust if they forced open the sealed wounds? For a reckless moment he really wanted to swat JD. How could the ‘Kid’ do this? Didn’t he understand anything?

"What’s going on?" Buck demanded startling them both. Wilmington took in the scene and sighed. "Kid, you don’t get into someone else’s things without asking." The older man unconsciously echoed the sharpshooter.

"Ez needs to unpack" JD repeated "He’s just been too busy to get to it." He added stubbornly, why couldn’t they get it? If Ez was unpacked, everything would be fine, he couldn’t leave then because it would be home, they’d be family and things like this wouldn’t happen again . . .

"Too busy? For a whole year, Kid?" Buck said in the mild sort of tone that JD knew was a precursor to a lecture.

"He just hasn’t had time." JD insisted. Buck sighed and hoped Chris was having better luck.


Chris stood in the living room and wished he’d gone to straighten out whatever Vin was shouting about. He hoped that no one was going to come pounding on the townhouse’s door demanding that they keep it down. His ‘boys’ were just that and far too loud for an enclosed area. Returning his attention to the current mess, he sighed thinking he’d rather be dealing with Standish’s smart mouth than Jackson’s money comments. At least Ezra would listen to you, he’d then cut your arguments apart using sharp and skewed logic, but he’d listen. Nathan was a repeating record about the inequalities of life. At the moment it was Standish’s furniture which seemed to have been hand made by some famous reproductionist at a horrendous cost. That ‘simple’ bedroom set was worth more than Chris’s brand-new SUV. For some unfathomable reason the medic didn’t think that Ezra had the right to spend his money on the things he wanted and that he should be giving it to charity.


Larabee couldn’t see the logic of it, since Jackson bought things he wanted with his money, but didn’t bother joining the argument when Josiah’s look told him not to. Apparently this was a conversation and a subject that they’d both gone the rounds on before. Sometimes Chris wondered what it would be like to lead a ‘Normal’ team. He’d probably be bored in a week, but sometimes he really wished he’d opted for it. Realizing the argument would continue for some time, he looked around the room for somewhere to sit.

Eventually ending up on the couch, he pondered if he’d made the right choice in leading this team. It had not been a sterling moment in Team Seven’s history. Standish might not have wanted to die, but he was definitely depressed or so Previns’s notes indicated. Josiah had been unwilling to share the Doctor’s notes but Larabee had insisted. He wished he hadn’t, there were things in there that frightened him a good deal, especially the parts about the southerner’s secrets. Being privy to a couple of them, Chris was quite sure he didn’t want to know the rest. He massaged the bridge of his nose. Maybe he should take some time off once Ezra was safely back at work, he hadn’t taken vacation for a while, maybe a couple of years . . . hum, he considered, might not be a bad idea.

Whatever Nathan was going to say next was cut off with a startled noise. Chris looked up. Ezra Standish was in the doorway to the living room. It was obvious that the southerner was not aware of the situation.

"Hopkins, "he muttered "Swords and terra cotta!" Ezra said several more unintelligible things and proceeded to one of the packing boxes. He tore off the tape and started shifting the contents.

"Son? Are you alright?" Josiah asked softly not wanting to startle the confused man. Ezra ignored him and continued looking through the box. He came up with a document, stared at it for a moment and walked unsteadily over to a corner desk where his laptop computer waited. Kicking the system over, Standish didn’t seem to hear any of them, not even startling when Josiah put a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Hopkins, Hopkins and Evers. Mellon and Washboard." Wherever the undercover agent was, it wasn’t in the here and now. "Sons of earth." Ezra began to hum an off key rendition of a Christmas carol. "Australia, the Duchess’s gardens at Norfolk, Liming." He got the laptop up and running, leaning over Sanchez to do it. It was as if the agent’s mind registered them as if they were part of the furniture not people.

"Ezra?" Chris asked tentatively. He wasn’t sure what to do with this situation. Previns had said there might be oddities in his patient’s behavior but had not mentioned sleepwalking or sleeptyping as the case may be. Standish didn’t seem to hear him and continued typing on the laptop. He sent a dozen or so emails so quickly that Josiah had no chance to prevent it. The big profiler hoped that JD would be able to prevent the mails from reaching their destinations or that the recipients would be forgiving of the situation.

Vin led the other two back into the living room, still angry. For a moment he paused, cocking his head to look at Ezra. Then he raised a curious eyebrow at the still typing southerner and grinned. Larabee caught his look and glared in exasperation. The sharpshooter just grinned more widely and gave his leader a parody of the southerner’s two finger salute.

"Don’t know, he just came in here babbling nonsense." Larabee answered the unasked questions. " JD can you catch up with those e-mails? I think he’s got enough trouble as it is. It’s going to take months to straighten all of this out." Chris said. There was a disheartened sound to his voice. Buck cast a worried expression at the sharpshooter. They’d have to be watching Larabee as well as Ezra.

Before anyone could respond, the doorbell rang. It was the Chinese deliveryman. With a weary groan, Chris paid for the food. Buck and JD helped bring in the large cardboard boxes. Apparently Buck had ordered the ‘Emperor’s meal’, meant for twenty people. It wouldn’t last long, Chris decided.

JD set down his box in the kitchen, leaving Buck to find plates and eating utensils. He went over to the computer and tried to access it over Standish’s shoulder. Nothing he did made any difference. The southerner’s computer was operating on a level that he didn’t recognize. After a couple of minutes it locked him out, but allowed Ezra to keep doing whatever he was up to.

"I’ve never seen a system like this one. When Ez gets well, I’ve got to ask him about it! The code is going by so fast I can’t keep up." JD said excitedly. Chris groaned, Great, his undercover agent had a system that the best computer expert in federal service couldn’t crack. No, he didn’t want to know . . .

Buck dished the food out on the fine china in the cupboard. He insisted on pouring his Coke as well as JD’s into Ezra’s fine crystal. Josiah and Chris shifted some of the boxes off the living room coffee table and proceeded to get everyone served. Vin sat down on the floor next to the still typing southerner’s chair.

"Ey Ez? You want some food?" Buck asked. The southerner continued typing at a furious pace. Shrugging, Wilmington sat down to eat. JD tried again, waiving a plate under Ezra’s nose. Nathan made a comment about wasting food and the ‘Kid’ turned so fast that he almost slapped Standish with the plate.

"Knock it off, Nathan! That’s rude. It’s not Ez’s fault that he’s in la-la land!" Dunne hissed. It was going to take time for Ezra to come out of his stupor and it wasn’t fair of Nathan to pick on him. Especially since Jackson was the medic and knew that Standish couldn’t help it.

"Random Chattering." The southerner replied unperturbed by Nathan’s complaints. "Morgan was right. 1485, that’s the key. In my lady’s chamber . . . Mother will have a fit, not a thing to do about that. Kate is at the western . . . " Standish’s ramblings continued but unintelligibly. After a moment he took the plate from a surprised JD.

Ezra ate the food, with good table manners, but still at the computer. He paid no attention to any of the rest of the team. Vin grinned, having seen the behavior before, though it was an interesting variant when Standish was high as a kite . . .


It was Buck’s day to watch the southerner.

It didn’t start out very well. The Phone rang at 4:30 A.M. Buck answered it thinking it might be JD or Chris with some sort of problem. All he got was "Virginia Time and Temperature". He was even more angry when the Phone rang five times, all with similar calls. Each caller hung up shortly after he yelled at them. Hopefully Ez would explain why he was getting Time and Temperature messages from everywhere except Denver . . .

At 6:00 A.M. Buck was startled awake again by the sound of someone in the townhouse. He got carefully out of the very comfortable guest bed and slipped his sidearm out of it’s holster.

"Ezra?" Came a voice. "Are you okay?" Wilmington carefully worked his way to the living room. Three vaguely familiar men were there. One had coffee and bagels. All three wore suits and Buck knew that he knew them.

"Agent Wilmington?" The shortest man of the group asked in astonishment. "Whatever are you doing here?"

"Ez isn’t well. I’m looking out for him."

"I would have guessed that Tanner had that job. He’s not the best patient." Another of the men said with a laugh. Buck suddenly remembered the man from the U.S. Marshal’s office downstairs at the Rout. Philamon or something like that. Only Ezra would have friends with strange names...Then it hit him. These men were Ezra’s friends, Weren’t they? The Standoffish Undercover agent had friends that weren’t on Team Seven. Wilmington became angry. All this time he’d been worrying about how Ezra was adjusting and here he was with these ‘people’. Team Seven had pushed and pulled trying to get him to open up to them as well as the rest of the world, and here were people whom the southerner obviously considered friends. He’d let them in but not his own team mates...

The shorter man gave Buck a pitying expression. Wilmington saw that the man had read him as well as Chris would have and was abruptly chilled. His expression was one of pity yes, pitying Contempt. Somehow Buck felt that Vin would have a matching one if he was here. Ezra had a right to a life outside of the Team. It wasn’t fair that he, himself, could have dozens of friends and then resent that the southerner had found a few.

Buck tried to retrieve the situation but felt that the men were fairly disgusted with him. He tried to fix some breakfast, but he couldn’t find the pots and pans, much less where Vin had put the groceries Nathan had purchased. There was no way to fix the situation. For such a big hearted man, he’d been a real dolt. Not being able to find the dishes reminded Buck of the situation. It was really something, he thought, that he had a friend, someone he considered family, had known him for over a year, and he’d never visited the inside of his house before . . .

Something to think about.


It was Nathan’s turn and the medic was not a happy camper. Ezra had slept through Thursday, Buck had said. He hadn’t even stirred during the early morning confrontation with the ‘visitors’. Wilmington thought that they were Standish’s friends, but Nathan knew better. No one who knew anything about Ezra would bother the "Con-man" before noon if they really "Knew" him.

Standish was sitting on the couch in his living room, still mostly out of it. Buck had propped him up on some pillows before he left and had turned on the big screen TV. It had taken a while to get a channel. For such an expensive set it certainly didn’t pick up channels well. Nathan took that as a moral judgement. No use spending thousands of dollars on a "Fancy" set with all the extras when a plain one would do the job without the interference.

The team medic spent most of the day on the phone with Rain, his girlfriend. She was having a problem with a classmate and she didn’t like Nathan’s solution to the problem. He also spent time taking the remote away from Ezra and putting it on some "decent" entertainment. Standish watched too much mental junk. The one show he seemed the most interested in looked like telemetry from outer space. Egyptian nonsense flashed across the screen and people were carrying long sticks. Jackson snorted. These reality shows had really crossed the line. Nathan ignored Ezra’s glare and served him some slightly wilted salad, without dressing, made during the long explanation of what Rain should be doing.

Standish ate without complaint, not wanting to receive any more of the medic’s ire.


Josiah found that Saturday was an unexpected mess. Nathan’s tenure was up very early in the morning when he called and asked Sanchez to take over. Apparently Rain had run into some racially based trouble at the University and Nathan needed to help her out of it. Ezra had had a quiet night, no nightmares, the medic told him. He hadn’t heard a sound from the southerner. That was good, Ezra had to be sleeping well. The man had had too many shocks lately. Some time and some care from his team mates would do wonders.

Sanchez ensconced himself in the living room with a couple of the leather bound books from the heavy bookshelves he’d found in the ‘Library’. It was the only room that showed any real signs of occupancy. Brother Standish had carefully unpacked each volume at some point. They were all in alphabetical and Dewey decimal order. Expensive, tooled leather covers protected very well read volumes, and Josiah felt amazed by the complexity and seeming randomness of the information in Ezra’s library.

He was startled out of his reading by the southerner padding, sleep mussed and barefoot, into the kitchen area. Looking at the clock, Sanchez cursed his curiosity, it was well past four in the afternoon. Ezra looked tired with dark circles under the eyes and a wariness that worried Josiah.

Smiling to cover the awkwardness, Sanchez began a rambling story and quickly and unthinkingly fixed a peculiar brunch of scrambled eggs with tabasco sauce, green beans with almond slivers, and beef stew. Ezra watched without complaining or really responding to Sanchez’s story. Usually the mercurial southerner had quick and witty comebacks for any occasion, but today he didn’t say much. Trying not to make too much of it, Josiah decided to settle them both down for the meal in the living room bypassing the kitchen with it’s table.

Carrying the plates, the big profiler turned to look at his patient. Ezra was watching him with a strange expression on his face. Quiet and reserved, he’d said very little and Sanchez was becoming worried. He tried to urge Ezra into the living room for a little TV along with their meal. Josiah was so involved with trying to make a connection that he forgot the plates as he gestured.... the contents of both ending up on the spotless white shag rug.

No amount of quiet denials from the southerner would ease Josiah’s guilt. He knew that Ezra’s home was a reflection of the lost and mangled life the younger man had led. And now he’d put a permanent stain there. Oh this was not good. Not at all.


JD juggled his notebooks. He’d been taking some courses, updating his computer skills since they went outdated so quickly. The youngest member of Team Seven was determined not to be left behind. Already he was concerned that Chris might be thinking of replacing him with Parker down in accounting. His skills were much sharper than JD’s. Worried, he talked it over with Ezra. Over and Over and Over again.

The Southerner tiredly reassured him, over and over and over again. There was no way that Larabee would kick the ‘Kid’ out of the Seven. Standish took his meds without argument and left the younger man to his studies. JD found himself looking at Ezra’s laptop computer. It was miles and miles ahead of even the most advanced model he’d ever seen. Black and sleek, it was thinner than he’d expected. Lifting it, JD found it was lighter than he’d imagined.

Opening it, he thought it couldn’t hurt to have a look, maybe chase those emails that the southerner had sent on Thursday . . .

The laptop sounded a shrill alarm when JD tried to access it. Trying to shut it down didn’t stop the alarm . . . it just kept shrieking. Ezra stumbled out of his bedroom at the noise. He gave JD a look, the expression showing nothing, deader than the famous poker face. JD stumbled up out of his seat in embarrassment. Forgotten, the laptop went flying, hitting the floor with a sickening crunch. Pieces of the computer flew in all directions.

"Sorry" A red faced JD said. "I’ll clean it up." Standish just nodded wearily and rubbed a hand across his face. JD noticed a couple of cuts on the hand, and that the usually immaculate man was covered in shavings. Wood shavings . . . "Ah Ez?" After breaking the computer he wasn’t sure how to ask.

"Just a little project that needed finishing, Mr. Dunne." Ezra said looking at his sawdust covered hands with a little confusion.

"Are you sure you should be doing that? I mean you’re supposed to be resting?" JD made the statement into a question.

"Resting? . . . I suppose so." Ezra Standish said with a sigh and went slowly back to his bedroom.


Chris took his turn. He’d listened to JD’s horrified confession and wondered how much it was going to take to get the ‘Kid’ out of debt with the southerner. Ezra bought only the most expensive toys . . . Where he got the money, Larabee wasn’t certain he wanted to know.

Standish had been remarkably quiet. Chris was worried about that. Josiah had reluctantly, very reluctantly given over Dr. Previns’s notes. He hadn’t yet had time to call the doctor and discuss them. It was hard for him to accept how he’d failed one of his men. Ezra had stood on the edge, balanced on a knife’s point. The suicide attempt still worried him. It might have been faked for the situation, but the man was so closed off, so alone . . .

Buck had dutifully reported his contact with the three men in Ezra’s kitchen. Using JD’s never commented on or discussed abilities as a hacker, they’d gotten into the personnel records. What they found upset both Buck and Chris a great deal, though they’d successfully kept it from JD. The team’s youngest was pleased that Standish was making ‘friends’. Both older men, former Navy SEALs, knew that those were friends that Ezra shouldn’t make.

The Marshal was Philomel Sanderson, well known for his long distance chases of "Classified" criminals across country. His nickname was Mercury. Although the man himself was not a threat, his connections to the darker side, the hidden side of the Federal operation worried both men.

The second man, the one who didn’t speak, caused more alarm. His name was Bruce, Scott Robert Bruce . . . and he wasn’t in the Federal mainframe, at least not as an agent. The man was military, Buck had picked that up and forgotten it in that embarrassing moment. Military. It took a couple of calls and a few favors to get an identity. Bruce was one of the officers serving on the staff of General Stephan Mark Carpenter, Head of Operations at NORAD.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the third man, the shorter one, had an office in the Rout Building, one that worried most people. He was Peter Collier . . . the local rep for the NSA. What sort of friends were these for the southerner to have?

It seemed like Standish’s dark secrets had followed him to Denver. Damned if Chris Larabee was going to let them drag his agent into the darkness . . .

Chris spent the day trying to keep upbeat and light, ignoring any strange behavior from Ezra. Standish wore a very odd expression, almost like fear for most of the day. No matter how cheerful Larabee became, the southerner seemed to become more frightened. A single large smile was enough to shake the man totally.


Vin found himself laughing at Ezra’s discomfiture . . . Oh he tried not to, but knowing what Chris was up to and how Ezra had reacted was overly funny. It was hard to keep his composure as the southerner asked if Mr. Larabee was headed for a nervous breakdown. All that smiling had to be the sign of something seriously wrong with the somber ‘man in black’.

Tanner kept his laughter quiet and gentle. Ezra had had enough upsets lately. Knowing that Standish had not slept much in the last several days, no matter what the others said, Vin sent him to bed early. Vin propped the pillows up in their usual configuration, pulling out the softest and warmest blankets from the blanket chest, and began locking all the doors and drawers. As he did he noticed the ‘sock' drawer was open a little. Knowing that Ezra kept his current projects in there, he looked to the southerner for his approval

Standish looked at him slightly nonplused, nodded, and settled down to sit on the bed. Vin opened the drawer and stopped to admire the magnificently carved eagle inside. He was amazed at the beauty of the carving.

Looking to Standish for permission, he lifted the maple piece out of the drawer. Ezra was uncomfortable with his skill as a master carver, but Vin was blown away. Although the piece was unfinished, every detail of the carved feathers was created by a master’s hand. It almost seemed to breathe.

After a moment, Vin set the piece down. He looked at Ezra with a worried expression. "They really bothered ya, didn’t they? I mean, Ya don’t carve unless yer sleepwalkin’ and ya had ta have been busy ta have done this...And they didn’t catch ya at it! Were they payin’ any attention?" He paused. "Unless it’s a older piece? I didn’t see it the last time I stayed over . . . " Tanner made the last a question.

"No, I’ve never seen it before." Ezra said tiredly from the bed. "Apparently my subconscious is as unsettled as the conscious mind has been." Vin set the carving down gently and turned to assist Ezra into bed. The weary southerner looked at him with more than a little fear shadowing his expression. Tanner kept his moves slow and made sure that Standish was tracking every one of them.

"Chris ain’t goin’ crazy, Ez. He’s jist worried about ya. He’s an Alpha wolf, no doubt about that."Vin tried to find things from the past that might help Ezra deal with the now... He carefully drew the blankets up and pretended to ignore Ezra’s slight shiver. Tanner knew that Ezra was disturbed by everything that had happened and his level of trust was very low. It was hard trying to find a positive to connect to in the past. "He’s an Alpha wolf, and somebody hurt a member of his pack. He jist don’t know how ta deal with it. He was a lone wolf for too long for it ta be easy, Ezra."

"I don’t run on four feet, Vin. I’m a raven." Came the soft dispirited answer and Vin knew that Ezra was more upset than he let on. Remembering the past was hard, they’d gotten to the point where Vin could discuss it without Ezra "turtling" up, but the weary pain in his voice reminded the Texan that there were dangers there too.

"King Rook used ta run with the wolves." Vin said gently knowing that this was painful territory. He felt that he had to say it, to remind the southerner that he was more than this painful moment in his life. Tanner was frightened that his partner would retreat emotionally back to the broken man he’d been when he’d first arrived. It had taken Tanner a while to get him to drop the masks so that he could see the man’s anger. Anger he could deal with, anger was a reasonable, a normal part of where Ezra should be, at least psychologically. This quiet, this despair, chilled him. It was one thing to know that the southerner would never act against his life, but to know the weight of pain he carried . . . that was hard.


" That was a long time ago. I’ve been grounded with pierced wings for too long to remember what it was like to fly, Vin." The hairs on the back of Vin’s neck prickled. Didn’t Ezra understand how much he meant to the team? Sure, Team Seven had blown it, respect for Ezra apparently wasn’t high on the list, but they cared. Protecting him had been the first thing in all of their minds. The damaged lost southerner definitely deserved their protection. He was their brother, but as with most families Vin had observed, they didn’t have clue one what to actually do with him.

"Ain’t true Ez. Ya’ll fly again. Ya jist need ta know that the boys won’t let ya fall. Yer part o’ this team, Ez. Ya’ve jist gotta give ‘em a chance." He begged. There was a lot about Standish’s past that he didn’t know, but this he knew, no matter what had happened, they were not going to fail him in the important things. They’d screw up everything else, but Ezra was safe in their care. If only he could convince the man of it. He could stretch his ‘wings’, the team wouldn’t let him fall. Never that.

"Once you find what you need, there will not be a reason to have such a weak link in the chain anymore Vin. I’m the only expendable member of this team. Eventually you’ll have the undercover agent Larabee should have had when he had to settle for me." Vin went colder. Ezra really believed that he was worthless, that he was a mistake.

"Cowboy don’t settle fer nothin’ Ez. You were the one he wanted."

"A lingering feeling of responsibility, wrongly placed." Standish said distantly. "Soon the duty will be no more and he will have no further need of my services." Ezra settled against the pillows and shut his eyes against the pain.

"He told ya not ta run out on him again."Vin grabbed desperately at the first thing that came to mind.

"I’m not running. I wouldn’t betray him that way."

"Then don’t let ‘em run out on ya."Tanner paused, trying to find words to overcome this familiar stumbling block. They’d had this argument too many times before, and Ez looked so exhausted, so weary this time. He had to make it count, to explain himself. He had to make him understand. "We’re Family, Ez. Always. May not git it right all the time, but we’re family."

The southerner gave him a faint smile and slowly drifted off to sleep. Vin covered his face with his hands to hide the pain he was feeling. After a few moments, he lifted the carving and gently returned it to the ‘sock’ drawer. He wished Ezra could understand... Maybe he did, at least while he was asleep. The Eagle sat in the drawer, the carving showed the bird about to take flight, though it was still bound in the uncarved wood. Maybe he was getting it through to Ezra that he was wanted, needed as part of this strange family . . .

Ezra slept, deeply. Trusting his safety while under the watchful eye of his ‘brother’.

Vin went into the living room, poured carpet cleaner on the white shag rug. He’d have to call a carpet crew in if the stuff didn’t come out. Over on the table were the plastic fragments of Ezra’s computer. Carefully, he picked up the pieces of the shattered laptop and put them in a box for Scott to take to get a replacement in the morning. Ezra wasn’t supposed to be away from the thing for any great length of time. Ignoring the pages from his beeper, knowing that it was Nathan being a mother hen, he walked across the room and turned on the answering machine.

Sighing, he listened to and ignored the messages Nathan left. Ezra was not behaving like a spoiled child, in fact Vin was unsettled by the sudden idea that the southerner had never been ‘spoiled’ in his whole life. Tanner’s eyes narrowed as he listened to the messages one by one. Erasing Nathan’s tirades as well as the usual angry messages in a foreign language, Vin thought it was French, the Texan left only Josiah’s ramblings on the tape. Ez really cared about that old preacher man, and he was the only one who could follow if he ‘philosophized’. Listening to a couple of the messages was enough to make Vin’s head hurt. He carefully reset the machine so they’d be ready when Ezra wanted to listen to them. Vin picked up the remote control. Making certain of the correct settings, he reset the TV to pick up the telemetry Ezra monitored and analyzed for General Carpenter. Some times he wondered if he should talk to the General. Ezra definitely had too many irons in the fire at the same time.

Sitting down, Vin considered going out for muffins for breakfast, but he thought better of it. Ezra might need him during the night. If he was unsettled enough to carve . . . the Texan just hoped that Ezra hadn’t spent one or more of the nights his team-mates were with him in the townhouse huddled in the corner under the desk. If they hadn’t noticed that, Tanner would throw a hissy fit. He’d seen the signs of Ezra’s attempt to get the lock on the balcony doors open. The second floor was both boon to the weary man and danger to his sleepwalking self. Vin dreaded hearing that he’d fallen.

Time might bring them together as a team, time might separate them, he wasn’t sure which was the better option right now. Ezra deserved more kindness and attention than his team had given him. They’d been willing to fight anyone who got in their way in Idaho, but heaven help them if they showed the man the least respect in his own home. Team Seven still had a long way to go...


Ezra got up at his usual time, answered all of his Phone calls which were far more informative for him than they had been for Buck. His usual morning visitation was mellow, the presence of the Texan for the ‘opening festivities’ easing him back to the ‘reality’ that he inhabited. Vin bowed out and went on a long jog so that the ‘classified’ part of the briefing could be completed. He’d be back to make sure that Ezra was only a little ‘late’ to work. While he was waiting for Vin to change, Ezra found himself reflecting on the comments the younger man had made last night. Were they a family? Really? Ezra hadn’t had such good luck with ‘family’ Maybe Mr. Tanner was right. Maybe he could give it some time, not let them run out on him . . .

Maybe, maybe this time, Time would be on his side.