Avoiding Crows

by Q'Mar

Notes: Occurs April/May 1998.

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 "JOSIAH JOINS THE TEAM!" STORY CHALLENGE This is an ATF story challenge . To meet the "challenge" the story should address the following:
We have seen many stories on how Ezra, Vin, and the others have come to join the force but very little is mentioned on how Josiah came to be part of the ATF team. This challenge is to write a story that explains how Josiah came to join Team 7. What was the case he was working on when Chris and Buck met him? What did he think of the other members of the team and did he have any doubts about joining them? Did he see any crows?

Mission Church of St. Martin
Kansas City, Missouri
early Apr. 1998

Josiah Sanchez looked at the new wooden benches with a frown of disgust. Reverend Hayward had gotten George to build them. It wasn't that Josiah had anything against George, quite the opposite, he liked him, but George didn't know much about real craftsmanship. Those pews should be built to last, not built to make the mission look good so the Archbishop would be pleased with the appearance of the chapel and ignore the fact that much of their tiny budget had gone into it instead of into the bellies of the needy who came here for help.

It wasn't George's fault that Reverend Hayward, who insisted on the title, and his wife, Louisa, both disliked Josiah intently. He'd been able, over the twelve years the mission had been in existence, to help massive amounts of people. Josiah had made connections with the homeless that no one else had been able to...but then again there was his secret popping out. He could make the connection because he'd been homeless himself. Sometimes he wondered if it was worth his time to stay. The connection he'd forged had been spread to many of the volunteers and the mission itself was successful, not perhaps as much as Josiah would have wanted but it was saving lives.

Reverend Hayward had been trying to get him to leave. First he'd hired Alvin, one of Josiah's fellow Vietnam Vets, to take Josiah's place in the intake. It was great to get Alvin off the street and get him a job, Sanchez didn't begrudge him. Second, Hayward had gotten Connie Wilcox, a great volunteer and wonderful daughter of the church, to take over the 'procurement of donations'. She'd been even better at it than Josiah, so much so that donations were tripled. He certainly couldn't begrudge the mission that. Third, Louisa Hayward had managed to take over his counseling program. That he'd begrudged...

Josiah Sanchez, PhD, was a trained counselor, a specialist trained in psychology, and a known professional. Louisa Hayward had taken only enough training to allow her to work the phones in a crisis center. She had no business trying to counsel the homeless. However, for some reason, for some quirk, she'd been able to wangle a license from the State of Missouri to do so. Now all of Josiah's 'clients' were her clients because Hayward had changed the structure of the volunteers. He was now a Volunteer under Louisa's direction. She directed him to serve coffee in the mission clinic that he'd built with his own two hands. God sends these things to test us. Josiah said it to himself twenty times and twenty times more. He had time, after all there wasn't a lot of time involved in brewing coffee and pouring it out. Sanchez had set out cups, creamer, sugar, stirrers, and trays of cookies for weeks and weeks.

The irritation level was reaching all time highs. Josiah knew he had a temper and knew that he could be pretty scary when angered but it was so very hard to turn the other cheek. Lately many of the other Volunteers had been taking time to let him know that they thought he should be thinking about retiring or at least going away. Louisa's little clique of followers in the counseling office had been making comments or complaining about his 'absentmindedness' or his 'single-mindedness." How he could be both at the same time was a question he spent quite a lot of time on. However, the people specifically working with the homeless were very concerned that he would leave. Jessica Denby would burst into tears at the thought of him not being there to help, but even she acknowledged that Josiah might be better off away from the Haywards.

Having grown up in an extremist fundamentalist sect, he was used to 'church politics', to the little quirks and problems that cropped up among the 'faithful.' His father had been a Hell-fire and Brimstone minister, full of self-righteousness judgement of those unwilling to obey the truth as Hezekiah Sanchez saw it. Josiah had never been able to deal with his father. As soon as he was able to leave, he left the 'household', actually a wandering tent revival, and had gotten into 'the real world' as fast as he could. It had taken him a long time to realize that very few people lived the way that he had growing up. School had broadened his horizons, although he'd traveled all over the world, his experience was limited to the zealous and extreme 'Christians' that his father had taught. The so called heathen folks had mostly seemed to pity him, but he'd had no experience with their world-view.

Barely finishing high school in time to go to Vietnam, wandering aimlessly afterward for a while then using the army's GI bill to get through college, it hadn't been much of a life. Josiah had later specialized in school in abnormal Psychology, with a minor in Anthropology. Both had expanded his reality. All the Psychology, though, had been a poor attempt to understand his father. It had been easy to excel at school, but much of what he'd once known he'd forgotten or never had a use for in practice. He'd spent much of his 'career' tending to the needs of the homeless, though he'd written many, too many articles for various journals and ended up teaching for a long time at the local University. Twice married and divorced once, it wasn't any wonder that he had no one to go home to.

Josiah felt sometimes that life had totally passed him by. He'd done all of these things but never found any place where he belonged. Now it appeared that he would be pushed out of the only place he had left, the mission. Frowning sourly, Josiah decided to clean up the chapel a little. Along with having no idea how to build to last, George never remembered to pick up after himself. Spending a little time scrubbing down the wood floor, put him in the right position, his knees. It took some time but eventually he felt calmer. Maybe the Haywards were right, maybe it was time for him to head out to pasture. He'd spent his whole life trying to help others, trying to fix the mistakes of his past, so much so that he'd never really had a life of his own. His own personal 'limbo'. Existing not living, that was Josiah Sanchez.

Feeling melancholy, he found himself pacing the little chapel. Finally a shrouded object attracted his attention. It stood in the corner, wrapped in drop cloths. Frowning, Josiah tried to figure out what it was. There would be hell to pay if he disrupted the Haywards's plans... there had been before. Going over to the corner, Josiah hesitated as he faced the drape. A part of him didn't want to know what the Haywards were going to do to 'his' chapel...He really needed to get over the concept that the mission was his. Yes, he'd built it, bullied the local church into funding and supporting it, cared for it's parishioners as if he'd been their priest, but it wasn't his...

The drape pulled back to reveal a pillar, the kind used as a base for a religious statue. George had obviously been a busy little bee. The pews were okay, they'd hold, but this thing was hideous! Badly joined together, poorly painted to cover the rough desperately needed work. It wasn't a fitting thing to honor a saint, even in a poor mission chapel for the homeless. They could do better than this, Josiah could do better than this!

The pillar was slightly crooked as well. What had George been doing? Josiah considered the task and figured he could get a decent pillar together before the visit from the Archbishop... It would help to know which saint the pillar was to support, after all such things were supposed to be acts of devotion to those who were there to guide others to God. Such a gift should reflect the saint it was intended for.

Reaching out to touch the pillar Josiah felt an electric shock jolt through him. He pulled back in startled confusion. What did that mean? He considered the question for a moment or two. The badly made pillar annoyed him but the pull he felt was serious. George's attempt didn't feel right, not worthy of it's duty...Where were these thoughts coming from? All of his life he'd looked for signs and omens, at first because he'd believed his father's wild view of reality...a great war between Heaven and Hell with Mankind as the wicked sinners leading Hell's charge, then because he'd rejected those concepts to believe in a God of Mercy and Compassion. This had to be a sign of some kind, perhaps an answer to his prayer?

Should he stay and fight for his place here? Was that what God wanted? He'd seen the circling crows, felt as if he was being pecked to death by them, was he supposed to stay and fight? All his life he'd wished to see signs and omens, the Compassion of God made plain... It was too much to hope for now. He was just a weary old man. What was it that Heaven wanted?

Maybe he should just meekly accept what the Haywards had in mind? They were the ones who had been called to serve in this place, he was only an interloper, a volunteer the church said. A sinful man, but repenting. He didn't really belong here. But it just didn't seem right...still. Maybe he should fast tomorrow and ponder on what God wanted him to do. At least he could correct the mistakes made on this pillar, make it stronger and beautiful. That he could do.

A pillar was like the word of God, Strong and Upright, and the foundation for a saint's work. He'd make this a proper foundation. That was the least he could do.

+ + + + + + +

The big visit came two weeks later, Archbishop with entourage in tow. The Archbishop, himself, was a small but powerful man. His entourage reminded Josiah of various movies about the Secret Service. After greeting the parishioners with a little speech of gratitude, the Archbishop told them that he would like to speak with each of them as was convenient before he left. It was obvious that some church politics were in the offing. He closeted himself with the Haywards for several hours. Without it's guest of honor the reception became a gossip circle with the man's entourage off in a corner by themselves. Overtures from the entourage were firmly but seriously rebuffed by the parishioners. They talked amongst themselves rather loudly complimenting the folk responsible for the 'charming' reception. George had received compliments on his beautiful pillar in the chapel. No one knew that Josiah had repaired and replaced it, and George wasn't about to tell anyone. George lapped up the compliments like a cat with milk, and Josiah wasn't about to take that away from him. The man had had little self-esteem when he arrived. Maybe this would help him wish to do a better job.

In two days they'd be having a prayer session to dedicate the new statue of a saint in the chapel. Josiah wasn't in the 'know' so he still wasn't sure which saint would be placed there. His pillar was as beautiful as he could make it, straight and elegant. He'd invested a lot of time in it, only finishing the polishing in the early morning hours. He hoped that the saint would find it an acceptable offering and would intercede for the people of the mission. They could definitely use it. Frowning at the expensive refreshments, Josiah realized that the Haywards had spent a lot on this reception, money that couldn't be easily recovered. Why did people think that they needed to bring out the rare delicacies when they were showing people the way to minister to the homeless? This 'reception' would put the accounts back for months, just by itself. He didn't begrudge the Archbishop a reception, but it would have been better if the parishioners of the church had supplied it, simple dishes from their hearts, not this catered affair from the coffers of the homeless fund. Grace Roberts, one of the volunteers came in to let him know that he had a visitor.

Leaving the reception, Josiah found that it was his friend Nathan Jackson that had come to see him. Jackson was a Detective with the police, an EMT, and a very interesting young man. At the moment he was the only bright spot in Josiah's outlook. Nathan could be a little stiff, but he was a good man with high ideals. It made Josiah feel a little better about the world in general and his life in specific.

Nathan had come to him after the Brinkhurst incident, very angry. It had troubled Josiah that his young friend had been unable to put himself into Brinkhurst's shoes. Jackson had been so sure of the correctness of his 'cause'. Josiah shook his head. It was a tragedy. He'd attended the young man's funeral and met the man's family. It was really very disturbing that Nathan couldn't see the forest for the trees, as it were. He made a note to himself to be there when his friend finally processed the younger detective's death. It would be very upsetting to him.

Perhaps that was what Nathan was here for? He could definitely use a good counseling session with his friend. To feel useful again. He took a moment to run down a mental list of everything that Nathan could possibly need or bring up...

To his intense disappointment, Nathan stayed only a couple of minutes. All the younger man wanted was a list of medical supplies that Josiah thought the mission would need. Nathan was uncomfortable with the mission and had been since the Haywards had taken over. He kept telling Josiah that he didn't want to get him in trouble. It made Sanchez want to scream. Walking Nathan out to his vehicle, Josiah was certain that he had not gotten through to the detective-medic. He needed to be someone.

Retreating into his oldest refuge, the chapel, Josiah was startled to find that he wasn't the only one to seek the sanctuary of church. Kneeling before the altar was one of the Archbishop's entourage, Josiah tried to leave without disturbing the man.

"I believe the chapel is large enough for both of us." The man said with a strange accent. It took Josiah a moment to recognize that his voice was shaded with the tones of French Canada. He'd been there years ago, avoiding a draft that he later answered.

"I'm not intruding?" Josiah asked. He didn't want to interrupt someone else's devotions.

"It is myself that is the intruder, this is where you serve, not I." The man replied and Josiah caught the hint of a smile in his voice.

"Thank you." Josiah said sincerely.

"It's hard when one is driven from his place of safety...or made to regard his sanctuary with apprehension." The man said. He turned from the altar to regard Josiah with a softly measuring look in his blue eyes. Younger than Josiah thought at first, he looked barely old enough to be out of school much less a 'guard' for the Archbishop. Crossing himself in the manner of the Catholic Church, the man rose and walked over to stand by Josiah. He was graceful in his movements, barely making a sound as he moved. His black overcoat was plain except for a small red maple leaf pin. For a moment, a moment only Josiah found himself afraid of what this man saw in him.After a minute of silence, the man nodded as if a question had been answered. Cocking his head towards the alcove, he smiled slightly.

"It appears that the reception is over now. I know that the Archbishop is busy with his interviews. He's a determined man."

"What is he interviewing people about?" Josiah could have bitten his tongue to keep from asking but the question just slid out.

"There are some things that the Mission reports that are in conflict with other reports from the parish. The Archbishop will get to the bottom of it, he's rarely fooled." He gave Josiah a conspiratorial glance. "The Commissioner refers to the Archbishop as a Bull Terrier... with the greatest respect of course." Here he laughed, and Josiah found that he'd almost forgotten the sound. There had been so much bitterness and anger lately.

"Commissioner?" Josiah asked feeling a little lost. In his experience Commissioners did not call Archbishops anything but Sir or Excellency.

"Commissioner Alton of the Force."The younger man was grinning merrily, not at Josiah's discomfiture, but as if he was sharing a private joke.

"The Force?"

"Alton is a Commissioner of the English branch of Le GRC. Gendarmerie royale du Canada."

"You're a Mountie?" Josiah was startled, the man was much too young in his estimation.

"Yes," The younger man laughed. "I cause that reaction often. Believe me, I am of age and of age to serve. Marc-Philippe Emanuel D'Orsay." He extended a hand to Josiah who took it.

"Pleased to meet you." Josiah said automatically. He was a little bewildered by this visitor and with the whole visitation. His world seemed upside down. "Constable?"

Marc laughed. "I haven't been called Constable in a very long time. I am an Inspector."

Josiah blinked. The man was far too young for such a thing, maybe it was he that was too old.

As if reading the older man's slide into melancholy, the young Inspector raised an eyebrow.

"I am much younger than most, because it has pleased Heaven to give me many gifts with which to serve my people. It has been a hard rise to this position I've been honored with, Josiah. I have tracked the darkest passions of mortal men, seen horrors that I would not, could not wish upon anyone. I can not deny my gifts or my duty. Such candles as I burn bright but burn quickly. We each have our tasks, some to burn quickly and some steadily to give light all through the night until the morn. Each has a duty and a place. Age is immaterial. It is the task that must be done and the talents that Heaven grants that we must use." Marc looked at the depressed Josiah. "Your Pillar is a thing of great beauty, it will last for at least a hundred years."

Josiah was startled. How could the man know he'd made the pillar? Before he could come up with a proper response, the younger man rose and walked over to it.

"Much devotion given in what many would say was a small thing. But, few things are actually small."

"I just hope the Saint will find it a worthy gift." Josiah said trying to process what he was feeling.

"He does, but you know that. The Captain, he asked you to build it."

"He? Captain?"Josiah was trying to place the title. The Mountie laughed, a gentle laugh.

"The Captain of the Heavenly Hosts, Friend Josiah. Michael, the Archangel. His excellency has brought a copy of the statue of Michael from his home parish in Canada." Marc cocked his head towards the well wrapped bundle sitting indecorously on one of the poorly made pews. "It is not the typical portrayal of the Archangel, but one dear to the Archbishop's heart."Here Marc frowned at the hastily torn wrapping covering the figure. "Perhaps we should set it in it's place? I do not like even the image of Justice bound." He looked hesitantly at Josiah as if asking permission.

Josiah came over to the pew and gently tore the wrappings from the statue. The Mountie was right, the statue of Michael was unlike anything that he'd ever encountered in his years of wandering. Delicate and finely carved, the statue was backed by a towing oak tree, strangely sheltering. As for the Archangel himself, he wore full plate armor and carried a set of scales in one hand. The other reached Heavenward brandishing a flaming sword. In the scales were a pair of masks precariously balanced in one dish. One mask was bright and rainbow hued, the other black and cracked. His wings were black with an iridescent sheen. Around his neck hung a fine metal chain with a gemstone pendant, and Josiah would swear that the thing was a diamond.

The Archangel's carved face was a wonder, one could feel both the Justice that Michael represented but also Mercy and Protectiveness. At the statue's feet lay a shattered chain with manacles, a book with a torn cover, and under one armored foot was a spiky black snake. It seemed to Josiah that wherever he looked on the statue there were a thousand little details that he'd never seen in any such statue before.

"It is Michael as the Order sees him." Marc explained softly. At Josiah's questioning look, he continued. "Michael, guardian and defender, as the Order calls him. It is the Archangel who shelters the lost, defends the abused, and helps lead one back onto the right path. A potent saint for a chapel for the homeless. Not only Justice but Mercy and Hope."

"The Order?"

"Not monks," Marc laughed. "This is a view of Michael taken a century ago by some members of the Northwest Mounted, the precursor of the R.C.M.P. Only some see him this way."

"You do."

"Yes, I follow him as my Captain. Michael is the defender of Justice and Law, but he is also aware of the foibles of men. He does not Judge, save at Heaven's command. It is to his charge that all mankind is placed, he is our guardian when we are willing to walk as we should, and tries to lead us when we fall. He guards the helpless, the lost sheep until it is returned to the fold..." Marc paused and gave a soft laugh. "One of my Cousins likens him to a sheepdog, the boundless protector serving the Shepherd. I believe it. There is nothing more faithful than a loving hound. Nevertheless, he is our Guardian, as the officers of the Law are in mortal terms. Under his command those granted 'gifts' can reach the four corners of the world. Behind him is the mighty oak tree, a symbol of a miracle from the early part of our Nation's history. Several abused Indian children fled to the local priest seeking protection from their abuser. When none of the people in the surrounding farms would help, the priest led them into the wilderness trying to escape this evil man and his friends. At last they could run no further and took shelter under a great oak tree. It seemed as if they would be lost, they cried to Heaven and a terrifying storm suddenly ripped through the land. None of the people of the farms or their pursuers survived, but the children and the priest were sheltered in the branches of the oak, and all of them reported seeing an angel with a sword in the midst of the tempest.... It's not wise to harm the innocent around Michael of the North." Marc smiled grimly at Josiah. "He seems to have a certain amount of latitude in punishing the guilty up North. It has been seen and survived." Josiah could tell that there was a wealth of witness behind those blue eyes, witness and knowledge. He wanted to ask but was afraid to.

Marc smiled a happier smile and focused on the scales which he could tell had drawn Josiah's interest.

"The scales represent Justice and the weighing of our hearts, a concept that you will encounter in any representation of the Archangel. Here..." He pointed. "These masks tipped in the balance belong to Michael as the maker of illusion, breaker of delusion." Seeing Josiah's confused look, Marc explained.

"Michael often leads one to face the darkest part of one's own choices and past with an illusion. It isn't easy to explain. Think of Mr. Dickens's famous tale. The phantoms were sent to make Scrooge see what he had become, they were not as real as the world sees, only illusion, but they broke Scrooge's delusion of his own 'self-righteousness'. In this way many have been helped to find themselves, their true selves. Dreams, illusion, reality, all have been interwoven together. It is not an easy face of the Archangel to see, but it is perhaps the most worthwhile to encounter. Striping down the self deceits, the selfish parts that will not allow us to choose either wisely or well, this leads to change, good change, such as one finds in therapy. Some consider this title makes Michael the patron of psychology. There are other saints who patron the field of the healing of the mind, but the Captain seems to have a specific touch with those who have suffered great personal trauma or have lost themselves to drugs and alcohol." Here Marc looked at Josiah carefully. "It is a worthy banner, the healing of the mind, the leading of the lost to see clearly."

Josiah examined the statue more closely. "The Serpent seems a little small."

Marc laughed, a bright merry laugh. "No less deadly for it's innocent appearance. Small things can be of greater danger than larger ones, though they seem less of a threat, and believe me the threat is real. The manacles refer both to the Order's history in the aiding of escaping Slaves and the freeing of mankind from bondage. The book, the book is falsehood or false teaching. Much that we are taught is wrong, taking things blindly because someone told us that they were correct is one of the greatest of sins. If you look closely at the book you can see carved into the spine seven great symbols of evil and hatred."

Josiah looked at the book, it did seem that there were symbols there but he couldn't decipher them.

He looked up into the statue's calm face and could see that the artist had been able to capture all of the elements that Marc had described. The young Mountie was watching him intently. A flash of the gemstone drew Josiah's attention to the pendant. The stone was set into the center of an oval, and seven marks were carved, obviously intentionally into the setting.

"Seven goods against seven evils?" Josiah grinned at the younger man.

"Perhaps, but it has yet to be seen." Marc replied calmly and again Josiah had the strange feeling of being measured.

"And the black wings?" Josiah asked feeling a little uncomfortable.

"When the first teachers went North they tried to use Native belief to assist them in teaching Christianity as had been so often done in the past. They mixed up the tales of Raven with the ideas of the Archangel's power. They identified him as a 'trickster-teacher'. For the people it became the norm to depict the Captain with black wings that have in them every colour there is. He is a great many things to a great many people." Marc paused. "I believe that someone is calling for you."

Josiah was startled to hear his name being called. He turned from the statue to the nearest door, but thought to ask Marc to join him. Looking back, he was startled to find the young Mountie was gone.

Going out into the mission, Josiah found Linda Carson looking for him. She was irritated that she'd been called from her duties to go get him. Why couldn't he take care of his friends elsewhere? This was a working mission and he was only a Volunteer. Her complaints led him down the hallways, and many of the other volunteers stuck their heads out of doorways to see them go by. Many of them seemed to agree with Linda. He was just a volunteer and was upsetting the smooth operation of the mission. Josiah was certain that he'd be getting another lecture from Reverend Hayward soon. It was a relief to reach the outer counseling office. Once he opened the door of the 'visitors' room', Josiah was startled to find out who his visitors were. Nathan Jackson was back waiting for him in the mission offices and he'd brought two men with him.

+ + + + + + +

In the mission office, Nathan Jackson excitedly introduced him to Special Agents Christopher Larabee and Buck Wilmington. He'd never seen his young friend so enthusiastic about anything, and not only that, he'd come to Josiah because he needed his help. He was needed again. Apparently, the Agents were having some trouble with a case that they were working on.

As Josiah patiently listened to the explanation of the case surrounding the murder of Theresa Simpson, he studied the men with him. Wilmington looked like a man who had seen dark times, but one whose unfailing optimism had pulled him thorough. He was tall and well built, and moved like a trained soldier. His companion was very different. An obvious Leader, Christopher Larabee wore the signs of grief and rage about him like a cloak. He was in as good a shape as Wilmington, Josiah wouldn't have wanted to take him on in a fight, but there was more to the man. Larabee seemed to be on the edge of greatness, the promise of it whispered powerfully to Sanchez.

In his mind's eye, Josiah saw the statue and felt that Larabee was being called. The feel of it was thick enough to unsettle the older man. He'd looked for visions and omens all his life, now suddenly now when he was too old, too useless, there they were...everywhere.

+ + + + + + +

Over the next few days, omens seemed to dog Josiah's every footstep. It had almost been a relief to be called to the hospital. There had been a shooting and both Federal Agents had been wounded. Sanchez went to the hospital to see them. It was very interesting watching Wilmington in action. None of the nurses seemed to be spared. Larabee on the other hand, was unhappy to be stuck in the hospital at all. His head injury didn't seem so critical to him. Nathan had refused to leave until he knew that both Agents were out of danger and would be released shortly. Finally the Medical Staff had ordered the exhausted Detective-Medic home to rest. Jackson came all the way out to the mission and begged Josiah to come out and sit with the two men. Josiah had grasped at the plea, trying to avoid both the unsettling visions and the rising level of stress as the Archbishop's visit turned to an evaluation of the Haywards and their stewardship. Besides, it was good to be around people who didn't seem intent on blaming him for living...

As Josiah arrived, he caught the tail-end of a conversation that worried him. Harry Selman had come to see him only the day before about Nathan's division. Joseph Two-Deer had even called, worried sick about Nathan's survival as a police officer. Neither man could be considered Nathan's friend and Josiah wondered how bad the situation actually was.

Wilmington was being taken down for some final tests. He was flirting outrageously with his nurse, who seemed to be enjoying it. The roguish Agent had looked at Josiah for a minute as he was wheeled off, his expression one of concern and mild irritation. Josiah wasn't certain what that was all about and he didn't want to deal with it right now. He wanted to see Larabee.

Special Agent Larabee sat in one of the visitors chairs, shifting paperwork to a determined little man. Josiah guessed that he was the Alex Welch that Nathan was certain thought so highly of him. Just from a couple of moments close observation, Agent Welch looked practical and considering. It wouldn't be easy to fool this man, much more so than Larabee at the moment. Larabee was young, still and Welch had years of experience, Josiah guessed. His young friend was in real trouble if the conversation was anything to go by.

After a couple more moments, Agent Larabee looked up at Josiah. Although he didn't smile, Sanchez got the impression that Larabee was very happy to see him.

"Dr. Sanchez, Please come in." Larabee waived him into the room. "Buck will be back in a little, depending on how much he flusters the nurses."

"Thank you, Agent Larabee," Josiah said, uncertain of how to proceed. He'd come to escape his own demons, but now he was highly worried about Nathan's.

"Dr. Sanchez, this is Agent Welch. Alex, this is Dr. Josiah Sanchez. He gave us critical assistance in the Simpson case."

"Dr. Sanchez." Alex Welch held out his hand.

"Josiah, Please. 'Dr. Sanchez' always makes me feel a hundred years old." He shook hands with Agent Welch and sat down in the indicated chair.

"Actually, I'm very glad to see you. You really helped us out with the Simpson case. As a civilian, there isn't much I can do to thank you for your assistance except to give you a certificate. You don't strike me as the certificate kind." Larabee gave him a measuring glance, forcefully reminding him of the young Inspector. Marc's eyes were blue and Larabee's a hazel that tended to be green, but the weight of the gaze was the same.

"I'm worried about Nathan." Josiah said bluntly. He didn't think that Larabee was the kind who enjoyed beating around the bush.

"Why?" Alex Welch began, but Larabee silenced him with a look.

"The bush telegraph is pretty quick around here." Larabee said.

"Is there anything you can do? Nathan's a bit set in his ways, but he's a good man. He's not always willing to see other points of view, but he's young and really doesn't have much real world experience. So much of his time has been taken up with his family and his schoolwork....He's a little too readily influenced by his preconceptions. But he's a good man. With more experience of the world, he would be a strong investigator."

"Several people have told us that." Larabee answered. He looked at Josiah and suddenly Sanchez knew.

"You're going to take him, aren't you. All of this running around, you're keeping him busy and away from the precinct so that he doesn't get hurt by the sweep."

"Got it in one." Larabee looked at him and Josiah shivered slightly under that direct gaze. After several moments of silence, Josiah shifted uncomfortably. On one hand he was very happy for Nathan. He could tell Larabee's protective nature and knew that Nathan would be well cushioned against the situation. They'd probably keep him so busy that he'd never even know about the sweep. That was a good thing, Josiah didn't think that Nathan's 'self-respect' could easily take the shock of what was going on in the precinct. But perhaps Nathan needed to see it, his mind suddenly popped up with. Nathan's causes limited the man's ability to be compassionate. Jackson was always too busy being the man that he thought he should be rather than the man that he really was.

On the other hand, it meant that Josiah would lose the one person in his life that he considered a friend.

Ah, well, he told himself, It would be selfish to wish for Nathan to stay. From what he'd heard, Nathan's situation was very unsteady as it was. The Feds taking him away would only be for the best.

"I've been reviewing your work, Dr. Sanchez." Larabee said. After a moment he corrected himself. "Josiah... Very impressive." He gestured with a manila file folder. Josiah was startled to see clippings of his articles.

Before anything else could be said, Agent Wilmington was wheeled into the room by a big burly orderly. Following the orderly was the Doctor who obviously wanted to discuss discharging the Agent. Josiah used that moment to escape. His head was pounding, Nathan was safe, but why in the world would Larabee be reading his articles?

+ + + + + + +

An uncomfortable afternoon followed. Josiah was ill at ease with the fact that Larabee had gone so far as to investigate his past. There were things about him that he didn't think the Federal Government would be really happy with, but those were years ago. Even worse the omens seemed to be increasing in occurrence and frequency. While watching the mission's children out in the tiny vegetable garden, he was confronted with a circle of crows pecking an old dog almost to death. Without thought he tossed a stone at the crows and watched them lift into the air. Later when the little ones were back with their parents, he watched with amazement as the crows attacked a young raven who had taken shelter in the frame of the back garden gate. The raven was challenged by more than a dozen crows yet would not stop protecting a rag-tag group of weary animals. It alone defended them, the other animals seemed unaware of the crows or their own danger.

One of the animals raised it's head, it was a wolf, but wolves didn't come this far into the city... Josiah was speared by it's intense gaze. He was forcibly reminded of the Agent, Larabee. The intensity of that measuring gaze! The wolf put up it's head and howled, a harsh lonely cry. A large stag and a cat, far too big to be a domestic cat, it was probably a wild cat, but a young one, came at his call. In the shadows behind them Josiah could see the old hound dog that the crows had attacked earlier as well as a tiny bear cub, and a younger wolf, hesitant and unsure. The younger wolf was injured and seemed to fear attack though he could not see the crows. Every time the crows came within striking distance the raven drove them off, until it was too greatly wounded.

"He who stands alone for the right is never truly alone." A soft French accented voice spoke into his ear. He was startled to see the visitor in the shadows. Marc had not been around for several days, and Josiah was beginning to think that he'd imagined the young Mountie in the first place. A harsh caw sounded and Josiah's attention returned to the circling crows. The raven was a ball of fractured feathers, but still it defied the crows.

"For such a tiny one, he seems to have a spirit all out of proportion to his size. Some burn brightly, and quickly out, some take longer to catch fire. He's definitely heard the call of his creation,..." The Mountie paused. "Have you?"

"What do you mean?" Josiah gasped watching the battle to the death.

"You would not have built the pillar if you did not hear the Captain's call. He's been whispering in your ear. The Haywards and the rest of the crows have been pecking at you, Josiah. You are not weak nor are you too old. There is a task that you have been waiting for. A destiny. He sent you a Leader. Will you answer his call?"

"Answer? I have no where to go." Josiah turned away from the combat and started to explain.

"My Kinsman sent me here to speak with you. The weight on your spirit, this so called penance that you have imposed upon yourself. This was not meant to be. Though you have built this place, you are not meant to stop here. There is something greater out there if you would take hold of it." In the sunshine the Raven hissed his defiance of the crows. Marc paused. "He is weakening. There is only so much one can do alone." Josiah watched in horror as the crows set upon the dog and the raven, broken and battered, rose up to do battle.

Josiah grabbed hold of one of the garden tools and rushed at the conflict. Before he could reach the animals, three other ravens rose from the other three directions and helped the wounded one drive off the crows and then returned to their places. The wounded bird lay down next to the dog which licked his wounds. The raven seemed to tolerate it with 'good humor'. Hesitantly, the other animals began to gather around the pair. Hissing a little, the raven allowed the wolf to nuzzle at him. Responding with a growl, the wolf lay down and the other animals flocked around them.

Josiah turned around to look at Marc. The young Mountie had a smile on his face.

"Destiny Josiah. It will take a lot of work, effort and some pain. Would it be worth it? That's for you to decide. He drew out a necklace from his pocket. It had a heavy chain and a large metal pendant, a medallion. On one side Josiah could plainly see an engraved image of the Archangel, as the 'Order' saw him. "This," Marc said, "This is the medal of the Order of Michael, Guardian and Defender. Many have taken their vows and walked away to attend to what the world demanded of them, and that only forgetting the rest. Others kept their vows, accepting sacrifice and even death to fulfil their duty and obligation. Where 'gifts' are given, it is the duty and privilege of the 'gifted' one to use them for the sake of the people. It's sometimes hard. My sister, her husband, and their family were lost that others might live." He gave a pensive, recollective smile. "My brother-in-law was a Mountie of the most amazing courage and dedication. He worked with men who grew to equal his faith in the Law and Hope for a better world. They all lost their lives. Does this mean that all that they worked for, that all that they suffered was in vain? No. They answered the call, and by doing so saved more lives than you can imagine. The results of that dedication will reach generations that haven't even been born. Yet their loss is hard to bear." Marc turned over the medal and showed Josiah the inscription on the back.

Josiah read the words with a sense of awe and of growing purpose. 'Michael, Prince of Angels, Guardian of Mankind, Defender of the Helpless, Justice and Mercy. Fly, Fly before the Throne of Heaven and plead for me, My Captain. Guide my steps that I may walk uprightly before the world in all places. Help me to Judge with wisdom and compassion, to see beyond the confines of my vision. Lead me, that I may bring Law and Justice wherever I walk. Aid me in my dark hours and help me to overcome my weakness. Strengthen my arm that I may be the shield of the defenseless, the sheltering oak for the hunted, the safe place for the abused. Grant thy aid and pleas that I shall walk uprightly before Heaven and that when my Vows are fulfilled that I will Stand, and when Life is done that I may Ride.' Around the edges of the medal where initials: BF, MTF, CF, EF, RV, SCV, MBV, ASV, FMV, RIV, and SRK.

'My family." Marc said softly. He turned the medal over. On the side with the Archangel there were other initials, SGF, RDBF, PED, HD, MWK, LPK, and the date 1883. "This was my brother-in-law's before me. I am honored to carry it into the future." He put the necklace back into his pocket. "I know that you are afraid. Fear is a potent weapon, Josiah, but one can overcome it. There isn't much time. Will you answer?"

"I'm too old," Josiah sighed.

"He doesn't think so. The Captain obviously does not think so. He wouldn't have called to you if you were 'too old'. You still have all of your strength and you have the wisdom you have gained. These have been waiting for a Leader who has need of them. He's come and it's time. My Kinsman said that you were the most difficult to convince of all of those summoned to this destiny. You've spent your whole life looking for signs and wonders and now that you have them you don't want to believe them. It has been made plain to you, my friend. The time is now." Marc looked at him a little sadly. "I do not have much longer to spend in this place. My summons came a long time ago and I've never truly regretted it. There have been dark moments and great sorrows, but I have never been alone, even when it seemed so." He paused, looking at something beyond Josiah's vision.

Outside the garden gate, two shadows lingered at the edge of the late afternoon sunshine. Marc frowned for an instant and then turned to Josiah. Those bright blue eyes seemed to hold the weight of the world in their depths. Sanchez found he couldn't turn away from the gaze. Finally, Josiah covered his face with his hands and turned away. His attention was captured by movement from one of the people lurking outside of the mission garden. He rose clutching the garden hoe he'd intended to use on the crows but Marc gripped hold of his elbow. For such a small man, his grip was iron-hard.

"No, Josiah, no! It is not for you they wait. Do not provoke them."

"I won't let them kill you!" Josiah hissed. He didn't know how he knew but he knew that those men intended murder.

"I am not afraid," Marc answered softly. Josiah turned to him in angry incomprehension. "I do not believe that the thread of my life has run out...but if it has, I do not fear death knowing that there is world beyond it. Some times we are required to walk empty handed into the place of our enemies. Destiny can sometimes use a heavy hand in dealing with those called to answer it."

"Yet you ask me to answer mine?" Josiah countered.

"It is not the answering that makes death sure, it is the fact that we are mortal, Friend Josiah. All men die, it is our nature. When and where is our choice. I choose to Stand. At this or any hour it is required of me. I chose long ago not to live a useless life, empty because of my fear...believe me Josiah, I have had reason to fear! I felt the call you now feel. I fought just as much as you are fighting now. 'I'm too young, I can't do it, I'm scared.' I told myself all of those things. But I could not let those who needed me, needed what I could do,...I could not let them suffer. There is much to be done that only you can do. The Captain has called, your Leader is here to summon you. Will you answer?" Marc looked at him with an expression of great determination. It was now or never.

"If he wants me, he's got me," Josiah said finally.

"Oh he wants you, my friend. He wants you. Even now I know that he's arguing with his oldest friend to keep you. But Buck Wilmington is wrong. You need a second chance too. You've felt as if life had passed you by. Live now, Josiah Raul Sanchez, and live Well." Marc smiled and then stiffened. Josiah followed his gaze to see a Mountie in full dress uniform, with a heavy silver necklace around his neck, standing in a patch of late afternoon sunlight.

The Mountie didn't speak but walked soundlessly to Marc and placed a gold coin onto his outstretched palm. Marc gave a little sigh and nodded his head. Josiah turned to him in question and in an eye-blink the other Mountie had vanished.

"What is it?" Josiah asked. The expression on the younger man's face was unsettling.

"A Polar Angel." Marc said, holding up the coin. He gripped it in his hand and brought the fist to his lips in an instinctive gesture. Giving Josiah another faint smile, he led the way into the chapel.

Genuflecting towards the altar, Marc walked to the statue of Michael, though his eyes seemed to be on something beyond his sight. "It shall be as you command. I am ready if this is asked of me." He took the coin and moved toward the poor box. Josiah moved to intercept him.

"If you put that in there, it'll never reach the homeless, Hayward will take it for himself.!" Josiah was startled when the Mountie laughed.

"Polar Angels have a way of taking care of themselves, Friend Josiah. Don't worry." Marc slid past the larger man and dropped the coin in the box. He patted Josiah on the arm. "Courage, my friend, courage." Walking back toward the altar, Marc knelt and crossed himself as a Catholic would. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our deaths." Josiah went cold.

"You just going to let them kill you?" He demanded, trying to keep hold of his massive anger. This wasn't right. You didn't just let yourself be killed....

"It hasn't been decided yet. I will struggle for every last breath. I am not throwing my life away, but I will not surrender what they have come to seek." He looked at Josiah. "More lives than mine have been lost for the sake of this charge. I will Stand."

Both men were distracted by a loud argument coming from inside the mission behind them. The inner Chapel door swung open and a group of men poured into the sanctuary. Josiah recognized Nathan and the two federal Agents, Larabee and Wilmington, and then Alex Welch. The other men he did not recognize. Larabee paused in the middle of the discussion and noticed Marc. "Sorry, Didn't know that we were interrupting." He said, giving Marc an assessing look. Wilmington barely glanced at the Mountie, but Nathan was confused. Jackson gave Marc a very curious expression.

"You aren't. My friend and I were just finishing. Take care, Josiah." The Mountie gripped Josiah's arm gently. "Take care and do not get trapped in delusions. Do not judge others easily, and remember that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than you can imagine, much less Dream of." He slid his hand into Josiah's and shook it. "Be well, My Friend. Give my greetings to my Kinsman when you meet him." The others resumed their conversation. Josiah gasped at the look on the younger man's face. There was peace and determination there. Sanchez glanced back toward the altar, feeling the tie between his visitor and his Captain. "What is destiny?" Marc whispered gently.

The Mountie turned toward the chapel's street door. A sense of will and of purpose intensified until it seemed to permeate the entire sanctuary. Josiah could feel the building pressure as the evil outside waited. Larabee had turned away from the discussion and was looking at Marc with concern. Giving the Agent a smile and making the sign of a blessing, D'Orsay turned back towards Josiah.

"The Crows have their pecking order in this place. You do not belong here, to be pecked to death, to be pushed aside and your abilities wasted. Please Josiah. You said you would go if he wanted you. He does. In spite of visitors and visitations, in spite of the past, in spite of that murder of crows out there, choose Josiah. Please take the hand offered to you."

"But what about you? Those men..."

"Peace Josiah. Don't concern yourself with them. Concentrate on what is being asked of you. Destiny can lead you to this end or that. It's always your choice and your judgement. Larabee's here for you. He's protecting your friend. He needs you as well. My friend, please." Marc's voice was soft and full of pleading.

As they spoke near the doorway, Josiah could see Larabee and Nathan both becoming more interested in his conversation than in the argument that they'd arrived with. Nathan was staring at Marc with confusion. Larabee was staring with concern. Josiah tried to get their attention, he didn't want the men outside to murder the young Mountie.

Larabee was starting to move towards them. He was a man who would protect, Josiah knew it from the very first. He was protecting Nathan from a few home truths that would devastate him, and he didn't have to. He could have just taken Nathan on, in spite of the reality of what had happened in Jackson's home precinct, but he hadn't wanted the man to suffer. No, Larabee would protect what was 'his' and he'd protect anyone placed in his hands. Josiah turned to try to implore the Agent's help, but felt Marc's grasp slip away.

For a second he blinked then realized that the younger man had taken the opportunity to slide out through the door. Josiah looked desperately around. In an instant Larabee was beside him.

"That kid's in trouble isn't he?" The Agent asked.

"He's a Mountie,...There are some men who've been lurking outside the mission. I think that they're out to get him. I don't know why he wouldn't stay....Maybe he's trying to protect us from them. Agent Larabee, we've got to help him."

Both men burst through the door to the street. Larabee had drawn his weapon. On the street outside there was no sign of anyone. Holstering his gun, the Agent looked at Josiah in confusion.

"Where could he have gone?" The street didn't have many hiding places, although the sun was setting.

"I don't know." Josiah looked about hoping against hope to see that black raincoat, or any other sign of the Inspector. A shape on the concrete steps caught his eye. Reaching down, he picked up a feather, far too long to be any bird's. It was black and shimmered with a light iridescence.

The black feather was warm to Josiah's touch. In his ear he could hear a soft whisper of "Destiny".


Continues in Under Pressure