Nowhere to Go

by Q'Mar

Notes: Rules and Regulations can be a real Pain!

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!

Note: Thank you to all of you who kept emailing me about the series and this story in particular. It's taken a long time to get it done. I appreciate the comments and suggestions very much even though Mundane life and specific problems have not rendered me able to respond to the emails I've received.

Some lines from the series script, Pilot/The Ghosts of the Confederacy

And now Ezra, Finally. The last Deep Breath before the Plunge.

Atlanta, F.B.I. Department of Missing Persons, July 1998, Parking Terrace

Ezra P. Standish sighed. Peter Collier was waiting beside the elevator with a grim expression on his face. The man was at least a foot shorter than Ezra who was barely 'normal' height, but the determined look on his face made him seem seven feet tall.

"What the Hell are you doing here, Ezra?" Collier demanded.

It was going to be one of those kind of days. Maybe he shouldn't have gotten out of bed today, but he had to come in and work, no matter what Little Peter thought of it. The task had to be finished no matter what the personal cost.

However, sometimes he wished that he could have spent more time in the relative luxury of the hospital bed he'd left that morning.

Denver, Rout Federal Building, Eleventh Floor, RMETF Seven office, Office Hours

JD leaned back in his chair, tipping it dangerously and asked "What asks no questions but demands an answer?" He looked around. Josiah was busy on the computer, studiously ignoring

him. Nathan shook his head and kept reading his in-box notes. Buck was shooting paperclips across the room at their newest member, Vin Tanner. Tanner was grinning in a way that boded no good for Buck. Vin had only been on the team a short while but they'd found that he was an incredible practical joker.

"I'll give, Kid." Buck sighed. "What is it?"

" A Doorbell." JD had to laugh as all of the other members of his team groaned in unison.

Chris Larabee came out of his office and gave a slight head shake at the idleness of his team. He wasn't fooled by Josiah and his computer, the older man was busy reading some online comic that he'd grown fond of. Sometimes Larabee wished that he'd never detailed JD to teach Josiah to use the Web. The Federal Government tracked all the sites accessed by every agent to make sure that they were using Government time well. Josiah's choices had raised some eyebrows, but the wily older man had given them a rambling explanation involving at least three major watchwords and half a dozen concepts that the IT trackers had no clue about.

The profiler's wanderings no longer raised eyebrows, but Larabee knew damn well that they'd been snowed and snowed well.

Nathan's constant distractions set Larabee off on a different tangent. If Josiah was his mistake as Buck so often warned, Nathan was Buck's. There were days when Chris was glad to have Nathan on his team. Certainly his team was the only one in the new RMETF that had it's own medic. Larabee wasn't sure that was a good sign. But Nathan had an attitude that he always had to have the Moral high ground. Chris often wondered if he should transfer Nathan to the lab or somewhere else that his self perceived superiority wouldn't cause major conflicts. Already he'd had to field complaints from five different department heads about Nathan's behavior.

It was really odd. Most days Nathan was amusing to be around, but when he felt wronged the medic was a powerfully annoying man. It was almost like dealing with two people in one body. The one, gentle and caring, the other a real pain in the ass.

The two that should have been mistakes, Vin Tanner and JD Dunne were fitting in like they'd never belonged anywhere else. Larabee watched over both protectively. He'd backed off Appley from IT about JD's systems and forced a degree of freedom for Vin that he'd never have done for anyone else. JD needed a place to be needed, and Tanner, well Vin, was more than a good agent, he was Chris's chosen successor. The younger man had all the abilities that Chris could wish for, in spite of his odd handwriting. He had gifts, and Chris wasn't sure if he could nurture them, but at least he could protect the younger man.

Larabee worried that in protecting Tanner as he did, that his oldest friend Buck was feeling alienated. He tried to spend time with Buck separate from the team, but it was hard. Vin had many different gifts, some Gifts and some needs. Chris knew that without a safe haven those talents might be lost and need would drive Tanner into something he couldn't come back from.

Heaven knew that Chris Larabee had seen enough of his kind destroyed without being slain. Vin Tanner wasn't going to be one of them.

Stapleton Airport, Denver, next day

Chris watched Vin's unease. He'd made sure that Buck was okay before he'd given the order to have the Team's sharpshooter accompany him on this expedition. However he hadn't explained it to Vin to see if the younger man could connect the dots. For all Buck's laize-faire attitudes, Chris trusted him to keep the Team on an even keel until it's C-O was back in the office. Unless there was a woman involved, Buck Wilmington was as steady as anyone could ask for.

"Chris, are you sure that this is a great idea?" Vin asked, unsure. For some reason he'd been detailed to go with Larabee to investigate a possible new agent, the all-important missing undercover agent. Wouldn't Buck have been a better choice?

Vin felt Chris watching him, he didn't have to look. His Leader was amused by his reactions. Okay, Tanner, calm down. Larabee was a cunning thing, well suited to his role in the food chain. What was he testing Vin for now? Oh yes, this was a test. There was a certain droop to Larabee's left eyelid that said he was watching without being obvious. It was scary how well he could read this man. Old Grey Fox had known what he was doing when he pushed them together. This was truly where he belonged, at Larabee's side.

Vin worried a little about Buck Wilmington. He knew the two men were close, and department scuttlebutt had been precise about how close they were. No one on the team mentioned Sarah Larabee. What agony Chris had to have been under to lose both mate and child. Vin had gotten one of the helpful secretaries to leave the cabinets alone for a little while. Picking the lock had been easy; Larabee's file had been hard. So much pain all written down in black and white. How the others had found out, Vin didn't know and didn't really care as long as no one added to the pain his Team Leader carried.

A couple of weeks ago there had been a disruption in Vin's New World. A man had arrived and been greeted as Captain Phillips, but Vin knew quite well that that wasn't his real name. Old memories had been dredged up, memories of the last place that he'd thought was Home and how it had been taken away. The so- called Captain had been a good man, and Vin was sure that he hadn't come to endanger Larabee but it was hard to see him.

Tanner had kept to himself in the man's company, even after they'd gone to the Saloon to have dinner and drinks. 'Phillips' had acknowledged Vin's scrutiny with a gesture that said he was on the job. Why Senior Military and NSA wanted Chris Larabee to take on an undercover agent was a little beyond Vin's scope. He wasn't sure what was toward in this matter, but was willing to take the world with a bag of salt if that's what it took. The Captain who wasn't a Captain had never been treacherous in the old days, but Vin worried about the RMETF being drawn into the Game.

Most of the conversation surrounded shared memories and an old friend who'd transferred to NIS, now NCIS. Some Marine that Buck swore had drunk both Chris and himself under the table. The war stories had been pretty bizarre. Who in the world built a boat in a basement without a door? And all the tales about red-heads... Vin had laughed hard and long. But there was some uneasiness that Vin read as the Marine having a similar reason to Chris's reasons for joining the RMETF. Too many soft targets taken, Vin sighed to himself. It was always the innocent who died and left the survivors in a long-term agony.

Leaving aside both the issue of why they were being directed to this particular undercover agent and Larabee's old friend Gibbs, Vin considered the man watching him. Larabee was testing him. Trying to see if he could figure the situation out. So, Why not Buck?

Atlanta, Department of Missing Persons, Same Day

Ezra Standish hid his amusement. It was a black humor and his Superiors wouldn't get the joke even though they were the joke. He'd been screamed at in front of all of the agents on duty by old Montague, the Area Director. His direct boss, James Westerfield had been more restrained, but there was a desperation there. Neither man knew what Standish would do. Both were dirty and almost everyone in the department was either involved or aware. No one acted, no one except this stubbornly determined man who wasn't even sure who he was anymore.

Westerfield had not re-assigned him to Andy Duart's tender mercies. Ezra mentally shivered, giving no outward sign of his abhorrence for his assigned partner. It was enough that his boss was still furious that Ezra had refused to reveal the information he wanted without dragging his psychopath of a partner further into this. They'd tortured Ezra for days, and Westerfield didn't dare have any other injuries occur that might show to a non-bribable Senior Agent that Standish's recent hospital stay had nothing to do with any of the active cases in the Division. Not even for the fortune that their Patron showered upon them would James Westerfield push the issue to where it could all come out. His fear of exposure was compounded by Montague's failure to realize how close to the edge they'd pushed the situation already.

Standish ignored both men with a coldness only an emotionless mask would permit. The hours were clicking down. Soon this Division would be cleaned up and Ezra Standish's oldest enemy would be one more group of allies short. It had taken years but the steps were in place. Soon this assignment would be over and he'd go back to being himself, whoever that was. Peter was right, it was time he took some time off, at least to grieve.

The ghosts of the men he'd commanded and failed never left him. Westerfield and Montague thought that there was little harm in selling anything for the right price. A price that had been too high for far too long. There was a Reckoning and it would come soon.

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Westerfield was watching him with worry and not a little fear, Standish noticed. They thought that he had it in his hand to bring them under investigation which would disrupt their agreements for a time. Neither of the local power brokers had any idea that he'd been brought to Atlanta by their Treason, nor did they have any idea who he really was. If they had, they'd have never risked touching him.

They'd only seen a stumbling block, something to be broken, by force if required. There was no force that these men could apply that would have bent Ezra to their will, but they didn't know that. Hell, these were the stupidest bunch of traitors he'd ever hunted down. His file, before Westerfield had the bright idea of modifying it to show him as a dirty agent, was full of errors in his existing cover. Those errors, if examined would have led to the identification of Ezra P. Standish's real identity. After all, there was only one person to survive the Hell on Earth that had been Three Rivers.

That one man had several other names, several identities, and all of them Deadly.

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Green eyes narrowed in a pale face that was so expressionless that it could have been carved of stone. Westerfield was going to dance around the elephant. Every agent in the room and most of the agents in this division were well aware of what had been done and why.

All of them had agreed, actively or passively, to what had been done. Now they were reaping a harvest of uncertainty. Why was he here in the office acting as if nothing had happened? Acting as if the men who had beaten, damaged, cut, and burned him were nothing to him at all. Cadiz had whispered the idea that Standish had amnesia, that he didn't remember.

By afternoon, it was the prevailing theory. They were fools thinking that. Ezra P. Standish of the many names remembered every second.

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Westerfield had been trying to figure out what to do. His worry had increased instead of lessened. He'd overridden Montague's attempt to hand Standish back over to Duart. The enormity of their danger was pressing on him. Ezra Standish, son of an arrogant con-woman, had seemed like a good prospect to turn. Never wanting to get his hands dirty. They'd never dreamed that the annoying little bastard was granite, and as hard to break as a diamond.

He wasn't going to push it any further. Sufficient to his purpose was to try to load Ezra with problems and make it look like the man was dirty or incompetent. He'd primed the Division with rumors, but most agents knew the score. They'd responded beautifully with harassment, rumor-mongering, and damage. It should have destroyed anyone completely...

Still Standish stood, alone, but unbroken and unbowed.

Atlanta Airport Terminal, Same Day

Arriving in Atlanta had been slightly rough. Apparently Vin Tanner had a problem with being in closed in spaces for a long period of time. Chris Larabee ruefully added extreme claustrophobia to his listing of things to know about his sharpshooter. It was becoming a very long list.

Chasing Tanner was not something that Chris was willing to do right now. Sending the stir-crazy man to the luggage carousels to pick up their bags, Larabee arraigned for a taxi. Giving himself a moment to stretch, Chris found himself a little ill at ease. Captain Phillips was a member of his father's staff and he'd known him for his whole life. There was never a time when Phillips wasn't a part of it. All of that background gave Larabee an edge in reading the man. Phillips really wanted this, really wanted to have Chris take on this specific undercover agent.

It was unusual for the military to be so interested in a Federal Agent, especially the Undercover kind. F.B.I rarely worked out of the country, and this Standish was part of the Bureau. Though reading through the polite fictions in the file Phillips had given him, Standish's background seemed a little more interesting than the average Agent's jacket ran. The large amount of blacked out pages hinted at more than one reason for a senior General assigned to NSA to take an interest in one lone agent.

Standish, the name rang a faint bell in Larabee's mind. Something, long forgotten, hovered in the back chambers of his brain like an itch that he couldn't scratch. Oh well. He didn't feel like Standish was a negative memory so he'd go with it.

Vin came back with their bags and all but loaded the taxi for the driver. Chris watched him pace like he had the proverbial ants in the pants. Tanner was definitely stir-crazy maybe just plain crazy. A smirk slipped out and quirked up one corner of Larabee's mouth.

Tanner glared back.

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The taxi ride was uneventful, both agents watching the scenery go by without much interest. Passing by the fair avenues of Atlanta, both men felt uncharacteristically somber. It was a mood that had been growing on them since the airport. They felt disturbed in some way that they couldn't name.

"If'n you're done smirkin' Boss-man. I got a question." Tanner spoke quietly to avoid the Taxi driver hearing him.

"What's up, Cowboy?" Chris retorted, they'd reached a compromise. If Tanner called him any form of Boss-man Larabee could respond with Cowboy. It was getting to be quite a gag, but woe betide anyone else who attempted to use either nickname.

"Jist this," Vin said, his Texas accent coming to the fore. "Why would Mispers need an undercover agent?"

Chris laughed softly, but it fell flat without any real humor in it.. There was a lot more to this mission to Atlanta than even Vin knew.

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For some reason the Atlanta Federal Station set Chris's nerves on alert from the moment he saw it. Vin seemed to be feeling the same way. Both men were battle ready without any obvious reason for what they were feeling.

Odd things stood out almost as soon as they entered the Missing Persons Division. Some of the agents had the standard Federal swagger, the one that meant that the agent in question was an idiot but was prepared to roll all over you to prove his superiority, other agents saw them and seemed to withdraw. Chris's instincts went to an even higher alert when several agents couldn't meet his gaze without dropping their own. Perhaps in shame? What was going on? This place was wrong, somehow poisonous.

He felt rather than saw Vin ready to back any play he might make. The tension was like a heavy blanket smothering them. There was nothing that Larabee could put his finger on, but this place was very very bad. He'd been more at ease in the middle of a twenty-man shoot out with the most sadistic drug dealers in Denver and that was helping those idiots in DEA. As much as he hated to be under another department's lead, he'd rather be there right now than in this noxious environment.

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Meeting Standish's boss, James Westerfield didn't lessen the venomous atmosphere at all. Westerfield was a heavy set older man with petty time server stamped all over him. Normally that kind of oily bureaucrat only made Chris annoyed. At the moment he really wanted to pull his gun and shoot the man outright. The feelings were overwhelming. Why did he hate this man immediately?

Beside him he could sense Tanner's shuffling. Vin didn't seem to like this man any more than Larabee did. Chris' defensive hackles raised, but he couldn't see an immediate cause. Listening to such warnings, however, was second nature. Treat this as enemy territory, he told himself and knew that Vin was doing the same.

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James Westerfield just about had a heart-attack on the spot. Larabee, Chris Larabee, that wacko from Denver had just arrived in his office with patent orders permitting him to ask Standish to transfer to Denver. Did he know? Had Standish somehow set this up?

Was Larabee aware of Westerfield's double-dealing? Chris Larabee was one man that Westerfield was terrified of finding out his indiscretions. The rumor mill had come east with SAC Taylor, now stationed in Washington D.C. and Larabee was known to be a dangerous man. Besides, wasn't he General Larabee's son?

Swearing viciously, but silently, Westerfield tried to figure out how to convince them not to take his problem child, at least not until he'd broken and destroyed Standish.

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After listening to forty minutes of Westerfield trying to tell Larabee what to do, Tanner's attention had wandered. The fat greasy man in front of them was sweating like a marathon runner. Vin wondered what the man wanted to keep under wraps. He'd done a stint in the Marshals and was familiar with middle mangers that had screwed up. To amuse himself, Tanner began staring at the man, cataloguing the details of the expensive outfit Westerfield wore. It was something to do.

Besides a man with the ego to wear a belt with a buckle that would make most bronco jocks stare was food for a little upset. Gazing at the man with a blank expression seemed to enhance Westerfield's unease. Good. The older man began twisting the ends of his grey mustache. He was sweating literal buckets, the signs showing on the jacket of his light linen suit. Tanner began staring at the fancy belt buckle with it's swooping W and the delicate Art Deco background. The thousand-mile stare made Westerfield even more nervous.

Nervous enough to make a mistake. Not able to find a way around the stare and the glare, James Westerfield had his secretary call Agent Standish into the office.

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Agent Standish was not exactly what Vin was expecting. A closed cold face with green eyes that seemed to burn with a fire that was unquenchable. This was no mere undercover agent. Power crackled all around him and Tanner shivered feeling a suppressed rage that weighted the air like being underwater. Standish was not a man to be trifled with and he was very angry.

Vin hesitated to bring that wrath down on himself and Chris. This was no small thing that they were asking of a man who was already pushed beyond his limits. Watching Standish closely he could see the tale tell signs of exhaustion. Fatigue didn't seem to have slowed the man down, but this undercover agent was at the end of his rope and it was fraying fast. The fat idiot of a middle manager was droning on and on not even explaining what the two RMETF agents were doing there.

Again Vin asked himself what F.B.I. Missing Persons needed with an undercover agent.

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Westerfield mumbled something about having a later meeting with Ezra Standish as he had work that his undercover agent needed to complete first. Standish turned and looked at his boss with a face so impassive that the Senior Agent flinched. The rumor mill might have decided that Standish was too afraid or had amnesia, but Westerfield had seen worse than his death in that non-expression and he was terrified. Somehow this had to be controlled before it got completely out of hand. Before Standish told Larabee what was happening to him in Atlanta. Before the world turned inside out.

The senior Agent hadn't counted on this when he'd decided to make a little extra cash by letting some unimportant information go. He'd not counted on the other 'sales' until he was in too deep to get out and his partners let him see all of their available wares. It was too late to be horrified by the depth of the depravity his fellow entrepreneurs had sunk to. There was no way out. They were hanging on the edge and there was no place to go but over it.

They should never have touched Standish, not in a million years. Too bad he'd ignored his own intuition and let Montague and Andy have free reign.

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Chris Larabee didn't like what he was seeing. The younger Agent, Standish, was almost militarily correct in his posture, but his body was almost ready to give out on him. He could feel the palpable Fear that the man kept hidden behind his unchanging expression. The overwhelming terror and the heavy burden of suppressed fury had come as an unwelcome surprise to Larabee. He'd come to find an agent, but this man was in danger. Every sense that Larabee had was screaming to get him out of there.

Although he wanted to grab Standish and just get out, he had to take his cue from the younger man. The emotions were suppressed because there was something undone, something not finished. Larabee swore a blue streak in his own mind, not willing to give voice to his own anger when Standish was struggling so hard to keep his own in check.

Westerfield had better have asbestos underwear, because when this was over, Chris was going to kick his ass though the Doleful Gates. 'All hope abandon' was going to be the idiotic bureaucrat's motto when Larabee finished with him.

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James Westerfield tried not to shiver as he kept the conversation inane. Larabee was watching him with a predator's gaze, almost as cold as Standish's own. Making foolish excuses he tried to redirect the conversation. Somehow he knew that the younger SAC was not impressed and not fooled by his actions. There was going to be Hell to pay for the Division's secrets. If he could just keep Larabee out of the loop...

Interruption came from an unexpected source as Nichols from NSA requested that he come upstairs for a meeting. He ordered Standish to resume his duties and told the visiting agents that they'd have to return tomorrow. Westerfield never saw the very slight movement on Standish's face that might have been the shadow of a smirk, he was too worried about what NSA wanted. After all, Montague had some men in Operations, some in Mispers, some in Accounting, and some in OPR, but NSA was not only clean it was a major threat. If the fact that Montague was siphoning off official secrets out of the NSA's office by the back door was found out, what had been done to Standish would be mild compared to what would happen if NSA's SAC, Mackenzie, got a hold of them.

Almost shoving Standish back toward his desk, Westerfield just about ran over Peter Collier, the NSA clerk. He brushed past him, headed for the NSA bullpen, not noticing the look that passed between his problem child and the unassuming four-foot and a half foot tall clerk.

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Standish looked at the two agents abandoned in Westerfield's wake. They were unsure of the situation, and Standish didn't know what to make of them. He hadn't even been introduced. The tall younger agent had long brown hair, far beyond regulation, and wore a buckskin jacket with tribal designs. Sioux, Comanche, and Kiowa, if he didn't miss his guess. The face with it's bright blue eyes seemed familiar but he couldn't place it.

More remarkable was the other man, dressed all in black. Ezra P. Standish knew who he was, there was no way that he could avoid knowing. Did Christopher Larabee know who Ezra was? Did the older Agent remember? No that wasn't possible, that was another life. Still Larabee looked at him with concern and worry. Could he possibly remember?

For the first time a very demanding life, Ezra P. Standish felt uncertain.

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Penhall, one of Westerfield's toadies came up to break up any chance of conversation between Standish and the two men. Both of them took it with an ill grace that told Standish that if his assignment hadn't been about to end, spectacularly, these two men would create the same effect without the official clearances. Oh joy, it was going to be a fireworks show. Whose were going to be the brightest? Ezra wondered. Peter Collier was looking at the men with curiosity on his open appearing face. A wink, cued for Peter's eyes only, told the smaller man that his commander knew what he was doing and that these men were not to be considered part of the situation. Heaven only knew how many innocents were going to be caught up in this sting.

Neither Penhall, nor any of Westerfield's other cronies could prevent Larabee from pulling out his card. With a commanding look, Larabee handed Standish the rectangle of cardboard.

"No matter what's going on here, you don't have to put up with this. Think about it. I always answer the phone." Larabee's hazel eyes were the only soft things in his expression. Apparently the great Stone face was an ability that they both shared.

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Ezra's duty, as he watched Penhall try to bully Larabee out of the office, was to stay quiet for just a little while longer. That was the official line, but he rather thought that Akins and his man, Mackenzie would be screaming bloody murder when they found out just what had happened to him. Little Peter was only keeping his mouth shut because Ezra had ordered it. There were reasons for the silence that even Peter Collier didn't know. The waiting was almost over, in more ways than one.

Sometimes the Duty and the Obligation were an absolute bitch. And sometimes they were Heaven's greatest gift. Which would this one be?

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Larabee did not like what he'd seen in Atlanta. The pathetic attempts of Westerfield's agent to intimidate him would have made him laugh in other circumstances. Agent Penbrain or was that Peabrain had tried to force Standish to relinquish Chris' card, but Standish had side stepped the whole thing. Penhall? Whoever the thickheaded idiot was, he had taken the card, but from Standish's look, Chris knew that the man had memorized the phone numbers.

If the man wanted rescue he'd get it. The stink of wrongness was shrieking in Larabee's mind and both he and Vin were reacting to it. All that garbage in the personnel file that Westerfield had shown him didn't match the jacket Captain Phillips had given him. Someone wanted the agent to stay in Atlanta.

Chris Larabee wasn't about to let that happen.

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There had been little the two agents could do since Westerfield's boss, Area Director Montague had withdrawn the so- called friendly welcome because his agents were busy. Larabee had given the older man a steady glare and was rewarded with shock and fear.

What the Hell was wrong with Atlanta?

He'd checked himself and Tanner into a local hotel. They had dinner in the hotel restaurant rather than wander in town. If there was something going on, and he was sure that there was, then it might not be particularly safe for the two of them in a city they didn't know.

At least the room had two beds. The last time he'd had to do an out of town he'd had to take JD with him to Albuquerque, and there had been only one bed. Dunne wiggled like a two-year-old on a candy high.

At least there was no one asking how one got a mouse to smile or some other dumb joke.

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Chris tossed in an endless nightmare, things were happening that weren't true. His men weren't dead. Nothing made any sense. All he could remember was a pair of bright green eyes in a pale stone face and the hidden pain behind it. Everything was confusion.

The light clicked on and brought him to full awareness.

"Chris?" Vin Tanner asked, his voice soft but full of concern.

"I'm okay." Chris roused himself enough to respond. "Just a nightmare. Everything's alright."

"Okay." Vin said, but then he added. "If you hire Baker to work with us, Cowboy, I'll shoot you myself."

Chris sat up and stared at the younger man. Tanner's eyebrow quirked up in response almost like Mr. Spock on Star Trek. "What the Hell are you talking about?"

"I hate to tell you this, Larabee, but you talk in your sleep. A body can't get much rest with you saying that everybody's dead and that Baker took the team out. It must have been one hell of a nightmare."

"It was." Larabee shivered.

Even as he dealt with the aftermath of the terror his dream engendered, he kept feeling that overwhelming Fear that didn't belong there. Standish might not have shown it in an open way but the man was terrified, he stank of that fright but hadn't openly shown his emotions.

The smell of that terror was like a goad in Larabee's side. He'd already looked up Standish in the phone book trying to find a number. The phone number listed in the man's jacket was a voice mail only. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to keep this man isolated. That spelled conspiracy to him and he hated conspiracies even when they were benign

This one was not benign, every one of his senses told him that.

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The next morning they'd reappeared and brushed off Westerfield's inept attempts to prevent them speaking to Standish. Larabee had rehearsed the whole thing in his mind for most of the night. He'd been unable to return to sleep after the fifth round of nightmares and he wasn't about to leave this man behind. Little sleep had made him extremely short tempered. It had been a help when dealing with Westerfield's tries to get them to leave.

Standish had heard him out with a maddeningly passive expression.

"Come with us." Larabee had said as a parting shot. He waived the file Westerfield had foisted off on him. A completely different jacket than the one that the Captain had given him "You have no where to go except with us."

"I'll give you my answer shortly, gentlemen. I do have a couple of cases that I must complete." With that Standish bowed himself out of Westerfield's office, trying to contain his emotions.

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Westerfield insisted that Larabee have lunch with him, a last attempt to try to convince the determined Coloradan to leave Standish in Atlanta. Tanner begged off, claiming as Larabee had requested, that he had a case of jet-lag and would return to the hotel and come back later. Instead, Tanner went to the men's room and put on his suit, tying his long brown hair back so it would give the impression of being shorter. He tucked it into his collar, removed his visitor pass, and picked up the files that Larabee had given him as cover.

For a while he wandered around like he belonged to this station. He learned a lot that he didn't like. There was internal conflict, beyond anything either of them had considered. Vin used all of his trained abilities to pretend to be something other than he was. If Larabee hadn't settled on Standish, Tanner might have ended up with the undercover position, even though Chris had hired him because he was a great shot.

The little fellow from yesterday, Peter Collier, was headed down out of the regular offices. For a moment, Tanner was unsure, but his gut said to follow him. Collier wandered out of the building to a nearby restaurant. It was a strange looking place, part pub, part sports bar and very loud. Vin slipped along through the crowd, using every technique that he'd learned from Cyrne when he'd served the Triana.

After a while he couldn't find Collier and was considering his options. He'd learned enough to satisfy Chris for the moment. Larabee's insatiable curiosity was something that his team never joked about or took for granted. He was glad that he didn't have to sit through Fat-brained Westerfield's attempt to get Chris to back off.

Not a chance in Hell, Vin laughed to himself, Good thing JD wasn't here. He'd have some sort of joke for the occasion. Good luck trying to get Larabee to relinquish his hold on what was 'his'. Tanner wasn't sure why Chris was so certain about demanding Standish, but he damn sure wasn't going to get in the way. Besides, Standish seemed like a good man in a bad place.

Vin ordered lunch, wanting to get something in his stomach before he had to report. The jet-lag thing wasn't much of a lie anyway. Finding a little closet away from the milling crowd cheering at the monitors, he slipped in and soon had finished his lunch. Not long after his exhaustion took him and he drifted off.

+ + + + + + +

He wasn't sure what had awakened him but something did. Every one of his senses geared up, ready for fight or flight. He wasn't as skilled as his team leader was, but he wasn't far behind him. All that military training wasn't wasted in either case. The lights flipped up and he found that he was in a side nook of a much larger room.

Just his luck, Vin grinned. Cyrne used to say that if he didn't have bad luck that Vin Tanner would have no luck at all. Perhaps the Triana had been right. In the room, the little man, Peter Collier, was joined by five others.

Vin's Good luck seemed to be holding an uneasy cease-fire with the bad side of it. Just as he was about to make himself known, Ezra Standish entered the room.

Tanner never noticed the reflection in the cracked glass mirror behind the nearby side bar. An aged, dusty version of himself dressed in old fashioned buckskins, mouth twisted in bitterness and a patch covering most of a long scar over one eye. The reflection raised a whisky glass in salute to the little cubby.

+ + + + + + +

The Ops room was full tonight. Ezra sighed. Sometimes all he wanted to do was curl up and get some sleep. He'd sleep when the duty was done. Willing his body not to shake with the exhaustion that he was feeling, Standish took charge.

Nodding at Peter, he said "Report" and listened as his agents began to reel off the final evidence that would bring down a division.

+ + + + + + +

Vin listened in growing horror as the men revealed the depth of the Atlanta Station's fall. If even a fraction of what they were saying was true, he'd lobby for full sentence on greasy Westerfield and the rest of his men. Treason was still an executable offense and Vin Tanner would offer to do the shooting.

Whatever Chris had said earlier about Ezra Standish having no where to go was nonsense. The man was in charge here. The way the other agents differed to him said so. Wasn't the little guy supposed to be NSA? How deep did this investigation go and were he and Chris a problem for them?

+ + + + + + +

"Who are those men bugging Westerfield?" one of the Agents demanded. "He's in a real swivet. Vel thinks that they're part of it."

"Not a chance." Ezra said firmly. "The men are Special Agent in Charge, RMETF Seven, Christopher Larabee and his companion is Tanner. I didn't get the whole name, the man's very quiet. They've come all the way from Denver to offer me a job." Ezra smirked. "As I have no where to go."

The Agents were incredulous for a moment, then burst out laughing. Peter was doubled over.

Ezra's facial expression was one of gentle amusement, but not at Larabee's expense.

"You're going, aren't you?" Peter said and all the laughter stopped.

"I'm told that Colorado is an excellent location." Ezra gave him a wide grin. "I seem to recall that you are very fond of snow. Atlanta is going to be hot for some time. I could use a change of scene."

"What about Bowling?" Collier asked.

"Too many memories." Ezra said. "Daniel was right. I do need to find some place not full of painful recollection."

"What's the real reason?" Peter Collier demanded.

"Isn't that enough?"

"I've known you too long. If you wanted to escape your memories and Heaven knows that you have far too many to escape from, I'd be behind it all the way. But this...some strange agent just turns up... A RMETF? What the heck is that anyway? And you're just going to go. What's really going on Ezra?"

"Regional Mobile Enactment Task Force." Ezra said.

"Thank you, smart ass. That explains so much. This guy Larabee just shows up and you're going to go?"

The other agents were glued to the conversation and almost didn't see the man as he arrived. Only Ezra wasn't surprised.

"I don't usually catch you boys out." The man grinned. He didn't get a response from the unnerved agents and turned to look at Ezra. "Problems?"

"No, cousin. It's good to see you." Ezra said with a laugh.

"Now I know that something's up. Want to fill me in?"

"Hello Mercury." Peter said sullenly. "Nothing much. We've gotten sloppy. We're so close and we're getting sloppy just letting you in here. You could be anyone. Ezra's decided to move to Colorado."

The man, Mercury, whose other name was Philomel Sanderson, blinked his bright green eyes and looked at Ezra. "Colorado?" In the cubby Vin choked on his gasp, he knew the man from Denver, one of the Marshals, the one who was so worried about Deborah Rinaldi's safety and well-being..

"An excellent location, I'm told." Ezra said deadpan. Mercury turned to Peter for confirmation.

"Some guy named Larabee turned up and now Ezra wants to drop everything. He's just out of the hospital, not even one freaking day out of the hospital, and he's not only back to work, then two days later he's transferring on the say so of some guy from the RMETF and his buddy named Tanner, who Ezra doesn't know any thing else about!" Peter raved for a moment and stomped off to a nearby table. He stomped back almost immediately. "Colorado. Larabee. Humph."

"Larabee?" Mercury asked. "Chris Larabee?"

"Do you know him?" Peter asked, a little more calmly. "You're stationed in Denver, Mercury, after all."

"Yes, I know who Chris Larabee is." Mercury said uncertainly.

"Then what the..." Peter started and then looked at both cousins. "What is it?" he demanded.

"Larabee?" Mercury asked again, hesitantly.

"Christopher Matthew Larabee." Ezra said with a laugh as if the whole situation was absurd. "He came to get me because I have no where to go."

"But, Ezra." Mercury began.

"Enough." Ezra said firmly. "This is a summons that I can not deny. Not and remain myself." He looked gently at Peter Collier. "Take my word for it. Chris Larabee is a worthy leader, Peter." Standish paused again. "This is something I must do."

"Ezra!" Peter Collier said in exasperation.

"The Duty and the Obligation require it."

The odd statement shut both men up.

Ezra gave them both a tenuous look. "It must be." He paused and gave a wide smile at odds with the exhaustion in his face. "I don't suppose that you can think of any place that is open for tenancy immediately?"

Mercury seemed stunned and then after taking a deep breath, he looked at his smirking cousin. "I know of a townhouse in Arvada that's up for sale. I'll call Mandy."

"Thank you." Ezra said with a soft relief. Mercury looked back at him. There was a world of concern in his face. "Don't worry. I have no fear of this new ..."He paused. "Assignment. Chris Larabee is an honorable man."

Mercury seemed to shake off his concern and went to the phone. Peter Collier threw up his hands and stalked off mumbling.

Vin hunkered down even further into the shadows. He didn't want to upset the apple cart, but whatever Standish was involved in was big. Why would the man transfer to the RMETF, obviously he had places to go? And what the heck was the Duty and Obligation. Something nagged at the back of Tanner's memory, but he couldn't place it.

"Tanner?" Mercury said softly attracting Vin's attention at the sound of his own name.

"Vin Tanner." Ezra said seriously, watching as Peter began to roughly shift papers across the room.

"Damn." Mercury said. "You going to be alright?"

"I'm actually honored." Ezra said gently. "These are worthy men. It will be an amazing beginning."

"It's always an amazing beginning, Ezra. No matter how many hundreds of years. It's always an amazing beginning, But that's not what I'm worried about."

"What then cousin?" Ezra looked at Mercury seriously, all trace of humor gone from his face.

"It's the ending I'm concerned about." Mercury said.

"Let it be." Ezra said gently. "Let it be. Things must be as they must be. It's hard to see a future if all you know is the past." He added, looking directly at his cousin, "This summons I can't deny, ever. Even if I know what will come of it, even if it means my death. I must obey." Softly he declared. "The Seven must Stand, if they are to ever do so they must do so now. In this time. Let it be, cousin. Let what must happen, happen." Standish moved his hand and worried a little at a gold band set with a ruby. "What must be, must be."

"Right now," Ezra Standish added, calmly, finally. "We have a roof to bring down."

+ + + + + + +

Vin remained hidden, hardly daring to breathe as the agents went about their tasks. Finally they cleared up and began to leave, one by one. At last the agents were gone. Tanner waited a little longer and then slipped out of the room. As Cyrne had said, he had the strangest luck.

Trying to piece together what he had overheard into an understandable pattern, Vin returned to the Federal building to meet up with Chris. Larabee was sure to be in a foul mood after his business lunch. He ignored the hostile and fearful stares of the other agents in the Mispers department.

Standish was not there at his desk but his overcoat showed that he'd returned to the building. The grey jacket was draped over the chair in a precise fashion. Vin studied the desk with its lack of personal items and crisp organization. Military style, Vin figured. There wasn't any sign of that in either of Standish's personnel files. Captain Phillips hadn't mentioned it, at least not in Vin's hearing, but that was not necessarily the complete story. He might have told Chris when the others weren't privy to the conversation.

Vin let his eyes wander over the desk, trying to get a feel for what sort of man they were bringing home with them. He had no doubt that Standish would be joining them. He found himself visually tracing the stitching on the grey coat. Suddenly he straightened up as if struck by an electric shock. The Mispers around him stared for a moment and then went back to their work.

Ezra's coat was a stunner. Grey not the traditional Black.. And he'd wasted so much time hoping and given up on that wish. After all of that... Vin had to laugh at himself. He'd left the Marshals to hunt bounty because he'd been driven out by politics. He'd joined the Marshals because he couldn't stay in the Army. He'd left the Army because he wouldn't work for the crooked Colonel Oliver, and hadn't wanted to die. He'd been assigned to Oliver because the man had forcibly stolen him from Cyrne's command over the objections of both Cyrne and the High Command. He'd been unwilling to give the loyalty that he'd given the Triana to a slime ball like Oliver, so here he was finally settled into RMETF Seven and following Chris Larabee. He'd given up hope of ever serving a Triana again and found some measure of peace with that.

Now here it was in the overcoat of Ezra Standish. It was a Kybern coat. A cut most peculiar. Only one group of people wore such a coat. Triana.

Ezra Standish was a Triana.

Vin studied the cadence marks on the coat. Ezra Standish wasn't only a Triana, he was a Full Triana, not a Triana Phvey, not a Triana Vi, not any of the rest of it. He was a Full Triana.

Headstrong, stubborn, needing help to interface with the 'real' world. Standish was going to be a handful. Vin tried not to rub his hands together in extreme glee. Triana were a great deal of fun, depending on their personalities, and he was hoping to find some of the camaraderie that he'd had when he'd made his home among them. But he knew that he'd have his work cut out for him. A Triana had odd vulnerabilities, things that he could never discuss with Chris. That Classified information had been drummed into his head. The members of the Trianen were officially and unofficially not to be discussed.


At least he knew what he was dealing with, if only in generalities. Triana were difficult to categorize. He definitely knew more than Chris did or probably ever would, but the oaths he'd taken as a Ranger prevented him from telling anything. His Leader would be commanding a Triana with no idea of what to do with one. Or what to watch out for. It was interesting that Standish was willing to come at all. Individual Triana bowed to very few and followed none. Their will was strong and they did not deal well with being ordered about.

Larabee and Standish. Oh, Vin almost burst out laughing, this could get interesting.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee returned with Westerfield and gave his friend a pained glance while continuing a strained conversation. It obviously hadn't been a good lunch. Tanner tried not to laugh. Standish, as a Triana, would heed only authority that he recognized. There was no way that thick middle manager had any chance of ruling a Triana.

But why was a Triana here? They were valuable assets and few. There were maybe 30 Full Triana in the whole of the US. Why waste one on investigating this division? The horrors that they'd mentioned in the briefing he'd overheard were huge but why send a Triana to deal with them? Triana were some of the most deadly warriors in the world. Only the Morro-Trained Assassins came close to being more skilled.

Far more deadly than SEALs or Rangers. Why waste one in this place? Each Triana had to be protected both from the world at large and their own frightening skills. Where were the other members of his Tau? He'd seen the other agents in the Ops Room and none of them were the type of men assigned to deal with a Triana. There weren't any of the usual group assigned to Standish.

That could be very dangerous. Triana had to be handled carefully because their training was conditioned responses. They were survivors of a horrific Experiment when they were children and as a result had been conditioned so thoroughly that their actions were pure instinct. It also meant that they had peculiar mental tripwires that could lead to deadly violence. Each Triana was assigned someone to run interference for them.

He'd thought that Chris was a Triana and Buck his Keeper for the first little while. It was the standard relationship. But Chris, for all his leashed in violence was not explosive the way a Triana whose tripwires had been sprung was. It was the relationship in intensity between a firecracker and an atomic bomb.

There wasn't anyone playing protector for this man as far as Vin could tell. Standish walked into the room and started using the copier. When he finished, he walked past Vin and sat at his desk. If he noticed Tanner's intense scrutiny he made no sign.

An unintentional movement Standish made drew his sleeve down revealing his wrist. Vin almost gasped seeing the black bruising. For all their fearsome skill, Triana had weaknesses that could be exploited if you knew how to do so. The stiffness of Standish's movement also clued Vin in. Someone had used this Triana as a punching bag or worse.

+ + + + + + +

Forcing down his outrage, Vin noticed that Standish was looking at him with an unreadable expression. He ducked his head, not wanting to offend the man by staring or to reveal that he knew some of the betrayal that the agent had endured here in Atlanta. Still he boiled with anger in silence.

It was a rule of reality. No matter how fierce the warrior, someone could always take them down. A Triana could be taken down, but it was hard and required extreme treachery to do it. The medic Charlie Rogers had done it, handing over his commander, John Grendal, to the enemy at Three Rivers. That Rogers had killed Grendal's entire team in the man's sight was a nightmare not to be spoken of. How Rogers could even do such a thing was something that Vin couldn't even fathom.

Putting aside the fact that such a betrayal was High Treason against the United States, the Triana teams were not just teams, they were family, The Trianen, even stronger than Pack. Even beyond what RMETF Seven was trying to become. How Rogers could do that, drug his leader and poison the rest of the team with a smile on his face just was beyond Vin's understanding.

Ezra was alone because he had no Tau, Solus was the Triana term. But he was also Resalk, without his Tau and not performing usual duties. It was a dangerous place for a Triana to be. Alone and at threat. Vin only hoped that he and Chris together could get the man out of here safely. He'd seen the results of failure and it was hard for him to take. Painful even to think on.

It would be his job to look out for Ezra P. Standish. No Triana was ever meant to be alone, unaccompanied. He swore to himself, as he'd sworn to Cyrne. This man would not be undefended in his weaknesses or unaided when his strengths overcame him.

+ + + + + + +

Memory tore at Vin, forcing images of the sacrifices of the past. Things that he'd tried to push away, but could never forget. It had been Vin's last mission with Cyrne's team. The head of the Trianen, Grendal, had been tortured for weeks before the strike team led by Cyrne had rescued him. He could remember watching from the second chopper as Cyrne and Pulver had lifted Grendal's shattered body aboard the other one. Later he'd heard of the extent of the injuries that the Senior Triana had suffered.

It made him want to go find Charlie Rogers and kill him again. The medic hadn't made the money he'd demanded for his treachery. He'd sold out his country and his treason had been repaid by the men he'd sold it to. They'd left his broken body as a warning of the wages of disloyalty.

Grendal lay in a hospital somewhere bound in a coma to allow his savaged body to heal. The damage done by the situation was still being felt. He could remember the anger and grieving, not just the whole Trianen but Pack as well.

Now another Triana was at threat and damn it all, Vin Tanner wasn't going to allow another guardian to fall.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee wondered what Vin was thinking. He was getting the strangest feelings across their tentative link. When he knew Vin a little better, it would be clearer. The only things that Chris could tell for sure were that Vin was very angry and that he was willing to back whatever Chris had to do to get Standish out of here. Denver might not be the place for the man, but he damn well was going to get him out of this Hell.

The second meeting with Standish had revealed more of the uneasy feeling, but little other facts. Standish was on edge, it was hidden well, but on edge. He had a shyness that instinct told Larabee was foreign to his nature. It reminded Chris of a horse he once had, one that had to be handled carefully...because he'd been abused.

Larabee had watched Standish carefully during the meeting and felt even more strongly that he had to get the man out of here.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish amused himself, again without showing his cards, by watching the two Agents from Denver. Chris Larabee, he knew all too well, but it was definite that the man had no recollection of him. That he'd made certain of. The other, Vin Tanner, raised an odd sensation in him. Didn't Cyrne have a blue eyed sharpshooter, one that was mostly Native American in heritage? Tallman? No, Tanner, It was Tanner. Maybe that was why the man was looking at him so oddly. Both of them were ready to jump to his defense.

That startled him. Ezra Standish, no matter what name he was wearing, was used to being the defender, not the defended. However, something in him was urging him to let these men protect him, just for a while.

Sometimes the weight of Secrets was just too much to bear.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee was at his wits end. Montague and Westerfield were both trying to push him about leaving Standish behind. That wasn't going to happen even if he had to kidnap the man.

The ensuing conversation had drawn in several other department leaders most notably Larry Atkins and his second Ron Mackenzie from NSA. Both Montague and Westerfield looked like idiots and Chris wondered, not for the first time, what they were hiding. It took a powerful lot of wrongdoing for a Senior Agent who was a political wanna-be to make himself look like this much of an idiot in public. For two of them to be doing it? What the Hell was wrong with Atlanta?

Vin had told him that there was information he needed to share from his snooping, but there really hadn't been any time. Once they got back to their hotel, he'd had to deal with a hundred crises from Denver by long distance. The Sharpshooter had been very uneasy and that still radiated across their new link.

Still Larabee had to wonder, watching the political firestorm his presence had ignited, What the Hell was wrong with Atlanta?

+ + + + + + +

Vin caught sight of the man, Sanderson, from yesterday while wandering the building again. He was seemingly at ease here in Atlanta. It was odd for a Marshal to be assigned to multiple stations that were across the country from each other. Following the man that they'd called Mercury, he found himself near the Marshal's office. Looking in but not making himself known, Vin saw several people that he himself had worked with. The REALLY big guns in the Marshals Service. Conner and Arwen, Thomas Lee, Kelly Niven, and one that surely had to be the Iceblock. C. A. ...Standish? Wonder if it was any relation? C. A. Standish was a cold man well known for his intensity. Rather like Larabee except the Iceblock was more likely to take you out with little feeling unlike the rage that Larabee would use to bring you down. He shivered as he wondered what this gathering was about. The local Marshals looked to be being called on the carpet. It was never good to be around when a dirty house was being cleaned.

Taking that as a cue, Vin got out of there, not noticing the half smirk Mercury wore.

7 P.M. Ops Room, Melo's Sports Bar

Ezra was amused, this was almost a nest of Triana. He ran the secondary computations for the strike. All was prepared. The only unknown variables were Larabee and Tanner. Giving little Peter a cocky grin, he set up the first phase of the operation. It was time. Atkins and Mackenzie were just arriving in the Ops Room as his group prepared.

He ran the extra computations on Shatterstalk and Firefall. Neither was viable at this point, but Ezra was used to things bitting him in the rear and planned accordingly. All operations had built to this climax. Everything was ready to go. Every agent in place. He just had to give the word and it would be done. He'd played the dart game and now it was time to bring the roof down.

Giving Peter a second smile that his manager would positively take amiss, he stretched, stood up, and left the Ops Room. On the way out past the Bar, he took down his Ace of Spades from the dart board, it would be needed tonight. Melo gave him a slight encouraging smile. He shook his head, Melo was such an optimist, but maybe there was a reason for hope.

There was a meeting that he needed to have.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was furious and Vin knew his Leader's temper well enough at this point not to add to Larabee's anger. He'd been able to explain some of what he'd witnessed and watched the famous Man in Black's temper blow. They'd gone to a sandwich shop for dinner. It had been interesting explaining Larabee's furious outburst to the staff. Not an experience that Vin would like to repeat. The rest of the day had been extremely frustrating. They had been stuck dealing with the various Senior Agents all day. Petty Power Politics. The 3 P's. Vin hated them, but he was a little better at navigating them than Chris was when he'd been denied what was 'his'.

Tanner had no doubt that Larabee would prevail in the long run, but how long that might take... no idea. He was so involved in his own thoughts that he failed to realize that Chris had stopped in the doorframe of their hotel room. So Vin bumped into him, just like in the movies.

"Cowboy?" he asked softly.

Chris said nothing, just yanked him into the room and shut the door. Vin was a bit startled until he noticed that the room was not unoccupied.

Sitting on a chair in the middle of the room was Ezra Standish. It was a Standish that none of his fellow agents in Atlanta would recognize. The grey Kybern coat and full Cadence marks weren't necessary as all of Standish's body language proclaimed what he was. A Full Triana, even more dangerous than Larabee who was deadly in his own right.

"Perhaps a little more caution in future?" Standish quipped. "I could have killed both of you several times over." The dull pallor of Standish's face was not the same controlled rage as his mask of yesterday. Something had changed and Vin figured that Atlanta was going to be rocking soon enough.

"You okay?" Larabee asked. Standish raised an elegant eyebrow. He drew a pack of cards from some hidden pocket in his coat and began shuffling them. Vin tensed. Triana cards were not the simple pasteboard they appeared to be.

"You came all the way from Denver to find me...." Standish asked, "To ask that?"

"No. I came to get you. Phillips was right. You need out of here."

"Phillips? Captain Philips?" Ezra's face did not change expression.

"Yes. Do you know him?"

"I'm familiar with Captain Philips." Ezra said non- committaly. He measured Chris with a gaze. "You came because Captain Philips told you to?"

"You need out of there, Ezra. I'm not sure what the Hell is going on, but I'm not leaving you here to be injured by those idiots." Larabee's possessiveness was heavy in his voice. Standish allowed one corner of his mouth to turn up in a very slight smirk.

"I'm already injured." Standish admitted. Larabee moved toward him. "Don't touch." He hissed.

"I don't deal well with invasions of my personal space."

Vin grinned. That was a understatement of Global proportions. The Triana were not easily touched, even by their Tau. He wilted a little as Standish poured the full force of his gaze on him. Tanner knew better, but the Triana's gaze poured over him like molten lava. It was something that Vin had been glad to forget happened around the Trianen. The feeling shut off after a moment, but Vin felt that he'd been measured and had failed somehow.

He only hoped that it wouldn't damage Larabee's chances to recruit this Triana for Team Seven.

"You want me to join your RMETF?" Standish returned to watching Larabee with a cool expression. "To relocate to Denver and investigate Cold Cases?" Standish poured his rich Southern accent into his voice

"You need us." Chris said.

"There's some debate on that matter." Ezra laughed elegantly, but the subtle menace was there in the subtext. "By the way, Agent Tanner. Little Peter was most impressed by your infiltration of our Ops room. I'd watch my back for a while." He smirked. "Peter likes his security deadly. Just a note of caution."

"I can well understand it." Tanner replied solemnly. "Cyrne thought the same way. I wouldn't have wanted to cross Willows on the matter."

"So you ARE the sharpshooter that Oliver stole from Cyrne's Tau." Ezra's eyes narrowed in speculation.

"I didn't serve him. I left the army as soon as I could get out...There weren't no way I was going to hook up with that kind o thing..."Vin's protests faded at a gesture from the Triana.

"One only has to look at you to know that, Agent Tanner." Ezra said gently, shifting his persona from a threat to a guardian. It was rare for a Triana to strip away his masks even with the members of his Tau. Vin looked up and caught an expression of approval in the face of the man they'd come so far to find.

"I'm not sure what all of that was about, but Vin's a good man and a good Agent." Chris entered the conversation with all the finesse of a mother Grizzly bear. Ezra Standish threw back his head and laughed hard and deep.

Chris had the disconcerting feeling that he'd met this man before, somewhere...The green eyes from his dream. That was it. As the realization struck him, he found himself the subject of Standish's incredulous look.

"So, it is to be." the man said cryptically. "I am willing to come with you, but you will need to accept all of me, all that I am. I dance to many tunes piped by many masters."

"I gathered that."Larabee said dryly holding up both copies of Standish's personnel file. The one from Philips and the doctored one from Westerfield. "I need an undercover agent, but you'll need to be on task. I won't risk my men."

"I will be on task." Ezra said seriously. "However, to dance the dance, I have to take some protective cover with me. Do you yell, Agent Larabee?"

"Why?"Chris demanded.

"It would be better if it appeared that you had no idea what I am other than an undercover agent." Standish lifted his hand to brush away a errant lock of hair. The black bruising that Vin had seen yesterday was plainly visible.

Larabee made an angry noise that could have been a growl. He started for Ezra, intent on tending the injury and checking for others.

"Don't" Ezra's voice made him stop. "I am harmed. That much is plain to see right now. You can't protect me. You won't ever be able to do so. What I hold and what I am decree that. That is something that you must accept if I am to follow you to Denver."

"That I can't protect you? That you have too many enemies?" Chris bit out.

"Can you accept that my part in this Nation's defense requires a greater level of danger than you would find ...." Standish laughed bitterly. "Acceptable?"

"Does that mean that you have to be a punching bag?" Larabee demanded.

"Sometimes." Ezra looked at him carefully. Larabee felt a tug in the hidden spaces of his heart. The pull of what he had denied himself from becoming was great, the gifts and powers seeking active use. Ruthlessly Chris slammed the lid on that part of himself that felt the power in this man. He knew that he needed Standish, needed to get him out of here. He didn't want to think about anything else.

The protective instincts that had surged in Homer's Corner when he met Vin were nothing to the demands his own self were placing on him now.

"I won't like it and I will interfere if I can, but I know that you have a duty to fulfil."Chris said stubbornly. Vin was astonished hearing the traditional commentary of the Keeper coming out of his Leader's mouth.

"A Duty" Vin added. "I would be assigned to you as your partner. We have three pairs and this hard-head." Tanner was grasping at humor to ease the situation.

"You would be my partner?" Standish's voice was low.

"I know I ain't the best or what you'd want, but I know what's what." Vin said softly. Chris bristled to hear the self loathing.

"You are more than acceptable, Vincent Richard Tanner." Ezra said. "You weren't denied the training in the Tau because you were unworthy of it." Vin's head snapped up to look Standish in the eyes. "Your gift is not in line with what the training would offer. Cyrne was wiser to match the training to the man, rather than force the man to the training."

Vin's mind flew back to the bitter disappointment that he'd felt at being unable to do more than be a shooter in the Tau. Cyrne had sent him often to liaison with Pack Damn. Had that been what that was all about?

"A wise man knows his strengths and his limitations, and he will maximize the one and eliminate the other." Standish said cooly. Vin looked at him. "No false self doubt. You've been poisoning yourself with it for years." Vin nodded sharply, recognizing that the despair that he'd been feeling had originated at that time. All the depression that had led him to Homer's Corner slipped away under that recognition.

Chris was startled as he felt shock go through the bond he had with Vin. Apparently their soon to be new undercover had pegged something for his friend. He felt the man's gaze rake over him but refused to be drawn into an argument.

Larabee's hotel room only had two chairs so he sat down with a heavy plunk on the nearest bed.

"So are you coming or what?" He demanded without preamble.

Ezra laughed again, this time more musically than bitterly. "I will come since you ask it. But if anyone asks, you had to drag me all the way."

Chris laughed. "This means that I get to ball you out?"

"Oh yes. And argue over expenses." Chris snorted, and Ezra laughed again. "And debate policy, and anything else that you can think of. I take it you read both files."

"Neither of them are complete." Chris haurmphed. "No where near complete."

"I would rather doubt it."Ezra said with amusement. "Now I have to arrange to have my lodgings packed up and shipped to Denver including my car."

"What do you drive?" Chris asked curiously.

"Obviously, it wasn't in the file. The current set of rumors make much of my car. It's a Jaguar XLS. This year's model." Tanner whistled and Ezra gave him a smirk.

"How did you get enough cash for that?" Vin said with a little envy.

"I have cash to spare, believe me." Ezra said causing Larabee to snort again. "But if you want to know, I own the Jaguar because I bought it at a seized property auction in Maryland. The people who don't think that I was bribed with it, believe that my 'loving' Mother gave it to me." The bitterness on his emphasis on the word loving raised both men's hackles.

"Family Problem?" Chris asked. Vin was startled, Triana usually didn't have real blood family.

"A rather large one. Especially for Denver." Standish answered honestly. "My mother has two sides. Both are dangerous. Maude is deadly to underestimate. That's her power."


"Mother is an agent, Larabee. She works for the NID." Vin's eyes widened with the implications. NID was responsible for so much heartache. They had been some of the secret backers that had created the Experiment in the first place. If Ezra's mother was NID that meant that she'd.... It was all Vin could do to keep from vomiting. She'd willingly surrendered her child to be experimented on!

Ezra acknowledged Vin's understanding even as he searched for information that would put Larabee on guard without revealing too much Classified information. "Mother was recruited at the tender age of fifteen. She was the daughter of a household of, well, the nearest similar group would be the 'Travelers', con men, thieves, petty criminals."


"No, not the Rom. Any Romany would make the sign for warding off evil if they ran into any members of that side of the family. No, there really isn't a term for them. As I said, Maude was caught by the NID and found to be useful. They created a Lady, diamond hard and determined, one that they use to bankrupt rich men to increase their coffers. Make no mistake, my Mother is deadly. She'll kill to get what she wants. She has... a twin, and the soap opera cliche fits. One good, one evil and both go by Maude."

"Fun" Chris said looking at Vin. Both men knew that there was more to the story.

"The NID have interests near Denver that might bring her there. She will behave like a spoiled society dame, but she's all the more deadly for that."

"How many kills?" Vin asked, knowing that he wasn't joking.

"58 confirmed that I know about." Ezra said softly. "My father was one."

Chris's eyes widened.

"Still want Ezra P. Standish on your Team, Agent Larabee?"

"You are coming with us, even if I have to tie you up in a sack to do it."

"Might be interesting going through airport security."Ezra quipped. "I will meet you later, I have an operation to finish."

"We'll come along. We won't get in the way."Chris said fiercely.

"Are you trying to give Little Peter a heart attack now and spare yourself the trouble later?" Ezra's grin was wide across his face.

"We aren't letting them get at you again, Standish" Chris said firmly.

"I walk a crooked trail so that others may have the safer road." Ezra quoted softly. "You do not belong on that crooked trail tonight, Agent Larabee."

It was a contest of wills, and it ended with a draw. Larabee and Tanner waited in the Ops Room all night watching the various Agents run around. Standish disappeared shortly after they'd been formally introduced to 'Little' Peter Collier.

+ + + + + + +

Chris grimaced remembering what had been revealed during the operation. His new agent needed a Large neon Billboard reading 'Warning, too many masters'. After the hustle and bustle of the Ops room, leaving Atlanta had been anticlimactic. Nothing from Standish or from above their pay grade, just Peter Collier shaking them awake and handing them their packed and loaded bags. His own suitcases stood beside them.

Peter Collier stood all of four foot six, but he had a grin like a highly amused shark and the attitude to match.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra met them at the airport, fancy luggage in hand and neatly stacked behind him. He was the perfect fop. Chris caught his smirk and thought of a favorite book from childhood, 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. Almost as if he knew what Larabee was thinking, Standish grinned and gestured with his Starbuck's coffee cup.

"What kind is that?" Vin asked, stopping Larabee dead.

"Double mocha latte. Why? Would you like one, Agent Tanner?"

"Does it come with the half cream?"

"Yes, I believe that they have that." Standish smirked.

"But you don't like regular coffee" Chris started "It has to be that strong stuff... You said so."

"No, Cowboy. Buck said so. And he dared me. I ain't no Texas caricature, Boss-man. I like lots of different coffees. Period. But since Miz Rinaldi works so hard to make it every morning, I'm surely going to drink it. She don't make bad coffee, which is odd since she don't drink it."

Little Peter broke up laughing behind them.

"Miss Rinaldi?" Ezra questioned.

"Mrs. Rinaldi" Chris said. "She's my assistant and manages our office. We probably could have gotten by with one coffee maker."

"No way, Chris." Vin exclaimed. "Have you ever tried to drink that stuff Nate buys? Costco special with no flavor. And it's thin. I can't stand coffee flavored water. Even Buck's Navy Bilge is better than that stuff. Now point me to the Starbucks."

"Follow me." Ezra gestured with his briefcase. Chris gave him a once over. The man was dressed in a wool suit, but it was definately Armani. The Movado watch was the most expensive that Chris had ever seen, elegant in it's simplicity. The shoes were hand made by a fine Italian shoemaker that Larabee knew he couldn't even think of the name of. He looked like a prosperous executive.

"Expense reports, Agent Larabee." Standish said softly.

"Chris. Not Agent Larabee."

"As you wish. Names are a dangerous thing to be generous with." Standish looked at him curiously. "Though for some, that isn't an issue."

+ + + + + + +

Vin was loaded down with coffee and cheesecake when he came back to them. The man claimed it was breakfast, but Chris knew better. Tanner was a health food nut and very careful what he actually ate and drank most of the time. Every so often he'd go a little crazy, but that was usually at Stacy's bakery down the street from the 'Saloon'. It was something that wasn't shared with the team, Nathan was sure that Vin would end up diabetic or something thinking that he was another junk food junkie. Chris knew the truth because he'd been watching Tanner's diet since they came back from Homer's Corner. Just like JD, the money hadn't covered everything in the beginning. Food was an issue there too. Somehow he didn't think it would be an issue with Standish.

+ + + + + + +

The plane wasn't crowded at this time of day, but Chris felt that prickle between his shoulder blades that said he was being watched. Vin was in the seat next to him dozing lightly. That was good, Tanner didn't like flying. Standish, sitting next to the Texan on this DC-10 raised an eyebrow as Larabee searched for the source of his unease.

"Vin doesn't like to fly." Chris said to cover himself. There was no threat that he could perceive.

"He served Cyrne, that's a given." Standish laughed softly. Peter Collier sat next to Standish and harumphed.

"Peter's bite is worse than his bark." Ezra said warningly. Chris was reminded of a dog his parents once owned. The critter was only about the weight of a tiny bag of flour and could fit in one hand, but damn that was the most violent animal. Very fond of his mother, that dog was. He and his siblings still had scars in various places from when their childish arguments had gotten too close or too loud.

+ + + + + + +

Five rows down, four other agents that were part of Standish's strike team buckled themselves in. Some of their team had already left for Denver and others were headed there later. In the cockpit the usual pilots had been replaced over the cockpit officers' objections. The new team were skilled military pilots and this was a matter of National Security.

+ + + + + + +

Vin had napped for a little, but had been wakened by the stewardesses handing out snacks and drinks. Larabee excused himself and headed to the lavatory. Tanner shifted in his seat and bumped Ezra's arm. Ezra had folded his jacket across his lap so it wouldn't be so wrinkled when they arrived in Denver, so he was in shirt sleeves. It had to have hurt when Vin bumped him.

"Sorry." Vin apologized.

"No harm done." Ezra replied but Vin knew it wasn't the case. Gently he reached for the man's arm. Standish eyed him curiously but did not pull away. Vin looked at the dark bruising around the wrist that told him Ezra had been forcibly restrained. He turned the wrist over and saw reddish marks on the skin in the open area where the cuff buttoned. Carefully he unbuttoned the cuff, watching Ezra warily. All Standish did was raise an elegant eyebrow at him. There were ugly slices in the skin, full of medical sutures and a little puffy.

"Take your antibiotics?" Vin asked, tone telling Ezra to answer or 'else'.

"Yes, though they don't work well."

"What did that?" Tanner asked, fearing the answer.

"My last partner." Ezra said quietly, surprising himself with the need to be honest with this man. To distance himself a little, he concentrated on re-buttoning his cuff. Vin had been among the Triana, served Cyrne, so there was not likely to be any treachery in him. But Ezra was not used to being so open. He hadn't been since Jack was his partner, so long ago now.

"Look at me Ezra." Vin demanded. Ezra obeyed because of the seriousness of Tanner's voice.

When he was certain that he had Ezra's attention, he said softly. "I swear by all that I hold Sacred and Holy, I will never willingly cause you harm and I will defend you with both Life and Soul for all the length of my life."

Standish looked like he'd been struck with a board. All the color left the man's face and for a second Vin thought that Ezra was going to pass out. Ezra shifted to look Vin directly in the face.

"Enough people have died for me, Vin Tanner. I do not want to add you to that list." Ezra said quietly.

"My life, My choice." Vin replied. His words were not quite the traditional ones spoken in the Tau, but he knew that Ezra was well aware of the truth that he'd spoken. Ezra was his partner, and he'd defend him with his life.

Ezra wondered a little. Vin Tanner was going to be the only one in Denver that knew what he was and what to do with it. Triana were territorial and none were posted to Colorado at this time. Without a Tau there were be difficulties in dealing with his gifts and talents. Tanner knew this and had offered him the loyalty he would need. While Peter and the others were not trained to the Tau, they were high ranking agents with some idea, but it would be difficult for them to help him. Collier had been in Ezra's own support services for his Tau before Three Rivers, but even Peter didn't have a complete understanding of what Ezra had to deal with as a Triana. This man did, and was willing to stand with him.

"My hand to defend you, My mind to protect you, My word to uphold you, and all that I am for the sake of the Hope. By the Duty and Obligation, as well as my own will. I accept you to stand by me and by that man in black that we both serve. Your loyalty to both of us is your chosen burden. I shall never willingly put that in jeopardy or in danger, for it was freely given and freely granted." Ezra replied in the formal voice that he'd used with his Tau.

Beside him he could tell that Peter wasn't asleep, and was fully aware of what had just happened. The older man was shocked. Ezra had let no one close to him since Charlie Rogers had murdered his Tau. Even Jack hadn't gotten that far in. Grendal had always walked alone. Somehow this Tanner had gotten through all of Standish's reserves in a very short amount of time. He'd been told that Tanner had once served Cyrne and Peter knew that the bonds between Ezra and Cyrne were tighter than most of the Triana had, Hell, most of the full Trianen, but this was unprecedented.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was satisfied that Ezra knew that he'd protect him. There was no reason for the Triana to be alone. He knew what sorts of problems the man would face and his own gut told him not to leave Ezra to himself. If he'd been alone anything could happen, usually bad. Just look what had happened to John Grendal! Col. Oliver may have torn Vin away from Cyrne, but he couldn't steal Vin's knowledge. Standish was alone and that meant at risk and the Texan wouldn't allow that to continue. Someone needed to stand up with the Triana, keep him safe. That would be his task, he promised himself and in his mind he promised Cyrne.

He would protect him, even from Team Seven if need be. Speaking of the team, Vin had better fill him in on the personalities that Ezra would be working with. It was very hard to integrate a Triana in with people who didn't know what to do with one. Vin ignored Larabee's return and began describing the men of RMETF Seven.

+ + + + + + +

Arriving in Denver came as a relief to Chris. Vin seemed to think that Ezra needed an in depth review of all of the Team's peccadilloes. Some of them were amusing and some just embarrassing. Baker's unhappy meeting with the Dead was the current topic. It was certain sure that Tanner enjoyed the story even though he hadn't realized that the vindictive people in attendance were the Dead. Or maybe not. Vin seemed to have a little problem with the idea that people died and weren't here any more except for the ones on a mission. For Tanner, everyday was filled with people, living, dead, and otherwise. Standish seemed to have accepted this as well, with no reservations. Those two fit like a glove and a fist. He looked over at Peter Collier and was surprised when the taciturn little man gave him a commiserating smile.

Same Day, Arvada, Just after Four o'Clock

The realtor fainted. Buying the whole development would do that to a body. She'd never thought that this group of Complexes would sell in a million years. Then the whole thing at once. It was too much. Ezra had been his usual charming self, much to his team's amusement. Once the paperwork was dealt with, Vin had noticed Ezra droop a little, the man was exhausted and should still be in a hospital. He positioned himself to keep even the people from Atlanta a little at bay, so Ezra could lightly nap in the window seat. Vin was so focused on his new 'teammate' that he didn't notice the amused, shocked, and pleased looks the rest of Ezra's undercover team were throwing at him.

Chris had been called into the office to an emergency meeting, but he'd told Vin to help Ezra find some place to live and to get him settled. It had made Vin laugh, and he found himself quashing chuckles as he considered what Larabee's reaction would have been had he been present during the Townhouse's sale. Just watching the entire development fill up with Agents and personnel from Standish's strike team had been amazing.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra's full team finally arrived shortly after nightfall with the completely packed luggage and equipment. The townhouses were quickly portioned off to the members of the unit. Whole cases of equipment arrived in U-Haul trucks, but Vin could tell from the packaging that they were Military packed and contained whole stations of supplies. Philomel Sanderson, Ezra's cousin better known as Mercury, had come out to share his knowledge of Denver with the agents and to help them get settled. Within hours they were setting up their systems as well as the furniture. Ezra had scheduled meetings with General Carpenter, the area commander, and General Hammond at the newly formed deep space telemetry station out at N.O.R.A.D.

The Stargate Project worried Ezra, for reasons that he could not share with anyone, not yet. But he acknowledged his orders to secure the area, keep the NID out beyond the range if possible. Standish thought not, being as familiar with Mayborne as he was. The three defense grids were quickly integrated and he resumed the setups for ShatterStalk and Firefall.

It took some time, but Vin finally got Ezra to lie down on his bed for a while. The others could set up the apartment, but Ezra needed some down time. Vin covered him with one of the blankets he found, the room wasn't really properly organized yet, and got Standish slightly comfortable. He waited until the Triana had drifted off to sleep before withdrawing from the room. Leaving the door open a crack, Vin sat down to listen for signs of Ezra feeling restless. Tanner tagged a book at random out of one of the nearby boxes and settled into read. What the heck was a Philosopher's stone?

Vin growled anytime any of the movers made un-necessary noise, not realizing how much like a Keeper he was behaving. Ezra's team was more than amused, they were astonished. Maybe this move to Denver was the right thing after all. There was more life in the grieving John Grendal in the last couple of days than anyone had seen for the last couple of years. Not since before the betrayal that had led to Three Rivers. Tanner didn't notice the gestures of respect that he was receiving.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was still tired, but had regained some color and strength from his nap. Leaving the continuing setup to his team, he chanced riding around the city with Vin. Denver wasn't a bad location, especially after Tanner 'introduced' him to some old friends of Ezra's that he'd thought lost forever. Fortunately Vin liked Greek food. And there was lots of it to eat after that quiet reunion.

Monday would come soon enough.

Monday Morning, Rout Federal Building, elevator

Nathan Jackson stood in the elevator, patiently reviewing his personal research materials in his mind. This would be a pleasant day. Maybe the new undercover agent would be a good man and would fit in well. He didn't see the speaking looks exchanged by the other two passengers.

"Larabee actually took on Standish?" one of them said to the other just loud enough for Nathan to hear. "I still can't believe it. That sad bastard's dirty. He's just too slippery to get caught."

"He still on the take?" the other chimed in, carefully watching for Nathan's reaction.

"How do you think that he affords those suits...much less that car. I know I couldn't buy a Jag. Not and stay clean. Even on my salary." The two men continued their conversation all the way to the eleventh floor. They pretended not to notice when a furious Nathan Jackson stormed off the elevator. This mission accomplished.

+ + + + + + +

Unaware of what had happened to Nathan in the elevator, Chris Larabee was fairly pleased with the situation. He'd had a long talk with Ezra over lemon meringue pie at Delan's on one of his few breaks from the situation at hand. Delan's was nearby and so busy, most people wouldn't notice them. Not like at J. Watson's Saloon where most of the clientele were Federal Agents. They'd discussed his cover's foibles and faults. Standish was going to be late to work most of the time. Between that and the expense reports, arguments should look reasonable. It would need to be carefully crafted. First he'd have to find a way to warn his team about what was going on.

He'd made motions, but there really hadn't been much time with the build up to this emergency assignment. They'd come home to a crisis. Chris had left Vin to help Ezra get settled while he'd come into the office and had stayed there the whole weekend trying to solve this situation. It was way out of control, and Larabee hated being stuck with someone else's leftover problems.

Burying his head in a technical schematic, Larabee concentrated on trying to keep his men alive.

+ + + + + + +

Meeting Team Seven was an experience that Ezra Standish would never forget nor would they.

Buck Wilmington was a tall man with a lazy air, easily ignored, but Ezra's appraising eye could tell that the hardness that he had learned in the SEALs remained. He might seem jovial, but he wasn't someone to cross. Ezra looked him in the eye, directly, putting a little, just a shade of what he was into it. Wilmington's face was pretty well controlled but Standish could read the surprise there.

Buck for his part, couldn't quite figure out the man who had arrived in their bullpen, ever so nonchalantly, and turned it upside down without doing or saying much of anything. This one might wear a fancy suit, but there was steel in the man underneath it. The flippant Southern accent and attitude were just that, attitude. Their new teammate was out to give an impression, and it was surely false through and through.

Wilmington had seen Vin's reassuring grin. That Texan knew something. Whatever this Ezra Standish was, it weren't no popinjay. Buck liked things to be straightforward, but he knew Chris well and knew that there was more to this story than it appeared.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra appraised JD Dunne carefully, liking what he saw. He might be young, but there was both strength and skill there. Dunne pretended to childish things, but the Triana's eye saw far more than appearances. Behind the boy he could see the shadow of the Grey Major, and nodded an eye blink acknowledgment to the Guardian Ghost. There remained the shadow of the blessings given in Chicago at the Canadian Consulate. He remembered it well and could feel the cords of the weaving binding him into this pattern. JD Dunne was the heart of it, as ever.

JD Dunne was very satisfied with the new undercover for his part. Yes, the man was flashy, but that was all show. It was a mask and he could tell it was a well worn one. This was a man who could be comfortable anywhere and with anyone. Few could see his heart or know his mind, though. That brought him up short. He'd seen worn out undercovers at the NYPD and knew that it was some of the most stressful work out there. Ezra Standish was like a raptor, a hawk, JD decided. Wild and hard to hold onto, but willing to work in harness. It was important to remember that such a creature was never domesticated and that the hawk might take a chunk out of you as well as the prey or try to escape at any time. With a hawk it was always an uneasy partnership. It would be here as well. Hoping the man wouldn't keep them at bay as well as the bad guys, JD decided to try to bring in this wild hawk and hope that he filled the hole in the team. It just seemed right.

+ + + + + + +

The new Agent had arrived and Josiah was startled, the man looked like some professional bureaucrat. Instinct told him this wasn't just an attempt to impress them. There was something off in the behavior but Josiah couldn't put a finger on it. It was plain that the man wanted them to perceive him as a total pain in the ass, an upper class con-man.

Agent Standish might project that for all he was worth, but Josiah knew it wasn't the reality. He kept a close eye on the younger man, noting the way in which his body moved. There was a grace and assurance that didn't quite square with the image he was trying to present. Chris would never have chosen an idiot, that was for certain. Analyzing this man would be fun. No one Larabee brought on to his team would be anything less than fascinating.

Ezra found it intriguing to let just the corner of the mask slip. Sanchez was one of the few people who could unsettle him. Ruthlessly reminding himself that Josiah Sanchez was not the person that he remembered, that he just looked like the monster, allowed him to keep his composure.

But only just. Giving him an image within an image would keep the therapist in Josiah Sanchez busy. At least until Ezra Standish could figure him out. An elaborate game of chess.

Nathan hadn't returned to the bullpen yet, so Josiah showed the new Agent around. Standish said nothing weighty, but kept the conversation light, but not flippant. Southern manners, but hiding something else. He introduced Standish to Deborah Rinaldi and was slightly surprised when the southerner spoke so respectfully that an outsider would have thought that they had been friends for years. Josiah caught an odd smirk on the face of a visiting Federal Marshal, Simerson or Sanderson, Sanchez thought. That man always seemed to be lurking around the office.

A phone rang in the bullpen and Josiah excused himself, realizing that it was his phone that was ringing. Ezra nodded to his cousin Mercury over Deborah Rinaldi's head. In the hallway behind Sanderson, he could see Peter Collier walk by and give him a thumbs- up signal. Standish hid his smile. Operations were up and running in Denver. He could feel the warmth of the pre-standing grids as they were preparing to uplink to full power. The thrum of his hand device indicated the status of the secondaries and the Firefall/ShatterStalk thresholds.

Josiah's phone call had finished quickly and he returned to hover over Ezra paternally. Standish could feel the man's overprotective personality like a wave. It would be interesting to dodge him, but Ezra refrained for now. There were other ways to hide in plain sight.

Following the older man back into the bullpen, Ezra saw but did not acknowledge the large dreamcatcher that hung from the top of Josiah's cubicle. Beside it, Josiah had stapled a printed copy of a newspaper piece announcing the murder of Inspector D'Orsay of the RCMP. On the other side of the cubicle, someone had posted a 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper with a crow and the slashed circle. No Crows allowed. Standish hid his amusement. He looked at Josiah with a raised eyebrow.

"Crows, a sign of Death. Probably mine." Josiah said, startling himself with his honesty. It had taken a couple of months for him to talk with the others about the visions that led him to Chris' team. He gave a goofy grin to back up a little from such complete honesty with someone he didn't know. No use having the man think that he was nuts.

"Well, well, a sense of humor. I look forward to many lively conversations." Ezra replied with a enigmatic smirk, but his hand reached out surreptitiously to touch the huge black feather woven into the dreamcatcher. It was a reverent touch.

+ + + + + + +

"Why'd you sign on, Josiah? What is it you expect to gain? Most men of your standing would be mostly retired and lecturing to blissfully dim-witted students." Ezra asked the man as he was shown the break room facilities for the third time. Apparently, he was rattling Sanchez just a little.

"It's the right place for me at this time. We can do a lot of good for people. It can take a bit of a twist in the thinking to find out why people do the evil things that they do. But I can usually figure it out. This is where I belong." Josiah said. Ezra was amused. Sanchez might not pay any attention to it, but he was ranked as one of the top profilers in the country. However, Ezra P. Standish was better, but the Triana had gifts that brought that about. The older man's talent was that earned by patient, long, and hard labor.

Josiah for his part found himself trying to hold back words with the Southerner. But unbidden the words came to his lips. "I saw the birds of darkness in a dream. When I woke up, a crow was sitting on my windowsill staring at me like the devil himself." To his immense surprise, Standish only nodded.

" There are many places where you could be of great help. Why come here?"Ezra Standish asked softly, but he knew that Josiah Sanchez heard him, and heard what he did not say.

"If death's coming, I'd just as soon meet it head on. This is the place to stand and fight." Josiah answered, seeing that odd look, a measuring gaze so like that of another young man.

"Your name isn't on Death's list for a while, yet, Josiah Raul Sanchez. You have things to do still. But carelessness can get it moved up. Watch yourself." Ezra Standish said plainly, but firmly. He then walked away from the break room and began shuffling things at his desk.

Josiah wondered when he'd told the other man his middle name.

+ + + + + + +

For Ezra the sequel was a bit of farce. He set out his belongings, firmly. One gold pen, one iron paperweight. Buck and JD watched in fascination, but Vin just smiled and shook his head. Ignoring his partner's amusement, he shuffled the desk's assigned contents, In basket, mouse pad, pencil cup, paperclip cup, and organizer. When everything was set out just so, he turned on his computer. Setting the rudimentary passwords, he did not acknowledge the arrival in the bullpen of the other member of Team Seven, Nathan Jackson.

Nathan had been fuming all the way up to the 20th floor and back as he'd had to run paperwork all over the building. He hadn't been there when the new undercover agent arrived. Having heard Ezra Standish's evil reputation declared all over the building had set him off. Looking at the man made it worse, why couldn't Chris have found a decent man to do this job? Maybe filth was required in an undercover specialist but that didn't mean that Nathan Jackson had to put up with him.

Ezra felt the anger before he saw the man. The raw fury was like a tide, and unpalatable. No one was spared it, he noticed. Josiah grimaced, Buck and JD ceased playing and just stared at the man. Vin half rose to protect Ezra, but Standish signaled him not to interfere. Here was the confrontation he'd been expecting. Right on schedule.

Grounding to a halt in front of the new agent's desk, Nathan stood firmly rooted. He seemed larger than usual to the others, swollen by the rage that he was feeling. The anger was palpable in the bullpen, forming waves like a disturbed pond. JD was wide-eyed in startled amazement, but Buck just looked resigned. Josiah was about to interrupt as was Vin when Ezra looked up from his desk and raised a single eloquent eyebrow. Nathan Jackson felt the whole weight of the Triana's measuring gaze.

It flowed over him like molten lava burning the rage away like little bits of lint in a firestorm. Nathan sensed a sudden inrush of power and realized the bonds that kept him enslaved were loosened. He understood that he was bound to the Professor's will, something that he had never consciously known before this moment.

Silently, he felt rather than heard words in his mind. I know that you are bound and do not do this of your own will, echoed in his thoughts. It was a gentle touch, careful and without the half remembered pain such occurrences had brought in the past. You are enslaved, but one day you will be free, the words continued. Hold on to yourself and be prepared to choose freedom. I will help you, but the choice must be yours.

Nathan knew that he was in shock, but his mouth opened and vile, ugly words came pouring out from something that was not him. He tried to communicate with this strange man, but he couldn't control the raging filth that he was saying. The new agent met his gaze, ignoring what he said, but looking at Nathan directly as if he understood. It took Nathan a little to understand, but the words he was hearing in his mind were coming from the man in front of him.

A feeling of gentle warmth and support encompassed him, keeping the cold slimy feeling that was a barrier between him and the body he inhabited away. You will be free, Nathan Edward Jackson, he heard the words, but it will be mostly your own doing. This prison that you dwell in was constructed by one that you trusted. When the hour is right you will have to look at what has been done and choose. Sadly that is not yet, but you are at least aware now. Hold on, my friend, and all will be right.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra ignored the vile innuendos and other idiotic garbage that Nathan Jackson's unconnected mouth was disgorging. The other agents were upset, he could tell, but he was more interested in the real man in front of him. It would not be time for a confrontation with Nathan's captor for some little while, but at least he could give the man respite from the bindings imposed upon him.

However, no matter how great Ezra's powers, the only person who could free Nathan Jackson was Nathan Jackson.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan's vile tirade had brought a startled Chris Larabee from his office. The rude comments stopped as Nathan looked at Chris, but Larabee was thunderstruck to see something not human in Nathan's eyes. Before he could do more than register his shock, he heard a crash and the moment was lost.

Deborah Rinaldi had lost hold of a large stack of things meant for the briefing scheduled later. Larabee wasn't certain if she'd done it on purpose, or if she'd done it out of horror at the sick things that Nathan had said. He caught her gaze as Buck and JD went to help her gather things up. It had been on purpose. Chris gave her a little half nod as both reassurance and thanks.

His hackles were still up from seeing that thing in Nathan's gaze, but he didn't have the first clue how to deal with it. Larabee didn't like not knowing how to handle a situation and he was rattled. Vin was scandalized and angry, he could tell that from Tanner's loud reverberations across the link. Buck was resigned and a little irritated, Chris could read his body language still as clearly as when they had been SEALs together. JD was covering, but he knew something was wrong. Josiah was totally baffled and it showed. Normally he would have been the first person to intervene or to help Deborah, but the older man just sat there staring at Nathan as if he'd never seen anything like him before.

Nathan's rage had just clicked off like a switch had been thrown and he went to his desk. Sitting down, the medic behaved as if nothing had happened. Chris shared a look of bewilderment with Vin and turned to apologize to their new undercover, but Standish shook his head cutting off what Chris had been going to say.

"No need" Standish said so softly that only Chris and Vin could hear him. Larabee started realizing that Ezra knew more than he would be willing to say and not just about Nathan.

+ + + + + + +

JD and Buck went downstairs after the introductions were finished. Both were more than a little shaken by what had happened. However the rule that Chris had required of them at the beginning held fast. You do not discuss the Team outside of the Team without solid reason. Several people made comments about the new Agent, but both JD and Buck refused to be drawn into anything. The stories were repetitious and flat, giving the impression of being made up.

Buck was impressed, disgusted, but impressed. It took a lot of work on someone's part to have this much garbage distributed around the building this quickly. Chris had only brought the man here on the weekend. Most people shouldn't even know that there was a new agent, given Chris' closed mouth tendencies. Some one, somewhere, really had it in for Ezra P. Standish.

JD for his part was a little alarmed. Something similar had occurred when he was NYPD. The accused officer had been totally innocent, but the set up had taken time to be revealed. By the time it had been found out, it was too late. The officer had killed himself. It wasn't going to happen here, JD decided. Standish was not what they were saying. There was no possible way that Chris would have taken him if he'd truly been bent. Making a decision, he caught Buck's eye.

Wilmington was a little astonished at the Kid's move, but he knew to play along. Taking a deep breath, he gave JD a wink in acknowledgment and then said something stupid. JD responded just as they'd planned. Good. Buck could see the shift from the stories being told about Standish to wondering what they were arguing about. 'Lovely' Janey from accounting hung on every word. Even better. He buried his dislike of the woman JD called the 'raging witch' when he was being polite.

The argument grew louder, and Buck was pleased. JD had a knack for this sort of thing. The Kid might be young but he was definitely not innocent, not at all. He certainly wasn't the naive thing that most people took him for. Finally the ersatz argument came around to money, just as they'd planned.

"You think you got me pegged, don't you Buck? Rich kid, had it all. Yeah, I lived in a big mansion, sort of. We lived in the Servant's building so we wouldn't share the same roof as the 'Master' and his family. My mother was a chamber maid. Never knew my father. They made me a stable boy and I taught myself how to ride, think, fight, and take care of things. When push came to shove, it was my doing that kept us going. We didn't get one red cent more than they had to give under the contracts, not one penny. I had to sell almost every thing we ever owned to pay the debts. But they're settled. Nobody had to take care of me or my mother. We did just fine." JD growled, sounding for all the world like a touchy bratty kid.

Buck didn't smile, but he was very pleased. It sounded good and was playing well. Chris would have questions later, but they would be private ones. Just enough to play their parts and get through this assignment. Then there would be time to figure out the Standish equation.

"In case you forgot, Mama died only a little while ago. She'd saved a little money. Wanted me to go to get a Senior degree. It wasn't enough. And they made sure that I couldn't have it, those Tofflers would have made me pay back every penny of the money Mama earned. Hell, they would have stolen the pennies from a dead man's eyes and thought they had the right to them." JD continued his tirade about money while watching the crowd surreptitiously. He was privy to Buck's plans, had to be to back up his partner, but even so... it was dangerous to play too open a game. Maybe Standish could help a little? If he wasn't part of the problem.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah Rinaldi listened to the rumors and lies with a serenity that only she could possess. Agent Larabee was not the kind of man that you easily fooled. No matter what the gossip was, Standish couldn't be all that bad. Chris Larabee might bend things a little, but never ever out of true alignment with Justice. No one that he chose for his team could be corrupt, Larabee didn't work that way. All of these stories were junk anyway. She'd typed up the new Personnel Jacket on Ezra P. Standish herself. The two different file jackets let her know that more than one thing was being played. Especially since the in-system Computer personnel file changed every few minutes, or so it appeared. Besides, Agent Standish gave her a feeling very different than Agent Baker. This man was a good one, but he played on the edge. She'd have to find out what Chris wanted her to do to help to keep him from sliding over.

She smiled at Marshal Sanderson, knowing that he was worried about his cousin. The file she had mentioned a lot of different people and she'd looked up more information in the system and elsewhere. It hadn't come to her as a surprise that Agent Standish came from such a large family. A great number of the Standish family were involved with Law Enforcement of varying kinds. She'd even looked the man up on the AltaVista search engine at home. Wow, It was amazing to think about what she'd found out, but it was important to keep it to herself.

Keeping her head down so that her smile was hidden, she watched as NSA Agent Peter Collier came down the hallway again. He wasn't very obvious, but she'd always kept a close eye out for trouble coming in to the bullpen. NSA's local division had gone through some radical changes over the weekend and so, sadly had the Office of Public Responsibility, OPR. Deborah knew when not to poke at things, but she couldn't help feeling amused that they were trying to hide so much in plain sight.

+ + + + + + +

The Grey Major tried not to laugh himself sick as he watched the battle lines drawn. He hadn't had quite so much fun in years, though he felt a little sorry for his heir. Ezra P. Standish of the many names was in for one very wild ride. The Seven were beginning to merge into that group of heroes that were needed. Hopefully this time they would be able to Stand.

He decided to continue his watch over both his charge and the rest of the team. A raise in the ambient power levels indicated that the other Guardians had focused their interest in Denver as well. Interesting. Fireworks were all around them ready to blow. One could only hope, the Ghost thought to himself, that this Seven would truly be Magnificent.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan was rattled. There were no two ways about it. His body was acting on it's own, following pre-existing instructions. It scared the Hell out of him. Just the fact that he had to have been betrayed by someone he trusted so much was terrifying. Why had this been done to him? Why had he been enslaved? Trying to keep his mind clear, he risked a glance at the new Agent. A vicious rage filled him every time he looked at the Southerner. That was the worst thing of all. There was no real reason to hate the man with such an intensity. What was he going to do?

+ + + + + + +

Chris took a short break when Alex Welch, the RMETF co-ordinator called him up to his office.

Taking Josiah with him, Larabee went up to finish clearing the reports on the final team member of his Task Force.

When Chris handed Alex the personnel file, the man's eyes took in the name on the tab and widened in surprise. "A Standish? Larabee are you sure? A for real Damned Standish! Which one? Do you know his full name? Allen would be great, Edward would be an incredible find...Hal? One of the Corwin twins? Which Standish?"


Alex Welch almost fainted. "Ezra Standish? Ezra P. Standish? Oh hell Larabee how did you do this? There's no way they'd let him wander! Ezra P. Standish." Larabee nodded. "Damn Chris, you have all the Luck. There's no way I would have thought that we could get any of that tribe, but Ezra P. Standish! Damn!"

"This is a good thing?" Josiah asked bewildered by Welch's excitement. "He isn't real friendly. Prickly, hard to work with, not a team player."

"Friendly? Friendly doesn't matter. The Standishes are the best there are. To get one of the lesser members of the tribe, but Ezra P. Standish...Damn." Alex shook his head and looked at both men with a deadly serious expression. "There are agencies out there who would give their entire operating budget to have a chance to get any of that family. But Ezra P. Standish? Damn. Damn. How the hell did you do it Chris? The Joint Chiefs and two Bureau Directors couldn't move him, Hell, the President couldn't get him to change his mind. Ezra P. Standish...Damn."

"Couldn't leave him behind. Atlanta was absolutely poisonous. I've never seen or heard of the like." Larabee explained as much as he felt he could about the situation he'd found Ezra in, surprising both Alex and Josiah. "It was...I can't describe it. He had a strike team of his own, for all I know they could be here. It doesn't matter. There are still problems, Agent Collier told me that things were as he put it, unresolved. Whatever's wrong he didn't deserve what he went through in Atlanta. There's more to it, a lot more to it than even I know, but I don't know how to resolve it. I have this bust to arrange, to salvage. But I know that Ezra is in trouble still. There's fear there, in him, fear that no human being, no Gifted should face. I know that he hasn't done anything wrong."

"What should we do?"Josiah asked, beyond astonished by the things that they'd just been told.

"I don't know. I've got to get us through this situation before I can even try to figure it out. The Nathan situation in particular. Alex warned us that he'd have problems with a white undercover, but I certainly wasn't expecting what happened in the bullpen. I've got complaints from departments that haven't even had interaction with Ezra, people yowling all over the place. Hell, even our 'esteemed' Area Director has weighed in. I don't care. We need him, but he needs us too. It's the right placement and I can't explain that to anyone. I knew that we'd need protective cover for him, but all of this goes way beyond anything that I'd thought of."

"Is there anything that I can do to help?" Alex Welch asked, quietly.

"I just have to get us through the bust, through this day, then we can deal with it. Then we can deal with it."

+ + + + + + +

"Get down!" The yell came. JD ducked trying to find both the source of the shout and the danger it warned of. Something flew past his head, but he couldn't tell what it was. The corridor was empty. When nothing more happened, JD decided to look around a little. He'd left Buck worming his way into 'Lovely' Janey's affections. As if that snake had any ability to have feelings. There was a hole in the wall behind him. A bullet hole. If he hadn't ducked, he might have been hit or killed.

Who was taking pot shots at people INSIDE the Federal Building?

+ + + + + + +

Judge Orrin Travis was fuming. How dare he! Larabee had collected a bunch of misfits it was true, but this was too much. He stormed down the halls to Team Seven's offices. His rage was not abating. Having been in conference with the F.B.I. for the last hour and a half about the man, did nothing for the Judge's serenity. There was no way that he was going to allow this...this travesty!

Storming through the Bullpen and into Chris' office, he'd demanded Larabee's attention. He'd let the man know in no uncertain terms what he thought of his latest acquisition. Chris had seemed surprised as he looked up from the piles of schematics he'd been reviewing. The angry comments had been delivered at a louder volume than Judge Travis would normally have used. He didn't care, all of his usual calm and deliberation would not, could not, prevent him giving voice to his extreme disappointment and anger.

It didn't matter to the Judge if everybody on the floor heard it.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner was furious. He was about to give the Judge a piece of his mind when Ezra waved him off. Up until this morning he'd have said that Travis was a fair and just man. But the garbage that was coming out, garbage that was audible not only in the bullpen but in the neighboring offices. There was no reason for it, even if the Judge believed Ezra was corrupt.

Not that any Triana could be. Looking over at his partner and charge, Vin could read the exhaustion and outright emotional pain that Standish's mask hid from the rest of the world. He wouldn't have been able to read it if he hadn't been so close to Cyrne.

Buck had returned and was tucking away some token, probably from some heartsick female. He looked at Vin, baffled by the roars of anger coming from Travis. Josiah looked shellshocked and not quite certain what to do. JD was still out of the office and Nathan had addressed himself to his reports with an unholy fervor.

The Judge hadn't let Larabee explain anything. He stormed out of Chris' office almost more angry than he'd been when he entered. Raging over to Ezra's desk, he bit out an angry statement.

"This is your Second Chance, Standish, your Last Chance. Don't screw it up. You don't deserve it." Travis glared venomously and left the bullpen. He almost bowled over JD as the young Agent returned to the office.

Everyone was a little too rattled to speak, shocked into silence by the Judge's actions.

+ + + + + + +

A little careful breathing exercise brought his emotions under rigid control, but Ezra knew that he'd have to deal with more than Judge Travis' enmity just to survive long enough to fulfil his Duty. Just keep breathing, he told himself.

+ + + + + + +

Chris didn't say anything about his superior's actions, but everyone could tell that Larabee was infuriated with Judge Travis and more than a little off balance with the state of affairs. No one made any comments or did any of their usual joking. They had a bust to get to, something that another team planned and that was stress enough. Somehow they'd have to work the situation and let all of the rest of it slide until it was safe to look at it.

Somehow it didn't inspire trust on a first mission. But they went out to grapple with it anyway.


Next:Echo of Judgement


It's rare for a Con to work without someone watching their back. I always wondered if Ezra was really alone. I hope that you enjoyed it. More twists and turns coming up.

Extra points if you found the Crossovers! They were really rather difficult this time.