Advances in Modern Technology

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!

The February Challenge 2003 (the Estrogen Challenge): offered by Lady Catherine
I know many writers like to stretch their creative muscles by creating new characters to work with the seven. I also know that many writers have a strong dislike for Mary Sues. (as do I) Therefore: I would like to see a three dimensional female character who is NOT romantically connected with any of the seven (past, present or future). She must play a role in the story, i.e. not simply walking by and tipping her hat. Women come in all shapes, sizes, ages and personalities, just like dudes. Make her tough, sweet, good, evil, prissy- whatever. Let's see some girls just being girls.

This one's the Sweet one, Not A Mary Sue.

June1998 RMETF Seven bullpen bulletin board, 8 A.M.

Deborah Rinaldi sighed. This was not going to go over well. Not at all, she thought as she posted the newest memo to the board. Occasionally members of Larabee's team actually read the things, but more often they only gave them a fleeting glance. For a moment Deborah was considering re-Xeroxing the memo on red paper or something to get their attention. They weren't going to like this one, not at all. And she wasn't allowed to talk about it. . .idiot rules.

Sometimes the only thing that you could do in a situation was to wait 'til the explosion was over and pick up the pieces. She went over to the new filing cabinet and looked for the appropriate forms. It wouldn't be too long and Deborah Rinaldi prided herself on being prepared. Taking the forms to the Xerox machine, she began copying them as she watched to see what each member of the new RMETF would do when they saw the memo. Maybe she would copy it on Red paper and hand it out later.

Judge Travis had picked her out of the secretarial pool for this assignment as Team Seven's admin because he believed that she would 'fit' there and that she would be able to keep the newly formed team in some kind of order. He'd specifically pulled her out of the admin pool to do this job and she was going to give it her all. After warning her that dealing with Larabee's men would be like herding cats, he'd left her to it, and she'd found there was a certain amount of truth to that idea. Travis had also warned her that there was a large amount of petty jealousy because the new RMETF agency had been organized and was independent of the other agencies, there was no existing place for the new group and the other agents resented the intrusion. The Judge knew Deborah well and both he and his Admin Nettie Wells thought that this was a place that she'd fit in. Deborah herself hoped that she was up to it, even when she'd been Mitch Larned's admin, she'd never had to deal with this much flack from the support departments.

HR and Supply were particularly making her miserable. What did she know about Classified Military records? Housekeeping was avoiding the office completely. They'd even cheerfully made sure that the RMETF was assigned the most worn rugs and furniture available, some of it was older than the building. Oh the joys of extensive Federal storage, good thing Larabee had been in Kansas City when the 'new' desks had arrived. She didn't think that he'd have appreciated the turquoise paint at all.

Maintenance would only come if Larabee or Nettie Wells called them. Deborah was not able to get them to do much without bothering either her new boss about it or interrupting Nettie who was busier than any one person should be. That said, she liked her new position. There was a lot that she didn't know, but as long as she kept the office in order, Larabee seemed pleased. However, she might not be able to do much to fight the overwhelming dislike the other agencies in the Federal Building had for the newly formed RMETF, but she could keep the paperwork straight and the office in order. There was one thing that Deborah Rinaldi did well, organization, and these agents definitely needed her.

The men of Team Seven, RMETF Seven, were the most amazing bunch of contrasts that she'd ever encountered. Granted, Deborah hadn't been in Federal Service for more than eight years, but she'd seen enough to see that they had the beginning of an incredible team. They were not quite clicking together but these men were a determined lot, she wouldn't want to get between them and their goals. It went without saying that the men of Team Seven were the wildest bunch of Rascals out there. But, these men were willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives so that others might have justice. What was a little odd behavior compared to that?

Besides, for a group of men, they were the most polite bunch she'd encountered. The most swearing she heard in a day were 'Hell' and 'Damn'. It was interesting that they'd all tried to avoid swearing anytime that she could hear them. They all seemed to be naturally polite to women, a curious thing in this day and age. Deborah had been through a very long conversation with the team's Profiler, once he'd arrived from Kansas City. Josiah Sanchez might ramble a lot, but he was sharper than the average by yea some. Agent Sanchez had made it a point once he'd discovered that she was LDS to point out the specifics of her beliefs to the men she worked for, something that Deborah was very grateful for, she'd been dreading a repeat of Larned's team.

All six of the men in the office were aware of both her presence and her religious faith, and treated both with dignity. She'd seen them with other women, witnesses, victims, other agents, even the redoubtable Nettie Wells, all women were treated like ladies, but as she was assigned to them, Team Seven made sure to accommodate her needs specifically.

Chris Larabee, the famous 'Man in Black' before whom agents trembled and criminals wet themselves, actually curbed his famous invective vocabulary around her. She was never offered anything that had alcohol or coffee. The six Agents were endlessly polite and considerate of her. They never abused her as other admins were. There was a terrific amount of paperwork to do, but they all did their share and always looked out for her. All in all Deborah was pleased by her situation. Paul Rinaldi, Deborah's husband was as well. Their situation had required that she must work outside of the home, there was no way that the disabled Paul could support their family. He'd been unsure about her posting with RMETF Seven, at least until he'd met them.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah couldn't keep the smile from her face when she remembered her gentle husband, physically fragile and delicate in appearance, walking into Larabee's office that first time and standing down a raging Chris. It had been a bad day for Team Seven. More nonsense about that Agent, Baker. Larabee was very unhappy with the pressure that he was getting to add the man to his team.

Personally, Deborah agreed with Larabee, there was something distinctly wrong with Baker, but she could never put her finger on just what it was. Every sense she had told her to beware of the man, and she did. She kept her distance and wished that SAC Larabee could too. It was a constant worry, Baker could be a very scary man.

However, she had no say about who was added to the team, and could only pray that Larabee got his wish and kept the man off of his team. SAC Christopher M Larabee was a very stubborn and controlling personality, but he was a good commander and his men were the most important thing in the world to him. It had been a little off putting at the beginning, but she'd hung in there.

Paul had come that first day the team had returned from Kansas City to meet her boss and find out what kind of man Larabee himself was, the rumors had been disregarded as a matter of course. . .but Paul had concerns. His wife had suffered through a bunch of foul mouthed imbeciles at her last assignment, he didn't want that to happen again. A team of men, no women, could get crude and he didn't want his wife subjected to gutter language or behavior again. He couldn't have been more pleased with the way this team treated his beloved wife. Even Wilmington, that self-professed skirt chaser, treated Deborah like the angel Paul knew her to be.

Deborah had been slightly embarrassed by Paul's visit, but the younger man's defense of his bride had won Chris Larabee's respect. There were others that worked in the Pool who had much to do to get all of the massive amounts of paperwork that the RMETF required to keep going done. There were several of them who were married, but only Paul Rinaldi had stopped by to see Chris, only Paul had had the sense to see what his wife would be dealing with, and only Paul had won the respect of the men she worked for.

As a consequence, Larabee did not use the Pool as often as other leaders might. The bond that she had with Paul and he with her had settled something in Larabee's mind. Agent Wilmington, in a rare serious mood, had told her that Larabee was as critical in picking the people who formed his team's support staff as he was when picking out his men. Travis may have sent her to work for Chris, but her own good sense and her abilities had earned her the place. The fact that she was loved enough that Paul would check out her safety and well being meant a great deal to Chris and to the others. Paul was often welcomed into the bullpen and even asked for ideas if his considerable knowledge in his many fields would have given them an insight into a case. Paul Rinaldi taught seventeen subjects at the local community college, despite the lack of an arm, and his easily weakened constitution.

The massive medical bills that both Paul's condition and that of her housebound mother created drained their finances, but somehow they were able to stay afloat. Her younger sister, Ruth, was staying with them to take care of their mother while Deborah was at work and going to college during breaks. And Deborah would say to anyone that asked, that yes, not only was she happy where she was, she was very content. Contentment was far harder to acquire in a job circumstance, she knew. But the Pool wouldn't believe her. The legend of how horrible it was to work with Larabee and his men being set in stone early on.

+ + + + + + +

The first temporary admin had not been ready to deal with RMETF Seven. The results had been disastrous, and that was when there were only two agents! Alison Dane had been the first assigned to get Team Seven up and running. Dane was quite lazy and disorganized, but she'd been the only one free at the time. Larabee had tolerated her for one week, then sent her back to the pool. She'd gone too far with her disorganization, way too far. Rumor said that She'd thrown almost all of the documents she handled away. Larabee supposedly had three secretaries down in the shredder room sorting through the piles trying to find the precious documents. Not a pretty picture there, Larabee was not a man to permit screw-ups.

The second assigned was Lancy Davidson. Lancy wouldn't listen to people, no matter how seriously they warned her. She decided, after hearing to the story of Larabee's tragic losses that what the man needed was a good . . ..well the terms that Lancy used were more vile than anything Deborah had heard before, even when she worked for Mitch Larned's command, before she'd been assigned to REMTF Seven. Mitch Larned's boys were the foulest mouthed agents in Federal Service. They'd been written up for Sexual harassment so many times that they'd become a case study on the failure of Federal regulations in the workplace.

She still shivered sometimes remembering the things she'd had to endure with them. . .and her Paul thought Larabee's boys would treat her badly! Larabee hadn't even killed Lancy Davidson, even though she deserved it for what she'd done. Rumor said that there were still pictures taken by the security cameras of Lancy, in the almost all-together, when Wilmington and Judge Travis had thrown her out of the Rout Building. That the Judge would do so was no surprise to Deborah. He'd rescued her from Larned when the behavior had gotten out of hand. That was one reason she was still with the Federal Government. It was a good job and most of the people were worth working with.

The third admin sent to deal with Larabee's new command was Kathy Evanovitch. This was an unfortunate choice. Kathy had worked for Larabee's old boss, SAC Taylor, over in the Satellite division. Taylor had moved up as a result of the Trager Bust, and no longer had need of her many 'services', and the new CO had not wanted her to stay. It was sad that she was so bitter about it and Deborah felt that Kathy was more than a little in love with SAC Taylor.

Kathy had far too many tales to tell and hated Larabee from back then. SAC Taylor seemed to be her ideal of an executive Agent. Listening to her constant comparisons had driven Deborah crazy after two weeks of being stuck on the same case processing in the Pool. Surely the woman couldn't think that being a pain in the rear about how many paperclips his men used was of any use in dealing with Crime on a Federal level? Hadn't Kathy realized that without Larabee's tenacious hold, Al Trager would have turned Denver into a blood bath by selling automatic weapons to every available gang or group with an agenda?

The older woman made it sound like Taylor had heroically saved the day when everyone knew that Chris Larabee had dug his heels in when Taylor had demanded that he file the case in the forget it drawer. From all that Deborah could tell Larabee didn't have a forget it drawer. He could pull up the details of a case in an instant and was as intensive on a 'cold' one as on a brand new one. Trager had been gotten off of the street. Taylor had been reluctant to do anything, but Larabee's carefully collected evidence would put Trager away for along time, maybe even life. Kathy Evanovitch hadn't liked that people knew who'd actually done the work, no matter what Washington thought, and she couldn't stand that at all. The kudos should have gone where they were deserved, to the tenacious Larabee, and not to his boss, Taylor. As a result Kathy had been vile and her dislike led to abuse of Larabee which led to the man exploding.

+ + + + + + +

Volcano Larabee going off had not done anything for the mental well being of the Pool. Most of them were praying, even if they were not normally religious, not to be sent to Larabee's command. Under normal circumstances, Deborah might have thought that it was humorous watching the Pool try to avoid the assignment, but mostly she'd thought it sad.

It hadn't really surprised her when she was summoned to Judge Travis' chambers. The others had arraigned it so that she, low person on the totem pole because she'd left Larned's team, would be the next one to answer the call. Judge Travis was a fair man, perhaps a little hair triggered in places, but Deborah knew that he was a good man. He'd asked if she'd take Larabee's team on for a little while, just until they could find someone else, maybe a prison warden or something. Deborah had found herself laughing. There were only two men on the team at the time, Larabee and Wilmington. It couldn't be so bad. . ..

Everyone had taken it upon himself or herself to brief her about Larabee and his temper and Wilmington and his flirting. All of the warnings hadn't meant much to Deborah. Larabee had left her the key to the office, a short list of instructions, a list of six projects he'd expected to have done and then blasted out the door with Wilmington a step behind. They were headed for Kansas City and some cold case. Deborah had spent the time she'd been left alone in the office getting the mess Kathy, Lancy, and Alison had left behind straightened up. And there was a lot to straighten up. She needed to get organized. They hadn't even been able to finish the dividers for each agent's area.

In short RMETF Seven's office was a mess and as soon as Larabee was out the door, the Federal Building staff added to the chaos. Maintenance had been called for a problem just before Larabee left, and spilled coffee all over. Richardson had winked as he threw his coffee on the floor, his grin told her that no one was going to clean it up.

Deborah smiled back showing her determination. She'd win in the end.

+ + + + + + +

The new coffee stains and other older set in stains on the not really 'new' carpet and the half-finished filing cabinets were Deborah's first goal to straighten out. She brought carpet shampoo from home, knowing that Housekeeping would never actually clean the carpets. Leaving it in for two days, she'd brought a steamer in while ignoring the laughter and comments came from both her co-workers in the Pool and from the other Agents on the floor. This was her assignment, to get things ready for Larabee's team, to get it ready and organized and she needed to get things done that would have normally been done by the building support staff. Kathy Evanovitch had gotten some of her friends together and turned the building staff against Larabee, small petty things but Deborah didn't want to see what would happen when SAC Larabee got home.

In the meantime things needed to be done, and she was the one there to do it. It took her a day and a half and all the tools she could find in her dad's old toolbox to get the cabinets and the partially finished sectionals up. Paul brought her lunch every day and kept her company as she worked. He'd lift what he could and always had a merry joke for any situation. It was a good thing that Paul could cook, they'd have starved otherwise. Deborah was great at office work but she was an absolute failure when it came to the domestic side. After she typed Paul's manuscripts, he'd joked that it was just fine that she couldn't cook, if she'd been able to handle the domestic side as well as she handled the office work, she'd have been perfect and he wouldn't have been able to keep up much less balance her at all. It was more than a resident joke by now, but she supported Paul and he supported her in everything.

+ + + + + + +

Even Paul's help couldn't straighten out the files. Eventually Deborah had had to push all of the desks into a corner and lay the papers out on the newly cleaned carpet. It took a week just to straighten out the mess the others had made of the RMETF paperwork. Larabee hadn't even filed a case yet! Deborah wasn't sure how the situation had deteriorated so much. She was frantic to get the files in order before Agent Larabee came back from Missouri. Several members of the Pool had come, along with a bunch of Agents to tell her that Larabee and Wilmington had been shot in Missouri and that the Government would surely shut down the RMETF. They told her she shouldn't work so hard. They'd laughed at her too. But Deborah knew the determined look she'd seen on Chris Larabee's face. This man wouldn't give up without a struggle. Neither would she!

The office would be ready when Larabee returned, no matter who was the permanent admin assigned. It would be ready and waiting.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah had nearly wept when Supply removed all the new desks and replaced the furniture with things taken from storage. Great heavy desks were one thing, but the ugly turquoise paint and bizarre stencils left her wondering if they'd been used as set dressing in a case? Perhaps some DEA case? There had to be a reason the stencils were cock-eyed that badly.

Undaunted, Deborah Rinaldi took the harassment in good part and brought in paint stripper. It took two more days to get the stink of the remover out of the office area. She smiled at Security, Maintenance, Housekeeping, and HR every day, no matter what they threw at her; this office was going to be ready. Agent Larabee was counting on her to get it straightened out and she wasn't going to fail, he looked like such a scary man. . .but even more so because it was wrong what was being done to his not even active RMETF.

Only Paul saw the tears of frustration and anger, but that was as it should be. These people who insisted on being so petty were not going to win. Besides, she didn't think that they'd find it quite so funny when Larabee got home and found out. No, she didn't think they'd enjoy the aftermath at all.

+ + + + + + +

Getting the RMETF organized and looking professional took planning, skill, and just outright luck. Deborah knew that she'd get no help from anyone except the Judge and Nettie Wells, but she couldn't go running to them every twenty seconds. She knew she'd have to rely on her own connections.

Her friend Jenny told her that Susan's office was closing, could she use some plants? Sister Rathbone shared the secrets of her famous furniture wax so the newly stripped and refinished office furniture glowed. The effect was better than she could have imagined. The heavy wood made the office look more prosperous and therefore more 'important' in the food chain. Cousin James opened up his old workshop for the nameplates and had even helped her cut the stencil for the door. Everything that should be labeled was professionally prepared by James and his engraving tools and he'd been one of the best in the business. The office looked so good that she had to laugh when Allie Johnson from Supply tried to find out which company she'd used to make the office name plates. Needless to say, Team Seven, RMETF Seven looked higher on the pecking scale than any of the other agencies in the building. Philomel Sanderson, one of the Federal Marshals whose office was nearby, winked at her often and she suspected that he'd backed off Maintenance when they'd tried to take the newly refurbished desks back.

Security at the Rout building had laughed itself sick as they watched Deborah drag the heavy planters up to the eleventh floor office. Since Housekeeping was ignoring the office out of spite, Deborah cleaned and vacuumed every morning. Dealing with Maintenance was worse, they were officially being 'unhelpful'. It took a meeting with Judge Travis' personal admin, the Amazing Nettie Wells, for them to deliver the promised computers. However, those stalwarts, unwilling to allow Deborah to set the system up, locked them up in the new team's unused conference room. She'd been able to round up the furniture but hadn't been able to really deep clean the room. Brackston, their leader had smirked at Deborah, but she'd just smiled pleasantly and kept filing the sorted papers.

It had taken three days of calling and demanding, but Deborah had gotten replacements for the documents lost by her predecessors. Everything was ready and waiting for Chris Larabee when he returned, and he had returned much to the surprise of both the Pool and the Agents. He'd returned triumphant from a 'two-bit' case, the Simpson case, and had two new Agents coming in.

+ + + + + + +

Both Larabee and Wilmington had been surprised when they returned. The mess had been cleaned and the whole office set right, more than right. The office looked like a prosperous Law Firm or a high Government Official's. It was amazing. Files could be found and weren't filled with pictures torn out of Buck's issues of Playboy or missing altogether. All of the make work that Chris had left was done, as well as everything else that could be found. The office was stocked, every desk had been set up, minus the computers, and there were nameplates waiting for the new Agents, Sanchez and Jackson, when they arrived.

Plants, in nice planters, decorated the office and softened some of it's harsh 'professional' look. The heavy furniture looked to hold up under the roughhousing that Larabee knew the Team was likely to indulge in. Even the ugly and foul smelling break room had been cleaned and the horrid old refrigerator was shiny and new looking. Neat organized sectionals waited for each agent to make his cubicle his own.

There was a fresh smell in the office and the dreaded stains were gone, something that Larabee couldn't miss. His temp admin was a jewel amoung admins. This one wasn't getting away. When her husband had shown up, shortly after Jackson and Sanchez arrived, Larabee had been softened even more by the very obvious fact of the love between husband and wife, and amused that this fragile one armed man was willing to take on the lot, two ex-Navy SEALs, a former Green Beret, and a former Homicide detective in top shape, all for the love and well being of his wife.

Supply, Housekeeping, Maintenance, and Security had been spinning when he'd gotten through with them. No one was going to hassle Deborah Rinaldi. Not while Chris Larabee was in charge, not even himself.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah hadn't been privy to the phone call Larabee had made, but she hadn't missed Judge Orrin Travis smirking as he went by. She'd had some concerns due to the things she'd been told about Chris Larabee's temper, but as the time went by he was never anything other than unfailingly courteous to her. As the new agents, Jackson and Sanchez arrived, Deborah found herself being asked if she'd be willing to extend her 'temp' assignment a little longer.

She had no objections. SAC Larabee treated her like a professional, unlike her previous boss. Wilmington complemented her, but never anything vile or offensive. Agent Sanchez was slightly absent minded, but then the man was always working on twelve different things at once. Keeping him organized was amusing, keeping Wilmington's desk in order was a challenge, and keeping Nathan going to all of his different commitments a task worthy of Heracles but she was very happy to do it.

Larabee had added two new Agents to the mix. JD Dunne, who looked at Deborah Rinaldi as if she were a long lost big sister and a shy young man, Vin Tanner who'd just arrived a week ago. It had been a pleasure to work with them, even Paul had liked them, all of them.

+ + + + + + +

Just after Vin Tanner joined the team, Chris Larabee went to Personnel and made Deborah Rinaldi's position permanent. He wasn't about to risk his team on incompetency, and Deborah Rinaldi was the most competent, organized, and helpful admin he'd ever encountered. He even managed to arrange a small raise. Larabee knew the Government's stinginess when it came to low level workers, there would be bonuses coming Deborah Rinaldi's way as often as Chris could arrange it. The woman was good for his team, and her husband was becoming a welcome friend.

There was a reason to thank old Judge Travis. Sneaky old man. Chris had heard about Larned's division and what his new admin had suffered there. No one should treat anyone like that, and Deborah Rinaldi was worth her weight in gold. Certain sure.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah now began her day by coming in and making coffee. She'd had to go to Nettie Wells and have the older woman teach her how to make the noxious smelling brews. There were three coffee makers in the break room, labeled Deborah's neat script, Standard, SEAL, and Texas. Every morning she came in and made the coffee, the men would never stop arguing if she didn't. They were learning to be friends, to depend on each other, but each needed their own kind of coffee. That was something Deborah hadn't expected. Larabee had issued a credit card to her, requesting that she have breakfast snacks available, so every morning there were fresh croissants and fruit, muffins, juice, and cheese ready and waiting. The men praised the bakery where the muffins and croissants came from, and Deborah just smiled and wouldn't tell them where the 'bakery' was.

If there was one thing Paul loved to do more than anything else, it was to bake. He certainly couldn't do it professionally, but he'd always been able to provide a good breakfast for the men who he and Deborah were coming to consider family. So she hid her secrets behind a wide smile and kept going.

Chris was firm with his men. They did not come into the office until Ten AM. This wasn't because they were lazy or slow. Every morning Larabee led them in a round of calisthenics just as he had when he was a SEAL. There were never any complaints. Each agent would shower in the downstairs locker room and then head to the range. Every day Larabee's men drilled physically and with their weapons, all of them. Every day. Rain, shine, or slog.

And every day Paul and Deborah Rinaldi had a solid breakfast waiting for them.

+ + + + + + +

Today Deborah waited for Team Seven to emerge from their exercises. She watched as they came into the office, noticed the board and walked past it. Each one went to their desks. Not one of them paused to read the Board.

The newest agent, Vin Tanner entered, gave Deborah a quiet good morning, ma'am and went to the break room for his morning coffee from the 'Texas' machine. It was strong enough to stand a spoon in it and it had taken Deborah a week just to learn to make it correctly. Tanner was the team's sharpshooter. He walked across the bullpen with his cup, turned on his computer, and began piling all the equipment catalogues into his lower desk drawer. Deborah knew he'd take them home and look through them.

One thing she'd already learned was that Vin Tanner was shy about his reading skills and kept to himself as much as he could. His writing indicated dyslexia, and she corrected everything, being careful to proof it and run it past him as being 'normal' procedure. She worried about hurting him un-necessarily. There was too much of that in the building. Deborah had overheard some hazing going on but because Tanner wouldn't say anything, she'd been unable to get Larabee's attention on it. Tanner didn't seem disposed to let anyone know that he was being hassled, and if the Texan didn't complain there was little that she could do. Being the newest agent on the team, he was understandably quiet until he settled in. Paul thought that Tanner would be a great practical joker and Deborah agreed. There was something there in the man that just screamed it.

Maybe he'd be comfortable enough soon. She knew that the worst 'offenders' had been backed off by that Marshal, Sanderson. He was a nice man. She really wished that there were more 'nice' guys in Federal service. Too many people seemed to be rising to the level of their incompetence. Tanner moved the piles of paper on his desk around, drawing her from her reverie. Deborah sighed as she watched him put aside the copy of the memo. Maybe she really should have used red paper.

One down.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson was next into the 'bullpen'. The man wanted to be hyper organized, he had to be, and having her help was the only way he could be... Deborah had used a ruler to lay out his morning messages. There was no other way to keep Jackson going to all of the different commitments that he had. Forensics, EMT, Medical School, and the rest. Far too much for just one man to do and Deborah worried that Nathan was so busy trying to build a life that he wouldn't live one.

Jackson had just found a new house in his price range, which meant a whole other list of things to do. She'd put the memo on top of his medical journals, but today Jackson was concentrating on school. Sighing again she watched Nathan put the memo aside along with the magazines and pull out the folder that he kept his school information in.

Knowing that he was going to call Kansas City and have a long discussion with his old teacher, Professor Bowman, meant that Deborah knew he'd never read the memo in it's current state.

Well that was two down. . ..

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD arrived together. They spent a merry couple of minutes squaring off about JD's hat. The young agent was grinning ear to ear, so Deborah knew that he must have gotten Buck a good one. The two played like children, like nothing was serious, but she knew them better than that. All the time that JD had been trying to get a position with the team had allowed Deborah to get to know him. He'd adopted her as a big sister and always was checking on her, making sure that she had everything he thought she needed.

The gentle mix of little brother and chivalry was a highlight of Deborah's day. It even made up for Buck's flirting. Wilmington never quit. He never was as heavy-handed as when he was actually on the prowl, but Deborah got tired of it occasionally. Buck seemed to recognize when he'd reached a limit. There'd be a large bunch of flowers or something sweet on her desk as if asking her to forgive him, rather like a big puppy dog. Deborah couldn't wait for Wilmington to find someone who he couldn't flatter into whatever, someone available. There were rumors she'd heard about the beautiful young woman who ran the Cantina across the street, J. Watson's. Deborah didn't like bars, but maybe she'd go to lunch over there. Linda in accounting swore it was the best American-Mexican restaurant in Denver and it would be okay to splurge once in a while.

Three and four down. . ...

+ + + + + + +

Josiah Sanchez found the memo, but as Deborah would have predicted, he didn't read it. At first she thought that he might be the one to catch the memo and alert the others, but Sanchez was using it for scratch paper. A few moments later, Josiah had torn the paper into even strips and was folding them into some intricate origami shapes. Deborah felt a headache coming on. She'd have to face this one head on. The instructions she'd received with the memo had been explicit, but the rule was wrong, she needed to bring the memo to their attention.

Watching as RMETF Seven began their morning round of playing with each other and getting to feel comfortable with each other, Deborah knew that she needed to take action somehow. She still had Chris' copy of the memo to deliver. Wait a minute didn't she have some red paper in the back of her desk?

Five down, would the Sixth and most important notice?

+ + + + + + +

Deborah didn't miss Chris Larabee's return from the meeting he had with Travis. Chris was furious, but that wasn't unusual. Muhulland, the Area Director was uncomfortable with a team that wasn't his to command or to adjust politically. It made for un-needed headaches and arguments aplenty. She was ready though. Six new copies of the memo were Xeroxed on bright orange sheets. The paper had been sent by 'mistake' to the RMETF offices. The clerks in Supply thought that they were being funny. That hadn't lasted long. Now they would go miles out of their way before inconveniencing SAC Chris Larabee again.

The orange paper, however, might actually prove useful.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee didn't do more than give his admin a passing glance as she entered his office with a stack of papers. He didn't really want to deal with them at the moment as he furiously typed his reaction letter into his computer. The spell checker put wavy lines and funny colors all over his typing. Larabee didn't care if it was correct English as long as it got the message across.

Realizing that Deborah Rinaldi was waiting for him, with an odd look of expectation on her face, Chris tore himself away from the computer to the stack of papers she'd laid in front of him. He raised an eyebrow, a memo on budget cuts in office supplies. That would make Deborah's work a little harder. She was such a cheerful soul. Very organized. Chris was certain that she'd taken to correcting his Agent's reports. Buck had never been fond of filling out forms if he remembered correctly, though Wilmington could and did write quite well. Larabee even had a few of Buck's old short stories hidden away. Maybe one day the man would get back to them. . ..maybe.

A page and a half from Appley in IS about computer usage. Damn but the man was a complete idiot. He kept that comment under his hat. What he'd like to say would make his admin blush. It was a good thing that she was here. For her sake and for Paul's sake Chris Larabee censored himself. It was hard for him to remember to in other situations.

It had been a while since he was a SEAL and the attitude of being commanded was still rubbing him a little raw. Four pages of new Income Tax regulations that he needed to brief his men on. Headache coming on. . .. Two separate memos on new personnel acquisition which was Human Resources' daily objection to the way he hired his team.

Three congratulations from various department heads on the case broken out by Wrightly.

The only good thing that had come from Wrightly was Vin, well one of the good things. He could still see Buck's surprised face as he received a letter from Joy Annette Fairshawe in Pink crayon. It had made him laugh for a full day. Terrified low level Government employees had raced to do his bidding for days after that. Maybe he ought to smile more? Shaking his head he flipped through the rest of the pile.

A bright orange caught his eye. It was not the general rule for US governmental documents, no matter how inane, to be printed on anything except boring white paper. Chris pulled the colored sheet from the stack of papers.

"Da. . ." He started and bit his tongue as he looked at Deborah Rinaldi's hopeful face.

+ + + + + + +

Once Chris had digested his astonishment and dealt with his bitten tongue, he re-read the paper to make sure that what he thought he read was what he read.

Of all the idiot notions. . .this had to be the worst.

Orrin Travis had to be kidding, didn't he?

Chris Larabee jumped out of his chair and went to his office door.

"Conference Room, Now!"

Deborah Rinaldi darted past him with a stack of orange paper in her hand. She stood beside the conference room door and handed each member of RMETF Seven their own personal copy of the memo Xeroxed on orange paper.

+ + + + + + +

"The Judge is kidding, isn't he?" JD pleaded

"Chris?" Buck questioned, he was perhaps the most unsettled by the memo. There was no love lost between himself and Agent Baker. Baker liked to pick on 'weaker' people and JD had been a marked man for a while. JD however had been made of stronger stuff than anyone had expected so young.

Agent Baker was still getting doctor bills from his plastic surgeon, and probably would be doing so for a while.

It hadn't mattered that JD had stood up to Baker on his own, Buck was still overprotective and he disliked the undercover agent with a passion.

Nathan was neutral on the subject the first time he'd encountered Agent Baker. Jackson's dislike of undercover agents was well entrenched. It didn't take much to re-enforce his distaste for them. Baker had not endeared himself to Nathan by treating him like some character out of a Thirties movie. Somehow the man came up with every possible stereotype.

Josiah found the man interesting at a distance. The one time both men had been together for an extended period had led to Josiah having to re-grow part of his prized mustache. Baker had learned to keep his distance after that.

The man was a menace, a menace who'd washed out four times in tryouts for Team Seven. Chris Larabee might have given extra chances if he'd thought there was a possibility that there was any hope at all for the agent. After four and the havoc that the man had wreaked on his team, there was no way Travis or Muhulland or anyone else was getting the man on the team. It wasn't just that. Every time Chris encountered the agent, he got the collywobbles. Fragments of long forgotten nightmares seemed to surface whenever Baker was around.

It was something that had increased since Vin's arrival on Team Seven. Chris had forced himself to analyze some feelings he'd been having since the Texan's joining them. That dark dream that Chris kept having and couldn't quite remember had focused on one man who'd died protecting Chris and another who'd suffered far worse than death. Vin was the man in the dream who had died, Chris knew it now and couldn't escape it.

That dream wasn't going to come to pass, and, Damn it!, Baker was never going to be on the team.

+ + + + + + +

Reactions around the conference room table told him that the others might not have dreamed a nightmare as he had, but they didn't like Baker at all.

Chris Larabee revised his tack on dealing with this new 'political' situation.

"The Judge can't make us work with him! I know he's really big into his wife's charity things, but we can't work with him, even for Miz Evie." Buck said firmly.

Vin just starred around the table. He'd never run into this Baker fellow, but it didn't look like he was good news.

Dealing with explosions was becoming second nature to Chris Larabee. Even when he wanted to blow himself, in this type of battle he had to keep his cool. There was a way around this, he just had to find it. Later he'd have a talk with Judge Travis about his role in the development of this team. Larabee would not risk his men, even if it meant listening to his 'dreams'.

"I've got a plan boys." Chris said calmly into the maelstrom of words from his team. They went silent , curiosity ruling at this time. Larabee knew that he needed to keep his word, curiosity first then trust. Giving Buck a nod that the man recognized, Chris gave several orders with regard to the function, but nothing in regard to Agent Baker.

+ + + + + + +

All of the Agents were busy or at least looking so when Area Director Muhulland stepped in to see Chris.

"I'm glad to see that there were none of the protests that Judge Travis assured me would occur over Agent Baker's assignment." Muhulland said coolly. He hated Chris Larabee, hated the man with a passion. The fact of the plum of this new team, RMETF Seven, existing and that Muhulland couldn't make political use of it, it was almost too much for the older agent to deal with. However, he'd been told 'hands off' in no uncertain terms by Washington. There were even Rumors that Larabee had some pretty serious backing, even rumors of the elusive John Grendal. It was unwelcome news, even though Muhulland didn't really credit it. Being backed by a high level individual like John Grendal. Hah. Just more nonsense. Travis hadn't even mentioned the connection and there was nothing that the old man didn't know about his precious team.

Larabee was a hot head and secretly Muhulland had been hoping for a blow up. It would help confirm the rumors that he'd been carefully circulating about the man's unfitness to lead a team, or in fact to be an Agent at all.

He frowned when he realized that Larabee was acting most professionally. There was a coolness that Muhulland didn't really understand. Larabee just didn't know how to play the game. Muhulland had warmed hundreds of desks and kissed a lot of ass to get where he was. There was no way this bull-headed Navy boy was going to take it away. Too busy flexing his muscles to understand how the world worked. Muhulland almost felt sorry for Larabee. . .Almost.

+ + + + + + +

After Muhulland sailed out of the office like some pretentious yuppie yacht, the rest of Team Seven were at the proverbial Sixes and Sevens.

Deborah Rinaldi happily organized the whole mess of things that Chris asked her to take care of. The memo was late warning and there was an awful lot to do. Tuxes and transportation were the least of it. She'd need measurements, at least Larabee had insisted that they kept accurate measurements available at all times. One could never tell if the Team would have to go undercover to break a case. Larabee had some strange rules, but they were followed absolutely. Bending her attention to the task at hand, Deborah found that she'd learned some firmness that she didn't know she had. The tuxes would be delivered in two hours.

Good, there were a great many more things to get done and she had only a little time. At least they knew the situation and Larabee had a plan. Deborah Rinaldi sighed in relief.

+ + + + + + +

In the quiet bullpen she could see JD and Josiah huddled around the profiler's desk. The books and papers stacked haphazardly gave the impression of a child's fortress, but the monitor glowed a bright blue as the Team's 'kid' showed it's oldest member around the Internet. Josiah Sanchez looked more curious than overwhelmed.

Agent Wilmington told her that he thought Josiah too old for the assignment. Somehow she'd become the Rogue's therapist, conscience, sounding board, and kid sister. Deborah wasn't sure why that was but she went with it. At least he wasn't flirting. . .often. But he was wrong about a lot of the things he worried about, She was sure that he was wrong about Josiah. The man might be old but he'd lost little of his strength and brought a lifetime's worth of cunning into the mix. He'd be a hard man to beat in the field, once they worked out the bugs between them.

JD looked like an excited little puppy the way he was wagging as he showed the older man the intricacies of the Internet. He might look like a lightweight, but Deborah knew there was more to it, far more to the Team's 'Kid'. Besides, Mae over in the F.B.I. had advised her that two senior Agents, Monson and Tusswell, had been keeping an eye on him from a distance. Adding that to the fact that JD had been on the N.Y.P.D., she knew that he was not to be lightly dismissed.

She was glad her 'little' brother had a hidden sting, the case files she had filed for Larabee to peruse were not light or easy things. It was easy for people to discount JD, but she had every confidence in him to get the job done.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah wasn't sure what prompted him to put the term 'Polar Angel' in the search engine. Young JD seemed fascinated by how he was taking this learning about the Internet. Interestingly JD was a good teacher, not hovering or taking over, but allowing him to do the tasks in his own way and time. Dunne might be young, but he was bright enough not to upset others as he tried to bring them towards his level. Agent Sanchez hid a smile that the boy would definitely take wrong and opened up some of the web articles.

The search engine review brought up clipping from Kansas City about his 'Mission' and the Hayward windfall. As he'd feared the Polar Angel coin that Marc had put in the poor box had gone into the wrong hands. He remembered what the young R.C.M.P. Inspector had said about the coins taking care of themselves. Perhaps. There was something decidedly odd about that 'servant of Michael'.

As he grew a little more confidant under JD's tutelage, Josiah typed Marc's full name. The search engine spat up dozens of stories. Sanchez was shocked; D'Orsay was a hero in Canada. Special Branch, that was the group that handled terrorist matters. He could see the earnest young man with the gaze that seemed to measure one's soul working those extreme and dangerous crimes. Canada had had such problems with the Separatists, among other things

After looking at several web articles listing D'Orsay's bravery, the computer then brought up news that slammed Josiah back in his chair with the force of a sledge hammer. That bright candle had been blown out, the young man was dead.

The murder of Inspector Marc-Philippe Emanuel D'Orsay had drawn a lot of press, and there were articles by the ton. Apparently the R.C.M.P. H.Q. had received a videotape showing the murder as a taunt that they couldn't protect their own. Rage at the loss and at the violation of the idea that the Police could and would save the day screamed from every page.

+ + + + + + +

JD looked over Josiah's shoulder wondering what had caught the older man's attention. Biting his lip as he read in black and white on the monitor the memorials for the Mountie who'd been murdered a couple of months ago, JD didn't say anything. The articles brought back that dark time in Chicago, making him feel that he should give the Consulate a call. He knew that Renfield Turnbull kept the other Mounties appraised of his progress, but JD still knew that they were hurting. Maybe he could distract them a little. Thinking about the Young Inspector and the devastation that the Mounties at the Consulate had felt at his brutal death reminded JD of his prayer. It made him feel small and just a bit pathetic to worry about not being able to stand up if his time came.

Josiah was wrapped up in reading the articles or he would have noticed the melancholy that JD was slipping into. Deborah caught it as she brought a stack of messages to Larabee's door. It made her worry to see JD so solemn. Agent Sanchez looked like he was praying, not uncommon to him, but it was odd to see him so sad.

Not knowing if she should bother them, Deborah reminded herself that there were muffins in the break-room. Both men were fond of the muffins, and if required, there was always a spot of computer trouble. She didn't call her computer 'Von Crashing' for no reason. Maybe a long discussion for Sanchez? It was still unknown territory. She wondered what the others were up to. Larabee hadn't emerged from his 'den' and Buck Wilmington was downstairs. Keeping this team organized, she'd been warned, included keeping them on task. That meant dealing with their moods. Even if it hadn't been part of the job, she was used to being a sounding board. She bit her lip as she went into the break room. There was some cheese left, maybe she could find some toast. Surely that wouldn't burn in the Microwave? Not wanting to set the fire alarms off again, she would be very careful.

Buck Wilmington had been a great help, even if he'd teased her mercilessly, when she'd set the smoke detectors off. Team Seven now knew that their admin couldn't boil water to save her life. Taking it on himself to assist each time she used the Microwave was all very gallant, but Buck was a strangely moody man. He would often come to talk at her for no reason, just to hear himself speak. The man was a worry-wort and almost as much of a perfectionist as she was. It galled her though, that Buck wouldn't settle down enough to find a nice lady to date. There was a woman he was spending time with, and it was going to be a situation, Deborah could see it already.

If Deborah Rinaldi could have asked to have one situation resolved or have it disappear altogether it would be Buck Wilmington and 'Lovely' Janey down in Accounting.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Janey in were in Accounting, in the little corner office. Janey was playing with her long copper hair and was playing with Buck as well. She buffed her long manicured nails against her silk shirt. Wilmington was pretty easy to manipulate. That was a truth she hadn't been expecting. This would be easier than she'd thought.

Wilmington was charming, but the corner of his mind that he kept thinking with was analyzing every move Janey made. She was beautiful and she was a plant. Latching on to him early in the game, Buck realized that she thought that she'd hooked him easy. It would take time, but he'd be the one doing the reeling in. This fish had bit but not yet hard enough. He wanted to know what she was up to and who she worked for.

Sometimes it was hard being a 'ladies' man'

+ + + + + + +

Nathan sorted his school records wishing that he was as organized as Mrs. Rinaldi made it seem. Rubbing a weary hand across his forehead, Nathan considered his situation. His self-confidence was dropping. There was no way he could do all of this, no way. He tried to admit to himself that he was over extended, but a nagging command in the back of his mind jumped up and laid a compulsion on him.

Grabbing the phone, Nathan Jackson stabbed the buttons as he dialed as if they were what was making him so very angry. He was suddenly furious. The phone was answered in two rings.

"Professor Bowman?" He asked.

"Yes, Nathan. I'm here." The silk-soft voice whispered.

"I can't. . ." Nathan began, but Bowman cut him off.

"Yes, Nathan, you can. And you will do this." The whisper grew stronger as Bowman's voice declared the different things that Nathan would do.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah Rinaldi was about to bring Nathan his tux for the evening activity when she noticed he was on the phone. It had to be that Professor of his, Bowman. Normally Nathan was a kindly sort with one of the most beautiful smiles she'd ever seen on a man. However when he made or received a call from Bowman that all went out the window. Nathan Jackson became a cold, hurtful man. She could see the change happening right now as he was on the phone. The smile dimmed and his bright eyes seemed to glaze over a little.

Nathan nodded in agreement with whatever Bowman said. Deborah knew this meant that Team Seven was in for a lecture about Civil Rights or racial awareness or something. Bowman always effected Nathan that way. She didn't like the Professor when he called, he was too smooth, reminding her of someone trying to sell something. The Professor often called because of Nathan's schooling, but she would find herself trying to take the call. Whenever Nathan took it, he became an absolute bear for a week or more, depending. There was something just wrong about that man. Maybe when Nathan got established at the University, he'd get a new advisor. Bowman gave her the willies almost as much as Agent Baker.

+ + + + + + +

Bowman disconnected the call from his end, turning the artifact over in his hands and reveling in the power it gave him over Nathan Jackson. He was still amused when he felt the brush of air that indicated that he was no longer alone.

"He's mine." Bowman growled.

"Nathan Edward Jackson is a free man, belonging to no one. His will is his own." Was the firm response to that declaration.

"His will is mine, I control him body, mind, and soul." The Professor thrust the artifact in his visitor's direction.

"Your toy won't work forever. His body will be free, his mind even now stretches to liberate itself though he is still unaware of the chains you placed on it, and his soul will never be yours."

"His soul will be mine," Bowman retorted. "Just as it was before. Nathan Jackson is mine. As for my toy, Louis was right, it works quite well. Nothing that you or any of the other 'Servants of Michael' can do will change that."

"Louis failed."

"Louis was a sentimental old fool who let a child get under his skin and change his mind. Not a mistake I intend to make. I will have what's mine." Bowman sneered.

"You won't have him. I will stand between the two of you. Unless he chooses you, you will not win." His visitor declared calmly.

"That worked so well the last time didn't it? As I recall your predecessor died." Bowman smirked, "There is no chance that you can claim Nathan, he's mine. I've trained him well and he will do my biding forever. He will hate and despise you even more than his ancestor grew to despise yours. As I remember it brought death to them all. Lovely, I remember relishing the death of the Major and the destruction of the so-called Magnificent Seven."


Nathan set the phone down feeling more than vaguely ill at ease. Calls to his old Professor somehow always left him invigorated and uneasy at the same time. Looking at the massive pile of material that he needed to cover, Nathan Jackson dived in ready to take on the world.

Deborah watched Nathan with an appraising eye. The young medic was tearing through the piles of things to do like there was no tomorrow. Maybe it would work, she considered, Maybe he just needs to find himself. Slowly she brought over his tux for the evening's assignment.

"You didn't have to do that Mrs. Rinaldi. It ain't fair making you work like that. We coulda just got our own things." Nathan paused. "You sure could pay for a lot of meals with the amount they're gonna waste on this dinner." He sniffed in disdain at the freshly pressed tuxedo. Deborah gave him a tight smile and went back to her desk as fast as she could. The "curse of Affluence" speech really annoyed her. Agent Jackson had more money than she had by far, but Nathan was always willing to say what others should do with their money, but he never put his own to good use.

Not to say that Nathan Jackson wasn't charitable, but Deborah knew that Dr. Simms over at the mission had stopped allowing the medic to help out because his 'charity' was laced with judgment calls and intolerant behavior. Nathan Jackson best gave of himself when he wasn't speechifying about some unjust occurrence. Deborah just couldn't figure out how such a nice young man could be so angry that he was unable to see what was in front of him.

+ + + + + + +

Retreat to the desk didn't help Deborah today, not only did she still have to track down the other members of Team Seven for their tuxedos, her least favorite Agent stormed past her into the bullpen with four boxes of junk. Agent Baker threw her a contemptuous look as he went into the bullpen.

Deborah just shook her head and waited for the explosions.

+ + + + + + +

Chris' headache doubled at the sight of Baker in the bullpen. The bellicose under

over agent began shifting everything off of Josiah's desk, but for some reason the man changed his mind halfway through, and then he began shoving the well ordered lists off of Nathan's desk while the team medic sat there. Jackson was glaring at the man in a way that would burn stone.

Finding that Agent Jackson's desk didn't suit his needs Baker went over to Buck's desk. He didn't like the chair, so he traded for JD's chair, but that one wasn't very plush to his mind so he went over to the last two desks. Ignoring the empty open space of the last desk, Baker decided that he liked Tanner's desk best and cleared it off by sweeping all of the Texan's belongings onto the floor.

The four other members of Team Seven returned from their various errands around the Rout building. Josiah saw the mess and sighed. He put his books back in order, corrected the chaos that his papers were in, found a missing journal article that he'd been looking for and sat down to read. Really, he considered the only way to deal

ith Agent Baker was to ignore the man. That was something the self-absorbed idiot couldn't stand.

Buck glared at the undercover agent as he restored his desk to it's constructive disorder and swapped chairs with JD. He was careful to keep his body positioned between JD and the wacked out Agent he disliked so much.

JD acknowledged Buck's protectiveness, but he had a glare for the nutcase now re-arraigning Vin Tanner's desk. Baker was a total nitwit, especially if he thought the Texan would take this lying down. Agent JD Dunne would be ready to back his teammate up when Tanner took this fruitcake down.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner entered the Bullpen reading the schematic for the evening's assignment. Too many people in too small a space. The Texan hated crowds. He almost didn't notice the hyper individual throwing the contents of Vin's desk drawers in the garbage can. Stopping in confusion, Vin raised an eyebrow at the man.

"I'm Agent Baker. You must be the hillbilly that Larabee brought on board. It's a good thing that you can make yourself useful by shooting at things. If you weren't such an ace with a rifle you'd be back on the streets where you belong. Only Larabee would take a piece of street trash and try to make something out of it." Baker was unaffected by Tanner's measuring gaze and he was pointedly ignoring the warning signs that the rest of Team Seven were reaching Critical Mass.

Larabee was on the phone with the nitwit he had to answer to in accounting and his anger was growing, how dare that Idiot show up in the bullpen. He couldn't hear what the men were saying in the bullpen, but he was sure that Baker was being his ususal charming self. This was a temporary assignment, not a permanent post on Team Seven. He watched the reactions of his men to Baker, culminating in the apparent standoff with Vin.

Tanner looked at the imbecile in front of him consideringly. He'd had to deal with worse nut-jobs in the Army, worse on the streets, worse in the Marshals. He wasn't moved by the idiot's taunts. Baker wanted a situation and Vin Tanner knew better than to give it to him.

The inane comments continued, and Vin could see his new teammates were ready and willing to assist him. He tried to signal them not to react. Baker was pulling out all the stops. In his irritation of not getting a rise out of Vin, the undercover agent had lapsed into racial slurs. Vin didn't react when Baker called him a drunken Injun. This infuriated the other man to the point that Baker took a swing at Vin. Actually, though Vin was pretty amused, if this was the best that the Area Director could do, RMETF Seven would have no problems once they decided to keep it cool.

"What the Hell is going on?" Rescue came from an unexpected source. Judge Travis and Area Director Muhulland had walked into the bullpen. Watching in speechless irritation, Muhulland was giving Agent Baker a glare that boded him no good. Baker didn't notice, he swung again. Vin ducked because he knew the name of the game, get him to fight and get him fired. He wouldn't do that to Chris.

Larabee hung up on the sputtering accountant the fourth time the man wanted to go through the numbers. Taking a moment to collect himself he entered the bullpen after he heard Travis' voice. He knew that his new team would be taking some hits from other agents and wanted to be as calm as he could, though one side of him was of a mind to rip Baker to pieces.

Agent Baker straightened his jacket and returned to putting his gear on Vin's desk. He ignored Judge Travis and seemed oblivious to the angry gazes from Team Seven. Baker also ignored the more dangerous rage simmering in the Area Director. Muhulland was furious. This man was supposed to show up Team Seven, not prove that they were in control.

Muhulland knew that Team Seven were all annoyed with the undercover, but he'd thought that Baker would provoke the violence not instigate it. This did not help his plans at all. Especially because Travis' bullhorn of a voice had brought half the floor into RMETF Seven's bullpen expecting trouble. Most of the Agents who had entered had drawn their weapons in direct response to the Judge's yell. Most of the Divisional supervisors, FBI, ATF, the Marshals, Hell even Gutterman from NSA were present. Several people were now shaking their heads over the situation. A couple of the supervisors even looked angry.

This wasn't working. Baker was supposed to get Team Seven broken up, to show how incompetent and out of control Larabee was, not get a reputation for nonsense himself. Couldn't the idiot do anything right? He'd have to speak with Senator Baker about the situation, but there was no way that Baker would be believed now.

"Agent Baker. What are you doing?" Larabee's voice was like a trumpet call. Muhulland hoped for the explosion that would save the situation.

"Putting my things away in my desk." Baker retorted throwing a picture in a glass frame to the ground and smiling when it broke. Vin's eyes narrowed dangerously but he still did not react. He could tell from the wild glint in Larabee's eyes that his leader would take care of the problem for him.

"And why are you putting your things away on Agent Tanner's desk?" Chris Larabee's tone was sweet reason and Buck swallowed a smile, oh this was going to get ugly, satisfyingly, completely, and totally within the rules ugly.

"It's my desk, this street trash will just have to move. I intend to have the best seat in my bullpen." Baker continued, placidly ignoring the anger radiating from Larabee.

"But Agent Baker, your bullpen is Downstairs." Larabee said with an emphasis that made most of the watching agents shiver. "Your belongings belong there."

"But I was ordered to report to Team Seven." Baker protested looking at Larabee for the first time since the Team Leader stepped out of the office. He was suddenly chilled at the sight.

"Only temporarily." Larabee smiled coldly. "You are on loan to Team Seven for tonight's operation, only Agent Baker. It was considered that the assignment was one within your skills. There was no permanent assignment, in fact you are fill-in only until our new Undercover arrives."

"New Undercover?" Baker squeaked.

"New Undercover?" Muhulland demanded. "Why wasn't I told about this?"

Chris Larabee's tone was proper to superior, but the audience heard the sub text quite clearly. "He's currently on assignment right now. Deep cover. A week maybe a couple as his current team finishes the case that they are working on. It's a fiendishly complicated one and I don't want to jeopardize the operation by going to see him." Larabee had the satisfaction of watching Muhulland boxed into a corner. He had to hand it to the idiot Baker. There was no question now among his peer-leaders that Baker was unstable, and more importantly that Larabee had someone else in mind.

The only thing that he needed to keep quiet was that there wasn't someone else in Larabee's mind.

+ + + + + + +

Baker seemed stunned by the turn of events but his belligerent nature didn't stay cowed for very long. He couldn't stand the humiliation that Larabee had directed toward him, so in spite of the presence of a Federal Judge, the Area Director and all the watching agents from the various departments, Baker let loose.

He crammed his stuff back in it's packing boxes and stormed over to the wall next to the break room with each box. When all four boxes were stacked haphazardly, he turned to listen to Team Seven's leader. Larabee was a maniac and Baker had every intention of bringing him down from his high horse.

The kid and the stupid witch secretary had gone into the break room for refreshments for the meeting that Larabee was calling to order. Baker steamed. This was just too much. He swung out his fists nearly hitting JD and slamming into Deborah Rinaldi. In other circumstances the shocked looks on the faces of the people surrounding him would have amused Baker, but as they were so damn protective of the whey faced thing. She couldn't take a joke of any kind, he knew. After all she'd gotten Mitch Larned's team disciplined. It would be his most important duty to get her ass fired. After all, such a prude didn't belong working where real men were. She ought to go home and bake cookies. Probably wasn't worth much there either. Baker's inane imagination was busily conjuring up lascivious ideas when the sudden sensation of pain registered with what passed for his mind. The blow Baker gave striking Deborah Rinaldi had overset the coffee pot she carried pouring scalding hot coffee all over him.

She looked horrified, but the rest of those in attendance seemed to find it all amusing, especially the grey coated Agent that stood beside the woman. He looked at Baker the way a lion looks at dinner and Baker's shock at being burned turned to sudden and complete terror. There was something in that Agent's eyes that Baker didn't dare challenge, something that pulled at his soul.

It frightened him so much that he kept his stupid comments to himself as Deborah Rinaldi apologized profusely. Larabee intervened, reminding everyone that Baker was at fault and setting a grim faced Nathan Jackson to care for Baker's burns.

+ + + + + + +

It had taken a couple of hours to settle down everything and Deborah was grateful. She'd been so horrified when the coffeepot flew out of her hand and drenched Agent Baker. There was so much about that Agent that frightened her but she'd never wished him harm. SAC Larabee had called for Paul to come to the office as soon as his class let out.

Paul had been gentle and concerned, though he'd also been angry when Larabee advised him how the coffee pot 'slipped'. Larabee had requested both of the Rinaldis' assistance for the evening. They had both been willing to help out, though neither of them were 'Society people'. However they had both volunteered for Evie Travis before and even had appropriate dress for this type of activity.

As they assisted the members of Team Seven into their tuxes, the Agents reviewed the evening's plans, Deborah found herself hiding a smile. They really cleaned up well. The men of RMETF Seven would do Evie Travis proud.

+ + + + + + +

Lying beside her desk was the last of the Orange Memos, Deborah picked it up and re-read it with a laugh, this would be an evening. . ..

Memo: From the desk of the Honorable Orrin Travis To: C. Larabee, B. Wilmington, J. Sanchez, N. Jackson, J.D. Dunne and V. Tanner

Re: The Dinner.

My wife is hosting Denver's elite in a fund-raising effort for the Baleen Committee for the preservation of Old Denver, a part of the Historical Society of Denver. YOU will attend, Gentlemen. There will be no objections and you will dress appropriately. You are not guests, so pay attention.

My wife has been receiving threats to this gathering ever since she was put in charge of it. I am not willing to allow anything that Evie has worked so hard for to be destroyed even though I think that they are the bossiest bunch of wet hens that Colorado ever produced.

Therefore YOU will attend and be on the alert for trouble. Since this is not an official assignment, though I have Area Director Muhulland's assurances that this important assignment will be given the weight of the unofficial, official need, YOU will accept and you will be there to prevent anyone from upsetting my wife. Since you are not official, do not reveal yourselves to be Federal Agents. I have enough trouble explaining your shenanigans without having to explain why you were 'officially' there.

This will go a long way to correcting the impression made so famously at the Luksenes Trial. I expect compliance Gentlemen. This is an official "Test" of your Team and you damn well better be ready for it.

Since you do not have a current undercover agent, Muhulland is loaning you Agent Baker for the evening, his father Senator Baker is involved in this activity and the Senator's wife is a Grandame of Colorado Society as well as being one of the biggest. . ..fill in the blank yourselves.

I'm not asking Gentlemen, I'm telling you. Be there, be on time, no excuses and I expect the evening to go flawlessly.

If you embarrass my wife, Remember I still have that coach gun under my desk.


+ + + + + + +

Dinner with Miz Evie Travis was not what Chris Larabee had in mind when he'd asked the Judge for an 'official' test. He was not pleased to be wasting his team's time with some foolish society idiocy. Although there was little his men would deny the much beloved Mrs. Travis, having to put up with Agent Baker had been the famous straw. Buck was grousing about Baker trying to hit JD. Larabee had almost turned off his receiver after an hour of listening to it. Fortunately the ear-piece was the only one to pick up all channels, so only he and the unfortunate Josiah had to listen to Buck's complaints.

Because Vin hated crowds, Larabee had stationed him upstairs, on the balcony to watch as he would in a regular bust or take down. The sniper skills the Army had taught were multi purpose and translated well into what Larabee needed. Vin was working out very well.

JD Dunne might be young but the kid had taken to the assignment like a duck to water. There was no complaining from him about what he was assigned to do and how. The kid was up in the sound booth pouring on soothing white noise for most of the hall and keeping the lighting just right. It showed a delicate touch that Larabee hadn't suspected Dunne to have. Perhaps Josiah wasn't the only one into Psychology.

He was having some trouble with Nathan. Jackson was uptight and was on a tear about wasting money. Again. There were times Chris cursed Buck's well-meaning need to give people second chances. Nathan got on Chris' nerves more than the medic realized. It was interesting that Buck insisted on letting Nathan slide but kept holding Josiah up to a higher standard. It was something that he'd discussed in depth with the older man. Josiah had no real problem with Buck's unease. In fact it seemed to amuse and invigorate him, so Chris let it be. If only they had a proper undercover agent. . .That would take some of the tension out of the situation. Borrowing Undercovers was a dangerous proposition and made for uncertainty in the team. There was nothing Chris Larabee hated more than uncertainty in the men he led.

Speaking of Undercovers, Chris thought as he smiled at Deborah Rinaldi at the registration desk, where was Baker? He'd better be there or Larabee wouldn't restrain himself as he had in the bullpen. Baker needed his ass kicked into next week for what he'd done. Chris had been very surprised and pleased when Vin kept his cool and didn't react to Baker's abuse.

Vin's explanation of why he kept so cool had upset him, though. It made him sick to hear about Vin Tanner's childhood. There were so many adults that he wanted to give a swift kick to, some more than others, but Chris Larabee was a territorial creature and what he claimed was his, was his. Heaven help the fool who tried to interfere. Baker was due some comeuppance, but Larabee wasn't sure that his plan wouldn't backfire and it made him uncharacteristically hesitant. His team needed a solid start, not memories of the Baker screw up.

+ + + + + + +

The party was in full swing, folk in tuxes and designer dresses mingling with a strange mix of nineteenth century clothing. It seemed to be going well. Chris recognized several people from the various government agencies, too many politicians to count, and a great deal of the wealthiest members of Denver society. He was surprised how much they rubbed his fur the wrong way. There were others there too, people who honestly wanted to help, but all they were ever asked for was a check or to come to some event like this. Evan Cadwell for example, was one man looking for a cause to support. He knew that there were many causes out there, but Larabee found himself grinding his teeth when he thought that the more 'idle' of the idle rich were the ones who didn't do anything except smile, attend functions like this, and try to get out of any trouble that they caused with money.

Having him at such a function was not a good mix. Chris Larabee did not see himself as a social reformer, he just hated people who used money to gain power for no purpose. He was a doer and not a spectator. Nodding at the Travises as he stalked around the room, Chris got on with the work of the evening. Besides, keeping moving would keep him out of the target zones for that group of idiot women who thought that a year of mourning was sufficient. . .. A year would never be enough.

+ + + + + + +

Shaking those thoughts out of his mind, he climbed the stairs to check on his men. Vin was where Larabee had assigned him. There were some at the Federal Building that thought Vin was too much of a lone wolf to function in society. Chris grinned, Vin knew how to obey the leader of his 'pack'. As if his thoughts had summoned him, the lanky Texan slipped up behind Chris.

"Can't fool me that way Tanner." Chris whispered, knowing without looking that Vin was smirking.

"Know better than to fool ya." Tanner lisped quietly then added with a wink "Boss-man." Chris growled. Tanner had taken to calling him every possible slang term for a business leader, knowing that he hated all of it. If he had to be called something annoying he'd rather be called a 'cowboy'. At least Agent Parma's observation had had some justification to it. His men were a bunch of mavericks, and he liked it that way. The bad old jokes not withstanding he might just be Clancy's Captain Ramius' Buckaroo as people claimed. But then again, he and Parma went back away. The man didn't know him as well as Buck did. Still there were things even his oldest friend didn't know.

Shaking off his annoyance with social functions and the people he had to deal with a shudder like a duck shedding water, Chris Larabee quickly reviewed Tanner's little nest. It would do, do very well. Vin was a good fit with Larabee's own thinking. There were a couple of specialized improvements that Chris wouldn't have thought of, but then again, he was a Seal not a Ranger, and not a sniper to boot.

Giving Vin a pleased nod, Chris went back to checking the other members of his team. Resuming listening on the earpiece, he was surprised to hear a sullen Buck, quietly reporting, but no longer complaining about Baker. Their offensive idiot of an undercover must have arrived.

A quick scan of the gathering did not reveal Agent Baker's position. Where the hell was that idiot? Chris frowned as he scanned for his men. Buck was over by the dance floor, a pretty blonde on his arm. He seemed to sense Chris' gaze and gave a signal from their old Navy days, Buck Wilmington was on the task. Josiah Sanchez seemed to have found a bevy of older ladies and was charming them to pieces. The man used his eyes to signal to his boss that he was alert and ready for anything. Nathan was grumbling. This Chris could tell without hearing him, but Jackson was gathered with the 'great and the good' listening to the politicos explain how a thousand dollar a plate dinner was going to save the older homes of the community, especially for those who could no longer keep up with them. Although the team's medic was listening closely, Larabee could tell that he was ready for anything. JD gave him a very quick high sign from the control booth as he monitored all of the gathering from front door to back.

Vin was prepared, Chris knew that as well as he knew the force of the man's gaze on him. Tanner had just found a potential home and wasn't going to risk it for anything trivial. He sure as hell wasn't going to allow a leader he liked and respected to fall if he could help it. Larabee found the intensity a little unnerving but he respected Vin's needs.

Team Seven's leader quickly found Deborah Rinaldi, fluttering here and there as needed. That woman could keep the Navy in order. She might be a gentle little thing, but threaten someone that she cared about. . .Both Paul and Vin had brought her unspoken concerns to him about Vin's mistreatment at the Rout. Paul because it was the right thing to do, Vin because he couldn't quite understand why she worried so.

No, Deborah Rinaldi might not make a fuss, but she got her way when it mattered to her. Chris gave an uncharacteristic grin as he sought out and found Deborah as busy as any bumblebee darting here and there. He tracked her with his eyes, but they widened as Agent Baker made his overdue entrance.

+ + + + + + +

Baker looked around the gathering with a very unconcealed annoyance. Why the hell did that nitwit Larabee insist that his team's attendance at this gathering remain anonymous? He frowned as that annoying woman who was Larabee's PA went by without acknowledging him. Who was that little chit thinking she was? He was a full agent, she was just support staff.

He brushed past without even greeting the Travises. There was no point in bothering, and Evelyn Travis was as stuck up a bitch as that whey faced trailer trash. Agent Baker did not notice or even seem to care as the people around him began to stare at him. Rudely ignoring the hosts of such a gathering was just not done. Not even if you hated them, you make the proper social greetings.

Intending to grab the whey faced thing and give her a stiff piece of his mind, Baker found himself again looking at the grey coated agent from earlier. The other man looked at Baker with that soul burning glare again, and Baker knew better than to reach past him for Deborah Rinaldi.

+ + + + + + +

Above him, Chris had been about to swear a blue streak. Leave it to that idiot to ruin a simple party...but the words froze on his lips. As if in answer, a grey coated man looked up at him with an oh so familiar expression. Larabee shivered, a quick glance around the room made his blood run cold. There were more of them. . .not just one. He would have been able to handle one, but the sight of so many. . .. There was one standing next to Paul Rinaldi at the punch bowl, his bright red uniform seemingly out of place but ignored by the attendees. There were five other such uniforms wandering around the room, and Chris Larabee knew that none of them had been invited, at least by the Travises. There were three women, all in varyingly fancy gowns standing over by the stairs he'd just come up. Another woman with a determined look and the coldest set of eyes Chris had ever seen was standing by the dance floor. Near her was another man, in the clothes of a 19th century dandy. Larabee could just make out the pattern of silver Easter lilies woven into his vest. What had been done to bring the Dead out to play this night?

After watching in growing dread, Larabee was both frightened and amused when he noted that the ghostly entourage all seemed focused on his would be undercover agent. Baker was an Ass, for certain sure, but what could he possibly have done to bring the Dead out in such droves?

He spotted the red-coated man standing by the punch bowl, talking with Paul Rinaldi still. The man was pale, but not unnaturally so, his dark hair and bright blue eyes adding to the impression. Rather like JD's coloring but not quite right, Chris thought, but the air of command was very different than the 'presence' of his youngest agent. As if amused by the scrutiny, the ghost looked up and gave Chris a wide smile, eyes twinkling.

+ + + + + + +

Paul Rinaldi was enjoying this party far more than he thought he would. His assigned companion, the man in the red uniform was an absolute riot. They had a lot in common, even to disliking the social gathering because of the bad behaviors it brought forth. They'd ended up together at the punch bowl because Carrie Morris knew that they needed someone trustworthy to make sure that the bowl wasn't spiked. A Mormon and a 'Boy scout' were just what she'd ordered. His companion had taken it in stride, but Paul knew somehow that the man wasn't really amused by the airs and graces of Carrie Morris and her ilk.

They'd stood together for what felt like years and discussed all manner of things. The red uniform puzzled Paul, though when the visiting Canadian police officers had come through, he'd gotten the idea that the bright coat was from the R.C.M.P. Corporal Mouret had been hard pressed to keep his senior officer from making a scene. Sargent Runson was furious that anyone in America would dare to wear the uniform of the Force. His invective was blistering, but somehow the man behind the punch bowl just listened with a grin. Paul Rinaldi had been more concerned when Mouret had pulled on his supervisor's tux jacket, fear showing plainly on the young face. Five men in the red uniform and three beautiful but very different looking women watched Runson make a fool of himself. Mouret had finally convinced Runson to leave, the Senior Mountie re-writing the incident in his mind. As they walked away, Paul could hear the man composing a note to advise the hostess, that although it was quite thoughtful of her to include the Canadians in her representation of the 19th century, it was inappropriate for anyone to wear the uniform of the Northwest Mounted if they were not Mounties.

Mouret on the other hand had made a gesture of fearful respect, which was acknowledged with a short nod by the man behind the punch bowl. As the Senior Mountie wandered off to rejoin his new political friends, the younger man gathered his courage and stepped back. He stared at Paul's companion for a moment and then saluted.

"The sign of Hope." Mouret said, firmly, trying to hide his terror.

"Not this hour or this day, little brother," the older man said gently. Samuel could read the man's fears and longings all laid out for his review. "We do not seek a rider. Though one day. . ." Mouret started as the bright blue eyes raked him from head to toe. "One day, we will ask. But that is not now nor soon. Keep Faith, little brother, Maintain the Right, and one day you shall Ride."

"Thank you, Sir." Mouret bowed, very shaken. "Do you hunt then?"

"Only Fools and destiny." The Guardian Samuel laughed long and hard. "Peace little brother, morning is wiser than evening, indeed. Some tangles need help to straighten out. We keep faith with those who need us too. Whether or not they think that we will."

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington bumped into a beautiful woman dressed in severe 19th century costume. She was the kind of woman that was far too hard on herself, and Buck could feel the heavy burden weighing on her. He didn't know what had caused it, but he knew from experience that it was there. So, he took it upon himself to try to lighten it.

Azrael was startled as the young man made his overtures to her. She could tell of his gentleness and the intended kindness. But hers were eyes that had seen the dying fields of the Civil War and saw them still. The Guardian looked on this well meaning Rogue as if he had two heads.

"I've seen the winter too." Buck said, hoping to ease some of the burden he could see reflected in the woman's expression. He'd known too many, EMTs, Ambo Crews, Firefighters, Cops, Agents, Hell even his old SEALs who had eyes like this beautiful woman did. Eyes that showed years of sacrifice and duty, but the grief of believing that somehow they needed to do more, to be more, to offer or sacrifice more. Blinking so as to keep the tears hidden, he pasted on an even brighter smile. Those who sacrificed so much seemed to feel that they had to give all, until there was nothing left except the empty husk that had been a person. Surely that was more than God wanted, Wilmington found himself thinking. Being willing to lay down one's life for another was one thing, but although he wasn't as familiar with the 'Good Book' as he should be, there was nothing that he'd read in there about laying down one's soul. This woman, like so many others that he'd known had done that to the point of believing that was all there was for her. Just endless Joyless sacrifice. He wanted her to smile, to know that while she'd given so much, she could receive too.

Buck Wilmington led the woman onto the dance floor feeling her confusion and fear. For one minute he intended that she should forget her burden.

+ + + + + + +

Jacob and the Major watched in amazement as the modern Buck Wilmington led their Kinswoman in the dance. They remembered the days of pain and grief that had changed the Keeper of the East from the laughing loving girl they'd known as children to the somber husk that had survived all of them. Azrael had survived to be the last of their Four to die, the last of their Duty playing out with such pain for her.

For the moment of a dance Buck Wilmington had lifted that burden from her and they had seen the gentle smile they both had loved so, one more time. In agreement, both Guardians decided that this Buck Wilmington was owed a great debt for his kindness.

+ + + + + + +

Azrael found herself breathless and dizzy. She had a Duty, a Responsibility here tonight. Why oh Why was she letting this man do this to her. There was a man she was supposed to find. . . John Calvin Baker. Not this Buck Wilmington who held her gently and whispered of things that could never be. Her life was long gone from this world, she had no living place, only that of the Guardian. But for one moment, one moment she was happy.

"Here." A soft female voice said behind her. Azrael turned and was handed a glass of pink punch by Deborah Rinaldi. "It isn't spiked, just fruit juice and 7-UP." She smiled at Azrael as if this were a great joy to do. The Guardian was confused, even more so as the young woman exchanged jokes with Buck after presenting him with his own cup of punch.

Buck tried to sweep her back onto the dance floor, but Azrael stopped him with a gentle hand. "I thank you, sir. For the Dance." He gave her hand a kiss and a whispered endearment. "I have Duty this night, but I thank you again, For the Dance." Azrael smiled at the man who'd given her something back that she'd long forgotten was missing.

Then the smile turned feral as Agent Baker moved into her sight. Buck was startled as he saw the change in her and even more startled as he noted her line of gaze.

"I'm sorry." She said softly. "Duty first." Azrael looked at him with a gentleness that she hadn't felt in long years. Giving Buck that same lost smile, she moved firmly into Baker's sight. "Excuse me. Aren't you John Calvin Baker?" She asked, her voice full of false brightness. Buck stepped back and exchanged a glance with Deborah Rinaldi. There was no way either of them wanted to get in the way of this. Somehow, for some reason, Agent Baker was getting what was coming to him.

Baker made his way over to the gorgeous blonde who'd called him. "I'm John Baker, darling. Who are you?"

"Why don't you come find out." She smiled widely, like a crocodile.

Azrael's answer gave both Buck and Deborah chills. There was a lot more going on here than they knew. Buck was torn. He hated Baker, but one didn't leave a teammate in trouble. Something was going on here, something was not right. Wilmington started to make a move, but a hand gripped his arm and a voice in his ear stopped him cold.

"No, Bucklin Thomas Wilmington. What must be, must be. Let it be." The voice was soft, but the tone was of command. Buck turned to face the speaker. He was a man in nineteenth century dress, something of a dandy, fancy brocade vest all covered with silver Easter lilies. Wilmington shook his head once in denial but the intense gaze that the man turned on him was like nothing that he'd ever encountered. "Your heart is large enough even for him, but let be what must be." The man said firmly.

Buck found himself nodding in agreement. He watched as Azrael led Baker onto the floor. Taking Deborah's arm he firmly escorted her away from the soon to be disaster site.

+ + + + + + +

Baker was loud and boorish, Azrael smiled as he insulted not only herself but almost every other couple on the floor. He'd announced his presence as an Agent early on, protesting loudly about Judge Travis' misuse of the Agency. She only smiled as Baker's observations got wilder and more offensive.

"Glass of punch?" She asked handing him the cup Deborah had given her, but not filled with pink liquid.

"Don't mind if I do." Baker said and then continued to ramble on about the 'whey faced thing', Larabee, and other irritations. As he swung his partner back onto the floor he passed the cup to the man in 19th century clothing that had been talking to that idiot Wilmington earlier. The man smiled and passed it back full of a brownish liquid.

Baker gulped it down and swung his partner back onto the floor. It was a good thing that he'd had that vodka bracer earlier.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee watched in growing horror. The Dead were rarely direct in what they wanted, but tonight against all odds they were out to get his temporary undercover. All the plans that he'd intended to use had to be put aside. None of the members of his Team seemed to have picked up that the people being so generous with the 'punch' were not living people. He'd seen a curious expression on Buck's face but that was all. The rest of them were concentrating on their assignments.

Larabee's eyes widened as Baker walked his partner over to the punch bowl and the man in the red jacket poured a clear liquid into the cup without ever dipping his ladle into the punch bowl. Baker was in trouble, and there was nothing Chris could do to stop it, even if he'd wanted to. A man in 19th century costume with a long grey overcoat looked up at Chris and gave him a rakish salute. The grin that accompanied it was enough to freeze him where he stood.

He wasn't going to interfere.

+ + + + + + +

The third time onto the dance floor, Baker's reflexes were becoming overwhelmed by the increased Alcohol in his system. He stumbled into other couples, tripped on the hems of expensive dresses, was rude to anyone who complained, and generally made a nuisance of himself.

Azrael watched as all of Baker's masks dropped as he grew in confidence. She handed him the new cup of 'punch' wondering if she should raise the intensity of the Gin. Baker's voice became nasal as he said the most offensive nonsense she'd heard since the release of prisoners at Andersonville. Increasing the level in response didn't seem like enough punishment.

+ + + + + + +

Samuel, the Northern Guardian listened to Paul Rinaldi with a great deal of pleasure. How very enjoyable to find himself dealing with a man with sense as well as manners. He winked at his wife and made a face as his cousin Mikkel swung Rachelle onto the dance floor. Continuing to pour for every society belle and her escort, he made sure that none of the others had the slightest drop of alcohol even though there were several who deserved as much embarrassment as Baker, but he was the assignment, their quarry. Giving a polite smile to a woman who he knew had destroyed so many lives in her quest for gain was hard, but Duty was not for her, not now.

There were other ministers for those who abused others for gain. . .. No amount of dinners would save them in the end. He shook his head. Justice was his province and sometimes he could be so cold. Looking over to the man in the grey overcoat, he nodded in gratitude. Justice must be balanced by Mercy to prevent Justice from becoming a monster.

He just hoped the whiskey that he poured into Baker's cup was enough. Maybe it should be something stronger.

+ + + + + + +

Jacob watched his cousin with concern. Azrael seemed to find Baker the most offensive. But then again, his offense had been in her province. How could anyone do that and still consider themselves a human being? It boggled the mind, truly, and Jacob had heard the most convoluted nonsense that anyone could have come up with during his Duty.

Perhaps a little more Bourbon?

Baker was offensive. . .Few had raised his anger this much in his whole career. Eventually all lies reveal themselves, but Baker's were far deeper than he'd been able to stomach.

He smiled as he gave the man the cup as the dancers twirled past.

+ + + + + + +

The Major laughed, soundlessly, but completely as he watched a worried Christopher Matthew Larabee watch it all from the balcony. Giving this new leader of the Seven a salute, he found himself laughing. He took the cup that Azrael handed him and filled it with Scotch. Baker grinned at him like a half-wit. That didn't seem to stop him from downing the cup in one shot.

They'd better be careful, the Duty was not to kill Baker. That treacherous idiot's time hadn't come. However, this had been required. Baker's own choices had brought him to this hour of comeuppance, Michael's order had been explicit.

Only Heaven could help the man now, and John Calvin Baker had turned his face from Heaven a long time ago.

+ + + + + + +

Baker was no longer aware of his actions, he swirled around the dance floor like a water buffalo with foot rot. He swung his partner around like a bag of flour. It made him ecstatic that so classy a woman was dancing with him.

Surely this would make his career. Here was someone with power and she was interested in him.

Azrael looked at him with a clear cool gaze. The beginning of the end had come for the man who held her in his arms. If there had been a reason to pity the man, she would have. But John Calvin Baker's evil was far deeper than anyone knew. They thought he was a prejudiced buffoon. That he was a traitor and a murderer, that they did not know about the man.

That would come in its own time.

+ + + + + + +

Chris saw absolute disaster fall and knew that he was too far away to prevent it. Beside him Vin whistled low in amazement.

This wouldn't be pretty.

+ + + + + + +

JD saw the impeding doom and choked. There wasn't anything that he could do. Damn, Why did Baker have to be such a moron?

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was watching in bewildered amusement as Baker wallowed by with the grace of a wounded elephant. Was this the assignment Chris gave him? He didn't remember the drunken staggers as being part of the plan. He looked up at Larabee who was at Vin's perch.

The look of dismay on Chris' face was something that he'd never expected to see. He turned and saw the domino chain that their temporary undercover was about to unleash and did the best that he could.

He moved himself and his gaggle of Denver matrons away from the line of fire.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson was furious. How dare that fool come to the party drunk! He'd noticed the smell of Vodka earlier, just before they left the office, but there'd been no way to tell Chris about it. Baker had seemed to take only little sips. Jackson was sure that the man hadn't been anywhere near drunk earlier, but the man was soused now.

This was the wonderful undercover agent that they were constantly promised?

He snorted as the man's behavior confirmed everything that his 'gut' instinct told him about the type of man who became an undercover in the first place.

The compulsion in his mind began to churn his emotions to boiling.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Orrin Travis had been very pleased with the actions of all of the members of Team Seven. At least all except the temp undercover, Baker. He really hoped that Larabee had someone better in mind. They'd gone over long lists of agents who were unacceptable to Chris. Before today Travis would have just thought it was the political reasons that upset Larabee about Baker. Chris was not a mover and shaker in the normal sense. Team Seven's leader tended to bulldoze over people to get what he wanted rather than schmooze with them.

Larabee was direct. Travis respected that, but he hadn't really listened about Baker, until now. He'd have to come up with something as an apology for foisting this idiot onto the Team.

+ + + + + + +

Baker swirled around in a wave of color and light. He felt marvelous and invincible. There was no way that Larabee'd refuse him now. Draining another cup of punch, he drew his dance partner into an uncomfortable embrace.

+ + + + + + +

On the sidelines Buck Wilmington saw the cold set into the woman's face. He wondered what Baker could possibly have done to get on her bad side like this. Baker was all in, totally smashed. Why would the man do this?

Deborah stood beside him with a perplexed expression. This was not how the night was supposed to go. Agent Baker had insulted most of Denver's society, made racist jokes, stomped on people, and generally made a fool of himself. If she didn't know better she'd have said that he was drunk.

+ + + + + + +

Baker was beginning to feel dizzy. He crushed his partner to him with his hands going where they didn't belong. Maybe he could get her to cut out of bores-ville here and go back to his apartment.

Azrael was stone faced with no expression as she waited for the moment. It came. She released her dance partner as he groped her like some two-bit tart.

He swung forward falling through couples dancing and staggered off the floor. His stomach hurt. He grabbed an arm sheathed in green satin and lost control. The contents of his battered digestive system came rushing back with a vengeance.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee watched in morbid fascination as the collision he'd seen took place. His temporary undercover agent threw up all over the hostess, Evie Travis and the man she'd been greeting so happily, Senator Wiley Redd, head of the RMETF project.

Beside him, Vin shook his head.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah Rinaldi was startled, but took hold of the situation. Buck handed her a tablecloth he'd slipped off one of the near by tables. She took hold of a shocked Evie Travis while Wilmington grabbed the Senator, thanking Heaven that Wiley was an old friend.

They whisked their charges off to the respective bathrooms, ignoring the amazed stares of the crowd. Let Larabee sort Baker out.

+ + + + + + +

Chris started down the stairs, but one of the strange women he'd seen earlier stopped him with a gentle hand.

"Let them deal with it," she said, her voice echoing like a well. Delicate blonde curls gave her a fragile and soft appearance, but Chris could tell she had a will as strong as his own. A blond man in a red jacket swept up to them, smiled and began to escort the woman downstairs.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Orrin Travis was furious. How dare this man . . .. This idiot. . . His mind sputtered unable to find the words to describe Agent John Calvin Baker, soon to be former Agent John Calvin Baker. Giving Area Director Muhulland a scathing glare, he stormed over to the dance floor.

Baker was still vomiting, as he lay sprawled on the carpet. The heavy chemical smell of alcohol almost overwhelmed the stomach acid smell.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" Travis demanded of the Agent.

"I think I need some more punch." Baker said and passed out.

The next morning, RMETF Seven bullpen, Rout Federal Building, 11:30 AM.

Deborah Rinaldi was so glad last night was over. The elite of Denver had ignored the ill behavior of Agent Baker, but he'd managed to humiliate his parents. She felt sorry for him. There must really be something wrong if he showed up to an assignment drunk. Maybe the whole problem was that he was an alcoholic? It was really sad.

Evie Travis had re-appeared from the bathroom in Deborah's costume gown. They were the same size. The green satin had been sent to the cleaners but she had little hope that Mrs. Travis would get it back. Too bad, the gown was a designer original.

The Judge had been outraged. . .so had the Senator.

So much, Deborah guessed, for Agent Baker's hope of joining a RMETF.

+ + + + + + +

There was an angry discussion going on in the Bullpen. Most of Team Seven had been concerned that the bad behavior of Baker would reflect on the rest of them, but they seemed to have come through without any reproach.

Agent Baker hadn't been so lucky. His father the Congressman had taken him home. His mother, the Congressman's wife was trembling with rage. She hated Evie Travis, but this wasn't the way to destroy the woman's reputation. She'd spent months on the letter writing campaign and her son had completely destroyed it in an hour.

No Agent Baker wasn't having a good time anymore. This morning after dealing with his outraged parents, he had meetings with the AD, Senator Redd, and Judge Travis.

The opinion of the folks at the Rout building was that Baker would be finding his four boxes sent to Alaska, if he still had a job.

+ + + + + + +

Deborah was delivering the morning mail, as the girl from the mail-room dumped it on her desk now. There were still some resentments about JD's leap to agent, but that didn't bother her. She brought each agent his mail, ducking the paperclips that Buck and JD were firing at each other with a brisk efficiency. She moved Josiah's stack without losing his place. Nathan gave her weary grimace as she brought him his mail. There was something niggling at the back of his mind and he just couldn't remember what it was.

A compulsion to call Professor Bowman was re-directed as Nathan didn't want to be a pest with his teacher. He called too often as it was.

Determining to do without bugging the great man for a while, he looked up as Deborah handed him one of the croissants that he loved so. It was the last from the morning's breakfast run. She must have saved it. He gave her a smile and her whole expression lit up.

She was elated, Nathan was smiling. That didn't usually happen for days after he called the Professor. Maybe she'd been right before. It just took time.

Expertly moving between the desks, she brought Vin his mail without disturbing his whittling. It wasn't like the man was actually carving anything, he just used his pocket knife to make a stick sharper and shorter. By the end of the day there'd be a pile of splinters in the garbage can, but that didn't matter. It made him grin that wide 'Texas' grin that caused the rest of the secretaries to swoon.

The broken picture frame taped with Duct tape caught her eye. The glass was cracked, but the picture was intact. Vin's desk was recovering from Agent Baker's attack, but slowly. She wondered if she had a frame that would fit the picture, but Deborah knew it was a touchy subject with Vin. There was a history there that she didn't want to bring up. It was an old photograph of a young woman, Perhaps Vin's mother? It was the right time period.

Not wanting to cross any boundaries with the young Texan, Deborah tried to think of a way to give him a frame that wouldn't make him feel like it was charity. She knew how he felt about it, she felt that way too. Deborah just wanted to make it stop hurting. No matter how calm the young man was about it, she was very aware of how much of a violation Baker's act had been.

A noise from the outer office drew her attention. There was an Army Captain waiting there.

"Hello." He said cheerfully. "I'm Captain Phillips. Could you see if Agent Larabee has a moment to see me?"

"Certainly." Deborah said, calling Agent Larabee on the intercom. "Sir, there's a Captain Phillips here to see you."

"Phillips?" Larabee asked, with a strangely joyful voice.

"Yes, Smart Aleck. I came to see how the other half lives. You going to invite me in to the inter-sanctum or do I have to wait in the waiting room?"

"Get in here, you old pest. I can't wait to hear what you've been up to this time." Larabee's voice was tinny through the intercom but there was a happy quality to it.

+ + + + + + +

Captain Phillips entered Team Seven's bullpen. He felt the eyes on him. The computer kid in open curiosity, the medic with a single glance, the assessment of the old man, and the open grin of an old friend.

"Hey Buck, how big is the black book now? Hollywood phonebook yet?"

"Yea," Wilmington grinned lecherously. "Wouldn't you like to know! Hey Phillips. How you been doing?" They shook hands. Buck introduced him to the members of the team.

"Better not keep the grouch waiting. Maybe we'll do lunch?" Phillips said.

Vin dropped his feet off of his desk and came to attention as the Army Captain came past him. He was confused. 'Captain Phillips' was not how he knew this man. Saluting he saw Phillips' eyes widen in astonishment. The Captain saluted in return then went into Chris' office.

Tanner wondered idly what had brought the man to them. 'Captain Phillips' was a generic term for a courier and Vin knew that Chris Larabee, no matter how he dressed or behaved was no Tirana. There was no reason for someone who carried such highly Classified information to be coming to Larabee.

+ + + + + + +

Captain Phillips sat in Chris' office sipping at the coffee that the nice secretary had brought him. He assessed Larabee knowing that the old man would want to know every detail of his visit. The General might not be welcome in his son's life right now, but that hadn't stopped him from caring.

He'd been warned that Chris wasn't willing to have any 'assistance' from General Larabee. This required a delicate touch, and the 'Captain' wondered if he could do this.

It hadn't occurred to him to doubt his abilities, being the veteran 'Captain Phillips' for more than twenty years of his military career. However, this was Chris Larabee that he was dealing with.

He'd known him since Chris was a child, and Chris knew him well. Too well.

+ + + + + + +

They exchanged pleasantries, carefully skipping over mention of the General and Chris' siblings. Captain Phillips knew where the painful spots were and knew to avoid them. The younger man had not wanted anything to do with his family since the murder of his wife and child. There were times that Phillips regretted not being able to go wild and hunt down the bastards. What he'd like to do to the people who murdered a baby and his mother as well as destroying a family that was as dear to him as his own did not belong in a civilized soldier, but that didn't stop him wanting to.

It enraged him, the injustice of it, just like the injustice of the situation he'd been prepped to bring to Larabee's attention.

+ + + + + + +

Captain Phillips left after taking them to lunch. Buck had been so happy to see Chris relax around someone from the past that he hadn't noticed the Captain measuring each member of the team. They'd shared stories, funny and sad. Things that didn't bring up Sarah and Adam or the General. Wilmington had been amazed by Phillps' tact and diplomacy. Vin had watched the senior officer, not wanting to blow whatever was going on, he knew what 'Captain Phillips' did and for whom.

The Captain had been a breath of fresh air, though they'd had to keep the man from gagging on his soda when they'd told him about last night's fiasco.

They'd returned to the Federal building in a very good collective mood. JD bouncing, Josiah considering, Nathan relaxed, Buck happy, Vin calm, and Chris pleased.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner hadn't blown the OP, though Phillips recognized that the young Ranger knew more than he'd told the others. Phillips left praying that his mission was a success. He didn't note the two men standing on the public stairs outside.

The man with the red hair and the goatee seemed very amused as he watched the Army Captain leave. His companion, dark and short, looked at him speculatively.

"Gabe?" he asked. "What are you up to?"

"Nothing Ray. Just wondering about people." Gabe said with a smile.

"Suddenly Philosophical? Why don't I believe that?" Ray said crossing his arms.

"Philosophical, yes. I'm just amused by the fact that people ask for Heaven's aid and rarely notice when it hits them in the face."

Ray followed his gaze to the departing Army Captain. "Do I want to know?"

"Probably not." Gabe laughed. "Shouldn't we call JD and let him know that his bike is fixed and that we're here to see him?"

"Let's wait. JD should be at work. I've heard that his boss is a bit of a Tartar." Ray said.

Gabe choked, gagging on that image. "I doubt that Larabee would be upset with a visit." He looked at the Army Captain climbing into a car marked NORAD, "He's already had one of his own."

"We wait." Ray said. "I don't want to upset the kid's relationship with Wilmington. You remember what happened the last time?"

Gabe sighed. "How could I forget?"

+ + + + + + +

"Deborah would you come in here please?" Larabee's tone was mild. Deborah came in quickly. Larabee tended to go to her when he wanted things done. On his desk she could see draft paperwork for the new undercover to be assigned to RMTEF Seven. It was upside down so she couldn't read the name clearly, but one thing she could tell it was Not Baker.

"Deborah, I'm going to need two tickets" Chris said. "Buck will be in charge while we're gone. Josiah needs to go to the Pendleton conference. Nathan needs to complete his twelve hours in the Lab this week. JD needs to get me the equipment he wants ordered by the end of the month if it's going to be in the new year's budget. So I'm taking Vin with me to Atlanta."


"Yes. We may have our Undercover." He grinned holding a file on an Agent out for her inspection. Ezra P. Standish, it read. Deborah hoped that this one worked out. She'd better get to it.

Arraigning a flight to Atlanta would take just a little doing.


Next: Nowhere to Go