The clerk smiled at the tall blond man who walked into his shop. "May I help you, sir?"
"I think so," he said, smiling. "I need to purchase a cell phone -- discreetly."
That made the clerk frown. "Discreetly? I'm afraid I don't un--"
"I already have a cell plan," the man said, the smile not wavering in the slightest. "What I need is one for -- other -- activities."
Slowly, the man nodded, understanding his meaning. "Certain nocturnal activities that don't involve the wife?" he whispered.
"Something like that," the blond chuckled.
"Certainly, sir," the clerk chuckled. He got out a black cell phone and activated it. "I just need a name and valid credit card number."
He pushed a credit card toward the clerk. "Put my real name on the cell bill," he said with a smile. "That way, since I go by my pseudonym...." he tapped the card, "...nobody will be looking for anything in my name."
The clerk nodded and copied down the credit card number. "And what name would that be, sir?" he asked.
The blond's smile turned nearly feral. "Christian Sebastian."
Ezra opened his eyes and groaned. "Not you again...."
She smiled sadly, sitting as always beside his bed.
"Why me, huh?" he groaned as he sat up slightly. "Why would perdition send you to me?"
She shrugged slightly.
"Ooh, progress," he smiled tightly. "We're actually communicating!"
Her head fell back in a silent laugh.
Ezra laughed as well. "Well, once again, I ask you -- What are you doing here?"
Her smile faded and the familiar look of agony appeared on her face.
Ezra sighed. "All right.... so let's figure this out."
She reached for him as usual, holding out her hand, palm up.
And as usual, he sighed and put his head in his hands. "Every night for three weeks, you've come to me in these dreams! What do you want?"
She slowly pulled back, gazing sadly at him.
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, all right. I don't understand, but if this will get some information and make these damnable dreams go away...." He reached out toward her.
She smiled sadly at him, and reached hers toward him.
Coolness hit his system as his solid fingers met her spectral ones. There was a flash of light, and then nothing.
Ezra jerked upright, gasping and looking around.
Nothing. His room was empty.
Muttering something about 'damnable dreams', he got out of bed. Groaning as the display beside his bed read 7:30 AM, he stumbled into the bathroom and ran some water in the sink. He raised his eyes to the mirror above the sink, and let out a wordless cry as he flung himself backward.
He sat on the bathtub for a few moments, before he collected himself and approached the mirror again. He blinked, seeing only his familiar reflection, emerald eyes wider than normal with emotion.
Closing his eyes and letting out his breath in a 'whoosh', he washed his face and wiped away the memory of his dreams. After all, he told himself, that's what that image was....
Just another dream.
There was no way Ezra Standish had what he'd seen in the mirror a moment ago.
Satisfied, Ezra nodded at his reflection and left the bathroom.
Hazel eyes, indeed.
In a small corner of his mind, satisfied, she smiled.
Team Seven was preparing to take down the Draconis gang. For a change, Ezra was not undercover, nor were any of the others.
They had an inside man already in place, this time. Alberto Draconis, one of the boss's sons, had quietly and systematically been feeding information to the ATF. Each of his tips had led to more and more of Draconis's men behind bars, and less and less of his deadly accurate smuggled weaponry on the streets.
Alberto's latest communiqué had details of a particularly large shipment coming in. So large, in fact, Marco Draconis himself was rumoured to be at the arrival.
Predictably, the ATF was weaving a steady dragnet to hook this particularly big fish. Under the smooth direction of Chris Larabee, Team Seven especially was prepared.
When he would reach home, the Larabee facade would fall away and Christian Sebastian would steadily work on building his own little niche in Denver's underworld.
His cell phone -- not Larabee's -- would be pinned to his ear as he would call the petty criminals that he was aware of. Slowly -- once he got over the shock of none of them realising who he was -- he began to unite them under his control.
The only stumbling block that he could see was ATF Team Seven. They were good -- hell, they were the best. It was only a matter of time before they figured out who he was. No, Sebastian had to move soon.
And moving meant destroying Team Seven.
One. By. One.
The Draconis bust.
That kept going through Ezra's mind. Over and over.
Something is going to happen at the bust.
Now, he thought, he knew what Vin meant when he spoke of one of his 'feelings'. He had absolutely no proof. Not one shred of evidence that could point him to that conclusion.
Yet he was as certain of it as he was of his own name. Something was going to go down at the bust.
And Chris was going to be at the centre of it.
Frustrated by this circular line of thought, Ezra became aware that his hand was in motion. He looked down to find that he'd idly drawn a perfect picture frame and had filled it in with interlocking, jaggedly drawn pieces. He was busily shaking them various levels of grey.
"What in the world..." he whispered, laying the pencil down with a CLACK! and looking at the paper as his limbs went ice-cold.
Ezra had absolutely no memory of drawing such an outlandish thing!
Buck wandered by his desk just then. "Hey, Ez, got an extra pen? Mine developed this annoyin' habit of growin' legs and walkin' off...." His voice trailed off as he looked down at the drawing. After a moment, he lifted it up. "Hey, a mosaic frame!"
"Is... is that what that is?" Ezra asked shakily.
Buck nodded. "That's what Sarah would call them. Chris and I always knew when she was tryin' to puzzle somethin' out, cause out would come a pencil and she'd draw one of these. Said it'd help her think. She was the only one we knew that'd do these, and I've not seen one since she died." He began to smile. "Nice t'see she wasn't the only one. May I?"
Ezra waved a hand. "Sure. Go ahead." He pulled out an extra pen. "And I want this back!"
"Sure thing, Ez." Buck walked back to his desk, the mosaic frame clutched tight.
Ezra watched him go, then sighed. His thoughts returned to the upcoming bust. Something is very wrong here.
His left hand picked up the pencil.
This bust is going to go sour.
His right hand anchored a piece of paper to his desk.
Something is very wrong with Chris.
A picture frame swiftly developed with twelve strokes of the pencil.
Somehow, I've got to protect the others.
Slowly, jagged interlocking pieces filled the frame.
He may have the same face... but that is NOT the man I married.
Ezra walked to JD’s desk and sat down on it. “Hi. Can you do something for me?”
JD looked up, startled by the plain speech. “What do you have in mind?”
“I’d like to see what you have on Draconis.”
Frowning, JD turned to his computer. “What exactly are you looking for?”
“All I can say is I’ll know it when I see it.”
“There are over a hundred pages of information....”
“That’s all right. I need it all.”
JD looked up into Ezra’s eyes, struck by the dullness of the green. “Ezra, are you all right?”
He blinked and smiled, squeezing JD’s shoulder. “I’m all right. A bit tired.”
Nodding, JD hit a button and the papers began to spit out of the printer.
Ezra brushed JD’s hair from his forehead as the last sheet emerged. “Thank you, JD.” He took the sheaf of paper and walked out of the office.
JD blinked after him, utterly confused. Ezra had never touched him that affectionately before. He shook his head, correcting himself mentally.
No… that was more than affection. That touch had been decidedly….
What about this one?
“Mm. I’m not sure. What do you think?”
I think it would behoove us to take a break.
With a sigh, a hand was brought up to rub a hazel-coloured eye. “You’re right. All right, take over.”
A moment later, the eyes became emerald and Ezra stood and stretched. “Oh, this feels good. It’s rather tiring, not being able to control your own body.”
Yes, well…. A sigh. I hope I’m not endangering your job, but--
“Don’t fret, everything is well. If I know my friends, they’ll just chalk it up to another of my eccentricities.” He smiled and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator.
Well, I’ll do anything to help Chris.
“I know. You have a melodious voice. It’s nice to finally hear it.” A quick chuckle. “And it’s very nice to know I’m not succumbing to madness.”
Well, after Buck caught the drawing I did while we were thinking….
“It broke down the walls and we were finally able to communicate. It was alarming to find you had infiltrated my body, however.” A sigh. “Are you truly all right?”
No. I’m scared, Ezra. If we can’t get through to Chris, if what we fear comes to pass---
“So far you and I are the only ones who have noticed anything amiss.”
So far. Another sigh. We need to get back to work.
“Agreed.” He smiled. “Don’t worry, Sarah. We’ll get him back.”
I sincerely hope so.
“I know so.”
Around two AM, a pattern started to emerge. Ezra?
“Hm?” he replied, engrossed in the reports.
What’s a 2-11?
He smiled. “A two-eleven is armed robbery. Why?”
There seem to be a lot of them right after Draconis’s gang moves.
“Eh? Show me.” There was the wrench in perspective, and then he felt his eyes and hands move.
“Here… see?” she asked through him. “The gang hit an arms shipment. Two days later there are three 2-11s in a four-hour period.”
You’re joking. A moment’s pause. You’re not joking. Here it is again. And again.
“Places and times when Draconis isn’t there….”
….But is implicated. Sarah, are you suggesting what I think you are?
“That our big fish had nothing to do with these?”
…good Lord, that means there’s someone ELSE out there slowly gathering manpower, funds, prestige…..
She nodded his head, leaning back on the couch and closing his eyes. “And I think we both know who that someone is.”
It’s getting the proof that will be hard. He sighed and began guiding them both toward sleep. I only hope we can gather what we need before he destroys the team from within.
Christian Sebastian had just completed a call to one of the bookies he now employed when his other cell rang. Muttering a curse, he flipped it open. “Larabee.”
“Hey, Stud!” Buck’s jovial laugh rang out. “Just wanted to let you know the pizza and movie night’s at your place this weekend!”
Sebastian sighed. “Buck, this weekend’s really not –“
“Chris, you have been holed up at that house for way too long! Time to rejoin the real world!”
“I ain’t takin’ no for an answer! We’ll be there at five on Saturday!” And Buck hung up.
Sebastian stared at the phone in his hand and heaved a great sigh. It wasn’t time to put his plans in motion. Moving them up would destroy the plans.
No, he’d have to wait. Bide his time. Keep pretending to be Chris Larabee, goody-two-shoes ATF man.
Until Team Seven would die at his hands.
That thought relaxed him and he dropped into a sleep untroubled by dreams.
The eyes opened as the cell rang. And rang and rang.
Finally, with a sigh, Ezra reached over and opened it. “WHAT?” he barked unceremoniously into the receiver.
“Good morning!” Buck laughed.
“Aw, shit,” he groaned, even as Sarah cracked up in a corner of his mind. “Morning it may be, good -- I wouldn’t know. Have you always been such an early bird?”
And always insufferably cheerful! And Sarah was off and howling again.
The growl Ezra let out then was aimed at them both.
Buck chuckled. “C’mon, Ez, it’s nearly eight!”
“When one does not retire till four, eight is TOO DAMNED EARLY!” The last was roared into the phone.
Buck whistled. “Damn, hoss, what the hell were you doin’ up till four?”
“If you must know, I was going over the Draconis files. Again,” Ezra replied, utterly truthfully. “So either tell me what you want or get off the phone!”
“We’re havin’ a party at Chris’s this weekend!” Buck chortled.
Ezra felt himself blanch and he gripped the phone tighter.
“Ezra? You there?”
“Yes… yes, I’m here.”
”A….Are you certain that’s wise, Buck? I mean, the Draconis bust is scheduled for Tuesday….”
Buck laughed. “Gives us Monday to recover! Whaddaya say, huh?”
“I-I don’t know….”
“C’mon, it’ll be fun!”
Ezra closed his eyes.
Say yes. We can keep an eye on him there.
“I’ll be there.”
“GREAT!” Buck cheered. “See you Saturday at five at the ranch!” With that, he hung up.
Ezra keeled back on the pillows. “Now how are we going to keep an eye on him without making him suspicious?”
We’ll figure something out.
“Now why does that answer frighten me so?”
Sebastian checked the cabinets again. He bristled at this unwelcome intrusion of the team.
It’s only for two evenings, he told himself. Larabee threatens, but he wants these men in his life. I don’t, but I have to pretend that I DO, to keep the damned illusion in place!
He rubbed his nose in a ‘give-me-strength’ gesture. He’d gone through and hidden everything that could give him away as Christian Sebastian.
Part of him had half a mind to call Draconis and blow the whole mission sky-high. Only reason he didn’t, was he needed Draconis gone so he could operate without his Family hovering in the background.
And once Draconis was gone, Sebastian could concentrate on destroying Team Seven.
If he managed to not kill the lot of them before the weekend was over!
A deep sigh, a roll of hazel eyes, and fists planted on hips. “Why not?”
It’s TOO casual!
The eyes rolled again as they studied the reflection in the mirror. Blue jeans, faded to comfortable white. A soft sweatshirt. “Too casual? I don’t get it.”
Sarah, if we show up like THIS, they’ll ship us to a hospital! I NEVER dress like this! If they do that, we won’t be able to help Chris!
“You play dirty,” she sighed even as she stripped their shared body to the briefs. Drawing out a newer pair of jeans and a tasteful green polo top, she pulled them on. “Better?”
Much. He chuckled at her reflected expression as her hands raised to pull long hair out of the collar, only to touch the bare skin of his neck. Muscle memory. That’s VERY interesting. And dangerous.
“Dangerous? How’s that?”
JD is already suspicious, after that display of maternal affection.
She chuckled, pulling on the shoes he pointed out. “I couldn’t help it. I doubt any mother could. He just screams ‘mother me!’”
I strongly suggest you DO help it. We’re to help CHRIS, not parent JD!
“You’re just like Chris,” she chuckled.
He spluttered for a moment, then gasped, I’m wha--?!
“Both grumpy tigers until you get coffee!”
Ezra gave a put-upon sigh, which made her laugh.
After some more discussion, they decided that Ezra would control their body with Sarah acting as advisor.
“…damned mouthy advisor,” he’d hissed, and she’d mentally raspberried him.
On the way to the ranch, he asked the question that had been bothering him. “Sarah … If you can do this… is Adam--?”
Ezra hadn’t expected that answer. “Where?”
I don’t know. But we came together. He’s nowhere in you. She heaved a sad sigh. I miss him.
“Good Lord, if he’s in JD…..”
Slowly, she began to smile.
“Good Lord,” he repeated as he turned into the driveway. “I don’t even want to think about that possibility.”
If it helps, I didn’t sense him when I touched JD.
Ezra sighed. “That is a relief. How am I going to converse with you without them thinking me insane?”
I--- he-he still lives in our house!
“Yes – the room I sleep in used to be Adam’s. He’s hardly touched anything.”
Oh, Ezra, that’s TERRIBLE! We NEVER wanted him to shut himself away! NEVER!
Ezra opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a black four-legged form racing across the road in front of him and a “SORRY, EZ!” from its rider.
Ezra stopped the Jag and leaned out of the window. “IT’S PESO WHO’S SORRY, TANNER!”
Vin’s laughter drifted back to him and Ezra smiled as he drove on to park the car. “Ornery, the both of them!” Then, he frowned. “Sarah, Vin and Chris have seemed to have some—odd sort of soul-bond. Brother-bond.”
“Yes, which makes this all the more peculiar.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “We both know that isn’t Chris Larabee. We both know that’s Christian Sebastian.” He raised his eyes and met his own in the rear-view mirror.
“So why is Vin acting completely normal?”
As the evening wore on, full of the usual fun banter of the Seven, things only got more puzzling.
Chris/Sebastian was cordial but grumpy. Nobody noticed Ezra seeming quieter than usual after he’d explained he had a bit of a headache. Buck and JD were more boisterous than usual, trying their best to lighten the atmosphere. Josiah and Nathan were simply themselves – once Nathan had assured himself Ezra was going to be all right.
Vin, it seemed, couldn’t stop eating! Every time Ezra looked at him, he had something in his hand or in his mouth. Vin was a snacker by nature, but this went beyond that into the realm of the ridiculous.
At last, Ezra asked Vin if he would mind sharing his fare. Vin merely smiled and broke the sausage biscuit in half, handing the unchewed-on portion to Ezra. “You’ll like it, Ez. Chris’s a good cook!”
Since when? Sarah gasped to Ezra.
Ezra nodded. “Has he made everything you’ve eaten tonight, Vin?”
Vin nodded, popping the last of his part of the spicy treat into his mouth. “He ordered the pizzas on top of all this.” He grinned brightly, making Ezra frown slightly. “Speakin’ of which, I’ve not had any yet!” He turned and walked inside.
Ezra frowned deeply. He wrapped the food up in a handkerchief and called inside, “I’m going to go home awhile – go lie down.”
Nathan was instantly on his feet. “Are you sure you should be driving?”
Sebastian lay a hand on his arm. “Nathan, if he wants to go, let him go. He knows how he feels.”
A frustrated sigh, and Nathan nodded.
Ezra left, but did not head to the townhouse. He drove right to the Federal Building.
Why here? Sarah asked. On a Saturday?
“A friend of mine is working today – and he owes me a favor or ten.” He pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and held it as if it were made of gold. “I’m going to have him rush an analysis on this.”
You suspect something’s there?
“I suspect Christian Sebastian has been systematically drugging Vin. I think once we find out the what, we’ll find out the why.”
Ezra drove home after dropping the food off, his brain whirling. Sarah’s mind was whirling as well. Both of them were very, very quiet.
Once inside the townhouse, Sarah let out a frustrated groan. How soon do we find out about the food?
“As long as it takes,” Ezra sighed tiredly. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
Of course not. Ask me anything you like.
“Why chose me? Why now?”
There was a long pause, and he could almost feel her gathering her thoughts. So he waited.
Now is the time --- because Chris isn’t Chris. And the Seven of you are so intertwined that if one falls….
She didn’t have to finish.
Ezra nodded. “All right, that’s the why now. But still – why me?”
I came to the other five as I came to you. Buck thought I was a dream come to torment him. Josiah and Nathan dismissed me as just fever-dreams. JD mistook me for his mother, and Vin…Vin never woke up enough to see me. You were the only one who saw me and talked to me – the only one who would let me help.
Ezra smiled. “I am thankful to be able to help you. I’m just sad I don’t remember what you look like. I know I saw you for several weeks before this joining, but….”
You will. And she smiled in his mind. Then he sensed it fail. Ezra – the Seven of you are extremely close.
“Yes, we are.”
Then how could the other four have not noticed anything off?
“Or are they just keeping it to themselves?”
Buck smiled at JD, who was napping. The smile faded as he thought about why they were heading back to the CDC, and not staying at Chris’s like normal.
First, Ezra had left. Then Vin had driven Nathan home. Josiah had left an hour later, following a call on his cell.
Funny, but Chris had sure seemed satisfied when Josiah got that call….
Then Chris had kicked them out, pleading exhaustion.
Funny. Real funny.
And not the laughing kind.
Sebastian groaned as he watched the truck pull away. Many more days like that and he’d be insane!
“Tuesday,” he decided, firmly. “Tuesday it begins.”