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Every time he went undercover, he had to immerse himself in a new identity. He had to often leave Ezra Standish behind completely.
And he always had to leave his team -- his brothers.
Whenever he'd come back, there was always a week or two of pure disorientation as he tried to shed the undercover persona like a snakeskin and find the core that was Ezra underneath.
When he had to have two -- or even three -- assignments in a row, the process was harder. It was more difficult to find himself again.
And now, Ezra was hurting so badly emotionally that he was holed up in his townhouse. He'd just come off of nearly two months undercover in three different aliases -- and Travis had handed them a fourth assignment to peruse.
Ezra wasn't certain he could handle another assignment. Another persona. Another life to add on.
He was worried he was forgetting who Ezra Standish was. His likes. His dislikes. His personality quirks.
He'd just opened his bedroom closet and had blinked at the Armani within. Like it was a stranger's wardrobe. His last two personas had worn jeans like a uniform and Ezra couldn't seem to shake that.
Perhaps that was how it always was -- deep down. Ezra fingered the sleeve of one of the silk shirts as a particularly troublesome thought struck with such force that he felt the air go out of him in a gasp.
What if Ezra Standish was just another carefully constructed, fabricated persona?
He tried to banish the thought, but it wouldn't go. It kept coming back, striking his whirling brain again and again with example after example that seemed to prove that disturbing, disquieting, completely unsettling hypothesis.
For one thing, there was his music. At work, he'd have classical or other soft music playing. But when he was alone, the music would shift to rock and roll - with a preference for sixties British and seventies arena rock with a smattering of eighties technopop. On vinyl, of course -- mastering out the clicks and hissing was doing a disservice to the songs -- they were part of the experience.
If Ezra Standish was not a persona, why was there the duplicity with the music?
For another, there was the clothing issue. Armani and other high-end tailors just didn't seem to fit him anymore. Off duty, he was plenty more casual -- slacks or jeans and shirts to match.
If Ezra Standish was not a persona, why didn't he let the others in -- get to know them well and enjoy their company? Why did he keep them at arm's length and keep himself lonely?
Only one answer made sense. His odd behaviour could easily be explained if Ezra Standish was just another persona -- a false face.
The more he thought about it -- disturbing though it was -- the more it made sense. So many of his actions and attitudes made perfect sense once he realised that the persona of Ezra Standish was another act.
But that left a disturbing implication. One he kept shying away from, but realised that he had to face it eventually.
If he wasn't real -- if Ezra Standish was just one of a thousand false faces....
Then who was he?
He took a very deep breath and held it, then let it out slowly. He knew he had to find out who he really was. Without the false fronts.
And he knew he couldn't do it alone.
Before he could talk himself out of it, he'd dialed his cell and said simply. "I need you. I.... I don't know who I am right now."
He listened, then chuckled. "No, it's not that. I remember everything. Memory's not the problem. Identity is."
He felt his eyes widen. "Food? Seriously? Thank you..." He laughed softly. "No, that'll.... that'll be beyond wonderful. Thank you."
He hung up and slumped bonelessly into a chair, waiting for his friend to arrive.
An hour later, a familiar battered Jeep pulled up outside the townhouse. He pulled open the door, mouth already watering. Then he blinked. "What did you do, buy out the entire buffet?"
"Nope." Vin set the bags on the counter. "Got supper and breakfast. Figured this might take awhile."
He nodded. "I... I can't thank you enough for this."
Vin shook his head. "No need t'thank me, Ez." Seeing him flinch, Vin reached out and squeezed his arm. "I had JD look it up. Your legal name."
His eyes were large. "What is it?"
Vin grinned. "You were born Ezra Patrick Standish."
He took a deep breath. "So.... that part is no false face."
"That's right." He served the food, refrigerating more than he served. He waited till Ezra served the drinks,then sat down, gesturing with his fork. "Talk to me. Tell me why y'think you're a false face."
And Ezra told him. As they ate, he told Vin everything. All the observations, all the struggles, all the disquieting implications of his thought processes.
Vin listened carefully and asked questions when he didn't understand. When Ezra was done, Vin sat back and studied him for a long moment.
Then he broke into a slow, amused smile.
"What?" Ezra blurted out.
"We've seen this comin' for awhile. I've noticed it, and Josiah and I've been talking to Chris."
Ezra felt his heart start to pound. His emotions must have shown on his face, because Vin leaned forward. Blue eyes bored into emerald. "It's not what you think, Ez. Your job's intact."
Vin cleared the table and moved to the couch. Ezra followed, completely puzzled. Vin turned to face him and smiled. "'Siah spelled it out, and what I've seen is practically exactly what he described."
Ezra's gulp was nearly audible. "And what does our esteemed Profiler say about me?"
"He said you're mentally and emotionally exhausted after one or two too many undercover assignments in a row."
"No arguments there."
"And he said that it looks to him like you're growin' as well."
Ezra frowned. "Growing?"
"You're becomin' more your own self and less the you your past created." He chuckled. "Least that's what 'Siah says."
He felt his eyes widen again.
Vin nodded slowly. "And I'm seein' that. You're not losin' your mind, Ez. You're not a false face. You're just learnin' what's real for you after a lifetime of bein' what other people wanted you t'be."
Ezra shot to his feet, his whirling mind making his body move and burn off some nervous energy. Vin watched him pace in silence, giving him space and letting him work it out.
At last, Ezra ran his hands through his hair and came to a stop. He turned and looked at Vin. "I'm truly not losing my mind?"
"Nope. Y'need to rest, but you're not losin' your mind."
He took a deep breath and wrapped his arms around himself. "Well... that still leaves me with a huge question."
Vin stood. "What's that?"
"I'm Ezra Standish." He met Vin's eyes. "But who exactly is Ezra Standish?"
Vin smiled and squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Let's find out."
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