The dream again… He jerked awake, panting, fisting his hands in the black satin sheets.
Every night for the last seven he’d had the same dream. He’d dreamed his hand had gotten infected from the rifle shot and had been amputated –by Tanner.
He raised his hand and studied it, finding it whole, healing, no infection anywhere.
The dream always ended with Team Seven surrounding him, laughing at him. A woman stood behind Standish, her face clouded. A child stood behind Tanner – his age varied every dream – his face was clouded as well.
And then – his own face looking back at him. Larabee. He would laugh and demand, “Time’s up! My body is not yours!”
The last two nights, the dream had escalated. Larabee had lunged for him, passing through him – into him.
That was when Sebastian would wake up. Shaking – panting – and utterly terrified.
Sebastian weaved his way to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. “Larabee is dead,” he snarled at his reflection. “He is not a threat to you! Larabee. Is. Dead!”
Comforting himself with that thought, Sebastian went into the shower to wake up and calm down.
You think I’m dead?
Well, Parasite, the rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated!
Just wait, Parasite.
Just you wait.
Ezra watched as Sarah smiled and pulled the covers over Vin’s lean body. You missed him.
“Very much,” she whispered as she stood their shared body and moved into the kitchen. “Ready?”
Yes. Sarah stepped aside and Ezra resumed control of their body. He began cleaning as he asked softly, “How do you feel?”
She sighed. Nearly whole. I have my son back – now just to get Chris back.
“You no longer refer to him as your husband.” No – because he isn’t. The bonds of marriage are severed at death. I love him, still – but I cannot be called his wife.
Ezra paused. “Oh, Sarah…”
No, don’t grieve. He felt her smile. Rejoice – because through you and Vin, Adam and I live again!
The gilded smile shone as he started the dishwasher.
Besides, she went on after a moment. If I WERE married to Chris, you would be as well – since it is your body I inhabit!
“In that case,” Ezra chuckled, “vive la difference!”
Sarah’s melodious laughter rose with his chuckles.
In the next room, Vin Tanner lay awake and listened to the laughter. Mentally, he held the little boy he shared his body with close and vowed in a whisper, “We’ll get him back. Somehow, we’ll get Chris back with us. I swear it.”
Buck had tried repeatedly to reach Chris at home, but his answering machine always picked up. He’d tried Chris’s cell phone, but that was always turned off.
The last two days, he’d alternated between calling Chris and Vin—only to hit the same results. Growling in frustration, he dialed Vin’s cell phone one last time.
It rang twice, then: “Tanner.”
Buck actually gasped in relief. “Bout time, Slick!”
Vin blinked at the phone. “Hi, Buck. What is it?” He couldn’t help but grin at the enthusiastic Uncle Buck! that rang in his head. He erased the grin and added, “You sound upset.”
“Have you heard from Chris lately?”
“No…not for awhile. Outside’a work, that is. Why?”
“Where the hell are you?”
Taken aback by the abrupt change in subjects, Vin blinked. “Ah… I’m at Ezra’s…”
“Put him on!”
Blinking again, Vin held the phone out to Ezra. “Says he wants t’talk to you.”
“Huh?” Ezra took the phone. “Yes, Buck, what is it?” Due to Sarah’s influence, he found it increasingly difficult to call Buck ‘Mister Wilmington’.
“I want you and Vin to stay put for awhile, you hear me?” Buck barked into the phone.
Ezra frowned at Vin. “May I inquire as to why?” Ezra asked.
“Because I’m comin’ over! I’m frustrated as hell, I’m mad as hell, I’m confused as hell, and I need to talk!” He hung up with a bang.
Ezra blinked at the buzzing phone before closing it and handing it back to Vin. His eyes clicked Hazel as Sarah reported, “He hasn’t changed a bit. I wonder what’s set him off this time.”
“Yeah,” Vin agreed as he pocketed the phone. “It ain’t like Buck to get all bent outta shape over nothin’.”
“And that was more than bent out of shape,” Sarah sighed. “That was a downright pretzel!” A little-boy giggle came from Vin’s body, and Sarah smiled. “Liked that, did you?”
“That was funny, Mama!” Adam laughed through Vin.
Sarah laughed as well, then she cupped the slightly stubbled chin. “Adam…I know how badly you miss Uncle Buck – but right now isn’t the best time to let him know about us. Not when he’s this angry.”
Adam frowned. “But if he knows we’re here, won’t it cheer him up?”
“Trust me, Adam. Not now. For me.”
He pouted slightly. “All right, Mama. For you.” Hazel eyes clicked back to blue as Vin re-emerged. “Kid’s ticked off.”
“I know.” A sad smile as the hand lowered and the hazel eyes became emerald once more. “She’s right, however. Till we know more, their presence would be best kept a secret.”
Vin shook his head. “I wonder what bee got in his a—uh, pocket.”
Ezra smiled at his self-censorship. Having a child listening to your every spoken word would do that…. Before he could formulate a response, a flash of red outside caught his attention. Ezra pulled back the curtain a fraction and nodded. “We’ll soon find out,” he said evenly.
“Buck must have called from the turnpike. He’s already here.”
Buck stormed up the townhouse’s front steps and raised a hand to pound on the door. Before it could make contact, however, the door opened. “JEEZ!” he roared. “Give a guy a heart attack!”
“Do come in,” Ezra said in a too-calm manner. “Make yourself at home.”
Buck shot him an acid look as he walked inside. “Where’s Vin?”
Vin had stepped into the bathroom to have a private word with Adam: one last reminder to play it cool. He walked out. “Here.”
A sharp nod, and Buck pointed at him. “Look, you – where have you been for the last week? And why the hell has your phone been turned off?”
“Been here,” Vin answered laconically, leaning against the doorjamb. “Didn’t know it was off till I recharged it.”
That was the plain, unvarnished truth. Vin had turned the phone off after Ezra had informed him of Sebastian’s presence. In all the excitement of the Draconis bust and the subsequent discovery Adam resided in him – he’d simply forgotten to turn it back on.
Buck sighed and ran both hands through his hair. “I – aw, hell, Junior… I’m sorry I yelled…it’s just…”
“Buck…” Ezra stepped forward and laid a hand on his arm. Hazel eyes bored into cobalt blue as Sarah offered him silent comfort. They clicked back to emerald, and Buck took note of the shift. “Come – sit down. Tell us what’s wrong.”
With a tired sigh, Buck dropped into the nearest chair. His eyes moved from Vin to Ezra with an almost wary look. “We’re supposed to be a team,” he snarled.
“We are a team, Buck—“ Vin began, but Buck’s angry snarl cut him off.
“No – we’re not. We haven’t been for awhile now. Chris is off somewhere bein’ all secretive and surly, you two are always together, it seems—the Team is imploding!”
Ezra crouched beside Buck. Sarah knew most how to gentle him when his temper was fraying like this. He stepped aside and let her work.
The only physical change was the eyes clicked hazel again. But Buck was studying Ezra. He saw his entire demeanor subtly alter. Every nuance of behavior suddenly screamed ‘female’.
Buck studied the eyes looking at him with such intensity that Ezra literally squirmed for a second. That clinched it – Ezra was too good an undercover man to squirm under scrutiny. “You’re not Ezra.”
The hazel eyes slid into emerald and the body language was suddenly that of his friend. “What?” Ezra gasped out.
“And now you are,” Buck sighed. “Lovely – a split personality.” He saw Ezra and Vin look at each other and saw their eyes widen. “Except that don’t jibe with what I’ve been seein’.”
Ezra licked suddenly dry lips. “What – have – you been seeing?”
Buck’s sigh seemed to come from his toes. “Suddenly you’re left-handed part’a the time. Suddenly you know about – and draw – mosaicframes. Suddenly you got her eyes. Her body language.” He shuddered and wrapped his arms around himself.
“Buck—“ Ezra reached out.
“I’m goin’ mad,” Buck whispered. “I’m so worried over Chris that I’m imaginin’ things. I’m tryin’ to bring back the dead!”
Ezra met Vin’s eyes. They just stared at each other for a long moment, then Vin sighed and gave a small nod.
Ezra grabbed Buck’s hands and forced them from his arms. His eyes clicked hazel again as he held the large hands between his smaller ones.
“You’re not going mad, Buck,” Sarah said in her own voice.
Buck’s head snapped up, his eyes huge as he stared into the friend’s face with the altered eyes. “I….gotta be,” he replied softly. “I…I just heard…”
Ezra grinned the gilded grin at him. His lips moved, but the familiar voice of a departed angel came out. “You’re not going mad.”
It took Buck three tries to stammer out, “Sa….Sarah?”
“Hello, Buck. It’s been awhile.”
Buck reached up and – quite without his control – his hand cupped Ezra’s cheek in exactly the same way he used to cup Sarah’s.
The gesture was rewarded with a slight, closed-mouth smile and hazel eyes closing as the head tilted into the touch.
“Oh, my word…” Buck whispered, his eyes huge. “It…is you….”
The next moment, Buck was in tears, crushing Ezra’s body close and sobbing out Sarah’s name. She disentangled herself, met Vin’s eyes – and nodded.
Buck suddenly found himself with a lapful and armful of Tanner. “Hey…wh-what?”
Vin pulled back and Buck drew in a sharp intake of breath when he saw hazel eyes instead of cerulean blue. If Sarah was in Ezra… “….Scout?” he choked out.
“Hi, Uncle Buck!” And Vin’s body dove in for another hug.
Buck crushed him as close as he’d hugged Ezra’s body. “Adam….Adam…Sarah….it’s a miracle… oh, we gotta tell Chris –“
“NO!” Both shouted together as Adam broke the convulsive embrace. “No,” Sarah repeated, clutching Buck’s arm again. “You mustn’t breathe a word of this to Chris!”
Now Buck frowned, confused and a little hurt. “Why not? It’s all he’s wanted since you two….” He broke off, looking at Adam.
“Since we died, Uncle Buck. It ain’t a bad word.” And there was Vin’s smile, somehow very altered with a child animating him. “We didn’t feel anythin’ – it was too fast.”
Buck’s shoulders sagged in relief. “That’s all I’ve ever wondered—that and why.” He glanced at Sarah, and read in those eyes that she knew why. Her eyes slid to Adam in a clear warning, and this time Buck didn’t press that line of curiosity.
He did, however, return to his original question. “Why can’t we tell him?”
Sarah took a deep breath. “Because that is no more Chris than you are. He’s been taken over.”
Buck’s eyes widened. “Tell me?”
The story poured out – how Chris was now evil Christian Sebastian, how he wanted to destroy Team Seven, and how Ezra and Vin had agreed to house Sarah and Adam to give Team Seven an edge behind the scenes.
Buck slowly nodded. At his request, Ezra and Vin re-emerged. “So,” Buck sighed, running his hands through his hair. “Now what do we do?”
What to do next was taken out of their hands the next day. Buck was yelling at JD to hurry up in the shower as he crossed to pick up the ringing phone. “Wilmington.”
“Buck?” Nathan barked into the phone. Get over here – and get the others here too!”
His hand tightened on the receiver. “Where are you? What happened?”
“Mercy,” Nathan growled. Josiah’s been shot!”
“Shot?” Buck bellowed. “What the hell--?”
“It’s addled him—he says Chris shot him!”
Buck’s eyes closed. “We’ll be right there!” He hung up, counted to five, then dialed another number.
It rang twice, then came a sleepy, childlike voice. “…h’llo?”
Despite the situation, Buck couldn’t help smiling when he heard it. “Mornin’, Adam.”
When Buck could put the receiver back to his ear, he said, “I need t’talk to Uncle Vin, Scout.”
Buck took a deep breath. “Yeah, Scout. Somethin’s very wrong.”
The voice suddenly deepened and the accent became a coarser Texan one. “Who’s been hurt?”
“Josiah. Sebastian shot him.”
“Where’s he? Mercy?”
“Yeah – meet you there?”
“Yeah – we’ll come get you. Get JD to work – have him start a file on Sebastian. See you in a bit.” He hung up.
Buck’s lips pressed together in a deep frown. A file – that meant they were going after Sebastian as if he were completely an enemy, not just a part of Chris.
“God help us all,” Buck breathed.
That was close.
That was too damned close!
Going for the direct approach now, Demon? You’re too close to losing – you’re running scared.
But I spoiled your aim. I’m slowly getting control of my body again.
Now it’s just a matter of time, Demon.
Just a matter of time.
Ezra and Vin ran into the waiting room side-by-side. Catching sight of Buck, the pair moved to his side. “Josiah?” a too-breathy, almost feminine voice came from Ezra’s throat.
He registered the eye colour and smiled slightly. “Hey, Sarah-girl,” he whispered. In a bit louder voice, he told them, “He’ll be okay. Bullet went right through his shoulder.
“Chris?” Sarah asked.
Buck shook his head. “Not a word. Don’t even know where he is.”
“I do,” Vin growled. “Sarah, come on – we’ll go get him.”
“Get him?” Buck repeated, startled.
Vin nodded grimly. He tucked his thumbs in his belt and stood hipshot – dangerous as any Old West gunfighter. His eyes were blue steel. “This has gone on too long. Enough of us know now –“
“And I’ll inform the rest – about Sebastian, that is,” Buck clarified quickly.
Hazel eyes turned emerald as Ezra re-emerged. “And we’ve been going at this wrong. We’ve been letting the dark – Sebastian – call all the shots, dictate our every move.”
“That’s it exactly,” Vin nodded grimly. “It’s just as simple as dark versus light.” His eyes narrowed. “And it’s past time for the light to go on the offensive.”
In the car, Ezra asked, “How do you know where he is?”
Vin’s mouth curved into a closed-mouth smile. “I’m startin’ to be able to feel Chris again.”
Ezra’s eyes widened. That method of silent communication had saved them more than once. But now… “That could be dangerous, Vin. That link isn’t one-way. If he can figure out what we’re—“
“Can’t communicate yet,” Vin interrupted. “Can just sense him.” He broke into a large smile. “Sides, this ain’t nothin’ but a good thing.”
“Yes,” Ezra said slowly. Knowing what Sebastian is up to before he acts could be – Vin, what’s so funny?”
Vin was, indeed, laughing. “Think you missed a key word there, Ez. I can’t sense Sebastian.”
“But you just said—“
“I’m startin’ to sense Chris.”
Ezra felt his face light up. “You can sense Chris?” he repeated incredulously.
Vin nodded, tapping his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as they stopped at a red light. “He’s still in there. He doesn’t have control yet, but he’s getting stronger all the time.”
“As if he’s a separate personality inside his own mind,” Ezra mused. Then he turned wide eyes to Vin as the car began rolling once more. “Vin… if Chris and Sebastian are separate personalities…”
Vin grabbed his wrist. “Hush. We’ll deal with that when the time comes. Right now – let’s just bring him in.”
Ezra nodded. The rest of the trip was made in silence.
Sebastian looked up, startled by the growl of a car engine. He closed the cell after telling the fence he’d call her right back and got to his feet.
“Aw, hell, what do they want?” he snarled as he recognised the car coming down the lane. He stepped out onto the porch and waited.
When the car rolled to a stop and Tanner and Standish emerged, Sebastian couldn’t quite keep the anger out of his voice. “Somethin’ I can help you ladies with?”
Why are they here? What’s going on?
Vin, what are you doing?
“Howdy, Chris,” Vin said as he ambled around to the front of the car and leaned casually against it.
“Tanner,” Sebastian replied coldly. Vin knew who he really was, and he wasn’t taking chances. “Standish. What’re you doing out here?”
“Josiah’s been shot,” Vin said with that same nonchalant air.
Sebastian nodded and forced himself to act like Larabee. “Any idea on the perp’s ID?”
“Yup. Said you done it.”
“Me?” Sebastian forced a laugh. “That’s ridiculous!”
“That’s exactly what I thought you’d say.” Vin stepped forward. “And I got just one thing to say about that.”
“Yeah?” Sebastian’s chin rose. “And what would that be?”
Vin’s gun was suddenly in his hand and pointed at Sebastian.
Sebastian’s eyes narrowed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Christian Sebastian,” Vin said coldly, “you’re under arrest for assault and attempted murder.”
Sebastian sneered. “You can’t prove a thing.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Ezra growled.
A gun suddenly appeared in Sebastian’s hand. “I’m not going anywhere with you.
Vin suddenly kicked out, smashing his foot against Sebastian’s hand. The gun went flying and Sebastian gasped.
Before he could recover, Ezra had tackled him. The undercover agent was small-figured, but he was strong. He held a struggling Sebastian while Vin snapped a pair of handcuffs on him.
When they stood up, Vin chuckled to find Ezra was suddenly tie-less. The long strip of silk was tied firmly in Sebastian’s mouth. “One way t’shut him up.”
Ezra chuckled as they steered a still-struggling Sebastian to the car. “Well, I for one did not wish to hear his constant cursing!”
Ezra sat in the back with their prisoner and Vin pulled away from the ranch. He spoke into his cell. “We’re headin’ back, Buck. We got him.”
Sebastian sat glumly in the waiting room – Buck and Vin sitting on either side of him. They’d searched him and confiscated his weapons and his cell phone.
Said phone had rung twice and Ezra had answered both times. He’d informed the callers that Sebastian no longer was in charge, and they would deal with him now. One had hung up in panic and the other had offered to work with him.
It was only a matter of time, now, before Sebastian’s fledgling crime empire was completely dismantled.
Nathan emerged from Josiah’s room with a large smile. “He’s going to be coming home in a few days!”
Vin nodded. “That’s excellent news!” Then he turned toward Sebastian. “Now… to deal with you.”
Sebastian smiled coldly at him. “They all see Chris Larabee, decorated ATF agent. There’s no way they’ll believe you!”
Vin leaned over him intimidatingly. “Well, then – we’ll just have to deal with you ourselves.”
“I’d certainly love to see you try,” Sebastian challenged.
He knew he’d made a colossal mistake when he saw feral smiles appear all around him.
Sebastian laughed as he got out of the car. “You brought me back to the ranch?”
“Yup,” Vin grinned. “We can keep track o’ya here.”
“That’s what you think –“
“No,” Ezra said as he seized Sebastian’s wrist. “It’s what we know.”
Sebastian’s eyes widened in shock as a white plastic bracelet was snapped onto his wrist. He heard a ‘snikt’ near the ground and registered the pressure of a second plastic bracelet around his ankle. “…no…”
“Oh, yeah,” Buck laughed. “House arrest monitors.”
Sebastian sank onto the porch, his brain whirling. How do I get out of THIS?
That’s easy, demon.
Can we handle him?
“Yeah, I think we can.”
I want my daddy back.
“You’ll get him, Adam. We’ve got him now – we’ll bring him back to us if it’s the last thing we do.”
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