Shadows of Self

by Enola Jones



"I've got a bad feeling about this," Vin groused as he sat on the hotel room bed and watched Chris finish getting dressed.

"You've got a bad feeling about every undercover assignment one of us goes into," Chris countered, tying the cravat and frowning as he tucked it into the shirt. "Why couldn't 'Sebastian' wear ties, is what I wanna know?"

"Because Christian Sebastian is a man of some power and influence," Ezra said as he held out the dark blue Armani jacket to Chris. "And as such, he finds it counterproductive to begin the day by tying a noose around one's neck."

Vin laughed. "You've got a point!" Then he sobered. "I still have a bad feeling about this, though."

Chris slid on the jacket and frowned. "I feel like a trussed-up turkey."

"You look very presentable." Ezra shook his head and let out a low whistle. "Mister Larabee.... this is what you've been hiding behind those shapeless black clothes?" When Chris turned a Glare onto him, Ezra held up his hands. "Poor choice of words on my part. I meant to say that..."

"That ya clean up right nice," Vin grinned. The Glare turned onto him, and the grin grew. "You look totally different, pard. I swear, if I didn't know it was you --"

"You two ladies done with your gossipy cacklin'?" Chris growled. "We got work to do."

~~~~~~~

'Sebastian' showed up in the middle of the deal. On cue, Ezra's character squeaked that he was early, that he wasn't supposed to be back before the end of the month.

"I'm here, now," Chris growled at him. "And you have a lot of explaining to do."

"We were trying to make you some more money, boss," Ezra's character said, twisting his hands nervously.

"Uh-huh." A slow, dubious nod. "At these gentlemen's expense, no doubt." He turned to the criminals they were trying to collar. "Gentlemen, I'll make you a deal. You join with me and I'll make you rich beyond your wildest dreams."

Showtime.

"Why, you double-crossing..." Ezra's character pulled his gun, and as expected, so did the criminals.

There was a brief scuffle, which led to 'Sebastian' himself subduing Ezra's character and dragging him out of the warehouse, throwing him into the arms of 'Sebastian's' second -- Vin. "Take care of him."

Vin nodded. "Will do."

Chris then turned to the criminals and sighed. "Amateurs."

The leader of the other side chuckled and holstered his gun. "I hear that."

"Boss," one of his men growled, "how do we know he won't double-cross us?"

"Because this is Christian 'my-word-is-my-bond' Sebastian." He looked at Chris. "I take it you never gave your word to that bottom-feeder."

"You take it right," Chris said, smiling. The advance press Ezra had leaked had done well. "Just as I will not give my word to you -- until I am absolutely certain we can do business together."

The leader nodded. "A fair trade. Follow me and --"

"No!" the same man as earlier snarled. "No, we can't trust him!" And with the leader shouting for him to stop, he fired.

The bullet struck Chris a glancing blow along the side of his head, knocking him backwards and head-first into the wall of the warehouse.

An instant later, the shooter was dead from a head-shot by his own leader.

An instant after that, the warehouse swarmed with activity as Team Seven avenged their fallen leader -- and did the bust with evidence to make it stick.

When it was over, Vin suddenly shouted, "Where's Chris?"

Chris was gone. A blood-trail led to a doorway which led outside -- and then nothing.

~~~~~~~

Team Seven went out en masse to find Chris. It was Buck who found him ---

Holding a gun on Buck, his eyes glazed over.

"Chris..." Buck said, spreading his arms wide. "Chris, c'mon..."

Chris shook his head and the bleeding wound was revealed. "Donít insult my intelligence," he growled. "My name is Christian."

Buck's jaw unhinged. "Wh...what?"

"You heard me, cop," Chris growled. "Now j...just go away and lemme 'lone."

"Chris-Christian... y-you're hurt."

"So what?" came the growl. "Ain't the first time..."

Buck licked his lips. Cripes, he ain't actin'! "C'mon, put down the gun... Boss!"

Chris blinked, and the gun wavered. "B...Boss?"

"Yeah, Boss, don't you recognise me?" Buck surreptitiously opened his mic so the others would hear what was happening. "It's me, Boss -- one o'your two right hands!"

"Buck..." Chris said, the gun wavering a bit more. "I.. I don't... I don't remember..."

"You've been shot, Chris-Christian," Buck said gently, taking a step forward.

In his ear came a chorus of soft gasps and swears as the others began to realise what had happened to Chris.

Chris looked at Buck. "I remember you now."

Buck smiled, taking another step forward. "You do? That's wonderful!"

Chris nodded. "Yeah, I do." The gun raised again, trained on Buck's chest. "You're a cop. You're gonna take me down."

"No, I'm on your side, Chris-Christian! I'm on your side!" Buck took another step.

"Don't come any closer!" Chris bellowed.

"We're friends, remember? We've been friends for a very long time..."

"I'm warning you!" The gun shook.

Buck shook his head and took another step forward, reaching for the gun in Chris's hand.

And a shot rang out.

~~~~~~~

When the rest of Team Seven converged where they heard the shot, they found Buck holding Chris in a hold that rendered the injured man almost immobile. When he saw the others, Buck kicked the still-smoking gun toward Vin. "Call an ambulance!" he snapped.

"On its way," Nathan called back. "Where'd that shot land?"

"In the pavement," Buck replied with a tight smile. "I managed to wrestle it down before he shot. You heard?"

"We heard," Ezra said succinctly.

"The shot to his head," Nathan mused. "He thinks he really is Christian Sebas-- whoops, there he goes!"

Chris sagged in Buck's arms, succumbing to the wound at long last. Buck eased him gently to the ground, wiping the blood-caked blond hair from his face. "It'll be okay, Chris. It'll be okay."

His eyes turned to Buck and his mouth worked. "Bu...uck?"

Buck smiled. "Yeah, Chris... we're here." As the eyes closed and Chris passed out, Buck whispered, "We're here and we're not leavin'."

~~~~~~~

Two days of coma passed. Two days of Chris's friends staying with him, praying and talking to him.

Then a day of celebration followed as Chris woke up -- recognising them and himself. He seemed to remember everything and apologized profusely to Buck.

Buck, of course, forgave him without a second thought.

Four weeks after the nightmare had begun, Chris returned to work. He walked into the office in his customary black, with his trademark scowl in place. "You gossipy ladies done with your cacklin'?" he growled, but a smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth.

And it was that smile that they responded to, grinning and saluting as they bade him welcome back one by one as they left his office for their own.

When Buck -- the last one to leave -- had closed the door, Chris picked up a pen and began the paperwork on his desk. A few moments later, he looked up at the door.

He put down the pen and leaned back in his chair, smiling as he fingered one of the genuine ebony cufflinks hidden under the black jacket. "Like shootin' fish in a barrel," he chuckled to himself, watching the door out of the corner of his eye as he looked at the picture of the seven of them that hung on the wall.

Raising his left hand and sighting along the finger like a barrel, he quietly whispered, "Bang," six times, grinning broader each time.

Then Christian Sebastian leaned back in the chair again and laughed softly, but from the depths of his soul.

THE END?





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