Co-written with Steve Jones
The bust had gone without a hitch, and now Ezra, Vin and Chris were alone in the warehouse, waiting for the clean-up team to get there.
Ezra moved to one of the crates. "Perhaps if we took a preliminary catalogue of the weaponry?"
"Good idea, Ez," Vin said, moving to his side. Together, they pried the lid off of the crate --
Triggering the booby-trap inside. The explosion was spectacular, throwing Ezra into Vin.
Chris felt the slight tingle of radiation and found himself blinking at the downed pair. Ezra had landed on top of Vin ---
So why was he suddenly underneath the sharpshooter? And how in the hell did he end up wearing Vin's denim jacket under his ATF windbreaker?
What the hell was going on?
The first indication that anything was wrong was when Ezra got sick to his stomach.
They had come out of the radiation-laced booby trap absolutely normal. Two cases later, Vin and Ezra both took a bullet in a shootout.
Five team members fretted as their compatriots endured surgery. Precautions were taken in Recovery for Vin's notorious violent reaction to anesthesia.
But it was a shock when Ezra opened his eyes, gagged -- and had such a violent reaction that had he seen it, Vin would have been in awe. As soon as one wave of nausea ended, another would begin.
Josiah held his head the entire time, murmuring words of comfort. Slowly, the waves began to be further and further apart and less violent in intensity. Once even the dry heaves ended, Josiah lay Ezra back on the pillows, wiping his face.
Ezra's emerald eyes were huge. He was trembling from the force of the illness. "Wh...what...what...?"
"I don't know, son," Josiah said softly, washing illness debris from the trembling man's chin and neck. "But we're going to find out."
Chris sat staring at a sleeping Vin, confused and stunned. Normally, he would have been delighted to have the sharpshooter healthy and rested.
But what he'd just seen had chilled him to his very soul.
Vin had come out of the anesthesia groggy. But that was all.
No nausea. No violent throwing up. No near-seizure trembles as his body rebelled again and again.
It wasn't natural. It wasn't normal.
It just wasn't Vin.
No, there was a mystery here. And Chris hated mysteries.
Buck came into Chris's office, frowning deeply. "You seen Ez's latest report?"
"Huh?" Chris looked up from his paperwork. "No, why?"
Buck slid it to him. It looked all right at first glance, neatly typed -- "What the...?"
"Found it, huh?" Buck grinned. "It repeats about five times."
"Well... I mean it's a pretty simple error -- anyone can type 't-e-h' for 'the'."
"Yeah, but Ez? Mister Perfect on reports?" Buck grinned. "Besides, after the ammo he gave me earlier--"
Chris sighed. "What happened?"
"Asked me how to spell 'celebrated'."
Now that got Chris's attention. "He did what?"
Vin walked in then. "Whoops, didn't know y'had company."
"What's up, Vin?" Chris sighed.
Vin handed him a legal pad. "JD's tryin' to fix my computer -- damn virus -- and the other machines were busy, had to handwrite it."
"Why couldn't you use JD's?" Chris asked.
Buck chuckled. "The virus hit it when I was usin' it."
"Why'd you open it, huh?" Vin asked as Chris looked down at Vin's handwritten report.
"Well, hell, Vin, it said 'I love you' -- I thought it was from an old friend!" Then he noticed Chris was pale. "Chris?"
Chris just turned the pad around so Buck could see it.
Beautifully legible handwriting. Perfectly spelled words. Perfect grammar.
"V-Vin? You wrote this?" Buck stammered.
"Yeah, why?" Vin asked.
At that second, JD stuck his head in. "Vin, I got your computer runnin'," he reported. "Off to clean mine now. Buck, stay off of it, hear me?"
"Aw, kid, how else am I gonna get my love notes?" Buck grinned.
JD rolled his eyes. "Buck, that subject line should'a been the tip-off right there -- you have girls, not girlfriends!"
"And besides," Vin grinned. "The only girlfriend you've been able to get costs $25 a night!"
"Hey!" Buck roared.
Chris stood up. "All right, ladies, take this out of my office!"
They left, Vin firing Chris a closed-mouth grin and an eerily familiar two-fingered salute as he did so.
Chris sat down and shook. Okay, that cinches it. Something is turning Vin into a long-haired Ezra and it's scarin' me.
Vin and Ezra were congregated around Ezra's desk when Chris arrived. He called a greeting, and they looked up.
Chris's heart squeezed as both of them greeted him with Vin's warm grin! "Where is everybody?" he asked.
"Nate an' JD are in the back." The drawl wouldn't have batted an eye from anybody.
Except it came from Ezra.
With an effort, Chris composed himself and asked, "What happened?"
Nathan, JD and Buck walked up to hear that. "Why do you think something happened?" JD asked.
Buck knocked his Nuggets cap from his head. "Cause he knows that deathtrap of a machine you ride!" he half-roared.
"Well, nothing happened, I'm all right," JD said, replacing his cap with a glare at Buck. "I was helping Nathan run a diagnostic on the computer!"
Chris couldn’t help but smile at their antics. "Speaking of deathtrap machines, where's Josiah?"
"Late, brother," Josiah chuckled as he walked in. "My alternator has all but decided not to alternate!"
Buck clucked his tongue. "You, 'Siah, need a new car!"
"Nah," Josiah grinned as he sat down and turned on his computer. "I'm happy with what I've got."
"What you've got, Nathan said smoothly, "is an unreliable rattletrap. You need to ditch that Suburban and get something dependable -- like a Ford Focus!"
Josiah scowled at him, but his eyes were shining with merriment. "Brother, should I ever get another car, it certainly won't be one that looks like a Beetle and a Pinto's illegitimate child!"
They all laughed, and Buck slapped Josiah on the back. "Good one!" he chuckled.
Chris chuckled, then he pulled his mind back to what had him bothered. "Vin, Ezra, my office."
They looked at each other, and Chris felt his heart skip in alarm. Ezra cocked an eyebrow, Vin's eyes flicked toward the office and back, then Ezra shrugged and Vin gave a small closed-mouthed smile. Ezra returned it with a nod and they moved toward the office.
Silent communication, even? Chris watched them come in and he closed the door behind them. "All right, what is going on with you two?" he asked bluntly. "I'm gettin' worried about you."
They looked at each other, then back at him. "Worried about us?" Vin asked.
"But why?" Ezra finished.
Chris pointed at them. "That for one! This eerie communication you do now!" He sighed. "Ezra gettin' violently ill from anesthesia, Vin's suddenly legible handwriting .... It's almost as if you two are -- are changing places!"
Vin and Ezra looked at each other and smiled, then back at Chris. Two voices spoke as one; two words that pulled the rug completely out from under Chris.
Chris blinked. "You... know?"
They nodded in perfect unison, and he slid down into the chair, openly gawking at them. "How...long? What is going on with you two?"
Vin looked at Ezra and cocked his head toward Chris. Ezra grinned, shook his head slightly, and did the same.
"Oh, no," Vin chuckled. You're the wordsmith!"
"Says the poet," Ezra shot back good-naturedly.
Chris was beginning to feel like he'd walked into the middle of something. "Vin... Ezra..."
They smiled at each other, then turned to Chris and said together, "We're connected."
"Like twins," they chorused, then Ezra held up two fingers. "Two bodies...." he began.
"One mind," Vin finished as Ezra lay one finger down.
Chris just stared at them, his mouth hanging open. When he regained his voice, he gasped out, "When did you realise this?"
Not when did it happen. Thinking back, Chris realised it was the radiation blast months ago -- that was the only thing that could have done this.
"The hospital?" Ezra asked. At Vin's nod, Ezra nodded again and said, "When I got sick after the surgery."
"We'd had flashes before," Vin added, "but that was when we realised we were linked -- and to what degree it ran."
"Took awhile to adjust," Ezra drawled Vin-like, "but once we did, we thought it would be a tremendous advantage."
"Think of it!" Vin burst out, grinning. "I always know what he's doing, where he is. If he gets into trouble, I'll know it! And he can shoot better now...." He trailed off, looking at Chris.
Chris, for his part, just sat there stunned.
"Chris?" Ezra asked.
Licking his lips, Chris whispered, "Why didn't you see fit to inform us?"
They looked at each other, and there was a long pause. Then they spoke together.
"Seemed like a good idea at the time."
Chris leaned back in his chair and ran both hands over his mouth and chin.
"Chris?" Vin asked, worry in his voice. Ezra echoed it a moment later, identical in tone and accent.
Chris let out a deep sigh. "How?" he asked in a bone-weary voice.
"How what, cowboy?" Vin asked as they both frowned at him.
Chris looked at them both steadily, then asked in a voice so deadly calm that both of them were more rattled than if he had bellowed at them.
"How are we going to deal with this?"
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