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Cause and Effect
Author's Voice of Warning (aka Author's Note): English is not my first language; it's German. This is the best I can do. Any mistakes you find in here, collect them and you might win a prize. The spell-checker said everything's okay, but you know how trustworthy those thingies are.....
Background: Chris and Ezra are shape shifters, and a bond forms between them. Ezra becomes the last member of Chris' team in law enforcement.
Link to the official Boarderlines site: http://home.arcor.de/larabee/mag7/m7slfic.html
Ezra had retired early from the office. He hadn't really felt up to battling mountains of data and trying to get them into a semblance of order. Especially on this case. Chris had told him to stay out of it anyway. Standish didn't need any additional reminders of his last undercover mission that had gone so fatally wrong. He didn't need food for nightmares. The dreams came all on their own. He had fought them, had beaten them down, but they still returned. Chris had offered his help, an open ear and Bond whenever he felt like talking, but so far Ezra had dealt with it alone. For a week, he had battled alone.
Now he stepped into his quarters, intent on just kicking up his feet and relaxing in front of the TV. The small pile of mail made him sigh. Most of it was useless trash, but one caught his attention. Ezra felt his breath catch in his throat as he read the sender. Captain Frank Velo. The husband of the Marissa Velo, the Agent who had died shielding him; who had died for him. His hands started to shake and for a moment, he contemplated just throwing it away. Unopened.
Then he bit his lower lip. Get a grip on yourself, Standish! he snarled silently.
He had never met Frank Velo. He knew the man was a freighter pilot, but that was about it. Ezra hadn't attended Marissa's funeral either. He had been unable to do so. Now Velo had sent him a letter. Why?
He opened it slowly, unfolding the piece of paper, eyes widening in shock. His face lost all color, then he stared at the picture that had been included in the envelope. No! No, no nonononono!
The wail rose inside him without ever reaching his lips. Ezra let the letter drop out of his suddenly numb hands, eyes unnaturally wide. Without thinking he walked over to the kitchen cabinet and pulled out the bottle of whiskey he always kept there. He didn't bother with a glass. He didn't bother with style. He just needed to forget.
"Gawd, I can't read another one!" Buck exlcaimed and shoved the stack of papers aside. The lines were running into each other and his neck was a mass of cramped muscles. "This is insane, Chris!"
Chris Larabee, his oldest friend and teamleader, gave him a half smile. "Travis wants this case wrapped up and in a presentable form by Monday, Buck."
"How can you wrap this up if we don't even know half of what went on?" Wilmington demanded. "We didn't even finish it!"
"Judge's orders. Our part in this is over."
"The hell it is," the other Agent growled. "We lost a man, we lost the quarry, we lost the whole friggin' operation!"
"Which is why we need to regroup, rethink and find out what went wrong," Vin said calmly, closing another folder and labeling it. "No need to run off half-cocked, Buck. We did what we could."
"And we lost Velo in the process, nearly Ezra, too. Hell, I want to get my hands on that traitor!"
"Everyone does." Chris looked at the next stack and sighed. Everything was starting to look alike. "But investigations into the identity of this mole is not our line of work, pard."
"The Judge could make it ours."
"And who'd do our job?"
Buck sighed and ran a hand through his already tousled hair.
"Let's call it quit for tonight," Larabee decided and pushed away from the desk.
The others had left already, including Ezra, even though he had stuck around until maybe half an hour ago, deciding to do their share of the time-consuming wrap-up tomorrow. Chris had to agree that it was a sensible thing to do. He was dead tired, his eyes burned, and he was more than ready to hit the sack and sleep till Monday. Travis be damned.
As they shut down the office lights and headed for the door, Chris had the sudden sensation of floating. There was a brief moment of absolute disorientation, a dizziness that swept over him for no apparent reason, and he missed the door knob he had been reaching for. Instead he almost fell against the wall.
"Wow, pard, watch it!"
Strong hands grabbed him and he blinked at Buck. The feeling had passed and he inhaled deeply.
"Must be more tired than I thought," he muttered.
"Heck, you just looked like you were going to faint on us," Wilmington joked, slapping him on the back.
Chris smiled wryly. Sleep sounded so good right now, he could hear his bed calling him. He walked out of the conference room the team had staked as their current battle field against paperwork when it happened again. This time there was no wall and no door, just the floor. Chris was aware of Buck's alarmed yell and that the floor was coming up to meet him. Then there was nausea. Dizziness. That floating sensation. He tried to move, but his arms and legs didn't respond. He was simply hanging there, in the middle of nowhere, the world around him rushing away from him, leaving him in nothingness.
"Shit!" Buck cursed and grabbed the slender man as he collapsed without any warning.
Chris was no light weight, despite his lithe appearance, and supporting his whole weight all of a sudden left Buck staggering. Vin quickly assisted and they lowered the blond to the floor.
"What's going on?" Buck demanded.
Vin checked their friend, noticed the glazed expression, the pale skin, and how Larabee was apparently struggling against whatever had hit him. He was still conscious; at least somewhat.
"Chris?" he asked, holding the glassy gaze, trying to establish contact. "Chris!"
A moan escaped the pale lips. "Sick...."
"Something he ate?" Buck hazarded a guess, worry blooming in his eyes, multiplying by the minute.
"We all had the same, Buck. I don't feel sick."
"Neither do I. Drugs maybe? Or he contracted something.... Call Nathan?"
Vin hesitated. "Let's get him over to the couch first," he finally decided.
They dragged the barely aware man over to the small seating area and laid him down on the cream colored couch. Chris screwed his eyes shut, gasping.
"Aw no!" Buck muttered and suddenly darted off.
He returned seconds later, carrying a bucket. Vin was about to ask what he was planning when the first heaves started.
Damn, what was going on here?
"Chris?" Vin tried again.
"We should call Nathan!" Buck insisted.
"Ezra," was all Chris managed, then he started to throw up again.
The other two Agents exchanged one look, then Buck nodded. Okay, so much for Nathan.
"I'll take care of it."
With that he was off, leaving Vin with their suffering team leader.
Buck stepped into the thief's quarters and he knew immediately what had happened. Ezra sat propped up against the kitchen counter that separated the living room from the small kitchen itself, passed out drunk, an empty bottle of whiskey next to him. He was still in uniform, hadn't even bothered to get rid of the jacket, and whatever had made him drink that much in such a short time, it had hit him hard.
Buck knelt down next to his friend and extracted the bottle from the lax grip. He placed it on top of the counter, then looked around. His eyes fell on the carelessly dropped picture and the letter next to it. He gazed at the picture, mystified, as well as slightly surprised, then he read over the letter.
"Damn," he whispered. "Damn!" He used his personal com unit and dialed Vin's number. "Vin? Buck. I'm at Ezra's. He's passed out drunk. Real drunk. And Vin... it's bad."
He snapped the com shut and then sighed.
"C'mon, pard," he told the unconscious man, "let's get you somewhere more comfortable."
Vin didn't need any further explanations. He didn't ask for the why and how, he just accepted that something bad had happened and he knew he had to get over there. But before he could do that, he had to solve a different problem. Chris had emptied his stomach by now, the dry heaves setting in. He was pale, sweating, and there were lines of pain in his face. His eyes were half-closed and he seemed to concentrate on just his stomach. Seemed was the key word. Vin doubted this was anything even remotely related to his digestive rtacks. Hell, he knew it! This came through the Bond and the result was far from pretty. Ezra had decided to get hellishly drunk and his Bonded partner was paying for it. He could figure out the reason later. For now, he had to solve the problem of how to get Chris out of the office and into his quarters.
It took Larabee another forty-five minutes to get his feet back under him. He was still swaying and he hadn't spoken more than three words, but the determination was back in those hazel eyes. How they actually managed it to Ezra's quarters, Vin didn't know. He was just thankful that there weren't many people around.
He let Chris sink onto the living room couch and quickly grabbed another bucket from the sink, just in case. Buck walked in from the bedroom, which he closed carefully. He was out of his uniform, his shirt sleeves rolled up. There was a worried look in his eyes.
"He's still out," he said softly. "How's Chris?"
Vin gazed at their friend, who had sunk back, an arm thrown over his eyes, apparently asleep.
"He lost a good deal of last night's dinner, today's breakfast, lunch and what we had at the office. Now it's just plain nausea and probably a migraine from hell. I guess the shields are basically holding, but what came through and what's still leaking is enough. His system should get the defenses up soon." Vin sighed. "Any idea why?"
Buck bit his lower lip, then took the letter and picture out of his pocket and gave it to his friend. Vin read over the letter and then looked at the photo.
"Shit," he murmured. "He didn't need that."
"What?" a rough voice demanded.
Both men turned, surprise registering on their faces as blood-shot eyes looked at them. Chris was still awake.
"What?" he repeated, more strength and a lot more determination in his tone.
Vin glanced at the letter, then walked over to the couch and gave it to Chris. "Looks like that came in the mail today. From Frank Velo."
Frank Velo. Chris felt stunned by the mention of the name. It lanced through the still lingering dizziness and the pounding headache. Frank, Marissa's husband. Why would he write to Ezra?
Chris sat up slowly, afraid the change in position would set off the heaving again, but nothing happened. He carefully took the letter and read it.
I have been trying to talk to you ever since my wife passed away, but you always evaded me. I had hoped to see you at the funeral but you weren't there and I think I understand why. I write this letter to you to tell you it wasn't your fault. I talked to Brandon and he told me so, too. Marissa died protecting you and I think you might want to know why, because the two of you knew each other for a just few days. Certainly not enough time to get a friendship started, you figured that out by yourself.
My wife had a younger brother. His name was Andrew. Andy worked for the Agency, too, and he died in the line of duty while on a case. It was very hard on Marissa back then because she blamed herself for his death, said she could have prevented it, but she was too late. That happened over ten years ago.
When she took this case and met you, she came home and told me how much you reminded her of Andy, and I could tell that she was pretty shaken by that. She once mentioned that this was her second chance, but at that moment I had no idea what she probably meant. When I learned about the details of her death I understood. I think she took that chance and did what she couldn't do ten years ago.
I enclosed a picture to show you that you do have a resemblance; so you can see what my wife saw.
I hope I was able to make her motives more clear to you.
Chris's hands shook as he looked at the picture of a woman and a man laughing into the camera. One was Marissa Velo, the other looked very much like a slightly younger Ezra Standish. The color of the hair, the eyes, the same mischievous laugh. Yes, there was a resemblance.
It had been the final straw. Ezra had come undone, had grabbed the bottle he had pushed away just a week ago, and had drowned his pain, guilt and self-recrimination. Taking Chris with him. He hadn't thought, just acted.
Chris looked up into the sorrow-filled eyes of his two friends.
"I doubt Frank knew what he'd do to Ezra when he wrote the letter," Vin said softly.
Chris fell back onto the couch, the letter still in his hands. He felt the migraine lessen. Ezra had passed out, his own shields were regenerating, and he was fighting the sensations coming in from the overloaded link.
"Buck and I'll stay here for the night," Tanner continued. "Ez'll need someone to watch him."
"Thanks," was all Chris managed, then closed his eyes.
He didn't want to.
But here he was. Conscious. Aware. The awareness tripled when he started to move. He was suddenly aware of his throbbing head, his churning stomach and the irrepressible need to throw up. He was coherent enough to lean over the bed, then there was only the retching and the merciless headache. Someone placed something wonderfully cold onto his neck, but the thought as to who and how and why was blanked when he heaved again.
How long it took, Ezra had no idea. He was aware of the continuing presence, someone talking softly to him, and his own hammering heart. Each heart beat echoed loudly in his mind. He was sweating, dizzy, and it was like a vicious circle. Each thundering heartbeat fed the headache, which in turn fed the nausea, which resulted in more heaving. His head fell heavily onto the edge of the bed, bleary eyes taking in the bucket, the floor, the rug..... until the bucket became his sole focus and it all started anew.
Something was injected into his neck and he winced. The shot spread out, started to dampen the nausea, and he felt himself relax more into the mattress of his bed. He had no recollection how he had gotten there, but it didn't matter either. A cool cloth cleaned his face, bathed his neck, and he sighed softly. As long as he didn't move, it wasn't so bad and the injection helped.
His stomach churned again and he was back over the bucket.
Buck kept a hand on the trembling shoulders, grimacing as he listened to the painful dry heaves, then he cleaned Ezra again as the younger man fell bonelessly onto the bed. Vin had given him the shot to counteract the hangover, but it would take a while. A whole bottle of whiskey on an empty stomach wasn't so easily counteracted.
"Ezra?" he tried softly.
A painfully raspy, "Buck?" was his answer.
"Yes, it's me, pard. Just ride it out."
Vin stuck his head into the bedroom and Buck gave him a negative. Ezra needed a lot more time and wasn't up to company of any kind. Vin just nodded and left again.
Ezra managed to get to the bathroom by mid-morning. Buck had started giving him fluids, mostly water, to flush out the toxins of the alcohol, and by now the calls of nature were stronger than any residual nausea. An hour later he felt strong enough to shower, even though Buck insisted to stay close by just in case. It was undignifying, but right now, Ezra's dignity was somewhere down the drain anyway.
He had crawled into a bottle, no matter the consequences, and he knew he was paying for it. When he finally emerged into the living room, wrapped in his bathrobe, the next shock waited.
Sitting on his couch.
Looking like death warmed over. Twice.
Hazel eyes looked up and bore into his, and Ezra felt his breath catch in his throat. He was unable to move and right now, the urge to run was overriding all other commands. Chris's eyes held a glare of the category five. He was trapped like a deer in the headlights and everything inside of him cried in pain at the mere thought of his lover feeling such anger toward him.
Vin sat on the two-seater opposite Larabee and when Ezra glanced at the other Agent, he saw no help there. A gentle hand between his shoulder blades, pushing slowly but insistingly made all hopes for a quick retreat into his bedroom die.
Traitor, he thought darkly.
"Chris," he managed.
"Ezra," was the cool reply.
He winced. There was nothing coming over the link. Nothing at all. His mind was still too muddled to catch finer nuances anyway, but there were no strong emotions either. Chris was royally pissed and he had every right to be. Ezra had drowned his pain in a bottle of whiskey, uncaring of what he did to his Bonded in the process. The moment the alcohol numbed his synapses, short-circuited them in the process, it went straight through to the other soul partner. Getting drunk was a two-edged sword. One would always take the other with him.
"I'm sorry," he choked out, still standing close enough to his bedroom to risk a quick retreat if Buck would just move a foot or two. Wilmington didn't.
"Not good enough," was the growled reply.
Another wince. The drug was working by now and the headache had receded, but the cold words ignited a new ache. Chris, his lover, his soul mate, treated him like... a criminal. Ezra sank in on himself, feeling like a dog that had been kicked by the very person it loved so much.
"Why?" Chris demanded harshly.
Ezra bit his lower lip and evaded those dark eyes. He could almost feel the anger rise off Larabee like a demon.
"I.... I can't.... It's personal," he finally managed.
"The hell it is!" Chris snarled. "You got dead drunk for no good reason and I suffered the consequences! I want to know why!" There was a veiled threat in his voice,
Ezra shrunk back. Oh gawd.... He couldn't do this!
"Why?" Chris repeated his question.
The thief knew he was trembling and he wished he could just crawl back into his bed. Chris deserved to know. They were Bonded, for crying out loud! But his reasons had been born out of a desperate need to forget, to drown the nightmares, and the two of them had talked about it before. Back then, Ezra hadn't given in to the call of the bottle. Yesterday he had.
"Agent Velo," he finally said, voice barely above a whisper.
"I thought we had dealt with that, Ezra."
He brought up his burning eyes. "I know why she died."
"We all do."
Ezra felt like Chris was deliberately infliciting more pain. Of course they knew why she had died! She had been shot by a low-life scumbag of a slave trader! Anger briefly replaced the pain and desperation.
"She died because she saw her brother in me!" he spat, all the pain seeking an outlet. "Because she had lost her brother! Because she thought it was her fault!"
The trembling increased and he felt Buck steady him once more, then slowly push him over to the couch. Ezra sank down, shaking so badly it hurt.
<She died for me, Chris! Because she thought I was something I'm not....>
Chris looked at his hurting partner, felt it all leak through the reviving Bond, he didn't dare raise any shields. Ezra had the overall appearance of a kicked puppy. He looked at Vin. Tanner nodded and rose, walking over to Buck.
"C'mon, Buck. Let's catch up on some neglected work."
Buck shot him a confused look. "Neglected work? What neg... oh!" He suddenly grinned and gave Vin a rather lecherous look. "Yeah, right. That. Right. Very neglected. Can't have that."
Vin grabbed the other man by one arm and dragged him out of Ezra's quarters, leaving the other two alone. Chris watched Ezra for full five seconds after they had close the door, then he rose and walked over to the other couch. He sat down next to his partner, who had his face buried in his hands.
Ezra suddenly erupted from the couch, taking a few steps forward, then whirling around, walking back. He repeated that twice, then stopped.
<I know about the letter. I saw the picture> Chris said softly, rising as well.
The green eyes came up, wide, dilated, in an ashen face, shock and soul-deep sorrow written oh-so clearly in them. <You knew.....> <Yes>
<I wanted to hear it from you>
Ezra clenched his hands into fists.
<And I want you to realize that whatever reasons Marissa had, she felt it was right to do what she did>
He started to tremble more, his eyes reflecting all the hurt, all the pain. He was desperately trying not to cry, but the sobs were bubbling up inside of him. Ezra bit his lower lip to keep from crying.
"Ezra." Chris came closer. <Ez...>
Ezra tried to move away, but Larabee didn't let him. He wrapped strong arms around the smaller man and the fight left the thief. He wasn't strong enough for this. Hands clenched into his shirt.
"Ezra, please don't ever do this again," Chris whispered into the soft, still damp hair. "It won't help you deal with your pain. Alcohol never does."
Still, no tears came. Ezra didn't cry. Maybe he had never learned how to, but it was such a natural reflex, Chris wished he would stop fighting it.
<Let it go> he murmured.
And Ezra finally did.
Chris lay awake in bed, his arms around Ezra, watching him doze. He had done so for the last hours, on and off, slipping from light sleep into a doze, then into deep sleep. Ezra's head was resting on his shirt-clad shoulder, hands clenched into the black material. Chris stroked the soft brown hair, keeping his shields down. Ezra had finally acknowledged his pain, had let it all out after he had refused to break for so long.
After a while the thief moved, pushing himself up on one arm to look at Chris. The older man smiled. Ezra looked a lot better and from the Bond he knew the injection had worked its course. The aftereffects were over.
Ezra smiled weakly. He sent a shaky thank you. Chris didn't argue, he simply accepted. He would always be there for Ezra, no matter what. Standish leaned forward and kissed Chris softly, deepening the kiss as he felt his partner respond. It turned into an almost desperate declaration of need, as if Ezra wanted to confirm that his lover was still there. Chris captured his head in his hands, held him close, mirroring the hard kiss.
<Want you> Ezra breathed.
Chris felt the fire start between them, the irresistible flame that was their Bond roared to life.
Desperation. Need for confirmation. Need to live. Chris knew those emotions, all mixing together into a sexual aura that almost floored him. Ezra wanted this badly. Clothes were almost torn off, thrown to the floor, as the two men gave in to the sensations, the driving force that had been ignited by Ezra. The younger man was suddenly aggressively demanding more, taking Chris with him.
Ezra screamed in completion when Chris bit into his shoulder as he climaxed. A myriad of emotions shot through the Bond, were reflected, intensified, mirrored. The thief shook, his body bathed in sweat, and Chris tried to roll off the smaller man. A weak embrace and a groan of denial stopped him.
<Sorry> Ezra mumbled, tightening his hold.
<I know, Ez, I know>
Chris dearly hoped so.
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