Eclipse


by Lara Bee and Macx


Eclipse

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belong to Mirisch, CBS, MGM and Trilogy. Not making any money with this. The Borderlines universe was created by my humble self, with lots of help and pointers from Lara Bee.

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

Eclipse
by Macx and Lara Bee



"I have a bad feeling about this, Ezra."

Chris Larabee, Commander Chris Larabee to be precise, sat on the big antique bed in Ezra's bedroom, looking at the younger man, who was currently packing up some things.

Standish looked up and gave him a wry half-smile. "Welcome to the club. As Travis pointed out, that is part of the deal of being an Agent."

"You'll be alone down there."

Ezra Standish, former thief and con man, now member of the Agency, soul-mate and lover of a currently very ill-tempered commander, threw the shirt he was about to pack aside and looked at his lover intently.

With two short steps he was at his Chris's side, cupping his face into his hands. <I won't> he simply said, claiming the blond man's mouth in a soft kiss. <Wherever I go, wherever I am, you will be with me.

Always> <I know> Chris sighed quietly as he answered the kiss.

<I can't help it, I have a bad feeling>

<It's only a few days. I'll report once a day officially, of course>

Amusement washed over the Bond, as Ezra grinned at Chris, green eyes sparkling with something that was reserved for his lover only.

<To you, as often as possible... > he added seductively.

<Don't give me any ideas, Standish> Chris growled, knowing exactly what Ezra had in mind.

The Bond they both shared had evolved into something unique over the time. It had started as a connection between two Borderlines, humans who had a genetic defect that gave them unequaled abilities in various fields. Ezra had been a Borderline from birth; Chris had been given this 'defect' through the transformation machines on BP-379. Their abilities were the power to shift their human shape into the equine one of the so called Kiowata, animals who looked like overgrown horses, except for the two very sharp horns above the eyes.

Chris had been forcibly changed into a Kiowata by a band of smugglers he had been working on apprehending. Ezra, as the thief he had been back then, had simply stolen the large black animal to escape from a group of rather angry individuals out for his blood. Coincidentally by doing so he had saved Chris from the unfortunate destiny of being clipped, the usual way to tame a Kiowata and destroy the human mind in the process.

Soon they discovered they were connected by a mind link that later blossomed into a soul bond. The Bond could not be broken without doing lot of damage to their souls.

After Chris had been turned back into his human form he had done everything he could to make Ezra join the Agency, even blackmailing his superiors.

It had worked, and shortly thereafter they had found they were even more than just mere soul-mates, as their relationship became physical. The first time might have been the Bond driving them, the next time... had been quite different. Everything was different now.

<Wonder why Travis had to send you> Chris murmured, leaning into the touch of his partner.

<Seems I'm best qualified>

Something in that remark woke Chris's attention. <Not for flushing out a mole!>

<The man's a sleazy criminal. A cheat, a liar, even a thief. Like I said, best qualified> Ezra shot him a mischievous smile.

The mission was actually quite simple. As of late, some operations had been busted because someone had leaked information about them. The Agency suspected a mole, one that didn't single out a specific section but made life hard for every one of them. Judge Travis had approached Ezra with a special operation that relied on his criminal background and the mole knowing about it. Since they suspected that the mole was close to the Agency, high enough up in the ranks to know operation plans for all sections, Travis hoped that he also knew that Ezra had a less than stellar past.

In the last few weeks, Ezra had already played several smaller roles, contacting the 'right people', which were all on the criminal data base in one way or the other, and he had been successful. The next seven days might be the turning point in getting the traitor.

<Ezra, you're working for the other side now, remember?> Chris sighed. A shrug. <Old habits die hard>

Chris shot him a narrow-eyed look. Despite his position within the Chimera team, despite countless successful missions, despite the trust his team mates put into him each and every operation, Ezra sometimes fell back into old habits. He was a con, cheat and thief. A good one.

A damn good one. Aside from the shape-changing abilities, which he had only gotten on BP-379, Ezra had been a latent empath from birth. The ability, which he had never really trained, helped him in his schemes.

He could read people and he could string them along to his plans. And because of his criminal past, Ezra had retained a slight insecurity when it came to cases that required just those criminal talents.

<Why don't you look at it this way: this time you get paid for it by the law, you don't have to run from it, and you could even get a commendation> Chris told him.

Ezra had to chuckle at the image Chris was sending over the Bond: Ezra in his despised gala-uniform, standing stiff and tense in front of a not so happy looking Orrin Travis, who was holding a medal in his hands while the whole crew of the Chimera was applauding. And the festivities afterwards in the privacy of his commander's quarters ...

<Now that's a reward to look forward to> He grinned. <Interesting thing you have in mind with the Champaign>

<Yeah. Wanna try?> Chris growled as he slowly started to lick his way over his lover's throat, enjoying the small, lustful sounds that action always evoked in his lover. Ezra moaned and let them both drop into the pillows.

To hell with the ceremony; they could start celebrating now.




Chris Larabee sat at his desk. Again. It was his job. Sitting at a desk doing some work. Not always, but today. And he hated it. Not always, but today. Because today was another day he would not be able to spend with Ezra, his soul-mate; his lover. Because Ezra was on a mission for a week without him and he was gone for the fifth day now. Two more to go, Chris sighed inwardly. He was connected to himover the Bond and he knew that his lover was well and in no danger whatsoever, missing him as dearly as he was missed. Nevertheless it was one hell of a time for Chris not being able to touch Ezra after a hard day's work, to reach out for him and feel the warm, breathing presence beside him in his bed, snuggling against him. To fall into those ready arms, seeking comfort.

Unfortunately his mood influenced not only Larabee himself but his comrades and colleagues on the Chimera as well. They had come to know it was best for them not to cross their commander's way too often when Ezra was not aboard for a longer period of time. Except for Vin and Buck, no one knew why exactly, and Chris was glad he had the excuse of a soul bond. Nathan accepted the explanation with a nod, made some notes, and left it at that. While distance was no longer a problem, pro-longed physical absence made Chris feel edgy. Since they had now developed a physical relationship as well, that edginess had gotten a whole new flavor.

Chris sighed as he felt something tug at the Bond.

Ezra.

<You okay?>

A brief question, more a flicker of emotion than anything else. <Yeah.

I'm fine>

<Don't give me that. I know you aren't>

Chris sighed and put down his pen. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

<Miss you> he confessed.

<Miss you, too> A sparkle of warm affection reached Chris, then Ezra pulled away reluctantly, being just a soft ever-present humming in the background again.

Chris sighed again, knowing only too well that Ezra was most likely right in the middle of something and had just taken a little break to 'pay a visit'. He appreciated the gesture and it made him feel very warm inside. Ezra always did. The emotions he felt for the younger man, the emotions that were returned, did a lot for Chris. They had scared him at first, had confused him. Now... he smiled.

A glance at the clock told Larabee that it was already past office hours. He could as well go home and spend time in front of the TV with some snacks and a beer. He didn't feel like going down to Nettie's bar and have a round with his friends and colleagues, and he didn't feel like having a real dinner either. Damnit, he was behaving like a love-sick puppy! Well, no... like a lonely puppy, he corrected himself ruefully.

"Commander Larabee?"

The appearance of the delivery boy triggered a feeling of déjà vu in Chris.

"Yeah?"

"I have a delivery, for your eyes only, sir."

Definitely a déjà vu.

But it wasn't an envelope this time, it was a small package wrapped in paper. Chris decided to take it home and open it in his quarters.

One could never know....




After Chris had changed into something more comfortable and gotten himself a beer, he sat down at the table and opened the package.

First thing that came out was a yellow silk scarf, the one Ezra had once 'given' to him in a very unique way. A faint scent escaped the silk and Chris inhaled deeply: Virginia Tobacco. It really triggered some memories and Chris felt a sudden stirring in his groin. Then came a handful of candles and Chris smiled as he remembered them as well. Oh yes, that had been one remarkable night...

A CD with an unfamiliar music lay in the box. Chris raised one eyebrow at it and put it aside. He would listen to it later. Next was a little bottle with no notice whatsoever on it. Chris opened it and sniffed at it. It was strange, but somehow familiar, with a faint underlying of cinnamon. A short note, written in Ezra's clear handwriting simply said: wouldn't you like to take a bath?

That explained it, bath oil. His lover undoubtedly had a luxury streak.

This time it was much more, this time it was a definite stir. Even so far away from him Ezra had always a surprise for him in mind. Or at hand.

Well, why not? Chris made up his mind. Taking a hot relaxing bath, thinking of the last time he and Ezra had shared the tub would be a nice way to end the day.

As he undressed and slipped into the warm water with the oil added to it, listening to the low tunes of the music that somehow touched something inside him, he felt a hum drifting over the Bond.

<Lower your shields>

It was neither a suggestions nor a request, it was an order. That alone should have made him wonder, but he trusted Ezra enough to obey.

Besides he was curious what this was all about, knowing the imagination of his soul-mate. As he lowered the shields, his mind was flushed with an image that sent hot waves down his spine, making his member harden at once. Ezra, naked, a bath tub with hot water. And the thief was wearing a well known expression: hunger. Hunger for him. Chris moaned and closed his eyes, letting his head rest against the head piece of the tub. Ezra had taken the lead in this and Chris decided it would be best to just follow if he wanted to see where it was going to.

Images, thoughts, emotions danced over the Bond, and Chris knew that half a galaxy away, Ezra was sitting in a bath tub just as he was now, feeling horny and kinky and lonely, and he slowly started to run a hand over his own body. Just as he knew Ezra was doing. His lover sent pictures and raw lust, and Chris hands wandered down his own slick body, over the chest, making a pit stop at the nipples, going further down the stomach and then caressing his inner thighs. From the very back of his mind a single thought occurred haven't done that for quite a time now and normally he wouldn't have done it either. But he wasn't actually alone, because Ezra was doing just the same thing at just the same time, sharing just the same sensations. And that gave the usually lonely, rather mechanical act a real erotic touch.

Chris spread his legs as far as the tub allowed, sensing Ezra doing very similar. His hands were running up his thighs, but suddenly they didn't feel like his any more. It was Ezra who was doing this, Ezra who was touching him in such a tormenting way, digging his fingernails tantalizingly into his sensitive flesh, scratching over the touchy skin. He hadn't even really touched himself yet, but was already shivering and moaning deeply. <My god, Ezra, what the hell are you doing here?>

<Interesting, isn't it? I'm with you ...>

<Oh yeah... you ... are... ohhhh>

Desire flashed over him. He knew it was is own and Ezra's as well, doubled and reflected.

Finally Ezra allowed Chris to touch his own hardness, caressing his balls with one hand, stroking his hard member with the other one. The most incredible thing was, it still didn't feel like his own hand but more like Ezra's stroking him slow and gently, almost painfully, increasing speed and pressure in time.

Chris's heartbeat raced, his breathing became rough as his body arched in the hot water, his head fell back as the well-known sensation rushed down his spine, his stomach muscles tensed, and he reached completion.

Through the Bond he 'saw' his lover reaching the same point of release in the same way, crying out his name.

<Oh. My. Gawd ... Ezra, what was this?> Chris asked breathlessly.

<The Bond. What else?> came the amused response.

Chris closed his eyes and sank deeper into the tub, enjoying both the warmth of the water and the afterglow. Only Ezra would feel so easy, so amused, about the mystery of their connection. The younger man took it all in a stride, while Chris sometimes puzzled over their connection.

<It was great, Ezra. But it'd be much better if you'd be here with me> he murmured.

<Indeed> came the purr in return.

Chris sighed as he felt the familiar tingle of Ezra's lips brushing over his own in this typical featherlike kiss of his.

Then it hit home.

Chris jerked up, not paying any attention to the water he was splashing all over the bathroom.

<What was that, Ezra?>

Puzzlement.

<I gave you a kiss. Why?>

<I.... felt it>




The next day started out a lot more relaxed and generally in a better mood than the last five. Chris whistled softly as he waited for the coffee to brew. Last night had been a revelation, to say the least. Damn, it had been downright amazing! Warmth curled in the depth of his soul, traveling through his body. Ezra always managed to surprise him, despite the year he now knew him; really knew him. The bath in itself, the way they had touched each other through their own hands, had been mind-blowing. Chris chuckled as he thought of talking to Nathan about this new development.

Being able to feel Ezra through the distance, touching Ezra with his partner's own hands, feeling him touching Chris through Chris.... it would send Nathan in a loop and have him set up lab experiments. Larabee grinned and shook his head. No way. Jackson wouldn't get a whiff of this unless he had to. This was something personal, something they shared, and something that had to do with the sexual aspect of this Bond. Nothing for prying eyes and people who had no clue anyway.

But the kiss.... Damn, that had been... Hell, he had no words for it. He had actually felt the lips brush over his mouth! It had been so incredibly real! Ezra had no explanation for it, but he accepted this with the same ease he had accepted a lot of other things. They would have to give this more thought, Chris decided. Test the new ability themselves, see where it took them.

Still in a good mood, he left for the office, feeling at ease with himself and the rest of the world.




Ezra Standish walked into the bar, ignoring everyone and everything, his mind set on his task. Today was the day. Five days of hard work had paid off. He had wormed his way into the right groups, had made contact, and his background had checked out. Travis had set up the perfect cover, which actually closer to Ezra Standish than Ezra himself wanted to know.

It was his past before the Agency, before Chris, and falling back into old patterns had been harder than he would have thought possible. He had contacted someone who had approached him the second day he had come to Carter's Bluff. He was Ezra's best way of getting into personal contact with the mole. Maybe he was even part of the traitor's network. A smile played over his lips. If there was money in it, he was most definitely part of it!

Ezra had brought up every shield he had. This required complete concentration.

The bar in question was a rather popular place, filled to the top with people throughout the day. He looked around and discovered his contact right away.

"Standish!" the man called, waving him over. "Good! You made it."

Ezra eased himself onto one of the bar stools, keeping an eye on his surroundings. He treated the man to a cold smile. "Berrings," he acknowledged.

"You have something for me? "

"Got a guy who is very much interested in your ... career. You made quite a few jumps up the ladder." He grinned more.

Ezra favored him with a neutral look. "How nice. And?"

"The guy thinks you might be able to help him."

"Then I'd like to talk to him."

Berrings nodded. "That's why I'm here." He slid off his stool. "C'mon."

Ezra followed him cautiously. They walked past the other patrons, left the bar, and went past several closed businesses until they arrived at a barricaded shop. Berrings produced a key and opened the door, gesturing Ezra to follow him. They stood in a large room that must have formerly been a sales room. They only light came through the cracks in the barricades outside the grimy window and the back was completely bathed in darkness.

"Agent Standish," a new voice rung out.

Ezra schooled his features into one of his masks. "You have an advantage over me," he answered. "You know me, but I don't know you."

"That isn't necessary right now, Agent Standish," the figure in the darkness answered. "What is necessary is getting to know you. You have quite a ... colorful past. Former con man, gambler, thief.... Quite successful at it, too. Never caught, but lots of suspicions."

"That's no secret. Everyone can read my file. Get to the point." Laughter answered him. "Now you are stuck, correct? You made a deal with the devil to escape hell. You turned to the other side, the law." Ezra looked coldly into the blackness. "I have a job."

More laughter. "And such a rewarding one indeed."

"Can you offer me more?" Ezra challenged.

"I can offer you your freedom from the Agency," the voice answered.

"In exchange for what?"

"Access to some of the files you read."

He frowned. "Files? Which ones?"

"That I tell you when I need it."

Ezra shook his head. "Not like that. I want to know who I'm working for."

Why would the mole want files from him? Travis suspected him to be high up in the hierachy, able to get to any files he wanted. Then again, maybe if would rouse too much suspicion.

"I know you checked my background," he went on voice level. "I want out of the Agency, but I want to know who's supplying the ticket." There was a moment of silence. "Yes," the voice answered. "We checked your background, Agent Standish. Quite thoroughly."

Something in the tone of voice suddenly alerted Ezra. This wasn't good. "It would have been fun if you weren't a double agent, my friend.

The Judge is so trusting.... too bad he left the information about your mission for me to see."

Ezra's stomach clenched and an icy feeling spread through him. Hell, was the last thing he managed to think, then something crashed down on him, plunging him into darkness.




It was unnerving. Chris put down the pen and stared at the computer pad, then redirected his gaze to the closed door of his office. He finally pushed away from the desk and got up, nervous energy making itself known.

Something was wrong. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was not right. For the last two days, he had felt perfectly fine, but since this morning, something had changed. It gnawed at him, ate away at his nerves.

He was back at his computer with three steps and called up the Agent roster, checking if Ezra Standish was already logged back in. Nothing.

He should have been back since this morning. At least aboard his pick-up and on the way to Four Corners, but according to Commander O'Connell, leader of the Pegasus team, Ezra hadn't shown at the meeting point and neither had he called in to let them know he was late. According to plan B, the Pegasus was to wait another twelve hours, then report back. The twelve hours were over and Chris's instincts were screaming at him.

Sitting back down again he inhaled deeply, then steadied himself as he approached the Bond. As usual, he didn't get anything due to the shields, but something caught his attention. The shields, normally just a strong wall that didn't let anything major through, seemed to be made out of granite. He couldn't even get a general bearing on his partner, nothing leaked. That was more than unusual and the dread inside Larabee rose several notches. Throughout past assignments both had used shields, keeping conscious thought and emotion out of the other's mind, locking unconscious reactions away as much as possible. But little flickers remained.

Right now, Chris couldn't even feel a single thought, conscious or unconscious, and except for the hum that told him Ezra was alive, there was no sensation.

The dread multiplied.

Logging into the Agency Network, he checked on the Pegasus's status and found her on her way back. He keyed in his command code and asked for a direct connection. O'Connell answered the call a minute later.

From his expression, Chris read more than he wanted to know.

"Chris."

"He wasn't there," Chris said, fighting to keep his voice level. "Yes.

Travis ordered us back. It's dangerous territory for an Agency ship without back-up." O'Connell looked apologetic.

"No trace at all?"

A negative shake of the head. "I sent in Clarke and he couldn't even find a blip of your man."

Shit! "Thanks, Jeff," Chris only said and switched off the connection.

By now, his level of tension had him strung up tightly. He tried to reach Ezra again, but to no avail. He used stronger knocks, trying to break or crack the shield, but it was unbreakable. How was Ezra holding up such an incredible barrier? And why? What was going on?

Chris erupted from the chair and left his office, ignoring his men's frowns and questioning looks. He headed straight for the elevators and Judge Travis's office.




He should be used to it by now, Orrin Travis thought as he regarded the Agent in front of him. Especially when it came to the Chimera team and Chris Larabee.

Larabee stood stiff as a rod in front of him, eyes holding an intense expression Travis had seen there before. Every time Chris was dead serious about something, when he wouldn't accept 'no' for an answer, and when he was convinced that he was right.

"How can you know Agent Standish is in trouble if you can't reach him?" the Judge asked reasonably.

"Because I can't reach him, sir," was the restrained answer. "And he's overdue. I know it. I talked to the Pegasus."

Travis sighed silently. Yes, Standish had failed to be there for his pick-up, but in his line of work, a lot of factors could play against him. Normally he would give his Agent another twelve hours to make contact, then send in a retrieval team. Then again, the Pegasus had already waited the assigned time. Standish had failed to make any kind of appearance or send word. Now Chris was coming to him because he couldn't reach his partner over their mystifying mental link. Past experience had shown the older man just what this link was able to do, how one partner could easily reach the other, even over a great distance.

Travis nodded. "Okay, Chris, go look for him. No show of force, though."

Chris nodded. "Understood. Thank you, sir."

With that he left, almost in a hurry, and Travis leaned back, thoughtful.

Ever since Standish had come aboard, the team had subtly changed. Not in a bad way, he had to admit. Especially the commander of the Chimera.

While the Chimera team was just one of five Section 7 teams, Travis had given them a bit more attention than most. He had always been aware of the darkness around Chris, like a demon that had taken residence in the younger man ever since the violent death of his family. When Larabee had disappeared throughout a mission and then reappeared in form of a Kiowata on BP-379, changes had settled in. Subtle at first.

On change had been Ezra Standish, the man who had apparently been largely responsible for Chris's survival on the backwater planet. Then Larabee had insisted that the former criminal be included into his team.

That had come as a surprise. The real shocker had been the declaration that there was a mental link, a soul bound, between the two unlikely men.

Travis swiveled his chair and gazed out of the window.

That had been over a year ago. Fifteen months, to be precise. And in those months, Chris had beaten and banished his demons, had literally turned human again. He was much more easy going, the smiles were more open, happier, and he seemed to have formed a tight-knit friendship with the thief. Standish himself hadn't slid seamlessly into the team, but except for a few rough spots, nothing catastrophic had happened. The sudden problems with Wilmington had been settled, even if Travis had no idea what the source had been. The Judge frowned.

Sometimes he thought that Larabee and Standish had something else going, something deeper. Something that had to do with this soul bond of theirs, but whenever he looked closely for any signs, he didn't see any. He saw two men working easily together, a complete understanding, despite their so different personalities and backgrounds. By all means, Standish should be in prison, or on the run from the Law, and Larabee his pursuer. But that wasn't what had happened.

Travis smiled briefly.

Whatever had happened between those two, whatever this Bond meant, it had given him a damn good team, and Standish was a valuable addition, he had to confess.

He just hoped nothing had happened to the enigmatic thief.




He didn't want to come back. Coming back meant pain, and he didn't want to feel pain, but consciousness dragged remorselessly at him, pushing him further and further away from the numbing blackness. Blinking, he opened his eyes, squinting into the twilight around him. For a second he was confused, not knowing where he was. All he knew was the pain in his side, the fire burning there, the blazing agony in his wrist and his throbbing head. Then his memories returned and he closed his eyes again. After another minute of just lying there, motionless and breathing as flatly as possible, Ezra opened his eyes again. Everything was still the same around him. No bad dream then.

He sighed. Damn! What had gone wrong? His cover had been perfect.

Ezra had worked his way into the depths of corruption and lies, had made contact with the target, and then... then something had gone terribly wrong. Shit! He tried to move a bit and found the pain bearable, but it also showed him that he was bound to a chair. Great. Suddenly he heard a noise. It was the noise of the door opening. Someone stepped into the room, from the sound of it at least two people.

"Hello, Agent Standish," a voice Ezra didn't recognize said mockingly.

He blinked and willed his eyes to fix on a tall, blond man in dark clothes. He had never seen him before and from his voice, he doubted it was the mystery mole.

"You're in big trouble," he whispered through the pain.

"Oh, I'm so scared. I really am. Can you see me shivering?" The man laughed coldly.

"They will come and look for me," Ezra coughed.

"Oh, really?" the stranger sang, still grinning. "Maybe they will, but by then it will be too late for you." He chuckled. "We could kill you and get it over with, you know, but our way is much more..... entertaining."

"Go to hell!" Ezra suggested.

The man leaned forward, his hazel eyes glittering icily. "One day maybe, but you'll be there first."

Ezra glared at him. Okay, I guess this is where I'll ask for the cavalry, he decided and was about to drop the shields when something was plunged unceremoniously into his arm. He gasped in surprise, then stared at the syringe in horror.

No! He opened the Bond wide, yelling for his partner.

Bastards!

It was his last conscious thought before he was suddenly plunged into the abyss. There was no grace period. He simply fell and disappeared.




The Chimera had launched three hours after Travis had given them the go-ahead. Chris had decided to head straight for Ezra's last known position, which had been a cluster of asteroids called 'Carter's Bluff', for some reason or other.

Chris was on his way to the bridge when it happened. He was just passing through the door when he felt a strange tingling along the Bond. His shields were still at half-strength and he was regularly checking whether he could get a blip of Ezra. The tingle made him frown. Suddenly Chris felt the shields on the other side of the Bond falter and tremble before they went down completely. The bolt of fiery, white-hot agony that reached him a fraction of a second later made every muscle in his body cramp and tremble, sending him to the floor screaming as his mind registered the excruciating pain that was burning every fiber, every nerve in his entire body, <Noooo.... CHRIS....>

Finally the blackness hit. Chris screamed in agony, clutching his head. He went to his knees, his world shrinking down to a very small part, a black part inside of him, which was steadily growing.

Someone grabbed his arm, but he didn't respond, and neither to the voice ringing urgently in his ears. All he was focused on was a small spark in the blackness, flickering and dying, then coming back to life again. The tsunami of emotions -- terror, dread, panic -- that came next and rushed over the Bond washed away every little bit of shields, every little pebble in the wall that might have been left in Chris Larabee, and finally wiped out every conscious thought as his body reacted to the both mental and physical shock. The feeling of emptiness came without any prior warning and was the last sensation he felt. Then everything was just darkness.




Chris managed to pull himself out of despair long enough to regain consciousness. All he could think of was Ezra. His entire soul had shut reality and the universe out. A sea of emptiness filled him. Something was ripping his guts out. Something was tearing at their Bond.

Someone touched him. He blinked at the blurry spot of color hovering over them, then it coalesced into the worried face of Nathan Jackson.

He asked him questions, but Chris couldn't answer them.

He choked out his partner's name, frantically searching for the human mind he knew and was connected to, but there was nothing.

Panic set in, closely followed by fear.

He was shaking badly. Someone grabbed him and he was moved somewhere.

Chris protested feebly, trying to ward off the helping hands. Finally the icy coldness inside of him subsided into a hurting emptiness.

"Chris!" a voice insisted.

He looked up, feeling dazed and hurt.

Nathan stood over him, his hands on Chris's shoulders, shaking the dazed team leader slightly.

"What happened?" he wanted to know.

"I....I'm not sure." He trembled with the reaction to the sudden overwhelming feelings of loss. "Ezra...." His hands trembled even more. "Ezra!"

"What's wrong with Ezra?"

"He's gone," Chris whispered and his eyes flared in pain and the incredible feeling of being alone.

Oh god. No. No, please, no!

Gone.

He screwed his eyes shut, gasping as if in physical pain. Ezra was gone!




Chris was lying on the table in the medical ward, still trying to get a grip on what had happened only a few minutes before, his mind still refusing to accept what the Bond appeared to scream at him. He didn't notice his physical reactions, didn't notice his trembling limbs, his unnatural pale features or the worried look on Nathan's face as he ran a diagnostic on his body, which was still suffering from the trauma it had been sent into without warning. The only thing Chris consciously realized was the coldness he was still feeling, the emptiness where a warm caring presence used to be, and the painful echo of a terrorized scream, a scream for help -- Ezra's scream for him. His partner had reached out for him in that moment, had desperately cried for a help that wouldn't come; the moment he had been...

Chris swallowed. //Not now, Larabee. // Nevertheless, Chris was trembling. He couldn't stop it. His hands were shaking so badly. Nathan ran a last check, a serious expression in his eyes.

"I'm okay," Chris insisted, getting off the table. He had to force his legs not to collapse under him.

Nathan frowned. "You are not. Something happened to Ezra."

Chris's winced. "He's not dead," he whispered. It was almost like a prayer, a fervent wish, his last hope.

"I didn't say that, but something is happening to him and you said you had flashes of pain. Can you contact him at all?"

The commander forced some control back into his behavior. "No," he managed.

"I see. Listen, Chris, we are mounting a search for him already. Just sit back, try to work through the Bond and don't exert yourself. If you get into contact, try and locate him, hold the link open!"

Chris nodded. That was the moment Vin walked into the medical ward and Nathan gave him a brief nod, then left.

"We're two hours away from Carter's Bluff. How are you, cowboy?" Chris shook his head. He didn't really know. He was... alone. It was all he could feel at the moment. Terribly, terribly alone.

"He was in pain, Vin, and now I can't feel him anymore," he whispered.

"He disappeared from one moment to the next." His hands clenched into fists. "It's ....empty.... Painfully empty."

"Completely?"

"No.... I can feel the presence, but..." Chris paled. "No!"

"Chris?"

"He's... Ezra's not there, but his presence is. It means he's... Kiowata.

Completely."




Three long weeks. Agony every day. Three weeks of slow, methodical work. Buying information, following every oh-so-small lead, every rumor, every possible truth. Chris was hanging by a thread. Sanity was something that was slowly becoming a luxury and whenever Buck looked at his oldest friend, he saw the demon sneering through those hard, hazel eyes.

"What if we don't find him?" he had once asked, softly, carefully, when he had been alone with Vin.

The second-in-command had given him a look that had made Buck shudder.

He remembered the events from half a year ago, when Ezra had been ready to kill himself, his humanity, to free Chris of him. Back then, Chris had been a haunted shadow of himself. Now.... now he was almost the man he had been after his family had been killed.

Only worse.

Much worse.

Buck swallowed hard and ran a hand through his dark hair.

If Ezra stayed lost, Chris would be lost as well. And Buck had a good impression what this would do to his oldest friend. Because most certainly, Chris would blame himself, Buck feared. He had done so before, but this time it would kill him, slowly and painfully. And this time nothing Buck did could help him. Last time, it had been family; now it was his soul partner, a part of Chris himself in a way no other person could ever be. Buck prayed that this would never happen, that one piece of information would finally get them to Ezra.

Now they were following another lead, one of the hundreds they had pursued lately. Since Chris was perceiving Ezra as a Kiowata, the animal, not the human mind, they had at first looked for Ezra's Kiowata form.

They had even gone as far as flying to BP-379, which had cost them a precious week, to check on whether or not someone had actually deported him there. JD and Buck had poured over mountains of data concerning all Kiowata trading, the breeding farms, the suspected smugglers, but nothing had turned up anything solid.

Nathan and Josiah had taken over looking for traces of Ezra Standish the human. There had been similar leads and rumors, but again, nothing definite. Until now. Nathan had run a check on unidentified people in hospitals right from the start, but since it was such an incredible amount of data to wade through, it had taken two weeks for him to narrow it all down. And that had brought them here.

The moon was called AE-6, dubbed 'Oasis'. It was over two days of normal flight speed away from Carter's Bluff, but distance had never been a factor in their search. JD had used trans space jump points to get them here in a mere four hours and the Chimera was currently sitting on the outer flight decks of the local space port.

Buck, Nathan and Chris had left the ship, Nathan leading the way to the local clinic. Buck kept close to his best friend, keeping an ever more watchful eye on the man. If this was another dead end, Chris might do something stupid. He was close to the edge at the moment and Buck was afraid that he wouldn't be able to drag him away again when the inevitable happened.




"Where is he?"

"Excuse me, sir, but ... "

"I said: Where. Is. He?" Chris demanded through clenched teeth, expression saying only too clearly 'try me'.

"Chris ... " Buck tried to calm him down a little. "Doctor Hanson is surely doing his best. " He turned to the medic. "Would you please show us to his room?"

This was it. They had found him. But somehow Buck felt no reason to cheer. They had found Ezra in a psychiatric ward, labeled as a John Doe, and from what Nathan had read from the papers, he was erratic, dangerous, and under twenty-four hour guard. Attempts to sedate him had failed twice before they had reverted to slipping the sedatives into his food. Buck had shuddered at the clinical descriptions and he had felt Chris tense to breaking point. Nathan was currently arranging matters with the hospital to release Ezra into their care and get a more complete record of what had happened.

The psychiatrist pointed down the corridor. "Room 21. Good luck."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Larabee was fuming, eager to finally see his Bond-mate, his lover, the man he had been looking for around half the system for the past weeks.

And to finally find out what had happened to him, why he wasn't able to get a single glimpse of 'Ezra' in the Bond. Buck grabbed his arm and pulled him away.

"C'mon, let's see Ezra," he said softly.

Chris directed a furious glare at him, but Buck didn't let it faze him. He had hoped never to see the feverish but still so cold expression ever again, but here he was again; same situation as eight years ago.

Damn.




The door of Room 21 had an unbreakable glass window. The room was sparsely furnished, only a bed to be precise, and a small restroom area that was still visible from the outside. Nowhere to hide, nothing to hurt or get hurt with. The sight that presented itself to Chris through the window almost broke his heart. Ezra Standish lay on the bed, curled up into a ball, rocking himself.

"Oh my god... " Chris muttered and opened the door, the urge to comfort his lover, to take him into his arms and hold him till the end of time, taking over his conscious thoughts.

Ezra's reaction was immediate. He gave a blood-curdling scream and jumped from the bed, pressing himself into the corner of the room, apparently trying to melt into the walls. His green eyes were wide, dilated, filled with terror, and the pale face took on an even more unnatural shade of white.

"Ezra?" <Ezra?> Chris asked, confused, and trying to understand what was happening here, why his lover was shying away from him in that way. He stepped closer.




Buck had started at the first scream, had watched the man he had gotten to know so well and had started to consider a good friend, flee from Chris's entrance. He looked at the huddled, trembling form, horrified.

"Chris, don't," he advised softly.

Buck had a slight clue that this might not a good idea, but it was already too late. Ezra whimpered in pure terror, his eyes never leaving Chris frame, watching every single move, while he tried to hide even more. Buck could see only too clearly that Ezra was breathing heavily, his eyes wide with fear.

He acted by instinct as he grabbed Chris by the arms and shoved the other man out of the room, closing the door behind them. A brief look over his shoulder showed him that Ezra had relaxed the moment Chris was out of sight, but he was still frightened.

"Damnit, Buck, what the hell are you thinking?" Chris furiously demanded to know, shooting an angry glare at Buck. "I want an explanation!"

"Just look at him, Chris, and there's your answer. I don't know why, but ...

he's scared down to the core. He's afraid of you, Chris." Chris's face lost some color, but there was still a determined fire in his eyes.

"Me? But...?"

"Just look at him!"

A shaky Larabee glanced through the window and Buck saw realization settle in.

"Listen, can you try to calm him down a little from here? I mean you two can ... talk to each other somehow, can't you? I'll go back inside and see what I can do, okay? We have to get him out of the corner first."

Buck was talking softly, intently, never letting his gaze wander from the distraught hazel eyes.

Chris gaze was glued to the form of his lover still curled up into the corner.

"You all right, pard?" Buck asked, and Larabee nodded wordlessly.

Buck gave him a 'if-you-say-so-but-I-don't-believe-a-single-word' look and opened the door again.




Chris watched Buck go slowly down on his knees, talking to Ezra in a deep, soothing and even voice. He didn't care about the words. Only the tone was important, the same way he had seen him act before with frightened animals.

Frightened.

Animals.

Chris head flew around and he took a closer look at Ezra, who had calmed down, sitting in the corner with his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth and listening to the gentle voice of Buck. The realization of what exactly he was observing at the moment hit Chris hard and sent him sliding down the wall., trembling 'He's afraid of you, Chris'. The words echoed in his mind over and over again.

Buck was treating Ezra like a frightened animal, because this was exactly what was left of Ezra Standish.




Joined Government Judge Orrin Travis stood in front of his large window, looking down on the busy streets of Four Corners station below, studying the tiny people going about their normal lives. He liked to stand and watch, just let his mind wander, forget the pressing matters and urgent requests piling up on his desk. He liked to pretend he wasn't responsible for Section 7, wasn't constantly worrying about the fate of the men and women entrusted to him. Those times lasted for only a few minutes, a few leisurely, priceless minutes, then reality slammed back in.

Reality had come into his office just now, standing in front of his desk in the form of Agent Vin Tanner, second-in-command of the Chimera team. The man was silent, awaiting his turn to speak, and Travis knew he wouldn't like it. Preliminary reports had been bad enough. The Chimera had returned just twenty-four hours ago, with their missing Agent, but Travis hadn't felt any happiness except for the brief relief that Standish was alive, because the next report had effectively erased that. Something had gone terribly wrong, something had severed Chris and Ezra, plunging Larabee into despair he barely managed to mask.

"Mr. Tanner," Travis finally acknowledged the younger man as he turned.

He winced silently as he saw the serious expression on the other's face.

"I take it you don't have any uplifting news?"

"No, sir. I just came from the medical wing. Ezra's not good." Travis gestured at the visitor chair as he sat down in his own. Vin took a seat and clasped his hands. He started to explain the situation to his superior, voice even, calm and professional. Travis felt his insides clench as he realized that if even Chris was unable to touch Ezra, it was an even worse situation than he had started to believe.

"He's like a frightened animal, sir."

"Any idea what caused it?"

"Nathan's working on it. He has the data from the institute, but he can't get a blood sample. Ezra's scared out of his mind of syringes and even Buck can't get him to let Nathan get a sample. And Buck's about the only person he trusts."

Which was twice as hard on Chris, Travis thought, running a tired hand over his face.

He realized that this was taking most of the team, well, all of it actually, out of the loop. While it was only Standish who was sick, the soul bond had Chris on the receiving end as well. With Ezra clinging only to Buck, Wilmington could no longer be on the active list. And Travis doubted that it was such a good idea to leave Chris alone now. Tanner had to have an eye on him.

"How long?"

"No one knows. Unless he can identify the reason for Ezra's behavior, Nathan doesn't hand out a prognosis."

"I'm taking the Chimera off the active duty list," Travis decided.

"Everyone. I want you to have an eye on Chris, Mr. Tanner. Mr. Wilmington is stuck with Mr. Standish, I believe. As for the rest of your team, I doubt they'd be any good, so they are down for desk duty. Officially, all of you are."

"I understand."

Travis nodded. Of course he would understand. As Tanner left his office again, his steps much heavier than usual, Travis found himself praying that Ezra would heal. If he didn't, more than one life would shatter.




Dr. Nathan Jackson looked at the four tense men cluttered in the small cubicle the medic called his office. At least it was part time, when he was working in the medical ward of Four Corners, and each and every time he wished he wouldn't have to be here. Right now, that wish was more fervent than ever. Except for Buck, everyone was here. Wilmington had to stay close to Ezra because even if Standish was asleep, if he woke up and found he was alone, he would launch himself into another panic.

"I think I have identified the drug," he told the team, watching expressions range from relief to cautiousness to no expression at all. That was Chris.

"It's an illegal substance called White Out."

"Never heard of it," JD confessed, looking puzzled.

"Hasn't been around for a while, kid," Josiah told him, a frown on his features. "Actually, it's nothing that's circulating the market anymore."

Nathan nodded in agreement. "White Out was a by-product in a medical research project to cure Burg Fever about twenty years ago. Like all bad things that stem from well-meant research, it hit the black market and found buyers. Unlike many drugs, White Out is fatal, though. It erases a human mind and then kills the body within days of administering the drug itself. The victim becomes highly unstable, functions only on his baser instincts, and if supplied with weapons, he kills whoever comes his way, then finally kills himself. Because of the death toll, White Out quickly slipped from the market. Today it's very hard to get by."

Vin, leaning against the door, raised his eyes to meet Nathan's. "You said it kills people. Ezra's still alive."

Jackson sighed. "That's what stumped me when I discovered the identity of the drug, but I think it has something to do with his metabolism.

Ezra is Borderline, his genetic make-up is different, as is his immune system. Chris, you told me yourself that he healed pretty quickly after he had been severely beaten back on BP-379."

Larabee nodded wordlessly, his facial expression stony.

"While the drug wiped Ezra's 'humanity', for lack of a better description, it didn't kill him. He reverted to his baser instincts and he shows aggression to a degree, but I believe his metabolism fought successfully against the drug's fatal effects. I've gone through the institute's files. Ezra was highly aggressive when they found him. They had to sedate him just to get him into the ambulance. His aggression diminished and from the few tests they ran, it shows that his rather battered looking system regenerated quickly. He had a broken wrist, bruises and cracked ribs, too. Nothing of that even shows on any of the later scans. The two tests I was able to perform show me a steady increase. He is healing."

"Completely?" Josiah asked quietly, voicing everyone's fear.

"That I don't know. I think when the drug is finally out of his system and White Out is rather persistent he stands a real good chance." Silence descended, which was only broken when Chris suddenly whirled around and left, his gait mechanic. Vin gave Nathan a quick nod, silently telling the medic he would go after their friend, then left as well. Josiah exhaled explosively. "I hope you're right, doc."

Nathan met the tired eyes of his friend. "So do I, my friend. So do I."




Vin found Chris leaning against a bulkhead, staring out the small window set into the heavy door, sightless eyes lost in whatever thoughts were racing through his head. Vin simply joined him, leaning against the wall, hands shoved into his pants. He didn't need to be a doctor to see that Chris was hurting, what this new bit of information was doing to him. On one hand there had been the good news that Ezra had survived a lethal drug, that he would be dead if he wasn't born genetically different. On the other hand, Nathan had told them he didn't know if that genetic make-up would let him ever fully recover. Physically yes, but mentally?

They stayed like that for a long time. Chris just staring at nothing, Vin silently at his side. A rock in a stormy sea, a calming point for Chris. Finally, the blond head turned and pained eyes met Vin's.

"I need a drink," Larabee rasped.

Vin nodded wordlessly and fell in step beside his friend as they walked down the corridor.




Another week had passed. A week that hadn't become any better as the days passed, and Buck Wilmington was the first to admit that he was worried sick by now.

Ezra hadn't shown any improvement since they had brought him back to Four Corners. If anything, the younger man seemed even more frightened by the new surroundings and he refused to leave his quarters, about the only place where he quieted down somewhat. The only person around who was completely calm was Buck himself. It had surprised the Agent, but he had quietly and without much fuss slipped into the role of Ezra's companion. Like a young animal, Standish had attached himself to the man who had gotten him out of the hospital room. He shied away from the others, was terrified of Chris, of all people, but Buck was someone he trusted. It had meant moving into the thief's quarters and, much to Buck's embarrassment and chagrin, sharing the same bed. Ezra wouldn't go to sleep unless he could curl up next to Buck.

Another nail to Chris's coffin.

Buck looked at his oldest friend, taking in the haunted expression in the formerly so lively hazel eyes, and he had to swallow. Chris was taking this bad. Well, of course he would, but it was even worse than Wilmington had expected. Then again, what had he expected? Ezra was Bonded to him! They shared something so intimate that Buck had trouble even starting to understand it. Now that most trusted person was no longer able to stand the mere sight of his partner, reacted out of terror whenever Chris came even near him, and he only turned to Buck for comfort. Buck had a slight idea what this was doing to Chris, to see Ezra shy away from him, a terrified expression on his face, and clinging to Buck instead.

Chris was doing his share by keeping his shields down, sending calm, relaxed thoughts, interwoven with love, to keep Ezra from losing it whenever he was terrified of something new. It worked because Chris was reaching him on a subconscious level, but his partner wouldn't allow him any nearer than that. What he didn't understand was why. Why Ezra didn't want Chris near him, and why he, of all people, was the one the thief appeared to trust. The only explanation they could come up with was that Ezra somehow associated the calmness Chris sent over the Bond with Buck's person. He saw Buck, felt the calming waves, and combined the sensation with the visual input.

"How is he?" Chris asked, voice soft.

"Frightened, of course. He feels not yet at home here, but I think it's getting better." Buck ran a hand through his hair.

Chris let a longing gaze linger on the bedroom door, then let it drop. He had come to Ezra's quarters to talk to Buck and with the desperate wish to just glimpse a little of his lover, but he knew that the moment Ezra saw him, he would be frightened once more.

"You're doing everything you can, pard," Buck said softly.

"I feel like there could be more."

"I'm sorry."

Buck knew that the fact that Chris was the trigger for Ezra's terrified reactions was chewing on the other man. He could calm him with the Bond, but not with his presence, which puzzled everyone. Nathan chalked it up to something Standish had experienced undercover, something that had burned itself into his mind, and something that rose unbidden every time Ezra saw Chris. Since Ezra couldn't lower his shields consciously, his lover couldn't glimpse into his messed-up mind.

"It's okay," Chris said wearily, shaking his head.

It wasn't okay. It was tearing the blond apart and no one could do a thing.

The thief was one lucky bastard that he hadn't died from White Out. Buck winced. In a way, Ezra had died. The body was the same, the soul.... was another matter.

"Thanks for looking after him," Chris sighed and gave Buck a weak pat on the shoulder.

Buck had no idea what happened next, exactly. There was an inhuman scream, then something barreled into Chris and shoved him against the wall. Chris gasped in pain as he collided with the solid object, then doubled over in agony as he was subjected to several forceful blows. Something tore toward his face and his own instincts fought to the surface, grabbing the claw-like hand at the wrist.

"Ezra!" Buck yelled.

Chris stared into the unnaturally wide, green eyes. Eyes he knew so well, eyes he loved and which were the windows to his partner's soul. Now there was a feral expression in them, hatred, fury. All directed at him. There was none of the warmth, the mischief, the sparkly humor. Only the inhumanity. He was transfixed by it, unable to block the next blow that clipped his cheekbone and let him see darkness at the edge of his vision. Then Buck grabbed the smaller man, forcefully pulling him away from Chris, who still only stared at his soul partner. Wilmington whispered insistently to Ezra, rubbed his back, and something inside Chris screamed that it should be him calming down his lover. Not someone else! Finally Ezra calmed down, still shooting hateful looks at Chris, a low growl escaping his throat, and Buck was hard pressed to maneuver him back to the bedroom. It took a while until he came back, but Chris hadn't change his stance. He still stared at the empty spot where Ezra had been.

"He caught you good, pard," Buck said softly, eyeing the bleeding gash on Chris's cheek and the bruise starting to form already. "Here, lemme get my first aid kit."

"I'm fine," Chris said monotonously.

"Chris...."

The hazel eyes were empty as they met Buck's and Wilmington flinched.

Something had just died inside Chris. "I said I'm fine."

With that he turned and left the quarters, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Buck inhaled deeply. "Shit!" he whispered.




It had been something like the final straw and Vin knew that Chris was declining faster by the day. He could watch his friend and commander turn into a mere shadow of himself and whatever Vin tried to do, it didn't work anymore. Office work was hell. Chris couldn't concentrate on a simple report long enough to file it away, so Vin had finally decided that letting him do anything at all was a hazard to the operating system of the Net.

While he did his own daily routine work, he tried to keep Chris occupied with something less demanding, but that failed after a while as well. There was no change in Ezra. He kept shadowing Buck, following him wherever he went. Whatever he encountered on his regular trips through the by now familiar environment, he transmitted to Chris, who still hadn't raised a single shield. By now, Vin suspected, it was too late anyway. Chris wouldn't be able to block him out even if he wished to.

It didn't look good.

It gnawed at Vin. He was becoming more jumpy, too. He had to cover for Chris, he had to at least present a façade of an Agent at work, and he was monitoring his friend in case something unforeseen happened. If he had been there when Chris had decided to visit Buck, things might have been different. Everything was piling up around him, responsibility, guilt, the need to support Chris, and he was no longer able to see an end to their problems. So he did what he normally did when the pressure became too much: he fled into the hangar bay.

It was a quiet place, unless there were some major repairs scheduled on the Chimera. But otherwise, there were only the automatic services and maybe JD or Josiah hanging around, fiddling with one thing or another.

Today, it was Josiah. He had opened a panel on the belly of their craft, hooked up thick cables and was currently taping away on a keyboard. "Vin," the engineer greeted him, giving him a nod.

"Josiah."

Vin slouched down on one of the smaller crates, leaning back. He watched Josiah work, listening to the soft clicking of each key.

"Anything on your mind?" Josiah asked, not looking up.

"A lot."

"Ah."

"It's not getting better."

"But it's also not getting worse."

Vin sighed. "I guess you can look at it from that angle, too."

"The glass is half empty or half full," Josiah told him, looking up with a smile. "It depends on how you look at it."

"This glass got a lot of cracks and is leaking."

"Hasn't shattered yet."

Vin chewed on his lower lip as he drew up one knee to rest his arms on. "Could happen soon. We don't know how long the magic glue is gonna hold."

Josiah nodded, still typing, looking at the small display screen.

"It's the inherent danger of magic that one day, it simply dissolves."

"Then what?"

Josiah's eyes twinkled as he looked up again. "Find new magic." Vin shook his head. "In this case, not an option."

"It's in the nature of things to regenerate and heal when given time, Vin."

"Time which we're running out of. He's not going to hold on much longer, Josiah."

The engineer paused, gazing at the screen. "There is only so much the human psyche can take," he agreed.

"And he has taken more than I'd ever wish anyone to suffer. Josiah, I'm afraid we're going to lose both of them."

"We knew that when the Bond was confirmed."

Vin swallowed. "Yes," he whispered. "But not like this. There has to be a way!"

Josiah turned away from the station and looked at him. "Nathan said the drug is slowly getting washed out of his system. Ezra will come back to us."

"But until he does, something inside of Chris will wither away more each and every day. Josiah, he has reached his limit. He's walking the edge and I'm afraid what will happen if he stumbles." Vin ran a hand through his hair, exhaling sharply. "I don't know what to do."

Josiah walked over to him and sat down on the cargo boxes. "What you've done already, brother," he said quietly. "Be there for him. It's all you can do. It's as far as you can reach."

Vin stared at the Chimera, not really seeing her. He wanted to do more; he knew he was needed. But Josiah's words rang true.

"It sucks," he whispered.

Sanchez chuckled wryly. "Don't ya say it."




The emotion hit Chris without warning and he winced. Confusion, increasing fright and pain. Chris wondered for a brief second what Ezra had gotten himself into this time, then concern took over. He called Buck.

"Buck? Where's Ezra?"

"Don't worry he's right ... damn!"

"Find him!" Chris ordered, fury briefly rearing its ugly head. How could Buck lose Ezra?

"Do you have an idea?" his friend asked.

"Yeah. He's afraid!" he snapped.

With that Larabee cut the connection and went to look for Ezra his own way; he used the Bond. He listened to every flicker of emotion, looked for images that would tell him where Ezra would probably hide. Ezra had explored the station a bit within the last weeks, but he had always been accompanied by Buck.

C'mon, lover, give me something, Chris pleaded inwardly, trying to extend his senses even more.

Something spiked his interest and he followed the sensation, finally finding a familiar echo. He quickly dialed Buck again.

"I found him, Buck. Storage room 4. Hurry." Chris didn't bother to wait for an answer, he knew Buck would hurry. And so would he. Drawn by his own protective instincts, he ran down to the storage levels.

Chris carefully entered the half-lit room, trying to be calm and aware at the same time, doing his best to send soothing, gentle emotions over the Bond. But he also remembered the encounter at Ezra's quarters, when Ezra had simply attacked him out of the blue. The feelings he received over the Bond weren't exactly comforting. And where the hell did the pain come from? Was Ezra injured?

A movement at the periphery of his vision caught his attention and he turned around slowly.

"Ezra?"

Yes, it was Ezra. He had cowered down in a corner between boxes and barrels, and was curling up even more when he saw Chris. The whimpering noises he made almost ripped Chris's heart in two and he stepped closer, only focused on comforting his lover. The whimper turned into a low growl and Ezra shifted. Light from the overhead bulbs suddenly reflected on metal, and Chris stopped dead in his tracks, eyes wide with shock, as he saw the blood. Somewhere Ezra had found a piece of metal, a razor sharp piece of metal, to be precise. It must have been embedded in his upper left arm, because there the shirt was torn and stained with blood.

Chris winced involuntarily at the sight. That had to be painful.

Through the feelings he received over the Bond, Chris was aware of the fact that Ezra didn't understand why he was in pain, and the only thing he was 'thinking' was defense. Chris caught a fleeting image of the thief exploring the storage room, frightened and curious in one, when he had accidentally tipped over something. Metal shards had rained down on him, one of those pieces injuring him.

Now Ezra had shard in his hand, pointing the sharp tip towards Chris in an act of defensiveness, cutting his palm in the process. Chris eyes followed the wet red drops as they were slowly dripping to the floor, feeling completely helpless and fighting hard to stay calm.

What happened to you? he asked silently. Who did this?

"Chris? Oh my god..."

Buck rushed past him, kneeling down in front of Ezra, talking to him in that soft voice that almost immediately relaxed the agitated thief. Chris could do nothing but watch as Ezra let go of the shard and all but flung himself into Buck's arms, whimpering again as his source of safety finally arrived. The sound, the picture in front of his eyes and the meaning of it, cut into Chris's soul and he stepped forward, drawn to his distressed lover. Ezra tensed immediately and glared at Chris.

He growled a warning again. Buck shot him a quick look.

"I have to take him to Nathan. You okay, pard?"

Chris just nodded and watched his best friend leave, arms carefully wrapped around his lover, soothing him and being his source of comfort.

//That should be me ... Why do you hate me so much, Ezra?//

Chris leaned against the storage room's wall and inhaled sharply as he felt something cramp inside of him. And then break.




The days passed slowly, as if in slow motion. Chris was dragging himself through the waking hours of each day, sometimes even through the night. Sleep came, but never for long. Whenever he woke, he instinctively felt along the Bond, checking on Ezra. Each time he felt the pain return, the emptiness double, and he curled up on his bed.

Nathan had offered him sleeping pills to aide him get some rest, but he had declined. Chris didn't want the help of drugs. So he spent the waking nights staring at the TV screen, unable to remember what he had been watching, or working on his laptop. He sometimes walked into the office at the wee hours of the morning, but he couldn't recall how he had gotten dressed and what he had been doing until the others arrived. He was declining and somehow, he didn't have much fight left in him to counteract his self-destructive motions. All that kept him from just giving up was Ezra. He needed the calming influence of the Bond.




Pain. Torture. Fright.

Chris woke with a start, as the feelings washed over the Bond. Feelings he had started to hate over the past weeks, feelings of terror and pain that weren't his own. He tried to send soothing thoughts over the Bond, even as he realized they didn't reach his lover. Ezra was dreaming, and it obviously was a nightmare.

Then it hit him.

Pure, white agony flashing over his screaming nerves, the horror he had experienced the moment he knew Ezra was gone repeating itself. Images and emotions washed away every conscious thought Chris and he felt his muscles convulse, seizing in a agonizing pain that even refused his mind the relief of screaming it out.

<Noooo ... CHRIS....>

It was just a memory that Ezra's nightmare produced, but Chris felt the sting of hot tears running down his face, unable to control anything at the moment. Somewhere along the line his brain realized Buck's voice coming over the intercom, but his body refused any attempt of control.

"Chris? Pard? C'mon, answer me. Ezra's going ballistic here ... what's goin' on there... oh HELL ... "

And then he saw what Ezra had seen that very moment, the second he had reached for him over the Bond, had screamed out for him and his help, and found his lover hadn't been there.

And this time Chris did scream.




"Shhh, fella, c'mon, relax, everything's fine. Damn ... " Buck cursed and reached for the intercom.

Ezra had started to whimper and shiver in his sleep, and before Buck was even able to react, woke with a start. He screamed and whimpered at the same time, jumping out of the bed, curling up into the far corner of the room, refusing any contact. From the looks of his terror-widened, unfocused eyes, Buck could tell that Ezra was still held deep in the vicious grip of whatever he experienced in his dream. He had only one thought: Chris. He had to contact Chris and get him to calm his soul partner down. He pushed the intercom button.

"Chris? Pard? C'mon, answer me. Ezra's going ballistic here ... what's goin' on there... oh HELL ... "

The fact Chris wasn't responding to his call and that Ezra was not calming down made Buck worry and he decided to change strategies. He switched to another com.

"Vin?"

"Yeah?" the sleepy voice of his friend and fellow Agent answered.

"Buck. Something's wrong. Ezra's real bad off here and Chris isn't responding to my call."

"On my way." Vin switched off the com, sounding much more alert. Buck turned around to the trembling, panic-stricken man. Ezra was staring at nothing in specific, green eyes glazed over, face contorted in pain. He kept rubbing at his left arm but it was not the almost healed wound he had suffered some days earlier that seemed to bother him. He rubbed his forearm.

Oh, shoot!

Buck sighed and approached his friend slowly. Ezra didn't react. When Wilmington crouched down, the eyes briefly flickered over to him, then he stared straight ahead once more.

"Geez, I hope this works the other way round as well. Hey fella..."




Vin hadn't even bothered to dress in anything resembling his normal outfit. A hastily donned combination of a sweater, shoes and pants had sufficed and he had raced down towards Chris's quarters in record time. Thankfully the corridors were almost deserted at night time. He entered Larabee's quarters carefully, not really sure what to expect. He switched on a dim light and looked around, then headed for the bedroom. The sight that greeted him there made him stop for a second.

"Oh shit."

Chris lay on his bed, curled up on his side, hands clenched into fists, eyes open but unfocused, a shiver running over his worn out body once in a while. Vin was at his friend's side and knelt down in front of him. He noticed the wet traces on Chris face.

"Chris?"

Larabee hadn't even reacted to Vin's arrival. He didn't blink and didn't seem to see anything. Vin shook his friend, gently at first.

"Chris! C'mon pard." No reaction. "Great !"

Vin growled in frustration, running a hand through his hair in a swift move. He had feared that something like this would happen, and had hoped and prayed that it wouldn't. Chris had gone into catatonic state, shutting out everything. Whatever had triggered it, it had come from Ezra. Buck had to deal with Standish, maybe get him to calm down. Vin's task was just as plain and simple: deal with Chris and get him to snap out of it. Tanner decided this would need some rather drastic measures for he had no time to lose. He raised a hand.

"Kiss your ass good-bye, Tanner," he murmured.

Then he struck.

Chris's head jerked as Vin's hand hit home.

"C'mon pard, react! Don't make me do that again." Vin shook him once more, and this time Chris blinked and focused on him.

"Vin?" His voice sounded raspy and there was a tremor in it that Vin didn't like.

"Yeah, it's me."

Glassy looking eyes blinked, chasing away bad memories, wiping tears.

"Did you just hit me?"

"Yep."

"Oh." Pause. "Vin?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm tired."

Vin swallowed hard at the almost inaudible words. But what he saw as he looked into Chris's eyes shook the man down to the core. Vin had no idea what had happened the past minutes, but whatever it was, it had drained the life out of Chris Larabee.

"Maybe you should rest a little then," he said softly, afraid to ponder the demons he had seen in Chris's eyes.

"Uhm-hm."

Vin watched as he closed his eyes slowly, the exhaustion from constantly having the shields down, being aware of every move Ezra made, worrying about him, seeing him like that, taking its toll. He slowly got to his feet and turned toward the door, dimming the light a little more, when a weak voice from behind stopped him.

"Vin?"

"Yeah, cowboy?"

"I know it now."

Vin bit his lower lip. "What do you know, Chris?"

"I saw it. I saw what happened to Ezra. I know why Ezra's afraid of me. It was me he saw... doing this to him..." The normally so strong voice almost broke.

"Wha ..." Then Vin realized Chris had fallen asleep.

He stepped into the living room and sat down on the couch, pushing the intercom button.

"Buck? Vin."

"Vin, everything all right? Ezra's back to sleep now. What about Chris?"

"I'll stay at his quarters tonight."

There was a short pause indicating that Vin's word and the meaning behind them had to sink in.

"That bad?" Buck finally asked.

Vin closed his eyes, feeling the weight of the world settle on his shoulders. It was almost suffocating him. "Worse. We're losing him."




In Ezra's quarters, Buck ran a shaky hand through his unruly hair. His eyes fell on the curled up form of his sleeping protégé. Ezra had quieted down quite quickly and had slipped back into sleep without much coaxing, but Buck was wide awake. Vin's words echoed in his mind and he felt sick.

They were losing him.

He had noticed Chris's decline, how his friend has lost weight, how the light in his eyes had died, how his spirit had given up. And Buck didn't have the strength to be there for Chris as well. Taking care of Ezra required all of his time, all of his energy, and it required Chris as well. Larabee was the calming influence, not Buck. Ezra just associated one with the other. But how could he explain it to the younger man? Ezra didn't understand anything at the moment.

With another sigh, Wilmington rose and left the bedroom, keeping the door open. In case Ezra woke, he could be in his line of sight in a matter of seconds. Coffee might help, he decided. Well, hopefully. Sleep was a lost cause anyway.

A few minutes later, with his caffeinated drug in hand, Buck slipped back into the bedroom.




Two hours later Chris woke up again, feeling the shadows of Ezra's dream, the meaning of what his lover had experienced stabbing into his soul like an ice cold dagger. The images were there, right in his mind, visible to his inner eye. He had seen the horror lurking in the other mind, had touched and felt the fear, the terror. A blond man. Dressed in black. Dark eyes regarding his partner coldly. A syringe. A stab in his arm. Pain. A call for help. And then... nothingness.

He understood.

Chris stretched a little and rose, quietly slipping into his uniform jacket. Then he snatched the gun he had stored in his drawer. He gazed at the dull gray object, the weapon he had used to often in the past, a tool to defend and attack. He slipped it into his pocket. As he stepped out of the bedroom he noticed the softly snoring figure stretched out on the couch.

Vin.

A faint smile played across Chris's lips as he eyed the lean frame of his friend and second-in-command, fast asleep in his living room for a whole minute. Then he inhaled deeply and sneaked out of his own quarters, heading toward Ezra's rooms.

Chris stood in the door that led to Ezra's bedroom and watched the two men on the bed. Ezra's huge antique oak bed, completely with bedposts and dark red canopy. The bed he had shared many nights and days with him. The bed where Ezra lay in now with Buck, snuggled against his best friend, looking for a safety and comfort Chris was no longer able to provide. Because he was the enemy. Ezra hated him with everything he possessed. He hated him because Chris was the personification of his nameless demon, the terror that lurked in his nightmares, that tried to grab his soul. Chris was everything Ezra feared, everything he would turn against, everything he would kill if he had the weapon to.

He moved noiselessly closer and saw Ezra sigh in his sleep, stirring and moving a little closer to Buck. Chris swallowed and reached out over the Bond, trying to find something he knew was no longer there, and received only emptiness. Where there had been a vibrant, warmth, a soul that was a piece of him, there was only the slick, cold abyss. Ezra's presence was there, but it was no longer surrounded by his personality, his charm, everything that made him Ezra Standish. His soul partner.

Chris stretched out a hand and carefully tugged away a strand of auburn hair from his lover's forehead, like he had done so many times before, enjoying the peaceful look on Ezra's face. A smile played over his haggard features.

"Good bye, love," he just whispered.




Vin woke with a start and knew instinctively that something was terribly wrong. As short glance into Chris's bedroom confirmed his suspicion and he swore wholeheartedly, hoping desperately he had misjudged Chris's expression. Why had he fallen asleep, damnit? He punched a few buttons on the intercom, praying dearly that someone had seen their commander somewhere.

An eternity of ten minutes later he was successful. Vin rushed out of Chris's quarters and started to run, pleading to whatever higher being there was he would reach Chris in time, stop him before it would be too late. Josiah liked to discuss theology with him sometimes, relating tales and myths, fables and believes to the younger man. Vin himself loved the challenge of connecting the dots within the tales, searching for the logical explanation to wonders and miracles that were attributed to deities.

"Sure could use some help of those deities now, Josiah," he breathed.




Vin found him in one of the abandoned hangars. One of the dock workers had seen Larabee as he had purposefully strode down the corridor, and when Vin had sent out his call, he had remembered the blond man.

"Chris!"

With a few long strides Vin was at Chris's side, snatching the gun out of the icy cold hands. A brief look into the haggard face, the hollow, somewhat dead eyes told Vin that Chris was serious. He had crossed the line, couldn't possibly take it any longer. He hadn't raised the gun to his head yet, but the sight of him sitting forlorn on an empty cargo crate, the deadly weapon in his lap, said volumes.

"That's not the way, Chris," he whispered intensely.

"It's over, Vin. He won't come back, he'll..." Chris buried his face into his hands, sounding broken and beaten. "It's so empty... so dead... I can't stand to be alone like this, Vin! He's gone!"

"You don't know that." Vin's voice was low and steady, trying to get through to his devastated friend.

"Just look at him, Vin. Just look at him ... " was the muffled reply.

"I did, pard. You know what I saw? I saw someone who is fighting. I saw someone who needs you, dearly. If you're on the 'what if' road, then I have some what ifs for you. What if he comes back and finds you gone? What will happen to him then? I'll tell you: it'll push him back, even deeper than where he is right now. Do you want to do that to him? And what if he finds out why you decided to leave him alone?"

It seemed to work a little because Chris looked up. Haunted dark eyes met Vin's and the younger man returned the questing gaze with a serious expression.

"Alone? I wouldn't ..."

"You were about to do it," Tanner reminded him none-too-gently. Confused hazel eyes blinked at him. Chris seemed to struggle to understand his own motivations, his sudden decision to end it all, and he was failing. Logical thinking had been shut down for that split moment where he had grabbed the gun, and now it was fighting to come back.

"Vin, I can't take it no more....," he whispered. "It hurts to see him like that. The hatred... the fear.... I can't stand it!"

"It's not the way!" Vin grit his teeth and then added, "It's a cheap way out."

The blond head snapped up and anger briefly flickered over the otherwise empty eyes. For a moment it looked like he was about to angrily snap at his second-in-command, then his expression changed dramatically.

Vin saw Chris's face grow even paler, if that was even possible, his features showing a deep shock. He stumbled to his feet and headed toward the door.

"Chris?"

"He's.... I heard.... Vin! My god, he's back...!"

And then he was gone

Vin followed him quickly, praying fervently that it wasn't a delusion. Chris couldn't take another blow.




Ezra woke slowly. Step by step his fogged brain registered that he was in his quarters, in his bed, and that there was a warm presence behind him, holding him close. Ezra sighed contentedly and closed his eyes again. Obviously the world was in order. He snuggled a little deeper into the embrace of the man laying close to him. The other one stirred a little and Ezra felt a hand stroking his hair gently, a sleepy voice murmuring into his ear.

"Shhh, it's okay, fella, everything's fine, I'm here."

Ezra sighed again and turned around and laid his arm around the other man's waist, ready to plant a soft kiss on his lover's mouth. A mustache tingled his lips.

Mustache? Whoa! Since when ... ?

Ezra blinked several times, then his hazy mind recognized the broader features, dark hair and definitely not hazel eyes that looked at him. Not Chris Larabee.....

With a shocked gasp he all but jumped out of the bed, halfway realizing that, thank goodness, he was dressed in sweatpants and shirt.

//Be grateful for little things...//

"Buck?!" he almost squeaked. "What the hell are you doing here ... in my ..." He gestured weakly, his breathing quickening.

He was in bed with Buck Wilmington. Buck Wilmington! What was going on here? A joke? First of April? Some kind of revenge?

The emotions running over Buck's face were remarkable. Complete puzzlement, something like realization, and then the happiest broadest grin Ezra had ever seen on the man.

"Ezra? Is that really you?"

Ezra frowned. Obviously there was something really wrong here. "Who else did you expect, Mr. Wilmington? In my quarters, in my bed, in case you haven't noticed." He tried to get his flustered emotions back under control, make some kind of sense out of this. He failed.

"You're back!" Buck tossed the sheets away, jumped out of the bed and threw his arms around the smaller man. "You're really back! Oh my god!" Ezra was enveloped in a bear hug that had him gasping for air and left him more than bewildered now. "Ahm, Buck? I like you, too, but would you ... please... let go of me at once!"

The suffocating embrace stopped and Buck fairly beamed at him, all smiles and happiness. "Sure. Sorry, fel... Ezra. God, am I glad to have you back! I can't believe it! It's really you!"

"I think so," the thief answered slowly.

For the first time since waking up, Ezra had the mind to check on his other half. Whatever was going on here, Chris better have a damn good explanation for it. He reached out over the Bond, looking for Chris, and realized the same moment his lover had his shields down completely.

That, and what he received the very next moment, let him sink down to his knees in utter shock.

He heard a loud, pained gasp and realized somehow that it was him.

Then there was only the Bond. The image of someone forcing a gun out if his lover's hands, a despair that deep he had never felt before, loneliness ... death wish!

<Chris?!>

Ezra wrapped his arms around his body, screwing his eyes shut as the sensations became painfully sharp and clear. He heard Buck yell his name, a hand landed on his shoulder, but he was unable to react.The doors of his quarters were pushed open and Ezra jerked around, aware that Chris Larabee had just arrived. He staggered to his feet, helped along by Buck, who he had forgotten was still there. What he saw left him stunned and shocked.

His lover stood in the doorframe. Well, not really standing. Chris had been almost running here and was now catching his breath, steadying himself with one hand against the door. Ezra swallowed hard as he examined him. Chris had lost weight he couldn't afford to lose, the uniform was hanging loosely around his frame, his face was haggard and pale, he seemed not to have slept or eaten in ages, was unkempt and unshaven. But was terrified Ezra the most was the look in Chris's eyes. Something had died within Chris Larabee.




Chris couldn't believe what he saw. He had only eyes for the green-eyed man standing in front of Buck, staring at him. He could read the eyes again, warmth, compassion, confusion, shared pain. He hadn't been wrong.

He had heard his name across the Bond, had felt the warmth in the words....

<Ezra ... god, you're back ... >

Then he closed his eyes.

"Chris!"

Buck was at his side in no time, catching the man as his knees gave way, carrying him over to the bed as if he were nothing more than a rag doll. He called for Nathan over the intercom.




Ezra had to fight hard to regain his composure. First Buck was next to him in bed, now Chris looked like death warmed over, fainting dead in the doorway at his sight after....after... Ezra squelched that thought.

The devastation and the wish to end it all were only too clearly in his mind. "Buck, what happened here? Why is everybody thinking I was away?"

Buck looked up, expression serious. "'Cause you were. Listen, I'll explain later. Take care of Chris now, will you? He needs you."

Chris opened his eyes, a feverish expression dancing in them, and reached out a hand.

<Ezra? Please...>

Ezra Inhaled deeply, shoving his confused emotions aside, only feeling deep concern for his lover. He crawled onto the bed and laid next to Chris. He held him tight and inhaled deeply as he touched the body. Chris had always been lean and slender, now he was fragile. Ezra could feel the individual ribs pushing against the skin. He looked over Chris shoulder at Buck who collected some clothes from the chair which obviously belonged to him. Wilmington just nodded at him and left silently, closing the door from the outside.

Chris had buried his face in Ezra's neck, his fist clenching into his shirt, and Ezra held him even closer, still asking himself what had happened to make such a wreck out of Chris. Suddenly he felt his lover's body starting to tremble viciously, heart wrenching sobbing sounds escaping his throat, as he sensed something break inside him. The wetness at his neck was the last clue to something he had never expected to witness: Chris Larabee was crying.

//Oh my god, Chris, what happened to you?//

He carefully tugged at the Bond, but he wasn't able to get one coherent thought at the moment. Everything he got was relief and <You came back> Yes, but where have I been?

Ezra decided the answer had to wait. He simply held on to the crying man, one hand stroking over his back in a soothing pattern, the other holding the blond head to his shoulder. Somewhere inside Chris the dam had broken and the flood was coming right at him. He pressed a gentle kiss onto the tousled hair, feeling his eyes sting with tears.

Ezra kept his side of the Bond completely open, radiating warmth, calm, gentle waves of his presence touching Chris.




After some time he heard a hesitant knock and the door opened a crack.

Buck stuck his head in, smiling. "Hey."

Ezra returned the smile, feeling severely shaken even if he still had no idea what was going on. "Hey," he answered quietly.

"Nathan's here. I delayed him, but he wants to have a look at you and Chris if that's okay."

Ezra gently ran a hair over Chris's hair. "Chris?" he murmured. "You up for some company?"

The hands were still clenched in his shirt, but Chris lifted his head, his face still unnaturally pale. He looked like hell and the red-rimmed eyes didn't help.

<Chris?>

<It's okay>

"Buck? You can send him in."

Buck gave them a pointed look, raising an eyebrow. Ezra smiled as he got the hint. Both men were still in a tangle and it would be a dead giveaway, unless Nathan was blind. Not even the excuse of finding the other half of his soul again would explain this.

<Chris? Let go>

Reluctantly, his partner did so, but he was clinging to the Bond as if it was his lifeline. Nathan entered quietly, his medi-kit in hand, and he approached the two men carefully.

"Ezra?"

"I'm fine, Nathan."

"I need to check you anyway." There was an almost apologetic smile on the dark features.

"I understand."

The examination consisted of a few questions and a quick medical check.

Chris was next and Nathan frowned deeply.

"Nathan?"

"Yes?"

"What happened?"

The medic shook his head. "I shouldn't be the one to explain it, Ezra. Vin's outside and I think he's better suited for this."

Ezra frowned, but he simply nodded. Nathan finished his examination of Chris and stood back.

"Chris, you need rest. Food, rest, and more food. I have some supplements here that I want you to take."

Chris's eyes lit up with the old fire and Nathan smiled.

"You will take them. Ezra, I want you to promise me that you'll make sure he does."

Ezra nodded. "You have it."

"Okay. Otherwise, no work. I'll inform Travis that I want you a week off duty, Chris, and no arguments!"

There was a sigh and Chris slumped slightly. Ezra held himself back from taking his lover into his arms.

"I'll keep an eye on him," the thief vowed.

"I know you will."

"Nathan? Send in Vin? I want answers."

"You sure?"

He nodded. "Yes."

Nathan bit his lower lip, then gave in. "All right."




When Vin stepped into the bedroom, he found both partners sitting on the bed, Ezra's back resting against the wall, arms around Chris.

The blond had his head buried in his partner's shoulder. He smiled at them and perched himself at the foot of the bed, leaning back against the board.

"How are you?"

"Fine." Ezra sighed. "Everybody seems to ask me how I am, but no one wants to tell me what's going on."

Vin gazed at Chris, who seemed more relaxed than in weeks. "How much did you feel?"

Ezra shivered and Chris unconsciously clenched his hand into the shirt.

"I felt.... a lot. Chris... he... why, Vin?"

Vin was silent for a moment. "I'd like you to answer a question for me first. What happened on your assignment?"

Ezra exhaled softly. "A lot of crap. I ran into a bunch of miscreants who had found out that I was Agency.They injected me with some kind of drug. After that... blackout." He raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

Vin regarded him for a while, nodding to himself. "That explains a lot," he murmured, then started to slowly explain what had happened ever since Ezra had failed to report back as planned.

The thief felt his heart miss a beat, his breath hitching in his throat, and the pressure on the Bond grew as Chris listened to the calm recapitulation of the last six weeks. Chris's distress swamped over to him, giving him a clear idea of the pain his soul partner had gone through, the loneliness, the aching clarity that Ezra, while physically there, no longer recognized him. That Ezra saw an enemy, something to fear and hate. Ezra pulled him closer, whispering little things through the Bond, feeling the tears falling silently down Chris's cheeks. Vin finished the explanation, watching the two partners, very much aware of the Bond communication, even if not by words.

"Thanks for telling me," Ezra managed, voice unsteady. He swallowed convulsively. "I... need a bit of time digesting it." His hand had picked up the soothing pattern again.

"Sure." Vin rose slowly. "I'll keep Travis off your backs."

"Thanks."

When Tanner had left, Ezra touched Chris's cheek, feeling the cold skin under his warm touch. His lover reacted, pressing his face into his hand, sighing softly.

"Chris?"

There was a small sob and Ezra tightened his hold.

"I'm here," he murmured.

<Know. Feel you. Gawd.....>

More tears. Chris was so exhausted, all his barriers, emotional and mental, were down. Ezra just stayed where he was, letting him get rid of it. After a while, Chris quieted down and his vice-like grip on Ezra's shirt relaxed. Ezra twisted slightly, hearing breathing hitch as Chris's panic flared, a sense of loss coming over the Bond, and he shushed him.

"It's all right, I'm here, you have me. Lay down."

Chris let himself be settled on the bed and Ezra let the encouraging, soothing presence of his self touch his lover, reassuring him again and again. He smoothed some hair out of the tired face, placing a gentle kiss on the pale lips.

<Sleep. I'll be here>




When Chris woke, five hours had passed. Ezra had stayed with his partner, only leaving him for bathroom checks and a shower. He had picked up a laptop and had started to catch up on the last six weeks, browsing through Agency files and news bulletins, as well as logging into the news broadcast to see what was currently going on. All the time, he had his shields down, his presence surrounding Chris, who lay curled up on his side next to him in bed.

"Hi," he greeted his lover as the hazel eyes blinked open.

There was an overwhelming sensation of possessive need and the Bond seemed to tighten around him. Chris was reaffirming that Ezra was still there, not just a hallucination. He placed the laptop on the small table he had dragged over from the other side of the room and then leaned over his partner, smiling.

"I'm real."

He kissed the pale lips and felt Chris respond, gathering Ezra's presence into his arms, holding on to him.

"How about a shower and a shave? Or a hot bath?"

A slow smile crossed Chris's face and Ezra chuckled. He helped him out of bed and sat him on the toilet as he prepared the bath.

<Alone> he told his partner as a clear message came through. Ezra kissed him again as he helped Chris undress, feeling the need for bodily comfort rise. Yes, later. Not now. Chris needed to heal, regenerate, and he needed to get his strength back.

Chris looked almost human, though rather gaunt, by the time he had shaven and bathed. He walked out of the bathroom, wrapped in a thick bathrobe, and Ezra pushed him into bed once more.

"I'll get you something to eat. You stay."

"No," Chris rasped, the first words he had really spoken out loud.

"Coming with you," he insisted.

Ezra sighed, but he knew his lover needed him in line of sight, even if the Bond told him he was near. "Okay, right."

He made Chris sit on the couch as he walked over to the kitchen, which was in line-of-sight, and prepared a light meal "When was the last time you ate?"

"I don't know," was the slow answer.

Ezra deposited the food in front of him, frowning. "Gone for a few days and see what happens," he quipped, then winced. Ah hell. Wrong thing to say.

Chris's face had gone blank and there was pure despair in his eyes.

<No, no, no..... Chris, look at me. I didn't mean.. oh, Lord....>

He wrapped his arms around the trembling form and kissed his head. <Shhhh.....>

"Sorry," Chris whispered, voice harsh. "You're back... You're really back... it shouldn't matter now."

"But it does and I'm sorry I said that. I don't remember what happened. I.... Chris.... I'm sorry for it all!"

"Not your fault."

The blond sighed and Ezra felt the tension leave the too-thin body.

"Eat," he instructed, pulling back.

Chris stared at the food as if offended by its mere presence on the plate.

<Eat, please>

Chris did. He actually finished half of what was on the plate and Ezra smiled.

"Good boy."

Larabee shot him an annoyed look. Ezra settled next to him on the couch, pulling him closer. Chris sank against him. Ten minutes later he was asleep again. Ezra managed to get him completely on the couch without Chris waking, the blond head resting in his lap. He ran a gentle hand through the strands, smiling both thoughtfully and thankfully. From what he had received from Chris over the Bond about the past six weeks, his lover had been through a lot. Enough to make him cross the line, enough to make him wish for the ultimate end. Ezra shuddered involuntarily at that thought. He had no memory concerning the last weeks, but to push a man like Chris Larabee over the edge, it must have been a living hell.

Ezra looked down at the now peaceful features which still held a shadow of that hell and made a silent promise. //I'll never leave you, love. Home is where the heart is. And you'll always hold mine//

The soul bond seemed to whisper in response and he ran a feather-light hand over the blond hair.




"Vin?"

Tanner looked up from where he was signing a few forms. "Hey, Ez. Something I can do for you?"

Ezra closed the door to the office, taking a few hesitant steps toward his friend. Vin had officially taken over as team leader in absence of Chris and they hadn't seen much of each other except when Vin dropped by, keeping his commander informed about the daily news. The others had gone back to normal cases, but none that would mean undercover work or a prolonged absence from Four Corners. Travis had put Chris on medical leave for two weeks and both Ezra and he had suffered through a complete physical examination. There would be a requalification as well, but not now.

"Actually, you already did," he then said.

"Huh?"

"Vin, when I ... you know... wasn't here for him... " Ezra's voice faded, then he steadied himself again, looking the other Agent right into the eyes. "You kept him alive."

Ezra could see the flicker of emotions that were running through Vin for a brief second, reflecting themselves in the man's eye's: loss, grief, and understanding. He offered his hand and it was taken.

"Thank you," Ezra whispered, as Vin squeezed his hand gently.

Both men knew no more words were necessary in this matter as they reached a new level of silent understanding.




It felt strange to be in his own quarters again, Buck mused as he looked around his place, noting the differences to Ezra's quarters. He hadn't been here for a while. Just to grab some clothes or the occasional accessory, but never to stay for very long. Now he was back, and while it was nice to be home, he couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing something. Taking care of Ezra, fighting each day to help the other man maybe remember something, anything, had been so time-consuming, he hadn't had time for anything else.

Well, now the old Buck was back and after getting his quarters cleaned up, he'd reacquaint himself with Anna Harving, the new pilot for the Pegasus team. She was quite a looker.

The chime announcing a visitor interrupted his progress an hour later and he dropped his laundry in a heap. Surprise registered on his face as he discovered the identity of his visitor.

"Ezra?" Buck frowned as he noticed the expression on his friends face.

"Something wrong? Chris?"

Ezra waved at him. "No, no, he's fine." He hesitated, eyes roaming around the living room before they settled on Wilmington again. "Listen, there is something I want to ... talk to you about."

Buck didn't need a Bond to know what Ezra was referring to. "It's okay, Ez. No big deal."

"No, it's not okay. It must have been quite hard on you, too. What you did for me, what you did for Chris ... "

"Wait," Buck interrupted the babbling thief. "I said no big deal. Wrong choice of words. See," he inhaled deeply, "you have no idea how hard all of this actually was. But," he raised his hands as Ezra wanted to cut in, "things are different these days."

Buck's voice held an undertone Ezra had never noticed in the Agent's voice before, and Wilmington didn't look at the younger man, eyes focused on something very far away.

"I remember him when Sarah and Adam died, how he was back then." Buck raised his eyes, returning to the here and now. "This time was different; he couldn't even crawl into the bottle. He had to be there, twenty four hours a day, for you. And he was, even if it was eating him alive. Even if he..."

Buck registered the pain his words awoke in Ezra and regretted it, but this was too important, to the both of them.

"Ezra," he continued, "I learned something these days. I saw something these days. It's one thing to know, but another thing to actually realize what I've been told, what I've known for a while now. I saw, maybe for the first time ever, what you two really are for each other. And I apologize for being such an insufferable idiot."

"You're no idiot, Buck," Ezra told him quietly. "You're the best damn friend Chris could ask for."

Buck couldn't help it. He enfolded the younger man in a brief but tight hug, which was returned the same way.

"Thank you, Buck." Ezra whispered.

"Any time, fella. Any time."




Orrin Travis looked at his Agent, relieved to see him back and being completely himself. Ezra Standish was dressed in his standard uniform, looking as brisk and sharp as always, not the least bit like he had been through hell in the last six weeks. Then again, Standish had no recollection of the time. He had simply lost six weeks.

Chris Larabee, on the other hand, showed the strain of that hellish time, as did most of the Chimera team. They were now healing, recuperating, going back to normal, but Travis knew that normality would never have the same meaning.

"I regret to report that I couldn't apprehend the mole, sir."

Standish's clear-cut words drew the Judge out of his thoughts. He gave the younger man a calculating look.

"From your report, I see you could only deliver a description and the name your contact used throughout the time. Nothing gave us any clue."

The thief nodded, looking none too happy. The same went for the last person Standish had seen. He had no name and only a description. Travis looked at the printed pages. Tall, lean, blond, fortyish. He knew the meaning of it. Travis had been quite clearly aware of Ezra's behavior toward Chris throughout the six weeks. Standish had been terrorized of him, plain and simple.

"If you want to, I can pick up where we left off," the thief now said.

Travis shook his head. "Too dangerous. The mole knew you were coming, he knew who you were, and he tried to have you killed, Agent Standish."

Ezra frowned. "With all due to respect, sir, but...."

"You're not going," Travis interrupted him sharply. "We'll lay low for now, turn to other cases while working on a way to identify the mole. The man knows our moves and he knows our people. I won't risk another Agent to flush him out."

Standish's frown stayed, but he nodded. "I understand, sir."

"Good. That'll be all, Agent Standish."

The younger man rose slowly, smoothed out the wrinkles of his uniform, and turned to leave.

"Ezra?" Travis stopped him, voice softer now.

The thief turned around. "Yes?"

"Take care of Chris. Get away, if you need to. The Chimera team won't go anywhere any time soon. Not until all of you are recovered."

The green eyes held a hard to read expression, then Standish nodded.

"Yes, sir."

He closed the door after himself and Travis leaned back, a contemplative expression on his face.




Nathan looked up from his studies as Chris and Ezra entered his office in the medical ward, both looking tense. He smiled a welcome at them, immediately visually checking Chris, taking note of the lingering expression of exhaustion, the fine lines of past stress, the pale skin, but also of the life that had returned to his eyes.

"Sit down, you two." For what I have to tell you, sitting would be preferable, he added silently.

"Nathan, what's wrong?" Chris asked, barely masked dread in his voice.

It was a sign of how weakened his system and his defenses still were. Of course, adding Jackson's request to come to his office to the long list of events of the last six weeks, it was only a natural reaction.

"First of all, there is nothing wrong with either of you," Nathan started, seeing Ezra relax ever-so slightly. "Excepting your physical status, Chris, which I hope will keep on improving."

Chris nodded slowly but warily.

"You know that I'm keeping a close eye on both of you for the reason that you are Borderlines, as well as soul partners," Jackson went on, seeing Ezra stiffen. It was a sore spot with the thief. "I have gathered enough medical data in the last 15 months to compare certain metabolic functions, brain patterns, chemical inconsistencies with non-Borderlines and so on." Another nod from Chris. The wariness doubled.

"I have made regular checks on your metabolisms, especially Ezra's, since you, my friend, have an incredible recovery rate."

Ezra's face was a mask. He hated to be reminded of such things, but Nathan was a scientist. When he was in the right mode, he easily overlooked discomfort, especially when he was trying to get a certain point across.

"Now, while you don't exactly share that ability," he turned to Chris, "I discovered something that has been changing ever since the first day."

"Nathan? Get to the point!" his commander snapped.

Nathan smiled. "Well, as I said, nothing is wrong. It seems all of this has an interesting side effect on your metabolism, Commander Larabee. You have started to mirror Ezra's."

Ezra stared at him in disbelief while Chris was trying to make sense of what Jackson had just said.

"In other words, while you appear like forty-one on the outside, your molecular make-up has changed to that of someone more of Ezra's age."

Chris's jaw hit the floor. "What?" he managed.

"Chris, I can't explain it other than that this Bond you share is no longer just a link between your minds. It has become physical."

Was it his imagination or was Ezra flinching?

"Physical," Chris echoed numbly.

"By all means, you should show the normal aging process of a man in his forties, Chris. As of the last examination, you are bodily in your early thirties. You're not growing younger, those gray hairs won't disappear as if by magic, but everything inside has ... changed."

The two partners exchanged incredulous looks and Nathan knew what they must be feeling. From a scientific point of view, he had been exhilarated by the discovery. He would have to give this a lot more study time, find out whether it was the soul bond, the Borderline genes, both working together, or some kind of freaky coincidence. But as a friend to those two, he felt less of the scientific joy. This was a major interruption in their lives, in Chris's more than Ezra's.

"I assume correctly that you'll want to study this?" Ezra asked neutrally.

"Yes, but not right away. You both need to heal from what happened. When you are ready, give me a call."

Chris nodded. "Thanks, Nathan," he said quietly.

"Any time. And Chris, it's nothing harmful. It's not some kind of rebirth or fountain of youth. You're also still two individuals, with different brain patterns, heart rates, blood pressure etc."

Another nod. Both men left, apparently deep in thought. Nathan turned back to his work. He knew his friends would come back for the promised examinations. They would be just as interested in any further development as he was. Maybe even more.




Over the next few days, Chris improved dramatically. Color came back to his skin, he was gaining weight, and the light was back in his eyes. Ezra was around him wherever he went and it was a strain on them to be in public and not touch each other physically. Chris needed the physical reminder, not just the Bond, and hiding the deeper relationship the two men shared was not helping. But the need of touch receded as well. Deciding they needed to get off the station for at least a few days, Ezra had simply packed a few things and dragged Chris planet-side, ignoring the arguments. So now he sat on the front porch of the small lodge he had rented for three days, enjoying the fresh air, unfiltered and full of natural smells, listening to the sounds around him. The Kiowata inside him rose, instincts kicking in. They had actually stretched their four legs just this morning. It had been a rush to race across the flat prairie, the wind whipping around his head. Ezra had never felt so free.

Steps on the wood alerted him to Chris's presence and someone crouched down behind him. Arms came around him and Ezra leaned back against his lover.

"Beautiful," Chris rumbled.

"And here you went and argued about three days of absence from Four Corners," Ezra teased, smiling.

"Wasn't talking about the landscape."

A kiss was placed on his neck. Ezra shivered. Aside from sleeping in the same bed, in each other's arms, nothing had happened. Chris had been too weak, too ill, and Ezra had argued that he wanted to wait. They needed to heal.

"Tell me," he said softly, breaching a topic he hadn't dared touch in the still-fragile state Chris had been in.

The body behind him tensed.

<Please> Ezra added.

<It hurt> Chris whispered, using the Bond, not trusting his voice.

<A lot. It hurt to see you like this, not recognizing me. It hurt to see Buck with you instead of me. It hurt to think I'd never have this again> At the words, Chris sent warmth and need along the link, wrapping his presence around Ezra, hugging him close. Ezra closed his eyes, understanding. Half of Chris's soul had been gone, just a black void where another presence had once been.

<It was too much> his lover went on. <Just too much. I couldn't think straight, could only act... and I.... I wanted it to end, Ezra> he blurted, burying his head in Ezra's shoulder, trembling. <Forgive me>

The thief touched the strong hands hugging him to the body behind him, running gentle fingers over the tense forearm muscles down to each finger tip.

<There is nothing to forgive, Chris> he murmured. <I understand>

<You can't!>

<I wouldn't lie to you>

<I wanted to kill myself!> Chris hissed harshly. <I would have left you alone!>

Ezra twisted out of the hold and turned to crouch in front of the disturbed man. He smiled at the distraught expression, the self-loathing, and gently caught the flailing hands.

<At the time, you were already alone, Chris. I might never have come back>

<But you did.... Just when I was about to...>

He placed a finger on the thin lips. This would take time. A lot of time and a lot more talking. <Just promise me you won't do it again>

<Ezra...>

<Promise me, Chris! As long as I live, promise me, you won't do it again>

Chris leaned forward and caught Ezra's lips in a soft kiss. <I promise. As long as you live>

Because when either of them died, Ezra added silently, the other would perish as well. Vin had survived his soul partner's death, but their connection had never been this intense, this deep. With the news revealed by Nathan, something they hadn't really discussed yet, they were so closely meshed, there was no separation possible.

He renewed the kiss, growing bolder and his partner answered it, falling back and pulling Ezra with him onto the porch. Ezra kneeled over him, hands left and right of his head, and for a while there was nothing but the kisses, the very presence of each other. Finally they separated, skin flushed, breathing heavily. Ezra traced Chris's lips with one finger.

"I think we should go inside," he murmured.

Chris smiled, claiming another kiss. "Yep."

Ezra briefly closed his eyes as his lover sent a spike of undisguised lust. "Quickly," he groaned, retaliating in kind.

Chris's eyes darkened and they relocated inside. It promised to be a very relaxing time off indeed. Ezra briefly wondered if they would even get out of bed.

Chris's answer was rather definite and he laughed. Healing had begun. It would take a while, it would take everyone's support, but Ezra firmly believed that Chris would find back to his old self.

END

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