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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
A lonely figure sat on the floor of the small observation bubble, shadowed eyes watching the darkness of space. Now and then a shuttle or a ship flashed by in the distance, but otherwise, nothing disturbed the blanket of blackness with its tiny, precious diamonds. The observation bubble was one of the lesser known view points, a place only the engineers and mechanics knew, as well as a few select individuals. The observation decks were always crowded, either by visitors or business people. There were flourishing food courts, shops, galleries, all close to the main attraction of the large station. The smaller bubbles, underneath or above the main attraction, held no such amenities. There were only the emergency lights and the cold, hard floor.
Ezra Standish didn't care. He sat in the semi-darkness, knees pulled to his chest, arms curled around them. Green eyes stared fixedly at the world outside, the beauty of space. Beautiful and deadly. He sighed.
//Marissa Velo dying in his arms. Her beautiful eyes staring emptily at him. Blood soaking his shirt, staining his hands//
The image haunted him, didn't go away, sent more guilt through him. He could have done something. He could have prevented this!
Ezra pushed his fists against his closed eyes, trying to forget, but there was no forgetting, only accepting. Chris was in the back of his mind, waiting, watching. He wouldn't move closer because Ezra had lashed out twice before. He didn't want to hurt his partner, but the closeness was strangling him right now. He had to deal with this alone.
The hearing had been yesterday and Ezra had no idea how he had gotten through it. All he had heard were those accusing words, the recollection of his mission, and over and over again the death of Marissa. Agent Marissa Velo, part of the Medusa team. She had been undercover as well, infiltrating a circle of slave smugglers from a different point than Ezra. They had worked well together, keeping their covers.
Now she was dead.
Saving his life.
Ezra inhaled deeply. Marissa had stepped between him and a bullet. Something had blown their cover, alerting the smugglers to their true identity, and she had sacrificed herself for a total stranger. Another Agent, but a complete stranger nevertheless. Ezra had been with the Agency barely six months and she had seen fit to throw away her life for someone like him.
Of course he was glad to be alive, but not at this price. Someone else had died for him. Ezra was a former criminal, he was a con man, a thief, a gambler, everything people like Marissa were still throwing into prison. His luck had been to meet Chris Larabee, forming the mental Bond, helping his partner survive, and being accepted as part of the Agency in the end. It had been a long, rocky road to this day, but he had always felt it was worth it. He trusted Chris implicitly, he had been accepted into the Chimera team, and he had a new life.
If he had died instead of Marissa, he would have pulled Chris with him, part of him reminded Ezra. Naturally he was glad it hadn't come to that, but Marissa hadn't known about the Bond. No one knew, except for a select few people. She hadn't been among them. It had been her decision, made freely, and she had done it.
Ezra remembered her pain-filled eyes, but also her brief smile. There had been no last words, no breathy pleas, just one single moment where they had looked at each other, then she had died.
Rage and incredible pain mingled and he buried his head in his arms. The hearing had gone in his favor, freeing him of any guilt. Travis suspected a mole in the Agency because the whole mission had been set up perfectly. No mistakes, no hiccups. Still, something had gone wrong, like on previous missions. The board had freed him of any guilt, but Ezra was feeling far from it.
The funeral had been a few hours ago. He hadn't been there. He didn't feel like he had any right to be there. He knew about her family, the husband and daughter she left behind. Ezra didn't feel strong enough to face this pain, to look into the child's eyes and know he was responsible. To know that there might have been a way to protect her.
He returned his stare to the darkness outside. He felt just as empty and cold.
Chris leaned against the conference room's virtual window, staring at nothing in specific. There was no real window in their meeting room. The virtual window was a projection of the real thing, but it helped to ease anxiety and frazzled nerves. Just looking out over the station, watching the traffic around Four Corners. Chris wasn't alone in the room. The team had left, except for Vin Tanner. His second-in-command slouched in his usual chair, silent and observative. Vin was still in his dress uniform. He had been to Agent Velo's funeral.
"Blocking?" he asked softly.
Chris nodded. "Yeah."
He rubbed his fingers over his forehead. He hated the walls. They created a cold, dark spot inside him, went deeper than the shields. Shields let emotions leak here and there, they just blocked the conscious thoughts and sudden shifts. Walls were like.... like cutting the link he treasured so much. He was always amazed once again at how easily he had accepted another mind connected to his. Then again, Ezra was a missing part of his soul, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise. As different as they were on the outside, there was a lot they had in common. Otherwise, the soul partnership would never have blossomed.
"He needs time, Chris," Vin told him, tugging at his collar.
"Guilt is hard to work through."
Larabee turned away from the virtual view. "Nothing was his fault. He just needs to get to the point where he understands that." He slumped against the wall. "I just wish he'd let me help."
"Ezra's not the type to accept help easily or readily. He wants your help because you are one soul, but his mind fights the concept of comfort."
Chris nodded. He knew all that. He and Ezra were well-balanced, but that didn't mean they couldn't fight like the best of them. Especially since Chris was the Chimera team's leader and Ezra was one of his men, whose opinion of authority went as far as he could throw the Four Corners station. He showed respect, but following orders he didn't see as reasonable or productive was another thing. Both men were independent, self-reliant and stubborn on top of it. Their fights were brief, intense, but there was no residual bad blood. Ezra was a former criminal on top of it, used to being alone and relying only on himself. It was a streak that made him so good, but also a real pain to work with. Chris was his partner now, his lover, bound to him through an unbreakable link, and so they had to deal with it.
"I'll give him some time and space, then go and talk," he decided.
"No one blames him, pard, except himself. I talked to Brandon. The Medusa team never thought to put any blame on him either. Their prior reactions were out of pain, but not even Terry thinks it's Ezra's fault."
Commander Brandon Baker, Medusa's team leader, was a good friend, and Chris hadn't believed he would seek fault in Ezra for a second. This could have happened to any of them.
The whole case had been handled professionally. Ezra had been good, he had wormed his way into the core of the smuggler organization, had become a trusted ally of the ring leader, he had covered for Marissa when she had been brought in, but something had gone terribly wrong. Investigations were continuing, but not into Ezra Standish. There was a mole and it had to be somewhere high up. This hadn't been the first mission to go awry, but it was one where Ezra had lost a fellow Agent.
Chris thought of his private conversation with Travis. The Judge had asked him some rather harsh and provocative questions about Ezra, as if he believed it had been the thief's fault. When Travis had insinuated that Ezra might be the mole, Chris had nearly blown a fuse once. He believed in Ezra because there was no lying over the Bond. Hell, he had been with his partner when it had happened, had felt his emotional pain, the confusion, the rage. Ezra couldn't be the mole, even if his past record suggested he mind be susceptible to bribe. But Ezra had his pride, his own standards, and he would never sell out those he worked for.
"I understand your reactions, Chris," Travis had told him, voice softening. "But you have to see it from my point of view as well. I lost an Agent."
"It could have been two!" Chris had snapped.
"I'm aware of that."
There had been an expression in Travis's eyes that had mollified Chris somewhat. The Judge understood, but he had had to ask anyway.
Sometimes, Chris hated his job.
"I'm supporting you, your team, Agent Travis, Commander. But I had to know."
"Judge, we are Bonded. He can't hide from me, he can't lie to me," Chris had told him softly. "If you accuse him, you accuse me of covering for him."
Travis had only given him a nod.
Yes, sometimes he really hated this job.
It took another two hours for Ezra to finally leave the bubble. He walked through the quiet service corridors, unaware of his actual surroundings. He took one of the elevators to the living quarters levels and headed straight for his own. No board could take away the pain, the self-doubt, and the biting questions as to what had gone wrong. If it had been a mole, who had it been? When had the information slipped? Only two teams had been involved, Medusa and Chimera. Travis had know, of course. Ezra trusted his own team. He didn't believe any of them was working for the other side. Travis neither. The Medusa he didn't really know.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips and he grabbed the bottle of liquor he kept in his kitchen. He had three days of leave and he would prefer to spend them in oblivion, he decided. He sank down onto the couch, the bottle and the glass on the table.
That was how Chris found him. Larabee had given his partner the necessary distance and time, leaving him alone physically as well as through the Bond. He had been kicked out twice and the second time it had left him with a headache. He had finally made up his mind, had decided it was time to go and talk to him. Ezra was still shielding and Chris knew he wouldn't let him in, so he used the key codes to the quarters and did it himself.
Ezra was sitting on the couch, staring off into space. The bottle and the glass stood in front of him and for a second, Chris was afraid his partner had drunk himself into oblivion. The hangover would be hell for both of them; the Bond didn't tolerate it. Not any more. In the beginning, when the depth they had now hadn't been, getting drunk was a one-man scenario; as was the hangover. But where they were now, they felt the other physically, and not just in bed.
Chris gave a soft sigh of relieve when he discovered that the bottle was still full and the glass untouched.
"Ezra?" he asked softly.
Green, pain-filled eyes looked at him, then the thief dropped his gaze. Chris understood the emotions. He had gone through something like this many years ago when a fellow Agent had been shot on an assignment. He had carried the guilt for weeks. Survivor's guilt. The many 'what if's' were no stranger to him and Ezra would have the same rough time accepting the truth, the only truth, as Larabee had had.
"Come for the pep talk?" Standish asked roughly.
"No. Won't help anyway." Chris lowered himself onto the couch chair. "Just checking on your blood alcohol level, partner."
Ezra gave the bottle a rueful look. He hadn't drunk a drop. "Wish there was. Won't help," he sighed, running a shaky hand through his already tousled hair.
Burning eyes met hazel ones.
<A friend died in the line of duty. I was there. I won't compare, Ezra, but I know the pain. I know it won't just go away in the next days or weeks. I know alcohol can't numb it>
Ezra lowered his gaze. <I just don't understand why, Chris> he whispered. <Why?>
Why had another Agent died? Because of a mole, Chris answered silently. Why had Marissa died instead of Ezra? Because she had shielded him from the shot. Why had she done it? Only she knew. They hadn't been budding friends, had met once or twice at meetings or seen each other in the corridors. But up until this fateful undercover mission, Marissa Velo and Ezra Standish had been virtual strangers. She had died in the line of duty, protecting him, and Ezra was searching for a reason.
<Only she can answer that> he said softly. <Only she knows>
Ezra shook his head. Not good enough. He needed a reason, something to work on, work with, and work through.
"Ezra, Marissa Velo was an Agent. She did her job. Her job included protecting her fellow Agents. You were unarmed and she had a bolt gun. If I had been in her shoes, I would have done the same."
The brown head snapped up and the green eyes were wide in horror.
"Ezra, you have to accept that this comes with the job as well."
Ezra's face was almost blank, a muscle twitching in his cheek.
"She didn't know me, Chris....."
"That's not a criteria."
"Ezra." Chris held the pained eyes. "I had to accept it in the past. I hated it and still do. It's one of those things you don't have to like, but it won't go away if you keep fighting it. There are no 'what ifs', no discussions about being worth it or not. I know it sounds harsh, but it happened and you can't turn back time to undo it." <Ezra?>
A shaky breath escaped the pale lips. <I still see her>
Chris nodded, only too aware of the haunting images such an event produced. He had his own. <Take your time, but don't go the 'what if' way. Talk to the others if you feel like it. Talk to me>
<Thanks> came the shaky reply.
<And if you feel like getting drunk, let me know. I'll take a day off. The hangovers are hell>
Ezra chuckled slightly. Chris rose and looked at the smaller man. He wanted, needed, to help his partner, but right now Ezra was unconsciously fighting him. It wouldn't do to push, soul partner or no soul partner. The shields were still strong, allowing only surface communication. It would get better in time. He knew it would.
Ezra was alone again. He gazed at the bottle and sighed. He knew he wouldn't drink a drop. It wouldn't help him over the pain and emptiness. Only time could. Chris was right that one day it would be better to bear, but till then, the haunting memories would always be there. He couldn't face the Velo family, nor could he look at any from the Medusa team.
With a sigh he rose and carried the bottle back into the kitchen. Another time.
He needed time.
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