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Second to None
by Lara Bee and Macx
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:
Story Notes: Lyrics "The Rose" Amanda McBroom,
performed by Bette Midler. Thanks to Dietmar Schubert, physician and
a colleague of Lara Bee, who provided some medical advice, not to mention
a wonderful idea...
Buck hesitantly knocked at the door to Vin's quarters. After the talk
he had had with Ezra the other day, he had come to terms with his feelings
toward his friend. It had hit him right between the eyes that somewhere
along the line, somehow in between, he had fallen for Vin Tanner. After
they had started a sexual relationship born out of his own curiosity
and intended to leave it there with no restraints or obligations whatsoever,
somehow feelings had sneaked up on him. And after Buck had realized that
Vin didn't know how to express love, knew love only as sex, he had acted
on this feelings. Unfortunately he had screwed up and had hurt the only
person he loved. Ezra had opened his eyes and suggested that the only
way to get it right was to talk to Vin. Tell him what he had had in mind,
hope that his feelings would be returned - or break up. Either way it
would end the tension.
Vin opened the door and looked at him with slight surprise, an unspoken
question in his eyes. From the very sight of his lover Buck could tell
that his words had really hit home. Hard. Vin looked as if he hadn't
slept since they had been together the last time. Or as if he had tried
to drink himself into sleep. Every night.
"Vin. I ahm, I've come to talk to you. Let me in. Please?" he asked.
Vin just looked at him for a whole ten seconds, then nodded once and
stepped aside without a word. Buck wasn't so sure this was a good sign,
but at least Vin hadn't shot him right away.
He sat down at the coffee table and folded his hands, unsure how to
begin. Vin just wordlessly placed a bottle of beer in front of him and
sat down in the opposite chair, waiting.
Buck rolled the bottle in his hands and avoided Vin's gaze that he
felt resting on him. Then he took a swallow of the cold brew and put
it on the table.
//No time like the present//
He inhaled deeply.
"Vin, I have a lot of things to say and if I don't get them out straight,
I might as well never, so I'd appreciate it if you don't interrupt me,
A short glance toward Vin showed him that the man was listening silently.
"All right, here we go. First, I'm sorry for what
I said a few days ago. Or at least for the way I said it. I know now
how it must have sounded. But I said it because you're too precious to
me and I don't want to see you ... become like Chloe. Geez, when I remember
her eyes when I met her again a few years ago ... they used to glow with
an inner fire and sparkle, just like yours, and they were dead. No light,
no sparkle anymore. She had lost her very soul. It tore my heart apart
to see her like that, and I never want to see you become her, all bitter
and lost and disappointed with life itself and love in particular.
"I know when we started this we had agreed to no commitments, but the
thing is ... and I hope you won't shoot me now ... I said those things
because the very idea of you looking at me with eyes like that shred
my heart to pieces. And I saw you were on your way downstairs, Vin, you're
heading that way. I realized it the very moment back in the archive when
you were for a plain and simple fuck. That's how Chloe experienced love
all her life, and I know she's not the only one. I want to change that,
at least with you.
"Vin, I want you to listen closely now, because I think I will only
be able to get it out once, and I want to be sure you understand every
single bit of it. I said those things, because I care too much about
you to let it happen. Not just as a friend. I realized it the other day
when I was thinking everything through over and over again."
Buck hesitated for a brief moment and then he looked up, straight
into Vin's eyes, all honest and open.
"I fell for you, Vin. And in case you don't get it clear: I fell for
you hard, like never in my life before. I love you, Vin Tanner."
Then he waited. The minutes stretched, and it was a most unpleasant
Vin didn't react.
He just held the beer in his hands, rolling the bottle and staring
down at the floor.
He didn't look up once.
He didn't do anything.
He just stared at the floor.
His jaws clenched.
Rolling the bottle.
Clearly avoiding Buck's gaze.
Until Buck couldn't stand it no more.
"Vin? Please, say something. Throw me out, shoot me, kiss me, whatever,
but do something!" he begged.
"I won't shoot you ... "
It came out as nothing more than a whisper, and Buck almost missed
"So you're gonna throw me out instead? Tell me this is it and just
hit the road?" He fought the tremor in his voice, the pain his statement
Now Vin did look up and suddenly Buck understood why he had been so
silent, holding on to the bottle and gritting his teeth.
Vin had fought to keep his composure.
And not out of anger.
"Does that mean you agree to the kissing part?" Buck croaked at the
"Yeah ... "
He didn't have to say that twice.
Vin Tanner woke with a start. He found himself sitting upright in
the bed, heart pounding like a drum, panting heavily and drenched in
sweat. The remnants of his nightmare were still running through his mind.
He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists, not wanting to think
of it again, remember it again. Go there again. The sudden agony of the
Bond screaming with the shock of a sudden break, the bottomless dark
abyss that his soul was threatened to drown in afterwards, and the deep
sorrow and grief, the feelings of loss and loneliness that had claimed
him for a long time. Something touched him from behind.
A warm gentle hand was stroking his back in comforting circles, and
Vin found himself all but lean into the calming, soothing, caring touch.
Vin turned his head a little and stared into the concerned eyes of his
lover. Buck didn't say a single word, just kept stroking his back and
silently offering support. Vin could see the question in Buck's eyes
but he also knew that he wouldn't push, wouldn't ask, would just give
him time until he was ready to talk, and that was something he had come
to deeply appreciate. Vin inhaled and something inside of him decided
to take the offer, to allow himself to let go, maybe for the first time
in years. He slid back into the waiting arms, into the welcoming embrace
of his lover that provided ease for his weary soul and a silent promise.
He felt Buck's slow strokes on his back, and his own body and soul
relaxed against the warm presence that was his lover as he finally allowed
Chanu to go.
The bedroom was bathed in soft, indirect light. It smelled of wood
and something else. Ezra gently kissed the lips opening under his feather-like
touch, a tongue meeting his as he slowly let it dance around the warm
cavern of his partner. Hands brushed over a lean, firm body, exploring,
mapping, caressing. He trailed his lips over the sun-tanned face, nipped
at the jaw, kissed closed eye-lids, listened to the soft sighs of content
pleasure. He followed the sinewy trail of a slender neck, pausing at
one shoulder, teething the skin. Strong hands glided over his back and
he caught a soft moan as he turned his attention to the inviting dark
nipples. The moans increased as he gave them his sole attention, very
much aware how sensitive they would get under prolonged ministrations.
Hips bucked against his and the hands clenched into his hair. There
was an inner battle between pushing him away from the ever-increasing
sensitivity that developed in the hardening nubs and keeping him there.
Finally Ezra left them alone, smiling as hooded, hazel eyes looked at
him, and he just had to kiss his lover.
"Turn around," he whispered huskily and Chris complied.
Ezra straddled the slender man, resting his weight on the muscular
thighs as he reached for the near-by table. The massage oil caressed
his skin as he poured it into his hands, slickening them. He then continued
to dribble it over the smooth back. As his hands began to gentle spread
the oil, starting to knead hard muscles, he heard a soft groan of pleasure.
Chris began to relax under the expert manipulation of tight coils
and knots, warmth flooding through his system, and Ezra smiled as he
felt the echoes of complete and utter relaxation coming through their
Bond. He took his time as he tried to relief his lover of the tension
and stress of the past days, paying special attention to all the little
aches and pains, hands never ceasing their rhythm.
So much had happened lately that had demanded Chris's attention, both
had seen little of each other and Chris's tension had started to radiate
through the Bond. When he then had to accompany his boss off-station,
Ezra had resigned himself to the frustration over the Bond, doing his
best to soothe his partner. Tonight was their night. He had promised
Chris a bath and a massage, and they would see what else.
As he reached the lower back, scooting further back on Chris's legs,
Ezra's eyes fell on the tantalizing cheeks and he couldn't help but plant
a kiss on them. Chris twitched. The thief smiled and let one finger draw
a glistening trail of scented oil on the left one.
<Ezra....> Chris breathed through the Bond.
<Ye-es?> He planted another kiss.
A sigh that turned into a moan.
<This isn't very relaxing!>
Ezra gently kneaded the firm cheeks.
Chris had screwed his eyes shut, body tensing. <No!> he admitted
"Then maybe I should stop?" he said out loud and took his hands away.
There was a hiss of denial and Chris twisted around, dislodging the
smaller man. Ezra found himself grabbed and a possessive mouth slanted
over his, kissing him deeply. He was only too happy to comply, but he
wouldn't let Chris take over the show. He separated, leaving his lover
panting, eyes heated. Ezra drew his oil-slick hands over the muscular
chest, teasing the still hard nubs, smiling at the grimace of pleasure
on the blonde's face. He continued south, over twitching stomach muscles
and to the hardness that had pressed against him already.
<I thought you wanted to relax> he teased.
Chris moaned, pushing himself into his questing hands, eyes closing
<I am> he sighed, his breathing quickening.
Oiled hands massaged his arousal, drawing little sounds of approval
as Ezra brushed over the erotic spots.
"Turn around," he murmured again.
Chris's dilated eyes met his and he licked his lips. Ezra smiled ferally.
Time for the 'what else', he decided. He gazed at his prone lover, hunger
rising inside him, pressing to the forefront, urging him to take him.
Chris echoed the need and Ezra simply followed the request.
Vin snuggled back into Buck's arms, still panting, and closed his
eyes in the aftermath of their lovemaking. He felt a little worn out
but the pleasant kind, and he let out a deep breath, a sigh that showed
Buck how content he felt. Buck wrapped his arms around him from behind
and nuzzled a little at his neck.
God, he had missed this. Ever since Buck had suddenly reappeared in
front of his doors a month ago, there hadn't been a night when he hadn't
"Me too," Buck murmured, and Vin entwined their fingers.
It was a gesture he had come to cherish. He had never done it before,
had never felt the need to do it, but with Buck, it felt right.
"Hey, pard, what's wrong?" Buck muttered lazily, and Vin frowned,
having no idea what his lover was referring to.
"You're shivering. Cold?"
Vin blinked as he realized that he was indeed shivering, at least
his hands were. "Just a little. Maybe it's you were too ardent with me?"
Vin felt Buck chuckle against his back. "Yeah. Right. Too ardent.
Me. Tell me another one, Tanner."
And with that Buck placed a light kiss on Vin's shoulder and pulled
the covers over them both. Soon deep and steady breaths indicated that
Buck was fast asleep. Vin looked at his hands again, clenched and opened
They still shivered.
The next morning the shivering had turned into trembling, and it had
extended to Vin's arms as well, and his knees felt like jelly. Vin frowned
as he noticed a weight on his chest, restraining his breath a bit. //Buck's
right. Must've caught a cold//, he mused, but the uneasy feeling kept
nagging at the back of his mind, and he coughed.
Buck's voice was still sluggish with sleep, and Vin was thankful for
that. Buck wasn't as bad as Nathan, but he could be one hell of a mother
hen, especially when it came to his lover. Vin had noticed that when
he had once come down with a little cold and a small fever. Buck had
made a fuss over him. Well, actually he had done nothing but taking care
of him, feeding him chicken broth, preparing tea and juices and stuff,
but Vin was not exactly accustomed to something like that. Although he
had to admit that being read to while tucked into warm blankets had made
him feel secure and warm inside.
"It's nothing, Buck. You were right, seems I'm getting a cold here."
"Want me to order chicken soup again?"
"Naw, won't be necessary. Now, why don't you get up now and make breakfast
while I take a shower? Duty calls."
"Tell duty I'll call back."
Vin grinned as he heard the pillow-muffled complaints of his lover
as he headed toward the bathroom. Buck wasn't exactly an early bird ...
The day passed slowly. Vin managed to finish his report, sent off
several mails that had sat in his outbox for two days now, and he actually
did a little desk cleaning. By late afternoon, he felt shakier than ever
and his head pounded. It grew worse as he left the office, following
Buck to the elevators.
Vin couldn't hide it this time. His limbs were trembling viciously
and uncontrollably, and he was no longer able to stand upright. He felt
as if a metal band was wrapped around his chest and slowly but constantly
drawn closer and closer as his heartbeat began to falter.
"Buck ... " he managed to get out.
The craving for air became crucial as Vin wanted to take a deep breath
only to realize with growing panic he could not breathe at all. Somewhere
someone called his name and he tried to cling to that voice through the
sound of the rushing blood in his ears. A familiar face appeared in his
decreasing vision Buck -- and he clung to his lover like the drowning
man he felt like. He heard Buck call out for him over and over again
as his body just gave in and the lack of oxygen sent him into darkness.
The hoarse, choked sound let Wilmington whirl around and what he saw
made him gasp in utter horror. He saw his lover grow pale like death
himself, trembling violently and sliding down the wall behind him.
"Vin! Goodness gracious ... "
Buck rushed to Vin's side and called out for him again, as he noticed
the look of sheer panic in his blue eyes and, with growing panic of his
own, that Vin obviously wasn't breathing. He punched the speed code into
his com unit.
"Nathan! Emergency on deck 24, Chimera office! Code blue!"
Then all of a sudden Vin's eyes rolled back and he lost consciousness,
while the trembling increased.
"VIN!! ... "
"Nathan, what's wrong with him?"
Buck sat at the hospital bed and watched the unconscious, deathly
pale form of his lover. Vin had not started breathing on his own again,
so he was attached to a ventilator doing it for him. Nathan had noted
that Vin's heartbeat had not returned to its normal level and injected
a small electronic device near the sinoatrial node, which would support
the body's natural attempt to regain the healthy heart rate.
"Virus. MediBase has identified it as Thorne Virus."
Buck stared at him. "A virus?" he echoed. "What is it and how did
he get it?"
"The Thorne virus is a rare, rather unknown type of infection. No
one knows how the human body acquires it. It's something Vin could have
gotten several years ago and which might have never broken out. The virus
rests within the central nervous system, or CNS, and can remain there
without breaking out for all your life. You see, neural impulses are
transmitted by chemical means. The impulse causes the release of a neurotransmitter
from the presynaptic membrane of the axon terminal. The neurotransmitter
molecules diffuse across the synaptic cleft, bind with specific receptors
on the postsynaptic membrane, causing depolarization or hyperpolarization
of the postsynaptic cell."
At the blank look, Nathan smiled.
"That means, almost everything our body does, movement, reflexes,
even digestion, is due to this simple chemical function. And this virus
destroys the neurotransmitters responsible for muscle movement. It means
Vin is unable to move a single muscle on his own or even breathe.
The heart could work on its own, it is not necessarily depending on the
impulses from the CNS, but because those impulses are erratic, it picks
up that rhythm. Meaning without help it falls into fibrillation."
Buck's eyes had widened and there was plain fear in them. "Why is
"I put him in an artificial coma, Buck. As I said, he can't move anything,
has no reflexes whatsoever. But his brain can receive stimuli from the
outside environment which means he could hurt like hell and not be able
to say so. He can't speak either."
The other Agent swallowed heavily. "Oh my gawd," he breathed. "What
are you going to do about it?" he demanded. Buck registered the short
Jackson gazed at his friend, expression as professional as possible.
"We have to fight the virus and replace the neurotransmitters. Then Vin
should be able to breathe on his own again."
Again Nathan hesitated. "Buck, this illness is quite rare. MediBase
has only information about patients who ... well, there is no successful
Wilmington paled dramatically. "What?! Does that mean ... you don't...
I mean ..." He stumbled to a halt.
Nathan nodded slowly. "Yes. I don't know what to do. Maybe if we can
find out where or when he got it... or if he had an attack before."
"There is something else, right?"
Nathan hesitated again, then nodded.
"The virus destroys the neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft.
But ... it does something else."
"It ... the synaptic cleft is filled with a liquid, which, in very
simple words, makes the neurotransmitters move. The virus ... well,
in time the number of virus particles increases, and then it turns the
liquid into jelly."
Buck shook his head, impatient. "Nathan, I don't speak medical! Meaning?"
"Meaning that the neurotransmitters can't move from the presynaptic
membrane to the postsynaptic cell. It means that from that moment on
there won't be any nerve function whatsoever."
"Are you telling me ...?" He broke off.
"I'm telling you, that ... Vin will die. To save him I would
need a miracle."
Thoughts chased each other in Buck's mind as he tried to get a grip
on what Nathan had just revealed. He had told him that Vin, the man he
had just admitted he loved, the man who had obviously admitted to finding
love himself, would actually die in front of his eyes. That he wouldn't
be able to hold him any more, to touch him anymore, to tell him ...
"No... " he breathed.
It was merely a whisper, but Nathan heard it anyway. He looked into
Buck's haunted eyes, saw the despair there that was way beyond a friend's
sorrow, and understood.
"I'll do my best. If there is a way, I'll find it."
With that he left the two men alone.
Buck swallowed and looked at Vin's pale and lifeless figure in the
hospital bed. God, how he hated hospitals!
"Don't leave me now, Vin," he whispered, tenderly caressing his lover's
temple with one thumb. "I just found out, damnit. Don't you dare leaving
me now ... "
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to fight the tears from falling.
He wasn't successful.
The news about Vin's sudden illness shook everyone. Six men stared
at the doctor as he carefully laid out the virus and its workings to
them. "Is it infectious?" Chris asked matter-of-factly, neither his
voice nor his face giving anything away.
"No. The Thorne virus cannot be transmitted, which is lucky because
otherwise we would have had an epidemic before," Nathan answered. "I
put Vin into Isolation nevertheless. All patients with a rare disease
have to be. You can all visit, one at a time."
Judge Travis, who had sat quietly at the head of the table, turned
an unreadable expression on the medic.
"What are the further proceedings, Dr. Jackson?"
"I'll try to find out where he contracted the virus," Nathan told
him. "As I told you, MediBase can't help me in finding an antidote, but
I believe that if we can find the place where Vin was infected, we may
be able to find a way to cure him."
"And how much time would that take?"
"I don't know, sir," was the honest answer.
Travis leaned back, interlacing his fingers. "Long enough for Agent
Tanner to live to see the cure?"
JD's face displayed a suddenly rising anger and Travis watched as
Ezra placed a calming hand on the younger man's arm, catching the furious
eyes and shaking his head.
"I ... hope so, sir."
The Judge let a thoughtful gaze linger on the five men in the briefing
room. Wilmington was in Isolation with Tanner, watching over his colleague.
Why Chris had let the Agent remain was anyone's guess, but he wouldn't
"As long as I don't need the Chimera for an operation, I can grant
you all the research time you need," he finally said. "But I expect you
to be follow orders if a case needs you."
Chris nodded. "Understood, sir. We accept."
"Good. Dr. Jackson, I'll extend your clearance level to give you full
access to any facilities you need."
"Thank you, sir."
"Gentlemen, don't get me wrong. Agent Tanner's health is in my interest.
I don't want to lose a good man to an invisible enemy without a fight,
but I also want you to understand that it isn't the Agency's purpose
to investigate medical cures. We are a law enforcement institution."
"We understand that, Judge," Chris agreed, daring any of his men to
Travis met the team commander's eye and rose. When he had left, Chris
turned to Nathan.
"How long can you sustain the life support?"
"As long as Vin's body doesn't give out completely," was the soft
answer. "Chris, the virus might mutate, it might develop new strains....
I'm just not sure. Even if it doesn't we don't have that much time. We
have to find the place he contracted it as fast as possible. I'll use
Vin's file to locate places, and even then it won't be easy."
"Needle in a haystack," Josiah murmured and everyone could only agree.
Dr. Nathan Jackson sat in the cafeteria and slowly sipped at his coffee.
He felt incredibly tired and empty. He had just come from Isolation where
a good friend was still fighting for his life, but for how long? Vin
was a very strong man, but even he couldn't survive against the Thorne
virus if they didn't find a cure. Nobody had ever survived an infection
with this virus, nobody. Nathan didn't have any illusions about the fact
that most certainly by recognizing the true nature of Vin Tanner's illness
he had signed his death sentence. Life support went only so far. He had
spent hours pouring over MediBase data, discarding it all as there wasn't
even an attempt to heal the deadly illness.
Buck had taken up residence in the Isolation room and no one tried
to really remove him. The nurses didn't complain, since he followed their
orders when they needed to check their patient. Buck had asked JD to
bring him some of his stuff, toiletries and such, so he would be able
to take care of Vin as much as possible. He helped with physiotherapy,
and he was shaving or bathing him. Nathan had watched this, had closely
observed his friend and had recognized the expression in Buck's eyes,
his whole demeanor, as he silently supported the sick man who couldn't
even hear him. He had realized that this wasn't his place to bring
up the topic. Not now. Not when the chance that Buck might lose Vin was
so real. So very real. Someone placed another cup on the table and
Nathan looked up, smiling slightly. It was Ezra. The young man was looking
tired as well, but much better than Nathan knew he must appear. Ezra
had been a constant around Isolation as well, but mostly as a visitor,
visually checking on Buck. Nothing more.
"Hi, Nathan," the thief said calmly. "Are you okay?"
Nathan grimaced. "Shouldn't you rather ask how Vin is?"
Ezra gave him a serious look. "I have a pretty good idea how Vin is,
but I want to know how you are."
Since when had Ezra taken over counseling? Then again, he was pretty
good with words; it had been and still was his job. With his latent empathic
abilities, he also picked up on a lot of things others might miss. And
Nathan found it easy to talk to. Ezra Standish himself might be skittish
about revealing his own emotions, but always had an open ear.
"Tired and exhausted."
"That I know as well."
Nathan frowned. "What else do you want to know?"
Ezra met his eyes and said, "How are you coping with it?"
Ezra leaned forward. "Don't try that on the master, Dr. Jackson. You
Nathan ran a hand through his short hair. His eyes burned, his head
throbbed, and he felt every muscle in his body. He felt so tired. And
helpless. Especially helpless. Despite all the knowledge of MediBase
at his disposal, all his experience and knowledge, there was nothing
he could do. He wasn't even aware of uttering this out loud until he
saw Ezra nod.
"But you will keep on looking," the younger man stated. "And that's
all that counts."
Nathan nodded, but there was no real conviction in his eyes. Where
else should he turn except the largest collection of medical data in
the whole Joined Governments? The longer he waited, the more neurotransmitters
might be affected, the more the numbers of the virus would increase,
antiviral medication or not. That meant that this cruel little thing
would work more havoc in Vin's body, would slowly start to alter the
state of the liquid within the synaptic cleft. The virus might even mutate,
change into something new, not that this would change anything. Maybe
lessen Vin's time.
"JD said he's still going through Vin's files,"
Ezra went on. "I think he's ready to cross-check data with you."
"Yeah, he sent me a memo." Nathan twisted his nearly empty mug around
on the worn Formica table top.
He looked up into two intense green eyes. "Yes?"
"No one's expecting more than you can give," Ezra said seriously.
"But when I lose Vin," Nathan argued softly, "we all will lose more
than him. We'll also lose Buck."
And that added to the soul-deep fear of seeing their second-in-command
die of such a rare disease.
Chris had watched Buck sitting at Vin's side without leaving him for
almost a week now, except for the calls of nature, that was. He saw the
dark circles under Buck's eyes, the haggard face, the slumped figure.
There was something definitely wrong with this picture, but Chris couldn't
really put a finger on it.
<Do you really have to wonder, Chris?> Ezra's soft remark came
over the Bond. <Look at him. Real close, I mean>
<What? He's concerned about Vin. We all are.> Chris was puzzled.
What did Ezra talk about?
<Chris! Does he act like a friend who is concerned about a friend's
well-being, or does he, ... well... act like you or me?>
Exasperation accompanied the words.
Chris blinked at that and his head flew around as he took in the picture
that revealed itself right in front of his eyes. A picture that had been
there for the past six months and that he hadn't been able to see. Or
refused to see?
Buck sat at Vin's side, all right. But he held his hand like Chris
would have held Ezra's, thumb slowly stroking the other man's skin. He
was talking to Vin, yes, but Chris had heard the words he had said, and
they were more like he would have talked to Ezra.
"Don't you dare leave me here, pard."
"I can't go on without you."
"Damnit, you fool. You trusted me with everything, but not enough
to tell me you're sick?"
If that hadn't been enough to convince him, Chris saw Buck lean over
the unconscious form in the bed, whispering something into Vin's ear
and place a gentle kiss on the other man's forehead.
Buck and Vin?
Vin had been the man he had met in that bar?
Vin had been the man he had well?
Vin Tanner, his second-in-command, the man he had known for such a
long time now? Or at least thought he knew.
Ezra drew Chris's attention from his studies. <So? Buck is your
oldest friend, Chris. And look what he has done for you. Tolerance works
both ways. Besides, shouldn't you be glad for them? They could do much
worse, Chris, both of them. You know that>
Flustered, he shook his head. <I know. But I think I will need
time to adjust>
Chris felt Ezra chuckle, and the picture of a furious Buck, fighting
with teeth and nails in an attempt to protect him from a threat named
Ezra Standish was sent over the Bond.
<I think we should deal with that later. First Vin has to get well>
Ezra was serious again. <Do you have a single clue what it would
do to Buck should Vin...>
Chris felt the sharp reminder of a pain he himself had felt eight
months ago when he had thought he had lost his Bonded, his lover, to
a cruel drug that had wiped out every human part of Ezra, and had only
left behind a terrified animal which hadn't trusted anybody but Buck.
The memory of what it had done to him, what he had almost done himself
<Shhh, it's over, love. I'm still here, and you are, too>
<Know that. Still hurts>
Chris inhaled deeply as he felt the warm presence of Ezra's essence
surround him, 'felt' a small featherlike touch on his own temple and
he knew that Ezra had just reached out for him over the Bond. He mused
over the term of endearment, something that neither of them rarely if
ever used. It was never necessary. The emotions spoke for themselves.
<They're not Bonded, but ... it's hard to know you're about to
lose the one you love> Chris murmured.
<Let us be there for him. This time he needs you> Ezra agreed.
A smile followed that statement. Chris knew he could count on Ezra
to be there, for whoever needed his help, even if it was just to
listen. And Ezra was damn good at listening.
"Okay, where do we want to start?"
Nathan sat down on the second chair next to the computer station and
looked at the scribbled notes. He took a data carrier out of a transparent
bag and handed it to the younger man.
"Here's a list of every place Vin went ever since he was born. Can
you rig a search engine to cross-check on past Thorne virus outbreaks
and those places?"
JD nodded. "Tall order but doable. Talking about which, you better
order out for pizza because I'm going to be down here for a while." Nathan
chuckled. "The usual?"
JD started to type in search keys and the computer went to work. When
the results came up on the screen, Nathan sighed. He had expected this.
There had to be over five thousand hits!
"Eeeep," Dunne mumbled.
"Well, we have to narrow it down and then see if any of the remaining
files give us any answers."
JD set to work again. Yes, this would take a while and even when they
were done with the first data sorting, their work had just begun. "I'll
have to check on my patient. In case you need something, page me."
JD nodded at Nathan, completely engrossed in his work already. The
medic left and he was alone.
The quiet voice startled Buck out of his thoughts. "Nathan. What's
Nathan cleared his throat and pointed at Buck's hands. "I think I
should check you out."
The dark-haired Agent gazed at his hands, noting in dismay that they
were trembling slightly. "Why? I'm just tired, is all."
"Nope, you're not."
Buck's eyes narrowed. "What are you implying?"
"I want to check you out for the Thorne virus," Nathan told him calmly.
"Yes. Once the virus is active it can be spread by body fluids."
what are you saying exactly?" Buck demanded.
"I think you might've caught it from Vin."
His eyes widened and his mouth hung open. "I ... oh shit!"
Buck looked at his trembling hands and swore heavily as the true meaning
of Nathan's words sunk in. Jackson knew. Damn, anyone with a rudimentary
idea of how the virus was transmitted could add one and one and see the
"Nathan," he started.
Nathan hook his head, a small smile on his features. "Medical confidentiality.
I won't tell anyone. And you don't have to explain anything."
"Thanks," was all he managed, swallowing heavily.
"So... what now?"
"I was unable to find a cure yet. We're currently
running a full scan through Vin's personal file. Maybe it can tell us
where he caught that thing."
Buck looked at his trembling hands and coughed a little. "How long?"
he just asked.
Nathan gave him a thoughtful look.
"Within the next ten hours. Approximately."
Eight hours later the trembling in Buck's hands had increased to a
level where he wasn't able to hide or control it. Nathan had monitored
him closely ever since he had brought him the bad news. Buck refused
to go to sleep or rest. He didn't want to leave Vin's side, because,
damnit, he had no idea if he would ever see him again! Buck felt a cough
rise in his chest again, but somehow this time it felt strange, not like
before. He tried to cough it out, but with no result. Nathan was at his
side in no time and looked at him with deep worry, a syringe ready. Buck
tried to regain his breath only to find there was nothing to regain and
he suddenly understood. Nathan's strained whisper, "I'll get you back,
both of you," was the last thing he heard before the medication sent
him into darkness.
The briefing room was filled with heavy silence after Nathan had finished
his report. Four men looked at each other, fear in their eyes.
"How?" JD finally broke the oppressive silence.
Nathan sighed. "Buck caught the virus from Vin," he said with professional
calm, hoping their pilot wouldn't inquire more.
"But... how?" Dunne echoed his first question. "You said Vin couldn't
transmit it! It's why we could see him, even in Isolation."
Nathan nodded, briefly glancing at Chris. His commander held a strange
expression, one that told Nathan that except for JD and maybe Josiah,
he had been one of the last who hadn't known about Vin and Buck.
"I know, JD. The virus can't be transmitted by air or touch. It can
be transmitted by fluids."
JD was silent, looking thoughtful, then suddenly nodded, accepting
the fact silently.
"None of us are in any danger," the medic added.
"So what do we do now?" Josiah posed the all-important question. "We
continue looking for the most likeliest place Vin was infected," Nathan
Discarding another file, JD rubbed his burning eyes and stared at
the list. It started to swim in front of his eyes. He blinked several
times to get it into focus. His head had started to throb painfully some
hours ago and he currently lived on painkillers. Someone placed a glass
with a clear liquid in front of him, startling the pilot. He looked up
and found it was Ezra.
"Hey," he greeted his team mate.
"Hey yourself. I was wondering where you had disappeared off to."
The thief sat down on the chair Nathan had vacated it must have been
hours ago. "So... how's it going?"
"Rather well, actually. Nathan has some data he went to check and
we are compiling the last list to go through. After that we should have
a search grid."
Ezra nodded. "You might want to take a break then."
"After this is done, yeah."
"Sleep would help."
"JD," Ezra said softly, "you won't help either Buck or Vin by falling
asleep here, wearing yourself out. I know we are running against the
clock, but you have to listen to your body's needs as well."
JD stared at the keyboard. "I know. I'll get some sleep when this
search run is over."
"Okay." Ezra started to rise, but he was held back by a softly voiced,
"Nathan said Buck caught the virus from Vin."
"But Vin couldn't have transmitted the virus by touching him... or
being in the same room with him."
"How did he get it then?"
Ezra looked thoughtful.
"I mean," JD went on, "the only other transmitter could be... y'know,
directly. But Vin wasn't hurt, so he didn't bleed. And neither was Buck."
He inhaled deeply. "Is it... a sexually transmittable disease?"
Ezra had to smile. Not because it was funny; far from it. JD showed
more insight than he was usually given credit for. Buck liked to see
him as a little naïve, but Standish had long since realized that
JD's mind wasn't just solely focused on technological and mathematical
problems. He was very quick on the uptake. He had drawn a conclusion
out of the facts presented to him.
"JD, this is something very personal," Ezra said calmly. "And it's
something you should discuss with Vin and Buck." He gave the younger
man a smile.
JD watched him leave the room, deeply confused. Then he shoved the
thought from his mind. He had a job to do and whatever else puzzled him,
there was time for an answer later. And he definitely intended to get
Ezra walked into Isolation, watching the calm movements of the nurses
as they checked the life support machines and the IVs. Nathan sat at
his desk, scribbling down notes. He looked tired, exhausted, and he radiated
an air of hopelessness. Ezra melted into the background, just observing.
It was something he was good at. It was how he had pulled off so many
thefts while still in the same room and right next to a person.
His eyes wandered back to the isolation chambers as such. Lately,
a thought had persisted, troubling his sleeping and waking mind, and
he wondered if Nathan had even thought about it. Actually, it had been
JD's comment about a sexually transmittable disease two days ago that
had launched the gray mass he called a brain into thinking.
Damn. Neither of them needed that, but he had to ask.
Nathan startled out of his work, blinking at the Agent suddenly right
next to him. "Ezra! I didn't see you come in." He scowled. "Neither did
I hear you."
Ezra shrugged. "It's a knack."
"Obviously. So, anything I can help you with?"
The thief sighed softly. "I've been thinking, about Vin and the virus,"
he said slowly. "About how he might have caught it."
Nathan nodded, encouraging him to go on. Another sigh.
"I didn't like where this thinking took me and you might have been
there already, but what if Vin wasn't the original host and caught it
from someone else?"
Nathan's expression was stony for a moment, then he lowered his eyes,
clenching his hands around the pen. "I thought about it as well," he
said slowly. "Several times."
Ezra slid into the chair in front of the desk. "And?"
"And I'm trying not to think about it. If Vin caught it from someone
else... we might never find either the planet of origin or a way to produce
antibodies," Nathan confessed softly.
Ezra nodded. That was what he had been afraid of. Before Buck, Vin
had had other men. He might even have slept with women. Anyone could
have given him the virus, all the way back to high school.
"What I'm clinging to is a theory," the doctor went on. "Buck showed
symptoms of the virus very closely after Vin came down with the Thorne
virus. I'm not sure how long he and Vin have been together, but if it
has been only recently, then maybe the original carrier's contact with
a new host launches the virus into action. If Vin was infected early
on, the hibernation period was years, maybe even a decade."
"A lot of ifs," Ezra told him softly.
There was an unspoken question in Nathan's tone. How long were Buck
and Vin together? Ezra knew it might be vital concerning their survival,
and he realized that Nathan knew about the relationship and he apparently
had no reservations. Still, he didn't like spilling secrets, even open
ones. He briefly closed his eyes, then nodded to himself.
"Buck couldn't have been infected before the last six months," he
explained. "Maybe only in the last weeks, due to precautions."
Nathan nodded. "I thought as much. So if the virus changes its status
due to a new host environment, infecting the new carrier immediately,
then Vin's original infection was somewhere else. I think he is a primary
carrier. That's what I pray for anyhow. Because if he isn't..." Nathan
stopped and gazed at the desk.
Ezra understood. If Vin wasn't a primary carrier, if the virus actually
went into hibernation once more as it was transmitted after it had activated,
if Vin had gotten it from somewhere else they would lose both of their
team mates and friends.
"Which means we really just have to find the planet he might have
been infected on," Ezra only said.
A tired smile answered the statement. "Yes, so simple."
Ezra chuckled. He knew it was far from simple, but at least it was
something they could do.
It had taken four endless days. Chris was ready to go up walls and
Ezra wondered just how much a mind shield could take before it crumbled
into non-existence. Being physically around Chris was straining enough.
The 'commander' was in charge, not the man. Chris was the efficient,
hard-as-nails, and sometimes rather gruff and cold Agent he was known
as, and even Ezra felt the coldness now. Comments along the line of 'not
now' were common and while they had hurt the first two times, he was
by now simply ignoring them. Chris was handling the situation his way,
and that was by working -- and pushing everything that was a distraction
away. His whole posture expressed his 'don't mess with me or else' mood.
While Ezra didn't see himself as a distraction, he left his lover
the room he craved, though he didn't give in either. Ezra wouldn't idly
sit by and watch Chris destroy himself as long as he could help it.
It all finally climaxed on day four, when Chris lost his temper. Ezra
had simply stood there, taking the brunt of the explosion, until Chris
had shakily stumbled away and fled into his quarters, slamming the connecting
doors shut. But no walls had blocked the Bond and the thief had felt
the raw pain, the sheer pressure of responsibility and hopelessness,
and he had followed Chris, who hadn't locked the door. A clear sign that
he wanted Ezra, but he didn't know how to ask.
He had held him, feeling the tremors shaking the lean frame, kissing
his forehead, just being there. Chris wanted, needed, physical comfort,
and Ezra had given it.
"What am I doing?" Chris murmured, sounding lost.
"The best you can."
"And it's not enough. First Vin, now Buck!"
Ezra sighed, disturbing the blond hair. "There's nothing more you
can do, Chris. You're facing the fire."
"And it's burning me."
"Not if you let me help."
"I'm an asshole."
"I wouldn't go that far."
Chris twisted his head, looking into the mischievous eyes of his lover.
"I was thinking more along the lines of 'moron'."
It earned him a rumble.
"Didn't know you could be such a moron," Ezra continued, one hand
stroking over the blond hair.
"Then again," Ezra went on lightly, "there's BP-379."
"That was different," Chris argued.
"I was a horse at the time. I wasn't myself. Gets to you."
"Now you're yourself and you're just the same asshole," Ezra remarked.
It earned him a dark look. "I thought I was a moron."
"Okay, not an asshole. How about 'idiot' then? Or neurotic? Imbecile?
"Oddball? Couch case? Nut? Bat? Crackpot? Screwball?"
Chris gave a growl and Ezra laughed as his lover snarled at him over
"Or how about... mine?" he added, voice softening. <You know I'm
here for you> Ezra sent, still running his fingers through the strands.
<You don't have to fight this all by yourself. It's not a new version
of 'Chris vs. The World'>
<Sorry> Larabee murmured.
A kiss was placed on his temple and Ezra smiled. <Apology accepted,
"Buck would have my ass if he knew I was falling back into old patterns,"
Chris sighed, running his hand over Ezra's side.
"He can't have it," came a rumble.
"I'm a possessive sob when it comes to certain anatomical parts of
Chris pushed himself up on one elbow, looking into the green eyes.
"I see." He placed a kiss on Ezra's lips. "Then I'm in good company,
hm? Those are mine," he claimed.
Ezra's smile lit up his face. He wrapped his arms around his lover,
pulling him closer. "Ditto," he murmured into the kiss.
"This is the best JD and I came up with."
Nathan gestured at the single sheet of paper everyone had been given.
"It's a list of places where Vin might have contracted the Thorne
virus. I know it's a shot in the dark and there's barely any scientific
data on it, but I think he could only have been in contact with it on
planets where he stayed for a rather long time. Since the virus can live
inside its host for all the hosts lifespan and never break out, Vin could
have had it in him ever since his childhood years. The longest time he
stayed on a world, aside from his birth planet, was throughout his college
study years. Myrrh, the moon around Ihj, where he lived with the Hija
for months at a time, and to which he returned to year after year, is
my best shot for now. I'd like to start there and then, if we can't find
any traces of the Thorne virus, go to the next one."
Chris looked over the list. It was long, but not as long as the original
one. Still, he had a sinking feeling. Travis had yet to give hem any
kind of assignment, and Chris suspected the Judge was trying to keep
them out of the loop as long as he could justify it, but there would
be an end one day.
"Judge Travis has given us launch permission," he said calmly. "JD,
Josiah, get the Chimera prepped and ready. Nathan, if there is anyone
of the medical staff you need, Travis has cleared all personnel requests."
Jackson shook his head. "As hard as it sounds, Chris, but there is
nothing more personnel can do for any of them. The machines breathe for
them live for them. It's all we need."
Larabee nodded. "Launch is in four hours. Okay, people, let's go!"
As the others left the briefing room, Ezra remained, eyes on his commander.
He knew Chris rarely accepted physical comfort while on duty, both of
them using the Bond, but right now, unwritten rules be damned. He touched
his lover's lower back briefly, requesting permission. Hard hazel eyes
met his, softening slightly, and Ezra smiled encouragingly. Chris exhaled
harshly, hands clenching into fists. Then he gave in to his need and
wrapped his arms around the smaller man, hugging him tightly, receiving
the same embrace in return.
<We'll see this through> Ezra only murmured.
It took the Chimera the best part of eighteen hours to reach their
destination. JD was muttering about jump points and lack thereof in certain
parts of space. He had driven the ship to the limit, using every jump
point for trans space available. The system they were now in was not
exactly backwater, but not far from it. It held no mercantile value,
so trade routes had not been opened. Except for the occasional research
vessels, no one came here, so trans space entry points would be a waste
The moon around Ihj appeared barren and desolate, but it held a beauty
best described as fascinating. The dry, rocky land stretched for thousands
of miles, turning a motley green, for a few stretches, but all in all
the moon was a rock floating in space, around a lifeless planet, with
two suns and three rather small sister planets. Myrrh had a breathable
atmosphere. Large canyons and deep chasms, high mountains and inaccessible
valleys, as well as glaciers, deserts and storm-plagued plains turned
the search for one individual into a lifetime's journey.
Chris sighed silently as he surveyed the landscape. Where should they
start? The mountains? The canyons? The desert? Needle in a haystack and
it was true this once.
Josiah, always interested in other cultures, had given them an idea
of who the Hija were. Basically, they were nomadic, following the seasons.
They had a basic technology and used it, but their life style had not
changed since the first contact with space faring nations. A treaty had
been made between the Joined Governments and the Hija, protecting Myrrh
from settlers, giving them autonomy over their own affairs, and if they
wanted, technological help. While the nomadic tribes accepted scientists
in their midst for cultural studies, they had yet to forego their ancient
traditions or settle down. Chris walked to the edge of the canyon
and stared down to the bottom. A little river, the one river which had
carved this canyon into the moon's surface, flowed slowly along it's
bed. Dead trees clung to the ledges inside the canyon and small animals
scurried over the barren rocks.
"I still say you shouldn't have come," Nathan could be heard as he
walked around the equipment he had unloaded. "If he caught the virus
here, we could all be infected!"
"Nathan, we discussed this," Chris interrupted the doctor's rant without
turning around. "We either do this as quickly as possible, or we wait
for you and a scientific team to turn every stone on this planet. Which
would take.. how long?" He had turned at the last words, shooting Nathan
a well-known look.
Jackson sighed. "I know, Chris, I know. But the scientist in me is
not happy with the risk we are taking."
"Many researchers have come to this planet, Nathan," Josiah entered
the discussion, just like before aboard the Chimera. "We checked them
all. None have come down with the Thorne virus."
"Because it might be hibernating! They could have transmitted it,
spreading the infection, and one of their victims could be in the data
base listed under 'deceased'," Nathan argued.
"And we could stop wasting time," Chris ordered. "We have people to
Finding one tribe, one specific tribe, though, would be a feat. JD
had radioed ahead, trying to reach the hopefully manned scientific outpost.
When they had finally reached someone, it hadn't been very helpful. The
woman had told them that the dry season was about to start and that all
tribes had started to move to the plains to hunt. Finding one particular
tribe was quite difficult, but she would spread the word.
"So, where do we start?" Ezra asked, peering into the canyon. "Uh-uh,"
he made. "Hopefully not down there."
"Maybe they can help us," Josiah rumbled and Chris's head came up.
He cursed softly as he discovered five men standing not far away, their
clothes almost cloaking them from their eyes. They had the same color
as the dry earth.
"You are the Chimera?" one of the men asked, his voice holding a strong
"We are. Who are you?"
"My name is Jon'ha-ye of the Kray Clan. Welcome to our world."
Nathan looked around the large, tent-like structure, marveling at
the open, homey feel of the rather primitive dwelling. He smelled herbs
and something else in the air and they relaxed his whole body, eased
his mind. Different tools and bowls lay on a low table, there was a cabinet,
a bed, a closed-off area at the other side, and a cooking place. In the
middle of this natural set-up now rested two pallets, both surrounded
by small, portable life-support units, the two lifeless seeming men a
pale shadow in the warmth around them.
"Chanu Duna'he," the tall, slender man in the tan clothing murmured,
running a calloused hand over Vin's forehead. "Chanu's bond brother."
He turned to Nathan. "How long has he been sick?"
"And he has slept since?"
"Yes, we kept him in an artificial coma."
A nod. "You are the Healer of the Chimera?"
Nathan smiled slightly. "I'm a doctor, yes."
The man's name was Onabi, the Kray Clan tribe's shaman and Healer.
He had greeted them, had listened to their problem, and had asked Nathan
to bring his two patients to the dwelling. He wouldn't treat either of
them in the sterile environment of the ship.
"They have contracted a common illness," Onabi now said, sounding
"Common?" Nathan echoed.
"Yes, every of our young contracts it sooner or later. Some don't
and get it as adults, which is a bit more dangerous."
Nathan gaped. "You want to tell me it's a children's disease?" he
exclaimed. Onabi smiled. "Yes."
Chris looked around the settlement, sharp eyes taking in everything,
looking for a possible threat. The man who had welcomed them, Jon'ha-ye,
sat not far away, a hunting spear across his lap, apparently completely
at ease. From what Chris had understood, this was Chanu's older brother,
next in line to become chief. They had been welcomed with almost open
arms, but the Agent was still tense.
<They want to help us> Ezra chastised softly.
Larabee tried to relax, but he couldn't. The strain of the last days
was showing. <I know> he murmured softly, then smiled as he watched
his lover entertain some of the children. <They love you>
<I am loveable> Ezra declared with complete conviction, drawing
Nathan's approach interrupted them and while Ezra continued to play
with the children, Chris turned to his medic. Jackson looked amazed and
tired in one. He was accompanied by a broad-shouldered, tall man. The
scarred, chiseled face was set into an eternal expression of amusement
and lively brown eyes danced over the Agent's features.
"Chris, this is Onabi, this tribe's Healer," Nathan introduced the
Onabi bowed his head and Chris imitated the gesture. The Healer then
gazed at him, a strange expression in his eyes, one that reminded Chris
<Kojay> Ezra supplied softly.
Yes, the old man on BP-379, the man who had declared they were Bonded.
<I don't know> his lover answered distractedly. <Let's stick
to the more important things>
Chris agreed. "How are Vin and Buck?" he asked.
"Your friends have come down with Iwana Fever," Onabi answered, the
amusement clear. "A common illness among my people."
Nathan smiled at Chris's startled expression. "Apparently, the Thorne
virus is the Hija's equivalent to the chicken pox or measles," he explained.
"What?" Chris exclaimed. "Vin would be dead if not for the life support!"
"Chanu Duna'he has contracted the Iwana Fever before," Onabi explained.
"We treated him, but unlike my kind, he didn't develop immunity. You
see these children?"
He gestured at the flock around Ezra. Chris nodded.
"All of them have been sick and they were treated. They will no longer
fall victim to the illness. Chanu's brother was among us long enough
to fall ill, too. Chanu saw to his recovery. We didn't know he wouldn't
develop the same immunity."
"Can you help him?"
"He has been sleeping for too long now. He cannot swallow the medicine."
"But I can rig up a serum," Nathan continued, seeing Chris's expression.
"All children have antibodies, as have the adults. It might take a day
or two, but I think I can do it. Onabi has agreed to let me take blood
Chris breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
Onabi regarded him with a smile, nodded, then rose. Larabee closed
his eyes, allowing himself some hope. As he looked at Ezra again, he
smiled at the ease with which his lover dealt with children.
<You'd make a real good father, Ezra> he remarked.
Instead of laughter, he received an almost stiff look. Chris felt
slightly alarmed at the unexpectedly negative reaction.
<Father? Me? I don't think so> was the rather cool and bitter reply.
Chris bit his lower lip, realizing he had hit a very sore spot inside
his lover, but he wouldn't press on. When Ezra was on the defensive,
it would only get worse. Instead he went for a walk through the settlement,
not the least surprised when Jon'ha-ye fell in step with him.
It was almost easy isolating the antibodies in the Hija children's
blood and creating a serum, Nathan mused as he straightened from his
work at the microscope. He had thought there would be more of a problem,
but Onabi had agreed to render any help, even donating blood himself.
Nathan had decided that the antibodies of the children were the best
for his testing and after three days, he had a serum he thought would
The shaman had told him exactly what he was doing, showing him the
herbs the children were given in form of teas or small, soft pills, leaving
samples for him to study later. Nathan was in his element, able to learn
new ways of treating patients. Few people, aside from Chris and Judge
Travis, knew why he was no longer a doctor with his own practice; why
he had been employed by the Agency. Nathan had lost his medical license
because he had practiced what the Joined Governments called 'experimental
medicine'. He had been first politely, then with vehemence reminded
that doctors didn't practice holistic medicine, and neither did they
experiment with natural healing. Nathan was supposed to stick to his
area of expertise and not revert back to 'crystals and herbs'. It had
been a long and loud discussion, especially since his unusual methods
had healed a patient who had been declared too ill to survive the next
year. All the modern medication had been unable to strengthen the immune
system, but the herbal concoction Nathan had administered had helped
over the time. And he had lost his job. Now, after such a long time,
he didn't care. He had found a place with the Agency, with the Chimera
team, and he was allowed to practice as long as he was in their employment.
Nathan injected the newly-found serum into both his patients and monitored
them. Buck was the first to show signs of recovery and Jackson immediately
started with a neurotransmitter replacement treatment. Buck was off life
support two days after the first injection.
One of the machines suddenly beeped softly. Nathan walked over to
Buck's pallet and something inside of him cried out in joy as the Agent
opened his eyes, blinking in confusion.
"Don't try to talk," Jackson advised. "You still have a tube in."
Buck blinked again.
Nathan started to check on his patient, aware of Onabi hovering close
by. He was preparing another injection for Vin, who had been suffering
from the sickness a lot longer and needed a more concentrated dosage.
The Healer had been very quick on the uptake concerning modern treatment
methods and had assisted Nathan in a lot of prep work andlater injections.
"I'm removing the tube now. Just relax, Buck," Jackson advised calmly.
Buck nodded slowly, looking tired. He fell asleep again almost immediately
after Nathan had removed the tube and the medic smiled. All looked good
and Buck would recover. His body hadn't been paralyzed by the virus as
long as Vin's and his recovery would be speedy.
In the background, Onabi went through his medical cabinet, labeling
small flasks, sorting herbs and potions, and counting the bandages. He
was a calm presence, ready to assist Nathan if necessary.
The news about the remedy working so well had the whole crew breathe
a sigh of combined relief. Nathan had already announced that he would
give all of them an immunity shot, since he didn't want to risk another
infection. No one knew what the carrier for Iwana Fever was, so he wanted
to be on the safe side. The moment he was back home, Jackson had announced
he would give this whole discovery a lot more time and closer study.
Chris seemed like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders and he
could finally partake in the life around him, something that had been
severely limited by his worry. Ezra smiled at his lover and received
a real smile in return.
One of the kids, a girl called Tiria, tugged at his shirt, reminding
him that he had promised her a story. Ezra laughed at the impatient girl
and settled her on his knee as more children gathered around him, ready
to be drawn into his story.
Chris watched his lover, feeling easier and more alive than in days.
Ezra's relaxed mind flowed around him, their shields mostly down. It
had been a way of supporting each other in the last weeks as worry and
fear had increased with every day. Even when they had come here. Even
when Onabi had announced that he could help. Now that help had turned
into reality. Buck was already awake, though mostly sleeping, and Vin
was growing stronger. Jon'ha-ye had spent a lot of time with Chris,
answering questions when he had any, asking about Vin in return.
"He is my brother's brother," the Kray Hija had answered when Chris
had asked for the reason of the interest. "Chanu and he were Joined.
He is Chanu Duna'he, his soul brother. Chanu's passing destroyed part
of his Joined's soul."
So Chris had answered the questions as best as he could and how he
saw fit. He omitted Buck's relationship with Vin. He had no idea how
that was viewed in light of the bond with Chanu.
A presence behind him made the Agent turn and he was slightly surprised
to find it was Onabi. The Healer bowed his head in greeting and Chris
returned the gesture.
"Your friends are getting better," the Hija said conversationally.
"You can leave soon."
Chris doubted it was the reason for the man to approach him. Nathan
kept them very well informed and Onabi knew that. The shaman gazed over
to where Ezra was gesturing, telling a vibrant story, the children hanging
at his lips with wide eyes.
"He has a gift," Onabi remarked.
Chris nodded slowly.
"Not only with words. He ensnares and captures the young." Onabi looked
at him. "Like he did your soul."
Larabee refused to give anything away, his expression neutral. "I'm
afraid I can't follow you, Onabi."
The healer laughed, the crinkles around his eyes increasing. "Oh,
but you do. We are no strangers to the Joining, the Union between two
souls. You and he were born in different houses; both of you are powerful,
independent spirits, strong and stubborn. But without the other, you
cannot exist. Chanu Duna'he, Chanu's bond brother, Vin Tanner he was
the same. He shared Union with Chanu."
Chris schooled his features as the words hit home. He felt Ezra's
attention on him.
"But you are more, Chris Larabee. You and he... you are more than
brothers." Chris felt a muscle twitch and Onabi gave him a disarming
smile. "I do not judge, friend. Strength comes from the soul. Power
comes from a Unified soul. Life and happiness, fulfillment and love,
comes from the Union that is found naturally and that can endure. Your
know your individual strength; you have discovered your powers when you
found each other. Everything else will come to you because you are together."
<Makes me wonder if they are empathic> came Ezra's thoughtful remark.
<Or somehow able to pick up bonds...>
<I don't want to know!> Chris almost snapped, very much ill
at ease with the fact that someone could look at him and detect the Bond.
<Chris, calm down>
Onabi's smile widened and Ezra's casual remark about the empathy made
"You can see the Bond?" he asked.
"Yes and no. It takes a trained mind to sense it. It shows in how
you carry yourself, how you look at your other soul, how you talk." Onabi
nodded at Ezra, who had untangled himself from the children, with the
promise of another story later. "Don't fear words or deeds if you show
your Union freely."
<Sounds like he's giving us permission to kiss and make out> Ezra
sent, a chuckle accompanying the words.
Chris shot him a glare over the Bond. Onabi smiled once more, then
walked back into the tent where Vin and Buck still lay.
"So how about it?" Ezra asked seductively.
"Ezra!" Chris growled.
"That is my name."
"I hold you to that promise."
Chris answered the heated look with a feral one of his own. "And I
intend to keep it."
Then he stepped into the tent as well. He wanted to check on his friends.
Vin opened his eyes and saw white. Focusing, he realized he was staring
at a creamy white ceiling; a natural ceiling. Like a tent. Something
smelled good as well. Then he heard a voice calling his name. It sounded
familiar and his mind sluggishly tried to remember more. He felt as weak
as a kitten and he had absolutely no idea why. Then memories crept slowly
back and he remembered lying on the floor, trying desperately to breathe,
and Buck... "Buck?" he croaked, shocked as he heard his own voice.
Vin turned his head slightly into the direction of the voice and felt
someone take his hand in a tender grip. He discovered Buck sitting by
his side. Something seemed to be wrong with him and Vin blinked several
times to get his vision straight. Then he realized what it was. Buck
looked worn out and pale, and he had lost weight. Lots of weight.
"What happened ...?"
"You were sick. Caught a nasty little virus some time ago. It's okay
"Tell me ... truth, Buck."
Vin moaned. A month? He had been sick for a whole goddamn month? He
felt a soft caress at his temple as Buck tenderly cupped his face and
placed a featherlike kiss on his lips.
"It's okay, Vin. You're back, safe and sound, that's all that counts
to me. Rest now, love. "
"Rest. You have to recover."
Vin reached out and grabbed Buck's hand, at least he was trying to.
Somehow his muscles seemed to refuse any attempt of control, and his
hand was falling onto the blanket trembling. Buck took it and squeezed
it reassuringly. "Sleep, Vin. I won't go nowhere. I'm right here when
you wake up."
And he was. Every time Vin opened his eyes, for some minutes at first,
Buck was at his side, no matter when or what, and Vin started to wonder
if he ever found time to sleep himself. That was until his waking moments
grew longer and he became aware of the fact that Buck had a bed in the
same tent. And that Nathan didn't seem to mind.
Vin decided for the frontal approach.
"Did you tell Nathan?"
Buck smiled at him and there was real laughter in his eyes that chased
away the worry and pain. "Nope."
"Wasn't necessary. Man has eyes. He just saw it."
Vin didn't really feel shocked. If anything, he felt relieved. "Buck?"
"Does that mean you can kiss me?"
Buck gave him a calculating look. "You think you're up for it?"
"Up for it? Up for it?! Hell, Wilmington, c'mon over here and kiss me, or I'll walk right out of here and go after Ezra," Vin threatened.
"What? Go after Ezra?"
The crinkles around Buck's eyes deepened. "Walk out of here," he said
Vin attempts to look offended were futile as Buck bent down and kissed
It was the first night without worries, without fear, without the
quiet 'what ifs' that had been going through everyone's heads. JD and
Josiah were aboard the Chimera, asleep in their quarters. Nathan was
with his two patients, who were resting in Onabi's tent, all deep asleep.
Chris had resisted the temptation to return to his ship. He sat outside
the circle of fires the Hija stacked at night, their watchers nodding
at him as he had passed into the darkness beyond. There were no prowlers
out here, no predatory animals, but the watch was an honor and mostly
the young men, not yet grown by Hija standards but too old to be called
children, made up the guard.
Chris sat down, still in visual range of the merrily burning fires,
his back against an old tree stump. He inhaled deeply, smelling the dry
but pleasantly scented air, letting his body relax completely. Instincts
rose as the scent woke the Kiowata, and he smiled. Wide open spaces,
wild, untamed land, simply did that to him. It was way too rare that
he could give in, change, and simply run. Here, it wasn't an option.
Right now, he just wanted to sit and be himself as long as it lasted,
until they had to go back. Vin and Buck were going to be fine and his
world was healing. It was where Ezra found him. His soul partner approached
quietly, a shadow in the darkness, moving gracefully. He settled down
against the broken tree as well, pulling up his legs, gazing into the
star-lit night. No words were needed. The Bond was open, their minds
touching, reassuring, giving warmth.
Chris leaned into his lover and Ezra readily accepted the silent request
for comfort, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. Chris closed his eyes
with a sigh, feeling Ezra's lips against his temple, his forehead. They
stayed like this for a long time, neither moving, neither speaking. Chris
finally straightened and looked into his lover's face, the darkness obscuring
colors and shapes. He ran a hand over the well-known features, then rose
and held out a hand. Ezra grasped it and let himself be pulled up. They
returned to the circle of fires, Chris leading him into the tent that
had been assigned to them should they choose to stay with the tribe over
night. Ezra followed only too readily, greeted by a hungry kiss and a
He returned the kiss, promising what Chris asked of him, and they
sank onto the primitive bed.
Vin wasn't very much surprised to see Jon'ha-ye enter the tent. He
weakly nodded a welcome to the man he had last seen when Chanu had died
so many years ago. Nine long years. The chasm inside his soul had only
recently healed and now he was back to the place where it had all begun.
"Chanu Duna'he," Jon'ha-ye spoke, inclining his head. "Vin Tanner.
It is good to see you again, my friend."
Vin smiled. "As it is good to see you. Onabi has told me you and Fari
married, have children."
The Kray Hija smiled proudly. "Yes. Two sons, one daughter."
Vin knew how much the Hija loved children. Children were their way
of eternal life, their way of existing till the end of time. While they
believed in higher powers, they didn't think that those powers granted
them eternity after death. Children were their belief, the deities an
explanation of nature's way.
Jon'ha-ye nodded. "I never thought to see you again so alive. After
Chanu died, so much of you died, too."
One thing about these people, they were very straight-forward. It
was something Vin had found helpful in his cultural studies, but it was
also hurting when one wasn't used to it.
"I died the day he died," Vin confessed, sighing softly.
"You found life again."
A nod. "But not before a lot of time had passed. I found friends,
but Chanu... it hurt, Jon'ha-ye. A lot. I wasn't prepared for this world
of hurt. I wasn't prepared to be alone."
The other man regarded him thoughtfully. "You found a partner?"
"I healed," Vin murmured. "I let Chanu go. Finally."
Jon'ha-ye nodded. "He wouldn't want you to mourn forever, Chanu Duna'he.
You are entitled to live."
Silence descended and Vin felt tired again. Simple tasks like talking
wore him out and he more often than not fell asleep after only an hour
of being awake.
"The one who guards you so fiercely, he is your new partner?"
The softly voiced question drew him out of his thoughts. Vin felt
a smile grace his lips. "Yes."
"He is a strong man. Very protective." Jon'ha-ye smiled widely. "Very
Vin chuckled. "Yeah."
The Hija wrapped a calloused hand around his lax one. "It was good
to see you again, Chanu Duna'he. You will always be welcome here."
"Thank you." With that he slipped into sleep again, too tired to keep his eyes open any longer.
Jon'ha-ye left the shaman's tent again, dark eyes wandering over to
where Vin's partner was leaning against the stones warmed by the midday
sun, eyes closed, asleep as well. One of his friend was next to him,
the healer. Where the others were, he couldn't see. Only the green-eyed
man, who had such an effect on the children, sat in the shadows, playing
with them again. Jon'ha-ye discovered his own children among them, and
he smiled. Onabi had mentioned that he was Joined as well, to the man
in black, Chris Larabee, a man he had spent a lot of time getting to
know. An apparently strange combination, but Onabi had told him it made
sense, then had left again to tend to the sick men.
Yes, a strange combination indeed, but the powers brought the Union.
They knew why.
The team left the following morning. Onabi smiled at the soul partners,
inclining his head, then went to say his good-byes to a still rather
dazed Vin. The Chimera lifted off three hours later.
"I'm going nuts in here! Give me that spoon and I'll tunnel out!"
Buck paced restlessly through the quarantine room. "Four days now! You'd
think they would know by now."
Chris smiled. All were dressed in hospital pajamas and bathrobes,
sharing a four-room quarantine area that allowed them to interact with
each other, but not go outside. There was a small recreational area and
that was where Buck was currently pacing. Vin was watching his lover
from the couch where he spent most his waking time.
They all felt fine. They had felt fine since the day they had come
back from Myrrh and had been placed under quarantine. Chris had spent
hours talking to Travis over the com unit in the quarantine area. None
had shown any sign of Thorne virus infection. Medical personnel checked
them regularly and they'd be out of here by tomorrow if all held no signs
of infection until then, and it wasn't a minute too soon.
Josiah looked up from his game of chess against Nathan, shaking his
head with a sigh. "The man makes me want to get a single room," he remarked
Buck glared at him and Vin hid a smile. Ezra, who was reading a book,
looked up and shot Chris a grin.
"Stop talking about me!" Buck glowered at the two soul partners. "I
know you are."
Ezra looked innocent.
"Won't work!" the Agent snarled and went back to pacing.
"Vin?" Ezra sighed.
"Next time he passes by.... Stick out a leg."
"He might trip."
"Hit his head," Josiah remarked without looking up.
"On the chair," Nathan added.
"One can only hope," JD finished.
Chris didn't even try to swallow his laughter as Buck shot them all
a glare, especially Vin. No one had said anything concerning Vin and
Buck, the strange coincidence that only they had contracted the virus,
and the only way it could have been transmitted yet.
One day the questions might come. Chris was prepared to back his two
friends up, whatever happened.
They were released the next day.
"It's not a cure," Nathan summed up his report, looking at Travis.
"It was a shot in the dark that worked. It immunized Agents Tanner and
Wilmington, as well as the rest of the Chimera team, but unless I can
study the plant the actual medicine is derived off, unless I can study
the Kray Hija and other tribes, compare blood samples, unless I can see
the actual infection in a child and an adult, I won't proclaim to have
found a cure for the Thorne virus. The virus could originate from Myrrh,
but also from some other place. The researchers coming there contracted
and unknowingly spread it. It will take months, maybe even years, to
track all the victims, and even then we might never know."
Travis regarded him calmly. He had read the first reports and according
to the scientists already on the moon, the disease, the Thorne virus,
was only deadly to humans. The Hija's different metabolism gave them
an immunity to the more fatal effects of the infection. It was a subject
for more studies. This would take more than a few years. It might very
well be a life's work. "I understand. I have heard that Myrrh was
placed under quarantine and the researchers are in Isolation by order
of the Department of Infectious Diseases. You are aware that your position
within the Agency doesn't actually permit prolonged research and study
outside cases or operations?"
"Are you considering a resignation?"
Nathan shook his head. "No, Judge, I don't, but I'd like to spend
some time with the D.I.D. scientists who'll take over the main bulk of
study and research."
Travis nodded, smiling slightly. "You can. Since the Chimera team
will be unavailable for cases for a while, until Agents Tanner and Wilmington
have been declared fit and had their re-evaluation, I'll delegate you
to Section 2."
Nathan's eyes lit up with a smile. "Thank you, sir!"
The Judge inclined his head and Jackson left, feeling elated.
Vin sat on the bed, tired to the core, his muscles refusing to work
properly every now and then, and Buck was taking care of him by carefully
undressing and helping him to lay down. Nathan had ordered Vin to not
overdo it, and they were both on sick leave for at least another week.
Vin had been treated with various injections and was in physical therapy,
but he would need time to regain his strength.
Now he gazed at his lover and remembered how he had looked when he
first had seen him, and he remembered something else, something from
way back when he had been with the Hija. He knew Buck had not told him
everything. At least he feared Buck hadn't and he had to know, had to
ask, because it had been nagging at the back of his mind for a longer
time now. "The virus..."
"What about it?"
"Back with the Hija, one child got it, every child got it. Sometimes
the adults when they didn't go through it as children, and then the whole
family had to be treated. It's contagious, Buck."
Vin hesitated, biting his lower lip. "Did I... I mean ... you weren't
... were you?"
Buck who was undressing himself stopped and gave Vin a long look.
"It's not important,"
"Oh yes, it is," his lover argued heatedly. "Did I give it to you?"
Buck hesitated, then he nodded once.
"Did you ..."
Vin couldn't help it, he felt dizzy all of a sudden. He let his head
sink back into the pillows and closed his eyes. He must have made a sound,
because the next thing he felt was the warm hard body of his lover at
his side as Buck pulled him close. He felt the steady rise and fall of
the chest with every breath, the regular beat of the heart that, he knew,
had probably stopped due to the virus. Vin shuddered involuntarily and
Buck drew him closer, wrapping his arms around the still frail form.
"What?" he murmured.
"Should've known ... could've killed you."
"No!" Buck carefully pulled Vin's head to his shoulder. "Don't go
there, you hear me?"
"Buck, the virus is transmitted by fluids!" Vin argued angrily. "If
we had used precautions..."
Buck sighed. Yes, not always. There had been occasions, like a quick
handjob, or, on even rarer occasions, a blowjob when a condom hadn't
been in use. They had felt safe with the other, just like every monogamous
couple did. No one had lost a thought to possible, rare viral infections
from backwater moons.
"I know," he murmured. "We'll remember now. Always. We're here, both
of us, together. We're alive. Both of us. And we will recover -- both
of us. That's what counts to me. No guilt trips, okay? Had some of my
own. Been there, done that. These things don't get you anywhere."
"Was just wondering."
"How fragile life is."
"I know. But you know what?"
"Let's make the best of it. Let's not waste time, okay? "
Vin felt his eyelids slide shut on their own volition as sleep slowly
claimed him, and he wrapped his arm around Buck's waist, feeling the
same need for close contact like his lover did. He was tired, his body
demanded rest, rest and even more rest. But even though his body was
tired, his mind was working overtime, trying to get something straight,
something that was bubbling just beyond the surface. His mind was showing
him images of Buck, lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life, and
he shuddered again. Consciously he knew that he had been one damn lucky
bastard himself. Thinking about everything that had happened to him the
past six months, all of a sudden Vin knew. Life was precious, so you
better not waste time. "Buck?"
"I love you ..."
Then he fell asleep. He missed Buck's exhalation of breath as the
true meaning of his words had penetrated his lover's sleep fogged mind.
Buck looked down at Vin, who was lying in his arms, safe and sound,
sleeping, and he was wide awake at the three words he had just heard.
He had subconsciously waited for them, had hoped that one day Vin would
be able to say them. Really say them. From out of the blue this old lyrics
popped up into his mind.
When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In the spring becomes
"God, Vin," he whispered, "I love you."
It had been one awfully long road and a terribly long, bitter and
cold night, for both of them. But now Buck knew it was over, the sun
had risen in the east, and he made a silent promise to his lover.
"This is it for me, Vin Tanner. Forever."
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