Tangled Web

Tidia and MOG


Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by Mirsch, MGM, Trilogy and CBS. There was no profit in the writing of the work of fiction.

Comments:  This story started last summer, Cassie and I were speaking about stretching our writing skills and this story was born.  We went to tell the others, laughing hysterically as we did. I started writing and passed it to MOG who brought life to the story.  We hope you enjoy and this is dedicated to the Rowdy Bunch.

Archivist's Note:   This fic was previously hosted on another website and was moved to Blackraptor in September 2006.

There was a time when I thought it was over.
You try to root yourself, pull some reserved energy, but you know you’re withering inside.
I had an unquenchable thirst; I was a dry mock-up of my former self. How little time it takes to grow brittle.
But he saw past that and decided to save me. 

 October, 1995

"Damn, Sarah would be upset if she saw this."

The mustached man sighed as he filled a glass with water from the faucet. Buck glanced around hoping that the groaning water pipes would not draw Chris's attention. The boy could use some sleep.

Larabee hadn’t bothered with many of the stages of grief. He’d let denial in for a brief time, but that didn’t last long. So anger was his next stop, he hit it head long, full-bore and wasn’t looking back.

The deaths of Sarah and Adam had been hard on Wilmington, as well. Dribbling the cool liquid from the glass into the dry soil of the spider plant he cleared his throat, swallowing away the emotion that threatened to surface. A watery smile slipped onto his lips as he picked up the ceramic container.

It had been Sarah’s first successful project in a pottery class. Well, successful according to her, it was far from perfect and had been a running joke amongst the Larabee family.

Chris would threaten to throw it away. Sarah would defend her masterpiece even though it was lopsided and the glaze had not adhered properly, giving the container a mottled, gray look.

Wilmington called out to his friend. He had been coming by as often as possible to check on Chris, making sure the man didn't drink himself into oblivion. "Hey, buddy, don't you think you should come outta bed, it’s nearin’ noon."

A few hours had passed since Buck dumped Chris in the back bedroom after finding him sleeping awkwardly across the couch of the whiskey and beer bottle littered house. Hadn’t been the first time and Wilmington knew he’d have a bit of peace to clean up a little before the ‘anesthetic’ began to wear off.

It had been three months - three months since Larabee's world crashed down and he’d taken a leave of absence from the department. Buck wondered how much more Chris could take. He also wondered that of himself.

He didn't hear any sound coming from the rear of the house in response to his question. Shaking his head, Wilmington made his decision.  He grabbed the plant and tucked it under his arm. "Chris, buddy, I gotta go."

January, 1996

In the beginning, the new life was good.  Who would have thought the man was adept enough to know that coffee grounds would allow me to recover my health? I thought, surely this must be a perceptive, insightful individual of intelligence.

Buck glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. ‘Damn, late again. Capt'n's gonna have my hide. Detectives on t.v. never have to worry about what time they get to the station.'.’

Cupping the used, soaked filter in one hand he pulled open the lower cupboard door with the other, but quickly realized his mistake. The garbage that already precariously balanced itself several inches above the top of the Rubbermaid bin was threatening to crash down if there were even the slightest inclination that more would be added. Buck gently shut the door and looked to the sink.

Judging from the amount of dishes there, a casual observer would be inclined to believe that there could not possibly be any on the shelves.

‘Need to do the dishes.’  Wilmington thought to himself as hot water from the grounds leaked through the filter and ran down the inside of his shirt sleeve. ‘Aw hell, need to empty the dishwasher first.’  Perhaps the casual observer would be correct.

Out of sheer desperation, Buck slapped the coffee grounds into the first container he saw, flung the filter in the direction of the sink and dashed out the door for work. A week later, he noticed the plant looking surprisingly healthier.

Soon my leaves began to gain their green luster. There was, however, a new problem - my name.

I thought it would be cozy in Buck's apartment. Had I realized the amount of female traffic in and out of that flat would rival that of the White House’s back door from 1962 to 1998, I would have retracted this assumption. And why must they touch?  What is with the touching?

Buck closed the door as the brunette strolled in, "Darlin', you make yourself comfortable."

It was a brunette tonight, anyway. The hand-held wet/dry vac stored in the closet of the spare bedroom held numerous strands, varying from bottle blonde to a red that would make a Viking proud.

The scene could have been scripted for as many times as it played out in the same fashion. The woman walked around the room, glancing casually at the recently cleaned and straightened surroundings. Her eye fell to the unusual specimen sitting proud next to the stereo system.

"Wow! What a great plant." Reaching out, she lightly tugged and pinched, as so many before her had, at one of the fronds.

"Thank you." Wilmington replied, passing her a glass of wine. (The brunette last night had Dr. Pepper, the blonde the night before preferred bottled water with a twist of lemon.)

The stage directions continued with an obligatory sip of whatever was in the glass, a lull in the conversation and then the woman asked, "Does it have a name?"

“You won’t believe this, but it’s Clarice…must have been destiny for you and I to meet.”

I have yet to figure out if women are actually this gullible or if they are, in reality, playing men for the fools that the males take them to be.

“You won’t believe this, but it’s…”

Buck would wink at me as the gal melted in his arms at the wild coincidence involving her name.

And so it continued; Alexis, Mina, Chen Wei, Erika, Barbie, Shanika, Reinbeau. . . After a while I lost count, I had more names than an Italian girl after Confirmation. In hindsight this was a very minor rock in my soil. I realized this when he came along.

February, 1998

JD had never seen such a wild plant. Tossing his duffel bag on the couch, he wandered up to it. “What's this?" He pointed to the  plant as he turned back to Buck who was carrying up the young man’s other pieces of luggage.

Wilmington dropped the bags, not seeming to care as they crashed to the floor. He did, however, seem a little winded as he headed for the kitchen.  "It's a spider plant, had it for a couple of years."

"Cool," Dunne commented as he made himself comfortable on the couch. He was staying with Wilmington temporarily until he found a place of his own.

"Spiderman, Spiderman does what ever a spider can. . ." JD sang the theme song to the ‘70’s cartoon he remembered watching as a child, and occasionally, as an adult. "What do you think of that, Spidey?" He asked the plant.

Not getting any response, JD joined Buck in the kitchen. Wilmington sat on the counter, a cold beer in his hand. With silent communication Buck gestured to the refrigerator. His new roommate smiled and opened the door, pulling out another Rolling Rock for himself.

"Thanks again, Buck. This is temporary, a month tops." JD wanted to reassure his new teammate. He wanted to show them all he wasn't some wet-behind-the-ears kid. He would find his own place; the acceptance into the ATF team had gone rather quickly, leaving little time for Dunne to do much in the way of apartment hunting. He was just happy to leave behind the memories that Boston held and start a new life, maybe even make his mom proud too.

"Whatever, kid,” Buck replied with a grin, “don't worry about it. Mi casa es su casa.”

Wilmington jumped down from the counter. “Your room is right over there.” The older man pointed to a first floor bedroom. “Settle in and I'll order some pizza for dinner.”

“Okay, just no anchovies,” JD said as he grabbed all his bags and somehow stumbled into the room.

Buck yelled back. “Don't worry, they give you bad breath and the ladies don't like bad breath.”

Dunne smirked. Laying his luggage on the bed, he unzipped his carry on and looked around the room. Hell, it was going to be temporary, he would just live out of his bags for a while. No need for him to unpack.

I didn't realize JD was speaking to me, not for a long time. ‘Spidey’?! Reinbeau was better. I would bristle at the name, Dunne didn't seem to notice.  I honestly believed I was a stronger plant. That I could tolerate the nuisance for the short time he was allegedly going to be at Buck's apartment. His loud, non-sensical music made my leaves quiver. And the boy knew nothing of nutrition.

“Get a move on, kid! We’re gonna be late!”

“Owm-ing! Ust inissing ma ceweawl.”

JD swallowed away the last mouthful of Fruit Loops and, being unsure as to when the last time it was that it had been watered, poured the shallow pool of milk from his bowl into the soil of the plant next to him.

"Milk does a body good, Spidey."

No, my dear boy, what milk does is make my soil smell, a cause of much embarrassment for me.

I was able to keep myself going though, relishing the time I was alone.  JD and Buck weren't around much. They would come home, eat, sleep and then be off to work. Occasionally there was some company, but I was ignored most of the time.

I learned the hard way what happened when JD gave special attention.

"I'm bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored." Dunne flopped onto the couch, a bit of milk from his usual morning staple of cereal sloshing out of the bowl and evaporating, unnoticed, into a sofa cushion. The young agent's coordination had suffered greatly since his arm had been immobilized in a sling.

Feeling around under the cushions, JD's hand finally closed around the television remote. The channels flew by at an alarming rate but only for a brief time. The t.v. clicked off and the sound of hard plastic clattering against the coffee table preceded Dunne speaking aloud once again.

"I'm just plain bored. One little gunshot wound, Spidey, and you get 'administrative leave' and Chris telling you he doesn't want to see you in the office for a week." JD balanced the bowl on his knees, shoveling another spoonful of brightly colored, disturbingly sweet cereal into his mouth. He spoke again to the plant.

"It's not fair, Vin got stabbed and he went to work the next day. Well, maybe not the *next* day, but close enough."

The boy's nervous energy had already begun to build up. He finished his breakfast quickly and rose, wandering over to the plant. "I'll bet the 'on the job' injury rate is pretty low for your kind, huh."

Dunne thought he saw the fronds quiver slightly as he neared his object of interest, but chalked it up to a breeze since the plant stilled after JD placed his bowl of leftover milk on the kitchen table.

Reaching up awkwardly with one hand, Dunne pulled 'Spidey' from its home. The place where it had grown into the majestic plant it believed it should be.

"You look like you could use some sun, Spidey."

 Those are the last words I recall hearing. Suddenly, one of the French doors opened and I was deposited on the hard concrete of the outside deck. I swear the fool actually took a few deep breaths before he shut the door. Well, I'm certainly glad this constitutional exercise benefited you, young man.

At first the hot climate agreed with me, I thought I could feel my long tendrils actually become greener and begin to sprout. But, as time passed, the heat was too much. Moisture was pulled from my soil - I was a forgotten plant. In the end, it again was Buck who came to my rescue.

"What the hell are you doing there?" Buck asked sharply as he picked the plant up and clutched it to his chest. Glancing at the pot, he began picking things from the soil. "Jeez, kid, would ya quit pouring Fruit Loops in

From his spot in the kitchen, JD looked perplexed, then it hit him. "Spidey! I completely forgot!"

Wilmington shook his head in disgust as he returned the plant to its spot on the shelf. A moment later, little comforting comments accompanied his emptying a glass of water into the soil.

"You know," Dunne pointed out, as he tentatively fingered one dry frond, "it looks kinda yellow."

Buck lightly slapped the back of JD's head, causing Dunne's hair to ruffle. " 'Course it looks yellow, boy. That's was happens when a plant has too much sun. Especially a plant that ain't supposed to be in direct sunlight."
"Maybe we should trim it," suggested JD, as he headed toward the junk drawer that resided in the kitchen.

Five minutes later the young man stepped back from the plant and grimaced. "That doesn't look right."

I didn't even want to know what the imbecile's definition of 'doesn't look right' entailed. I had felt my once lovely leaves hacked at with what only could have been a Ronco Electric Carving Knife.

Wilmington grabbed the tool of mass destruction from Dunne's hand. "You sure you can shoot straight? 'Cause that's a mess. . .let ol' Buck fix it." It was at that moment that I knew I was doomed.

It was probably best that I could not see what was going on. The dialogue was horrifying enough.

"Now it's uneven on that side. Cut the left back a little more."

"Okay, now what, genius. It looks even more lopsided."

"Gimme the scissors, your angle is all wrong. You've got it too long on the right side."

When they finished there was a pile of my beautiful tendrils. I was left shorn and embarrassed.

"Jeezus, kid, ya gave it a crew cut. That's more pathetic looking than the Charlie Brown Christmas tree."

"Aw, don't worry, Buck. It'll grow back."

I entered a period of depression. When, one day, JD pulled me from the shelf in a flurry and took me from the apartment; I felt sure this was the end. He was going to murder me and bury the evidence. I had given up, though. I didn't care.

October, 1998

Ezra had tried to avoid them, but his new co-workers insisted on visiting him at home. It had reached the point of annoyance. After six months, the undercover agent gave in and invited the team over. Just one night - some
Chardonnay, some Brie and then NEVER again.

To say Standish was unnerved when the men drifted in with bags of potato chips, pretzels and domestic beer would have been a gross understatement. By the time the doorbell of his townhouse rang for the final time late that day, Ezra was ready to pull open the door and just continue walking.

"Hi, Ez," the youngest member of the team greeted eagerly. Standish raised his eyebrows in disbelieving response to the shortening of his given name.

Dunne, however, mistook the expression as one of confusion at what the boy held. "It's kind of a housewarming gift, just a little late."

The plant was thrust into Ezra's hands and JD wandered toward the kitchen.

Buck followed his roommate in, "Apparently his ma always said you should bring something when you're a guest."

"Well. . .bless his heart." Ezra stated, with a smile toward Wilmington. A common southern expression, Standish's mother had frequently used it in place of 'what an idiot'. He gestured for Buck to join the others hovering in the kitchen around the bowls of chips and salsa.

It was then that the southerner realized not only what a truly uncouth group he was forced to work with, but to top it all off, Tiny Tim had just presented him with a piece of plant life that rivaled only a Chia Pet in its hideousness.

Leaning back against the wall Standish shook his head as he studied the plant more carefully; even the pot was defective.

His first thought was some sort of cactus. But didn't all cacti have spines? This thing's tendrils ended in jagged edges, as if it had been pruned with nothing more than a pair of household scissors. Dull, household scissors wielded by an old blind man with no thumbs. And where in God's name did the planter come from? Did the eight-fingered, geriatric blind gardener make that, as well?

Ezra glanced down the hall to his teammates then back to the plant.

"Caught between Scylla and Charybdis," he muttered to it. " 'God or man could not look upon you in joy.' Well, you have a name now, and from Homer no less."

Standish placed the 'gift' on the cherry wood sofa table. Well, perhaps it would just die and he wouldn't have to deal with it.

I think I am marked for death. I realize it now as I fade away, drooping in the arid climate. Abandoned, I actually miss the excitement of Buck's apartment. Ezra plays soft music. He has decided not to water me, so I have escaped JD's clutches only to die a slow death instead.

I almost jumped when I felt a familiar life-saving sensation hit my roots.

Standish had been away on assignment for two weeks. Home at last, he closed the front door behind him and sighed, feeling relieved. He was amongst his belongings once more. The undercover agent dropped his keys on the cherry wood table in the living room, slipped off his shoes, shrugged out of his Zegna jacket, laying it on the ottoman and flopped down on the couch.

Ezra propped his head on two of the decorative pillows thinking how nice a long nap sounded, but a tassel digging into the back of his head forced him to open his eyes. This was when he noticed the plant. "Good Lord, you're still alive. I would have thought sure two weeks without water would have killed you."

He stared at it for a moment before rising and stretching. He would try to rest later.

"You look like you could use a drink." Standish scooped up the lopsided pot and carried the plant to the kitchen, resting it on the ceramic-tiled island. Pulling a bottle of Evian from the 'fridge, he leaned against the counter beside the plant.

The case had not been particularly difficult. Trace various weapons to their source in New Mexico and assist in a DEA bust. Mostly perfect planning had led to a mostly perfect execution. It could have gone better, Standish thought, but then, it could also have gone much worse.

"These men are needy," he commented to his silent companion, tipping the green bottle in the plant's direction. "Not just needy in the -'they should be under the care of a psychiatrist,' but they depend on me." Ezra breathed
 a laugh. "Can you believe that? Me, the notorious traitor of the FBI."

Standish took a tentative sip of the spring water, deep in contemplation, then absently poured some of the liquid into the dry soil and spoke aloud again, his voice low and detached in manner. "I actually pushed him out of the way. What was I thinking? I easily could have been hit.

"I'm sure Agent Larabee did not make it this far in his life and career by lacking the wherewithal to watch out for himself."

Ezra shared another drink with the plant before continuing. "Make no mistake, I value my life above all others.  I, personally, am shocked by my actions." The southerner snorted. "Our fearless leader, himself, had quite a few choice words in regards to me 'taking unnecessary risks'. However, Buck seemed to find Chris's outburst humorous and made a bit of a show saying I was now officially welcomed to the team."
Standish poured the rest of the Evian into the thirsty soil, realizing he needed some stronger libations. He shivered. He was a team player.

As I was taking in my last breath of carbon dioxide I was stunned when water began to drop on my leaves. I took back all the evil thoughts I'd had of my new keeper. Down to my roots I decided he was not a conniving, malcontent.

I grew to care for Ezra as he bought me tokens of his affection; fertilizer, an ultra violet light. I almost had a new pot, but that was the same day that JD (who, I am convinced, is a demon) got injured and the southerner rushed off to be with his friends, forgetting my new crystal holder. This was forgivable. However, I could not be so charitable toward Maude 'Greenery Must Go' Standish.

Maude wanted to surprise her son. She'd convinced security at his condominium complex to let her in to Ezra's townhouse. The catered dinner she ordered to her son's home was due shortly.

Maude tsked, tsked as she took in Ezra's surroundings. He still hadn't unpacked completely and there was clutter. Disgusted, she picked up the plant that languished in the living room on a shelf of the entertainment

Studying the atrocious pot, Maude shook her head. "This won't do." Trying to touch as little surface of the planter as possible, she headed to the door. Outside would be a good place for it, outside by the garage. The sound of keys being placed in the lock stopped her. "Ezra, darling. Surprise." She exclaimed as Standish came through the door.

The agent took a step back as he was assaulted by Maude's unplanned appearance in his living room. His hand had been halfway to his weapon before he realized who the stranger in his front hall was. A part of him slightly regretted the quick cognitive abilities. Well, it obviously would have been an accidental shooting.

He carefully placed the keys of the Jaguar on an end table allowing him time to collect his thoughts. Coming forward to kiss his mother Ezra noticed that she was holding Scylla. "Mother, what are you doing with my plant?"

Maude looked at the plant then back at her son. Her eyes grew wide and she rested an open hand lightly against her chest. "Don't tell me that you talk to plants."

The southerner tried to think quickly, a difficult endeavor after spending 24 hours straight at the hospital making sure that JD would be fine. His mother would never understand that the plant provided him comfort. Ezra wanted to remove Scylla from Maude's clutches, but he also knew that a show of weaknesses was never a good thing. In the end, Standish decided to rely on denial and bluffing.

"Me?" Ezra laughed, trying to hide his nervousness. "No, of course not."

Maude gave her son a shy smile, and batted her eyelashes. "Then you won't mind if I throw it away."

Judas! But my silent scream was futile. Here I thought I was about to be kidnapped, and now this. I felt as if my soil had been turned over. All those times I listened. Noticing that on a good day - when one of your teammates would pat you on the back or if you had spent the weekend with them - you would unpack a few more items in this place that I now called home.

I was there on the other days too. If a bust went bad and he blamed himself, worrying that he had jeopardized the lives of his friends. Humans -I can't decide if they're more like ladybugs or aphids.

It was times like these that I wish I were a pollinating plant. No one messes with roses. I curled my leaves in a tense manner and listened to the rest of the conversation, wondering what would be my fate.

Ezra sighed, snatching the pot from his mother's hands. "Its name is Scylla." He carefully returned the plant to its spot on the high shelf, positioning it for optimum viewing. With its cascading tendrils, the southerner could not help but think of it as a regal plant.

Maude crossed her arms. "When I said you needed help for taking a government job, I meant professional therapy." Ezra felt his mother's hand brush his cheek. "Would you like me to arrange an appointment for you?"

Standish stood proud. "Mother, I enjoy working for the ATF. As for the plant, at least it has the tact not to point out all my mistakes."

"I still believe you should have taken the job Ted was offering you." The blonde woman commented as she pulled a compact from her purse, checking her appearance. "Vice president, stock options, bonus and a respectable salary."

She dropped the small gold case back in her bag. "Where is that selfish attitude? Who will take care of me in my old age in a manner in which I am accustom?"

"I thought that's what good divorce attorneys were for," Ezra replied.

Maude sighed with more than a little hint of melodrama. "I did the best I could, darling. Children don't come with instruction books. Maybe someday you'll understand."

The southerner escorted his mother to the kitchen, hoping to distract her toward more agreeable conversation with a glass of wine. Maude glanced toward Scylla as they left the room, "If the plant starts to talk back to you, promise you'll call me."

"If I go crazy, Mother, I promise, you'll be the first person I visit. Now," he smiled warmly, "what have you planned for dinner?"

 It should have been sunshine and chlorophyll from then on. But, my time with Ezra was drawing to a close. For some unknown reason, I started to feel itchy and took on a waxy appearance.

Standish, I could tell, was worried. He was extra diligent in his tending to me, pouring over books and adding things to my soil. He would tell me stories of my race.

Reading from a book on plants, Standish spoke aloud. "Hmm, part of the lily family. Now this is interesting," the southerner picked up one of my sprouts, which hung limply in defeat. "If these new plantlets touch the soil, they will quickly send out roots, but if the plantlets cascade over the edge of a hanging container, they will cling to the stems for many years, increasing in size and adding to the plant's fountain of foliage."

I mourned the loss of my kin that would never be. Ezra was failing - I knew it and he knew it.

One morning he pulled me from my spot in the living room and placed me in a large bag. "Scylla, it is time for professional assistance."

July 1999

Nathan whistled as he rode up the elevator. Rain had spent the night and the plans they'd made for the weekend still buzzed in Jackson's head.

"Hey fellas." Nate greeted Vin, Buck and JD who were talking near the elevator. Tanner gestured that he should join them.

"What's the matter?" The medic asked the three silent men who looked at each other uncomfortably.

"You're the last one in." Vin finally offered.

Nathan laughed. Granted, he was usually not the first one to the office, but it was Ezra's position to be the last member of the team to arrive each morning. "It's nowhere near 9:30. You gotta be mistaken."

Buck rocked back on his feet. "I don't think so."

JD explained in a low tone. "He was here before Vin and Josiah."

Nathan took a step back from the huddle they had formed. "He feeling okay?"

"We," Vin replied, as the others nodded in agreement, "thought you could find out."

Nathan sighed, feeling the weight of his medical training on his shoulders. He usually knew if someone was sick, but this team occasionally went out of their way to hide any symptoms. "I'll try."

Wilmington patted Jackson on the back. "Good man."

Nathan grabbed a cup of coffee before making his way to Ezra's office. He knocked softly on the doorframe and entered.

"Agent Jackson, just the person I was waiting for." Standish commented as he stood and came to the front of his desk.

Nathan took in the undercover agent's appearance. He seemed to be normal, well dressed and immaculately groomed. There were no sniffles, coughs or groans. "You feeling okay?"

Ezra cleared his throat and gestured for Nathan to take a seat. "I feel fine, however I have this friend with a problem, a personal matter."

Nathan sat, but leaned forward in the chair. "Friend," he smirked. Jackson was adept enough to know that 'friend' usually meant the actual person with the request, and 'personal matter' meant, well, he was pretty sure he knew what that meant. Jackson attempted to be as professional as possible, but found it very difficult not to try to fluster the usually cool southerner. He offered a few suggestions.

"This uh, friend . .seems lately like he's being affected by stress?"

Standish nodded, amazed that Nathan picked up on it so quickly. His friend continued.

"Having trouble being as 'up' as usual, but there hasn't been anything real  specific he can put his finger on?"

Again the southerner agreed. "That's it exactly. I've tried everything I can think of, I'm at a loss."

"Ez, it happens to everyone, well not me, but you got nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of men experience impotency."

Standish's eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped open. Stunned he sat back on his desk. "You are gravely mistaken!" He sputtered as he reached for a paper bag resting on the floor. "My plant! P---L ---A---N---T is ill." He unveiled a wilted spider plant.

"Oh," Nathan replied, still laughing. He wiped the tears from his eyes, and stood up to better examine Ezra's 'friend.'.

"Agent Jackson, is there a cult whose whole purpose it is to torment me?" Standish uttered, as he leaned over Nathan's shoulder while the man inspected the limp fronds. "My mother and Agent Larabee must be the co-founders, although I am beginning to believe you are a participating director."

Nathan stopped poking at the plant to turn and face Ezra. "You got a sick plant."

"Is there anything you can do?" Standish queried, in a slightly exasperated tone.

The medic had never seen Ezra act so strangely, especially over a plant. "I'll take it home, see what I can do." Nathan solemnly promised.

Lovingly, Standish placed the plant back in the bag and offered it over into Jackson's hands. "Take care," the southerner said, and Nathan didn't know if he met the plant or him.

January 2000

He rifled through his mail, pulling out a newly arrived medical journal. "You think the Bureau would pay for stuff like this," he commented aloud as he sat on the couch, leafing through the glossy magazine.

It had been a long stakeout. Sharing the surveillance van with a sniffling Josiah hadn't made it any easier. "The man didn't get a flu shot this year and this is what happens."

Sanchez waved off Nathan's suggestion of medication, turning instead to the neat row of herbal supplements that he'd arranged on the console of the van.

Just as Jackson thought he would be able to escape the germ pit for some quality time at home with Rain, the Fates intervened. The call was short and to the point, Chris had been shot. Nate's trip to the hospital wasn't required, certainly wasn't necessary, unless maybe you were prone to superstition. Not that any of the ATF agents would admit to falling into that category. They would be hard-pressed to come up with a justifiable reason as to why they'd wordlessly all come to the conclusion that as long as they were together if someone was hurt, then that someone would be just fine.

"Fool man is damn lucky," Nathan muttered to himself with a shake of his head, talking to the plant again. "Ended up getting him in the deltoid, no muscle or nerve damage."

Jackson took a deep breath and turned on the humidifier. He enjoyed the calm humming sound it put out. He glanced at Fauna, who seemed to have recuperated quite well. "I'll have to give you back to Ezra soon." He shook his head as another thought struck him. "Now they have me doctoring to plants."

"-And talking to them," yawned Rain as she descended the stairs in a Colorado University long T-shirt.

Nathan gave his girlfriend an embarrassed smile at having woken her up, and at having been caught talking to the plant. He wondered if Ezra had talked to the plant. The southerner had been giving Jackson odd half-looks over the past few days. As if he'd wanted to ask about Nate's 'patient', but would change his mind. One dark hand touched the leaves momentarily and Jackson couldn't help wondering what secrets it kept for the undercover agent.

Rain leaned over the back of the soft leather couch, wrapping her blanket-warmed arms around Nathan's shoulders. She nuzzled his neck. Jackson closed his eyes and began to list his complaints. "I was stuck with Josiah sniffling, coughing and wheezing in the van." His girlfriend began to rub his neck and shoulders. "Should visit him tomorrow, probably is coming down with the flu...Didn't want to get a shot this year," he mumbled. "Chris took a hit, few stitches and they sent him home."

"Uh-huh," Rain agreed, the 'whatever you say' tone evident in her voice. "Come to bed, baby." she added softly, pulling Nathan's arm and leading him up the stairs.

The next morning Nathan placed me in a box. I was excited and tried to stop the quivering of my leaves. Jackson was taking me to consult on Josiah's case.

Upon hearing about the patient's symptoms I believed it was the common cold, infectious nasopharyngitis, which is the most common upper respiratory track infection. I'd overheard Nathan, however, say it was influenza, and since I was under his tutelage regarding the medicinal arts I deferred to his more knowledgeable opinion.

Chris's gunshot wound had piqued my interest. It was beyond my limited experience. Nathan was constantly reading medical journals. At first, I found the information boring. But then I realized what Nathan must have been thinking all along. He understood my potential as a plant-I was supposed to be a caretaker.

My tenure with Nathan had yielded information on stab wounds, broken ribs, concussions and some infectious diseases. Clearly, my experience on the brink of death had made me a new plant with empathy to help others.

When Josiah opened his eyes he realized that the ringing noise he heard was not just his head about to explode but someone ringing his doorbell. He'd stayed home from work hoping for some peace and quiet. With a mumbled epithet he pulled himself off the couch and walked to the door.

"Coming." He didn't care how unhappy his grumble sounded. A glance through the peephole revealed Nathan standing at his front step with a box in his hand. Pulling open the door, Josiah stared at his teammate. "I'm fine."

 Jackson's outstretched hand prevented the door from closing. "That's your line too?" he replied, as he walked into the house and headed for the kitchen.

Sanchez had to supress the smirk on his face. He hadn't realized he'd uttered the same words that the rest of the team used as they were lying bleeding in the middle of a bust. "A little Fishermen's tea and this cold will be gone."

Nathan waved off the large man's suggestion. "I brought you some things."

Josiah watched as his friend unpacked different bottles on the counter beside the gas range. "Thought you'd enjoy this, too."

"A spider plant, very hardy," Josiah commented with a cough. Clearing his throat to find his voice again, he added, "What's its name?"

Nathan shrugged his shoulders. "I called it Fauna."

"Fauna? A bit common, don'tcha think?" Nate ignored him, more interested in preparing a medicinal cocktail with the ingredients from the various bottles spread now on the kitchen counter.

Sanchez lifted the plant up to study it. "Ruth," he stated, clearly satisfied with the name he'd christened his new plant with. "According to the Bible, she was devoted."

Padding his way silently in sock-covered feet, Josiah crossed to the large garden window above the kitchen sink and placed Ruth in the midst of the greenery already there.

I was irate. I'd been passed on to a complete stranger yet again. I decided that all men were worthless. I stretched my leaves. I was a new plant – A mean, green fighting machine.

Josiah placed me in a crowded space. I was surrounded my foreigners.

"What's your name, darling?" The cactus beside me asked. I wanted to get away from him, feeling his needles press against me.

"Alexis, Mina, Chen Wei, Erika, Barbie, Shanika, Reinbeau, Spidey, Scylla, Fauna, Ruth." I replied, rattling my leaves in annoyance.

"Too much baggage," commented the cactus while easing away from me.

The quarters were a bit on the cramped side, it didn't take long for me to get to know the others. As time went on, the Begonia informed me that I'd been saved. I refrained from stating that the only thing I needed to be saved from was this cult.

The fern, Oma, is a Buddhist and has come to be a close friend. Another fern, Ki, is a Tsaoist and I'm convinced that the Mint plant, Igor, is a Marxist. He doesn't talk much but when he does  the comments are usually prefaced or followed by things like, "We should revolt against the capitalist."

I ignore him. With Oma's assistance I have learned to diffuse my anger and accept the world. I have to admit that Josiah's words did soothe my soul.

Sanchez had stopped using an alarm clock when he was 10. His father felt that any son of his should forsake connections with materialistic goods, so the old, beat-up Mighty Mouse alarm clock was given away.

Josiah stretched as the sunlight warmed his bed. With a sigh, he pulled himself from the soft comfort and shuffled downstairs into his kitchen.

From the oak sideboard in the hall he picked up his worn Bible, the Sanchez family Bible, and closed his eyes as he did every morning. Flipping sightlessly through the earmarked pages he stopped, then haphazardly placed his finger on a section. He began reading aloud to the plants.

"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you  rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30."

"Makes you wonder what it means, doesn't it?" He commented to the plants while he picked away a few dead leaves. He enjoyed the bit of nature inside his home. Josiah had to admit that he had the best conversations with his plants, since they didn't answer him back. A glance at the clock told him he needed to get ready for his day, Vin would be there soon.

The two agents had offered their carpentry skills to a local mission. The shelter, which provided assistance to low income families in the Denver area, had put out the word for a little assistance of their own. Sanchez volunteered and mentioned it casually in a conversation with Vin. He was surprised when Tanner offered to pitch in as well.

Things had been on the tense side at the Bureau lately. Too much work, manpower was overtaxed, so much so that even Team 7 had started to show cracks. The past few weekends they'd each gone their own ways, clearly seeking to put some needed distance between one another.

Not long out of the shower, Sanchez was towel drying his hair when the doorbell chimed.

"Hey," he offered casually, as he opened the door.

"Ready?" The sharpshooter asked, jingling his car keys.

Josiah tossed the towel on the couch. "Let's go."

They hammered, nailed, sawed and fixed the plumbing mostly in silence, both taking their tensions out in the work they did. Sanchez understood why Vin had joined him. The sun kept them company throughout the day, signaling the hour vaguely as it passed overhead and finally offering the two men a time to quit when it began to dip low toward the mountains.

"Come on in," Josiah offered as they reached his house. "Beer's in the fridge."

Vin gave the large agent a lazy grin. "Some of that homebrew you brought in last week?"


"I 'spose I could come in...just to be polite."

Sanchez smiled back. "Just to be polite."

An hour later, Tanner was perched on the kitchen counter while Josiah sat at the table. After a pensive moment, Sanchez had figured out the problem with everything. "Feng shui."

"Fang what?" Vin asked, draining the last of his second beer.

"I think we have stagnant chi at work. I'll have to talk to Chris about it."

"Nah," Tanner chuckled, "it's just the bad guys aren't that easy to catch. But if you think it'll help. . ." Vin placed his empty bottle in the recycle bin by the back door and readied to leave.

"It just may." Josiah replied, rubbing the two-day growth of stubble across his chin. Rising, he pulled the spider plant from the garden window. It had come to him when he wasn't feeling well. Now here it was several months later and he saw someone else who maybe could use a little 'good feeling'. "Here, take this. It'll help move the chi in your apartment, too."

Vin's eyes grew wide and he took a step back. "Sorry, pard, uh-uh. I'm death to plants." Tanner glanced behind him to find the door.

Josiah pushed it into his hands. "Ruth is a hardy plant. She can take it."

Vin held the planter away from his body. Josiah placed a hand on his back and guided him to the door. Tanner tried protesting one more time. Sanchez just shook his head, knowing he had to think of the team. It might just take working on them individually to get them all feeling centered again.

"Trust me, this will all work out."

Cootie free! I'll admit, that's stating it in simpleton's terms, but I no longer had spider mites and was feeling quite good. Yet, there was something else, something not balanced, but I couldn't put a leaf on it.

I remembered what Oma would tell me, "Accept where you are each minute." It was hard to be accepting, however, while restrained by a seatbelt in the backseat of a Jeep.

When we stopped on a dark street amid brick buildings I felt a sense of foreboding. For a minute I thought I saw crows, but knew that they did not come out at night. Vin left the car and I thought he'd forgotten me until he unbuckled the belt and picked me up, carefully carrying me up the stairs.

At his apartment, Tanner paused and shifted me to one hand as he opened the door. Walking into the room, he kicked the door shut and secured a variety of locks before looking around the space. I looked around too. Ezra talked about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and I knew this was not the place.

Vin moved toward a well-worn coffee table. "No, the kids would break ya, if I put you there." The mention of kids running amuck curled my leaves. Buck had always called JD 'kid'. What if they were all like JD?

I was spared any worrying as Tanner took me from the children's area and placed me in a cool white room, which, I later discovered, would grow wonderfully humid almost everyday. There I was given a place of honor above a large lake basin.

Vin leaned back from the window in the shower and spoke to the plant. "Lady of Shalot, I swear I'll do my best not to kill ya."

I stretched my leaves, finally, a name and a domicile, which fit my regal demeanor.

May 2000

Vin turned the shower off and listened for a few seconds as the pipes groaned. Satisfied that the water had stopped trickling, he pushed back the shower curtain, grabbing the towel that lay on the toilet seat.

He vigorously dried his body, hoping to keep as much of the hot shower heat as possible in his bones before a shiver crept up his spine. He started to towel his hair and noticed the plant perched in the shower window.

It gave him the creeps. He turned his back on Shalot and wrapped the towel around his waist. The sharpshooter had to stop himself from asking Josiah if he'd ever gotten strange vibes from the plant.

Tanner knew what the team would think-it's always the silent ones that crack. Vin chuckled as he brushed his teeth. He'd been through a lot with the group and he hadn't packed it in yet. 'Figure I'm in for the long haul.'

It had been fine being a bounty hunter-being his own boss, deciding when to work. But part of Vin always dreamed of something bigger, something to make his Ma proud. The opportunity to join an unconventional ATF team was too good to pass up, even though it meant he would no longer be working on his own. Most of the time, though, it felt good to know someone was watching your back.

Tanner spit the white, foamy toothpaste into the sink and rinsed his mouth quickly. Slipping the toothbrush back on the shelf in the mirrored medicine cabinet, he went to get dressed for work.

Senor Vin was giving me that look again. After making my home in, what I discovered was, a waste disposal site, he put my care in the hands of a young lady who lived in his building. Justina has been teaching me Spanish.

I already have quite a repertoire; agua, planta, hola, adios. So for two dollars a week Justina made sure I was watered and occasionally, per her mother's suggestion, she added little fertilizer sticks in my soil.

There are not many adult guests to my little room, and they tend to use my home as a confessional. One woman fixed her lipstick as she told me how envious she was of me.

"Lucky plant. Wish you could tell me what you see." She sighed and pouted before dropping the lipstick into her handbag and retrieving a small container that allowed her to spritz herself with a noxious concoction that trailed after her when she left. I had no idea what she was inferring, and by her purring mannerisms I don't think I wanted to know. I turned my leaves to her to make it clear she had insulted me.

A man comes by occasionally, his name is Chris; short blond hair, doesn't say much. He seems vaguely familiar, although I don't know why. The first time he saw me I heard a distinct tone of disbelief in his voice. "Vin has a green thumb?"

By appearances-Vin's long hair, the grungy clothing, I thought that one day he would try to smoke me. But I suppose if that were to be my fate in life it would have happened while I was with Josiah.

Then there are the times he leaves the bathroom door open and I see him cleaning those guns. Before I put the pieces together, I suspected that I was living with a drug dealing, arms trader. Finally, I figured out that this was the Vin that worked with Buck, JD, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah. I must admit that I watched a little too much TV when I was with Buck and JD.

November 2000

"Plants are nice gifts." Vin mumbled as he picked up the plant and began scurrying around his apartment in search of his boots. "And this is a nice plant," The sharpshooter added, convincing himself that the plant was an adequate birthday gift for his best friend. Damnit, his best friend, and he'd forgotten that his birthday was coming up. It hadn't helped that he'd been working undercover with Ezra.

"F***in' Eduarte," Vin cursed the arms dealer, now in jail awaiting trial dates after a six-week ATF operation. Ezra and Vin had been allowed to go home after the debriefing. Tanner had gone straight to bed only to be awoken later by the shrilling phone.

"Hey Junior," greeted Wilmington, "we're just about to head over to Chris's. You coming?"

"Yeah, sounds good." Vin stretched and yawned, looking at the clock to see 6:05 p.m. staring back at him. He mentally figured his schedule, with  traffic it would take at least an hour to get to Chris's. Tanner's stomach growled-he'd have some leftover pizza or something before he left.

"So, what did you get him?" Buck queried.

Tanner's sleep-fogged mind had nearly let him drift off with the phone still against his ear. "Get who?"

"Who else? The birthday boy." Vin heard JD in the background telling Buck to hurry up. "Hey, gotta go, see you in an hour."

The sharpshooter's eyes snapped open. Aw shit, Chris's birthday. Tanner rolled out of bed, heading for the bathroom. Splashing water on his face, he thought about the plant. Five minutes later, gift in hand, he was scrounging for his boots.

He put the plant down on his bed, catching it before it toppled over and with one hand pulled on each boot. A quick trip to the kitchen to grab his keys and an empty brown paper bag and he dashed out, knowing he was going to be late.

Vin reached Chris's ranch and was walking from the Jeep before he remembered the plant in the back seat. He felt foolish as he carried the brown bag in. Climbing up the steps, he muttered under his breath, "Booze, always go for the booze. Shit, what was I thinkin'? I have that six-pack in the fridge."

"Hey!" Buck greeted the sharpshooter at the door, slapping him on the back. "A brown bag," Wilmington winked at the embarrassed Tanner.

Ezra was already there, making Vin believe that he was still asleep and having a nightmare. The perpetually late undercover agent had gotten there before him, and had brought Larabee a bottle of wine as a gift. 'Why didn't I do the booze?'

Vin took a deep breath and strode to the living room, roughly handing Chris the paper bag. "Happy Birthday," Tanner said as he flopped on the couch next to Sanchez.

The team leader's smile quickly faltered as he pulled the green plant out of the grocery bag. "Uhh, thanks, Vin." Chris looked at the greenery carefully. "Isn't this the plant from your bathroom?"

Tanner just shook his head. It had been a bad idea and the boys would have a field day with this -giving a plant as a present?!

JD leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. "Buck, isn't that. . ."

Vin wondered what was going on between the two roommates as Wilmington elbowed Dunne, causing JD to rub his ribs. "Ow!"

I know one thing to be true-Trips are bad. They have always gotten me into trouble. I was held up high over everyone's head. There, below me, were all the men I had been through-six in all, and here was the seventh that didn't seem to want me.

I curled as I saw my nemesis, JD, a leaf's width away. Buck was there and I would always be grateful to him for bringing me back from the edge of disaster. Ezra was there, closely looking at me in an aloof sort of way. I tried to wave at him, but he looked away. It was better that way, since he was only a memory now.

Nathan, I used to be his Fauna, and he, my teacher. Jackson had cured my ailment so I could forgive him for passing me to Josiah. The large man was there. I think he smiled at his Ruth, who he had advised and tended too. Shalot wondered how Oma was faring. The plant was also wondering what her new name would be, she could only hope that JD would not be allowed to name her again.

Chris cocked an eyebrow at Buck and JD, before noting some other strange expressions on the faces of his other agents. He started to put the plant back in the bag. What the hell was he going to do with a plant?

He switched the pot to his other hand, trying to figure out where to put it, when his fingers brushed against the bottom of the container. Larabee frowned at the rough pieces that glided over his fingertips.

The team leader began to trace over the grooves. A sharp, involuntary intake of breath as he imagined the two letters he believed he felt-SL. Chris didn't want to look, wary of disappointment. He closed his eyes for a moment and let his whole palm rest against the two letters as if they were a heartbeat. Larabee didn't notice that the room had gone silent.

Chris let the memories wash over him. He could smell Sarah and see her beaming as she placed the pottery on the windowsill. Larabee remembered how he, Buck and Adam would laugh as Chris teased his wife about the ugly container. The laughter and the giggles seemed to echo and Larabee smiled.

He stood up and gently placed the plant on the windowsill. Chris carefully lifted the leaves to see the beautiful pot that Sarah had made.

"Babe," Larabee whispered, remembering his wife had chosen that name to irritate him. It was the nickname she called Chris in bed. The team leader knew his men were staring at him. "Thanks Vin," he said finally, his voice gruff with emotion.

"Looks, mighty pretty there Chris." Wilmington said, giving Larabee a nod.

Chris nodded back, knowing that it was Buck that had saved the pot and the plant from his friend's dark days.

JD cleared his throat, not understanding what was going on, only knowing that Spidey was here. "Doesn't it need more sun?"

Buck smiled and shook his head. "No, kid, it's right where it belongs."

Chris came back to the group. There was a moment of silence among the seven. Five of them looked at each other with puzzled expressions, suspecting something momentous had happened, just not quite sure what.

Larabee gave Wilmington a nod, giving his old friend permission to tell the others later about the pot.

The party was in full swing. Josiah had made his famous chili, and Ezra was already experiencing the first pangs of severe heartburn. Standish stood  up, extricating himself from the couch as the others watched the commercial break.

"Where're you going," JD called out, "we're only down by two, there's 43 seconds left!"

"And the Sonics just took their last time out." Josiah added.

Dunne repeated the stat. "And Seattle just took their last time out."

The undercover agent held up his tumbler. "There is liquid dishwasher detergent bubbling in my glass...I'm sure *you* wouldn't notice, JD; I, however, don't like mixers with my Scotch."

Ezra turned the faucet on and rinsed out the glass as he eyed Scylla. How he had missed its companionship. He didn't want to talk to Nathan about the plant, embarrassed that he had become so attached, but he was a little shocked that Jackson just gave the plant away to Josiah.

Standish looked around to make sure no one was looking. Quickly, he used his thumbnail and cut one of the plantlets off and placed it in his pocket. He patted Scylla one more time before he went back to his friends.

He loves me, he loves me not, he loves -oww! No one said that love hurt, but  I knew all along that I held a special place in Ezra's heart, maybe even a  bigger space than his evil anti-greenery mother did. I was glad that Standish was taking one of my plantlets to care for, he had been a wonderful caretaker.

And from my perch on the sill I knew that I would be seeing my humans on a regular basis, so I would never miss them.

Babe, I liked the name. I felt warmth in my roots knowing I was someplace familiar. I was home.

The End