by Heather

Chris and the others sprawled out in the living room. The bedroom door remained open. Josiah had placed the gambler back on the bed under the quilt. This time they removed the scrub bottoms, hoping the indecency of minimal clothing would keep the conman under wraps so to speak. "So now what?" Buck asked exasperated. Larabee said nothing still reeling from the sudden realization his mentor tried to kill him. Vin watched his friend closely. Larabee was close to exploding. Nathan then spoke up, "I say we stay here." The others turned and stared at him as if he had lost his mind. Jackson continued, "Jack may know Ezra can ID him. He’s already tried to kill Chris and probably won’t stop after this one attempt." He paused shifting his position on the couch. Everyone staring at him. "It’s already nightfall. We stick together and hit this thing full force in the morning. Besides there is strength in a group."

"He’s right brothers." Josiah said. He could tell the others were not to impressed with the idea. They were not the kind of men to sit passively. They took things head on, wrestled problems to the ground and found solutions. Sitting idle was not in the cards, as Ezra would say.

"all right we stay." Larabee said getting to his feet taking charge. "JD get back on those tapes, not just todays but the lot of them, listen for anything that would connect or lead us to Cavanaugh, Buck help him. Josiah get on the computer and go through all the files and notes kept on this case. Start with Ezra’s and go from there." Sanchez nodded gaining his feet and headed to the small loft that housed the computer and an assortment of football and icehockey equipment. "Nathan keep an eye on Ezra, when he’s coherent dig any info you can from him. Oh wait." Larabee dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a bottle of pills. "Murray said these were for him. Pain pills or something." Chris tossed the bottle to the chemist. Jackson caught them easily and read the label, a low whistle escaped his lips. "What is it?" Larabee asked.

"Percodan, an oxymorphone." Jackson looked up at Chris and smiled, "very powerful, makes Demerol look like baby aspirin." Nathan flipped the bottle in his hand and chuckled. Standish would not be recollecting the days of the week so easily after one of these. Larabee reached for the phone. There was a particular Judge he needed to converse with about the coming events.

Ezra stirred with a groan. His shoulder ached fiercely and tired stiff neck muscles burned with fiery intensity. The room he woke in was pitch black. He lay still for a moment trying not to move, it hurt to breath. Gawd more broken ribs, he realized. He tried to move his head and take in more of his surroundings as his mind climbed out of the drug induced fog. It hurt his shoulder. Collar bone or dislocated shoulder? He used his right hand to feel the stiff thick padded Velcro brace that figure eight around his shoulders. Fractured collar bone. Aw hell. This could not get much worse. He lay still for a moment and it did become much worse. His bladder started complaining....with some urgency. oh no.

Standish stood in the middle of the room, after having relieved the tension on his bladder, and started searching for clothes. He found a pair of jeans shoved in an upper bureau draw amongst assorted t-shirts. He gingerly wrestled into the jeans using only one hand and trying not to bend over. He found sitting on the bed and shuffling his feet into the legs seemed to be the least painful way to go. Ezra recognized enough of the room and the ill fit of the jeans to conclude he slept in Buck’s room. Standish never knew Wilmington had hard wood floors under the usual pile of garbage that littered the area, nice touch. The nightstand clock read three am. He normally went to bed just an hour or so before then, and never woke up anytime near this ungodly hour. Ezra could not ignore the thirst any longer and ventured out of the room. He figured Buck slept on the couch and JD his own room. With his right arm wrapped supporting his ribs, he gingerly shuffled into the living room.

He made no more than two steps when he kicked something with his sliding bare feet. Whatever he kicked, suddenly jumped up shouting pulling a gun. The room exploded with activity, cocking guns and raised voices, bodies scrambling in the dark. Pain and shock forced the conman to stand still. Lights quickly illuminated the room and Standish found himself facing the business end of six gun barrels. Noone moved ,the room deafeningly silent. "I just wanted some water." He explained softly.

The seven sat around the moderate oak table. Three AM, being a bit early even for the eagles, such as Larabee and Vin, found barely any conversation. Standish sipped on the cold water carefully, testing a fickle stomach. The simple task of lifting the glass to his lips put pressure on his neck and hence his collarbone. It hurt. He could not swivel his head left of right or lower it or raise it. When he sparked pain in his shoulder he tensed and pain shot through his ribs. It was a vicious circle, and Nathan recognized it. He placed on pill infront of the undercover agent along with a half eaten sub sandwich. Ezra raised his eyebrow, it seemed the only action that did not trigger pain.

"Don’t argue Ezra just eat some food and take the medicine and keep your mouth shut. It’s to early to fight." Larabee said in a dangerous don’t trifle with me voice. Standish caught the smile playing at the edge of the leaders mouth and it took some of the bite out of the words. Standish without a fight swallowed the meds. Buck mused he had to be hurting, never in the time he had known Ezra Standish, did the conman ever do as told without at least some kind of verbal remark.

Within a half an hour Standish was fighting to keep anything infocus. The pain had become a dull ache, he fought to keep his eyes from rolling. Vin reached over and removed the half full glass of water from Standish’s faltering grasp, avoiding an accident. "Come on lets get you back to bed." Josiah said. He and the others slid from the table. Sanchez guided the gambler out of the chair and back to the room. He had finally succumbed to the heavy sedative effects of the pill and drifted off into a heavy drug induced slumber. Chris and Josiah slipped silently out of the bedroom leaving the door ajar. Standish drugged or not had proven to be a very slippery fish. They would take no chances with his safety even if he did.

The small apartment had settled back down within a few minutes. Everyone thinking everyone else had drifted off to sleep. In reality the only occupants who slept were JD and Ezra. The rest laid quietly laid sprawled about the rooms keeping quiet thinking about the days events and what they faced when the sun came up. Two hours later the early morning sunshine broke through the eastern windows. Chris and Vin shared a quiet cup of coffee at the oak table. Josiah had flipped on the TV pressing the mute button and found some early local news, settling in one of the old battered arm chairs. Sanchez smiled they were surprisingly comfortable when all the debris was removed from them. As he watched the silent t.v. he fathomed once again they had managed to skirt the scrutiny of the media. At least that part of the yesterday had gone correctly. Nathan exited out of Buck’s room and headed for the kitchen a tired smile cracked his features. Jackson was pleased Standish still rested peacefully even if medication provided the tranquillity. Buck still dozed on the leather couch. The large man only second in height and strength to Josiah, had managed to fold himself into the inadequately short piece of furniture. JD had yet to emerge from his own room, instead he had woke and diligently resumed his scrutiny of the tapes from yesterday. In a few more hours he would have five days worth of tapes to run through and felt he should get used to the inflections of Ezra and Finnegans voices before he tackled the other tapes.

Chris hung up his cell phone as Nathan took a seat at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. One sip told him Vin made it. Jackson scowled his features, how did the sharpshooter drink this thickened swill. Larabee would have chuckled but today few things seemed humorous.

"What the Judge have to say?" Vin asked his Texan drawl very soft and concerned. Concern for Chris. In one morning the only man he had admired had tried to kill him. Worse yet the man who saved his life once again befuddled the others. Ezra Standish made an average introvert look like a wild party animal. The undercover agent tried to keep everyone at arms distance. He did his job and did it with incredible skill, but he socialized with noone unless forced. Tanner had wondered why Larabee had Standish join the team, they all had including Chris and Ezra. Standish did not fit in, nor did he try. He joked with the others in the office and at Inez’s saloon. It was no secret that Chris held certain reservations about the conman, did he trust him? Yes trusted him to do his job and his reports, but trusted Ezra to watch his back? Maybe, maybe not. Yesterday Ezra in one selfless act usurped that perspective. Vin watched his boss, hell brother practically, Larabee held the folded phone gazing into his mug. Tanner knew Larabee doubted himself. He believed blindly in a man who betrayed him, and the individual who he suspected of subterfuge one day, proved fiercely loyal. How could he be so blind, Chris thought, or so Vin figured.

Nathan caught Vin’s scrutinizing gaze and followed it to Larabee. For the first time in the two years Nathan had known Chris, the leader seemed lost. Jackson could not imaging the betrayal or the twisted pain Larabee must be experiencing. Cavanaugh was like a father to Chris. Jack Cavanaugh along with Buck had been with Chris since the beginning of his career, helped him through the violent deaths of his wife and son. Now Chris lost Cavanaugh in the worst way possible, betrayal. Jackson tried to alleviate some of Larabee’s concern. Though Chris did not express it, he cared for Standish as much as he cared for the others, maybe more. Unlike the others, Larabee was privy to Standish’s mysterious background. They all had skeletons and ghosts but the young undercover agent had been forced onto a lonely island of mistrust. He let noone come ashore or build bridges, he kept everyone at arms length with undo politeness and quiet soft refusals. Larabee respected the man’s space and under the facade of noncaring, Chris Larabee pulled a maneuver that would have made Standish proud if he recognized it. Chris had found a harbor on Standish’s island of fierce independence and mistrust. A tentative bridge had been built, Chris succeeded where the others had failed, even the venerable Ezra Standish himself. That tiny port, the hint of a bridge saved Chris’s life, Standish would brush it off as part of the job. Maybe it was to some degree but when Ezra dove off those steps and shielded his boss, no friend, from those slugs, Standish drove the pilings of the bridge into the ground cementing their placement. Ezra would deny any need for assistance any offering of aid, but it was to late now, Chris had made a covert trail of friendship the others only had to follow. Standish would balk, they would pay no mind. Jackson smiled to himself and stared at Chris, "Ezra’s still out, he’s gonna be ok, sore for awhile, but he’ll survive." Chris merely nodded. Jackson continued, "It’d be best if we didn’t move him around to much. He’s going to be in a world of hurt for awhile, the Percodan will keep it at bay but it’ll keep him in lala land."

Larabee nodded again and met Jackson gaze. He understood what the healer was trying to do. The damn gambler always pulling fool stunts. Why couldn’t he just be predictable for one day. Everything had to be grandiose with him, even who he witnessed. Chris thought about Cavanaugh again, it felt as if someone had knocked the wind from him. How could this have had happened. How could Jack have strayed so far. What had Chris missed? Where were the signs they that they taught you to look for at the academy. ‘Why Jack? Why? Why didn’t you come to me?’ Chris mused silently. Funny the man Larabee thought he had least in common would know his pain, Ezra Standish had been down that painful road. He had survived but the emotional scars remained. He trusted noone, only himself. Chris stared over at Vin. Would Tanner ever betray him? Larabee berated himself he would not follow the undercover agent down that steep tortuous path. Standish had cut himself off from all prospects of friendships and trust. He would be a friend but allow noone to befriend him. Betrayal left wounds no medicine could heal. Larabee swallowed his rising panic, he would not let this ruin him. Tanner betray him? He guffawed, not hardly. Tanner would rather die a painful death than turn on a friend. The bounty hunter had been on his own practically his whole life. He had found family amongst the other men, but it was Chris he protected vehemently. It was a passion born of brothers bonded not of blood or genes but deep seated respect and faith. Larabee wondered, if Standish had the benefit of close friends to support him through his lonely agonizing ordeal maybe he would be a different more open person. Instead Standish had faced his ostracism and scorn very much alone, noone to back him up. Now he trusted and depended on noone to cover his back. No, Larabee would not allow himself to fall into that trap. He had seen the pain and loneliness in Standish’s eyes when the others laughed about weekends spent together, fishing or barbecuing. Things Ezra consciously denied himself, to protect himself, but the pain was there. Everytime, Larabee saw it, flashes, tight smiles subtle exists, loneliness was not hard to maintain if others allowed it. Chris closed his eyes. He had to get passed this, he could not let it ruin him. He could trust the others, Vin, Buck and the others, even Ezra. He could not doubt their loyalty or their motivations. They were family. Chris swore, when he got both feet back on the ground, when his stomach quit knotting over the thought of Cavanaugh, he would drag the obstinate gambler into the fold of friendship and family, even if he had to drag him by the neck.

Six am saw the stirrings of life in the city outside. Inside the apartment, Josiah and Buck made breakfast. No one felt like eating, they went through the motions. JD unusually silent taking surreptitious glances at the leader of the seven. Chris looked like he was going to rip someone’s head off. The silence in the room was deafening. Finally Larabee swallowed his pain and addressed the group, "JD I want you and Josiah to stay here." Before the young agent could utter a challenge Chris continued, "I’ll have Nathan bring the rest of the tapes to you. Josiah you can access the office computers from here. I want you two to keep an eye on Ezra. Cavanaugh might want to finish what he’s started." Sanchez nodded in agreement. Larabee knew any of them would protect the gambler, but Sanchez treated the young undercover agent like a wayward son. Standish bristled under the treatment, but Josiah proved to be as protective of Ezra as Buck was of JD. Two mother grizzlies, two troublesome cubs, no wonder the magnificent seven had unorthodox methods, half of them were emotional monsters.

Larabee smiled half heartily at the thought. "Nathan get the tapes to JD and then start digging into Cavanaughs background. Be discreet. We don’t need to tip our hand yet. Let it be known that Ezra has no idea who he saw. It may buy him some safety."

Jackson nodded uttering a "Sure Chris."

Chris matched Buck’s challenging gaze, "Buck tag Jack’s car and phone line, I got the ok from the Judge. Then help Nathan," He met Wilmington with a steely gaze, "don’t let your past history blind you, if Nathan thinks something is important, don’t argue." Buck merely nodded. He too felt the sting of betrayal. "Good. Vin and I are going to pay a visit to the Judge, and then seek advice from Jack on how to handle this new twist." This surprised everyone. Chris smiled wickedly, "who better to get information from than the source himself. Jack might not know Ezra can ID him."

Vin smiled, Chris took the bull by the horns and would now wrestle it to the ground, hopefully he would not get impaled by one of the horns. Tanner grimaced, he knew Chris wouldn’t because Vin himself would be there to protect him.

JD gazed up from his sound equipment and stared wide-eyed at Nathan Jackson. The ex-EMT held a moving box full of tapes. "Geez Nathan I didn’t even hear you come in." Truth be told JD had not realized so much time had passed. It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed but apparently much more time had slipped past.

"JD your suppose to be watching out for Ezra too, you know." Jackson admonished. He had traipsed right through the door using the hidden key Buck and JD had hid in the outer door molding. His simple berating statement was enough to puppy whip the boy. A man’s life was at stake after all.

"I know I’m sorry Nathan." JD felt bad heck they could have blown up the apartment and Dunne wouldn’t have know it until he landed with the rest of the rubble. He noticed Nathan still held the box. "Just put it down here I’ll start in on those in just a minute." JD stood and stretched arching his back. He followed Nathan out of the room into the living room. Buck and Josiah stood talking in the kitchen. At least Josiah would have been alerted if someone had tried to break in and get to Standish.

"How’s it going kid?" Buck asked.

JD smiled sheepishly at his roommate. "Ok I guess." Dunne pulled open the refrigerator and pulled out a fruit punch Gatorade, he took a swig from the bottle. It left a light red mustache on his upper lip. He then noticed the new beverages that laced the over crowded refrigerator shelves. JD sighed. Some of the stuff had been in the refrigerator since he moved in over 18 months ago. If the refrigerator light ever went out, JD was not going to reach in there blindly afraid something from within might grab and drag him into its dark depths. "What’s up with the Prune juice and stuff?" Dunne asked starring at the cans as if it were from some alien planet.

"It’s for Ezra. He’s on a pretty strong morphine derivative. This will help with some of the side effects." Jackson said taking the can from the young agent and placing it back in the refrigerator.

Dunne merely uttered an ‘Oh’ wondering if he understood correctly. "You guys find anything?" JD asked sitting at the table.

"Not much so far." Nathan said leaning against the ice box door.

"Haven’t really started digging yet."

"I’ve got the surveillance equipment in place." Buck added. In another day or so he’d be with JD going over more tapes. He did not relish the thought not like the kid. If, however, it brought them closer to bringing Cavanaugh down then he’d cross hell barefooted to do it. "Let’s go Nathan we got some digging to do." Wilmington said heading for the door. He passed by his room and peeked in. Standish lay on his back his head slightly lolled to the left his mouth partially ajar. A heavy quilt pulled up to his shoulders hiding the wraps and shoulder brace. "Don’t look too comfortable does he Nate?" Buck whispered concern evident.

Jackson watched the slow rise and fall of the covered chest, "No he doesn’t, and won’t be for awhile. Sleep will become a precious missed commodity for him." The healer added. Both men grimaced and headed to the front door.

"Oh JD here’s the extra key." Buck said laying it on the T.V. top. No sense leaving an invitation for the competition. Dunne and Sanchez merely nodded.

Sanchez refed the laser printer. He had been printing out information like a mad man. So far the files had been run of the mill. Well if you could call what they did run of the mill. Standish kept amazingly neat concise reports. He recorded seemingly everything that had occurred up until yesterday’s meet. What Josiah could not find were the reports or diary’s on what he thought. Surely Ezra recorded his gut feelings, made a note of his intuitions. Standish was a fiercely private man, but even he must have made some notations on what he thought, if not just to peruse later in the privacy of his own home. Nothing, Josiah could not find it. The reports were excellent, they gave a clear picture of movements and conversations but no feelings. Did he suspect something? He had to have, why else would he have worn the vest? Where is it Ezra? Where do you keep your musings? Josiah was about to sit back down and start again when he heard a noise down stairs. Sanchez pulled his gun and slid out of his seat. He knew JD kept his door open now but with the ear phones on he would not hear anything outside his recordings. Josiah peered over the loft edge....and smiled.

The giant man nimbly skipped down the curved staircase to the main floor. Buck and JD really had a nice place, to bad they did not always keep it nice. Young bachelors were not known for neatness. "How you feeling Ezra?" Josiah asked following the tottering passage of the undercover agent into the the kitchen. Standish tried to pull a chair out from the table but it seemingly weighed more than a large couch. He tried to sigh but his ribs reminded him what a poor idea that would be. Josiah pulled the chair out for him and eased him down into it.

Standish still wore Buck’s jeans. The waist hung loosely at his hips and he trod on the too-long pant legs. His short hair stuck up in multiple directions, he had a blank owlish expression on his pale face. "Thirsty." His southern drawl had become more pronounced and hoarse. Sanchez smiled going to the refrigerator. The undercover agent normally kept a tight rein on his appearances and never liked to drink heavily because he wanted control over his actions. He did not like needing assistance of any kind. Now however, he could not handle a decent conversation, let alone comb his own hair. Sanchez frowned as he poured prune juice into a paper cup, the next couple of weeks were going to be hard on everyone, especially Ezra. Until things started to mend he would not be able to drive or negotiate stairs without help.

"Here you go." Josiah placed the half-filled cup infront of his friend. Standish stared at it curiously and without argument drank it down. The cold fluid felt good going down his throat. It tasted horrible - one of Nathan’s concotions no doubt. Damn healer always trying to finagle an angle to poison him. Standish smiled at the thought. Jackson had to be the most benevolent man he had ever met except maybe JD. "That was terrible Josiah. Can we settle for water?" Ezra asked matching gazes with the older man.

"Sure Ezra." Sanchez smiled refilling the paper cup with cold water.

"Where is everyone?" Ezra asked. He recognized he still resided in Buck and JD’s humble abode. But unlike last PM or early this morning no one seemed to be around. Not that he expected them to, he figured they would have sent him back to the hospital or something but not spirit him away to the CDC. Josiah pulled out a chair and sat across from the conman, gaging his response and reflexes. Jackson had warned them to keep all weapons away from the injured man, the pain medicine was strong enough to cause hallucinations, along with nausea, vomiting, and sedative like effects. He seemed lucid now. Dr. Murray informed them hallucinations were rare, and excitability found normally only in children. As far as Josiah was concerned, Standish seemed tranquil enough, benignly passive. Good, arguments between Chris and Ezra and Nathan and Ezra should be down to a minimum at least until he was feeling better.

"JD is in his room working with sound. Buck and Nathan are checking Cavanaugh’s background, Chris and Vin are talking to Cavanaugh himself." Josiah answered. He read the alarm on the undercover agents face. "Don’t worry Ezra, the only ones who know you can ID Cavanaugh are the six of us and we’re keeping it under wraps to buy us time."

Josiah noticed the subtle nearly imperceptible nod of the head. Finally Ezra asked, "What can I do?" Sanchez was about to write him off to bed when a thought hit him. "You can help me."

Two hours later, JD exited his room. The young agent yawned and stretched his arms over his head arching his back. As of yet, he had found nothing of interest, at least nothing to lead them to Cavanaugh. Of all the tapes he had listened to and dissected apart it seemed Chris never said more than three words. It left Ezra doing all the talking, and arranging of meetings and negotiations. Dunne let his arms dropped, he stared at the ajar bedroom door and decided to check on Standish.

Josiah worked quietly with the computer wondering how the others were doing with their respective searches. Sanchez hit the print button again and again the laser printer jumped to life quickly spitting pages of information. He took a furtive glance at Standish who lay asleep, with mouth partly drooped open, propped up against hockey equipment. The intrusive screech of the machine apparently went unnoticed.

JD’s earth shattering scream however was another matter, " JOSIAH!!! JOSIAH!! Ezra’sgonemissingagain!"

Sanchez jumped to his feet as if he had been hit by a hot shot. He peered over the side of the loft at the younger man. JD stood in the center of the living room drawing his gun. Sanchez quickly waved his hands in a negative fashion, shaking his head ‘no’.

Dunne stared at him for a moment figured Josiah misunderstood and with increased urgency, "Yes he is, he’s gone." JD pointed back to Buck’s room for emphasis. Josiah sighed, stepped over the undisturbed form and hurried down the steps.

"He’s ok JD. He’s with me." Josiah explained in hushed tones. The large man did not understand why he whispered, if the printer or JD’s hollers did not wake the undercover agent then nothing short of an explosion would.

Chris and Vin drove back to the CDC in silence. Cavanaugh had been very obliging with advice. He constantly queried over who the undercover agent might of witnessed. He had even gone so far to sigh relief that yes Chris was safe but at least noone else had been injured. Giving Standish’s less than stellar reputation with the law enforcement community, Chris should be thankful that it was the conman who was hurt and not one of the others. He team could still function without Standish. At least that was Cavanaugh’s take on the whole situation. Tanner thought he would have to physically restrain Larabee from attacking his former mentor. Chris surprised Vin by maintaining his professionalism, nodding in his quiet, albeit clenched jaw, manner and accepted what Cavanaugh had to offer. It was not much. He had plenty of opinions on the character flaws of the undercover agent but offered no useful insight. Now just after 7pm riding in the truck the tracker started to laugh. Chris still seething stared pointedly at his friend and hissed, "Want to share?"

Vin smiled and said, "I thought only Ezra could get that little vein on your head to stand out."

Tanner went back to chuckling and in a few minutes Larabee joined him.

Buck slouched down in the front seat of Nathan’s jeep Cherokee. Despite the importance of the work, he was sick and tired of driving around. They had been to the Denver police department archives, ATF archives, dug throw an endless paper trail, and followed old bank transactions. With the Judge’s warrant they had virtually undeniable access to Jack Cavanaugh’s life. Wilmington understood the need, understood why they had to do it but in the end it still ate at him. For almost a life time Jack Cavanaugh was a friend and confidant. Buck wondered how Chris dealt with the sting of betrayal.

Buck peered at the truck clock, almost 7 PM. What a rotten horrible long two days. A good friend nearly killed a best friend, and an questionable friend pulled the unimaginable and put himself in danger to save the best friend. Buck sighed maybe Ezra was right, keep people at arms length and you steer clear of these rotten painful problems. Wilmington stared out the passenger side window at the dark Denver night. Ezra had not succeeded. Somewhere down the line the six of them had slipped in and snuck a tendril of friendship around Standish. Of course, now he paid for it in the form of broken bones. Buck knew that Ezra would probably do it again, and again, if he could save the life of one of the others. ‘Damn Standish,’ Buck thought, ‘you never do what people expect, a true wildcard.’.

"You all right Buck?" Nathan asked.

Jackson felt uneasy about digging through the background of someone like Cavanaugh. Searching for dirty laundry. Everyone had some, some more than others. Everyone should have a right to their privacy and digging through Cavanaugh’s bothered Jackson. It bothered up until he thought about how Cavanaugh betrayed Chris and done the unthinkable try and murder him. It bothered him until he thought about Standish a fiercely independent and private man, now unable to fend for himself, knowing he will have to depend on the others long after this was over. No, when Jack Cavanaugh set up the shoot, coldly took aim and squeezed the trigger repeatedly he gave up the right to privacy. As far as Nathan was concerned Jack Cavanaugh did not deserve the rights of normal citizens. With the power of the Judge behind them Buck and he did what they could to help bring Cavanaugh to justice. It would not relieve Buck and Chris’s pain and it would not help Ezra’s bones to mend faster, but it might prevent others from falling into the cold heartless debauchery of Cavanuagh’s existence. They pulled into the parking space infront of Buck and JD’s apartment. Chris and Vin right behind them.

"Come on Ezra it’ll be fun." JD said enthusiastically. It was 5:30 pm. The others would not be back until 7pm or so. Dunne could not listen to another tape. Josiah stood in the kitchen trying to figure out a dinner. JD could here the giant man sigh with exasperation, silently JD cheered, takeout! again! yes!. Now he sat on the floor with Ezra. Standish had woken up an hour ago. He was sore but restless. JD pulled his play station out from under the TV stand. "It’s easy once you get the hang of it." Dunne could not believe that the southerner had never played video games let alone use a Play Station. JD had remarked, "What’ya’do grow up on Mars?"

Standish bit back a snappy retort, being under the thin tutelage of Maude, he might as well have been on an other planet. Where else would a mother teach her young son the art of cards, and all their tricks, the art of manipulating locks and people, (which was easier was a toss up) and of course conning. His mother had prepared him well, it was just most of his trade was and still is somewhat illegal, though it did come in handy now and again. Family, friends, security, trust and yes, video games eluded him. They were things Maude either had no time for or did not put much faith in. Faith, hell, Maude had faith in nothing but herself not even her son. ‘Video games? Hell JD while you were playing video games I was picking pockets.’ Standish thought to himself. A crooked smile crossed the undercover agents paled features. He would indulge JD if only for a minute.

Sanchez listened to the conversation as he rooted through the refrigerator. He uncovered some of the aluminum covered glass bowls and quickly resealed them noting never to touch them again. He heard JD try and get Standish to play some games. He felt kind of sorry for the southerner, he was not up to handling JD’s over exuberant enthusiasm. Josiah was about to interfere when he heard Standish mutter he never played video games. This surprised the ex anthropologist. Everyone had indulged videos at least one time or another, even he had a few times. Sanchez threw the gambler a side long glance, the cagey southerner was too out of it to lie convincingly, besides in all the time they had known Standish he had never lied to JD. The others sure, he told a different perspective of certain truths and facts, but when it came to JD he was flat out honest. Something about kids and stray dogs, Vin had once pointed out, kept Ezra honest. Standish had a soft spot for children and strays. Sanchez watched as JD helped ease Ezra down to the floor and lean against the couch. ‘Maybe he was stray as a kid. A throw away child.’ Sanchez had met Maude, a strong independent woman, a walking hurricane of action, but she did not strike him as a mother. He watched the two settle down on the floor to play a game, "Tomb Raider" or something another. ‘Who came up with these games anyhow?’ Sanchez smiled returning to the frig.

An hour and a half later Josiah sat on the couch behind the two men offering not so expert advice on how to play their game. The small room was full of yells and groans sounds of defeat and loss. Ezra bit his lip as he tried to manipulate racing car through a thong of violent traffic while pedestrians stepped out onto the street and sirens howled behind him. He pushed fiercely on the remote control trying to manipulate his vehicle while keeping his body still. It proved near impossible. JD’s car was hot on his heels firing flames at him. Dunne moved, swaying and twisting his upper body with the imaginary movement of his car. (Standish thought this provided unfair advantage to the youngster). Ezra knew the heat seekers would be hot on his tail, but if he could weave his way through the traffic he might have a chance of thwarting JD’s missile attempt. Josiah was saying something, like ‘Watch it Watchit watchit!" Then the unthinkable happened, he crashed. A flame burned out his tire, he spun out in the thick of traffic and crashed. The room fell into a uproar of noise.


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