Looking for an Undercover Agent
by Chris J. Ueberall
Rating: PG, Pre-adult or just Gen
Category: Mag7 ATF AU
Disclaimer: The number 7 belongs to the 'Seven Samurai', the title of the western series as well as the names of the characters are owned by Mirisch, Trilogy, and others. Faces and bodies belong to the actors. The ATF universe is Mog's, and I claim this particular version of Chris Larabee to be me ... eh ... mine.
Summary: The title says it all.
Notes: This is based on Ezvi's ATF challenge "One of the Seven is a woman"
A big THANK YOU to my beta-readers Lady Antari, AJ and Tehomet. Please forgive me that I didn't always accept your corrections/suggestions. (I can be stubborn ;-)
Warning: English is not my first language. Any mistakes are mine.
Feedback: Please. Please. (Glare) Please.
Chuck Walker swallowed nervously as he realized that his boss was standing right in front of him expecting an explanation. "It didn't work. I'm sorry," he said, not looking up from studying the ground.
"Of course it didn't work!” his boss replied; it sounded like Chris Larabee's anger was barely controlled.
"I'll try again ..." Chuck started, but was interrupted immediately.
"No, you won't!" The blazing heat that Chuck knew to be in the blue-green eyes carried over into the voice of Team 7's leader. "And I'll tell you why not: Because even in a uniform, you couldn't convince a four-year-old that you're a police officer, much less that you're trading in drugs and firearms." Larabee breathed deeply. "We can forget Montoya for now. We blew it, absolutely blew it!"
Only with the sound of Larabee's office door being shut did Chuck look up again. He knew what his boss hadn't said, that he had blown it. That he was useless, the one member of Team 7 that did not live up to their leader's or anyone's expectations. Without looking at his teammates, he returned to his desk.
Silence ruled for a moment then, not surprisingly, Buck Wilmington spoke up. "Don't take it to heart, pard. Shit happens."
Chuck tried to smile, but failed. He was too scared of what Larabee would do. He was scared of Chris Larabee - period. Not for the first time Chuck wondered why he had asked to join Team 7 as an undercover agent. He should have known better; everybody else had known better. Team 7 was good, but different. Everyone, from Chris Larabee to J.D. Dunne, was a little bit strange, even their medic Nathan Jackson. They were all a bit crazy. Chuck looked to Larabee's office and then at the sharpshooter sitting at the desk next to his. Some were even more than a bit crazy. Again he shook his head. He didn't belong here, would never fit. If he were sure that it was expected of him to ask for a transfer he would have asked in a heartbeat. But he wasn't certain how their unpredictable leader would react.
If Larabee saw it as a desertion and marked him as a coward, then no one else would want him; his career would be over before it had begun. The same would happen if he were kicked off of Team 7. Frustrated he ran his hands through his hair. He was caught between a rock and a hard place.
Buck shook his head as he saw Chuck run his hands through his red hair again and again. It was a gesture that clearly betrayed the younger man's anxiety. Buck sighed. It was no secret that Chuck was afraid of their leader, and that last outburst surely hadn't changed that fact. It was such a shame that the undercover agent couldn't see past the burning eyes and the sharp tongue. It wasn't that Chris didn't like Chuck, Chris just couldn't stand incompetence, and when it came to undercover work Chuck was just that: incompetent. That it also made the whole team look bad was, of course, not really endearing the young man to their boss.
'Or anyone else on Team 7,' Buck had to admit to himself.
Still Chris had been a little bit unfair and Buck decided that someone had to point that out. Naturally that someone had to be him, since Vin and Chuck didn't get along, and nobody else was man enough to face their leader in a bad mood.
Hoping that his old friend had calmed down by now, Buck stood, and without knocking, walked into Larabee's office. Chris was studying some papers and didn't look up. Buck closed the door and waited for an acknowledgement of his presence that didn't come. Finally he walked around the desk and put his hands on the blonde's shoulders, starting a light massage. For a moment there was no reaction, then with a deep sigh Chris relaxed.
"You could knock, you know," Chris said, leaning back a little.
"You could be nicer to people, you know," Buck replied, rubbing his thumbs over Chris' neck to ease some of the tension there.
"That's good," Chris all but purred, ignoring Buck's words. "You missed your calling."
"Chuck's feeling pretty lousy." Buck wasn't so easily sidetracked. "You kicked a puppy there."
"I was stating a fact."
"Come on. He's not that bad."
Chris sighed. "Okay, maybe not as far as the usual police work is concerned, but an undercover agent he's not. I could do better, and that's saying something."
Buck had to laugh at that. "You're not that bad," he said.
Chris glared at him.
"Okay, so you're bad, but you can act and be diplomatic if you want to. You just never want to."
"So basically you're saying I'm a good liar, right?"
"Guess so." Buck nodded. "Usually honest and straightforward suits you more, but if you have to be ... yes. You're a good liar."
"Chuck isn't. He's easy to read. You don't even need to turn his pages, he does it all for you. He's wetting himself if I just look crossly at him. If I can see it, everyone can see it. He can't hide his feelings. He wouldn't survive five minutes if he ever really went undercover. I know he doesn't realize it, but I'm saving his ass here."
"Maybe you should tell him," Buck suggested. "Make him see the difference, but speak gently."
Chris snorted. "He might faint if I do that. But I will apologize. I promise, but later."
"What are you reading?" Buck wanted to know. He leaned over his friend's shoulder to get a better look at the files lying on the desk.
"I'm looking for another undercover agent. This time I'll make sure to get a good one. One with experience and ..."
"If they come with the rest of what I want, I won't say no." Chris grinned up at him. "I like having pretty boys around me."
"I'm not pretty, I'm gorgeous," Buck corrected pathetically, making his friend laugh.
"If you say so."
"I say so." Buck left his place and stepped to the front of the desk. "So, got a favorite ready?" he asked.
"Yes. This guy here. He's of course not one that Travis or anyone else recommended. Actually it might be that Orrin won't like my choice at all."
"What else is new? He thought Josiah was too old, J.D. too green, Vin's past too shady, me and you too close, not to mention that he's jealous of my success with the ladies. I'm sure there was something about Nathan, too. Come to think about it, I'm not really sure Travis likes you. So anybody he thinks is a bad choice will probably fit right in." Buck grinned.
"What's this guy's problem?"
"He's FBI and he's rumored to be on the take."
"You don't believe those rumors." It wasn't a question as far as Buck was concerned, he could see a cold gleam in his friend's eyes that didn't bode well for somebody.
Chris shook her head. "I've gone through all the records and reports concerning him that I could get my hands on. There's no evidence. I'm almost sure he was framed."
Something in her voice told Buck that there was more to it, the undercurrent of a growl that indicated that an injustice had been done and that retribution was in order. He waited.
"They left him hanging, Buck. He's in hospital right now. His own team almost got him killed, and then they put the blame on him. I'm not even sure what was first, the rumors or the blown bust. But no matter what, you don't let one of your own down. No matter how black the sheep is you don't throw it to the wolves."
Buck agreed whole-heartedly. "He'll be okay?"
"Physically yes." Chris nodded. "But would you want to go undercover again, not knowing if your backup will show up on time or at all?"
"Guess not. So you give him a new home?"
"If I like him. Tomorrow I'll take a flight to Atlanta to talk to him. Get to know him. See if I like him and if he's as good as his file claims."
"You think he might have lost his nerve?" Buck asked, realizing what she was really talking about.
"I wouldn't be surprised. But if he hasn't, then he's exactly what we need. And then I'll get him."
"No doubt." Laughing Buck walked to the door. His hand on the handle he turned again. "He good looking?"
Blue-green eyes sparkled with amusement. "I wouldn't throw him out of my bed, if that's your question. But of course photos can be deceiving. Ask me again after I've met him."
"I will," Buck assured her, smiling broadly. It was good to see her like this again: a woman on a mission, determined and self-assured, but not as single-minded and uncaring as she once had been.
Now she could laugh again, tease, even flirt a little again. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But after four years she had come to terms with the loss of her husband and her daughter, and although she had only gotten the hired killer and not yet the 'client' behind him, finally the healing had begun.
Walking back into the outer office, Buck's gaze fell on their sharpshooter and he admitted to himself that a great part of that healing was due to Vin. Something had just clicked between Chris and the bounty hunter, forging a bond despite the walls which both had built around their hearts. Buck grinned inwardly. Chris had laid claim to Vin almost the same way she had claimed Buck as her friend when they had both been teenagers.
He had been the new kid on the block. Unpopular. An outcast. Alone. Until that smaller boy came up to him, and introduced him to 'his gang'. The world changed then, life was suddenly better. It took Buck three days to realize that this boy was a girl. A female Robin Hood with a passion for fights. She had become his best friend, and taught him a lot about how the female mind worked. He had put her insider information to good use, but never with her, although Chris was quite the looker. But she was also the sister he never had, his confidante, almost sexless.
The day he had realized that she was actually the woman he was in love with, the woman that any other was measured against and found wanting, was the day she married his friend Adam Larabee.
Buck returned his thoughts to the present. He was pretty sure that Chris had no idea what it was that drew her towards Vin, but Buck saw the similarities between the sharpshooter and her deceased husband. Outwardly the Navy Seal-turned-police officer and the ex-bounty hunter couldn't have been more different, but they shared a wicked sense of humor and had the same grounded calm and patience that could accept Chris's mood-swings and soothe her fire.
They were well matched, Chris and Vin, no matter the age difference, and in the beginning Buck had loathed the sharpshooter with a vengeance. His jealousy blinding him to the fact that there were no sexual sparks between them. They would flirt and tease, and Vin got away with a lot of things that others wouldn't even dare, but that was it. Sister and brother was the impression one got seeing them together, not that they were lovers.
"Buck?" Vin asked, pulling him from his musings. "Something wrong?"
"No." He grinned self-consciously, realizing that he had stared at the sharpshooter for a while. "Just thinking," he explained and returned to his own desk.
Once again, Buck told himself that it was time to start his campaign to win Chris' heart; that he had waited long enough. And once again he hesitated; told himself to wait. Wondering if it was worth the risk to lose their precious and unique friendship. Their relationship was like no other he had known, a friendship that had survived all kinds of trials; it had always been a lifeline to him. What if he changed the pattern and cut the line? Maybe it was better to stay safe and just love from afar. He just couldn't stand the thought of losing the closeness they shared - not even a little.
Seeing the distraught look on Buck's face Vin wondered if he shouldn't just go to his friend and ask what was wrong. But before he reached a decision Larabee's office door opened, drawing all attention to Team 7's leader. Not acknowledging the expectant gazes Chris walked up to Walker's desk, an earnest but not unfriendly expression on her face.
"I overstepped the line earlier. I'm sorry," Chris said, before the undercover agent could even make up his mind about standing up or not. "You're doing good work, you're not so bad a shot, and you're not stupid. I'm sure you can be a real asset in any line of police work you choose. Except for undercover work. For one, you're too honest, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but will get you killed eventually. And second, I'm sorry to say it, but you're not an actor. Whoever told you differently was either setting you up or loved you very much. Think about it. Think about what job you can do and what you want to do. Then come to see me and I'll do my best to get you there."
Vin hid a grin. Their boss surely had a unique way of apologizing.
"You're kicking me out," Chuck said, proving that he was indeed, not stupid.
Chris shook her head. "No, I'm not. I'm expecting you to ask for a transfer."
"No difference," Chuck muttered.
"There is a difference," Chris replied, already turning away. "People know I'm difficult to work with. Nobody'll be surprised that you want out of here. And I'll tell everybody who asks that you're a good cop, just not undercover material. This way you'll have a career still ahead of you. If I really kicked you out, you'd have nothing." By then she had reached her office again. "Vin," she called over her shoulder and vanished through the door.
With a shrug and a grin, Vin rose and followed her, closing the door quietly before he leaned against it.
"So we'll be looking for a new agent?" he asked, watching as she grabbed a folder then settled against her desk.
"Already done that." Chris handed him the file. "Goes by the name of Ezra Standish. Tomorrow I'll fly to Atlanta for an interview."
Curious, Vin turned the pages until he found a photo. "Looks like a nice guy," he said, taking in the short hair, the lively eyes and the secretive smile.
"Is he your type?" Chris asked and something in her voice made him look up and reply warily.
"What if he is?"
She seemed to contemplate the answer for a while. "Then I'd better not take you with me to Atlanta."
"Why not?" He didn't know what to think. Up until now it had never made a difference to her that he was gay.
"Because it's said that he's a fraud, and I wanted someone with me, who'd give me an objective opinion on him, an opinion not based on or biased by his good looks."
Vin grinned. "So you find him attractive, too."
"I didn't say that." She smiled, and he was once again overwhelmed by the feelings she could awake within him with just a look or a smile. Not lust or anything even remotely sexual, but a feeling of security, understanding and belonging that he had never felt before. It warmed him to the core, and sent an icy shiver through his heart at the same time as he thought of how close he had come to losing his soul-sister without ever meeting her.
Vividly he remembered the day that Buck had pulled him aside to tell him about the fate of Chris's family and how devastated she had been.
"First she was almost catatonic, as if she just couldn't understand what had happened. Afterwards she began to destroy things, whatever she got her hands on. The house looked as if a tornado had whirled through it." Buck swallowed, then continued. "It was the pictures that stopped her. She began to cry then and didn't stop for days." His eyes darkened with the memory. "She began drinking too, and taking tablets, anything to drown her sorrow. To forget. It nearly killed her." Buck shuddered. "If I'd come by later, or not reacted as fast ... She was almost gone, too many pills combined with alcohol. I ... I never asked her, if it was ... an accident or a deliberate attempt at suicide. I never asked and she never told me." He breathed deeply. "Anyway, they kept her in hospital for observation, she didn't give them any trouble. I don't know what happened, if it was the shock of nearly dying or something a doctor said, but when she got out she was changed. Didn't touch a drink or a pill after that. Instead she threw herself into work. People say she worked around the clock all week. It isn't true, of course, but she came close. Her main goal was to find the bastard who killed her family, but she knew the brass didn't want her involved, so she did it in addition to the official cases. Got him, too."
Vin felt bad. He had seen the ring on Chris' finger and assumed that she was divorced. It had never occurred to him that she might be a widow, and she had been a mother, too. Suddenly his calling her 'mum' didn't seem funny anymore. He said as much to Buck.
"Don't worry." Buck managed a grin. "Sarah always called her 'mommy' and in a totally different tone. Besides Chris wouldn't take your teasing if it hurt her. Like she stopped you calling her 'princess'."
Vin nodded, remembering the chilling look that had earned him. "That her nickname for Sarah?" he asked.
Buck shook his head, tears glittering in his eyes. "It was mine."
"I'm sorry, Buck." He placed a hand on the larger man's shoulder and squeezed lightly.
"It's all right," Buck shrugged. "I didn't want to wallow in memories. I just wanted to explain why Chris is ... like she is now. Tomorrow would have been Sarah's birthday, and the anniversary of her wedding was yesterday. It's a bad week for her."
"Understandable." Vin rubbed his forehead. "I'll watch her and be there for her. Don't worry."
"Thank you," Buck smiled. "But don't tell her what I told you. She'd kill me. Especially if she knew I went into details. I probably shouldn't have done it, but I thought ... Hell, I thought with you being as close to her now, you should understand what's going on."
"My lips are sealed. Do the others know?"
"The bare facts, that her husband and daughter were killed. Nothing more."
Vin accepted that, almost wishing he didn't know anything more either, but he understood that Buck had needed to share the burden.
As it happened, two days later Chris had told him most of it herself, showing her trust in him by letting go of her control and crying herself to sleep in his arms. He had learned a lot about her that night and had shared a lot about himself as well. Where there had been only instinctive trust before was now true understanding.
Chris had later referred to that night as 'the day I decided to enjoy life again', and had called Vin her savior. He had reciprocated by telling her that her job offer had very likely saved his life, at least his sanity, for he had been almost burned out when they met.
And there she had been, asking him to look her up if he ever decided to give up bounty hunting, she might have a job for him. They had known each other for less than three hours then. Nevertheless, five minutes later he had stood before her again, ready to start a new life. He had never regretted that decision.
"Do I want to know where you've been?" Chris's voice interrupted his voyage through the past.
He shook his head. "Don't think so." A last look at the picture in the file, then he gave the folder back to her. "So you'll take Josiah with you?" he asked, realizing that as the profiler of the team Josiah would be the best man to judge the new guy.
Chris nodded, obviously following his train of thought. "One would think between two profilers we could find the truth about Ezra Standish's character. Even if one of them were slightly smitten with his looks." She smiled and walked around her table. "I expect you to keep Buck and J.D. out of trouble as long as Josiah and I are gone."
"Me?" Vin straightened in surprise. "Why me?"
Sitting down she gifted him with a cat's smile. "Because that way you'll be much too occupied to get into trouble yourself."
"You're evil, and you know it," he accused her.
"Yes, I know. And you're dismissed," she waved him away and concentrated once more on the papers in front of her.
"Yes, milady." He bowed and opened the door, feeling her glare on his back all the way to his desk. He grinned. She was evil, but she was also fun.
The picture she was presented with amused her no end and changed her mood instantly from 'tolerable' to 'good'. Usually Chris hated hospital gowns, but when it was a man wearing one, a man who was trying to cross the distance between his bed and the closet, thereby standing with his back to her, then those gowns had their moments. Though the bandages, she could see, diminished the fun a little.
"Nice," she commented, waiting for the patient to turn around. Behind her, Josiah chuckled, reminding her of the fact that she wasn't alone and should keep a professional attitude, or she would never live it down.
The man, who of course had heard them enter, turned around slowly, his face showing only annoyance and not the embarrassment he surely had to feel.
"There is a door to this room so that people can do as decency dictates and knock," a sweet Southern voice told her.
Chris sighed inwardly. She really had a thing for accents and the way someone spoke. This guy hit all her buttons. It had been a good idea to bring someone along.
"I'm always telling that to my boys, but it seems they've corrupted me." She smiled nonchalantly, or at least she hoped she did. "Mr. Standish, I presume?" Of course she knew who he was, but it seemed the easiest way to get down to business.
He nodded. "And you would be?"
"I'm Chris Larabee and this is Josiah Sanchez, we're with the ATF Denver."
His eyebrows rose. She could almost see his wheels turning, wondering why any ATF agents, especially some from the Denver branch would want to talk to him.
"I'd expect this is to take a while?" Pale green eyes looked questioningly at her, but otherwise his expression was unreadable. If he was nervous, he hid it well.
She shrugged. "Maybe."
With a sigh, he returned to bed and slid under the covers. Though 'crawled' would have put it better. His slow, precise movements told Chris everything she needed to know, that he was still hurting, that he wasn't supposed to be up, and that he had been on the verge of going AWOL. It reminded her of Vin, who was notorious for his hospital escapes.
Chris waited while Standish settled himself then walked over and sat down on the foot of the bed.
She saw a flash in his eyes, and knew, when he didn't voice his anger, that he wouldn't begin the conversation. That was up to her.
"My team needs an undercover agent," she explained bluntly, "and I'm here to find out if you might be the one."
Now that got to him. Obviously that was the last thing he had expected. His mask of indifference slipped, only for a moment, but it was still long enough for Chris to see the hurting and lonely boy underneath it.
"I wasn't aware I was the only undercover agent in the United States," he replied, his voice betraying nothing.
"You aren't. But there are only a few with your reputation and most of them are not available." How he would react to this would tell a lot about him.
He sent her a half sarcastic half self-deprecating smile. "If you believe me to be available, then you must also be aware of my questionable reputation."
"Your file says you are an extremely good undercover agent, probably one of the best. What I heard was that your team treated you like shit, and I thought you'd like the idea of starting anew somewhere else. Did I get anything wrong?"
"My ... colleagues believed they had a reason to treat me like ... they did," Standish pointed out.
She couldn't believe her ears. Did the man actually defend his teammates? Yes, he did, and Chris wondered what that was saying about him. Maybe he was broken after all and had no fire in him anymore - which would mean he would be of no use to her. Or - the thought made her smile - he was one of the most loyal men she had ever come across, and since five of those men were making up her team, she was more certain than before that she'd just found her sixth.
"They did wrong," she told him crisply. "The rumors are no excuse." Her eyes locked on his, she knew they would tell her much more than his words.
"You don't believe the accusations then?" he asked cautiously.
Damned, the man was good. If she hadn't been looking for it, she would not have seen the flicker of surprise.
"I listen to rumors, but I don't believe anything before I have the facts."
"A very unique and honorable personality trait." Standish's face showed polite admiration, which meant he didn't believe her.
Which meant he was calling her a liar. There were few things she hated more than not being believed: being called a liar was one. Anger welled up in her and she rose, looking down at the man with what J.D. had dubbed her 'Cyclops glare'.
"Cut the crap, Standish! Did you?"
"Did I what?"
She had to give the man some credit, except for his eyes widening, he didn't show any indication of being frightened by her sudden aggressive stance.
"Did you sell out?" She got straight to the point.
"Would my answer actually make a difference?" he asked, cocking his head slightly.
"Of course." Chris nodded. "If you say you did, then I'm out of here in a second, looking for another agent."
His lips curled for a second, the ghost of a smile. "And if I said I didn't, would you believe me? After all, isn't that what people like me are supposed to do, lie?"
"I'm a good judge of character, Ezra," she said calmly, feeling somehow that she got her answer already. "I will know if you lie to me. But if I believed you innocent and were wrong, then this would at least prove that you're indeed as good as the reports are saying and that would mean I've got a damned good undercover agent."
He just lifted an eyebrow, so she figured she hadn't gotten her point across ... yet.
Leaning forward, she lightly cupped his chin. "I don't take kindly to being betrayed. Those few who did it, seldom lived long enough to cherish it. Do we understand each other?" A gentle caress to his cheek then she straightened, waiting for his answer.
"I'd say an understanding has passed between us, yes." He nodded.
If it hadn't been for his eyes she would have thought him unimpressed, still he didn't seem scared, just nervous. Either his sense of self-preservation was lacking, or he believed himself safe from her wrath. If it was the last, then the guy was even worse than Vin, who at least knew better than to annoy her when she meant business - most of the time anyway.
A quiet cough from Josiah interrupted her musings. She had almost forgotten that the profiler was still in the room. She turned and looked questioningly at him.
He just nodded towards the man in the bed.
'Oh yes,' she grinned embarrassed, 'he hasn't answered yet.'
"So, are you a crook, Ezra?" she asked him, once more looking at his green eyes.
He swallowed. "No," he said, never lowering his gaze. "The rumors are not true."
Chris grinned again, believing him. Again she turned to Josiah, hoping he would back her up. The profiler nodded, Standish had convinced him as well.
"I guess that means I've got an appointment with your boss in ..." She looked at her watch, "47 minutes. I'd better go. It wouldn't look good to be late."
Standish smiled. "I'm certain that will be an ... interesting conversation, Mrs. Larabee."
She just rolled her eyes. Talking to anyone's superior had never been on her list of things she liked to do, especially not when she wanted something from those superiors. On the other hand, she liked putting down assholes and she expected Ezra's boss to be a major one. Maybe the conversation would indeed be interesting.
Already on her way out she stopped briefly and smiled back at the Southerner. "See you in Denver, Ez," she said, and then passed Josiah who held the door open for her.
She heard Standish's "What if I don't want to relocate to Denver?", but decided to ignore it.
He would come, Chris was sure of that. He would join them and with him as their undercover agent then Team 7 would finally become the best ATF unit in the country. She smiled, satisfied with herself.
"He's hard to read," Josiah said suddenly, disrupting the silence between them.
"So?" She looked up, but didn't slow down; they had an appointment to keep after all.
"I just wondered if you think you can handle him?"
The mere suggestion that she couldn't made her bristle. "Of course."
"He gets under your skin even faster than Vin. Are you sure he's what you want?"
She had to admit that Josiah was right, and he hadn't even realized how far under her skin the undercover agent had gotten. For a moment, she thought of calling it off, but then she shook her head.
Sure, Vin could be annoying, but mostly she liked his teasing, it made her feel younger, more alive, and she loved him deeply. If Ezra was like Vin, and could even awake feelings in her which she had thought buried with Adam, then she should probably go for it. And besides ... she thrived on challenges.
"Oh yes, he is what I want, Josiah," she said, while wondering if she and Vin would find themselves in competition for the Southerner. Now that was an interesting idea.
Chris grinned, a secretive half-smile no one could fathom. Life certainly wouldn't get dull with men like Vin and Ezra around. She couldn't wait to get them together.
Leaning against the elevator's wall, thankful that he was alone, Ezra rubbed his tired eyes. He hadn't slept too well, too many what-ifs, too many what-will-they-expect questions running through his head. He had forgone breakfast, but of course, he was still late. 'Late on my first day. Damn it.' He had wanted to make a good impression, or rather had not wanted to get on Larabee's bad side; he was sure that would happen soon enough.
He sighed. On the other hand, Team 7's leader very likely knew about his not-getting-up-before-10 a.m. routine, and if he'd actually been on time she might believe him to be afraid of her. Now that wouldn't do at all.
And it wasn't as if it were true anyway. Though rumors had it that Chris Larabee was a borderline psychotic, it was also said that she would do anything to protect her team, not only as a whole but any individual. She had even gotten Walker, that poor excuse for an undercover agent, a good job within Major Crimes.
"She thinks of Team 7 as a family with her as the mother," one of his sources had said. "Whatever problems might arise, they stay within the family. Nothing gets outside. And whoever wants to pick on her men has to go through her first."
So he didn't need to worry about his back-up not arriving on time, or being the scapegoat if something went wrong. Larabee wasn't one for compromises or diplomacy. She wouldn't let him get stained so that others could walk away in white. Unless, of course, he truly was the one who botched it up, then she might tear him to shreds, probably literally. After all she wasn't only a crack shot, but also held a black belt in karate and tae-kwon-do.
Ezra didn't liken Larabee to a lioness, knowing that a lioness would not protect her young from a new lion taking over the pride, but rather saw her as a hyena. That picture seemed more fitting since a hyena pack was always led by a female. They were stronger and the more dangerous of the species. He grinned, wondering what his new boss would think of the comparison and decided she would probably like it.
Remembering her visit in the hospital, he swallowed involuntarily. She had been an impressive sight, with her combination of tight black pants, black blouse and a black vest with silver ornaments. In accordance with the self-assured way she carried herself, her short blond hair, the shining blue-green eyes - it had seemed as if she was wearing a combat uniform, and the dangerous aura hadn't been lost on him.
Still even when she had openly threatened him, he had believed her to be role-playing, had thought of her as an extraordinarily talented actress who survived in the world of men by playing their game better than they did. He couldn't have been more wrong.
After she had gone, he had used his stay in hospital to gather as much information about her as possible. He may not have been trusted by his FBI colleagues any more, but that didn't mean that there were no other sources he could rely on. What he found had saddened and intrigued him at the same time.
Chris Corrigan had been a workaholic even before the tragic deaths of her family, though she had slowed down and, by profiling for a while, pulled herself off the streets after her daughter was born. She had been known for never giving up on a case until it was finished, and to always get the bad guy - though Ezra expected that to be an exaggeration. Nevertheless that had laid the groundwork for the legend she had become after the murder of her family.
While working on other cases as well, she had managed to find the hired killer who had put the bomb in place. Though the assassin wouldn't give the name of his client he admitted that the target had been Chris and her daughter, not her husband. That Adam would drive Sarah to school that day before meeting with his partner Wilmington had not been in the plan.
As far as Ezra understood it, people had waited for Chris to break down then, knowing that her husband died for her. But she didn't, instead she seemed to be more composed, even more stable than before. It puzzled the people who had expected her to drown in guilt.
Ezra shook his head. How could anyone not realize that this confession was actually relieving her of any guilt. If someone wanted her dead for something she had done, he would have tried it again, but nobody did. So whoever had hired the murderer had very likely been after Adam. Wanting the man to suffer, to break him by killing his family.
Instead Adam Larabee had died, leaving behind a blond Fury thirsting for revenge. If the client had any sense left he was probably living in Europe or Africa by now, and would never set foot on American soil again.
A 'ping' pulled Ezra from his musings. He straightened up and smoothed down his jacket. Breathing deeply he left the elevator. Time to meet said Fury and her brothers.
Due to the loud 'discussion' between two of the five men in the room, Ezra's arrival went unnoticed, giving him time to study his new colleagues for a moment and putting names and faces from the files together.
The young man holding up a folder to shield himself from flying paperballs was the computer and surveillance expert of the team, John Dunne. Used to reading between the lines Ezra was certain that the boy was also an excellent hacker, and he had every intention on getting on Dunne's good side. You never knew when a hacker would come in handy.
The tall man throwing the paperballs was the former Navy Seal William Wilmington. He had been Adam Larabee's partner with the police and best man at his wedding.
Further down the room Ezra could see the profiler Josiah Sanchez talking to a black man. He had to be Nathan Jackson, their on-the-spot medic.
Four members accounted for, he looked for the last one and found him next to the coffee machine. That had to be their sharpshooter Vincent Tanner.
Ezra felt part of his blood leave his brain and rush downwards. 'Oh dear.' The black-and-white photo hadn't prepared him for this. Not for the striking blue eyes, nor the devil-may-care grin, and certainly not for the lean, yet muscular body wearing a black T-shirt with a wolfhead on it and faded blue jeans which seemed to be painted onto the long legs.
He swallowed nervously. Wasn't it enough that he couldn't quite fathom his feelings towards his charismatic new boss, did he need to lust after one of his male teammates as well? His instincts told him to turn and run, and he might have given in to them without further thought, if not for those compelling blue eyes holding his gaze.
'No,' he realized, 'I don't want to go.' He wanted to get to know the man behind those eyes. And he wanted to prove to Larabee that she had made the right decision by giving him a chance. Besides he didn't actually have a choice. If he left here, then any other job he might get wouldn't be worth a damn.
'This was it, for better or worse.' The phrase made him grin.
Breaking eye contact with Tanner, he took a deep breath then loudly announced his arrival. "Good morning, gentlemen."
At once the noise died down and Ezra found himself openly scrutinized by Jackson, Wilmington and Dunne. He saw Sanchez getting up, probably to introduce him, but he decided to do it himself.
"I'm Ezra Standish. I think I've been expected."
"Finally." Wilmington grinned. "We wondered if you got lost somewhere." The large man stepped forward and extended a hand. "I'm Buck. If you need anything ask me, I know all the best places in Denver and ..."
"Buck! Not everyone has your bad taste, don't scare him away," Dunne interrupted, smiling at Ezra. "We are glad you're here. I'm J.D. by the way. And the best place to be is Inez' Saloon anyway."
"Boys, stop it." The Texas accented voice made Ezra look up from the hand he was shaking to the grinning sharpshooter. "Don't forget, her Highness is waiting for him. You can talk him to death later."
"I think you've made a valid point there, Mr. Tanner. One should never let a lady wait."
If someone was surprised that he already knew the long-haired man's name nobody showed it.
"You're already late," Jackson reminded him in a patronizing tone.
"That's true." He looked at the black man, not put off by his hostility. That treatment was actually one he was used to and he knew how to react. The friendly greeting from the others was a new thing, and he wasn't sure how to relate to it, a fact that made him wary.
"Being late is one of my vices that I can't seem to get rid of, Mr. Jackson, so you better get used to it." He sent the black man an arrogant smile then walked to Larabee's office.
Briefly he thought of just walking in, like Larabee had done at the hospital, but it seemed a rather childish revenge and he had been raised better than that. So he knocked before he entered.
Team 7's leader glanced his way, then at the clock on the wall above his head. Her eyebrows rose but she didn't say anything, just pointed at the chair in front of her desk.
Ezra closed the door and sat down with a "Good morning." After all he was a gentleman.
"Do you plan on always being late for work?" she asked, her tone one of mild interest.
"That would depend essentially on the hour that I'm expected to appear. If working hours begin at 10 o'clock, then I won't be late, at least not excessively." Looking innocent, he waited for the negotiations to begin.
Only to find that the woman in front of him wouldn't play his game.
"You start at 9 o'clock, Ezra. And if there is a meeting scheduled earlier you're there, too. No matter if it's 8:30 or 6 o'clock in the morning." She smiled sweetly. "Agreed?"
He had been right, she did know about his habits and had gone through all the arguments before he even put a foot into the building.
"Agreed." It was the compromise he had aimed for anyway, knowing that everybody else started at 8 o'clock. Though he wondered why she would make this concession. Maybe, because as an undercover agent he would more often than not work around the clock, she thought it only fair to give him a little more rope the rest of the time.
"You leave nothing to chance, do you?" It wasn't really a question. It was his way of congratulating her on successfully having taken the wind out of his sail.
"I try to be prepared for any eventuality."
"My sentiments exactly." He smiled; a woman after his own heart. He wouldn't be able to play her as he had done with other superiors, but that didn't mean he wouldn't be able to pull a string or two. It just meant that the game was now truly challenging. He liked the idea.
"Here." Larabee put his badge on the table and shoved some papers and a pen toward him. "Sign them and you're irrevocably part of Team 7."
He showed no haste when he took the pen, but didn't hesitate either. There was no point in stretching the moment; it was really just a formality, since the official transfer had been perfect even before Ezra had left the hospital.
"Good." She took the papers back and stood. "It's time I introduced you to the rest of my boys."
"Your boys?" he echoed, as he followed her to the door. "I wasn't aware that I signed myself into your keeping, Mrs. Larabee."
"Then you missed the small print," she deadpanned. "By the way, call me Chris." With that she walked into the outer office. "Okay, boys, line up. If you don't interrupt me this will be over in a minute and nobody gets hurt."
Her words earned her some chuckles and grins, but no one actually lined up, though everyone stopped talking.
"As you surely know by now, this is Ezra, our new undercover agent. I went all the way to Atlanta to get him, so be nice." She looked pointedly at Wilmington, who raised his hands in a ‘who-me?’ gesture.
"I'm always nice," Buck declared. "Any woman can confirm that."
"If you say so." Chris sighed. "Buck is under the delusion that every female on this planet is just waiting for him and his charms," she explained, while patting the large man's arm.
"At least you admit that I have charm." Buck grinned somehow satisfied, obviously relishing the banter.
"So does a dog." The woman grinned back. "Buck's also one of our practical jokers, so be careful around him." Chris didn't elaborate but walked to the next desk. "That's J.D., our youngest, but much more grown up than others I could name." Her glance towards Wilmington spoke volumes.
"And this cowboy here is Vin." She stepped behind the sharpshooter and laid her hands on his shoulders. "Our resident evil."
"Hey, hey." Tanner looked up to his boss. "I thought that was you, milady. When was I promoted?"
She reacted with a light punch to the back of the younger man's head, then moved on.
Ezra sighed inwardly, grateful that he wasn't expected to say anything. The sharpshooter was even more handsome close up.
"Now we come to the adults." That comment was followed by a paperball flying over their heads.
"Quod erat demonstrandum," Josiah said at the same time as Chris threw a "That's exactly the kinda crap I'm talking about, Buck," over her shoulder.
She shared a smile with the profiler, then winked at Ezra. "You've met Josiah. He's our man of faith. He still believes the others will grow up eventually. He and Nathan are our voices of reason. Nathan is also our self-appointed health advisor, though I fear he fights a lost cause. Maybe you'll be the one to make his day?"
Ezra looked at Jackson and saw the mistrust in his eyes.
"I'm afraid I'm not very good in following advice," he replied apologetically, bowing slightly. "I very much doubt that Mr. Jackson and I will find common ground."
Facing Chris again he saw her gaze shifting back and forth between him and Nathan. Obviously she had noticed the black man's expression as well as Ezra's sarcasm and was putting two and two together. Yet she didn't say anything, but just turned around and pointed at the desk next to Vin's. "That's your place. You can put the table somewhere else if you want to, just don't block the doors." She smiled encouragingly at Ezra then walked back to her office, only to hesitate briefly before vanishing into it. "Josiah can fill you in on our cases. Play nice, boys."
When the door closed behind her, Ezra found himself staring after his boss.
"She's something, isn't she?" Josiah commented and he could only nod.
"Do you want your desk moved?" J.D. asked, already standing there to help with the task.
"You'll get the afternoon sun directly in your face the way it stands now. Chuck always complained but never did anything about it."
"I think I'd prefer the sun and my eyes to not get intertwined, but I should probably postpone the decision until I have the experience of a full day at my disposal," Ezra replied, sitting down on his chair. 'This thing could be more comfortable,' he thought, then noticed the questioning expression on Vin and Buck's faces.
J.D. even verbalized his confusion. "Huh?"
"I said I'll think about it," he explained, hoping that he hadn't annoyed them. But he didn't need to worry. The three just grinned and let go of his desk.
"No problem, Ezra, just tell us when you know," Buck said and went back to his own desk, J.D. at his heels.
"Welcome to Larabee's harem, by the way, Ez." Vin extended his hand and Ezra shook it, echoing, "harem?" in a slightly shocked tone. He didn't have the chance to actually voice his misgivings about that word though, because Wilmington beat him to it.
"I told you a hundred times it is Larabee's stable, Vin. Harem is for pretty girls, I am a stud."
"You're full of crap, Buck!" J.D. piped in, drawing Buck's attention towards him. Almost instantly both men were entangled in a verbal sparring that had Ezra reeling.
It was somehow amusing, but how they could get any work done, let alone earn a formidable reputation was beyond him.
"This is nothing, you should see us on a good day," Vin said, leaning over the table.
"Oh dear," Ezra whispered, not sure if he commented on Vin's words or his nearness. "What have I gotten myself into?"
"Team 7, son," Josiah boomed from behind him. "Get used to it." The profiler put some files on the desk, pulled Vin's chair close and sat down. "Don't worry, you'll fit right in."
Ezra smiled politely. Somehow he doubted that, but he wouldn't mind if he did. He looked to Wilmington and Dunne and then at Vin, who now sat on his desk. No, he wouldn't mind at all.
THE END© 8. June 2002 by C.J. Ueberall