by The Chronicler

Warning: refers to possible deaths of main characters
Challenge: W.O.W. 04-01-04 -- ALOOF
Notes: I'm wondering if this is a bit confusing. It isn't meant to be a full story, though I guess it could lead to that. It's just a scene that popped into my head at 2am. What do you think?
Feedback: Yes, please.

Ezra Standish flipped the playing cards out onto the table. Each card was drawn with such intention and force, it snapped as its last corner was freed from the deck.

His green eyes were locked in an unblinking stare with the little numbers and shapes of the card. So intent was he at focusing on them, the rest of the world around him just faded away into the back ground, a nothing that could neither reach him... nor him reach it.

After all, what did he want with that world anyway? What did it ever give him but heart ache and pain? And even that much he had to fight for tooth and nail.

Well, damn it, he was tired of fighting, and struggling, and, well... being! There was no reward for good behavior, plum in the pie, no silver lining, no pot of gold... hell, there wasn't even the damn rainbow.

The world was cold, gray nothing. And he just didn't give a damn any more.

The cards on the other hand...

They had always been there for him, in one way or another. he could make them do what he wanted them to do, except for the few times the outside world delt him a dose of fate. But, even then, he could predict what the cards would do, manipulate them to his favor. With these cards he could win!

"Agent Standish!" The doctor's hands wrapped around the deck, stilling them.

Ezra's cold, hard greed eyes turned up just enough to see the man sitting in front of him. 'How dare this bastard from that world intrude on this, my word, my cards? How dare he try and wrestle away the only thing that is mine, the only thing that is more real, more aloof than life?' his mind screamed and his muscles tensed as the urged to leap forward and rip the very life out of the man surged through them, bring heated life to what, otherwise, was a cold, numb existence. But instead, he simply said in a soft, calm voice "Your pleasure, Doctor Morgan?"

The physiciatrist's eyes narrowed. "Agent Standish," he repeated, only slightly assured that he was being heard, "I wanted to talk to you about what happen to your team mates."

"Team mates?" Ezra repeated. 'What was he talking about? The only teammates I have are 52 little cards. And they are all here. Every last one of them.'

"Your team mates." the doctor insisted, releasing the deck. He frowned as Ezra began to flip out the cards again, but, noting that he was keeping beat to his words, there was some indication that he was, at least in part listening to him. So... "The other members of the ATF unit Team 7. Also known as the Magnificent 7. Special Agents Chris Larabee..."

The King of Spades.

'Yes, I remember him. The black King.' Ezra's mind recognized both card and name. Unable to separate the two, he knew them both. But Larabee wasn't here and the King was... how was that possible?

"Special Agent Vincent Tanner..."

Ace of Clubs.

Another card and another recognition. But something was missing from the Ace of Spades. They were one and the same.... so why was only the Ace present?

"Special Agent Buck Wilmington..."

Jack of Hearts.

Yes, he knew that one too. A good friend, that card. Always made him smile.... even if he refused to show it... still.... here, but absent.

"Special Agent Josiah Sanchez..."

10 of Diamonds.

A good, strong, dependable card. Always close at hand, always supportive, if not in the actual game, at least in knowing that he was never far away. The 10 of Diamonds was, as always, right here and now... so, why did it seem as if he's out of reach? "Special Agent Nathan Jackson..."

7 of Hearts

'Ah-ha! 7 of hearts was the lucky card. No one ever expected much from a 7 of anything, but, with a little heart, it could pop up just at the right time and save the game! Nathan had always been a ... handy... card...'

"And Special Agent John Danniel Dunne. I believe he preferred to be called..."

2 of Diamonds.

The little diamond in the ruff, always seen as being on the tail end of glory, rarely recognized for his true self: that which made the glory all possible.

"J.D." Ezra gasped, doubling over in unbearable agony. 'Six. There were six missing... gone... taken from him... destroyed... that damn world had reached into my deck and stole six cards.... MY six cards...' Desperately, he gathered his cards to his chest and began to count them. '49... 50... 51... 52... but No! There can't be 52 cards! Six were missing! Six were destroyed! There can't be 52 left....'

"Agent...." Again the doctor attempted to still the cards, but his patient leaped back, clutching his friends to his chest, protecting them from whatever had happened to the six.

Doctor Morgan sighed. "Ezra, they are not cards. They are not pieces of a game. They were six real men from the real world. Your real friends."

"Mine!" Ezra hissed at him. he shook his head angrily.

The doctor nodded. "Yes, your friends, you comrades. But they died. You were there. Do you remember?"

But the Agent glared at him. "They aren't dead!" he snarled. Snatching a card, he snapped it out to show him. "See? See! He's here! 10 of Diamonds! Whole! In one piece! Right in the deck where he belongs!"

"Ezra, that is a card, a little piece of decorative, stiff paper." Morgan explained. "Who's the he in that card?"

Ezra turned the card so he himself could see it. Of course it wasn't a he. 'He's belonged to that word... that world that he wanted no part of any more. This was his, his card, his little world that belong to him and only him... all 52 of them...

'But six were missing.' his muddled mind remind him. 'Count the cards! Where's the six? How can there be 52 if six were missing? Where were the six?'

Watching as the Agent delved back within himself and start to frantically count the cards again and again, the doctor gave a long, tired sigh. Slowly standing up, he waved to a pair of interns who stepped forward with the patient's dose of sleeping agent. Leaving the sick man to their care, he crossed the room to where another man stood, waiting for his report.

"Well?" growled the graying man, not showing a sign of patients.

"Well, Director Travis, that is a very sick man." The doctor ran a hand down his tired face. "Whatever happened, whatever he saw when his team was killed, was enough to send him running for cover in the only place he feels safe: his mind. And he folded his mind over onto itself so many times, trying to cover his tracks, hiding and escaping the reality of it all..." He shrugged. "It's gonna take one hell of a pathfinder to find a way out of that mess."

Orin Travis watched as the remaining member of his best team was lead from the room in a drugged haze. "Doctor Morgan, that is the only man who can tell us, for sure, what happened. I need to know what happen to the other members of his team."

Morgan frowned. "Well, perhaps you can tell me how they died. If I can paint a partial picture for him, perhaps he'll fill in the blanks."

"We don't know how they died." Travis said a little too quickly.

"I don't understand. Didn't the autopsy reveal..."

"There was no autopsy." the ATF director cut him off. When the doctor continued to frown at him, he explained "There was no autopsy because there were no bodies."

"Then how do you know they're dead?"

"Because!" Travis snapped. He threw a finger in the direction Ezra had been lead away in. "The first and only coherent thing out of his mouth when we found him was 'They're dead! The Magnificent Seven are dead!'" He shook his head. "Doc, I need that man. Only he can tell me what the hell happened... to him and six other good men who have no one else to speak up for them. Six, damn it. Six!"


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