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Feeling the lethargy that always followed after the end of a three-day weekend, Chris walked into the office break room, hoping to find coffee to wash away his weariness and get himself back into the right mindset for work. He paused in the doorway when he saw Ezra sitting at the table, newspaper spread out before him. Glancing down at his watch, Chris saw that it wasn't quite 7:30 yet, far too early for Ezra to be in for the day. "Ezra? Did you come in yesterday and just not go home?" The other man had been known to pull all-nighters at the office if he was struggling to get paperwork done or prep himself for a case.
Ezra looked up at him and smiled. "Ah, Mr. Larabee. Good morning. No, I didn't come in yesterday. I turned in just after the nightly news last night and decided to come in early."
Chris froze a few feet away from the coffee machine. "Early?" And was Ezra *smiling*? He never smiled before noon.
"Well, yes. I rose with the sun and soon ran out of chores to perform at my home. There was no sense in wasting time there, so I came in early to prepare myself for the day. In our line of work, one can never really take too much care, can one?" He nodded over toward the counter that lined the walls. "I brought muffins." He looked back down at the newspaper.
This was wrong. Well, not wrong, but it definitely wasn't Ezra. Chris finished crossing the room and peeked into the box on the counter. Muffins, all right, and they smelled like homemade. Confused, Chris grabbed his coffee mug. There wasn't any coffee made, though. It was a general rule that whoever came in started the pot going. On the rare times when Ezra was the first one in, he'd always had it nearly finished brewing by the time others arrived for the day. "No coffee?"
"It really isn't good for you," Ezra said. "So many chemicals. Orange juice or better yet milk would go much farther in preparing you to face the day."
Unnerved, Chris turned around to stare at Ezra. He was bent over the paper, paying no attention to Chris, focused instead on the words below. Chris took the opportunity to look him over. No bandage on his head to reveal a head injury - although there was something strange about Ezra, something Chris hadn't noticed in his going-back-to-work funk.
His hair was... fluffy. Chris leaned forward a bit. Not fluffy, exactly, but it was different. It took him a few minutes to realize that he was seeing the absence of styling products. Ezra's hair was usually carefully made to look natural, but there was no way a man could come in every day looking as good as Ezra did without help. His hair was completely natural now, no longer held in place by whatever it was Ezra usually used.
Chris's gaze swept down. Ezra's clothes were wrong, too. The green-eyed man favored suits in the office, all in carefully chosen cuts and colors to show him off to best advantage. Chris didn't object to that at all: in the past few months, looking at Ezra had quickly become one of his favorite parts of going in to work. But now... black really wasn't Ezra's shade. It was too formal for the office and leeched some of the natural color away from the other man. Black jacket, black pants, white shirt: he'd never seen Ezra wear anything like it.
Unaware of the scrutiny, Ezra turned a page of the newspaper and began to hum quietly.
Ezra didn't hum! Chris backed away a few steps. Ezra didn't hum, and he most especially didn't hum early in the morning while wearing an unattractive suit and rejecting coffee. It took a few moments for Chris to recognize the tune: a hymn he remembered from childhood.
Chris broke and fled from the break room, walking backwards so he could keep an eye on Ezra. In the hallway, he bumped into something. He whirled quickly, coffee mug raised over his head, ready to strike.
Vin raised his hands defensively. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Shhhh!" Chris grabbed his arm and pulled him in close to the wall. "Look in the break room, but don't get caught looking."
Staring at him, Vin nodded slowly. "Just put the coffee cup down first." One the mug was down on the ground, Vin knelt on the ground and poked his head around the doorjamb. After a moment he was back on his feet. "Ezra looks good for pulling an all-nighter."
"He wasn't here all night," Chris said. "He came in *early*."
Vin dropped back down to his knees and peeped around the corner again. When he turned back to Chris, he was starting to look worried.
"He's humming," Chris said. "A hymn."
Vin's jaw dropped before he managed to collect himself. "We gotta talk to Josiah."
Chris reached for his cell phone.
"Nah, I passed him and Josiah coming in. They should be up in just a minute." Vin nodded over toward the elevator, which dinged quietly. "See?"
Josiah and Nathan walked off the elevator. Josiah raised a hand in greeting.
"Shhh!" Chris motioned for them to come over.
"What's wrong?" Nathan asked.
"Josiah, Ezra's been humming," Vin said. "Humming *hymns*."
Chris had never seen Josiah blanch before. "What does that mean?"
Josiah shook his head.
"What?" Chris waited for an answer, but none came. He watched as the tall man squared his shoulders and walked into the break room. Chris followed, staying out of sight by making sure he was close enough to listen.
"Morning, Ezra." Josiah's voice was hearty, cheerful.
"Good morning, Mr. Sanchez."
"I'm glad you're already here. Over the weekend, I discovered a great little beverage bar. In the mornings, they serve the finest coffee you've ever tasted. We've got a little while before the day really gets started. Come with me. My treat."
"Although I appreciate the offer, Mr. Sanchez, I really must decline."
"How about after, then? They've got some mighty fine import beer there, too."
"Alcohol is a slow acting poison, Mr. Sanchez. It really isn't good for you." The newspaper rustled. "Beside, the children of the school near my home are putting on a play tonight and I really would like to attend. I could get a ticket for you as well, if you're interested."
"Ah, that's all right, Ezra. But thanks anyway." Josiah reappeared in the hallway. "We have to talk."
"Did Ezra just say he wanted to watch kids in a play?" Nathan asked.
"My office," Josiah said.
Nathan stole a peek in the break room before following them into Josiah's office and closing the door behind himself. "Why's Ezra dressed like a preacher?"
Chris realized that Nathan was right; Ezra was dressed like a preacher. "What the hell is going on?"
"Ah, it's a long story," Josiah said.
"Ezra isn't going to get any weirder in the mean time, so let's have it." He watched as Nathan and Josiah share a worried glance. "Wait. He is?"
"Calm down." Josiah leaned back against his desk. "I started talking with Ezra almost a month ago. It was after the Iverson bust. He took a knock to the head."
"He didn't have a concussion," Nathan said, jumping in. "I checked him over really good, and he was just dazed but good."
"Right," Josiah agreed. "But it seemed to have done something to him. He came to me because he started having strange thought, almost like memories but he knew they didn't belong to him. I tried helping him as best I could, but he seemed to think he knew what was going on. He wanted me to hypnotize him, but you know I don't go in for that when I'm counseling. He went to someone else and showed me his files."
"Ezra was seeing a therapist and I didn't know about?" Chris shook his head. "Josiah -"
"He'd come to me for help, Chris. I couldn't betray that. Besides, it wasn't affecting his work, so there was no reason to tell you."
"Fine. What was in the files, or can you not tell me that?"
"I think I have to, now. Ezra thought that he was experiencing memories from a past life."
Chris rolled his eyes. "A past life?"
"Hear me out. A past life, where he was a preacher. I didn't really believe in any of that stuff, either, but look at how he's acting."
"Preacher," Chris muttered.
Nathan shivered a little. "You know, I think he was humming a hymn while I was examining him after the Iverson bust. I just now recognized the song."
"I think that past life, or at least his personality from it, is trying to reassert itself. Ezra's becoming more and more like his past self." Josiah spread his hands. "What other reason could there be?"
It was insane. Chris didn't believe in past lives. There had to be some other reason why Ezra was renouncing worldly ways and taking an interest in children and learning to cook and humming hymns. A reason that made sense.
A soft knock sounded at the door, and then Buck and JD were looking inside.
"What's wrong with Ezra?" JD asked, his eyes wide.
"What happened?" Chris demanded.
"JD and I came in and we were just talking, joking around." Buck shifted a little uncomfortably. "And then Ezra stood up and told us to listen to ourselves."
"He said we were taking the Lord's name in vain, that we were standing around and mocking the one who'd given us life and protected us when we were working." JD wrapped his arms around himself. "He said that our ingratitude was more disgusting than our manners."
Buck dropped a hand to his shoulder. "It's all right, JD. Ezra just woke up in a foul mood. Maybe he didn't sleep last night and that's what's got him so pissed."
Chris closed his eyes. Ezra was usually careful with his language, but when he got upset, he would put a sailor to shame with the things that came out of his mouth. Ezra didn't worry about offending religion, nature, or Chris himself when he got going on a tear, so there was no reason for him to light into JD and Buck. "I need to go to me office," he said quietly.
"Chris? What are we going to do?" Josiah asked.
"I don't know," Chris said. He left, closing the door on Buck and JD's questions. He'd let Josiah handle them. He made his way to his office and sat down at his desk. He truly didn't know what he was going to do. If Ezra really was turning into a preacher, then what was there to do? He'd lose his undercover agent, because the new... old... *different* Ezra would be unable to handle some of the things required for deep cover. Hell, he might even lose Ezra as a colleague altogether. If his interest was turning to school plays and he was dressing down other members of the team, was he going to be happy working with Team Seven?
Would he be happy being friends with Chris? Chris held no illusions about himself. He was a hard man to get along with until someone got to know him, moved past all his rough spots that no amount of time was ever going to wear away. But was Ezra even going to want to bother now? Or would he just see the roughness and turn aside.
Chris sighed. He was likely going to lose the tentative flirtation he and Ezra had been engaging in, the teasing words and the heated looks that filled him with hope and want. That was almost certainly all over now as well. Gone, before he'd ever had a chance to really enjoy them and explore to see what else there might be between them. Maybe he should mark this day on the calendar: the day he gave up on Ezra Standish. He picked up a pencil and cleared off that part of his desk colander. April first, the day...
Chris threw his pencil across the room as he ran towards his door. He jerked it open. He looked out into the hallway.
Vin was watching him from Josiah's office. Chris took a step toward him, but the door slammed in his face and after a moment he heard the sound of furniture moving. They'd barricaded themselves in so he couldn't get to them.
Fine. The one he really wanted was still in the break room. Chris walked down the hall and into the open room.
Ezra looked up from his paper. "Mr. Larabee, I..." His voice trailed away and his eyes widened. He stood up.
"Ezra," Chris said, taking a step into the room.
Ezra feinted right and Chris fell for it, giving Ezra the chance to bolt around the table the other way and run out of the break room. Chris was close on his heels, though, and when Ezra reached his office, Chris was close enough to catch his arm and swing him around, so he had him cornered, back to the wall. He braced his hands on the wall, on either side of Ezra's head, so he had him well and truly trapped.
"It isn't nice to play pranks," Chris said.
"It's tradition," Ezra offered.
"Tradition to get the entire team to go in on with you?"
"No. I prefer to think of that as a mild stroke of genius, myself." Ezra grinned. "It was good. Admit it."
"It was very good. You are always very good... especially when you're being bad." Chris pressed forward, very aware of the warm body he was leaning against, flat planes and hard muscle and enticing scent. He watched as Ezra's eyes grew darker and took a chance, leaning forward to speak directly into Ezra's ear. "You know," he said, then paused, savoring the shiver that moved through Ezra's body. "You know, it's also a tradition that if you play a prank and tell a lie, you have to make up for it by telling a truth."
"Is it?" Ezra murmured, tilting his head back to meet Chris's gaze.
No, Chris had just made it up, but it sounded good. "Yeah."
"Tell a truth? Or show a truth?" There was calculation in the heated gaze now.
"Good." Ezra leaned forward and caught Chris's mouth in a kiss.
|On to: Fool Traditions 2:
Trading Spaces, Vengeance Style
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