RATING: PG... for some swearing
CATEGORY: Challenge - PQL AU – this AU is open.  Use it nicely
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, TNN, Showtime Extreme, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.  No infringement on any of the copyrights held by the makers of Quantum Leap is intended either.
NOTE: I am continuing to figure out stuff about my new AU.  Don't mind me.   Vin leaps into an expensive restaurant and recognizes someone.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE: January 14, 2001, housekeeping January 3, 2010

PQL: Fair
By NotTasha...who isn't

It started with a blue light and that disorientating feeling that always came with a leap. For the first few moments he didn't know who he was, let alone where he was.  He hated that feeling.  It was like getting thrown into a pool when you were fast asleep.

As things came into focus, Vin found himself seated with his arms folded on a table. He gazed first at the nearly empty glass in front of him.  Some sort of amber liquid -- scotch? Maybe.   Ezra would know.  He looked across the well-appointed table.  It was all shiny with a fortress of glassware and a regiment of flatware.  How in the hell was a person supposed to use all these things?   His side of the table was slightly disordered, but the opposite side showed no sign that anyone had been seated there. There were no plates and no crumbs, so apparently no one had eaten yet. Well, that only added to his hungry feeling. Slowly he took in the room, a restaurant – an ‘expensive’ restaurant.  Everything shone in gold and reds, and waiters hustled about officiously.

Tanner glanced at his watch -- and wondered why he'd done that.  He usually wasn’t one that cared about the time.  It was 7:45 and that annoyed him for some reason. He fingered the gold timepiece for a minute or two, wondering what was about to happen -- certainly something was about to happen!   He looked about anxiously, watching for the big ‘IT’ that was about to burst forth.   But the waiters still buzzed about and the other patrons conversed in hushed tones at their tables.  Flatware clinked and glasses chimed as the diners dined.

Nothing happened. Everything seemed perfectly at ease. ‘Okay, Ez,’ he thought. ‘What’s going on this time?’  But, the Observer hadn’t arrived yet.  He was left to himself in a place far too nice for his tastes.  His stomach growled and he wondered if he could order onion rings and a beer.

A menu sat at one corner of the table, and since Vin had nothing else better to do, he opened it and started scanning it.  "Damn," he muttered as he read through the prices.  The price for an appetizer was more than he’d spend on an entire dinner.  He didn’t recognize the names of most of the things presented.  Most of it sounded rather ‘frenchy.’  There wasn't a beer to be found.  He thoughtfully set down the menu and tried to find a wallet to make sure he could afford an entree.

"Sir," A voice purred and Vin jumped to find the waiter beside him. "Perhaps you'd like to order an hors d'oeuvre as you wait for your companion?  I’m certain she’ll be along shortly."

"Yeah, ah yeah," Vin murmured as he opened the menu again. He was pretty damn hungry, but the prices… man alive!  He'd never seen the like of it.  Despite his search, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of onion rings anywhere on the list.

"Order the calamari, and perhaps the marinated stuffed mushroom-caps," a familiar voice suggested.  Vin glanced around the menu and noted Ezra standing beside waiter.

"Don’t like mushrooms," Vin commented.

"Oh sir, I assure you," the waiter responded.  "Ours are the very best."

Tanner furrowed his brow and sighed.  "Calamari?"  he tried.

The waiter nodded vigorously.  "Excellent choice, sir.  I'll have it brought immediately.  Would you want another beverage?"  He drew out the word beverage longer than one should.  He waited for Vin's nod before he bustled away.

"So, is calamari like ravioli or somethin'?" Vin asked.  “I like Italian.”

"It's squid, Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied.  He grinned when he saw Vin's disgusted look.  "It's fried.  Think if it as KFC Popcorn Chicken and you'll feel right at home."

Vin still grimaced.   "'Long as it's fried."  It might not be onion rings, but perhaps it’d be close.

Ezra sat beside him in the narrow booth, so close that they would have been touching if one of them wasn't a hologram.  The situation would have been uncomfortable, but no one could see them; Ezra was invisible to the room and Vin was unseen by anyone at PQL.  Closeness counted when Vin was kept his voice low – no one talked softer than Tanner.  

Vin liked the southerner.  They hadn’t had much time to get to know each other before the explosion that sent them sling-shotting back and forth through time.  The two of them had been the newcomers, still searching for the places in PQL.  Since they’d become mentally linked, they were closer than brothers. When Vin was on a leap, Ezra was his only connection with ‘reality’. No matter how crazy or unnerving a leap might become, he could always count on Ezra to keep his feet on the ground. Ezra was his confidant, his soothsayer, and encyclopedia all rolled into one.  And more than anything, Ezra was his friend – something he dearly needed when he was alone on his leap.

And, when Ezra leaped, Vin provided the same link to Ezra, the same friendship. It would be Vin’s job to get Ezra safely through his mission, as quickly as possible.  There was a betting pool back at PQL to be awarded to the team that could manage the shortest leap.  The prize was given after all six had taken their turns, shortest time for a single leap won. The two of them worked damn hard to get that pool as often as possible.

They’d done a lot of good – the two of them.  They’d saved lives, rescued people from pain and anguish, they’d made life better for many. It made Vin proud to be part of PQL, glad to have Ezra as his partner.  Together, the two of them could accomplish anything.

It was strange that the two didn't truly see each other, that he was never able to shake Ezra’s hand, high-five him, pat his back or hit him across the chops if he deserved it.  Sometimes Vin just had the urge to put Standish in a headlock and give him a noogie.  But the two of them could never be in the same place and time.  They were forever together, but forever separated.  Ezra would call it 'ironic,' but Vin simply thought the situation was unfair.

Vin shook his head as Ezra grinned drolly at him.  The Leaper set up his menu as a shield to hide his conversation before he started talking.  "So, what do we know?" Vin asked as he pretended to elbow the too-close Standish away.

Ezra huffed as if bothered by this, but he didn’t move.   Somewhere, in the 'present', Ezra sat on a folding chair in an Imaging Chamber, scrutinizing his handlink. "You're name is Martin Stubbing and you’re in financial planning.  You're currently at a fashionable restaurant in Manhattan.  It's June 5, 1980."  Ezra glanced around and murmured, “That would explain some of the hairstyles...and the clothing!  Good Lord, what were they thinking?”

"Jeez, Ezra, it's only '80?  The prices are pretty high for that year, don't you think?"  Vin pointed to some of the more outrageous amounts for emphasis.

With a disdainful sniff, Ezra responded, "This is a very fine restaurant and they serve only the best.  I've been here myself and found the place…" He frowned then as if he'd thought of something and looked around the room. Suddenly, he lowered his head and again poked at his handlink. "…noteworthy," he muttered, finishing his aborted sentence.  The observer lifted his head, gazed about the room, but quickly averted his eyes as if he'd seen something unsavory.

“Any ideas on why we’re here?”  Vin watched Ezra’s deliberate motions as he worked the contraption.  The Observer held the link in such a manner that Vin couldn't easily see it.  For a minute, Vin thought that maybe Ezra was hiding something, but he lowered it soon enough.

Before Tanner could ask him anything, Ezra went on at a quick clip, "You're here to meet a woman, a Miss Heidi Longley.   She's late," he spoke stiffly.  "In the original history, Mr. Stubbing leaves the restaurant after waiting for nearly an hour.  Miss Longley will arrive at almost the same time as his departure -- delayed by car problems." Some of his usual good-nature returned as he continued, "The poor dear, it seems her alternator belt broke and she barely made it to a service station before she lost power.  No cellphones in this era, so she couldn't call to tell you about the delay.  She took a cab to make it here and was getting out when she saw Stubbing, you, exiting the facility."  Ezra sighed sadly.  "She'll be struck by a car as she tries to run across the street to catch up with him."

"Man, that's tough," Vin shook his head.  "So, do I have to jump out in front of the truck?”

“No, and it wasn’t a truck, it was a sub-compact.  A Dodge Omni, I believe -- tan in color.”

“Do I push her out of the way, pick her up in my arms and carry her to safety.”

“No, Mr. Tanner.  You just have to wait.  She’ll be here in fifteen minutes.  As long as you’re at this table there should be no problem.  She won't dart across the street if she doesn't see you trying to leave.”

“That's all?"

"So it seems," Ezra said.  "Just enjoy your date and have an exquisite meal."

"I hope I can afford it."

"Don't worry, Mr. Stubbing is rather well-endowed." He raised an eyebrow when he saw the sly look on Vin's face. "…monetarily," he amended. "Sit back and relax.  I would suggest the lobster newberg, but I’m afraid of what you’d do with that.  Settle for a steak.”

“Sounds more to my liking, anyway,” Vin said as his eyes scanned the pages for red meat.

After a quick glance around the room, Ezra said, "I'll go confer with The Clarion and see if there's anything else we should do.  I'll be back.  Stay put.  I mean it.  Don't leave the table."

And without even waiting for a goodbye, he disappeared.  Vin stared at the spot where Ezra had been for a moment longer.  “Bye,” he said under his breath.   He wondered why Ezra had taken off so quickly.  He put down the menu and looked again at the table-setting.  He could use Ezra's assistance at this place.  Nothing looked familiar to him.  What was he supposed to do with all those forks?  And why did he have two wineglasses?  Dang, why hadn’t Ezra leaped into this situation instead of himself?

The waiter returned with a plate of something that looked nothing like a bucket of KFC Popcorn Chicken.  Vin had never seen so many legs on a chicken nugget before.  At least some of them were O's.  Maybe those tasted like onion rings?  He poked at it with the new fork that the waiter had brought along. He was still contemplating what to do about the weird looking leggy bits when he became aware of the conversation at the table beside him.

"You know full well that this is for the best."

"The best for whom?"

"Really, you're being unreasonable."  The southern toned voice was hushed, confident and feminine.

"I'd rather go with you."  The second voice, southern as well, seemed young, although the words were more fitting of an adult.  The tone of the speaker was obviously discouraged and sullen.

Vin looked up and noted the pair.  A well-dressed blonde woman sat at one side of the table and a brown-haired boy was at the other.  The kid couldn't have been much older than ten years old.  He sat with his shoulder hunched as he poked at his food.  The woman looked annoyed as she glanced back at the unhappy boy.

"Now, darlin'," she said in her cultured accent.  "You know I'm always thinkin' of you.”

“It isn’t fair,” the boy said in a quiet and frustrated voice.

“Don’t whine, child.  Life isn’t fair.  That’s something you must learn to expect.  How could I possibly bring you with me?  Mr. Wingo and I will be enjoying his yacht for over a week and there's no room for small boys there."

"I'll be quiet," the boy pledged, still pushing around his food.  "I promise."

"You'll be underfoot and no one will want you there."

The boy still poked. "Maybe, maybe I could come later, when you're at his island? There's more room there.  I'll bring my books and you won't even see me. You know I'm good at stayin' out of sight."

The woman tilted her head and tsked, "Now, my dearest son, you know that wouldn't be possible.  It's a 'private' island.  Besides, that very expensive boarding school starts in the fall.”  She waved her hand vaguely as she failed to come up with the name of the ‘expensive’ place.  “And dear, I have no idea of when I'll be returning.  It would probably become a troublesome situation to ensure that you're returned to the States in time.  Nobody wants to herd around a loose child.  It would be best for everyone if you simply do what I've decided."

Vin watched the boy and remembered his own childhood.  He'd been orphaned at the age of five and had spent most of his life in foster care.  He'd been shuffled around so much that he hardly knew what a home was like.  So many times he'd felt worthless and unwanted.  His heart went out to this well-dressed boy, feeling a sort of kinship toward him.

"Mother, I don’t have to go to school.  I can get a fine education on my own.  We could work together, like we did in Saint Louis.”

She smiled genuinely and the boy smiled too – a spark of hope ignited. “Yes, that did work out wonderfully, didn’t it?” she said.  “But I’m after a different prize this time.”

“I could help with Mr. Wingo,” the boy spoke with a quiet excitement.  “I could be anything you want.”

She shook her head. "Dear boy, I’m more than capable of capturing that bloated wood tick on my own.”  The boy’s hopeful look disappeared as the woman scrutinized him. “Besides that, have you forgotten the effort I went through to get you into this school, especially after what happened at the last one? Lord, sometimes I think I've worked harder than you at your education.  You'll thank me someday."

The boy nodded and said nothing.  He held his fork over his food, unable to even shove it around anymore.

She sighed and leaned forward.  "You know this is just 'business'. How can I provide for my darling boy if I don't have a new husband?  We're used to the very best and I must keep our lifestyle up to that standard.  Your last father was much less that I'd hoped and his lawyer was a bit more than I'd anticipated. I'm afraid that our coffers are almost bare."

The boy set down his fork.  "You don't have to get married this time.”  His voice was barely above a whisper and Vin had to strain to hear.  “We don't need to have so much money.  I think you and I would be able to make a fine living without a new man in the family.  We're good at what we do."

The woman looked irritated.  "Son, just look at the food you're wasting right now.  How can you possibly assume that we could live on a mere pittance when you're throwing away food that's worth as much as most 'common people' make in a week?  Now, eat it before you embarrass me.”

The boy picked up the fork and jammed in several large bites.

"Child!" she whispered severely, "Don't you dare make a scene. You do remember that appearances are everything."

The boy set down the fork again.  Apparently he could neither eat nor abstain without finding himself in the wrong.

Vin was about to stand up and say a word or two to the woman, when the boy spoke quietly. "Couldn't I stay here with Sally?"

The woman frowned again.  "I have to let Sally go.  It makes no sense to keep a housekeeper when I no longer plan to keep the apartment.  Besides, why would she want you anyway?  She's a grown woman with a life of her own.  I'll have my things packed up while I'm away and put into storage.  With any luck Preston will have a more than adequate household to keep me."

"Maybe there's someone else who'd let me…"

"Your Uncle Lucas kindly relented and said you could stay with him. Why are you making such a fuss about this?"

The boy looked away from his mother and his gaze fell upon the man at the booth beside them, his sad green eyes meeting Vin's.  The boy gazed at him for a second or two before facing his mother again and Tanner felt as if he'd been hit with an electric shock.  The boy's eyes had been so familiar -- so very familiar, and yet so hopeless and sad.

"Damn," Vin thought as the realization struck him.  He'd recognize Ezra's eyes anywhere.

"Please…" young Ezra tried, his voice so low that Tanner could barely hear him.  "I don’t like Uncle Lucas.  I don’t think he likes me.”

“Dearest, we often have to do things that we don’t necessarily like. Think about this as a test. I know you can change his opinion with a little effort.”

“I'd rather not stay with him again."

"You will," his mother countered.  She looked up as the maître d' approached the table.  "I believe your ride is here, darling."

The boy looked up, startled.  "But, I'm not even packed yet, Mother.  I couldn't possibly…"

"I had it all planned.  Sally packed your bags while we were eating.  Isn't that marvelous?"

"I haven't said goodbye to her."

"Darling, you know she has better things to do than to say 'bye-bye' to little boys.   Now, jump to your feet and give your mother a kiss.  You can't miss your plane."

The boy slid from his chair and rounded the table slowly.  The woman leaned forward and pressed a cheek against his.  "Please, try to make me proud this time.  I don't want to hear that you've caused your uncle any grief."

The boy nodded absently, muttered a good-bye, and turned toward the waiting maître d' who gestured toward the door.  The boy followed.

Vin couldn't believe what he'd just witnessed.  The woman returned to delicately eating her dinner as the boy trudged away.  She looked up, watching the boy go.  Whether it was to get one last look at the boy, or if it was to make sure that he actually left the room, Vin couldn’t be sure.

‘Damn her,’ Vin thought, tossing his napkin to the floor. He'd give her a piece of his mind and catch up with that kid-Ezra.  Talk to him a bit maybe and…

"Vin!"  He heard his name urgently called and swiveled to find Ezra standing beside the table, his face was pale and his eyes wide.  “Don’t do anything about this, Vin.”

"She's your mother!"  Vin hissed under his breath.

"That she is," Ezra replied solemnly. "But, you must do nothing about this.  It's not your problem.  Just sit here quietly, and wait for your date."

"No way in hell," Vin murmured. "I'm gonna give that woman a…"

"No!  Please!"  Ezra begged, he held up a hand as if he planned to stop Tanner.  "Do nothing. The first rule of leaping is that we must not meddle with our own pasts or those of the others on the team. It might bring the whole program crashing to a halt, it might undo everything we've accomplished."

"Yeah, but..." Vin gestured futilely at the woman who was apparently ignoring this madman at the table beside her.  "I could talk to her and maybe convince her that she shouldn't send you away."

Ezra laughed sharply.  "Vin, I can assure you, there's no way that you'll be able to convince my mother of anything.  She is rather headstrong and is more than capable of getting her way in a situation."

"Still," Vin whispered.  "She needs someone to knock some sense into her, and I'm just the guy to do it."

"No, no…" Ezra shook his head vigorously.  "You mustn't. This is not what you're here for. This really isn’t a problem.  I'll only be with my uncle for a month and then…then I'll live with someone else, a decent sort of man.  I'll stay with him and his family for the rest of the summer.  It was better there."  He tried to look reassuring.  “I was happy while I stayed with them.  Then the school year will start and everything will be back to normal.  It will work out fine, Mr. Tanner.  Meddling with this will cause more harm than good."

Vin stood and glared at the woman at the table.  She felt his gaze and looked back at him disarmingly, smiling sweetly in spite of his razor glance.  Her attention was returned to her dinner.

"Sit down, Mr. Tanner," Ezra urged.  "Please."

The despairing eyes of young Ezra returned to him.  Had that boy glanced toward him, looking for help?  It was as if he'd seen a drowning man and just let him sink below the surface.  "I'm just gonna talk to him… to you," he whispered as he stood and headed toward the door.

Ezra matched Vin's quick strides as the Leaper nearly ran through the restaurant. "You cannot abandon the mission now," Ezra called to him.  "If Miss Langley sees you outside, she's going to dart across the street and..."

“I ain’t abandoning the mission.  I’m just taking a pit-stop,” Vin shot back.  "I ain't planning to go as far as the street.  She won't see me." 

Vin plunged out the front door just as Ezra reached the limousine.  It idled just outside the front door in the restaurant's pick-up zone.  The chauffeur opened the rear door of the limousine for young Ezra and the boy nodded his thanks to the driver as he started to climb in.

"Ezra!"  Vin shouted and the boy whipped his head around to stare at him curiously.  There was no doubt in his mind that this was his friend, the look of concern and suspicion was unmistakably Ezra.

The limousine proved to be an airport limo, and the driver was just collecting his fare.  The chauffeur eyed the approaching man unhappily.  He didn't want to have any problems, and the man rushing at his limo seemed to be ripe for troublemaking.  He quickly shut the passenger’s door and headed around the car to his seat.

Vin reached the vehicle and stared at the smoked windows, unable to see the occupant. "Listen." Vin tapped on the window. "Ezra, Ezra, I just want to tell you something. You don't know me -- not yet -- but I wanted to say something to you."

"Stop this, Vin," the holographic Ezra growled, leaning near the bush pilot.

Vin smiled when the window rolled down and the green-eyed boy looked out at him. "What your mother said…" Vin started.

"Is none of your business," the young Ezra returned.  "Now if you please, I must be going.  I have a flight to catch."

"Don't push it," the elder Ezra continued.  "Please, let it go.  If you change my history, I might never join this project.  Everything we’ve done would be erased.  Listen to me, Vin."

"You're a good kid," Vin said rapidly.  "I can tell just by lookin' at you. You’re a really good kid.  You’re smart and decent and you got lots of great stuff going for you.”  He clenched his fist at his frustration at being unable to come up with anything better to say. “Your mother is a first class…”

"Vin!" the older Ezra said sharply.  "Don't degrade his mother… MY Mother!  The only thing he wants in the world is to be with her.  He loves her... dearly.  To belittle her at this point will only make him feel worse."

Vin bit his lip.  The boy scrutinized him from within the car.  Vin tried again.  "You're gonna be okay, ya know?  Things will work out all right."

The boy blinked at him.  "You think so?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah, you'll be okay.  I know it."  Vin nodded and then added, “Someday you'll do great things -- help people.  You’re gonna have a really good friend, who likes... you know... hanging out with you and doing stuff with you. Someday you’re gonna have a whole bunch of friends, you know?  They'll do anything for you.”

“Someday,” young Ezra echoed.

“Yeah, no doubt about it.”

The sliding glass partition came down and the driver asked gruffly, "You want me to radio for the cops?"

"No, no," young Ezra replied.  "Just go."  He looked back up at Vin and said, "I have a plane to catch. Goodbye."  The boy extended his hand out the open window.  “It was nice to meet you?”  His voice ended in a question.

“Vin,” he supplied, knowing that he should have used the name Martin Stubbing. With a grateful smile, Tanner took the narrow hand.  This was the first time he’d been able to come in contact with Ezra since the leaping had started.  He shook the boy’s hand happily.

“Vin,” the young Ezra repeated.  “I’ll remember that.”  He released Tanner’s hand and smiled at him as he rolled up the window.

Vin watched as the car pulled away.  Then, a horrible thought caught him and looked sharply toward where he’d last seen the Observer.  ‘Please,’ he thought, ‘let Ezra be here still.  I can’t have erased him!’

He smiled in relief when he saw Standish, still standing where he’d been a moment ago. Ezra was scrutinizing him carefully, digesting the words he’d just heard, his eyes distant and confused. ‘Thank God,’ Tanner thought, not knowing what he’d do if he’d lost his Observer.

"You shouldn't have done that," Ezra muttered.

"Couldn't help myself," Vin answered with a smile.

Ezra raised his handlink and poked at it, not looking up.  "Thank you," he finally said as he keyed in info.

"Any time," Vin responded.  He cleared his throat and added, "Have I changed something in time?  I mean, you're still here so it can't be too bad."

Ezra continued his search, his face unreadable.

"Not finding anything, are you?"  Vin asked.

Ezra raised his eyebrows.  "Nothing.  It seems like we've made it through this little episode unscathed."  He looked up and nodded across the street.  "There's Miss Langley.  Please make sure she doesn’t stumble as she tries to reach the table.  No more pit stops.  I feel we’ll win the pool again if you can keep this one on track."


Vin yawned as he sat at one of The Clarion’s terminals.  He had just returned from his latest leap and had something he needed to research.

He poked about aimlessly, trying to find his way deeper into the mess of information that was Ezra Standish’s past.  If it weren’t for The Clarion’s intuitive nature, Tanner would never have gotten anywhere.  Standish had tried to set up several roadblocks in the system, but the computer just calmly pointed them out and set them aside as Vin searched.  

Maude Standish – Ezra’s mother. Well, she wasn’t a ‘Standish’ anymore, although she had been a "Wingo” for about five months.  Ezra wasn’t always a ‘Standish’ either.  Maude was still alive and had led an existence as convoluted as her son's.  Her brother was Lucas Owen  -- Uncle Lucas.  Vin searched the database for information regarding Ezra and the summer of 1980.  He swore when he found the hospital record.  The official report was that the ten-year-old male had fallen and dislocated a shoulder.  The doctor expressed doubt in the nature of how the patient had been hurt.

In the custody of the uncle, and unable to locate the mother, he was to be returned to Owen upon release.  The hospital report later stated that the boy had disappeared from the hospital and, despite an extensive search, young Standish was not to be located.  The uncle later called off the search saying that the child had been located elsewhere.  The matter was dropped.

The next record of Ezra Standish showed up two months later when he was admitted to his boarding school.  The Clarion seemed chagrinned at his inability to find any further information on those lost months. The computer prided itself on in-depth research -- being able to locate almost anyone at any point in time.

Vin sat for a long time in The Clarion’s Chamber, staring at the hospital record and cursing the southerner for not letting him do anything – for not letting him stop it from happening.

He was still swearing when Larabee entered the room and looked him curiously.  “The Clarion…” Chris started.  “…seemed to think you needed to talk to me.”

“Damn it, Chris,” Vin growled.  “I could 'ave stopped this!”  He gestured angrily at the screen.  “He didn't want to stay with his uncle, and that's the reason right there. Maybe that housekeeper could have taken him in if I got in there and tried.”

Chris leaned over and read the screen.  His face grew hard as he scanned the hospital’s report.  Vin watched as Larabee’s hands clenched and then released slowly.  His green-blue eyes caught Vin’s and he declared, “You did the right thing.”

“I let that bastard hurt a little kid  -- our friend!  I let him get hurt!”

“It’s part of Ezra’s past, Vin.  It’s part of what he is.”

“So that’s reason enough to let someone knock the snot out of him?”

“It wasn’t what you were there for.”

Vin shook his head. “Why not?  We can fix things for other folks, but we can’t fix things for ourselves?  Why not?”

“I don’t know, Vin.”  Larabee sighed as he turned off the monitor.  “I can’t explain this.  All I know is that if you changed that part of Ezra’s past, you may change him entirely.  If he never joins PQL, there’s no telling what would happen to this project, not knowing where you’d be right now.”  Larabee shook his head wearily.

“It isn’t fair,” Vin stated.

“I know.”

“If Ezra had said a word, I would have kept him back.  One word and I would have found a way to keep him from going there.”

“I know.”

“I would have done it in spite of anything you’d have to say.”

“I know.”  Chris nodded.  “I would have let you, too.”

"I'm gonna kick him if I can ever get ahold of him,” Vin grumbled.  "Should have told me."

"He knew better," Chris said with a sigh.  He patted Vin on the shoulder and the two of them said nothing for several minutes.  Finally, Larabee stated, “You need to get some rest before Ezra leaps in.  If you’re lucky, he’ll give you a few days this time.”

“Yeah,” Vin muttered.

“You win the pool?”

Vin patted his breast pocket where his half of the winnings was currently held.  “Buck thinks we cheat.”

"Wouldn't doubt it."  Chris slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Come on, let's spend some of it in the commissary.”

Vin stood slowly and followed Larabee out of the room.  The despairing green eyes still haunted him, but he could temper that with that hopeful look he’d seen as young Ezra rolled up the window before the limo drove away.

THE END - by NotTasha

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