ROCK A BYE BABY

Chapter 1

ATF AU

Ezra/Vin

Disclaimer: I own nothing of either the Magnificent 7 or whatever companies might make baby simulations.

Summary: ATF agents are hard men and they do a hard job That can sometimes cause PR problems so the guys with the fancy desks and all the power run a pilot programme to get their Agents in touch with their more gentle side. The first guinea pigs - the worst offenders of course-Team 7.

A/N: No, this isn't instead of Not a Keeper, that's on schedule as usual. I just had this pop into my head and the muse made me write it down. Don't know how you feel about slash but that's the way it demanded to be. It has humour, it has angst, it has romance…does it have any merit? Well that's not for me to say but it's fun to write and so I do.

Warnings: This is slash - well mostly pre-slash actually. It is mild and a bit sappy but although I didn't intend for it to be when I had the idea the guys thought differently - who am I, the mere author, to argue!

The team knew that something was up as soon as they walked into the conference room. Their leader, already seated with their unknown guest, was wearing the glare he reserved especially for the FBI, Government interference or their own undercover operative Ezra Standish. But Ezra wasn't in the room yet and the lady who was didn't seem like a politician or an Alphabet minion.

Buck shelved his curiosity and gave his partner and roomie JD Dunne a reassuring pat on the shoulder as they took their seats. Buck had known Chris and all his moods for half a lifetime and the glare didn't phase him but the kid, and at 23 that soubriquet was wearing a bit thin but he would always be the youngest, well the kid hadn't yet learned the difference between bark and bite.

As Ezra, last in as usual, closed the door and took his seat Chris Larabee, leader of Team 7 and all around total bastard - a description he took as a compliment, rose to his feet and clarified in a clipped statement, which Buck realised was suppressing as much exasperation as anger, that

"This was NOT my idea but it's compulsory under medical grounds so just shut up and take it…if I have to then so do you."

The others instantly became intrigued and in some cases wary. Neither Vin Tanner their sharpshooter nor Ezra were happy with anything medical. The others all knew it and all eyes were suddenly on the 'terrible two' as they had been nicknamed after they had proved time and time again that they could get into trouble just by being in close proximity to each other and gravitated toward hospital emergency rooms and their 'implements of torture' as Ezra had phrased it, like lemmings headed for a cliff.

A quiet "Ahem" brought their attention back to the top of the table and the unknown woman who had uttered it. She looked toward Larabee to start the proceedings. The team became attentive instantly.

Moira Carter was impressed at the control Larabee had over his team. She had been excited and apprehensive in equal measure since she had been put in charge of this project. If it proved a success then she would roll it out to other teams and other agencies. She had read the reports on Team 7 and she had to admit that whilst needing to keep their edge they could do with developing a more diplomatic approach in their work. Speaking of work, she was up.

… "so Miss Carter will explain this idea and the part we're all gonna have to play…And before you ask, no Ezra, there are no assignments coming up to get you out of this and Vin, your dodgy back won't get you out of it either."

Both men blushed at being so obvious in their aversion to whatever had been planned but the laughter at their embarrassment turned to one of shared horror as the terrible truth was revealed.

"Now gentlemen; as I am sure you are all aware, your team has the highest success record in the US, coupled with the highest commendation tally"….the men grinned but were soon sombre again as Moira continued…."and the highest complaint record." Only Larabee was unashamed at that, in fact he looked a little smug; well he wasn't nicknamed 'the bad element' for nothing.

"This program is designed to bring out your less aggressive qualities. It is hoped that while none of your well honed crime fighting instincts will be affected your people skills will improve tenfold."

"So what is this programme?" Josiah was excited at the prospect of participating in a sociological experiment but he had the feeling that his view would not be shared and that the lady was stalling."

She knew she couldn't prevaricate any longer. "It is our intention to partner you off and have you interact in the care and nurturing of a vulnerable dependent with the hope that it will leave you with a better understanding of both the victims of crime that you deal with on a daily basis and also each other, although the team building aspect will play a larger role in other units as I have been assured by Judge Travis that your working and personal relationships need no adjustment."

The initial pride at that was soon overcome by the implications in the first part of her speech. Buck threw his hand up in the air as though he were at school and the others snickered.

"Yes Agent Wilmington?"

"Are you trying to say that we're gonna have to do that kid thing of looking after an egg, cause I only like my eggs sunny side up."

The rest sat expectant… and terrified. Please God no.

"In a manner of speaking Agent Wilmington" she waited for the groans to pass. "This, however, is a much more high tech version. As I said you have been selected into pairs, by Judge Travis actually" That was met with a few nods of approval. "Each pair will then be expected to live together for the period of one month and care for an electronic simulacrum infant."

"Oh Cool!" broke in JD and then blushed as the focus turned on him, although his team mates eyes seemed a little glassy. "Sorry!"

"That's quite alright Agent Dunne" her briefing had singled him out as the tech geek of the team and she had expected his enthusiasm. She wondered if that enthusiasm would last when the reality set in.

Nathan Jackson, their medic, shivered at the thought of any of these men let loose on a baby, even a fake one. "Do you mean like those ones on TV reality shows?"

"Yes Agent Jackson, although these 'babies' are technologically more advanced."

Vin took most things in his stride and as long as doctors weren't trying to slice or dice him he was pretty ok with it. There was one thing that puzzled him though.

"Ma'am?"

"Yes Agent Tanner?"

"You said pairs but there's seven of us."

"I know Agent Tanner, don't worry that's been taken into consideration."

'As you'll see if you can all shut up for five minutes' Larabee's glare, directed at all his men equally didn't need a psychic to interpret; even their visitor got it and she smiled.

"Each pairing and the person chosen to be a single parent, will receive a semi-randomly selected baby to care for. By semi random I mean that the computer has been programmed with physical characteristics of both his or her 'parents'…eye colour, racial background, hair colour. It has been found that even with a model baby better results have been obtained if the participants can physically identify with the 'child'. The lone parent will have half the characteristics randomly selected to represent the absent parent.

Now these babies are quite advanced scientifically and the computer component will keep a running record of the progress of your 'fostering' In other words gentlemen, if you shove the dummy in the closet for the duration we will know about it." The resulting laughter was tinged with guilt as they had all contemplated variations of just that. "We will bring each couple their infant and explain how to care for them and you will be supplied with all necessary equipment and a users manual. You will also receive a journal which you can use to note down your personal feelings of your journey. These journals are your property and the use of them is optional. Some people find them useful and some don't but they are private and nobody but you need see them. At the end of one month the results will be analysed and you will return to this room for a debriefing. We also have a psychologist on standby so that if this process throws up any personal issues for you, you will have an outlet to discuss them. This too is optional and all normal patient confidentiality rules will apply."

Moira wasn't surprised at the stunned silence and she looked around the table as she gave them a few minutes for the idea to sink in. In some ways it was better when there was a female in a group as the men would gravitate to someone they felt was nurturing and the team bonding process would have a kick start. These men were starting out from a solid position already but if there were any cracks this exercise would reveal them.

"Well gentlemen, shall I give you your pairings?" The men nodded nervously.

"Please remember that this part of the process is the result of Judge Travis's knowledge of you all but since the simulacrums have already been programmed to set specifications any errors of judgement on his part are, I'm afraid, permanent. So….

"Agent Larabee, you will be paired with Agent Tanner." The two men nodded contentedly.

"Wait!" Buck was frowning. Sorry Ma'am but…Chris are you sure that…I mean y'know, not the partnering with Vin but…well…the baby thing…"

Vin's frown vanished as he realised that the problem wasn't with him and Chris. Buck was right; Chris Larabee had been a Dad and the reminders could be too much.

"It's OK Buck" Chris reassured his old friend. He too had balked at the idea of a baby. Not a day went by that he didn't miss Adam. In fact he had been offered a pass on this for personal reasons but a dummy wasn't remotely the same as a real live human and the organizers realised that while he wouldn't be able to interact on the same level as the others it would do the widower no harm and might even help him in settling his demons. "I've got a 'get out of jail free card' if it gets to be too much and to be honest I was such a workaholic when Adam was a baby that I didn't get to do as much with him as I would have liked so the memories of that time are pretty sparse….not a lot to trigger" They heard the slight self recrimination in his voice but also the sound of someone who had come to terms with the subject long ago.

Once Moira was certain that they were ready she continued.

"Mr Jackson, you have been paired with Mr Sanchez."

The two older Agents grinned. This should be as easy as pie. Nathan had all the medical knowledge and common sense and Josiah possessed infinite patience and a degree in psychology. Travis certainly knew his stuff.

"Mr Wilmington, you and Mr Dunne are the final pairing." Buck and JD shared a high five and then, along with the others, turned their gazes on their seventh. The odd man out.

Ezra had expected it and his face wore it's usual bland expression but inside he was a little hurt that once again he had been, literally, singled out. He didn't blame anyone, least of all the Judge. He too would have combined the exact same pairings as their boss had done.

"Agent Standish, I'm sorry, it is not the ideal situation but…"

"Please do not concern yourself dear lady. Ah quite understand your predicament; indeed there are many single parents out there coping quite magnificently and this will give even more realism to your project."

Moira Carter didn't know whether to melt at the smooth southern accent; drool at the polite and gentle response or throw herself to the floor in gratitude that he didn't kick up a fuss at having his part in the proceedings made even more difficult. As it was she kept her professional pride and thanked him kindly for his understanding.

"The last thing for today" she concluded, with a silent prayer of thanks, "is living arrangements. Agents Wilmington and Dunne, I understand that you already share an apartment so that's fine and Agent Standish, you will remain unaffected but for the rest of you, I think you would find it easier if you were able to share for the duration."

"We'll stay at the ranch if that's OK Vin? It'll make it easier to take care of the horses."

"No problem pard."

"Josiah, Rain is studying for her nursing exams all month and I don't think she'd appreciate too much hassle so can I move into yours?"

"By all means Nathan. I have plenty of room."

"Well" Moira concluded with a smile, "That's all sorted then. Now, you have been given tomorrow off to take delivery of your babies and Judge Travis has organised a get together at his home tomorrow afternoon so that you can all get to meet each other's offspring. After that it will be up to you to either arrange day care for your infant or, considering the nature of the exercise, and the special demands that your job makes on you, you will be permitted to bring the child into work as long as you carry on caring for it. I hope you enjoy the process gentlemen; we have had great success with it so far in other government departments and I'm sure that each of you will find some sort of benefit in the journey."

TBC

A/N Goodness knows what my muse was thinking when it hatched this plot bunny but I just couldn't resist. Please bear in mind, however, that like the team I know absolutely nothing about either child rearing or technology and, for once I don't think that any amount of research would help:D So please take this with a large pinch of salt!