by Derry

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven characters are the property of CBS and associated parties. The bright idea to turn the boys into ATF agents was Mog's. I'm making no profit from this venture and thus litigation just isn't worth the effort, so please don't bother.
Warnings: Violence and occasional coarse language (bleepable level).
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Cat and Dina for beta-ing this for me.
Author's Note: This is a bit different from most of my fics (doesn't feature a character called Angie, for a start). It revolves around the much referred to but (as far as I know) never fully described incident where ATF Ezra run out on the rest of the gang and then came back. Now I know this is one of those transpositions from the Old West scenario but the psychology of it always irked me a bit. You see, Old West Ezra was a gambler and a loner with no allegiances. But ATF Ezra, although still a loner, was an experienced law enforcement agent whose job was probably the most important thing in his life. To me, just running out seemed to be at odds with his professionalism. So I've been pondering over exactly what reason Ezra might have had for running out. I've had a look at Shawna's "Rough Beginnings", Carla's "Moonlight & Solitude" and Ruby's "Your One True Family" (which I think gives the most detail about the incident), and this is what I've come up with.

"Why?" asked Chris Larabee.

Ezra Standish just looked at him. It was an easy question for whoever was asking it. Monosyllabic, in fact. Very little effort expended.

But for him to answer, well it seemed like the most complex and invasive question in the world. Did he even know what question his leader was asking? Was he querying why his still fairly newly recruited undercover operative had disappeared? Or did he want to know why he had reappeared again later?

Ezra fought down a sigh. He wasn't really sure that he understood it himself.


He had failed to follow the simplest of instructions.

"You are the lookout at the top of the south stairs." Obvious crucial position. Very little cover but it was quite plausible for a man to stand there, as if he were waiting for a shipment to arrive.

So Ezra had stood there for half an hour, watching the dock workers go about their business. The others were downstairs; he would signal when the targets appeared and they would come out via the other stairwell on the north side, circle round and surround them. Simple plan so problems were much less likely to occur.

But then Ezra had caught an unexpected glimpse of Mr Roland Barton. He'd known that the majority of their targets were from south of the Mason-Dixie line but he'd checked all the names and faces that they had on file and no one he'd known in Atlanta was supposed to be here.

Roland Barton was a minor Atlanta thug who shouldn't have been mixing with the big boys, like the arms dealers that ATF Team 7 had targeted today. But he and Ezra Standish had a long history of professional (and to some degree personal) animosity. If Ezra could recognize Barton at this distance, it seemed more than likely the favour could be reciprocated.

Ezra's undercover instincts took over. If Barton made him, he would blow his cover and everything would go to Hell. He had to slip out of sight. Without even thinking, he turned and headed away from Barton, around to the far side of the docks. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, he could come back and see if Barton had moved on.

But less than five minutes later, in fact as soon as he reached his destination, it hit him. He wasn't undercover in this operation, he was on lookout. That was his primary purpose. It would be damn useless if he remained unrecognized but failed to let the others know of the arrival of the targets. Damn useless and it could well cost his colleagues their lives. What the hell had he been thinking?

He quickly and quietly made his way back. Looking around the corner to his own former lookout position, he saw Barton nonchalantly standing guard in his place.

Shit! That meant the rest of that happy little band had already walked in on Larabee and the others without warning. Fantastic timing Standish! Your first significant operation with this team. So, you choose a critical moment to get the jitters and you run like a rabbit! God, if any of them lives through this, you will never live it down!

Yeah, if any of them lives! Well, he'd better make sure that they did. He hoped that Barton wasn't expecting to find him the area. His only hope of getting inside in time was to brazen it out a bit.

Ezra adjusted his sunglasses and casually wandered towards Barton's position. He could see the other man tense slightly. Recognition? Or just on edge with the approach of a stranger? Fortuitously, a car alarm sounded at that moment. Barton startled and looked towards it.

Ezra didn't. He swiftly covered the distance and silently knocked his adversary unconscious with a well aimed blow to the base of his skull. After quickly dragging him just out of sight, Ezra made his way inside to where the others were supposed to be waiting.

From the shadows, he could see that they were completely subdued. They were only facing five opponents but their adversaries had obviously taken full advantage of the element of surprise.

Well, what was good enough for the goose was good enough for the gander. Ezra thought that he might be able to shoot two or three of them, before they took him down. That would surely enable his colleagues to deal with the rest. But he'd have to obtain the criminals' full attention, to ensure that his fellow team-members would have enough time to react.

Oh well, better to go out with a bit of style. He grinned as he got into position and then started softly whistling 'Red River Valley'. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

The entire room turned look at him. Fortunately, comprehension seemed to dawn on his fellow agents before their opponents.

In what almost seemed like slow motion, Ezra shot two of them. Then he heard a barrage of gunfire. He was moderately surprised to find himself still standing at the end of it.

So, what now? He hadn't figured on being around for the aftermath. And he certainly hadn't gotten around to fully considering what the team's reactions would be.

Chris Larabee appeared to be doing a head count then he turned towards Ezra and 'hostile' didn't even begin to describe his expression or menacing poise, as he strode towards the Southerner.

Ezra straightened slightly as he watched his approach and quickly formulated a couple of glib, smart ass answers to whatever questions or comments his boss might have. He expected verbal abuse, he didn't expect a short, sharp jab to the face and he went down hard.

This was new. Usually his superiors restricted themselves to verbal chastisement when there were witnesses present. Evidently, Larabee had a different discipline policy.

Then Ezra felt himself being lifted by the front of his jacket and slammed back against the wall.

"Don't you ever run out on me again!"

Oh, this man did a very effective version of menacing fury. Ezra watched him back away slowly. But the team leader still glared at the recent returnee with barely contained wrath.

Evidently, their relationship was going to be based on actions rather than words. Well, Ezra Standish could be a smart ass in a non-verbal manner. He produced what he knew to be an irritating smile and lifted his hand as if to touch the brim of an imaginary hat in a sort of cocky salute he'd seen in some Western movie once upon a time. Then he turned to help the others deal with the clean up, without speaking another word except to inform them of the presence of a somewhat somnolent Barton at the top of the stairs.

And no one else said anything to him for a while, either. They just silently made their judgements while they continued with their work. Better for them that way, rather than let facts or his point of view cloud their opinions.

Facts? Well, the facts were that he had been supposed to be at a certain location at a certain time, he hadn't been and they all had nearly been killed because of it.

His point of view? Well, he really didn't have decent excuse, did he? Maybe something like, "It was just a reflex action," or "I really wasn't thinking." He himself thought those offerings were woefully insufficient, so they were unlikely to cut much ice with men who'd just had guns held to their heads because of him.

Maybe, he should just start formulating his resignation now. If they even gave him that option.


And now Larabee's anger had abated sufficiently for him to actually wonder what reasons Ezra may have had for his actions. Now he was asking "Why?"

Ezra just gazed at him steadily. He really had no idea whether the team leader was asking him why he had run out or asking him why he had returned. Not that it mattered. He found that he couldn't explain his reasons for either. He just couldn't get the words out. Just chalk it down to another Standish fuck-up. There must be a prodigious catalogue of them somewhere.

"I want to know, Standish. I want you to give me one good reason why I shouldn't kick your sorry ass all the way back to Georgia and out of Federal employment for good."

Ezra's eyes narrowed and his kamikaze streak reasserted itself.

"There are no reasons. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it." Then as an afterthought he added, "Sir."

And even though he thought he almost saw steam rising out of the other man's ears, Ezra suddenly realized that Larabee still hadn't given up on him. God, the man must actually enjoy beating his head against a brick wall. And Larabee's gaze pinned him, as if he had heard what he was thinking and actually acknowledged it as the truth of the situation.

But he was going to demand conditions.

"You've already run out on me once. How do I know you won't do it again?"

Ezra raised an eyebrow.

"I swear on the grave of my sainted mother."

"Your records state that your mother is still alive."

"Figure of speech."

"Figure your dead if you're lying."

And there it was, a pact signed in blood. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

But as he again met Larabee's implacable gaze, Ezra realized that it would indeed be the death of him if he ever broke it.

It almost seemed like this was all fated somehow, like he was becoming a part of something far greater than himself.

And it was then that he knew his life would never be the same again.


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