Magnificent Seven ATF Universe
A Hero's Mask

by Jo Ann

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.


Follows Fate's Decision

This story is part of a grouping of stories that are meant to be read in the following order:
First Impressions | Evening the Odds | Fate's Decision | A Hero's Mask | Mended Glasses

"You want me to loan out who?" Chris heard what AD Travis said, but he wanted to make he sure heard correctly.

"You heard me," the older man assured him.

"Why?" Chris questioned. "Why them?"

"Because they're available," Orrin Travis told him. "Mike Howard . . ."


"Team five's new leader," Orrin told him and picked up a badly repaired once broken glass. He noticed that even though it looked fragile and was a little rough around the edges, it was solid and sturdy. Orrin could tell that the glass with it's jagged and misplaced pieces would stand the test of time. "Look Chris, this promises to quite a substantial bust and he'll need all the help he can get."

"I don't know, Sir," Chris shook his head, took the glass from Travis, and placed it out of the other man's reach. The seven of them had come to cherish these glasses and didn't want anything happening to them. "I just got these two back from the car accident they were in."

"I understand that, but they've both been cleared and are ready to return to active duty," Orrin reminded him. "But you don't need to worry about them. I've arranged it so that they'll be on the secondary unit and help with the sweeping of the building . . ."

"Secondary?" Chris repeated, clearly insulted by that. "Hell, those two could not only lead the charge, but probably handle the entire bust between the two of them . . ."

Orrin hid his grin. "Oh, so you'd rather have them in the direct line of fire?"

Chris frowned at that. "Those two in the direct line of fire . . . without me or one of the others?" he decisively shook his head, no. "Oh, hell no! When the shooting starts, those two need to be where they can be watched. It's no telling what kind of shit they'll get into. No, the secondary unit will be the best place for them," Chris agreed, then got to his feet and walked to his closed door. Throwing it open he shouted, "Vin, Ezra get your asses in here!"

"Do you always talk to your men like that?" Orrin asked with a frown.

"Like what?" Chris questioned with a confused look on his face.

Just as Orrin was going to answer him, the door opened and the two young men walked in. He almost laughed at the twin looks of resignation on their faces when they spotted him.

"You wanted to see us, Cowboy?"

Ezra quickly decided that he didn't like the look in his team leader's eyes. "Whatever it is, I didn't do it," he said in an uncharacteristic show of nervousness.

"Me neither," Vin quickly agreed. "Hell, we just got back! So whatever happened it wasn't our fault!"

"Whatever you've been told is pure fabrication and Vin and myself resent the accusation," the Southerner heatedly said in their defense.

"Yeah, what he said!" Vin told them with a nod of his head.

"Will you two shut up! No one's accused you of anything," Chris said in an exasperated tone. "Yet." The blonde team leader wanted to grab Vin and give him a high-five because it seemed the younger man was finally managing to get past some of Ezra's shields.

"Then what do ya want with us?"

"Nothing," Chris told them. "AD Travis, here on the other hand, needs you to assist team five in an upcoming bust."

"A bust?" Ezra repeated. "What kind of bust?"

"A drug bust," Orrin replied, then went on to tell them the same thing he'd told Chris.

"You'll be with the secondary unit . . ."

"Secondary?" Ezra interrupted. "So we've been demoted . . ."

"You demoted us?" Vin asked with a frown and felt his temper begin to flare.

Chris gave them both a look and explained, "No one's been demoted. You're being put on the secondary unit because of all the hotdogging shit you like to pull and the rest of us won't be there to watch your back."

"Ez'll watch my back," Vin stated with conviction.

"That's right," Ezra agreed. "And Vin'll . . . do his job." That was as close as he wanted to come to admitting that he somewhat trusted Vin to watch his back.

Chris fought the urge to give Vin a pat on the back for what Ezra had just admitted. "I know that," he said instead. "Which is the only reason I'm agreeing to this. You two just remember what team you belong to and try to behave yourselves," he told them. "But don't take any shit off of them either."

Three Days Later

"Drop it," Ezra told the young man who was alternately pointing a .357 magnum at himself and Vin.

"Yeah, kid, don't make us shoot you," Vin added. "You're only going to make it harder for yourself . . ."

"I ain't going back!" the kid shouted with wild eyes. "I can't . . ."

"If you don't want to go back to jail, then why are you here? Doing this?" Ezra questioned.

The kid's face scrunched up in fury and he bellowed, "You don't know nothing about me! You have no right to judge . . ."

"You're right, I don't!" Ezra insisted. "But this isn't helping your case any at all . . ."

"Put the gun down," Vin told him.

"Let us help you," Ezra offered.

"Help me?" the kid spat. "You can't help me! No one can! I don't need a hero! I ain't no f****** Lois Lane and the two of you sure as hell ain't Superman! Or . . . or Batman!"

"No, we're not," Ezra agreed. "We're just two men trying to do their jobs . . ."

"Doing your jobs?" The kid snorted in disgust. "Just like that social worker and that f******* judge that said they'd put me in a good home! So I'd have a future!" Again he snorted. "Who do you think gave me my first hit? Or left me hanging, causing me to go to jail?"

"I know what it's like to placed in a bad foster home," Vin tried to tell him.

"Oh, really," the kid sneered. "I guess you've been abused and mistreated. Oh, but look at you now! You're a f****** cop! Your mama must be so proud!"

"Look, none of us can chose the life we're given," Ezra argued. "All we can do is make the best of it . . ."

"The best of it!"

"Yes! Because it's the choices we make during these crises that make us the men we are! You cannot blame others because you made the wrong one!"

"Shut up!" the kid screamed, tightening his grip on the gun. "You don't know nothing about me!"

"Come on, kid, put the gun down," Vin pleaded.

"I . . . I can't go back j..jail," he stuttered. "I won't," he swore then pushed the gun under his chin and fired.

"NO!" Ezra and Vin both screamed and jumped forward only to come to a stop as the boy in front of them fell lifelessly to the filthy floor.

The two men looked at each other then ducked their heads. After a minute their heads came up as their shoulder's squared and together they turned toward the door more than ready to leave this whole mess behind them.

"Sometimes I really hate my job," Ezra muttered as they made their way out of the building.

"Yeah, me too," Vin readily agreed.

They had just stepped outside when, Mike Howard, the leader of team five, approached them. "Thanks for your help guys," he said. "We have everything under control so you two can take off and don't forget that I'll need your reports as soon as possible."

"I don't like that man," Ezra said as they watched him walk away.

"Me neither. Something about him bothers me."

"Come on, let's go get cleaned up and get the hell away from here."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Vin said, slapping Ezra on the back.

Two Hours Later

Chris Larabee and four of his men arrived at scene of the bust. Stepping from the van, they quickly surveyed the crowd, but didn't find who they sought so together they headed straight to where all the activity was centered. Chris didn't give a rat's ass about what was going on, all he wanted was his two missing agents. Stepping up to a man that looked to be in charge he demanded, "Where are my men?"

"Who the hell are you?"

Narrowing his eyes Chris glared at the balding, pot-bellied man in front of him and stated, "You must be new."

"That's right," he confirmed. "I'm Mike Howard, the new leader of team five. And you are?"

"Larabee. Chris Larabee, leader of team seven," he replied. "Now that the introductions are over, I'm only going to ask this once more . . . where the hell are my men?"

"I don't know . . ."

"You want to try that again," Chris warned as he took a step closer.

"L..Look, all I know is that some kid offed himself in front of them when they were sweeping the building," Mike quickly told them. "Once they exited the building, I told them they could go. But where they went," he shrugged, "I haven't a clue."

"Were they hurt?" Nathan asked.

Mike opened his mouth to say he didn't know, but the four glares and one death ray aimed at him had him changing his mind. "They didn't appear to be."

Without a word Chris spun on his heel and headed for the van. "I swear those two will be the death of me yet," he muttered as he flung the van door opened and climbed inside. As soon as he and the others closed their doors his cell phone rang.

"Larabee," he barked. "Where the . . . Are you . . . Fine we're on our way," Chris told him, once he managed to finish a sentence. Disconnecting the call he started the van and said, "That was Vin. They're at Ezra's."


After being dismissed by team five's idiotic leader Vin and Ezra returned to the office to remove their combat clothes. They both decided that they would worry about doing their reports later. Much later.

The walls felt like they were closing in on Ezra. All he could see was that bullet exploding out of that kid's head and the blood and knew he had to get out of there. Knew he needed some space, but for once he wasn't looking forward to being alone and wished he could take the risk of asking Vin to join him. Maybe one day Ezra would, but not tonight.

"Good evening, Mr. Tanner," he said, heading for his car.

Vin watched him go then dug his keys out of his pockets and followed him.

Ezra had just stepped from his car when he heard someone pull up behind him. He breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing that it was Vin. Even thought he'd never admit it, he was grateful Vin had followed him. Without a word Ezra headed for his front door, unlocked it, and waited for the other man to join him.

"I don't like drinking alone," Vin told him then pushed his way into Ezra's townhouse through the now opened door.

"Fine," Ezra said, closing the door behind him. "Pick your poison," offering Vin the contents of his liquor cabinet after grabbing a bottle for himself.

"What are ya drinking?" Vin asked, looking at the bottle in the Southerner's hand.

"Bourbon," he replied after a quick look.

"Ya got any whiskey?"

Ezra grabbed a bottle and tossed to Vin. "Help yourself."

"I called Chris," Vin said. "Told him where we were . . ."


"So they wouldn't worry."

"Oh, great, company's coming," Ezra grumbled under his breath, but wound up grinning at Vin's snort of laughter.

Twenty minutes and half a bottle later, there was a demanding knock at the door.

Ezra rolled his eyes and pushed himself up from the couch and muttered, "Hell, even his knock is rude." Causing Vin to laugh in agreement.

After opening the door, Ezra threw a look at Vin and said, "You invited them . . . so you can entertain them."

"Ezra . . ."

"Do not start with me, Mr. Jackson," Ezra warned him right fast. "I'm fine, as is Vin. So if that's why you're here then you can leave." Ezra turned his back on them and headed for the patio doors.

"Ezra . . ."

"I will not be badgered in my own residence," he told them. "If you don't want to watch me trying to drown an unpleasant sight, then you may leave anytime you wish. However, if you choose to stay, then I'll thank each of you to keep your opinions to yourself."

"I take it that you know what happened," Vin stated rather than asked.

"Yeah, Howard told us," Chris replied. "I don't like that man."

Vin smiled, remembering Ezra saying the same thing. Then with a nod of his head he watched as the Southerner stepped outside, leaving the patio doors opened. "I know it's not the first time either of us have seen something like that, but . . . it's not something you get used to. So just give us some space, ok?"

"Okay," Josiah told him. "We'll be here if you need us."

"I know that," Vin nodded. "And so does he. He'll just never admit it."

Chris sighed and followed Vin as far as the doors then settled down to listen and be ready if one of his men . . . no if one of his friends needed him.

Josiah and the others soon joined him.

"Hey Ezra, can I ask ya something?"

"If you must."

"Do ya think that kid was right about us playing heros?"

"Heros," Ezra snorted and took a long swallow from his bottle. "We don't play at being heros, Vin. We just do our jobs. But what that kid and every criminal element we come across only see what they chose to. They never take into account that even heros bleed . . . that heros have the right to cry . . . to dream . . . to grieve. Heros are just as human as everyone else. Don't worry about what that kid said. He was a victim of the system as well as high as a kite and therefore wasn't in his right mind . . ."

"How do ya figure that?"

"Because he killed himself."

Vin thought about that for a while and knew that Ezra was right. It didn't matter what that kid said. So long as he did his job to the best of his abilities then he could sleep at night.

"To thy own self be true, Vin," Ezra suddenly said. "The world can sleep sound tonight because their heros are on duty . . ."

"To Superman and Batman," Vin toasted, holding up his bottle.

"Here, here," Ezra called and tipped his bottle in Vin's direction.

"I'll be Superman and you can be Batman . . ."

"Why can't I be Superman?" Ezra asked.

Vin snorted as if that was obvious, but didn't get a chance to say anything as Ezra continued.

"Fine you can be Superman," Ezra told him. "I don't like to fly anyway and Batman's cooler . . ."

"How do ya figure?"

"Superman wears tights . . ."

"So does Batman!"

"Batman wears the required apparel . . ."

"Which are tights!" Vin argued.

"Superman wears a silly red cape . . ."

"Batman's is black and he has pointy ears!" Vin countered.

"Superman wears red underwear!"

"Batman hides behind a mask . . ."

"All super heros have masks of some kind . . ."

"Not Superman . . ."

"Oh, please, he hid behind a stupid pair of glasses!"

"Superman can leap tall building in a single bound," Vin boasted. "All of Batman's abilities are man made."

"Which clearly makes him the better super hero," Ezra pointed out. Then quickly continued, "He's had to work for every bit of success he has achieved. He risks his life day in and day out on his abilities alone. Everyone knows that Superman wasn't worth shit when he lost his powers."

Vin suddenly realized that Ezra wasn't just talking about super heros anymore, but them or rather those like them. Normal everyday people who put their lives at risk to protect those unable to defend themselves.

"Batman has a cool car," he conceded.

Ezra gave him an appraising look before stating, "Superman lives in a mountain and gets to commune with nature."

"It's a snow-capped mountain, Ezra and probably as cold as hell . . ."

"Well, Batman lives in a cave. A cold, damp, and dark cave and his whose only companion is Batboy . . ."

Vin couldn't help, but laugh at that. "I think his name's Robin and he sure as hell beats that ditzy reporter that's always drooling all over Superman."

"This is true," Ezra agreed. "What Superman sees in her is beyond me . . . We'll have to see about ditching her and finding him a new playmate . . ."

"Like Catwoman," Vin suggested.

"Oh no, Catwoman is mine," Ezra corrected him. "Superman really needs to stick with those of his own kind . . ."

"His own kind?"

"Yes, you know Wonder Woman," he replied.

"Oh, yeah, Wonder Woman," Vin sighed.

There was a brief moment of silence then they heard Vin ask, "Hey, Ez, can I ask ya something?"


Vin ignored that and asked his question. "What would you do if you weren't in law enforcement?"

Ezra finished off the remainder of his bourbon before answering. "I'd be a teacher. An elementary school teacher," he confided.

"Really?" Vin thought for a few seconds then nodded his head. "Ya know I can see that. You'd make a good teacher, Ez."

"Do ya really think so?" Ezra asked, only to cringe as he realized that he asked his question out loud.

"Sure. You're real good with kids and have a way of explaining things so that people don't feel stupid just 'cause they didn't understand something," the Texan replied.

Ezra didn't know what to say to that. Honest compliments wasn't something that he was used to, therefore he wasn't sure how to deal with it. So he went with what he did know . . . redirection.

"How about you, Vin?" he asked. "What would you be doing?"

Vin knew the question was coming so he should have been ready, but he wasn't. Instead he shrugged his shoulders and said the first thing that came to his mind. "A vet. I've always liked helping animals and they're a damn sight easier to understand than people."

Ezra had to smile at that. "This'll be great. I could bring my class for a tour of your farm and you can them tell all about helping animals. And explain the importance of getting an education."

At first Vin had grinned because he could picture the two of them doing something like that, but hearing Ezra talk about an education had a frown replacing the grin. He knew he wasn't smart enough to be a vet and didn't know why he even thought he could have been one.

"I guess ya have to be pretty smart to become a vet, don't cha?" Vin asked, but then didn't give Ezra time to answer before continuing, "Guess I'll never be one."

Ezra couldn't believe what he was hearing. Vin was one of the smartest people he knew. Oh, sure Ezra knew that Vin had problems, but that didn't mean he wasn't smart or capable of doing anything he wanted. So in a rare display of understanding, Ezra reached over and punched Vin in the arm.

"Ouch!" Vin cried rubbing his now throbbing shoulder. "What cha do that for?"

"Don't give me any of that defeatist shit," Ezra warned him. "You know as well as I do that you can do whatever you put your mind to do . . . just like the rest of us. It's our damnable pride and steely determination that makes us the men we are."

Vin may not have been the smartest man in the world, but he knew when to keep his mouth shut. And now was that time. Ezra very seldom took the time to take any of them to task for doing or saying something stupid, so when he did the person on the receiving end took notice.

"Besides, Mr. Tanner, you'd have friends that would help you," Ezra went on to say.

"Like a certain elementary school teacher," Vin suggested.

Ezra grinned and gave a slight nod of his head. "I'm always willing to help out a . . ."

"Friend," Vin supplied the word for him.

"Yes one of those," he agreed with a wave of his hand. "For a price . . ."

"Like a free tour."

"Yes, I think a free tour would suffice."

Vin laughed and shook his head. He was determined to have Ezra call him friend, so it was a good thing he was a patient man.

"So what kind of animals are you going to have on this farm of yours . . ."

Chris and the others shared smiles and suppressed laughter as they listened to their drunk friends go from subject to subject. "He becomes a little more one of us everyday," he said with satisfaction.

"Right you are, brother," Josiah agreed. "The final step will be those." He pointed over the moving boxes still stacked in the corner. "Once he unpacks those, then we'll know he has truly accepted us and his place among us."

"Hold on tight Vin," Buck added. "We've almost got him."

The End

Superman (It's Not Easy) by Five for Fighting

I can't stand to fly
I'm not that naive
I'm just out to find
The better part of me

I'm more than a bird…I'm more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It's not easy to be me

Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I'll never see

It may sound absurd…but don't be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed…but won't you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It's not easy to be me

Up, up and away…away from me
It's all right…You can all sleep sound tonight
I'm not crazy…or anything…

I can't stand to fly
I'm not that naive
Men weren't meant to ride
With clouds between their knees

I'm only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for kryptonite on this one way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me

It's not easy to be me