A suddenly awake Chris Larabee landed on his ass with a thud.

"Git outta my bed!!" Vin growled, after the fact. "Ya call me SARAH one more time and I swear I'm gonna shoot ya where she never touched ya!" The sharpshooter flung back the covers and stood, reaching into the nightstand drawer for his gun. He pulled the weapon from its holster, and then checked both the chamber and the clip.

Then he was moving, out of the bedroom, grabbing his clothes off the floor on the way.

Chris just watched, stunned by his partner's reaction. "Vin..." he began, but little air left his lungs. And, by the time he'd regained both his breath and his senses, Vin was out of sight. Chris heard the slamming of the apartment door and knew his lover was gone. "Can things get any worse...?"

"So, would you?" Casey asked as she pulled her car to a stop outside the federal building where her boyfriend and his six closest friends worked.

"Not in no dang thong, I wouldn't!" JD declared, as if the answer should have been obvious to the young woman.

"Get out!" she suddenly demanded, but JD just sat there, mouth slightly agape.


"Get. Out. Which word didn't you understand? Get out of my car! Now!" Casey reached across her boyfriend, popping the door open, and then gave JD a shove hard enough to send him sprawling onto the sidewalk. Then she gunned the engine, allowing the forward momentum of the vehicle to slam shut the passenger-side door.

"This day just keeps gettin' worse," JD mumbled to himself.

"You need a hand there, kid?" The familiar voice should have been like a balm to JD's ears after Casey's harsh words. He looked up to find Buck looming above him, with an amused grin on his face and a friendly hand out-stretched.

But JD just glared, then got to his feet of his own accord. "This is all yer fault. You and yer damn love advice!"

"Now, kid, I was only tryin' to help---"

"Yeah, well, don't, Buck. Just ... don't." JD turned his back on the man, then headed straight into the federal building.

Ezra settled down at his desk, a warm cup of honeyed tea from Starbuck's in his hand. He could just smell the delicious aroma ... so calming ... so relaxing....

"Rain! Rain, would you listen to--- No. No, of course not. That was just work--- Rain, please! Rain---" Nathan slammed the phone down in its cradle, then stood quickly enough to overturn his chair. He ignored the wayward piece of furniture as he stormed across the office, spun about, and then stormed back.

Ezra looked on, wondering what in the world had happened, until Nathan noticed him staring.

"What? Are you laughin' at me, Ezra? Well, you just wipe that self-satisfied smirk off your face right this minute. I know you got some infernal pool going. Will she say yes, or won't she? Well, you can just forget the whole thing -- there ain't gonna be no wedding, because there ain't gonna be no proposal. Hell, there ain't gonna be no more of us. So, I hope you bet against me, Ezra ... what am I saying? Of course, you did."

Nathan then turned and stormed back to his desk. As he watched the man's tense form retreat, Ezra's brow furrowed in confusion, worry, and disappointment. He hadn't been running a pool. And he certainly wouldn't have bet on Nathan's unhappiness. Why, it's just bad business to place bets in your own game -- everyone knew that.

Just then, Josiah walked in. Ezra smiled, counting on his fellow agent to be in a better mood than Nathan was. The graying man walked straight over to Ezra, looking him up and down, and then slapped an envelope on top of the desk. "I've been subpoenaed. By your mother's lawyer!"

"My ... mother?" What had the woman done now? Ezra wondered to himself, and not with a little ill ease.

Josiah didn't hesitate to explain. "It would appear that the last time Maude was in town, she managed to swindle some poor, unsuspecting banker out of a few hundred-thousand dollars. Only, she says she didn't. And I'm her alibi!"

"Umm...." Ezra began, though he wasn't sure what to say after that. He couldn't imagine how Josiah could be an alibi for his mother. Well, he could ... he just really didn't want to.

"Women. They are nothing but trouble, Ezra -- your mother worst of all! You'd think I'd have learned that lesson by now. But, no. God has seen fit to continue tempting me."

Josiah shook his head, snatching the subpoena off the desk and tucking it into the pocket on the inside of his jacket. Then, he crossed the room and sank down into the chair behind his own desk.

A moment later, Vin Tanner stormed into the office, practically throwing himself into his chair at the desk across from Ezra's. He was about to ask the Texan what the matter was, but the glare Vin gave him instantly killed the words in his throat.

And before Ezra could even think of what to do or say next, JD, followed by Buck, came noisily into the office space.

"Just shut up about it, will ya, Buck?" JD asked as he plopped into his chair. Buck, only a long stride behind, sat his ass down on the edge of the kid's desk.

"I'm just sayin', I didn't mean for that to happen---"

"No, you never do, Buck. But, fact of the matter is, things do go wrong every time you stick yer nose in my love life. Now, get yer scrawny butt off my desk!" he demanded.

Buck looked offended as he rose. "I'll have you know, this is granite," he insisted, grabbing his own ass and squeezing. Ezra raised an eyebrow at the unexpected display, just as Mary walked in. She couldn't have seen what Buck had done, but she did manage to see Ezra gawking at the man's butt.

Mary stared for a moment before catching herself; she smiled suddenly, to cover up her rudeness. "Hello, boys," she said, but only Ezra returned her greeting. She came over to him. "I wanted to thank you for last night," she began. "I know how awkward things can be on Valentine's Day. Chris was going to take me, but something came up---"

Vin's disgusted scoff caught Mary's attention for a moment. She frowned, as did Ezra, not knowing what the man's problem was. Vin just kept staring at his computer monitor, seemingly oblivious to their presence.

"I just wanted to thank you," she finally continued. "I don't doubt that you would have rather spent the evening with someone else."

Ezra frowned at her now. There was an odd tone to her voice. She was being coy about something, but, for the life of him, he had no idea what it might be. "Nonsense, Mrs. Travis," he replied after a moment, smiling graciously. "I enjoyed your company immensely. The Charity Ball was quite agreeable as well."

Mary then did something most unexpected. She leaned down close and, for a split second, Ezra tensed, thinking she was intending to kiss him, right there in the middle of the bullpen, with all of his co-workers looking on! Not that he didn't want to kiss Mary Travis, because he did. Hell, what red-blooded American man wouldn't? She was pretty, intelligent, and a delight to be around.

But no kiss was given. Instead, she gently whispered, "Don't worry, Ezra. I won't tell anyone your secret."

"My ... my secret?" he stuttered. He hadn't been aware that he'd confided anything in her.

She dropped her voice down another decibel -- "About you being gay" -- and Ezra wasn't quite sure he'd heard her clearly.

"G-gay?" he asked, a little louder than he'd intended. Mary just raised her brows in lieu of a less discreet nod. "I assure you, you are mistaken. I am not gay. Nor have I ever been!" Ezra was unaware of the tone in his voice until he saw Chris Larabee bearing down on him.

"You got something against gay people, Ezra? Do you? Because, if there's one thing I will NOT tolerate in this office, it's intolerance!!"

Oh, the irony, the humor center of Ezra's mind silently quipped. "I..." he began, trying to find his voice again. "I am not intolerant. I want to make that clear," he announced. "But, neither am I gay. I just don't want anyone to get the wrong idea and to start fixing me up with their brothers."

"We never fix you up with our sisters; what makes you think we'd suddenly start fixing you up with our brothers?" Nathan asked, and Ezra shot him a burning glare.

Chris's only response was the slamming of his office door.

"I'm sorry, Ezra," Mary finally apologized. "I just thought ... I mean ... the way you dress, the way you dance, the tea drinking, the poncey southern accent, and, well ... there was that cute waiter you kept giving the eye to last night...."

"A drink, my good woman. I was merely soliciting for a refill of my drink. And, can't a man buy a designer suit or drink tea without someone making assumptions? Refinement does not define one's sexuality. Take Mr. Tanner, for example." Ezra turned his head, giving Vin a quick look up and down. "As usual, disheveled, unshaven, and, obviously, unshowered ... yet, he's the queerest Texan whoever pranced across the Rio Grande!"

Vin shot out of his chair and was at Ezra's throat in less than a heartbeat. "You take that back, you son of a bitch!"

"I will thank you to leave my mother out of this," Ezra managed to gasp back even as Vin's fingers tightened around his neck.

"Why? She certainly didn't leave me out of her sordid affairs!" Josiah declared, moving Mary out of the way to back Vin up.

"Fellas!" Nathan demanded, as he tried to push Vin and Josiah off of Ezra. "If anyone is gonna hit this ... this ... I don't know what, it's gonna be me!"

"What'd I do?!" Ezra exclaimed, trying to fend off six angry hands.

"Makin' profit off another person's misfortune. How much you make off that pool because Rain and I broke up?"

"You and Rain?" Buck asked, still calmly seated at his desk, like a spectator commenting on a mud-wrestling match. "You shouldn't blame Ezra because you don't know how to handle a woman," he admonished.

"Oh, and you do?" JD jumped in.

"Sure I do. I do it every day of my life. And what a life it is," Buck grinned, leaning back in his chair.

"You think you know everything ... that advice you gave me did nothin' but cause trouble 'tween me and Casey," JD fumed, as he angrily gripped the armrests of his chair.

"I assure you, the advice was sound. However, I cannot speak for the execution," Buck replied, smugly placing his hands behind his head. A moment later, he was sprawled on the ground, JD on top of him.

"I'll give you an execution!" JD growled as he began to pummel the man.

Mary stepped further away from the fray, until her back came up against the wall of Chris Larabee's office just as the team leader threw open his door and stepped out.

"What in tarnation---" But the sight of his six teammates brawling in the middle of the bullpen rendered Chris momentarily speechless.

Mary leaned toward him, but did not take her wary eyes from the fighting men. "I told you: you should have gone with me to the Charity Ball."

"Yep. But, that would have made for a pleasant Saint Valentine's Day, and we both know what that means."

Mary looked at Chris now, their green eyes meeting in a knowing gaze. "The end to life and the universe as we know it?" she asked rhetorically.

Chris nodded, then gestured toward his friends, still slugging it out. "Reckon that sort of makes them heroes, don't it?"


February 15, 2002

Comments would be most welcome if sent to: C.V. Puerro

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Characters from "The Magnificent Seven," were used without permission and this story in no way signifies support of, or affiliation with, The Mirisch Group, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, or CBS Worldwide, Inc. The M7-ATF universe was created by Mog, and extra thanks go to her for allowing other people to play within it. The story itself and any non-Magnificent Seven characters belong to the author. This story will not be sold for any reason.

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