Cigarette and Ash

by Mel

Disclaimer: I do not own the Magnificent Seven or anything related to it. Nor do I own the song "Cigarette" because that belongs to the band Splender. I merely reproduce the lyrics because they fit the song and I like it.

Dedication: The entire reason why this fic was written was because of Skye. She loves the series and this is her story for all intent and purposes. She and Celeste inspired me to write and gave me the information for making this as close to the series as possible. Thanks to Celeste for the beta, and Skye for graduating so she can get me to write stories like this.

Got myself a job
Gonna move up that corporate ladder
Follow in the footsteps of all my friends
With the quick strike, a flame illuminated the darkness. A match seared across the man's features and scaled the sharp angles of his face. His high cheekbones and Roman nose were exposed to the world and blended into the flame's rusty colors. Yet his eyes were out of reach to the light. That left his colorless eyes in complete obscurity. Which was the point because even if others recognized him by his face, even those that knew him well could not read his mind without his eyes staring back willingly at them.

Have another cigarette

Ezra Standish extinguished the match as soon as it caught. It was discarded with an expert flick of his hand and left to roll into the alleyways. The bastard mix of light and shadows now returned to monotone features, which is exactly what Ezra wanted. He was sick of craving warmth and attention. Preferable standards were the comfort of hiding behind illusion and the attention that your mask could attract without the self-conscious feeling that it was you they were judging.

That's probably why he was the best undercover agent for the ATF. He had no real life to cling to when he went undercover in dangerous situations like these. In fact, playing the villain was seductively easier than trying to maintain a set concept of his own persona. A villain was evil incarnate, and as such you behave in the way that would make most people fear and loathe you. That was quite easy to accomplish. Being good, on the other hand, was impossible because even if you worked to win someone's love and adoration it wasn't as easy to turn their hearts to you as it was to warp them with hate. So Ezra had made the decision that he shouldn't particularly care about what they thought of him, good or bad. He would only seek survival and that seemed to be a concept that everyone could at least sympathize with.

Which is why it was so disturbing to work with six men that made him feel like he should expect more of himself.

The cigarette in the corner of his mouth was almost forgotten, and it was only until the smoke had invaded his nostrils that he remembered that was why he struck the match. It was getting dangerously close to an addiction if he was doing it unconsciously to calm his nerves.

Ezra took a long drag, savoring it because at least he should enjoy the feeling as the toxins infected him. The threat of smoking had never deterred him. There wasn't much within his body could bring to care about preserving.

So why are you tripping on me?
I can't take all the pressure
Gotta find some way to cope with this

The more he buried himself more into the ATF Team 7 it seemed the more he needed this habit to keep himself awake. The irony wasn't lost on him. An addiction of destruction to prevent one of...what? He couldn't even answer what he was trying to distance himself from now. The six men treated him like a comrade, and left him to himself most often. He always had the solitude of his undercover work since none of them had yet accompany his identity in an operation. They merely monitored him and his transactions from wherever they went and tried their best to stop anyone from murdering him. What more could anyone want from people like that?

Ezra knew that was more than enough, they actually cared about getting him out alive, as opposed to getting the deal done and the criminals behind bars. That was the most anyone had given him, ever. Even with Maude it was usually a self-serving deal, and it was inconceivable why he would feel lacking with these men.

"Eh, vato, you better have a reason why I come out here..."

The unexpected voice didn't startle Ezra, despite his distracting introspection. At least some instincts that grew from his life were beneficial, instead of the poison filling him now.

Have another cigarette

It was about a block away, a Hispanic dime dealer called Red. Ezra stepped back to blend with the shadows. Red wasn't the one he was supposed to meet, but he worked for someone that definitely was a target of their investigation. As a "prospective buyer" Ezra needed to keep a low profile, out of Red's master's way. If the conversation going on behind the wall was as potentially threatening as his survival instinct seemed to warn, he could very well be a walking dead man.

He flicked the ash away. The cigarette was almost dead anyway. The embers had burnt themselves out by their own will to live and consume the very sustenance they needed. That was the way people like him lived, a bright fire for a moment and remembered always as ash. Burn brightly and die then never live at all and fade. Ezra forgot where he had remembered that quote in all his years of surviving.

And live 'til you die...

As anxiety gripped him, he reassessed his options. He could call the team, and they would be here in an instant to come and stop the threat. But he didn't. The danger was not yet immanent and for some reason he could not bring himself to feel dependent upon them as he already felt the resolve creeping into his will. He could prove to them that he was worthy, that he deserved the feeling of want, they would want to receive him as a man. Ezra could feel like a man among other men and not a consuming, destructive element. Maybe he could actually be a man if he remained with them long enough.

Another cigarette was already in his mouth. The unprofitable, stale taste of the filter lined his lips. He had forgotten the process of slipping one from his coat pocket into his mouth. The taste buds were deadened and he was drugged up enough to dull the sense of panic from his body. Only the gnawing fear he couldn't understand had remained with him.

I'm not afraid

"I am unafraid," Ezra whispered inside his mind as the shadows began to move to engulf him. Already the effigy was in his mind.

So here died Ezra Standish. A good agent, if not a little mouthy. Killed with a cigarette in his mouth and a self-depreciating grin on his face. How we will miss him…If only we could remember him.

I'm different from the rest somehow

His fingertips grazed the handle of his .38, hidden securely behind his brown trenchcoat. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could survive this. It was a morbid thought, but Ezra was actually looking forward to the visits from the hospital. It was an excuse to enjoy people coming to him without any manipulation on his part. How nice it was to think about what kind of flowers they could bring instead of the pain of a bullet ripping through the flesh of your lungs.

Ezra shook the need from his mind and cursed himself for forgetting the real issue at stake. If his cover was blown, then there was one link more for whoever would want to hurt him to find his friends. (Is that really what he thought of them as?) He couldn't have that. Better to die alone for something then live long enough to see it destroyed because he couldn't help wanting to be closer.

The other escape was within his reach as well as the cigarettes. A deck of cards was in his pocket. One constant he brought with him to pass the time while he waited in the den of his enemies. Of all the games he could play, it was cards that offered distraction for one person. Solitaire was really his only escape. Smoking his destruction.

Ezra pulled out a card experimentally and tilted it to the shady light. Ace of Spades. Death and lonely existence. How fitting.

Blind to the wind, the news, and the culture
Deaf to the sound that leaks from your voice
Take a deep breath and pray for a second one

The voices were garbled and still distant. It was not yet imminent before the proverbial "shit hit the fan." Honestly, he would have to stop eavesdropping on Mister Tanner's colorful language. Although he couldn't help being drawn to the Texan drawl of the man, especially when its warmth was directed at him. How he wished the sharpshooter was with him now and not just for reasons of protection.

Chris would be angry with him when he died. Cursing loud and long enough to kill anyone that was remotely responsible for this "tragedy." He would leave him the rest of his cigarettes, Chris being the only one to smoke heavier than Ezra. Perhaps he would think of him when the ash burned away. Josiah would pray for his soul, keep him in his prayers when he roasted in hell. JD might cry, Nathan might not hate him as much, Buck might leave flowers at his grave. And Vin...

Have another cigarette

He didn't know what to think about Vin. There was so much and so little he had in his head about the Texan. All those postulations never did him much good as an agent. The only knowledge he gained from them was the longing of how things can't be and never could be.

Ezra heard the voices stop and closed his eyes. Taking that as the sign, he pulled his last match to light the cigarette already hanging from his mouth. The last request of a dead man. All he wanted was one breath of sulfur and brimstone, just praying to get another one out before he died. He'd probably be used to the scent when he went to hell.

"I though you'd quit..."

So what you think of me now?
I'm not here to impress you
I'm not the one who's insecure

Red's unconscious body rolled into the alleyway unceremoniously. His face sported bruises and a bloodied mouth, probably with a few teeth loose. Ezra tried to contain the unaccustomed feeling of bewilderment when he didn't understand what was going on around him. It tended to leave him severely hurt, so he tried to avoid it.

"What are you doing here Mister Tanner?" Ezra had been stripped of his formality. He stood in the darkness looking bedraggled and lost, so unlike his usual self.

The sniper grinned and scratched the back of his neck. "Chris didn't like the odds you had comin' in. So I'm here to help pull ya out."

"That would have unraveled all of our duplicitous enterprise for a minuscule gain. Hardly practical in estimation of our chosen profession."

"Look man, we was just worried 'bout ya."

Ezra didn't know why, but he smiled; a genuine smile. "And for that I thank you."

"Uh, you're welcome?" Vin seemed rattled that Ezra would suddenly lose his Ezra-ness, but he figured it must have be a long night for the man to spend it all alone. The thought suddenly struck the Texan as a revelation, and he felt as if he finally understood some piece of the man that stood before him.

"Le's' get you home," Vin chuckled and placed a broad arm over Ezra's shoulders and pulled him close. It was something the Texan was used to doing, but to Ezra it felt like a silent acceptance. Or at least the start of his own acceptance to what generosity these men had to offer him.

Ezra pulled the unlit cigarette from his mouth and flicked it far into the darkness. He knew he wouldn't need it now, and hopefully never again. But for this moment, he was content to let Vin's strong grip guide him home.

Start learning to fall....


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