Atlanta to Denver

by mog

Author’s Notes: I was re-reading some of the early ATF fics recently, and this came to me. It started with the song lyrics at the end, inspired by Shawna’s Rough Beginnings and Ruby’s Your True Family. Then when I began writing the actual story part, the idea I began with was hi-jacked by inspirations from Heather F.’s Oreos, Whiskey and Rescues (if you haven’t read it then the following probably won’t make much sense).

Ezra sat at his desk in the quiet emptiness of the after-hours ATF office and ran a manicured nail along the edge of the small box enveloped in plastic shrink-wrap. The transparent covering slipped easily away from the slick cardboard, crackling softly as he wadded it into an airy ball and dropped it into the empty trash can beside his desk.

Yellow and black graphics printed on the thin cardboard announced the contents as ‘The Worst-Case Scenario Daily Survival Calendar 2005’. The cardstock material resisted slightly and creased as he bent the flap of the box to pull out the five-by-five square of stacked sheets.

With a sharp click, the Number 5 recyclable, black plastic leg of the calendar’s backing popped into place as he bent it with a gentle hand. He lightly tore the top two cover sheets away from the thick layer of glue covering the top edge of the pack which adhered the stack together.

It was only the evening of December 30, but he wouldn’t be in the office for a few days and his perfectionist tendencies dictated that things should be organized for the new year when he returned to work.

He knew Vin left the gift. There hadn’t been a note, but Ezra knew. No furtive glances or suspicious indicators were needed to give it away. Vin was the last of the team to leave and Ezra returned from the copy machine to find the boxed calendar sitting squarely in the middle of his desk, purposefully face down to reveal the back.

It made him smile and chuckle softly even as he shook his head. He glanced at the back of the box, scanning the example page which showed January 3.

‘How To Survive Adrift At Sea'

God, but that had been a lifetime ago. When was that…Summer of ’01? The team had been together three years at that point. Quite the ride. And it’s not every man who gets to say he blew up a yacht while at work.
'1. Take whatever supplies you can – especially water. Many canned foods, particularly vegetables, are packed in water, so take those if you can.’

Standish supposed it was a viable suggestion. Though he and Vin had managed quite nicely on that package of Oreos snagged by Tanner; and Ezra could say, without a doubt, there was very little moisture to be found in an Oreo cookie.

Water? Well, water was certainly used to make single-malt scotch and beer, so technically Ezra had been right on target when he grabbed those items from the burning vessel.

‘2. Protect yourselves from the elements. You are more likely to die of exposure or hypothermia than of anything else.’

“Like hell,” muttered Standish. He knew good and well if you were adrift at sea you were most likely to die by your frustrated, infuriated partner’s own hand. Not that either of them could have been blamed. Vin needled mercilessly and Ezra balked with every ounce of stubbornness in his body.

Stuck in that god-forsaken raft, Standish had slammed down his protective barrier against Vin’s well-intentioned inquiries, unwilling to seriously consider that anyone could possible care about the things that concerned him.

Yet the Texan proved him wrong. He’d waited patiently for unguarded opportunities to slip in questions about what had been troubling the group’s undercover man.

And he successfully shot another Team 7-fired bullet into Standish’s belief that trust was for suckers and fools.

‘3. Find food if you can. If your raft is floating for several weeks, seaweed will form on its underside and fish will naturally congregate in the shade beneath you.’

Ezra pursed his lips in consideration at this suggestion. He did like sashimi. He wasn’t sure if Vin would have bought into it, however. Though, over the years he had seen Tanner eat some rather unnerving things. In Vin’s mind if it wasn’t frozen or furry, it was edible.

Standish supposed having a metabolism that required one to eat three times one’s body weight a day in order to survive would do that. The man’s lineage obviously derived from a family of wild shrews somewhere in northern Texas.

Ezra discarded the entire idea when he focused on the calendar’s mention of surviving several weeks in a raft. He had little doubt either he or Vin would have perished at the other’s hand if they’d been left alone much longer.

‘4. If you see a plane or boat nearby, try to signal it.’

Well, no shit. It didn’t take a Boy Scout to figure that one out. Mind you, Ezra wasn’t sure that singing an off-key, half-in-the-bag rendition of Buffett’s ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ with no semblance of harmony qualified as a signal. But the writers of the survival guide certainly didn’t say it wasn’t. And there was no denying it had worked. The Coast Guard cutter had located them.

He adjusted the position of a brushed silver frame that housed a postcard of Erte’s black-background ‘Alphabet’ and propped up the day-calendar at the far edge of his desk where it butted against Vin’s.

He’d briefly thought about placing it on the outside left corner of the desk but quickly came to his senses. It seemed as if the entire team had clandestinely decided that his desk corner was the place to sit when not in their own chairs. He swore they did it just to irritate him.

Glancing at the small cardboard box, Ezra read part of the title in a whispered voice. “Worst Case Scenario…”

He knew he could search through all 365 pages of that calendar and not find what would truly be the most unimaginable situation a man could find himself in - passing through life without the implicit knowledge that he would be missed if he disappeared; and not having friends who would turn over Hell itself to find him if he did go missing.

There wouldn’t be any tips about facing the world without friends who believed, with no questions, in his integrity, even if common belief was otherwise. No survival techniques on handling hard times and cold days without a humorous word, no matter how dark and sarcastic that humor may be.

The worst case scenario would have been never getting on that plane in 1998, never following an instinct that told you to risk trusting just one more time. Worst case scenario was still being an only child without six brothers to watch out for you, or you for them.

Ezra was happy that page was not in the calendar. He’d survived the last six years without those tips and he planned on doing his damnedest to never need them.

Atlanta to Denver (lyrics by mog)

I was standing there, right on target, bull's-eye on my chest.
Hands in my pockets, a wide-eyed fool. A wild card with a bullet-proof vest.
My head was spinnin’, I locked down my heart. I need no one and no one needs me.
Why play by the rules if the deck is stacked? Even a blind man could see.
I’ve spent too many nights in the dark of Atlanta, too many days tryin’ to think of my name.
The roulette wheel offers Fate’s house odds, but I keep coming back to this game.
Well I think this time I’ve had enough.
My ticket reads ‘Atlanta to Denver’.
My departure out was pretty rough.
Leavin’ – Atlanta to Denver.
I got nothin’ to lose, my strings were cut.
The ticket reads ‘Atlanta to Denver’.
Is there a life line or a flare sent up?
‘cause I’m leavin’ – Atlanta to Denver.
I hear the air is clear up there, when you’re a mile above sea level.
Don’t know who thinks this boy’s worth the trip. With my luck it’s the Devil.
But they better know what they’re gettin’ in to, I’ll do the job but I don’t make friends.
Hate to think all these years my mother was right - they just use you as the means to an end.
I’m not gonna think and I’m not gonna hope for anything to change this time.
If they’re payin’ me I’ll work in the shadows, and keep my head above the water line.
‘Cause I think this time I’ve had enough
My ticket reads ‘Atlanta to Denver’.
My departure out was pretty rough.
Leavin’ – Atlanta to Denver.
I wonder if it will be different this time?
The ticket reads ‘Atlanta to Denver’.
Is that a life line? Was a flare sent up?
Well, I’m leavin’ – Atlanta to Denver.
Holdin’ my breath as I touch down. It seems to be a beautiful day.
Denver doesn’t look too dark at all; and it’s a thousand miles away.
I think I could get used to this. I might even like to stay.
Solitaire’s been my game too long, and it’s a cold, hard game to play.
I’m standin’ here and at my back is somethin’ I’m not quite used to,
but it’s comfortable in a dangerous way. If I’m offered to stay, I may choose to.
I made my choice, I’ll take that chance
with that ticket from Atlanta to Denver
Seems someone finally called my bluff,
and now I’m leavin’ Atlanta for Denver.
Cross my fingers, let it ride
On that ticket from Atlanta to Denver.
A second chance is all ask
So I’m leavin’ – Atlanta to Denver.