Characters: The old west seven, mostly Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish and the ATF AU characters of Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish.
Crossover between the ATF AU and the Old West universe
Warnings: Mild profanity, maybe some angst and perhaps a sap warning.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to MOG for the ATF AU. It's all hers and I just borrowed it for a minute. Thanks to everyone who gave such kind and encouraging reviews and tips for my stories. Please keep those comments and suggestions coming. Special thanks to my brave beta Antoinette, any mistakes left over are mine. I put Four Corners in the state of Texas if that is ok. I looked on the web and I couldn't find any source that said exactly where the town was located. If this is wrong, blame me. Ya'll make a new pard feel real welcome. I would like to say I own them but I don't.
The day was cursed. Unending rain poured from the sky as thunder rumbled through the saloon. Chris Larabee brooded. Paralyzed with guilt, he ignored the others who waited patiently as he lost himself in memories of what had happened that day.
+ + + + + + +
The day was cursed. Ezra was in Texas, on an undercover assignment that wasn't supposed to go sour but did. He was currently hiding in a ghost town from angry gunrunners who had tried to kill him once already and wanted to finish the job. He had no idea where the others were, only that thanks to a hidden mike in the car, they knew where he was and should be coming to the rescue.
Ezra Standish was determined to survive this...this debacle if only to say, 'I'll get you for this' to one Chris Larabee head of team 7 ATF Division of Denver, Colorado. He had tried to tell the blond team leader that there was no way in hell he was going undercover as a favor and then on a team vacation in the desolate wilderness.
Chris had a friend, a Texas Ranger, who asked for help in arresting a Mr. James and a Mr. Royale for dealing in guns. Why Mr. Larabee had to get involved, Ezra had no idea, couldn't the man have said no? Mr. Larabee agreed to the request for aid and where Mr. Larabee went, the rest of the team was duty bound to follow. He tried to get out of going but after threats, intimidation, bribes, and 'The Glare' Ezra found himself along for the ride.
They had tried to pacify him by saying it would be a piece of cake, a fluff job, just a day or two of undercover work and no more. Mr. Larabee had then informed him that afterwards he would be forced to share their company and participate in all sorts of outdoor wilderness torture. This was otherwise known as the team vacation. The rest of the team had been no help what so ever and had just stood there with smirks on their faces enjoying his misfortune.
Oh yes, he was going to kill Chris Larabee and quite possibly the rest of them if he could get away with it.
Ezra crawled further into the old saloon, there really wasn't much cover or places to hide but beggars could not be choosers. He moved out sight of the doorway and dragged himself to the side where he could sit with his back to the wall. He just had to stay out of sight until the others arrived and apprehended those two fools.
For some reason James had insisted on meeting in this god-forsaken place to talk about the deal, something had spooked Royale and the next thing he knew he had a bullet wound, cracked ribs and was running for this life. Oh yes, this job had turned out to be a piece of cake all right, he thought bitterly.
Ezra looked down at his leg. The bullet had gone through the upper part of this thigh and the wound was still bleeding sluggishly. At least the pain from his ribs took his mind off the possibility of bleeding to death. He closed his eyes for a moment to rest and he could almost hear Nathan starting in on him for getting hurt.
"Hey guys, that looks like..."
"The man looks hurt Nathan."
"I'd better check it out."
The voices were faint though familiar but when he opened his eyes, the room was as empty as when he had first crawled in. He shook his head slightly, too much sun, too much blood loss, he must be imagining things. Then he heard chairs scrape back on a wooden floor and the sound of boot heels coming towards him, he even thought he heard spurs jingle.
He saw shadows and then the shadows turned into shapes, and by some trick of the light, the shapes turned into his teammates. Ezra was puzzled; how did they get in the saloon? Something wasn't right, they looked different in some way and what in the hell were they wearing?
The ATF agent blinked his eyes then blinked them again, "Your timing is impeccable gentlemen but why pray tell have you all felt the need for authentic western attire at this particular time?" he questioned. The six faces that were looking down at him looked up at one another in confusion and then back down at him.
"Damn! That sounds like Ezra, alright."
"But Ezra isn't here. I mean...Buck?"
"I know kid."
"How in God's name?"
"It's not Ezra, at least... not ours."
This last remark got Ezra's attention. "I beg your pardon Mr. Larabee." the undercover agent groused, "You look like a villain in a very amateur western stage show, you all do. I demand to know what's going on." He tried to push himself up off the floor, something was wrong he could feel it, something felt...off.
These men were not his teammates, Ezra realized now. They were different. It wasn't just the clothes, although he did have to admit that buckskin would have suited Mr. Tanner. It was the guns they carried and how they wore them. It was in the way the men looked at him as though they wanted him to be something or someone else. Ezra would have denied it emphatically but he was terrified.
Not terrified of the six...men grouped around him, they were somehow still his associates, the men he had worked with in Denver for the past two years. Something else was wrong. The air in the saloon felt different as though he had stepped into something old or another time. That thought caused the hair on the back of his neck to rise.
"Look there has obviously been a mistake of some sort. You...people resemble my associates to a remarkable degree but I assure you, we do not know each other," Ezra said in a voice that only shook slightly.
"Sounds like him," the one who looked like Vin commented.
"That's for sure, no one else can talk that much and still not say anything," the man who was Buck replied.
"Might be a sign brother, maybe he can help mend things," put in Josiah.
The man that looked liked Nathan Jackson raised his eyebrows and confidently stated, "Your name is Ezra P Standish, you're a southern con artist, your ma's name is Maude, you have a gold tooth and you use ten words where one would do."
Ezra could only look at him in astonishment. His mouth opened and closed but no words would come out. They knew him, really knew him and if he were honest, on some level he knew them as well. That was the only reason he decided to play along with this madness and then somehow get back to reality.
"Not ours," the black clad gunman stated flatly. The sadness in his voice filled the air and Ezra found himself staring up at the man who so closely resembled his leader. The man's eyes held so much pain and grief that he could not help but ask the obvious question.
"What happened to yours? I mean me? I mean the Ezra that should be here? Good Lord I'm delirious," he groaned. He was confused and wished his friends, the real ones and not these Saturday matinee wannabes, would show up.
"Easy now...um...Ezra, you don't want to get that wound bleeding again, just stay where you are and things will fine," Nathan Jackson stated firmly.
Ezra just growled at him in disbelief, "Fine? Mr. Jackson your idea of fine leaves much to be desired. There are two men out there trying to kill me, I can't run, can barely walk in fact, my ribs hurt like hell, I have no weapons, my teammates are God knows where and I am surrounded by you...you..." Ezra closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn't paid enough for this type of assignment.
"You mean ghosts and he sure does whine just like our Ezra," the other J.D. put in helpfully.
"Spirits," Josiah rumbled in a solemn voice.
"Angels," Buck grinned.
The others made various sounds of contempt and even Ezra opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows at the remark. Buck looked at his disbelieving audience and snorted. "Well hell, it sounds better then the truth which is we're waiting for the two of you to pull your heads outta your asses and apologize to one another so we can get on to wherever we're supposed to go."
"You don't have to stay Buck, I'm not holding you!" Chris Larabee shouted, his voice harsh and somehow it hurt just to hear it. "Not holding any of you, you can leave anytime!" The blond man turned from the circle to walk angrily to the sagging batwing door of the saloon. He stopped and stared out into the dust covered street. "Should've left long ago," the man added in a voice that trembled. Sadness, guilt and anger laced every word. Ezra had no trouble believing that this manifestation was somehow a previous Chris Larabee.
"Ain't gonna happen pard, we done told ya," Vin said. "We ain't leaving til you and Ezra settle this." That tone of voice was one that would brook no argument no matter what century the speaker existed.
"We go together Chris or we don't go," Buck said. The others nodded and mumbled agreement. The injured agent looked at these memories of his current teammates. Their faces were determined and he was struck by how very alike the past and present seemed to be. Ezra couldn't begin to understand what or why this was happening but after listening to their Mr. Larabee, his curiosity was well and truly piqued.
"Would someone please tell me what is going on here? Why are you gentlemen still here and where am I...I mean where is my previous incarnation?" Ezra demanded. "Good Lord what happened?"
There was silence for a moment or an untold number of years then the western version of Chris Larabee turned to look down at the man on the floor. Ezra was stunned at the maelstrom of emotions in those pale green eyes. " We...that is me and our Ezra...had words."
The undercover agent waited for more and when no other explanation was forthcoming, he let his irritation show. "That's it? You had an argument? You...you mean to tell me you rejects from a country western store have been hanging around in this...this place for decades because you had and I quote 'words'? Are you insane? We always have disagreements; it's a part of life Mr. Larabee. You and I simply cannot see eye to eye on most things. You sir, are without a doubt the most inflexible, aggravating, bull headed..." He paused seeing a very familiar glare in his direction. "I...um...was of course talking about my Mr. Larabee," Ezra finished lamely.
"Oh yeah you're Ezra P. Standish sure enough," the healer muttered, shaking his head and chuckling quietly. The other men just looked at the wounded agent and smiled indulgently.
"This is not a laughing matter gentleman," Ezra said with as much dignity as he could manage while lying on a dirty floor in an abandoned old west saloon.
"Nope, reckon it's not," the shade of Vin Tanner agreed sadly with a sigh and a look at the shadowy gunman that was his best friend. Chris Larabee's eyes met Ezra's briefly and then turned to gaze back out at the street.
"You...he...that irritating bastard got his back up as usual, he stormed out of the saloon like he had a burr under his saddle. He was playing poker and trying to slither his way out of work as usual...lazy pain in the ass," the gunslinger barked angrily.
"That is a matter of opinion of course," Ezra replied calmly, two years of reports, meetings and expense accounts with the current Mr. Larabee standing him in good stead. "So I...that is to say he left in the midst of an argument and that's all there is to it?"
There was silence at his question and he looked curiously at the men surrounding him. They seemed to waver then fade and he felt such an overwhelming feeling of sadness from the six beings that if he had not been lying down he was sure he would have collapsed from the weight of such grief.
"Our Ezra was shot down in the middle of the street as he left the saloon. We figured it was hired guns backed by one of the ranchers, not sure who. We heard the gunshot, saw him go down and they picked us off as we came through the doors trying to get to him," Chris said tiredly.
"It wasn't your fault Mr. Larabee," Ezra finally managed to say. Eyes, maddened with grief and guilt looked into his, and suddenly as if a film were playing, Ezra could see and hear everything that happened that day so long ago.
+ + + + + + +
The saloon was dark but crowded; he could smell smoke and hear the rumble of voices as men sat drinking and playing cards or stood at the bar. Thunder split the sky and he could see sheets of rain falling outside. He found his attention focused on a group of men seated at a table playing cards and it didn't take long to identify the two men arguing loudly enough to be heard over everything else.
He recognized the black duster and hat of Chris Larabee but found himself unable or perhaps unwilling to look too closely at his mirror image. It was eerie enough hearing his own voice.
"Are you suggesting I go out in this...this deluge and patrol Mr. Larabee? It's a torrential downpour out there!"
"No, I'm telling you! Hell Ezra, you don't do anything but sit on your ass cheating at poker all day, now get the hell out there, a little rain isn't going to kill you!"
"I have informed you several times sir, I do not cheat at poker and as I am sure you would agree there is no need to risk catching my death in this weather. You can barely see across the street much less any miscreants. I refuse to go out there in this hellish rain!"
"I didn't agree to anything Standish, now get out there or I'll throw your worthless ass out! God damn, don't make me shoot you! I've had enough of you belly aching, at least if you were dead I wouldn't have to listen to you all the time."
"Well sir I regret to inform you that I am still among the living but death would be preferable to your odious presence, at least then I would not have to listen to your constant ill tempered harangues. As despicable as the weather is out there, it is preferable to your company, good day."
A shadowy figure in a green coat strode angrily out of the saloon doors. Ezra knew it was a sunny day outside, he knew it and yet as he looked through the memories of those around him, he saw the rain, heard the gunshot and watched as the figure in the green coat collapsed in the muddy street.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee's scream snapped Ezra back to the here and now and suddenly he found himself alone in the saloon. He shook his head, had he imagined the whole thing? No he couldn't have, he was hurting but not that bad. Feeling somewhat shaken by what he had seen he nevertheless felt compelled to speak to the seemingly empty room.
"It wasn't your fault, you couldn't have known, I know I...he wouldn't have blamed you for what happened."
"I tried to get to him...son of a bitch was one of mine...ours...and he died alone. I wasn't there...didn't get a chance to make things right. Damn it to hell, he died thinking I wanted him dead."
Ezra sighed heavily, "Mr. Larabee you are a glutton for self blame no matter what century you happen to exist in. You were my...his friend in your time just as you are in mine. He knew you tried to get to him Chris, I promise you; he knew you didn't mean what you said. Both of you argue and annoy each other but that is what friends do." Ezra fought the urge to laugh, was that him spouting such maudlin sentiments? Perhaps he was more seriously injured than he thought; it certainly would explain this day.
"Friend?" the voice snorted in surprise and disbelief. "You think of me...him as a friend?"
Ezra looked around, the place was empty but he could hear Chris's voice as clearly, as if the man, spirit or whatever the hell it was, stood next to him. "Yes" he sighed, hoping no one he worked with heard what he was about to say. "You care Chris, you always have, that's why we follow you now and why they followed you then. Stop wallowing in guilt, grab him by the scruff of the neck and go to wherever there is to go to."
The silence in the saloon was heavy and he got the feeling that for the first time since he had sought refuge in the place, that it was truly empty. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. Where was his team? Had something happened? A noise in the street caught his attention, he looked around the doorway and what he saw had him trying desperately to get to his feet and outside.
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ATF team leader Chris Larabee was pissed. He was missing his undercover agent and although Standish was a Goddamn pain in the ass most of the time, Ezra was his man, a part of his team and he couldn't find him. That simple fact scared the hell out of him.
He and the others had followed James and Royale to the old west town and had come in from different directions to make the bust. He had heard the gunshot and he had known instantly that southern son of a bitch was in trouble and most likely had gotten himself shot.
They had caught Royale and James easily. Buck, Josiah and J.D. had hustled the bound men into the cars to wait for the rangers to take them off their hands. He, Vin and Nathan were now searching the town for their missing team member.
Chris tried to hold onto his patience. Ezra wasn't his only worry. He listened to his gut instincts and they were screaming at him that something wasn't right in this town. He just couldn't get a handle on what it was but something was...off. He kept seeing things out of the corners of his eyes; things that he knew couldn't possibly be in this derelict town, things like shadows where there shouldn't be.
He knew he wasn't crazy although he was definitely so on edge he could explode. He just knew he would feel a whole lot better if could just hit or shoot something. He growled under his breath and watched in some satisfaction, as Vin, who had just come up to him, turned around without missing a beat and walked away.
The case was over, the bad guys had been captured and he wanted nothing more than to start their vacation. Except of course, he couldn't find his damn agent. The town wasn't that big, where in the hell could the man be hiding. So help him if Standish was doing this to get back at him for forcing him to go undercover and on vacation with them, he was going to kill him, beat the shit out of him and then kill him again.
Chris started down the dusty main street, he wasn't going to call out, they had done that already with no results and he'd be damned if he was going to admit to anyone that he had lost Ezra, especially to Ezra. Chris's hands curled into fists, he was going to hurt that slippery little con artist for this.
He was across from the saloon when he heard the gun shot. It sounded strange, distant and unfamiliar but he heard it. He quickly looked around but there wasn't anyone there then he saw something or someone lying in the dust of the street in front of him. He swallowed hard, feeling a coldness that had nothing to do with the weather conditions. It was a man wearing a green coat and two seconds ago, he hadn't been there.
He moved closer, hand going to his gun just in case. The man had been shot; blood stained the white shirt and the front of his coat. A black old-fashioned hat hid the man's features. Chris moved slowly unsure of what was happening until he heard the man rasp out a single word. "Ambush."
He knew that smug, annoying and insulting voice; he would've recognized that southern drawl anywhere. "Ezra!" he called and ran to the wounded man. "Nathan!" he screamed for the EMT, as he fell to his knees in the mud. Blood, oh God, there was so much blood. Damn! Damn! Damn!
"Easy Ezra...I'm here, I've got you, and the others are coming, let me see how bad it is." His voice was gruff, but he gently eased the wounded man over on his back and supported his head. In the back of his mind a voice was screaming, why was Ezra dressed like this? Why didn't he see this happen and when in the hell did it start raining?
Chris Larabee looked up as the rain fell on his face; he was kneeling in the mud where moments before there had been dry desert dirt. He looked down at the man in his arms. The hat had fallen off when he lifted Ezra up and as Chris looked into a pair of eyes that didn't really see him, he shivered in fear. It wasn't Ezra. It was but at the same time, he knew in his heart that although this man could have been his double, he was not his agent.
"What in the holy hell is going on?" Chris whispered.
"Mr. Larabee?" The voice was weak, breathy and Chris knew too much blood had been lost.
"Don't try to talk, Nathan is on his way just take it easy...Ezra," Chris said softly but inside he was screaming. He was terrified the man was going to die on him and he was afraid of what would happen if he did. Chris knew on some level he could not explain that something important was happening, something that had been waiting for centuries and somehow it involved him and his undercover agent.
He leaned over the injured man trying to keep as much of the rain off as he could, tried to stop thinking of rain that he knew shouldn't be falling. "Chris...ambush...the others...Chris!" the southern voice was frantic, weak cold hands grabbed his shirt and the man's wound gushed blood.
"Damn it Ezra settle down! Be still you stubborn bastard, you're hurt. The others are fine, we got James and Royale, there isn't any ambush," Chris almost yelled at the man, fear overriding all else. He knew what dying looked like and he was seeing it happen right in front of him. The realization frightened him.
"Mm...sorry Mr. Larabee...didn't see the gun...failed to warn ...Chris I didn't mean what I said earlier. You...you gentlemen are..." the words got weaker and ended in a cough that dribbled blood.
"What part of shut up do you not understand Standish?" Chris hissed holding the man closer and looking frantically through the falling rain for Nathan, Vin, hell anybody.
"Sorry...forgive me Chris...please I...never meant..."
"Hang on Ezra, fight you hear me you cocky son of a bitch? Fight!" he demanded glaring down at the man who so resembled his friend.
"Thank...you for the...second chance." The man said smiling faintly, before those green eyes closed and the body in his arms shuddered. Chris Larabee looked down wide eyed at the slack face and screamed at the top of his lungs.
"You're not dying on me, you pain in the ass, you hear me Ezra? That's an order!" Chris shouted angrily.
"We don't take orders," a slightly menacing voice said. Chris looked up and through the falling rain saw a figure walking toward him. A black hat, black duster, glimpses of silver on an old western gun rig and the soft jingle of spurs sounded faintly as the man came closer.
The ATF leader knew this was insane but somehow he and Ezra had been caught in some kind of time slip that was playing out. Unable to take his eyes off the familiar face, Chris could only watch wordlessly as the figure knelt down beside them. It was his face and definitely his glare that stared back at him. Chris was frozen in place, he couldn't move, couldn't speak. He wondered briefly if this was how his team felt when he had caught them doing something particularly stupid. It was not a pleasant thought.
The gunman shoved him roughly to one side and took Ezra in his arms. "Easy Ezra...I'm here, I've got you, the others are waiting for us," an eerily familiar voice said.
Hearing almost the exact same words he had spoken earlier snapped the ATF leader out of his shock. He didn't understand what was happening and he was almost positive he didn't want to but no one, including...well no one came between him and one of his friends. His hand instinctively went for his gun as his eyes narrowed into a glare.
Two identical voices spoke the same words at the same time with the same harsh tone. The gunslinger turned his attention from the wounded man and hazel eyes locked with hazel. A faint smile softened the rugged features, "This one's mine," a jerk of the head drew the team leader's attention towards the door of the saloon, "your Ezra is over there."
The ATF agent looked toward the saloon and saw a familiar figure pulling himself up in the doorway and trying to walk with obviously cracked ribs and a bullet hole in one leg.
"Shit...Ezra!" He was on his feet and arrived just in time to catch the agent before he fell face down in the street. Chris shivered and looked down at their feet, looked down at dry desert dust.
He raised his eyes and met Ezra's. His hands tightened on his friend's arms and for once Ezra didn't complain but returned the gesture. They both turned to look into the street. The air rippled as though with heat but the two men could easily see rain falling in one small area and hear faint familiar voices.
"It's me, Ezra."
"Chris...ambush...the others...Chris...tried to warn...failed...sorry."
"I know. God as my witness Ezra I tried to get to you...we all did."
"I didn't mean...what I said earlier. You ...you gentlemen are..."
"I didn't either, we're friends you cocky bastard. Come on, the others been waiting long enough for someone to cheat 'em at poker."
"I do not cheat Mr. Larabee!"
Then suddenly everything was back to normal. That feeling of wrongness was gone and both ATF men knew somehow, something had been fixed that never should have been broken.
Chris Larabee knew that he had a connection with Vin Tanner. They couldn't really explain it, it just was. They could have whole conversations without speaking a word and it had been that way from the first day they had met. He was having that same connection now. Ezra met his eyes and he knew in an instant without words, that neither of them would say anything to anyone about what happened today.
"Let's go find Nathan," Chris said and helped a surprisingly compliant undercover agent start walking down the street to where they could hear their teammate's voices. Both men fiercely ignored Chris's rapidly drying clothes.
They walked in silence enjoying the solid reality of each other's presence until a mischievous thought occurred to the blond ATF agent. "After today I bet you're ready for some relaxation, we've already got a campsite and..."
"Awww hell!" was the southern reply.
Chris Larabee smiled, yeah this was his Ezra Standish all right.