Be Still My Heart
Category: ATF, Hurt/Comfort, Ezra & Vin
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the television show "The Magnificent Seven". No copyright infringement intended to CBS, TNN, MGM, Hallmark, Trilogy, Mirisch, or any others holding the rights. No profit will be made from this work.
Warnings: A few bad words, some hurt and angst.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Cin for the plot bunny!
Special shout out to the birthday girl BARB!
"One more week, Ez," Vin reminded his partner.
"And leave this oh-so-charming assignment? For shame, Mr. Tanner,
for thinking our talents are squandered here."
"I ain't arguin' about it again." The Texan shook his head and
continued checking the case of alcohol for stickers on the bottle
"Let's review, shall we? You drove the car."
"Stop," Tanner warned.
"Yes, you did stop the car. By running it onto a pier and forcing
the man into the water."
"We caught the suspect."
"After you made me go in after him." Ezra's voice was full of
"He didn't resist," Vin pointed out.
"He was drowning!"
"Reckon I mighta asked if he knew how ta swim first."
Ezra rolled his eyes.
"Yer fancy swimmin' lessons paid off."
"Ruined my suit, for which you still owe me."
"Ain't me that crossed yer suit off the expense report."
"I know." He drew out know. "Mr. Larabee subjugates me into a
pauper wearing rags with his tightwad tendencies."
"Like ya don't have a closet full of suits."
"There was only one of that particular fabric and cut, and it cost me
"Ya paid too much."
"Pride in one's appearance has always been tantamount."
"That's why ya look so glamorous in them khakis checkin' tax stamps
"I blame you."
"And we're back ta the beginnin' again." Vin smirked, and threw in
an eye roll for good measure.
"You should have anticipated the fact that decrepit pile of rotten
wood would not hold the weight of the car and collapse."
"We were due fer a new car."
"Because you destroyed our last new car by sinking it three feet into
mud beneath that pile of wood laughingly called a pier. Since this
was the fourth vehicle in three months, the ATF was rather
"Travis got his butt chewed, and it rolled downhill ta us. Get over
it, Ez, happens enough."
"I refuse to get over it. Vin, we are in Outer Boondocks, USA
checking tax stamps on alcohol bottles at a local, compliant
distributor, with one week left rotting here before we get
transferred to yet another exotic locale for yet another week of
menial labor with the intellectual stimulation at the level of
chewing gum." Ezra reached over to punch Vin in the arm.
Vin punched back.
They both grinned, ready for a little tussle to break the monotony.
"Don't start somethin' ya will lose," the Texan drawled.
"I don't play to lose," Ezra drawled back.
The door opening across the back room caused them to fall silent and
continue working. Footfalls came closer, announcing a new arrival.
"Agents, how are you doing?"
"Just fine, Warden," Ezra drawled.
"Warren, Agent Standish. Supervisory Agent Warren."
Vin hid his amusement; that was one of the jokes Ezra prolonged, and
Warren was clueless to the insult. Their sense of humor kept things
interesting no matter how boring the job, or annoying the temporary
"Good news. That's the last two cases from here. When you're
finished, I want you to check out the satellite packaging plant about
fifty miles from here. It's a pretty drive; it will give you a nice
Tanner figured that meant it was it was further into the rural part
of the state than here, and probably the only thing they would see
would be cows or farm fields.
"Lovely. I do so enjoy an outing into fresh air."
Vin wanted boots to protect him from the sarcasm piling up on the
"You've got such a positive attitude, Agent Standish." Warren
beamed, oblivious to Ezra's smiling insults. "I don't know why
Assistant Director Travis felt it necessary to do surprise
inspections or send you boys out here, but we welcome the assistance."
"I'm sure you do." Standish shot a significant sour look to Tanner.
Vin smirked. "Reckon the AD just likes ta help out where he can.
Figured we were the men for the job. Ya got directions ta the place
"Oh yes, typed out nice and neat." Warren handed them to Vin.
Ezra snatched them from Vin's hands. "I'll be driving, thank you.
Are we done here, Agent Warden?"
"Warren, it's Warren. And yes, if you finished those two cases,
"Excellent." Ezra closed the box back up and left without a backward
"Go on, Agent Tanner. I'll clean up here." Warren patted him on the
Vin barely stopped himself from decking the man. First, they were
senior Agents to him; they did not deserve to get condescended to by
a man with no clue of the real job in the ATF, and third, they were
not under his command. They were operating independently, reporting
in to the local Agent just as a courtesy, not actually accountable to
him. However, Warren seemed to think they were his personal go fetch
boys, and that was driving him nuts. Plus the touchy-feely crap; Vin
was a man who didn't let anyone close unless he wanted them there,
and a stranger or overly-friendly co-worker putting hands on him
rankled. He couldn't wait to leave either.
Once he managed to leave without offending Warren, he found Ezra with
the car running and ready to go. He barely got his seatbelt on
before Standish took off, stopping at the nearest gas station to fuel
up. Vin, of course, had to pump; Ezra refused to dirty himself
further than necessary.
As anticipated, they saw cows and farm fields, and not much else.
The near monotony of it about drove them insane; the only saving
grace was their conversation, a combination of banter and insults.
"You must be joking."
"They truly package alcohol here?" Contempt filled the green gaze.
The buildings were run-down, with every third or fourth showing a
collapsed wall or roof. A faded, peeling sign pronounced, "Rocky Peak
Industrial Center", strategically located in the front of a pile of
something vaguely resembling a building.
"Says ta go ta the back," Vin read from the directions.
"Will we come out again?" Ezra asked skeptically. "I anticipate
hearing the theme from Deliverance at any moment."
"Ya wanna have Travis know we're chickenshit about goin' back there?"
"Point taken." Standish drove into the industrial park, dodging
potholes the size of a chassis and weaving worse than a drunk.
"Keep missin' them sinkholes. I ain't writin' another report on us
losin' a car."
"I have more care than you. I am the one of the very few on our team
that has not destroyed a vehicle. Therefore, I drive, you observe."
"Think that might be it." Vin indicated a building that was intact,
recently painted, and had a profusion of trucks around it.
"And I thought we would drive to the rubble past it. How observant
"Just park, ya smart ass. Sooner we finish, the quicker we leave."
"Then yes, please don't dawdle."
Both men went inside. They were greeted immediately by the
receptionist, who, smiling the entire time, jabbered on and on about
the company while taking them back to the packaging area. It was
neat and clean, well organized, and from the surprised employee
expressions, their arrival was not expected. They met with the on-
duty shift supervisor, then set to work.
Monotony again quickly set in. This company never had a single
violation. Despite their remote location, Vin and Ezra found
nothing. Since surprise inspections like this happened once a year
or so, it wasn't startling to see compliance. They were bored, and
that was a dangerous state for them to be in.
When they overheard the location of a still through the paper thin
walls from one old-timer telling his grandson where to find it to
get him some moonshine, the two ATF Agents perked up. Betraying
nothing, they finished their inspection and left. Agent Warren was
called and told they completed their assignment. He gave them the
rest of the day off, not that he had to. Left with plenty of time on
their own, they returned to the hotel to plan.
"Another disaster free day," Chris announced. He leaned against his
"There's a miracle, Josiah," Buck said.
"How long will it last?" asked JD.
"Anyone care to bet?" Nathan looked up from his case file and
smiled. "Figure Ezra would do the same."
"The Good Lord's providence only lasts so long," Josiah
intoned. "Twenty on tomorrow."
"Tonight." Buck tossed his money in.
"Saturday, when the locals are home and no one can hear them
scream." Chris put his in.
"I'll take Sunday," JD said.
Outfitted with hiking gear and evidence collection apparatus, Vin and
Ezra left their car at the entrance lot for the local national park.
They checked in with the ranger on duty, simply stating they planned
to hike then camp for the night. Other than their personal driver's
licenses they did not identify themselves as ATF agents.
Then the hike started. To camouflage their true purpose, they had
poured over maps, roughly determining the location of the still. It
was on the far end of the park, so they decided to pretend to hike
and camp. Instead of camping, they hiked. And hiked. And Ezra
complained, until it became another session of wheedling each other.
"How much farther?"
"Are we there yet?"
"Ya say ya gotta pee, I'll punch ya ta make ya go in yer pants." Vin
continued to lead their single file trek on the narrow paths.
"You do that, my friend, and I would seriously debate the wisdom of
Vin snorted. "Ya ain't that good or brave."
"Just might, if ya keep bitchin'."
"I do not bitch," Ezra huffed.
"And Chris don't glare." Vin let a leafy branch snap back into
Ezra ducked and talked without missing a beat. "Saying Mr. Larabee
does not glare would be like saying Mr. Sanchez renounced all his
spirituality. It will never happen."
"So you bitch, Chris glares, and Josiah's spiritual."
"And you are "
Vin held a hand up for silence. He motioned Ezra off the path and
pushed them down to the ground. "Heard somethin' comin'," he mouthed
at his friend.
Ezra listened, then pointed to his ears and shook his head no.
Tanner held up a finger, and then the noise became apparent. Across
the path, a mother doe and her fawn slowly made their way through the
Vin smiled, and was pleased to see Ezra did too. They stayed where
they were for a few minutes to let the mother and child get clear of
them before they continued.
What seemed like a day later, they reached a rise above the supposed
still and stared down.
"I don't see it," Ezra whispered.
"There." Vin pointed with his finger.
"Ah, yes. Well hidden."
"Don't see anyone around. Might as well get some pictures and
"A sample, of course?"
Grinning, the two men slowly approached the still, finding and
avoiding the various traps set around it to keep the wild animals
and two legged variety away from the promise of honeydew vine
water. They photographed the area, tasted it and declared it very
good, and then collected several jugs of "evidence". Mission
complete, they picked up their gear and prepared to leave.
There was a distinctive sound to gunfire. Breaking that down
further, a handgun sounds different than a rifle, which sounds
differently than a shotgun. A shotgun stands in a class by itself
for characteristic blast. Racking a shotgun, or putting a round in
the chamber, was a noise that brought involuntary shivers to the
listener, unless the listener was holding the shotgun.
Ezra did not hear the rack, but he heard the report. Then the wooden
post between him and Vin splintered, shot spreading everywhere. He
heard the second priming of the weapon to fire, and he dove at Vin.
All he thought was to get them out of the line of fire. His tackle
pushed them behind a large tree.
That's when he felt the sting in his side. He ignored it while
pushing himself tighter behind the cover of the old trunk.
"Aw, hell," Vin muttered. His weapon was out and an extension of his
"I second that," Ezra whispered.
The tree splintered around them.
"Ya get an idea where it's comin' from?"
"You are the sharpshooter. You should know."
"Ya thinkin' at the top of the rise where we were?"
"That's my guess. I heard the echo of the rack."
"Then we're sitting ducks here."
"You think?" Ezra drawled.
Another round of shot hit the tree they so inelegantly hid behind.
"Maybe. On three go fer the hill and slide down. Can't hit what
they can't see."
"My three or your three?"
"No. Does that matter?"
"No. One, three!"
Vin and Ezra rolled out from behind the tree, popping off shots at
different points at the top of the ridge. Since there was no
answering fire, they figured that they were close enough to cause
their shooter or shooters to duck.
Both men ran down the ridge, opting to slide more than walk so they
were flush against the ground, as much as their packs allowed. This
prevented their heads from being something to aim at, and neither man
wanted a bullet or shot as a souvenir.
At the bottom, they looked up, and then broke for the protection of
the thick copse of trees that surrounded the flatlands. Neither
stopped their flight until they were deep into the greenery. It
seemed like miles, but the sameness of the forest kept them from
knowing how far they traveled. When they did finally stop, they
listened for the sounds of pursuit.
Vin's sharp ears picked up nothing and he said as much. Then he
threw in an insult for good measure. "Ya oughta be ashamed of
yerself, Ez. Ya ran like a scared rabbit."
"Following your lead, Mr. Tanner," Ezra wheezed back. For some
reason, pulling a deep breath gave him a sharp pain in his side; he
really thought his fitness regime kept him prime for anything. He
guessed they crossed at least a couple miles in their journey, and
wondered why the hell they did that instead of stopping, doubling
back, and returning to their car. That would have been the
intelligent thing. Of course, how often could they be accused of
doing the intelligent thing? Didn't Mr. Larabee often lament loud
and long about their harebrained ideas and damn foolish behavior?
Didn't Mr. Larabee understand the spur of the moment decisions that
were made, and usually worked out to their benefit? That they
trusted their instincts? Ezra forced those thoughts away to hear the
return salvo from his friend, and prepare a comeback.
"Like hell. I woulda shot them, but ya were lookin' a bit scared."
"Because you did not move after the first shot," he retorted.
"I was scopin' out where the shots came from," Vin replied.
"Continue to tell yourself that. Now we must get out of here and
report our findings," Ezra decided.
"Would be nice if we figured out where we were first 'fore we decide
where we're goin'." Vin pulled out the map.
"The park is not that large, Mr. Tanner. Use your excellent
navigation skills to find our way out." His side was aching
something fierce, and he promised himself he would adjust his workout
in the near future to get into better shape. This was appalling. He
studied the Texan checking compass readings, GPS readings off his
map, and comparing them to map.
"We have a problem."
"What's that?" He leaned back against a tree trying to catch his
"We ain't in the park. We're on someone's land now. That means
we're fair game if they decide ta chase us."
Ezra sighed. He pulled his cellphone from his pocket. "Typical. No
"I got our location. We have ta hike that way." Vin pointed. "Ya
"Does that matter?"
"No." Tanner started hiking deeper into the thick copse of trees.
"Of course not." Ezra trudged along, following his friend. After a
short time, the catch in his side became full-blown pain, and the
pack was rubbing him raw. He did not want to complain, but it was
beyond unbearable. "Vin," he rasped.
"Yeah?" Ever alert, the Texan turned and faced him. "Aw, hell, Ez!
Why didn't ya say anythin'?" Tanner rushed to his side and helped
him onto the ground.
Ezra yelped. Undignified, but he couldn't help it; landing on his
backside caused significant pain on one side of his body, and his
pain receptors were on overload. "Must you be so rough?"
"Damn it, Ez, I wish you would have said somethin' instead of
bleeding and sufferin' in silence like some damn fool." Vin stripped
Ezra's pack off, and then stretched him out on his good side.
Tanner's own pack landed beside Standish's.
"Bleeding?" Ezra latched onto the one word that sent off warning
bells to his self-preservation system. "I'm bleeding?"
"Hell, from the looks of it, ya caught a load of buckshot on yer side
when ya pushed me outta the way. Stupid fool Southerner."
"You owe me," Ezra retorted faintly. He then felt very lightheaded
and closed his eyes.
He didn't hear Vin whisper, "I know,"
What a fine mess they were in. Ezra was shot, they were now on
private property which may or may not belong to the moonshiners, and
the park boundaries meant nothing to people who had the audacity to
put a still on Federal land. A couple of campers would not be
missed for some time; the ranger would leave for the night, and of
course, they didn't know whether the ranger station was manned twenty
four hours, or if there was a callbox to get someone there after
He was a fool, and his friend would pay the price. They should have
called this in, had backup waiting, instead of rushing in pell-mell
and ending up in one of their usual disasters. This time, there
weren't five friends waiting to bail them out, either. They'd told
no one of their investigation, and now he had to treat this like
Checking their location against the map, he realized that they were
about a mile or so from a good, defensible position inside the park.
The only problem would be getting there and not leaving too many
tracks. Then there was Ezra to consider. Passed out and injured,
Ezra was not going to be walking that mile. In fact, Vin could just
hear Nathan telling him that Ezra was not to be moved unless
His own cell phone had no signal, and of course he didn't think to
bring the satellite phone. No, that would have made sense. Reckon
he was running short on that.
First things first. Moving Ezra's clothes to get a better look, he
saw the shot pieces running from the hip, across a buttock and his
lower back, and halfway up his side toward his armpit. Looks like
that tree they hid behind wasn't good enough cover for both of them.
What to do? Should he drag Ezra to the safer campsite and then tend
his wounds, or tend them now and chance them opening up again during
the hike? How exactly was he going to haul Ezra a mile or so?
Ezra's green eyes opened slowly to stare at him. "What?"
"Ya passed out. Now stay still."
"Are we safe?" Standish kept his voice low.
"No." He wasn't about to lie.
"Ya will be fine. Once I get ya some help."
Ezra gripped Vin's hand. "Vin."
Damn. He couldn't resist it when Ezra looked him square in the eye
and asked for the truth, whether spoken or unspoken, with a simple
look and intelligent green eyes. They'd been through too much
"We need to get a mile or so before we have a good camp. I'm
thinkin' on how ta carry ya. I don't want ya walkin' cuz of that
lead in your side. Ya bled for a while without treatin' it."
The Southerner took a deep breath. "Take my pack, then help me to my
feet. Get me a walking stick."
"I ain't gonna let ya walk."
"Do you see a stretcher around here to carry me? Or perhaps you
could whip up a travois with your survival skills that would hold my
"That's an idea."
"That would take time we don't have, and leave a trail we wouldn't
want followed. Look around you, Vin. It's getting dark, and we have
to move. These people are not hesitant to shoot a stranger for
trespassing on their still. Do you honestly believe that if they
found out we were ATF that they would let us go?"
"I got ya shot."
"Then you will take care of me when we get there," Ezra told
him. "We must move, or we will both perish here. I have no desire
to become an epitaph in these woods."
Ezra waited while Vin thought things through. He was right; they had
to do it this way. Either they stayed out here in the semi-open, or
get to the defensive position Tanner located on the map. It was
going to be very painful for him; of that there was no doubt; but he
would preserve. Failure was not an option he entertained lightly, if
"Hell," Vin swore, then hit a tree with the flat of his hand.
"More noise will only bring more attention, and your hand will give
before the tree will. I'd rather one of us was not injured through
any further stupidity. Fetch me a stick, get me on my feet, and
prepare to support me."
He watched Vin curse fluently while walking around to find a walking
stick. He came back with a branch that would work rather nicely.
Then Vin found a second, and quickly used his knife to make them
about the same height and size.
"Makeshift crutches. At least ya can keep the weight off the one
side," Tanner said apologetically. "I'll take yer pack." Vin pulled
Ezra to his feet, then held him there while he adjusted to the
"Wait." Vin took off his jacket, then his flannel shirt and covered
the ends of the branches. "Maybe stop the chaffin'."
He nodded, giving his friend an appreciative look. "Let's go."
It was a long and torturous mile, slow going and fraught with
nerves. Vin was a hunter feeling hunted, looking for the traps that
he himself would set. They avoided a few of them, and finally
reached the place where he felt they could make a safe camp.
He left Ezra sitting on a fallen log, searching around until he found
a position that was easily defensible and could be camouflaged. That
he knew how to do. Before too long, he had the two-man tent erected,
hidden with limbs, branches, and blended into the environment, then
spread out the sleeping bags. He put Ezra down on one, stretching
the man out on his good side, then prepared the gear he'd need to
tend his wounds.
How humiliating. Ezra felt irritable because his side hurt and he
was weak, a situation he was clearly not fond of in the least. He
didn't think the weakness was from loss of blood. Getting pelted
with buckshot was far less serious than taking a larger caliber
round, wasn't it? Maybe it was from the shock. He was certainly
surprised when he discovered he had actually been injured; he hadn't
felt a thing when it happened. He wished he could say the same now.
Wincing as he felt another pull at his abraded skin, he certainly
felt Vin was taking this whole first aid thing too seriously. He
would have preferred his partner to just slap a few Band-Aids over
the wounds and wait to get back to civilization to care for them
further. But ever since Tanner went through EMT classes himself, he
was beginning to sound like a mini-Nathan. Right this second he was
mumbling something about not knowing what kind of material he was
pelted with, lead wouldn't be good to leave in the body, not to
mention getting an infection of any kind. So now here he was in this
humiliating position, his bare butt pointed to one wall, while his
sleeping bag covered the other important parts, trying not to move
from the indignities he was suffering on top of the pain of his
underarms burned from the abrasions caused by the makeshift
Yet the worst was yet to come.
There was nothing more embarrassing than a good male friend digging
in your butt cheek to remove pellets. If things hadn't been so
serious, he was sure that Vin would have joked about it. But the
Texan was careful and gentle, as his thickly calloused fingers used
the tweezers from the first aid kit to deftly remove as many of the
pellets as he could get to and find. He said not a word.
After a while, the silence got to Ezra, because all he could feel was
the tweezers rooting around in areas not meant for someone other than
a medical professional or a significant other to examine.
"Did you include any painkillers?"
"Am I hurtin' ya?" Vin stopped immediately.
"Only my pride."
"Reckon that can take a beatin' or two."
"Pass me some of our evidence. I would like to sample it."
"Ya lost too much blood, Ez. I can't do that."
"You were more fun when you weren't an EMT. Have you told Nathan
"Nah. He would think I'm tryin' ta take his place. I ain't. Just
wanted ta be prepared if we ever got into " Tanner cut off.
"A situation like this," Ezra finished for him. "Where I, the tragic
hero, risk my own life to save that of a dear friend."
"Reckon that's why I'm the one pickin' shot outta yer ass."
"Must you remind me?"
"Ya rather think about explainin' this ta Chris?"
"That inflatable donut will be yer friend."
"I am not in the position to answer that properly."
Vin laughed, then fell silent. "Shh "