Disclaimer: Neither BtVS, The Magnificent Seven TV show nor the wonderful ATF AU created by Mog, belong to me. I’m just playing in the sandbox.
Thanks to RevDorothyL for all her hard work beta’ing and encouraging me!
Team 7 were operating with their usual high focus. Ezra and Vin had gone undercover on short notice after Team 6’s agent had fallen ill, requiring surgery. The hand-off had gone smoothly, with Ezra introduced as a business partner of the stricken agent. There had been less preparation than they’d like, but thinking on their feet was what the seven did best.
It was therefore several days before anyone realised Xander was missing.
JD rapped on the door as he entered Chris’s office, a bad habit he’d picked up from Buck. The reprimand died on Chris’ lips as he took in the look of concern on the youngest agent’s face. The possible reasons ran though Chris’ head, but he was puzzled: there was no scheduled check-in due, and things on the case had been running smoothly. Then again, that was usually when things went to hell.
“Chris, I don’t know if this is anything to worry about, but with Ezra and Vin out of contact I didn’t know what else to do.” Chris waited for JD to get to the point. “I can’t get in touch with Xander.”
Xander. The unexpected topic brought Chris up short. He focussed on what JD was trying to tell him.
“I just wanted to let him know Ez was OK. Obviously he doesn’t know any details, but usually me or Vin keep in touch; otherwise, he gets real worried.” Not seeing any disapproval from his team leader, JD plunged on. “I’ve been trying to reach him since yesterday: email, cell and his home line. Xan usually picks up his messages really quick--‘reflexive habit’ he calls it. He usually sends a quick ‘thanks’ back for letting him know. But I’ve heard nothing.”
“It’s only been a day, JD.” Chris understood JD’s concern; they’d had far too much experience with just how quickly things could go bad. JD and Vin had got to know Xander better than he had, but still, Xander was a grown man.
“Actually, I think it’s been longer,” Josiah added from the open door. “Sorry, I was just passing and overheard. I tried to reach him a couple of days ago. Needed a hand fixing up my back fence, but couldn’t get hold of him. Never had a reply, either. I hadn’t really given it that much thought until now.” Josiah looked guilty for not following up on the lack of contact.
Chris’s first instinct was that Xander was a young man, so there were plenty of things he could be out doing. Then again, it wasn’t exactly in character for him to drop out of sight without a word . . . although the two people he was most likely to inform were the two people currently out of reach themselves.
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, but I’ll drop round Xander’s after I check on Vin’s place tonight,” Chris told the two worried men.
Chris found a note pinned to Vin’s front door that he thought was in Xander’s handwriting. He removed it and left it unopened on the coffee table. Finishing up in the apartment, Chris left and headed out to drive past Xander’s place.
Chris noted Xander’s car was missing. Spotting one of the kids he was pretty sure he’d seen hanging around Xander’s workshop the last time he’d been over with Vin, he pulled up and called him over.
“You remember me?” Chris asked, not wanting to pull his credentials – not that he was sure they’d do him much good around here. The child stared at him suspiciously for a moment before his eyes widened in recognition.
“Yessir.” Xander had told them that this man was to be treated with respect, just like Xander did.
“Xander about?” Chris watched as the boy debated whether or not to answer but eventually spoke up.
“Mr. Xander had an emergency come up. We’re keeping an eye on his place ‘til he comes back,” the boy stated proudly.
“When did he leave?” Chris was reassured that he had apparently left voluntarily, but it was obviously an unexpected departure, even so.
“’bout a week ago.” The boy squinted up at him as Chris contemplated the answer.
“You know where?” He finally asked.
“Nope, he was in a real hurry when he packed up.” Chris frowned. Clearly something serious was going on, but there wasn’t much he could do about it, seeing as they didn’t even know where Xander had gone.
They’d discussed Xander’s absence the next day. He appeared to have left a message for Vin, at least, and he hadn’t asked for any help, so there really didn’t seem to be much more they could do at this time. Chris toyed with the idea of having JD trace him through his cell or use of credit cards but it seemed excessive. He’d give it a few more days.
Chris had also made the decision not to inform Ezra. If he was asked about Xander during their next check-in he’d tell Ezra and Vin what they knew, but otherwise it was an unnecessary distraction.
Three days later, and the bust had finally gone down successfully. Vin had some nasty bruised ribs, while Ezra was unhurt but tired. The mark had become paranoid toward the end and rarely let the undercover agent out of his sight, insisting that Ezra maintain security.
Nathan had given them a once-over and assured Chris that there was no need for a trip to the hospital for Vin and that Ezra just needed a bit of downtime. Chris ordered everyone back to the office to get the debriefing out of the way and to leave the pair with the next couple of days off.
Once the initial reports had been taken, the Judge cleared the team for the day. Ezra was just gathering his personal effects when Chris called him into his office.
“Mr. Larabee, is this not something that could be discussed tomorrow?” Ezra was bone-tired and just wished to retire to his condo for some much-needed rest and solitude. He looked longingly to the exit.
“Ezra.” Chris’s tone set the undercover agent instantly on edge.
“Is there a problem with the case?” Ezra asked as he entered the office and pulled the door closed behind him.
“No, the case is fine. It’s about Xander.” Chris cursed his bluntness as Ezra paled alarmingly. The combination of tiredness and the after-effects of adrenaline overwhelmed the man momentarily, and he sank into the chair.
Ezra’s mind raced: surely if it was anything serious Chris would have told him, putting his family above the case. Wouldn’t he? Ezra shook himself. Of course Chris would have, and it was beneath him to think otherwise. Ezra looked up.
“Is he OK?”
“Well, that’s part of the problem. He left Denver, in a hurry, just over a week ago. We established it wasn’t under duress, but we don’t know where he went, haven’t looked that hard yet. I wanted to let you know in person. If I thought there was any kind of crisis I would have told you.” Chris held Ezra’s gaze steadily.
“I’m sure he’s fine. Probably just headed out to see friends,” Chris added.
Ezra sat numbly, unable to gather himself or formulate a plan of action.
“Have you checked your messages yet?” Chris prompted. “We think he left a note at Vin’s.”
Ezra looked at the phone in his hand before shaking himself out of his stupor.
“Of course.” Ezra connected with the answering service, and accessed the sub account he’d set up for calls from Xander.
* You have 5 new messages. *
“Hi, it’s Xander. Something has come up and the girls need me. Favour called in, and all that. Hope your business trip is working out for you. I’ll call to see how you’re doing soon. Oh, and Nettie has got my spare keys. Bye.”
Ezra glanced up to Chris. “Cleveland.”
* Next message *
“Hi, Xander here. I’ve been drafted straight to work and it feels like I’ve never been away, but it’s been good seeing everyone again. On the downside, I’d forgotten what it’s like to share bathrooms with so many girls. Totally blows. Anyway, I trust you’re keeping your head down. Don’t make me come back there. Bye.”
Ezra smiled as he wryly explained, “He called to make sure I
wasn’t getting into any trouble!”
* Next message *
“It’s Xander. Man, things are crazy here. Missing Denver like you wouldn’t believe. Guess you’re not back yet. Hope you’re alright. Don’t know when I’ll have the chance to call again . . . ” There was a distinct pause, and Ezra thought he heard a sigh. “See ya.”
Ezra frowned; the message had not been in Xander’s usual jovial manner.
“Problems?” Chris queried.
“I’m not sure. He sounded anxious.” Ezra selected the next message.
* Received yesterday 6pm *
“Ezra. Things are… God, I have no idea what to say. I’m sorry, I really hoped I could talk in person, not to a bloody machine. The shit is about to hit the fan here, and the worst thing is that I may not be coming back… And now leaving a message seems like a really dumb idea. Damn it. Look, Ezra, these last few months have been great; I couldn’t have asked for more…” There was an interruption in the background. “I’m coming! Goodbye, and thanks for finding me and everything.”
Chris was alarmed by Ezra’s reaction and took the phone from his unresisting fingers to replay the message. His hand dropped to Ezra’s shoulder as the message progressed. For a moment he was unsure what to say to the other man, but the phone display caught his attention.
“There’s another message.” Chris pressed the button to play it on speaker.
* Today 3am *
“Ezra. It’s Xander. Ignore that last message: crazy talk, and er, . . . yeah, well. I hope I’ll be back home before you get this, and that the business trip is going alright. See ya soon.” The voice was weary but resolute.
Ezra slumped in his chair and rubbed his forehead absently.
“Chris, did that sound as bad as I think it did, or am I just too close?” Ezra had a beseeching note in his voice. Chris shook his head.
“We knew he was into some pretty serious stuff before he came here, Ezra.” Chris didn’t want to offer platitudes; he had no idea what was going on.
“I thought it was behind him!” Ezra snapped. He wasn’t prepared for this kind of torment. His thoughts drifted to the man beside him, and he felt a sting of guilt. How on earth had Chris survived? All Ezra knew was that he himself wasn’t strong enough. This was why one didn’t allow people to get close.
“Ezra, Xander is fine. You heard him yourself.” Chris pulled the man to his feet. He was concerned about the shuttered look on the man’s face, so similar to when they first knew him. “Come on, you need to go home and get your head together. You’ve just come off assignment. Get some sleep, and we’ll find Xander in the morning.”
Chris guided Ezra out of the office and down to the garage. “Are you OK to drive?” He asked as they approached their cars.
“I’ll be fine, Mr. Larabee. Thank you for your assistance.” Chris sighed at the reserved reply.
“I’ll call you in the morning. Goodnight, Ezra.”
Ezra climbed into the Jag and drove out of the building with Chris following. As soon as he saw the truck turn off in his rear view mirror, he pulled over to the curb and tried to still his trembling hands.
Ezra didn’t know how long he sat there, but finally he collected himself sufficiently to continue the journey home.