Happy Birthday, Ezra Standish  (ATF/AU)
by Julia Neal

 Ezra Standish was tired. Very tired. And he knew that even the fact that today was his birthday wouldn't change anything. He shook his head and turned in the cramped quarters, trying to work the kinks out of his back and neck. Nothing helped.


He looked up through the hole above him and winced as raindrops began to fall. He sighed. If anything can go wrong it will...


The thought made him smile bitterly. It seemed that his entire life was destined to go wrong. His career as an FBI agent had been a disaster. He'd just been getting comfortable with things in Atlanta when someone decided that he had to go. His 'friends' were quick to desert him there; once they'd gotten what they'd needed from him, they turned on him like wolves on a useless member of the pack.


Except wolves are more merciful.


He shook his head to clear the memories away, but he wasn't sure how long he could push them from his mind. The past was the past and was better off buried, but something in him couldn't let it rest. Guilt. Resentment. Regret. It wasn't as if other people hadn't done their best to make him feel terrible-- they had-- but somehow he couldn't shake the feeling that it had all been his fault. And he couldn't ignore the nagging feeling that he was a failure.


"No," he said through gritted teeth. "I am not a failure. I'm not dead and I have a new career."


But he sure felt like one. Even the successes of his new team from the past nine months didn't completely shake the feeling. The new team. The 'Magnificent' Seven of the ATF. It should be 'The Magnificent Six and Ezra Standish,' he thought. All he'd done was play rat and betray people; his teammates were the ones who put the criminals behind bars. The only thing he could say was that no one was as good as he was at his job. No one.


Well, it was something to be proud of, he supposed. The best at pretending to be a criminal and the best at betraying those who came to regard him as a friend. No wonder few people in the ATF wanted to know him.  


But his teammates did.


The thought had confused the hell out of him. These people wanted to be his friends-- in spite of his reputation and his early efforts to keep them at a distance. To his shock, he soon found himself breaking down the walls. He was still aloof and professional most of the time, but he'd come to like them. Sure, he sometimes knocked heads with them -- especially Chris Larabee -- but what were a few arguments between friends?


What, indeed? Friends don't let petty arguments come between them. He grinned. Or practical jokes... Or anything else, for that matter.


He winced as he moved his leg. Only assignments and a big pile of rubble can come between them. He ignored the pain and settled down again to wait. He knew his teammates well enough by now that he was sure they'd come for him eventually. All he had to do was sit there and wait. Just be patient, he thought calmly, and they'll find you and dig you out. Just be patient.


He leaned back against the rocks. "Happy Birthday, Ezra Standish," he murmured. "I hope next year's isn't like today's." Still smiling at his joke, he turned his eyes toward the hole above him, noticing that something had blocked the rain from falling on his head.