by katherine

This fic was written based on a new AU created by mmrrph. Details for this AU can be found at

Chris Larabee was a man who lived for the day when everything went according to plan. Unfortunately, today was not that day. The job was supposed to be simple, he reminded himself with savage mental anger as he lined up another shot.

A cake walk. Chris snarled, teeth bared in satisfaction as he took his shot making a clean kill, knowing the others would keep their heads down for a bit. Nothing to it. Right. And there is some great swamp land in South Texas I could sell you.

Spoiled, rich kid out to have some fun in a foreign country gets snatched by someone looking to make a quick buck. Daddy wanted his little girl back and was willing to pay Larabee's team to do the job rather than pay a ransom. Only daddy neglected to mention his daughter's part in this little kidnapping. Must have just slipped his mind that the kidnapper was not only a drug lord, but also the love of this brain dead, worthless bitch's life. That she's engaged to the miserable son of a bitch never came up in the briefing.

Chris might have had more charitable thoughts about Kristen Cramden had her screaming at the top of her lungs not put his team in jeopardy. The plan has been simple. Just sneak into the compound, grab her and sneak out again, with no one being any the wiser. The chopper was nearby, ready to fly them out.

That had been the plan. But Kristen hadn't followed through with her end and been the poor, helpless victim her father made her out to be. Christ on a crutch. True love and romance might be good things...hell, I might have given her my blessing except that shit won't cover our expenses and it sure as hell doesn't pay the bills. So little miss 'I hate my father' is going home one way or another because we don't get paid otherwise. Definitely gonna be adding to Cramden's bill. No doubt about that. Miserable fucker is gonna be paying extra for this aggravation.

Blue gray eyes narrowed as Kristen started screaming again for her lover to save her. Without turning around, he casually ordered, "Gag that bitch, Sanchez. And cuff her."

Josiah Sanchez didn't even hesitate. Chris figured the big man was smart enough to realize gagging her was preferable to punching her lights out...something Chris was considering as a realistic alternative. Ordinarily, he wouldn't approve of violence toward a woman, but in this case he'd be willing to make an exception.

Not for the first time Chris had more than ample reason to be grateful Ezra Standish was a paranoid man. To anyone who didn't know him it would have been easy to miss the fleeting expression on the linguist's face during Cramden's briefing. It had clearly indicated he didn't trust the man or believe that they'd been given all the information, but he hadn't commented until later. Only after the client had left had Standish had insisted on them being prepared for more than just a 'cake walk,' suggesting that even if Cramden was on the up and up, something Ezra very much doubted, having insurance wouldn't hurt them.

Chris shared in Ezra's paranoia, and there wasn't really much of an argument since Chris hadn't ever had a mission go according to plan. Although, he'd yet to give up hope that one would. So he knew that despite things going to shit, they could handle it.

Chris keyed his mic. "Tanner...Standish...You boys in position."

"Tanner. It's a go."

"Standish. Ready."

"Rendezvous point one, every twelve hours." It wasn't necessary to add that, but Chris felt compelled to do so anyway. Every operation they went on had a contingency plan, one with a rendezvous point and pick up time, sometimes more than one of each, set up just in case they got separated.

"We'll be there, Cowboy." Tanner's voice came through as calm and unruffled as ever.

"Understood." For a man accused of being garrulous, Ezra never actually said much via their comm links. His one word answer relayed a feeling of competency that easily matched Vin's in control tone.

Chris nodded to himself, as always some part absently observing how nice it was to work with professionals. He knew Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, and Nathan Jackson were ready and waiting, on standby with the chopper prepared to secure safe passage out of here. Chris flipped his weapon to full auto and glanced over his shoulder.

"Can you carry her outta here?"

Josiah nodded. "Not a problem."

Seeing a murderous look on her face, Chris added, "If she fights you...feel free to drop her on her head a few times." He could tell by the way she went still that the girl realized he wasn't joking.

Chris turned back to assess the force that had him and Josiah pinned down in the upper west room. "Tanner...Standish....Firing full clip is your signal."

"Affirmative." Ezra answered for both of them.

Without hesitation, Chris stood up and hosed the opposition with steady fire as he moved on to the balcony, covering Josiah and the girl's move outside. With Kristen over his shoulder the big man made an easy leap to the small garden terrace that was only four feet below, bended knees absorbing the impact. Even as Chris was nearing the end of his clip a series of explosions began to rock the compound, providing the distraction Chris needed to make his own leap. He was ejecting the spent clip and reaching to reload as he landed. He and Josiah jumped to the next terrace, and then the next. Once on the lowest level, they headed toward the nearest gate, both men moving easily through the darkness now broken by the dancing flames. Chris fully expected that by the time Vin and Ezra were finished setting off the charges they'd placed earlier, the Mediterranean style villa would be little more than rubble.

Chris still kept a wary eye out. A man having his whole life crumbling down around him wasn't likely to let it go easily. Stealing his woman and destroying his home would definitely put a sizable dent in the prestige of Louis Veracruz Mendosa. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Their exit from the compound proved to be easier than he expected. But then, the M80 fireworks that Ezra had mixed with the live explosions made it sound like a small army was invading, so Mendosa's men were more than just a bit distracted. Chris shook his head. Only Ezra would think to include fireworks in the arsenal. Gotta admit they sure sound like guns being fired if you have already primed the enemy to think you've got that many people.

He and Josiah made their way with little difficulty to where the chopper and the rest of the team waited. Once he was close enough, Chris keyed his mic again. "Wilmington...come in."

"Right here, Big Dog."

Even though he expected Buck to be there Chris still breathed easier hearing his long time friend answer. He glanced over to the big man moving easily by his side. "You still got her okay?"

Josiah grinned, teeth a white flash in the darkness. "Can handle a load like this, brother. Not to worry."

"Buck, warm up the bird." Chris ordered. "Dunne...Jackson...on your toes. We're coming in and might be hot."

"Roger that."

Chris let Josiah move ahead once he was certain they were close enough for JD and Nathan to cover him if need be. He scanned their back trail, sharp eyes quickly noting no one was following. Another explosion created a shock wave with enough to rock Chris back on his heels. He pursed his lips in a silent whistle, knowing the blast had to be the finale. Didn't think we had that much explosive with us. Probably didn't. Knowing Vin he found something in the compound to add to the mix.

The Texan had proved to be rather capable when it came to make it up as he went along. They all did. Chris likened it to a survival trait, and a damn good on to have in their line of work.

Chris turned and jogged after Josiah. He gave the all clear signal and waved JD and Nathan in to load up with them. JD raised an eyebrow as he took his seat seeing Kristen gagged and cuffed.

"She didn't come willingly I take it?" There was just a touch of a smirk that played about his mouth as JD asked that.

Chris rolled his eyes and snorted. "She's in love."

JD nodded. He looked just a bit smug. "Guess Ez called it right when he said her old man didn't tell us the whole story."

Wouldn't surprise me if he and the others had a bet on how this would turn out. Looking at JD's expression I'm pretty sure he was smart enough not to bet against Ezra. Wish ta hell he'd been wrong just this once.

Nathan gave Kristen the once over, but seeing no injury dismissed her. He scanned Josiah and Chris, checking for injury. He nodded once when he didn't find any.

"Ezra and Vin?" The team medic queried, dark eyes showing concern for the missing men.

Chris cocked his head to one side shrugging a shoulder. "They'll meet us at the rendezvous point." He kept his voice even, displaying none of the worry he felt whenever they left someone behind no matter how long, knowing it was better not to. The team expected him to be calm, and took their cue from him. And a small superstitious part of his nature made him feel that if he sounded confident, sure of the outcome, then things would turn out the way he said they would.

"They okay?" Nathan persisted, only the mics they wore making his voice discernable over the rotors as Buck prepared to lift off.

"They made the fireworks, Nate." Buck's voice came over the comm. "Only ever gotta worry 'bout those two when they are quiet." A soft chuckle sounded as Buck tossed a glance over his shoulder. "Those two are bound ta be in some kind o' trouble when ya can't hear 'em."

Vin made his way to where he and Ezra had agreed to meet up. They'd separated at the beginning of the mission to place the charges and cover the compound, ready to assist Josiah and Chris when they slipped out with the girl. The plan had been to head out as a group, but that went to hell as soon as the girl's screaming had put the whole place on alert.

Good thing we don't ever really 'xpect things ta go accordin' ta plan. Vin grimaced, wondering if he'd ever get the chance to experience one that did. He and Ezra had coordinated a meeting place even before they'd split up. They could rejoin the rest of the team at the rendezvous point without hooking up, but Vin hated it when any of his friends was left to fly solo. S'pecially Ez. Don't want him in hostile country on his own. C'mon Standish. You better be okay.

Most of the time, he made a point of not looking too closely into why he felt that way about Ezra, about why that one teammate's health and well being was rapidly becoming more important than his own. Nights like this one, he just kept his mind focused on the job and promised deadly retribution on those who thwarted them. Blue eyes scanned the area anxiously. The last explosion hadn't really been part of their plan, but at the time the fuel drums were too tempting for Vin to resist. He knew they'd give the extra punch to finish the job.

He bit his lower lip, worried that his action might have caught Ezra right along with the enemy. They had maintained radio silence until Chris contacted them. And by then there wasn't time to warn Ezra that he'd improvised.

Vin didn't tense when he heard a twig snap nearby. He was alert and prepared, but not afraid. He held his gun ready and waited.

A soft bird trill sounded, one that would not have been out of place in Georgia, but didn't belong in the current surroundings. Vin smiled, his shoulders relaxing as if he'd just put down some huge weight. He pursed his lips and answered with a similar call.

Ezra seemed to grow out of the shadows as he stepped closer. With camouflage clothing and grease paint on his face to obscure his features it would have been nearly impossible to see him in the limited light at more than a few feet away. The ability to simply disappear and reappear was one they shared.

Vin's training as a sniper and naturally patient nature made it possible for him to blend in well with his surroundings. Sitting still and unobserved for hours came easily to him, waiting for his moment. But of the team, Ezra was the best at blending in, no matter where he was. The linguist could be at home in a four star restaurant, looking as affluent as he really was, or disappearing into the jungle like some native born wild cat. Josiah referred to Vin as a ghost and Ezra was the team chameleon.

Vin grinned, pleased to have Ezra back at his side. His grin slipped when he realized his friend was not moving with his usual grace and ease. He felt his chest constrict and Vin narrowed the distance between them in one long stride, a hand reaching to catch Ezra's elbow, offering support.


"I'm all right." Ezra's voice was low, but not at all as strong as it should have been.

"Bullshit." Vin retorted brusquely. "Where ya hit?"

Ezra grimaced. "Left thigh."

Vin moved to Ezra's left, positioning himself to support some of Ezra's weight. "You get it bound?"

Ezra nodded. "It'll hold for now."

Vin's jaw tightened. It will have to. Not safe here. Both know that. "Let's get somewhere safe enough for me ta check that out."

Ezra nodded again. Together they moved stealthy further away from the burning compound and closer to their pick up point. Vin cursed mentally, knowing that normally the ten klicks they would need to traverse could usually be done easily would probably take most of the twelve hours allotted. And there was no way to contact the rest of the team for an earlier pickup or to change the meeting place.

He desperately hoped Ezra's injury wasn't serious, offered up a silent prayer even though he doubted God had much use for the likes of him. Vin could handle field dressing a wound, but getting qualified medical attention was going to take twelve hours at a minimum. Jus' once I'd like for shit to go the way it is supposed to.

Ezra soft breathy chuckle let Vin know he'd actually said that out loud. "I concur, Vin."

A patch of rough ground and tangling vegetation caught Ezra by surprise, and he let out a small moan when he tripped, sagging against Vin. Vin easily caught the smaller man, taking more of his weight and stabilizing his balance. "Easy, Ez. I gotcha."

"Thank you." Ezra patted Vin's side.

"Not much further." Vin offered, tone encouraging. It was a lie, but Vin needed Ezra to keep moving. They were still too close to the danger zone.

Ezra took a shaky breath. "I know." He turned his head slightly, green eyes meeting blue before winking once, forgiving Vin for his white lie, letting him know he understood the necessity.

The darkness, uneven terrain, and slow limping pace made it hard to gauge their progress. As the nocturnal sounds of the jungle began to replace the sounds of deliberately planned mayhem and confusion, Vin relaxed marginally. Every step got them closer to where he could make sure Ezra was okay.

Vin wore a watch more for forms sake than out of real need. He had an uncanny knack for knowing the time of day and the passage of time. At any given moment he knew the hour and minute. He knew the time when Ezra had whistled to get his attention and was aware thirty two minutes, fifty one seconds had passed since they'd been headed toward the pick up point. Should be far enough by now to take a minute ta check on Ez's leg.

"Think we can stop for a minute here, Ez."

Ezra came to a halt, his breathing rapid and shallow, but controlled. Vin knew that under normal circumstances his friend wouldn't even be winded. He really hoped that Ezra's injury wasn't more than he could handle.

Both men waited unmoving for several minutes, eyes scanning the area, ears listening closely for any sound of pursuit, watching for anything that didn't belong. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Vin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Good. Now ta take care of Ez. Don't like that it took us this long, but couldn't be helped.

Spotting a near by downed log, Vin pointed toward with his chin. "Let's set you down over there."

With help from Vin, Ezra eased himself down, sighing softly, left leg out straight and the right one bent at the knee, bracing him. Vin withdrew a glow stick from the cargo pocket of his pants. Before he could snap it, causing it to light up, Ezra held up a hand.

"Is that wise?"

The illumination might draw attention, but there wasn't enough natural light for him to see as clearly as he would need to. The sun wouldn't be up fully for another few hours, and Vin didn't want to wait that long. So the glow stick was a risk he was willing to take.

"Need more light ta see by." The sniper shrugged casually. "Won't be long enough for any body ta see. 'Sides once yer fixed up we can move better'n we have been."

Ezra nodded slowly clearly reluctant but having no argument to offer. He held out his hand for the glow stick, and Vin handed it over knowing treating Ezra would be easier with both hands free. Ezra snapped the stick and shook it once. It immediately lit up casting a faint green glow.

/ */Hope it's just the color o' the light that's making Ezra look so peeked. Boy looks mighty damn pale.* Vin crouched down to get a better look at the linguist's left leg. The bandage Ezra had put on earlier was a field dressing they all carried for emergencies. The bandage was tied securely, encircling Ezra's leg at mid thigh.

In the green glow Vin couldn't make much color, but the wet sticky feel told him the bandage was soaked with blood. He grimaced as he undid the knot Ezra had tied and gently pulled the wet fabric free. He was relieved that there was no spurting of blood meaning no major blood vessels had been hit. His head knew that if something major had been bleeding Ezra wouldn't have made it this far, but his heart still took comfort in seeing tangible proof that the wound wasn't the sort a man bled to death from. Leastwise not right away. Bandage being soaked through means he's still losing blood.

His breath caught as he got a good look at the wound. Oh shit. He swallowed hard. "This ain't no bullet wound."

"No." Ezra agreed, sounding amazingly natural for someone who was probably in a great deal of pain. "Shrapnel."

The ragged gash ran across the front of Ezra's leg, easily spanning the width of the muscular thigh. Whatever had hit him had dug a furrow over an inch deep into the quadricep muscle, creating a painful and ugly looking wound. Vin could tell it had probably hit with enough force to knock his friend off his feet. Bet he'll have some ugly bruises too.

"When did this happen?" Vin asked quietly, guilt welling up in him even as his hands were going through the motion of redressing Ezra's leg with a shot of sulfur powder to prevent infection and a fresh bandage. He already suspected it had been that last blast...the one he'd set.

Ezra had hissed when the powder hit his leg, but didn't move. He waved the glow stick in a dismissive gesture. "When is not important."

"Is to me." Vin responded stubbornly.

Ezra lightly tapped Vin's knuckles with the fingertips of his free hand. "You need not worry that your actions had some part in this, my friend."

Damn but I wish I knew how he always knows what I'm thinkin'. Vin wasn't going to let it go though. "It was the last blast...wasn't it?"

Ezra sighed. "Yes."

Vin froze, and then lowered his head, eyes focused on his task but not really seeing it. God. Damn. It. I never should have set those charges. Shoulda radioed him. Said somethin'. My fault he got hurt. He was surprised when Ezra's knuckle lightly curled under his chin, forcing him to look up and make eye contact.

"Had your creative addition to our arsenal not exploded when it did, I might well not have survived." Ezra smiled slightly. "Being knocked on my ass kept me from getting shot in the head."

Ezra small smile grew until his dimples were visible, making it hard for Vin to breathe easily. He loved that smile, wished he saw it more often. Wished his friend didn't feel the need to be so guarded; that honest displays of amusement seemed so rare.

Ezra winked at him. "Your timing has always been impeccable."

"I'm still sorry."

"There is no reason to be." Ezra knuckle moved from under his chin to ghost over his cheek, making Vin shiver slightly in response to that gentle, almost absentminded caress. He forced himself not to follow when Ezra pulled his hand away.

"You can make it up to me later if you still feel the need." Ezra offered. Even in the low light, Vin could make out the twinkle in those jade green eyes.


"Yeah." Ezra waggled his eyebrows, pulling a smile from Vin.


"I'm sure you'll think of something when we get back home."

Vin told himself he was imagining the subtle innuendo he heard. But he couldn't deny the flush of satisfaction he felt at hearing Ezra refer to Camp AWOL as 'home.' Home...he's only been calling it that since he got back from where ever the hell he went when his cousin called. Almost glad he went if it meant he realized he's got a place with us...with me.

The linguist took a deep breath, interrupting Vin's wayward thoughts. "For now, I think it would be better for us to continue on our way."

Vin nodded as he straightened up and pulled away from Ezra. He felt a need to put some distance between Ezra and himself, regain his mental balance and refocus. He glanced upward, checking the stars for his bearings. They were headed in the right direction when they left the compound, but since more of his focus had been on Ezra as they moved, Vin wanted to be certain they were still on course.

Ezra made it to his feet, but swayed dangerously. Vin caught him. "Easy there, Ez."

The smaller man swallowed hard, and took another deep breath. "We need to get moving."

"A few minutes won't hurt anythin.'" Vin argued, worried by Ezra's pallor, made even more extreme by the green light cast by the dimming glow stick. "Jus' sit tight until yer a bit stronger."

"We do not have time."

"Chris'll wait for us." Vin stated evenly. "We don't make the first deadline, he'll be back again. You know that." Vin's voice softened. "Ain't like the other people ya worked with Ez."

Ezra's lips quirked upward in a small deprecating smile. "I sometimes lose sight of that."

"No problem." Vin smirked. "I'll jus' keep remindin' ya."

Ezra chuckled. "See that you do." That statement came out more as a request than an order, but Vin raised one hand in a casual salute anyway.

"It would probably be best to continue on in any case." Ezra shrugged one shoulder. "It is dangerous to remain here."

Vin knew Ezra was right about that. He didn't like it. Not one damn bit, but it couldn't be helped. "We rest every half hour. You drink at each stop."

Ezra rolled his eyes and waved his hand in an elegant 'after you' motion. Vin shot his friend a dirty look and ignored the offer to proceed him. He stayed close enough so that he could continue to support Ezra on the left side, scanning the trail ahead for debris that might trip them up.

The increasing daylight would make it easier to navigate. But the rising heat of the day would make things more difficult for a wounded man. Vin grimaced and decided no matter what Ezra had to say, he'd make sure the smaller man didn't push himself harder than necessary.

Chris you better be there. Nathan too. Gonna need him more than Chris. Vin nodded grimly to himself. Come hell or high water, Ezra better come out o' this okay.

Chris watched the clock. He'd been watching it for the last three hours. His breathing was slow, deep and even, eyes fixed, almost a meditative state. The former marine was fully aware of everything around him. With no discernable threat and Buck and Josiah on watch, there was no need for him to anything but wait.

And Chris despised waiting. It went against his 'take care of business,' active nature. Forcing himself to sit still was an exercise in self-control. He took pride in his ability to control himself, knowing that control was as essential to accomplishing a mission as good intel or a loaded gun.

He'd rather pace, but that wasted energy and only served to advertise his agitation. There was nothing to do but wait and be ready to move when the time came. He took to staring at the clock as a way of making sure time was still moving, that despite the interminable feel of the passing day, it was moving at the usual rate of speed.

He took a deep breath, and let it out slow. Time. "Wilmington, go warm up the bird. Jackson, you're with me. Sanchez, Dunne, keep an eye on the girl. Be ready to leave when we get back."

"Copy that," came from a number of voices around the room, bodies in motion as directed.

Kristen glared at him from where she was cuffed to the radiator. Chris had let Josiah remove the gag when they'd arrived. Her constant yelling at them had gotten on his nerves, and since it could also draw attention to their 'safe' house, he'd had her re-gagged. He hadn't even considered uncuffing her since the murderous look in her eyes let him know she'd likely attack them the first chance she got.

Chris smirked at her. "Don't you worry little girl. Once we dump your ass back with daddy dearest, you won't be seeing us ever again."

Seeing her eyes narrow, taking on a calculating look, Chris leaned in close, his eyes hard as steel, voice whisper soft, but deadly intent unmistakable. "Don't even think of doing something stupid. So far we've done this the easy way...but we can do it real easy."

He nodded once when he saw he understood him. This mission had already proved to be more difficult than it should have been. He wasn't going to put up with any more of what Ezra might term, 'unplanned inconveniences'.

"Go retrieve our brothers." Josiah clapped a hand on his shoulder. "We'll be ready when you get back."

Chris moved easily, glad to be able to finally do something. Nathan was at his side, ready and able, as unruffled as ever. He'd yet to see the medic ever lose his head on a job, or approach any task with anything but an aura of calm competency. Funny thing really since I know the man is a worry wart, mother hen sort by nature. Guess if I can learn to sit still and look like I'm waiting patiently, he can learn to look unconcerned.

He and Nathan took seats in the back of the chopper, manning the mounted guns. They shouldn't be needed, but Chris figured it was better to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Whole job has been a worst case scenario. No reason to believe that anything will go right now.

Vin sat quietly. His eyes scanned the area constantly, ears tuned to hear the chopper that he knew was due soon. He rested one hand on Ezra's shoulder, wanting to maintain contact, unwilling to let go now even though Ezra no longer needed physical support.

He was heartened that Ezra had not shrugged him off. Not when he needed him just to walk, and not now. Normally, Ezra was one to keep his distance, shying away from physical contact. Even such innocent gestures as a hand on the shoulder were usually side stepped. But in the last few months, he'd seemed to be thawing a bit, more comfortable with casual invasion of his personal space, at least where the sniper was concerned. He still seemed inclined to keep his distance with the others. Vin wasn't sure if that was wishful thinking on his part, but now he felt confident that Ezra was relaxing his guard to some extent.

The linguist was lying on his back, eyes closed, but Vin knew he wasn't sleeping. It had taken a lot out of him to make it to the rendezvous point with time to spare, but they'd made it. They were hidden and waiting for the others because Ezra was determined they would be on time.

The sniper's jaw tightened, angry with himself for not being able to force his stubborn companion to rest more, to not push himself so hard. Promised myself I wouldn't let him do that, and I couldn't keep him from doing it anyway. Vin sighed, and forced himself to relax his jaw.

He felt eyes on him and glanced down to meet Ezra's steady gaze. Ezra's lips quirked upward. "You have a propensity for guilt, Vin. It is a distressingly bad habit."

"I shoulda sat on you earlier." Vin retorted. He'd threatened to do just that, but had been unable to follow through.

"We are here. That is all that matters."

Vin's eyes narrowed. "What matters is us getting here alive. Not when we got here."

Ezra smirked. He sighed and shook his head. "Chris is not a patient man."

Vin snorted. "Yeah, well he hates loosing his men more than he hates waiting." Wonder how long it will take before Ez realizes that. And really believes it.

Ezra closed his eyes again. The linguist licked his lips and Vin reached for his canteen. He had succeeded in getting his friend to drink at every stop, not wanting him to become too dehydrated from the blood loss and heat. He scowled as he rattled the bottle. There was probably only a swallow or two left. Ezra's canteen was already empty.

Vin unscrewed the top. He lightly tapped Ezra's shoulder and waited for his eyes to open. "You need a drink?"

Ezra shook his head, and closed his eyes again. "I'll wait."

"Wrong answer." Vin tapped Ezra's cheek. Blue eyes held green. "Drink."

Ezra frowned. "You are decidedly dictatorial when stressed."

Vin smiled, not at all put out by Ezra's peevish tone. "Yep." He helped Ezra raise his head and held the canteen so Ezra could drink. One swallow was all Ezra took and Vin hoped it would be enough.

"Thank you." Ezra whispered. His tone was warm, and Vin flushed slightly, thinking Ezra shouldn't sound grateful to receive such a simple act of kindness. Not when Vin would give his right arm to be able to do more for his friend.

"Yer welcome." Vin said softly as replaced his canteen. Unable to stop himself he lightly brushed an errant curl off Ezra's forehead. The feel of the baby soft curl enticed Vin to run his fingers through the rest. He delighted in the feel of them, like some sort of exotic silk. Ezra made a 'hmmm' noise, and seemed to relax further.

"I'm only going to give you the rest of my life to stop doing that." Ezra murmured.

Vin smiled, inordinately pleased with Ezra's reaction to his daring move. "You like then?"


Determined make the most of this opportunity, the sniper continued to play with Ezra's curls, almost petting the smaller man the same way he might a cat. Ezra sighed again and Vin stifled a chuckle, not wanting to disrupt the mood, when he realized it sounded a lot like the other man was purring. Unbidden he had a sudden wish to know what other sort of sounds Ezra might be induced to make.

"You cold, Ez?" Vin asked quietly when Ezra shivered.

"A bit cool in the shadows for my taste is all." Ezra licked his lips again, revealing what was probably a raging thirst, but his eyes remained closed. "No...cause for...concern."

The sniper grimaced, not liking that there was nothing he could do for Ezra's thirst. And he found the weakness of Ezra's voice disquieting. No cause for concern, my ass. He hasn't seemed shocky, but don't mean he isn't havin' trouble now. Chris better be on time, and he better have Nathan with him.

Ezra shivered again and Vin shifted so he was closer. When Ezra's eyelids fluttered, Vin whispered, "'s alright. Jus' me getting a little closer is all."

The linguist nodded, and seemed to slip closer to sleep. At least Vin hoped he was just falling asleep and not losing consciousness. He allowed Vin to raise his head, sliding one arm under and letting Ezra pillow his head on Vin's shoulder. Vin stayed still as Ezra instinctively snuggled closer, seeking warmth and comfort.

"Nice." Ezra's voice was little more than a puff of warm air tickling Vin's skin. Vin rested his cheek against the top of Ezra's tussled curls. He raised his hand to cup Ezra's cheek, relieved to find his temperature more or less normal, the skin was a bit clammy but he expected that.


Vin barely heard the whispered question. He checked his mental clock. "Not long."


Vin felt both eyebrows go up. "Ez?"

"Like being...with you."

Vin smiled softly, delighted with Ezra's admission. He nuzzled Ezra's curls. "Like being with you too."

"Would" Ezra sighed deeply, and settled more firmly against Vin.

Thinking the linguist meant their current location, Vin lightly stroked Ezra's cheek before saying, "Can't stay here, Ez. We're going home. Remember?"

"Not here." Ezra shook his head, waving a hand slightly to encompass their hiding place. He patted Vin's chest just above his heart. "Here. Right here...for a lifetime."

Vin wondered if maybe he'd fallen asleep and just dreamed hearing what Ezra said. He swallowed hard. He had to ask, needed to know. "You mean that?"

Ezra nodded, rubbing his cheek against Vin's chest. The sniper idly wondered if his friend could hear the sudden increase in his heart rate. Jus' relax, Tanner. Could just be 'cause he's hurt...not really thinkin' straight. He might not mean what ya think he means.

Despite what he tried to tell himself, Vin couldn't help feeling elated. At first all he'd wanted from Ezra was a chance to get to know him. Their friendship had started out as a tentative, almost fragile thing, but it grew stronger as time went on. And the more he got to know of Ezra the more he wanted to know. He was proud of the fact that he was closer to Ezra than any other member of the team, that he knew more about him, that Ezra trusted him.

Now it seemed that his secret, fervent wish to know the man even better, even intimately, might have a chance to come true. Go slow here. Don't rush this and ruin it, Tanner. He trusts you. You don't want to lose that jus' cause lookin' at him makes it hard ta think straight.

"Ez?" Vin licked his lips nervously, thinking about what he wanted to do. "You still with me?"

Ezra raised his head, eyes slightly glazed, but focused to meet his easily. Vin could read the question that Ezra left unvoiced. He took a deep breath. C'mon, Tanner, be a man.

"Don't know if we're on the same page here...but, I think we might be." Vin bit his lower lip. "Would you...I mean when we get home...when yer feeling better--" Vin trailed off, frustrated with his inability to express himself verbally. He deeply regretted that he couldn't wield words with the same deft ease that Ezra routinely did.

He opened his mouth to try again, but stopped when Ezra levered himself up on one elbow. He held his breath when Ezra leaned in closer, jade green eyes searching his. A small smile blossomed, and then Ezra's lips brushed his as lightly as the wing of a butterfly.


"Yes?" Vin blinked. "But I never even--"

"You don't need to." Ezra whispered softly.

Vin felt laughter bubble up from inside and hugged Ezra to him. He had never figured out how it was Ezra read his mind, but right now he was just grateful that he could. He kissed Ezra's forehead. "Have I told you how amazin' you are?"

Ezra gave him a coy look from under his lashes. "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Vin grinned hearing his own words and accent coming from Ezra's mouth. "Smart ass."

Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of an approaching chopper. Vin was torn between being relieved Chris was on time, and pissed at being interrupted. There was so much yet they had to say, so much he wanted to explain and explore.

Ezra caressed his cheekbone with one knuckle drawing his attention back. "We'll have time." Ezra made it sound like a promise. "We'll work it out. Just not now. Later."

Vin nodded. "Later." He agreed firmly, pleased to find they were still in sync. He shifted to slide away from Ezra and got to his feet. He reached to help the linguist stand. Once upright the smaller man swayed dangerously, and Vin found himself supporting most of his weight.

"You all right?" Vin cursed himself for asking such a stupid question. Pretty damn obvious he ain't all right.

"Will be." Ezra swallowed hard, panting slightly. "Never should...have laid...down."

"It's okay." Vin reassured, silently cursing himself for having forgotten even momentarily that Ezra was injured. "Don't have far to go." Least that's the truth this time.

Ezra took a deep breath, and gave him a wry smile. "Good."

Together they made their way out into the clearing that Chris had selected as the pick up point. It was just barely big enough for the chopper to land. Even before Buck had set it down, Chris and Nathan were bailing out to secure the site, guns held at the ready.

Vin was very glad to see the medic. He wanted to make damn sure that the 'later' Ezra promised happened, and making sure Ezra was okay was a big part of that. Nathan was definitely better equipped to handle medical needs than the rest of them.

Together he and Ezra limped their way to the chopper. Nathan met them half way. He didn't say a word, just moved to take Ezra's right side so that between them they were more than half carrying the smaller man. Chris kept an eye on the jungle behind them, making sure they weren't followed.

Vin knew that from the time the chopper set down to when they were loaded and ready to lift off not five minutes had passed. Rapid getaways were something they all practiced, knowing that speed was sometimes of the essence. In the past, Vin had good reason to be grateful for their ability to get out quickly. Got reason today too. Sooner we get outta here, sooner Ez gets the care he needs.

Vin sat next to Ezra, while Nathan took up a position in front of Ezra's outstretched left leg. Chris had taken the seat across from Vin. They were barely seated when Buck was lifting off, skimming the tops of the trees as he moved off.

Vin watched Nathan's face. He used the medic's expression and reactions to gauge Ezra's health. Vin hadn't thought the wound overly serious. Painful, yes. Temporarily debilitating, definitely. But Vin didn't trust his assessment to be correct. His medical knowledge was limited to rough and ready first aid.

Nathan looked calm as he worked, dark eyes focused and intent, hands moving smoothly but without the urgency Vin associated with a life threatening injury. He leaned back and breathed easier. He could almost feel Ezra doing the same. The smaller man shifted to lean against him, head resting on Vin's shoulder. Vin moved an arm to curl around Ezra, holding him close, knowing the others wouldn't question it.

Ain't that I don't' want them to know...just don't want them to know right now. Wanna chance to explore this thing 'tween us 'fore we tell 'em. Want the chance ta do that without 'em lookin' over our shoulders. Don't have that much privacy as it is.

Ezra tilted his head slightly and gave Vin a sly look from under his lashes. The Texan smiled and winked in response, knowing Ezra was fully aware of what he'd been thinking. Vin's attention shifted to Chris when he keyed his mic.


"Yeah?" He already knew what Chris wanted, but he waited for the team leader to verbalize it.

"Fill me in." Chris' ordered calmly.

Vin briefed Chris on what happened from the time they'd split up. The real issue was the danger of pursuit, and how Ezra had been injured. No one had followed them, of that Vin was certain. He seriously doubted there were very many left alive in the compound to offer pursuit. Vin bit his lip and hesitated over relaying that it was his fault Ezra got hurt, but undaunted he admitted his culpability to Chris.

"Ignore him, Larabee." The linguist snorted, and green eyes opening briefly to meet Chris' blue-gray counterparts. "Blowing the drums was a good idea. Not his fault I was in the way."

Chris' lips twisted in a half smile. "You forget how to duck, did ya?"

Ezra's right hand rose to offer Chris a universal hand gesture, making the team leader chuckle. Chris looked toward Nathan. "He gonna be okay?"

"Not going to be dancing the tango any time soon, but he should heal up okay." Nathan responded, never taking his eyes off Ezra or halting what he was doing. Vin watched the medic sink a needle in Ezra's arm and shoot something from a syringe he'd measured a second ago. The sniper wasn't concerned, and Ezra didn't react other than a small wince. Probably a pain killer, antibiotics, usual stuff.

"You get the girl out okay?" Vin asked. He figured that JD and Josiah were sitting on her, but he wanted to be sure no one else got hurt.

"Yeah." Chris grimaced. "Looking forward to unloading that banshee as soon as possible."

Ezra opened one eye. "We will be billing her father extra, I hope."

"Oh yeah." Chris grinned. It was more like he was baring his teeth than an expression of humor.

"Good." Ezra stated firmly before closing his eyes and relaxing more deeply into Vin, likely not far from falling asleep. Vin reveled in the knowledge that nothing short of being unconscious would have had Ezra doing that before today.

Sort a hate to make the man pay extra. Should probably thank him for makin' it possible for me an' Ez ta get together. But cause o' him Ez got hurt. Thinkin' he needs ta be beaten ta a pulp more than he needs a pat on the back. Miserable bastard's lies coulda got Ez killed. Not gonna forgive him for that.

"Buck...let JD and Josiah know we're on our way." Chris ordered.

"Already done, Big Dog." Buck's voice came through the comm loud and clear. Vin could picture the smile he knew the other man had to be wearing. "They'll be ready to load up when we land in ten."

"Good." Chris patted Nathan on the shoulder getting the medic's attention. Chris pointed to Ezra with his chin. The earlier question about his health had been for Ezra's benefit, knowing the linguist would hear it. They all knew that an injured teammate sometimes needed to hear he'd be fine even if that wasn't the case. It was another of those little white lies that got told out of necessity. If a man thought he'd be fine, then he might just make it no matter how severe the wound.

This non-verbal request was for an honest evaluation. Vin raised a hand to where Ezra's mic was positioned. With deft fingers he detached the mic, careful not to disturb his dozing friend. He pointed to his own mic, then Ezra's and made a slashing motion across his throat, letting Chris and Nathan know Ezra was no longer connected. They could speak freely and not have to worry about Ezra hearing them.

"He is going to be fine." Nathan reiterated. "He's going to need stiches, tetanus shot, more antibiotics, and plenty of fluids." The medic's dark eyes met Vin's sky blue. "He'll need to rest. Stay off that leg as long as possible...probably need a crutch or cane for a bit."

Nathan shrugged. "Figure as his roommate you'll be the best one to keep an eye on him. Keep him from doing too much. Make sure he doesn't push himself too fast or too soon."

"Will do." Vin nodded. I'll keep a close eye on him. The sniper smiled internally. Pretty sure I can find a way to keep him in bed and make him rest.

He knew Nathan was still talking, but he didn't really pay attention. Vin was lost in his own fantasies thinking about how much fun keeping Ezra in bed would be. He started when Chris' voice called him back.

"Vin?" Chris slapped his leg. "Cowoy? You okay with all that?"

Vin nodded. "Sure, Chris. Not a problem." Have to be sure to ask Nathan what 'all that' was. Knowin' him, I won't even have ta ask. He'll tell me all over again jus' to be sure I don't let Ez get away with anything.

"You okay?" Chris looked concerned.

"Fine." Vin waved a hand in dismissal before rubbing at his eyes. "Jus' tired. Damn cake walk was a bit harder than it was s'posed to be." That wasn't a lie. Not really. He was tired, it just wasn't the reason he hadn't been paying attention.

Chris tipped his head slightly, acknowledging that the case was tougher than it should have been and that Vin had reason to be tired. "We'll be home soon."

"Good." Vin smiled, feeling a rush of elation and anticipation that hadn't been there before. He glanced at Ezra sleeping peacefully against him. Home. Suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. If home is where the heart is, then mine's right here with me.

Vin laughed mentally, feeling better than he had in a long time. Man...I gotta be tired. I'm getting sappy. Don't mean it isn't the truth just the same.

Vin closed his eyes and tilted his head back, content to just be close to Ezra, and let the others handle the rest of the trip. He was already focused on what would happen when they got back to Camp AWOL. Definitely wanta start on that 'later' right now.

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