Morning Rituals

by katherine

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

Sequel to Later

I pour my first cup of coffee and inhale that wonderful aroma with a deep, satisfied sigh. Caffeine may not be an officially recognized food group or essential vitamin, but in my humble opinion it should be. Have started days without it, but I much prefer to begin my day with it.

It is almost a ritual for me. Have to add the right amount of milk to get the perfect color. Enough sugar to take the bite out of it, but not so much as to be too sweet. I can drink it black if there is no milk or sugar handy, but I'd much rather have my coffee the way I like it.

The kitchen is empty, except for me. Not really surprising given the time of day. It's part of the reason I make a point of being here now. Sun's only been up for an hour or so. The ones who normally rise with it have already come and gone and the late sleepers haven't put in an appearance yet.

I wander outside to drink my coffee in the sun. Another part of my morning ritual. Like being able to take my time and just enjoy the only time of day when it's actually comfortable to be outside.

My favorite spot is where I can sit and watch Josiah go through is T'ai Chi routine. Think it is almost as meditative for me to watch as it is for him to do. There is something decidedly relaxing about watching him go through all those slow, graceful motions. Reminds me of watching water flow through a stream channel. Would likely embarrass Josiah if I ever told him that. Probably just as well that I never have.

I frown slightly as I realize Vin isn't with Josiah. Normally he is right out there with him, like some smaller, leaner shadow. Vin said he thought it looked too slow and easy to qualify as real exercise until he tried it. Josiah has that effect on people. He can bring almost anyone around to his way of thinking.

I purse my lips as I watch Josiah continue moving as though executing a slow dance without a partner. Vin has been rather scarce since we got back from that last job. Not really surprising. I mean, he did basically volunteer to keep an eye on Ezra. And that's a full time job. Know that firsthand better than anyone.

I sip my coffee, only half focused on that rich, blessed flavor as my thoughts drift toward Ezra. I knew the first day we got back it wouldn't be hard to keep him in bed. Blood loss and fatigue would be enough to do the trick. But after that I figured he'd be doing his level best to sneak off somewhere.

Ezra's never really said, but I just assumed his need to be mobile is a hold over from his black ops secret agent stuff. Get the impression that he's worried that if he can't move someone will make sure he never moves again. Sort of a hard way to live, if you can call that living. Think Josiah suffers from similar bouts of what I can only call irrational fear. Not quite a phobia, but pretty damn close. Makes me glad I never had to do any of that shit they did. Covert crap is just way too hard on a man's mind.

Don't think it was ever as bad for Josiah as it is for Ezra though. Just from some of what Josiah's said I got the impression that he was around people he trusted. Didn't have to worry so much that he'd be considered 'collateral damage'. Or that his death could be written off under 'plausible deniability.'

One thing I always had with my recon teams was trust. Knew they'd be there for me, just like I was there for them. Can't really imagine what it has to be like taking on a job you know is suicide and having no doubts about you being totally on your own. Makes me want to track down whoever the hell it was Ezra worked for and beat the shit out of 'em.

It can't be easy for Ezra to trust us after going through crap like that. Know it's not about me when he keeps saying he's fine when a blind man could see he's not. It's not about me when he keeps trying to do stuff that will just make his recovery that much longer. I understand that, and I've learned not to fight him. Leastwise not directly.

That's why I suggested having Vin be the one to look after him when we got back. Weren't just 'cause they share the same barracks...although, that definitely makes it easier. Ezra trusts Vin far more than he does the rest of us. Not sure why exactly. Might just be because they are in each other's space so much. I know being around Josiah so much gives me better insight into who he is and why he does things he does. Figure it works the same for them.

And Vin...well, he's a shy one too. Works well with the team, has an uncanny sort of connection to Chris, but he still kind of reminds me of a feral cat. The sort you put food out for but won't ever let you get close enough to catch. Suppose being a sniper he's used to being on his own more than with a team. Funny how so much of our backgrounds should make it damn near impossible to work together, but never seem to really be a problem.

I take another sip of my coffee and sigh. I really need to check on those two. Vin doesn't like be confined at all so I wouldn't put it past him to think he was helping Ezra by letting him sneak out somewhere, do more than he should with that leg and think he was helping out a friend. That would certainly explain why I haven't seen either of them much lately.

I've made a point of checking Ezra's leg a little before dinner time each day. Just need to be sure it's healing cleanly and that he isn't over doing it. He's been surprisingly good about it, not arguing or trying to hide the way he normally would. But then I figure once a day is all he's going to let me get away with so I haven't really pressed him for more. I made sure he understood that he had to give me that much or I'd have to take drastic action. Not quite certain what 'drastic' would entail. I'm pretty sure short of drugging him outright unconscious there isn't any way I could make him behave and that isn't something I'm willing to do, but Ezra doesn't know that.

Staring into my cup I review the past few times I've seen him. He'd popped a stitch or two, but with Ezra that's normal. Don't think he's ever had stitches without tearing a few along the way. The gash had bled a bit, but it wasn't anything to get upset over. Although for some reason Vin seemed rather concerned about it. Almost guilty. I'd thought is was because he felt responsible for looking after Ezra, but now I'm beginning to think maybe he was helping Ezra do something he shouldn't have been doing.

I shake my head. Those two can be a real handful. Might be a good idea to just wander over there and check on them. Vin is probably up. Don't think he's missed a sunrise in years. Ezra should still be in bed. He's a night owl if I ever saw one.

If I catch Vin alone maybe I can get some information out of him. Find out what the hell Ezra might have been up to. I snort, realizing how hopeless that thought is. Vin is about as likely to betray a confidence as I am to fly. Never know. I might just get lucky.

I finish my coffee, waving to Josiah as I head back inside to put my mug in the dishwasher. He gives me a slight nod letting me know he saw me, but doesn't stop what he's doing. I keep telling myself that some day I'm going to join in like Vin does, but so far I'm more than content to just watch them do it.

I head over to Vin and Ezra's barrack. I keep thinking one of these days we're going to do some landscaping around here. Don't care what Chris says, the place still looks like a damn army base. Should maybe paint or something. If we got rid of that olive drab color it would go along way toward looking more like we really live here. Doesn't have to look homey, but a little less utilitarian wouldn't hurt.

I chuckle trying to picture us agreeing on colors. Chris would probably want black. No...he's smarter than that. Black in this heat would not be pleasant. Buck would want something so damn bright and gaudy it would make your eyes bleed. JD would probably agree with him if for no other reason than to annoy the rest of us. Can see Josiah sitting back waiting to see if we could even come to an agreement before weighing in with his opinion. Vin would camouflage it all. Hell, the only one with any real sense of color or style is Ezra.

Maybe I should ask Ezra his opinion on doing something around here. Yeah. That'll be a nice lead in for why I'm checking on him early today. Assuming he's even up yet.

I tap lightly on the door of their place. Don't want to wake Ezra and Vin's normally got ears like a bat so there isn't any need to really knock loud. I don't get an answer. Not really cause for concern.

Vin could have gone running this morning like he sometimes does or be in the shower. And Ezra isn't the sort to answer the door even when he's awake. He'd doesn't think anything of leaving someone waiting all day. Said once if you weren't invited, you weren't expected; if you weren't expected, then he didn't see any reason to bestir himself to let you in. Nearly laughed my head off when it was Buck of all people who pointed out it was rude to leave one of them just hanging around his doorstep. Ezra had rolled his eyes, commenting dryly, "I highly doubt you even know how to knock, Buck, since I've never seen or heard you exercise that particular etiquette. Your usual modus operandi is to simply walk in so I have no fear of ever finding you languishing on the front step."

Not getting an answer to my second knock, I open the door and step inside. I make sure to keep my hands visible as I call out quietly, "Vin? Ezra? You guys around?"

Just because the door isn't locked doesn't mean I'm going to get a warm welcome. Know both Vin and Ezra keep weapons handy. We all do. Sort of a side effect of the job. I make a habit of announcing myself so I don't catch anyone unawares and suffer the consequences of surprising people who typically regard surprises as bad things.

The living room is empty, but I can smell coffee which means at least Vin is up. Damn glad he keeps a pot for himself here. It is a crime what that man does to good coffee.

The stereo is softly playing something I don't recognize, but that's not really surprising. Think Ezra must have everything ever recorded and there is almost always music of some kind playing here. Not loud most of the time. Guess it just serves as background noise for Ezra during the day.

Took me awhile to catch on, but the music is always a good indicator of Ezra's mood. Whatever it is that is playing is light, jazzy sort of. Means Ezra must be feeling pretty good. Or he was last night when he probably loaded the stereo. Vin likely turned it on this morning since they rarely leave it play all night long.

The door to Vin's room is open, but Ezra's is closed. Vin probably left his open when he headed out. Not that he ever really keeps his room closed up much anyway. Think that cat image applies even more to Vin with respect to doors. Never knew a cat that wasn't happier with every door open at all times so it could come and go as it pleased.

Ezra can be rather adamant about his privacy. So his door is almost always closed. Only time I've ever been in his room was to check on him when he's hurt. Sort of half expected it to be loaded with expensive stuff first time I went in. Made the mistake of thinking that fancy car he drives was an indication of his nature. But only thing in there was that big bed he had shipped in special right after he got here, a dresser, footlocker and bookshelf. He's got some paintings on the walls...originals too by the look of them, but compared to the rest of us his room is positively Spartan.

I tiptoe over to his door thinking I'd just take a sneak peek at him, make sure he's doing all right. I've got my hand on the door when I hear someone speaking. Always easy to pick out Ezra's drawl so I know it's him...even if he doesn't sound quite right. I hesitate, leaning in closer to the door to try and get a better sense of what is going on. Know better than to just barge in. If he's having a nightmare or something might be better to let him work it out on his own rather than rush in there and get my fool head shot off.

I can feel my face getting warm even as it dawns on me exactly what I'm hearing. Nightmare my ass. No way those moans are from pain and not pleasure. Been around both enough to be able to tell the difference. And if that wasn't enough to clue me in the little rhythmic thumping of the headboard against the wall is a dead give away.

"Please...I want...please. God...yeeesss. that."

Christ. Never realized Ezra could sound so...rough and needy, like the soundtrack of the best porno movie I ever saw. Man. Don't know who he's in there with but I wouldn't mind getting a piece o' someone who made me sound like that.

Before I even get a chance to really think about that, I have visions of Rain and I mentally slap myself silly for even thinking of wanting someone else. I lick my lips and forcibly rein in my imagination. Eavesdropping is not polite. I stay here much longer I'm likely to become a peeping tom, so I back away from Ezra's door. I do not want to hear those breathy moans and sighs. I'm doing my best to ignore that sultry southern voice asking for more, harder, deeper.

I wander over to the stereo and increase the volume just a touch. Not enough to interrupt Ezra and his playmate, but enough to keep me from hearing any more than I already have. I ought to leave. I know that. I really should, but I find myself settling into one of the recliners instead.

I now know what's been keeping Ezra occupied the last few days and why Vin's been so scarce. Little shit probably arranged to have whoever is in there with Ezra to get in and out without anyone being the wiser. Explains how Ezra popped those stitches and why Vin looked so damn guilty about it.

When I told Ezra to take it easy this wasn't what I had in mind. I don't mind him having some fun. He's a grown man for crying out loud and I'm not a prude. Hell, if it were Buck I'd have expected this. But if having sex is how he tore those stitches then maybe I need to have a talk with his little chippy. If Ezra can't be trusted to take it easy, then she should know enough to look out for him. To not play so rough no matter what he says.

Knowing Ezra, this isn't some one-night stand sort like Buck would choose. Might not have some strong emotional attachment, but I'm pretty sure Ezra wouldn't sleep with someone he didn't at least trust enough to let his guard down with. Sure as hell wouldn't be a stranger. Means whoever it is probably cares about him. At least enough to know better than to let him push himself when he's hurt. Unless they are in there going at fully clothed, be pretty hard to miss that bandage on his leg, the bruises on his back and sides.

I grin to myself. Besides, I want to meet her. Ezra isn't the sort to just pick anyone. He's got discriminating taste, or so he says. Wouldn't mind seeing that for myself. Bet we've all met her and never even realized it. Sneaky little weasel.

Kind of nice to know that he's got someone though. Sometimes he seems a bit too self-contained, aloof. We all need a little contact now and again. Don't expect him to get all warm and fuzzy, but doing the kind of stuff we do, it's nice to have someone to remind you that our jobs aren't all we are, all we do.

I rub my hands down my thighs, grimacing at the clamminess I feel. For a moment I can empathize with how my father must have felt when he waited up for me to come home from the prom. That conversation wasn't easy for either of us. I can't help but wonder if my expression will match his. Lord, I hope not. Don't want to look like I'm being judgemental or disappointed. It's not really any of my business.

I'm about to get up and start pacing. I really should leave. No point in embarrassing everyone. And they are bound to know I heard them. Sitting here...not like I can pretend I didn't.

I just get up to leave when I hear the door open. so lost in thought I forgot what was going on in Ezra's room. That was sort of the point, but still, I didn't expect to be surprised. Didn't realize I'd been sitting here so long.

Could knock me over with a feather when instead of some woman like I was expecting it's Vin who comes strolling out of Ezra's room. He's wearing Ezra's robe but only just barely. It's hanging loose and open around him, hair looking wild, skin flushed and a faint sheen of sweat readily visible in the hazy streams of sunlight coming through the window behind me.

For a moment I'm too stunned to do anything. My first thought is that I'm fairly certain I don't have to worry anymore about my face looking like my dad's. Holy shit. Vin and Ezra. Never would have guessed that.

I start to say something and realize my mouth is hanging open. Don't remember my jaw dropping open, but it must have. Kind of glad Vin hasn't noticed me yet because I'm not sure that gaping, open-mouthed stare is what I really want for him to see. Would be way too easy for him to get the wrong idea. Not that I'm sure what the right idea is at this moment, but I really, really don't want to add insult to injury if I can help it.

Vin still hasn't noticed me yet. So I try to organize my thoughts, watching as he makes his way over to the kitchenette area. We all have little refrigerators in our quarters and I'm not really surprised to see him open the fridge and grab a bottle of water. He opens it and drinks half in one long swallow.

It's an unguarded moment and I can't help but notice how relaxed and comfortable he seems. It's more than a 'just got laid' relaxed. Can't quite put my finger on it, but it is definitely more. It's a stupid, sappy clich, but the man looks like he's glowing, like someone lit a candle inside of him. I swear to God.

He reaches into the fridge to grab another bottle when I clear my throat. Before I have a chance to even blink, Vin's dropped the bottle he was holding, slipped into a fighting stance and has both hands up to attack or defend. Realizing I should have said something sooner, I raise both hands in a placating gesture and wait for him to recognize me.

"Jesus, Nate." Vin hisses, slowly straightening, blue eyes flashing annoyance rather than anger. "You trying to give me a heart attack?"

"Vin?" Ezra calls from his room, voice sounding just a bit hoarse. Doubt he heard me or Vin talking, but it's a safe bet he heard the bottle hit the floor. "You okay out there?"

"Fine, Ez." Vin answers. "Jus' dropped the bottle is all." His mouth opens to say more and then he freezes, eyes darting from me to the bedroom and back. Vin's mouth closes with a snap, his jaw tightening and his eyes narrow as he stares at me. I stand still under that assessing gaze and wait.

"How long you been here?"

The way he asks that makes me feel like the trespasser I am. Too late to fix that mistake. I know better than to lie...wouldn't do any good. Not only do I suck at it, but the man is smart enough to know I've been here awhile. And even if I hadn't been, him strolling out of Ezra's room half naked and sweaty were bound to clue me into something.

"Long enough."

"Ezra," Vin calls out, turning his head toward the bedroom, but keeping his eyes on me. "We got company."

I am not really surprised when Ezra appears in his doorway a second later, stark naked and holding a gun. Vin's tone of voice almost guaranteed a reaction. Seeing me, Ezra raises one eyebrow and clicks the safety on the gun in his hand. His expression shifts immediately to one of bland neutrality.

"Morning, Nathan." I can't see the grimace in his face, but despite the cordial greeting I can hear it in his voice. He and Vin trade a look. Not sure what all gets said with just one look, but I'm guessing it's a lot.

Ezra's eyes settle back on me. "I'll just be a moment." He retreats back into his room, presumably to get dressed.

If there is one thing I've come to count on it's that no matter how embarrassing a given situation should be, Ezra will never appear more than his usual aplomb self for long. Gotta hand it to the man. Aren't too many guys who could go from having what sounded like mind blowing sex to ready to face an intruder, naked as the day he was born, to confronting a friend about his sex life, all without ever batting an eye or an obvious moment of self-consciousness.

Vin closed the robe he's wearing and tied it. He bends down and retrieves the bottle he dropped earlier and gets a second out of the fridge. When Ezra comes back, now wearing a pair of cargo shorts and a plain white t-shirt, Vin casually tosses the bottle to him.

"I'd ask you to make yourself comfortable," green eyes narrow as they look at me, "but it would seem you already have."

I wince. He's got that overly polite, prissy tone. That does not bode well.

"I just came by to look in on you." My only defense and not really a good one, but I'm going with it.

"I was under the impression we had an agreed time and place for such things." An eyebrow arched as Ezra took a sip of his water. Vin moved to stand closer to Ezra, shoulder to shoulder. It was almost like they were making a united front.

Damn. I am not the enemy here. Need for them to see that. I sigh and try hard not to fidget under their combined gazes. "I was worried about you two. You've been scarce lately. You've got to admit Ezra you don't have the best track record when it comes to doing what you're told. And Vin, you are something of an enabler when it comes to Ezra doing stuff he shouldn't."

"That don't mean you got a right ta jus' barge in here." Vin punctuated that statement with a look that was an odd mix of defiance and chagrin. Then blue eyes raked over me with the same intensity of a laser beam. "You ever think of knockin'?"

"I did knock. Twice." I snapped back. "When you didn't answer...I figured maybe you'd gone for a run and Ezra was still asleep. It wasn't like you locked the door, ya know?"

I can feel my face getting warm and not for the first time was I grateful for my dark complexion hiding any tell-tale flush. "I sure as hell wouldn't have walked in if I'd known what you were doing."

"Yet once you ascertained what we were doing you did not feel a compulsion to allow us our privacy?" Ezra cocked his head to one side. "You obviously opted to remain. Which begs the question, why?"

"Can I sit down?" I had two reasons for asking that. One, I thought it would help make this seem just a touch less confrontation and a bit more conversational. And two, I could tell Ezra was standing with most of his weight on his right leg. Don't know what he did with that fancy antique walking stick he's been using for a cane, but I'm sure if I sit down, so will he. That whole etiquette thing kicking in again.

Ezra waved a hand inviting me to take a seat. I sit in the recliner I'd be in before. Ezra sits down in the loveseat across from me, stretching out his left leg. Vin perches on the arm of the loveseat, reminding me of a guard dog the way he partially shields Ezra.

"First off, I need to make one thing clear here." I make eye contact with both of them and hold it. "Just because we were in the military and do stuff related to military maneuvers from time to time, doesn't mean we still operate under military rules and regs. I don't care that you guys are doing the wild thing with each other. It isn't any of my business who you sleep with...and it never was."

I sigh, holding up a hand to prevent them from interrupting me. I've had friends who suffered though that whole 'don't ask, don't tell' crap. It wasn't pretty. And I know that part of what they have to be feeling is related to what they think I'm going to say. How they think I'm reacting to them being together. Need to clear that up right now.

"I'm not a bigot. I know better than most the price of being different." Hell, just growing up black taught me a lot about tolerance and acceptance and the lack thereof in many places. Not to mention my grandmother would warm my butt if she ever thought I was casting stones at another. Feisty old lady made damn sure I understood that none of us on earth were in a position to judge another.

"I'll admit that finding out the two of you are..." I wave a hand finding myself at a loss for words. I start over rather than try to complete that thought. "Look, I was surprised to see Vin walk out of your room, Ezra. Not denying that. I was expecting some woman. Doesn't mean I find fault with what you're doing. Doesn't mean I'm passing judgment or that I'm suddenly looking at you differently. You are still just Vin and Ezra...guys I work with, guys I think of as friends."

I wait a beat. "We clear on that?"

Vin studies me intently for a moment before nodding. I hold myself still under that assessing gaze and wait for him to come to a decision. The set of his shoulders relaxes considerably and his posture is a lot less rigid. "Okay."

"Ezra?" I need confirmation from both of them.

He nods slowly, still seeming a bit wary. "Clear."

One-word answers from Ezra are usually not a bad thing. They can be, but generally they are more indicative of his level of focus. I wait for him to finish putting together whatever pieces of the puzzle he is working on.

"You expected a woman?" The question is mild, but sharp green eyes never leave my face.

I shrug. "Well, yeah. Figured you had someone you didn't want the rest of us to know about. Someone Vin was sneaking in and out of camp for you. Thought that was why he looked guilty the other day when I found out you'd popped a few stitches." I smiled wryly. "Didn't realize he had a more active part in that incident."

I can see the blush rising to dust Vin's cheeks with color. Hard to imagine him making Ezra sound like he did a little bit ago and still be shy enough to be embarrassed by it. Sometimes forget just how young he really is. How young they both are.

"Long and the short of it is my curiosity got the better of me. It was wrong. I know that. I should not have invaded your privacy and I apologize."

Ezra inclines his head slightly, making it seem like an abbreviated bow. He can make such a simple gesture seem so damn regal at times. Used to drive me nuts 'cause I thought he did it on purpose to emphasize his wealth and position like he was putting on airs. Know the guy is filthy stinking rich, but he isn't the type to lord it over people. Took me awhile to catch on that his mannerisms are just the way he is...same with anyone. No malicious intent behind them.

"Apology accepted." Ezra states that clearly, making sure I have no doubts. I breathe a bit easier knowing that my trespass has been forgiven if not yet forgotten. Time to move on to other things.

"You know I meant it when I said you should take it easy on that leg." Just because I found out it's Vin doesn't mean I'm not going to take him to task for not resting like he's supposed to. Vin should know better.

"I assure you, Nathan, I have been 'taking it easy'."

"Right." I snort. "That's how you managed to pop those stitches."

Ezra smirks at me. "You didn't seem unduly alarmed when you noted them yesterday."

"Yeah well, that's why I'm here now." I give them both a stern look. "Don't want details into how you did it." The last thing I want is to know more than I already do. Buck tells enough stories as it is. "And I'm not saying you should stop completely, but you have got to give that leg a chance to heal. Know you don't want to walk with a limp for the rest of your life."

I throw the last bit in as a scare. Doubt it's going to happen, but it could and I want him to be aware of that. Ezra can be pretty cavalier about his injuries, so sometimes the only way to get through to him is to up the ante a bit. You wouldn't think you'd have to scare a grown man into taking care of himself.

Vin pales a bit, his jaw tightening as his eyes drop toward the floor. I can tell he's feeling guilty and evidently so can Ezra. He raises a hand to lightly pat a thigh. "Not your fault."

Ezra shoots a dirty look at me, letting me know I'm probably going to pay for making Vin feel guilty. Not my intent to cause trouble 'tween them, but if getting Ezra to take care of himself means throwing a wet blanket on them for a short time, then I don't have any qualms about doing it. They can have their fun any time. It's my job as team medic to make sure we are all 100%.

"No permanent harm has been done, Vin." Ezra's tone is gentle and reassuring. Never heard him sound like that before either...except for when he's telling stories to the kids in Purgatario. "Nothing to fret about."


Ezra squeezes the thigh beneath his hand. "There is no blame to be assigned. No wrong committed." He smiles softly, ducking his head enough to get Vin to make eye contact. "I was a willing and active participant." The smile deepens and his dimples appear. "Very willing."

Vin half smiles in return, lips quirking upward just enough to suggest more. Faint worry lines still crease his forehead though. "Didn't mean ta hurt ya, Ez."

"You didn't hurt me." Ezra winks as he lightly strokes Vin's thigh before letting go. He glances toward me, eyes narrowed holding me in place with the force of his gaze. "Nathan is a worry wart and habitually exaggerates to make his point."

Busted. I'm not apologizing for that. Long as it works I'm going to continue doing it. Only got so many weapons at my disposal.

"Since he has so cordially made himself available, there is no reason for Nathan not to follow through on his stated intent of 'checking' on me. He can reassure us all on the state of my health." He raises that damn eyebrow again before making an inviting gesture with one hand toward his left leg. The shorts he put on will make it easy for me to access his wound, which is probably why he picked them in the first place.

Vin gets up and grabs the med kit we all keep in our quarters. Have to wonder about your line of work when you've got first aid supplies in every building. But it does make things easier since everyone on the team knows how to do more than just basic first aid. And I don't have to haul around a bag with me when it's up to me to take care of the rest.

He offers it to me before resuming his perch on the arm of the loveseat. I move to kneel in front of Ezra and make short work of the bandage around his thigh. Didn't pop any more stitches. No sign of infection and it's healing nicely. Gonna scar, but not too bad really. I put on a light coat of iodine just to be on the safe side before re-bandaging it. Want to keep it covered at least until I remove the stitches.

"Should be able to remove the stitches in a few days."

Ezra sighs. "I still don't understand why you couldn't have just used staples."

I keep my focus on making sure the bandage goes on smooth and even, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. Ezra prefers stables to stitches. I think that's just because they are easier to put in and remove. Something he's probably done himself a time or two. But staples are not appropriate in every case.

"I am healing well then, Nathan?"

His question is just a touch smug, but I don't rise to the bait. Arguing with Ezra is an art. Not one Chris does very well, but I like to think I'm getting better at it.

"Just because you are healing well doesn't mean you should be pushing yourself." I look up at him, keeping my voice calm and reasonable. "I mean it, Ezra. Even after I take out the stitches you are going to need some time before your leg is back up to full strength."

Ezra opens his mouth to protest when Vin lays a hand on his shoulder. "Look at it this way, Ez, you won't have ta do Chris' mandatory calisthenics for a bit."

Chris is adamant about all of us being fit. It is a good policy since our line of work sort of requires we be ready for action at any time. Don't think any of us really like it, but Ezra is by far the most vocal.

"Gotta count for something, right?" Vin squeezes Ezra's shoulder.

Ezra nods, conceding Vin's point. "How long?" He looks at me.

I shrug. "For Chris' workouts..." Chris likes to push us hard and despite his bitching Ezra is no slacker. He is too competitive to not work at least as hard as the rest of us. "Two weeks." I smile at them both. "For each long as you aren't swinging from the rafters, I don't see why you can't continue doing...," I wave a hand struggling to find a good word.

Vin grins. "We were gonna wait on swinging for a bit, Nate. Gotta get a handle on the whips and chains first."

Just for a second I think he might be serious. Yeah, sure. I roll my eyes. I should know better. If he meant that he'd have blushed for sure. And Vin's enough of a private person he'd only joke about stuff that wasn't really personal.

I wag a finger at him, fighting to keep from smiling. "Too much information, Vin. Way, way too much information."

I move to get up. Ezra stops me with a hand on my arm. I raise both eyebrows in silent inquiry.

"Can we rely on your discretion, Nathan?" Ezra's expression is serious, almost guarded.

"Yes." I didn't even have to think before I answer. I know I'm okay with them, but I don't know that the others will be. Get the impression this thing between them is relatively new. Might want to get a bit more time in before they decide to talk to the others. If they ever decide to.

"What you tell the others and when should be your call. If I'd been minding my own business like I should have, we wouldn't be having this conversation." I shrug, still feeling uncomfortable knowing how far I overstepped my bounds there.

Standing up, I square my shoulders and face them both. "For what it's worth...I think it's great that you both found each other." I smile thinking about the woman in my life and what she means to me. "I got Rain. And I know what a difference being with her makes in my life. Sort of hope you guys can do the same thing for each other."

The smiles they give me tell me that they are going to try. Can't ask for more than that really. Even though I might want to. Would love to really ask them if their relationship is more than sex or just them indulging in a little fun. Get the feeling it's more than sex from the way they act. But I already put my foot in it by interrupting what is supposed to be private, so I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and take whatever they are willing to tell me.

About time for me to leave I think. We got the air clear and I get the feeling the two of them want to talk without an audience. Imagine they've got a lot to talk about.

"Think I need to see about getting something more for breakfast than just coffee." I take a breath. "Unless you two need something?"

Vin just shakes his head. Ezra, as usual, is a bit more talkative. "We will not hesitate to contact you should we need assistance."

Good enough. I head for the door, but stop when Vin calls my name. I look over my shoulder. "Yeah?"


Simple and heartfelt, covering more than just my checking on Ezra's leg. Judging from the look on Ezra's face it goes for both of them. Can feel a rush of warmth, and I'm suddenly real glad I stopped in this morning. I know I'm grinning like a loon, but that's okay.

"You're welcome."

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