Sihn's Empire
Cough Syrup: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
by E.L.

Thanks be to Lumina, she who doth maketh with the Beta-Reading(tm) and holdeth off on the Rotting Fruit(tm). Also, En and she knows why. I'm still waiting for those blackmail photos, damn it. This will have to suffice.

"YEEEEE HAAAAWWW!" The slightly hoarse shout came bubbling out of Aisle Twenty of the Denver Rite Aid and progressed steadily across to Aisle Eighteen along with the squeak of over-stressed cart wheels across stained linoleum.

The man standing in the line at the store pharmacy stared straight ahead with a fixed, pleasant expression that with each successive squeak of the cart wheels grew more fixed and less pleasant. Dealing with a Vin Tanner hopped up on the contents of an entire bottle of cough syrup was not in his job description. Actually, the agent was entirely certain there was a strict proscription against such an event in one paragraph of that document somewhere. If not, he and Mr. Larabee were going to have words.

Ezra clutched the doctor's prescription tightly in his fist and tried to pretend he and the long-haired gentlemen hurtling through the aisles at Mach Ten had not, in fact, walked in together. It was midnight, he was tired, and the last thing he needed was to invite the ire of those persons unfortunate enough to still be working the cash register. The rather tired-looking woman was already giving him suspicious glances out of the corner of her eye. If he had actually been undercover, Ezra would've called in back up by now. Back up ... now there is a felicitous thought, if ever there was one.

Finally, the small woman in front of him grabbed up her parcel and left. Ezra stepped up to the counter and handed the pharmacist the doctor's instructions while digging out his cell phone from his jacket.

"AHM 'ENERY THE EIGHTH, I AM!!" Vin warbled loudly. From the sound's direction it appeared Mr. Tanner had finally made his way to the back half of the store where apparently they had fake leprechauns or some such at low, low discount prices. "WALK THIS WAAAYY!"

Ezra was very glad he'd had the forethought to put his employer's home phone number on speed dial. He punched the appropriate button with, perhaps, unnecessary violence and waited while the phone rang, drumming his fingers impatiently and keeping one ear out for Mr. Tanner, who was now doing a highly voluble rendition of the 'Chiquita Banana' song for those persons unfortunately residing in the TriState area.

At long last, the phone stopped ringing and a highly annoyed Mr. Larabee answered with a growl that seemed more ... husky than usual. "Mr. Larabee?" Normally, Ezra would have preceded forthwith but something in his illustrious leader's voice made him pause.

Larabee sighed. "What is it, Ezra?"

"It's Mr. Tanner."

"What?" Larabee's voice sharpened and Ezra could just see him leaping up to pace the room. "What's wrong? Did he take a turn for the worse? Where are you? Have you called the ambulance yet-"

"Vin is fine, sir," he interrupted. "His condition has not changed; merely ... mutated." Into a cabaret act.


"Just a moment, please," Ezra said. He tucked the phone into his shoulder and dug his wallet out to pay the good woman holding his, and Mr. Tanner's of course, salvation. This is most definitely coming out of petty cash. He snatched up the bag she handed him and, with a polite nod, began walking towards the strains of "You Sexy Thing" emanating from his left. "I'm back," he said.

"Good," answered his leader. "Now, what's going on?"

"Do you remember the bottle of Triaminic Mr. Jackson fobbed off on us as we were leaving the building today?"

"Yes," Larabee said.

"He drank it."

"Vin drank what?"

"It. The medicine."

"He drank all of it?" Larabee sounded as incredulous as Ezra had been when he'd found out (and discovered the evidence rolling about uncapped in the backseat of his car).

"Something like that, yes," Ezra nodded ruefully. He craned his neck down the nearest aisle but, though he could still hear Vin, he had yet to find him. As he walked, he swung his head back and forth between aisles like a pendulum.

"Is he all right?"

"For the most part he is. However ..." Ezra trailed off and began to walk faster. The head-swinging was beginning to make him feel dizzy.

"Spit it out, Ez" Larabee growled.

"He's singing, sir."

"Singing?" Larabee said.

"Yes. Quite loudly actually." Ezra winced as Vin attempted hit a high note and went flat. A sound suspiciously like a laugh issued from his phone. "Anything specific or is he taking requests?" Yes, that was a laugh I heard.

'I believe he's doing a medley, Mr. Larabee."

"I see ... and what do you want me to do about it?"

" ... Stop him?" Ezra answered weakly. Larabee was Vin's closest friend, practically his damned Siamese twin, while Ezra was only his ... whatever you wanted to call him. Boyfriend was atrocious. Fuckbuddy was vulgar, but perhaps more fitting to the situation. Certainly not lover. There must be something he can do!

"Sorry, Ez, but I'm a little tied up here. You're on your own."

"Mr. Larabee-"

"Bye, Ez." With that curt dismissal Ezra was left alone, standing in the dried goods/trashy books aisle until the cry of "WOOK!! DUCKIES!!!" came ringing out two aisles over. Then, CRASH.

Oh Good Lord. Ezra hurriedly stuffed his phone back into his jacket and ran, skidding to a halt at the sight of Vin Tanner flat on his back, covered in bright yellow plastic ducks. I was not made for this.

With heavy steps, Ezra walked slowly to Vin's side. The tracker was sprawled in the midst of a sea of bath toys. He clutched one tightly in either hand and idly waved them about as he stared wide-eyed into a flickering fluorescent light. Ezra leaned over Vin and gazed downwards. The tracker squinted, his entire face screwing up as he greeted this new sight with an especially vigorous shaking of the ducks in his hands. "I have retrieved your medication, Mr. Tanner."

"Huh?" Mr. Tanner's eyes opened and closed slowly with each breath he took.

"Are you ready to go home now?"

"Am home."


"I'm taking a bath," Vin said solemnly.

Ezra sighed. "I see. And where, may one ask, is the water for said bath?"

Vin paused, his mouth hanging slightly open, and his eyebrows drew together. "Wanna join me?" His face brightened.

Now it was Ezra's turn to stare open-mouthed, but with visions of Mr. Tanner sitting naked in a bath running through his mind. *Drops of water running down a muscled chest ... * Ezra shook his head and closed his mouth with a snap. There was no time for that now, especially with Mr. Tanner presently launching into a rendition of "Rubber Ducky." In falsetto. "Perhaps later, Mr. Tanner," Ezra swallowed. He tucked the bag into his suit pocket and reached down to grab one of Vin's wrists. He pulled sharply and managed to lift the tracker's shoulder completely off the ground before Vin noticed. "Mine!" Vin snapped and pulled the captured duck back towards his chest before Ezra had time to let go of his wrist. Caught off balance, Ezra came crashing down on top of Vin, crushing the duck between them.

Vin looked up dazedly into shocked green eyes and grinned. "Splash!" he said.

Splash indeed, Mr. Tanner. Once again, Ezra swallowed hard, trying to inject some much needed moisture into a suddenly dry mouth, as he lay on top of Mr. Tanner. This was an uncommon experience to be sure, for through their many, well, several, encounters, Ezra had determined that Vin was, to quote the vernacular, most definitely a 'top.' From the moment he and Vin had begun their ... encounters the tracker had never once allowed Ezra to take an upperhand in the proceedings. Mr. Tanner came to him when he required companionship and Ezra was far too proud to initiate the proceedings when it was obvious they were merely at Vin's convenience. There are days, Mr. Tanner, he thought, when I could cheerfully kill you.

The slightly annoyed agent put his hand on the floor and began to push himself up only to have Vin snake an arm around his back and pull him firmly back down on top of him. "Uh uh!" Vin said.

This is one of them. "Mr. Tanner, let me go," Ezra said evenly.

Vin shook his head wildly and strands of his hair caught Ezra in the eyes. He flinched back in reflex and the tracker's arm tightened its hold on his mid-section.

"Mr. Tanner, we are in the middle of a drug store."

"Can't go yet!" Vin said and squirmed underneath him until their legs were firmly entangled.

"Might one ask why?" He cast a nervous eye over the top of Vin's head to the end of the aisle.

"You haven't washed behind your ears," Vin said. He raised his head off the floor and swiped the area behind Ezra's ear with his tongue.

Ezra wriggled and his hand scrabbled on the floor, skidding off plastic duck carcasses, trying desperately to leverage himself off Vin. Damn him to the furthest pit of Dante's Inferno! The damnable man knew every one of his sensitive spots and delighted in this spot in particular, the place where Vin had just replaced his tongue with his lips and was now gently sucking. Ezra's eyes threatened to roll up into his head. "We are in public, Mr. Tanner," he managed to gasp.

Vin's answer was to begin nibbling on his neck. Ezra swallowed a groan and his head, purely of its own accord, flopped to one side, resting on Vin's shoulder to allow him better access. *We should not - unnh - I should most certainly not be - * Vin sucked briefly on Ezra's Adam's Apple and, for a moment, higher brain function ceased completely for the usually suave undercover agent. He hissed loudly and began to writhe on top of Vin but, as Vin began to thrust against him, a duck toy began to quack loudly in time with the hard tempo the pair had been building. What in the name of the Good Lord am I doing! Ezra's free hand, the one not trapped between the agents' chests, stretched out as he groped blindly for purchase and found Vin's upper arm. He dug his fingers into the muscled bicep and squeezed tightly until Vin yelped and stopped kissing his neck in favor of squinting up at Ezra like he'd just noticed the man stretched out on top of him like a tarp. "That will do, Mr. Tanner," Ezra gasped.

"Huh?" Vin said.

"That," Ezra swallowed and took a deep breath, "is enough."

"Na uh." Vin pouted and stuck out his outer lip like a five year old being denied a candied treat.

"Yes, Mr. Tanner. It is time we departed. I believe we have entertained the security cameras long enough." Ezra managed to break the man's hold on his back and sat up, his knee unfortunately still captured between Vin's thighs, brushing against Vin's erection. Both men hissed and Vin pressed closer; he reached out and gripped the fabric of Ezra's pants. Then, he began slowly moving his own leg against Ezra's groin. Ezra's head rolled back and a groan escaped his lips. This is completely ... ummmm ... completely beyond ... oh dammit, this is so unfair! Through more force of will than he had previously known he possessed, Ezra managed to still his urge to fall back down upon Vin and proceed to show him just exactly what Ezra had wished to do with him since they had begun their trysts.

He gathered his courage, leaned back as far as he was able and, through much struggle, several French vulgarities, and over the highly vocal protestations of both Vin and dozens of already much abused synthetic water fowl, Ezra managed to heave Vin to his feet. This task was made even more difficult by the slim man's sudden propensity to cling like a sex-starved limpet, not so much allowing himself to be lifted upward, but permitting his body to slide up the covert agent, hands gripping the lapels of Ezra's very expensive Armani suit. Definitely coming out the ATF coffers. Ezra thought grimly, trying to ignore the familiar effect Vin's body was having on his own. He stepped backward and the long-haired man immediately leaned forward, still maintaining a death grip on his suit.

Vin's eyes remained dilated and, though Ezra still had a fair idea of the ulterior motives behind Vin's maneuvering, it looked as if the man was truly having difficulties remaining upright. Ezra reached up and firmly pulled Vin's hands off his lapels, sighing in resignation over their rumpled appearance; a state no doubt echoed by the rest of his attire. He kept a firm grip on one of the man's wrists and began to lead him out of the aisle. "Where we goin'?" Vin mumbled.

"I am taking you to the car, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said, studiously not looking in Vin's direction. If I am able to remove this side show from this somewhat less than salubrious location all will be well.


"So we can leave."

"Don' wanna." Ezra felt Vin dig his heels behind him. He stopped tugging on Vin's wrist and looked back. "Oh? Do you not wish to return to your lovely abode?"

"Huh?" Vin's glazed eyes attempted to focus on the man in front of him.

"Home, Mr. Tanner, I am taking you home." For the nine billionth time ... Ezra thought astringently.

"Am home," Vin muttered.

Not again! Inwardly, Ezra groaned. "Mr. Tanner, I was unaware that your residence had a biannual sale on plastic flamingos." Vin seemed unable to make the connection. Ezra continued, "Besides, due to the lateness of the hour, I am forced to deposit your germ-ridden body in my apartment as opposed to your own." Yes, Ezra, that is a true hardship for you, snickered that amazingly snide voice in his mind.

Vin wrinkled his nose. "Don't like your place. 'S cold there."

Unaccountably stung, Ezra tightened his grip on Vin's wrist and began pulling him towards the front of the store. "Be that as it may, Mr. Tanner, the chances of my driving to Purgatorio at this time of night are slightly worse than adverse weather conditions in the Infernal regions forcing the Devil to effect alternate transportation to his place of business."

With Vin muttering nonsensically, and occasionally breaking into off-key renditions of 'La Bamba', behind him Ezra managed to navigate through the mostly empty aisles of the Rite Aid until finally, he reached the head of the store and was merely a scant fifty feet from salvation. He paused to orient himself and recall where he parked his vehicle, nodding absently to the lone checkstand operator yawning in his direction when he was suddenly goosed from behind. "Mr. Tanner!" With a totally undignified yelp, Ezra jumped and turned to face the sunnily grinning man swaying behind him, much to the amusement of the startled checker who immediately leaned over her counter with a highly suspicious smirk decorating her face. "What?" Vin asked innocently.

"You know very well, what, sir!" Ezra cast an indignant look around him, averting his eyes swiftly from the checker laughing at him behind her register. Vin smiled happily and waved at her. He gritted his teeth, turned around, and waked swiftly to the exit, forcing the stoned agent to break into a shambling near-run behind him.

Once outside Ezra breathed in the cool night air deeply and frog marched Vin to his waiting Jaguar. He opened the passenger side door and manhandled Vin into the seat, placing his hand on the man's neck so as to avoid hitting Vin's head on the roof of his car. Vin sat down hard and sat, blinking owlishly up at Ezra, hands in his lap until, with a much put upon sigh, Ezra reached down to belt his ill teammate into his seat. As he leaned close Vin suddenly moved forward, conking their heads together sharply. "Oww!" Vin complained, rubbing his forehead. "That hurt!"

Despite himself, Ezra felt a bitter satisfaction at Vin's pain. Serves you right, he thought snidely. He said nothing aloud, merely pressed his lips together until they made a thin white slash across his face, and shut the passenger door with a slam. He crossed to the driver's side and slid in behind the wheel, buckling his seatbelt and watching Vin rub his forehead and stare out the windshield where, apparently, purple elves where having a 'hoe down.'

As he pulled out of the near deserted parking lot, Vin, a dazed glimmer in his eyes, stuck his hand down Ezra's pants.

"Mr. Tanner!"

Vin woke up. It wasn't an unusual occurrence, he tended to wake up everyday, but it had been awhile since he'd woken up in a bed that wasn't his own. It had also been awhile since he'd gotten drunk enough to let a lawn sprout in his mouth. He rubbed his tongue across his teeth and grimaced. Yep, I must've really tied one on last night. Vin sat up slowly, mindful not to disturb the brass band practicing the techno version of "We Will Rock You" in his head. He squinted and looked around the room.

The bedroom was refined and elegant. A cherry wood dresser and a half-open closet stood on the far wall. The closet held more suits than Vin had seen outside of J.C. Penny's menswear department and two bottles of expensive hair gel lay on top of the dresser. How did I get to Ezra's place? He shook his head and winced.

Moving was not a good thing.

Still ... he remembered ... Ducks. Why am I seeing ducks? And where the hell's Ezra? He looked around. The damnable fella wasn't there. Vin checked under the comforter that covered his lower body. Boxers. At least Ezra had made him comfortable before running out on him. Vin grimaced and slowly got off the bed, pausing to get his bearings, and using the bed's endboard to steady himself before walking out the door.

The main room was just like Vin remembered, elegant and muted and so cold frostbite formed on the walls. Everything was designed to impress an image of understated wealth, understated sophistication; understated everything. Nothing said Ezra like a blank slate and Vin knew that more than most. If he hadn't had sex with the man he wouldn't have known he could talk like a normal person. That was one of the reasons Vin liked fucking Ez; besides the fact he was a damn good lay, it made things a little more equal. Vin could actually understand more than every other word that came out of his mouth.

He hadn't been in Ezra's apartment much. It always reminded him of the foster homes he'd sometimes get placed in. The oddest people got it into their heads to take orphans in. As a child Vin had lived in trailers and even a mansion, before his wild ways got him sent back time and again. Most folk who took in kids didn't seem to know much about them, in Vin's experience.

He scratched behind his left ear and paused, pulling a small sticker carefully out of his long hair. Made in Taiwan. How in hell'd that get there? Vin shook his head bemusedly. Whatever had happened after he and Ezra had left work must have been some doings. Funny, he didn't remember much after he's taken that gunk Nathan'd forced on him. Nathan was like a brother to him, but Vin would be damned before he'd understand the man's notions about medicine.

A slight snore rose from the couch in front of Vin and, with a slight smile, he padded around the back of the sofa until he was faced with a seriously rumpled Ezra. The auburn-haired Southerner was stretched flat out on his back, sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his shirt collar open at the neck revealing the tops of Ezra's collar bone. Beautiful, whispered a voice inside Vin's head. Beautiful and yours. But that wasn't true, wasn't true at all.

Vin knelt down by the couch and watched Ezra sleep. The undercover agent's mouth hung slightly open, a hint of white teeth framed by pink lips that jutted out just enough to let Vin suck on them properly. He liked doing that. He liked doing other things too and Ezra usually let him. Vin never kidded himself about his own qualities. He wasn't that romantic and he wasn't that big on book learnin', but he was handsome. He'd been told he was by complete strangers since he was twelve. Handsome in a rough an' tumble way that made ya think of fucking and fighting and John Wayne but not hearts an' flowers.

Vin put the tip of his index finger on Ezra's chin and slid it around the bottom curve of lower lip. God, the man was sexy. He traced farther along Ezra's lips and stopped at the v-shaped indentation at the top. I wonder what that's called, he thought idly and allowed his finger to rest there for a moment. Ezra shifted restlessly on the couch and his body burrowed down into the cushions before Vin could move his finger. Vin froze, staring down at his hand before dragging his eyes upward to meet the carefully blank gaze of his teammate. Ezra had woken up to Vin's finger stuck up his nose.

This wasn't quite what Vin had planned.

"Good Morning, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said, a little nasally.

Ezra Standish, there is a finger up your left nostril.

In all the annals of his admittedly varied history, this was surely the first such occurrence to appear in his lifetime. As a child, a very young child, Ezra was prepared to admit to a certain ... incidence, a very brief incidence, of nosepicking in his past. Then, however, it had been his own finger, not the finger of a buffoonish lout completely deprived of the normal accouterments of decorum! "When one is greeted, Mr. Tanner," he said nasally. "One is expected to reply in kind."

Vin seemed to be distracted. "Huf?" He blinked. "Right. Hi."

"... Hi." Ezra inclined his body upwards. "Mr. Tanner?" The man seemed to be in a kind of stupor and why was he traipsing around Ezra's apartment shirtless? The uncouth -- Perhaps such thoughts could be entertained at another time. As his mother always said, when needs must, the practicalities first. Vin always seemed to care little for the proprieties.


"Get your finger out of my nasal passage."

"Right!" Vin shook himself out of his stupor and stood fluidly, moving back and smacking the backs of his calves against the coffee table.

Ezra sat up on his couch and discretely wiggled his nose. He glanced at the bronze and glass clock hanging on the wall behind Vin. Six o'clock; an entirely ungodly hour of the morning for a gentleman to arise. No wonder Vin was up.

Vin was also fidgeting like a recalcitrant schoolboy. Ezra turned his attention from the clock to his erst-while 'companion' and froze. Vin Tanner. Was wearing -- was standing in the middle of Ezra's living room. In boxers. You son of a bitch. Ezra swallowed. He stared at Vin, tracing the contours of his chest from the tips of his collarbone to the slight trail of light brown hair sinking below the elastic waistband of Vin' boxers. Gray, they were gray boxers. Tight gray boxers. Wowee.

Vin looked down at himself and up at Ezra. "What?" he asked defensively. Vin crossed his arms, tucking his hands into his armpits, and scowling. Ezra shook his head and stirred from the couch, standing and stretching to his full height. Through slit eyelids, Ezra saw Vin's mouth part, the tip of his tongue flicking across his lower lip. Ezra relaxed from his stretch. He refused to allow Vin to intrude any further on his morning routine. "Coffee, Mr. Tanner?" he asked. Ezra turned and walked into his kitchen, calling over his shoulder, "Your attire remains in the bedroom!"

Ezra spooned grounds into his coffee maker, added water, and began the machine's cycle. It would be some minutes before his coffee was ready. In the excitement of the previous night, Ezra had quite forgotten to prepare the machine for his morning constitutional. He took down two mugs from his cupboards and turned to set them on the table. Vin stood at the door of Ezra's kitchen, appearing hesitant to enter. Still in boxers. "I thought you bought coffee when you came in," Vin said.

Ezra carefully set down the mugs and raised a hand behind him to shut the cupboard door. "One can never imbibe too much caffeine, Mr. Tanner," he said.

"It'll stunt your growth," Vin said.

The cupboard shut with a loud bang. "I believe I am quite over my growth spurt, sir," Ezra said. "Perhaps your commentary would be better given to J.D." Ezra dragged one of the kitchen chairs backwards and sat down at the table. Vin joined him at the table, sliding into his chair like he owned the kitchen. "Your clothes, Mr. Tanner," Ezra reminded him.

"Yeah, thanks. How long 'till that coffee's ready?" Vin smiled, an eager smile at odds with the way his eyes squinted in the light of the kitchen. Ezra wanted to wipe the supercilious expression right off his doltish face. You are doing this deliberately, you -- you brigand! You...

Vin leaned over the table, face inclined towards Ezra's. "Ez? The coffee? Ez?"

My name is Ezra! Ezra! Why is this so difficult for you to wrap your brain around! I swear, how ever did you manage to function outside a controlled environment ... "It should be ready in a few minutes, Mr. Tanner," he said evenly. "You won't be kept waiting long." It was always better when the mark assumed the situation was firmly in his control. Why did the mark always have to be Vin?

"Yeah. Right. Thanks," Vin said. Vin really was giving him the most peculiar looks. Perhaps he was cold? It certainly couldn't be beneficial for his cold to be sitting on hard wooden chairs in Ezra's kitchen dressed, or undressed rather, in his underwear. The linoleum, he recalled, could be especially chilly in the mornings. Vin leaned back in his chair and he began rolling his mug from one hand to the other. "So ... how'd I get here last night? It was. Last night, right?"

Ezra's mouth twitched. "Yes, Mr. Tanner. You arrived here in the small hours of the morning under my care."

Vin set the mug down briefly, before picking it up once again. "How? I mean, this isn't, you're not ..."

"No, Mr. Tanner, I am not," Ezra said.

"Yeah," Vin said.

"However, when one is press-ganged by Nathan --"

"You were what?!"

"Volunteered, Mr. Tanner. I was volunteered as your nursemaid by our estimable Mr. Jackson." And suffered the consequences for such actions.

"I hope, I mean, I weren't much trouble? Vin asked. He leaned forward again as the mug shifted from his right hand to his left and back again. For a moment, Ezra was struck by the strange light that seemed to shine from Vin's eyes. Good Lord, Vin. You actually look like you mean that. Ezra opened his mouth and the coffee machine pinged, startling him enough that he jumped back into his seat. Ezra rose and turned to retrieve the coffee. He took the time while his back was to Vin to compose himself. Ezra poured the coffee, first into Vin's mug as manners dictated, and then into his own. "You molested me in a Rite Aid," Ezra said as he sat back down, the coffee pot set aside on the table on a mat. "Publicly."

Vin's eyes widened. "What?"

Ezra pointed a finger at Vin, sipping from his mug. "You, Mr. Tanner. Molested me. In a drug store."

"I didn't."

"You did."


"Yes." Ezra fought to keep a smile off his face. This was most amusing. He took another sip of coffee, taking the time to roll the beverage across his tongue, savoring the delicate undertones of brewing.

Vin, however, seemed determined to gulp his coffee down as quickly as humanly possible. He was beginning to look a little desperate. Ezra leaned closer. "I had not realized," Ezra said, "that you were musically inclined, as well as an admirable shot."

Strange, he hadn't known Vin could turn that particular shade of green /and/ red. "Yes," Ezra continued. "an amazingly varied concert, sir. I believe you even uncovered heretofore unknown musical combinations! The scales alone were a revelation!"

Vin buried his head in his hands.

"I believe the deflowering of that stand of rubber ducks was, perhaps, a scene for a different sort of audience, however," Ezra said.

"Oh my Lord," Vin groaned.

"Yes, it was quite the spectacle," Ezra said. "I'm sure we could retrieve the security tape if you required proof, of course --"

"No!" Vin's head raised quickly, eyes wide. He immediately winced and rubbed his temple. "No, I don't wanna see anything. Anything like that."

"Are you sure? It really wouldn't be --"

"Dammit Ez! I said I don't wanna see it!" Vin was beginning to look rather strained, rubbing his temples with both hands now.

Ezra felt his lips begin to purse and carefully smoothed his expression. He looked down at the table. "Ez-/ra/," he mumbled.

"What?" Vin focused his red-rimmed eyes on Ezra's face.

"Nothing," Ezra said.

"Oh just say it for once. I'm tireda you mutterin' all the time." Vin was looking remarkably tired. He drained his cup and poured himself another coffee while Ezra watched in silence.

Ezra inhaled deeply. He smelled the familiar lemon scent the cleaner used in his kitchen and the aroma of properly made coffee and. Something. Something new. He wasn't entirely sure where it came from. Had he left a window open last night? There was no breeze that he was aware of.

"Ez?" Vin brought him back to himself with a strange shiver.

"Ezra," he said.

"Huh?" Vin looked confused.

"My name. Is Ezra."

"Yeah, I know," Vin said. Vin sat back and cupped his mug against his chest.

"It's not 'Ez' Mr. Tanner, " Ezra said.

"And it ain't 'Mr. Tanner,' Ezra," Vin said.

" ... I see. Vin." Ezra coughed faintly. Perhaps caffeine is slightly debilitory. He felt oddly shaken.

Vin set his coffee mug down on the table and sucked air through his teeth. "How come you didn't take me back to my place?" he asked.

"The hour was late, Mr... Vin. I felt it better to take you to my abode rather than your own." Ezra took a sip of coffee.

"Don't see the inside of this place much," Vin said.

"I often value my privacy, Vin." Ezra put his mug down on the table.

"Yeah," Vin said. "You don't use the phone much neither."

"I beg your pardon?" As far as he knew his phone habits were neither stingy nor excessive.

"I mean. I don't hear from you. Much," Vin said.

"I ... am not always certain of your availability," Ezra said.

"Well, I ain't always so sure of yours." Vin sat straight in his chair. His eyebrows drew together.

"Yet you certainly never fail to call me whenever you wish!"

"What on --!"

"Don't you dare --!" Ezra half-rose out of his chair.

"Enough!" Vin shouted hoarsely. "Enough." Vin sat slumped in his chair and sighed. He rubbed his eyes. "Maybe you could start callin' me," Vin said.

Ezra's lips thinned as he sat down slowly. The insufferable /bastard/ to presume -- to /presume/ --

"Maybe ..." Vin continued, looking down at his coffee. "Maybe ..." Vin's hand reached across the kitchen table. His fingers cautiously settled atop Ezra's own. "Maybe we could start callin' each other."

Ezra looked down at Vin's hand. Vin's callused fingertips began to shake. Ezra spread his fingers slightly, allowing Vin's fingers to fall into the spaces between. He held Vin's fingers in place.

"Maybe," Ezra said.

Please send feedback to E.L.
Story posted to A Gambler's Lust, The Magnificent Two