Notes: This is a continuation of my "Fields of Need" series.
Definition: Blind: noun. Something that obstructs vision. A structure in which hunters conceal themselves..
Fields of Need: Building the Blind
Part 1 (encompassing emailed parts 1-4)
Ezra awoke slowly. Lying still, he sighed happily.
Vin was plastered against his back, one arm wrapped tightly around his waist, one leg thrown over both of his.
Smiling he leaned his head back slightly, rubbing it against Vin's chin. He felt Vin come awake, his grip on Ezra tightening slightly.
"Mornin', Babe," Vin murmured.
Ezra wiggled around to face him, "Mornin' to you too." He smiled as Vin moved in to claim a kiss.
They lay there for a long few minutes, happily exchanging kisses and cuddling.
Two weeks... sixteen days actually, since they had become a couple, a real couple, committed to each other and their couplehood as Ezra had dubbed it.
That first night had been heaven. Their first night together as a real couple. No more just consoling each other because Chris Larabee was a blind jackass who couldn't see the love and devotion that they had both felt for him. That was behind them.
After Chris had married Mary Travis, he and Vin had committed to building a life together.
For the first time they had really made love, not simply had sex, using each other as a substitute for the man they both wanted. That night and every night since, it had been his name that Vin shouted when he came and Vin's name that he had moaned in ecstasy.
He snuggled closer to Vin, feeling happy, satisfied and content.
Vin pressed one last kiss to his forehead then said, "Time I was up, babe. You know I can't lie around."
"Ah know," Ezra mumbled back, his accent heavy as he began to drift back to sleep.
Vin pulled him closer and held on tightly for a moment.
Ezra's eyes opened again. Damn! Today was the day that Chris Larabee would return to work from his honeymoon. Vin was upset, scared most likely. He slipped his arms around Vin and hugged him gently. "Vin, do you want me to go in with you?"
Vin took a deep breath and held on a minute longer. "Best not. We agreed to keep our separate schedules. Somebody'd be sure to notice."
"To hell with what people think, Vin, if you need me with you...." He left the rest unsaid, that he would always be there.
"I'll be all right, Ez." He pressed a last kiss to Ezra forehead. "Just give me a few more minutes."
"As long as you need," Ezra promised. Feeling Vin settle back into his arms, he stroked down the other man's back in long soothing caresses.
After a few minutes Vin sighed and pulled away. "Thanks, Ez. Love ya." He murmured before rolling to his feet and striding to the bathroom.
He didn't hear Ezra's whispered, "Love you, Vin."
Ezra lay awake with his eyes closed listening to Vin get ready for work.
The last two weeks had been wonderful, as if they were living in a dream world, cut off and protected from reality. They had wrapped themselves up in each other and in their plans for the future.
They had slept together every night, awakened in each other's arms every morning. They had shared long lunches at work as they laid the groundwork to setting up their cover for living together. Realtor's brochures were scattered around Ezra's desk and Chris' desk, which Vin was using as Acting Team Leader. They discussed houses and what it would take to repair them and how much they could be sold for when they had been remodeled, making sure the others overheard. They had explained about deciding to go into business together, buying remodeling and re-selling old houses. A hobby, they had said, which could be quite profitable.
Evenings after work and weekends were spent looking at houses. Josiah, Buck and JD had accompanied them several times to look at places. Even Nathan had come along once, listening to Vin's suggestions of what could be done with a particular house and looking over Ezra's shoulder in surprise at the sketches he did, bringing those suggestions to life.
They had however kept to their individual schedules at work. Vin went in early. Ezra still came in late. They made certain that Vin's jeep was always parked in the garage and the garage door closed, if he didn't take a cab from Purgatorio.
Now, today, reality would come crashing back into the dream.
Chris was back.
Vin would be at the office alone with him until the others arrived. The two of them were always the first ones in.
Ezra forced himself to lie still, feigning sleep when Vin leaned over him to brush a gentle goodbye kiss across his forehead.
When he heard the front door close he rolled over and covered his head with the pillow, swearing into his feather mattress as visions of Chris and Vin alone together in the office tormented him.
He tried to push them away by reminding himself that Vin had promised that he wouldn't abandon him if Chris decided that he wanted Vin, but it didn't help. He *knew* how much Vin loved Chris.
He didn't stand a chance.
With a curse he slung the pillow across the room and climbed out of the bed.
There was no way that he could go back to sleep.
He went into the bathroom and bathed, the smell of Vin's shampoo and soap tantalizing him. He almost reached for it instead of his own but stopped himself. Someone was bound to notice if he used Vin's things.
On the other hand... maybe... maybe he should use Vin's... a subtle staking of a claim. Most people didn't notice smell that much, but Vin would.
He leaned against the shower wall thinking about it, then with a determined smile reached for the bottle of herbal shampoo that Vin used.
Afterwards he dressed carefully. He might not stand a chance if Chris decided that he wanted Vin but he wasn't giving up without a fight.
The jade-green, hand-knitted angora sweater, under a forest-green suit jacket with matching pants. He slipped into his best black leather Italian loafers, polished to a high sheen. He put on the solid gold wristwatch, slipped the plain gold wedding band that he sometimes wore undercover on his left hand and a simple signet ring set with jade, half-white/half-green carved into the yin/yang symbol, the dots two tiny diamond chips, on the right.
He regarded himself in the mirror. A slow sensuous smile curved his lips.
Heads would turn.
He strolled out of the bedroom and smiled at the sight that greeted him in his living room. The others wouldn't know the place.
A drawing board with a drafting machine attached sat at an angle in one corner. The walls on both sides covered with photographs and sketches of the houses he and Vin had looked at over the last two weeks.
They had narrowed it down to three possibilities. The one that they wanted was a huge old stone house. They were trying not to seem too eager, hoping to bring the price down. It was more than they wanted to pay for a house that they planned to remodel and sale.
The problem was Ezra wasn't certain that he'd be *able* to part with it if they did buy and remodel it. It was simply too perfect. All that remained of one of the oldest estates in Denver, it was just twelve blocks from Purgatorio. Vin would be able to continue his volunteer work at the Youth Center and with the Sisters of Mercy without having to drive too far. His friends could even walk the distance to visit if they chose. It was just fifteen blocks to work in the opposite direction. Add the fact that it had nearly five acres of land, shielded from the surrounding houses by trees and it was like a piece of the country in the city.
It even had a barn, albeit in disrepair, but a barn none the less, where they could keep their horses. Which was one more thing that could reduce the amount of time that they habitually spent at Mister Larabee's ranch.
In Ezra's opinion anything that reduced the amount of time that he and Vin spent at Larabee's was a good thing. He knew he was being irrational about this. He knew that Vin had promised that he wouldn't leave him for Larabee. He knew that Larabee was married, supposedly happily so. But he just couldn't help it.
Chris was back and, irrational as it might be, he was terrified that Vin would leave him for the other man.
He went into the kitchen and fixed himself a cup of coffee, forcing himself to wait until his usual time to leave for work.
Briefcase in one hand, paper folded under his arm, Starbuck's Mocha-Mint Deluxe Cappuccino in the other hand, Ezra Standish casually sauntered through the lobby of the Federal Building, through security and into the elevator, apparently unaware of the admiring glances that he garnered along the way.
He stepped out of the elevator and strolled down the hallway to Team Seven's offices, secretly pleased as heads turned in his wake.
He entered the offices, crossed to his and Vin's desks and set his briefcase, paper and Cappuccino down on the desk. With a graceful shrug he let his jacket slide off his shoulders and down his arms, catching it and carefully hanging it on the padded coat hanger that he had brought in just for that purpose then hanging the hanger back on the coatrack, with precise and elegant movements.
Nathan, Josiah and Buck were all watching him with curious looks on their faces. JD was absorbed in his computer screen.
Ezra bent over slightly, and flipped the clasps on his briefcase, taking out his files and laying them on the desk. He bent farther to set the briefcase on the floor under the desk.
Vin stepped out of Chris' office with a sigh. He was both relieved that Chris was back and he could give up the Acting Team Leader's position and upset because Chris was back but now he was married to Mary. He looked up just in time to see Ezra bend over to slip the briefcase under his desk.
His cock jumped to attention. Goddamnit! Was the man trying to give him a heart attack? The forest green pants of the silk suit were pulled tight across his lover's perfect buttocks.
As he straighten, Vin could see that he had on the jade green sweater, the soft fuzzy one that felt so wonderful when he touched it. What was Ezra thinking coming to work dressed like that? It was enough to make a man want to toss him over a desk and fuck him right there.
Then he noticed the other men looking at Ezra. And just what the hell did they think they were looking at? Ezra was his dammit!
He stalked towards his oblivious lover.
Grabbing Ezra's wrist, he started hauling him towards the conference room.
"Mister Tanner!" Ezra's indignant cry drifted back to the other men, "What is the meaning of this outrage?"
Vin shoved him into the conference room, slammed the door behind them and spun to pin Ezra to the door, bending down to devour his mouth.
Ezra remained tense for a moment then relaxed, opening his mouth to Vin's plundering tongue. When the need for air forced them apart, Vin rested his chin on the top of Ezra's head, breathing deeply. He frowned. "You used my shampoo?"
Ezra seemed to shrink away a bit before murmuring, "Uh... yes."
Vin took another deep breath. "I like that. My scent. Marks you as mine."
Ezra relaxed again.
Back in the office, Josiah gave a slight nod of his head. "Well, now. That explains that."
JD looked up from his computer, "Huh?"
Nathan looked across at his partner, "That explains what?"
Buck was grinning. "Everything, Pard, everything," he answered for Josiah, giving the big man a wink.
And it did explain everything, at least to him. This sudden urge the two men had to remodel an old house. Ha! Damn house probably wouldn't ever get finished... and if it did, by the time it did everybody would be so used to the two to them living together that no one would question it if they just conveniently forgot to sell the house and move on. Had to be Ezra's idea. Their undercover agent was as sly as a fox.
As for why Ezra felt the need to practically seduce Vin in the office this morning. Chris was back... and while his oldest friend might have been blind as a bat to the two men pining over him, Buck hadn't been. He'd seen the looks, the desire in them both. He'd even guessed that they were consoling each other.
Apparently Chris' marriage had changed that consoling into something else and Ezra was just insecure enough to feel threatened by Chris' mere presence. Therefore he waltzed into the office dressed to kill and it had worked too. Vin was definitely distracted from any thought of Chris. Hell! If Buck was any judge, and when it came to sex he was, Vin was jumping Ezra's bones in the conference room right now.
Maybe he ought to go distract Chris, give them a few minutes.
Rising he made his way to Chris' office.
As soon as he closed the door Chris looked up. "Thought I saw Ezra come in."
"I need to talk to him about the Thompson case."
"Well, now Vin grabbed him soon as he got in. Reckon they'll be a few minutes."
Chris sat back in his chair. He wasn't certain what was going on, but he'd give them a few minutes. Vin had been in charge while he was gone. Maybe he wanted to talk to Ezra before Chris did. He picked up a realtor's brochure off his desk and tossed it to Buck. "What's all this? Vin musta carried a whole box of these out of here this morning."
"Well now, seems Vin and Ezra have decided to go into business together. Sort of a hobby that might turn a profit. Vin likes fixing up old houses and it seems Ezra has an eye for design. Would you believe the man can draw? I saw some of the sketches. Damn good." Buck rambled on for quite a while until a soft knock came at the door.
Ezra stuck his head in, "Did you wish to see me, Mister Larabee?"
Chris nodded and Buck stood up to leave. As he passed Ezra he patted the other man's shoulder and leaned into whisper. "Way to go, Pard."
Ezra looked after him with raised eyebrows unsure of what he meant, then shook his head and took a seat. Leaning back, he cocked his head and smiled at Chris, unaware that his hair was slightly mussed and his lips slightly swollen from Vin's kisses. They really hadn't done anything but he felt buzzed, turned on. He didn't realize that he was giving off pheromones or that his unconscious body language was sending out signals.
Chris looked up and felt his throat tighten. Good Lord! The man looked like he'd just been ravished or more to the point like someone had turned him on and forgotten to turn him off. He veritably glowed. Chris had always known Ezra Standish was attractive. He used that when he sent Ezra undercover. The man had an innate sexuality that attracted men as well as women but Chris had never really felt that attraction. Until now.
He swallowed hard. Damn. Ezra had just come from talking to Vin. Talking? A little voice inquired. Do you really think that they were talking?
He knew Vin was bisexual. The man had told him straight off when he'd joined the team, wanting his boss to know in case it ever became and issue.
He forced his mind away from that and managed to say, "The Thompson case... where are we on that?"
"The buy is set for tomorrow. They haven't stated a place yet. I suspect the warehouse that he used for the initial meeting. He's asking two million for the weapons and he claims to have everything that I asked for, which would tend to indicate that he was involved in the Armory heist or that he has obtained some of the weapons from it."
"Good. Any idea how many men he will have at the buy?"
They discussed the case for quite some time then Ezra rose to go.
He turned back to see Chris holding out a realtor's brochure. "Vin left this in here. Want to give it back to him?"
Ezra looked down at it then smiled, "We've eliminated all the houses this particular realtor had to offer. Just throw it away if you don't mind."
"Sure." Chris tossed the brochure in the waste can beside his desk. "Let me know the minute that Thompson calls."
"Yes, sir." Ezra gratefully fled the room. He returned to the bullpen to discover that everyone else except Vin was gone.
As soon as he reappeared, Vin grabbed his arm. "Let's go to lunch."
Ezra looked up at the clock. "Is it that time all ready?"
"Yeah. It is." Vin practically dragged him out of the office.
They were late leaving and had the elevator to themselves, a fact that Vin took full advantage of, pulling Ezra to him and kissing him passionately.
When he broke the kiss, Ezra asked, "Where are we going?"
"Your place." Vin kissed him again, tugging the sweater out of his pants and running his hands under it. "I'm having you for lunch."
Ezra moaned in pleasure as the hands slid into his pants. "Good Lord!" he gasped, "Vin get a hold of yourself. Someone will see us." He shoved Vin away as the elevator dinged to announce its arrival at the garage.
Vin stepped back but grinned at his disheveled lover.
Ezra quickly straightened his clothes and fished for his car keys.
Vin grabbed them from him and announced, "I'm driving."
Ezra didn't argue. It was a moot point. If he tried to drive, Vin would be all over him and they'd probably wreck the Jag. At least with Vin driving both his hands would be occupied between the steering wheel and the gearshift.
Then again, maybe not. He shivered in anticipation when, as soon as they were out in traffic, Vin moved his hand from the gearshift to Ezra's knee.
He barely had time to click the close button on the garage door opener before Vin was out of the driver's side door, around the back of the Jag and pulling him out of the passenger's side door.
The sharpshooter pushed him up the steps to the door into the back hall beside the utility room, reaching around him to fumble blindly and one-handedly to punch in the combination to the lock on the steel door, (a safety feature that Larabee had insisted on after the last time Ezra was attacked in his own home) while continuing to work his way under Ezra's sweater with the other hand, simultaneously kissing him breathless. Somehow he managed to get the combination right and they were through the door and Ezra was being waltzed backwards through the short hall to the kitchen, losing his sweater somewhere along the way as Vin continued his assault.
His shoes were kicked off at the archway between the kitchen and the dining room. His pants and silk boxers were discarded on the livingroom floor, then he was being pushed down on the buttery soft white leather couch while Vin drove him completely insane, kissing, nipping and licking his way down Ezra's body to his cock, taking it in his mouth, sucking hungrily, while he fumbled in the couch cushions seeking a half-remembered tube of lube.
Then Vin was rearing back, kneeling between Ezra's widely spread thighs, grabbing for his wallet, digging a condom out and letting the wallet fall to the floor forgotten as he tore open his pants and rolled it on. He grabbed the lube and smeared it on his condom covered cock then quickly coated his fingers and slipped one into Ezra's tight channel.
Ezra moaned. "Oh, yes! Oh, god yes!" His head rolled to the side as Vin added another finger then a third. His glazed vision landed on the picture window, the open curtains, the raised blinds.... "Oh, god!" but Vin was pushing into him now and he could barely remember, let alone remember to *care* that they were doing it on the couch in full view of the world.
He reached up to pull Vin closer, no longer caring about anything except the feeling of having Vin fill him, take him, possess him. One leg, lay on the back of the couch, the other wrapped around Vin's waist, pulling him closer. He whimpered and cried out. "Harder! Deeper! Oh, God! Vin! Please!"
And Vin gave him what he needed, pounding into him, nipping and sucking on his neck and earlobes mumbling incoherently. "Mine! Nobody else's. Ever!"
Then they were soaring up and over that pinnacle, shouting each other's names as they came then spiraling down into dizzying darkness.
He came back to consciousness slowly, pinned to the couch by the limp weight of Vin lying atop him. He nudged the other man and got a grunt in reply.
He turned his head and saw the window and froze. Oh, Shit!
"Vin!" He pushed at the other man. "Wake up! We have to move!"
Vin roused, enough to nuzzle his neck and mumble sleepily, "'ey, babe."
"Vin." Ezra tried again, then sighed, "Mister Tanner!" He snapped.
"What?" Vin asked, raising up slightly.
"We need to move." He said firmly then at Vin's puzzled look he took Vin's chin in his hand and turned his head so that he could see the window.
For a long moment Vin was silent then he said, "Oh..." He blinked then it seemed to register that the curtains and blinds were open, "Oh, shit!" He dropped his head to rest his forehead on Ezra's chest. "I'm sorry, babe. You just looked so good... I couldn't help myself."
Ezra sighed. "It's all right Vin. I didn't really try very hard to stop you, either. But we really should move."
"Yeah." Vin sighed and slowly rose off him, gently pulling his cock free of Ezra's body. He bent to brush a kiss across Ezra's lips as Ezra followed him up.
They retreated to the bedroom, where Ezra headed for the bathroom only to have Vin pull him back and push him onto the bed.
"Vin, we need to get back to the office."
"Long lunch," Vin declared. "Just need to hold you a little bit, Ez," he added softly.
Ezra sighed. It wasn't as if he could deny Vin and he wanted to be held anyway, to bask just a little bit in the memory of their intense lovemaking, in the reassurance that Vin did want him. Vin pulled the comforter that was folded at the foot of the bed up to cover them and Ezra settled into Vin's arms. Both men were asleep in minutes.
Vin awoke sometime later and lifted his head from the bed. He thought he heard something. After a minute he identified it. One of their cell phones was ringing. Scrambling off the bed he staggered sleepily towards the sound. It took him a minute to find it. It was Ezra's, in the pocket of his pants laying on the living room floor.
He managed to get it out and opened but it had stopped ringing. He stared at it for a moment then headed back to the bedroom.
"Ez!" He called to his lover, who was sitting up on the bed looking around. "Somebody called." He held out the cellphone.
"Shit!" Ezra swore softly, "Thompson is the only one with this number." He threw back the covers and stood grabbing for the phone. He pushed some buttons then gave a curt nod, turning his back to Vin.
A moment later he spoke into the phone, "Mister Thompson, my apologies for not answering a moment ago. I was... occupied." His voice was smooth as silk, not giving away a hint that he was standing naked in his bedroom with Vin's come seeping out of him.
"An hour? Very well. Where shall I meet you?"
He looked around and frowned. "I see. However, I am not at home at the moment. Could we make it an hour and a half? That would give me time to get there. You do remember where it is?" He paused. "Yes," he said then repeated the house number of the safe house they were using as his residence for this case. "I'll be there."
He turned back to Vin. "I have to get cleaned up. Call Chris. Tell him to have JD get over here ASAP with a wire. The buy's going down now."
"Shit!" Vin swore and grabbed the bedside phone to call in.
Chris Larabee looked at the clock again. It was almost two and his undercover agent and sharpshooter weren't back from lunch. He stalked out into the bullpen.
Buck looked up. "They're probably looking at houses and forgot the time. Developed a real habit of that the last week or so." He tried to head off the explosion.
"Well, Tanner's not in charge any more. Soon as they get here, I want to see them."
He had just turned to go back into the office when the phone rang.
JD grabbed it. "Dunne. Yeah, sure Vin, he's right here."
Chris grabbed the phone. "Where the hell are you?" He snapped then there was a pause. "What? Shit! Hang on while I put you on the speakerphone."
A moment later Vin's voice came out of the speaker. "Thompson called. The buy's going down now. Ez needs JD to meet him at the townhouse with a wire. Thompson's man is gonna be at the safe house in an hour and a half to pick us up."
"Where is the buy going down." Chris demanded.
"I'm not sure. Ez hasn't told me.... Hang on." There was fumbling noise then Vin called out. "Ez! Chris wants to talk to you."
Mumbled cursing came over the line then Ezra's voice snapped. "We'll need a surveillance team at the safe house. You'd best have JD bring a couple of tracking devices too. Mister Thompson is being quite paranoid. He did not tell me where we would be going."
"That's gonna to make it damned hard to cover you!" Buck put in.
"I am aware of that, Mister Wilmington, but it can't be helped. If we want the bust we have to do it Thompson's way."
"I don't like this, Ezra." Chris snapped.
"Neither do I, but Mister Tanner and I have worked too hard on this to let it slip away because Thompson is being paranoid!"
It was a good thing that Chris couldn't see Ezra standing in the bedroom, dripping from his shower.
Vin wasn't so lucky. He reached for the dripping man.
A firm hand in the middle of his chest and an annoyed look from Ezra as he mouthed, "Go get cleaned up!" stopped him.
Turning away, with more strength of will than he knew he had, he stalked into the bathroom to wash off. By the time he returned, Ezra was off the phone, dried off and half dressed. He had left his shirt open for JD to attach the wire and his jacket and tie were tossed over his arm. He looked Vin up and down then nodded. In the two weeks that Vin had been Acting Team Leader he had begun dressing a lot sharper with Ezra's help. He still had his own and different style but he looked extremely good. He had on dark indigo jeans, with a crisp pleat, a matching jacket, a raw silk shirt in turquoise that brought out his eyes, a bolo tie with a turquoise stone and ostrich skin boots.
"That's a bit dressier than Victor Tyler usually wears but hopefully no one will ask about it. We have about fifteen minutes before JD will be here with the wire. We should then just have time to get to the safe house in time for Thompson's man to pick us up. Mister Larabee is bringing the money."
He motioned Vin to exit the bedroom first and closed the door firmly behind them. He sniffed the air in the livingroom and grabbed a can of air freshener, spraying it around hoping to remove the scent of sex from the room. He got a rag from the kitchen and quickly sprayed the couch with leather cleaner and wiped it down.
When JD arrived he was sitting quietly on the couch while Vin paced.
Chris Larabee was not a happy man. He didn't like not knowing what was going on. He hadn't even finished reading the reports on what had been happening with the Thompson case and now the timetable had been moved up. Two of his men were going into danger and there was something going on between them that he had not known about and wasn't sure he wanted to know about.
He'd been gone two weeks on his honeymoon and come home to feel like he'd stepped through the looking glass. His normally cool, reserved undercover agent had waltzed into the office, dressed to kill, giving off, 'I'm too sexy for my clothes' vibes to everything that moved, including him. His normally taciturn sharpshooter had babbled endlessly about houses and remodeling and Ezra, Ezra, and more Ezra. Then they had disappeared together for a two-hour lunch. The two of them were obviously having some sort of an affair.
His oldest friend was running interference for them with him. Josiah was looking like the proud father of the bride. While Nathan and JD appeared oblivious, except for being caught up in the house hunting game with the rest of the bunch.
Maybe Mary was right. Maybe he should step up to the AD's chair when Orrin retired. The whole damned lot of them were stark raving mad.
He sat back down in the back of the swaying surveillance van. They were following Thompson's man, who had picked Vin and Ezra up at the safe house twenty minutes before. JD was tracking them with the devices that he had put on the two AFT agents. Ezra had one in his shoe and one in his jacket lapel. Vin had one in his boot and another in his wristwatch. They were both wired as well. Unfortunately no one seemed inclined to say anything. The only way that they knew the wires were working was that Vin or Ezra would occasionally make a comment just to assure them that the wires were working.
Teams Three and Five were on back up duty, each in a separate van, shadowing the surveillance van on parallel streets following the softly voice directions that Josiah was feeding them as he drove the van following JD's instructions as he followed the blip on the screen.
It was nuts. He never should have allowed them to do it. He should have told Ezra to call Thompson back and cancel the meet... but then they would have lost him for sure. The dance had gone on for too long. If they pulled back now, Thompson would find another buyer and all those weapons, including three hand-held rocket launchers from the armory heist would hit the streets.
He sighed and banged his head against the side of the van. He hadn't really had a choice but he damned well didn't have to like it. Wherever they wound up he wouldn't be able to get a man inside. They would have to surround the outside and pray that nothing went wrong inside.
He leaned forwards and buried his head in his hands. Yeah, right. Vin and Ezra would be inside. What could possibly go wrong? Anything. Everything. The fucking impossible. Leave it to Vin and Ezra. They could find trouble in a church choir. The fools, the crazy, beautiful fools. Just a couple of overgrown boys. His boys.
"Please, God, keep them safe," he whispered.
"Nice scenery." Vin's mutter came through the headphones.
JD adjusted the volume and checked the tracer again. "We're leaving the city, Chris," he informed his boss.
Larabee growled, "Where the hell are they going? Does Thompson have anything up here?"
"He's a member of a hunting club up in the mountains." Buck said, flipping through the info sheets they had on the gunrunner.
"Shit! How are we going to follow them if they go onto a private hunting preserve?" Chris snarled. "What else is up there?"
"Small air field." Josiah called back from the driver's seat. He was familiar with practically every place a small plane could put down in the Denver area, as he was a pilot. "Could be going there if they had the goods flown in."
"What's it like?"
"Like any airfield. Lots of open space, a few buildings, a tower and a hanger. No cover. No way to get close unseen." Josiah said with a sigh. "If we knew for certain that that is where they're going we could circle and get in position. There is another road up there...."
"Have Team Three do it. Give them the directions, Josiah." Chris ordered.
"But if it's not the right place...." Buck protested.
"Then we still have Team Five for back up... but if it is where they are going we need to have someone there ahead of them." Chris snapped. "We can't follow them in. It'll blow Vin and Ezra's cover. If they chose the airfield, we'll have to hang back and be back up for Team Three. If they go to the hunting club there will still be two teams to take them down."
Buck subsided but he clearly didn't like it. JD stayed glued to his monitors. Nathan began checking his medical supplies.
Half an hour later the car turned onto the airfield access road and Chris both breathed a sigh of relief and swore softly. He was glad that he had taken the chance and put Team Three in position at the airfield but he hated not being able to be on the scene, himself.
Josiah pulled over and stopped beside the road, getting out and raising the hood as if the van had engine trouble. Team Five pulled in behind them.
Chris changed channels on his headset so that he could listen in on Team Three's communications, while signaling JD to put the link from Vin and Ezra's wires on the speaker so that he could hear both.
God! Could there be anything worse than having to sit in the van parked beside the road, half a mile from the airfield, listening and helpless to actually do anything, having to depend on someone else to keep his boys safe?
He soon found out there could be.
Everything was going well. Ezra was smooth as silk as always. Thompson sounded pleased to do business with him and completely unaware that he was dealing with the ATF. A case had been opened, Vin had examined the guns and declared them to be as advertised.
Ezra had asked about the rocket launchers and they had been walked over to another crate and from the sounds one of Thompson's men was prying the top off when Vin's voice came through the wire in a harshly whispered, "No! Don't shoot!"
Then all hell broke loose. Gunshots rang out, accompanied by shouts and screams.
Josiah, listening through his headset as he pretended to work under the hood of the van, slammed it shut and ran for the driver's door, yanking it open and plowing into the driver's seat only to find himself colliding with Larabee who had charged forwards to start the van himself. The smaller man bounced off the big profiler and ended up sprawled sideways in the passenger seat as Josiah cranked the van and slung gravel as he tore up the road towards the airfield.
Larabee straightened himself up in the seat and yelled into his headset. "What's happening? Hamilton! What the hell is going on?" He demanded of Team Three's leader.
Mark Hamilton had sent his men in as soon as the first shot was fired but he wasn't answering Larabee. From the sounds coming over the headsets, several of Hamilton men were being sick.
That and the lack of response from the team leader had Chris swearing and pounding his fist on the dash as Josiah careened towards the airfield. Moments later the van screeched to a sliding stop just short of the hanger where several of Hamilton's men were kneeling on the ground puking. Two others holding handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses with one hand and pointing their guns with the other stood over Thompson and his bodyguard who were puking their guts up on the tarmac.
Chris was out of the van and into the hanger before anyone could stop him. He took a deep breath to yell Vin and Ezra's names then froze, a gagging cough stopping him with his mouth open. Spinning around he staggered back out into the open and fell to his knees, puking. His eyes watering and tears running down his face.
Buck who had been several steps behind him stopped before he got to the hanger as the smell registered with him.
Skunk. Pure unadulterated skunk. Fresh and coming boiling out of the hanger.
He grabbed a handkerchief and covered his mouth and nose as his eyes watered.
Several more men staggered out of the building and like the ATF agents fell to the ground puking helplessly. None of them were Vin or Ezra.
Buck grabbed Chris up and hauled him back away from the confined, concentrated smell of skunk.
Nathan jumped out of the back of the van, a wet handkerchief tied over his face, looking like an old west bandit. "Everybody get up wind!" He shouted, then turning to Hamilton and his men demanded, "Anybody got a gas mask?"
Several men staggered to their feet and looked around trying to determine what the hell was upwind.
Josiah pointed to the windsock on the top of the small tower and started herding anyone that he could towards the back of the hanger.
Team Five's van pulled up just then and Josiah told them to circle around behind the hanger.
Someone produced a gas mask from somewhere, Nathan didn't bother asking where, just grabbed it, put it on and headed into the hanger. Vin and Ezra were both allergic to tear-gas. He didn't even want to think about how they would react to skunk... especially Ezra who was severely allergic to the tear-gas. A skunk blast was a hell of a lot more intense than tear-gas.
The big medic swore softly but continuously as he plowed through the hanger looking for the missing agents and not finding any sign of them. He did however find the bodies of four bullet-ridden skunks. Now he understood Vin's desperate yell just before everything went to hell. If the idiot that had opened fire had just stayed quiet and still the skunks would have most likely just ambled off.
The banging of a door drew his attention to a side door not far from the cases holding the rocket launchers. He turned his steps that way.
Vin would have tried to get them out of there when the shooting started.
The door opened under a shed and the sound of violent retching led him straight to them.
Vin was on his knees, obviously having already been sick and over the worst of it. He was holding on to Ezra who, although he no longer had anything in his stomach to throw up was still retching uncontrollably in spite of being practically unconscious.
Neither of them seemed even aware that Ezra's right sleeve was soaked with blood where he had apparently caught a stray bullet.
Yanking off the gas mask Nathan fell to his knees beside them and yelled into his headset. "Officer down! We need MediVac!"
Several hours later, six men sat in various places around a room in Four Corner's Mercy Hospital. The seventh lay on the bed, sedated. The bullet wound had been just a scratch. The doctors had simply stitched and bandaged it, but they had sedated Ezra, as it was the only way to stop his retching. He was attached to a heart monitor and had an IV of saline to keep him from becoming too dehydrated.
Vin had refused to be admitted but sat in the chair next to Ezra's bed, holding one limp hand in both of his and staring blankly at the face of the man he both knew intimately and barely knew at all.
He lay his head down next to their joined hands and thought back to the first time he had awakened in Ezra's condo.
He'd been drunk. Blind, stinking, drunk.
He's awakened in a strange place, violently ill. Rolling off the surface he'd found himself on he'd landed on his hands and knees and puked. When he finished he'd sat back, leaning against whatever he had been laying on.
"Where am I?" He'd slurred.
"In my condo," a very familiar and highly annoyed southern drawl had answered.
"What'm I doin' 'ere?"
"Puking on my carpet... my white carpet!" The voice was even more annoyed if possible. "This is the thanks I get for saving your inebriated ass!"
He'd tilted his head back to gaze drunkenly up at Ezra, "Don't recall askin' ya ta sav' me."
"Ungrateful as well." Ezra had snapped.
"So, what'd ya sav' me from."
"Who, not what. McKindley. Frank 'The headhunter' McKindley from IA." Ezra informed him.
"Didn't see him." Vin declared.
"I can believe that. As drunk as you were you undoubtedly thought he was Mister Larabee, finally come to take you home from that horrid gay bar you were cavorting in."
"What!?" Vin yelled then grabbed his head as it attempted to explode.
"You were making a beeline for Mister McKindley. Tall, blond, dressed in dark clothing...."
"I. Did. Not. See. Him." Vin ground out slowly.
"And fortunately I don't think he saw you. I am however quite sure he was looking for you... as that deathtrap you call a vehicle was parked on the street in the middle of the district."
Ezra marched over to Vin and thrust out a hand opening it to reveal several aspirin. He had a glass of water in the other hand.
"Take these," He ordered before returning to his diatribe. "Whatever possessed you to drive your own vehicle to a gay bar not ten blocks from your home, leave it parked on the street in plain sight, taking no precautions whatsoever to keep it or yourself from being recognized? Were you *trying* to get outted by IA and tossed off of the team? Do you think that would bring you closer to your goal of seducing Mister Larabee."
"I ain't interested in Chris that way." Vin mumbled.
"Bullshit. Your infatuation is so obvious that it is pitiful. How the man can possibly be blind to it is an absolute mystery to me."
Ezra bent over, grabbed Vin under the arms and hauled him back up on the couch. He shoved a wastebasket into the sharpshooter's hands. "Try to hit this the next time you feel the need to practice your projectile vomiting."
He then opened the doors to the patio and set a fan up to remove the smell of the vomit as much as possible then began cleaning up the worst of it from his carpet, muttering darkly as he did so. "My cleaning service is going to charge me extra for this. I'll have to call them and schedule a special cleaning. I ought to make you pay for it!"
"Write ya a check." Vin muttered.
"And what good will it be?" Ezra demanded angrily.
"I got money."
"You've got money? No one would ever guess."
"Yeah, well I don't spend it less I have ta. Gotta have somethin' ta fall back on." He leaned his head back against the soft leather of the couch. Damn but the couch was comfortable.
"So, how much?" Ezra asked.
"How much what?" Vin asked.
"Money, Mister Tanner. How much money do you have? Enough to pay to have my carpet cleaned? Enough to reimburse me for the hundred and fifteen dollars in cover charges I racked up looking for you after I spotted McKindley and slipped out of the bar I was in and saw that junk pile of yours parked on the street? How much money do you have?"
"Reckon it's enough. Couple of hundred thousand in my money market account. 'Bout fifty in the savings. Maybe twenty thou in my checking."
Ezra was silent.
Vin cracked an eye to look up at him.
The undercover agent was staring at him with his mouth open. "A couple of hundred *thousand* dollars? Mister Tanner, did you say a couple of hundred thousand dollars?" His voice rose near the end and Vin winced.
"Where the hell did you get that kind of money?" Ezra demanded.
"Hell, Ez. I hunted bounty. I's good too. Didn't go after no penny ante stuff. Some of the guys I brought in had fifty 'r a hundred thousand dollars on their heads. Bounty hunter ain't got no insurance, no unemployment. Had ta make sure I had money put back 'n case I got hurt, an' couldn't hunt...." He trailed off.
After a long moment Vin asked. "What was you doin' down there?"
"The same thing you were, Mister Tanner. I merely had enough sense to take some very basic precautions. I took a cab. I did not drive my own personal and *very recognizable* vehicle. I changed my appearance, dressing to fit the neighborhood rather than simply heading out straight from work *in what I had worn to work*. I did not frequent a bar close to my home nor did I drink to excess."
Another long silence, then Vin said, "Reckon if McKinley saw my jeep the shit is going to hit the fan."
Ezra sighed. "I took care of it."
"How 'n hell could ya take *care'a* that?"
"I called one of my snitches, paid him two hundred dollars to say that he had asked me to meet him in the bar I pulled you out of. I then filed a report to that effect, adding that as I did not wish either to take the Jag into that neighborhood or go into a gay bar alone, I commandeered you as backup and we used your jeep for the meet. Even if McKindley actually saw us, it is covered."
"What if he talks to your snitch and he don't say what ya told him to?"
"By now the gentleman in question is drugged out of his head. He most likely will tell McKindley nothing except that he saw me and I gave him the money. He won't be capable of telling him anything else and McKindley will have to accept the explanation. After all, the report has been filed, the snitch is a known homosexual, who is also known to frequent the bars in that neighborhood."
"Thought of everything did ya?"
"I'm an undercover agent, Mister Tanner. My life depends on thinking of everything... and I have been concealing my sexual preferences for most of my life. I know how to do it."
With a sigh, Vin pushed the memories aside and raised his head to look at Ezra again. Damn but he looked so thin lying in the damn hospital bed. His skin was deathly pale and he seemed to be barely breathing.
Josiah looked up from where he was sprawled on one of the larger chairs the group had commandeered. Rising he lay a hand on Vin's shoulder. "He's going to be all right, son," he said quietly.
"I know. He's tougher than he looks." Vin said sitting back in the chair but not releasing Ezra's hand. He rubbed circles on the back of it with a thumb. A faint smile curved his lips as he gazed at his injured lover.
Chris sat up straight in his chair, raising his head to look across the bed at Vin. He knew the look that was on his best friend's face. The look of remembrance. The sharpshooter was obviously thinking back on his time with their undercover agent.
Damn! It was so blatantly obvious to him now. They were a couple, clearly had been for some time. How could he have missed it?
It had been a shock at the airfield, having Vin shoulder him aside snapping at the EMTs that *he* was Ezra's legal next of kin and had the Medical Power of Attorney as well, to check with the hospital if they didn't believe it.
Then 'his boys' had been gone in the MediVac chopper, leaving the rest of them to do the mop up at the crime scene. That had been a real trip. Nobody had wanted to take the bad guys with them. They had ended up calling for a paddy wagon and shoving them all in it. He hated to think what the holding cell down at the Federal Building now smelled like.
Vin had managed to give a quick statement before the chopper had gotten there to take Ezra to the hospital. Apparently a family of skunks had decided to take a stroll across the hanger. One of Thompson's men had seen them and panicked, drawing his gun and opening fire.
Vin's desperate "No! Don't shoot!" had been ignored. The skunk family had gone down fighting, any that hadn't managed to spray had had their scent bags exploded by the bullets. Vin had grabbed Ezra and dove for the side door. They had escaped being in the skunks' direct line of fire but had still gotten a good lung full of the scent. A stray bullet had clipped Ezra's arm but neither man had noticed, as they had collapsed not far from the door retching violently.
Jesus! Skunks! Chris shook his head slightly. It could only happen to Vin and Ezra.
After they left, Nathan had gone around handing out Dramamine like it was candy. There wasn't a soul at the bust that wasn't nauseated.
He almost grinned but felt it fade away. His boys... but maybe not anymore. When he had finally arrived at the hospital, he'd had the nurse on duty check both Ezra's and Vin's legal next of kin and Medical Power of Attorney. Ezra's listed Vin. Vin's listed Ezra.
He couldn't help the feeling of hurt that learning that had caused. It had only helped slightly to find that both had made provisions for him to be the second, should they both be incapacitated at the same time and that the changes had been made the Monday after his wedding.
Did they think that being married would make him care less about them? They were family. That wasn't going to change just because he and Mary had finally tied the knot.
Was this what it felt like when your kids grew up and started pulling away from you? Did it leave you feeling empty and helpless, uncertain of your place in their lives?
For five years he had always known where Vin would be if he needed him... right there beside him. All he ever had to do was ask and Vin would be there for him. Hell, most of the time he didn't even have to ask. Vin would help with the horses, do repairs at the ranch, go camping, or look after him if he was hurt.
And while Ezra wasn't much for mucking out stalls or doing carpentry work, he'd lend a hand where his expertise lay. Chris had paid less taxes in the last four years than ever before, thanks to Ezra's grasp of tax laws and willingness to sort through Chris' paperwork and straighten it out. He'd set up a filing system and put the ranch books on the computer after the first year he had done Chris' taxes. After that he had stopped by the first of every month to sort receipts and file them, keeping the paperwork straight.
Until this month. The thought caught him by surprise. This was the second, Monday. He'd gotten home from his honeymoon on Friday. He'd been home three days and neither Vin nor Ezra had showed up. Buck and JD had been by, along with Nettie and Casey. Josiah, Nathan and Raine had come by. Even the Travis' had been out, but Vin and Ezra hadn't come by the ranch... or called.
True, he and Mary had been busy, moving some of her things out there, and getting her house ready to sell, but he'd had his cellphone with him all the time. Neither of them had called his cellphone or called the ranch either. There were no messages on the answering machine from them and none of their numbers were on his caller ID.
He scrubbed his hands over his face and ran them through his hair, standing he stepped out of the room. He needed some air.
He leaned against the wall outside the door.
He was losing his boys.
Chris looked up at the sound of high heels clicking on the tiled floor of the hospital corridor. He straightened. "Mary."
She smiled and came to him.
He reached out and pulled her into a hug.
She held him close a moment then pulled back, her nose wrinkling slightly. One eyebrow lifted.
"Sorry," he sighed. "We got skunked. I took four showers and changed clothes. It's not nearly as bad as it was. Poor Nathan had to bathe in tomato juice."
"Skunked?" She looked incredulous.
"Yeah. A family of four ambled into the buy. Some idiot started shooting at them. Stunk up everything. Even the weapons smell."
"Is that why you're here?"
"No. Ez caught a slug. Just a graze but then he reacted badly to the skunk juice. Worse than he does to tear-gas. Docs want to keep him over night. Give him fluids. He kept retching till they sedated him. He's still out."
"Are you planning to stay here tonight?" She asked. She moved back in close again, one hand resting on his chest.
"Well, I usually stay until he wakes up...."
"The others are here aren't they?"
"He's going to be fine, isn't he?"
"Well... yeah. They're supposed to release him in the morning."
"Then you really don't need to stay, do you? You can be back first thing in the morning."
"Well... uh... let me just...." He gestured helplessly towards the room. He'd have thought Mary would understand. She'd been around them long enough to know that the seven always gathered around a fallen member even if it wasn't serious. But she was his wife now, maybe she had different expectations now.
He stepped back into the room. "Guys.... Mary's here.... I... uh...."
Vin stood up from Ezra's bedside but didn't release his partner's hand. "It's all right, Cowboy. You head on home. You got a family to think about now. 'n fact, alla ya'll can go on. I'll be stayin' with Ez. Ain't no need for you all to hang around here. Ain't like it's serious."
"I'll be back first thing tomorrow." Chris assured him with a relieved sigh.
"Ain't no need. I can get him checked out and took home. Reckon I'll need tomorrow off. He ain't gonna be up to coming in an' I don't want ta leave him alone."
Chris nodded. Ezra would be weak as a kitten tomorrow. He'd need someone with him.
The others slowly roused themselves from the chairs that they had been lounging in and said their goodbyes, some more reluctantly than others.
Nathan seemed glad to go. He no doubt wanted another shower and change of clothes. He had taken the worst of the smell, going into the hanger to look for Vin and Ezra. Even after the tomato juice bath he felt like he still stunk. In a way he was glad that Raine was out of town for the week. He might feel halfway decent by the time she returned.
Buck and JD dragged their feet, glad to not have to spend the night in the uncomfortable chairs they had been sitting on but reluctant to leave their two team members alone in the hospital. Buck gave Vin a smile and a nod, before steering JD out.
Josiah was the last to go. "You know, son, I'll be glad to stay with you."
"Know, 'Siah." He lowered his voice, "Kinda looking forwards to it being just me'n him. Know he's gonna be asleep but... ya know."
Josiah patted his shoulder and nodded before slipping out the door.
Chris stood a long moment longer then said, "Sorry, I don't want to go, but..."
"Mary's waiting. I know Cowboy. Go home. We'll be fine."
"Yeah. Don't doubt that." Chris stepped forwards and held out his hand.
Vin reached across the bed and took it, clasping forearms in a warrior's grip, but he maintained his grip on Ezra's hand with his other hand.
Chris slowly drew his hand back then reached down to brush the hair away from Ezra's forehead. "Night, Ez." He murmured quietly.
Then he turned and left, going to Mary who stood just outside the open door.
When they were gone Vin sank back into the chair beside the bed after pressing a kiss to Ezra's forehead. It was something that he hadn't been comfortable doing with the others here, even if it did seem as if Buck and Josiah, at least, knew about and seemed to approve of their relationship.
For a long moment he stared at the door Chris had disappeared through and tried to envision him with Mary, walking with her, holding her close, maybe even kissing her. He couldn't even conjure the images and somehow it didn't matter. He didn't even care.
He turned back to Ezra. He drew the hand he held to his lips and kissed the back of it.
This was his mate. So like him and so different from him.
That first night, after Ezra had cleaned up the mess Vin had made he'd put him to bed in the spare room to sleep off the hangover. Strange as it might seem their mutual love for Chris Larabee had brought them closer together.
They hadn't started sleeping together right away but they had become friends. Turning to each other when they needed to commiserate over something that Chris had said or done to make them feel slighted.
They had even started going out together to the bars, Vin giving in to Ezra's insistence that they be more circumspect when doing so. They always took a cab, never went anywhere they might be known, dressed to fit in with the crowd wherever they had decided to go.
It was one of these "dates" that had indirectly led to their arrangement. They had agreed that they would go out together but if they met someone they could leave separately.
It was working perfectly, until the night Vin let himself be picked up by a man that Ezra knew had a reputation for barebacking, demanding unprotected sex from his partners. When he saw Vin about to leave with the man he went ballistic.
Vin had been grinning up at the tall blonde, leaning into the arm around his shoulders when someone grabbed his arm and he suddenly found himself facing a furious Ezra Standish.
Ezra grabbed Vin's arm, jerking him away from the man he was with. "What in hell do you think you are doing?" He yelled.
Vin just looked puzzled.
"Are you out of your mind? This SOB barebacks!"
The blonde made the mistake of grabbing Ezra's arm and yanking him around to face him.
Ezra released his hold on Vin just long enough to twist his arm free from the man's grip. He snapped out a lightening quick blow to the man's diaphragm that took his breath away then ducked down, grabbed the man by his balls with both hands and yank upwards.
You could have heard the man shriek in LA.
He hit the floor and curled up, both hands cupped over his genitals.
Ezra didn't give him a second look, just grabbed Vin by the hair and started hauling him out of the bar.
Vin was too shocked by this suddenly violent version of his friend to offer any resistance. He stumbled along behind Ezra just trying to keep his hair from being ripped out.
The bouncer started to step in front of them but Ezra snarled something and he stepped back, reaching to yank the door open for the furious man.
Outside, Ezra hauled Vin several blocks down the sidewalk before shoving him against a wall and pulling out his cell phone to call them a cab.
As soon as he got his bearings Vin had lunged at Ezra only to be slammed back into the wall. "What the hell do ya think yer are doin'?" He yelled at Ezra, echoing the words Ezra had thrown at him. "Ya got no right!"
Except for making sure he stayed where he was, Ezra ignored him until he completed his call. Then he turned back to Vin pinning him back against the wall.
"No right?" He snarled. "I'm the one you come running to when one of these apes hurts you. I'm the one that has to make up excuses when you can't go in to work because of it. I'm the one that has to listen to you moan and bitch that you can't find anyone that cares about you. I'm the one that deals with your hangovers and morning after blues! And I've got no right to tell you that you're acting like a god damn idiot?! I'm your friend! I care what happens to you even if you don't! Do you think I want to watch you die of AIDS? Do you? You're the closest thing to a friend I've got! I can't do that... I can't!"
With a disgusted sound he suddenly stepped back, releasing Vin. Holding up his hands he shook his head. "I can't do this anymore. I can't stand watching you play Russian Roulette with your health."
He moved farther away. "I'm sorry. Go on back if you want to. Find some other Larabee clone and... do what you want. But don't ask me to come out with you again... and don't come running to me in the morning when you wake up and realize that it's just a fucking fantasy."
The cab Ezra had called pulled up just then and he opened the door and climbed in.
He had reached to pull the door closed when Vin grabbed it.
"Ez! Wait!" Vin clung to the door, not letting Ezra close it. "I'm going with you... we can talk about this." He climbed into the cab.
Ezra retreated across the seat. "There's nothing left to talk about. You're a self destructive SOB and I can't stand watching you self-destruct, not anymore! " He reached over the back of the front seat and handed the cabbie a bill, giving him the address of the condo.
The cabbie started at the hundred-dollar bill. "I can't change this."
"Screw the change. Just get me home." Ezra snapped.
"Ez." Vin pleaded.
Ezra covered his ears and leaned forward, burying his face in his knees, "No, no, no, no! I won't listen to you! You won't change! You'll never change and I can't do this any more! I can't watch you trying to kill yourself!"
"Ez, I'm not *trying* to kill myself!"
Ezra straightened turning his searing gaze on Vin. "The hell you're not! Every time you leave one of those bars with a stranger, you're putting your life at risk! Do you have any idea how many gay men are HIV positive? Do you? Do you know that the type of gay man that frequents gay bars and behaves promiscuously is more than twice as likely to be HIV positive than those in exclusive relationships? And to go with a man that is known for barebacking is just plain stupid!"
"I didn't know he was known for barebacking!"
"Did you ask him if he practiced safe sex?"
"Figured we'd get to that when we got to that."
"Are you nuts? By then it would be too late. He was damn near twice your size!"
"So what? I was an Army Ranger! I coulda took him if I had to! Hell! You took him out!"
"Yeah, right! You could take him... lying on your belly with your pants around your knees!"
"Oh, shit! Ez! I'm sorry."
The cab pulled up at Ezra's and Ezra slung the door open and climbed out, almost running for the condo, one hand pressed to his cheek where Vin had slapped him.
Vin plunged out of the cab and followed, running after him. "God! Ez! Please! I didn't mean ta... Ez!" He came up behind Ezra as the other man fumbled with the key.
Ezra got the door opened and fled inside.
Vine forced his way into the apartment before the door could close.
Ezra retreated across the livingroom.
"Ez, please... I'm so sorry..." Vin stepped closer.
"No! Back off! Touch me and I'll kill you, you bastard! After everything I've done for you...."
Vin backed off. "I'm sorry, Ez. I swear to god. I never meant to hit ya. Please, forgive me? I'll... I'll do anything... if you'll just forgive me... just tell me what you want me to do."
He sank to sit on the carpeted floor. "Please, Ez. I'm so sorry. I swear I never meant to hit ya."
Ezra stared at him, for a long moment then let out a deep sigh. "Aw, hell. I always was a mouthy bastard. Took you longer to slug me than most."
"Won't happen again." Vin vowed softly as he rose from the foyer floor to step into the livingroom.
Ezra had moved to the wet bar and had two glasses out filling them. He took one and moved to sit on the couch, motioning Vin to take the other glass.
Vin picked it up. "This mean I'm forgiven?"
"For striking me? Yes. For trying to get yourself killed? Never."
Vin crossed to the couch and sank down on the soft leather couch. "Ezra, I swear to you, I ain't *trying* to get myself killed."
"Barebacking is like going to a bust without your vest."
"You're a fine one ta talk 'bout not wearing a vest, Ez."
"This isn't about me and I do wear a vest when I can. I seldom can when I'm undercover. It would blow my cover. But when it comes to sex, Vin, I always use protection. Always, even though I get tested regularly and have never tested positive for any STDs. We take enough risks in our profession without taking them in our private lives."
Vin slumped letting his head drop back onto the back of the couch. "All right," he said tiredly, "I told ya, I'd do whatever ya wanted so, just tell me what ya want from me."
"I want you to take better care of yourself. If you don't have enough respect for yourself to do it, have enough respect for Mister Larabee."
"What do you mean? I got lots of respect for Chris!"
"Do you? Tell me, how do you think he would react if he should someday recognize and return your feelings only to discover that your promiscuity had infected you with the HIV virus. Do you think he'd still be willing to have a relationship with you, knowing that you would always have to use protection? Knowing that sooner or later he would end up watching you die of AIDS? The man is nothing if not possessive... just knowing the life style you had led to become infected would repulse him. And even if he never falls in love with you, he has watched too many people he cares about die to want to watch you die. Especially like that, slowly and painfully."
"So what are you saying? That I can't be with nobody if I ever hope to be with Chris?"
"No. I'm saying that you need to be more careful. Find someone, some one person who is willing to take care of your physical needs, knowing that you are carrying a torch, if you will, for someone else. Someone who will be willing to practice safe sex."
"I know what you're saying Ez. And I reckon I know you're right. The way I'm living is dangerous... but where am I gonna find some body like that? Hell it's hard enough to find someone to be with when you're not in love with somebody else."
Ezra looked down, coloring slightly. "I need someone too, Vin. I go out, I play the game. I flirt and tease but I haven't actually had sex with another... person in years. There simply hasn't been anyone that I trust that much. I do, however, trust you... so if you wish... I would be willing to... provide you with whatever sexual favors you require in exchange for the same. We would of course use protection at all times."
He refused to look up at Vin.
Vin could only stare at him in disbelief. Ezra hadn't had sex with another person in years?! "You ain't had sex with another person in years?!" He couldn't keep the disbelief out of his voice.
Ezra turned several shades redder. "I believe that is what I just said."
"But... but... you're beautiful!"
"Thank you." Ezra swallowed hard. "That is not, however, what I was asking. I realize that the vast majority of your recent partners bear a more than passing resemblance to Mister Larabee and I fail that test completely. But I do know about your feelings for him and would not hold it against you should you call out his name whilst we are engaged in the act."
"Ez, I... I don't know what to say. I mean... can I ask you something?"
"How could ya go for years without having sex? I can't hardly believe that.... Not that I think you're lying it's just...."
"Beyond your comprehension."
Ezra sighed. "I have had a great deal of practice at pushing aside what I want in favor of what must be done, or what someone else wants. One of the first things I learned as a child was that what I wanted didn't matter. Only what Mother wanted mattered."
Vin could hear the bitter note in that last statement.
Ezra went on, "Nothing in my experience since has led me to believe differently. I spend more time undercover than out and when I'm under I must always focus on what is necessary to get the job done. I can not allow myself to become distracted especially not by sexual needs."
He shrugged. "So, I take care of myself or hire a discreet professional. Of late I find that I no longer care to engage a professional. My need to feel desirable and sought after is fulfilled when we go out and men approach me, but I could never trust a stranger enough to actually have sex with one. Still, there are times when I long to actually be touched with desire by another human being. I make this offer to you purely and simply because you are the one person other than Mister Larabee that I would be willing to trust enough to have sex with."
"Oh, Ez." Vin whispered, "Thank you. You don't know what having you trust me means to me.... And I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Ezra cocked an eyebrow at him, "For what?"
"For all the times that I took off with somebody and left you hanging in some bar. I reckon I figured that good looking as you were, you'd find someone for sure. Never realized you was going home alone all the time. Didn't mean to abandon you. Think you've had more'n enough of that."
"It was my choice to go home alone. No fault of yours."
"Still I'm sorry... and if you're sure about this offer, then yeah, I agree, Me'n you can take care of each other."
Ezra smiled and held up his glass in a toast, "Until the scales fall away from Mister Larabee's eyes and he sees what he's missing." He grinned cockily, "Then it's every man for himself... should he by some miracle choose me, I shall not give you a second thought!"
Vin laughed, "Same here!"
Then he'd had a lap full of Ezra.
He'd worried after Ezra'd said he hadn't been with anyone in years that it might mean that Ezra was a cold fish in bed.
It didn't take him long to learn how wrong that idea was.
A movement from the bed drew him back from his memories.
Ezra had turned his head to face him and his eyelashes were fluttering slightly.
He grinned. Looked like his lover was about to wake up.
A moment longer and the long dark lashes parted to reveal sleepy green eyes.
Vin smiled at him, "Hey, Babe. Want some water?"
Ezra nodded slightly.
Vin let go of his hand long enough to get his glass of ice water and hold the straw for him. "Little sips now. Don't want you to start retching again."
Ezra nodded and took just enough to wet his mouth before turning his head away. The sleepy gaze wandered over the room. "The others?"
"Fine. Everybody's fine." He grinned, "Skunks took care of the bad guys. Nathan got enough skunk juice on him, searching the hanger for us, that he had to take a tomato juice bath but the rest of the guys are fine. Chris and Buck lost their lunches. Some of Hamilton's guys lost everything back to supper last night... but you're the only one that even got a scratch."
Vin chuckled. "Confiscated. Ain't sure where they parked them. The packing absorbed the skunk juice and the shipment smells to high heaven. Don't figure anybody wants them in the evidence room."
Ezra looked around the room again. "Where...?"
Vin sighed, "Mary come by and hijacked Chris. Took him home. So I told the rest of the guys to head on out, too, that I'd take care of you."
"I see." Ezra said softly, a note of sadness in his voice. "So, it begins."
"Hey." Vin took Ezra's hand again raising it to his lips. "You'n me, Babe. You'n me."
Ezra smiled up at him, "Through thick and thin."
Vin grinned back and added the part they'd laughed over one night when they were drunk and couldn't seem to pronounce their Ts, "An' sick and sin."
Ezra chuckled softly then faded back to sleep.
Vin sat back down in the chair and lay his head on the bed near his mate.
Continued in Part 2 (encompassing emailed parts 5-8)