Author's note: Again, I have never been to Rocky Mountain National Park. All information regarding the park and surrounding environs comes from Fodor's National Parks of the West 1992 edition.
Friday afternoon, again, but not the same this time.
One month and counting since his break up with Chris but that didn't seem nearly as important today as it had three weeks ago or two weeks ago or even one week ago.
Perhaps that was because he had places to go and things to do and someone to go there with and do them with.
This was the Friday before Labor Day and he had plans for the entire weekend. He was going to hike the Keyhole Trail, one of his favorite hikes, and this time he'd be sharing it with someone, with Ezra.
It was just passed lunchtime and he was champing at the bit to get going. They were renting an SUV for this weekend, not wanting to take the Jag and the weather having turned too cool for the open jeep or the Caddy, which they both liked to drive with the top down.
Chris came out of the office. "Is everybody coming to the cook out on Monday?"
While the others all loudly indicated that they were, Vin and Ezra exchanged looks.
Noticing that neither Vin nor Ezra had answered, Chris turned to them. "Vin, you know you're still welcome at the ranch. Always have been, always will be."
"Reckon, maybe, but I got plans for the weekend. Won't be in till Wednesday."
"Wednesday?" Chris asked, starting to protest that he knew nothing about this.
"Wednesday. Cleared it with Travis." Vin stated firmly, looking Chris in the eyes.
Even without the old connection between them, Chris knew that Vin had deliberately gone over his head.
"Fine, suit yourself," he bit out. "Ezra?"
"Mother has stated her intention of arriving this very afternoon," Ezra lied smoothly, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose the way he did when he was getting one of the headaches that a visit from his mother always seemed to bring on. "When she will depart is anyone's guess…." He let it trail off with a helpless gesture.
"Bring her," Josiah suggested.
Ezra gave him an 'are you crazy?' look and shook his head, "Not an option, I fear. Should she actually appear as stated, she will have most definite plans for the entirety of her visit. I shall simply be following in her wake, playing the dutiful and obedient son."
"Fine. Make it if you can. I'll see the rest of you there. Might as well call it a day. We're not going to get anything else done today, anyway." Chris turned and strode out the door, having already closed and locked his office before stepping out into the bullpen.
Buck and JD whooped and slapped each other on the back before hurrying to shutdown their computers and get ready to leave. JD was already enthusiastically telling Buck about his plans for the weekend with Casey. Buck was laughing at him and countering with his plans with Candy or Mandy or someone with a similar name.
Neither Vin nor Ezra cared enough to sort out who exactly he was describing.
Nathan and Josiah were obviously happy to be getting off early, but were much quieter about it. Nathan, did mention that this would give him time to stop by and pick up flowers for Raine and get their things packed before she got home, as they were planning to spend the weekend down in Trinidad with her father.
Vin and Ezra let the others all get out before they headed for the elevator together. Once inside, Vin said, "I'm packed if you want me to pick up the car while you head on home and finish getting your stuff ready?"
Ezra chuckled. "I'm already packed as well. Why don't you just leave the jeep here? You can ride with me to Mario's and drive the SUV back to the townhouse. We can be on the road to Estes Park within the hour."
"I never asked where you ended up getting us rooms." Ezra commented.
"Aspen Lodge. Got a cabin actually."
"Indeed. That is nice. It's actually closer to where we are going, being between Estes Park and the Longs Peak Ranger Station where the Keyhole trail starts."
"And a cabin is more private than just a room," Vin suggested, letting his hand rest on Ezra's lower back and stroking up and down gently.
Ezra turned his head to smile up at Vin just as the elevator came to a stop at the garage level. "Yes, it is."
The elevator doors opened, and Ezra stepped forwards.
Vin let his hand fall away from Ezra's back, breaking the moment, but he was smiling as he followed Ezra to the Jag.
Ezra hadn't pulled away, hadn't said, "Not now." or "Not yet."
Vin was pleased with Ezra's reaction to the cabin. As soon as they had their things inside he'd turned to Vin, caught him by the hips and asked with a grin, "Now, on the question of privacy. Does this cabin have two bedrooms?" he asked, his voice dropping to a husky murmur, "or just one?"
Vin let his arms slip around Ezra, the way they just naturally wanted to do, and replied, "Oh, it's *got* two. Don’t mean we have to use'm both. Reckon the smaller one'd make a pretty fair closet for all them clothes you've got in those," he glanced over at the stack of luggage just inside the door, "three, four, nope, *five* suitcases."
"You didn't count the backpack and toiletry bag," Ezra informed him with a grin.
"Just proof that ya need the other bedroom for your clothes," Vin smirked.
Ezra chuckled and leaned in brushing his lips very lightly across Vin's then retreating to rest his head on Vin's shoulder, a soft sigh escaping him.
Vin held him, gently rubbing his back, not clutching at him. He pressed a light kiss to the top of Ezra's head. "Ya know, I'm just teasing about the bedrooms. If ya ain't ready yet, to share a bed, or anything else, I can wait."
"I'm ready to be with you, Vin. I just… I don’t want to mess this up. Every relationship I've ever had has failed…."
"Ain't ever had anything work out either, Ez, but this feels right. I didn't think anything could ever feel as right as it did with Chris, but this, feels *more* right. I never felt like I had any control over anything with Chris. Much as I loved him, I would have never dared to risk my friendship with him for something more. He came on to me. He asked me to move out to the ranch. He was in charge, in control. I never really felt like I had a say. I never felt like an equal. But with you, I do have a say. I do feel equal. Hell, even when you're throwing money around, I don’t feel like you're trying to buy me, or buy my affections. You're just being you."
He drew back, moving so that he could see Ezra's face, "Ya know, sleeping in the same bed don't have to be about sex, even if we are pretty sure that it will eventually include sex. Can just be comfort and companionship. What they call it? Platonic?"
"That sounds wonderful. I do want to be with you, Vin. I just need more time." He sighed heavily. "And here I thought you would be the one needing more time. Your break up was the more recent one."
"Sometimes it ain't about time. Or even how much you loved someone. Sometimes it's about our pasts and how the past affects us now. I learned a long time ago to leave the past in the past. Don't keep dragging it around with me. Get the feelin' you're dragging around a lot more baggage than I am."
Vin shook his head and chuckled softly when Ezra glanced towards their luggage. "And I ain't talkin' bout *those* suitcases."
Ezra sighed again and moved back into Vin's arms. "Lord! I wish I could leave the past in the past, but sometimes it just won't *stay* there. Do you understand that?"
"Reckon, maybe. Sometimes you ain't the one that controls whether the past stays in the past."
"Remember what you said when you first suggested that I stay at your place, about if I needed someone to talk to. Well, when you're ready to talk about it, whatever it is, I'll be listening, Ez."
"Thank you," Ezra whispered.
Vin just nodded, and held on to him, letting Ezra bury his face against his shoulder, while they both pretended that Vin's shirt wasn't becoming wet with hot, but silent tears.
They stood there for a long time while Ezra wept silently and Vin thought about a house with poured concrete walls, steel doors with deadbolts and ornate iron grates on every window and knew that whatever lurked in Ezra's past, it was really, really bad.
He realized that in throwing him a lifeline after his breakup with Chris, Ezra might well have been desperately grabbing for a lifeline of his own.
The Keyhole hiking trail wasn't all that long really, only eight miles, but the last two miles were incredibly difficult turning it into a twelve to fifteen-hour hike. The frequent occurrence of afternoon lightning storms near the apex of the trail meant that to avoid them, they had to be up and on the trail before dawn. The Rangers recommended starting out about three in the morning.
Vin knew that he could do the hike in twelve hours but he wanted to give Ezra more time, particularly as this would be his first hike up that particular trail. While he was fairly sure that Ezra was in good enough condition to keep up with him, he wanted to give them plenty of time to savor the incredible vistas that the trail provided. Not to mention, that he had brought his newest camera and several dozen rolls of film. He already had thousands of pictures of the park and its many beauties but there was always something to take pictures of.
So, they had retired early, sleeping curled up together in comfortable intimacy in the king-size bed in the larger bedroom and were up by two a.m. to drive down to the trailhead.
They both wore sturdy hiking boots with warm, wool socks and blue jeans over thermal underwear. On top they layered T-shirts and western shirts over the thermal top and added a heavy flannel shirt on top of that. Over it all they wore hooded jackets with a thick, knit watch cap under the hood.
They carried backpacks, with water bottles and high-energy snacks, as well as a hearty lunch to eat at the apex before starting back down. Both had first aid kits as well, along with a couple of silvery 'space blankets'. Vin, as always, packed waterproof matches, a couple of flares, a rain poncho and his Swiss Army knife.
He about to tell Ezra that he'd probably need rain gear, when he saw him tucking a poncho into his backpack.
Ezra also packed a notebook and several pens.
Vin made sure he had his camera, film and extra batteries.
They both took flashlights, knowing that they would be on the trail before the sun was up.
By dawn they were more than a mile up the trail. Vin was more than happy with Ezra's ability to keep up. As the sun began to rise, Vin called a halt, explaining that he wanted to get some pictures.
"I always take pictures of the sunrise when I hike up here," he said, then shook his head, "they never look like what I remember though."
Ezra sat down on a rock and dropped his backpack at his feet, reaching in and coming up with his notebook and a pen without doing any rummaging. "That is because no camera can capture the literally millions of colors and shades of colors that the human eye can discern."
Vin turned to look at him, "So, it isn't any use my trying to capture the moment?"
"I wouldn't say that. I'm sure the pictures are incredible and were you to publish them, they would be a boon to people who have no hope of ever seeing this glory for themselves. Have you ever shown them to the children you work with in Purgatorio?"
"A few times, but I have trouble making them understand what is so grand about it. Don't have your way with words."
"Perhaps a picture book made for younger children. We could collaborate. You could provide the pictures and I could do the text."
"You can't be serious about making a book of my pictures. I mean, where would we even start to find a publisher?"
"I have a publisher. I'm sure that he would at least consider any idea that I proposed."
"You've got a publisher?" Vin gaped at him.
Ezra nodded and smiled. "While what I told you about going to Vegas and winning the money to support my life style was quite true, it was not the entire truth. I have been a published author since I was sixteen and my royalties contribute to my ability to live as I wish."
When Vin continued to gape at him he waved him off. "But we can discuss that later. Go on now, take your pictures before you lose the sunrise."
Vin shook his head and turned back to his picture taking, while Ezra sat and watched him and scribbled in his notebook.
They stopped again an hour or so later, eating energy bars and sitting on a rock, talking. They were farther up the trail than Vin had dared to hope that they would be. Clearly Ezra had kept in shape, better shape than necessary to pass his annual physical.
"You're holding up well." Vin commented.
Ezra chuckled, "So, you were sure the jar head couldn't keep up with the Army Ranger."
"Didn't mean it like that. It's just that, I never see you do anything, work out or nothing."
"I keep myself in peak physical condition. I just don't flaunt that aspect of myself."
He stared out over the beautiful vista spread out before them, a soft smile crossing his face. "This is an incredibly beautiful place."
He glanced up at the sky and saw that the moon was still up. The smile grew into a grin. He stood and turned to Vin catching his hand and pulling him down from the rock to stand face to face with him.
"Make love to me."
Ezra laughed, the sound almost giddy, "Yes! Here, now, in this place of wild beauty, beneath the canopy of the sky and under the sun and the moon, in the sight of God and Nature. Don't you feel it? This is the time. This is the place. This is where we were meant to be joined together."
Eyes aglow, he backed away, drawing Vin with him into the center of the small meadow they had stopped in.
And Vin did feel it. This was the time. This was the place. He could almost see the pale glow of energy surrounding Ezra, feel it reaching out to him, feeding him, filling him with love and peace and happiness.
He pulled Ezra close and kissed him, long and tender, hands burrowing under Ezra's jacket, tugging at shirts and t-shirts and undershirt until at last they touched warm, silken skin.
Ezra moaned into his mouth as they continued to kiss, and Vin's hands caressed his back. He broke the kiss and trailed small, soft ones along Vin's strong jaw-line to his ear, caught the lobe, nipped and tugged.
He gasped as Vin returned the favor, nibbling first on an ear lobe then his neck. His hands tugged at Vin's belt buckle, then his zipper, slipping in to close his hand around Vin's cock. Drawing back slightly, impassioned green eyes met equally impassioned blue ones, as he babbled on, barely aware of what he was saying. "My Phoenix. Arise, out of the ashes of the past and soar into the future. Take me. Claim me. Make me yours. I give myself to you. Now and forever."
Eyes still locked on Vin's he sank to his knees, deftly drawing Vin's cock out of his layers. Then his eyes dropped to gaze raptly at the cock he held before leaning in to kiss the head gently.
He licked away a drop of precum, then licked his lips before slowly leaning in to take the full length into his mouth.
Vin groaned and reached for Ezra's head, pushing back his jacket's hood and the watch cap so that he could twine his fingers in Ezra's hair. He fought the urge to clutch and thrust, keeping his touch gentle, carding his fingers through Ezra's hair.
His head dropped back until he could see nothing but the sky and the sun and the moon watching them. He felt like he was soaring.
The wind sounded like angels singing.
He looked back down at Ezra. He could no longer see the golden glow, but he could feel it, knew that it surrounded them both now.
He drew Ezra up to stand before him again.
They stood there for a long moment, just gazing into each other's eyes, aware that they were standing on the edge of forever. Then smiling, they reached for each other and stepped off into the abyss of eternity.
It should have been awkward, with all the layers between them but it wasn't. They had all the time they needed. Their clothing just seemed to fall away until they lay together, naked upon one of the silvery 'space blankets'. They should have been cold but they weren't.
The breeze died away, leaving the meadow calm and still. The sun warmed them and the blanket that they lay on reflected the heat back up to them as they moved together in a rhythm as old as time.
Afterwards they lay twined together, trading kisses and touches, until they heard the voices of the next pair of hikers coming up the trail from below.
Laughing and playing, they helped each other dress, knowing that they had plenty of time. Sound carried in the clear thin air so, the other hikers were still out of sight of the meadow when they gathered the last of their things and by silent and mutual agreement turned to retreat back down the trail.
It was too late in the day to go on to the apex, now. There would be other trips and other hikes. They had all the time in the world.
They held hands now as they walked, unconcerned with what the other hikers would think. After all, in the bulky cold weather gear with sunglasses on and their hoods up, it was almost impossible to tell a hiker's gender.
The Ranger coming out of the station gave them a strange look as they chased each other across the parking lot to the SUV.
He called out to them, "You must not have gone all the way up. Don't generally see that much energy in hikers coming off the trail."
Vin laughed and pushed back his hood, "Hey, Dave!" He greeted the Ranger by name.
"Tanner. Should have known you'd be one to still have some get-up left."
"We stopped at the meadow about three miles from the top. I was taking pictures and forgot the time." He headed over to where the Ranger was getting into his jeep. "This is my partner, Ezra."
Dave smiled and reached out a hand, "ATF, huh? Well, any friend of Tanner's," he said with a grin. "We've been trying to recruit him to run a search and rescue team for years."
Vin cocked his head and regarded Dave for a long moment, then said, "Tell me something, Dave. If I took ya'll up on your offer, would this matter?" He reached out and took Ezra's hand.
Ezra ducked his head, blushing then grinned and held his head up, proudly, letting all his love for Vin shine out of his eyes.
Dave looked at them for a long moment. "That way, huh?"
"Yeah," Vin said, "That way." He gave Ezra a tender look then turned back to Dave, "And it could be a real problem where we are."
Dave looked thoughtful then said, "I don’t think that the same sex thing would be that big a deal. Most folks up here tend to be live and let live, but there are rules about significant others being on the same team. In case one gets hurt or killed. You understand?"
Ezra spoke up, "What about independent contractors?"
"What?" Dave asked.
"Do you not occasionally, when the need arises, hire perhaps an independent tracker? Someone who does not work for the service, but is hired on an as needed basis and paid as a self-employed expert. Vin is an expert tracker, one of the best in the country."
"And really good trackers are hard to find," Dave mused. "That might work. The service doesn't have any say in who comes along when they hire someone on a one time basis… even if it's a pretty regular basis. The two of you set yourselves up in business, put the word out that Tanner, here, is for hire as a tracker and I'm pretty sure the Service will be knocking on your door in no time. You'd need to move up here, so that he'd be close by when he was needed." He looked Ezra up and down.
"You got any specific skills that the service could use?"
Ezra shrugged. "I'm an undercover agent for the ATF, as well as having done such work for the FBI."
"Which means he can do damned near anything. Not to mention being an ex-Marine, trained in demolitions, before he went into Covert Ops."
"You know anything about snow rescue?"
"I had cold weather survival training in the Marines and I can ski. Stepfather number one was a Swiss businessman, so, I learned to ski in the Alps as a child. I enjoy not only hiking but rock climbing, both free style and with ropes and belays. And I can fly… virtually anything from single engines to jets, but I have a fondness for choppers."
Vin raised an eyebrow, "You never said you could fly."
"No one ever asked. Stepfather number four, owned a small airfield and flying service. I had just mustered out of the Marines when Mother married him. He was looking at me as an heir and insisted that I learn to fly the single engine Cessna that was his personal plane. Once he got me started I just couldn't quit. There is nothing like flying!"
"Sounds like you could do well up here. A tracker as good as Tanner would be in big demand, having his own personal pilot to fly him in and out as needed would be a boon, making him able to get to a rescue faster than someone that had to drive in or we had to go get." He gave them a nod and cranked the car and drove off.
Vin looked at Ezra, "Ez?"
"It's an idea, one that we might do well to consider. Sooner or later, we will be outted. It's virtually inevitable, given the close knit nature of our team. I don't think it's going to be a pleasant experience as we will no doubt be catching fallout from..." he hesitated then went on, "the current situation. We should have an exit ready."
Vin almost groaned thinking about the 'current situation'. He knew how it looked. He'd jumped out of bed with Chris and into bed with Ezra. Within two month's time he'd had two affairs with two different teammates.
Ezra seemed to know what he was thinking. "This is not an affair, Vin. And things are seldom what they seem. Unfortunately that may not help us with our teammates when they learn we are together."
"So what do we do?"
"We think about what we want. We discuss it and we make a decision, together. I've already been thinking that we need to find a place that will be ours, not mine or yours."
"You mean move out of the townhouse?"
"Yes. It is mine. You had no part in choosing it, or remodeling it or furnishing it. If we are committed to being together then we should mark that commitment by choosing a home together. A home that belongs to us both, with both names on the deed. A home we choose together and furnish together."
Vin looked into his eyes and smiled, pulling Ezra to him, he pressed a kiss to his forehead. "You're right."
Now he knew what had been missing with Chris, why it could have never lasted. He'd never felt any real commitment from Chris. He'd moved in with Chris, but he'd had no input about the house, and furnishings. They remained just as they had been before he had moved in. Chris had said, 'Consider the place yours.' But there had been no offer to put his name on the deed, let alone to find a new place that would be theirs, as a couple. He'd never felt like half of a couple. He'd felt like a possession.
With Ezra, it wasn't just love. It was commitment and he was an equal partner.
With that realization, the Phoenix rose, bursting loose from the ashes and taking flight.
Stepping back, he looked into the eyes of his mate. "God! I love you, Ez."
The smile Ezra gave him lit the whole world.