Author's Notes: There is slight, very slight, mention of het here, JD/Casey and there is some Buck/Chris.
Friday afternoon, week six and counting since his break up with Chris but this was the last time he'd be counting from that event.
This was the first day of the rest of his life, but at the moment his world was off kilter.
Team Seven had been his life for the last two years now it was gone as if it had never been.
He sat in the jeep waiting while Ezra pulled the Jag into the garage attached to the townhouse and got out.
Ezra walked over to him and lay a hand on his back. "I'm sorry," he said yet again.
"Don't be. We were leaving anyhow and I don't think I could have took letting you go undercover again. Not now, not when I know what it's like for you, not when you mean so much to me. It's better this way. I don't want to risk us to the job."
Travis hadn't wanted to let them resign. They'd ended up telling him that they were lovers and that that was the reason that they were leaving.
He stepped out of the jeep and took Ezra in his arms, just holding him for a long moment.
He centered himself, unconsciously using the feel of Ezra in his arms to do so. He took a deep breath, letting Ezra's scent calm him. He listened to the sound of Ezra's breathing and let his own breathing fall into sync with it.
Drawing back slightly he bent to kiss Ezra, suddenly needing to taste his lover. The kiss lasted only a moment and it was gentle and tender, a sweet reaffirmation of their love.
He stepped back and smiled, drinking in the sight of his lover.
Ezra was here. They were together. That was all that mattered.
His world righted itself.
He grinned at Ezra, "So, tomorrow we go look at our house?"
Ezra chuckled and nodded, "Tomorrow we go look at our house."
They turned to mount the steps to the back door, their hands automatically reaching out to each other and grasping. Holding hands they let themselves into the house.
They were eating supper when the doorbell rang.
Vin hopped up. "I'll get it, Ez."
He looked through the peephole before opening the door to an obviously nervous JD.
"Vin, huh, hi. Is Ezra here? I mean can I see him? I--"
Vin shook his head and stepped back, holding the door wide. "Come on in, Kid. We ain't gonna bite. Ez is in the back."
He let JD get in then closed the door, automatically checking that the lock caught, before turning and leading the way down the hallway to the back of the house. He resumed his seat at the table in the breakfast nook as he told Ezra, "JD here says he needs to see ya."
"Well, Mister Dunne, what can I do for you?"
"I, that is, Chris said that I was to get your laptops and bring them back to the office cause they're government property."
"I see... and I'm sure that Vin will have no objection as his laptop does in fact belong to the government, not to mention that he hates the thing and will be more than happy to get rid of it. My laptop, however, is another matter entirely. It is personal property. I bought it myself as I found the government issued one to be wholly unacceptable. I have the receipt from where I returned the one issued by the ATF. I'll give you the receipt number and you can confirm with the property division that it was in fact returned."
"But you've got ATF files on your computer haven't you?"
"Yes, some case notes and copies of reports that I filed. I will need to retain them as I will need them when I testify. I may have left the ATF, JD, but I do still intend to testify. In point of fact, without my testimony several of the cases we have waiting for trial will collapse. The ATF already has copies of all my reports. If they want copies of the case notes I shall be happy to made a CD for them, just as soon as AD Travis instructs me to, in writing."
"But Chris said---"
"Mister Larabee is once again overstepping his authority. My personal case notes and observations belong to me, not the ATF. Should AD Travis request them I will be willing to make copies for him, but if you want to take my personal laptop you will need a warrant and I don't believe that you can get one."
Vin got up again, "I'll go get my laptop. You're more'n welcome to it."
When he was gone JD stood awkwardly while Ezra went on with his supper as if he wasn't there. After a moment of worrying his lip, JD asked, hesitantly, "Ez? Why'd you say those things about Buck? You know they aren't true."
"What do I know isn't true, Mister Dunne?"
"What you said about Buck! That he's gay!"
"I said it because I believe it to be true."
"But--- But--- he's not! I mean do you know how many women Buck's had?"
"That has nothing to do with it, JD. Many gay men date voraciously as a smoke screen to hide their true natures."
"But Buck loves women! He just loves them!"
"Actually I think that he *likes* women. I doubt that he has ever actually loved any woman. JD, I regret upsetting Mister Wilmington's self image. Words spoken in anger are rarely kind, but they are often true. I recognize where he's at because I've been there. I know what it is like to be so deep in the closet that you can't even admit to yourself that you are gay. I spent much of my life there, telling myself that when I scoped out some man that I was just judging the competition. Meanwhile I dated every woman that I could get to go out with me, desperately searching for that one woman that would make sex more than just a physical release. I never found such a woman. Yet, it took me many years to come to terms with my own desires, my own sexuality. It is only now that I have Vin that I have found the courage to come out of the closet completely."
"How... how can you... I mean it's only been a few weeks since Vin was with Chris and now he's with you. How do you know that he loves you?"
"How do you know that Casey loves you?"
"I... I just know!"
"And I just know that Vin loves me," Ezra replied calmly.
From behind JD, Vin spoke up, having just returned with his laptop. "Reckon maybe, what he really wants to know is how I coulda loved Chris then fell in love with you so soon after. Ain't that about right, JD?"
JD jumped at the voice behind him then blushed at being caught unawares. "It just don't seem right."
"Ya mean possible," Vin said as he moved passed him, laying the laptop on the table and sitting down on the bench seat next to Ezra rather than returning to his former seat across the table from him.
He reached for Ezra's hand and Ezra slipped it into his, entwining their fingers.
"I don't know how it's possible. I only know that I love Ezra. When Chris told me it was over, that he didn't love me like that anymore, I wanted to just curl up and die. Swore that I'd never hurt like that again, cause I wasn't ever gonna fall in love again. Then Ezra offered me his spare room until I could find me another place to live and figure out what to do. Next thing I knew, I wasn't even thinking about Chris anymore and pretty soon I was head over heels in love with Ezra."
He turned to look at Ezra, "Just lucky, I guess."
Ezra smiled at him, reaching up to tuck a stray curl behind his ear, "It was about time you had some good luck, wasn't it?" He asked softly.
For a moment it was as if JD wasn't there and in that moment he was struck by the pure unadulterated love shining in Ezra's eyes as he looked at Vin. Vin's back was to him so he couldn't see if the look in Vin's eyes matched, but somehow he was sure that it did. For that moment they were lost in each other and no one else existed.
After a long moment, they broke the gaze and Vin turned back to JD. He reached out and pushed the laptop towards JD. "There ya go, Kid. Glad to be rid of it."
"Thanks, Vin. I... look, I'm glad that you two are happy. Really I am. I just... I hate to see the seven break up. You know?"
"We know, Kid. We hate it, too, but you know that we're still your friends. Don't you? You're welcome in our house anytime." Vin stood up and held out his hand to JD to shake.
Ezra slid out of the bench seat and stood. "I'll walk you out."
Ezra led the way through the dining room and den rather than going back along the hall the way that Vin had led JD in.
As they passed through the den, JD stopped. "That wasn't here before, was it?" He pointed to a small area that had been divided off in a corner of the den. Three six-foot tall bookcases stood about seven feet from the wall, facing it. A chair with its back to the wall and footstool in front of it faced the bookcases. A small table with a lamp made onto it sat beside the chair.
Ezra looked to where he was pointing. "My reading nook? No, it wasn't there the last time that you were here. Vin made it for me, as a surprise gift. The bookshelves are new, but the chair is one that he found in a junk shop for ten dollars. The footstool was only five dollars and it has a compartment under the lid to store things in. The lamp table," he gestured to the table with a lamp made into it, "was given to him by a neighbor who was moving. He sanded the chair, footstool and table down, then stained it all the same color. I came home from testifying in court one day, utterly exhausted, and found this lovely inviting nook, just waiting for me to curl up with a good book. He even used my wishlist on half dot com to find books to stock the shelves with. The books cost several times what the rest of the nook did. It was a very thoughtful gift."
JD frowned then said, "I reckon so, but you never struck me as the used furniture kind."
"JD, my house is filled with antiques. Antiques are by their very nature 'used furniture'. It's a question of quality, not age or price. Every piece of furniture in that nook is solidly built. The chair may eventually need to be reupholstered but the springs in the seat are still good and it is very comfortable. The fact that Vin refinished the pieces himself and set up the nook as a surprise only makes the gift more precious to me."
JD nodded. Looking around, he noted several other changes that had been made since his last visit.
Among the small statutes and bric-a-brac on the den shelving unit he saw a geode that he knew belonged to Vin.
The Remington print that had hung over Vin's desk at the office now hung on one wall of the den, replacing one of Ezra's paintings.
A bronze hawk now dominated the mantle over the fireplace.
A brightly colored, hand-woven, Indian blanket was tossed over the back of Ezra's white leather couch.
A matching mat was spread across the carpet just inside the doorway from the hall.
He recognized all of the items from Vin's old place in Purgatorio but couldn't for the life of him remember seeing any of them during the time that Vin had lived with Chris.
When Ezra closed the front door behind him, he stood on the porch for a long moment, thinking about what he'd seen.
Finally he gave a quick nod, before walking out to the car where Casey was waiting for him.
Saturday morning Vin and Ezra were up early even though the appointment to see the house wasn't until that afternoon. They had called Mario and he was meeting them at the car rental lot with the keys to the SUV at seven.
The lot being a small, family-owned business, Mario didn't keep the strict business hours that the larger, chain, car rental places did. He was more than happy to open early for a regular and valued customer.
Vin and Ezra dressed in jeans and T-shirts with button up shirts over that and wore their hiking boots, all of it over thermal underwear and thick wool socks.
They tossed their jackets and backpacks in the backseat of the SUV and headed out.
They planned to take a short hike from the East Inlet Trailhead to Adams Falls, eat a picnic lunch there then hike back to the car, before heading on to Granby where they would meet Ezra's real estate agent, Marisa Hardin.
They decided to take the western route up to the park, although it was slightly longer than the trip to Estes Park would have been. By avoiding the two-hour drive through the park that the eastern route required, they'd actually arrive at Grand Lake more quickly.
Once they turned off I-70 onto Route 40 and headed up to Winter Park and on to Granby, Vin slowed to a leisurely pace and they simply enjoyed the spectacular scenery. They passed through Granby and went on to Grand Lake, arriving a little after ten in the morning.
By eleven they were strolling happily along the easy hiking trail up to Adams Falls, holding hands and talking quietly as Vin pointed out wildlife along the trail.
They were glad to find that the falls area wasn't as crowded as they had feared it would be. The weather had taken a cold snap and that had discouraged many tourists.
Vin had never really thought of himself as 'a tourist', to him these wild mountains were home. He hoped that soon they really would be his home, his and Ezra's.
They picked a spot with a wonderful view of the falls and spread their space blanket out for a picnic blanket, sitting crossed-legged on it to eat their lunch.
Ezra produced the sandwiches he had made, thick slices of toasted sourdough bread spread with a spicy gourmet mayonnaise and filled with thick slices of ham, chicken, turkey and cheese, all fresh from the deli and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions.
Vin laughed at the sight of his. "Damn Ez, you make a hell of a Dagwood!" Then with a twinkle in his eye he added, "Ain't sure that I can stretch my mouth this wide."
Ezra only laughed at him. "I'm sure you'll figure out some way to eat it."
He took out the thermos bottle that he had filled with some of his homemade spicy tomato soup and opened it, pouring himself a cup of the hot, thick soup to drink with his sandwich. Vin loved spicy food and he'd found that he could get Vin to eat more veggies by making up spicy soups for them to drink along with the sandwiches that Vin loved than he could by trying to get him to 'eat his veggies'.
He simply passed the thermos on to Vin. He hadn't even bothered to pack a second cup, knowing that Vin would just drink from the thermos in any event.
They ate in companionable silence, just enjoying the view and the fact that they were together to share it. When they finished eating they carefully packed everything back into their backpacks and prepared to walk back to the SUV.
Vin brought out his digital camera and took several pictures of the falls, three of which included Ezra. For the last picture he sat the camera on a rock, focusing it on Ezra then set the timer and hurried to join his lover before the camera snapped the picture.
He grinned when he checked the preview screen. The picture was definitely a keeper. He already knew just where he was going to put it.
By one o'clock they were back in Granby, waiting impatiently for Ezra's real estate lady to join them at the small restaurant that they had agreed to meet at.
She arrived just before the agreed on time of one-thirty. She was carrying a rolled set of house plans with her.
Her first words were: "I hope I didn't keep you waiting."
"Not at all," Ezra assured her, "You are right on time. My partner is simply eager to see the house. Vin, may I present Miss Marisa Hardin, my real estate agent. Miss Hardin, Vin Tanner, my significant other."
Marisa acknowledged the introduction by extending her hand to Vin.
He acknowledged her with a slight nod and took her hand giving it a quick shake.
As she sat down, Ezra said, "May I assume those are the plans I asked you to bring along?"
"Yes. The house is quite large. Really a bit much for just the two of you...?"
"We like our space, and as we can afford it...."
"Of course. I didn't mean to imply that you shouldn't look at it. It's just that it is considerably larger than the townhouse that you bought when you first arrived in Denver."
"Just how large is the house?"
"It's sixty feet by eighty feet, with three levels. Naturally as it is an A-frame the upper levels are smaller than the lower ones. The bottom floor contains what might be considered the daytime areas, living room, den, library, dining room, sun porch and the hot tub and sauna areas. There is only one bathroom on that level. However, there are four bathrooms on the second floor, one for each bedroom."
Ezra cocked an eyebrow at Vin, "I thought you said that this ex-CIA agent lived alone."
"He did, but I reckon, maybe he wasn't as retired as he said. CIA could have used the place as a safe house with him as a bodyguard. It's remote enough to make a good one."
Ezra had spread the plans out on the table and was looking at them. "And according to these plans, secure enough. Every window and door is wired to the alarm system. There are cameras, motion detectors and infra red detectors. The security room is on the third floor?" He looked up at Marisa.
"Yes. There is a rifle cabinet on the ground floor and gun safes in every bedroom, as well. He was very security conscious."
"I understand that his past caught up with him...." Ezra prompted.
"I wouldn't know, but I do know that he wasn't killed in the house."
Ezra simply nodded at that piece of information. "I am impressed with the plans, but I believe I am ready now to see the house. Shall we meet you there? Vin knows the way up."
He glanced out the window and saw a few scattered snowflakes spiraling out of the darkening sky, "Or you can ride with us if you'd rather not drive since it seems to be trying to snow just a bit."
She looked out the window and frowned, "I'll ride with you. I'll *have* to make the drive back to Denver. I hope it doesn't get a lot worse."
"We'll just take a quick tour of the house and have you back in plenty of time to make it back to Denver before dark. And we'll follow you down at least as far as the I-70 junction to make sure you get down okay. How's that sound?" Vin offered.
"Wonderful," Marisa assured him.
Ezra didn't really need to tour the house to know that he was going to make an offer on it and buy it, even if he had to pay the entire five million for it. The way Vin's eyes lit up as soon as he saw the place made the decision for him. Vin truly loved the house
And if Vin loved it, then he was damned well going to have it.
He followed Vin through the house, gentle amusement filling him as his lover bounced around with all the energy of JD on a sugar high, pointing out everything and making suggestions on where certain of their furnishings might go.
Ezra was as impressed with the energy efficiency of the house as he had been with the security features.
The foot thick logs that made up the front and back walls, were cedar logs as he had wanted, and they were backed on the interior by two-by-four stud walls with R-19 insulation between the studs and beautiful solid oak paneling covering it. The A-frame roof, with its steep incline, extending from the peak to the ground, insured that snow would slide off rather than accumulate on top of it and was backed by a double layer of R-30 insulation. Every doorway into the house, even the one into the sun porch, had its own enclosed porch to act as a buffer between the outside and the inside of the house to keep as much cold air out as possible.
The floor of the sun porch, which was on the south side of the house to catch the sun, had dark blue, brown and black tiles set into the top of the concrete slab that the house set on to absorb and store the sun's heat, warming the porch.
There were two steps leading up from the sun porch to the main interior of the house. This was due to the fact that two-by-eight floor joists had been installed over the concrete slab, the space between the joists filled with insulation and a hardwood floor put down over that, Insulating the floor from the cold of the ground.
The matching A-frame, four-car garage was attached to the house by an enclosed walkway. The kennels was attached to it by another enclosed walkway and the stable attached to that by a third enclosed walkway. A fourth enclosed walkway returned to the house from the stables, making it possible to make a complete circuit of the garage, kennels, stable and return to the house without ever setting foot outside or retracing one's steps.
He knew immediately which bedroom would be theirs when he stepped into the south facing one. It was easily twice the size of his bedroom at the townhouse and had a private bath that included a Jacuzzi tub. It also had a balcony cantilevered out into the sun porch.
Standing on the balcony, looking out over the grounds of the house he noted that they were above the tree line. The area around the house was barren ground, there were no trees or shrubs nearby for anyone to hide in. There were cameras and motion detectors covering every approach.
If Simon Trevor came for him here, he was going to have a difficult time getting in, but if they were going to end his threat permanently, he would *have* to get in.
It felt strange, standing there, coldly planning to kill a man, even if that man was a sociopath with over a dozen confirmed kills, who had been stalking him for more than a decade.
He had worked in law enforcement all his adult life and he had never really wanted to kill anyone, but now.... He wanted Simon Trevor dead. He wanted the man to come for him so that he could kill him and end his threat permanently. This time he would make sure that Trevor was dead.
He had Vin to think of now and he wasn't going to risk Vin to that bastard.
Vin stepped out onto the balcony, coming to his side, a frown crossing his face as he saw the dark look on Ezra's face. "Ez? Dark thoughts, Babe?"
Ezra turned, looking past him to insure that Marisa wasn't within earshot, before answering, "Trevor."
"Secure as this place is he shouldn't be able to get in."
"*That* is the problem."
When Vin frowned and cocked an eyebrow in question Ezra continued.
"For it to be ruled self-defense when a homeowner uses lethal force against an intruder the situation must meet three requirements. One: The intruder must be *inside* the home. Two: The intruder must be armed with a potentially *lethal* weapon and Three: the homeowner must have reason to believe his life or the life of another person in the household is in *immediate* danger."
"Trevor's been stalking you for more than a decade. I reckon that's reason enough to think your life would be in danger from him."
"But perhaps not *immediate* danger. Trevor prefers to kidnap his victims, then do his killing in his lair. His weapon of choice is a tranquilizer gun. He may not be carrying a *lethal* weapon. Although he murdered my fourth stepfather, Adrian LeBeau, during his second attempt to kidnap me, he did not bring a lethal weapon with him. He used a knife from the kitchen of the apartment."
Vin looked thoughtful then gave a quick nod, "Reckon I can find us a "throw away'," he stated matter-of-factly, referring to getting them an untraceable handgun, which could be planted on the body.
"That leaves: How does he get inside with all this security?"
"You said that he calls you for a couple of weeks before he comes for you, taunting you, threatening you, right?"
"If he sticks to his pattern, we'll have some warning. We document problems with the security system, during the time he's calling then when he comes, we let him in, and claim that the system went down."
Ezra rubbed his temples, "I don't want you involved in this. If it is discovered that we lured him in to kill him, we could go to prison. I don't want you to go to prison."
"Ez," Vin said quietly, "either we do this together or I track the son of a bitch down and kill him myself. You know I can do it. I was a damned fine bounty hunter and a damned fine sniper. He'll never know what hit him."
"Lord! Vin, no! You can't do that!"
"The hell I can't. He ain't getting you. Either we wait for him to come and take him out together or I go get him. Simple as that."
Ezra rubbed his temples again, trying to stave off an encroaching headache. "Vin...."
Vin reached out and drew Ezra into his arms. "The bastard *needs* killing, Ez. How many people has he murdered? Didn't you say fifteen 'known victims', not counting incidentals like your stepfather, that he killed while kidnapping his victims. He's a fugitive, Ez, a convicted serial killer. Ain't nobody gonna have a problem with him ending up dead."
"He might not come for me," Ezra said tiredly, leaning into Vin's embrace.
"But you think he will."
Ezra nodded against Vin's chest. "I've got that feeling, that 'he's watching me' feeling. I got it before both the second and third kidnapping attempts."
"And you've got it now?"
"Not right this minute. I feel it strongest at the townhouse, like he's prowling around it, trying to find a way in."
"How long have you had this feeling?"
"About a week." Ezra sighed. "He should start calling me any day now. Then we'll have a couple of weeks before he actually comes for me."
"Then we need to get out of the townhouse, ASAP. That ought to fuck up his timetable. He'll have to start plotting all over again. Besides the townhouse is too closed in. There're too many neighbors, too much potential for other people to get hurt. How long will it take to close on this place?"
Ezra stepped back slightly and looked up at him, "Closing normally takes thirty days. I might be able to push it to ten days, but there is a huge amount of paperwork involved, title searches, etc. and we have to meet with the seller to sign all the paperwork. Just setting up an appointment that is agreeable to everyone can take time. And I'll have to arrange the transfer of funds if we are to pay cash."
"But we are going to buy this place?"
"Yes, Darling. We are going to buy this place." Ezra smiled up at him, "I love it and I already know that you do."
He stepped back taking Vin's hand. "Let's go tell Marisa."
Marisa literally squealed with delight when they told her that they wanted the house and she should notify the seller and start the paperwork. The commission on the sale would be as much as all the other commissions she had earned all year.
Sunday they spent deciding what they were going to move with them and what they would give away or sell.
Although the house they were moving into was larger than the one that they were moving out of, it already contained some furniture which they had been told would be included in the sale and a good number of built-in cabinets and storage units.
Some decisions were easy, Ezra's bed and its antique headboard was definitely going with them, as was his 'shaman shelf' as Vin called it.
They debated over the white leather couch, finally deciding that it would go in the new house, too.
Vin was hesitant when he asked if Ezra wanted to move his 'reading nook'.
Ezra however was most definite. "It goes with us."
"But it don't exactly go with the house does it?"
"Vin, anything we want in the house goes with the house!" Ezra chided him, gently. "I love my reading nook. I treasure it all the more because you gave it to me. There is no way that I am leaving it behind. Besides, I already know exactly where I'm putting it." He grinned at his lover.
Vin laughed. "Guess that settles that."
Ezra frowned suddenly, "What about your furniture?"
"Got rid of most of it when I moved into Chris'. About the only thing I really cared about keeping was my rocking chair and it's here."
"And it will of course go with us." He paused then said, "I was thinking that that big room over the garage would make a great workshop for you. It could be a private space for you. You could refinish the furniture that you find on our yard-hopping expeditions, do woodworking or whatever else you wish out there."
"I don't need a private space, Babe."
"Darling, everyone needs a private space. I love you dearly, but I will need a private office cum study for my writing. I simply cannot write with another person in the room unless that person is actively involved in the project as you will be should we decide to go ahead with the picture book on Rocky Mountain National Park."
Vin nodded, "Kinda figured that might be the case, seeing as how ain't nobody ever seen you doing any writing. I can understand that. You don't need to be worrying about what anybody thinks of your stories till their done and you're *ready* to have them read."
Ezra smiled and held out his arms to Vin who immediately accepted the invitation and stepped in to wrap his arms around Ezra.
"That is one of the things that I love about you, Vin. You do understand and accept my many little faults and phobias."
Vin nuzzled his hair. "Don't see them as faults, or phobias. It's just you, Babe and I love *you*... just like you are."
Ezra leaned back to look up into his face, "And that, my Darling, is a blessing of immense proportions."
"Two way street, Ez. Seems to me that you love me the same, just as I am, with all my little faults and phobias."
Ezra nodded, "In the end it is our faults and phobias that make us who we are, isn't it?"
"Yep." Vin grinned at him.
Monday morning Vin was up with the sun. He had a rocking chair that he had found at one of the Goodwill stores and had stripped of the hideous purple paint that someone had used on it. He had finally gotten the last of the paint off, after discovering that there were no less than four separate, but equally ugly colors under the purple. To his surprise, after all the paint was gone he found that the chair had intricate carving across the top panel that the upright spindles fit into as well as a matching design on the seat.
Under all the paint the chair had turned out to be made of some light colored, almost white wood. He decided to paint the design with gold leaf before sealing the entire chair with a clear finish.
He had stored the chair in the garage and since, although it was cold outside, the sun was shining he decided to work on it in the driveway. It was on the south side of the house and the sun would help warm him while he worked.
Out of habit, he checked out the window of the garage before opening the door to setup his workspace. One of the first things he noted was an old red truck parked on the opposite side of the street and a couple of houses down.
He shook his head. Buck. He wondered what the man wanted but figured he'd wait and let the man come to them.
By the time that Ezra got up, dressed and came out to watch him working on the chair, it was midmorning and Vin was getting annoyed that Buck hadn't made a move yet.
He jerked his head towards the truck. "Ya see him?"
"How could I miss that truck, Darling?" Ezra chuckled and reached out running a soothing hand through Vin's hair as he handed him a cup of hot coffee. "If he wishes to stalk someone he needs a less noticeable vehicle."
"Been there since sunup. You think he's stalking one'a us?"
"Not really. I suspect he wishes to talk to me, but is unwilling to face you as yet. Perhaps we should present him with an opportunity."
"Ain't sure I want to leave you alone with him."
"I appreciate the thought, but I can take care of myself, Darling. Should he turn violent he won't know what hit him."
Vin grimaced but finally nodded. "All right, what do you want me to do?"
"A small errand would suffice. We are going to need packing boxes. Specifically, I need the special boxes for packing china and glassware, with the dividers for the glassware and the cardboard inserts to place between plates, saucers and etc. Tissue paper for wrapping the cups and crystal would be nice, too. I have two twelve-place settings of good china and another of everyday china."
"U-Haul-it oughta have most of what we need. If not The Shipping Connection should. I'll check both." Vin said with a nod, then glanced at Buck's truck and added, "You be careful."
Ezra smiled, "I will," he leaned in and kissed Vin quickly, "now, go on with you."
Vin nodded and went to get his jeep out of the garage, glad that he had set up his workspace on the other side of the driveway. He'd have to move it if Ezra wanted to take the Jag out but he could get the jeep with no problem.
Ezra watched him drive off, shaking his head when Vin whipped the jeep in next to Buck's truck and leaned out to say something to him. He went back into the house chuckling softly to himself, wondering if Buck would actually have the nerve to come on in and talk to him or if Vin had scared him off. He could just imagine what Vin might have said to the other man.
He didn't have long to wait before the bell rang and he went to open the door for Buck. Even though he was expecting the other man, he checked through the peephole before opening the door.
He held the door open and stepped back, waving a hand to invite Buck in, "Do come in Mister Wilmington... and tell me why you've been parked in front of my house since the sun came up."
"Yeah, well, sorry. I just... I wanted to talk to you and I didn't really want to get into things with Vin."
"Yeah. Didn't quite manage to avoid that."
"What did he threaten you with?"
Buck shook his head, then laughed, suddenly amused by what Vin had said. "Oh, nothing much just said he'd hunt me down like a dog, shoot me from ambush, nothing fatal, of course, 'cause he plans to stake me out on an ant hill, pour honey over me and wait till the ants are done with me before skinning me alive, dunking me in a vat of salt water and leaving me to drown."
"Oh, my! He is a tad put out with you." Ezra led the way into the living room and sat down on the couch. He waved a hand towards one of the other chairs, "Have a seat."
Buck shook his head and began to pace, "Don't think I can sit, not for long anyway. Look, I just... I wanted to know... What makes you think that I'm in love with Chris?" He demanded suddenly turning to face Ezra. "We're friends, sure... but...."
"Mister Wilmington, Buck, anyone with eyes and half a brain can see that you love Chris. That you're in love with him is harder to ascertain, but I do think that you are. It's in the way that you look at him sometimes. It's not lust, more like adoration and adoration is the purest form of love. I've listened to the stories that you tell, and that he tells, of your years of friendship. I hear what you say and some of what you don't and I can't help but think that your devotion to him goes well beyond that of any friend. Some of the things that you have put up with no mere friend would endure. Hell, a lot of family members wouldn't. Most in fact. Isn't that why he's estranged from his parents, his brothers and sisters? Because they couldn't endure his behavior after Sarah and Adam were killed."
Buck ran a hand through his hair and shook his head, "Yeah. Yeah, they just didn't understand. He was devastated and they acted like he should just get over it already. Her'n Adam were his whole world."
"They weren't quite his *whole* world. You were part of it. You still are and you are what kept him alive, helped him heal."
Buck shook his head and let out a heavy sigh. "No. No. I didn't help him heal. Took Vin to do that. I just kept him alive for awhile."
"I think that you underestimate your importance to him. He may have needed Vin to begin healing but he's moved on from that, as has Vin. Now, you need to decide what you want."
"I... I care about Chris, care for him, I reckon but what you said... I ain't ever thought about him that way!"
"Really?" Ezra raised an eyebrow in incredulous amusement.
Buck blushed but refused to say anything.
Ezra sighed. "Let's try something," he said, "pretend for just a moment that Chris Larabee doesn't exist. Try and imagine what your life would be like. You're still an ATF agent, everything else is the same but there is no Chris Larabee and no Larabee ranch in your life."
Buck gaped at him then shook his head, "I can't. I mean, he's my boss and my friend and... and...."
"And the most important person in your life. I have a news flash for you, Mister Wilmington, the most important person in anyone's life is the person that they love the most. Which makes Mister Larabee the person you love the most. In most cases, excepting familial relations, such as parent and child, the person you love the most is generally the person that you are in love with."
"But he's a man? So what? This is the twenty-first century. It's not like a century ago when two men caught together might get hung. Hell! There are places in the world, even right here in the US, where two men can get married!"
Buck shook his head, still pacing and gesturing.
Ezra smiled in amusement then added, almost coyly, "And it's not as if you don't know that he likes men."
Buck snorted then sighed, "Problem is I ain't sure that I like men... that way."
Ezra shrugged. "Try this. Imagine that you are living at the ranch. Can you see yourself doing that?"
"Well, yeah, I reckon. Me'n Chris have talked about going partners, raising horses a few times."
"So, you don't have a problem with sharing a house with him. Now imagine getting up in the morning, puttering around in the kitchen, maybe making breakfast. Chris comes in, perhaps he lays a hand on your shoulder or pats your back then sits down at the table while you finish up breakfast. Can you see that happening?"
"Sure. No problem. I've cooked for Chris lots of times."
"Good now let's try something just a tad different. Close your eyes and imagine that you're standing at the stove in Chris' kitchen, he comes in and walks over to you, but instead of just patting your back he slips his arms around your waist and nuzzles the back of your neck."
Buck shivered and his eyes popped open. "I... I...."
"Before you attempt to deny what you just felt, perhaps I should point out that you have as the saying goes, "popped a woody" just from imagining that little scenario."
"Jesus! Oh, Jesus!" Buck gasped, walking in circles until he bumped into a chair and sank down on it.
Finally after several minutes of silence he said, "I've been pretty deep in denial, haven't I?"
"I'd say about as deep as a man can get."
Buck shook his head. "I reckon that explains a lot. Vin... I was jealous and just didn't know it."
"You have no reason to be jealous of Vin now. In fact, perhaps you ought to thank him. I doubt that Mister Larabee was really aware of his feelings for you until after he and Vin got together."
"You think that he used Vin?"
"No, not really. I think that he thought he loved Vin that way, then after he had him, realized that it wasn't Vin he loved at all."
"Shit!" Buck groaned, "But Vin did love him, didn't he? He got hurt, didn't he?"
"God! What a mess!"
"It was, but it's untangling itself. Vin is recovering. We love each other. We are together and plan to stay together. Now you need to straighten things out with Mister Larabee."
"What about the rest of the team?"
"I don't know what will happen with them. I hate to lose their friendship, but I won't give up what I have found with Vin for its sake nor do I think that you and Mister Larabee should risk your happiness for the sake of staying friends with the others. I believe that JD is going to be all right with my relationship with Vin. I think he will probably accept you and Mister Larabee as a couple as well. What Misters Jackson and Sanchez will do is beyond my ability to predict."
"What do I do now?"
"The hardest thing in the world. Put your heart on the line. Find Mister Larabee and tell him that you love him, are in love with him. Risk everything you have for everything you want."
Buck sat staring down at his hands, his only movement a nervous wringing of those hands.
Ezra rose and moved to his side, taking his arm to pull him to his feet. "Do it now, Buck, Before you lose your nerve. Don't think about it any more. Don't worry about it anymore. Just do it. He loves you. Trust me on this."
He guided Buck towards the door, and practically shoved him out. Closing the door he turned to lean back against it. Lord he had a headache. If those two idiots didn't get together after this he'd just have to shoot them both!
It had taken all the nerve Buck had to call the office and ask if Chris was in. He was both surprised and relieved to learn that Chris had come in but gone home almost immediately, claiming a personal day. He was a little worried at what that might mean, but turned his truck and headed for the ranch determined to get it over with.
He parked next to Chris' black Ram and sat for a long moment before making himself get out and walk up on the porch.
The door wasn't locked. Chris seldom locked it when he was home.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside, wandering back towards the den.
Chris stood at the bar, with a glass in his hand and an open bottle standing on the bar.
"Chris," it came out a wretched sound, half strangled, almost a sob, almost a plea.
Chris turned his head to look at him, a frown on his face, then his face cleared and a smile lit it.
"Buck," he breathed the name in a warm, husky voice and sat the glass down on the bar, turning to face Buck, his arms opening in welcome.
Buck wasn't sure who moved to whom but suddenly he was in Chris' arms, hunched down to bury his face on Chris' shoulder, his arms wrapped around Chris' waist and Chris was stroking his back, murmuring soothing words.
A kiss was pressed against his neck and he shivered, eliciting a husky chuckle from Chris, who nuzzled his hair then nipped at his earlobe before that warm husky voice murmured in his ear, "Welcome home, Big Dog, welcome home."
And for the first time in a very long time he knew exactly where he belonged.
Ezra had been right. This feeling was worth anything and worth everything.
Home was where the heart was and his heart was finally home.