Author's notes: I have never been to the Rocky Mountain National Park mentioned herein. All information (dining, lodging, hiking) comes from Fodor's National Parks of the West - the 1992 edition - so if things have changed or places mentioned no longer exist, just pretend there's a peculiar time warp in place.
Friday afternoon, again.
And again he and Ezra were the only ones left in the bullpen. Again Buck was closeted with Chris in his office.
Week two and counting since the break up with Chris.
Things were marginally better or it seemed that way. Buck's sniping was tapering off. Nathan seemed a bit friendlier. Josiah seemed to have made his peace and was now trying to keep the peace.
JD had settled on trying to stay friends with Vin now that Buck was calming down.
It seemed as if the Magnificent Seven might survive after all.
But then there was Ezra and the fact that he was living in Ezra's spare room.
Being with Ezra was helping, definitely helping, especially when they were at Ezra's place and the office Ezra vanished to be replaced by the twilight zone/pod-person Ezra that Vin was starting to think he could really like getting to know.
Except that the others didn't know that he was staying with Ezra and he had no idea how they would react if they found out.
They'd probably think he was corrupting another of their team members.
He leaned forwards and rubbed the back of his neck. God! He was looking forwards to getting back to Ezra's and taking a soak in that wonderful whirlpool tub.
He suppressed a chuckle. Damn tub was corrupting him. He'd never cared about luxury before but now, he really didn't want to think about having to go back to living without that tub and the blessed relieve it brought to his aches and pains, particularly the near constant ache in his back.
Then strong hands settled on his shoulders and knowledgeable fingers began to massage his neck.
Warm breath stirred his hair and a soft voice teased in his ear. "Someone needs to smash something!"
Vin chuckled and sat back in the office chair, letting his head fall forwards as Ezra rubbed the tension out of his neck and shoulders.
As the weekend had approached he's seen little bits and pieces of the twilight-zone/pod-person Ezra bleeding over into the office Ezra.
He couldn't help but wonder what Ezra had in mind for this weekend.
Maybe Ezra was trying to corrupt him.
He shook his head at the thought. Maybe they deserved each other. They were the loners of the group, the losers. Ezra with his rumors of corruption dogging his every step and Vin with his poor education and rough ways.
They were tolerated because Chris had picked him for the team and Chris was never wrong about what the team needed.
Vin didn't really have the education required to be an ATF agent, but Chris had fought to get him on the team.
Now with his 'connection' to Chris, that thing whatever it had been that had made it seem as if they had known each other forever, in the moment that they met, broken he wasn't sure that he could stay with the team.
"Let's get out of here," Ezra suggested.
"Got ta finish this report."
"It's not due until Monday morning. We can finish it at home."
Ezra popped a floppy disk, which apparently materialized out of thin air, into the A drive and leaning on Vin's shoulder grabbed the mouse. He quickly clicked on File: Save As, then maneuvered through the file listings, with a speed that Vin could barely follow, to save it to the floppy.
"Grab any notes you need and let's go, before Snippy and Snappy decide to come checking on us."
Snippy and Snappy were the new nicknames that the pod-person Ezra had given Buck and Chris.
Minutes later they were making their escape. In the elevator, Vin asked, "Heard ya renting the Caddy for the weekend last night. We going yardhopping again?"
Ezra chuckled. "I rather thought we might take off and go on a little driving tour, hitting the flea markets and junk shops along the way."
"Sounds good. When do we leave?"
"I pick up the Caddy on my way home. I thought we'd drive up to Boulder tonight. Get an early start there in the morning and spend the day flea marketing. We can drive over the mountains to Steamboat Springs tomorrow afternoon and spend the night there. Then Sunday morning we can circle down through Oak Creek, Yampa, Topanas, Bond and Vail and catch I-70 back to Denver. There won't be many yard sales and flea markets open on Sunday, but it's a beautiful drive."
"Fresh air and sunshine sounds great to me." He cut a glance at Ezra, grinning. "I get to drive?"
"Of course. I have to navigate." Ezra said with feigned dismay, as if it would be impossible for him to drive and navigate, when Vin knew perfectly well that Ezra could drive with one hand while reading a map and talking on his cell phone.
Vin laughed. His pod-person Ezra was almost all the way back and they weren't even out of the elevator.
As the elevator doors opened, he said, "I'll follow you to Mario's."
"You don't have to do that. You can head on home."
"Know I don't have to, I just am." He didn't add that he wanted to make sure that the hunky Italian lot owner kept his eyes and hands off Ezra.
Ezra sighed but shrugged it off, letting Vin do what he wanted.
Vin headed for his jeep and Ezra got into the Jag.
One of the reasons that no one had realized that he was staying at Ezra's was that they still drove in separately. He came in early and Ezra came in late, like always.
He wondered how long it would be before someone noticed the pod-person Ezra seeping into the office Ezra. He wasn't certain that he wanted anyone else getting to know his pod-person Ezra. He realized that he was jealous of the persona that the others didn't know about.
And he still wasn't certain which one was the real Ezra.
It was high summer and wouldn't be dark until well after nine o'clock. They cut off the interstate and drove along little backroads, with the top down on the Caddy, the radio turned up loud to a Country station and sang along. They discovered that they both loved Blackhawk and knew all the words to "Down in Flames", "That's Just About Right", "Goodbye Says It All" and "I Sure Can Smell the Rain".
Ezra checked them into a suite at the Hilton and waved off Vin's offer to pay half.
"I'd be staying here if I were by myself."
"In a suite?"
"Yes. Call me paranoid, but I like to have room to maneuver should it become necessary. Not to mention that two exits are always better than one. Now, I'm going to get ready and head out to do a little rocking and rolling. You can come along or not. I warn you that the bars will be gay ones and someone is sure to hit on a hunk like you."
"Hell, Ez you know I'm gay and I know I can rock and roll with the best of them. Might as well get back into the swing of things. We dressing up or down?"
"We're dressing down home country. Skintight jeans, skin tight Ts, boots, buckles and hats. Although I think you'd attract more attention with a nice headband and your hair loose."
He had stepped close and reached up to trail a handful of Vin's hair through his fingers.
Reaching out and catching Ezra by the hips and holding him there seemed as natural as breathing, "Ya gonna dance with me, Ez?" he asked.
Ezra chuckled, "Of course, but then I'm a dance slut. I'll *dance* with anyone, but I never bring anyone back here. Comprende?"
"Yeah. Don't think I'm ready for that yet anyhow. Be nice though to go out, dance a little, drink a little and come back all relaxed and able to sleep."
Ezra's hand had dropped to rest on Vin's chest after trailing through his hair. Now he seemed to realize how close they were standing, how intimate the embrace seemed and drew back.
"We'd best go and get ready."
Vin gave him a smile and a nod, releasing his hold on Ezra's hips and stepping back.
Several hours later, Vin maneuvered the red Caddy back through the streets of Boulder towards their hotel, grateful for his ability to always be able to find his way back to any place he'd been to before.
He glanced over at Ezra in the passenger's seat and smiled to himself.
Ezra had let the seat back to recline a bit. His long legs were stretched out in front of him, boot heels resting on the top of the Caddy's windshield, hat tossed carelessly into the back seat so that the wind could blow his hair. His eyes were closed and he was smiling, humming softly to himself, one of the tunes they'd danced to at the last club.
His right hand rested on the top of the Caddy's doorframe, the left on the armrest between them.
Vin lay his right arm on the armrest beside Ezra's, steering with his left hand. He let his hand come to rest on top of Ezra's then interlaced their fingers.
Without opening his eyes or turning his head towards Vin, Ezra said softly, "It's too soon, Vin… for both of us."
"Sorry," Vin started to unlace their fingers and pull back, but Ezra tightened his fingers, trapping Vin's fingers between them, not letting him withdraw.
"Don't be. I like you. I like you a lot, but let's not start something, until we're sure that we're over what we're getting over."
"Didn't know that you were getting over someone… but then I didn't know for sure ya was gay until tonight."
"You weren't supposed to know. I keep my private life private. I have found that it is less trouble that way. It's been a couple of months since my breakup so I suppose that I am farther along in the cycle of grieving for love lost than you are, but I'm not ready to start anything else yet."
"I spent three weeks undercover on the Kepler case and came back to discover that there was nothing to come back to."
"Not your fault. No one's really. Just the way things are. Law enforcement officers have one of the highest divorce rates in the country and undercover agents lead the pack in failed marriages among them. That is just talking about conventional, acceptable, out-in-the-open relationships. Add the stress of the secrecy required in a same sex relationship within the homophobic atmosphere of the law enforcement community and the chances of such a relationship surviving become slim and none."
Vin sighed and squeezed Ezra's hand slightly in sympathy and understanding then said, "Reckon the odds was against me'n Chris from the start then, too."
Ezra shrugged slightly, sitting up and tucking his legs back down in the car where they belonged. "Love doesn't care about odds, Vin, and sometimes it beats them. You and I just haven't found that one relationship, that one great love that can and will defy the odds."
Vin pulled into the underground garage at the Hilton and found a parking place.
Ezra released his right hand so that he could turn off the motor.
Turning to look at Ezra, Vin said quietly, "Maybe we could find it together."
Ezra smiled, but his face remained solemn and his eyes sad. "Maybe… but not just yet. Okay?"
"Okay. For now we'll just be best buddies. Deal?"
Ezra smiled, the light coming back into his eyes. "Done deal," he replied and held out his right hand for Vin to shake.
Vin grinned, glad to see the smile back on Ezra's face. He took the hand and shook it, "Done deal, buddy."
Vin stopped, staring at the carving in front of him.
He and Ezra had been browsing the flea markets all morning and were now at one that featured several Native American artist selling their wares.
He had been drawn to the wooden carvings of the animals, amazed at how the artist had used the natural lines of the wood to carve the animals, making it seem that the animals were literally bursting out of the wood itself.
The carving that had caught his eye was of a bird rising up out of the base of the carving, wings spread and neck stretched out. The front half of the bird was stained a pale red the back darker and the base itself was stained black. The small plaque read "Phoenix Rising".
He sensed more than saw Ezra move to stand beside him. "Buy it."
The simple words were almost an order.
"It's a lot."
"Remember what I said about carrying the amount of money that I do, because I want to have it in case I find something that I just have to have? For you, this is a have to have. Buy it, if you don't you will always regret it."
"It's five hundred dollars."
"It's worth it and I don't say that just as a connoisseur of art but as your friend. It would be worth it, even if I didn't think that it will appreciate in value, because it calls to you. For whatever reason, it belongs with you. You know it and it knows it."
"It knows it?" Vin asked incredulously.
"Art has soul, Vin, and on rare occasion the soul of a piece of art will call to the soul of a person, as this piece is calling to you. Buy it, or I will. Either way it will be yours."
Vin reached out almost but not quite touching the Phoenix. He wet his lips then nodded. "All right," he said, then grinned and teased, "but only because you threatened me with buying it for me."
"Whatever it takes, as long as you get it." Ezra grinned back at him.
As the artist was wrapping the Phoenix and carefully packing it in a small crate, Vin noted that Ezra was carrying a sack. "What did you buy?"
Ezra smiled at him, "Something that called to me, as the Phoenix did to you."
He sat the sack down on the table where the carving were displayed and opened it, carefully pulling out something heavily swaddled in wrapping paper. He gently unwound the paper to reveal a gorgeous quartz crystal. Nearly eight inches in length and three in diameter, it was sparkling clear for most of it's length, only turning a cloudy white down near the broken end which was surrounded by smaller crystals jutting up around the base of the larger one.
Vin reached out to touch it, but was stopped by a sharp voice from across the table.
"Do not touch it!"
He yanked back his hand and turned to see an old Indian standing across the table from him.
"I am Kojay, a shaman of the Comanche people. I do not mean to be rude, but no one should touch such a crystal but he to whom it belongs. Properly cleansed and charged it will both ground him and energize him."
"How does he do that?" Vin asked before Ezra could.
"He must wash it in a solution of sea salt and distilled water which he has blessed."
"Which *I* have blessed? I am no priest or shaman, surely to be blessed it requires someone… qualified," Ezra asked in dismay.
"You are a child of the Great Spirit, as are we all. Pray to whatever God you believe in. Ask him or her to bless the solution of salt and water that you may cleanse your crystal. It will be done."
"How do I *know* that it is done?"
"Ask and it is done. You need only believe."
"Then how do I charge it?"
"Find a place where the sun shines brightly, a place where you feel safe and comfortable. Sit the crystal in the sun, sit nearby and meditate while it charges."
"How long does this take."
"As long as it takes. You will feel when the stone is charged. When you touch the crystal you will be at peace and filled with energy."
He paused a moment. "You will need a base for it." He turned and moved to the private area behind the table looking for something. He returned in a moment with a wooden platform. The top was slightly concave, just deep enough and large enough around that the crystal would sit easily in its center. It had three short but sturdy legs, rising it up about three inches from whatever surface it was set on.
As he handed it to Ezra, the younger Indian returned with Vin's Phoenix in its crate. "Giving away my work, Father?" he asked but there was no anger in his voice.
"He needs it and your Phoenix has found its home today, my son. A good day's work, I think."
"As you wish, Father." The younger man said respectfully. Handing the crate to Vin he said, "May you enjoy the company of the Phoenix for many years."
"Thank you," Vin said.
The young man turned to where Ezra was hesitating to take the base from the older man. "Take it. You will give it a good home. When you cleanse the crystal, cleanse the base as well. Wash it in the saltwater solution then rub it with any good furniture polish. By the way, my name is Chanu. I put a card in the crate with the Phoenix, should you wish to contact us for any reason."
"I," Ezra began then hesitated. Finally with a nod he said, "Thank you."
"You are welcome," Chanu replied.
As they walked away, after Ezra had replaced the crystal in it's bag and slipped the base in with it, Kojay came to stand beside his son. "Did you see?" he asked softly.
Chanu nodded and asked softly, "Their spirit animals? The Phoenix and the Fox?"
"I hope when the time is right, they are wise enough to come to us. They will need guidance."
"They will find their way, Father. The Phoenix is rising from its ashes and the fox will guide it to its glory." He turned and smiled at his father. "Let's pack up and head home. I, like you, feel that we have done a good day's work."
They headed north out of Boulder taking Route 36 to Lyons and on up to hit Route 34 into the Rocky Mountain National Park.
They stopped in Estes Park for a late lunch before heading into the Park proper.
Ezra guided Vin into the parking area for La Casa, with an easy, "You're going to love this place. The voodoo chicken is right up your alley."
Vin laughed. "I've been here before, Ez and you're right. The voodoo chicken is my regular."
Ezra laughed in turn. "I am particularly fond of the blackened shrimp, so I guess we won't need a menu."
They chatted amicably over lunch.
Ezra sighed, "We don't have time for a hike today, if we're going to go on to Steamboat Springs."
"Don't have to go on. We could find a place to stay in Grand Lake. Either hike this afternoon and go on to the Springs tomorrow or skip it entirely for this trip and just circle around and head on back to Denver tomorrow."
Ezra considered a moment. "I didn't make reservations. So, it really doesn't matter if we go on to the Springs. I'd really love to take a hike."
"You pack your hiking boots?"
"Yes. Did you?"
"Yep. Kinda thought we might get at least a short walk in. We won't have to pay to get in, I got a' Annual Pass."
Ezra laughed. "As do I."
"How come we've never run into each other up here?"
"It's a big park and we have seldom taken time off at the same time. Most likely we simply were not here at the same time."
"You ever hiked the Keyhole Route?"
"I've always wanted to, but it's somewhat daunting and I've been reluctant to tackle it alone and I've never been to the park *with* anyone before."
"I love it. It's rough, especially the last couple of miles, but well worth it."
"Perhaps we could plan a trip for later."
"Labor Day weekend would probably be the last weekend that it'll be clear to hike it. Start getting snow after that."
"We'll be off Labor Day."
"A three day weekend." Vin agreed with a nod.
"Four if we arrange to take Friday or Tuesday as well."
"Done. Should I reserve a room or a camp site?"
"You're willing to camp?"
Ezra cleared his throat. "Marines? Remember? I assure you that I can camp."
"That doesn't mean you want to," Vin pointed out.
"To hike the Keyhole? I'd sleep in the car at the base of the trail."
"Don't think that'll be necessary," Vin laughed. "Go ahead and reserve us a room. I like Riversong, if you can get us in."
"Good Lord! It is a miracle that we haven't run into each other up here. That is my preferred accommodations."
"Bet you like to settle in the library, near the fireplace with one of their books--"
"I usually bring my own book, but yes, I love the library."
"Room with one of those big sunken tubs?"
Ezra blushed, "Busted."
"Hell, I do the same. Like to treat myself now and then. Ain't as poor as I might appear, just don't see no reason to flaunt money. But for this weekend we're planning, it's gonna be my treat and no arguing. Understood? We'll stop by 'fore we leave here today and I'll make the reservations and put down the deposit."
"We might not be able to get Tuesday off."
"We'll reserve it anyhow. If we can't stay Monday night we just won't."
"And if we can't get a room there?"
"We'll get one somewhere else. Still gonna be my treat."
"Very well," Ezra grinned and cocked and eyebrow, "Done deal?"
"Done deal," Vin replied, reaching to shake hands again.
Ezra chuckled softly and shook his hand.