Vin Tanner pressed his lips together and forced himself not to say anything. It wasn't easy. He couldn't help but overhear the conversation between his two colleagues, Ezra Standish and Buck Wilmington, since Buck was sitting with one hip propped up on Ezra's desk and Ezra's desk was back to back with Vin's.
"Sorry about last night, Ez," Buck was saying. "I know I shoulda called ya, but Mindy showed up outta the blue. She was only gonna be in town for the night and me'n you can have supper an' watch a game anytime, pard."
Vin ground his teeth as Ezra looked up at Buck and said, "That is quite all right, Mister Wilmington. I quite understand, you could hardly disappoint the young lady."
"Thanks, Ez." Buck grinned and slapped Ezra on the shoulder.
Ezra smiled up at him then asked, his voice hopeful, "Perhaps we could reschedule for Saturday night?"
"Sure, Ez." Buck called over his shoulder as he headed back to his desk. "Seven, okay?"
"Certainly." Ezra smiled happily, gazing dreamily after the big agent.
Vin shoved his chair back and stalked off to the breakroom. He *really* needed a break. It was plain as day to Vin that Ezra was smitten with Buck, but Buck obviously couldn't see what Ezra was offering him. The invitation to dinner for last night had been the second time that Ezra had invited the big surveillance expert to a private dinner and the second time that Buck had conveniently forgotten about the invitation, standing the undercover agent up.
Vin stalked into the breakroom and poured himself a cup of coffee. *He* sure as hell wouldn't be standing Ezra up, if the man ever gave him the sort of chances he'd been giving Buck. How Wilmington could be so oblivious to the fact that Ezra adored him was beyond Vin.
Vin was pretty sure that everyone in the office knew that Ezra had it bad for Buck, except maybe JD... or Nathan and, of course, Buck himself.
The way that Josiah watched the two agents interact said clearly that he knew, not that he would ever say anything. He was after all a psychologist and used to keeping people's secrets.
Vin knew for a fact that Chris knew. He'd let himself mutter something about the way Buck had blown Ezra off after the first invitation and Chris had told him plainly that Buck would never see what Ezra wanted him to.
Vin sighed. He was in real danger of cracking a tooth the way he'd been grinding his teeth lately every time that Ezra threw himself at Buck and Buck just blithely ignored it.
He took several deep breaths to calm himself then walked back to his desk. Something had to give... and soon. He had realized some time ago that he was in love with the enigmatic undercover agent. He would have made a move on the other man but he hadn't been certain that the other man would be receptive to an advance. It wasn't until Ezra had extended the first invitation to Buck that Vin had been pretty sure that Ezra was at least bisexual like himself. He had hesitated then because he worried that he wasn't good enough for the wealthy, educated and sophisticated undercover agent.
While Buck wasn't as wealthy as Ezra, he did have a better education than Vin and knew his way around socially while Vin often felt out of his league just hanging out with Buck, Chris and the rest of the team.
He had decided that, if Buck was what Ezra wanted, then he would put his desires aside and let Ezra have Buck. Unfortunately Buck didn't seem interested and Vin was becoming angry with him for his indifference to Ezra's desires. Standing Ezra up once might have been excusable, but twice was not, in Vin's opinion.
He sat back down at his desk and glanced over at Ezra.
Ezra was looking at Buck, his face pensive.
Vin frowned thoughtfully. Maybe Ezra was starting to realize that Buck wasn't interested in him the way he wanted him to be, which meant that maybe he'd give Vin a chance... unless Buck showed up Saturday night and got his hopes up again.
A small tight smile crossed Vin's lips. He'd just have to make sure that Bucklin forgot, again. It shouldn't be too hard. There were several things that Buck would drop everything for. He tended to live in the moment and forget about prior plans when offered something that he loved.
Ezra glanced at the clock one more time.
He bowed his head and tried to convince himself that he might have been mistaken about the time that Buck had said he'd be there.
He clearly remembered Buck asking if seven would be okay, but then Buck hadn't actually *said* that he'd be there at seven, Ezra argued with himself.
Still this was the third time he'd asked Buck over and the third time that Buck had stood him up.
He was a fool.
He turned back to the table and calmly began to remove the dishes, carefully returning them to their designated places in the cabinets. There was no need to wash them. They hadn't been used.
He turned the warmer on the oven off and removed the standing rib roast that he had prepared. It wasn't ruined, yet. He could have it tomorrow. He wasn't hungry anymore tonight.
The roasted new potatoes with garlic butter sauce was likewise removed from the oven and placed in the refrigerator. The two salads made with fresh, baby greens were covered with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator as well.
He stood for a moment before closing the refrigerator door, contemplating the two parfaits on the top shelf. They were made with dark chocolate fudge pudding alternated with white chocolate fudge bars, sprinkled with walnuts and awaiting the whipped cream topping, It was sorely tempting to take them both, drown them in the whipped topping and binge on them. After a long moment, he closed the door, firmly.
He was stronger than that.
He cleaned up the kitchen then walked into the living room and sat down on the buttery soft, white leather couch. He looked at the clock.
The only sound was the ticking of the clock.
He sighed and leaned his head back, staring at the ceiling. He closed his eyes, then blinked, fighting against the moisture building in them.
Buck didn't want him.
He'd been trying to fool himself, but it wasn't working anymore.
He'd given the man three chances and Buck had ignored them all. Being forgotten once was acceptable, at least to him, but twice was pushing it and three times... well, if there was one thing that Ezra Standish knew, it was when to fold his hand and walk away.
He reached up and wiped his eyes.
But damn it hurt.
Buck didn't want him.
The clock ticked on in the silent room.
Vin Tanner had parked his battered old jeep three doors down from Ezra Standish's townhouse at six o'clock and settled in to wait. He'd wanted to be sure that he'd be there before Buck showed up, even though he was almost certain that Buck wasn't going to show at all. He was pretty sure that Buck was at the rodeo. He'd handed off two tickets to Chris that afternoon, saying that he'd planned to go but that something had come up and he couldn't make it.
He hadn't actually suggested that Chris take Buck with him, but they both knew that Buck loved the rodeo and Chris didn't know about Buck's *date* with Ezra. It would be natural for Chris to ask his oldest friend to go with him and Buck would most likely completely forget about Ezra's invitation.
Still he breathed a sigh of relief when seven o'clock rolled around and there was no sign of Buck. He waited another hour before cranking the jeep, circling the block then coming back to park in front of Ezra's townhouse.
Ezra rolled his head to look towards his door as the soft melodious chimes of his doorbell sounded. He rolled his head back to look at the clock on the opposite wall.
He sat up slowly.
Buck hadn't actually said seven o'clock....
He rose, straightening his clothes and swiping at his eyes again before stepping out of the living room and into the foyer to answer the door.
He opened it with a smile on his face, but the smile fell away as he saw Vin Tanner on his stoop.
"Hey, Ez," Vin greeted him in his soft drawl. "Mind if I come in?"
Ezra looked past him as if looking for someone else. "I am expecting company, Mister Tanner."
"Bucklin," Vin said with a grimace.
Ezra shot him a surprised look.
"Couldn't help but hear ya invite him over. Ya'll was right next ta my desk."
"I see," Ezra said coldly.
"He's better'n an hour late. Don't reckon he's comin'." Vin took a deep breath and plunged on. "You deserve better than that. I ain't Bucklin, but I ain't blind neither. I can see what you've been offering him and I can see that he just plain don't want to see it. Now I'm real sorry that he's hurt ya, but I'm not sorry that he's thrown away his chances with you, cause I want one."
Ezra frowned up at him. "You want one... what?"
"A chance, Ez. Just one chance to show you how good it can be when the person you're with really cares about you."
"You care about me?"
"Yeah. I think I might even love ya."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. 'There are always options, darling.' One of his Mother's many lessons echoed in his memories. Perhaps he'd never given serious thought to Vin Tanner as an option before but....
"Well, then, by all means, do come in." He stepped back and held the door open.
The genuine smile that graced Vin's face lit his eyes as well, making them shine.
As he led the way into his living room he asked, "So. What did you have in mind?"
"Thought we might go out."
"Out? As on a date?"
"Yep. I know ya like art. Heard you talking to Josiah about it. Now, I don't know if you like Native American art or not, but I've got this friend that I knew when I lived on the res and he's one of the artists showing their work at that gallery opening tonight. He sent me an invite, for me'n a guest. I thought if you wanted we could go there, then maybe have a late dinner after."
Out. Vin wanted to take him out. Vin wanted to be seen in public with him, not just see him in private, slip around and hide, but actually go out. Something that no one else had ever suggested.
"Actually I am quite fond of Native American art," Ezra said as he took a good look at Vin.
The other man was dressed better than he usually dressed. While he still wore jeans, they were dress jeans, indigo blue with a true blue shirt that brought out Vin's clear blue eyes. His black cowboy boots were polished and he wore a bolo tie with a large turquoise stone set in it. Instead of a cowboy hat he had on a headband made of woven leather with beads worked into it.
He looked absolutely stunning.
Ezra smiled. "Let me get my jacket."
As Ezra closed the townhouse door he heard the phone begin to ring. He turned back. "I should get that." He hesitated. "It might be Buck...."
Vin reached out, laying a hand on Ezra's arm. "He had his chances, Ez. This is my chance...."
Ezra looked at the door a long moment, listening to the phone ring on and on. Then he looked up at Vin and smiled softly. "No, I think perhaps this is *my* chance."
Turning away from the door and the ringing phone, he slipped his hand into Vin's and walked down the sidewalk towards Vin's jeep, hand in hand with the sharpshooter, walking away from the past and into the future.
Ezra snuggled into the side of the man he lay against, a soft sigh of contentment escaping him. A smile curved his lips as a tender kiss was pressed to his temple.
Vin's quiet drawl murmured to him as fingers toyed with his hair. "Shouldn't've let you talk me into this. I had it all planned out. Was gonna court you all right and proper. Make sure you know how much you mean to me."
"You can still do that, but I needed this. I needed you."
Vin sighed softly, not really knowing what to say.
Then Ezra went on. "And it's not as if we've actually *done* anything. We may be sleeping in the same bed, but we haven't progressed beyond kissing and cuddling and that, darling, is exactly what I needed. You make me feel... cared for... and safe."
"You'll always be safe with me, Ez. I'd sooner put out my own eyes than ever hurt you."
Ezra's arm tightened across his chest. "Don't even think that! I know how much your sight means to you. I can't bear the thought of you being sightless. You see things so clearly, see people so clearly. Sometimes I think that you can see right through me."
"I see your heart, Ez. Kind and gentle and so very fragile."
"Fragile? But you bought Tallbear's eagle as a gift for me because you said it reminded you of me." He lifted his head to gaze across the room at the bronze eagle that Vin had purchased from his friend Michael Tallbear at the gallery that evening. It stood on the dresser in front of the mirror. He had sat it there because he wanted to be able to see it as he lay in Vin's arms.
"Well, yeah. It does remind me of you. You're the best at what you do, Ez. You soar high above the rest, but it's lonely way up there and it's a long way down. I want... I want to be the wind beneath your wings helping you soar and... I want to be a soft place for you to land, if you ever fall."
"No one's ever wanted to be there for me when I fell. I've spent a lifetime picking myself up and dusting myself off and getting back on the horse that threw me, all by myself."
"You ain't alone no more, Ez. You ain't ever gonna be alone again. I promise."
Ezra shifted to look up at him. "You know, don't you? What it's like to be alone."
"Yeah. I been alone, too."
"You aren't alone anymore either, Vin. You won't ever be alone again. I promise."
Vin's tightened around Ezra's shoulders, hugging the other man to him briefly. "I know, babe," he murmured softly, pressing another kiss to the top of the head resting on his chest.
He smiled to himself, a smile of utter satisfaction. "I know."
Ezra Standish hummed softly to himself as he lay two skewers of shrimp on the hibachi grill sitting on his kitchen counter and brushed them with the hot sauce that Vin loved.
He glanced at the clock.
Ten till eight.
Vin had said that he'd be there at eight. The shrimp should be done just as he arrived. Ezra didn't even consider that Vin might be late. In the three months since their first date, Vin had never been late, not even once.
He'd never stood Ezra up either, again, not once.
He set the small table in the breakfast nook and lit the candles. It was much more intimate than the large formal dining table in the dining room. Vin preferred it for nights like tonight when the weather did not permit them to eat on the terrace.
It had been raining all day, a veritable deluge.
The doorbell rang.
He glanced at the clock again, as he finished basting the shrimp with the sauce after turning them over.
Five till eight.
Vin was early.
He was smiling happily, as he strode to the door and opened it. His face fell. "Mister Wilmington, what are you doing here? Is something the matter?"
"Why no, Ez. Just thought I'd drop by and see what you were up to. How about you let me in? It's a mite damp out here."
"I hate to be rude, Mister Wilmington, but I am expecting a guest..." He frowned and looked past Buck. His smile returned as he saw Vin's jeep pull in behind Buck's truck. "...and here he is now."
Vin scowled at the sight of Buck's truck parked in front of Ezra's townhouse. He peered through the windshield and saw Buck standing on the stoop as Ezra stood in the doorway blocking it. With a tightening of his lips he threw the jeep door open and jumped out, plunging up the sidewalk, running to keep from getting too wet.
"Hey, Ez. Ain't late am I?" He asked as he stepped up on the stoop behind Buck.
"Not at all, Vin," Ezra smiled, relief obvious in his eyes.
Vin slid past Buck to stand at Ezra's side.
Ezra shifted to make room for him, while continuing to block Buck from entering.
"Evening, Bucklin," Vin greeted.
"Howdy, Vin." Buck moved forwards as if to push his way in.
Ezra placed a hand in the center of his chest to stop him. "Mister Wilmington was just leaving," he told Vin, making it clear that Buck wasn't welcome.
"Heck, Ez. It's just Vin. Three of us can hang out as easily as ya two can."
"Vin and I are not hanging out. We are having a private dinner. A dinner to which you were not invited." Ezra said firmly.
"But you said I was welcome anytime...." Buck protested.
"That was months ago... and as I recall you blew me off every time that I invited you over. So, please don't go throwing that up now. Good night, sir." Ezra said coldly.
He stepped back and gestured for Vin to precede him into the townhouse.
Vin smirked at Buck. "Reckon you're a day late an' a dollar short, Bucklin," he said before stepping past Ezra to enter the townhouse.
Buck could only stare as Ezra closed the door in his face.
Ezra didn't worry about turning the lock as he closed the door. The deadbolt locked automatically. Instead he caught Vin's hand and drew him close stepping into his arms. He desperately needed a hug.
Vin drew him close.
Ezra relaxed against him. Somehow, Vin always seemed to know what Ezra needed and gave it to him.
"Ya all right, babe?" Vin asked softly.
"Yes, he just caught me by surprise. I was expecting you and suddenly there he was."
Vin ran his fingers through Ezra's hair soothingly. "Everything's okay, now. I'm here," he assured softly.
Ezra drew back shaking his head. "I don't know why I'm upset. It's not as if I care about him like that, anymore."
"But ya did care, and he hurt ya. Now he shows up like he never did nothing."
"I doubt that he realizes that he did," Ezra said with a sigh. "I finally understand that he was completely clueless as to the feelings that I had for him before you and I became a couple."
Vin smiled down at him, "Glad I ain't clueless, babe," he murmured, bending slightly to kiss his lover.
For a minute Buck stood frozen on Ezra doorstep, unable to comprehend that the undercover agent had actually closed the door in his face. Then he stepped forwards, determined to knock until Ezra opened the door again. Just as he reached for the knob he froze.
He was tall enough to see through the small, oval, cut-glass, decorative window that was just above the peephole in the door.
Even through the distortion of the cut glass he couldn't mistake what he was seeing.
Vin Tanner was kissing Ezra Standish.
'Reckon you're a day late and a dollar short, Bucklin.' Said with a smirk.
'Months ago... and you blew me off.' Had there been a pained look in the green eyes?
He swallowed hard.
Vin and Ezra. Ezra and Vin. Together... a couple... lovers.
'Private dinner. You weren't invited.'
But he had been.... Months ago.
He continued to stare through the window as Ezra helped Vin out of his wet duster and hung it up then with a startled look towards the kitchen suddenly turned and dashed back that way with Vin following him.
Buck turned and walked away. He'd had a chance with Ezra but it wasn't as if he'd ever really wanted one. He was a ladies man.
He sat in his truck for a long moment then shook his head. They were both his friends. Best thing to do was just be happy for them. He cranked the truck and drove off, his mind already shifting through the names of women he knew who might be available.
Inside the townhouse, Ezra was hanging up Vin's wet duster when he suddenly turned towards the kitchen. "Aw, hell! The shrimp!"
He headed down the hall towards the kitchen. A moment later he snatched the skewers of shrimp off the hibachi. "Dang it, they're burnt."
Vin laughed. "It's all right, Ez. Ya know I like blackened shrimp." He leaned around Ezra and grabbed one of the skewers, he brought it up to his lips and pulled a shrimp off with his teeth. After he chewed and swallowed, he grinned. "It's fine babe. No real harm done."
He nuzzled Ezra's hair, pulling the shorter man back against him with the arm around his waist. "Things don't have to be perfect for me, Ez, cause just being with you is perfect to me."
Ezra turned in his arms and gave him a peck on the chin. "You, Vin Tanner, are a prince among men."
Vin just grinned and kissed him.