Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
Follows A Hero's Mask
This story is part of a grouping of stories that are meant to be read in the following order:
First Impressions | Evening the Odds | Fate's Decision | A Hero's Mask | Mended Glasses
It was finally Friday and the team was excited about their plans for the upcoming weekend. Well, most of the team.
"Chris what time did you say we could leave today?" JD asked for the hundredth time in the last hour.
"The same time I told you the last three hundred times you asked, JD. Three," Chris told him with a loud sigh.
"Sorry, but with having to work the last three weekends and I haven't seen much of Casey lately!" JD whined.
"I hear ya, Kid," Buck quickly agreed. Switching the focus to himself he said, "Now help me make up my mind . . . Should I get Amy white, red, or yellow roses?"
"What? You mean you haven't ordered the girl any flowers yet?" Nathan exclaimed.
"Well, excuse me, Nathan, but I only just made up my mind on this girl!" Buck pointed out, as if that explained everything.
Nathan shook his head at the twisted logic of his teammate.
"I vote for red," Josiah said. "Women love red roses. That's what I got Molly."
"Yeah, and it's about damned time you asked that woman out," Buck fussed.
Josiah frowned at that, but didn't comment.
"I ordered Rain some yellow roses as soon as I found out we'd be off this weekend," Nathan told them. "What kind do you usually get Casey?"
JD shrugged. "Casey ani't much for flowers, so I usually get her a teddy bear or balloons."
"Chris what kind are you getting . . . what's her name again?" Nathan asked with a frown.
"Lindsey." Both Chris and Buck said at the same time.
"I'm not getting her any," Chris remarked and threw Buck a look that asked, how the hell do you know my date's name. Had he dated her?
"Chris!" Buck fussed. "You better get that little lady something!"
"Why?" Chris snapped. "This is our first date. Hell, I'm taking her out to eat and to the movies what more does she want."
"Some things cannot be rushed," Josiah injected suddenly.
"What?" the four men asked with frowns on their faces.
"Me and Molly," the older man replied.
"Hell, Josiah if you'd waited any longer, you would've been retired," Buck said. "Between you and Chris ladies would turn into old women before either of you made up your minds . . ."
"Shut up, Buck," Chris said in warning. "And how do you know Lindsey?"
Buck snorted and threw his old friend an exasperated look. "She only works at the diner we've been eating at for the last year." Then with a roll of his eyes Buck looked his friends and asked, "Now about these roses?"
Ezra shook his head and gave up trying to get any work done. Looking up he saw that Vin was laid back in his chair with his feet propped on his desk. With a shrug of his shoulders Ezra pushed his chair back and did the same.
Buck happened to glance at them and teased, "Now if only we could get those two to pull their heads out of the sand and notice the looks they get . . . Hell, I can name five women that would jump at the chance to go out with either of you. But do you care . . ."
"No," both men said.
"See! It just ani't right!" Buck fussed. "What are ya'll gonna do tonight? Huh? Clean your guns? Play solitaire? Go to bed early?"
Neither man moved other than to narrow their eyes.
Buck threw his hands up in disgust and turned away from them.
"Normally I would never respond to such questioning, but for some reason I feel compelled to do so . . . this once," Ezra replied. "If I wanted a date, I would have one . . . I'm sure the same could be said for Mr. Tanner." Vin nodded his head. "However, I will not ask a lady out simply because it's Friday and it is expected of me."
"Me either," Vin agreed with a definite nod of his head.
"And furthermore, I recommend you get the lady some daisies," Ezra went on to say. "Surprise her with your innovation," he taunted the other man.
"Daisies? Yeah, daisies," Buck repeated with a nod of his head. "Thanks, Ezra!"
Three o'clock eventually rolled around and the others beat a hasty retreat in order to get ready for the night ahead. Before they left, though, Chris told them that he'd see them, all of them, on Sunday. This was said with a pointed look at Ezra, which the Southerner boldly met, but didn't comment on.
Ezra and Vin slowly made their way to their vehicles.
"Hey, Ez?" Vin called. He'd noticed that Ezra had been a little quiet lately and was worried that he was trying to distance himself from them. He was determined that, that wasn't going to happen, especially given what the two of them had been through in the last few months.
Wrecking his truck had been bad enough, but watching that kid shoot himself . . . that still haunted him sometimes. Vin was just grateful that it wasn't something he'd had to witness alone.
"Yes, Mr. Tanner?"
"How about I get us a couple of pizzas, you get us some beer, and we'll watch a movie on that big TV of yours?"
Ezra cocked his head to the left and gave the offer some serious thought. His instincts were cautioning him to take a chance. After all, Vin hadn't let him down yet. Ezra sighed and looked into Vin's blue eyes, "Well . . . okay."
Vin nodded his head and was careful to hide his triumph, at least until he turned and headed for his truck. Then a big grin graced his face.
'Damn, that was easier than I thought it would be,' he thought to himself.
An hour later they sat on the floor of Ezra's living room trying to decide what to watch. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tanner, but I don't have much of a selection . . ."
"That's my name."
"Yes, I'm aware of that," Ezra told him.
"Good. 'Cause friends generally call each other by their first names," Vin explained. "And you are my friend. Aren't you?"
Ezra narrowed his eyes, resenting that Vin was putting him on the spot like this. "If there's nothing here you like perhaps we could order . . ."
Vin knew what Ezra was doing, hell he'd done the redirection route himself when he'd didn't want to talk about something. For some reason Vin couldn't let Ezra do it this time. He needed an answer.
"You are my friend, right?" he persisted, grabbing Ezra's arm as he made to get up. "My friends call me Vin."
Ezra pulled his arm free and asked, "And are you?" Knowing that Vin would understand what he was asking.
"Damn straight, Ezra," Vin told him flat out leaving no room for misunderstandings. He then looked Ezra in the eye waiting for the same acknowledgment.
Instead of answering Ezra looked away and settled back down on the floor. "So . . . Vin, what would you like to watch?" he asked after a few moments.
"Don't matter none to me," he said, with a relaxed smile on his face. When Ezra had turned away Vin felt a sharp pain of regret tear through his gut, but having Ezra say his name had fixed that right up. "'Top Gun's' on. You wanta watch that?" he suggested as he finally settled on a channel.
Two hours later, the movie was ending, the pizza was gone, but they still had plenty of beer left to consume.
As Ezra headed for the kitchen to grab them a couple more Vin walked around stretching his legs and came to a stop in front of the boxes that still lined the wall.
"Ani't you ever gonna unpack those?" he asked as Ezra returned and handed him a beer.
"I'm sure at some point I shall," Ezra told him. 'Once I'm sure of my place,' he silently added.
"No time like the present," Vin told him with a smile. "Hell, I'll even help ya if ya want?" he went on to offer, then wished he hadn't as Ezra tensed. "Or not, if you'd rather, I didn't. You're one of us now, Ezra. And ya ani't going nowhere," he stated with sincerity.
'One thing at a time,' he chided himself. Too much too soon and the other man would bolt.
Ezra found himself wanting to believe Vin and voiced the first thing that came to his mind. "Very well." Vin grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. "Great! Come on. The sooner we start the sooner we finish."
The Southerner watched nervously as Vin knelt beside one of the boxes and after taking a deep calming breath, followed him.
"Where ya want me to put this stuff?" Vin asked a few minutes later as he emptied the box in front of him. The 'stuff' consisted of an assortment of books.
"Where ever you want. It doesn't matter." Glancing over Ezra saw that Vin was flipping through one of the books, a look at the title revealed that it was a book of poetry. "Do you enjoy poetry?" Ezra asked in a quiet voice, not wanting Vin to think he was prying.
"My ma used to read it to me. This was one of her favorites," he said as he continued to thumb through the volume. "In fact, it was the only thing the state of Texas let me keep after she died. Not that it mattered because it got taken away at one of the many foster homes they shuffled me through," Vin snorted and shook his head.
Ezra couldn't believe Vin had shared that with him, but was pleased that he had. "You may have the book if you'd like."
"Really?" Hell, yeah, he wanted it, but he didn't want Ezra giving it to him 'cause he felt sorry for him. "You don't have to . . ."
"Mr. Tanner . . . I mean, Vin that book has been packed away in that box since I graduated from college. Obliviously it isn't one of my favorites. If you want it . . . take it. If not, then just toss it on the shelf."
Vin narrowed his eyes, studying Ezra for a few seconds before nodding and setting the book aside. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
An awkward silence fell on the pair for a few moments, while one tried not to make the other uncomfortable and one prayed the other didn't change his mind about unpacking.
"Cool! Did you do this?" Vin asked, breaking the silence and holding up a glass case with a model of a candy apple red '65 Corvette inside.
"That was my dream car," Ezra grinned widely. "And yes, I did assemble it. I used to have quite the collection," he boasted. "Classic trucks and cars, planes, and even a couple of air craft carriers with tiny little jets on them."
"Wow." Vin was impressed, not only with the model but also at how that grin transformed Ezra and gave Vin a glimpse of the boy Ezra had once been. "What happened to them?"
The grin fell from Ezra's face and he looked away before softly saying, "I used them for batting practice . . ."
"What?" Vin couldn't believe it. "Why?"
Ezra went silent. He hadn't meant to share that with Vin and merely shrugged before turning back to the box he was unpacking. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time."
"These take a while to finish, don't they?" If he hadn't been watching Ezra, Vin would have missed the barely there nod. Glancing down at the model in his hand, he thought that an air craft carrier would have been a bitch to put together. Vin imagined that something like that would keep a kid busy for days, even weeks at a time, especially one that had an eye for detail like Ezra. Busy and out of the way, he thought. Yeah, that seemed to fit what he knew of Maude Standish.
Vin let the subject drop, wishing he could bring back Ezra's grin. With a sigh, he placed the case on the coffee table and returned to the nearly empty box, pulling out a bag of oddly shaped black pieces with a familiar, multicolored, fully assembled block inside. He stared at the pieces and the block with a frown, then suddenly laughed as he realized what he held.
"Don't tell me you had to take it apart to match up the colors?"
Ezra looked up at the question, frowning until he saw what Vin held, then he laughed. "Hell, yes, I took the damn thang apart!"
Vin laughed. "I wish I'd have thought of that . . ."
"Why what did you do?"
"I tried peeling the little stickers off," Vin told him. "It worked pretty good, until I tore one and then couldn't get the rest of damn thing off."
Ezra chuckled and nodded his head in understanding. "It took me a while, but I was finally able to match the colors without cheating."
"Yeah, me too," Vin said. "I bet someone as smart as JD could do it in no time at all."
"I'm not so sure of that," Ezra countered. "This cube defies logic and JD and Nathan both are very logical minded people. I bet it would drive them crazy . . ."
"What about Buck?"
"That's another one that defies logic . . ."
"Buck's certainly one of a kind," Vin laughed.
"I think he could do it, maybe not the first time, but he'd do it," Ezra stated. "Now, what about Chris?"
Vin grinned as a picture of Chris shooting the innocent little block entered his head. "Never happen. He doesn't have the patience. He's liable to shoot the thing . . . which we'd get blamed for. What about Josiah?"
Ezra straightened his shoulders and placed his hands on his hips before saying, "I can just hear him now. Hmm, interesting. Very interesting. This will require careful study."
Vin laughed, not only because Ezra impersonated Josiah so well, but because he could picture Josiah saying and doing just that.
"We'll have to visit a toy store tomorrow and see if we can't purchase some of these," Ezra suggested, to which Vin heartily agreed.
"Do they still make Rubix Cubes?" Vin wondered, reaching in the box once again. All the while trying not to react to the fact that Ezra had said 'we'll'. As in the both of them.
"I'm sure we'll be able to find them somewhere."
"Have you been to these places, Ezra?" Vin asked, pulling a couple of frames from the box. He recognized the picture of the Eiffel Tower, but he wasn't so sure about the other one. "This is the Eiffel Tower, right?
"What's this one?"
"That's Big Ben . . . It's in London," Ezra replied. "I enjoyed both cities, but must admit that I enjoyed my stay in London better. Have you ever done any traveling?"
Vin snorted. "Me? Yeah, right," he shook his head. "Only places I've ever been was the Alamo and the Grand Canyon."
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Yeah, I had a great time."
"Then that's what matters," Ezra told him. "Is there somewhere in particular that you'd like to visit?"
Vin thought for a minute and said, "Well, I've always wanted to go to New Orleans and visit the world famous Bourbon Street, maybe walk along the French Quarter."
"Bourbon Street is a place like no other," Ezra stated with a smile. "You'd love it!"
Before long they had three of the eight boxes unpacked, with Ezra steadily working on the fourth. Reaching in he pulled out a photo album, one he hadn't looked at in years. Scooting around so that he could lean on the wall behind him, Ezra opened the cover. He smiled at the image that greeted him. It was a picture of his parents on their wedding day. Both wore happy smiles on their faces and one could see the love shining in their eyes.
Maude wore a traditional white wedding gown, but instead of something extravagant like one would expect, it was simple and elegant in its design. While his father, Patrick, who it was said Ezra favored, was dressed in a modest black suit. Together they made quite an attractive couple and looked ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, the world, not only drew first blood, but won the battle.
The smile fell from Ezra's face as an old, nearly forgotten memory forced it's way to the surface of his mind. A chill ran down his back as the sound of a gun echoed across his soul, followed by a heart wrenching scream and a child's frightened crying.
His father, after only seven short years of marriage, had been shot and killed defending his family from a mugger, forever changing the lives of those left behind.
Vin sat silently holding a small statue of Mary and Joseph. He'd seen Ezra pull out the album and was about to move closer hoping to catch a glimpse of Ezra as a baby, but as the smile on Ezra's face was replaced with a frown and sadness darkened his eyes, Vin thought it best to stay where he was.
Turning his attention back to the statue, Vin wondered what or if he should say anything.
Ezra closed his eyes and the book. He'd seen enough, he thought as he fought back tears. He never should have agreed to unpack these damned boxes! All this . . . junk held too many memories. Painful memories.
It was all Vin's fault! No! It was all Mr. Tanner's fault! He never should have let that . . . that . . . Texan talk him into doing this!
Snapping his eyes open, Ezra was ready to dump everything back into the boxes and wrap them in a mile of tape. But first he'd tell Mr. Tanner to get the hell out.
Looking at his so-called friend he opened his mouth, only to close it once again as the anger and the pain receded at the sight of what Vin held.
"My Godmother gave me that," Ezra said softly, causing Vin to jump at the unexpected noise.
"Is it as old as it looks?" Vin asked, what he hoped was a simple question. He felt the tension in the room raise and he feared he was about to be shown the door, so he was pleasantly surprised when that didn't happened.
"Yes, my Aunt Mary Katherine's Godmother gave it to her when she received her first communion," Ezra explained. "She then passed it onto me when I received mine."
"The state home never made us go to church," Vin told him. "So I missed out on all that stuff."
"Believe me, having a nun pull on my ear was something I could have done without," Ezra confessed with a small grin. "Besides, it's never too late. If I can grace the local chapels without having them collapse on me, then you should have no problems either."
Vin grinned and asked, "You mean you go to church?"
"On occasion," he grinned in return. Then after getting to his feet asked, "You want another beer?"
Once Ezra returned with the beers they turned their attentions back to the task at hand.
Together they tackled the next two boxes, revealing a box of keys, which Ezra said belonged to the many different houses he'd stayed at as a child. They also unearthed a collection of shot glasses with the logo of a bar in Atlanta on them, pictures of the different places Ezra has traveled to, and a large envelope with the many different citations he'd received while still in training with the FBI and after becoming an agent. They laughed at the stack of reprimands Ezra had collected over the years.
Something that caught and held Vin's attention was an old saber that was carefully wrapped in several sheets of clothe. Ezra told him it belonged to a great, great-uncle of his. It was believed that this uncle fought along side General Lee, in the war between the states.
Ezra also told him that he could never ever mention the saber around Maude. In fact, he said it would be best to just forget he'd ever even seen it at all. Maude had tried time and time again to buy the saber from his aunt, but the older lady refused to sell it. And when her house caught on fire she let Maude think it had been destroyed, but in truth the aunt had given it to Ezra, knowing he'd treasure it, appreciate it, and keep it safe.
Vin looked around and smiled because Ezra's house was finally starting to look like a home. They had placed many of the items on shelves and planned to hang the pictures tomorrow.
Reaching into the last box Vin paused as he spotted a square felt-covered case near the bottom. After picking it up, he slowly lifted the lid and gasped at what rested inside.
"What?" Ezra asked, at the sound.
Vin turned the case around revealing the two Purple Hearts he'd found.
"Oh, found those did you," Ezra said with a nod of his head.
"I got a couple of these myself."
"You were a Ranger," Ezra stated, rather than asked.
Vin nodded his head, yes. "You?"
"Infantry. I have an affinity for things that go boom," Ezra informed him with a wicked grin.
"Don't worry, your secret's safe with me," Vin grinned in response. Then with a nod of his head he continued, "So what made ya join?"
Ezra nailed him with a long measuring look before shrugging his shoulders and saying, "You won't tell anyone will you?"
"No . . ."
"Yes . . ."
"Your word as a Tanner?" Ezra wanted to be absolutely sure.
"Yes, Ezra, I swear on my name that you can trust me with your secrets," Vin vowed.
"Okay," he nodded.
Vin breathed a small sigh of relief. He was starting to really like that word. Vin then found himself smiling as that wide grin finally returned to Ezra's face. "Tell me," he pushed.
"You see, I was given a choice," Ezra started, then paused for a moment or two. "It might be best if I start from the beginning. You'll want the whole story, correct?"
"Don't be stupid! Of course, I want the whole story," he said in indignation.
"Okay, but let's get some more beer first and move to the sofa," Ezra suggested. "I don't know about you, but my posterior has fallen asleep."
"Good idea," Vin readily agreed. "And my ass is kinda numb too."
Once they were both seated and each had a fresh beer in their hands Ezra began his tale.
"I had just graduated from high school and was visiting with Maude and her current 'friend'." Ezra sketched quotation marks in the air with his fingers. "Maude was trying to get money from him without having to marry him, and trying to get me to marry some girl, five years older than myself, so I could get control of her trust fund. It was crazy." He stopped and shook his head in remembered exasperation.
"Anyway, words were exchanged . . . I got mad and just had to get away from her . . . So I jumped in the first car I saw and took off . . ."
Vin thought he knew where this was going. "And you wrecked it?"
"If only," Ezra snorted. "It turns out that the car belonged to Earl, Maude's 'friend', and he reported it stolen . . ."
"The bastard had you arrested!" Now Vin knew what choice Ezra was given.
"Exactly. I spent the night in jail and when I stood before the judge the next morning . . . Maude was in tears, she was so worried about her darling boy!"
Vin had to laugh at the look on Ezra's face.
"Anyway, the judge said that due to the nature of my crime," Ezra rolled his eyes. "And given that it wasn't my first offense . . ."
"Whoa! Wait a minute. Back up," Vin interrupted, holding up one hand. "This wasn't your first offense?"
"I'd gotten in a fight a couple of years before and the boy's parents pressed charges against me and I was placed on probation for a year," he told him with a shrug of his shoulders. "I merely defended myself and Mother wasn't worried about her darling boy then."
"Yeah, I had to defend myself like that a couple of times, too."
"The judge felt that probation wouldn't work this time and I needed to face the consequences of my actions . . ."
"And gave ya a choice between the Army and . . ."
"Jail time." Ezra smiled. "God, Vin you should have seen the look on Maude's face when I chose the Army. She looked as if she was the one having to go and not me."
"I just bet!"
"That alone was worth all the aggravation I'd gone through," Ezra told him.
"Did you like the Army?"
Ezra nodded his head, yes. "Yeah, once I survived boot camp!"
"I hear ya!" Vin laughed. "Man I thought I was in pretty good shape, but boot camp nearly killed me."
"It certainly is not for the faint of heart!"
The two men shook their heads and grimaced as they remembered.
"I found that I needed that structured environment," Ezra told him. "Then the FBI recruited me and blew that all to hell."
Vin nodded his head. "Yeah, I joined up right out of high school too. I wanted to be on my on. Needed to be independent . . . to be able to take care of myself. I figured the Army could teach me that . . ."
"And more," Ezra said with a shake of his head.
"Did you ever get a tattoo?" Vin asked, with a grin.
"Good Lord, no!" he shuddered. "Did you?"
"No. The guys in my unit did. A couple even pierced their ears."
"Yeah, the guys in my unit did too, but I've never been one to follow trends," Ezra told him.
After that, the two unlikely friends began trading Army stories until they both drifted off to sleep. Each on one end of the couch.
The next morning, Vin blinked his eyes open then squinted in confusion at his surroundings.
Hearing a thud, Vin turned his squinting gaze to the floor and . . . Ezra? He relaxed as he remembered the previous evening.
"Aww, hell," a husky Southern voice muttered.
Vin stretched out his long legs now that the couch was free. "I love this couch, Ezra. I can lay on it without my feet hanging off the end," he told the unmoving form on the floor.
"Mr. Tanner?" Ezra questioned.
"Yeah, it's me," Vin told him.
"I was just making sure."
"And it's Vin. Remember we covered that last night."
Ezra pushed himself up to his knees, then with the help of the coffee table and the couch, made it to his feet.
They both jumped as the phone rang.
"Who the hell could be calling at this hour of the morning?" Ezra grumbled.
Vin looked at his watched and felt his eyes widen in shock. "Damn it's after nine," he said, in disbelief. "I can't remember the last time I slept this late."
Just as Ezra was reaching for the phone, they heard Chris's voice come over the answering machine.
"Ezra, it's Chris."
Vin smirked as he saw Ezra hang his head.
"Have you seen Vin?"
"Why yes, I have," Ezra replied, with a grin looking directly at the man in question.
"Look, if you do happen to see him tell 'im my plans have changed, and we won't be able to go riding today. He's probably out doing something in that crazy neighborhood of his," Chris finished irritably.
"Great now we can go get some breakfast before going to the toy store," Vin said, getting to his feet. "And while we're out we'll get some stuff to hang these pictures with."
Ezra merely blinked his bleary eyes as Vin headed for the kitchen.
"How do ya work this fancy coffee maker?" Vin asked, from the doorway holding the empty pot.
"If we're going out, then why bother?"
Vin shrugged and turned back around.
A few minutes later, they squinted as they stepped outside into the bright sunshine. Ezra started toward the Jag only to be directed to Vin's truck.
"No sense in taking two vehicles," Vin told him. "We're going to the same place."
"But . . ."
"There ain't nothing in that truck that won't wash off," Vin promised him. "Just think about it Ezra. You'll be riding in a man's vehicle. We can roll the windows down so you can feel the wind and the sun on your face. What's it gonna hurt?"
Ezra looked down at his faded jeans then over to Vin's truck and shrugged, thinking 'why the hell not.'
"Here," Vin tossed something at him. "You drive."
Easily catching the keys, Ezra stared at his . . . friend and wondered just what the hell he'd gotten himself into.
Sunday dawned bright and early. Too bright and way too early for two members of Team Seven.
"Where the hell have you been?" Chris demanded, as both Vin and Ezra slowly made their toward the door.
"Who?" Vin wondered, squinting his eyes.
"You," was the reply. "I've been calling your apartment all morning . . . Where the hell's your cell phone? Do you realize that it's after eleven?"
Buck grinned as he saw both Vin and Ezra's eyes widen at the question about the phone.
"We left it in the freezer, didn't we," Ezra stated, to which Vin nodded his head.
"Why'd you put it in the freezer?" JD dared to ask.
"'Cause it wouldn't stop ringin'," Vin told 'im.
"Why the hell didn't you just answer it!" Chris bellowed, causing both men to flinch. "Dammit, I was starting to worry."
Nathan frowned as he took in Vin and Ezra's appearance. Both were a little pale and were squinting their eyes as if the light was hurting them. And their hair . . . well, Vin's always looked like it would take a weed eater to tame it, but today it looked like he hadn't even tried to brush it. Meanwhile, Ezra's usually neat crop of curls stuck up in places and it looked thoroughly finger combed. Basically, they looked like hell.
"Man, you two must have had one hell of a night," Buck teased, from where he leaned against the door.
Chris narrowed his eyes and then snapped, "You're hung over aren't you! Dammit, Ezra . . ."
"Don't you go placing the blame on Ezra," Vin interrupted.
"No, Vin let him," Ezra said. "Maybe he'll shoot me and put me out of my misery."
"Oh, no," Vin said, clutching at Ezra's arm. "You can't leaving me to suffer alone."
"Just get your candy asses in the house," Chris ordered, heading for the door.
Josiah grinned as he saw Ezra stiffen at that remark.
"Candy ass?" Ezra repeated, all the while blinking owlishly at Vin. "Who's he calling a candy ass? Surely he isn't referring to us, is he?"
Vin nodded, "Yeah, I think he is."
Chris had to smile at what Ezra said next.
"But that's not very nice. In fact, it's rather rude."
"Well, it is Chris," Vin pointed out.
"Remind me later that I was insulted by that," Ezra told him.
"What are you going to do about it?" Chris asked from the doorway.
"Nothing right now," Ezra replied, "but tomorrow is another day."
"Come on, Ez, there's a couple of recliners calling our names," Vin told him.
"Not for long," Buck laughed, then pushed Chris forward, grabbing JD by the arm. "Come on JD!"
"Bastards," Ezra muttered.
A few minutes later, Ezra and Vin were stretched out on one of Chris's couches trying to ignore the overly loud conversations going on around them. It wasn't proving all that hard to do until they heard Josiah's reply to Nathan asking how his date went on Friday.
"It was great once we left the restaurant," the older man said.
"What happened at the restaurant? They lose your order?" Buck asked. Then with a shake of his head said, "That happened to me once . . ."
"Did you complain to the manager?" Nathan questioned.
"What? Oh, no! I was the waiter," Buck grinned. "And while I didn't get a tip from the man I did get the woman's number . . ."
"And was the best man at her wedding," Chris said with a soft smile on his face. Sarah had been the woman and Buck, bless his heart, thought she'd be perfect for Chris. And he was right. The smile grew as Chris remembered that he almost hadn't shown up for the blind date Buck had set them up on, but he was glad that he had. Damned glad.
"Was the service bad, Josiah?" Nathan steered the conversation back to Josiah, giving Chris a moment.
"No, the service was fine," Josiah frowned. "It was our waitress she . . ."
"Wasn't wearing a bra?" Buck prompted with a wiggle of his eyebrows. "I love it when that happens."
"No . . . I mean yes!" Josiah shook his head and laughed. "Her tongue was pierced. Molly and I found it very distracting."
The others watched as Ezra and Vin suddenly sat up and stared at each other in shock. Then as if they were afraid of what they might find they slowly lifted a hand, touching their ear, and relaxed at not finding anything there. Then to be on the safe side they stuck out their tongues and with twin sighs of relief flopped back down on the couch.
"What the hell did you boys do this weekend?" Buck wanted to know.
"I'm not sure," Vin told him without opening his eyes.
"Serves you right for getting so drunk," Chris glared, but neither saw it.
"Pots and vessels, Mr. Larabee. Pots and vessels," Ezra told him.
"It's kettles, Ezra, not vessels," JD corrected him.
Ezra snorted, then winced as it seemed to echo through his head. "I am much too refined to be referred to as a mere kettle," Ezra informed them, causing the others to smile.
"Tell me what you two did last night," Buck pushed.
"We had an early supper at Inez's, then we played darts . . ."
"And won fifty bucks each," Vin put in with a grin.
"We would have won more, except Vin's a tightwad," Ezra mumbled.
"I am not!" Vin fussed. "Besides we won two hundred playing pool at that other bar . . ."
"Ezra have you been hustling people?" Chris frowned.
"Damned right . . ."
"Hell, if anyone deserved it was those jerks!" Vin sat up and with a shake of his head then continued, "They were the ones hustling . . . All we did was put them in their place."
"Can you teach me to do that?" JD asked.
"Do what?" Buck and Chris both asked.
"To spot a hustler," JD replied innocently, then had to hide his grin at the wink Ezra threw him.
"Did you play pool all night?"
"Pretty much, yeah. That and drink," Vin told them. "We went from bar to bar. How much money did we make in all Ezra?"
"Eight hundred," Ezra said, without hesitation. "It was a slow night."
"A piece?" Chris frowned. He was all for how Vin was getting through to Ezra, for the two of them becoming friends, but this may be taking it a little too far.
"Hell, yes a piece," Ezra sounded insulted.
"Please tell me you didn't drive," Josiah said.
"No. We couldn't find the Jag . . ."
"Why not?" JD asked.
"'Cause we were in the truck," Vin told them with a giggle, causing the others to laugh as well. "You should have seen it . . . I thought Ezra was gonna have kittens," he said between laughs.
Ezra merely rolled his eyes.
"Sounds like you boys had one hell of a night," Buck chuckled. "I haven't gotten so drunk that I couldn't remember where I parked or if I'd pierced something in a long time. I think I'm jealous."
"Yeah, it makes my Saturday night sound boring," JD grinned. "All Casey and I did was go to the movies."
"We'll have to take you with us next time," Vin suggested.
"And show you how the other half lives," Ezra winked at him.
Seeing Buck and Chris's eyes narrow at the offer, Nathan quickly changed the subject. "So Buck how was your date with Amy?"
Buck knew what Nathan was doing and decided to go along with it, this time. "It was great. And good call on the daisies, Ezra, she loved them," he smiled.
Nathan slapped himself on the knee and suddenly cried, "Oh, speaking of daisies . . . let me tell you what Rain and I saw Friday night. We were at this Chinese restaurant when this woman came in with a daisy tattooed across the base of her throat . . ."
"Oh, shit!" Ezra swore and jumped to his feet, quickly followed by Vin.
The others watched as both men ripped their t-shirts over their heads causing four mouths to fall open in shock.
"Cool," JD said in awe. "Did it hurt?"
"Hell, yes it hurt!" Ezra growled. "Why else do you think people have to get drunk to get them!"
"It didn't hurt that bad," Vin replied, as he walked over to the mirror. "I think."
"I'm marked for life," Ezra grumbled, pacing from one end of the living room to the other. "I can't have . . . this thing on me! What the hell was I thinking?! What the hell were you thinking?!" he directed the last question to Vin.
"Don't blame this all on me," Vin told him. "I don't remember anyone forcing you to do anything . . ."
"Do you happen to remember me agreeing?"
Vin slowly shook his head, no. 'There it goes,' he thought to himself. 'Ezra isn't ever going to trust me again.' Vin snorted and turned back to the mirror. All that hard work lost over . . . this.
"It's not so bad, Ezra," JD assured him.
"Not so bad?" Ezra snorted in disgust.
"Yeah, it'll add to your bad boy image while you're undercover . . ."
"Oh, yeah, 'cause everyone knows that Batman is such a hard ass," Ezra quipped. "It's a distinguishing mark . . ."
"So's your gold tooth," Vin countered. "But we don't hear you bitching about that." He just managed not to squirm under that penetrating green glare. "Besides, I like it and it suits us."
"I have a tattoo of a heart on my left hip," Buck confessed. "Batman wings are a hell of a lot cooler than that."
Vin looked at the four inch long black wings that stretched across his chest slightly above his heart and thought it looked pretty damn good to him. Glancing over at Ezra's he had to frown 'cause Ezra's looked even better. 'Course, it helped that Ezra had a chest to go with the tattoo.
"What are you frowning at?" Ezra asked him.
"Are you mad at me?" Vin questioned instead. He wasn't about to tell Ezra he'd been checking out his chest. Hell, Buck would never let him live it down.
Ezra took a deep breath and slowly released it before replying. "Move over so I can see it properly." He wasn't upset with Vin, but he wasn't ready to let him know that yet. "The redness will go away, won't it?"
"It should go away in a couple of days," Nathan told them both. "In the mean time you need to keep it clean and put some lotion on it so it won't itch."
Everyone turned surprised eyes on their resident medic.
"I used to work the register at a tattoo parlor," Nathan shrugged, then grinned at them.
"Well, who'd have thought it," Buck teased.
"I must admit that I am surprised," Josiah said with a smile.
"Speaking of surprises . . ."
"You mean there's more?" Chris asked, sitting forward on his chair.
"Nothing bad. I promise. Ez and I got you fellas something," Vin told them with a smile. "Did we leave the bag in the car?" Vin asked.
Ezra absently nodded his head, as he turned his attention back to the mirror. With a scowl on his handsome face he surveyed the insignia that now forever marred his chest. He could get it removed, but he didn't want a Batman shaped scar on his chest either. With a vicious curse he stalked from the room, intent on being alone.
Vin stepped back inside carrying a plastic bag and immediately looked for Ezra, but didn't find him.
"He's out back," Josiah told him. "Don't worry, Vin. Once he gets over the shock things will be fine. You'll see."
"Yeah, I know," Vin said, sounding more confident than he felt. Then with a shrug of his shoulders he reached in the bag, pulled out some boxes, and began tossing them to his friends.
"Aw, hell, I don't want . . ."
"Tough shit," Vin cut Chris off before he could get started. "This is a gift from Ezra and you're gonna damn well take it. Don't make him regret giving you guys this small token of 'friendship'," he warned them. "Oh, and one more thing . . . Friday night I helped Ezra unpack . . ."
"Really?" Chris questioned, wanting to be sure. "All of them?" Maybe the drunkenness, hustling, and tattoos were worth it after all.
"Yeah," he nodded. "Well, some things we left packed 'cause he didn't want them out, but all those boxes are gone," Vin assured them. They'd put the saber, the box of keys, and Ezra's photo album in the same box and put it in the closet in the guest room.
"That's great, Vin," Josiah slapped him on the back.
"Any pictures on the walls?" Nathan asked.
"No, but we'll do that when we leave here . . . I guess," he shrugged. "Anyway, the next time you're over at Ezra's don't make a big deal of it. Just accept it and let it go."
"We hear you brother," Josiah assured him. "And thank you," he added softly.
"Yeah, you done good, Vin," Buck agreed. "Don't let this tattoo get in the way of it."
Chris would have loved to have been a fly on the wall Friday night at Ezra's. While he and the others were out on their dates, Vin had been moving mountains.
"So what is this?" JD asked, he knew but he liked playing with the older men's heads.
"What?" Buck snorted.
"Hey, Ezra," JD called as the Southerner walked back into the room. "Thanks for my block . ."
"It's not a 'block' it's a Rubix Cube!" Buck corrected. "Don't you know nothing?"
"Oh, okay. So where do the batteries go?" JD continued to tease.
Buck's jaw dropped in disbelief.
"It doesn't require batteries," Josiah informed him.
"Then where's the adaptor?"
Buck threw himself back in the recliner in frustration. "JD . . ." he started, only to stop as he heard someone laughing.
"I know what it is Buck," JD assured him. "I'm not 'that' young."
"You little shit," Buck fussed and threw a pillow at the younger man.
"I haven't seen one of these in a long time," Nathan said.
"Never did understand the point of this," Chris scowled. "Sarah loved these kinds of games," he said absently.
Vin elbowed Ezra as Josiah placed the cube he'd been holding on the table and put his hands on his hips.
"Hmm, interesting. Very interesting. This will require careful study," Josiah said with a thoughtful look on his face. Then he frowned as Vin and Ezra burst out laughing.
Grinning, Ezra watched as Chris grew more and more aggravated with his cube before finally slamming it down on the coffee table.
"I'm going to fix lunch," Chris muttered as he walked from the room.
"Aww!" Nathan growled and threw his cube across the room. "I hate that damned thing! There's no way to get all the blocks to match!"
"I hear ya Nathan," JD agreed, as he frowned at the cube in his hand. "I think mine is broken or something."
"Ha!" Buck cried and jumped to his feet. "Take that, college boy!" he tossed the perfectly matched cube at his roommate and friend, and started dancing around the room.
"How'd you do that?" JD wanted, needed to know.
"You cheated, didn't you?" Nathan questioned.
"Nope!" Buck grinned. "I'm just better than you!" he teased.
Vin gave a sullen Ezra a playful shove on the shoulder and laughed at the other three. The laughter dimmed a little as Ezra got up and walked out onto the front porch. Vin watched his friend through the screen door and quickly scampered to his feet as Ezra climbed onto the porch railing, then disappeared.
Josiah had seen Ezra as well, but decided that Vin was probably the best man for the job and instead headed for the kitchen to help Chris.
Vin pulled his shirt back on as he stepped up on railing after Ezra. "What are you doing on the roof?"
"Nothing," Ezra squinted at him.
"Should you be up there in your current state of mind?" Vin pushed.
Ezra laughed and clapped his hands. "Very good. I am impressed with your ever expanding vocabulary."
Vin grinned and said, "Yeah, well it's the company I keep."
"Good for you. And to answer your question I am as steady as the day I was born," he told him, with a grin.
"Ezra, you couldn't walk when you were born," Vin reminded him and pulled himself up onto the roof. "Are you mad at me, Ezra?" he had to ask, even though he knew the tattoo wasn't entirely his fault.
"I like high places," Ezra confessed. "The higher the better. I'd be on top of the barn if I felt like walking that far. I like the wind blowing in my face. It helps to clear the mind. To chase away the cobwebs . . . which seems to fit the situation."
Vin extended his arms and took a deep breath before saying, "Yeah, me too."
"I'm not mad at you, Vin," Ezra assured him. "I know no matter how drunk I was, you couldn't have forced me to get a tattoo if I hadn't wanted one. Of course, I can't remember 'ever' wanting one, but . . .," he shrugged.
Vin sighed in relief and made a confession of his own, "I did . . . want a tattoo I mean. I just didn't want to go by myself. You know. I wanted someone I trusted with me."
Ezra looked at the man beside him and decided that maybe there was something to all this friendship stuff after all. Maybe it was worth the effort.
Suddenly a shot was fired sending both men to their bellies. They exchanged a looked and then carefully made their way to the back of the house. Seeing a dozen or more little black blocks scattered across the yard made them laugh.
"What the hell are you doing up there?" Chris snapped, placing his gun back on safety. "I'm sorry, Ezra, but I shot your damned gift. I don't have the patience for those kinds of things. It's all your fault . . ."
"Who me?" Ezra pointed to himself, grinning all the while.
"All six of you!" Chris glared. "And get your candy asses down from there."
Ezra elbowed Vin and asked, "Now?"
"Don' be an idiot, of course, now," Chris snapped.
"Okay," Ezra said, getting to his feet. "Step back JD," he told the younger man.
"Ezra?" Vin frowned, grabbing his arm. "You're not gonna do what I think you're gonna do are you?"
"Ezra!" Josiah warned. "Don't you dare!"
"You're barely even sober you crazy fool!" Nathan cried.
"Ezra," JD whispered and stepped well out of the way.
"Look, pard I don't think this is such a good idea," Buck cautioned him.
"I know what I'm doing," Ezra told them. "Don't you trust me?" He welcomed their concern, but needed to know that they believed in him as well.
"Of course, we trust you, you stupid little shit!" Chris growled, ever the spokesman for the group. "Go ahead and jump, but if you break your neck . . . I'll break your ass!"
"Fair enough," Ezra grinned and pulled his arm from Vin's grasp.
"You better know what you're doing," Vin warned him. "I don't have so many friends that I can afford to lose one."
Ezra gave him a wink, took a couple of steps back and jumped off the roof.
Six hearts seemed to stop beating and eyes widened as their friend appeared to glide through the air before doing a flip and landing with both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Ezra beamed at them and relaxed as they applauded.
"That didn't look so hard," Vin said as he walked around the side of the house, "but I think I'll wait until I'm completely sober before trying it."
"How'd you get down?" Buck asked, the sharpshooter.
"The same way I got up there," Vin replied.
Chris gave them both a hard look, but only said, "Come on let's go eat."
Ezra watched them go and was suddenly very glad he'd stayed. Was glad to be a member of this team.
"Ezra, you coming?" Vin asked, standing in the doorway.
He nodded his head, then thought about those glasses Josiah had gotten each of them . . . so different yet so very much alike. Each unique, yet fundamentally identical in the ways that truly mattered. Ezra was relieved that his glass was on the mend.