Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belong to MGM, Mirisch, Trilogy, CBS and TNN, among others. This was intended for pleasure only. No compensation of any type was earned with the creation or distribution of this piece.
Notes: My sincere thanks to Mog for creating this fantastic universe with which I am obsessed!
This is the sequel my story, When a Door Closes
Last, but not least, my grateful thanks to my Mentor Kim! Without her honesty and guidance this would not exist. Also thanks to Joy for reading between her fingers and helping with the much needed beta duties!
The silence was broken by the loud blare of the alarm clock, followed by the sound of plastic and metal meeting plaster. Eleven minutes later, a rumpled head appeared from the depths of the cream comforter as he attempted to locate the source of the disturbance. With a scowl, he stumbled from his bed and shut off the second alarm clock that was sitting on the small table in the hallway. He made his way into the bathroom and took care of the morning rituals, carefully avoiding any stress to his right side. After a hot shower, he ran his left hand over the puckered scar, inspecting the doctors newest masterpiece. Adding yet one more imperfection to this less than perfect form.
Today was to be his first day back at the office since his run in at the bar. Ezra was anxious to get back to the job but not exactly sure if that was the right place for him. Since he had been released from the hospital a week earlier, he had not been short of visitors. The entire Team had made it a point to ensure that he was never alone. Most times, the private southerner would have chafed at the invasion of his home but this time he welcomed it. These visits allowed him to spend time with his friends. More importantly, the visits let him enjoy the company of one person in particular.
Once the coffee cup had been filled with the aromatic liquid he needed to jump-start his day he shuffled back down the hall to dress. Knowing that his navy suit would cover the fact that he had still not gained back the weight he had lost in the hospital, he quickly donned it and strapped on his shoulder pistol. He drained the remainder of the coffee and swished some mint mouthwash before slipping his wallet and badge in his coat pocket.
One last look in the mirror ensured that his striped tie was flawlessly knotted and not a hair was out of place. The image staring out of the glass reflected that of a successful man ready to take on the world if no one looked closely. The only tell that he could see was the twitch in his left pinky. His mother had ingrained in him at an early age that appearances were everything. Never let anyone see your fear or your desires. Too bad his nerves didnt get the same memorandum. He hadnt felt so nervous since the first time he attempted his first solo undercover job with the FBI. With one last glance in the mirror, he quietly left the bedroom and headed out the door to face the day.
The two men sat comfortably in the dark office, sipping out of the Styrofoam cups as they finished off their bagels. Chris and Vin had never needed to verbally express their thoughts to one another. Each satisfied in their calm acceptance of one another. It had been like that from day one. This was their time to spend together before the rest of the day intruded. Sometimes they would go over a current case, brainstorming different angles while other times they would sit there watching the sun creep up over the city, enjoying the peace that would be hard to remember by the end of the day.
"Whats on for the day?"
"Not too much. We have some prelims to go over for the Lawson case. Need to bring Ezra up to speed," Larabee answered, as he tossed the empty bag in the trash can in the corner. "You talk with him?"
Vin took the couple of minutes it took to finish the last of his bagel before answering his friend. "Not last night. Wasnt my turn to sit with him. I think Josiah stopped in last night."
Chris looked at the Texans face, searching for some answers to the questions he knew Vin didnt want asked. It had been over a month since that fateful day at the hospital. You could have knocked him over with a feather when he overheard Ezra as he declared his feelings to a recovering Vin Tanner. Not once in the entire time he had known him had the southerner ever displayed any hint that he was attracted to a member of the Team. That the object of his unrequited affection was his best friend made Chris a bit leery as to how this might play out over the long run.
The bell of the elevator announced the arrival of Josiah and Nathan, breaking their quiet moment. With a wry smile, the younger man grabbed the last bagel and moved back to his desk. He waved a friendly good morning to the two men before settling himself in for another long day of paperwork. For a man who was used to being on the move constantly, the adjustment to a job where he had to be behind a desk for long periods of time was sometimes rough. Today was one of those days.
If he was honest, he couldnt blame the paperwork for his restlessness this morning. The knowledge that the seventh member of their team was coming back this morning was the reason he kept tapping his pencil on the open file that he was suppose to be reading. If anyone had asked him who the subject was on the pages in front of him, he wouldnt have been able to tell them. His entire focus was centered on the gleaming doors of the elevators, waiting for the appearance of the man who had been alternately driving him crazy and making him smile these past few weeks.
Ever since the interrupted conversation in the hospital that morning when Ezra woke from the anesthesia, it seemed that the higher beings were having a field day with him. Vin had immediately offered to stay full time with Ezra when he was released from the hospital but Chris and Nathan both overrode that thought. In a span of ten minutes, Nathan had set up a rotating visitation schedule, pairing Vin with Josiah for the first night. The first couple of nights, Ezra had slept through his entire visits, allowing him the small pleasure of sneaking into his room to study the man under the pretense of checking on him.
He consoled himself with the thought that it would only be a matter of days before he would be able to get Ezra to himself to finish that talk they had only just begun. That opportunity finally came around last Thursday. Vin had left work on time and swung by his place to change clothes before picking up take out from the sushi restaurant Ezra had introduced him to earlier that year. Whistling, he had parked his jeep behind the Jaguar and grabbed the brown shopping bag from the passenger seat. He had done quite a bit of thinking over the past few weeks and had come to a few decisions that he needed to talk over with Ezra. As he stood outside the front door of the townhouse, he took a couple of minutes to straighten his pullover and smooth his hair. Satisfied with the results, he reached out and rang the doorbell before turning his key in the lock. Wouldnt do if he got shot walking in the door before he had a chance to accomplish his goals for the evening.
"Hey Ez! You decent?"
"Of course I am, Mr. Tanner. And, I might add, I am not deaf."
Vin grinned as he sat the bag on the bar and slipped off his jacket before tossing it over a small table in the foyer. His smile faded as he rounded the corner and saw that Ezra already had company. JD was sprawled out on the carpet in front of the fireplace, absently picking at the label on his beer bottle as he studied his laptop screen. It looked like the two of them were reviewing the case file on the suspects that the team had been researching before Ezra got hurt.
"Hey, Vin!" JD exclaimed. "I didnt know you were comin over tonight."
"Yeah. Well, I just thought that Ezra would like some sushi. I thought that you were meeting Casey tonight."
"She decided that she had to study so I came by to bring Ezra up-to-date."
Ezra was reclining in his leather chair, leafing through the pictures that JD and Buck had unearthed from the archives. The man lifted his attention from the documents and smiled his thanks to Vin. It had been a while since Vin had seen that smile. It was one that was completely at ease with the world. One that had no pain or tightness around the edges.
Vin nudged Ezras dangling foot, catching the other mans eye, silently questioning if it was alright with him that he was there. His answer was a quick wink and an offer of a beer. Ten minutes later, Vin and Ezra were indulging in one of their shared loves. The clicking of the chopsticks and rustle of napkins filled the quiet night. JD, happily munching on a bag of chips he had found in his bag, hummed as he tried to follow the electronic footprints of their suspect.
As the evening wore on, JD showed no sign of leaving despite the small hints that Vin had been dropping. Damn. You would think that the kid would get a clue.
"JD. Dont you have an early meeting tomorrow morning? Its getting kinda late. Dont want you oversleeping."
"No prob. I set all four alarm clocks before I came over here!" JD assured his friend with a smile.
Ezra grimaced at the thought of four alarm clocks blaring in the morning. It was bad enough that he had to invest in several clocks a year. He could never imagine willingly setting four of those loud beasts to shock you out of your warm bed.
"Mr. Dunne. Perhaps we can continue this tomorrow evening. I think I have processed as much information as I am able to for the time being."
The black head shot up as concerned eyes raked his friends face, searching for any sign of discomfort. "You feeling okay, Ezra?"
"Yes. Just a bit weary," Ezra quickly reassured the young man.
Vin watched with a small smile as JD quickly collected the files and slipped them into his case along side the laptop. He was excited about the fact that he would finally be alone with Ezra. Finally, they would have a chance to sit down and continue their talk they had begun so many weeks ago.
"Huh?" Vin slowly raised his eyes and found JD standing next to him, holding his jacket. When he glanced over to Ezra, he caught sight of the suppressed humor in his eyes. Vin silently appealed to his friend for an excuse to stay.
"Here. Come on. Ezras tired." JD dumped the jacket into his lap and grabbed Vins key ring and cell phone. "You know that Nathan will kill us both if we dont let Ezra get some sleep."
Shooting one last plea in his hosts direction and finding no offer of assistance coming from that quarter, Vin climbed to his feet and shrugged into the coat. "Yeah. Dont need Nathan comin down on me."
Ezra stood up slowly and walked his two friends to the door. "Thank you for coming by. Please, dont call me too early tomorrow morning. As Mr. Dunne just indicated, I do need my rest."
Vin followed JD out of the townhouse in confusion. He could have sworn that Ezra wanted to spend some time with him. If they never were alone, how would they ever get a chance to talk?
"See ya, Vin!" JD jumped on his motorcycle and took off with a wave.
Vin looked back at the newly darkened townhouse, searching for some sign of welcome from the man inside. Sighing deeply, he trudged over to his jeep and headed for home.
Inside the silent structure, Ezra watched Vin struggle with his indecision. Disappointment swept over him as he watched the taillights disappear around the corner of his street. He wasnt sure if he was ready to face this situation but he knew that he didnt want to lose this man from his life. Now, all he had to do was figure out if the effort was worth the pain that was sure to come.
The rest of the weekend was spent in solitude. Ezra screened all his calls, not answering his phone once. If someone were to go back and take a tally of the numbers on his telephone display, they would find 11 calls from a phone number out of Purgatory. He knew that he was acting like a coward. He wasnt sure how to handle the situation. He just knew that he cared for Vin but wasnt sure if he was ready to explore a relationship with the man. Hell, he wasnt positive if the man in question wanted to even have a relationship with him. He knew that Vin was intrigued with the concept but that wasnt enough for two men in their positions.
It was an all or nothing situation. Not only would they be bucking societys accepted norm, they would be going against the agencys morality clause. It was illegal for the ATF to order two people of the same gender to NOT engage in a sexual relationship, but there were ways around those laws. There had been far too many people over the years that had been drummed out of the jobs they loved when they were pushed to choose the person they loved over their career.
At precisely 9:05 am, the silver doors opened to reveal the arrival of the Teams seventh member. As was expected, the other men gathered around him and greeted him in their own unique ways. Josiah clamped down one hand on his shoulder and grinned while JD grabbed his briefcase and launched into his rundown on the most recent events. Buck and Chris each shook his hand warmly, telling him how good it was to be back. Nathan, true to form, asked him about his bandages, medicines and breakfast. Then, came the moment that Ezra had both been hoping for and dreading. The moment when he would find out if he could go on as normal in the office.
Vin quietly appeared at his right side, subconsciously guarding his friends injured side. He had slipped out of the office a few minutes earlier to get his welcome present and had just arrived to find that Ezra had beaten him back. With a lop-sided grin, he offered the southerner the latte and white bakery bag. Not trusting his voice, Ezra simply nodded his thanks and made his way over to his desk.
Since he hadnt been back to work for close to three weeks, his in-box was missing in action. The pile of bureaucratic paperwork was dangerously close to toppling over into the wastebasket. He made himself at home, attempting to find a spot to start with. One thing that he could never abide was a messy desk covered with mounds of paper. If he was going to make any type of headway, he would have to jump in and hope to get rid of some of it before lunchtime.
The others made their own way back to their desks and went about finishing up their own projects. Before they knew it, it was one thirty and Chris came out of his office to announce that they were all going over to the Saloon for a long lunch. Out of habit, Ezra declined without even lifting his head.
"Try again, Ezra!"
Two pairs of strong hands helped him out of his seat and bundled him into his overcoat before he had a chance to hit the Save button on his screen.
"Gentlemen. This is not necessary, I assure you," he sputtered.
"It is if you keep pulling these stunts."
Ezra caught Vins eye and nodded his concession. "I have no idea what you are talking about, Mr. Tanner. I was simply minding my own business when "
He was cut off by the bell announcing the arrival of the elevator car. With a small sigh, he gave in and went with the tide. He would never admit this out loud but he had missed these get togethers. While he had enjoyed the quiet time that past weekend, he was ready to rejoin his friends.
The Teams long lunch turned out to be a full afternoon away from the office. Since their caseload was light and the upcoming holiday weekend, Chris didnt see a reason to push themselves too hard. They relaxed over hot tortillas and Inezs special rice dish and kept the waitress busy with refills for their mugs. Between little tidbits on the upcoming cases and some of Bucks unique stories, time slipped by in a pleasant haze.
Vin watched the troubled man sitting to his left and wondered what he was turning over in that brain of his. He had tried several times to get him alone and speak to him about their conversation but had been unsuccessful. Last Thursday night he had to force himself to get out of his jeep and go up to his apartment before he gave into his urge to return to Ezras townhouse and demand that they talk. He was no closer to a decision about what he wanted but he knew that if they could just talk, it would be able to work it out together. With a devilish gleam in his eyes, he shifted in his chair and pressed his leg back up against Ezras. When he saw the confusion in the other mans eyes he simply reached over and pulled the last tortilla onto his plate.
Sure there were hundreds of doubts running through his head right now but the one thing that overshadowed all of them was the fact that he liked the feeling he got when he touched Ezra. It was almost as if it was a quick electric shock you get during winter that leaves you with a pleasant tingle lingering minutes after it is gone. It had been almost a year since he had been in a relationship with another person. He had enjoyed the sex but he never felt comfortable enough to completely open himself up. That realization had forced him to look inside and figure out why that was. The only answer he could come up with at the time was that while the sex was good, the person wasnt who he wanted to actually spend time with outside of the bedroom. Over the following weeks, he found himself looking at the people he spent the most time with. He came to the realization that if he had a choice, he would want to share his life with that one person who he considered to be one of his best friends. There was only little problem. The object of his desire was a man and there was no way in hell that this man would ever consider loving him. Or so he thought until that fateful morning in the hospital.
Now, Vin was sitting next to the man who had become his target, trying to figure out what the next step is. He knew that Ezra cared for him. Hell, the man had admitted it to his face albeit to his sleeping face but he did admit it. Sure there were the problems it might cause the job. Who knew exactly how the boys would react if they were to go for it. Vin truly believed deep down that after the initial shock, they would have their support. They were both grown men who had the right to their private lives. They werent hurting anybody if they decided to take that next step. What they did was their business. Not the jobs. Not the boys. Not anyone.
Vin leaned back in his seat and sipped his beer as he turned that last thought over in his mind. He felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders as the words imbedded themselves deeper and deeper. He could hear JD laughing at Bucks latest unsuccessful attempt to woo Inez. Nathan and Josiah were quietly debating the merits of hypoallergenic medicines versus eastern methods. Chris was doing what he did best. He was quietly enjoying the others interaction while he worked his way through his stash of chips. Secure in his thoughts and hopes, Vin moved his chair closer to the table and began to implement his next stage in his newly formed plan.
Ezra was sitting in his normal seat between Vin and Josiah. Every so often he would feel Vins jean-clad leg brush past him as the other man slipped into a more comfortable spot. His leg tingled in anticipation of the next touch. After the fourth time, Ezra chanced a peek at the sharpshooter and caught sight of the small grin that played with his lips. Hes doing this on purpose. Why? Where does he want this to go?
It was as if the Texan wanted to force the situation. In a panic, Ezra pulled his leg away from Vins and inadvertently kicked JD in the shin. The muffled ouch shook him back to the situation and helped him calm down. All weekend long he had struggled with the situation. He had gone to sleep late Sunday night, secure in the decision that he would not approach Vin. Of course he knew that he was taking the cowards way out by waiting for Vin to make the next move, especially since he had just rebuffed his last one but he didnt know what to do. Ezra thought that if he waited for Vin to bring up the subject then he would know how to handle the situation. But, faced with Vins covert caresses under the table, Ezra was forced to realize that the time had come to face the music. The two of them had to sit down and talk about the situation and come to some sort of conclusion. The one thing that held him back from this was the fact that he still had no idea what to do.
On the one hand, Ezra wanted to jump up from the table, grab Vins hand and drag him out of the bar and into his bed. But, his saner side kept him from doing this foolhardy thing. There was too much at stake for both men. He was reluctant to tempt fate. Never before had he been lucky enough to find himself working at a job he loved and surrounded by six men whom he considered true friends. It had taken him quite a while to come to that conclusion but once he did, he did everything he could to protect that unexpected gift. It had been so long since he had been in any sort of romantic relationship that he was leery of stumbling into one with a person he considered to be a close friend.
The same questions that had plagued him all weekend long came tumbling out to torment him once again. What would happen to him if Vin didnt want a relationship with him? If they took this step and were found out, would they be kicked off the Team? Would the others stand by them and still call them their friends? If it didnt work out, would he and Vin still be able to work together or, more importantly, still be friends? If they did pursue this relationship, could it survive the constant need for secrecy? Would this just be a casual thing or one where they both are in it for the long haul? Would Vin be able to accept him for all his faults? Would he be able to offer Vin the type of love that he would expect from him?
God. The questions that assaulted him were overwhelming. There were no answers to be had. They would only be found through time and chance. Was he ready to take the chance with Vin? Yes. This is the million dollar question. No. Wait. This is the million dollar question: Was Vin ready to take the chance with him?
Unable to answer any of these questions, he grabbed his empty mug and quickly called for a refill.
Ezra was startled when he felt a wandering hand lay claim to his knee. With a small frown, he shook his leg slightly, trying to indicate that he wanted to be released. He was amazed to find that not only did the hand remain, the grip tightened as a callused thumb began to trace small circles on the fine linen. He looked over at Vin with a small question in his eyes only to find himself looking into a calm, steady gaze. There was no turmoil in those eyes, just acceptance.
"Hey, Ezra! Isnt it your turn for poker night?" Buck asked the preoccupied man. When he got no answer, he reached over and tapped him square on the forehead. "Ezra? You in there?" His antics brought out a loud round of laughs as they waited for the southerners response.
Vin nudged the quiet man, jostling him back into reality. He shook his head slightly, as if to clear the cobwebs away before focusing on Buck. "Poker? No. I think that it is Mr. Sanchezs turn to be host to our monthly gathering."
"You okay, Ezra?" Nathan had become concerned over Ezras slow response to Buck. While he knew it had been a couple of weeks since the incident that landed him in the hospital, he also knew that the southerner was still plagued by blinding headaches.
"Of course, Mr. Jackson. I was momentarily distracted."
Vin grinned at his answer. He liked the feeling that he could distract the normally unflappable man by his touch. He gently squeezed the captive leg as he watched the interest flare in Ezras eyes. Now this is getting fun.
"Okay boys. I think weve taken up enough of Inezs space for today," Chris announced, pulling out his gold card. "Lets get out of here before she starts making us pay rent."
It was well past seven oclock when the seven men struggled into their coats and wished Inez good evening. JD, Buck and Nathan piled into the first waiting cab and headed off to their homes. Josiah and Chris had made it a point to watch their beer since they had to drive. After saying goodbye to Ezra and Vin, they left also. Ezra and Vin stood for a few minutes appreciating the crisp air. After sweeping the parking lot, Ezra noticed that Vins jeep was not there. He had been so preoccupied on the way over to the Saloon that he hadnt realized Vin hadnt driven. With a rueful look at his gleaming Jaguar waiting under the streetlight, Ezra squared his shoulders and turned to his friend.
"Looks like you need a ride, Mr. Tanner."
"Since it takes so long for a taxi service to send out a vehicle, I think that it would be better if I gave you a lift to your humble abode."
"Well then. Your chariot awaits."
"Does that make you a knight, Ezra?"
"Hardly, Vin. Hardly."
Thirty minutes later, Ezra pulled the sports car to a smooth stop outside of Vins apartment building under the only working streetlight and slipped the car into park. The two men sat in the warm interior, looking out the windshield at the young kids playing kickball in the street. Vin glanced at Ezra and smiled at the memory of his reaction to his moves at the bar. It was almost like working with a new colt. To have a good relationship with a horse, you had to first earn its trust. Then you had to teach it to trust your every move. After you have accomplished that, the next step was learning to live with one another. If you succeeded, you find yourself paired with a strong animal that would do anything you asked of it as long as you treated it with respect and love. Well, Vin had a good bit of success in working with skittish horses. There was no reason to believe he couldnt take that first step in calming Ezras fears.
"Glad to be back?"
"Yes. It is much better than staring at the four walls of my condominium."
"At least the load is light right now."
Ezra slowly looked over to his passenger, searching for some sign. He didnt know what he was searching for exactly but he took the opportunity to look at Vin.
"Is your vehicle still at the office?"
"Then you are going to need a ride tomorrow morning."
"You offering?" Vin asked with a mischievous look in his eye.
"Well, if would make me abandon my warm bed earlier than normal but I would be pleased to give you a lift in."
"Guess you are tired, huh?"
Ezra glanced at the dash and saw that it was only 8:35 pm. "Not really. It is still a bit early but you "
Vin quickly headed off his excuse. He reached across the console and touched the other mans forearm. "Not tryin to run you off, Ez. Just dont want Nathan comin down on me if you come draggin in tomorrow morning."
The southerner smiled at the image of the Teams resident mother hen. He looked out the windshield again, watching as some of the young kids scattered off to their homes for the evening. If I dont do this now, I may never have the courage to do this. He looked over at his friend and smiled. "I believe that I could use something to drink before heading back to my place. You wouldnt happen to have anything in your refrigerator, would you?"
Vin looked over and studied the serious face for a moment. "Yeah. Theres a few of those imports you like so much left over from last months game."
"Well then, I would suggest that we make our way upstairs. I think that there are a few things that we can discuss while finishing up your stock."
After taking a deep breath, Vin closed his eyes briefly before answering. He hadnt really believed that Ezra would take this next step so soon. He had hoped he would, especially after seeing how he bothered him at the bar, but he wasnt so sure. Ready or not Vin popped the door lock and said, "Lets go." Vin stepped out onto the cracked sidewalk before closing the car door firmly.
By the time Ezra had unlocked his seatbelt, Vin had strolled around the hood of the car was waiting for him by his open drivers door. Ezra grabbed his keys and cell phone off of the console then got out. The two men walked across the street, waving to the sweaty teen-agers who called out to them. Vin grabbed his mail out of the rusty box and then followed Ezra up the stairs.
With his heart beating faster than he had ever felt it before, Ezra wiped his palms on the front of his slacks in an effort to dry them. He had never felt so excited and scared at the same time. Whatever happened this evening, his life would be changed forever. Did he have the courage to take that step he so desperately wanted to take or would he follow the safe road once again? He hadnt come to any conclusion by the time they reached Vins front door. He watched as a steady hand reached around him, inserted the key in the lock and pushed the door open.
"You know, it works better if you take a couple of steps this way," Vin stated softly over his shoulder.
"Really? I would never had known that," Ezra sarcastically replied, trying to cover up his nervousness. He stalked into the darkened room and ended up hitting his leg on the corner of a table. "Damn it."
Vin flipped on the light switch quickly to see what happened. When he turned around he found Ezra balancing on one leg, looking like a flamingo. He tried but couldnt help it. He burst out laughing at the sight of the normally composed undercover agent hopping around his living room cursing under his breath.
"You okay there, Ezra?"
Scowling over at the laughing man, he gingerly placed his foot back on the ground while he tried to gather his wits about him. "Yes. I am just wonderful. Here I am, attacked in your home and all you can do is stand there in amusement."
"Sorry. Just never expected to find one of them pink birds hopping around my place."
"Yeah. You know. Them birds that were on the postcard JD sent to the office last summer."
"Oh dear Lord. You dare to stand there and compare me to a flamingo!"
Vin took a couple of steps towards the injured man, reaching out both hands in the universal sign of no harm. "I was just kidding. You look much better than a flamingo."
Ezra froze in place as his muddled brain processed the words. He backed away from Vin and sat down on the worn couch. Watching him as he moved around his living room, stripping off his coat and boots, Ezras mind sprung into action. All of the doubts and questions he had fielded earlier came back in full force. His left pinkie took on a life of its own. In an effort to control his raging thoughts, he tried to focus on the room he found himself sitting in. He had been in Vins place many times over the past months. The Team had held a few of their monthly poker games there so Ezra was as familiar with this place as he was any of the other mens places.
Ezra nodded and as he reached up to take the icy bottle from Vin, their fingers collided. Shocked green eyes flew up to meet blue ones. The silence was stifling but the thought of words was more uncomfortable. In an effort to delay the inevitable, Ezra raised the bottle to his lips and drained half of its contents before taking another breath.
Vin watched his friend as he turned the bottle around and around, his fingers worrying the label. If it wasnt so important for them to come to some sort of resolution, he would have cut Ezra some slack. But he knew from experience that they needed to finish their conversation and it needed to be completed tonight. If this dragged on any longer, it would fester and may harm their friendship.
Without realizing his own inner thoughts mirrored Vins, Ezra forced his mind to focus on the situation at hand. Once he came to the understanding that this conversation had to occur, a calm seeped into him, helping him to steady his hand. He looked up to see Vin watching him. Ezra put the bottle on the side table and stood up. Vin cocked his head in question, wondering what his next move would be. With a small smile, Ezra slowly took off his overcoat and suit jacket and hung them on the coat rack by the door. After taking a steadying breath, he turned around and sought Vins eyes. "I guess we need to talk about a few things."
"What exactly is going on, Vin?"
Vin leaned back against the overstuffed pillows, stretching his legs out in front of him. Of all the opening lines, this was not the one he expected. Knowing Ezra like he thought he did, he expected him to beat around the bush for a bit. Maybe drop a couple of hints here and there and wait to see if Vin picked up on them. The head-on approach was a new one.
"Whatcha mean, Ezra?"
"The hospital. The other evening at my house. The antics at the bar. Everything!" Ezra continued to pace the length of the room, looking everywhere but the couch. Vin tracked the restless man with his eyes, waiting for him to find a place where he would be able to relax a bit. When it became apparent that his friend was not going to settle down any time soon, he took pity on him.
"You know, that rocker is pretty comfortable. I do my best thinkin there."
Ezras steps faltered for a moment as his mind turned over the quiet words. He silently swallowed the remaining beer, set down the bottle on the kitchen ledge and made his way over to the old rocking chair. He knew how much Vin treasured this piece of furniture. He had told him once that when he sat in this chair, he would remember all the good times of his childhood. Knowing what he did about Vins past, there werent that many pleasant memories to relive. He eased into the chair with a sigh of relief and unconsciously began to rock to and fro.
"I can see why you enjoy this piece so much. It is very comforting in its movement." Ezra leaned back, letting his head rest on the back of the chair with his eyes closed. "I dont believe that I can remember ever having one of these chairs in any of the numerous places I have lived in.
"Reminds me of my Ma. I dont remember a lot but I do recall sittin on her lap, rockin as she hummed some tune." Vin smiled as he remembered the feeling of complete love surrounding him that always came back to him with that particular memory. "Always said that when I got my own place, I would have a rocker in it. Didnt care if that was the only piece of furniture in the whole place as long as I could rock my troubles away."
Ezra looked over at Vin, appreciating the peaceful look in his friends face. "I envy you that memory, Vin."
"Well, you have met my mother. She doesnt strike you as the type to rock a little boy now does she?"
A shadow crossed his eyes as he caught Ezras gaze. "Wasnt that bad, was it?"
"No. I know that she cares for me but we are not that demonstrative. I can still feel her smoothing the hair down on the back of my head as she told me to be a good boy. But as for sitting down and rocking the world away No, that is not Maude Standishs way. She is not the type to sit and watch it go by. She is the type to jump in and swim with it. It is the way she raised me, Vin."
"That why you dont like being touched so much?"
Vins question bewildered him for a few moments. He took a couple of deep breaths and realized that this was the time. He thought back over the last few months and saw where the question came from. He was notorious for pulling out of embraces or ducking out from under arms around his shoulders. Of course he would always attribute it to the fact he didnt want to wrinkle his expensive clothing or it was an inappropriate place but he never thought anyone else picked up on this particular aversion.
With a wry smile, he nodded. "I dont mean to offend anyone," he looked up from his hand, catching Vins eye, "especially you, Vin. I am just not used to physical contact."
"You didnt offend me. Just wondered is all."
"I have come to enjoy the contact, much to my surprise. In some ways, it makes me feel like I belong."
"Of course you belong."
Vin and Ezra sat in companionable silence, each lost in his own thoughts. The creak of the rocker kept time with the second hand of the mantle clock.
"Vin?" Ezra called softly. "Something has been running around in my head for the past few weeks that I must ask you about."
"What occurred when I woke up in that infernal hospital room?" Ezra asked as a faint blush stole across his face. "What I mean is, I seem to recall our conversation and I dont believe we really arrived at the crux of the matter before we were interrupted."
With a small smile, Vin shifted to face Ezra completely. "I was wonderin when you would want to finish that talk."
This was the moment that Ezra had both been dreading and hoping would arrive. It was sink or swim time. Did he have the courage to continue or would he take the other way out. He stared at Vin, searching for some sign from him. Drawing in a shaky breath, he counted to five.
"I must confess, I am a bit confused by the recent turn of events."
"Well, why dont we clear up all the confusion."
"Do we have enough time?"
Vin got up and switched on the small lamps around the room. Holding out his empty bottle, he said, "Im going to get a fresh one. You want another?"
Ezra nodded, watching Vin as he disappeared into his small kitchen. In the past few months, he had spent a great deal of his time watching the other man as he walked to and from his view. He had always been one who appreciated a lovely sight and Vin Tanner was definitely a lovely sight to watch.
"Here you go."
He accepted the bottle with a smile and took a sip. Vin grabbed a couple of the couch cushions and tossed them on the floor at Ezras feet. He plopped down and stretched out with a sigh. After a couple of minutes, he reached up and tapped Ezras shin to get his attention.
"So what are you confused about?"
With a laugh, the southerner started the chair rocking again. "Oh, I dont know. I guess we should start with how you and I seemed especially close when I awoke in that hospital room."
Vins hand dropped down and toyed with the edge of Ezras pants leg as he pulled his thoughts together. He could feel Ezras attention directed at him but he still didnt rush to speak. He wanted to say exactly what he was thinking and feeling. He wasnt used to putting these thoughts and emotions into words but it was important that he did now. "Do you like spending time with me, Ezra?"
The rocking slowed as Ezra tried to follow where Vin was going. "Yes. Yes I do."
"Well, the way I see it is that if we both like spending time together than we should spend more time together."
Many questions ran through Ezras mind as he tried to understand exactly what Vin was talking about. The creases in his forehead became more prominent as he tried to figure out what Vin was suggesting. He took a long drink from the sweaty bottle and stared out the small window, fixating on a lone star directly above the chimney across the street. "Spending time together as in " his voice cracked slightly, " ah as in hanging out after work?"
Vin chuckled quietly as he followed Ezras thought process. "Sure. I guess we could hang out after work. I was kinda hoping you might want to have dinner with me. You know, go out and eat at a nice place. Enjoy each others company and stuff like that."
The rocker stilled and the sound of a glass bottle meeting a wooden table broke the quiet. Ezra bent over to look at Vin directly in the eye. "You mean like a a .?"
"A date?" Vin grinned at the confusion in the other mans eyes. At the sharp nod, his smile grew even wider. "Yeah. I guess, if you wanna call it that."
"Vin? Wheres your gun?"
"My gun?" Vin asked incredulously. "Why do you wanna know where my gun is?"
"Well, I think I would rather not be shot if we are to continue this conversation and I am mistaken about my line of thought."
Vin reached behind him and pulled his Sig out of the holster and offered it to the other man. He then pulled his right leg up to his chest and slipped out the back-up from the ankle holster and it soon joined its mate on the table next to the couch. "Okay. You got no worries about being shot."
After the hardware was safely placed out of both mens reach, Ezra grabbed the arms of the rocker for courage. He then quietly asked, "Vin? Are you trying to tell me that you are attracted to men as well as women?"
"Yep. Have been for some time now."
The matter-of-fact answer stunned Ezra. Never in his wildest dreams would he have guessed that ex-Army, ex-bounty hunter, current elite sharpshooter Vin Tanner was bisexual. His heart raced at the firm statement that hung in the air.
"And, am I correct in assuming that you are interested in spending time with me in a, shall we say, more than friendly way?"
Ezras left foot pushed off the carpet, sending the chair back into motion. He needed the movement to help his tumbling thoughts fall into some semblance of order. All these months of longing for a man he thought was completely out of his reach were over. It was one thing to dream of wanting something and quite another to have it sitting there in front of you waiting for you to accept it.
"Hey, Ez? You gonna rock all night or what?"
"I am not sure how to proceed," Ezra whispered. "I am surprised that you want to pursue something new with me."
"Why?" Vin pushed himself upright and caught the arms of the rocker, slowing its previous journey. "Is it because you thought I was straight? Or is it because of something else?"
"Both," Ezra answered softly. "I never thought, seeing how you were only involved with women the entire time I have known you, that you were ever attracted to the male species."
"I guess, I am wondering how you think ." Ezra stopped mid-sentence and stared at the bookcase in front of them. Why me? Why would he be interested in me? How did he know I would be open to a relationship with another man?
After he drained the last of his beer as he sat there watching Ezra struggle with his thoughts, Vin suddenly realized something. "Bet youre wondering why were sitting here talking about this right now."
"Well, the thought has crossed my mind. Was there something about me that alluded to the fact that I would be favorable to a relationship with another man?"
Vin looked at the nervous man and smiled gently, trying to relieve the sudden tension that enshrouded him. "Aint like you walk around holding a sign or something. I never would have dreamed to make a move on you or talk like this with you if I wasnt sure you wouldnt be open to it."
"Easy. You see, I was awake that morning you came to visit me in the hospital." As soon as he saw Ezra sit straight up and ball his right hand into a fist, Vin reached out and laid a light hand on the fist. "Dont get upset. I just was wakin up when you came in and then you started talkin. You know, you were talkin and I knew that if I showed I was awake, you would never finish your words."
"Oh dear God. He heard everything!" he muttered to himself.
"Yep. Everything. Look at me Ezra. Nothin to be ashamed about. Your words were beautiful. You shared the true you with me and I hold them in my heart. Wasnt sure what to do but now I think I do."
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