by Kris

Note: This first appeared in The 2001 Australia Global Gathering Zine. Thanks to Nic and Karen.

Vin Tanner had a feeling, and he acted on it. He got into his jeep and followed Ezra. He stayed a long distance away because he knew where the undercover agent was going. The Denver Airport.

Maude Von Helkon, Ezra’s mother, was supposed to be flying in to spend the holiday in Denver with her only son. "Only thing," Vin said aloud to himself, "She always cancels."

Chris Larabee, Team Seven’s leader, also asked Ezra to spend Christmas Eve and day at his place. The rest of the team would be there and they all wanted Ezra to join them. Last year Ezra had declined, they had only been together for part of the year and he had then told them about his mother’s visit. The team had understood and didn’t want to push their newest member.

Vin had found out later that Maude had called and canceled, leaving Ezra alone for the rest of the holiday. Vin wanted to make sure that this year was not a repeat.

But Vin had a feeling.

The tracker parked in the long term lot to avoid being seen and followed Ezra into the terminal. They were at Continental Airlines, arrivals from Europe. Vin heard Ezra Standish being paged over the loud speaker system. He watched as the chestnut haired man made his way to the courtesy phones. The tracker stayed far enough away not to be spotted, but close enough to see Ezra’s face.

He watched as a genuine smile became a frown and a sad look took up residence on the undercoverman’s face. Ezra put the receiver down and thanked the customer service person, mask once again in place. But Vin had seen enough and knew of Ezra’s hurt and disappointment.

He was about to approach his friend when Ezra moved to a ticket counter and purchased a ticket.

Vin got in line after Ezra left and asked the airline agent where Ezra Standish had purchased a ticket to.

"We aren’t allowed to give out that information," the woman replied.

Vin took out his ATF ID and flashed it at the ticket agent. "Ma’am, I’m tailing that man and I must continue to do so. Your cooperation would be most appreciated." Vin hoped this ploy would work.

The woman thought for a moment, then nodded her head. "Los Angeles. He bought a ticket to LA. It leaves in fifteen minutes."

"Thank you, ma’am. I will buy a ticket for LA also." He pulled out his wallet and gave her the company credit card. He flashed her a smile as he accepted the ticket.

Vin took out his cell phone and punched in numbers. He listened to the rings impatiently.

"Larabee," a voice finally said.

"Chris, Maude canceled again and I’m following Ezra to LA. I’ll call later."

"Okay pard. Take care. Bring him back here if you can," was all Larabee said.

"Will do." Vin hung up the phone and fished into his jacket for a hairband. After tying it back, he took off his rawhide jacket and placed it in an airport locker. He then rushed to the boarding area. He was one of the last to enter the plane.

He spotted Ezra and was glad his seat was to be behind him. Now to get there without being seen. He timed his approach to coincide with the stewardess' stop and kept her between them with his head down. He made it to his seat. He fastened his seatbelt and slouched down as far as he could go.

Vin replayed Ezra’s facial expressions during the phone call and knew that his friend was crushed. His friend. Mild word. Vin had come to accept that he felt a lot more than simple friendship for the green eyed agent.

Buck was the only person that had guessed and had promised to keep it that way. Vin didn’t want the team to split up because of his desires. Vin had experimented with both sexes during his stay at the reservation, where all was accepted, but never had his heart been touched until Ezra.

Vin had come to terms with the knowledge that his heart was in Ezra’s hands, but Ezra didn’t know it. That was just as well for he’d leave the team for sure then.

There had been a few anxious moments this last year when Chris had been ready to fire the odd man out, but when all was said and done, Chris knew that Ezra was also a part of them.

Buck had recognized his feelings in the aftermath of the Kinsey bust, Ezra had been shot and Vin had been unable to keep his fear to himself. Buck witnessed his tears and had only commented that Ezra would be a tough one to reach.

Vin just didn’t let Ezra push him away and finally they had established a friendship. For Ezra, that had been a big step and Vin knew they had a long way to go. For the man so able to control his outward display of emotion, ran away in the face of pain instead of turning to his friends for support.

Vin’s mind whirled on the three hour flight to Los Angeles.

+ + + + + + +

For Ezra to think of himself as disappointed was an understatement. Self-embarrassment at the foolish expectations was err enough, let alone the degradation he once again felt at his mother’s abandonment. He had hoped that in this new marriage, where she had more than enough money, she would keep this one engagement with him. But as usual, something more important to her had come up and he would spend another Christmas alone.

Ezra rubbed his forehead as he thought about the invitation to Chris Larabee’s. He’d had a rocky start with this team, Ezra chuckled to himself internally, when didn’t he have a rough start. But this team seemed determined to keep him around. He wasn’t sure why, but the stubbornness of six men was hard to fight. He’d made a big deal this time about the holiday with his mother, completely falling for her assurances. He didn’t want to face their pity and did what felt natural, he ran away.

It’s one thing to know they pity you, another thing altogether to see it written on their faces. He would not subject himself to that, so it was Christmas alone.

Ezra shied away from his own inner voice that told him he was running for another reason.

Vin Tanner.

The man completely confused him. He ignored every hint to leave him alone. He sashayed past each and every barrier that he had erected and forced Ezra to take notice. Well hell, notice he did.

Tawny brown, wavy hair, eyes so blue, it was like looking at a cloudless sky, and lips that held a smile that seemed to promise so much more. He had a lanky body that hid the hard, muscular frame. Ezra felt the stirring of desire. He pushed the descriptive thoughts away.

This longing could get him kicked off the team if nothing else would. It was better to stay away.

He looked down to his ticket to see where he was going, good lord, LA.

+ + + + + + +

Vin slept with a pillow over his face and made himself slouch differently. That way if Ezra went to the bathroom he wouldn’t appear familiar.

He waited on the plane after landing, letting Ezra proceed off the aircraft first. Without luggage to collect, he headed for the car rental area. After watching Ezra rent from Hertz and head to their lot, Vin grabbed a cab and asked the cabby to follow the silver Lexus. The cabby lifted his brow but Vin assured him he would be well paid for his services.

They followed Ezra onto the freeway system headed north. Vin felt panicky at the crowded road conditions, fearing they’d lose Ezra. It was the cabby’s turn to give assurances, he told Vin that it would be easy to keep sight of their quarry as the traffic was light.

"This is light?" Vin’s incredulous voice asked.

"Yup, sometimes you can wait ten minutes to move a foot." The cabby smiled at his fare’s expression.

Vin just sat back keeping sight of Ezra.

Two hours later they found themselves crossing into Santa Barbara County. Vin was surprised to find that they were next to the ocean with the mountains pressing close.

After another fifteen minutes, the cabby smiled as he pointed, "He’s pulling off, but this ain’t no gas stop."

Vin indicated that he wanted to stay with the car, so they too exited the 101 freeway. The picturesque route took them to a beach frontage road next to the Santa Barbara pier. The tracker had to admit to himself that he loved the wave movement, the wild tranquillity. He was jolted out of his reverie by the stopping of the cab.

The driver indicated their quarry, "He’s getting out."

"Then so am I. How much I owe ya?" Vin asked.

"Two hundred ten." The cabby waited for an argument.

Vin took out his wallet, pulling three one hundred dollar bills out and handed them to the driver. "Keep the change." Vin smiled at the surprised expression, "Thanks for keeping up and out of sight."

The cabby, quite curious, asked, "Why’d we follow him?"

"My future," Vin said before he looked out to cross the boulevard.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was surprised at how nice the drive was. He always had heard what a pain Southern California traffic was, how it was always congested. He’d been driving for a little over two hours without a single quagmire.

He remembered Josiah’s ramblings about Santa Barbara and took that exit as he recognized the name. The beach front community was large but quaint looking. The waves were compelling and he pulled in and parked the rental car in the pier parking lot. He locked the car and headed for the sand. He took off his shoes and socks and made for the water’s edge.

The light breeze in the afternoon sun was refreshing. He’d left snow and ended up in eighty degree sunshine, maybe this was to be a good trip after all.

He tried to free his mind as he walked in the harder wet sand. His goal was some rocks at the headland point. When he realized that it was a lot further away than he thought, he changed his plan and sat in the warm sand, watching the gulls and the wave movement.

+ + + + + + +

Vin shed his shoes and socks as he prepared to follow Ezra. At first it was easy to mix in with the numerous beach goers. Then it became almost difficult as his quarry headed for a more secluded, hardly used area. When he saw Ezra sit, he decided to approach his fellow agent.

He sat down quietly next to the man and kept his eyes focused on the ocean waves.

Ezra was startled, but tried not to show it. He recognized the identity of his visitor as soon as he sat down. He knew the fragrance of Vin’s shampoo.

"Ahh, Mr. Tanner, you are far from home." Ezra commented, keeping his eyes on the water.

"So are you, Ez."

"I chose to be."

"Well so did I."

Ezra raised a brow, asking the nonverbal question.

"Okay, I followed you." Vin revealed.

"A nice job of remaining undetected," was Ezra’s only reply.

"Well it is my job." Vin smiled at the unstated compliment.

Ezra’s expression became more closed off. "Oh. Mr. Larabee doesn’t trust me and had you keep track of the running agent."

"No one sent me. I followed ya cuz I’m yer friend." His Texas accent more pronounced as he realized that he’d put a foot wrong already with his friend. "I figured yer mother would let you down same as last year. Didn’t want ya to be alone again." Vin turned and looked at the waves again, afraid he’d given away too much.

Ezra could read that Vin was telling the truth. "Well, you were correct regarding my mother." Not sharing the disappointment behind the words.

"Sorry, Ez."

"C'est la vie."

Vin’s voice softened, "I used to envy you, having a mother that was alive, that you could talk to."

The Southern man looked out at the pelicans flying low in formation, already knowing the answer to the question he was about to ask. "And now?"

"After getting to know Maude, I realized that my memories of my mother can never disappoint me." Vin paused before adding, "I hate the way she hurts you."

"My mother would say it was my own fault. Never trust emotions, they’ll only make a fool of you." A small part of Ezra’s heart treasured Vin’s disclosure.

"You don’t believe that?" Vin asked, hoping Ezra would deny it.

"Actually, over the course of my life, I have learned that my mother was correct." The bleakness behind the statement showed through. A small part of Ezra had been hoping that she was wrong, but the part grew smaller as each day passed.

Vin’s heart hurt at Ezra’s life long disappointments and pain. He jumped in without thinking of his timing. "I love ya, Ez."

"Mr. Tanner, you have demonstrated many times over your tenacity in maintaining the friendship." Ezra’s heart sped up at the word love from Vin’s mouth, then slowed with another disappointment.

"No, Ez, I don’t just mean friendship, I mean I’m in love with ya." Vin exposed himself bare.

The words were tucked away in a small part of Ezra’s mind, but the bruised adult could no more trust that declaration even if it had been uttered by his own mother. "However flattering you intended your pity statement to be, I am not fooled."

Vin, not wanting to believe that Ezra could not return his love, he grabbed onto the idea that Ezra just didn’t believe he was sincere. "Ezra, I have loved you for the last year. There isn’t a night that you don’t fill my dreams. I want to make you happy." Vin’s honesty was standing clear in his eyes.

"You can make me happy by leaving me alone." Ezra responded coldly. His heart screamed at his head to listen, but Ezra ignored his heart as he usually did.

Vin, devastated by the rejection of his heart’s mate, turned hurriedly away. Not for one moment realizing that Ezra spoke from loss of face rather than his heart. The tracker stepped away blindly and moved into the line of sight of a drug deal.

The youth, afraid of the potential witnesses, pulled his gun and aimed at the sitting target first. Seeing where the aim of the youth’s gun pointed, Vin ran to protect the keeper of his heart. The retort of the gun and Vin’s warning yell had Ezra on his feet. Too late to help the falling and bleeding tracker. The two boys ran away at the primal scream that ripped through the air.

"Hold on Vin, hold on." Ezra chanted as he searched Vin’s pockets for his cellphone. He flipped it open with one hand as the other tried to hold the gapping hole in Vin’s chest closed. He pressed 911.

"State the type of emergency." A patient voice asked.

"Gunshot. I need an ambulance."

"I need a location, sir, as you are on a cellphone."

"On the beach."

"Sir, there is hundreds of miles of beaches. Be more specific. An address."

"Near the Santa Barbara pier." Ezra was trying to keep the fear and irritation from his voice.

"Describe what happened, sir." The woman on the line, trying to do her job by keeping the stressed soul on the line.

"A youth on the beach shot him. Just get here fast." Ezra flipped the phone closed as he wanted to add his other hand to help press the bleeding wound.

He could hear sirens in the background as he remained focused on Vin’s breathing. As long as the chest moved up and down, Vin lived. His heart lived. Ezra berated himself, why, oh why, didn’t he tell Vin the truth. That he loved the lanky tracker. Now….. Ezra’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of two men with medical equipment.

One asked what happened as the other set up the communication system. He then read the heart rate, blood pressure and a description of the wound. All the while the other medic was preparing to move their patient to the gurney. With a tandem move they shifted Vin’s body to the gurney. They secured the straps and moved as quickly as they could across the sand. Ezra followed close in their wake.

Both medics checked the straps holding Vin’s body to the gurney, then on the count of three, they lifted Vin and placed him into the back of the ambulance. One medic stayed with the patient as the other headed for the driver’s seat. Ezra stepped in and sat, having done it before several times before. He waited until the medic stilled.

"Will he make it?" A tremor in his voice, eyes on Vin.

The paramedic knew better than to give out too much hope, "It’s touch and go, sir."

Ezra reached out and gripped Vin’s fingers as he whispered into his ear, uncaring if he was overheard. "Vin, I lied. Don’t die, I want to tell you the truth."

The sound of the beeps changed and the medic pushed Ezra out of the way. "He’s coding," he yelled at the driver. He then grabbed the paddles and readied the machine as he waited for authorization.

"Go," Came from the driver.

"Clear." The word was yelled as he zapped the still form of Vin.

Ezra kept his eyes glued to the heart monitor, his own heart in his throat, waiting for a sign of life. Seconds that seemed like hours passed before a regular beat started up again on Vin’s monitor.

"He’s stabilizing," the paramedic imparted to the vehicle’s other occupants.

Ezra reached out and touched Vin’s fingers and maintained the contact throughout the rest of the journey to the hospital.

Upon arrival, the medics rushed in with their patient and Ezra also knew the drill here. Unlike Denver, there was no one to give him special information. After giving them Vin’s name they told him to wait in the waiting room.

Ezra paced, knowing that if he had only spoken the truth, they wouldn’t be here. Forty minutes later he couldn’t take the not knowing and waited by the counter to inquire about Vin’s condition. He needed to know before he called Larabee.

Two nurses exited the operating room and spoke among themselves. The one headed for the nurse’s station said, "I’ll note it on the chart that the victim of the drug bust died. You let the authorities know." The other nodded as she headed away from the emergency ward.

Ezra blanched at the nurse’s words, grief freezing every emotion he possessed. He withdrew his emergency card and placed it on the counter. "Contact Chris Larabee, Denver ATF. He will make all the arrangements regarding Vin Tanner, who was also with the ATF." Without a backward look, Ezra exited the main emergency room doors holding his tears back until he was out of sight.

+ + + + + + +

Chris could barely hear the phone ring amid all the noise coming from the livingroom. He grabbed the receiver saying his standard, "Larabee."

"Yes, this is Chris Larabee." Chris held up his hand for quiet.

Four mouths stopped talking and four pair of eyes riveted themselves to their leader. As his body language changed, they all knew something was wrong.

"I’ll be there this evening. What’s his condition?" He paused, listening and paled from the answer. He nodded at the phone as he hung it up.

"What happened?" Josiah asked the question that was on all their lips.

"Vin’s been shot. They’re still operating on him. Still touch and go."

"Ezra?" JD asked quietly.

Chris’ face hardened slightly, "Don’t know. Was there, but he’s gone now."

"Now, now, Chris, don’t go jumping to no conclusions here. You don’t know what’s going on." Buck told his oldest friend in a calm voice. "So where are we headed?" Buck added on.

"I’m going to Santa Barbara, California. You all stay here." Chris told them.

"No, I don’t think so Chris. I know I’m going to California." JD told Chris, his voice conveying there was no argument that would keep him here.

Josiah looked up from Chris’ computer, "I’ve got five tickets booked for the two o’clock flight to LAX and a commuter flight to the Santa Barbara airport. A rental car will be there for us." Josiah’s eyes connected with Chris’ and told him it was no use to argue.

Chris figured he never had a chance of keeping them here and nodded, "Let’s pack."

+ + + + + + +

As the plane was landing at LAX, the pilot told them that the weather was fair and that touchdown time was two-o-five.

JD looked at Buck and Josiah and asked, "Sure seemed like the flight was a whole lot longer than five minutes." He hid his smile as he listened to Buck seriously explain the time difference.

They landed at the Santa Barbara airport seventy five minutes later. As all they had was their carry on luggage, they headed out to the road immediately. Rental car keys were with the Sky Captain. After collecting and tipping him for having the car there and running, they left for the Santa Barbara Community Memorial hospital.

Half an hour later the five men walked briskly into the emergency room. Chris spoke to the nurse on duty. "I’m Larabee, I’m here about Vin Tanner. The hospital called this morning."

The nurse looked down at he chart and said calmly, "He’s no longer with us."

Loud gasps filled the room and the nurse quickly added, "I mean that he is being transferred to the recovery room of ICU." She felt a mite bad scaring the men that way.

"What floor?" Nathan asked.


The admitting nurse returned to her desk noting the air of authority of the five men standing there. She listened as the one in all black asked more questions.

"How is he?"

"Who?" The admitting nurse inquired.

"Vin Tanner, the ATF agent."

"Oh. Let me." She took the chart and scanned it briefly. "The bullet hit his lung and he lost a lot of blood but he’s doing fine now. The doctored noted that the lung had a lot of scar tissue."

"Been shot there before," Nathan filled her in.

She mouthed an O before she continued. "He should recover just fine. Now, about Mr. Standish, I assume that’s who he is as the emergency card he left had that name on it."

Chris’ body language hardened as the rest of the team gathered closer to hear. JD confirmed that it was Ezra.

"Well, I’m afraid that he may have gotten the wrong impression on Mr. Tanner’s condition. He overheard that a gunshot victim died, and in retrospect, it was just after that conversation that he presented the information card. I believe he is under the impression that his friend died."

"Ah, hell," Josiah said under his breath.

Nathan was about to ask another question when an ambulance siren blared and staff went into action.

The doors flew open and one medic was on the gurney doing CPR as a nurse squeezed the ambu bag. The medic pushing the gurney relayed the vitals. "Male, thirties, head on car collision. We’ve lost him three times in route. His wallet is there next to my hand."

The admitting nurse picked it up and checked it as the medical team took over. Her eyes widened as she saw the ID. "Mr. Larabee?"

Chris turned back to her.

"This ID is for ATF agent, Ezra Standish."

All eyes turned to the operating door, all they recalled was the blood.

Ten minutes later the doctor still in his scrubs came out, he looked to the men the nurse pointed to. He took a breath and told them, "He never regained consciousness. I’m sorry. Also, he did smell like alcohol." The doctor waited a moment then turned and left.

Five men stood there stunned, hardly believing their ears.

The admitting nurse looked at the group and understanding that they needed something to do, said loudly, "Mr. Tanner is on the seventh floor now. Ask at the nurse’s station."

Nathan pushed the others to the stairs, they could use the movement. Buck’s thought as he started up the stairs, ‘how would Vin handle this?’

+ + + + + + +

The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department made hourly patrols in the pier lots. This cut the drug deals and panhandling in half. Sheriffs Donlon and Myers were on such a patrol when they saw a drunk sleeping in the middle of the parking lot. They pulled up along side and got out of their vehicle.

Myers shinned his flashlight on the sleeping person and noted immediately that the Armani suit was out of place on a "bum". "Jack, shine the light. This isn’t a drunk."

Jack Donlon focused the light on his partner’s hands that were checking the victim’s head. The hand came away bloody. A groan was elicited from the victim.

"Sir, can you answer me?" Myers asked.

Eyes opened and shut quickly as the flashlight blinded him. "My head hurts," was said by a soft southern accent.

Myers and Donlon helped the victim sit up. Donlon reached for his radio. "Dispatch, this is R-78. I have a victim that will need medical attention."

He was interrupted by the victim’s loud denial. "I decline the medical attention. I was just hit on the head. Please don’t bother." He did not wish to return to the hospital again today.

"Dispatch, cancel that. R-78 out." Donlon complied with the victim’s wishes.

Brad Myers asked, "Can you tell us what happened?"

Ezra stood up slowly and dusted off his clothes as he composed himself. "I returned to the parking lot just as it was growing dark and I was accosted by a man in his thirties, dark hair, brown eyes. At gunpoint he demanded my money and car keys. As I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve the car keys he hit me on the head. That is all I remember until you officers woke me." He wished it was all he remembered.

The sheriff’s were nodding their heads at a familiar tale. Myers asked, "What’s your name?"

"Ezra Standish. I am an ATF agent out of Denver." Hoping that he would be afforded a higher standard of courtesy. "I am missing my billfold, watch and rental car."

Donlon said as he indicated the car, "Let’s take you down to the station and fill out a report as you report your credit cards stolen."

Ezra nodded as he sat in the back seat of the car, glad for a few moments to further compose himself.

At the station, the sheriffs took Ezra up to the coffee room first. They showed him the rest room as they fixed the coffee. They wanted to let him clean him self up before they got down to the business side.

+ + + + + + +

Four men lined the walls of the small ICU room as a fifth stood next to the bed with his still unconscious friend in it.

JD watched the monitors as Buck fidgeted with his belt buckle. Nathan, too would watch the monitors as he itched to get his hands on the medical chart.

Josiah thought on an Aboriginal chant for the passing of the dead. His last aid for Ezra.

When the silence got too much for him, JD whispered, "How do we tell Vin? They were such good friends."

Buck looked at Vin, knowing that this would cut deeper than the others suspected. "I think we should put off telling him."

"Why is that, Buck?" Josiah asked quietly.

"This will hit him harder than you imagine and that will make his recovery harder." Buck answered honestly.

"Why is that, Buck?" Chris asked, a strain evident in his voice as he looked back down on his friend.

Buck knew he was in a tough spot. He didn’t want to reveal what he knew, but he truly believed that it would do Vin no good to know of Ezra now. "Vin cares real strong for Ezra." He compromised, hoping they wouldn’t push for more.

"Yeah, we know that he’s gotten closer to Ezra than the rest of us." JD confirmed.

"That’s not what you mean, is it, Buck?" Josiah inferred, a dawning tone of understanding in his voice.


"So, what is it Buck?" Chris demanded, impatience colored his voice clearly.

"I love him." The voice was weak, but unhesitant.

A chorus of Vin’s rang out. Nathan stepped out to inform the staff as the others gathered closer to their friend.

Vin was single minded at the moment, "Where’s Ezra?" His eyes searched out Buck.

Buck looked down as he answered, "He’s not here."

"Kay, where’s he?" Determination in his voice.

JD, not grasping what Vin’s words had actually meant, felt that Vin should be told the truth. He stepped closer and said, "He’s dead Vin. We’re so sorry."

The anguish that was laid bare on Vin’s face was plainly evident for all to see.

It confirmed what Josiah had been thinking and Chris found he wasn’t that surprised. Buck grabbed one hand as Chris stroked the other.

"I’m real sorry, pard." Buck’s voice conveyed the depth of empathy that he had for his friend.

Vin closed his eyes, tears escaping anyway.

The staff entered and made the five men leave as they checked Vin’s condition.

More harshly than he intended, Buck said to JD, "Why’d you have to spill it like that. He weren’t strong enough yet to handle it."

JD’s crushed expression at his best friend’s tone had Josiah running interference. "Buck, don’t think he understands yet. Be gentle." Josiah turned to look at the youth, wondering if he’d ever been that innocent. "JD, Vin loved Ezra same as Nathan loves Rain." Josiah hoped that JD would be okay with it.

The look of understanding finally crossed the young man’s features, "Oh. Oh no." JD looked at his feet, now realizing that Vin would be feeling this even deeper than the rest of them.

Unknowingly interrupting, a floor nurse called out, "Mr. Larabee?"

"Yes?" Chris turned to the voice calling him.

She indicated the phone, "A call for you."

Picking up the receiver, "Larabee," he said wearily. He listened and replaced the receiver into its cradle. He looked out to his friends and connected with Buck’s eyes. "They want me to go down to the morgue and identify the body."

"Aw hell, you want me to do it?" Buck didn’t want to, but he would for Chris.

"No, it’s my job. It’s down in the basement." He turned and made his way to the elevator. He felt a shadow. He looked behind him and found three shadows.

Nathan said from outside Vin’s room, "I’ll talk to the doctor, and be down after."

Chris didn’t have the energy to fight them and didn’t really want to. They rode silently down to the basement.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was fortified with coffee and the policeman’s staple, donuts. How Vin would have loved to have seen him eating a donut gratefully. With it being the only food of his day, he had found them delicious. He felt depressed and forced all thoughts of Vin away. Instead, he pushed himself to deal with all the immediate matters at hand. Making a report, finding a hotel for the night, get access to some funds and place a call to Mr. Larabee.

Ezra dreaded the last. At that time he would have to face his culpability in Vin’s death. He lost the love of his life and his place on the team. Most probably his friends would be lost too.

Ezra plastered his stock in trade face and followed the sheriff’s to the squadroom.

Half an hour later, Officer Myers pushed the enter key on his computer to finish filing the report. A red flag immediately popped up. He read the notification in amazement. "Hey Jack, over here." He pointed to the screen. "Ezra, you might want to see this too."

The screen read: Ezra Standish died at five o four due to injuries sustained in a car collision. Confirmation of ID to be sent. Next of kin notified.

Ezra slapped his knee as he said to the sheriffs, "Odd, it feels as though I am still alive."

Never doubting Ezra’s identity of himself, Donlon said, "Most likely it’s your thief."

A moment of panic had the southerner ask anxiously, "Where was the pronouncement made?"

"The hospital." Donlon didn’t look at Ezra’s face as he answered, but Myers did.

"What’s wrong?" the sheriff asked.

"My boss will believe that I am dead, along with my partner." Ezra tried to explain.

Myers checked the time the notification was sent. "Come on, we probably have time to catch him at the morgue. Official ID was expected within the hour."

They ushered Ezra back to their squad car and went to the hospital code three.

+ + + + + + +

Chris steeled himself for the pain. There had been several instances where he had to officially identify a body, but never a body of a loved one. There had been nothing of Sarah to identify. Now he had to look at Ezra’s lifeless face. He had seen it emotionless, but never lifeless.

He nodded to the attendant. She raised the blind and Chris looked at the still form and blinked several times. He thought his mind was playing tricks, so he asked, "What color are his eyes?" Everyone behind him froze.

The assistant M.E. lifted an eyelid. "Brown."

A loud sigh of relief escaped Chris’ being, "That’s not Ezra Standish."

"I would think not, as I am right here." Ezra stood, flanked by the two sheriff’s that had accompanied him down to the morgue. He was very glad that they had rushed him down here.

"Ezra." Cries were heard from each as they dashed to their missed team member and friend. He was lastly embraced by Chris, who held on tight, unable to remember why he had been angry with his agent earlier.

Ezra raised his pained eyes to Chris’ face, "I am sorry about Vin."

Chris moved his hands and grabbed Ezra roughly by the shoulders, "Vin’s not dead."

Stunned, "What?"

From behind him, Buck slapped him on the back and said, "That’s right, Vin’s up in recovery right now." He paused and said aloud, "We’d better get back up there and let Vin know, he thinks Ezra’s dead."

"So does Nathan," JD added. "Boy I’m sure glad we came down with Chris. It’s less time we spend thinking that we lost you, Ezra."

Ezra nodded, throat tight, conflicting emotions swirling in his eyes. He turned to the Sheriffs, "Thank you so much for your help." He put out his hand to each man.

Myers said, "Our pleasure, nice to see the good parts of our job too." They two turned and headed up the stairs.

The four men herded Ezra to the elevator, anxious to get back up to the seventh floor.

Josiah looked for Nathan right-off as he exited first. He saw him still deep in conversation with the doctor. He halted the group a fair distance away, didn’t want them to get on the bad side of the nursing staff.

Nathan nodded again and headed for the group he saw arrive out of the corner of his eye. He shook his head, thinking he was hallucinating. Ezra?

"My friend, Ezra’s not dead. The thief that stole his car is. How’s Vin?" Josiah quickly brought their healer up to date.

"Ezra, I’m real happy that you ain’t dead. We need to let Vin know. He’s gone downhill again, ever since hearing about Ezra." Nathan didn’t look at JD, didn’t want him to think that anyone blamed him.

Too late, he was already looking apologetic, about to open his mouth. Buck beat him to it. "Ain’t your fault, you had no way of knowing."

Ezra was already heading into Vin’s room, Chris right behind him. Ezra couldn’t deny that he first felt relief at seeing that Vin was indeed still alive. Then he saw how weak and pale he really was and rushed to his side.

He bent his mouth down to Vin’s ear and said in a heart felt voice, "Vin, I’m here. They got it wrong, I’m not dead. And I need you."

Chris stayed at the foot of the bed and watched the most stoic man he knew, display all his emotions openly on his face, in hopes that he could convey them all to the unconscious man. He had heard Vin declare his love for their southerner, but he hadn’t known at the time if Vin’d had any chance of it being returned. Now he knew, Ezra cared as deeply as Vin. He would lose two men if one died.

Chris brought a chair over for Ezra so he could sit on Vin’s free arm side. He set himself up on the other side. The other four placed themselves unintrusively about the room. They all had played the waiting game, it was never easy, but for each member of this team it was essential.

By late the following afternoon, Chris knew that they all needed some king of break. He sent Josiah and Buck to get hotel room and told them to shower before coming back. He sent JD and Nathan out to get some decent food. He took a walk from the basement to the roof and back again. He left Ezra alone with Vin.

Alone for the first time with his love, the green eyed man stroked the pale forehead as he spoke from his heart. "Vin, I am so sorry that I lied to you. You wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t such a coward. Oh, Vin." Ezra leaned over and kissed the dry forehead.

"Am I dead too?" A raspy voice asked as he saw the owner of his heart at his side.

Green eyes sparkled with unshed tears as Ezra shook his head, "No, you’re alive, same as me."

Vin squeezed the hand that held his, "They told me you were dead." Vin was still groggy and confused.

"Never believe rumors of my death until you check with me." Ezra smiled at Vin’s expression of wonder.

Vin looked searchingly into the verdant pools that he wanted to call home. He looked for pity, he figured it would be lurking there. He didn’t find it, instead he found something that made his heart beat faster, filled his heart with hope.

"I lied Vin." Ezra let that sink in and then bared his soul. "I was afraid to believe that who I loved could possibly love me in return. I convinced myself that you’re words were out of pity for the lonely man. Inside here," pointing to his heart, "I knew that you never speak from pity. I spoke from fear. I love you, Vin Tanner. Please give me a chance to prove that."

Vin smiled, unaware of how quickly his world became all right, "Did that by not being dead."

Ezra caught his breath as he looked into azure crystals that glowed with the love Vin had for him. "My mother was wrong, I know I can trust the emotion I see here."

"I love ya, Ez."

The richest smile lit Ezra’s face as he leaned over and delicately pressed his lips to Vin’s, worshipping them gently. Vin reached up with his free hand to grab the front of Ezra’s shirt and pulled him closer, harder against him. Tongues gently met and caressed.

Outside the room, Buck had returned all fresh from their hotel rooms. He heard Vin’s heart monitor racing and trigger the alarm bells, he rushed inside the room, before any of the medical team. Expecting to find a friend in dire need, he was gratified to find a loving picture instead.

A kiss so intense that they didn’t hear anyone enter.

"Boys, the medical staff is right behind me." Buck stepped further into the room.

Two smiles met his and then the room was besieged by medical personal and the rest of the team. No one was disappointed to find Vin conscious and alert. Josiah was sure there was a new sparkle there, Buck knew for certain.

Vin squeezed Ezra’s hand that was back in place as soon as the nurse vacated the side. The tracker then sniffed the air as he gave Chris a reassuring smile, "I smell food, I’m hungry."

+ + + + + + +

Ten days later, Vin was released from the hospital. The doctor wouldn’t release the reluctant patient until he was okayed to fly. The doctor had discovered that his patient was planning to fly home as soon as he was out, so he kept him in.

They didn’t have to deal with a disappearing Vin because Ezra stayed by his side practically the entire time. Being forced to leave for a few hours only by Chris and Nathan, claiming he did need sleep occasionally.

Chris had seriously worried about how they could keep Vin down and in bed. But ceased his concern when he discovered Ezra doing just that. He had thought it would make him uncomfortable to see his friends direct expression of passion. But it was almost beautiful when he walked in and found Ezra sucking off Vin. Vin’s look of rapture had Chris thinking of good times with Sarah. Chris took to checking first in the late afternoons before letting the others burst in.

The trip home did exhaust the tracker, but the prize of staying at Ezra’s garnered more than enough cooperation from the sometimes difficult patient.

Vin knew that the others would be practically camping out, but being able to finally snuggle up to Ezra was worth whatever the price. The fussing and the meds and feeding would be about to drive him nuts, but then Ezra would give him a look that contained a sizzling promise and Vin would comply so they would finally leave.

Chris and Nathan were the last to leave, but not before extracting firm promises that Ezra would call if Vin had any difficulty. With many assurances, Ezra finally closed the door behind them and dead bolted it.

Vin’s smile was a lazy come hither and Ezra responded like Ulysses caught by the siren’s call. He was down to his silk boxers by the time he reached the bed. The undercoverman did just that, got under the covers and gently drew Vin into his embrace.

"We can’t exert ourselves too strenuously. I wouldn’t want to hurt you." Ezra told Vin as he felt him begin nibbling on his neck.

"I know we can’t get too strenuous, just a little." To prove his point he sucked Ezra’s right nipple into his mouth.

Ezra’s, "Oh Vin," was enough of an incentive for Vin to taste the other. Ezra didn’t let his hands remain idle as he caressed his lover’s ass cheeks and ran his fingernails along the crackline. Vin arched himself against Ezra’s thigh, trapping his hardening erection. Ezra pressed himself closer to Vin, loving the harden expression of Vin’s desire.

Vin whispered in Ezra’s ear innocently, "Ya think this is the kind of difficulty that Nathan and Chris wanted to be called for?"

Ezra chuckled, loving this man’s humor. "No, I do believe that this is one difficulty I can alleviate for you on my own." He pressed his rock hard erection against Vin’s side.

Vin growled deep in his throat as he moved himself completely atop his green eyed conquest, guiding his cock along side Ezra’s. If coherent thought had been possible to this point, it was gone now, replaced by sheer sensation. Mouth to mouth, chest to chest, shaft to shaft, they writhed and thrust together, instinctively finding their rhythm. Vin pressed hard into Ezra, who answered with equal pressure. Their cocks slick with their pre-cum, glided side by side as they increased the speed. Faster, harder, fingers entwined. Their mouths captured the cries of passion as the internal pressure built. The rush of sensation exploded against the others chest as they rode the rapture they discovered together.

Loath to leave Vin’s arms, Ezra knew he should clean them before they fell asleep. He tenderly wiped Vin clean of their passion, cleaning his lover’s lips with his own. He then slipped back in next to his love.

Sated and sleepy, Vin knew he wouldn’t rest ‘til he said his piece. "Ez, my heart’s come home. I’ll love and protect ya with my life."

Ezra sucked in his breath, he’d never had that kind of love before. "I too, Vin, love you with all that I am. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for you, including die for you." He held Vin close, knowing they had just started the best years of their lives.


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