What is Love, Really?

by Willow

Universe: ATF

Main characters: Ezra/Vin

Disclaimer: I wish I owned them, then they would still be on!

Warnings: Some violence.

June 2004

This is my first attempt at slash so any feedback would be appreciated. No Beta so any mistakes are mine! I own ‘em!

I’m not gay. Oh sure I’ve noticed if men are dressed nice, are handsome. But that doesn’t make me gay.

And yes I’ve enjoyed a man’s company. Guys hang out all the time.

He was snapped out of his musings as Vin walked by his desk. Vin in his worn jeans that hung low on his firm, flat – STOP IT!

Ezra looked back at his computer screen. His report that he had started an hour ago still just contained the date and the title. What was wrong with him? You didn’t just turn gay did you? Something that snuck up on you and grabbed you overnight?

He shook his head smiling ruefully to himself. He glance up and saw Vin walking back down the hall and when Vin saw him smile, he smiled that half smile of his back at Ezra. Ezra felt his stomach dropped and his heart speed up. He felt the blush crawl up his face as he quickly looked back at his computer screen.

What are you thinking Ezra? What is the matter with you? Get a grip man! Hmm a grip. Yes he’d like to grip Vin’s - Ezra leaped out of his chair and headed for the break room.

Vin and Chris were leaning against the counter, coffee cups in hand. Vin was laughing at something Chris had just said, Chris grinning broadly. Ezra felt a rush of jealously and a desire to tell Chris to get the hell away from his man! He forced himself to smile and said,

“Afternoon gentlemen. Don’t let me interrupt. Just needed some caffeine to assist me in my report.”

Ezra headed for the coffeepot, not looking at either man.

“Don’t hurry off Ez.” Vin said in his soft Texan drawl. “Chris here was just telling me about his run in with some drunk that wandered in on a bust he was making.”

“Carry on,” Ezra said, filling his cup and hurrying to the door. “I have a report to get back to.”

Vin watched Ezra leave with a wistful look on his face and then turned back to Chris as he resumed his story.

Ezra forced himself to focus on his report. He was doing all right until he heard Vin’s quiet voice behind him.

“Hey Ez, it’s almost lunch. Care to head down to Inez’s with me? “

Ezra felt his heart speeding up. Lunch with Vin? Should he?

“Why sure Mr. Tanner, that would be fine.” He saved his report and stood up to grab his coat. Vin was standing behind him with a wide smile on his face. Full wattage shining right at Ezra. He stopped, paused and then looked down as he retrieved his coat from the rack. Maybe this wasn’t so smart. But he was a con man wasn’t he? Use to hiding his feelings and playing a part?

“I’ll drive if you don’t mind Ezra.” Vin said as he headed for the elevator. “You don’t mind the jeep do you?”

“Certainly not.” Ezra quickly said. He hated that jeep. Well not the jeep itself. It’s dilapidated appearance yes. But it was Vin’s so how could he say no?

Vin grinned shyly. “I know it ain’t much. But it’s mine and I’m comfortable in it.”

Ezra smiled back at him. “That’s what is important Mr. Tanner.” He clapped his hand on Vin’s shoulder and felt a shock as he touched him. He could feel the warmth of Vin’s skin through his flannel shirt. He quickly pulled his hand back.

The ride to Inez’s Saloon was quiet which wasn’t surprising since Vin hardly spoke. But Ezra didn’t mind. He used the time to give himself a pep talk. He was really letting this, infatuation, get out of hand. That is all it was. A stray thought that had taken a life of it’s own. All he needed to do was take control of his mind. Stop this insane line of thought.


Ezra turned to look at Vin. He hadn’t realized he was speaking to him. “Yes?”

“Where were ya?” Vin asked with a smile. “I asked you twice about that movie you were talking about seeing? Have ya gone yet?”

“Oh, no Mr. Tanner I haven’t.” Ezra pulled himself back to the present. “I haven’t made the time.”

“Well,” Vin glanced from the road to look quickly at Ezra and then away. “How about we go together? I’ve been thinking on it and would like to see it.”

Ezra’s mouth fell open and he snapped it shut. A date with Vin? No, he told himself, not a date! But him and Vin out together all alone?

“Why that would be lovely.” Ezra said.

“Great, Vin said smiling broadly. “It’s a date.”

Ezra’s heart started to pound loudly.

They soon arrived at the saloon, which was crowded for lunch. Inez knew the entire Laramie team and usually tried to keep a booth open for them. They were in luck today as it was still open. Ezra sat on one side of the U shaped booth and Vin on the other. As they looked at the menu’s they heard a familiar voice.

“Lookie here fellas! Vin and Ezra have saved us a table!” Ezra groaned as he heard Buck Wilmington’s booming voice across the room. He looked up to see Buck, J.D, Nathan and Josiah heading straight for them. So much for his quiet lunch alone with Vin. The guys started crowding into the booth from both sides and they were forced to the middle where – Ezra was now sitting closely beside Vin.

“Sorry.” Ezra said as he was squashed up close to Vin.

“Fine by me.” Vin said, again smiling that little half smile Ezra had come to love.

What? What did you just say Ezra Standish? Love? Ezra was beginning to wonder if he was going to just up and have a heart attack. All these heart palpitations. They couldn’t be healthy. Maybe he needed to ask Nathan about that.

Lunch was a blur. Ezra was only aware of eating because he saw his hands moving towards his mouth. The only thing he was aware of was the heat from Vin’s thigh were it pressed against his and the tightness he felt in his pants.

“Ready to go Ez?” Vin said placing a hand on Ezra’s arm. He jumped.

“Huh? Oh yes Mr. Tanner I am ready to depart.” He scooted toward the end of the booth, Vin still right beside him.

The ride back was also a blur. He could still feel the warmth of Vin sitting beside him. He was positive it radiated from across the bucket seats.

Later that afternoon Ezra was beginning to compose himself when he felt a warm breath in his ear.

“Ezra, could you help me with this Excel file? You know I’m all thumbs when it comes to reports.” Vin leaned over Ezra’s shoulder.

Ezra almost fell out of the chair but luckily Vin was standing so close the chair didn’t tip.

“Sorry pard didn’t mean to startle you.” Vin was now chuckling in his ear.

“Not at all Mr. Tanner.” He leaped from his chair and followed Vin back to his desk. He started to stand behind Vin’s chair but he could smell Vin’s cologne, Quorum, the Christmas present he had given Vin when they drew names. He hastily grabbed a chair and pulled it up beside Vin. He spent an hour helping showing Vin the short cuts around the Excel program, their hands brushing occasionally. Ezra felt sick with adrenaline when he finally stood up.

“There, well I hope that helps some Mr. Tanner.”



“Why don’t you try calling me Vin?” Vin smiled a lazy smile at him. Ezra could feel his stomach flip.

“Uh, why sure Mr., uh well Vin.” Ezra flashed a quick grimace. “If you’ll excuse me.” And he dashed down the hall to the men’s room.

He splashed water on his face and looked at himself in the mirror.

“Ezra I am disappointed in you.” He tried out his mother’s voice on himself. A sure cure to snap him out of this stupor. But it didn’t help. He glanced at his watch. 4pm. Only one hour left. Hell he could do two hours. No problem.

He glanced out of the restroom door. No one in sight. He eased down the hall and to his desk. Coast was clear. Maybe he’d see if Chris would let him leave a little early. He printed up his report and headed for Chris’ office. He could hear the rest of the guys in the break room. Chris dead ahead in his office.

“Mr. Larabee, here is that report I promised.” Ezra knocked as he entered. Chris looked up with a slight frown but held out his hand for the report.

“Thanks Ezra.” He looked back down towards his desk.

“Mr. Larabee?”

“Yes?” Chris looked up again. He was mildly concerned at the look on Ezra’s face. He looked pale.

“You alright?”

“Why yes Mr. Larabee I was just wondering if would be allowable for me to leave a few minutes early this evening.” Ezra looked at Chris and then inspected his shoes.

Hmm Chris thought. Something isn’t right. But he knew prying didn’t work on Ezra.

“Sure. Head on out. And don’t bother being on time in the morning.” Chris smirked at Ezra. Ezra was never on time.

“Thank you, sir.” He mumbled and headed toward the door.

Sir? Now Chris knew something was wrong. Ezra didn’t “sir” anyone. He watched Ezra hurry back to his desk.

Ezra had just turned off his computer and was pulling on his coat when Vin walked up.

“Leaving early?”

“Why yes Mr. Tanner, I’ve feeling a bit indisposed.”

“You okay?”

“I’m fine, perhaps something I had at lunch.” Perhaps an overdose of nerves?

“Hope you feel better Ez. Looking forward to that movie.” He grinned shyly.

“As I am Mr. Tanner.” Ezra mumbled gave his signature gesture of tipping his hat and left.

Vin sighed. What was wrong with him? He’d developed this powerful urge to be around Ezra. He liked Ezra, sure but it was different. He found himself unconsciously following Ezra around. It was he was a magnet and Vin was metal shavings. And when Ezra wasn’t around Vin thought of things to tell him or he’d see something and think Ezra would like that. And when Ezra turned those green eyes on him and gave him that dimpled smile Vin’s stomach lurched and other…other parts stirred. Vin blushed. But he wasn’t that way!


Vin jumped. He turned from his desk.

“We’re heading for Inez’s. You ready?” Buck stood with his coat in his hand.

“Yeah. I’m coming.”

+ + + + + + +

Vin was on his fourth beer. He sat gloomily at the table. JD, Buck, Chris and Nathan were playing pool. Josiah was at the bar talking to Inez. Vin glanced around at all the people laughing and drinking, while he sat wishing Ezra was here and worrying that he did. Sure he noticed good-looking men before but he’d never been interested. Was he interested in Ezra? Just thinking that made butterflies flutter in his stomach.

“You okay Vin?” Josiah pulled out a chair.


“Can I help?”

Vin looked at him and back at his beer. He liked Josiah. He was easy to talk to and never was one to judge a man.

“Thinking about love.”

“Love.” Josiah said in his deep rumbling voice and sighed wistfully.

“Powerful thing. Wars have started over it, ships sunk, people died. When it’s right it is the most wonderful thing. Make you able to move mountains.” He smiled widely at Vin.

“And when it ain’t?” Vin kept his eyes on his beer.

Josiah looked at Vin. He wasn’t a profiler for nothing. He studied people. He’d noticed Vin seeking out Ezra’s company and he’d seen the looks both gave each other when they thought no one else noticed. Hell he didn’t think they noticed.

“Love is a beautiful thing Vin. If it’s true and pure how can it be wrong? What is love Vin?”

Vin glanced up at him.

Josiah continued, “Love is caring for someone. Wanting the best for him. Thinking of them before yourself or anyone else.”

Vin nodded. “Josiah…..”

“Vin. Josiah! Come over here and watch this.” JD ran up to the table.

“Sure JD.” Josiah smiled.

“Josiah..Thanks.” Vin said as he got up.

“Anytime son. Anytime.”

+ + + + + + +

Chris pulled into the garage and stopped. He looked at his watch. He looked at the clock in his truck. 7:00 AM. So what the hell was Ezra Standish going here?


“Good morning Mr. Larabee.” Ezra sat at his desk, a venti mocha in hand.

“Something you wanna talk about?”

“Me? Why no. Just want to catch up on some work.”

Chris eyed him suspiciously. He could see the dark smudges under those green eyes. Eyes that showed nothing as usual.

“Doors always open.”

“Thank you…Chris.” He turned back to his computer.

Chris headed for the break room to make coffee. Something was up and he planned to get to the bottom of it.

The rest of the team wandered in as usual. Josiah glanced over at Ezra, hard at work at his desk. He stopped beside him.

“We missed you last night Ezra.”

“Thank you for saying so Josiah.”

Josiah patted him on the shoulder and headed for his own desk.

“Hey Ez. Feeling better?” Vin noticed the dark circles under Ezra’s eyes too.

“I’m fine Mr. Tanner. Thank you for asking.”

“Glad to hear it.” He smiled and laid his hand on Ezra’s back.

+ + + + + + +

Later Ezra noticed Josiah head for the break room. He paused then followed.

“Ezra. Join me in a cup of coffee?”

“That depends on who made it.”

Josiah smiled. “I did.”

“Then by all means.” He smiled too and poured himself a cup.

“Mr. Sanchez.” Ezra stopped wondering exactly he wanted to ask. Do I look gay?

“Yes Brother Ezra?”

“How.” He stopped again. “How do you know if you care for someone?”

Josiah smiled slightly to himself. Finally he thought.

“Well, you get a warm feeling when think about them. You want to be near them.”

Ezra was silent, nodding slightly. “And if they care for you?”

“Sometimes it’s a look. A smile. Of course they want to be near you too.”

“But how do you know?” Ezra gave him a stricken look.

“You have to have faith Ezra and take a chance.”

Ezra smiled weakly. “Thank you Josiah.”

The rest of the day past uneventful. Ezra kept glancing at the clock then at him watch. Vin had spent most of the day in meetings with Chris over a new case that was developing. Finally at around 3:30 PM Vin was back at his desk.

“Mr. Tanner?”

Vin looked up from the file he was studying.

“I, I was wondering if you would like to accompany me to that movie tonight?” Shit, was he blushing? Please God NO.

Vin broke into a wide smile. “Yeah.”

“Good.” Ezra smiled. “Perhaps dinner afterward?”

“Yeah.” Geez couldn’t he say anything but yeah? “I mean I’d like that a lot.”

“Fine. I’ll check the times.” Ezra smiled again and headed for the break room to find the newspaper.

A date, Vin thought, He was going on a date with Ezra.

A date, Ezra thought. He had asked Vin on a date.

Even if he doesn’t know it, they both thought.

+ + + + + + +

It was a few minutes till 5.

“The movie starts at 6 Mr. Tanner if that is acceptable.”

“That’s fine Ez. I’m ready.”

“You fellas heading for the saloon?” Buck had stuck his head around the corner.

“Nah we’re going to a movie.”

“A movie?” Buck sounded interested. Both men groaned silently to themselves.

“Are you ready Buck?” Josiah had appeared behind him. “You owe me a game of pool.”

“That’s right! I beat your butt last night preacher man!”

And I plan to do the same to you Brother Buck.”

Ezra and Vin sent a grateful smile to Josiah.

+ + + + + + +

“How about some refreshments Mr. Tanner?” Ezra stood in front of the snack bar.


“Vin.” Ezra smiled. Vin’s stomach lurched. That dimpled smile directed at him and Ezra saying his name.

Vin was sprawled out in his seat, his knee touching Ezra’s. He swore he could feel the heat up his leg and to his groin. Should he move?

Ezra hadn’t moved his leg. He guessed that was a good sign.

+ + + + + + +

“That shoot out was bogus.”

“It was a movie Vin.”

“I know but two guys shooting it out with all those bad guys and not one scratch.”

“That one did get hit over the head.”

“Kinda reminded me of Buck and JD>”

“You mean all the bickering?” Ezra laughed. “Yes that did sound like our Mr. Wilmington.”

“Hey Ez, want to head over to the saloon? Grab a beer?”

“That sounds like a plan Mr., uh Vin.”

Ezra smiled as they left the restaurant and headed toward his jag. This had been a delightful evening.

Vin grinned as he led the way to the car. This date was going great.

“Hey!” Buck yelled. “Look who it is.”

“What movie did you see?” JD waved to Inez to bring more beer.

“Bad Boys II.” Vin said grinning.

“Bad boy, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” Buck and JD sang.

“I told you.” Vin grinned looking over at Ezra.

“Yes you were quite right Mr. Tanner.”

“What?” JD and Buck said together and everyone laughed.

“Mr. Tanner remarked how you and Mr. Wilmington could play the lead parts in that movie.”

“Yeah,” Buck smiled. “And I’m Mike Lawry, the ladies man.”

“Nah, I’m the young single guy.” JD piped up. “You are the old married guy!”

“How’s that Ez?”

“I think you have it Vin. Bank it lightly off that side.”

Vin grinned to himself. He liked it when Ezra called him Vin. Especially when they were alone. Made it more special.

“Wait till I try that move on Josiah. He won’t know what hit him.”

Ezra smiled and clapped a hand on Vin’s back. “I assure you the game will be yours.”

He lightly rubbed his hand along the flannel of Vin’s shirt. Who would have thought that the feel of flannel would be so provocative. Shirt?

“I almost forgot.” Ezra exclaimed. “I left the packages we got in the car.” They had spent Saturday afternoon shopping.

“Hurry back Ez” Vin flashed him a brilliant smile.

Ezra blushed and gave his salute.

+ + + + + + +

Bubba and his cronies shared a look. They’d seen these two in here last night. Sashaying around. Seen them flirting and blushing like schoolgirls. It just won’t right. Bubba smiled and nodded and they headed outside.

Ezra leaned into the back seat. Where was that bag?

“Hey fellas. Whadda we have here?”

Ezra groaned. Just what he needed. Drunks.

“May I help you gentleman?”

“Listen to that Bubba. Sounds like a fairy.”

“We don’t like homos around here fairy boy.”

The other snickered.

“I’ll be sure to pass that along if I see any.” Ezra closed the door to the car and prepared himself.

They laughed. “We’ll give you the message first.”

Two of them grabbed Ezra by the arms. Bubba hit him in the stomach, knocking all the air out of him. Ezra managed to kick one of them before he was pinned against the car.

“Let’s take our party out back.” With an uppercut to Ezra’s jaw the four men then drug him to the alley behind the bar.

Ezra knew the beating didn’t take days but it sure as hell felt like it. Someone smashed a bottle upside his head. He uttered not a word during the deliberate pounding, only an occasional grunt. His attackers unfortunately were not silent. He wanted to tell them to shut up and get on with it but his split lip made talking difficult.

“Your girlfriend won’t think you’re so purty now.” They laughed. “With that long hair he sure looks like a girl. And if you tell anyone who did this we’ll do the same to him. Might even take him out and get to know him real good.”

As Ezra felt himself blacking out his final thought was it was about damn time.

+ + + + + + +

“Vin.” JD hollered as the team all came in.

Vin turned around. He had been concentrating so hard on practicing his pool shots that he hadn’t realized how much time had passed. He glanced at the clock over the bar. About 20 minutes had gone by since Ezra went outside.

“Hey did you see Ezra outside?”

The guys exchanged looks.

“No.” Buck said.

“I saw his car, in his usual spot.” Nathan smiled.

“He went out about 20 minutes ago to get something. He didn’t have a coat on.”

“Let’s go.” Chris led the way.

From a distance everything looked fine. Ezra liked to park on the far end of the lot. A utility pole sat to the left of the car. As they got closer they noticed the shattered windshield. The headlights had been knocked out. The driver’s side door was dented, the paint scratched. Three tires had been slashed.

“What the hell? JD sounded scared.

“Where’s Ez?” Vin’s voice was soft.

The men quickly looked around the outside of the car. The doors were locked.

“I see blood.” Nathan pointed near the driver’s door.

“Spread out.” Chris barked.

Buck was heading towards the back for the bar when he heard a moan.

“Over here!” He yelled and moved towards the dumpsters. He saw feet sticking out from behind the dumpster.

“Call an ambulance! Ez?” He said softly. “It’s okay pard. We’re here.” He squeezed his long body behind the dumpster. He could see Ezra covered in blood and trash from the little light. He started tossing the trash aside as the others ran up.

“Oh my god!” JD froze.

Vin tried to reach Ezra but his body was wedged between the dumpster and the wall. Buck was straddling him.

“Guys help me move this.” Josiah grabbed one corner. Chris, JD and Vin moved to help. Nathan moved behind it with Buck.

“Anybody got a light?”

“Got one in my car Nate.” Josiah ran back to get it.

“Ezra?” Vin reached out a hand to touch Ezra’s face. He moaned and stirred.

Suddenly Ezra was illuminated and they all gasped. Ezra’s face and chest were covered with blood. One eye was swollen completely shut, the other half way. His lip was split. Numerous cuts and bruises covered his face, making him almost unrecognizable.

“Oh Ez.” Vin’s voice was just a whisper.

“Hang in there son.” Josiah’s voice rumbled, fear and anger making it tight.

Soon the area was lit by red and blue lights. Vin rode in the ambulance with Ezra. Chris stayed to talk to the police. He sent Buck back to the bar to see if anyone had seen anything. The rest rode in Josiah’s car to the hospital.

They found Vin in the waiting room. A familiar place for Team Seven.

“Any word?” Nathan led the others. Vin looked up, worry and fear etched on his face. He opened his mouth but then shook his head. He lowered his face back into his hands.

Josiah laid a hand on Vin’s shoulder. “He’ll be fine Vin.”

A half-hour later found the waiting room crowded with six prowling men. They took turns pacing and sitting.

Nathan looked up as a doctor approached.

Dr. Mitchell was very familiar with the six men in front of him. He could tell in a glance they were all on edge and wanted the news short and sweet.

“He’s going to be fine. He has a concussion. Several broke ribs. His jaw is fractured; we’ve wired it. He’s still unconscious.”

“How long?” Nathan was the only one to speak so far. Being their medical expert, most from lots of experience on his teammates, they let him do the talking.

“Six weeks.”

“Can we see him?” Chris had stepped forward.

“Yes, they are moving him to room 320.”

The familiar ritual began. Extra chairs were brought into the room. The men paced and places shifted. Each took a turn sitting by Ezra. Quiet voices whispered for Ezra to come back to them.

Vin was sitting by Ezra a few hours later when the first signs showed that their seventh was returning. Vin heard a soft moan.


Everyone gathered around the head of the bed.

“We’re all here son.” Josiah reached out and placed a hand on Ezra’s leg.

Ezra could hear voices. He knew something was wrong. What was it? There was something he was supposed to remember. He felt a hand touch him. Pain. He remembered pain.

“No.” He murmured. “Stop.” He jerked his leg away.

“It’s okay Ez. We’re here. You’re okay.” Vin leaned closer.

Ezra knew that voice. But something nagged at him. Something – wrong.

“Rest Ezra.” Chris moved closer to the bed. “We’ve got your back.”

Mr. Larabee. Ezra knew that voice too and knew it was safe. He fell back into the black.

+ + + + + + +

“Are you back with us Brother?”

Ezra’s eyes fluttered. He could only open one eye. He tried to turn his head and grunted. Josiah’s face came into view above him.

“Let me tell the others you are back.”

“No.” Ezra mumbled. Why couldn’t he talk? His face hurt, his jaw was killing him.

Josiah leaned back over the bed. “Your jaw is broken, its wired shut. You have a concussion, some broken ribs.” He leaned closer. “Lots of contusions. What happened son?”

Josiah placed his hand on Ezra’s arm. He was surprised to see a tear run down his cheek. He rubbed his thumb lightly across Ezra’s face.

“I’m here.”

The door burst opened.

“Hey Josiah. Is he awake yet?” JD came in followed by Buck.

Josiah saw Ezra’s poker face slip back into place.

“JD keep it down.” Nathan came in behind him, followed by the rest. Josiah smiled down at Ezra and patted his arm again.

“Ez you’re awake.” Vin smiled.

“What happened Ezra?” Chris moved closer to the bed.

“Fight.” Ezra mumbled. Josiah gave him a small drink of water.

Chris grinned slightly. “We figured that one out Ez.”

“Car. Said I was in his spot.”

Chris glanced at Josiah and then back to the others.

“Someone beat you up because they said you parked in their spot?” Chris spoke slowly.

Ezra nodded and then winced.

“Need something for pain Ezra?” Nathan had stepped closer to the bed.

Ezra said “yes” so softly that they had to read his lips.

Nathan nodded and stepped out into the hall.

“Hey pard you just rest. We’ll stay with you.” Buck moved over to pat his leg.

“I’ll stay. Y’all can go on home.” Vin moved to stand where Ezra could see him.

“No!” Ezra tried to sit up and groaned. The room started to spin.


“Don’t want you here.” He tried to speak plainly, which was tough with his jaw shut.

“Everyone leave.”

“No.” Vin looked at Ezra then to Chris. “No, I want to stay.”

Ezra glared at him. “Can’t you do damn thing I ask?” Ezra slurred.

The nurse came in at that point, needle in hand.

“Mr. Standish needs his rest.” She injected something into his IV.

“Everyone out.” Chris herded them all towards the door. “You too Vin.”

“Josiah?” Ezra called softly.

Chris looked back at Josiah and nodded as he closed the door.

“I’m right here son.” He sat back down and pulled his chair close. He held Ezra’s hand in his.

Ezra sighed. Some damn good drugs. He felt light and tingly. He sighed again. If he could only feel this way forever.


“Anything.” Josiah said.

“Between us.”

“Consider it a confessional.” Josiah smiled.

Ezra tried to smile past his swollen lips. Part of his brain told him to shut up, but the drug filled part wouldn’t listen. And he told Josiah everything. He stopped frequently. Josiah giving him sips of water. Part was physical pain, part emotional and the drugs were taking his under. Josiah held his hand tightly.

“Don’t want Vin near me.” Ezra finally said. His eye almost closed. “Not hurt.”

Vin can take care of himself and we can take care of both of you.”

“No.” Ezra said. He was fading fast. “Fool.”

“Rest now Ezra. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

And Ezra was gone.

+ + + + + + +

If there was one thing that Chris wasn’t – that was stupid. He knew that lame story Ezra came up with was a bold face lie. He figured Ezra would have done better if he’d had a chance to think on it some but luckily they had been there when he woke up.


“Nothing. Inez said she thought she saw some fellas leave after Ezra but she ain’t sure. No body there say anything.”

“Let’s head back and double check. I want to know what the hell happened tonight.”

The men divided between Josiah’s car and Chris’ truck. Vin rode with Chris. More quiet than usual. Chris knew something more was going on but he didn’t know what.


“I don’t know Chris. We got there around 4. Played some pool. Ezra was showing me some pool shots. Then he remembered he’d left a bag in his car. We’d been out shopping. He went to get it.” He stopped.

“It’s all my fault! I should have gone out with him. I should have checked on him sooner.”

“It’s not your fault. Ezra’s a big boy. Not that he can’t find trouble blind folded.”

“It’s not his fault!” Chris was surprised by the anger in Vin’s voice.

“Take it easy Vin. I was just kidding. You know how Ezra is.”

Vin fumed. “I ain’t takin it easy. You’re always blamin him for shit that ain’t his fault.”

Vin stared out the passenger window. Chris glanced at him and shook his head. This night just got better and better.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sent everyone else home and headed back inside the bar. It was almost closing time anyway. Then it hit him. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Only a few months ago Ezra had talked Inez into getting a video security system. But the cameras weren’t noticeable and he had forgotten all about it.

“Senor Chris? How is Ezra?”

“He’s going to be fine Inez. Busted up some. Hey did you have the security system going tonight?”

Her eyes widened and she brought her hand to her mouth. “I forgot. Yes, I changed the tape every shift as Ezra suggested. I did not think of it when Senor Buck came in.”

Senor Chris. Senor Buck. Chris thought. She sounds just like Ezra. Like adding Mister kept a man at a distance. He blinked. Was that it? He had just figured part of Ezra calling them Mister was his fancy ways and part to annoy them. But was he really just keeping them at arm’s length? He knew it was hard to get close to Ezra but he hadn’t thought of this aspect.

“Senor Chris?”

“What?” Chris came back from his thoughts.

“I said I will get you the tape for tonight.” And she disappeared back into the office.

Chris was left with his pondering. If this was due to someone who knew Ezra then they probably either knew or had seen the rest of the team. And if it was someone who just saw Ezra that night, as unlikely as that was, it still might be smarter to get someone else to help out.

“Here you are Senor Chris.Inez handed a videocassette across the bar. “ I hope this helps. Tell Ezra I hope he feels better soon.”

“I will.” He held up the tape. “And thanks.”

Chris headed back out to his truck and pulled out his cell phone. He knew it was late but he knew his friend from Team 5 would still be awake. He had just sat in the driver’s seat when the phone was answered.

“What’s up Chris?”

Chris hesitated and then grinned. Damn caller ID. Was he the only one who didn’t look at it?

“Tony, how’s it going?”

“No complaints.”

“Got a little undercover work I need help with.”



“Go on.” Tony leaned back in his recliner, clicking the television to mute.

Chris quickly explained the evening and his suspicions on his men being made.

“Want me to kick some ass?”

“Not yet,” Chris said laughing. “I’m gonna have some possible photos. I was hoping you could stop by Inez’s tomorrow, sniff around some.”

“No problem Chris. You know I like that southern S.O.B.”

“He has that effect on people.” Chris laughed again. “I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know about those pictures.”

+ + + + + + +

Vin walked over to the tow truck that was hooking up Ezra’s car.

“Hey.” He nodded to the driver. “I need to get the personal effects out before you take off.”

The driver looked like he was going to refuse and Vin dug out his wallet and flashed his ATF ID.

“Go ahead.” The man handed him the keys.

Vin opened the driver’s door. Ezra didn’t keep much in his car but Vin wanted to get the shopping bag of things they had gotten that afternoon. He found it under the passenger seat where he had put it. He checked inside and saw everything was there. Then he grabbed Ezra’s Starbuck thermal mug and his extra pair of sunglasses. He looked in the glove compartment but there was nothing inside but manuals and maps. He glanced in the back. Nothing.

He popped the trunk. He grabbed the bag and closed the driver’s door as he got out. He opened the trunk but again saw nothing he needed to take. He pulled Ezra’s spare keys off the ring and handed the car key back to the tow truck driver.


“You ready Vin?” Nathan came up to the car.

“Yeah I got everything. Thanks for the ride home Nate.”

“No trouble.”

They headed back to Nathan’s car. Vin was lost in his own guilt as the drove to Purgatory. Nathan pulled up in front of Vin’s building.

“It’s a good thing you weren’t there Vin.”

Vin’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Good thing you weren’t involved in whatever trouble Ezra was in.”

“You think this was Ezra’s fault?” Vin’s voice when angry got quieter and his voice now was almost a whisper.

“Well you know how he is.” Nathan looked surprised. He didn’t understand the animosity he felt coming from Vin.

“Yeah I know how he is.” Vin opened the door. He leaned back in as he stood by the curb. “Obviously you don’t.” He slammed the door and stalked to his apartment.

Nathan shook his head and drove off.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra woke with a start. He glanced around and at first didn’t know where he was, and then he could see he was in a hospital room. He’d been having a nightmare of the beating but in the dream the men had Vin too and Vin had pleaded with him to help. He had jerked awake as they drug Vin off.

Ezra glanced to his left and instantly regretted it. His neck muscles felt as tight as piano wire. Thank God that eye was the one not swollen shut. But he didn’t really have to look. He recognized the snores echoing through the room as belonging to Josiah Sanchez. He tried to grin but it hurt too much. His head pounded someone was trying to bash his brains out with a sledgehammer. But that pain was vying for first place with his jaw. The rest of his body shouted out their views on pain too.

He felt around with his hands and found the call button with his right one. Sure he thought. Put it on the side I can’t see out of. He pressed the button and waited.

A strip of light appeared as the door opened. The nurse quietly came to the side of the bed. Josiah was stretched out in 2 chairs near the foot.

“Are you okay Mr. Standish?”

“Pain.” Ezra mumbled.

“I’ll be right back.” She turned to leave but Ezra put out a hand.


She smiled and poured some water in a cup from the bedside pitcher. She tilted the plastic straw and held it to Ezra’s mouth. He took a few deep drinks.

“Let me move this tray up for you.” She added more water to the cup and placed it on the tray. She moved it to the left side of the bed and raised it so he could easily reach it.

“I’ll go get that pain medicine for you.” She hurried out.

Ezra raised the head of his bed a little more and reached for the water. His hand shook but he was able to get a drink without spilling it. He placed it back on the tray and moved it a little further down.

He couldn’t believe the way this night had transpired. 24 hours ago he had been having a wonderful evening with Vin. Vin. He sighed. He should have known everything he touched turned to shit. Hadn’t Maude told him that often enough? If anything happened to Vin he would never forgive himself. He doubted anything would have become of this – what? Hope? Dream? If by some slim chance would ever be attracted to men, he doubted it would be him, Ezra Standish. Vin had a closer relationship with Chris. He would just have to stay away from Vin. Who knew what those lunatics would do? He would find those men himself.

The nurse came back in. Josiah still snored from his chair. She looked over at him as she injected the medicine into the IV bag.

“How can you sleep through that?”


She smiled and patted his arm. Pleasant dreams.”

Ezra closed his eyes. He was hoping he wouldn’t dream.

+ + + + + + +

Vin hadn’t slept at all. He headed into the hospital at 7 AM. He headed first to the coffee shop on the first floor and then up to Ezra’s room. He heard Josiah’s snores before he got to the door and softly pushed it open. He grinned. He hoped Ezra had managed to get some sleep.

He placed the coffee carrier with two paper cups and Ezra’s mug on the tray. He nudged Josiah’s leg.

Josiah gave a grunt and opened his eyes.

“Morning Josiah.” Vin said quietly. “Brought you some coffee.”

Josiah smiled and stood up. He stretched his long body and could feel the bones pop back into place.

“You are a good man Vin.” He took the coffee Vin handed him.

“I’ll stay with Ez if you wanna get somethin’ to eat.”

Josiah glanced at Ezra. He was still sleeping peacefully.

“Vin, Ezra’s been through a lot. Be patient with him.”

Vin smiled shyly. “Plan to.”

Josiah raised his cup. “Think I’ll go find some breakfast to go with this.”

“Thanks Josiah.”

Vin pulled a chair up by the head of Ezra’s bed. He frowned looking down at him. Ezra’s face was more discolored and swollen. One eye completely closed and the other also puffy. His lip was swollen and split. He reached out and took Ezra’s hand in his. He rubbed his thumb along Ezra’s knuckles. Very little bruising. So Ezra hadn’t been able to fight back much.

Vin blinked back tears. If only he had gone with him or went to check on him. Damn it they had been having such a great time. He looked up at Ezra as he heard a soft moan.

“Ez? You awake?”

Ezra blinked his eye several times trying to focus.


Vin squeezed his hand. “Yeah it’s me.”

Ezra tried to sit up but groaned.

“Wait. Let me raise the bed some.” Vin reached over and pushed the bed control, raising the head of the bed.


Ezra nodded.

“Ez. Ezra. I’m sorry. I should have gone out with you.” He took hold of Ezra’s hand again. “I’m sorry.”

Ezra waved his other hand. “Not fault.” Jesus this drove him crazy. How can a man whose life is about words now be reduced to syllables? And how was he to think when Vin was holding his hand?

“Well we can talk about that later. I got your stuff out of the car. It’s at my place. I brought you cup, stopped and got you coffee.” He reached over and pointed to the cups on the tray.

Ezra was confused. Why had Vin removed his stuff from his car?


“The wrecker had to take your car. Didn’t you know?”

Ezra closed his eye. Shit not his car. He loved that car!

“I’m sorry, I thought you knew.”

Ezra waved his hand again. “Don’t tell.”

“How about some coffee?”

Ezra smiled and Vin grabbed the thermal cup. He moved it towards Ezra’s mouth and Ezra reached his right hand up to steady it. His left still firmly held in Vin’s left hand. Their hands touched as Ezra took a drink. He looked up into Vin’s smiling face and bright blue eyes.

And the door opened as Josiah’s voice drifted in.

“Shit.” Vin muttered as he let go of Ezra’s hand. Ezra squeezed the hand the still held on to the cup.

“Brother Ezra. I hope you’re awake as a mob is following me.”

“Hey pard!” Buck’s voice boomed across the room. “God, you look like shit! Least your car made it out better than you.”

Chris and Vin shot a warning look at Buck who frowned.

“Yeah good thing Vin won’t with you with the trouble you get yourself in.”

Ezra dropped his hand from the coffee cup. “Yes. Good.”

“I told you, you ain’t got on cause to be blaming Ezra for what happened.” Vin stood up and glared at Nathan, slamming the cup on the table.

Ezra put out his hand and lightly touched Vin’s. Vin turned toward him and paused looking at him.

“No, I ain’t shuttin’ up. I’m tired of folks piling shit on you.”

“Enough.” Chris’ calm voice cut through the tension.

Ezra reached out for the coffee and Vin turned back towards him.

“Here, let me get that.” He raised the bed a fraction more and handed the cup to Ezra.

Ezra mouthed “thanks” to him as he took it. Vin could see the pain on Ezra’s face and he knew it wasn’t just physical.

“I’ll go get the nurse to bring you something.” He headed towards the door not looking at the others.

“See if you can find JD.” Buck said exasperated. “He was right behind me.” He smiled. “He’s got something for ya Ezra.”

Vin stormed down the hall and saw JD getting off the elevator.

“Vin. Ezra awake?” Vin nodded. “Good, I stopped and got him a card in the gift shop. You coming back?”

“Yeah JD, gonna find the nurse.” He continued down the hall.

JD frowned wondering what Vin was mad about and then headed the opposite way down the hall to Ezra’s room.

Vin found the nurse and told her Ezra need some pain medicine. She smiled and nodded. Vin walked further down the hall towards the window. God he was pissed. He ran his hands through his hair trying to calm down. He had never really noticed before how often Ezra was blamed. Anyone else in Ezra’s shoes and the guys would be all supportive and sympathetic. But one mention of Ezra’s name and it was ‘oh well he brings it on himself.’ He clenched his fists. And Ezra telling him to calm down. Like it was okay for Nathan to say that crap about Ezra getting him in trouble.

He paused. But Ezra hadn’t said anything. Funny but I knew exactly what he meant. All he did was touch me and that look on his face and in that puffy slit of an eye. He smiled. Yeah he had flashes of understanding with Chris; people were always ragging them about it, but not with Ezra. Ezra kept that poker face on and walled up. Well, well. Mr. Standish had a crack in that wall. And feeling better he headed back to the room.


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