And Yet So Far

by Limlaith

Morning is strange. Morning is lots of not speaking, not showering together, and not leaving the room at the same time.

He's the other guy this morning, the guy I work with, not the guy I have sex with. He's closed and shuttered and in full lock down - which I guess is good, or we'd never make it to this morning's seminar.

I mean, what are we supposed to do? Kiss "goodbye, sweetie" and "see you tonight, dear"?

But this sucks, 'cause I want that. Call me old-fashioned, but I want to kiss him goodbye and hear him say that he'll see me later. I want that to think about the rest of the day.

He leaves first, and I don't see him again until we have to attend the damn seminar. I manage to get breakfast in the hotel which, thinking about it, is pretty damn stupid, but I just had the best fuck of my entire life, and I feel I'm entitled to some eggs benedict.

Much to my annoyance, Chris takes the seat next to me today. Ezra's seat. Normally, this would not annoy me at all, but I want Ezra next to me pretty much all the time, with or without the blushing memory of sex. Besides, there is an unspoken rule about everybody taking the same seats at things like this. You arrive the first day and you stake your claim. This is my seat, that is your seat, and you better not sit in my seat. It's that way from kindergarten.

Ezra shows up later than nearly everyone else, which is normal for him, and he looks as vaguely bored and amused as always. If he notices the change in seating, which I know he does, he doesn't act like it, and just sits down with a sigh.

I actually pay attention all morning, because I'm keyed-up. I'm not playing hangman, and I'm not doodling with Chris right next to me, and I have to do something other than think about how far away Ezra is sitting. It's not that far, but it feels like a different time zone. Sometime after the first break, Chris writes something and turns it my direction.

Are you okay?

I write back that I'm fine, but that's my standard response, so I don't know if he buys it.

Vin writes I'm fine, Ezra writes You seem tense

I decide to lie. Nothing else to do. Can't really tell him that I would like it if he traded places with Ezra, so him and me can hold hands under the table.

Vin writes My back just hurts, all this sitting - Ezra writes You can stand awhile if you want - Vin writes Nah, it's okay - Ezra writes You sure?

Yeah, I'm sure. Standing would feel to weird and would give me nowhere to hide the fact that I am really tense. But it's okay, 'cause it gets better. I calm down some and go with the flow of things. Chris goes to lunch with some of the leaders of other teams, and so the six of us go for pizza. Ezra objects as we expect him to. We overrule him. Lunch is enjoyable.

He's as aloof as always, eats his pizza with a knife and fork, and makes witty remarks.

I'm almost thankful for how normal it is, as opposed to this morning or last night, even. I can do this. I can take undercover Ezra during the day as long as I get him under the covers at night, but I realize that I'm making plans that I haven't even discussed with him. Things longer term than a weekend conference. What if he doesn't want that?

Okay, so maybe I'm not all that calm, but if Ezra can fake it, so can I.

Christ - is this what he does every day? Like a perverse form of fake it 'til you make it? I wonder if he's ever made it before or if he only gets so close. So close and yet -

Back at the hotel, the afternoon breezes by. We actually learn some things about new weapons on the market, both legally and illegally, and that's always good. My brain can get in gear with this. I don't know why I'm so good with guns, like Buck is kick ass with things that go boom, and JD is good with anything that has circuits and microchips. But my mind understands guns. I don't know what that says about me, exactly, but I've never stopped to question it. I don't know why I question it now, except that I keep wondering what the hell is going to happen when this conference gets out.

It's as if I'm finally taking a look at the fact that me and Ezra come from different planets, but here, all of a sudden, there's a doorway - number 489 - to a place where he and I can be on the same planet, in the same zone. We get to strip away all the things we know and all the things we do, except one another. So, I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know what he knows, what his mind understands, because I know there's more to him than the characters he pretends to be. That's just work. It's like The Three Faces of Eve, sometimes, and I want to dig past all that. I want to know him like I know guns.

I trail behind him, sort of, when the day ends and we leave the room. My pulse speeds up violently when I see him take the stairs again, but this time, he's already waiting for me when I open the door. Humming tension in the air; we avoid eye contact at first.

"I realize how…unusual this is, but during our morning break, I took the liberty of securing our," he clears his throat, "the room until Sunday. I know we can't make a habit of this, but I was hoping," another pause, "It does save an hour of driving in the morning just to get here." His raised eyes aren't hopeful - they are challenging.

I stall. I don't know whether to be insulted or excited, but then I realize he's giving me an out. He's giving me and out. I still don't know how to respond. "Yeah, it's pretty convenient," I say, and realize how freakin' callous that sounds. Convenience is a long, long way from desire. And even further from hope.

Before I can retract it, he says, "Good," like that's all the more he could possibly stand to hear right now, and his face slams shut. He presses the key into my palm, fingers lingering for a fraction of a second, and informs me, "I'll be a few moments."

He's walking away and all I can think is -

Wait. Wait. "Wait," I finally get out, "Just … what I meant to say -"

He has stopped, but he's all professional and collected again. It's like those turn of the century gals who wore collars buttoned up to the chin and skirts down over their feet, and it was scandalous to show a bit of ankle or the inside of their wrists. Damnit, I want him to know that he's safe showing me more than an ankle.

"What I meant to say was that I was hoping too. You know that, right?"

Bingo. More than ankles. He rubs his lip with his thumb, and his eyes are dancing. "I had thought it safe to assume so. At this point."

Good. Safe. Safe is good. He understood me.

"It's, uh, safe to assume quite a bit, Ez. More than just hope."

Three things happen to him then: Surprise, Joy, Pain. So fast and so close together, but there in all their parts. "I'll wait up," I say with a wink, and for just a second longer, I get the joy all by itself.

Then he nods, trots down the stairs, and I do a small dance right there in the freakin' stairwell.

I make a post-dance call to Chris, telling him that I'm going to be seeing an old friend for dinner, and then I head to our room, the room. Our room.

Ezra joins me shortly, and at first, there is tension again, the same tension I had wrapped around me most of the morning, the same tension on the stairs. But after a "Hello" and a "Hi, Ezra," all the awkwardness is gone, and I'm wrapped up in a kiss.

He is kissing me urgently, hands clinging, like he's been waiting all day for this. He breaks away to whisper, "Tomorrow, we arrive together," and now I know he noticed how Chris usurped his seat. It makes me happy to know that he hated it as much as I did.

But that's all we say, all the acknowledgement we give the outside world. For a while, our world is this pastel room with flowers on the bedspread and a lot of heavy breathing. We end up in 69 because neither one of us wants to not have the other person's cock in our mouths. Funny, but we almost get into an argument over that, and I giggle when we're finally sideways and backwards, then I die a little when his hot mouth engulfs me.

I lose track of everything except Need and Want, and I'm almost sorry when I have to come because I don't want it to be over. I want to be in his mouth all the time, like I'm safe there - like the way he says my name when he comes. My name is safe in his mouth.

I lick his cock even after it's softened, and I hug his bare hip, which must feel weird to him, but it feels comforting to me. In a bit, we both creep up to the pillows, but neither one of us dozes. It's not even dark out, so we lie here, me on his chest, his arms softly surrounding me.

His fingers stroke my shoulders while mine find fascination with his scars. We've all got them, in our line of work, but I've never seen his like this, up this close and shiny with sweat. There's this thin jagged one by his right collar bone -

"A razor blade," Ezra says and it almost startles me, his voice so low and near. "A young man with a razor. I was a rookie in Atlanta, and the boy was high. Not a particularly good story," his voice drifts, and it's another window that I don't want to see him close. Not just yet.

"And this one?" I ask, touching what is obviously a bullet scar over his ribcage.

"Ah. That was, I was," he takes a deep breath, as if gathering resolve, "I was undercover and he was … I thought he was ... He thought I was a friend. I nearly drowned in my own blood."

I close my eyes and grip him tightly, kissing his chest beneath my cheek. It always worries me when he has to go in without a vest, and he does that a lot. Nothing breaks his cover faster than Kevlar, so there's just him, his skill, and his trust that we're out there somewhere - that I'm out there somewhere, watching out for him so that he doesn't have to worry about drowning in his own blood. How hard that has to be for him, how much trust must he place in us every single time he has to do what he does - which is betray everyone else.

God - I thought what I did for a living was crappy.

His other scars I don't question, and we lie in silence for a while.

"Would you care for something to eat, Vin?"

Obviously he can't sleep either. "Yeah."

"Room service?"


"Don't fret. I always trust you."

He kisses my head again, and I wonder how much of what I was thinking I said aloud.

We order grilled chicken sandwiches and fries and eat them propped up on pillows while watching TV. We feed each other fries and laugh at some new reality TV show, which has a much to do with reality as a hot dog and warm puppy. We hold each other and talk about who we wanted to be when we grew up, and whether or not the Stones will tour again this year, and how many of the Seven Wonders we'd like to see, and whether or not we really believe in Global Warming.

No discussion of work or consequences or what we're doing, 'cause I guess that's too much, too much of the world outside this room. We're going to enjoy this fantasy for as long as it lasts.

Later, he takes our plates, sets them aside, and gets a hungry look in his eyes before disappearing completely under the covers and letting my cock get hard in his mouth - which takes two point five seconds. I have to say that I can't complain about his foreskin fetish. He loves to play with it, and it drives me insane.

His face is sweaty when he tugs the covers off and looks up, stroking me slowly with one hand. "I want you to, that is," and it's so weird so see Ezra fumble for words, "If you want to, I -"

"Yes, I want to -" I cut him off.

"Okay, good."

"Okay." Yes. Good.

Crawling up and rolling over, he buries his face in the crook of his arms. So willing under my hands, his body so open, so impatient for me.

"Hurry, please."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Don't worry."

"But I - "

"Vin," he shushes me, and dark eyes find mine, "I need to feel you. Please."

That frightens me a little, the jagged desperation in his voice, in his eyes. Like he wants it to hurt enough that he'll feel it two weeks from now. Like he thinks this is all he's ever going to have of me.

This weekend doesn't have to be the end of it, the end of us. I want to tell him that. I want to tell him I think I've fallen for him. Instead, I drive myself into him and listen to his muffled cry. The cry of pain turns to cries of pleasure, but I can't help feeling a bit like a monster. I fuck him with absolutely everything I've got, and he asks for more. When he comes, he clenches around me like a vice, and I can't help but follow him over the edge.

He shakes for a long time, and I pull out of him gently. I start to say something, but be turns and places his fingers to my lips.

"Ssshhhh. Don't speak. Please." He replaces his fingers with his mouth, trying to tell me something very important with his lips that I'm too foggy to understand.

Sometime during the night, we stir. We stir and find one another, and he makes love to me. He makes long, slow, torturous love to me, and the difference between what I did to him and what he's doing to me is like night and day, winter and summer, polar opposites.

I don't know what to say or do, so I just let him love me. Like maybe that's what he was trying to say.

Morning comes too soon, and I find Ezra sleeping with a soft, happy smile on his face. So I spend a few lazy minutes kissing him awake.

Today is Saturday; today is our half-day. This means that we only have a morning of conference to deal with and then it's just us, just him and me, and we can spend 24 hours straight in our room if we want. Or we can go do something, anything we want. This is a great day.

Good to his word, Ezra finds me in the dining room before we have to go upstairs, and we head into the conference room together.

There are two things, though, that are completely different about today. First, Chris isn't here. Second, Ezra sits as far away from me as possible, for a man who's sitting next to me. So close and yet so far.

It is as if there is a giant, impenetrable, invisible wall between the two of us. He doesn't even look at my doodles, and his posture is so straight it hurts me to be next to it. Buck and JD are up to their usual hijinks, this time Rock-Paper-Scissors, and Josiah makes actual origami. Time crawls.

I wonder what would happen if my calf accidentally collided with Ezra's, or if I touched his foot with mine. I know this is how we'll have to act in the office if this thing we have going continues to go after this weekend - but right now, this exaggerated distance seems too exaggerated. Pretending too hard that nothing is wrong only makes things look worse.

Or maybe I'm over sensitive. Yeah, most people wouldn't guess that I am, but I am. I'm a needy fuck; I admit it. I do a whole lot to act like I'm not, but I guess that's just like pretending too hard. It does make things worse, 'cause then people don't think I need much at all. I end up very much alone, hating myself for feeling lonely, angry with myself for not having the guts to say so.

I need to tell him - I need to talk to him - to tell him that this isn't just about sex.

My hip buzzes, and I jump a foot, Ezra grabbing his hip at the same instant. I look around as I pull out my beeper; Buck, JD, and Josiah are also looking at theirs.

Eye contact all around. We leave quietly and bivouac by the stairs, Buck taking out his phone.

"Travis. Yeah, yes. Shit. Shit. Yes. We're fifteen minutes away. Got it. Yeah, we'll head there first. Yessir." Phone snaps shut. He rakes a hand through his hair and swears again. "Chris has got himself into a bit of trouble."

"What, without us?" I can't help but ask.

My humor is not appreciated this time; Buck's eyes harden. "Yeah, he decided to stop off at a convenient store for some cigarettes on his way in. Apparently, Travis just got the call that Chris is still in that convenient store, with two armed men and three other hostages. SWAT has been on the scene for a half hour, and so far no shots have been fired."

"So far," I echo.

We're thundering down the stairs, Buck deciding that no more conversation is necessary. To my surprise, Ezra leaps into my jeep when we get to the parking garage, but I don't ask why. The other three pile into Buck's SUV, and we break several major traffic laws getting across downtown.

The scene is mild chaos, the street blocked off by jagged rows of black and whites. They've set up a good perimeter, organized but hectic, and I look around and up for a location with a clear angle on the 7 Eleven. The glass front of the store is covered with ads for 12-packs of beer and 24-packs of coke making it damn difficult to get a good look inside. Add to this that they have barricaded the front door with one of the shelves and it looks like we're in for the long haul.

SWAT has their own sniper, and they have their own negotiator who's been trying to reach someone inside by phone, and the last thing on this earth they want to do is hand this mess over to us. They have their rulebook; we have ours. Buck and Josiah try to "reason" with them - while JD talks with somebody about hacking into the closed circuit camera feed in the store - while Ezra and I stand and think.

"I'm gonna get inside that building and set up," I tell him, pointing. "I can get a better angle from there than anywhere." And I've got a rifle in a lockbox hidden under the backseat cushions of the Jeep. "You think you could try to go around back, sneak in?"

"Yes, I certainly can." He gives a little smile, all menace and no humor.

Just then there is gunfire. Oh fuck, there is gunfire inside. One of the big windows shatters, destroying the Bud Light ad and sending glass flying. The cops duck and cover; Team 7 runs for the front of the store.

Buck and Josiah on one side, me and Ez on the other - there's no fucking time to think. We can hear screaming inside, and shouting, and my heart jackhammers in my chest. Buck runs out of sight, around back, and there's another gunshot, and Ezra makes a leap.

I can't stop him. He runs straight past the barricaded door and fucking dives in through the broken window.

And like a Goddamn lemming, I follow him.

Everything happens in real fast slow-motion, if that makes any sense. It's all over but the shouting in probably thirty seconds - and I swear to God, it's the longest thirty seconds of my life.

Bam, gunshot, from Chris - behind rack of bread and potato chips - at masked gunman - behind front counter. Bam, I shoot gunman and he flops backwards all over the cigarettes. Boom, rifle fire - somewhere I can't see - and then sounds of struggle. Struggle soon subdued by Buck - arriving from back storage and walloping something with the butt of his gun.

But I can't see Ezra. Shit, shit, I can't see Ezra.

My hands cramp around my gun as I weave through the aisles to find Ezra lying at an odd angle on a pile of Snicker's bars. He looks pissed off, and alive. Gunman Number 2 is unconscious and bleeding from the head. His rifle has been kicked out of reach and is being guarded by a very irate Buck Wilmington. Where the hell is JD?

I feel a swish of air and I spin, gun trained, and ready to kill. Chris stops dead and holds up his hands, staring at me, just staring, until I lower my gun. He nods at me, understanding and worry and relief all bundled up in one expression. He's sporting the beginnings of a black eye, licking blood from a split lip, and he's drenched in sweat.

Ezra stands, and even I can tell that his shoulder is out of socket again. I try to reach out to him, but he pulls back like I could burn him, and I know, I know that I can't comfort him the way I want to. I also know he wouldn't let any of the others comfort him, either. That's right, I'm forgetting which of him I'm dealing with here. I drop my hand but still can't tear my eyes away.

He's scuffed and covered in lots of shiny, glittery pieces of what must be glass. All that glass. I look down at myself and, funny that, I'm shiny too.

"Vin," Chris says, and I snap to, "go check on the guy behind the counter."

Josiah goes off to talk to the hostages, who have been crouched behind a giant barrel full of iced Pepsi. Buck is already cuffing the still-unconscious second guy, and I realize it's about time I holstered my weapon. My weapon in my shaking hand. I also realize that all of this has taken about another 180 seconds. Time enough for the cops to finally get with the program. A horde of them appears around the front of the store, and they're shouting words I can't quite make out over the rush of blood still in my ears.

I go check on the dead guy behind the counter, all the time looking over my shoulder for Ezra.

The rest of the morning - and then some - is taken up with defending our actions and making reports, knowing we'll have to do it all again later. Ezra and Chris are treated in the back of an ambulance. The hostages are interviewed, checked, and sent home. JD, who was held back by the police when the rest of us decided to play Kamakazi, is doing a hell of a job standing up for us, being a mouthpiece for the ATF and making what we did sound planned and strategic. Buck is mugging for the camera, talking to the media.

Travis arrives and looks surly.

Chris finally gets to smoke a cigarette - or ten.

I just lean on a solid object and try not to throw up.

"What did they want?" I ask Chris, when he joins me. We sit on the curb, and I bum a cigarette, him not reminding me that I don't smoke.

"Just a robbery gone wrong, Vin." He looks haggard and tired, every bit of his forty-one years.

"They were just kids. Teenagers."

"Yeah, I know, Vin. But if you're old enough to try to kill, you're old enough to die for it." His eyes are flinty, hard. "They were going to shoot the girl if I didn't get them a car out of there. Fuck." He takes a long drag, the tip of the cigarette burning angry red. "They were coked-out and panicky and wouldn't listen to me. They just wouldn't listen. Like some other idiots I know," he says, his voice lingering on the edge of fondness.

I take a drag and cough a little.

"Thanks," he says.

"Thank Ezra," I snap, feeling that cold electricity of fear again, "he's the suicidal maniac." I crush the cigarette with the heel of my boot. I really don't smoke.

"Yeah, well, in this I can't blame him. He ever tell you why he left the FBI?"


"A hostage situation gone wrong. Ask him sometime. When things settle down." Chris kills his cigarette, smoked clean to the filter, and we get up.

Police cars are driving away, the ambulance turns off its lights and pulls out; time for the clean-up crew. I find Ezra. He's in shirt-sleeves, his right arm in a sling, and his hands are a little cut. And it's only now that I notice the blood on his other arm.

"You're hurt. Were you hit?"

"Just a graze. Literally. Five stitches."

"Shit, Ezra."

He puts a stop to whatever else I was going to say - with just one look. "May we leave now? Please." His eyes bore holes clean through me, and I nod.

"Yeah. Jeep's this way."

We drive in silence. I'm not even aware of the temperature of the wind or the route I take to drive back to the hotel. I have to get his car, after all.

Again, Ezra is right beside me, and he's a thousand miles away looking pretty shaky. I want to ask him about the FBI, and what Chris said, and I want to know what he's thinking and feeling. I want him to know that he can tell me anything. I want to hold him and not let go. I guess he's not the only one shook up.

Someone's taken my space in the parking garage, so I pull up behind the Jag and screw up some nerve. "Ez, do you think we could, I mean - can we stay a while?"

He shuts his eyes and leans his head against the seat, exhaustion pouring off of him. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be of much use to you, Mr. Tanner. Not right now."

"I don't care," I snap at him. He needs to know this isn't just about sex.

This gets me both eyebrows raised and an fuming look that tells me -

"I'm afraid that I very much care," he drawls, "Even if you don't."

His hand is quickly on the door latch, and I stop him. "Look, you aren't a use to me, damnit. You aren't providing room service." I jerk on his arm to get his eyes to focus on me and not on the Chevy two rows over. "You were fucking shot today. Okay? I just - " Now it's my turn to look away, feeling the telltale prick in the corners of my eyes.

"I believe I could … endure the company, Vin." His voice is full of the softest smile, and when I turn back, I see that his eyes match the tone.

"Alright," I answer rather harshly, then sigh and shake my head. Nothing I ever say comes out right.

"Yes, I believe so." He squeezes my hand, still on his arm. He understands me anyway.

We park and go inside; and once behind locked doors, we can't get any closer. We undress and he lets me hold him. Curtains closed and covers pulled up around our shoulders, he lets me smother him. Tension is ingrained in his every muscle, and we keep shifting under the covers, bit by bit, snuggling closer, and I must have dozed off.

I wake up to find us face to face, his eyes shining when I look at him. I know three things: I am hungry, I am very warm, and I am in love.

"Hey." I stroke the side of his jaw, and he leans in, pressing his lips gently to mine.

"Hey," he says back, the tiniest of grins lifting the corner of his mouth. "I still have my appendix."

I lift my head, questioning. "Good for you." Did they give him happy pills when he got his arm looked at?

"Not that it does me any good," he continues, "but that's not where this scar is from." He swallows and rolls to his back with a wince.

My full attention is piqued in a half-second flat. He takes one of my hands and draws it to his waist, to one of the scars we didn't talk about the day before.

"Okay," I say, like it was a question.

"I was twenty-eight and already a legend." His voice is mocking, mocking himself, but his words are unguarded and unrehearsed. "I had been undercover for, God, felt like years, with an ultra-militant family in the backwoods of Georgia. Think Deliverance," he suggests, and I cringe at the mental image, "I was in too deep and I got too close to someone - as close as I am with Buck or Chris or Josiah, though from their points of view I am sure that isn't saying much."

He's mocking himself again, and I come to the conclusion that I hate that sound.

"He was just a kid, God, just a kid," he whispers brokenly at the ceiling, moisture leaking from one eye. "His crazy, fanatic, anarchist family - it wasn't his fault. They took a bank hostage and there was - it got ugly. Five minutes and I could have had them walking out alive. Just five minutes and everyone would have lived. But my team couldn't wait; SWAT couldn't wait. My beloved team swept the place and shot every last one of them. All of them."

He grows silent again, and I want to ask 'all of who?' If the bad guys die, that's a good thing - right?

"We lost two hostages, but that's acceptable under the circumstances. I hate that euphemism. I hated it then and I despise it now. It is one of the reasons I came to work here, Vin." He looks at me finally, and I am riveted; barely even breathing. "Chris leads this team with a justice, with an integrity the likes of which I have never seen. He would have trusted me; he would have waited. No one had to die, but instead it was twelve and two; twelve bad guys and two innocents. One semi-casualty in that I got shot by my own men while I tried to protect a seventeen year old kid who loved me more than his own father."

Ezra looks away swiftly, and I can feel a hand clenching the bedsheets as he fights to hold onto something intangible. I stroke my hand along his arm, his side, letting him know I've got him. I'm tangible.

"I won't even tell you what his father used to do to him. I had lived with that family for a year, having to sit by and pretend that I didn't know. Harley was his name. He was seventeen and didn't know anything else. But he didn't want to be there, didn't want to hold up that bank, and refused to shoot one of the hostages when ordered. And the mighty FBI shot him as I held him, his head exploding all over my chest. Bits of skull and brains, and I caught a stray bullet in the stomach. He was seventeen. After the bust, I broke my commander's jaw and resigned. Didn't take any of my accrued pension. Four months later, I found myself in Denver - and I met you."

His laugh sounds better now, and he kisses my head. Hot breath in my hair.

"I'm good at what I do, Vin. I do it because it needs to be done - and I do it damn well. Most of the time I don't regret it - not once since joining this team. But I won't lie to you and tell you that it isn't hard. I won't tell you that I always sleep well at night. I have to live with who I am, so I pretend that nothing phases me. Most of the time that is sufficient. It helps, actually, to distance myself," he gives me a small smile, "and contrary to my mother's opinion, I believe I've done well with my life thus far."

He falls silent, gazing off, absently rubbing my shoulder; and I can see the distance. This close, I can see the miles he puts between himself and the rest of the world. I don't think he's wanting my approval or forgiveness, just someone to tell his story to. But he needs to know he can do that, any time he wants, here, with me, 'cause I'm not going anywhere.

I thread my fingers with his on my shoulder, bringing him back to me. "I'd say you've done better then well, Ez. I'd be willing to lay bet on that."

"Oh really?" His voice warms. "Against whom?"

"Anybody who says different. Even you."

"Hmmmm." I can hear another smile in that hum, and he kisses me still humming. "I might let you win."

"You scared the shit out of me," I admit, whispering like it's too scary even now.

"I know, Vin. I'm sorry." Whispered in kind, against my forehead.

"I know. But I'm glad you told me why you did it. I - I'm real sorry I shot that kid - "

"But if you hadn't, Mr. Larabee would have," he finishes for me, and I can feel the tension draining out of him. Finally.

"I reckon so."

"Not all of them can be saved. I know this. Not all of them deserve to be. I suppose hostage situations bring out the worst in me."

He chuckles at himself, so I grin and nibble on some skin. We are naked and awake, after all. "I don't know 'bout the worst, but I can tell you, you do that again and I'll pull your shoulder out of socket myself. Next time you want to do something like that, just give me a head's up, okay? So I can come with you."

He has so many smiles, so many of them that are only in his eyes, or never reach his eyes at all. This one is sadness all the way around, and that scares me.

"You can't always come with me, Vin. You can't always be there."

"Why not?"

This smile is sympathy and tenderness, and something that looks a lot like love. "I'm almost always alone. You can't help that."

Yes I fucking can, I want to shout, but I can hear the regret in his voice. So I whisper it, "Yes, I can."

"No, Vin, not always." He's shaking his head and kissing me, softly, sadly, and suddenly it feels like he's letting go. Not just closing a window, but totally shutting the door. "My world is very small, Vin. So very, very small."

I do not want that to make sense, but it does, in a way, his small world. He's alone in what he does like I'm alone in what I do. I'm a lone gunman, only his is an isolation in the middle of a crowd. Most of the people he's going to meet socially are the people he's working to meet so he can help us bust them. And then he has to keep a low profile when he's not working, just in case he's needed to go deep under in Denver. It doesn't lend itself to a really active social life, especially a homosexual one.

And then there's us, the team, and I know we're the only family he has. What's the expression? Don't shit where you eat. Yeah. Trying to start a Friends with Benefits program at the office could get real ugly, real fast.

So his world consists of the team, then people on the force who would make his life miserable if they knew he fucked other men, and then people he meets when he's pretending to be someone else. If I thought my job was depressing - at least I know I'm me when I'm shooting someone. When he takes someone down, he's not him, and they're getting taken by someone they thought they could trust. A complete stranger.

"But you're not a stranger to me," I say aloud, and he obviously doesn't follow. "You don't have to pretend here, with me. We can have our own very, very small world. Population, two. I can help that. I can be that."

"Vin," he sighs, and maybe I hate that sound the most, "But can you live a lie? Can you lie to everyone you know? Can you lie to Chris? Deny me, if you have to? Listen to me deny you? I don't want you to end up hating me because I'm asking you to live in hiding. Hiding in plain sight."

Angered, spurred on by a sudden rush of outrage, I reel upward and over, planting my hands on either side of his face. "You think you're the first gay fed ever? Or bisexual fed? The first guy to fuck a partner and try to keep it secret?"

That's not what he's really saying, and I know it, but that's not what's making me so angry. I lean in.

"This," I kiss him, hard, "this is not a Goddamn lie."

"No, Vin, this is as close to the truth as I've ever been." So matter-of-fact, but still sad. He sighs, louder this time. "But with what I do, with who I am, it is far, far from easy to love me - "

"Too late."

His jaw snaps shut - audibly - and his face gets like someone who wants to cry. There is a forever kind of silence, one that would be more fitting with insects singing in the background. His hands slowly rise to frame the sides of my face.

"You know we can't continue this." His expression is sad for a moment more, then it goes cold.

I can't say that I wasn't expecting that, but the pain of it is horrendous. I get ready to rattle off a whole itemized list of reasons why we can when he speaks again.

"Or," he ponders for a minute, "It could continue if we only ever came here, never strayed to our own beds."

I lift my eyebrows, knowing that I shouldn't feel anything like the hope I'm feeling.

He nods, seriously. "But no more spending the night here. No more cuddling and pretending to be a real couple."

I think I'm dying, but I guess three days doesn't make us a real couple.

"And no more kissing on the mouth. It's too intimate."

I can't possibly stand for this, but I find myself nodding in his hands. In his fucking hands. I close my eyes and concentrate on that, on their warmth, not his cold words.

"And I want you to dress up as Peter Pan and dance for me."

My eyes snap open.

He's laughing at me, fucking laughing at - he's laughing at himself. He is cracking himself up. His face is flushed and full of it before it giggles out of his mouth.

"And do your hair in pig tails," he splutters, laughing so hard now, I think he's hurting himself.

I truly despise this man, with all my heart and soul. He knows that or he couldn't have done what he just did to me. I want to strangle him.

"And I want you to lather me with bread pudding and sprinkle me with raisins - "

"I fucking hate you," I say without anything that could be called sincerity, feeling my own laughter bubble up.

"That's a shame," he says, reining in laughter, "considering my feelings on the subject."

"Too late," I repeat, smiling huge, "Jesus, you had me, you had me - " And I try to kiss him.

"Yes, and I plan on having you again," he grins and drawls with that wicked mouth I love so much.

"You bastard," I growl over him, "You fucking actor."

He wraps his arms around me, pulling me down. "I'm not acting when I'm fucking." He wants me here, on top of him, he whispers when his lips are free. "I want you here and moaning into my mouth."

I moan, on cue.

"And I want you in my bed, Vin Tanner, in my home. And I want to kiss you until -

He snakes a hand between us, devouring my mouth, and taking inventory of my fillings. Touching me, holding us together, he strokes both of us until we are leaking and slick. All the while, his kisses get deeper and longer, and I feel completely consumed, lost, drowning in the nearness of him.

Legs spreading for me, he settles me between, and I rub against him like I don't know anything better. Funny thing is, it feels like I don't know anything better.

There is nothing better than this, right here and now. This is as close to the truth as I've ever been. I feel wetness flood over us, and I climax, surrendering my fear and love between our bellies.

Monday, Monday.

Work is work; back to work is totally normal in every possible way. Chris is bossy, Buck and JD are merry, Josiah is Buddha on the Mountain - and Nathan returns. He gives us what I am sure is a word for word retelling of his entire conference and listens to us bitch about ours. It's good. It's safe.

We have to fill out incident reports, requisite every time we discharge our weapons. Chris both admonishes us for our recklessness and praises us for our quick-thinking. He doesn't specifically say anything to Ezra, and it feels good to know why, to know that Chris understands.

Mr. Standish and I are colleagues again; he has his desk way over there, and I have mine way back here.

He's wearing his professional personality: sarcastic when it's called for, as haughty as is expected of him, and as distant as ever. He doesn't try to talk to me more than he should, and I try not to look at him more than I used to, except that I keep watching for him to give me that look - the one from the restaurant.

He's right - this is hard. I find myself paying attention to every nuance, like I'm microscope focused on him, dissecting him. Every time our eyes meet, I wait to see his change, but they don't. And they don't. It's for the best, I know, or we couldn't work together.

But it sucks. I suck. I'd like to.

An hour before we get to leave, an email pops up. I've got mail. It's from Ezra.

I look around to see if anyone else notices that the whole universe has shifted and that the temperature in here has upped by 80 degrees. Nope, no one.

I open the email:

blank hangman game

I grin helplessly, feeling like we're passing notes in fifth period Algebra. I start thinking of the best letters to start with, the ones most-used. This one looks easy, so I should start with - wait. I blink seven or thirty times. That middle word could be 'want' or 'love' or 'need', but any of them works for me.

I glance up at him all the way eight feet over there, and he's wearing that look - and a boy, can he pack a lot into just one look - and this is as seriously close as he's been yet to getting fucked in the office.

Then the look is gone. I write back - just one word: Yeah.

I send it, then think that maybe I should have said 'Me too', but somebody's probably watching this email, and not just JD.

I delete his email, empty the Deleted Items, and whistle my way through the rest of the day, knowing that I won't be going home to my apartment tonight.

I really love seminars.