The Learning Curve

by Cin

ATF Universe

Part 4

In one word all of Vin's idiosyncrasies suddenly fell into place. Ezra did know about dyslexia. He knew that the most consistent thing about those with the disability was that they were inconsistent. Once again Ezra kicked himself for missing all the clues, they were there he had just chosen to overlook them.

It would explain Vin's hyperactivity one minute and calm contemplative state the next. He'd earned the nickname Eagle not only for his love of heights, but also for his keen eyesight and extended hearing. He was also ambidextrous, doing many tasks with equal deftness with either hand, especially shooting. But Ezra remembered observing when he was tired he tended to get his right and left mixed up. Though the young sharpshooter did not appear to care about his wardrobe, he was extremely neat and orderly with his things. It was something Ezra had put down to Vin's training in the Army, but it was something found in dyslexics too, or the exact opposite. The clues even fit his strong sense of justice and even his tendency to play practical jokes on his friends. He also thought about what a light sleeper Vin was. It could also explain why the young man was always pushing himself on every case to have every detail perfect. Ezra had sensed the hidden insecurities within the young man. He had ignored all the clues . . . because he didn't want to get too close.


Ezra shook himself out of his thoughts, "Yes. Mr. Tanner, I am familiar with that particular disability."


"I've known two people who were gifted with dyslexia."

Vin snorted, "Gifted? Hell, it ain't no damn gift."

"You may not see that now, but it is. Do you know for sure you have this affliction?"

"Yeah. Chris figured it out first. He seen the note I wrote in the hospital . . . I reversed the letters."

Ezra nodded knowing this was one of the more common symptoms of the disorder. He never picked up on this before from Vin because all of the help he had given him had been on the computer. He never remembered seeing anything Vin had written. He had slipped, by not picking up on all the tell tale clues, something rare for him. However, he had been trying to keep his distance hadn't he? Trying not to get close . . . to know these men . . . to be friends. That was his excuse anyway.

"Took some test," Vin continued. "Counselor at school confirmed it." Vin reached for the books in front of him and pulled out a clear sheet of amber plastic. "They've been workin' with me on stuff to help. These sheets help me with readin'. Don't understand why it works but the words don't get so jumbled. Don't get so many headaches."

Ezra knew from working with the young man that he suffered silently from reoccurring headaches, another symptom. He looked at the sheet of plastic. "This is a new technique."

"Yeah, said they'd been using it the last five years or so."

Vin replaced the sheet in his book and watched the changing emotions cross the usually stoic Standish face. "Some one close to ya have it too?"

Ezra shook his head. Close to him, there was no one close to him. "A roommate in college and a distant cousin."

"Your roommate do okay?"

"Excellent," Ezra nodded. "I believe he is a psychiatrist today." Ezra frowned slightly thinking how he had even pushed past friends out of life.

"Guess a doctor's expected to have shitty handwritin'," Vin sighed.

"Philip had beautiful handwriting," Ezra disagreed then added, "Of course he was a mirror writer."

"Mirror writer?"

"Everything he wrote was perfectly backwards," Ezra smiled. "The only problem was he could not read what he wrote. He had to put carbon paper under his paper, face up. That way what he wrote would be correct on the back side of the paper and he could read it."

Vin blinked in amazement, "Guess I ain't that bad. I'd like to write nice though, he finished sighing. "He explain it all to ya?"

Ezra nodded again, "We talked about it. I was already familiar with the characteristics of the disorder."

"Your cousin, he a doctor too?"

The chestnut head bowed sadly thinking back to his young cousin. For every strength displayed by his young teammate, his cousin had been plagued with the exact opposite symptom. He was a therefore, a total disappointment to his family. Choking slightly over the words, Ezra finally explained. "He died. It was a swimming accident."

"Sorry, Ez. Didn't mean to stir up bad memories."

Ezra waved off Vin's concern. "Mr. Tanner, I am astounded that the diagnosis of your condition was not caught earlier than this."

Vin ran a tired hand down his face and sighed heavily. He picked up his beer bottle and drained the last remnants. Setting it back on the coffee table, he flopped back against the couch cushions. Just when Ezra had given up getting an answer Vin began his raspy reply.

"Guess I wasn't worth the effort . . ." He swallowed hard, consuming the rest of the thought painfully.

Green eyes narrowed at the self-deprecating statement from the Texan.

Vin threw up his hands, sensing his partner's anger. "I don't know, guess when I was little I was shuffled between so many places they didn't have time to figure it out."

Unable to remain sitting, the nerves in his stomach taking full rein again, Vin jumped up and resumed his pacing. "I tried. I'd stay up late workin' to get homework done. Sometimes I'd find a teacher willin' to help and I stayed after school to get help. Course folks I was stayin' with at the time didn't 'preciate that either. Wouldn't be long I'd be packed off again . . . couldn't do nothin' right." He finished the last so softly Ezra almost missed it.

He stopped putting one hand against the mantle of Ezra's fireplace and ran the other agitated hand through his shaggy hair. "When I left the last foster home and was out on my own, I just tried not to draw attention to myself. Got by okay. Teachers had too many other worries to bother with a scrawny quiet kid that didn't cause no trouble."

"This from our resident prankster?"

Vin glanced back at the con man. He was sitting with his elbows on his knees staring at his hands clasp in front of him, his face unreadable.

"Didn't get caught."

Ezra chuckled slightly but still didn't raise his head. His thoughts were on how much his partner had revealed, even saying so little. His own heart hurt with a bittersweet pain.

Vin chuckled slightly too as he continued, "Army didn't care 'bout the readin' when they found out I could shoot." Vin stopped not wanting to go into the truly dark side of his life. "After that, on my own, didn't see where anything mattered. I was getting by okay."

The pain from Vin's raspy voice filtered through Ezra to meld with his own. He realized how much it had cost the Texan to reveal that small bit of himself. It was a cost he himself had never been willing to pay. His admiration for the young man's survival skills grew another notch, but what did that say about him. Was his life really so bad? Wasn't it time to let go as well, to share some of himself and perhaps get rid of his pain?

Rubbing his hands together he brought one up to run nervously through his well-groomed locks. "I never knew my father, it was just mother and me." Ezra released a soft snort. "When it suited her. When it did not, I was placed with a suitable relative or acquaintance. When I was sixteen I went to stay with my Uncle Simon and Aunt Ruth in Atlanta. He was a very respectable physician in Atlanta and she was the perfect physician's wife. There were two sons, my cousins, Simon the Fourth," relaying the designation with a slight sneer, "and Charles."

Vin moved quietly to sit down beside his partner, not wanting to interrupt the con man's revelations. This was a new break through, one of many to come, he hoped.

Ezra sighed deeply lost in his memories, "Simon the Fourth, was a year older than I, and he was everything the son of such a fine upstanding southern family should be. An honor student, excellent athlete and he was accepted at all the best universities in the country. Charles on the other hand, was the exact opposite. I believe he was ten when I went to stay with them."

The faint smile of a fond memory passed over the con man's face. "He was a bright child, very outgoing, loved to tell stories, to draw . . . when he was not in his parent's presence. Then he was very subdued and withdrawn he became a different child. In their eyes he could do nothing right. He was so clumsy he often tripped over his own feet and he was barely passing in his schoolwork."

Ezra stopped and rubbed his hands together pausing to gather his thoughts. "They knew what was wrong, dyslexia. School officials explained to them it was not an insurmountable condition and enrolled Charles in several programs to help him to cope with the problems of the disorder. His handicap was not bad enough to warrant any special education classes, but without the support at home he was not coping at all." Finishing the last angrily Ezra sat back angrily against the couch bringing one hand up to rub the bridge of his nose.

"I tried to help," His hand fell back on the arm of the couch, brushing at some imagined dirt. "I became quite knowledgeable on the disorder and the symptoms. I read everything I could find on the subject and inquired of his teachers on ways to assist him. It was not enough. He was very talented; he could have been an artist or an actor. Uncle Simon and Aunt Ruth refused to see that side of him. To them he was a disappointment, not up to family standards. Heaven forbid he couldn't even make change."

Nervously Ezra began flicking at imaginary lint on his pressed jeans, "I stayed with them for about a year. Back to our nomad existence, I found it impossible to stay in touch however. Several years later we learned of Charles's death." Ezra took a deep sigh. He paused swallowing hard and rubbing at the bridge of nose again. "As I said Charles was very clumsy, not the athletic type. Although he never learned to swim, I do not think his death was an accident."

Ezra felt the gentle squeeze on his shoulder. He turned his pain filled eyes to meet the empathic blue of his friend.

"I admire you . . . Vin," Ezra smiled slightly knowing the use of his name was causing the sharpshooter some discomfort. "What you have accomplished on your own with this gift is amazing."

"Why do you keep callin' it that?" Vin responded angrily. "'specially after what happened to your cousin. Ain't a present I'm wantin'."

Placing a tentative reassuring hand on his partner's shoulders Ezra willed him to see into his eyes. He wanted to give Vin what it had been impossible to give to his cousin or make him see. That he did not have to be ashamed, that he was worthy. He did not want to fail where he had failed before.

"It is a gift, Vin," Ezra shook him a little. "You just need to understand it. It is believed that the problems the disorder causes is because people with it perceive things multi-dimensionally."

The perplexed blue gaze told Ezra he was not getting through to his pupil. "Where you may have problems deciphering the written word your other abilities are enhanced, like eyesight, hearing. I know you remember most of what is told to you and look at how well you draw building schematics for our assignments. How much training have you had in that?"

Vin shook his head, "None."

"Most dyslexics are thought to have higher than average intelligence and creative abilities. You will find there are many prominent people who are dyslexic and many of them are geniuses."

"Ya callin' me a genius now Ez," Vin smiled trying to lighten the mood.

Ezra chuckled, "I said most, not all." He smiled seeing his partner was starting to relax. "Earlier when I implied that you did not find yourself worthy because you were not Hemingway or Einstein, you are actually in very good company because they were both dyslexic."

"Einstein?" Vin asked stunned.

Ezra nodded.

"Guess he figured out how x equals y, huh?" Both men started laughing relieving more of the tension. Vin watched Ezra as he released a large sigh of relief. "Any others you know of?"

The undercover agent frowned thoughtfully trying to remember his long ago studies on the subject. "There were several presidents Washington, Kennedy even Bush I believe. Lets see . . . Issac Newton, Eli Whitney, John Lennon," Ezra watched the expressions on Vin's face as he recognized each of the names. "Charles Schwab, he's a businessman . . .multimillionaire" Ezra supplied knowing the name would not be recognized and struggled to remember some more recognizable ones. "Steven Spielberg and Steven Cannell."

Vin frowned, "Who's that last one."

Ezra hesitated, "He writes for television. I believe he did that awful show you and Mr. Dunne are fond of watching reruns of, with that Mr. T character. . ."

"A-Team! Really he's, dyslexic too?"

The Southerner rolled his eyes at what his teammate found to be enthusiastic about. Vin grinned wickedly, knowing he hit an irritating nerve with his refined partner.

Sobering Vin eyed Ezra carefully. "Ya still willin' to help me, with all this extra baggage an all?"

"More than ever," the con man answered without hesitation. "I may still have a book on dyslexia if you would like I could look for it."

Shaking his head, Vin declined not liking the prospect of trying to tackle another book that was probably full of big words he wouldn't understand anyway. Before Ezra could interpret his discomfort he explained, "It's enough for me . . . what ya already said." Grinning slyly again he added, "'sides I wouldn't want ya to have to unpack anymore of them boxes." Vin chuckled at Ezra frown. "I think we both learned a lot tonight."

Ezra shook his head negatively, "Not enough if you want to get caught up for those mid-terms. We'd better get to work."

"I've got another slave driver," came the mumbled reply.

"What Mr. Tanner?"

Blue eyes looked up innocently, "Nothing."

Eyeing the books and his partner's laptop the conman suggested they move to the dining room table so they would have more room.

"Would you like another beer, Mr. Tanner?" He asked as he rose to go into the kitchen. He was pleased at the new brew Vin had found for him.

"Ez," Vin stopped Standish's departure by grabbing his arm and looking at him seriously. "I still want to keep this quiet, okay?"

"Vin, there is nothing to be ashamed of," Ezra tried to reassure the young man.

"Ain't that," Vin waved him off self-consciously. "Just don't want extra help and all the how ya doin' stuff."

The southerner nodded wisely, knowing their group could be a little overwhelming at times. "It shall remain between us," he assured his partner.

"And Ez," Vin stopped him again as he tried to move off once more.

Ezra arched a questioning eyebrow at his partner.

"Iffen ya tell Buck I was drinkin' imported beer, I'll hafta kill ya."

Part 5

Ezra returned to the dining room with their beers and settled into one of the captain's chairs, eyeing his partner speculatively. "You know, Mr. Tanner," He drawled, "I've been giving some thought to the idea of payment for my assistance in your scholarly pursuit."

Scowling, Vin blinked as he deciphered the words. I knew it! This is gonna cost me an arm and a leg.

"I said I'd pay ya Ez."

"Oh no, Mr. Tanner, monetary remuneration was not what I was referring to" Ezra waved his hand negatively. "Rather, I was thinking of another means by which you could satisfy your indebtedness."

Vin's scowl deepened; sure he wasn't going to like this. "And?"

"Oh nothing too painful I assure you," smiling triumphantly Ezra laid out his terms. "For the duration of this joint venture there will be no more practical jokes or other nefarious pranks played upon my person or property."

Eyes blinking rapidly, jaw dropping in shock, Vin stammered, "Ez! Why don't ya just chop off my arm or somethin'?" He was being asked to deny his nature, he might as well be asked to quit breathing.

Ezra's gold tooth gleamed as his grin broadened enjoying his friend's discomfort. Payback's a bitch, Tanner. Noticing his partner's final sigh of resignation, he gave a triumphant two-finger salute.

Wait! Ezra's grin faded. Vin was smiling, the little half smile that appeared whenever his devilish brain was working. Now the con man scowled as the familiar twinkle returned to the mischievous blue eyes. That twinkle defiantly meant Vin was up to something, nothing good, of that he was certain.

"Ok, Ez. I agree, no more pranks on ya." The blue-eyed devil smiled evilly at the perplexed look on the con man's face.

Eyeing the sharpshooter closely, Ezra knew the other shoe was about to drop, "But?"

"Gotcha'!" Flashing a triumphant gleam the young man announced his plan, "Ya can help me. Got somethin' I could really use your help on."

You must be joking! Ezra looked aghast.

"Are ya jokin'?"

"I am certain becoming your partner in nefarious activity will not further ingratiate myself in our esteem leader's opinion." Ezra argued.

"Ez, Chris likes ya' he just has a hard time showing' it. His bark is worse than his bite anyway, don't worry, he won't find out. Ya gonna love it . . .it's wild . . ." Vin assured him.

"It appears to me that you are the one incurring a debt. I do not see where additional services on my part to assist you in your clandestine activities would be fair."

"I can let Chris know who it really was that put that bumper sticker on his truck."

The green eyes grew brighter as his face paled in surprise at the quiet threat. He watched the satisfied half-grin appear and the brown eyebrows wag over the twinkling blue eyes. His fate was sealed.

"Takes one to know one, Ez," Vin gloated.

That damn bumper sticker! That one word that had the blond-haired leader waging war at Buck for over a week. It was the perfect payback against the nefarious ladies man for some disparaging remarks about his wardrobe. A crime he was sure he had succeeded at. Wondering where he had ever gone wrong Ezra quietly resigned himself, "What do you have in mind?"

"I need to get in his office," Vin began eagerly. "Ya' know after that last prank someone pulled on him . . ."

"He changed the lock on his door," groaning the conned agent knew where things were headed.

"Yeah," Vin nodded. "Good one too. A little more time and I could get it, but I figure ya've got more experience."

"Thank you, I think," Ezra wasn't sure whether to be insulted or flattered. The Southerner eyed his new partner in crime a little more warily. He noted that Vin was squirming in his chair, another sign the boy was up to something.

"Is there something else you need to impart, Mr. Tanner?"

A faint blush came over the young man's face and he turned guilty blue eyes up to his partner. "About this deal Ez . . ."

Frowning he wondered if Vin wanted to back out of the agreement. "You do not think we have reached a fair compromise?"

"Ya do realize we just made this agreement tonight . . . right?"

Ezra rubbed a weary hand over his forehead reading the young man's discomfort. "I suppose Monday morning I will be met with some pre-designed catastrophe that has already been set at my expense."

Vin frowned taking a moment to decipher the elegant wording. "Ain't that bad Ez. And it'll show ya what I got planned for Chris ain't somethin' he'll kill ya for."

"He will not be aware of my involvement . . . correct, Mr. Tanner." Ezra's eyes glared with a stern warning.

The shaggy haired head nodded in agreement, "Right, Ez."

Ezra was not mollified as he made note of Vin's continued squirming as he opened his laptop. "Is there something else?"

"No," the negative shake of the head was too quick. "No, that's it."

The innocent look did not go unnoticed by the experienced con man. "Why is it I cannot believe you Mr. Tanner?"

"I was just thinkin' . . ."

"Dangerous to be sure."

Vin rolled his eyes at the sharp come back. "I said," He shot a glare his partner to keep him silent. "I was thinkin' that while ya was helpin' me, ya could help me learn a few more big words?"

Ezra was slightly taken aback by the simple request and wondered why it would cause the sharpshooter so much anxiety to request it. "I believe that can be easily accomplished. Your continued endeavor to complete your higher education should in itself expand your current vocabulary."

The blue eyes blinked several times. "Good." Vin relaxed and opened one of the heavy textbooks.

"I do commend you Mr. Tanner, on your eagerness to improve yourself. You will find a more refined speech pattern will open doors for you."

"Ain't interested in openin' doors or bein' refined."

It was the green eyes turn to blink several times at the sudden disinterest. "What is your intended purpose then?"

Vin grinned, the mischievous side shining through eyes, "To drive Bucklin crazy."

Ezra frowned.

"Ya know how he gets when ya spout all those ten-dollar words around, just wanna throw another burr under his saddle."

Ezra grinned in delight at the simplicity of the plan. He paused thinking this night had been a true learning experience. He took a deep breath and felt the pain break a little more around his heart.

"Hey, Ez?"

Ezra blinked to see Vin offering his hand to shake. Ezra did not hesitate, reaching to grasp his partner's hand. Instead of clasping hands though, the sharpshooter gripped his forearm. Ezra was surprised at the gesture, one the young man usually reserved for Larabee. A symbol of his total friendship and trust.

Ezra was quiet in thought as Vin released the grip to flip through one of the large books looking for his place, not lingering on the shared feelings. The Conman's gaze roamed to the stacks of cartons around the room.

"Mr. Tan . . . Vin?"

Startled blue eyes rose so meet hesitant green ones.

Ezra cleared his throat; "Perhaps you might find time in your busy schedule one day to assist me in unpacking those unsightly cartons?"

"Anytime . . ." the bright blues beamed and then added, ". . . Amigo . .

The End

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