by Leanne Grant
"No," Ezra shook his head firmly. Vin blinked at the harsh negative. Looking around quickly he could see the others were equally shocked.
Chris, too surprised to be angry, asked quite calmly, "Ezra did you hear me? This assignment's made for you. The target is a keen rider and he specialised in the Old West at university, all of which ties in nicely with your love of ghost towns. You could even take Chaucer with you. And you're saying you won't take it?"
"Precisely Mr Larabee."
Vin could see Chris keeping a hold of his temper with an effort. The infamous glare was fixed on Ezra as their leader demanded, "Why?"
There was a scrape of chairs as Team Seven leant forwards. Ezra pushed his chair back and smiled his blankest smile. "I have no desire to take it."
Vin anxiously turned to him but his quiet question was drowned out by Chris' angry roar. "What the hell does that mean?" He jumped to his feet to better glower down at his man.
Ezra gently but firmly disentangled his hand from Vin's and also got to his feet.
"I informed you Mr Larabee, I am not accepting this assignment."
"Give me one decent reason why not."
"I am not going to do it."
"That ain't good enough, Standish."
Ezra just glowered back. Vin glanced about frantically for someone to stop the standoff. They all looked stunned at this unexpected blow-up. Buck's jaw hung open slightly, JD was pale, Nathan stared and Josiah appeared to be praying. Finding no help Vin began to stand so he could try and intervene.
"Stay out of this Tanner," yelled Chris. Vin sank back in his seat, not wanting to make things worse. Ezra appeared braced by Vin's aborted move. He folded his arms, moved his feet so he stood more solidly and raised his chin as the wave of Chris' anger broke over him.
Chris dissected Ezra's character for five long minutes. Unable to leave the others guiltily stared at the floor, only looking up as Chris wound down.
"...regardless of your belief, Agent Standish, I am in charge here and you will go."
Ezra, pale but unmoved, smirked. Rapidly removing his badge and gun he tossed them on the table. With a sharp nod he turned on his heel and stalked from the room. The door slammed behind him.
Chris gave a howl of pure frustration and punched the conference table. "That damned man would drive a saint to murder."
Vin pushed himself to his feet and began to pull on his jacket.
"Tanner." Vin looked enquiringly at Chris but didn't stop moving. Chris took a calming breath and continued, "Cowboy." Chris scooped up Ezra's badge and gun and held them out to him. "Make him talk, Vin."
Vin smiled at the items in Chris' hands but didn't take them. Instead he produced his own badge and gun and placed them carefully on the table.
"Maybe you'd better keep 'em for a bit, Chris."
Chris sighed but picked them up, "They'll be waiting."
"Thanks Cowboy." Vin bobbed his head and then strode away without looking back. Chris sank down in his chair, running both hands through his hair.
Vin had driven to Ezra's condo as fast as he could. He was achingly concerned about his lover. He had no idea why Ezra had reacted the way he had; Ezra might whinge and moan and complain but he never flat out refused a direct order. And he would never just up and quit Team Seven. He held his breath as he opened the door. He thought Ezra would be here but he'd been caught flat-footed by Ezra's actions and no longer felt sure of anything.
Entering, he almost choked on the air rushing back into his lungs. Ezra was curled into a small ball on the sofa. Vin slipped off his boots and padded over. Ezra painfully lifted his head from his knees. His face was a mask but his eyes were red. White teeth bit down on the soft lower lip as he looked up at Vin.
"Sorry," he whispered. Vin swallowed hard at his lover's distress.
"Ain't nothing to be sorry for." He joined Ezra on the sofa tugging until he rested against him. Ezra made a soft sound and buried his head in Vin's neck. Wriggling, he shifted so that he lay against the back of the sofa with Vin covering him. Vin kept one arm tightly around Ezra's waist. With the other he reached up to pet the dark hair.
Ezra's voice was muffled by his shoulder. "Sorry Vin."
Vin moved his hand beneath Ezra's chin and forced the watery green eyes to look at him.
"It is all right, baby. More than all right. You never have ta to do anything ya feel this badly about. I won't let ya. Now you going ta tell me why we handed in our guns?"
"You? You resigned? Vin! I never meant... I'm sorry. Maybe Chris..."
"Chris'll keep his mouth shut if he knows what's good for him. And of course I followed ya. You ain't alone no more, Ez, an' ain't never going to be again. Now please tell me what's wrong?"
Ezra blinked rapidly and hid his face in the crook of Vin's neck.
"Sssh," hushed Vin, stroking the sleek head.
Ezra gulped a breath of air. "The FBI never knew I could ride. Didn't tell 'em."
Vin hummed encouragingly and held him closer.
"They used everything else; my languages, my education, sex, everything. My love of art, my skill at the piano, even my fondness for fine dining. Everything tainted."
"But they never knew I liked riding, never told anyone."
There was a strangled choke that could have been a laugh. "Nobody knew. So I never used riding, never betrayed anyone with it. It was always mine alone."
"You told me."
"Yes and now it's ours. And the rest of team too. I can't taint that as well Vin, I just can't. Riding's what we do together. It's the only thing about me that's pure."
"Oh Ez that ain't true."
Ezra looked up, his green eyes filled with pain. "It is true. The only part of me I didn't hock. The one bit of my soul I can give just you."
"Ez, I do understand what you mean." And Vin did. He loved riding with Ezra, when they left everything behind and were just together. Ezra was never so unguarded as when exploring on horseback, his green eyes alight with pleasure. Vin even loved Ezra's complaints if they camped out overnight, though he'd never admit that out loud.
"I understand but you're wrong, Ez. I have you. I have you without the guards and defences, well most of them, ain't nobody ever had that. I love you, Ezra P Standish, and you are the best and purest thing in my life."
Ezra blushed and tried to pull away. Vin tugged him back and continued, "But I do understand and I will make sure Chris does too. Never force you into anything. Love ya Ez, always." Vin kissed the salty cheeks.
Ezra sighed. "Love you Vin."
"Know you do. Now let's get you into bed."
"Bed. No point leaving in the middle of the day, if we don't take advantage of it." Vin kept his face as innocent as he could. Ezra's eyes lit with laughter.
"God there's nobody like you Vin. Never loved anybody like I love you." Ezra scattered little kisses over Vin's face. Vin smiled and sat up. Gently he drew Ezra into the bedroom. Ezra clung to him, crooning devotion, as he carefully stripped him and urged him into bed.
Vin tried to straighten up but Ezra wouldn't release him.
"Come on Ez. I need to call Chris."
Ezra pouted. Vin kissed him.
"Have ta get undressed." Gently he pried the clutching fingers from his shoulders. He tucked the blankets round his lover and resisted the urge to kiss the sulky look from his face. "Back in a minute love."
He headed for his phone and was soon greeted with a snapped, "Larabee."
"Cowboy, it's Vin."
"He ain't doing it."
"I need something that's close to a reason, Cowboy." The frustration and sarcasm were thick. Vin winced.
"Riding is something he does with me... us. It ain't gonna be 'tainted' with undercover work."
Silence, then more softly, "I didn't realise it was that bad. I'll see what I can do."
"He'll be fine but he's not taking this assignment." Vin didn't say it but Chris had to know they wouldn't be coming back unless things were sorted.
"I'll call you."
Vin turned off the phone and walked into the bedroom. He couldn't help smiling. Ezra was curled into a huddle under the blankets, fast asleep.
Vin switched the phone to vibrate and tucked it under the pillow. He quickly stripped off and slipped into bed beside his love. Ezra mumbled and moved into his arms without waking up. Vin's heart felt so tender at that gesture it was almost painful.
"Oh Ezra." He pressed his head close into Ezra's neck and breathed deeply, relishing the scent. Petting the broad back beneath his fingers, he settled down to wait.
He was almost asleep when the phone buzzed beneath his ear. He eased away from Ezra and sat up.
"Cowboy, I told the Judge we weren't taking the case."
"And he accepted that?"
"It was that or we'd all walk."
"We are a team, Vin. I think you and Ezra need to remember that on occasion."
"Yeah, sorry." A pause, then Vin couldn't help asking, "Everybody?"
"Everybody. I explained what you told me. I think JD would have taken the Judge on himself."
Vin laughed. He hated himself for asking the next question but he had to know, "Nathan?"
"Nathan." He could hear Chris smile, "Nathan was real interesting. Ezra's poker face has always worked too well with Nathan. Soon as he realised Ez is affected by going undercover he couldn't do enough. Which reminds me I talked him out of setting up a therapist's appointment, so Ez owes me one."
"He sure does. What'd the Judge say."
"We have to do the schools liaison this year. So you owe us all."
Chris laughed, "You coming back to work?"
Vin looked down at Ezra who was blinking sleepily. "Nope, not today," he said, turning the phone off and tossing it across the room before Chris could respond.
"What did he say?" asked Ezra, his voice husky.
"And you owe Chris for not letting Nathan call a therapist."
"But we have the afternoon off."
"Ah now that sounds interesting." Ezra slid up so he straddled Vin's lap. Vin looked at him with serious eyes. "What?" asked Ezra.
"They were all prepared to walk, you know."
Ezra looked shaken, "Really?"
"Uh-huh, you matter to us, baby."
"If you're willing to take schools liaison..." Ezra trailed off, still looking stunned.
"Now that's a sight only I get to see. Ezra Standish speechless."
Ezra growled at him. Vin sniggered, moving so he lay back against the bed.
"Come on, Ez, our afternoon off is wasting."
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