This Was My Life

by Kris

Disclaimer: Not mine... yes I really do know this... it's just I like to keep them busy... the PTB sure don't.
Author's note: The poems were written by K. Mashburn, except the one line written by Rob Thomas (I am all that I'll ever be when you lay your hands on me). Many thanks to Rob for inspiration and many thanks to Sihn for the endless encouragement.
Happy B-day Jesse. This is for you!

Chris Larabee was just passing downtown Denver when his cellphone rang. "Larabee," his gruff morning voice barked into the mouthpiece.

"This is Memorial Medical and we have a deathbed request." A female voice said at the other end of the line.

"Who is it?" Chris didn't even know how to begin to feel.

"We aren't allowed to divulge the name over the phone, sir." The same voice said.

Chris raked his fingers through his hair, "Okay, I'll be there in ten." Chris figured it was a deathbed confession, a perp trying to clear his conscience before dying.

Chris strode through the emergency room doors with purpose. He went directly to the admitting desk, grateful that he wasn't there for his team. When the admitting nurse looked up he announced, "I'm Larabee."

The nurse swallowed slowly, wishing she hadn't drawn the short straw, of course she knew he was Larabee. It was standard policy now that all new hires were trained to recognize every member of the ATF team on sight. They were taught the rules that were bent for them, even how to handle the more aggressive members, though by Meegan's count, they were all aggressive on occasion. They were also taught how important discretion was, as their jobs were life and death most of the time. This new policy has saved problems from escalating out of control.

She took a steadying breath and said, "Mr. Larabee, may we step outside?" Making eye contact and imploring the imposing man to do as she asked without questions.

Sensing her seriousness, Larabee followed her outside.

Meegan looked all about, checking if they were alone before beginning. "Mr. Larabee, the admitting and surgical staffs are now being trained to recognize all members of your team on sight without aid of a name. We have also been instructed to notify you, Mr. Larabee in the safest manor possible." She paused and Larabee would have smiled if worry wasn't pooling in his belly. "Mr. Standish was brought in a couple of hours ago from multiple gunshot wounds. They are considered fatal. He was not admitted under his name, but an assumed one, Eric Salmon."

Chris's mind was caught on that his wounds were considered fatal. My god he couldn't lose one of his team...he just couldn't. Tears formed at the back of his eyes, but he didn't allow them to fall. Instead, he asked of the nurse, "May I see him now?"

She nodded and led him in and through the surgical doors. She handed him a doctor's gown to put on over his clothes and motioned for him to put the stethoscope about his neck. Down a hall, they stopped in front of a door with city cops guarding it. The nurse looked at Mr. Larabee and very slightly shook her head no, and proceeded inside.

Chris' heart clenched sharply at all the tubing and IV's that were attached to the supine figure. He noticed the cop longing in the only chair in the room. The nurse said to the man, "The doctor needs to re-examine him and wants privacy." The cop nodded and walked out. To Chris she said, "I'll wait outside and keep them distracted."

Chris watched her leave, then approached the bed. He picked up Ezra's hand, the only part that didn't have some tube attached to it. Quietly, he spoke into the right ear, "Ezra, what the hell happened?" A lot of his real concern leaked into his voice.

Ezra opened his eyes and attempted a smile at his team leader. "Matter's seemed to go array."

Chris looked seriously into his undercover man's eyes, "What happened?"

In a weak voice and closed eyes, Ezra answered, "One of the city policemen alerted the arms dealer that I was an agent and bullets seem to fly from everywhere."

"Ezra, why were you there? The meet was suppose to be this evening." Chris asked, trying to piece together all the events.

"Phone call this morning, upped the meet. I was there, already in place, I could not place a call out. I did manage an email, but, obviously, it came too late."

Chris nodded, understanding. Then asked gently, "Do you want to see Vin?"

Ezra winced at the name, tears pooling in his eyes, he shook his head clearly to the negative.

Chris nodded again. "The others will want to say goodbye."

"Can't," Ezra's voice rasped out. Chris' eyes locked onto Ezra's as he continued. "The buyers are unaware of today's events, they will show tonight. Can't disclose my name, Eric is the one that need's to die." Ezra swallowed painfully and looked up into Chris' eyes again, "Thanks for everything, ya know." The man that was last to join their ranks tried to smile, but instead his head lolled to the side and the machines began beeping.

Chris stood aside as the resuscitation team raced into the room. He walked outside as the doctor shouted orders. He pulled his cellphone out and dialed.


"Josiah, there is no easy way to say this... shit... Ezra's hurt and not expected to make it." Chris' voice cracked as he stared wordlessly at the phone.

Josiah responded immediately with, "We'll be right there...."

"NO!" Chris practically yelled, "He's undercover and that'll ruin whatever he's got in place."

Josiah was dumbfounded, "We...we can't say goodbye?"

Chris could hear Josiah's voice break, so he gave him something to do. "No matter what Vin's been saying, this will hit him hard. Watch him."

Josiah nodded at the phone, tears running down his face, forgetting that Chris couldn't see him.

Chris knew that Josiah complied and added, "I'll call with news."

JD, ever sensitive to the changing moods of his team members, could feel the fear building in his stomach, "Josiah... what is it?"

The son of a preacher man had no secret to delivering bad news, he took a breath and expelled it slowly. "That was Chris... he's at the hospital... Ezra's hurt and not expected to make it."

A wail broke into the air, it's keener then collapsed in a heap on the floor.

Buck or Nathan were not able to get to him before he fell.

Nathan rushed to Vin's side, forcing his thoughts to be focused on Vin and not Ezra.

JD cried out, "What?! I don't care, we gotta go, Ez can't die... alone... oh god." Tears ran down his face.

Buck was right there to give JD what comfort he could, not wanting to think of the team without Ezra.

Josiah was filled with dread, the team was in jeopardy, but it was the individuals that mattered more. The thought of Ezra dying... that was hard to wrap his thoughts around. For him to pass without the others, that had always been one of Ezra's fears. Josiah suppressed the tears that wanted to fall. He knew that JD was a lot closer to the undercover man than most had realized. Buck would help him through it, but it was a tough loss for one so young. But who'll help Buck, sometimes Buck got lost as he helped the others.

And then, oh lordy, Vin. He may have tried to convince himself that he really didn't care, but after what they heard and saw the other morning, Vin was lying to himself. This would leave a gapping hole in his person, and Josiah wasn't sure that Vin would work through it.

The anthropologist thought ruefully to himself that working with the long dead was a hell of a lot easier than the living.

Vin was vaguely aware that Buck and Nathan were over him, but he didn't care. Ezra dying...Ezra dead... Vin gripped his sides harder and rocked himself, little sounds of anguish coming from him. He let his thoughts drift back three days.

He and Ezra had had range time and both were working hard for the up coming "Law Enforcement Olympics." Afterward, he had gotten Ez to agree to go out behind Chris' property and practice the mile and two mile shots. Vin loved the memory, Ez had taken off his shirt to make sure it wasn't damaged. He had loved the way Ez's chest looked. Muscular, tanned and gleaming with sweat... just the remembrance had him licking his lips. He had watched as Ezra lined his sight and took his shot, only he hadn't watched the shot, only Ezra. Vin figured the longing he felt for his co-worker must of showed in his face, for Ezra blushed. Just the fact that he hadn't turned away in disgust had Vin at his side and pulling him into an embrace and locking his lips in a deep kiss that relayed exactly how he had felt, and what he wanted.

He had then felt Ezra's hand tangle itself in his hair and Vin deepened the kiss further still. Pressing his body close to feel if Ezra was as excited as he. His groin found what it was seeking, the fully erect shaft pressing back against him. Vin knew that he wasn't about to stop, to give Ezra a chance to change his mind, he ran kisses down his throat and nibbled where the shoulder and throat met. The little moans that were escaping, were vibrating against Vin's lips and that excited him more. He ran his tongue all across the bare chest, loving the taste that was Ezra. It matched the smell that he had memorized. The odor alone had left him hard on many occasion.

Vin had loved how Ezra's hand had found it way inside his shirt and played with his nipples. Vin had wanted more, he unzipped Ez's trousers and pulled them and his boxers off in the same move. He had caught his breath at the sight of the engorged cock resting against the chestnut curls. But it was the single drop of fluid the emerged as he watched, that brought the total loss of control. He had to taste and he fully enveloped the long member in his mouth, naturally relaxing his throat muscles to house the entire length. With his nose pressed against Ezra's sacs, Vin sucked and swirled his tongue all along the velvety surface. He held his lover's hips down and he sucked harder and faster. Ezra had been incoherent from the moment of swallowing and only guttural sounds escaped. Vin felt the build up, felt the sacs quiver in readiment of release and sucked all the harder. He swallowed every drop that Ezra released, milking it, leaving nothing behind.

As Ezra came down from his exploding orgasm, Vin shed his own clothes. He started kissing Ez's stomach, sucking at his navel, nipping the muscle lines. He worked his way up to the nipples, where he sucked one and played with the other. It didn't take long for Ezra to begin writhing under Vin's handy work. Vin used his tongue all along his throat to finally capture the tongue. He had then sucked it like he had sucked his cock. He rubbed himself over Ezra, checking if he was hard again. Vin remembered smiling, cause Ez had been harder than the first time. He reached for his pants, rubbing his cock against Ezra's as he grabbed a tube of lotion. He had coated Ezra's erection, and before Ezra could grasp the meaning, Vin impaled himself on the quivering shaft. He hit his prostate and howled at the rightness of the feeling. Ezra had grabbed Vin's shaft and matched Vin's thrusts. Vin fucked himself on Ezra's cock as Ezra pumped his. Just as his orgasm exploded, Vin looked at Ezra and had told him he loved him.

Vin hadn't been sure if they had blacked out or fallen asleep, but the sun was considerably lower when he became aware of it. He untangled himself and began dressing. Ez had awoken and smiled at Vin with a tenderness that Vin had never received before. They had driven back in silence, but the smile had never left Ezra's face. Vin had just dropped him off at his car and had gone on a long drive.

Fear, he had felt fear at the look of tenderness that Ez had given him. He had regretted getting carried away with Ezra and he had to stop it now.

It had been late the next day when the team had realized that Ezra had missed his check in time, but it wasn't til the following morning that they all went to Ezra's condo to look for clues. Vin shuddered as he remembered... Chris had seen the blinking light on the answering machine and pressed it to check the incoming messages. The whole team froze as they heard Vin's voice speak out, "Ezra, Vin here, to get things straight, this afternoon was a one time deal. You are a great lay, but that's all it was. I just wanted to see what you were like... and saying I love you always achieves the goal. Later."

The phone could be heard disconnecting, but the machine was still going... shit... Vin then knew that Ezra had picked up, but never said a thing. So the team was privy to Ezra's reaction. They heard him fall to the floor. A strangled sob was torn from his throat, it was followed by a wail that sounded so forlorn. They heard sobbing for several minutes, then the sound as if a mirror had been broken.

Then they heard Ezra's voice, the self mocking hatred rang from each syllable, "I made the mistake of believing that circumstances in my life had changed. I let my guard down. I should have known better." The tone of the voice changed then, from the one of devastation to one that was cold and hard, "I won't make that mistake again." They heard Ezra stand and walk away, slamming the door on his way out.

The team had stood there, in shock. They looked accusingly at Vin. Vin didn't look up, didn't try to meet their eyes.

JD's cellphone had rung and after he listened, he had said aloud, "Team four spotted Ezra on their surveillance tapes. He's meeting with the buyers."

Four pair of eyes looked at Chris, he just signaled for them to wait outside. Staying were he was, he asked of Vin, "What was all that about?"

Vin had just talked off the top of his head. "I thought I had wanted to go bi. I had sex with Ezra, but, when I was faced of having a relationship with a guy, I knew it wasn't for me."

Chris had turned and looked at Vin, Vin could recall the expression that Chris wore, one he hoped he would never have to see again. It had been a mixture of disappointment, anger and scorn. It was in his voice too. "Vin, I didn't think I'd ever say this about You, but you're a chickenshit. It's not about Ezra being a guy or whether you're straight or bi. You're afraid to lay it on the line with your heart. Ezra touched yours, didn't he?... Hell, you'll take a chance with your life anytime, but nothing with your heart. All the pain I've had and I wouldn't trade a second of it if it meant not having known Sarah.... We all worked for two years to get him to trust us, and in one afternoon you break him. He'll be worse now than the shell he wore when he first came to Denver."

Chris held up his hand to stop anything that Vin might have uttered, "Pard, right now there ain't anything you could say that wouldn't want to make me punch you in the mouth. I'm outta here."

Vin stood there, bereft of words, as he watched his friend slam the door behind him.

Now, Ezra is dying or even dead and he never got to talk to him again. He's gonna die thinking that... Vin could hardly say the words to himself... words he really didn't have the courage to use. He opened his eyes and saw Buck next to him. He knew he had to say it out loud, maybe if it was out in the airwaves, it might make its way to Ezra, he didn't know, he hoped it wasn't too late, "Buck...he's gonna die thinking I don't love him."

From behind Buck, JD commented bitterly, "That's cause that's what you told him."

Vin rocked himself some more, tears squeezed out from eyes that were shut. He whispered so softly that Buck only thought he heard, "I do love him."

Buck looked pityingly at Vin and said gently, "It was him you shoulda told." As Vin began to sob outright, Buck held him close and let the tears cascade down his shirt.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah watched from the surveillance van, the sting operation that Ezra set up was going down. He was grateful for all the work that the undercover agent had put in, for the team was running it by the numbers. But their hearts weren't in it, it was as if each man was just marking time, waiting for the moment they heard of Ezra's passing.

Buck got Vin to participate in the bust as originally arranged, only by promising that they would sneak into the hospital later.

Chris was absent from the operation, he had stayed on the hospital, to be close to Ezra, even if he couldn't stay with him.

Chris Larabee had the hardest time just waiting at the nurse's station. He wanted to be in there with Ezra. They had saved him once tonight, but the alarms at the nurse's console beeped again and the Code Blue team rushed in again to work on their patient.

Chris paced, mimicking the movements of a caged cheetah. Back and forth, back and forth. Mentally fighting himself about entering the room where they were taking care of Ezra. Fifteen minutes later the medical team exited the room with their heads down. The cops on guard left their stations and headed for the elevator.

Chris' heart sank, Ez was gone. He called Josiah.

As he closed the cellphone, Meegan the admitting nurse signaled him over. "I thought you might want a few moments alone with him before we move him out and down to the morgue." She kept her face down cast as she issued the offer.

Tears stung Chris' eyes, "Thank you, I would." His voice was rough with the held back tears. He took a breath and entered his late friend's room.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah took Chris' call and relayed how smooth the bust went down, "Clockwork, just as Ezra had set it up." Then Chris informed him that Eric Salmon was dead. He was staying to sign off on any paperwork.

As Josiah closed his cellphone, Nathan knew the news was bad.

"He's gone, Nathan." Sadness was overwhelming in Josiah's voice.

Buck and Vin entered the van to drop off their mics. Buck looked at the identical expressions of sorrow and cried aloud, ""

Vin turned bleak eyes to Josiah, who had tears falling from his eyes and Vin said hoarsely, "No! No!"

Buck was pissed, "Which fucker, that we arrested, shot Ezra?" He was ready to kill him with his bare hands.

Nathan looked up from the list, his voice dismal, He's not with the bunch we got."

With that news, Vin was already out the door, Buck followed on his heels.

Josiah looked at JD and handed him the address, "Do what you can to keep 'em anchored. We'll follow as soon as we wrap up here."

JD took the slip of paper and jumped out of the van, running to catch up with Vin and Buck.

They arrived at the address and the home looked like a fortress. Buck had suggested that they wait for Josiah and Nate, but Vin was not to be deterred from exacting his revenge.

JD knew they had to arrest the guy, he also knew that Vin just wanted to kill him. If they had more time, Buck would be able to just arrest him, but right at this moment, Buck would cheerfully help Vin string the bastard up. JD slugged Buck in the arm and pointed out to him the surveillance cameras and electrified fence.

Buck in turn showed them to Vin, who dismissed them out of hand. Buck turned to signal JD closer, when he turned back to Vin, he was gone. Buck shook his head until he saw where JD was pointing. He too saw Vin climbing the tree closest to the fence.

JD and Buck, listened and watched for any sign of Vin. JD whipped out his night vision goggles and pointed out to Buck where Vin was. He had made it to the hedge that surrounded the house.

Buck thought to himself, a determined Vin could not be restrained. Vin seemed to almost make himself invisible as he crept closer to the main house.

Josiah and Nathan pulled up, search warrants in hand. Buck stayed to watch the perimeter as the other three went to front gate for admittance.

The flood lights came on, the dogs were chained and the front door opened to admit the officers.

Julio Cervante crept out the back through a hidden exit. Only he hadn't counted on anyone being there. One second he was moving along the dark side of the hedge, the next, he was flat on his back, knife at his jugular.

The arms dealer looked up into dead eyes. He recognized the look. This man would kill, no hesitation, no regret.

In a low, feral voice, Vin told him, "Move a hair and I'll slit your throat. I would prefer that you did move."

Cervante believed him and even tried to slow down his breathing as not to set off the knife.

"You killed him, you mother-fucker, and now I'll kill you."

Cervante closed his eyes as he mumbled a prayer, preparing for death. He was as startled to hear a voice, as was the man holding the knife.

"Ez, would hardly want you to rot in jail over that slime bag." Buck stated calmly into the night.

"He killed him. I want him dead!" Vin growled.

"Hell, so do I. But not at your expense. Vin, there are cameras everywhere. We couldn't talk ourselves outta this one."

Cervante tried to stop his shaking limbs, this wasn't the first time for these men. They had taken revenge before without reprisals. "I confess. I shot the agent five times. The gun is in a hidden compartment under the toaster. The gun is there."

Vin drew the knife slowly against the man's neck, nicking the skin many times along the way. Blood beaded up, but his jugular remained intact. Vin placed his foot on the man's groin and ground his foot as he pressed down. "Cuff him."

"You got it, Pard." Buck roughly turned the perp and placed the cuffs tightly on Ezra's killer.

+ + + + + + +

Two AM and Chris wandered about his place, almost pacing between rooms. Worried for his team, worried he couldn't handle this by himself. He picked up the phone and punched in a series of numbers. He said gruffly into the receiver after it was picked up, "It's Larabee, I need you out here now!"

+ + + + + + +

Chris had the door open as soon as he saw the headlights pull in the driveway. Chris almost smiled as he said, "Thanks for coming. I need you back here."

Nathan followed Chris to the back of his house, not quite sure what Chris needed. He seemed more composed than he'd expected. Chris opened the door and waited for Nathan to enter first. Nathan was sure he, himself, was going to need medical help.

"Chris, how?" Nathan felt a rush of tears. "Oh, god, Ezra." He took in the IV hookup, the monitor beeper, but he was still alive. "Dammit Chris, how could you let us think...."

Chris looked at Nate gently as he broke in, "I didn't know either." Chris walked over to the other side of the bed and brushed Ezra's hair back. "The head nurse and doctor devised this with Ezra. They knew who he was when he was admitted, but they didn't let on. Eric Salmon is dead, but Ezra is still hanging on... thank god."

Nathan could hear the relief in the leader's voice. The team had survived another day. Then anxiously he stated, "We have to let the others know."

Chris held up his hand. "We will, tomorrow they'll come for Ezra's wake. That would be expected ... If you're asked, you came out to give me something so I could sleep. We can't tip the city cops, and it's best if no one in any of the agencies know."

"Better get to Josiah so he don't call Maude. We don't really need her out here anyway." Nathan thought a moment then picked up the phone. A puzzled Chris watched him. "Josiah, Nate here. I need you to come out to Chris' place, I need you to sit with him. I gotta go check on the Kid, Buck's a bit anxious."

A groggy voice answered, "Okay, see ya within thirty minutes. He's got Maude's number, I'll call from there."

"Thanks Josiah." Nathan turned to Chris with a question on his face.

Chris smiled, "Very believable."

Nathan moved his head in the direction of Ezra, "What's his condition?"

"They removed five bullets, but he had his vest on, so they missed the vital organs. He's suffering more from blood loss. The doctor'll check on him tomorrow."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah wept at the sight of Ezra, relief flooded his body, the deadness dissipating. He looked at Chris, "Vin, Buck, JD, they gotta know." Imploring him with his voice.

"They'll be here at nine. Vin's passed out at Buck's. Maybe Ez will be awake for his wake."

Josiah took another breath of relief.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD had to drag Vin to Buck's truck.

"Don't wanna go."

"Ya haveta for Ezra's sake, for the rest of the team. Now git yer ass in there."

JD followed and pushed Vin to the center. Buck climbed behind the wheel. Vin was stuck in the middle. He laid his head back and closed his eyes. He could shut out the light, but he couldn't shut out the images of Ezra surrendering to his touch or in the throes of orgasm. Vin was tormented.

Buck pulled up to Chris' and noted that Nathan and Josiah were already there. They sluggishly climbed out of the vehicle, keeping a hand on Vin so he couldn't split for the barn and the horses. They entered the house and only saw Chris, a calm Chris, something Buck hadn't expected.

"We're gathering in the den at the very back of the house." Pointing down the hall.

The men walked mechanically into the room 'till Buck stopped short. Vin ran into Buck and JD ran into Vin. JD said, "What the..." his voice froze and his mouth fell open at the sight before him.

Ezra in a hospital bed with a heart monitor that claimed that he was still alive.

"Oh Yeah!" JD got out, then with more feeling, "OH YEAH!... EZ."

Buck had already advanced to his side. Vin stared as though he were looking at an illusion. He looked back at Chris, then over to Nathan, as he asked, "...He's not dead?"

Nathan grinned, "Nope. Man's too stubborn to die."

Vin moved up along side Buck and picked up Ezra's hand, his voice almost broke completely, "Oh, god, Ez." Vin stopped as he choked up entirely.

Chris looked at his team and said, "Guess this wake was a success."

+ + + + + + +

JD and Josiah worked on the computers, trying to trace the bad cop. They all took turns sitting with their teammate.

The doctor showed up as a cab driver in the late afternoon. It had been his idea, he was all into the subterfuge. He was pleased with Ezra's condition, changed the IV and the blood drip. "This should be the last blood he'll need. I think he's been hurt so many times, his body just goes into automatic heal." JD was the only one that laughed and the doc said as he shrugged, "Medical humor."

Under his breath, Josiah muttered, "Bout as good as JD's."

The doctor stayed for dinner and departed after checking his patient once more.

Ezra woke on Chris' watch and the pensive team leader grinned at him. "Glad you're still with us."

Ezra tried to speak and switched to swallowing instead. Chris placed a cup of water to his lips and Ezra drank gratefully. "How long?"

"Two days."

"The bust?"

"Went down fine."

"Everyone okay?"

"Everyone is fine now."

Ezra nodded.

"We all thought you died." Chris let the statement stand for it self. The very starkness of his voice conveyed more than he would ever let on.

Ezra sighed and fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

Vin usually stayed with Ez while he was sleeping. He would slip out whenever Ezra would wake. He needed to talk with him, but he didn't want to stress him and Ez had already made it clear, he didn't want to see Vin.

Vin watched and waited as Ezra recovered. Vin thought about Ez, himself, his life and his fears. He'd come to realize that he had to take some kinda chance. The way he'd felt thinking Ezra dead.. well, he couldn't do that again. But Ezra didn't seem inclined to forgive him.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was grumpy, he wanted out of his medical prison. This was the mood Vin found him in. Ezra watched him enter through hooded eyes, then turned his head to the opposite wall.

"Ez, you gotta let me tell you I'm sorry."

No response from Ezra came. No words, no body movement. "Ez, my heart broke when I thought you had died."

"Is there some reason I'm expected to believe that you have a heart?"

"Ez, ...what I said... wasn't what I meant."

"You're words made it quite clear," he paused, then whispered, "I will not open myself up that way again." He closed his eyes and turned his body completely away from Vin.

Vin turned away in defeat and left the room, the house, the ranch, the town.

+ + + + + + +

Two weeks later, Ezra was cleared for light duty. Chris had taken him back to the condo the day before. Chris had been reluctant to let him return home alone, the sparkle had yet to return to the undercover agents persona. Chris was also mulling over the last thing that Ez had confided to him.

He had said to Chris, "I'm not sure that I can remain with the team. This knock may be too much to work along side. It would make the healing process almost impossible."

"Can you give it time? This decision will effect the whole team." Chris asked sincerely.

"Okay, Chris, I'll give it a try."

Now Chris was waiting for Ezra to arrive and he was surprised at how anxious he was feeling about it.

Ezra on the other hand, was just taking it slowly, attempting to reintegrate himself into his own schedule. His first stop was Starbuck's, for his morning must. Needless to say, he was more than surprised when the cashier referred to him by name even before he ordered.

"Oh, Mr. Standish, we have your order ready." She handed the large latte across the counter. Ezra had his billfold out and was in the process of taking out his money, when she interrupted him. "Oh, no Mr. Standish, you tab for a year in advance has been paid." She wore a huge smile.

"And who is the philanthropist?" Ezra inquired.


"Who pre-paid?" He restated.

"Oh, don't know. When we arrived one day last week, your picture, the money and instructions were here. It's such a nice thing." She smiled again.

Ezra pondered it on his way to work. Vin could of done it, but then he'd probably want him to know. The team could have done it, but they'd want him to know too. A pleasant puzzle.

Ezra entered the office amid chatter and noise that stopped as he approached his office. JD was up and across the office before Ezra had drawn a breath.

"Good to see ya back, Ez. You sure look good." JD was bubbly.

Josiah put his hand out to Nathan, palm up. "You owe me, I told ya he'd stop for coffee first." Josiah grinned at Ezra as Nathan pulled out a twenty.

Nathan shook his head, "I was sure that since you'd gone without coffee for so long, you'd skip it."

Ezra grinned at the two men, "Gentlemen, the way I made it through the convalescent period was the countdown of minutes to my first cup of real coffee."

"Well hell, then Ez, you haven't gotten one yet. That stuff there is just fru-fru stuff." Buck then laughed at his own funny.

Ezra just shook his head as he entered his office, studiedly avoiding Vin's eyes, but making brief contact with Chris'.

Ezra made it through the day easier than he expected, but still with the sharp reminder of a love lost. The pain reached deep into his heart. He made his way down to the parking garage with Buck and JD, and they all stopped short at the large red bow on Ezra's Jag. The note attached said that it had been washed and waxed, courtesy of the Spif-N-Shine. Ezra looked at his two companions but they shrugged and shook their heads no, they had no clue.

Bemusidly, Ezra open his car and headed for home.

The next morning when Ezra arrived with his Starbuck's coffee, he found in his office a CD player, playing a new recording of a favorite concerto. Ezra looked for a note and found none. He figured it was Vin, but he didn't look anticipatory or even seem to notice. The only obvious thing that Vin was doing was not being in the room at the same time as himself.

The next day there were croissants and Brie cheese and several pieces of biscotti. Ezra couldn't help but smile, though he didn't say a word to the others or let on that he was pleased. As he left that day he had found his car washed and waxed again.

Ezra went to the office wondering what he would find waiting for him. This morning it was a gravity defying fountain pen with his initials on the cap. He used it with a smile.

The day passed along pleasantly and the team was working on background for an upcoming case. They were going to get together at Inez's but Ezra had begged off. He wasn't going to let himself get caught up in the friendships again, especially as he would probably leave the team. The members needed to work together and trust each other, Ezra wasn't sure he wanted to anymore.

The undercover man had had a bad night and was grumpy this morning. He made eye contact with no one as he closed the door to his office behind him. There was only a piece of paper on his desk today. It was typed, so it gave no clue to the sender, though the words there could possibly. It was a poem.

The boy, now a man Stood alone for so long He grew to fear closeness

He would work along side others But never ask their name He would give his help gladly But never meet their eyes

As years pass he forgot How to open his heart He will die sad and alone

Ezra put the paper down, feeling too much of a connection with the words. Raw work, but it sure could evoke a deep feeling from him. He sighed and placed it inside the top drawer and turned to his computer to begin his work.

+ + + + + + +

Saturday dawned closer to noon for the late night man. He had pondered the words of the poem 'til a movie captured his mind and let him unwind. He walked in his boxers to retrieve the paper off his porch. He was not surprised to find something wrapped inside. "The Magnificent Seven." Ezra smiled as he stepped back inside.

On Sunday, Josiah came by, followed by JD to watch football. They brought the popcorn, Ezra had the beer and the three of them had a laid back day. Ezra checked his email before bed and found a game card waiting for him. A version of Opera Trivial Pursuit. Ezra played 'til the wee hours, and beat the game with a satisfied smirk. Then he traced the card sender and came up with the library files. He traced it back to the patrons terminal. Accessing the video monitor he scanned for the time sent, but didn't see anyone he recognized. The sender of the daily favor was keeping his identity a well kept secret.

Ezra strolled into the office only five minutes behind Buck and JD with his coffee in hand. A record for a Monday morning. Chris alerted them to a meeting in fifteen minutes. All agreed with mumbles and murmurs. Ezra entered his office and couldn't help looking at his desk for the daily offering. It was another poem, along with a German pastry. Taking a bite of the pastry, he read:

A sliver of light You did cast upon me But with intensity so bright I ran for the dark Panic.... I cannot stay

Ezra reread the words and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Vin was the author. He had suspected Vin all along, but he hadn't looked at him all week or checked to see how he had received the 'gifts.'

He joined the others in the conference room. As Chris talk about the upcoming investigation, Ezra found himself thinking on the two poems and the story they were telling. He found himself looking forward to what the next poem would reveal. Ezra wasn't sure how he knew, but he was sure there would be more.

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched Vin, he was up to something, but he wasn't sure what it was. He stayed away from Ezra all last week, which puzzled him frankly. When Vin had come back from his weeks absence, he had seemed determined to speak with Ezra. He had turned the tracker away when he had come out to the ranch, Ez had made it clear, he wouldn't take any visits from him.

Now, he acted like Ezra wasn't even in the building. Gut instinct told him Buck knew what was going on, he'd just have to corner the lover.

Vin could feel Chris' eyes on him, but he couldn't explain to him what he was doing. Chris already thought him cowardly, and this might add to that opinion. He waited for the others to leave before he went down to meet with Buck.

Buck leaned against his truck, legs crossed as he stood there. "Well, Romeo, how goes it?"

Vin looked at Buck puzzled, "Are you sure this is working?"


"Oh, has he said something?" Vin asked excitedly.

"Nope." Buck grinned, "That's how I know it's working." Vin looked puzzled, so Buck added, "He would have spoken out if he were irritated, because he hasn't, he's paying attention."

Vin sighed, he so hoped it was true. All the words he wrote, he meant. He just needed a chance to prove it.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra walked into his office before Josiah and Nathan even arrived. He sipped his coffee as he picked up the paper he knew would be lying there. The words were dark and disturbing.

Let me throw my body on the flame
Scorched and burned into the ground
Below, beneath the beetle walk
The only place I now call home

Ezra worked the day with the words playing about his mind. On his email, before leaving he read another section of the larger poem.

Debase, taunt, ridicule
Scorn, shun, condemn
Degrade, debauch, demean
Instead of you, this should be done to me.

Wednesday found Ezra at the office before Buck and JD, too. He had a need to see what words he'd read today.

I'm bleeding and broken
But never said the words out loud
Emeralds did dare to share
They teased the heart to life
Despite the room, I can hardly move
Good intentions turn to doubt

The undercover agent, the master of the poker face, the man that did not wear his emotions for view, was in his own emotional turmoil. The words were weaving their way inside, his heart was feeling joy, but this could yet be another illusion, and he didn't even know if he could trust himself. He knew he was tempted.

Another prep meeting for the upcoming case, but this one ran into lunch and Chris had ordered sandwiches to be delivered. Buck turned on the radio to catch the last half of the dedication lunch hour. The seven men were spread out about the room, eating, as the final request came over the speakers.

"This goes out to Ezra... Dare to Dream... today's final request by the Greek musician, Yanni." The instrumental music played as the men munch, and no one teased Ezra about it at all.

Chris looked at Buck, but Buck just grinned. Ezra never looked up from his meal and neither did Vin.

Thursday had low morning clouds and made the drive into work difficult, but Ezra still managed to get there just after Chris. As he entered his office his eyes automatically sought out the top of his desk. Another piece of paper, another poem.

Green eyes light my life
Same as stars do the night
Sparkle and twinkle
Your secrets they hold

But I broke the key
To undo that lock
I trampled the light
That showed me the way

I sit lost and forgotten
A crumpled up promise
Just tossed away
This was my life
Until you came

Ezra read the words that softened his heart. The pain reached out to him, but he could remember his pain. He still didn't know. The fear of taking a chance again lashed about his heart like actual tendrils.

He told Chris he needed the afternoon off, Chris just nodded his head, the inner turmoil was almost tangible. Chris knew his own fear, the breakup of the team.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra arrived on Friday morning later than usual, even for the undercover man. Chris took his own breath as he saw the man enter his office. There seemed to be more static in the air, as if something were afoot.

Ezra halted just inside his door, closing it behind him. Eyes riveted to the crème colored paper. He approached it slowly, not even sure he wanted to read it. But his curiosity won out and he picked up what turned out to be very fine stationary.

I am all that I'll ever be
When you lay your hands over me
Don't let the darkness close in
Tell me we can have a chance again

Ezra found himself overwhelmed with emotions. He rested his chin on his fist as he looked out at the city, seeing nothing. This is how Buck found him and hour later. He coughed to get the man's attention.

Ezra looked up at Buck and seemed to pull himself together, "You need something, Mr. Wilmington?"

"No, just thought you should step close to the window."

Something odd in Bucks voice had Ezra's feet moving even before he had decided to join him at the window. Buck pointed out at the sky. An airplane was writing across the sky, and he understood why Buck alerted him. His name was in giant letters across the sky. As he spent the next several minutes watching the pilot, He knew what it would say.

-------Ezra, I love you. Vin------

Ezra went to his desk, rested his head atop folded arms and wept.

+ + + + + + +

Buck realized that it was too quiet in Ezra's office. He also knew that Vin was dying a slow death over there. He got up from his desk and silently entered the office only to find the man in question quietly sobbing into his arms. Buck closed the door behind him before he walked over and stood next to Ezra for a few seconds, then placed his open hand on his shoulder.

Ezra felt the hand and knew it was Buck. Without moving his head he uttered, "I don't know what to do. I am so confused. The pain was so great, but this wooing... I... I..."

Buck squatted down beside his friend. In a voice more serious than most would recognize, Buck questioned, "The pain of the betrayal aside, where do your emotions lie? How do you, Ez, feel for Vin." Buck knew he had the undercover man's attention. "Do you hate him?"

Ezra shook his no, "I tried, but I find I just can't."

Very quietly, Buck asked, "Do you love him?"

There were several seconds of absolute silence, then Ezra forced out, "Yes, if I'm being honest with myself, that's the only answer I can give."

Buck sat himself down, back against Ezra's desk. "Do you want the relationship?"

Ezra lifted his head and shifted so he could look at Buck. When he looked down at his friend, he didn't see the free-loving ladies man. Instead, he saw the caring and passionate man that always lurked below the surface. The man that took the concept of love very serious. "How can I? The pain seared so deep. Buck, I have never loved that deeply, I couldn't take that pain again."

"Ez, pain can be a crippler. It makes moving forward extremely hard. But right now, you have to look deep inside your own heart. Ask yourself a few telling questions, and answer them honestly. Ez... if you've never loved this deeply before, do you want to cast it aside this easily. Wait… wait…" reacting to Ezra's attempt to interrupt. "Pard, I'm not discounting the pain... I'm just asking, do you not try for another shot? The path to true love is usually harder than most are willing to put up with... they settle. Do you want to settle sometime down the road...or do you want to take a chance and see if you can't garner that elusive heart match."

Ezra joined Buck on the floor, weighing all the words that Buck had said. Buck straighten his legs out and gently made direct eye contact with the troubled man.

"When I found Vin on my door step three weeks ago, he looked just like Chris did after he lost Sarah and Adam. That type of pain is hard to look at. He wanted to bust down your door and hog tie you so you'd be forced to listen. But somewhere deep inside, he must of known that was the wrong tactic to use with you, so he ended up at my place. JD doesn't know that Vin came... they're all in the dark about what's been going on... and Chris is eaten alive with curiosity as is JD." Buck paused before continuing, "I suggested that Vin build a foundation to place a relationship. He was scared. I don't think he understood why he was so scared, but he wanted to try... he wanted to earn a shot with you. He wants to take it slow, he wants to date you."

"How'd you get him to not give himself away? He can be very direct at times." Ezra asked as an aside.

"Told him his ONLY chance with you was to curtail his need to know now. Did okay too." Buck looked about the office as Ezra thought his thoughts, trying to come up with a decision.

Ezra thought of his lonely childhood and didn't wish to spend his adult life the same way. But could he trust again? He had cringed when Buck had mentioned settling... how insipid. The Ezra that he exposed to the world might be thought of as being capable of settling, but that real Ezra inside would find it impossible to live with. That really didn't leave him with a lot of options.

"I don't actually know my own capacity to forgive, but I know I must take the chance." Ezra looked up into Buck's brown eyes and asked, "What should I do?"

"Let him take you out to dinner and a movie tonight and then you set the pace from there." Buck hoped that Ezra would go for it. Those two, though unconventional, seemed so destined, it was some intangible feeling he got.

Ezra nodded.

Buck smiled, "Okay. Seven forty five." Buck got up and stretched his legs then walked to the door. Before opening he turned back, "It's a very brave thing, to try again." Buck slipped out the door and closed it behind him.

+ + + + + + +

At seven forty five exactly, Ezra's doorbell rang. Ezra took a deep breath and opened it. He sucked in his breath at the sight he beheld.

Vin's hair glistened. His charcoal gray suit set off the smoke colored shirt. The blue of his eyes matched the blue of his tie. And those so very blue eyes also looked apprehensive.

Ezra smiled in an attempt to put Vin more at ease.

Vin then handed him a single, thornless, lilac rose. "My intentions are honorable. My commitment is strong." Vin took a little breath then.

Ezra took the rose and brought it into the kitchen, where he took down a vase designed for a single flower. He put water in the vase and added a little sugar. "For a longer life."

Vin smiled and then indicated the door. He led him out front where Nathan's SUV was waiting. "Didn't wanna you getting dirty in the jeep." Vin answered Ezra's uplifted brows.

They arrived at the Chart House and Vin had a table reserved in the back. They mostly talked work but it was pleasant and it was done without tension. Afterwards they went to the movies and saw The Patriot. Over coffee, they had an absorbing conversation on the historical accuracies or inaccuracies of the film. They proved and disproved each others points.

Vin dropped him off and asked if they could do dinner and a play the following night. Ezra nodded and Vin said he would pick him up at six. Ezra had offered his vehicle, but Vin had only smiled and told him that he and Nathan had traded for the weekend.

They had an equally pleasant time the following evening. Vin had dressed to the nines again and had produced tickets to "Rent." It provoked another entertaining conversion and Ezra had to admit to himself that he had truly enjoyed his time with the tracker. Vin had again dropped him off without attempting to kiss him. Ezra wasn't sure if were disappointed or not.

Sunday was football and a BBQ at Chris' and Ezra had already agreed to go. It was a relief to Chris, he was beginning to hope that the team would be able to stay together.

Nathan joined them by half time, returning from his weekend with Rain. Buck and Josiah ran enough interference so that no awkward situations would develop, and before dinner Chris suggested a ride and was surprised when no one opposed it. The evening ended without a problem and several members took an extra sigh before their heads hit the pillow.

Over the next couple of weeks, Vin and Ezra attended an art exhibit, an opera, another play and three movies. At the end of the second week, Vin had pulled up in front of Ezra's place and turned off the engine. They were in the middle of a spirited argument and neither were ready to concede. At the conclusion of his point, Ezra turned sharply toward Vin, just as Vin had leaned closer to hiss his answer. Their faces were less than an inch apart, and both men froze. Blue eyes searched green for any hint of discomfort. Finding none, he leaned closer, giving Ezra the opportunity to pull away. But Ezra did not and Vin pressed his lips softly to the lips of the man that held his heart. Desire ran rampart through his body, but he kept it in check, knowing how important it was not to blow it now.

Ezra was surprised and delighted at the touch of the velvet lips against his. He was also surprised at how fast the desire spread, making him forget where they were. Vin didn't though, and broke the kiss before he lost all control. His body hadn't forgotten a single moment of their only time together, the same time he nearly destroyed both their lives. He hoarsely said good night and Ezra could read the lust that rested in the deep blue eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was checking the selection of CDs he was bringing as he waited for the doorbell. Vin had asked him to dress casual and to bring his favorite music. Vin was making dinner for him tonight and this would be the first time they had spent the entire evening alone together since the wooing began. Ezra admonished himself, butterflies, how silly of him to succumb to something so trite.

The bell rang, cutting off all thought. He answered the door with his CD carrier in hand. Vin was in faded blue jeans, the snug ones that Ezra loved so well. He followed the man downstairs and climbed into the jeep.

"Nathan done with it now?" Ezra inquired.

Vin smiled sheepishly, "Yeah, all through." Ezra knew that Nathan was just being a friend.

Vin had prepared Beef Burgundy with broiled new potatoes and broccoli almondine. When Ezra had complemented Vin on the fine meal, Vin's comment had been that Josiah had helped.

Vin was grateful to Ezra for the opening, they couldn't go forward without clearing the past. "They like you. They've all been willing to help."

"They like you too, Vin." Ezra added.

But Vin shook his head, "Ez, not anymore. They all heard what I said. The cruel, horrid words that I threw out to hurt you. Then they ended up hurting you and me completely and losing all my friends." Vin paused and shifted his gaze to rest on Ezra, he didn't take his eyes off him. As he forced the words out, tears formed, leaving his eyes with a sheen. "When I said it was a one night stand... I was trying to convince myself. But I chickened out and placed the blame on you. I don't think I have ever acted more cowardly in my life."

Vin's voice was but a whisper, "I saw tenderness in your eyes that day, and I panicked. Not since my ma, had I ever seen that. I didn't know what to do, so I figured to distance myself, but I was so afraid you'd figure the truth. So I lashed out at you to drive you away. And I did."

Ezra kept the eye contact, he was amazed at all Vin's eyes could reveal.

Then Vin almost lost control of his voice, "Then you died. I died. I didn't know 'til that happened, what to call what I felt. Chris was the first real friendship as an adult that I had formed. There were a few important people as I grew up, but I never said, I loved them. Chris brought me into the team and then the rest of you became friends." Vin stood up and paced as he continued. "But what I felt for you was always mixed up. I never wanted to run my fingers through Buck's hair. I never wanted to rub the ache from Chris' shoulders. But I did when it came to you." Vin shook his head, "I threw it all away, hurt you, I don't deserve another chance, but will you really give me one anyway?" Vin finally sat on the floor, back against the wall opposite from Ezra.

This was the moment that Ezra knew had been coming. Decision time. He had taken Buck's suggestion, looked deep inside, asked those questions. He was going to have to let his heart guide him. "Vin, you truly hurt me. I'm not sure that Maude had ever hurt me to that degree. Love, acceptance, caring, were not the things I was taught as I was growing up. But I do understand fear, and retreat." Ezra paused, collecting his thoughts. "But it was the poems. An in-depth look at a soul. No casual, shallow individual wrote those. I felt the torture. I read and reread each one, a person that can write from the soul and can put every fiber of their heart and body into words is someone I'd give my soul and life for... someone who would be worth the fight to get or keep... so yeah I forgave you.... Just didn't know if I could trust you.... But these last few weeks, I realized that we never knew each other this way before, there hadn't really been any trust built at the time. So I will commit to the fight to keep us together."

Vin felt like his heart was beating a hundred times faster. Hope sprung eternal. Ezra was giving them a chance. He got up and crossed to Ezra and sat next to him. He raised his hand and ever so gently brushed Ezra's cheek with his knuckles. He looked deep into Ezra's eyes, it was like a mine of emeralds, glistening and endless. Hiding nothing in his, he said softly, "Please forgive me, oh Ezra." He leaned down and captured the lips he had been dreaming of.

The kiss started gentle, but as Ezra met Vin's advance with equal ardor, the kiss deepened. Tongues begged for permission to invade and each was granted entrance. Their tongues explored each others depths. Vin captured Ezra's and sucked it deep into his mouth. Ezra moaned and pulled Vin tighter to him. Vin ran his fingers through the chestnut hair before grasping the nap of his neck and running his other hand all across his back.

Vin gently pushed Ezra back against the couch and raised his head, looking deep into the verdant orbs, he needed to check that this was what his beau really wanted. "I'll stop here, if that's what you want." Vin knew it would be difficult, but he was sincere.

Ezra knew in his heart, that he had already made his decision. So in answer to Vin's query, he simply pressed himself closer, allowing Vin to feel the evidence of his arousal. Vin growled his pleasure and pressed his body even closer as he moved Ezra onto his back. He rained little kisses on his face and continued down onto his neck. He worked his tongue from the adam's apple to the ear and back. His fingers began work on the buttons of the fine rayon shirt. The tracker found the waiting nipples and fingered them, rubbed them and brought his tongue down to lavish them with attention. From one side to the other, he showered them until they stood erect and rosy.

Ezra was enflamed and pulled Vin's shirt off and brushed their chests together. Vin took Ezra's lips in a searing kiss and groaned himself as Ezra arched up into him, rubbing their erections together. Vin ran his hand down his lover's chest and cupped his groin and squeezed it lightly. Ezra bucked up uncontrollably into his hand.

Vin wanted to taste and needed to pleasure his heart match overwhelmingly. He undid the trousers as he paid homage to his smooth lips. He caressed his tongue with his lips as he freed the engorged shaft from its confinement. The scent of Ezra's sex assailed his senses and the tracker tracked it down to its source. His tongue left a burning trail of need in its journey downward. He then took a few seconds to breathe in a full breath of the scent, only then when his mouth could delay no longer, he plunged downward, encasing the entire member into his mouth and throat.

Ezra trembled from the sensations of Vin's throat pulsating about his throbbing cock. Ezra tried to rock his hips, but his lover held them tight in his grasp and worked his lips and tongue all about the shaft. Finding sensitive spots that Ezra didn't even know about. His fingers kneaded the tightening sacs, feeling them increase in size. Vin could feel the orgasm building and backed off slightly, wanting to bring him to a higher level of wanting. Ezra moaned his displeasure at absence of the moist cavern he had been housed in, but the groan changed to moans of pleasure as the tongue slurped about the inner thighs and ringed the vibrating hole. Vin's tongue plunged inward, causing Ezra to buck wildly, Vin could feel his lover's desperation for release and replaced his mouth over the quivering shaft, he placed one finger inside and aimed for the hard nub there. He opened his throat and sucked hard as he rubbed the prostrate with the one hand and fingered his sacs with the other. Ezra burned and erupted into Vin's throat and Vin milked both the cock and ball sacs to get every drop of fluid, swallowing it all.

Ezra collapsed back with a smile. He opened his eyes and gazed into the cerulean pools and let his love shine out from them. He then indicated to Vin to remove the rest of his confining clothes. Vin pulled them off and laid them aside. Ezra then spread his legs apart as he pulled Vin back down on top of him. He whispered into his lover's ear, "Take me. I am yours."

Vin checked the loving eyes looking at him and Ezra spread himself even more. Vin couldn't resist the invitation, understanding all the implications that went along with it. But Vin was done running and he was done hiding from himself. Fate had shined on him this time and he wouldn't blow it. He made a vow to himself and communicated that vow to Ezra, he was there for the long haul. The two of them had this second chance at love, and neither would forget the road it took to get here. Just before he plunged into the virgin hole, he looked into the eyes of his heart match, and whispered, "Your heart is safe with me. I love you."


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