by Leanne Grant
Vin lay on the crisp hospital sheets as straight and stiff as a corpse. Ezra glared at the sight and then switched his glare to Chris.
"Mr Larabee, this is not acceptable."
"Mr Tanner needs to be aware of our presence if he is to respond."
"Ezra, he gets distressed if I go in there."
"The doctors are doing their best. He just ain't responding. They reckon Vin should be left a week for his brain to strengthen before I try again."
"And maybe he just become further trapped in unconsciousness."
Nathan visibly stopped himself from saying anything. Chris glared, "Ezra. I know you don't like this. Do you think I do? The doctors are doing their damnedest."
"At least let us each attempt to rouse him."
Buck stepped forwards, "Pard, don't think each and everyone of us doesn't want to be in there with Vin but we cant. Doc says even Chris makes him worse. We have to give it a week."
"It isn't good enough. Chris..."
"Don't start with me Ezra."
"You are gonna stay OUT of his room."
Ezra took a deep breath and glanced about. The remaining members of Team Seven watched him sadly. Behind them stood four security guards, waiting to see if they had to remove the stubborn southern by force.
Josiah stepped forwards and laid a hand on Ezra's shoulder.
"Son, don't fight this, think of Vin."
Ezra drew back sharply and his poker face freezing into place.
"I need a drink." He turned on his heel and stalked away. Chris took a step to follow him and then stopped.
"I'll end up punching the bastard. Buck go after him."
"You alright Chris?"
Chris sighed as he turned to look at the unconscious body of his sniper. He ran a tired hand through his blond hair. "Ask me in a week, Buck."
Buck shook his head. "See you at Inez's?"
"Sure Buck, we'll be there," promised JD.
Buck turned to hurry off after their black sheep. He glanced back at the slumped figures of the rest of his team. How had it all gone so wrong so fast?
Ezra tossed back a second shot of whiskey, relishing the burn. This was wrong, all wrong. His Vin should not be lying trapped in hospital he should be safe in Ezra's bed. Like the morning of that goddamn bust four, Lord was it only four, days ago. It felt like a lifetime.
That morning they'd snuggled together under the covers. The world shut out so that only he and Vin existed. Vin's long, lean legs were tangled with his own, strong hands traced patterns across his back, his own fingers were wrapped in Vin's silky hair. They had exchanged long, wet, drugging kisses as time ticked away.
Ezra smiled at the memory. Being with Vin had taught him the pleasure of early mornings. Just as he had taught Vin the pleasure of early mornings in bed.
Eventually of course they had to leave their haven. Vin had persuaded him into the shower even if it did take way over twice as long when they washed together.
Ezra sipped at his next whiskey. Short bitter sips as the memories exploded like starbursts across his mind.
Vin's strong arms holding him close. Vin's clever, calloused hands scorching across his skin, stoking a fire that burned the world away.
Vin's eyes wide and indigo dark with passion. His soft frantic cry as his climax overwhelmed him. Then supporting his trembling body as he burrowed his head into the crook of Ezra's neck.
Vin's whispered, "See ya later," as he went to join the rest of Team Seven. The bust itself, where the reassuring crack of Vin's sniper rifle told him he wasn't alone.
And finally, damnably, Vin's long limbed body tumbling through the air to land crumpled on the floor.
It had been supposed to be an easy bust. Like licking butter off a knife. But the bastards had had grenades. The explosions had kept back up out the picture. He had tried to even the odds, seizing the box of grenades and diving for cover, trusting Vin to keep him safe. To do so Vin had to dangle dangerously from his sniper position. Ezra had been forced down as the final grenades were thrown after him. Cautiously lifting his head he had been terrified to see the blast of air and noise had sent Vin flying. He had crashed down onto a heap of boxes. The boxes broke his fall and he should have suffered no permanent damage, if he would just wake up.
Ezra reached out for another shot. His fingers itched for Vin. More than anything Ezra just needed to touch Vin. To feel warm skin under his fingertips, to reassure himself that Vin had survived that god- awful fall. He looked so pale, so still... so dead. If he could just get into his room he knew he could wake Vin up. Vin never denied him anything; he would wake up for him.
He drank down another shot and nodded with decision. They were not going to keep him from Vin any longer, he couldn't stand it. He needed Vin so badly. He wasn't going to leave Vin trapped away from him in that goddamn hospital. He smiled to himself, all he needed was a plan.
Buck sat silently by the undercover agent, watching him cautiously. He wished Ezra would lay off but he supposed he was feeling guilty. Buck winced, wondering if he would ever forget Ezra's scream as Vin hit the floor. Vin had undoubtedly saved his life but the price looked to be painfully high.
"It's Ez-RA, Mr Wilmington."
"Ezra," Buck was determined not to allow the bolshy southerner to start an argument, "Ezra, Vin wouldn't want..."
"Please, Mr Wilmington, if we are to use obscurity to solve the difficulties occurring from Mr Tanner's reluctance to arise, let us, at least, refrain from all mentions of his person."
Buck cringed at the tangle of words in the thick, clipped Southern drawl; Ez weren't feeling good at all. After rapidly thinking it over Buck decided to accept Ezra's refusal to discuss Vin. Maybe it would allow them to avoid arguments and break through the tension of the last few days.
"So," he began, "How'd the write-up go?" Josiah, Nathan, JD and Ezra had, protesting violently, been sent into work to attend to the essential paperwork while Buck had stayed with Chris as they waited anxiously for Vin to wake up. "Ez?" asked Buck as he was ignored. Ezra's head snapped round and just for a second Buck thought he saw death in those eyes. Then it was gone and Ezra tossed his head back with a mirthless chuckle.
"Everything is satisfactorily concluded. Judge Travis has kindly provided us with some research to be getting on with... Inez dear, another whiskey and a beer, Mr Wilmington?"
"I'll have a beer, oh and make that a whiskey as well. You buying Ezra?"
The remaining members of team seven turned up when they were on the second beer. They were all so pleased that Buck had managed to get Ezra into a more reasonable frame of mind that they happily accepted his hiccuped invitation to join them. Good sense was rapidly abandoned as they drowned the sorrows and frustrations of the last four days.
It was very late when Inez finally approached Merrick of team five.
"I think it's about time they should be getting home."
Merrick nodded, "We'll handle it ma'am." Inez had called the ATF when team seven had moved onto their second bottle of whiskey. Merrick and his team had shown up to act as watchdogs. Team seven was faced with losing one of their own and they would protect them as best they could.
Merrick approached the table in the back corner carefully. It had been a loud evening but, even with all the alcohol, they never reached real laughter. Surprisingly Standish appeared to be the most sober of the lot. He smiled at the men creeping closer.
"Is it time to be gone genl-entl- sirs?"
"Yeah, Standish, time to go."
Merrick nodded to his team and they began to haul bodies. Sanchez was just staring straight ahead and responded like sleepwalker to tugs on his arm. Jackson was glad to stumble away from Wilmington who was telling him about the time he met up with triplets in excruciating detail. They found Dunne when they tried to move Standish, he had slipped under the table and passed out clutching at Standish's legs. Eventually only Larabee was left slumped over the table head resting on his folded arms. Merrick saw the last of his guys leave with a cheery wave. He sighed,
"Thanks a lot, you shiftless cowards." He shook Larabee's shoulder and then leapt back out of range. Larabee simply rolled sideways. Drawing in a steadying breath he hauled Larabee to his feet and pulled one arm over his shoulder. It was always surprising when you got close to him how small Larabee was in comparison to one's mental image of the man. Although Merrick was glad to find moving him easier than expected it was almost sad to see that fierce will and crackling authority reduced to this, god he hoped Tanner pulled through.
Ezra parked the hired car around the back of the hospital. He had waited one anxious hour after he had been dropped at his condo. Having begun dumping his drinks almost as soon as the others arrived and was now perfectly sober. Larabee and the rest would be out of it for the next hour or two at least. He hoped they all had hangovers from hell. They deserved them for keeping him from his Vin. Why couldn't Larabee have just let him sit with Vin? To have to go into work and leave him had been agony. He had thought of confessing they were lovers but what if the team reacted badly? Or didn't believe him? Or worse believed him and still wouldn't let him in Vin's room?
No, this was for the best. And the team deserved their aching heads and sick stomachs. Even they would agree it was worth it when Vin woke up. It would all be worth it when Vin woke up. Humming to himself Ezra went on with the plan.
Leaning over he pulled his kit bag from the back seat. Grinning he drew out a long white lab coat he had 'borrowed' from Nathan ages ago. He pulled a pair of plain glass spectacles from its front pocket. He put them on and checked his appearance in the mirror.
"Very distinguished." He took a tube of hair gel and slicked his hair to his scalp in a side parting. He took an identity card from his bag. He compared its picture to his image for a moment. Concentrating he shifted his lips into a calm smile and pulled the glasses a little further down his nose. Satisfied he grinned at himself before dropping back into the pose of, he looked at the card to check, Dr Lorenzo Patterson.
Dr Lorenzo Patterson climbed out of his car, pulled on the lab coat and picked up a clipboard and pen. Ferreting through his bag he pulled out cigarettes and a box of matches to give him an excuse for being outside. Tossing the bag inside he slammed the car door shut. He stood for a long moment, slowly counting to ten. Then he lit a cigarette and, puffing casually, strolled towards the hospital.
Chris Larabee groaned out loud as the shrill ring of the mobile phone penetrated his clouded brain.
"Mr Larabee? This is Mercy General."
"Yes." Chris sat up. Pain jarred through his skull to settle just between his eyes.
"I'm afraid we have lost Mr Vin Tanner."
"Lost," he gasped. A worse pain cut jagged tracks through his heart.
"Oh no, I beg your pardon. We have, uh, mislaid, Mr Tanner."
"What?" Raw fury pounded through him, thankfully washing away the pain.
"Um, he was removed from our care by a Dr Patterson, uh, the nurse said it was a bi-lateral transfer, but we have no record of the transaction. In fact it isn't a recognised transaction."
Successive shocks had cleared Chris' head significantly.
"Could you describe this doctor?"
"Um, yes. About five eight, well spoken, the nurse said he was quite charming. Brown hair, green eyes..."
Chris had a sinking feeling, "He have a Southern accent?"
"Yes, did you arrange...?"
"No, but I know who it is. Look I need you to keep this quiet."
"Oh no problem, sir."
Of course the hospital wouldn't want to admit people could just waltz off with its patients. "Good, you do that and I will deal with this."
Chris immediately redialed. A groggy voice answered.
"Shut up Buck. We got trouble."
Ezra tucked Vin's limp body into the passenger seat of the hire car. He shut the door and hurried round and climbed into the driver's seat. Carefully he pulled on the belt and clicked into place. He tugged off his jacket and folded it to act as a pillow. He placed it gently behind Vin's head to act as support. He paused for a moment caught by his first unobstructed view of his beloved's face in days. The face was too pale, beneath the tan it looked almost yellow. Dark shadows couldn't hide the lack of expression. The beautiful, sky blue, eyes were hidden and the mouth hung slack. Ezra reached out and traced the brow line with one delicate finger.
He rested his cheek against Vin's mouth, revelling in the soft, humid aspirations. Vin was too limp and too still but he was warm and alive. Ezra wrapped his right arm around Vin's waist, treasuring the soothing rise and fall of his chest. Reaching up he tenderly cupped the stubbled cheek.
A siren shrieked in the distance. Ezra jumped and shook himself. With reluctance he tore his gaze from the treasured countenance. He wasn't safe yet. He had to get Vin hidden before they took him away again. He smiled tightly and shook his head.
"Never happen," he vowed. He squeezed Vin's hand. "Soon be out of here darlin'."
He flicked the ignition on and smoothly pulled away, smiling slightly. He could escape from hospital drugged out of his mind; getting Vin out had been easy.
"I know you wouldn't have wanted to stay in that virtual morgue any longer than necessary, darlin'. Just give me a moment and we will find much more suitable accommodation."
Ezra nodded to himself. Everything would be fine now Vin was by his side again. He turned to grin at his unknowing passenger.
"Don't you worry about a thing Vin. Everything is going to be just fine. Trust me."
Buck and JD leapt out the truck and hurried up to Ezra's condo. Buck was cursing softly.
"I shoulda known, I shoulda known. The little bastard is just too damn slippery."
"But why? Why'd he steal Vin outta hospital?"
"You gotta remember kid that old Ez hates hospitals, an' he knows Vin does too. I guess he just thought it was best. He's been acting antsy since Vin fell."
"But don't he want Vin to get better?"
"Ezra ain't thinking straight at the moment, guilt's sending him screwy." Buck banged on the door. "Ez? Ez, you in there pard?"
There was no answer. Buck cursed and hunted out the spare set of keys. Buck and JD cautiously entered. Dead, still silence greeted them. A quick check confirmed the apartment was unoccupied. Buck began a more through search of the living room while JD looked through the bedroom.
"Hey Buck, Vin's long jacket's here."
"Is it." Buck came through to see for himself. "So it is and those are his boots. And - hang on a sec, I can't believe Ezra owns this many sets of jeans." Buck pulled a pair of the rack and held them up against JD for length.
"They must be Vin's," said JD, "Why's Vin got all these clothes here?"
Buck was beginning to get anxious. He moved towards the bed and opened the drawer on the bedside table. Half a dozen plain tubes of lube and some assorted flavours greeted him.
"What Buck? What's the matter?"
Buck headed into the bathroom. A quick check in the cupboard below the sink confirmed his suspicion.
"Buck?" JD demanded loudly.
"Kid, I think, I think Ezra and Vin were having an affair."
Ezra lifted Vin onto the bed, thankful he had had the forethought to buy a decent mattress and comforter.
Strangely, since meeting his sharpshooter, beds were rather high on his priority list. Vin, of course, wasn't bothered by such considerations, preferring the great outdoors as a trysting place. He usually humoured Ezra by bringing along a blanket, usually. Ezra smiled at the memory of Vin pouncing on him in the woods behind Chris' place. His crazy love had wrestled him to the ground and taken him right there. Ezra felt his body tighten with remembered passion. Then he laughed softly, they had certainly startled their horses. He had come out of his haze to hear Chaucer's protesting nicker and Vin's curses, as the stubborn animal tugged at the long hair.
Remembering made Ezra smile but it faded when he looked at his Vin. He had removed the intrusive tubes and wires but Vin remained too still and stiff. His graceful cat of a man would never lie so stilted. Ezra gently ran his hands across Vin's chest, massaging the muscles gently.
"C'mon Vin, wake up for me now."
He made his way into the small bathroom. He regretted the lack of an actual bath but this was Vin's favourite of his hideouts. They had chosen it together and sometimes, on a rare weekend off, abandoned their mobiles to spend a weekend tucked away from the world. Ezra had been giving serious thought to renovating the place but that would spoil its function as a bolthole.
He filled a bowl with warm water and pine scented bath oil and returned to Vin's side. He tucked a fluffy towel beneath him and laid another to one side. He dipped a wash cloth in the water and checked the temperature against his wrist. Humming gently, he drew the soft cloth across Vin's chest, rinsing away the harsh scent of the hospital.
He paid tender attention to every inch of Vin's skin, drying and kneading the stiff muscles beneath his fingers as he went. Finally reaching the long narrow-arched feet he pressed a kiss to each one. Lord, even Vin's feet were beautiful.
He returned to the bathroom to change the water. Propping Vin up with pillows he began to wash Vin's hair. He loved running his fingers through the long locks. Vin just said his hair was brown but it wasn't really. In the sunlight it shone a thousand different shades of bronze. Ezra wrapped a strand around his fingers and lifted it so could kiss it. He had made Vin promise never to cut his hair.
Ezra bit his lip as looked down the face so stubbornly remaining slack and still. He pushed himself swiftly to his feet. For some reason his throat felt raw and he could feel pressure building behind the bridge of his nose, making his eyes water.
After Buck dropped his bombshell Chris drove directly for Purgatorio. Josiah and Nathan met him there.
"Find anything at the hospital?" Chris demanded. Josiah shrugged his shoulders.
"It was definitely that damn fool Southerner. What the hell is he thinking," sputtered Nathan.
"Buck," Chris faltered, "Buck thinks Vin and Ezra were having an affair."
"What?" demanded Nathan. Josiah just nodded. He blamed himself for not noticing how desperate Ezra was becoming. "What the hell makes Buck think that?" Nathan continued.
"There's a wardrobe full of Vin's clothes and Buck said they have 'supplies'."
"Oh," said Nathan. Buck and JD pulled up.
"You tell 'em?" asked Buck.
"Yep he told us. You sure there ain't some other explanation?"
"Let's just go in." Chris didn't want an argument out here.
Inside they all headed for Vin's bedroom. There was incontrovertible proof. In one corner stood a neat MFI clothes rail with six of Ezra's suits and shirts hanging in dust covers. A selection of well- polished shoes stood beneath them.
"Oh," said Nathan. "I guess that confirms it." Buck checked the bedside table,
"Yep I'd say so. Jesus but this is gonna get ugly."
"But why'd Ezra steal Vin?" JD still didn't understand. If Ezra and Vin were together surely Ez would want Vin to get well even faster?
"You have to remember brother Dunne that we wouldn't let Ezra in to see him." Josiah was beginning to feel very guilty. "Instead he was banished to write reports."
"Damn if I'd have known," Chris shook his head.
"Why didn't he just tell us?" snapped Nathan.
"For whatever reason they didn't tell us in the first place," offered Buck helplessly. "I shouldha noticed Ez weren't acting right. But I just wished he'd stop acting up an' agitating Chris.
"I thought it was guilt," admitted Josiah.
"We have to find him, them. I mean..." JD trailed off.
Chris straightened and took charge, "Nathan how long will Vin survive away from hospital?"
"Assuming Ezra don't do anything too stupid, it will be about two days before dehydration becomes a serious problem. Longer than three and we're cutting it mighty close."
"I don't think Ezra has that long," said Josiah. As Nathan worried about Vin's physical health, Josiah was concerned about Ezra's mental state. "He's being feeling frustrated and trapped and now he's been backed into a corner. Ezra's paranoid at the best of times."
Chris took a deep breath. "Okay. If this gets out Ez, for sure, will be finished as an agent. Josiah you head back to Ezra's and start asking questions. Buck, Nathan, you stay here. JD'll come back to the office with me. We'll give it twenty-four hours, if we can't find them by then, we'll call in the hounds."
Ezra laid the hair dryer to one side. Vin teased him about owning it but, on occasion, it did come in handy. He smoothed Vin's hair back across the pillow. His love seemed to be more relaxed and he was breathing easier.
Ezra kicked off his shoes and crawled onto the bed. Sitting with his back resting against the pillows and legs stretched out in front of him he pulled Vin onto his lap so that Vin's head rested against his chest. He pulled the comforter over them, tucking it in carefully. Satisfied that Vin was warm and safe, he relaxed. Brushing his cheek against Vin's hair, he breathed deeply. At least Vin smelled like himself now, instead of antiseptic.
The awkward tightness in his throat was back. He sniffed and clutched Vin closer too him.
"Oh Vin, I thought it would be okay if I could just see you, touch you, but it just hurts worse. Please Vin, open those beautiful blue eyes for me. C'mon darlin' I can't do this on my own."
He rolled Vin's head so he could look at the beloved face. Tremulously, he petted the slack cheek and traced the line of the jaw. He followed the same path with his mouth, finally stopping to press a tender kiss to the soft lips.
JD was cursing over the computer when the others returned to the office. Chris shot out of his office.
Buck and Nathan shook their heads.
"Nothing Chris," Nathan glowered.
"We got the barrio stare," explained Buck, "They don't know nuthin and they ain't gonna tell us nuthin either. I think Ez must have been by while Vin was in hospital because they didn't look surprised when we said he was hurt."
"Told the fools Ezra was only gonna make Vin worse. That was one thing that got us a reaction. The kids all glared and one of the woman said we were worse than idiots if we thought Senor Standish would do anything to hurt Vin." Nathan was still steamed up. He wasn't used to being considered one of the oppressors.
"Things started getting vicious then. Dragged Nate out before we got lynched."
"Damn." Chris ran one agitated hand through his hair. "The pair of them must be serious then. Those people love Vin. Josiah did you get anywhere?"
The big man shook his head sadly, "They all know about Ezra and Vin though. There was a lot of crashing and shouting two nights ago. Heard Ez screaming for Vin."
Buck clutched at the back of his neck. "Why the hell didn't them boys just tell us."
"Yeah," seconded JD looking hurt, "We ain't homophobic. Vin an' Ez are our friends. Aren't they?"
"Course they are JD," assured Buck.
"Those two wouldn't tell their own selves the time of day," snarled Nathan.
"They'd both want to tell Chris first, brother, but he's their boss, they'd be worried about being spilt up."
That made Chris feel better, to think it wasn't personal. He hated to feel he'd failed his friends. The thought of Ezra and what he must have suffered to lose control like that. And Vin stuck in a coma without medical care.
"Shit, we have to find them."
Somewhere deep in the darkness he cowered in, Vin began to uncurl. He thought he could hear his Ezra's beloved voice. The suffocating blackness still surrounded him but he began to struggle against, reaching out for the honeyed Southern drawl. If he could hear Ezra that probably meant he was dead but Vin couldn't bring himself to care. He didn't mind being dead, long as Ezra was with him.
Those few seconds as he overbalanced and fell had been the worst he had ever faced. He had seen all too clearly how he had failed Ezra. One of the bastards had managed to get off a grenade. Vin knew that if he survived the fall he would wake in hospital to Chris telling him Ezra was dead.
Vin didn't know how to face a world without Ezra, didn't see how there could be one. So when he thought he heard Chris' voice he huddled closer into the safety of the blackness.
Now though Ezra's voice was calling him home. His Ezra sounded so sad and that wasn't right. Vin fought the darkness that was holding him. If he could just find Ezra everything would be all right. With Ezra everything was perfect. He had to get to Ezra.
And then he felt those warm, soft lips gently feathering across his face. He could smell his Ezra's musky scent. A tongue traced his mouth and then slipped inside. Vin could taste the spicy warmth that meant Ezra. He sighed with relief.
Smiling, he opened his eyes.
"JD how's the search coming?"
"Nothing obvious Chris. I even checked under Maude's current name. If there is something he's hidden his tracks too well and it's down to footwork."
"Wait, have you checked under Vin's name?" asked Buck.
"Why didn't I think of that." JD ran for his computer. They waited tensely
"Nothing under Vincent Tanner. I'll try Victor Tyler."
"Why?" asked Buck.
"It's Vin favourite alias."
"How the hell do ya know that JD?"
"I was doing up fake ID for them one time. Ezra was teasing Vin about only being able to cope with one false name. Victor Tyler was the name Vin used in the army when they sent them in undercover."
"Did you know that Chris?"
"No," Chris looked blank, he hadn't thought there was much of anything he didn't know about Vin. He shook himself, it was just a silly little thing that had just never come up, but one that Ezra had known and teased Vin about.
"And here we are," exulted JD. "Victor Tyler bought the top floor of a warehouse about six blocks from Purgatorio just over a year and a half ago."
"What are we waiting for, let's move out," growled Chris.
Green eyes blinked in surprise. Ezra thought he was dreaming when he first saw the sky blue eyes beaming at him. The mouth beneath his opened wider and a tongue came out to duel with his. Ezra blinked again and pulled back abruptly.
"Ezra," purred Vin. He had to admit mind was distinctly fuzzy. He had no idea what was happening or where he was, but he did know he was in his Ezra's arms and everything else was insignificant compared to that. He luxuriated in the comforting presence he thought he had lost forever.
Ezra seemed to feel the same. His mouth came back for a kiss almost smothering in intensity. As they pulled apart to breathe Vin felt a faint tendril of curiosity. Surely they wouldn't need to breathe if they were dead?
"Ain't we dead?" The arms around him tightened convulsively.
"No," said Ezra fiercely, "No you aren't dead."
"And you ain't either?" Vin wanted to be perfectly clear about that. Ezra felt too warm and solid to be a ghost but Vin wasn't about to take any chances. He knew he wouldn't survive if Ez disappeared on him now.
"No. Why would I be dead?"
"The grenade. He threw it after you 'afore I could get him. I wasn't fast enough I'm sorry Ez. My fault, my fault." Vin began to gasp as the full horror hit him. He rocked himself, desperately seeking after the comforting blackness.
"Vin. Vin! Vin, I'm not dead. I'm fine. I'm fine, you stupid idiot, you're the one who nearly died." And then Ezra began to cry.
That made Vin pull himself together. He twisted so he could wrap his arms around Ezra.
"I'm sorry Ez, 'm sorry. Don't cry. Please."
Ezra sucked in a great hacking breath. "I'm fine. I'm alive. You're alive. What possible difficulty could there be?"
"When you put it like that." Vin grinned sleepily and wriggled a little closer.
A high shriek from the alarm beside them warned them someone had started up the stairs. Vin tried to sit up as Ezra pushed him down to lean across and grab his gun.
"Ezra? EZRA! Ezra, it's Chris. We're coming in." The shout came as somebody shot out the lock.
"Love, what's wrong?"
"Ezra, you in here?" roared Chris as a door slammed against the wall.
"Chris sure sounds mad." Vin couldn't quite summon up the energy to be concerned.
"Uh huh." Ezra began to slide off the bed but changed his mind, unwilling to loose contact with Vin. "Don't concern yourself. I won't let him disturb you."
The door crashed open and Chris strode into the room.
"Ezra, what in the hell are ya thinkin'?" howled Chris as relief poured through his veins at the discovery of his missing agents.
"Sssh," said Ezra severely, "You'll agitate Vin."
Chris opened his mouth to reply but Josiah grabbed his arm and squeezed viciously. Josiah had been worrying about Ezra and this was clear evidence he wasn't thinking straight.
"Ezra," he began gently, not wanting to upset the man, "Vin's ain't in position to hear us."
"'Am too," said an indignant voice from the bed, "You boys make more noise than a herd of elephants."
"VIN!" cried five delighted voices and there was a concerted rush for the bed. JD plumped right down on the bed throwing his arms around Vin. Chris leaned over him to grip Vin's right forearm. Buck thumped both Chris and Vin on the back. Josiah seized Ezra's shoulder and shook him gently. Nathan, who had paused to grab his medical bag, began to elbow his way through the crush of bodies to get to his patient. Vin saw him coming.
"Aww Nate," he moaned slumping back against his lover, "I'm fine."
"That's as maybe. You been worrying us sick and were like to drive Ezra totally crazy."
"Um yes, about that..." began Ezra as he realised just how comprising their position was.
"Hell Ez has always bin crazy," laughed Vin.
"Yeah," agreed Chris heavily, reaching across to swat Ezra upside the head. "Next time Standish, just tell us okay."
"We figured it out Ez. We are detectives, hit us over the head with something hard enough and we get it." Chris was hard pressed not to laugh as Ezra gaped at him. "I'm pleased for you Ezra, you too Vin." Vin grinned at his friend.
"Really?" Ezra's pale face flushed with pleasure.
"Course," said JD. "How'd you get Vin to wake up anyway?"
It was Vin's turn to blush. "Ezzzz," he whined.
"Oh no, Sleeping Beauty, they deserve to know and I deserve to tell them.
"You don't get out of it that easy. You stupid, stubborn idiot, you worried the hell out of us."
"So, spill," demanded Buck. "How'd ya get Sleeping Beauty to wake up?"
"Exactly how any Prince would do so." Ezra smiled just a bit smugly.
"No," laughed Buck, "You mean...?"
"Yup," nodded Ezra. The room erupted into gales of laughter. Vin blushed fiery red and hid his face against Ezra's chest.
Finally Chris held up his hand for silence. "Cowboy?" he asked. Vin shifted uneasily. He turned to face his friends for a moment but dropped his eyes to stare at his hands.
"Thought Ez was dead. Thought that grenade got him. Wasn't gonna wake up to that."
They all flinched. Vin looked for his best friend but Chris was staring at the floor.
"Cowboy?" he asked tentatively. Chris looked up and smiled at the couple on the bed.
"We'll leave you in peace for now. But I expect you to go to hospital later."
"I'll see that he does, Mr Larabee."
"Thanks Ezra. And I expect to see you at work tomorrow. Ezra nodded his head and gave him his customary two-fingered salute. Team Seven slowly filtered out the door. Each one looking back just to check that they hadn't dreamed the miracle. Chris herded the others out and then stopped in the doorway. Turning he asked,
"What's Ezra's favourite alias?"
"Evan Stanton," said Vin, puzzled, "He went to school in Paris for two years under that name. Why?"
"Just wondered." Chris nodded his head, saluted Ezra and then ducked out the door.
"What was that about?" demanded Ezra, blankly.
"Don't know, love. Not that interested just now either." Vin squirmed back into his Ezra's embrace. Ezra promptly forgot all about work and concentrated on pulling Vin closer. He flopped back onto the bed and turned Vin so he could smile up those blue eyes.
"So glad you're back," he whispered.
"Glad to be back." And Vin lowered his head and kissed his Ezra.
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