Disclaimer: Not mine... but at least I let them have all the fun they want to, so technically they should be mine <g> Done for the pure pleasure of Ezra and Vin. Thanks to Mog for letting us play in her ATF sandbox.
Pairing: I'm sure this comes as a big surprise considering we are talking about me... it's Ezra/Vin... as if they would let me write anyone else ;-)
Summary: Excerpt: He had never experienced this before - loving someone who was so out of reach it made the stars seem closer and more accessible than the quiet tracker was.
Feedback: Would greatly appreciate it since it keeps the creative juices flowing :-)
Notes: Also this was previously published in The Third Kind 2 by Requiem Publications.
He had stood on this balcony so many times these last few weeks. The view looked much the same as it had then, snow covering everything with the artificial light from the streetlamps making it glisten like a million little diamonds. He had hated this place when he first came here; he still did, but it had grown on him. Much like the men he worked with did. And he had found something he hadn't expected to ever find. Someone that he could fall in love with but the worst thing was it was a co-worker and someone who only wanted friendship from him.
That thought was what had driven him out on his balcony for the last few weeks while they had been between cases. He was hoping against hope that he could come up with a reasonable way to deal with this. He sighed and dropped his head onto crossed arms that were resting along the railing. But still the answer eluded him.
He had never experienced this before - loving someone who was so out of reach it would make the stars seem closer and more accessible than the quiet tracker was. Vin took his breath away with a smile, made his palms damp and clammy with just a few words in that smooth honeyed Texas voice and worse, turned his knees to jelly with a touch that was just meant as a show of affection from a friend.
Now he had to decide what to do. It was getting harder for him to be near the man and not reach out and touch the silky hair, to smooth it back from that beautiful face and see those blue eyes turn to flames, lips parting on a sigh as he leaned in to kiss that luscious mouth.
The sad, dejected man lifted his face to the sky, allowing the crystal flakes to fall on his face to mingle with the tears that he could no longer hold back. He had a decision to make, one he knew he would regret. Stay and every day see the man who held his heart, never being able to tell him or to touch him? Or leave this place and the men who had became a family to him, even if they didn't know it, and never see Vin Tanner again? He just had to decide if he could live with himself if he did either one.
Taking one last deep breath of cold cleansing air he headed back into his condo to complete what had become a nightly ritual. He walked to his liquor cabinet and pulled out the one thing that caused him to feel alive even for the briefest of times. Not bothering with a shot glass, he downed a good portion of scotch, loving the feel of the hot burning sensation it caused. He walked over and sat on his couch taking another deep pull off the bottle. The feel of the whiskey burning through his veins helped him shake off the cold chills he had received from staying out on his balcony for so long.
His last conscious thought was that his time was up. He had to make his decision before he left for work tomorrow.
Ezra Standish walked into Team 7's office wanting to avoid everyone but like most things, this plan went to Hell in a hand basket in a heartbeat.
As he'd walked into the outer part of the offices this morning he had watched as his boss Chris Larabee brushed his thumb across the unresisting tracker's cheek. It had looked like a lover's caress as Chris talked softly with the tracker. He had always wondered but never gave it any serious thought since both Vin and Chris had always come off completely straight.
Looking neither right nor left, he escaped to his office, firmly shutting the door behind him. Now, as he sat behind his desk thirty minutes later he had made his decision. He would turn in his resignation at the end of the day to the judge, effective immediately. He had plenty of vacation and personal time to cover the month mandatory notice. He couldn't stand by watching the man he loved be with another man.
With a breaking heart he turned to his computer and started his letter, a new one to replace the one he had deleted months ago because he felt that he was finally home. He was almost finished when someone knocked on his door. He chose to ignore it. He didn't need any contact with any of his team members, especially a certain blue-eyed tracker. The knocking persisted and he continued to ignore it. Just as he was printing out a copy of the letter the person knocking gave up but instead of leaving the person just barged right in.
"Ezra, what is wrong with you?" asked an agitated Nathan Jackson.
"Nothing is amiss, I assure you," he stated very calmly, his hands clasped together in front of him.
"Then why didn't you answer the door?" the ex-EMT growled.
"I didn't want to be disturbed and didn't hear Mr. Larabee bellow for me so I chose to ignore the interruption." He wasn't going to get angry. He didn't want his last words to these men to be in anger.
"Yeah, well, that's 'cause Chris is in the conference room waiting to debrief us on our new assignment. He's just waiting on you. So get a move on." Nathan took a closer look at the undercover agent as he moved towards the desk. "Ezra, you feeling all right? You look a little pale."
Waving off the concern Ezra grabbed his letter, tucking it into his jacket pocket. "I'm perfectly fine Mr. Jackson. Just had a lot on my mind the last few days but it should be taken care of soon. Now, shall we see what our illustrious leader has for us next?"
Ezra followed his fellow teammate to the conference room with a heavy heart. It looked like he would have to spend just a little more time here. He would still hand in his resignation letter today but with a stipulation attached.
He stopped just inside the doorway of the room seeing that his spot at the table was open, as usual. The only problem was, as always, it was next to the sharpshooter.
Could he complete his assignment before his soul was torn in two?
Chris Larabee looked up to see his agent hesitating in the doorway. He glanced around the table to see the rest of the team had noticed too. He glanced at the ex-EMT with a raised eyebrow. Jackson just shrugged. Turning back to his undercover agent, Larabee growled, "Standish, get over here and sit your ass down."
Ezra came back to himself at the sharp tone in his boss's voice. Walking over to the table, pulling out his chair he sat down, never looking around at the other men. He continued to ignore them as he started to go through the file.
Chris sighed. He'd think over the problem with his wayward agent later. Right now they had a case to solve. "Okay, ladies, we've finally gotten a lead on Patrick Leadman. He has been selling guns to all the gangs encouraging them to start gang wars with each other. News on the street is he's looking for a new dealer to help him supply the gangs. But he's having trouble finding one. His reputation for killing anyone who can identify him, other than the gangs, has become well known. Now that he's desperate it's our chance to nab him." He looked Ezra over, wondering if this was a good idea. "Ezra, I want your cover to show that you only take on difficult and desperate clients to charge a higher price. I don't want him to have too many questions about why you're selling guns to him when no one else will." When Ezra nodded he understood, he continued. "Nothing changes for the rest of us. Class dismissed."
Larabee sat back and watched as Ezra walked quickly out the door. The terrible twins were next, pushing each other and horse-playing as usual, Josiah and Nathan followed at a sedate pace. He glanced at Vin who was still seated.
"Ezra seem a little odd to you?" Chris asked.
"He seemed too quiet, too still, too contained. Something doesn't feel right."
"We'll have to watch him in case he needs us or rather needs you." Chris let his statement hang in the air for a moment. "I still think you should tell him."
Vin sighed and threw his pen across the table in frustration. "We've already been through this, Chris. No way in Hell would Ezra want me."
"It might help with whatever is bothering him and you. Why not tell him and be sure? Damn sight better than going insane over unrequited love, don't ya think?"
Tanner just glared at his well-meaning friend as he gathered his things together. "He's straight, Larabee, and even if there was a small possibility that he wasn't, he wouldn't want someone like me. It wouldn't be any less dangerous if he freaks. It could only endanger him more, so don't even try that argument." With that he stood and stalked out of the conference room before he said something he would regret.
He knew Chris just wanted what was best for him but telling the cagey southerner he had fallen in love with him would serve no purpose, other than to maybe send Ezra running in the other direction, which would be disastrous for all involved. That was what he was trying to avoid. He'd rather see the sexy southerner everyday and never be able to touch him rather than never see him again. Only Chris knew how he felt about the undercover agent and he planned on it staying that way.
Ezra walked quickly out of the conference room wanting to put as much distance between himself and Vin as possible. Besides he had to deliver a letter before he arranged his newest and last identity. He walked into the elevator pressing the appropriate button to take him to the Judge's offices. Exiting the elevator he walked up to the secretary.
"Good morning, Mrs. Stewart. Would it be possible for me to speak with Judge Travis for a moment?"
"Good morning to you too, Ezra. Let me check with the Judge." She picked up the phone and pressed the Judge's extension, and spoke with him for a moment before hanging up.
"You may go in now, Ezra."
"Thank you, my dear. You have a lovely day," he said as he walked into the Judge's office. He took stock of his environment out of habit as he walked towards the Judge who was sitting at his desk. Laying the letter on the desk he walked over to the window. He enjoyed the view but it wasn't the same. He wasn't the same. He would be leaving here and he'd never see this lovely view or the people who had become like family to him, again.
He had been so lost in thought he didn't hear the Judge calling him until a hand gripped his shoulder and turned him around, bringing him face to face with the concerned visage of the Judge.
"Standish, I asked you a question. Now what is this?"
"Sorry, Sir. It's a resignation letter."
Judge Travis was getting worried. There were no smartass comments or arrogant confidence forthcoming. Instead the southerner was being respectful and sounded melancholy. This came as a total shock to him. He was a judge, for Pete's sake! He surely should have seen this coming, right? He swiped his hand over his face and asked God to give him patience.
"Yes, Ezra, I can see that. But why? Why didn't Chris bring it to me himself?"
"Mr. Larabee doesn't know about it. As for why, it's personal." Ezra looked Judge Travis in the eye before continuing. "I'd like to keep it that way until this new case is over."
"Are you having problems with the Team?"
Ezra gave a negative shake of his head.
"Nothing I can do to change your mind?"
Ezra again shook his head.
Travis could see that he wasn't going to get anything else out of the southerner but he wasn't going to give up just yet. "I could call Chris right now and we could settle this my way or his way. Of course we both know that my way would be putting you in a cell until you saw reason or Chris knocking some sense into you.
Ezra smiled and shrugged. "He would have to find me first. We both know that I could just disappear but I chose to give my notice and make sure that they have enough people for this case."
"Why do you want to leave so quickly? Why not stay and give it some time to work itself out?"
"It will never work itself out. There are things that can never be and I can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch. Nor will I. My mind is made up and the choice is yours. Either wait till the assignment is over or I leave now."
The Judge heaved a heavy sigh. Nothing had ever been easy with his specialized team but things had always been difficult when it came to the undercover agent. Normally he would have just waited till Standish had left before calling Larabee up to his office and demanding he find a solution to this problem but there was something different that he couldn't quite place. He would wait this out for as long as he could but he wouldn't let this unique group of men break apart without a fight. He would wait and watch and see what he could do to help without breaking Ezra's trust.
"Okay, Ezra, we will do it your way."
Ezra nodded and left before Travis added, "For now we'll do it your way but I won't let you leave your family. At least without giving them a chance to let them convince you to stay." He returned to the paperwork in front of him hoping to take his mind off this latest problem.
Ezra took a deep breath as the elevator stopped at Team 7's office floor wanting to be prepared if the Judge had called Mr. Larabee. He'd just have to be careful with every encounter he had with the team until he left. He didn't want to leave with any more bad memories and regrets than he already had. He'd just finish this case and then leave quietly before anyone noticed he was gone. The doors slid open and no one was there waiting to shackle him so that meant the Judge hadn't called Mr. Larabee. With a sigh of relief he started walking to his office to prepare his cover for the upcoming case.
"Hey, Ez, ya got a call while you were out," Buck hollered even though only a couple of feet separated them.
"Mr. Wilmington, there is no need to yell." Ezra sighed and held out his hand when Buck went back to his report. "May I have my message?"
"Sure, Ez." Buck grabbed up a piece of paper and instead of giving it to the undercover agent Buck proceeded to read it for him, loudly. "A Michael St. John called saying he was an old friend of yours. Said that the favor ya called in was doable and he'd see ya tonight at the Inferno to finalize the details. What ya got going on, Ez? Maybe we could help ya out."
The rest of the team had gathered around the twosome as Wilmington announced his message. He glanced at the quiet tracker from underneath his lashes. Vin had stiffened at the mention of his so called friend. St. John was far from that but they didn't need to know that. Nothing mattered since he was leaving.
"Just collecting on a favor owed." Ezra held out his hand for the message, hoping there was a safe phone number where he could contact St. John. He raised his eyebrow when Buck still wouldn't give him the message.
"What kinda favor could ya need that we couldn't help ya with?"
"Besides, Ez, why the Inferno? That's where half the people we put away are." JD was a little worried about the undercover agent before, now, he was really worried. Ezra would never set foot in a place like that, unless, of course he was in an undercover role.
"I do believe, gentlemen, that is where I need to be seen for our upcoming case." He took the message out of Wilmington's hand while he was distracted. "Now, if you will excuse me I have a persona to create before tonight."
As Ezra turned away from them Chris spoke up. "I don't think so, Standish. You're not going in there without back up." Larabee raised his hand as Ezra turned back around and started to object. "Don't. You're not going in without one of us posing as your body guard. End of story."
Ezra gave his usual two fingered salute as he turned and went into his office. Now, safely in his office he let a deep breath out, needing to gain control over his emotions again. Relaxing some he looked at the message in his hand. He sighed. No number was listed. He'd have to contact St. John tonight in disguise so his co-workers couldn't find him. He didn't need them to look too closely at the man he was collecting the favor from. He sat down at his desk and started to put together his persona for the upcoming case.
"Anyone else worried about our friend in there?" Josiah was still looking at the door that so effectively shut them out.
"Yeah, he didn't even object to your demand; just accepted it. At least on the surface he did." Buck met Chris's gaze. "So who's going to tail him?"
Sighing Chris rubbed his eyes, willing away his oncoming headache. "JD, put a tracker on his car. Buck, get Dale from Team 3 to tail him. Just tell him that we need the extra eyes for tonight. Tanner, check out the location. Josiah, see what you can find on this St. John and what possible favor Ez might need from him. Nathan, you're going to be the ringer in case we need you. We'll tell him that you had a family emergency. He won't doubt it knowing your father is ill. Tanner and I'll be his body guards tonight. Any questions?"
"Yeah, won't he get suspicious with both of you as body guards?"
"He won't like it, Josiah, but he won't have a choice in the matter." Clapping his hands together, he stated, "Okay, everyone get busy. As soon as Josiah gets the information we'll let you know."
With that Chris walked to his undercover agent's door, and not bothering to knock, opened the door. Ezra never looked away from his screen, just said, "Yes, Mr. Larabee?"
Not one to mince words he simply demanded, "What time tonight?"
"7:00. You can tell whoever is my guard tonight that I'll meet them here at 6:30."
"Don't think so, Ez. Tanner will meet up with us at your place at 6:00." That got a reaction out of his undercover agent. Chris almost grinned.
"Mr. Larabee, I assure you that I don't need any help getting ready tonight, much less protection from an old acquaintance."
"Tanner and I will be going with you and that's that." Chris walked out of Ezra's office before he could object further.
Ezra just shook his head. It must be his lot in life to endure these constant road blocks to his plans. Looks like he had another favor to call in. Picking up the phone he called upstairs. Not like he would be here to collect on it later. "I need you to call Team 7 and request their presence for a meeting. What you tell them is of no consequence to me, as long as they exclude me from the meeting." When he was done, he hung up and waited for Larabee to come tell him they would be back in a while.
Chris had just sat down at his desk when his phone rang, "Larabee."
"Chris this is Marcus in IA. We need to see your team up here."
Getting a sick feeling in his stomach, he said the only thing he could. "We'll be right there."
Now, Chris did have a full fledged headache as the line was disconnected before he could object. He didn't want to leave Ezra by himself but he didn't want him to know about this either until he knew what exactly 'it' was. If they could solve this before Ezra knew that there was a problem, it would be better for them all. Sighing he walked to the outer office; this day just wasn't going to get any better. But they had to deal with this first, then they could take care of the latest case.
Spotting the Kid he waved him over. Speaking lowly so only JD heard him, Larabee said, "JD, round up the others. IA needs to see us but don't let Ezra know. They don't want him there."
JD nodded and headed off. Going towards Ezra's office he spotted Vin heading out. "Vin." The tracker turned around. "Hold on for a sec. We need to talk before you leave."
At Vin's nod Chris opened the undercover agent's door. "Hey, Ez, we've got to go upstairs for a minute." When Ezra start to rise Chris waved him back down. "You need to work on your identity. We'll cover for you."
Ezra let his grin show when the door shut behind their leader. All he had to do now was wait and give them ample time reach the elevator before he could leave. Then he would change into an old persona. One St. John would remember from their first meeting. He knew St. John would be at the club already since he owned it but no one else knew that. He opened his door slightly, listening for any sounds that would show that his associates were still in the vicinity. Not hearing anything he gathered up his things and left.
As he pulled out of the garage he didn't notice another car pulling into traffic a few cars behind him.
Chris explained everything to the tracker as they met up with the rest of the team. They rode up to the 14th floor in silence, all lost in their own thoughts about how to protect their friend. Exiting the elevator in a protective mode they formed a v-pattern with Larabee leading. Chris drew to a stop in front of the IA secretary.
"Mercer needed to see us."
The young woman looked up to see six hardened men. Sometimes she really didn't like her job. "I'm sorry, Mr. Larabee, but Mr. Mercer isn't here today or for the rest of the week."
"I just spoke with him. Where did he go?"
Swallowing hard she answered, "I don't know who you talked to but he's been in the hospital for the last two weeks because of a heart attack. He'll be back next week sometime - at least that's what he said. I can have him call you, if you like?"
"No thanks, ma'am. We'll get in touch with him," Nathan answered for Chris since he was already headed back to the elevator with the rest of Team 7 on his heels.
Chris jabbed at the 7th floor button as the rest of them entered. "Buck, you got Dale to tail him right?"
They already knew that Ezra wasn't there but they still looked for him. Chris glared at the empty office. "Call him. Find out where Standish is now."
Buck nodded as he punched in the phone number. "Hey, Dale, you got our bird?" He listened for a few seconds before flipping his phone closed. "Dale's sitting down the street from his condo right now."
"Everyone finish your assignments and contact me when you have the information," Chris said over his shoulder on his way back to the elevator. Vin followed him since he was going to the club to check things out.
"Where are you going, Chris?" Josiah called out as their leader and the sharpshooter entered the elevator.
"To remind him who's the boss," he said as the doors closed.
"Sure hope he listens for once. Don't think Chris is in the mood for any trouble." Nathan shook his head as he sat down to cancel his plans with Rain that night.
"Right you are, brother." Josiah started looking up what he could find out on St. John before anything else happened. With this bunch, anything was possible.
"You going to play nice, cowboy?" Vin didn't even try to hide the grin. Ezra knew all the buttons to push when it came to Chris, but it should be interesting to see what Chris was going to do.
"Wipe that smirk of your face, Tanner." Chris grumbled. "Get to Inferno and make sure everything is covered. I don't think he'll still be at the condo by the time I get there. He's up to something and he may need us to back him up."
Still grinning Tanner gave their two finger salute and parted ways to go to his jeep. He hoped Ezra was still home when Chris got there 'cause he didn't like the idea of the undercover agent meeting someone at a place where someone might recognize him. He really didn't want Ezra meeting with another man either. He was big enough to admit that he was jealous of this other man spending time with his Ezra. It didn't matter that Ezra was straight; it was more the fact that this man shared a part of the southerner's past. Sure, it wasn't logical to feel this way but he wanted to be able to share something with the reclusive southerner that nobody else did. But love wasn't rational so he had to get a grip and deal with his feelings. There was just something in his voice when he spoke of this St. John person. What kind of favor did Ezra do for him to be in indebted to the southerner? What could Ezra need from this St. John? He only had more questions that wouldn't be answered until they had more information. Not to mention a bad feeling.
Ezra had changed to into black leather pants, a tight green t-shirt, with a black leather jacket to go over it. He had spiked up his hair, making the spikes blond using a semi-permanent color, but he'd use it when he dealt with Leadman, too. He added a diamond stud to his left ear, something he had done in his youth in an act of rebellion but had allowed to close up. Now he just used the magnetic backing. Then he added a Celtic designed ear clasp to the top of the same ear. He added a mustache and lifts in his boots giving him a few inches of height, just enough to hopefully throw off his team mates, when they showed up.
Checking his appearance in the mirror one last time, Ezra headed out the backdoor, going to the storage room that lay hidden behind a row of trees that none of his teammates knew about. Turning on the light he walked over to a tarp covered shape, and pulled the tarp off the classic Harley-Davidson. He hadn't used his motorcycle since he had done the favor for St. John over six years ago. Sure, he tinkered with it on his downtime and kept it in perfect running condition. He wasn't sure why he'd kept it other than it was a way for him to relax.
That was another lifetime ago for him and not an all-together pleasant one, either. Riding the motorcycle in this weather wasn't going to help the cold he felt coming on but he would be leaving soon and it wouldn't matter in the long run.
As Ezra pulled out into the alley, he remembered meeting Michael St. John for the first time. St. John was a major player in the underground organization of the rave scene. He set up dozens of raves all over Atlanta every night making sure the space, music and most importantly the drugs were in play by the designated times. Ezra had been sent in to make contact and to shut him down. One problem: after weeks of being undercover, a snitch had ratted him out.
Instead of killing him St. John wanted a favor from him. His sister was all the family he had and vice versa. He would give himself up if Ezra would help his 8 year old half-sister get out of harm's way and given to a good family that could send her to a special school for the blind. It wasn't a proposition Ezra could pass on. So, St. John had surrendered to Ezra, was sentenced to 6 to 10 in the state penitentiary, and his sister Heidi was adopted by a childless family that Ezra knew. He checked on her weekly if time allowed. He had even made sure that the family would be willing to let St. John see her every now and again. Last he had heard Heidi was still doing very well in a convent school.
When St. John had left Georgia and shown up in Colorado, Ezra had been slightly surprised. When the man showed up in Denver a few months later he had been highly suspicious. He had put out feelers with every snitch he had to see if St. John was up to something that could cause Heidi or him trouble. Every snitch had reported back for months about St. John's activities which were basically on the up and up except for the people who frequented the bar he owned. It wasn't as if the man could refuse service to everyone that came into his bar, now could he? Besides, St. John kept his ear to the ground and sent him information over the years that put a few up and coming gangs out of commission.
St. John had told him if he ever needed anything to call, so, he had this morning before he started typing up his resignation letter. At the time, he wasn't sure what motivated the criminal to make his offer of help. Most likely, it had to do with him helping Heidi but he didn't to try to analyze it too much, because at the end of the day it had only come down to an undercover agent helping a crook in order to complete his assignment and coming away with one more contact that might save his life in the future. At least that was his belief at the time. Now, he was fairly certain that it had more to do with St. John wanting to be able to keep closer tabs on his sister and him. He wasn't a fool. He knew St. John loved men. He had taken special care to appeal to the drug runner's preference. In the end it had worked out for both of them but he had known that St. John had really fallen for his persona that had been more like his real self than he would like to admit. Nothing physical had transpired between them but that hadn't stopped them from bonding deeply. It was a side effect of living on the edge in a dangerous situation. It wasn't exactly a small favor he was asking of the man.
He pulled up in front of Inferno, parking his bike. He had kept tabs on St. John, hoping to help protect Heidi if the occasion ever arose but St. John had changed his name and moved here after getting early parole for good behavior. Since St. John gave his real name to Buck, it must mean he wasn't too worried about getting found out. He was sure there would be hell to pay when his handlers found he had dropped his old name to a different federal agency.
He had only spent a year in the penitentiary. He now proclaimed to be an 'honest' business man and this den of thieves was the honest business. And now Ezra needed St. John's help to get this case over and done with, not to mention a little help in leaving the country without anybody being able to find him. Unless he wanted to be found that is. He would send Maude a letter explaining that he was going to be under deep cover for a few months and he would contact her when he could. He always did this to prevent her from blowing his cover on the off chance they crossed each other's path. He would contact her when he was ready. She wouldn't be able to find him any other way because he was one of the best undercover agents around and if he was easy to find he'd be dead before he could say hello. Besides, she didn't know his whole bag of tricks. He'd taken what she'd taught him as a child and added to it his FBI training and his own personal experiences.
Ezra took a deep breath and loosened his walk and posture, getting into the character he wanted. St. John would recognize him even when given a different name. With the fake scar going from the corner of his right eye down his cheek to end at his chin, the shape of his face seemed changed, so if his teammates showed up hopefully they wouldn't recognize him. It was probably his arrogance that had him assuming that. Of course he knew what was said about people assuming things. He walked into the palatial building, going straight to the bar. They didn't have anyone at the door this early since the place didn't get jumping until closer to midnight and that was still five hours away.
"I have business with Mr. Stevens," he told the bartender who nodded and went to a back table to pass his message along.
Taking another look around the bar, Ezra decided it had a charming quality to it but he was sure it was only because the place wasn't that busy at the moment. The building was coded for 900 people at optimum capacity but there were probably only 200 or so here at the moment. All with records no doubt. He wouldn't put it past St. John to give the criminal world free use of the place for recreation as long as they didn't bring the locals down on him. As long as they behaved, his hands would stay clean and the locals wouldn't have any reason to look too closely at St. John or question his real identity.
Tables surrounded the dance floor, three deep. The dance floor itself took up most of the space on the first floor. Laser lights, different colored rope lights, strobe lights and disco lights were all going. It reminded him a lot of the raves he had attended to shut St. John down to begin with.
Ezra watched as a tall well built man with long blond hair and angled features came towards him. He warily watched the amusement in the brown eyes as the man engulfed him in a bear hug to rival Josiah's.
"It's so good to see you, my friend. Come, let me have a look at you." St. John held him at arm's length before pulling him in for another bone-breaking hug. Whispering softly, he asked, "Tell me what I'm supposed to call you?"
"Mick Johnson, a very old friend," Ezra supplied helpfully.
"Mick, it's been too long. Come, let us catch up. Allen, bring some drinks to my table," St. John said, keeping his arm around Ezra's shoulders, and leading him to a far corner table away from the crowd.
Ezra laughed, but gave St. John a frosty glare that he hoped no one else saw, letting him know that the constant touching wasn't a good thing. St. John just laughed louder, hugging the smaller man to him until they reached the table.
"So, Mick, tell me what it is you need."
Chris had arrived at Ezra's condo only to find it empty but with the Jag still in the drive way and Dale still watching down the street. After sending Dale back to the office he called Josiah to see what he had come up with.
"Sorry, Chris, the only thing on St. John that I can find is that he was sent to a Georgia prison the same time Ezra was with the FBI."
"It doesn't say why or where he is now?"
"No, the records were sealed and nobody's talking. I've asked the Judge to see what he could find out but Travis said it may take awhile."
"All right, tell Nathan to stay out of sight until he hears from... Beep ... hold on, Josiah, I've got another call coming through. It might be Vin. Maybe he knows where the slippery S.O.B is."
"Chris, I've got him. He 's talking to St. John now."
"I'll be right there. Don't let him see you yet."
Flipping back to the other line, he said, "Josiah, I'm on my way to Inferno. Have Buck and JD there in the van just in case."
"What about me? You might need more back up."
"I need you to keep digging. I'll tell Buck to keep you updated."
With that he closed the phone. Getting back into the Ram he headed for Inferno, thinking of ways to torture his troublesome agent.
Vin Tanner watched the object of his unknown affections sit talking to St. John. Though Ezra didn't seem too happy about the man constantly touching him, the undercover agent continued to tolerate it. Vin wanted nothing more than to go over and punch St. John's lights out but Larabee had told him to stay put and he would, unless Ezra needed rescuing. But that didn't seem likely to happen. He sighed in resignation and frustration. He really didn't want to sit and watch as the southerner let his friend paw at him.
Not to mention that outfit he was wearing. By God, that was the snuggest pair of leather pants he had ever seen the undercover agent in. Vin shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His southerner was sexy in his suits but this was a raw sexuality that he had never seen before. He could barely take his eyes off Ezra and unfortunately he wasn't the only one either. He signaled a waitress.
"Can I help you, sugar?"
"Yeah, a Bud on draft." He knew that if he didn't order something he would start to look suspicious to those around him. In a dive like this appearances were everything. If you stand out in a crowd of criminals, your life expectancy can drop to minutes. When she brought his drink back he handed her the money.
"Ma'am, can I ask ya a question?" He allowed himself to think of stripping Ezra out of that outfit he was wearing, causing a blush to color his cheeks.
"Sure, hon. Ask away."
"That tall blond with long hair at that corner table?" She glanced behind her and nodded when she looked back at him. "Who is he?" His blush deepened.
"That's Bryan Stevens, the owner." She gave him a sweet smile when she patted his shoulder. "Sorry, sweetie, he's taken. The boss is a bit of a heartbreaker to both sexes." She looked back at the two men in the corner talking. "Though I'm curious as to who that sexy young thing is talking to him." With a shrug she moved on.
Great, just great. His old friend might just be more to him than what I first thought and on top of that Ezra might be bi and still out of my reach. This just couldn't get any better than this.
Vin was pulled out of his private rant when he saw Chris walk in the door. They'd need to talk before they approached the undercover agent. When Chris got closer to the table, he kicked out the chair closest to him.
He was curious as to whether his best friend could spot the sneaky agent on his own.
Chris Larabee looked around as he took his seat but hadn't seen his troublesome agent yet. "Okay, where is the sneaky snake?"
"Ten o'clock. Black leather, blond spikes." Vin smirked when Chris's eyes widened in disbelief.
"Damn! After all this time and almost any disguise, I believe that is a first as a punked-out thug."
Chris just couldn't believe that their undercover agent was dressed like he was coming straight from a punk concert. They'd seen him as a pimp, a homeless man, a preacher, a nerdy computer hacker and even as a woman. In any disguise, Ezra maintained a class act, but this ... this was just beyond words. There was no class to this disguise, just a dangerous, 'don't mess with me' air about him.
"How'd you spot him?"
"Was sitting here watching the door when he walked in." The sharpshooter shrugged. "He must of have added lifts to give him some height, but the way he carries himself is the same as he has used in other disguises. His mannerisms are the same too. The mustache and the scar threw me for a moment but he still has that smirk that pisses you off so well." The sharpshooter grinned. "'Sides when he smiled his gold tooth flashed."
Chris nodded. They had all seen the undercover agent is his disguises. Vin was more observant than most when it came to the southern agent. "Are we sure that's St. John?"
"He's the only person Ezra's talked to since he got here and if it is, he no longer goes by St. John. The man goes by Bryan Stevens. Did Josiah get anything on St. John?"
"Nope. I'll call him and tell him to check out Bryan Stevens." Chris watched the conversation being held in the rather secluded corner. "Maybe it's time to make our presence known. Has he been fending off the man since he got here?"
The angry eyes and the terse 'yep', told him just how hard it was on the ex-bounty hunter to watch the man he loved being pawed at, unwillingly, by another man. Chris sighed. It wasn't going to be easy between these two until they realized they were meant to be together.
"Go let him know we're here. Maybe then the guy will stop. I'll call Josiah and give him the information."
One could only hope the man the southerner was with had enough brains to see he was on dangerous ground and stop.
Vin didn't say anything as he got to his feet and walked over to the table where the undercover agent sat.
Ezra wasn't quite sure how much longer he could stand St. John's constant advances. When he had dressed this way to appeal to St. John's attraction to him he had had no idea that it would backfire on him quite this badly. Then again that's what happens when you play on someone's lustful emotions. What did Josiah call it? Ah, yes - karmic backlash. He sighed mentally. He would just have to suffer through it if that meant he'd leave Denver sooner. He could keep the conversation civil and his cold demeanor would hopefully cool the man's jets.
"Listen, Stevens, can you do as I asked or not?"
He really was fed up with being manhandled. He just wanted to get out of his living Hell as soon as he possibly could. He just couldn't stand to watch Vin and Chris's relationship blossom into more. Just thinking about it was causing more pain than a bullet ripping through flesh would.
"Of course I can. But what would be wrong with a little bit of something for my trouble?" St. John reached up to caress the southerner's cheek when someone grabbed his wrist in mid air.
Ezra and St. John both looked up to see a very protective looking Vin Tanner. The sharpshooter squeezed the wrist as he calmly explained, "No one touches my boss."
St. John winced as his wrist was slowly crushed. His heart pounded in his ears when as he realized that the long haired man was a much more dangerous predator than he had ever dreamed of being. St. John nodded at the man. He completely understood what the dangerous blue eyes were saying: 'He's mine. Touch him again and you'll wish you were dead.' He winced when his wrist was released. He cradled it to his chest. At least it wasn't broken.
Ezra was shocked that he had been found so easily but then again something as simple as a disguise would hardly be enough to challenge his quiet and very observant teammate. The undercover agent recovered quickly.
"Victor, I don't believe you were invited to this meeting. That's why you were given the night off." Ezra could only hope that his message would be followed because he damn well knew it was understood just from the flash in the tracker's eyes.
Tanner just crossed his arms and went to stand behind the undercover agent. He could tell Standish wasn't happy about his presence and knew without a doubt that he was going to be thoroughly pissed when he saw Chris here too.
"I'm sorry for the interruption, Bryan. You were saying?" He gave St. John a pointed look.
St. John was about to give Ezra some of the information when he noticed another person joining the quite possessive Victor. He quirked an eyebrow at Standish, who turned around. His eyes narrowed at the sight of both his boss and the tracker, here, together.
He turned back to St. John. "Never mind. Email me the requested information at the old address tonight and I'll return the reply and any additional information you may need to complete the request."
At St. John's nod he stood up and pushed his chair in and leaned down to whisper something in St. John's ear. After that he walked out of Inferno into the quiet, cold calm of the night, flanked by the two men he had been trying to get away from. He didn't stop as he walked to the motorcycle, dusting the recent snow fall off the seat before he straddled it. He was about to start it when Tanner grabbed his arm but it was Larabee who spoke.
"All right, Standish, what the Hell was all that about?"
Ezra snorted at the demand. "I do not believe that is any of your business, Mr. Larabee. As long as Leadman is caught within the means of the law and convicted on said evidence then you have no cause to question me. Now," he looked down at the hand holding him and then into the eyes of the man who held him and his heart. "Mr. Tanner, I suggest you let go. Tomorrow I will not be coming in as I will be making contact and do not want to be seen with either one of you."
Vin still did not let go, as he maintained eye contact with the conman. "Ya know ya go in with a bodyguard and that's me, remember?" he said growling.
Ezra just shook his head. "Not this time. I'll be wired and you'll have surveillance but I go in alone." He put up a hand to forestall any arguments. "It's the only way this will work."
"Then what was all that about?" Tanner growled.
"That would be no one's business but mine and St. John's. Good night, gentlemen." The engine roared to life but it was quickly silenced as Tanner turned the engine off and took the key.
"You're not driving anywhere since I saw the number of drinks your 'friend' gave you." Tanner just smiled at the southerner, almost daring him to argue.
Ezra was confused at Vin's attitude. Why did Vin sound so possessive? Why didn't that bother Chris, his lover? Why had Vin been so hostile towards St. John when he had been about to touch him? He shook his head trying to clear his mind. He just knew that something was wrong with him because Vin loved Chris. Didn't he? Isn't that what he'd seen when he had walked into the office this very morning, that now seemed like a lifetime ago?
He was losing his mind - that was it. Or maybe St. John had slipped something into his drink? That brought him up short as he remembered what Vin had said. His eyes narrowed sharply as he met and held the sharpshooter's eyes. "How long had you been watching us?"
Vin looked ready to pounce on the unsuspecting southerner at what the word 'us' implied. So Larabee stepped in.
"I sent him here after you gave us the slip." He omitted the tail they had placed on him - he wasn't a total fool. "Tanner's right. You aren't going to go in alone. You know the procedure as well as anyone."
"If you'll hand over the keys please, Mr. Tanner? I should like to get some sleep before the meeting." He sighed in exasperation. "Mr. Tanner, I did not have any alcohol to drink. It was ginger ale. So," holding out his hand, "keys please, now."
Larabee stepped in once more. "Sorry, Standish, you're coming out to the ranch, so we can discuss this further." At the stubborn look and tight jaw set, he offered an alternative. "Or Tanner stays with you tonight. Those are your choices - pick one 'cause it ain't going to happen any other way."
"Fine, Mr. Tanner can follow me home." He'd just give him the slip and spend the night somewhere else.
"Nope, you ride with Vin and I'll follow you on the bike. We still have to discuss your cover and what exactly St. John is helping you with."
"Mr. Larabee, I have agreed to having Mr. Tanner as a watchdog but there are two things that are not going to happen. One is, no one, and I mean no one, will ever drive this bike but me. You can follow me or not - that will be your choice - but I will drive this bike home myself."
At Chris' easy nod, Ezra continued. "The second is, what St. John and I talked about is not open for discussion."
"Like hell it's not," Vin growled but didn't continue when Chris raised his hand, signaling that he'd handle it.
"Standish, I've told you your options. You'll either come to the ranch where we can keep an eye on you or you can stay at your home, not any other location, with Vin staying with you until this is over. And you will tell us what's going on with St. John. Now choose."
Ezra had a rather unconventional childhood which had left him without the ability to trust or to believe in his fellow human beings and this gave him the ability to see and read a person's intent and then to be able to turn it to his benefit. Of course his mother's number one rule was never get close to anyone because they will only use it against you. Or it maybe it was his mother's other number one rule? Always look out for number one. His mother tended to flip flop back and forth between the two when it suited her. He shrugged mentally.
Standish knew, that at this point, he had to take one of the options his team leader offered, knowing that Larabee would pull out all the stops to make sure he got his way. But that didn't mean that he couldn't turn the tables on them at a later time. "All right, Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner at my house but he will have to follow me."
"Give me your word you will go straight to your house. No turn offs." Chris knew that his undercover agent had planned on a detour and was hoping to prevent it. He'd learned early on that the private man didn't put up much of a fight unless you were getting too close to something that he didn't want you to find out about. Besides he had figured Ezra would choose to deal with one of them rather than dealing with both of them. The undercover agent probably thought he could ditch Tanner later but Chris knew better. Tanner wouldn't let Standish out of sight for a second, especially since he thought St. John was a threat.
"You have my word." Ezra held out his hand for the key. He needed to get as far away from the two lovers as possible. Being this close and not being able to touch the long haired tracker made his heart ache and knowing he belonged to another made the ache unbearable.
Vin shook his head. "You haven't met my condition yet."
"Good Lord! What do you want from me that Mr. Larabee hasn't covered?" His voice was becoming scratchy from the freezing weather and the abuse he caused it by continuing this conversation.
"Simple. I ride with you instead. Chris can have one of the others bring the jeep over later and he can follow us."
"Ah, I see. You do not trust me." Ezra turned away to hide the hurt and disgust he felt. Hurt that the man he loved held no trust for him and disgust that he had ever allowed himself to care this much about someone else. His mother was right. You love someone and suddenly it's open season on your soul. He turned back when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"It's not a matter of trust, Ez. It's a matter of needing to be close." Vin hoped Ezra could read what he was trying to say with his eyes. That he desperately wanted to be close to the man he wanted to claim as his own.
But Ezra really didn't know what to think about what he saw in the tracker's eyes and he really didn't want to see the look in Larabee's eyes. He could almost feel the pity coming from Larabee and he did not want that as the last memory he'd have of Chris.
"I suggest we move this to your place, Standish, before we start to draw attention to ourselves." Larabee really didn't like being in the open like this with so many unknowns. Buck and JD would stick around to see what St. John did after they left and if they really needed to be concerned about him or not. Not to mention he really wanted answers about who St. John was and what Ezra wanted from him. The more Ezra fought them about that, the more he felt like the gambler was slipping away from them. If they lost Standish, Vin wouldn't be far behind him. Chris just couldn't stand to let this family go without a fight.
"All right, Mr. Tanner, you may ride with me if it's all right with Mr. Larabee." Ezra wanted to give their leader a chance to object about his lover riding with him, but then again Larabee trusted Tanner in every other aspect of their lives. Why wouldn't he trust the sharpshooter in this?
Not like he was irresistible or anything.
He sighed. He really had to get away before he did lose what little sanity he did have.
Chris frowned at the southerner. "Why does it have to be all right with me? Tanner can make his own decisions."
Ezra kicked the kickstand back, stabilized the bike, and allowed Vin to climb on behind him. He cleared his throat as he put his hand behind him, accidentally brushing the sharpshooter's inner thigh, indicating that he wanted the key.
Vin looked at the hand and brushed it to the side as he put his hands around the trim waist, allowing the hand with the key to follow down the undercover agent's inner thigh to insert the key in the ignition, then start it for him.
Ezra bit back a groan at the feel of the Texan's hand running down his thigh. He didn't understand what game Vin was playing. Chris was standing a few feet from them, he had thought, but when Ezra had looked to see what the team leader's reaction was, he was already in the Ram getting ready to follow them. It didn't seem to bother Chris at all that his lover was riding with another man or holding very tightly to him.
If the Texan was his ... that was a moot point since Vin would never be his. His thoughts were in turmoil because he could feel the heat of the man behind him. Knowing that the man he loved belonged to another man, a man for whom he held great respect, just increased his desperation to get away before he did something he would regret for the rest of his natural born days.
Vin had his hands in Ezra's pockets and was plastered to his back, seeking warmth and hopefully giving it. He rested his face in the crook of the southerner's neck. He smelled of sandalwood and another scent that was all male and all Ezra.
How could he not tell the southerner about his feelings, now? When he had said it was about being close, he'd all but admitted it and Ezra still had agreed to let him ride with him. But why'd Ezra feel he had to have Chris' permission to ride with the southerner? He'd have to remember to ask Ezra about that. For the time being he just snuggled closer to the man who held his heart.
Ten minutes later the duo pulled into the undercover agent's garage. Ezra waited till Vin had gotten off before he climbed off the bike. He'd have to store it later because he was too cold right now. His hand shook more because he was afraid than from the fever that heated his skin.
How was Larabee going to react to him now that he had had time to think about letting his lover ride with the black sheep of the team? How was he going to get around telling them what he really wanted from St. John?
He was startled when a warm hand covered his own and helped him unlock the door. He pushed the door open, hurriedly, trying to put as much distance between himself and Vin as he could. Larabee would be here soon and he still didn't have any idea how to handle the situation.
"Ez, we need to talk." Vin took hold of the arm closest to him but the stubborn man jerked it away from him.
"No, Mr. Tanner, we do not need to talk." He walked over and turned the thermostat up. He needed more heat. He just couldn't seem to get warm.
Vin frowned at the nervous movements, then his eyes narrowed as he took in his love's appearance... he was shaking like he was cold but his forehead and upper lip were beaded with sweat, the green eyes were fever bright and when he had spoken, his voice had sounded hoarse.
"How long ya been sick, Ez?" Vin waved away the negative answer before the slick agent could voice it. "Forget I asked. I know you're sick so don't even try to lie to me."
Vin grabbed Ezra's arm and dragged him over to the couch before he could say anything else. Vin gently pushed the struggling man down onto the couch. Vin put a hand to his chest but pulled back when Ezra flinched from his touch. He leaned down into the conman's face.
"Standish, I don't have a clue what's going on in that head of yours but we're going to have that little talk. Right now, though, I want ya to lay down and try to get some sleep. I'll be here when ya wake up. 'Kay?"
At Ezra's nod he turned around and pulled the afghan that was draped over the back of the couch over the man he loved. He watched as the southerner closed his eyes before sitting down in the closest chair to wait for his best friend to get there.
Chris watched as the two men rode away. He slowly pulled out onto the slick road. He'd follow the bike at a safe distance so if Ezra lost control and fell he wouldn't hit them. Besides, after Tanner's little revelation to the conman he wanted to give them some time together. He just hoped his best friend put the time to good use.
His thoughts were interrupted by his cell phone ringing. "Larabee."
"Chris... it's Josiah. That name you gave me had the Squealer's Anonymous calling."
"Damn." Larabee let out a low whistle. "Witness Protection... that's not a good sign."
"No, it's not, especially, where Ez is concerned but the Judge has an old friend in the higher-ups. Said he'd call as soon as he talked to his friend. Buck said Ezra was fit to be tied when he came out of the bar. I take it he still hasn't said anything to you, yet?"
"No, but he will," Chris stated with quiet confidence.
"Be gentle with him, Chris. Where is he now?"
"I'm following him and Vin. Josiah, did you know he owned a motorcycle? A classic at that?"
"No, but then there are probably a great number of things we don't know about him. Same holds true for all of us though."
"Call me when you have more information. Buck's supposed to check in with you or Nate when he finds out where St. John is headed."
"I'll be waiting for him, and Chris?"
"Yeah, Josiah, I'll try to play nice." Chris smiled at the gruff laughter that came over the phone line.
"Just making sure, Brother, just making sure."
He knew that Ezra pushed his buttons on purpose, most of the time to see what he could get away with, but especially, anytime he, or any of the others, pushed for any personal information. The man just didn't give anything away. Their undercover agent tried to keep them all at arm's length but they had all started to break through that barbed wired, electrified wall made of cement that the southerner had put up early in life to protect himself from first his mother, then any person he was forced to stay with when he wasn't useful to her any more. Then came the backstabbing, lying Fibbie rumor mill that had almost destroyed the young man. By the time he joined Team 7 he wasn't fit to be around anyone but that started to change as they tried to pull him into their little family.
They had been making headway until a month ago, when he seemed to close himself off more. The joking around never seemed to have his full attention and the smiles never reached his eyes. But that was going to change someway or somehow. He knew he was putting a lot of faith into in Vin's love for Ezra but for some reason he just knew that had to be at the bottom of it all lately.
Chris pulled up to the curb right behind the black Jag. He took a deep breath and counted to ten and sent up one last prayer for patience, then got out of the Ram and started for the door. He started to knock but the door was suddenly opened for him. Vin waved him into the hot, stuffy condo.
"Shshsh." Vin held up his hand as he looked back into the darkened room. Seeming satisfied with what he saw or maybe didn't, Chris just couldn't tell, the tracker turned back to face him.
"Gotta talk soft. He's finally sleepin'. Didn't want ya to wake him up."
"Why's he sleepin', Vin? I wanted to talk to him after, I was hopin', you had talked to him."
Vin motioned for him to follow. "When we got here he was shakin' so bad he couldn't get the key in the door. He was cold but he was sweatin'. Kept turning up the heat and still couldn't get warm. Had him lie down and rest till you got here. Figured it'll take both of us to get him to let Nate check him over or go to the E.R."
Larabee touched the conman's forehead and then cupped the back of his neck. The man was burning up. "Call Nate and tell him. I'm going to find a thermometer."
Vin nodded as he pulled his cell phone out and pushed 3 then send. "Hey, Nate, it's Ez. He's sick."
Chris came back into the room with the ear thermometer and stuck it in the sleeping man's ear. He listened as Vin answered Nathan's questions.
"He wants to know what his temp is."
Chris didn't pull it out but read the numbers of the digital display at the end of the stick. "103 and climbing."
Vin repeated the information and clicked his phone shut. "Nate says to get him into the shower but make sure it's lukewarm so we don't send him into shock. We keep him in there until Nate gets here.
Chris nodded as he turned to go prepare the shower.
Vin leaned down, pulling the covers off the shivering man. "Come on, Ez. I need you to open those pretty green eyes for me. Come on, that's it." Dazed green eyes fluttered open to meet his. "Ez, ya got a high fever, need to get ya into the shower so we can bring it down. Do ya understand?" The green eyes just blinked blearily at him.
"'Kay, not gettin' through. Well, we'll just go with the flow here." Vin pulled the compliant man up into his arms. "This isn't how I pictured the first time I held ya." Vin lifted Ezra up into a fireman's carry and headed to the undercover agent's bedroom where he could hear the shower going in the adjoining bathroom.
"I guess we should take turns holding him under the water. I'll go first." Chris couldn't resist teasing the younger man. His smile only got bigger, when the sharpshooter turned around and he saw the flashing blue eyes.
"Fuck you, Larabee," was all the tracker could manage but his smirk said it all, as he gently laid his green-eyed burden on the bed. Chris went to work on Ezra's clothes while Vin took off his own. Since he went commando, he went through the southerner's drawers to borrow a pair of boxers. Chris had managed to get the jacket and shirt off.
"How the hell did he get these pants on? Paint?"
Vin grinned at Chris's frustration.
"Don't know but I plan to find out," he answered as he helped Chris finish with the conman's clothes, leaving only his boxers on. They knew that the whole team would end up here and both knew that the fiercely private man would hate the indignity of the whole situation.
Each man grabbed an arm, pulling the dazed man into a sitting position. As they stood him up they each pulled an arm across their shoulders to support his weight more evenly. As they got the southerner into the bathroom, Vin reached over and turned the heating vent on, not wanting Ezra to be too cold. Chris waited while Vin stepped into the shower, supporting all the conman's weight.
"Those suits of his are just like him. What ya see isn't what ya get." At the tracker's glare, he added, "I didn't mean it that way. Just meant you only see what he wants you to see. His suits make him look soft. Like he doesn't work out that much but underneath he's all muscle."
Vin helped Chris maneuver Ezra into the shower, away from the water at first. "Okay, got to go slow. It'd be too much of a shock to him if we just put him in under there."
Ezra stiffened and yelled at the first contact of what felt like freezing water on his overheated skin. He started to struggle as the water continued to sear a path along his back until his whole body was under the constantly running water. He groaned at the pain of having to stand on sore misused muscles, his throat hurt and his head felt like it was being cleaved into halves. He laid his head on the closest thing, which was a warm, silk covered, hard surface. That was when he became aware of the voice.
"Easy, baby, know it's uncomfortable but we got to do it. You're still too hot."
Ezra tried to open his eyes but they didn't want to work. He started to panic. He didn't know who he was with or what was happening. He started to really struggle as the arms tightened around him. Then he heard the voice again.
"Shshshsh, it's okay, love. You're safe. Nobody will hurt you ever again."
He stopped struggling as he was held closer to the owner of the voice and snuggled safely within the protective arms.
"That's right, baby, you're safe and this will be over soon."
Ezra's years of self-preservation training kicked in. He couldn't get his eyes open so he tested each sense to take in what was happening around him. He felt the water, felt the pressure in his ears and felt the man holding him against his body. He could smell the man holding him. It was a woodsy scent like a light summer rain in Georgia. So far, he was in the shower with a man who smelt wonderful. The voice was talking again.
"No, I'm fine. Has his temp come down any?"
And he loved that voice. It was strong but sultry and very sexy. And he sounded concerned about something, but what?
"It's come down a few points but it's still closer to 104. I'll call and see what's the hold up."
That wasn't his Voice, so that meant someone else was in here with them, but who? His Voice wasn't showing any signs of a threat so it meant it was safe. But why would even a friend be in here with them?
He heard some rustling and a door open and close, and the soft breeze from the door blow across his skin. He felt the person belonging to that voice stroking his hair.
"It's all right, baby. Just got to wait till Nate says it's okay to take you out."
He heard the door open and close and once again felt the cool breeze against his skin.
"Hey, try not to open the door so much. Ya got him shaking again."
Maybe this person cared for him? It sounded like it. But Mother always said he was unlovable. God, his head hurt and he was so tired. Everything had that dreamlike feeling to it. God, he hoped that this wasn't one of those dreams where he would think he was awake but he was still sleeping. He really hated those. But then again, as the arms held him closer, making him feel safer than he had ever felt in his life, maybe it wouldn't be too bad as long as he never woke up and these arms and that voice never left him. He happily gave himself over to the protective waking dream, deciding not to fight it but to just enjoy it.
"Sorry, didn't realize." Chris watched as the tracker supported and comforted the shorter but muscular man. They looked like they were made for each other. They fit into each other's arms perfectly, like Sarah and he had. Sarah always told him that to find someone that fit your body so well meant that person was your soul mate, and that you'd find each other until the end of time. He was happy to see it happen for his two friends.
"Have you changed your mind about telling him?"
He saw the tender look the tracker gave the disoriented southerner. "Yeah, I have. I all but declared it to him at Inferno." He laid his cheek against the blond spikes as he frowned. "But he never reacted. Like he heard what I said but didn't understand the meaning, so he just brushed it off."
"Knowing Ezra he didn't understand what you said." Nathan said as he slipped into the bathroom hardly opening the door at all, but then the door opened to let the whole team in. He looked at the two men together and nodded. Yep they were two halves of the same soul just like Josiah said.
"Hey, close that door; you're lettin' in the cold air." Vin held his love closer to him as felt him shaking again. "Shshshsh, baby, it's okay."
"All right, Vin, let's get him out of there and into bed. On my way over here I picked up something from Dr. Wentworth to hopefully help bring his temperature down."
Nathan gave the disoriented man a shot in the hip. Afterwards Chris turned off the water and Nathan helped Vin wrap a towel around him. Josiah came over to the bathtub, and placing supporting arms behind Ezra's neck and knees, he picked the young man up in his arms. Buck and JD pulled the covers back on the bed as he brought his bundle over to the bed.
"Josiah, we'll need to take off his wet boxers before you lay him down."
At that Vin, wrapped in a towel of his own, came and stood in front of Josiah. He slipped his hands up the towel until they rested above the waistline of the boxers. Vin glared at the others. "Turn your heads." He waited till all heads were turned away before he pulled the boxers off his gambler.
"That was real sweet like, Vin." Buck was just oozing cheerful glee.
"Knock it off, Buck," JD said as he, for once, slapped the back of his friend's head.
"You better leave them alone about this, too, Buck," the kid threatened.
Vin helped Nathan get Ezra settled into his bed before turning back to his friends. "So, y'all know? And y'all are okay with it?"
"Known for awhile, Vin, just didn't think it was any of our business." JD spoke with more wisdom than most people gave him credit for.
"But we kept hoping you two would get together before we all got too old to enjoy seeing you two as a couple." Josiah paused at Buck's laughter.
"You're the only with that worry, pard." Buck quickly moved out of reach of the big man's arms but still got hit upside the head by his oldest friend.
"So do you, Bucklin. Remember I know what day you were really hatched on - not the one you tell your lady friends."
"Now, Chris, that's not right and ya know it. I tell them the right date just not specific about the year, that's all. Nothing wrong with that."
"Yeah, well..." The tracker ran a frustrated hand down his face. "You're going to get a little bit older 'cause I just decided to tell him tonight but ya can see how that's going."
"That's all right, Vin. We'll help ya out with support or anything else ya need." Nathan gave the sharpshooter's shoulder a squeeze. "As for that upcoming case you better hand it off to another team 'cause he's not going anywhere for a week, at the very least."
Chris raised an eyebrow at the ex-EMT, who was the only medical personnel his hardened team of men would listen to - well, that was only if it wasn't them in the hot seat. Then they only halfway listened to the man.
"Between him being so independent and some of his hang ups, he has managed to get a real nasty chest cold, from the sounds of it, but it's his lungs I'm worried about. There's no telling how long he's had this and for it to get this bad this quick? Well, he's had to have had this for a couple of weeks at least. Being out in this weather would explain the onset of his high fever. I'll make an appointment in the morning for him."
"I don't think he's been sleepin' lately. Every mornin' this past week he's come in earlier and earlier almost like he wasn't asleep so he might as well come in and get somethin' done. I asked him about it but he'd always have some excuse." Vin looked at his love, as he sat down on the bed beside him, wishing he had done something before it had come to this.
"It's not your fault, pard. He could fool Mother Theresa about being the Pope and not even break a sweat. He's good at what he does and we sometimes forget that."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it, Buck."
He was briefly aware of there being other voices in the shower but he had been snuggled deeper into the arms of his Voice. He was just too tired and it just took too much effort to react and he trusted the Voice to keep him safe. Then the water had stopped. He really couldn't understand what was being said because his head hurt too badly to even try to think but he understood the tone of the voices.
It was friendly.
He felt a sharp sting and soft murmured words from his Voice. Then he was being gently turned around and then lifted up high. The movement stopped and he felt warm hands glide up his thighs to the top of his boxers and then he heard his Voice. He sounded serious, and then the warm hands gently tugged off his boxers. Then a warm cocoon engulfed him.
The pain in head was slowly receding as the one in his heart was making itself known. He struggled to understand what was going on around him as the flashes of his waking dream merged, only adding to the confusion. His Voice was talking and he sounded upset. He reached out a hand in the direction his Voice was coming from, wanting to give him comfort.
Vin was watching Ezra as he was talking or he wouldn't have seen the muscles twitch in the arm closest to him. He took Ezra's hand in his. "That's it, baby, wake up for me."
His Voice seemed to want him to wake up. That had to be a good sign. He was starting to understand what was being said but still couldn't tell who was saying it.
"Ezra, wake up."
He frowned. Another voice wanted him to wake up. It was calm and insistent but it wasn't the voice he wanted to hear.
"Son, time to wake up."
Nope, he didn't know that voice either. And he knew he didn't have a father, so, no point in listening to that voice any more.
"Standish, wake up now."
He did recognize that tone of voice but wasn't sure if that was real or part of another dream becoming mixed up with everything else. He chose to ignore it.
Nate pushed at the tracker's shoulder to get his attention. Vin turned to look at the healer. "Try again."
Vin nodded turning back around. "Come on, Ez, gotta open your eyes and let me know you're all right. That's it - keep trying," he encouraged when he saw the eyelids flutter. Dazed green eyes tried to focus but just couldn't. "That's okay, Ez. Are you thirsty?"
He nodded his head which was fast on its way to falling off. That was good - well, maybe. He could remember what a hang over felt like, or he assumed he did anyway. He could only see shadows so he closed his eyes. What was wrong with him? He had trouble remembering what a hang-over was caused by, only remembering how much pain one caused. Remembering was not possible at this moment. And moving? Why was he having trouble moving?
He started to panic now. He tried to move but really couldn't. He tried to fight but his muscles wouldn't cooperate. Why? He couldn't remember anything. Nothing made sense any more. He was having trouble breathing. Why?
"Easy, Ez, calm down. Nate, what's going on?" the sharpshooter asked.
"Not sure, trade places." Nathan took Vin's spot on the bed. He picked his wrist up and checked the pulse. It was rapid, too rapid. He grabbed the thermometer and put it under the conman's armpit and held the arm closed.
Josiah walked back into the room, the water in his hand forgotten. "What's going on?"
"Don't know. Nate's looking him over," Buck said as he watched the scene on the bed.
"Call the hospital, tell them we are bringing him in. His fever just spiked to 105. Tell them to contact Dr. Wentworth about the injection he gave me for Ezra. Vin, help me get him ready. Chris, get the Ram warmed up."
Vin had gone to the drawers, pulling them out and slamming them back until he found a sweater and a pair of sweatpants. Nathan pulled back the covers as he and Vin, sitting on opposite sides, quickly worked the loose clothing on the, now, unconscious man. Buck brought the men a jacket, while JD put on Ezra's shoes and socks. When everything was ready Josiah lifted Ezra up enough for Nathan to wrap a blanket around his shoulder and head, then lifted the man into his arms and walked through the condo into the cold night air.
Vin raced to the Ram, getting into the back seat and moving to the farther side. Josiah gently laid the gambler onto the bench with his head in Vin's lap. He accepted the blanket that JD handed him and covered the too still form.
Larabee threw the light switch on his emergency lights. He was not worried much about the slick roads, just the other drivers who didn't know how to drive in the white powder. He knew Buck was following him because he could see the purple parking lights Buck's latest lady friend had talked him into getting. God, he hoped Buck got rid of those soon. They were more annoying than Standish on a good day.
He met Vin's eyes in the rear view mirror. "Have you thought how you're going to tell him?"
"Not yet. I'll wait and see how things go when he wakes up." Vin looked thoughtful for a minute before asking, "Why do ya think he wanted your okay for me to ride with him?"
Chris grinned. "Hell, it sounded like he thought we were a couple." His eyes widened as he met the sharpshooter's.
"Ya don't think.… He couldn't have seen... this mornin'... do ya?"
Chris looked at the stricken face of his sharpshooter. "It'd make sense in how he was actin'."
"God, Chris, no wonder he didn't want to be around us. The conversation at Inferno makes a hell of a lot more sense."
"We don't know that he saw anything. All ya got to do is explain things to him and it'll be all right."
"This is Ez we're talkin' about. The one that never believes anything ya tell him. He saw and he ain't goin' to believe me."
"Then ya'll just have to make him believe."
They had been in the waiting room for several hours now and still the doctor had not shown up. Vin was pacing like a wild animal and JD kept moving in his chair with the same restless tension he could feel in the others. Nathan had disappeared and not come back yet.
The computer expert watched his team, his family, as two hours turned into five. He knew his team couldn't take much more.
They all looked to the swinging doors when a man in a lab coat came out. It was the doctor who seemed to have been assigned to Team Seven. They always got Dr. Montgomery. They called him Mont for short and the 6' 4'' doctor didn't seem to mind. They all looked expectantly at the man they hoped had good news.
For eight months Dr. Scott Montgomery had been Team Seven's unofficial doctor. The men that made up this unique ATF team were hardened, battle scarred men and were very protective of each other. They no longer tried to intimidate him and now knew that he would tell them the truth about their injured friend. But he knew this one would be difficult for all of them.
"Gentlemen, Standish has a chest cold like Nathan said but there are some complications. Nathan says he was on an assignment of sorts." He waited for the tall blond to confirm this. "At some point tonight someone drugged him." He held up his hand to forestall any arguments. "The main problem is that he was given some kind of new designer drug, a date rape drug. It had traces of curare in it." He paused at the angry outburst, nodding his head in thanks to Larabee for stopping it. It still amazed him all it took was a look or a raised hand for the unruly group to become silent. "His fever and chest cold changed the composition of the drug. Then when Nathan gave him the anti-pyretic to bring down his fever it changed again. He became panicked when he could not move and his fever had increased, adding to the problem. We've flushed his system and now we have to wait for him to wake up."
"How long, Mont?" Larabee asked.
"Not sure really but he has shown signs of waking within the last few minutes but there are no guarantees that he will wake up until the curare is completely out of his system. It could be today, tomorrow or a few weeks. We will have to wait it out. Before you ask, yes, you can go back and yes, you can stay." Mont smiled, at Larabee's amused grin. "Nathan is with him in room four. You all know the way."
He turned around and started flipping through the chart when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning he looked into the relieved blue eyes of the team's sharpshooter.
"Thanks, Mont," was all Tanner said but his eyes held a wealth of unexpressed gratitude.
He nodded at the message he read in them. He didn't know what held this special team together. Sure, danger and having their lives in each other's hands caused them to trust each other but it was more than that, but he'd save that thought for another time. He had other patients to see.
The Team had been off and on at the hospital for a week. Travis had given the team time to be with Ezra until he woke up. The alternated shifts, though Vin chose to stay the whole time, just going home to change clothes or grab something to eat. Right now, all the men were sitting around talking, hoping that Ezra might hear them and wake up, if only to tell them to shut up.
Ezra once again heard voices but had no trouble this time discerning who the people were or the words themselves. He slowly opened his eyes looking for something. Something he felt he was missing but got sidetracked. He groaned as he noticed he was once again in the dreaded pit of hell, otherwise known as a hospital.
Hearing the groan, the men surrounded the bed. Jackson sent JD to let the nurses know the agent had finally come to.
"Hey, Ez, how ya feeling?"
"Was that rhetorical? Fine and I will be even better when one of you hands me my clothing so I may vacate these premises." Well, that was what he had meant to say but it had come out as a garbled up mess. Instead he chose to glare at the healer and ignored the chuckle it caused his teammates.
Suddenly there was a glass with a straw in front of him being offered. He began by taking small sips until he was sure that his stomach would not rebel. Once reassured he drained the glass of water.
"That's a good start. Want to try again?"
Ezra flexed his tongue and hope the traitorous appendage wouldn't fail him again. "If someone would kindly get my clothing I'll be ready to leave in 5 minutes." God, his throat hurt and his voice was hoarse.
"Don't think so, Ez. You've been sick for a while and still need to rest." Nathan just ignored the heated glare sent his way.
"Besides, young man, you still have to talk to me about how you feel." Dr. Montgomery walked in the room in time to hear the agent wanting to leave. He grinned at the groan the southerner gave at the sound of his voice. "You've been quite sick this last week and I need to make sure there are no aftereffects of the drug." Mont hadn't thought a person's eyes could get so big but at the mention of a week the undercover agent's eyes got very big and then even bigger at the mention of drugs. He noticed the agent looked to Tanner for confirmation. The sharpshooter just nodded.
Mont had noticed that the tracker had hold of the southerner's hand when he had walked in and still hadn't let go. He had witnessed all the team, since he had known them, give a downed teammate physical comfort, whether a touch on the shoulder, a comforting squeeze to let the hurt teammate know that they were there for him. They supported and comforted each other just like any family unit.
Somehow this seemed different but somehow right for these two men. Not like it made much difference to him. He had grown up in California and he had two fathers who loved him and had raised him to be the man he was. He was very grateful to them.
"What do you mean drugs? And a week?"
"Mr. Standish, we've had this discussion before and I know you've had it with your friends here. If you are sick, you tell someone." Mont raised his hand to stave off the argument he could see in the agent's eyes. "Yes, I know your reasoning, even if it doesn't make sense. You were running a high fever of 105 when you were brought in last Friday. You've been in and out of consciousness for a week now. You could have come down with pneumonia, not to mention the drug someone slipped you."
Tanner still held Standish's hand as he rubbed the suddenly tense shoulders. "Easy, Ez. We'll explain in a minute."
Ezra finally realized that Vin was holding his hand and jerked it out of the warm grip, glancing at the man in black, trying to gauge the man's reaction to his lover holding his hand. The man seemed unfazed. There was no anger or possessiveness in the man's hazel eyes. Only concern for him.
God, there he went again. He was losing his mind and was as confused as a foreigner in another country but even then a foreigner had an advantage of help in some form. He just felt like an alien that had landed in Russia with no clue why it wasn't possible to land at the Kremlin. He rubbed his temples, trying to relieve the sudden headache he had.
Why did he feel he was the only one without a script in this horror film that he had woken up in?
"I'll send in the nurse with something for the headache. You'll be having them for a few more days, I suspect," Mont said as he saw the southerner massage his temples. "I'll let the others explain the rest." With that he took his leave of the men.
Dropping his head back on the pillow with a wince and eyes shut, he said, "Okay, explain."
"What's the last thing you remember?" said a soothing voice. Ezra ignored the tug of a memory at the sound of the voice.
"I remember that you and Mr. Larabee showed up where you weren't invited, and didn't belong, and then you followed me home. That was Friday of last week?" At Vin's nod he continued. "I do not remember anything after that." He lied, sort of. He didn't remember what happened but he did remember disjointed dreams and the feelings they caused. But dreams wouldn't count, shouldn't count. What day is it?"
"Saturday. Well I guess it was a week and a day really." JD supplied helpfully.
"When we got to your place you were running a fever. Chris and I," Vin paused at the southerner's flinch and glanced at his best friend. It looked like Ezra had seen and misread the situation that morning. He would deal with that later when the time was right. He just hoped he got the chance. "Called Nate. He had gotten something from Wentworth to bring your temp down but it hit the roof. So we brought ya here."
Ezra was getting flashes of a dream as Vin spoke. The ex-bounty hunter's voice sparked a feeling of safety and yearning that the undercover agent didn't understand. He didn't open his eyes when he heard the door opening because for some unexplained reason he knew that the tracker was there and nothing would happen. But he knew without a doubt that the team would protect him. So why did it matter that he felt safer knowing Vin was there? Which just proved to him that he had to get out of here fast. He needed to contact St. John and soon. He flinched at the sharp sting of the needle entering his skin.
"What drug is Dr. Montgomery talking about?"
"Well, the bartender recognized ya and, wanting to protect his boss, slipped ya a new designer drug that, luckily, hadn't hit the streets yet."
"We shut him down real quick like with the help of your friend, Ez. He went in with a wire to get proof for us. The bartender will be going away for a long time," JD supplied but couldn't help but ask, "Ez, why is St. John in Squealers Anonymous? And why does he owe ya a favor?"
He could feel the medicine slowly burning through his veins and his muscles relaxing as the drug worked its magic, which for once, he didn't mind if it got him out of the hot seat. "He wouldn't kill me when my cover was blown if I did a favor for him. It was actually a very pleasant experience for both of us." With that he allowed the medicine to lure him into a contented sleep.
Ezra never saw the hurt and determined look that crossed the tracker's face. Vin had, many times in his life, backed off when he thought that he didn't stand a chance, but this wasn't going to be one of them. He was going to fight for the southerner whether he wanted him to or not. He didn't know where Ezra stood in his feelings with St. John or what he wanted from the man but he was going to give it everything he had.
He glanced up when he felt a reassuring squeeze to his shoulder and met Buck's knowing gaze. "He's stubborn, Vin, but just hang in there. You might be surprised. Not to mention that, from what y'all have said about the night he met St. John, that don't sound like no happy reunion to me. Sounded like he was there to collect on a favor and St. John was tryin' to take advantage of the situation."
Vin just nodded his head but he knew that he had to convince Standish that Chris and he didn't have a relationship like he wanted with the southerner but just a friendship of brothers. That was going to be a challenge. The man was a stubborn, hardheaded and independent individual but the ex-bounty hunter had something up his sleeve that Standish had yet to encounter: A Texan's single-mindedness in something he believed to be truly his above all else. Good thing he hadn't mentioned that they had already showered together. Might have sent the man runnin' the other way then he would have to track him down. Might have been interesting.
The team left a little while later as they still had to work. Chris had given Vin some time off so he could stay with Ezra. Of course, being the bottomless pit the team claimed him to be, he had slipped out to get some food. When he came back, Ezra was gone and so were his clothes.
Ezra had come to slowly but he had regained enough wits to realized he was by himself and he took full advantage of it. Not knowing how much time he had, he slowly got out of bed, having to stop when the room started to spin. Finally he made it over to the closet and pulled his clothes out. A short while later he was slipping out the door, after making sure the coast was clear.
It was slow going down the first flight of stairs and after realizing he just didn't have the strength to make it any further, he exited the stairwell and sedately walked to the closest set of elevators. Not sure if he had been discovered yet, he chose a back exit and made it to a bus stop where he was lucky enough to catch a bus just pulling up.
He'd go to St. John's house as he knew that the team would be watching Inferno. Once there, he'd leave behind not just this place and the team he'd grown to think of as family but also the man he loved, the man who loved another.
He had enough put away under an alias in Texas and a few bank accounts in the Cayman Islands to start fresh in another line of work but just hadn't found out what line that would be yet. Law enforcement was out since they did background checks and an alias would be easily discovered and the team would then be able to find him. He'd figure something out later. He was a survivor and always would be even if he was leaving his heart behind. He'd survive with an empty void where his heart had been. And it would only be survival, not living, since he couldn't have the man he loved.
Ezra got off the bus and found a cab to take him to St. John's home which was across town from where the bus had taken him. When he pulled up to the modest two story brick home it was dark. He hoped St. John was still there and hadn't gone to the club.
He knew his hair still held the blond tips even though they were no longer spiked. He just hoped that would buy him enough time to do what he needed. He rang the door bell twice before it was answered.
The Nordic-looking man waved him in. "Your friends have been hounding me for several hours. Also said if I helped you I wouldn't have to worry about anyone finding out who I really was, they'd do the job for them free of charge. Is it still important that you leave?"
"More so than ever."
"Friends like that are hard to come by."
Ezra looked out the window as he answered. "Yes, they are. But I cannot stay and lose what is left of my soul as I watch the man I love, love another."
Ezra had no problem telling this man what he felt. They had talked and gotten closer over the years because of Heidi. It had started with letters updating St. John on his sister's situation and it evolved to phone calls. It started off with mutual respect and developed into shaky trust. It was safe to talk openly with St. John. Though St. John had always liked to push the envelope, so to speak, between friendship and lovers, just to get a response out him. Ezra may be unethical sometimes in catching the bad guys but he would never cross the line by having sex with one. Besides, the way his mother had raised him, he had decided that he preferred being with someone you loved than being with some to use.
Talking to the former criminal always made him feel he was talking to a long lost cousin who actually liked him and wanted to spend time with him, though they didn't have a lot in common except for bad experiences in the past. They both had been through a lot and most importantly, he'd never see the man again. At least he hoped not.
Michael St. John knew he was about to play with fire but this man had gone out of his way to help him and he felt it was the least he could do for him in return. Besides he was a romantic at heart. This agent deserved what ever he could do for him. "You could be mistaken about this man."
Ezra glanced sharply at the man before him, getting a sudden uneasy feeling. "And what pray tell would you know about this man? Have you given me up?"
"No, Ezra, I just know what it's like to love someone and not be able to be with them but still see them everyday. But if you're sure..."
"I'm sure. Just get me out of here as soon as possible," Ezra interrupted.
St. John sighed. The southern agent hadn't changed much over the years. He was still the same pushy bastard and still living in denial. This time it was over his love life instead of his job. He had heard the rumors back when Ezra was in the FBI and he knew that what Ezra had done for him had somehow played into that even though Ezra would never admit it. The undercover agent had become a little brother to him. Sure, last night he had pushed the flirtation a little bit but it had been more of a show for his own unrequited love who had been a wonderful friend before his life of crime had even started. Then his lover who was bartending that night poisoned Ezra because he was jealous of the southerner and had recognized him as an undercover agent. He just wanted to help this man, who had helped him so much to find some happiness.
"Okay. You leave on the 2:30 bus tomorrow to Stanton, Texas. There you'll switch over to a plane under a different identity. I'll give you the airport locker number before you leave. You'll find everything you'll need to get into Greece." Looking at his watch St. John said, "I've got to get to the club before they get suspicious. They've been watching it since you disappeared. I'm really sorry about what happened with the bartender. I want you to know that I had nothing to do with it."
Ezra looked at the sincere face and put a hand on his shoulder. "I know. They explained what happened. I'll come back tomorrow."
St. John grabbed his arm before he took another step. "Nonsense, you can stay in a guest bedroom. Besides you look exhausted." He gave the agent a push towards the kitchen table, then turned towards the refrigerator. "I kept tabs on you and know the doctor ordered plenty of fluids." At the southerner's skeptical look he said defensively, "What? I can't care about the man who saved my sister? I owe you a debt I can never repay. This doesn't even put a dent in what I owe you." St. John put a glass of juice in front of the man. "Look, just drink this and I'll wake you in the afternoon in time to make the bus."
"Thank you, Michael. You get me out and I would say we are even."
"Okay, Ezra. I've got to go. Those friends of yours are tenacious at best. They really want to find you and that Texan plays hardball. You've only been gone a few hours but they've been to the club asking questions. They got a little rough with the manager and they no doubt will be watching the Inferno waiting to talk to me again. Nothing I can't handle." God, he was babbling like a virgin. He had to wrap this up and get to the bar before Ezra realized he'd been set up. Thank God he was still out of it and his brain wasn't firing on all cylinders. "Second room on the left is yours. I laid out towels in the bathroom. I figured you might show when your friends showed up looking for you. By the way, next time call me instead of trying the city's transportation system, okay? I don't need for you to get lost in all that mess again. Get some rest. Oh, and don't be surprised if you see strangers in the morning. I bring home... friends all the time."
With that St. John left. He just hoped he was doing the right thing.
Ezra slowly trudged up the stairs to the room St. John had said would be his. For once in his life he didn't pay much attention to the details of his surroundings. Instead he laid down on the bed and curled up in a ball, staring at the wall. Once again, he would leave people he thought of as family. He hadn't felt like this since he was a child, too young to understand, why he was being pawned off on anyone and everyone. Only this time he did understand that he was leaving more than a family behind. He was leaving the one person who had touched his heart. The one person who mattered more than life itself. But he knew leaving would be better than having his heart broken as he watched Vin and Chris build a life together, all the time wishing that it could be him making a life with Vin.
He fell asleep at some point, praying for a dreamless sleep.
That was how Vin found Ezra, asleep, curled up into a ball with dried tear tracks running down his face. It had been an all out battle of wills between Team Seven and Witness Protection but finally they got their point across, or rather AD Travis got his team's point across before they ended up in prison. St. John was supposed to call if the southerner showed up on his doorstep and he had, but the house had been under surveillance as well just to be on the safe side. JD had notified the team as soon as Standish got out of the cab. St John had called while they were on their way to his house.
St John had said to wait till he left for the club before the team came in. Also he told them the door would be unlocked so not to kick it open. Vin had seriously thought about ripping it off its hinges but they had decided the element of surprise would be better, which was why he alone was standing next to the man he loved instead of the whole team. They would wait till he gave them a signal to come up.
Now, he had a change of heart as he watched the man sleep, his features softened and his hair tousled. He was happy he had come in silently. He called Chris to let him know that Ezra was sleeping and that they would be fine. He'd call them if he needed them and not to be surprised if they'd didn't hear from him until morning.
Vin stripped off the gambler's clothes, not surprised when the southerner didn't wake up since he hadn't slept much at the hospital. After that was done he stripped off his own clothes and slipped into bed with his southerner, pulling him close. The tracker didn't want to think too much about what would happen when his conman woke up. Ezra believed that he and Chris were a couple and it broke his heart to think how much that hurt the person he loved, but he would clear that up when Ezra woke up.
He fell asleep to the rhythmic breathing of his southern love.
Ezra woke up slowly, enjoying the warmth he felt curled around him. Then his brain slowly registered that there shouldn't be any warmth behind him. Then it registered another disturbing fact... he had no clothes on and neither did his bedmate.
That galvanized him into action. He flew out of bed, grabbing a blanket on the way which happened to leave said bedmate without any covering. He was glad he had closed the curtains. Even with a little sliver of moonlight, it was still dark enough that he couldn't see too much of his naked bedmate. Once at a safe distance he took in his surroundings. His clothes were on the other side of the bed, by the door, the only door and the person, male person at that, was waking up.
Hell, he didn't even know who was in bed with him since the man's face was turned away from him. He remembered that he was at St. John's but the man in the bed wasn't St. John. Wrong build and hair color. Must be one of St. John's friends that came home with him and mistakenly went to the wrong bedroom.
Glancing at the clock he decided that he better get the guy up and out of his room so he could get ready to leave. Walking around to the other side he looked at the other man. He pulled back his hand just before he touched the sienna locks.
"Excuse me, mister, it's time for you to find your room."
"Hello ... Time to wake up."
Still no response.
Why did everything have to be done the hard way? He grabbed the man's shoulder intending to wake him up by shaking him awake, instead he quickly found himself lying pinned under the very man he was wanting to avoid.
"Goin' somewhere, Ez?" the sleepy-eyed tracker asked.
Vin hadn't meant to fall asleep but the strain of Ezra being sick and fear of him disappearing had kept him from sleeping lately. He had woken when Ezra had first stirred but had played possum, wanting to see what his reaction would be and as he waited for a chance to grab the man. When Ezra touched his shoulder he pulled the unsuspecting man down on top of him and rolled his conman underneath him.
"Asked if ya were goin' somewhere, Ez," the tracker repeated softly to the stunned man.
It didn't take long for Ezra to regain his equilibrium or his temper as he glared up at the blue-eyed man. "What the HELL is going on?"
"Thought that would be obvious," Vin stated as he started nibbling on the southerner's throat, causing him to moan.
Ezra was losing his train of thought as Vin's talented mouth started to move down his body. Ezra's eyes flew open and he started pushing and struggling to get away from this man.
"No. You belong to..."
Vin had countered every move the southerner made trying to get away and letting the man slowly tire himself out, but he started to pull away when his love said no. Then again, he just couldn't let the man finish that sentence. So he stopped him the only way he had ever dreamed of stopping the flow of words from the wordy man....
He kissed him.
Not a soft kiss but a possessive kiss. Hard and demanding. He didn't let up till the southerner opened up to him. His tongue swept in and dueled with its mate both giving and taking. When his control started to slip, he broke off the kiss. He laid his head on top of Ezra's shoulder, dragging in deep breaths. He could hear his conman doing the same.
Ezra enjoyed the warmth that was enveloping him. As he regained his breath he realized that talking would be useless at this point. He was too close and too easily distracted. He needed to get away before he lost more than he already had. He'd do what he did best. Hide his feelings.
"Ez, we need to..."
He cut the sharpshooter's words off with a finger to the lips that had just stolen his breath. "Hold that thought, Mr. Tanner." At the wary look he simply said, "Bathroom."
Vin kissed the sweet lips before rolling off his conman. He watched as a still bed sheet-covered Ezra walked into the hallway leading to a bathroom down the hall. He didn't like the man getting out of his sight and followed but stopped, respectfully, at the closed door.
Vin was reluctant to leave his post but his phone was ringing and knew it had to be Chris or one of the others. Still hearing the water running, he figured it was safe to answer the phone. It was either that or the team might come barging in.
Ezra had gone to the bathroom to regain his composure. He checked the doors first since he knew he was on the second floor. He had been quite surprised when he opened the door to find a bedroom connected. He started searching the room for clothing. Finding what looked to be St. John's clothing he started going through it, trying to find something that would fit him. He found a black jogging suit which he quickly put on. He knew that he had to leave before he lost what little sense he had left. Vin's kiss knocked the wind out of his sails. He couldn't understand why Vin was here, with him, and naked, with him. Just didn't make sense. He felt his forehead and cheek. No, he didn't have a fever so that meant the waking dream was real which meant he had to escape and quickly.
During his search he found the bus ticket, which could be refunded, and the plane ticket which couldn't but he had a guy that could fix that. Taking both he walked to the windows, since he knew that no other doors led to a safe way out. Pulling back the curtain he glanced at a window that was solidly closed. No way to open it, translating to no way out. Great, fantastic - he was positive he had the Witness Protection people to thank for that. Also meant that he had no choice but to face the tracker. Damn, that was going to be an ugly scene. This just had to be karma backlash. He knew he screwed up all the time in this life but he hadn't realized he had screwed up so badly in the other lifetime.
All right, he was a grown man. He could do this. He could face the truth then he would disappear. He turned away from the window and slowly walked to the bathroom door. As he reached the door knob he hesitated. He leaned his head on the door wondering when he had become such a coward. Taking a deep breath, he turned the knob and walked into the hallway but stopped when he heard Vin's voice.
A voice that for some reason drew him in and surrounded him with warmth and security. A voice that had him wanting to seek that protection even though he had no need of it. He had a flash of dreams connected to that voice or were they memories?
"No, y'all can leave. I think it's safe to say that he isn't going anywhere. Nope, haven't had a chance to talk to him - been rather distracted." Vin was silent for a moment. "Yep, I'll call later."
Ezra heard the phone snap shut, squared his shoulders, and walked the distance to stand in the doorway, choosing not to say anything yet. He would hear the sharpshooter out before he left. God, it hurt to love someone. He shook his head as he lamented the fact he should have listened to his mother. Now, that was a scary thought. He watched the still unclothed tracker stare out the window.
Vin knew Ezra was watching him. He turned around and noticed the southerner had found some clothing. Vin figured Ezra was pulling his defenses more tightly around himself. Ezra needed to feel in control and if being clothed helped, then he wouldn't say anything. He knew the southerner was stubborn and hardheaded. Vin had always been a direct and forthright person. Why change a working formula now?
"I know what you thought you saw the other day, Ez. Between Chris and me." He turned away then to look at the man he loved. "Ya saw wrong."
Ezra simply raised his eyebrow, giving nothing away. Ezra felt he could congratulate himself on his self control. It took a great of deal of effort to have a conversation with a totally naked man who was the stuff wet dreams are made of, so Ezra decided looking directly into the sapphire eyes was much safer.
"Okay, ya interpreted it wrong," Vin stated at the upraised eyebrow. He walked over to the southerner but Ezra just backed away from him. He sighed and turned back to look out the window.
"Buck was givin' some of his famous tips again when he found out that Chris hadn't gotten anywhere with Mary. Ya know how he has to play matchmaker and just can't stand for anyone not to be as successful as him." Vin shrugged. "Thought it'd be easier than havin' to deal with his constant naggin' all day or hurtin' his feelin's. So Chris asked if I'd help in Buck's demonstration."
Yes, Ezra knew the ladies man couldn't stand to see someone not as happy and successful as himself, but it had just looked too real, like that was an everyday occurrence between the two men. And what about the way Vin had been acting towards him? Yes, it was possessive but was it real? Did Vin just want to make sure he didn't leave the little family they had made? Or was there more to it? All he knew was what he had seen and the pain that still held his heart captive. He needed time to think and most importantly he needed space. But would he get it?
Vin had spoken his piece, now he waited to see if Ezra believed him. He turned, waiting for a reaction. He watched the emotions cross the man's face. He didn't like what he saw there. He walked slowly over to the too quiet man who was so deep in thought but the minute he got too close the southerner was backing away again.
Ezra looked deeply into the troubled sapphire eyes, seeing the sincerity and all the man's love. He just didn't think it was for him. Why would it be? Why would someone love him? He asked the only thing he could.
"Why what, Ez?"
Vin started moving towards the man again and the undercover agent matched him step for step.
"Why love you?"
Ezra came up against the hallway wall. Vin trapped him there with his body and a hand on either side of the southerner's head. Ezra nodded, trying to ignore the strong lean body that held him in place.
"'Cause you're a good man, with a good heart. Someone worth lovin'. I can't stop how I feel, Ez, and I don't want to. You're the reason I take my next breath. My heart breaks at the beauty of your smile. For me, you're the reason the sun rises and sets." Vin wiped away the tears that were softly falling from the southerner's emerald eyes. "I need you, Ez. I need to feel you against me. I need to know that one day I won't wake up and find you gone. 'Cause if you left I'd die inside. Don't leave me, Ez. Please?"
Ezra had never, in all of his life, heard such beautiful words or had them directed at him. He leaned up and softly kissed those sweet lips. The ones he had dreamed of and never held out hope of tasting. The kiss turned desperate, each seeking and finding reassurance from the other.
Ezra pushed Vin back into the room they had just come from and down onto the bed. He slowly stripped the jogging suit off, reveling in the heated sapphire gaze that was aimed at him. He let the clothing drop where it landed and pushed his sharpshooter back onto the bed, slowly kissing him as they went back. Both were too far gone from the sensation and the feel of their cocks rubbing against each other to last long.
Vin wrapped an arm around his lover, holding him in place on top of him as they both caught their breath. The tracker's arm tightened when his love went to move off him. Ezra looked at his beloved and gave him a sweet gentle kiss.
"Let me go get something to clean us up with." When Vin reluctantly loosed his arms, Ezra kissed him. He walked to the bathroom, finding and wetting a washcloth. As he cleaned himself up, the conman marveled at the change. A few minutes ago he was trying to leave, with a broken heart. Now, he had the man he loved and could think of no place he'd rather be.
Well, that wasn't true. He did want to be in his own home. That brought him up short. St. John had helped his teammates find him. Guess he now owed the man, for if he hadn't helped the team he wouldn't have Vin. He'd thank St. John later.
Walking back into the bedroom he stopped and gazed at the dozing tracker. The man was really his. Reality was slow to sink in. He had never had someone to love him, just him. He gently cleaned the sharpshooter up and crawled back into bed with his lover, who spooned up behind him.
It was decided, once they had woken up, that they would go to Ezra's house. Vin just didn't mention that they would be making a stop at the hospital first to make sure that the conman was all right. Ezra had dozed off on the way so it wasn't until he woke to find himself in front of the dreaded building that the southerner started to refuse.
"Ez, you left the hospital AMA and I need to know you're all right. Please, for me, see Mont?" Vin gave his best puppy dog expression.
"Fine, but you've been hanging around JD way too much. But I'm not staying," he warned. Ezra was far from happy but couldn't refuse his lover. If the positions were reversed he'd want the same reassurances. He chose to ignore Vin's pleased grin as he exited the vehicle.
Ezra walk through the pneumatic doors and right into his team members. He hadn't really thought about the others and felt a little guilty for it.
Larabee put a hand on his agent's shoulder as the rest of the group hung back. "We okay now, Ez?"
Ezra smiled, his gold tooth flashing. "Yes, Mr. Larabee, everything is all right."
"Good, then it's time to see Mont." The blond started pushing him towards Nathan and Vin. "He's already got a room ready to check ya out."
Vin and Nathan each had an arm as they led the condemned man towards the room with the others in tow, just in case they needed help getting the slippery man in there.
Ezra walked calmly to the room and sat on the gurney, with Vin beside him the whole way. He didn't like being here but at least he had his Texan with him.
Mont walked in shortly after Ezra sat down on the gurney. He knew better than to make any of these men wait long. Their attitudes only got worse the longer they waited. It also helped that Nathan had called and said they were bring the stubborn southerner back.
"Ezra, glad to see you made it back. Gentlemen." He nodded to the other men in the room.
"Dr. Montgomery," Ezra greeted in clipped tones. He hated doctors but he really hated them when they tried to be funny.
"How have you been feeling since you left yesterday?"
"Great. In fact so good that I think I'll just be leaving now." A hand on his shoulder stopped him. When he looked into his lover's eyes, he sighed. "Fine, my throat is sore and scratchy and my chest feels tight and it hurts to breathe." He folded his arms over his chest in a defiant gesture. "I'm not staying here tonight so don't even try it."
The others grinned. It was good to see that their friend was back among them and not in his self-enforced exile. They all noticed that Ezra settled down with just a look from Vin. Nathan was hoping it went both ways.
Mont held up his hands in a placating manner. "Let me have a listen and we'll take it from there, okay?" At the southerner's nod of acceptance Mont approached. When he finished with the exam, he had already decided that he would let the agent go.
"Okay, doesn't look like you've got a recurrence coming on after your little excursion. No sign of fever. Lungs sound a little congested but that's normal. So go home and rest. Nathan, here are the orders and the prescriptions. You know the signs and I know you'll be checking him every day so call me if you need anything."
Nathan nodded, accepted the papers and went to have the prescriptions filled. Mont followed him out stopping at the nurses' station.
Dr. Montgomery knew he broke procedure a lot for these men, but he also knew these men and that's where the other doctors failed with the team. He understood enough of the dynamics of the team to know that Nathan Jackson was the one these men trusted and looked to when it came to medical stuff. He had checked Nathan out to be on the safe side and he knew Jackson would call if there was anything he wasn't sure about. He also knew that his acceptance of Nathan was what allowed these men to trust him. Well, trust was the wrong word - maybe tolerate his opinions was a better way to phrase it. They still were a pain in the ass but at least he had it easier than his fellow doctors did when he wasn't around. Of course some of them did deserve what they got from the team.
A few hours later Team 7 left the hospital, all going their own way knowing the southerner would be looked after and Vin would call them if there was anything he couldn't handle.
Ezra walked into his home, going straight for the bedroom, shedding his clothes as he went. God, he was tired. Too tired to care where his clothing landed. As he crawled under the covers, he held out his hand for his Texan to join him.
"Don't think so, Ez. You need to sleep," Vin said as he laid the clothes he had picked up on a nearby chair.
"I want you to sleep with me." Ezra smiled. He understood the sharpshooter's concern. "I'd sleep better with you beside me."
Vin nodded, toed his boots off then took off his shirt. At Ezra's questioning look, he shrugged his shoulders. "You're too temptin' and right now I'd rather not test my willpower."
"All right, for now." Vin slid under the covers, pulling his southern love against him so Ezra's head rested on his shoulder. Vin knew it would be a tough road ahead of them but they had friends who would be there for them and most importantly they had each other. For now that was enough and when the time came and it wasn't enough? Well, they'd cross that bridge when they came to it. Vin followed Ezra into a peaceful dreamless sleep.
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