That Vertical Climb
(Search & Rescue)

by Kris

"On bulay," Buck Wilmington yelled up to Vin Tanner.

Vin moved and shifted his gear, then gave the rope a tug.

In answer to the rope tug, Buck smiled and yelled up, "Off bulay."

Vin nodded and started his climb down to the injured climber. His fingers finding grips, his toes instinctively finding holes to place his feet. He had a double harness so he could attach to the victim's gear and climb up with him.

Josiah Sanchez was landing Nathan Jackson on top were Vin started so the paramedic could attend to the injuries, then Josiah would fly them to the hospital.

Ezra Standish and JD Dunne had already brought up the other climber that had only been suffering from a mild case of hypothermia. She had stayed with the hurt climber all night and the third climber had gone for help.

Chris Larabee was pleased with synchronized teamwork his team had developed. A year together and they hardly needed words between them, knowing so well what to do where. Chris was realistic though, he knew with the close proximity that tempers did flare and arguments would happen, but overall the team meshed. Even the stand-offish Ezra fit in, though at times he tried to pretend he didn't.

It was the very uniqueness of the individuals that made it easy to accept each other as is.

Chris thought on Josiah many a time. His wife, Ania, lived in Casper and he lived out here, but this situation seemed to really work for them and both were content.

Buck had probably met every female in a fifty mile radius. Didn't matter if they were married or, he knew their name. He only dated the ones that weren't married to his knowledge. For Buck, women were the icing on his cake of life. Chris laughed at himself, but he'd heard Buck actually say it.

JD had met Casey Wells, a niece of a horse rancher seventy five miles away, but he had managed to create a relationship. Helps that she's away at college three quarters of the year. Chris smiled to himself again, Casey did love the outdoors and he hoped that JD would have some aspects of his life fall together smoothly, he'd already had to face several tough choices.

Nathan had been trying to date that wolfologist. It was an on again, off again, depending on their schedules. Nathan seemed content, said he wasn't ready to be in a fully committed relationship, his work was still number one with him.

For Vin, the group was family. Filling a niche in life that had been lacking prior. Chris suspected though that in his heart of hearts, Vin's heart belonged to Ezra. Nothing overt, but a feeling he got. They had built their friendship up slowly, Ezra trusted less than Vin or himself, but Vin had broken through. On a rare occasion of late, he was sure that he recognized a longing, but Vin wouldn't cross that line unless he was sure. Chris wasn't sure if Vin was bent that way, or if it was just Ezra and he'd never ask. Vin was the little brother he'd never had.

Chris knew that for all his differences on the outside, Vin and Ezra were very similar on the inside. They shared some sort of kindred communication that he wasn't even sure that they were aware of yet.

Ezra didn't make friends easy. Josiah was of the opinion that Ezra had never truly had one, and that this was the first time that anyone had really tried to establish this kind of relationship with him. Not that Ezra made it easy, Chris laughed, he remembered when Travis first questioned him about how Ezra had been thrown off every team he had ever been on, but here it was a year later and Ezra fit in just fine. This was the team he belonged on, that made the difference.

Chris pondered whether Ezra returned the sharpshooter's feelings. Could he? Chris honestly didn't know. What he knew about Ez was whatever the risk-taker let slip on the rare occasion or two. But the inside, down deep and personal Ezra, well, Vin knew the most, and he hardly knew it all.

After Vin had been shot last winter, it had taken a while for Vin to get the same level of friendship with Ezra back. Ezra had been faced with the potential loss of someone close and had nearly fled. Just Vin's intuitive handling of the fear kept Ezra here long enough to work through it.

Ezra may be the high risk taker with his life, each endeavor more extreme than the last, but he was no gambler with his emotions. Was Ezra ever capable of trusting enough to love? Chris wasn't sure either. He hoped that Vin was prepared for the battle of his life.

This team...this team was important to Chris. He accepted that. It was a good reason to be here.


Vin did his work without anyone guessing just how pissed off he was. He latched onto the victim then signaled Buck and started his climb, but his thoughts were shooting darts at one Ezra Standish. He knew that Ezra liked the extreme sports, hell, he loved the high risk sports, but he'd always been safe. But this last weekend, 'fuck,' he yelled it in his head.

The rescue climber took a steadying breath and continued his climb. He tried to focus all his thoughts there, but it required so little effort that he couldn't stop his wandering memories.

Last weekend

Atlanta, Georgia

The newer, controllable parachutes were easy and Ezra wanted to try something harder so he had talked Vin into sky surfing. Yes it was a little more dangerous but therein lie the quest, to conquer another extreme adventure. Vin was game and agreed to go tandem as he was a novice. Ezra was going alone, as he was well known in the extreme circles.

The first two runs were straight basic jumps, no fancy stuff. The third proved to be more adventurous. Ezra had tried a flip and his cords had become tangled causing him to fall like lead. He plunged without a scream.

Vin had been keeping an eye on his kindred and yelled to one of the instructors, pointing to the problem. The instructor recognized the danger, ditched his board and dived in hopes of catching the falling man.

Vin watched as best he could as Ezra was caught and the instructor popped his rescue chute and the two drifted to the ground. Whatever was said between the instructor and Ezra was between them, for they were already stowing their gear when Vin's feet finally touched the ground.

Vin found himself wanting to yell when Ezra made plans to go again on his next days off. But the outdoorsman kept his silence, knowing that Ezra would hate a scene.


For Vin, the fear was still real and he needed to deal with it. Punching Ezra was not the best solution he could ponder, just the one that would bring the most satisfaction. Vin reached the cliff top and Buck relieved him of his burden. As the victim was loaded into Josiah's helicopter, Vin stowed the gear automatically, absorbed only by his thoughts.

Vin had to face the truth, he had some pretty deep feeling for one Ezra Standish. He had no clue if Ezra would welcome these deeper emotions or not. The risk taker wasn't risky in the feelings department. Vin had to dwell more on this.

He functioned within the bounds of norm the rest of the day. If anyone noticed his inner absorption, no one mentioned it.

As the evening drew to a close for the group, Vin grabbed a couple of beers and headed for his favorite evening spot. He pulled on his Dos XX and watched the moon rise. He now allowed his thoughts to surround Ezra. Chestnut hair that framed a face that the word beautiful would work on. He pictured the green eyes, eyes that held secrets. Eyes that also yearned to belong, something that Ezra was just discovering that he wanted. A smile that could say so much, or nothing at all.

He was slender, but well built. Hard muscles that were hidden inside of tailored clothes. A body that Vin knew he wanted to get his hands on. As his erection pressed against his jeans, Vin knew he had to acknowledge that his feelings had graduated to sexual. He wanted to fuck Ezra to the other side of midnight. And he didn't even know if Ezra would give him the time of day that way.

The reserved man had accepted his friendship, a slow and continual picking at the defenses that Ezra had erected to keep others out. Vin had ignored all such barriers and succeeded where most others had failed. He knew he had paved the way for Chris and the rest of the team to crawl under those barriers also.

Now Vin had to decide if he was willing to possibly lose that friendship for romantic love. He would have to test the waters very slowly, if at all. For the yearning to feel those talented hands on his body would feed his dreams for months to come.

Buck had noticed that Vin'd only had half his mind on the job today. He could do more than most with just half, but to Buck it meant that something was troubling the tracker. When he hadn't returned for an hour, Buck climbed the hill to him and sat quietly beside him.

"Something troublin' ya, Vin?" Buck inquired softly.


"Need an ear?" Buck offered.

Vin was well aware that the light-hearted exterior of this man hid a deeply caring individual. "Buck, how do you recognize when your feelings are returned? Besides the obvious, when they throw themselves at you."

Buck was surprised by the question and refrained from the funny answer that was probably expected. "I try to catch if and how they watch me. Maybe more than regular accidental touching."

Vin knew that Buck had answered honestly, "You always right?"

"Nah, some hide it real well. Sometimes I miss the obvious, it ain't me but the uniform or my position." Buck waited, hoping that Vin would share more, but the man remained silent. "This about Ezra?" The ladies man ventured.

Vin froze. Shit. He hadn't thought he'd been obvious. "What makes you suggest that?"

Buck smiled, the tense body gave it away. "It ain't obvious, if that's what yer thinking. Just that I make it a practice to watch the body language of everybody and after thirty five years, I'm downright good at it. I pretty much figured that the outside don't matter too much to you, but some inner connection you feel does, so gender don't play no big part."

Vin finished his second beer as he continued to look out into the night and answered, "Yeah, it's about Ezra."

"When he thinks no one's watching, he watches you intently. The softest looks he gives out are to you and that darn horse. He can be pretty gentle with JD at times too. Does he want you? I don't rightly know. He don't give much out. You're the only one that cracked that shell."

"We actually have a lot in common." Vin replied.

Buck took a deep breath, "We all have demons, some more constant companions than others. I'm not sure ol Ez ever gets a break from his demons."

Vin nodded his agreement. The two men sat and shared the silence of the night.

From his darkened window, Ezra watched the two men in the night and couldn't figure out why he didn't like what he saw.


Several days later, Vin made some sandwiches, grabbed some pop and volunteered Ezra and himself to exercise the horses. Chris agreed enthusiastically.

Ezra took out Chaucer and Vin saddled Wind and they rode out to the HoneyCombs. Vin let the ride help purge his frustration as he gave the horse her lead. As if living up to her name, she moved through the air quickly.

Ezra smiled at the freedom Vin exuded as he rode. Whatever the man undertook, he always seem to be at one with it. Ezra envied that ability. He didn't believe that he had ever felt at one with anything, or anyone. Actually the closest he'd come was with Vin himself. Possibly that free spirit could teach him how.

Ezra found himself drawn to Vin's company and there was hardly a chore that he would turn down if Vin had suggested it. Of course, he would never impart that information with anyone. No one other than his mother had ever held that type of power over him. In the last couple of years he could finally say that his mother could no longer emotionally blackmail him. So he was hesitant to allow any other person in that place. The loner nudged Chaucer to keep up with Vin.

They tethered the horses and raced up the Swiss cheese rock formation to the top. It was a lot easier in the light of day than it had been that night of the search. Neither seemed inclined to let the other lose so they reached the top at the same time.

They walked the ridge and took a seat at the highest point. Vin took out the lunch he brought and shared it with his companion. They ate in a comfortable silence.

Afterwards, Vin broached the fear that was still with him. "Ez, were you afraid?" His voice was quiet as he asked the question.

"I suppose," was Ezra's equally quiet reply.

"Don't ya know?" Vin was trying to stay calm.

Ezra shrugged, "I was working at rectifying the situation. I did not give a lot of thought to the outcome."

"The outcome? You woulda been dead."

"I don't look at the situation that way, that a potential outcome is death. It's never mattered." Ezra examined detachedly.

"Well, it'd matter to me." Vin replied stoically aloud, but screamed the words passionately inside his head.

Ezra gave a single nod of his head to show acknowledgment of Vin's words.

They finished their meal as nature's noises filtered in past their thoughts. A hawk's mating cry, a squirrel sentinel's early warning, the insects buzz and freeze as they moved back to their horses.

The leisurely ride back was changed into a fast gallop as their beepers went off signaling another rescue. They arrived back to see Josiah and Nathan take off in the chopper.

JD filled them in to the mountain bikers phoned in request for help. One had gone off the side when the trail collapsed under them and was hanging on. Josiah had gone ahead to scout the trouble spot.

Chris and Buck had already left in one vehicle and JD had waited for Vin and Ezra. Vin threw the saddles off and promised the horses a good rub down later.

They hopped in the truck and were off, JD trying to play catch up to Chris' truck.

Josiah radioed that there was no place for him to land near the rescue site and would determine a landing site after Chris arrived.

Twenty minutes later, at break neck speed, the rescue team personnel were unloading their gear and running up the trail.

The winter snow had left the ground fairly moist and the bikers had traveled the edge and encountered a weathered section. Chris and Buck looked over the side as Ezra and JD talked with the other biker. After his quick survey, Chris waved Ezra and Vin over.

The bike had fallen down the mountainside and was visible only with binoculars. The rider was hanging precariously, arm hooked about an extended root. That root had prevented the biker from joining his equipment at the bottom of the mountain.

Chris carried a conversation with the victim to establish his awareness. The man yelled up that he was securely anchored over the root, but had no ability or desire to climb up.

Buck was already setting up the climbing systems as Vin and Ezra harnessed up. As this wasn't a mountainside for climbing, they would have to repel down and walk it back up. Two would be able to walk the rescuee, supporting his weight between them with less effort.

Chris radioed Josiah to wait at the bottom of the trail for transport out as he joined Buck in working the ropes.

Both Vin and Ezra repelled down without disturbing the rocks and quickly anchored the mountain biker to them. They took a few moments to explain what they were about to do, but the victim's adrenaline rush was gone and in it's wake left them a tired man.

As the practiced partners they were, between them, Ezra and Vin walked their rescuee slowly to the top. Chris and Buck worked the ropes in tandem as they brought their guys up safely.

JD kept the other rider occupied with his made up mountain bike antics. Providing a needed distraction to keep her attention off the rescue in progress.

Josiah and Nathan flew the man to Casper as Buck offered to drive in with the other rider as no one wanted to leave the car out here unattended.


JD and Vin complained good naturedly as Buck managed once again to miss his dinner night. The trio had called after dropping off the biker at the hospital. They had dinner out. JD and Vin planned how they would get Buck to take their turns willingly.

After dinner they popped in a no-brainer movie. Vin made a point to sit close to Ezra. Leaning over to get his beer, the bowl of popcorn, having to brush Ezra each time. He wanted to slowly discover if he had any chance with the one that already owned his heart.

Over the next few days, Vin rubbed, brushed and touched Ezra accidentally many times. Where Ezra never pulled away, he never leaned in to the touches either. But Vin took the small victories wherever he could get them.


It was a wonderful spring evening and Vin grabbed two beers and asked Ezra if he would join him on the hill top. Ezra nodded as he accepted the extended beer.

They walked in silence as twilight faded into night. One by one, stars appeared overhead leaving just enough light for the men to find their way.

With unerring steps of long practice, they made their way up to the top. Ezra found himself filled with a sudden satisfaction that it was he and not Buck joining Vin at this spot. The risk taker elected not to examine too closely the reason behind the satisfaction.

At times, their shared silences could communicate more than most other's conversations. This was one of those times. Their kindred connection conveyed their deep contentment in each other's company and the silence a shared joy.

Ezra was amazed each and every time at how much he loved these shared silences. For a man that had depended on words to survive, to encounter a soul where the silences were treasured in themselves had him seeking more. He sighed deep within himself, acknowledging in his conscious mind for the second time, his fear of losing this person from his life.

Beers gone and chilled air signaled the men the need to close up for the night. They enjoyed the night sounds as they made their way back.

As Ezra headed for the stairs, he asked casually, "Kayaking weekend after next? Just over on the North Platt?"

Vin nodded.

"We'll need wetsuits, snow melt is just too cold."

Vin chuckled, "Wuss."

Ezra turned his head to the side as he inquired, "Oh, you'll not be wearing a wetsuit, then?"

"Nah, I'm a wuss too." Vin smiled in a conspirators silence.


Wednesday was a wonderfully warm day, mid-seventies and the team was doing all their outdoor chores. Washing trucks, recoiling rope, landscape about their dwellings, just enjoying the warmth on their skin.

Due to the nice weather, Team 7 wasn't overly surprised at the rescue summons mid-afternoon. Seven men dropped what they were doing and all headed for the office. The door hadn't closed behind Josiah that Chris didn't already have the information.

"Junior high school field trip. Class crossed the stream in this morning and now it's a raging river."

"Snow melt," six voices said in unison.

"Exactly. Let's move."

Ten minutes later found two trucks and a helicopter ready to go. Chris and Nathan went with Josiah to set up their landing zone. Buck and JD rode in one truck while Vin and Ezra rode in the other. The school bus was located easily.

Chris radioed the class's position and the ground crew hiked in with their equipment.

Buck started setting up three swift water rescue systems. Nathan was to stay on the west bank as the others prepared to journey to the other side. Vin pulled out what looked like a small saw-off shotgun. Instead of bullets, it carried a nylon cord that Vin shot across the river into the trees. He called to the kids to pull it as that would bring the rope across. Vin put on his specialized vest and hip waders and made his way across. On the other side he anchored the line and set up the Tryrolian. As he fastened a pulley on his side, Buck set up a corresponding one on the other. He hooked in the harness and the Tryrolian rig was set.

Vin shot across two more lines and he and Buck set up two more riggings. As the river wasn't that wide and the water wasn't that wild, the team elected to use two man teams instead of the raft. This way would move the kids across faster.

Chris and Josiah crossed as Vin did, each manning a Tryrolian rig. They would harness one child on each line and move then across via the pulley into the waiting arms of another rescue worker. Buck worked with Chris, JD with Josiah and Ezra with Vin. Nathan was ready with a hot drink, checking for any other type of injuries.

Vin explained this to the teacher as Ezra and Josiah demonstrated for the entire class. Knowing what was upcoming took some of the fear away. Vin also asked the teacher to be last, so he would be able to reassure the kids that were still waiting. Vin was almost sure that the teacher wanted to decline, but agreed with Vin's request.

The teacher hurriedly explained that the stream had been a trickle in the morning. This afternoon they had tried to throw their packs and shoes across, only to have most articles swallowed up by the river. Vin and Chris smiled and comforted the teacher, this was a common problem in the spring. Chris reassured the teacher that this was an easy maneuver and they would take it slow to ensure the children's safety.

Each grouping moved one child at a time. Talking to said child in the manner most needed. Ezra teased a young man that he would be able to capitalize on lots of free meals with the retelling of this adventure. JD would distract with a funny story of a malady from his childhood. Buck would compliment the girls on their bravery.

Two hours later had the entire class on the bus, ready to go. Some were minus a day pack or shoes and socks, but none of that mattered as they waved goodbye, whole class intact.


Vin moved up his campaign to ensnare Ezra. Lunches, hikes, walks, deep sharing conversations, touches, all of this was included in his effort to get the object of his desire to notice him. Notice him in a different way.

Vin worked it into the conversations that he liked both men and women, depending on what they were like on the inside. Vin left plenty of opportunity for Ezra to vent his opinion, but he never did.

Vin was about to give up on getting Ezra this way until an overheard conversation. The day had started in a panic and rush, beepers alerting then to a rescue. JD answered the phone and tripped the pagers.

The teen was frantic, the one making the call. JD was trying his best to get her to give him clear information. "Miss, miss, let me repeat...on Shadow Ridge, your friend is planning on jumping off. That's correct?...okay, what's his name? Josh Pender. Okay, Vickie, wait at the base...yes...right where you are, we'll be there within a half hour ... No, that's okay...first I need to get everybody moving...yes, call back in ten minutes." JD had already sent the beeper call.

Vin, Ezra and Nathan burst into the office as JD hung up the phone. "What's happening?" Nathan asked immediately.

"Suicide attempt. Shadow Ridge. Nineteen year old. Josh Pender. Friend, name of Vicky, is below the ridge, followed him there." JD read from his pad.

"Okay, what's Josiah's ETA?" Nathan inquired further. Ezra and Vin were already gathering their gear.

"Getting the call in now," JD said as he answered the radio. "Okay...Okay, gotcha." JD clicked off the radio as he picked up the phone. "Suicide attempt. Shadow Ridge...yea...Vin and Ezra. Nathan's going with...Josiah's ETA ...forty minutes...yea, keeping ears open...okay, will do."

Nathan waited as Vin and Ezra went for the truck. Nathan kept all the trucks stocked with enough first aid materials. So all he needed was his drug bag.

"Chris and Buck will head out that way, but they're further away than you. Chris says you better keep him updated. Ezra's at point, he's done this before."

Nathan nodded as he collected his gear. Looking back at JD, "I'll keep you posted too." The truck was waiting as he stepped out the door and he jumped in.

Vin drove like a mad man, determined to make it in time. They had agreed that it was faster to get to the base of the ridge and let Ezra free climb, than it was to drive to the top; that was another forty five minutes.

Ezra had his gear, he always brought his chocks and bolts. He wasn't quite as reckless as they all thought. "I'll use frequency 8. Radio silence. Vin...back up?" Ezra looked at Vin's profile. Vin nodded.

Ezra was out of the truck before it stopped, with his climbing pack on, Ezra started up the straight face.

Nathan looked to Vin, "What degree of difficulty?"

Vin answered, never taking his eyes off Ezra, "Three and a half. Pretty easy for Ez and I. Chris could do it, but he'd use his gear. He doesn't seem to enjoy the unfettered experience." Vin grinned.

Nathan smiled, "Unfettered? Ezra rubbing off?"

Vin continued to grin, "I reckon."

Nathan laughed. Then he started looking around for the friend. A girl rushed up to them and Nathan took her aside and explained to her what they were doing.

When Ezra was three quarters of the way up, Vin began his climb. He turned on his headset to keep tabs on the situation above. The others would wait on frequency 7 for news.


Josh Pender looked out at the open vastness, wanting it to swallow him. He couldn't have been more surprised than to see a hand pop up onto the ledge, as if Elvis had parachuted in. A second hand came and joined the first.

As the head appeared a droll southern voice exclaimed, "You can hardly get away and be alone, now can you?" Ezra pulled himself all the way up and sat with his feet dangling over the side.

Josh looked incredulously at the man, "What are you doing?"

"To be honest, your friend Vicky was concerned and I decided to check on you."

"So you just climbed up here?" Josh was thrown by his means of travel.

"Yes, it seemed to be the best choice at the time," Ezra said, matter-of-factly. With the same voice tones, added, "Was she correct?"


"Vicky, was she correct? You wish to end it all?"

Josh looked wildly about, "You gonna try and stop me?"

"Just wish to have a conversation with you." Ezra replied, looking out at the ridges and valleys.

"There's nothing left to talk about." Josh said in a sad voice.

"Yes, it does seem that way." Ezra's voice changed as he turned to face the youth. "I sat where you sat, ten years ago. Seriously considering it an option."

Josh looked at the man beside him, expecting to see the 'I understand, psycho-dribble. But instead, saw a stark bleakness in the eyes that looked directly at him. Josh believed.

Just below, so did Vin.

"An old man made the comment that at this moment I have complete control of my life and could keep it if I chose to. Now, ten years later, I have the career that dreams are made of and may have found a love of a life time."

Below, Vin held his breath, listening closely. But Ezra didn't mention a name, so he wasn't sure who he was speaking of. But his heart took flight in hope.

Ezra was speaking again, "Each moment yet to come has the potential of holding something great. But You will never discover that if you're not here for that disclosure."

"You just don't know how bad it is." Josh said aloud.

"I'm afraid, young man, I do. At times it feels as though the darkness is closing in and there is no means of escape. Yet here I sit, positive proof that escape is possible."

"What so you're all happy now?" The youth asked derisively.

"No, some of the past horrors are my constant companions, but the good times now outweigh the bad. I'm thirty one and just found my niche, but it's a keeper." Ezra's sincerity rang from his voice.

Josh knew his problem weren't solved, but the man beside him didn't bullshit him and a glimmer of hope invaded his system and he reconsidered his decision. "Okay, I won't end it today. But tomorrow may be different."

"Yes, life is often better approached on a day to day schedule. Remember, today could be a good day to die, but tomorrow might be even better." Ezra smiled as he put his hand to shake Josh's. As the boy accepted, Vin used the radio to signal, all okay.

Down below, Vin schooled his expression so Ezra wouldn't know just how much he heard. He waited another three minutes before making his appearance up top.

Ezra sat talking quietly as they waited for Josiah's arrival.


Thursday night found Ezra and Vin atop their midnight mountain retreat and they sat listening to the nights sounds. The echo-locating bats, the screeching owls, the hunting coyote, all let them know they were not alone.

Vin's heart was full, full of love, full of life, full of hope. So he took his future into his own hands and leaned in to Ezra, invading his personal space in a way he had never before. Ezra said nothing at Vin's closeness. Seeing that he wasn't rebuffed at this point went further still, he leaned in and pressed his lips to the full ones adorning Ezra's face. Again, as he wasn't cold-cocked, he pressed in deeper and harder. As the lips opened beneath his, he explored the rich flavor, the smoothness. When air seemed to dictate matters, Vin pulled back.

Vin waited but no comment, no questions seemed forthcoming and he retreated back into himself and said a quiet good night and left Ezra alone under the stars.

Ezra watched in quiet contemplation as Vin walked away. He was surprised by the multiple sensations that assailed his senses. The outdoor smell of Vin, how good his mouth tasted, how right his mouth felt. At that thought, the gambler wished to ponder no more and made his way quickly to his apartment. The answer that was pleading release was silenced once more as Ezra knew that was too dangerous a territory to explore.


Josiah dropped the two kayakers and their equipment at Towledge Point, on the north fork of the Platt River. The men had left a vehicle twenty five miles down river. They waved their thanks and good bye as Josiah took off and flew out of sight.

The air was clean and brisk. The water was snow cold. Vin and Ezra both clowned around as they put on their wet suits, smiling at the remembered conversation about the wetsuits. They stored their stuff in the kayak hatches, grabbed their paddles and pulled their vessels into the water.

The first two or three miles were made in a companionable silence. Each man caught within their own musings.

Vin was puzzled. Ezra hadn't made mention of the kiss whatsoever. Vin realized that Ezra had not really returned the kiss, but he hadn't pulled away either, surly that meant something. The tracker had thought that he had read Ezra right. He saw interest. The secretive man did watch him, Vin had looked for it after his conversation with Buck. He allowed each and every touch, never moved out of the way. Vin really didn't think he was wrong. But nothing was said about the kiss, it was like it didn't even happen, except for the imprint burned into his lips, Vin might have doubted it himself.

Ezra's thoughts were less organized. He was gripped by fear. Bring on a waterfall, but forget this emotional ride, that's where the danger was. People always left him. Even his mother never had him along for long, and she was supposed to want him. No lover had ever requested more from him. He had never offered more. Never actually worried about losing his heart. But here in the out back of Wyoming, he found himself throwing his heart into the ring.

Though, Vin had never mentioned hearts...maybe he only wanted sex. That would probably be mind blowing and he stopped himself right there. Why had he never once pondered the fact the Vin was a man. He had experimented in college, but he had never given men much thought after that.

Now, here he was, contemplating a man and until a few moments ago, had even forgotten he was a man. He was Vin. And inside Ezra's mind that about said it all. That was scary.

Vin on the other hand was worried by the silence. Maybe Ezra was upset, it was hard for most to tell, but Ez was acting more close-to-the-breast than usual. Vin had to know.

"Have you thought much on what that kiss was to you, Ez?"

Ezra was gripped by nearly a thousand different emotions, truth was no where near the top. "Was it suppose to mean something?"

Softly, "Yeah, to find out if you wanted more." Vin was looking ahead, not at the man in question.

"What are you implying? That you want to have sex?" Ezra tried to point the topic away from him.

"I was implying that I wanted a relationship, that's a whole lot more than sex." Vin was angry that Ezra had read sex only into courtship rituals that he had utilized.

Fighting himself, he uttered, "I don't do relationships."

"Fine." Vin clipped out hard and loud. He paddled more furiously and put some distance between himself and Ezra.

Ezra watched Vin's form grow smaller, still trying to figure where he had lost all control.

Vin paddled hard, concentrating on the actual strokes but not the landscape. He was coming to a rapids and he needed to refocus his attention back to the route so he could transverse it safely. He saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and was captivated by the bear fishing, oblivious to his presence. So complete was his preoccupation that he didn't see the rocks until he hit them and over ended his craft. He hit his head and had a difficult time just keeping his face above water. A second hit to the head caused him to black out.

Ezra hadn't liked that Vin was so far ahead and put himself into racing mode to catch him. He was almost within yelling distance when he saw Vin capsize and he forced himself to go even faster to get to his friend.

Vin was face down in the water when Ezra pulled him out. He pulled him into his kayak and made for the shore as fast as he could.

Dont die on me, dont die on me, was chanted over and over again. Ezra dragged Vin onto the mud and felt for a pulse. Has a pulse, but not breathing. He said aloud as his training automatically kicked in. He tipped his neck back gently as he covered his nose with his fingers. He then blew a breath into Vin's mouth, completely sealing the opening. One breath every five seconds. Ezra's mind was screaming, don't die Vin as the rest of him worked on autopilot.

What seemed like house but was less than twenty seconds, Vin coughed.

The most magnificent sound Ezra had ever heard. Vin's cough. He sat back on his knees as he helped Vin spit out any water that he had in his throat. There wasn't much.

In a gravely voice, Vin said, If ya wanted to kiss me, all ya had to do was ask. Vin smiled at the astonished look that took over Ezra's face.

That easy, huh? Well, Vin I do want to kiss you. Have a problem with it? Ezra smiled down at the sharpshooter. The one that shot the arrow through his heart.

No problem whatsoever. To add emphasis to his words he reached out and grabbed the zipper of Ezra's wetsuit and as he pulled it down, brought his lover to be down with it.

Ezra aided Vin's fingers and claimed the lips that already owned him.

Tongues met with equal force, Vin wasn't alone in this today. Each mouth welcomed the new visitor. Invasion was swift and wonderful and each man groaned into the others mouth. Vin's built up passions and Ezra's near loss fueled the fires into a white blazing heat. Wetsuits were peeled down and hands caressed and stroked all available exposed skin.

As Ezra's tongue forged a trail down Vin's chest, his hands made sure that the rock hard erection pressed against his thigh was freed. His tongue noted the newly exposed skin and unerringly found its way there. Vin writhed in response to the sensations and the Southern man teased the pulsing shaft as he worked his own wetsuit down.

He placed himself between Vin's legs and aligned their erections, pre-cum making them slick. His lips found Vin's again as they thrust and arched into each other. Rational thought was lost within the sensations, their age old rhythms increased their tempos as growls and moans reached higher decibels. The furious pace was shattered as they climaxed, coming over each other.

Ezra rested his head on Vin's chest, reveling in the steady beat drumming beneath his ear.

Vin played with Ezra's hair with one hand as his other made circles on the smooth back.

This isn't about sex, Ez. This is about love. Vin said in a low voice.

I know. And I knew it earlier. I was afraid to take that chance, but when I saw you &.thought I'd lost you &..I faced the truth. My heart was already yours. Now I have to be near you just to use it. Ezra raised himself up so he could see Vin, eye to eye. I love you, Vin Tanner.

Vin's arms came around Ezra and held him tight, all his doubts rushing away. I love you, Ezra Standish. They kissed to seal their declarations.

They stared at each other for several minutes, then Ezra suggested, Let's rinse off and get down river and what do you say we spend the rest of the weekend together in just one place?

Vin smiled, Your place sounds good, I reckon. You have that imported bed. Green lust filled eyes nodded their agreement.

They got themselves up and rinsed off the semen and mud. Ezra retrieved Vin's kayak from the rocks and they reset themselves in the water, now anxious to get back for the rest of the weekend.


After an afternoon and evening of body worshipping and claiming, they lay tangled up in each other, legs entwined, fingers interlaced. Ezra never knew that he could feel this happy. Never before had he ever belonged to another without fear, now he felt free. He felt the kiss on his head as he kissed the chest beneath his cheek. And tomorrow, knowing that he'll see Vin's face first thing... tomorrow, what a wonderful word.


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