by Chris J. Ueberall
Disclaimer: Not mine. Which is a shame, really.
Summary: When Ezra gets hurt, Vin realizes something.
Notes: Originally published in "The Third Kind" by Requiem Publications.
There was pain in his shoulder, his arm, his whole left side and he blinked into the… setting? sun. His head felt fuzzy as he tried to remember what had happened. He was injured - that much was obvious, but how and why?
The memory came back slowly, piece by piece. They had been on duty, he and Ezra. Patrolling… no, not patrolling, looking for tracks of some guys who had robbed some farmers. They had found the tracks and had followed them for a while and then…
Carefully he lifted his right hand and massaged his eyes and forehead. And then… those men had appeared. Probably those bandits they had been looking for but he couldn’t be sure. He and Ezra hadn’t done anything to aggravate the men, had just ridden past them and carefully watched them over their shoulders - which had saved his and Ezra’s lives.
They had seen the men whisper and point at them, or at him actually and Vin remembered thinking they know who I am, they’re gonna get me. Unfortunately, he’d been right and the two lawmen were forced to run for their lives.
They had been shot at and one bullet had found its target, nearly throwing him off his horse. But he managed to hold on and then Ezra had been there.
The gambler led them into the mountains, and would probably have managed to get them out of there too, if Vin’s horse hadn’t stumbled and thrown him off. The pain had nearly killed him and he hadn’t been able to mount the horse again, which was limping now anyway.
So they tried to hide, and even found a reasonably good spot.
He remembered Ezra taking care of his wound.
“The bullet has gone through, which is a blessing considering that I’m not equipped to get it out right now.”
“That was almost normal speak, Ezra, lost your fancy words somewhere?” Vin had tried a grin then, but the fire in his shoulder wasn’t that easily ignored.
“Not really.” Ezra had smiled at him, while pressing a probably very expensive clean white handkerchief against the wound. “I just put them away for a situation more in need of them than this one.”
And then they had heard their pursuers. The echoes of their voices carrying far, as they were bragging about what exactly they wanted to do to Vin - before they would take him to Tascosa to die.
He tried to shrug the threats off as he used to do, but it didn’t work. He wasn’t stupid, he knew what two men could do with each other, he had even wondered about it, fantasized about doing it with one particular man. And he knew that some people thought of him as handsome. But that was one thing.
What those men wanted to do…
He knew he had paled at their words and had even looked up at Ezra for… comfort? He wasn’t sure.
Ezra had lightly patted his arm and carried on bandaging his shoulder; shredding an extra shirt he’d had with him in the process.
As time had gone by, it became clear that the bandits were not giving up and were actually coming closer. The two of them wouldn’t be able to fight them off. The bandits would find them and do what they wanted. To them. If caught, Vin wouldn’t be the only one to suffer.
“You should go, Ezra. You could still get out.”
“And leave you? Mr. Larabee would never forgive me. I’d rather take my chances with these disgusting elements here than risk his wrath should I return without you.”
“Better one than none,” he had tried to joke, but Ezra had ignored him.
And again the voices had been closer.
Fear had gripped him then. He could handle being beaten, shot, even hanged, but not…
Not taken brutally by a bunch of bastards, not like that, not when he wanted it to be special, to be a gift, a kind of promise to one special man. Maybe he was weak and a coward for even thinking of taking the easy way out, but he just couldn’t take it, he just knew he couldn’t.
Then he asked Ezra to do a final deed, as a friend.
“Shoot me, Ez. Don’t let them get me. Shoot me and then get the hell out of here. Please.” He had been scared enough to beg.
The gambler had just looked at him, a strange expression on his handsome face. And then he had taken his Derringer out and put it into Vin’s right palm.
“I can’t do it, Vin. I’m not strong enough for that. But I’m sure you’ll be able to lift this weapon to do it yourself if necessary.”
He had nodded, thankfully. He could do it.
“But I want you to promise me something, Mr. Tanner. Promise me you’ll only do it if there really isn’t any other option. I beg you not to act on fear and impulse. Miracles and timely rescues have been known to happen.”
It had been an easy promise to give - he hadn’t been that keen on dying anyway.
“Thank you,” he said when Ezra mounted his horse.
“Don’t thank me, I haven’t done anything yet,” the gambler replied and left.
To safety - or so Vin had thought, but then the echoes told a different story.
Ezra had not slipped away unnoticed, but had been seen by their pursuers and had led them away. Deliberately. There just was no way that he could have been accidentally riding to a spot where he could be clearly seen. Ezra was not inexperienced or stupid.
He had played the bait to lure them away and it had worked.
The bandits hadn’t come to get Vin. They had believed Ezra’s tale that Vin had taken another escape route. And they had taken out their anger, disappointment and lust on Ezra instead.
Vin had heard the gambler’s cries echoing around him, tormenting him. He had prayed that they would not kill him, and then prayed that they would.
He had lost consciousness at some point, having exhausted himself by crying for his friend, for the man he thought of as a brother in spirit.
He swallowed past the lump in his throat and then pushed himself up carefully. He had to go down, to find out what had happened to Ezra, to find out if he was still alive.
Slowly he walked to his horse and using the saddle to steady himself, led the horse down the path. He knew by the silence around him that the men had already left. The echoes would have given the six men away otherwise, just a word, even a cough would have been enough for that.
The only question was: What did they leave behind?
He didn’t remember much of his way down the mountain, but he would never forget the sight of Ezra lying on the ground, his jacket and shirt torn and his pants half way down his thighs. Scared, he fell to his knees beside his friend. It seemed that Ezra had at one point tried to pull up his pants, but hadn’t quite managed it.
“Oh, Ez,” Vin whispered, gently touching the other man’s neck. He could feel a pulse, could feel Ezra’s breathing, shallow as it was. Moving carefully and trying not to jar his left side, he examined his friend. There was blood, not as much as a bullet wound might have brought, but with the cuts and bruises scattered across the still figure, it painted a horrible picture nevertheless. “Bastards!” he growled.
He felt a heavy burden on his shoulders, knowing that he should be lying here, or rather should be on his way to Tascosa, beaten and raped.
Carefully he stood again and grabbed his canteen from the saddle. He wanted to clean Ezra up, get the blood and the dirt off him. But he couldn’t risk wasting their water, for if there wasn’t a well or small river nearby, one canteen was all they had. He looked around. He didn’t know the area very well and while normally that wouldn’t stop him from finding water, he realized that he might not be able to reach it in his weakened condition.
He sighed, then took a clean bandana out of his saddle-bag and began to clean up his friend as best as he could with a little spit. When he realized he couldn’t do much more, he tried to finish what Ezra had begun and pulled at the gambler’s pants to get them up again. It wasn’t easy and afterwards Vin was gasping for air, his vision blurred. He was tired to the bone and his shoulder was burning up.
A cold breeze blew down the mountain, but Vin was too hot to feel the chill. He remembered though that Ezra would feel it and that he needed to get a blanket over the gambler. Trembling with the effort, he managed to draw the blanket from his saddle and to drape it over his friend. Ezra was cool to his touch, almost icy.
“I’m sorry, Ez,” he whispered, lying down next to his friend, no strength left in him. Surprised he looked at the starry sky. He hadn’t noticed the sun going down. “Hold on,” he added, wondering whom he meant, “the others will come.” Exhaustion dragged him into a deep dreamless sleep.
Through it all Ezra hadn’t stirred.
He woke up to a cold light burning in his eyes. He blinked, tried to focus his blurry vision. There was a shadow at his side. A voice calling his name. Chris? he wondered just as darkness claimed him again.
Concentrating on getting some water into his injured friend, it took Vin awhile to notice green eyes watching him. Startled, he almost dropped the canteen.
“Ez!” Gently he stroked his friend’s cheek. “Ez? You with me, pal?” The hint of a nod.
“You want some more?” He held up the canteen. Again, just the barest motion with the head. Vin nearly choked on a dry throat and hot tears welling up.
Ezra seemed so fragile in his arms, so lost and far away. That just wasn’t what the gambler normally was. He was self-assured, witty, sizzling the air around him with life.
“God, Ez, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, his fingers playing with a strand of dark auburn hair.
Green eyes blinked, their gaze suddenly intense. “Are you all right?” Ezra asked, worry sharp in his tone.
“What? Yes.” Vin nodded. “I’m okay. They didn’t get me.” They got you. They took you! he wanted to scream, but held back. He was sure his friend would remember soon enough.
Relief showed plainly on Ezra’s features. “Good,” he sighed. “It worked then.”
Yes, it did. Part of Vin couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe that Ezra had set himself up on purpose, but the proof lay in those three words. He swallowed.
“Why did you do it, Ez?” he asked, his voice sounding strange. “They wanted me, not you.”
A sad smile crossed his friend’s face. “You deserve to be happy,” Ezra told him quietly. “This would have destroyed your chance for happiness. I could not let that happen. Now you still have a chance. It’s not always like this, you know…”
He wasn’t listening anymore, his mind stuck on the first part of Ezra’s explanation.
“You want me to be happy? How can I be happy after…” Somehow Ezra’s next words drowned out his own.
“You and Mr. Larabee can still work it out. He won’t hurt you.”
Chris and me? How did Chris come into this? His mind reeling, he looked at his friend, gazed into green eyes filled with… love?
Oh. My. God. Vin stared and the truth struck him like lightning. “You love me.” Ezra loved him. He thinks I want Chris. “You think… me and Chris…”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ezra said, sounding quite reasonable. “The way you look at each other, the way you’re always there for each other. You care so much, how could I not see?”
“But…” His thoughts in turmoil, he couldn’t get a grip on what he wanted – needed – to say. But I… love you… Chris and me… no way… you… always… you… not… Chris…
For an endless second, the words and the voice didn’t make sense. Neither did the white room, the cold light that came from the ceiling or the smell of antiseptic surrounding him.
Where was the hard ground under his knees, the dirt on his hands, the gambler in his arms?
Gone. All of it. There was still the dull pain in his left shoulder though, the fear for his friend and the shock of a revelation.
“Vin? You with me?” The voice again. Not the voice he longed to hear, the voice he had heard… before – in his dream?
“Vin! Look at me.” Tone of command. Aggression masking fear. Everything fell into place. Denver – the Twenty-first century – a hospital – Chris Larabee scared and therefore angry.
With a grin, Vin turned to the black dressed figure at his side. “Hi, cowboy.” He sounded harsh and his throat hurt.
Next he felt a glass on his lips and thankfully he swallowed the not-quite-cool water. “Thanks,” he said when the glass was put aside.
He felt a strong hand squeezing his right and watched as worry-lines smoothed out. “How’re you feeling?” Chris wanted to know.
He thought about it. “Chewed and spit out,” he decided finally. It wasn’t so much the pain in his shoulder as the bone deep weariness that got to him. “A little like you look,” he added then, realizing that Chris was looking as if he hadn’t slept for days. “What happened?”
His boss frowned. “What do you remember?”
Good question. What did he remember?
He and Ezra had been undercover. Everything had worked fine until Dominic Luther had walked in. Vin knew that if he’d just played along, had given Luther what he wanted, everything could still have worked as planned. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t let the bastard touch him. Not again. Never ever again. And certainly not when Ezra was there, watching them. Ezra, who had seen the way he flinched the moment Luther reached for him. Ezra, who had stepped in and redirected everyone’s attention towards himself long enough to give Vin the chance to slip away.
“I left Ez,” he said aloud finally.
“Your presence was compromising the case. You had no choice.”
“I left Ezra without back-up.”
“He’s done it before. He knew the risk. It was his decision. If he’d thought he couldn’t do it, he would have found a way to get out, too.”
Vin laughed at that. A hollow sound. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
Chris shrugged. “Not really. But that’s not the point. Ezra knows what he’s doing, he’s the best undercover agent for a reason. Your ego might not like it, but he managed quite well without you.”
“So you’re telling me being beaten and thrown into a dirty pit is managing quite well?” he asked sarcastically.
“Considering that it wasn’t Ezra who was shot while escaping, but his rescuer,” Chris answered, glaring at his sharpshooter, “I’d say yes, he was managing quite well.”
With a sigh, Vin relented; he wasn’t going to win this one. “So how is Ez?”
“Bruised, some broken ribs. Nothing new. Josiah and Nathan have kind of moved in with him to make sure he doesn’t leave his bed until he’s really healed.”
“Bet Ez is thrilled.”
“Ecstatic.” They laughed, knowing very well that the undercover agent would be anything but happy.
Something flickered at Vin’s awareness. “How long?” he asked, realizing that more than one day must have passed since the shooting, otherwise Ezra wouldn’t have been out of the hospital already.
Not surprisingly his friend knew exactly what he meant. “Five days.”
Five… A look at Chris’ tired features and he knew it was true. But it didn’t make sense. He was sure the bullet hadn’t hit anything life threatening, just his shoulder. “What happened?”
“You reacted bad to some of the medication. They nearly lost you once and then you wouldn’t wake up.” Chris’ voice sounded as if he was fighting down a sob.
Suddenly he heard Ezra’s voice again: “Isn’t it obvious? The way you look at each other, the way you’re always there for each other. You care so much, how could I not see?”
Feeling his best friend still holding his hand and knowing from past experience that Chris probably hadn’t left the hospital since he’d been brought in, Vin had to admit that their relationship resembled that of lovers. Or at least of two guys in love with each other.
The signs all fit. The caring, the closeness, the touching. Easy to be seen if you looked. Easy to be misinterpreted if you were so inclined.
Oh, Ez, I’m so sorry.
He looked up into the worried green-blue gaze of his best friend and closest thing he had to a brother. Smiled at the man who had accepted the fact that he liked men sexually, but had made it absolutely clear that he couldn’t understand it.
Vin wondered how Chris would react if told that Ezra Standish, Mister Observant, believed them to be lovers. He nearly laughed out loud at the thought, or the face Chris would make, or at the irony of it all. At the pain in his chest.
All the time he had wondered why Ezra never took their flirting to the next stage. Why he always stepped back when they seemed to get closer. It had hurt and grated on Vin’s self-esteem. Sometimes he thought that he wasn’t good enough for the Southerner. Or that Ezra wasn’t interested at all, that it had all been wishful thinking on his part.
Never once had it crossed his mind that Ezra didn’t know what Vin felt. That Ezra believed he was with Chris.
I’m so sorry, Ez. Images flittered across his inner eye: Ezra smiling at him – Ezra looking confused – looking hurt. He could easily picture what the Southerner must have gone through - it almost broke his heart.
I must have looked like a real bastard, playing with you, teasing you, while you thought I was with another. You must hate me. But you don’t, do you? You love me, still love me. The last thought halted his reeling mind. He could not be sure about that, could he? But he was. Absolutely, no doubt. And just because of a dream. After three years of wondering, his subconscious had finally found a way to open his eyes. It would have been funny if it weren’t for the heartache.
A hand on his shoulder shook him lightly. “Vin, you’re scaring me here.”
Oops. He must have looked at his boss for quite a while without truly seeing him. “Sorry, Chris. Guess I’m still kinda out of it.” He managed a grin. “Go home, cowboy. Get some sleep.”
He didn’t give Chris a chance to continue. “I’m all right. All I want to do is sleep.” And think. “And you look ready to keel over. It’s really okay, Chris. Just go home. Sleep.”
For a long moment, his friend just looked at him, looked as if he wanted to argue. But then he nodded. “If you’re sure?”
Squeezing Chris’ hand, he nodded. “I’m sure.”
“Okay.” Chris squeezed back, then let go and stood up. “See you tomorrow then.”
Two long strides to the door, a final look, a shared grin, then Vin was alone.
Alone with his thoughts, the memories of a nightmare and the slowly blossoming hope that he could be with the man he loved after all.
Nervously Vin stood in front of Ezra’s apartment, hoping the undercover agent didn’t have something scheduled for the weekend. He had asked and Ezra had said ‘no’, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was true. He lifted his left hand to run through his hair, the slight pull in his shoulder reminding him of the shooting, his mind automatically remembering the case: Seeing Dominic again - finding Ezra in that rathole of a cellar, beaten to a pulp - running with him - getting shot - hiding in an alley, while the undercover agent tended to his wound – “I was supposed to rescue you.” “You did, I’m just playing nursemaid until Mr. Jackson gets his hands on you.” – his western-set nightmare – the revelation and his decision to try and be honest with his love… The latter which had led him here.
They had both been back in the office for some days now, light duty only, though Vin would never call doing tons of paperwork ‘light duty’.
He had tried to get his newfound knowledge across to Ezra, but subtle hints didn’t cut it; which really wasn’t such a surprise considering that all his previously subtle flirting obviously had Ezra believe that he was just imagining things. Either that or that Vin was truly an asshole.
Of course he could have just leaned over their table and told the Southerner that he wasn’t interested in Chris at all, but somehow the office didn’t seem the right place for such a blunt statement. Besides, there was still the chance that he had it all wrong and if he were to embarrass himself then at least he could choose a less crowded place than the ATF office.
“Mr. Tanner? Are you all right?” The worried question had Vin step back a little in surprise. He had been so deeply in thought that he hadn’t noticed Ezra opening his door.
“Uh, yeah, I’m fine.” He swallowed and forced a smile on his face. “I came to talk to you, Ez. If you’ve time?” Wondering what the other man was thinking, he watched as surprise, hope and worry flickered over Ezra’s expression.
“Come on in then.”
Grateful that his friend hadn’t asked why, he stepped inside and walked to the living room, where he sat down on the couch, hoping Ezra would sit with him.
“Do you want something to drink?” the undercover agent asked, standing in the doorway, always the perfect host.
Oh, Vin would have liked a drink, something strong preferably, but anything really, just to give himself something to hold on to, yet he shook his head. It didn’t seem like a good idea. The way his hands were shaking he would probably spill something on the expensive couch and that wouldn’t do at all.
He could see that Ezra was surprised by his answer and probably worried, but he didn’t say anything, just walked around the coffee table and looked at him. A moment’s hesitation then Ezra sat down in an armchair. It wasn’t what Vin had hoped for, but then again, this way the Southerner was closer than if he’d chosen the other end of the couch. All he had to do was reach out and he could touch him. He decided to take it as a good sign.
“Vin?” The soft tone informed him that he had spaced out again, something he was doing a lot lately.
“Sorry. Just thinking.”
A nod. Quiet acceptance. Green eyes watching him, an encouraging half-smile, but no pressure, never pressure, no matter that Ezra was probably dying with curiosity.
Starring at the handsome man opposite of him, Vin wet his lips nervously, and felt a bolt of joy run through him as he caught the tale-telling swallow and the widening of Ezra’s eyes. So the undercover agent was still interested in him, sexually at least. Now all he had to do was get his point across. If he just knew where to start?
Try the beginning, he heard a sarcastic voice in his head say, which sounded suspiciously like Buck. Not very helpful, he told his inner voice. I haven’t got a clue where the beginning is.
And he really hadn’t. He couldn’t say when he fell for Ezra. Oh, he knew when he first felt attracted, the moment Ezra had walked into the office - all self-assured, all cocky.
Walking into the room as if it were a stage and he the leading actor. Sensuality surrounding him like a cloak, which he then seemed to wrap around Vin, as he stopped in front of his desk, leaning forward and introducing himself.
Swallowing hard, Vin dragged himself out of the memory, suppressing the images that always followed it. He wouldn’t be able to think with the picture of a naked Ezra lying under him on his office desk on his mind, much less talk.
“Vin?” Again the gentle inquiry. He really had to concentrate on the here and now.
“When I was in the hospital, I had a dream,” he began, wondering at his choice of beginning even as he continued. “Actually it was a nightmare.”
Not sure that he could speak about the rape just yet – if ever – Vin began to describe the setting, an embarrassed smile forming on his face against his will.
“We were cowboys… well, I think I was anyway, kind of a tracker. You were a gambler, fancy clothes and all. It seemed so real. I could even feel the wind, could smell the… horses.”
Eyebrows lifted in surprise, but Ezra’s open gaze never wavered. “Undoubtedly you’ll be able to blame that on J.D.’s deranged belief that watching western movies is a sensible, interesting pastime.”
Vin grinned. He, too, had figured that the ‘The Magnificent Seven’ marathon J.D. had talked them all into watching had something to do with his vivid imagination. That combined with their discussion afterwards, as they had all described what kind of guy they would have been if they’d lived in the nineteenth century, or had been the characters of a western movie.
“Guess you’d be right.” They shared a smile.
Then Ezra’s expression turned serious. “You said it was a nightmare,” he gently reminded.
“Yeah.” Vin swallowed, wondering how to tell the important part without telling… all. “You could say that.” He looked at the carpet, unable to look at his friend. “We were hunted by some guys. They actually wanted me – I think I had a bounty on my head – but they got you. Because I was hurt and you… played decoy.”
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ezra reaching out, but stopping before he touched Vin.
“This is about the last case, isn’t it? You didn’t abandon me, Vin, and I knew what I was doing.”
“You got hurt!” he blurted out, surprising himself.
“If you had stayed, both of us would have ended up in that cellar, Vin. My treatment had nothing to do with you leaving the scene and everything, with a miscreant’s sinister ways and lack of honor.” This time the hand reached his shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault, Vin. You didn’t do anything wrong. You couldn’t stay. Dominic Luther was obviously infatuated with you, there was no way that you could have held him at bay for a lengthy period.”
“I should have played along,” Vin said, believing it, even though just thinking about it nearly had him running for the bathroom.
“No!” Ezra’s shout had him looking up into wild green eyes. “Don’t say that, don’t even think that! That bastard’s into pain and blood. If he’d touched you… “ Ezra trailed off, obviously trying to rein in his emotions.
But it was already too late as far as Vin was concerned - the outburst showed clearly that Ezra knew about Luther’s reputation, his kinks. But it was the strong fingers digging almost painfully into his shoulder that told him that Ezra had some nightmares of his own about a friend being raped. The knowledge shouldn’t have felt good, but it did.
“What?” he asked quietly, wanting to hear Ezra say it, to admit his feelings.
“I would have killed him,” the undercover agent finished matter-of-factly.
For a moment their eyes locked, and Vin leaned forward, not thinking, just reacting. He wanted to kiss the other man, thank him for caring so much, showing him that the feeling was mutual. But then Ezra let go of his shoulder as if burned and sank back into his chair. The moment gone.
Damn it! He could have kicked himself. Their talk had not gone as planned – not that he’d actually had a plan – Ezra was obviously still thinking that he was off limits.
Uncomfortable silence settled between them, until Ezra asked once more if he wanted a drink. He denied again and watched as Ezra rose nevertheless, betraying his own nervousness. “I hope you don’t mind if I indulge…”
“That wasn’t the part of my dream I wanted to talk to you about,” Vin interrupted his host, desperately trying to get back on track.
“No?” Surprise clearly visible on the handsome face, Ezra sat down again. “What else happened in your… dream?”
Just say it, Tanner! “You… your dream-you, he said you wanted me to be happy.” That was not the important part, idiot, his inner voice screamed, but he ignored it. He couldn’t take the words back anyway.
“That… that would be true, Mr. Tanner. You are my friend, after all, of course I want you to be happy.”
Shit. He’s calling me Mr. Tanner. Bad sign. Vin almost sighed. He hated it when Ezra called him by his surname, it felt like the undercover agent was creating a distance between them. But if he’s creating a distance, it means I’m too close. Close is good. Want to get much closer.
“But you said you wanted me to be happy with Chris,” he added. “Why would you say such a thing?”
“Oh.” Nothing more was coming from Ezra, but his expression showed shock and shame in equal measure. Then the expression changed to puzzlement and finally exasperation mingled with amusement. “How should I know? It was your dream, after all. Pray tell, why would I say such a thing?”
Oops. You got me there. Vin couldn’t have stopped the rush of blood into his cheeks even if his life had depended on it.
“Maybe because I think you believe that?” He had meant to make a statement, but it came out a question. The blank look on Ezra’s face told him that the undercover agent wouldn’t reply to that. So he decided to go for the real question. “Do you believe that, Ezra? That I’m with Chris or interested in Chris?”
For a while it seemed as if his friend wouldn’t answer, but then he nodded. “Yes,” he said simply.
Vin breathed deeply. He should have been relieved that his suspicion had been right, but instead he felt as if a truck had rolled over him. To be so stupid for so long. To cause so much heartache. And he could see that he had caused that, it was even now visible in Ezra’s posture – ready for flight or fight.
Time to make it all right, to make it all better.
He shifted in his seat and met Ezra’s wary gaze straight on. “You’re wrong, Ez. There’s nothing more between Chris and me than friendship. He’d probably kick me to Iowa if I ever suggested sleeping together. Not that I’m interested in him anyway,” the last was added hastily, as he realized how his words could be misinterpreted. “Chris is like a brother to me, and I’m so not into incest.” His attempt to lighten the mood wasn’t appreciated if Ezra’s cold expression was any indication.
“As interesting as this is, Mr. Tanner, why are you telling me this?” The polite-sarcastic tone grated on Vin’s nerves. He knew he had to talk fast now or he would lose any chance he might have.
“Because I’ve been trying for months to show you how I feel, but every time I thought you felt the same, you turned away. And I thought… after that dream, I thought… I hoped the reason was that you believed I’m with Chris. But I’m not! I swear, there’s nothing between us. I’m in love with you, not him!” Swallowing hard, he waited for Ezra’s reaction. He had said his piece, now it was Ezra’s turn.
For what seemed an eternity, nothing came forth and with the silence, the temperature seemed to drop. He wondered if he should just leave, if he’d made a fool of himself, and was about to rise, when Ezra cocked his head to the side and looked at him inquiringly.
“You are in love with me?” A quiet, almost toneless question.
“And there is no… love interest between you and Chris?”
This time he shook his head.
He could almost see Ezra’s brain working, knew that the undercover agent was running down memory lane, analyzing their past encounters to find out where he had erred, where things had gone wrong. Shadows darkened his expressive eyes for some time, but they vanished, leaving a wicked gleam behind. Ezra licked his lips. “I guess I owe you an apology then, Mr. Tanner.”
“An apology?” Vin echoed confused.
His friend nodded. “For causing you pain by giving you hope and crushing it again, and for making you doubt yourself.” Leaving his armchair, Ezra crouched down in front of Vin, and laid his hands on both sides of his face. “I love you, Vin, never doubt that again.”
Vin was certain that his smile would have split his face in two, had Ezra not kissed him then, pressing their lips together. Grabbing onto Ezra’s arms to steady himself, he intensified the kiss, licked with his tongue until it was invited to play with its counterpart.
The need for air separated them finally. Breathing heavily, they looked at each other. And Vin couldn’t suppress a sappy grin. Ezra looked good, fantastic, his cheeks flushed, his eyes sparkling.
“Bed?” the Southerner suggested, a seductive smile on his face.
He nodded. Together they stood, their fingers somehow intertwining as if on their own accord.
“All I want to do is make you happy,” Ezra said earnestly, love shining from his green eyes.
Vin hoped his eyes mirrored his own feelings just the same. “You will,” he whispered back, punctuating the words with butterfly kisses to Ezra’s mouth. “You do.” Then he turned around and pulled his love towards the bedroom. As far as he was concerned they had waited long enough….
“So it was never Chris, but always me?” Ezra asked, leaning back against his companion’s chest.
Vin nodded. “Always you, Ez, never anyone else.” Gently he put his arms around his lover, holding him tight. “I just wished I’d told you before…”
“Hush, love, it wasn’t your fault. It’s over now. We’re together and I’m happy.”
“You are?” he had to ask although he knew the answer.
“Very.” He could hear Ezra’s smile in his voice. “Ecstatic.”
He laughed then, a happy, carefree laughter that shook them both and echoed around the canyon. And as he rolled around with his gambler, irritating their horses, he knew that they would be together forever, always and ever again. Because some dreams were meant to come true.
© 11 April 2003