Hell or High Water
by VampyrAlex


Pairing: Ezra/Chris, Chris/Buck, Ezra/Vin (see author's notes)
Category: ATF
Rating: NC-17 for explicit m/m sex and violence.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Author's notes: I know the pairing thing looks complicated but it's not. The first part will basically explain everything, so bear with me. <g> Thanks to DarkCherry, Kris and Sherri for beta'ing this story. 

Summary: Thinking he has done something terrible, Ezra tries to leave the team. 

The room stood still, lit by the early morning glow coming from the small, high window. Ezra stared blankly at the ceiling, lying flat on his back on the bed, sheets tangled around his legs, listening to the soft breathing of the man sleeping next to him. He should be feeling sated and contented; instead there was an ache in his heart he just couldn't shake.

One particular moment kept playing over and over in his mind. Not the moment when Chris first caressed his chest, fingers mapping his heated skin, nor the time he spent massaging his nipples until they were erect. Not the moment Chris touched his lips to his weeping shaft, nor the mind-blowing moment when he came in Chris' mouth. Not the tender preparation of his virgin body, nor the feeling of Chris pressing fully inside him, so hard and hot. 

That moment, the one he kept seeing, kept feeling, the one that made his heart lurch and his vision blur, was the moment when they came together, him for the second time that night. The one in which he felt Chris come deeply inside of his body... whimpering Buck's name.

He was certain Chris hadn't even been aware of what he had said, of the damage he had done. It was obvious to him now that Chris and Buck had been an item until recently. He'd had his suspicions; it was impossible not to. The two men were close and shared a long history together. And some comments Buck sometimes let slip, especially about their time in the Navy Seals, had Ezra wondering. But they had never said anything to the rest of the team. 

And as Chris took him out to a romantic dinner and then invited him to his home for a drink, Ezra convinced himself it was just a suspicion, nothing more. Why else would the other man be trying to seduce him?

He should have known better. He had just been a poor substitute for the real thing, a warm and willing body to scratch an itch. He squirmed uncomfortably at the thought that the two men had had some sort of disagreement and that now he was caught in the middle. 

He rolled onto his side, propped up on his elbow, and gazed down at the man he had lost his heart to years earlier. Chris looked younger in his sleep; the lines of sorrow and life erased from his face. 

Suddenly knowing he wouldn't be able to handle being there when the other man opened his eyes, he rose quietly and got dressed. Giving Chris one last longing glance, he left the room, closing the door carefully behind him.

He wasn't certain what made him look into the living room, but he definitely hadn't been expecting to see Buck there, sitting on the couch. They eyes locked, Buck's flat, empty. Dead. 

Ezra swallowed hard, knowing the other man's pain was his fault. "I'm sorry," he whispered, watching helplessly as Buck covered his head with his hands, a cloud of desperation gathering around him. "I'm so sorry."

Dragging himself to the front door, Ezra left. The damage was done all around. There was no turning back; no way to undo what had been done. But he knew what to do to make things better. And he would see to it immediately.

He packed a few of his simpler garments -- jeans and shirts -- leaving all of his suits behind. Ezra P. Standish was about to vanish into the vast world out there. He would become a brand new person. New life, new name, new place to live, new clothes. All the rest would stay behind, he didn't need it anymore. 

Looking out the window, he saw the Jag and knew he would have to leave it behind as well. Such a car would be easily traceable and he couldn't risk it. He wanted no ties with his past life. Decision made, he called a cab to take him to the airport. He didn't bother locking the townhouse apartment. He had finally fulfilled the prophecy; he had run away. 

The door was unlocked. They walked in, finding the apartment much as it always had been. Boxes yet to be unpacked resting in a corner, no personal objects, nothing that said 'Ezra' to them decorated any walls or furniture. After two years the place was still pretty much bare. And there was no sign of the man anywhere.

"His undercover clothes are gone," JD informed them as he came out of the bedroom. "A few jeans, shirts, t-shirts and sweaters. The rest is all there."

"His toiletries are also gone. I can find nothing else missing," Josiah concurred.

Buck frowned. Ezra had failed to show up for work that morning. Chris had called a few times to the apartment and even to his cell phone and there had been no answer. Fearing something had happened, they had decided to come looking for him. Only to find him missing.

"Buck!" Nathan called from the living room, causing the others to rush after him.

"Find something, brother?" Josiah asked.

"Yeah, that." He gestured towards the coffee table. Resting there were a set of keys, a few documents, Ezra's badge and gun, and two sheets of white paper. The first one had Buck's name on the outside and the handwriting was clearly Ezra's. Buck unfolded it and read it to himself.

'Mr. Wilmington,

I have no words to express my sorrow for what occurred between me and Mr. Larabee yesterday. My only excuse is my ignorance at the time of any involvement between you. Or maybe I just chose to close my eyes to the truth; love always causes one to do the most dreadful of deeds.

However, rest assured that Mr. Larabee does love you very much. It pains me to say that it was your name he whispered in the throes of passion, not mine. 

I have decided to do what is best for everyone involved, I am leaving. I apologize for breaking my promise, but without my person around chances are you and Mr. Larabee will reunite. As it should be.

Don't bother searching for me. By the time you discover this missive I will be long gone. Ezra P. Standish died yesterday morning and will never live again. The keys and documents on the coffee table belong to the Jaguar. Please give them to Mr. Dunne, I'm certain our youngest will treat it with the care it deserves. The other letter is my resignation, make sure it reaches our leader's capable hands. I have sent a copy to the FBI as well; as of this moment I am a civilian. 

Please relay my apologies to the team, it's been an honor to work with such fine men. I will allow myself a moment of weakness and confess that you gentlemen have been my family for the last two years. I will always think fondly of you all. Hopefully one day you will be able to forgive me for such a cowardly act.

Sincerely yours,

Ezra P. Standish'

Buck sat down on the couch, suddenly feeling bone-deep tired. Things just kept getting better and better, he thought grimly. 

"Well?" Chris asked impatiently.

"He left," Buck replied warily. 

"What? Why?" Josiah demanded with a scowl.

Buck sighed tiredly. "Sit down. I guess it's time everyone gets to know what's been goin' on."

"Buck --" Chris interjected, but Buck was having none of it.

"No, Chris. I'm not lettin' our problems destroy the team. They have the right to know." When Chris nodded reluctantly, he began. "A few months after we first met all those years back, Chris and I got together and --"

"Together?" JD interrupted. "Together as in... together? As a couple?"

"Yes," Chris replied uneasily. "As a couple."

"What happened?" Vin frowned.

"We stayed together for a few years, but we were young, restless, and the job didn't make things easy. We broke up, although we stayed good friends, and later Chris married Sarah. You know the rest," Buck shrugged. "Six months ago we decided to give it a second try."

"What's this got to do with Ezra bein' gone?" Nathan asked, his confusion clear in his voice.

"Last Wednesday when that operation went bad I lost it. When Chris almost died..." Buck forced himself to continue. "I went crazy. When we got home we had a hell of a fight. Chris left, I guess you can say we broke up again."

"And?" Vin prompted.

"Yesterday morning I went to Chris' house to apologize," Buck replied, ignoring Chris' sharp intake of breath. "I used my spare key. I found Chris and Ezra together." 

Nothing had prepared him for the sight that had greeted his eyes. The vision of Chris thrusting into Ezra's pliant body. On the bed his lover had swore no one else would lie in but him.

The two men hadn't even noticed him there, hadn't heard him closing the door and move to the living room. He had sat on the couch, feeling like he was dying inside, unable to just get up and leave. But he had left, eventually. Long after Ezra, but before Chris woke and saw him there. 

"Why didn't ya say anythin'?" Chris asked softly.

"There was nothing to say, Chris. Not at the time. Ezra saw me as he was leavin', I guess that's when he realized we had a history together. He left so we could get together again." He shook his head. "It ain't right. He shouldn't pay for our mistakes."

"He won't," Chris assured firmly. "We're goin' to get him back and have a long talk with that stubborn cuss. The three of us are goin' to set this thing right. Now, Ezra might like us to think he's unpredictable, but the truth is he's a creature of habits. He wouldn't use your basic transportation system. He also wouldn't stay in Denver. That leaves the airport."

Vin grinned. "And he always uses the same airline company, it's a superstition o' his."

"JD, did you bring a photo of Ezra like I asked?"


"Good, let's go to the airport. Maybe some of his luck will rub off on us and we'll find which flight he took and where to."

"Want to talk about it, brother?" Josiah asked him softly.

Chris tore his eyes away from the traffic ahead to look briefly at his passenger. "Wouldn't know what to say, Josiah," he replied honestly.

"Why did you do it? Was it because you were mad at Buck?"

"I was a downright bastard, Josiah. I was hurt, angry, and I wanted to get back at Buck somehow. I knew Ezra wouldn't say no." He shook his head dejectedly. "In one single night I managed to hurt two good men. Neither of them deserved what happened. If we can't find Ezra --"

"We will," Josiah interjected softly.

"How can you be so sure? The man's a born chameleon! If anyone can disappear off the face of the earth, that someone is definitely Ezra Standish. And if that happens, I'll never forgive myself."

They went directly to the counter of an American airline Ezra had always preferred. The young woman working there gave them a professional smile. "Can I help you?"

Chris showed her his badge. "Chris Larabee, ATF." He slapped Ezra's picture on the counter. "We're looking for this man."

The woman took a look at the picture and said hesitantly, "I don't know if I can help you..."

"This man most likely bought a ticket yesterday for a destination somewhere in the country. We need to find out where to and under which name." Seeing she was still uncertain Chris bluffed, "This man is a very dangerous criminal, ma'am. There's no telling what he might do if he escapes us."

"Please help us," JD added softly.

She looked at them, then sighed in capitulation. "Oh, all right. He was here yesterday morning, bought a ticket to Saint Louis," she told them. 

"You remember the name he used?" Vin asked her.

"Well, his first name was Ezra," she answered promptly. "It's my father's name, that's why I remember him. I can check the last name on the passenger list."

"Please do," Josiah asked. "And check if he had a connecting flight to somewhere else."

She nodded and went to the terminal behind the counter. It took only a few minutes for her to get the information. "Ezra Sanchez. And he had no connecting flight to anywhere else."

"Thank you. Your help will enable us to catch him this time," Nathan told her with a smile.

Chris nodded, taking back the picture. He left the counter, followed by the rest of his team. They regrouped by their vehicles.

"What now?" JD asked.

"We go after him," Chris replied. "Now we know where he went to. And we know the name he's usin'."

"Yeah. Seems he finally stopped fightin' Josiah on that son thing," Buck noted, and Josiah nodded sadly.

"What's the game plan?" Vin asked.

"We split up. Josiah, Nathan, go back to the office and talk to Travis. Tell him we have to take a few days off. If Ezra sent a resignation letter to the feds he'll probably already knows something's wrong. If he asks, tell him we're trying to get Ezra back. If he doesn't... Hell, I don't know! Just play it by ear. JD, Buck, take care of the tickets. I want to leave on the first flight available to Saint Louis. Vin and I are going to pack. Give me your keys, we'll bring your stuff as well. Be back in a hour, ready to leave."

"Right, Chris."

The six men rushed to the three vehicles and were on their way. They were getting closer; with any luck soon their Seventh would be back in their midst and all wrongs would be made right.

Chris sat dejectedly in one of the plastic chairs in the airport terminal. How could things have gotten so out of control? He asked himself that question over and over again and was unable to find an answer. His damn temper had caused nothing but trouble yet again and both Buck and Ezra had paid the price.

He was their leader; he was supposed to watch over them, to care for them, not hurt them. He had no idea what to do. He could have a long talk with Buck, try to make things right. But Ezra... What he had done to Ezra had been much worse. He had taken the hard earned trust the undercover agent had placed in him and destroyed it in one selfish act. Everything in him cried to go out and find Ezra, but he wondered if Ezra would want to come back after what had happened. 

"Feelin' guilty won't help, ya know?" Buck asked as he sat beside him. "You can't change what happened."

The other man's voice was soft, calm, the anger and the hurt Chris expected was not there. He looked into his lover's eyes and could only see concern there. "How can you even look at me?" he whispered softly.

Surprisingly, Buck smiled. "I know you, Chris. This is eatin' you up inside. As usual when you're angry and hurting you do things without givin' them any thought. Then comes regret, but by then it's already too late, and you wallow in your guilt until you explode and do it all over again."

Chris looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry."

"I know. I shouldn't have said what I did that night. But I got sick of watchin' you take chances every time we're on a case. This is a team, not a one man job."

Chris shook his head. "Don't do that, don't apologize for something that's not your fault. It takes two to fight, Buck. I shouldn't have left, I should've stayed and set things right. I didn't want to hear it, to face the problem and because of that, things are a lot worse now."

"We'll find him, Chris." It sounded like a promise. 

"And then what?"

"We'll sit down and talk."

"And us?" Chris ventured.

"Is there still an us?" Buck counteracted.

Their eyes met and locked. "If you want," Chris replied. 

Buck nodded. "I want. I may not like you very much sometimes, but I still love you."

Chris chuckled ruefully. "I don't like myself sometimes." He squeezed Buck's hand gently, not caring who might see it. "Thank you." He watched the others waving them over; it was time to board the plane. "Come on, time to go."

"Right behind you. And Chris..." Chris turned, looking into his lover's solemn expression. "You ever do somethin' like this again and I'll rip your balls off and feed them to the dogs. Just so we understand each other," Buck told him, walking past him and joining the others.

Chris followed after Buck, shaking his head ruefully. He didn't deserve to be forgiven so soon after his 'crime', but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He loved Buck too much, and was too selfish for that. He would take the punishment Buck would surely throw his way and count himself blessed the other man cared too much to walk away.

Nina Dillaberti shook her head sadly at the oblivious young man. It had been four weeks since he had arrived at her bed and breakfast. Every morning like clockwork he would order some food and coffee and sit at a table reading a book. He hardly ever touched his meal, spending most of the time looking at the worn pages, a far away expression that left her wondering if he was actually reading or lost in some unwelcome memory.

She couldn't help but watch over him. He reminded her so very much of her own son; always quiet, withdrawn, a seriousness that should not have been there on someone so young. And although he covered it well, she knew there was something wrong with her mysterious guest. Even after a month in a place as peaceful as Annapolis, he still looked tired and worn out, the dark circles under his eyes a silent testimony to his sleepless nights. She was sure he had lost weight too, which was not surprising considering how little food he consumed.

Well, she was going to do something about it. It had taken strategic planning, drastic measures had been taken, but she was finally ready to do battle. She took the plate she had prepared and walked over to his table. 

"Thought you might like something special this morning," she told him gently, startling him from his reverie.

He looked down at the plate, then up at her, "Mrs. Dillaberti --"

"Nina," she interjected. "And if you're trying to tell me you don't like chocolate cake, you can stop. *Everyone* likes chocolate cake," she remarked, causing him to smile. "And I'm going to be very disappointed if you don't eat it."

"I guess I better eat it, then." 

"You better," she replied, glad to see the smile chasing away the almost palpable sadness. 

He nodded, obediently eating the cake and throwing her another smile when he had finished. She smiled back. Maybe he was going to be all right after all. He had her to watch over him, and she intended to do a good job. 

Ezra sat quietly on a bench in the middle of the beautiful gardens belonging to the Dillaberti's Bed and Breakfast. Annapolis was a small dwelling, the population under four hundred souls, and just the right kind of place that allowed you to disappear from the face of the earth. 

After over two months, he was finally starting to heal, mainly due to the tender care of Mrs. Dillaberti, a vivacious sixty-something year old woman. She had taken him under her wing, forcing him to eat, to go out instead of spending the day withering away in his room, forcing him to live again.

It still hurt to think of what happened, but the pain was slowly giving way to other emotions. He found himself missing the six men terribly, especially JD and Vin. Those two had been the first to chip away at his protective layers, offering their friendship and trust selflessly. And he had reached out, slowly, cautiously, accepting their friendship and timidly offering his own in return. 

It had been a gamble, but it had paid off and soon he was offering the same to all six men, eager to take the chance and enjoy the feel of belonging to something, of being cared for and caring for someone else for the first time in his life. And in one night he had lost everything, had been left in the cold like so many times before.

And he knew now what a disastrous mistake it all had been. He hadn't been in love with Chris, not really, not anymore. Unaccustomed with such deep emotions, he had made a mess of things. Yes, he had probably loved Chris in the beginning, although he couldn't be certain if it hadn't been a mixture of hero-worship and gratitude for that second chance. But somewhere along the way the feelings had changed and he hadn't been aware. 

Now, away from it all, away from them all, he knew the painful truth. The face that kept haunting him in his sleep, the gentle smile he kept remembering, the bantering he kept replaying in his mind, none of it was with Chris. It wasn't Chris, it probably never had been. 

No, the man he kept seeing in his dreams, the one he longed for, had beautiful blue eyes, soul-deep eyes, long, curly hair, and a smile that warmed your heart and caused it to beat faster. Vin Tanner. He sighed warily. The saying was true; you never really know what you've got until it's gone. It was too late now. He would have to live with one further regret in his life. One more 'what if', one more 'could have been'.

Ezra was walking past the reception when the phone rang. He watched Nina answer it. "Hello?"

A long silence followed, then suddenly she turned pale, her breath coming out in short, painful pants. He reached out for her, his arms taking most of her weight as her legs seemed to fail her. Obviously it wasn't good news. Nina whispered a few words into the phone, then hung up, still leaning heavily against him.

"What happened?" He asked softly.

She looked up at him and he could see tears running down her face. "One my son's colleagues... It was him on the phone. He's... Mike was involved in a car accident... my baby's dead," she whispered brokenly.

Ezra held her tightly to him, hoping there was some way he could make it better for her. She had come to mean a lot to him and he hated to see her hurting. "I'm so sorry," he breathed in her ear. 

"I have to go... to Washington. I want to bury him here, next to me," she told him hoarsely. "But this place... I don't know..."

He cupped her face gently. "Nina, Betty and I can handle everything for you. She can supervise the food and beverages, and I believe I can handle the reception and any pressing matters that may occur."

She sniffed. "You would do that?"

"Certainly. It's the least I can do, Nina. Please, trust that everything will turn out fine." 

She nodded dismally. "Thank you. I don't know how long I'll have to stay there..."

"Take as long as necessary, we will see to this establishment. Come, I will help you pack. I have my car outside, I will drive you to Saint Louis' airport."

Wishing there was something more he could do for her, Ezra helped Nina pack, then drove her to the airport and stayed with her until it was time for her flight to depart. He would keep his promise; Dillaberti's bed and breakfast would still be running smoothly by the time its owner returned from her heartbreaking voyage.

Vin sat in one of the uncomfortable airport chairs staring down at the map in his lap. For the last two and a half months -- and every time they could get away with it -- one of them would return to Saint Louis to search for Ezra. They had been forced to give up the first time, having found no trace of Ezra Standish or Ezra Sanchez in the Missouri town.

But they hadn't given up yet. Every neighborhood was being meticulously searched, the outskirts swept for any clues as to the Southerner's whereabouts. They refused to believe Ezra might have moved on to another town or state; he had to be close. 

He sighed warily. He knew the others were beginning to lose hope, but he couldn't, not yet. Not without telling Ezra how he felt about him. He didn't care if Ezra was in love with Chris, he knew in time he could make the other man love him. But to do that he had to find him first.

He didn't like the idea of Ezra being all alone, without any friends or backup against possible harm. It tore him up inside to think something might have happened and that they would never know. 

He raised his head to watch the crowd in the terminal and his breath caught at the vision before him. Not that far away stood Ezra, an elderly lady walking by his side. He saw them hug tightly, saw Ezra kiss her gently on the cheek, then wave as she disappeared on her way to a flight.

Taking care not to be seen, Vin followed Ezra out of the airport, hailing a cab and keeping close to the other man's car. Two hours later he was paying the cabby. He had found Ezra in Annapolis. For the first time in weeks he found himself smiling, the ache in his heart easing considerably. Time to call for reinforcements.

The next morning, Ezra woke up to the sound of birds singing outside his window. Squinting at the alarm clock, he moaned at the time. It wasn't even 6:00 am. He remained looking at the ceiling for a moment, then sighed in defeat. It was too late to go back to sleep and too early to get up from bed, but since he had a business to run for the next few days, there was no point in delaying. Rising from the bed, he took a quick shower, got dressed and by 6:30 was already helping Betty with breakfast.

"He's lost weight," Nathan noticed quietly.

"And his hair's longer. Put that together with the jeans and t-shirt he's wearin', and he could be someone else," Buck remarked.

"That's why he's such a good undercover agent," Chris said as they watched Ezra go about his business in Annapolis. So far he had visited a grocery store, the post office and the bank. "He blends in."

"When are we going to approach him?" Josiah asked.

"When he gets back to the bed and breakfast," Vin replied. "If he sees us now, he might bolt." The others nodded, keeping a close watch on their lost team member. "There's something wrong," Vin realized with a frown.

"Yeah," Buck agreed. "He's on full alert. Almost as if he's expectin' trouble."

"And knowin' Ezra, he probably is," Chris added. "Keep a lookout, everyone. If anyone so much as frowns his way, we're on the case."

But nothing happened. They followed Ezra discreetly throughout Annapolis without any major occurrences. The green-eyed man stopped often, surprisingly to exchange greetings with the locals, most of whom seemed to know him. It became obvious to them that in the few months Ezra had stayed in Annapolis he had grown some roots. It only increased their fear; Ezra might not want to leave the secluded paradise Annapolis provided.

Ezra sighed as he looked at his watch; it was nearly 5:00 pm. He spent most of the day walking around Annapolis, going about his business and was finally ready to go back to the place he now considered home. Plus, he found himself wishing for some nourishment. Between taking care of all the bed and breakfast's bills, meeting with suppliers, ordering further groceries and shopping for some of the guests' needs, he'd had barely enough time for lunch. 

The only flaw in an otherwise perfect day had been the constant feeling he was being watched, followed closely, but discreetly. It had made his senses come alert. He had watched his surroundings surreptitiously, trying to find the source of his discomfort. But he had been unsuccessful; whoever it was, they were professionals. 

He was two blocks away from his destination, when suddenly three men crossed the street to stop in front of him, nearly causing him to bump into them. He had never seen them before, but it was not hard to figure out their intention, especially if you took in the guns currently aimed at him. He was thankful the street was deserted, the last thing he needed was for some innocent bystander to end up hurt.

He watched the men carefully. All of them were considerably taller and heavier than him. That in itself didn't mean anything, but the fact that there were three of them made for lousy odds.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" he asked calmly.

One of the men snorted. "Give us your wallet and that fancy watch on your wrist and we'll let you live."

"Otherwise?" Ezra prompted, an eyebrow raised in a challenge.

"Otherwise we'll make this extremely painful for you," one of the others replied. "What will it be?"

Before he could even think of a sarcastic reply, someone slammed into him, throwing him to the floor, a body pinning him down. Taken by surprise, Ezra was incapable of preventing his head from hitting the hard ground. He looked up into the blue eyes of Vin Tanner, feeling the world spinning out of control. He was aware of the shooting going on around them, but was unable to look away from the gaze holding him captive.

He finally blinked, breaking the spell, the world slowly returning to its normal rotation. He allowed Vin to help him stand, and looked around. One of the men was holding a bleeding arm, but the others seemed to have survived unharmed, and were being held securely by Josiah and Nathan.

"JD, call the Sheriff," he heard Chris order before approaching him. "Ezra."

"Mr. Larabee," he nodded. "May I ask how you found me?"

"Luck," Vin replied with a grin. "I saw ya yesterday at the airport and followed you here."

"Want to explain this to us?" Buck asked, gesturing towards the three men.

"These gentlemen were in need of some funds and confused me for a bank," he stated sarcastically, trying to cover up his nervousness. He hadn't expected seeing the other men again and it was throwing him off balance. 

Half an hour later the sheriff and his deputies had transported the wounded man to the doctor's clinic and his two accomplices were safely behind bars. Everything taken care of, the members of team 7 made their way back to Dillaberti's Bed and Breakfast.

Ezra tensed slightly as he realized the others were falling behind while Buck and Chris were both flanking him, one on each side to prevent his escape.

"We need to talk, Ez," Buck said.

"I'm aware of that, Mr. Wilmington. I believe I have stated my reasons for leaving and for what happened in my message to you."

"Yeah, you did. But you never waited for an answer," Chris replied. "First of all, no more running away, got it? Ezra?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"Good. Look, I'm sorry for what happened, for what I did. I behaved like a bastard and you didn't deserve that. I never wanted you to leave, you're a friend and a damn good agent and I want you back with us."

"And as for me, Chris and I are workin' things out, but we'll be okay. Only thing missing in our lives is you," Buck piped in.

"Just like that?" Ezra asked dubiously.

"We'll need to sit down and have a proper talk, but yeah, basically this is it," Chris told him. "We want you back on the team, Ezra. What do you say?"

Ezra hesitated. He wanted desperately to say yes, but was afraid to mess things up again. On the other hand, Chris and Buck seemed to be together again and then there was Vin to consider. He could almost feel the other man burning a hole in his back. 

"Ezra?" Buck prompted softly.

"Very well, I guess I can give it another try," he replied with a slight smile.

Buck whooped, reaching for him and throwing him over his shoulder in a fireman's hold, all the while spinning and laughing. "We have him back, we have Ez back!" he shouted.

"Mr. Wilmington --!" Ezra sputtered. "Buck, put me down! Buck, damnit!"

It was a long time before he felt solid ground beneath his feet again.

The funeral was a quiet affair. Very few people in Annapolis remembered Mike, but most of them had known Nina for many years and had wanted to pay their respects. Ezra and the others stood a little apart from the crowd out of respect, but the Southerner kept a hawk's eye on the elderly woman.

When the service was finally over he remained by Nina's side, even helping say goodbye to all the funeral goers. By the time the last person had left, they were both exhausted. 

"Let's take a walk in the gardens," Nina asked him, appearing beside him.

Suddenly feeling claustrophobic in the remodeled mansion, Ezra nodded, joining her outside. They strolled through the scented flowers and lush grass leisurely, walking side by side without saying a word.

"When will you leave?" she asked him abruptly.

"Why would you believe I'm leaving?"

"It's time," she said with a slight smile. "When I returned and Betty told me we had new guests and that they were your friends... You look different. Better, happier, there's no sadness anymore. You belong with them."

"And you?" he queried softly, not liking the idea of leaving her by herself.

"I have been alone most of my life. My husband died when Mike was only two years old, and my son left home when he was eighteen. It'll be a long time before I'll be able to think about Mikey without it hurting, but I'll be fine. However..." she began, stopping to look at him. "I expect you and your friends to visit me often. There will always be a place for you here, honey, remember that."

He smiled. "I will. Thank you for everything, Nina," he whispered, wrapping his arms around her and holding her gently. 

They remained embracing for a moment, then she leaned back and looked up at him. "I think I'll go back to my room now. It was a... tiring day and I'm not as young as I used to be. Be sure to say goodbye before you leave, you hear me?"

Ezra grinned. "Yes, ma'am!"

He waited until Nina walked inside before following. He nodded to JD, Josiah and Nathan who were playing poker in the living room, then climbed up the stairs on the way to his quarters. He chuckled softly at the noises coming from Chris and Buck's room; those two seemed to be making up for lost time, and if the desperate moaning was any indication, they were having a great time while doing it.

He opened his own bedroom door, and froze. Vin was sitting on his bed, obviously waiting for him. The younger man watched him quietly, following his every move as Ezra closed the door behind him and leaned against it. When it became clear Vin wasn't going to be the first one to speak, Ezra decided to take a chance.

"It was a mistake," he admitted softly.

"What was?" Vin frowned.

"Chris and I. I thought I loved him."

"And ya don't?" Vin asked, rising from the bed, eyeing him intensely.

"No. Not anymore, maybe never." He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "There is someone else, though. Someone I have spent the last months thinking about, wondering how it could have been if I had realized the truth of my feelings before all this mess."


"You," he ventured in a breath, uncertain of the other man's reaction.

"Me?" Vin breathed back.

"Yes. I will not ask anything of you, I just --" Before he could finish his thought, he was pulled tightly against the other man, warm lips seeking his. They kissed passionately for a while, devouring each other with all the desire and frustration the months apart had built up within them, their tongues dueling, savoring each other, until Ezra finally sighed into Vin's mouth. "I take it you feel the same then?" he drawled, causing Vin to chuckle.

"Oh, yeah. God, Ez, I've missed you so much... I've been crazy out of my mind worryin' about ya! Don't ever run away again. Promise me?"

Ezra smiled gently. "I promise. I'll never leave you again, Vin, you have my word." Their eyes met and held, then they were all over each other, tearing at each other's clothes, pawing at each other's bodies. "We shouldn't be doing this," Ezra panted harshly. "Too soon... Too... Oh, God!"

"Yes," Vin breathed, while nuzzling his neck."Ya right, too soon, too soon..."

But he didn't stop, neither did Ezra. Instead they ended up naked on the bed, wrestling playfully as they rolled on top of the soft covers, pressed together, painfully hard, running possessive, hungry hands across the other's skin. Their need was urgent as they wrapped themselves around each other, Vin sliding against him, half straddling his heated body.

Aligning their hard shafts, Vin thrust downwards, and Ezra pushed up with a whimper, both lost in the lovemaking, wordless moans and grunts flowing out of their lips. Their rhythm grew harder and more urgent until finally Ezra was powerless to prevent his capitulation. He arched from the bed, body shuddering as he came, crying out his lover's name. Vin joined him with a breathless whisper of his name, their climaxes spilling together as they reached the final peak of pleasure. 

Then they collapsed, Ezra holding Vin in his arms, stroking his hair and trying to recover himself. Vin lifted his head from Ezra's chest and they grinned foolishly at each other. They kissed again, a brief brushing of lips, then settled down to rest. Ezra sighed as his lover nuzzled his neck tenderly. He could hardly wait for them to return to Denver. With some help from Lady Luck, some help from whatever deities were watching over them, and a little help from their friends, they would remain together come hell or high water. 





Magnificent Seven