One Last Time
by VampyrAlex


Pairing: Ezra/Vin
Category: New AU/ National Crime Organization
Sequel/Series: This is a sequel to The Beginning
Rating: NC-17 for explicit m/m sex and violence.

Disclaimer: The characters from Mag7 belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy, which is a damn shame. If they were mine, we'd be having more episodes. No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.

Author's notes: Thanks to DarkCherry, Kris and Sherri for beta'ing this story. This one is dedicated to Jo Ann Walker, one of the nicest 'gals' I've 'met' on the net recently.
Summary: Someone from Vin's past comes back looking for revenge and Ezra gets caught in the middle.

Four Corners, present time

Wednesday night

Yates smirked, gaze following Vin Tanner's entrance into the crowded bar. Seemed that Eli Joe's contacts were right; Tanner was one of the men hired for the National Crime Organization. It really did pay to know people in high places. Thanks to Eli's Senator friend, they not only knew about the new anti-crime organization, but also who its members were.

He had been following Tanner around the whole day -- since his arrival at Four Corners -- watching him settle into the new apartment, driving around town, and after dinner, a visit to a bar. A *gay* bar.

Yates snatched his cell phone from his jacket and dialed his boss' number. "It's me," he stated unnecessarily.

"What do you have for me, Yates?"

"Your friend was right, Tanner's in Four Corners. I can't say for sure if he's one of the NCO members until tomorrow when they have their first meeting. But it looks good."

"Where is he now?" Eli asked.

"In a bar. A gay bar, if you can believe it," Yates smirked.

"Oh, really?" Eli drawled, and Yates could hear the delight in his tone. "What do you think he's doing there?"

"Well, from what we know of him, he doesn't exactly do one-night stands, so I'm figuring he's meeting someone. It makes sense. After all, he'll be staying in Four Corners for quite a while."

"This might be the chance we've been waiting for, Yates. When he leaves, follow him. Don't do anything; just see where he goes and who he has with him. As soon as his... uh, partner is alone, grab him. I want to make Tanner pay for what he did to me, but nothing says I can't have a little fun first. Having his 'plaything' will give me the power to taunt him, to make him suffer. Tanner owes me and it's time he paid his debt."

"Sure thing, boss. When will you get here?"

"The cops here in Tascosa are still looking for me, I have to be careful. I should be there in two to three days."

"I'll be waiting. With Tanner's better half," Yates chuckled before hanging up.

Half an hour later he saw Tanner leaving the bar, the neon signs affording him a clear view of his green-eyed companion. The hunt was on.

Thursday afternoon

Ezra left his new apartment feeling strangely contented. He couldn't really say what had made him go to that bar the night before, but he wasn't going to regret it. Not after the beautiful night he had spent with Vin.

That thought made him frown. He wasn't used to people having such an impact on him, especially on the first time he met them. The few one-night stands he had allowed himself had been easily forgotten. But ever since awakening, he couldn't keep Vin out of his mind. Good thing he had the other man's address; they would definitely be meeting again in the future. The *near* future.

He walked over to the garage, keys dangling from his fingers, when a black van abruptly stopped in front of him, the squeal of tires loud in the afternoon sun. The door slid open and two unfamiliar men stepped out. There was a similar look in their eyes that raised the hair on the back of Ezra's neck. He was staring into the face of trouble.

"Can I help you, gentlemen?" he asked, trying to look non-threatening, his mind already looking for their possible weaknesses.

One of the men grinned. "Yeah, we would like to request the pleasure of your company."

Before Ezra could even move, the man had drawn a gun, firing it with accurate precision. Ezra felt his keys slipping from suddenly numb fingers, his vision blurring as he realized what kind of weapon the man was holding -- a tranquilizer gun. Just before the world went dark he had the comforting thought that if the two men wanted him dead they wouldn't have drugged him. Then he knew no more.

Vin Tanner watched the five men gathered in the conference room. First meetings were usually an awkward event, especially in their line of work. Hard men, suspicious and calloused by the life they led, they took their time trusting and giving their trust to others. And yet, he felt strangely at ease with these men so far, and Chris Larabee in particular. From the little they had interacted that afternoon, he felt like he had known the man for some time instead of just a few hours.

He watched as Larabee sat down at the large table. They were all waiting for the seventh man to arrive, a last minute addition to the team, and Larabee was obviously none too pleased with the man's delay. He was already two hours late.

"What's this man's name anyway?" JD asked, obviously bored with the waiting.

"Ezra Standish," Nathan replied, nearly spitting the words. "I can't see why the Judge wants him working with us. The man's a mobster, been one all of his life. How can Travis expect him to help us fight against everything he stands for?"

Vin's heart nearly stopped as he heard the name. True, Ezra had never mentioned his last name, but he couldn't deny his gut feeling that it was the same man he had met at the bar the night before. "What does he look like?" he asked, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.

Nathan seemed surprised at the question, but answered nonetheless, "A few years older than you, light brown hair, green eyes, southern accent. Why?"

Feeling his face flushing at all the attention he was receiving, Vin replied, "I met him in a bar last night. Didn't seem the type of man to simply disappear."

"Probably ran away," Nathan stated disgustingly.

A knock on the door cut whatever reply Larabee was going to give Nathan. The NCO secretary walked in, smiling slightly at the men. "Vin, a boy delivered this note, said it was for you. Told me a man had promised him five dollars if he gave it to you."

"Thank you." He reached for the small sheet of paper, gasping as he read the words inside, 'I have your boyfriend, Tanner. Nice piece of ass, maybe I'll let Yates have some fun with him. I'll keep in touch, Eli Joe.'

"What's wrong?" Josiah asked, a strong hand coming to rest gently on Vin's shoulder.

Knowing he had to come true with his teammates, Vin handed the note to Larabee, who read it out loud. "Just what kind of bar did you meet Ezra in, Vin?" Chris asked after clearing his throat uncomfortably.

"A gay bar," Vin confessed. "We used first names only, I didn't know he was going to be working with me."

"Who's Eli Joe?" Buck asked, speaking for the first time. Vin was thankful when the man gave him a warm smile. He couldn't tell what the others were thinking or feeling, but at least Buck seemed to have taken his admission well.

"A real mean bastard. He shot up a few banks and slaughtered two families back in Tascosa when I was a Texas Ranger. When I came too close to catchin' him, he murdered a farmer, Jess Kincaid, and tried to frame me. His plan backfired and I managed to arrest him. I thought he was still in jail."

"I'll check," JD volunteered, powering up one of the computers in the room. A few minutes of research, his typing sounding loud in the oppressive silence, and he had the answer, "Eli Joe escaped from prison two days ago. Killed two inmates and four guards on the way out. They're still looking for him."

"If he's not in Four Corners already, he's on his way," Vin remarked. "We should start looking for his right-hand man, Yates. He's Eli's 'do-it-all'. I bet he was the one who got Ezra in the first place."

Chris nodded, "Seems we have our first assignment -- finding our seventh and getting him back safe and sound. Vin, where do we start looking for Yates?"

"On the streets, he loves hookers. Sooner or later he's going to go searching for some action."

"Then let's do it. JD, get me a recent photo of Eli Joe and Yates. After we leave, get everything you can on them; profiles, records, you name it, I want it. Josiah and Nathan, search the streets, speak with the locals, try to find their hideout, or where they've hidden Standish. Maybe someone saw something. The rest of us will drive around town. It's still early for the working girls to be out, but maybe we'll get lucky and catch Yates 'sightseeing'."

As soon as copies of Eli and Yates' pictures were divided all around, they headed out the door. Feeling a hand touch his back lightly, Vin turned, looking right into Chris' eyes. "We'll find him," Larabee promised.

All Vin could do was nod; he wasn't so sure. Eli was a ruthless man and if he thought Ezra was his life partner he might just kill the Southerner to get back at him. The thought of Ezra dying made his heart lurch painfully. Maybe they had only had a night together, but it had been a very long time since Vin had felt so close to anyone as he had felt to Ezra.

That morning, after waking alone with the scented rose by his side, Vin had decided to search for the other man. He didn't know what kind of relationship he would be able to have with Ezra, especially with them working together, but he wanted to find out. But for that to happen they had to get to Ezra fast. Before it was too late.

When Ezra came to, the first thing he noticed was the throbbing in his head, probably from the drug used to subdue him. When he tried to move, the second thing he noticed was that his feet and hands were held immobile by the ropes imprisoning him to a small cot. Lifting up his head slowly to avoid nausea, he glanced around to find himself in a dark, damp, basement with no windows.

He sighed wearily, lowering his head back on the pillow. Surely several hours had passed since his capture. He had missed the meeting with the NCO team. The others probably thought he had run away, he figured with a grimace.

The sound of a door opening made him turn towards the sound. He immediately recognized the man walking in as one of his captors.

"Well, well, well, Sleeping Beauty has finally awakened! I was starting to get worried," the man stated, smirking down at him.

"Who are you? What do you want with me?" Ezra asked, glaring at him.

"You can call me Yates. As for what I want with you..." Yates paused for effect. "Nothing, really. You're just bait."

"Bait?" Ezra echoed dubiously.

"Yes. For your lover."

"I don't have a lover," Ezra replied with a frown.

Yates drew his hand back and threw a punch that contacted with Ezra's jaw. Ezra gritted his teeth, fighting back his anger, as he tasted the bitter flavor of blood on his tongue.

"Don't play games with me, green eyes! I'm talking about Vin Tanner. You were together last night, I saw you two leaving a gay bar together."

"What do you want with him?" Ezra asked carefully. So Vin's last name was Tanner. And apparently he knew some very dangerous people.

"My boss has some... unfinished business with Tanner. Having you here will make Tanner more agreeable to our suggestions."

Ezra narrowed his eyes. "You wish to kill him," he realized, unable to get the accusation out of his voice.

Yates smirked. "Yes. But don't you worry none," he said, moving closer. "We'll let you watch. And maybe before we kill you, you and I can have some fun." He grabbed Ezra's shirt, pulling at it abruptly and ripping it open. His hand caressed Ezra's stomach and chest softly, making the Southerner feel sick. "Tanner has very good taste... Very, very nice. I have some things I need to see to, so I'll leave you for now. But I'll be back later, you can bet on that."

Ezra watched the leering man leave, then allowed his body to melt back into the cot with a relieved sigh. He thought about Vin and their wonderful night together, then he thought about his currently desperate situation and wondered if his life could get any more complicated. He certainly hoped not.

Friday morning

Vin gazed despondently out the window of the NCO headquarters while he waited for the rest of the team to arrive. He could feel Josiah's concerned glances burning holes in his back, but ignored it. He wasn't ready to talk to anyone, to open up. Not yet. Not until they found Ezra. Not until he was certain the other man was safe and sound and out of Eli Joe's clutches.

None of them had gotten any sleep the night before, spending every available minute searching for any possible leads that took them closer to the bastard. But they had found no sign of Eli Joe, no sign of Yates... And no sign of Ezra. He had tried to keep his hopes up, thinking they would soon find Ezra, but it was getting harder and harder to believe. He couldn't stand the idea that Ezra might die because of him, because Eli wanted some payback for having been arrested years earlier.

He turned around as the door to the conference room opened and Buck walked in. He was the last one to arrive. Vin had been surprised with their acceptance to his revelation that he and Ezra had met in a gay bar. Considering their professions, he had been expecting a different reaction, but everyone seemed to have taken it well. Only Nathan seemed a bit reluctant and Vin had the feeling that it had more to do with who Ezra was than with the fact he was a man.

He watched his teammates work. The day before, and even though they had met only hours before, they had worked in perfect sync. Chris was a natural born leader, giving orders came naturally to him, and everything seemed to come together under his guidance.

And already friendships seemed to be forming. Besides Chris and Buck, and Josiah and Nathan, who already knew each other, Vin felt inexplicably close to Chris. It was an upsetting feeling. He wasn't used to being around people, he was a loner, had been one most of his life. Ever since losing his mother, and after living in numerous orphanages, he found it hard to connect with anyone the way he seemed to have done with Chris. Even in his time spent on the Indian reservation, he'd never felt anything that strong in such a short time.

And Ezra... He couldn't get the other man out of his mind, it was becoming an obsession. Maybe if they had met as destined at the NCO meeting Thursday afternoon he wouldn't be reacting that way. But with the other man gone and without knowing if he was even still alive... All Vin could think of was the night they had spent together, the way Ezra moaned and writhed under him as they made love. If they didn't find him soon Vin would go insane.

JD's voice brought him back from his reverie. Buck had slapped the kid on the head, nearly throwing him on the floor. Theirs was another friendship within the team that seemed to be blooming. Wilmington had taken their youngest member under his wing, spending the whole time watching over him, only allowing him out of his sight to go home for a quick shower and change of clothes. Times of need helped forge strong bonds.

The sound of a phone ringing cut all the conversations between the men. Glances were exchanged, then Chris answered it, putting the call on loudspeaker so everyone could hear.


"I want to speak with Vin Tanner," the voice on the other end snapped.

"Who's this?" Chris asked with a frown.

"Eli Joe. I have something of his."

Vin released a tense breath. This was the moment he had been dreading since Ezra's disappearance. It was also the moment of truth; he was finally going to know if Ezra still lived or if it was already too late.

Ezra looked up at the ceiling, trying to ignore the aching in his body. In spite of his promise, Yates had failed to come back the night before, for which Ezra was more than thankful. The problem was that his body was numb from being in the same position for so long, and the ropes were biting into his wrists, leaving them raw and bleeding. Not to mention that his mouth was dry, he was starving and in dire need of a bathroom.

He sighed wearily, wondering what Judge Travis would be thinking of him at that moment. Ezra had given his promise not to run out on the team; he would do his part to help, it would be his way of thanking the man for the second chance given to him. But now he had disappeared without a trace. The Judge must be furious, thinking he had gone back on his word.

No one had given him a second chance before. Usually the people he met would be nice to him, even like him -- until they heard the name Standish and realized who and what he was. It didn't matter if he had never been given the chance to be anything else; all they saw was the name and the crime family behind it, and immediately he became the worst scum on the Earth.

"If they only knew..." he whispered sadly.

The truth was so very different. The truth that so few knew was that Richard and Maude Standish were not his real parents. He had been taken from an orphanage at the age of two, and not to fill the void in a loving family, but because Richard needed a wide-eyed urchin to help with his cons. What better way to scam money out of people than by using a defenseless child?

There had never been any love, any tenderness, any care that should befall any child. Only beatings when he had refused to do a con, or when he had tried to escape his imposed destiny. Even Maude, who never laid a hand on him, never gave him any kind of support or comfort when her husband turned his anger on his helpless body, whether for a con gone wrong or simply because he felt like it.

But he had broken free in his own way. As he had grown older, and without anyone knowing, he had gathered evidence of everything that Richard did, cons, murders, drug or arms dealings, everything he could get in hands on. And when he had thought he'd had enough, he had sent everything anonymously to the feds.

He had watched in silent delight as Richard was arrested, tried, and then sent to jail. He wanted to shout out from the top of a mountain that he had done it, that he was the one to get him there. But he knew he couldn't; even from behind bars Richard would find a way to have him killed.

So he had simply broken away from the family, going to different cities, trying to find honest jobs until he realized that 'his family' was behind his sudden dismissals, of why some of his bosses showed up with broken noses or blackened eyes and had to let him go suddenly because 'it wasn't working out'.

He had finally given up and gone back to what he had been taught all of his life, doing small cons and gambling. It wasn't what he'd wanted out of life, but he was a good enough poker player that he didn't have to cheat -- most times -- and he rarely conned anyone these days. And he always chose marks that could afford to lose the money.

The bank robbery had been a mistake. He knew the other men with him were harmless, their guns weren't even loaded, but it was still a mistake. He had never done anything like it before and he should have kept it that way. And getting caught by that annoying cop, Nathan Jackson, had been a nightmare. The man was a born moralist, and his interrogations had turned into lively discussions between them.

The basement door opened abruptly, and he watched as Yates arrived with another man behind him. It wasn't the second man who had captured him, so Ezra guessed it had to be Yates' boss.

"Good morning! Sleep well?" Yates leered down at him.

Ezra decided to remain silent until he knew exactly who the new player was. He didn't have long to wait.

"My name's Eli Joe," the man told him. "I'm sure your lover mentioned me?"

Refraining from stating that a one-night stand didn't exactly make someone your lover, Ezra simply answered, "No, he never mentioned you."

Eli frowned. "Come on, Mr. Standish, I know who you are. I have a friend in the government, he gave me the files on the first NCO team, you're one of them. Are you're really trying to tell me that Tanner never told you about me? You're lovers, you're going to work in the same organization --"

"What?" Ezra exclaimed, unable to hide his surprise behind his usual blank expression.

His captor blinked. "Are you trying to tell me that you didn't know that you and Tanner would be working together at the NCO? What's going on? Yates, are you sure you and Frank got the right man?"

"Yes. I followed them from the bar to Tanner's house. I saw Standish leave Tanner's house in the morning, buy a red rose and then go back. You don't do that kind of thing for a one-night stand. He stayed awhile, then went home. When he went out again in the afternoon we got him. There's no mistake, it's him."

"And he didn't know..." Eli began, then suddenly barked a laugh. "This is too funny! If you didn't know Tanner would be working with you, then you really aren't his lover, are you?"

Yates looked at his boss, then down at Ezra, his puzzlement easy to see. "You mean he was telling the truth yesterday? They aren't lovers? Damn!" he whispered, shaking his head.

"So, tell me, Mr. Standish, what did happen here? You went to the bar, got picked up by Tanner, went to bed with the man and didn't even ask for his name?"

Ezra sighed warily, "Something like that, yes."

"Too bad we got in the way. That first meeting at the NCO would have been a beaut!" Yates chuckled. "Can you imagine their faces when they saw each other?"

"Yes, well... By now Tanner must know. You sent him my note and he and the others must have put two and two together."

"What do we do?"

"Keep up with the plan. Tanner is one of the good guys; he won't allow anything to happen to his future co-worker. Especially after tasting his delights in bed," Eli leered. "Time to use the phone number Senator Williams gave us. I'm sure Tanner will like to know his... uh, little friend's still alive. Untie him and bring him up."

"Can I have something to eat and drink, maybe use the bathroom?" Ezra asked hopefully.

Eli nodded. "Take care of it, Yates. Don't take too long."

Twenty minutes later Ezra was sitting at a table with a gun pressed to his temple and a phone in front of him. He watched Eli Joe dial a number. "I want to speak with Vin Tanner," he snapped when there was an answer.

Ezra kept silent as Yates pressed the loudspeaker, letting his captors lay their cards down on the table before he made his move. "Who's this?" he heard a voice ask on the other end of the line. It wasn't Vin.

"Eli Joe. I have something of his."

"What do you want? Where's Ezra?" a new voice asked, and Ezra bit his lip to stop from speaking at the fear he could hear in Vin's voice.

"I want revenge, Tanner. And your plaything is fine. For now."

"I want to talk to him," Vin demanded, his voice sounding firmer.

Eli Joe turned to Ezra, nodding. "Say something."

Ezra looked up at the other man, unsure of what to do. He obviously wanted to hurt Vin. Should Ezra give him more ammunition? On the other hand, if he didn't speak, Vin would think something was wrong. He cleared his throat, "Vin?"

"Ezra!" Vin breathed, the relief easy to hear in his tone. "Are you okay?"

"Yes. I must say I was quite surprised to learn of your identity, Mr. Tanner. It was... uh, somewhat of a shock."

Vin's chuckle warmed him inside. "Yeah, I know what you mean, Ezra."

"How are they treating you?" a voice asked, and Ezra hesitated, not knowing who he was speaking to. Seeming to understand his lack of reply, the same voice said, "I'm Chris Larabee."

"Ah, yes, our illustrious leader. Judge Travis spoke highly of you, Mr. Larabee. I have no complaints regarding my captors so far. Could you please inform the Judge that I didn't intend to miss our first meeting?"

"It's okay, Ezra. He knows," another voice stated and Ezra blinked.

"Mr. Jackson?" he queried, surprised. "You're on the NCO team as well?"

"Yes, I am."

Ezra couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, Lord! This just keeps getting better and better!"

"Enough!" Eli shouted suddenly. "You know he's alive, that's all you need for now. Yates, take him back to the basement. I have a few things to discuss with Tanner."

Yates grabbed Ezra's arm, pulling him from the chair. He went meekly, waiting for the right opportunity. It wouldn't do to get shot while trying to escape. Unfortunately, the gun never wavered from his temple, and once out of the room, both Yates and Frank, the other man responsible for his capture, escorted him back to the basement.

"What do you want, Eli?" Vin growled into the phone after he heard Ezra being dragged from the room.

"I already told you that. I want revenge; I want you to suffer like I suffered during my stay in jail. I'm going to keep your little friend here with me during the weekend. It'll give me pleasure thinking of you wondering how he's doing and what's happening. Tell me, is he as good in the sack as he looks?"

"You bastard! You hurt him and I --"

"You what, Tanner? Will hunt me down and kill me? I doubt it. You come anywhere near me and 'green eyes' buys it. Got it? You know, maybe I'll just let Yates have a go at him. He already told me he's more than interested. Have a nice weekend, Tanner."

Vin remained silent for the longest time, hearing the disconnected tone, trying to get his emotions back under control. He felt Josiah's hand squeezing his shoulders gently.

JD looked up from his computer and shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry, Chris. I couldn't trace the call, he had some kind of scrambling device, I couldn't break through."

"It's alright, JD. At least we know that Ezra's alive and well. Tonight we'll go back on the streets and search for Yates. It's Friday, so there's a bigger chance he goes looking for a hooker. We'll get him then."

Vin nodded, trying to swallow the sudden lump lodged in his throat. All he kept thinking about was what would happen to Ezra if they didn't find Yates soon. Or if Eli made good on his threat to let Yates have his fun with Ezra. They might even get the conman back alive eventually, but at what price?

Yates drove the busy streets, enjoying the Friday night vibe that was just beginning to arise. Usually when he was out on the hunt for a good time, he would go for a woman. But after spending so much time close to Standish, he felt the particular itch for a hard, male body to fuck through the mattress.

He tried to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of his mind telling him there was something wrong, that he was being watched. He was just being paranoid. Knowing that Tanner and his new team were out there looking for him didn't make it easier. He knew he was taking a chance being out on the streets, but the need was too strong to be denied. It always was.

He spotted his bed partner for the night leaning against a street lamp. Black hair, small in stature, young looking. Well-worn blue jeans and a tight, black tee shirt, showed a slight, but appealing body. Just what he needed to let off some steam.

Yates parked the car next to the lamp and lowered his window, feeling the hooker's hazel eyes sweeping over him with an almost bored expression.

"You buying?" the young hooker finally asked.

"Yeah," he leered huskily.

The hooker gave him a surprisingly wide smile. "In that case, you're under arrest," he stated, and Yates watched helplessly as Tanner and the rest of his team moved out of the shadows, surrounding his car and preventing his escape.

"You okay, JD?" Buck asked, concerned.

The 'hooker' laughed. "I'm fine, Buck. He didn't even touch me."

"Good job, JD." Chris turned to his second in command. "How did you know he'd come here?"

Vin shrugged slightly. "Eli may have threatened to give Ezra to Yates, but he won't do it until he has tormented me enough first. I know Yates. Having Ezra so close, and not being able to have his fun... I figured Yates must be aching for some male company. He hasn't been in Four Corners long, so he must've asked around the best place for male hookers. And this is it. I wasn't sure he'd go for JD, but I knew he'd come here sooner or later."

Chris nodded. "Let's get him back to the office and question him. We have a long night ahead of us. There'll be no rest until we find Standish and Eli Joe."

Hours later, Yates was slumped in his chair, knowing he was in serious trouble. The six men were taking turns questioning him; wanting to know Eli's whereabouts and how many men he still had with him. They kept pushing and pushing, unrelenting, until he was almost out of his mind with exhaustion. And fear.

He wouldn't say it aloud, but he was scared shitless of Tanner. If looks could kill Yates was sure he would be down in the morgue by now. He didn't know how long Larabee would be able to keep Tanner under a tight leash and that made him nervous. Eli Joe had obviously underestimated Tanner and the NCO team.

The door of the interrogation room opened and Tanner walked into the dark room. Yates leaned back unconsciously; feeling the concrete wall behind his back, knowing the smell of sweat in the air was his own. He tried to keep his cool. They had nothing on him; they couldn't keep him locked up forever. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut.

He ignored the narrowed blue eyes staring at him as Tanner paced the room leisurely. He felt drops of perspiration running down his back and shifted uncomfortably as the silence stretched. "Aren't you going to say something?" he finally growled.

"I'm not the one who needs to do the talking. I'm waiting," Vin told him softly.

"I have nothing to say to you, fag boy," Yates smirked.

Tanner approached the table where he was sitting, his expression giving nothing away. Yates felt his smirk disappear. He swallowed nervously as the stormy blue eyes grew nearer until their faces were inches apart. "I don't believe you," Tanner whispered in his ear.

Before Yates knew what hit him, Tanner had him by the shirt, hauling him up from the chair and punching him brutally in the stomach. He grunted and doubled over in pain, panting for breath. A powerful kick to his leg sent him down, and he cried out as pain invaded his senses anew.

"You can't do this!" he gasped hoarsely.

"You're right, I can't. But who's going to stop me? The others went out to dinner. You and I are the only two souls left in this building. I can do whatever I want with you. So. Want to go back to name calling or would you like to start talking now?"

"Eli will kill me!" Yates gritted out angrily.

Vin nodded. "Possibly. But who's to say I won't? Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow. But if Ezra dies, you better be looking over your shoulder the rest of your life."

Yates gulped in some much needed air as he looked up at the man hovering over him. He could see the truth in the soft-spoken words -- Tanner *would* kill him if something happened to Standish. And he had no death wish.

"Okay, okay! Just... Eli and Frank are alone in the house, there's no one else. I rented a small ranch just outside of Four Corners. It's where we've been staying. I can take you there."

"And Ezra?"

"He was still alive when I left."

"When Eli called this morning you used a scrambler to avoid tracing. Where did you get it? That's expensive stuff."

"Eli's got money. He and this senator have what Eli calls a symbiotic relationship. Eli gets rid of any 'problems' the senator might have, and in turn the senator pays us with money, information, or the occasional 'toy'. He gave us the scrambler. He was also the one who told us everything about the NCO. That's all I know, I swear."

"What's the senator's name?"

"Williams. Paul Williams."

The door opened and Larabee walked in. "We got everything on tape, Vin. Buck's already on the phone with the Judge getting us the warrants. Let's take this piece of garbage with us and move out. It's nearly dawn, Eli won't be expecting company."

"I thought you said the others were having dinner!" Yates hissed at Tanner.

Vin smirked. "I lied."

Saturday morning

The ranch was a half an hour's drive from Four Corners, right in the middle of a densely wooden area. It was quite large and they were able to see what looked like a barn and stables at the far side.

"Nice place," Nathan commented as they exited the two cars.

"Yeah," Chris agreed, looking around. "I might just buy it once this is over. I've been looking for something just like this since Travis asked me to join the NCO. It's nice to get away from the city buzz once in a while." Making sure he had his men's full attention, he said, "Let's do this. JD, Buck, you stay here and watch Yates. The rest of us will go in. Be careful. If Yates didn't lie to us, there's a second man in the house besides Eli."

With a chorus of 'Okay, Chris', the four men were on their way, taking advantage of the scant dawn light to hide their approach. Once reaching the main building they divided into two groups; Vin and Chris took the front, Nathan and Josiah the back.

Frank Kidman was used to waking up to the first rays of light. That day, without knowing exactly why, he found himself wide-awake at dawn. A feeling of uneasiness settled over him as he showered and dressed, getting progressively worse as he made coffee and had breakfast.

He was pouring himself a second cup of coffee when he suddenly felt the barrel of a gun pressing against his temple. "Where's Eli Joe?" a voice hissed angrily into his ear.

Frank gulped nervously. "Still asleep, I think," he whispered, knowing without having to be told that any noise would only mean his demise.

"Good," the voice whispered back. "You and I are going for a walk. Move!"

He was shoved to the back door and taken outside, where he was finally allowed to see his captor. No, captors, for it was two. A dangerous looking black man, and a giant who stared at him as if wanting to squash him. He was led away from the main house until he was finally able to see two cars parked just behind the hill. Beside the two vehicles he noticed two other men, and beside them Yates.

Frank sighed wearily. He knew there was a reason he didn't like Yates. Maybe if they ended up in the same prison he could teach the idiot a lesson or two. He should never have bought the man's bullshit about how Eli Joe was going to make them rich. All he was going to get out of this mess was a jail sentence. Maybe his grandma was right, crime really didn't pay. Not when you were stuck with cretins like Yates for associates.

Vin and Chris watched as their friends took care of Frank, then glanced at each other. Chris gestured towards the stairs leading to the basement. Vin nodded his understanding and without a word bounded down the stairs. A wooden door stood before him and he knew without a doubt Ezra would be found behind it.

He tried the knob to no avail. Without caring about the noise level, knowing Chris would cover his back, Vin kicked the door with all his might until it broke and splintered under the pressure. Stepping into the darkened room, it took several seconds for his eyes to adjust.

"Vin?" a startled voice called softly, and he turned to the sound, grinning broadly as he caught his first sight of Ezra in days.

"Ezra!" He rushed to the small cot, using his knife to cut through the ropes. Once the other man was free, Vin wrapped him in a bear hug, sighing contentedly. "God, I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to reach you on time!" he whispered brokenly.

Pulling back he took his first good look at Ezra. The other man looked tired and haggard, various scrapes and bruises covered his face and chest, but he seemed well otherwise.

"How did you find me?" Ezra finally asked, and Vin frowned at the blank expression on the man's face. That was not the warm reunion he had been expecting.

"Yates," he replied nonetheless. "It pays to know someone's vices. We caught him as he was searching for a male hooker." Ezra swallowed hard at that, but the calm facade remained in place. "He didn't... Are you okay, Ez?"

"Perfectly, Mr. Tanner," was the polite reply.

Vin's frown got deeper. "Mr. Tanner?" he echoed. "What happened to Vin?"

"Mr. Tanner, it would hardly be appropriate for me to take such liberties with your name now that I'm aware that we will be working together." As if sensing his distress, the green eyes softened. "Vin, what happened between us cannot happen again. Not if we wish to work together. It would affect our performance and the team."

"Ezra..." Vin tried to reach for the other man, but Ezra pulled back from his touch.

"Please. Can we talk about this later? I'm tired and I wish to leave this place."

"Okay. But we *will* talk about this," Vin stated firmly.

"Going somewhere?" a voice asked, and both men turned to see Eli Joe by the door, the barrel of a Colt .45 aimed at them.

Vin stood tall, keeping Ezra behind him, protecting him now from the other man's threat. Eli smirked as he noticed what he was doing. "Trying to protect the boyfriend, Tanner? You know what kept me going while I was in prison? Knowing that one day I was going to get even with you, that I'd make you pay for putting me there. This may not have come together the way I planned it, but I'll still get my wish. Both you and your little friend will die by my hand."

"You won't get away with this," Tanner remarked angrily. "There's no way you're leaving this house alive."

"Maybe. But either way, you'll be dead," Eli assured, aiming his gun at Vin's head.

"Eli," a voice called from behind the criminal. Calm, controlled. Deadly. Chris, Vin recognized with relief. "Drop your weapon."

Vin saw Eli's eyes narrow a split second before the criminal turned to face Chris, Colt ready to spit fire. A bullet struck Eli's heart before Vin could even shout a warning. The man was dead by the time he hit the ground. It was over. A ghost from his past had finally been vanquished. Eli Joe would never threaten him or anyone he cared about ever again.

Sunday morning

Ezra sighed tiredly as he sipped his coffee. He had slept nearly fourteen hours and was still feeling the ill effects of his captivity. After his rescue and Eli Joe's death, he had been taken to the hospital for a routine check while a few of his future colleagues took Frank and Yates to the NCO headquarters.

Vin had stayed with him the whole time, hovering discreetly while trying to look inconspicuous. After being released from the hospital they had gone to the NCO as well, and the rest of the day had been a trial to his endurance. Statements, interrogations, meetings with Judge Travis and the rest of the team... It was the middle of the afternoon when Ezra was finally allowed to go home.

A shower, some food and he had gone to bed, falling asleep before his head had even hit the pillow. He had woken mid-morning feeling much better, but wishing he could have gotten a few more hours sleep.

He stared at the television mindlessly, his mind going back to the events leading to his release. He could still remember the way Vin had tried to protect him from Eli Joe by shielding him from the miscreant. He could almost feel his heart lurching anew as it had done back then. No one had ever done anything like it for him before. No one had cared enough for him to bother.

It aroused feelings in him that he was too scared to analyze or even acknowledge. He didn't want to care. He couldn't afford to care. Because sooner or later Vin would realize who he really was, and he would be hurt all over again. And he wasn't about to let that happen.

He would work beside the six other men, fight by their side; help them in any way he could in their battle against crime. But the walls would stay up. He would not let them in, not even Vin. They would merely be colleagues, nothing else. It was the only way he could survive.

There was a knock on the door and Ezra debated briefly whether he should answer it. He walked to the door, looked through the peephole, and stifled a startled gasp as he saw Vin standing outside. He knew their talk would come to pass, but he wasn't certain he was ready to face the other man just yet. Steeling himself, he unlocked the door and opened it.

"Mr. Tanner," he greeted softly, trying to avoid thinking how handsome the other man looked in his cowboy outfit. Not that many people could wear that attire and get away with it, but Vin Tanner looked like he was right out of a western movie with his long duster and cowboy boots. He gestured inside. "Would you like to come in?"

"Yep," Vin said, stepping into the apartment.

"Would you like something to drink?" Ezra asked as he followed the other man to the living room. "I made coffee."

"Coffee sounds good," Vin agreed, sitting down.

Ezra reached for his cup and moved to the kitchen, returning minutes later and handing Vin a full, steaming cup. He sat on the couch sipping his own coffee. "What brings you to my abode, Mr. Tanner?"

"You know what," Vin chided softly. "We need to talk."

"I don't understand exactly what you require from me, what you wish me to say," Ezra confessed.

"I... Ezra... That night, it wasn't just... I mean, I felt..."

Ezra sighed gently. "Vin, don't. If we are to work together, we must keep our relationship strictly professional. Emotions would only get in the way. What happened with Eli Joe could happen again. And we have the team to think about."

"So you're saying you want to forget what happened between us?" Vin asked, the hurt clear in his voice.

Ezra hesitated before replying. "Not forget, no. I believe that would be impossible for me as well. Just... If we were to take that night further, we would be making a terrible mistake, Mr. Tanner. Let's see where this new working situation will take us. Maybe in the future I will be willing to give you a different answer. At this moment, I cannot."

"So, you're not saying no?" Vin asked, hopefully.

A reluctant smile grazed Ezra's lips. "You are a truly exasperating man, Mr. Tanner. No, I'm not saying no."

One hand reached up under Ezra's chin and raised it so that Vin could kiss him. "Make love with me one last time," Vin pleaded softly once he pulled back. "I need something to hold on to. Let Vin say goodbye to Ezra properly and then we'll work out this NCO thing. How 'bout it?"

"One last time, Vin," Ezra agreed breathlessly.

Taking Vin's hand, Ezra led him into the bedroom. Their eyes met for a second, and then they kissed. The kiss was everything the first one had been and more. For one night, one last passionate night, neither would hide their emotions. There would be no walls, no barriers, no holding back.

"Ezra..." Vin whispered, his mouth leaving a trail of light kisses down Ezra's throat, to his earlobe where it stopped to nibble and lick it, going back to the collarbone and then to the soft lips for another heated kiss.

He felt Ezra's hands burrowing under his duster, shoving it from his shoulders to the floor. Tugging the shirt from the waistband of Vin's jeans, Ezra opened each button slowly, kissing the revealed skin. Vin shuddered as the shirt finally joined the duster, and Ezra ghosted his hands by his pecs and chest, causing him to moan at the feather-like caress.

He returned the favor by taking Ezra's sweatshirt and dropping it to join his clothes. He lowered Ezra gently to the bed, pushing him on his back and straddling his body. He started to go down on him, kissing every bit of flesh he could reach, stopping to pay homage to the nipples. He nibbled one, giving it a gentle bite, while he rubbed the other with his thumb, grinning broadly as Ezra moaned.

His hand released the button from Ezra's jeans slowly -- teasing -- getting a moan of protest from the Southerner. Chuckling he reached for the zipper with his teeth and brought it down, causing a whimper this time that had nothing to do with protest and everything with wanton lust.

Getting rid of the pants and boxers in one swift movement, Vin took his time watching the beautiful form writhing and begging for his touch. He stood up, divesting himself of his own pants and underwear. Then returned to the bed, covering Ezra's body with his own and sought the addicting mouth again for a soul-shattering kiss.

"Lube?" he asked huskily.

"Nightstand. Top drawer," Ezra answered softly, tongue licking his bottom lip sensually.

Snatching the small tube, Vin forced Ezra's legs apart and knelt between them for a moment, grinning at the older man. Then coating his fingers with the lube he began to stretch himself, dragging a needy groan from the southerner.

"Vin," Ezra whimpered, body arching from the bed, eyes pleading with him.

"Coming, Ez," he promised.

Finished stretching, and panting hard, Vin straddled the other man, positioning himself for penetration. Taking Ezra's hard shaft in his hand he guided it to his opening and started to impale himself, sighing when he took the other man's cock all the way into him. Ezra raised his hands to caress his body, but Vin grabbed them and laced their fingers together, pinning Ezra's hands to the bed above his head.

"Let me touch you," Ezra begged hoarsely, struggling weakly against his hold.

"No. Feel me, love me..." Vin moaned, beginning to rock, thrusting against the cock inside his body, faster and faster, bringing them closer to the edge.

Finally, their pace was too much and they came together, crying out each other's names. Vin fell on top of Ezra, feeling him take the weight willingly, whispering nonsense words into his ear. He fell asleep hearing the soft drawl, tucked safely within the other man's embrace.

When Vin woke up -- and as with their first night -- he was alone. There was no note, no rose, just Ezra's scent on the sheets. He sighed sadly. He had lost the first battle, but refused to admit defeat. Nothing Ezra would say or do would change his mind.

Maybe meeting Ezra and going to bed with him the same night hadn't been the right way to begin a relationship, but the draw he had felt for the man was still there, and just as strong. Perhaps Ezra was right, maybe they should give it time, get to know each other, see how they worked together within the team. And then, if Ezra was still skittish about a relationship, Vin would do everything he could think of to win the other man. Even fight Ezra himself, and whatever it was causing him to hold back.

One day, no matter how long it took, Ezra Standish would share his bed again. And more importantly -- his life.





Magnificent Seven