And Yet So Far

by Limlaith

Pairing: E/V
Rating: FRAO
Disclaimer: I was tempted not to use one out of sheer spite, but that's really childish. So I thought it fit to mention that, no, I don't own any of The Magnificent 7 and, no, there is no profit being made from this story.
Author's Notes: This story was conceived independently of Hanged Man, by Speranza (Due South fandom) and both authors are aware of each other's work. Any similarities are bizarre, but incidental. Hers is actually much, much better.
Be that as it may, this story was inspired by a recent conference I attended in D.C. I can't draw, but I can doodle. And apparently while others see fit to take notes, I see more fit to write naughty things on hotel stationary. This is what they get for housing a weekend conference in a hotel. A friend of mine named Ron (no, not that Ron) drew the one good picture in this. He already thinks I'm insane, so asking him to draw it wasn't out of the ordinary. This should frighten you.
Additionally, the way Vin speaks and thinks in this is not as he would sound if I had transplanted him from the Old West into modern Denver. He thinks and speaks as he would if he had grown up in the modern era, in a city, like Dallas, where not everyone talks like Gomer Pile. So don't look for lots of major grammar errors and heavy twang.
Deepest thanks to Cobalt for being a patient and marvelous beta. I greatly value her insight, and she helped me keep my comma fetish under control - with moderate success. :) Without her, this story would have died an ignominious death. She got me unstuck and helped me cut like half of this thing before it became entrenched in its own melodrama.
Oh - and there's one line in here that I stole from an old movie. If you can't find it, then it doesn't bear mentioning. If you do find it, you get a gold star.

I. Hate. Seminars.

As far as I am concerned - and as far as I am concerned, that's all that counts here - seminars are punishment. The worst and most heinous sort of punishment. I bet they invented conferences and seminars in the Dark Ages as penalty for disgruntled serfs or wayward monks. Much worse than the Iron Maiden or the Rack. I'll have to ask Josiah about it. He knows history stuff.

Maybe some people get something out of these things, but no one that I know. Or at least no one I care about. This one is entitled "Something So Painfully Boring You'll Happily Consider Suicide." No, really, it's called "Stuff About Guns That You Already Know Unless You've Been Living Under a Rock."

I like that one better. I jot it down.

The name of the thing doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm. Bored. Beyond. Belief.

Everyone knows what happens when I'm bored: I get into mischief.

We're in a hotel, but it's a hotel in Denver, and the point of us driving eight blocks is completely lost on me. The Federal Building has lovely conference facilities, although, even I have to admit that they cannot compete with this wicked paisley carpeting. We could all get high and spend 8 hours staring at the psychedelic floor. Until someone wigged and jumped out a window.

Another complaint, apart from the floor and the boredom, and the fact that I'm here at all, is that for a conference about weapons, it is sorely lacking in actual hardware. Maybe because if there were guns in the room - new and exciting guns that I'm sure they won't let us have until they're obsolete - the Speakers would have all been lined up along the wall and executed.

I miss the good ole days of death by firing squad.

At least they had coffee and juice for us when we got here. And doughnuts. Stale ones, but doughnuts nonetheless. They'll probably have more later 'cause as much of a stereotype as it is, what do law enforcement types live on besides adrenaline? Sugar and caffeine. Though, I haven't had enough of either yet to make my brain work right, and Ezra won't touch this cheap stuff unless he's desperate. He stopped off at Starbuck's on the way over.

Chris is on his third cup. He's the only man I know who doesn't care how he takes it as long as he gets it. I think he should just set up an IV drip 'cause I don't think he tastes it unless there's alcohol in it. He loves to say that Irish Coffee has all the four food groups: sugar, caffeine, fat, and alcohol. Can't argue there - that would make the day go by so much faster. Wonder if Ezra has his flask on him?

By this point, the man in the front of the room sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher. Waa-wwa-waaa-wah. When he started, he had been talking about new methods of securing suspects without resorting to violence, and for a while, I thought someone would tell him that he's at the wrong conference. That sort of stuff is more for cops than for Feds. But, whatever. In any case, I'm a sniper, sorry, sharpshooter, and that type of violence is in my job description, right beneath the 'must not have fear of heights or attention deficit disorder' part. I shoot people for a living.

God, looking at it like that, I need to find myself a new line of work.

I squint one eye, lining up the speaker's head in my sights. His head is perfectly round, and his face perfectly red. Mr. Tomato Head. I could take him out from here with a bee-bee gun and watch his pulpy innards splatter all along the back window.

That's really gross.

I grin.

That I'm this bored is a bad sign seeing as how we've got two and half more days of this - it ends noon Saturday - cooped up in this room, smelling each other's body odor. Although, I'm sitting next to Ezra in the back row, so I've got the best seat in the house. All I can really smell is his cologne. Or, maybe it's just him.

I've caught myself smelling him, very nearly sniffing him, several times this past week. Weeks. Okay, several months, if I'm being honest. I lean over his desk a lot more often than I should, getting into his sacred personal space, and I have to mightily resist the urge to busy my nose in his hair and root around like I'm looking for truffles. Now I'm guessing here, but that might make him just the slightest bit uncomfortable.

In the same way that being kicked in the groin by a horse is the slightest bit uncomfortable.

And he just might kick me in the groin. Mr. Perfect. Mr. Never a Hair out of Place. More than once I've wanted to hug him - a normal, manly, job-well-done, we-got-the-bad-guys hug - but I'm afraid I'll wrinkle him.

Right now he's acting like he's paying attention. To anyone else in the room, it looks like he's paying attention. His green, green eyes are forward, his posture ramrod straight. Buttons all buttoned and creases all creased, he's a store mannequin. If I pushed, he might tip straight over onto the floor.

I can tell that his vision is glazed over, that his eyes are not focused on anything in the room. And his pinky finger is twitching. This from the man who could win the gold medal in appearing calm and collected. Him and me, we would could have a sudden-death face-off match of who can sit still the longest.

That would be only marginally less fun to do than what we're doing here.

Ez is probably dreaming of the Riviera, or making a shopping list for the next time he goes to Whole Foods, or listening to a Mahler symphony in his head. Whatever he's doing, he's not aware that I'm staring. I'm close enough that I can just about make out the tiny pores in his perfect, creamy, smooth skin. That's what he smells like - cream. Is there such a thing as buttermilk leather? That's what he smells like.

I get the goosebumps.

Much concentration is required to ratchet my attention forward and stop staring.

One row up, JD and Buck are doing a much worse impersonation of People Who Give A Shit. Buck is slouched, right hand hooked into the waistband of his pants. Under the table, with his left hand, he is challenging JD to a most violent thumb war. Now you'd think that Buck has the upper hand, hands down. Shit, I crack myself up. But JD is crafty and quick. Buck's hands may dwarf the kid's, but from what I can tell, they've run up a pretty even score. A score JD is keeping on a piece of paper from inside the damn folders they gave all of us as the beginning of this thing.

Chris clears his throat. He's on the other side of Ezra to my left and he sees the thumb hostilities - which have almost escalated into arm-wrestling by this point. Somebody else is bound to notice. That, or figure that one of them is having a seizure. Chris clears his throat again, louder. It's the 'I'm gonna kick your ass so knock it off' throat noise.

I can see Buck's ears move, and that means he's grinning. JD turns a very sheepish glance over his shoulder, and just as quickly whips around to look straight ahead. That means Chris is giving him a death-ray glare, probably 7.5 on the Larabee scale. And that, if nothing else in the world, inspires me to mischief.

On the other side of JD, Josiah yawns, and with a jaw that big, from this angle, it looks like he could bite Mr. Tomato's head clean off.

I suddenly have a very clear mental image of something out of a B movie, like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. I can picture Josiah's mutant head appearing in the window. We're on the 9th floor, but that doesn't matter. It's my movie; he can be nine stories tall. Josiah moans, 'cause all giant monsters in B movies moan, and his behemoth hand smashes the glass. Women are screaming, even though there's only 9 of 'em in the room, but all bad horror movies need lots of women screaming. So, women are screaming and the men draw their firearms - because only the men ever have guns and there's never enough of them - and their bullets do nothing but enrage the Josiah Monster, who reaches in and grabs the cringing Tomato Man from the podium. And eats him.

This is a very satisfying daydream.

I take out a piece of paper and doodle the image. I'm no slouch with a pencil - no Rembrandt either - so what I end up with is a creepy, schizophrenic portrait of Josiah's giant maw closing to crush the ripe head of the little bald man up front.

My concentrated sketching gets Ezra's attention.

sketch of 'Josiah's giant maw closing to crush the ripe head of the little bald man up front'

He blinks a couple of times, coming back from wherever he's been, and glances down at my paper. For a moment, he looks truly impressed and truly frightened, as if I have plum lost my mind. Then the expression turns to pity, as if saying, "Ah, pour soul, quite rightly hast thou been driven to this madness." Or something Ezra would say.

He picks up a pencil, eyes me warily, and then writes:

What hallucinogen induced nightmare is this?

I respond, in writing, honestly: Josiah biting off that guy's head.

I lean over and squint, lining up mouth and head. Ezra follows my line of sight and makes an outburst, or leastwise something that sounds like it's bursting out. Quickly, he covers that loss of composure by a series of coughs and a calming sip of water.

From around his shoulders, like an angry, disembodied second head, Chris' face appears.

And, lemme tell you, that's a whole other B movie right there.

Chris warns me with a look that promises he's going to shoot me. I know that look; he threatens that all the time. I sink back in my seat and bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Ezra's face is a little red, and mine is getting there. It's the worst thing in the world, that feeling of knowing that you need to laugh, that somewhere inside there is a riot of giggles that are threatening to stage a revolt and escape over the wall. One look from Ezra will undo me.

Now ain't that the truth.

His lip twitches. He's holding his breath. I try to keep my eyes forward, but even then, I see his shoulders shake a little. I have to close by eyes, imagine all sorts of things that are NOT funny: having to shoot people in the line of duty; my horse breaking a leg; my dad. When I open my eyes, I am composed, and Ezra has written, and underlined:


I pout. Behaving is no fun.

Finally Mr. Ripened-on-the-Vine leaves the podium, and we all clap the clap of the politely disinterested. A new speaker takes the stand and - oh God - this is worse. The overhead projector whirs on and the lights go out. This is impossible: white noise in a dark room. We will never make it to lunch.

I lean over and whisper, "I've got a twenty says we'll hear Buck snoring in fifteen minutes."

And, oh sweet Lord, Ezra turns to respond and our mouths nearly meet. Just half and inch and I could be there, right there, where his mouth is open and his lips are parted on a breath inhaled, shining with moisture that his tongue put there, that I want to put there - that our tongues could put there together.

So, okay, I know this must look bad, so I finally do the polite thing and back off a little, suddenly very, very thankful that the lights are off because there's no way that my slacks could do anything to hide the erection I'm sporting. I got hard so fast I'm light headed.

Ezra doesn't seem to notice my dilemma, but he does seem to wait before saying what he's been holding his breath to say. "Forty, and we'll hear Mr. Larabee in under half an hour."

We shake on it. I try not to hold on longer than necessary, but my skin tingles all the same.

Seventeen minutes later, I fork over two twenties. Buck and JD are doing something to stay awake while Chris is out cold and snoring loud enough that the guy three seats down from me can hear him. He thinks it's pretty funny.

We should wake Chris - we really, really should - but Ezra says he obviously needs his rest. Besides, I can't reach there from here without being rude and stretching over Ezra, and as much as I'd like that, one should always try to be polite.

Yeah, right.

Josiah saves the day by lobbing a wadded piece of paper over his shoulder and hitting Chris in the chest. Chris wakes with a snort. About a dozen faceless snickers follow.

I hear Chris mutter something obscene, and up he gets, probably heading for the bathroom or the stairwell for a smoke. No one's gonna stop him, even if he has been sleeping. Ah, the benefits of being a senior agent. I tease him about the senior part all the time. Last birthday, Ezra bought him one of those plastic reaching pinching things - like Chris is too old to bend down and pick something up off the floor. We thought it was hilarious. Chris, not so much.

The lecture continues without him. It's not fair that Nathan is away this weekend at a seminar for field medics or EMTs. Whichever. Something on how to do triage with the bare minimum of medical equipment. He hopes to get a license soon. More power to him. Then he'll know how to save me when Chris finally shoots me.

I stretch. My back pops. I'm tired of sitting, but not as tired as I am of listening. Or not listening. I'm just so bored and all I can smell is Ezra. Sometimes I feel like we're dancing around each other, flirting with the idea of flirting. Like this has just been months and months of foreplay. Other times, though, I think that all these months of furtive glances and stolen smiles are just his way of dealing with me. Like maybe I'm a wildcard or a joker in a game he hasn't studied - and he doesn't know how to play me yet.

Me, I just keep watching him, looking for an opening. There's gotta be one somewhere.

Another twenty minutes later, Chris returns just in time for the lights to come back on - so that's a long piss and three cigarettes - and we get our first break of the morning. Hallelujah.

As we're all filing out, Chris' eyes land on my drawing and he moves to get a closer look. At first, I can tell that he can't tell what it is, but then he gets it, and his eyes widen. He lets out a bark of laughter and turns the paper over, molding his face back to its normal Harbinger of Doom expression. He says nothing.

It's a small victory, but really, it's the little things in life. Not like he can say anything about my doodles when he knows damn well half the back table heard him snoring. Life is good.


The break is too short and too crowded. The doughnuts are a few hours more stale, but now there's some pastry things too, which make Ezra happy.

I take a helping of coffee and something chocolaty and find a free space of wall, bending a knee and bracing my foot on the fresh paint. I know it's fresh; the stink is interfering with my chocolate filling. I munch and sip in silence, using my vantage point to watch Ezra. This is safer than the sniffing and just as much fun.

He is stirring a swizzle stick in his styrofoam cup - guess he's desperate - making little figure eight patterns, pretending to give half a damn about whatever the man in front of him is saying. Ezra's face is that mask he wears when he is being just polite enough not to yawn. It's seamless and bland, and most people take it as a sign that they should continue. I know better, yet I make no move to rescue him. I'm greedy; I want the watching all to myself.

I watch his fingers stir, then stop, then raise his cup to his lips. I watch his lips part, I watch the tip of his tongue peek out to catch the rim of the cup, though why he drinks like that I don't know. It's as if he's channeling all fluid along his tongue instead of letting it swirl around his mouth. The better to taste you with, my dear. I shiver at that thought as I watch his lips close and his throat work the liquid down.

Damn. Tomorrow I'm wearing jeans and a long shirt. I will invent an entirely new look for myself based soundly on the concept of "Ways to Hide a Boner in Public". I am so screwed. I wish.

Where is my folder now that I need it? I stop staring and tell my dick to settle down, 'cause I can't hide it, and I don't have time to head for the bathroom to take care of it. Think of hypothermia and small, dark spaces, and, and, and - Maude Standish naked.

Problem solved.

In short order and much like cattle - still mooing - we are funneled through the chute and back into the slaughterhouse. I can feel a coma coming on.

As we sit, Ezra gives me a double take and reaches for my face. His eyes are fixed on my mouth, his fingers moving towards it in slow motion. I can't move. I can't breathe. What the hell? I feel my lips part and my eyelids droop. Cue harps and violins.

But his thumb just misses my lower lip, brushing against the corner of my mouth. His hand withdraws. I can't help but lick the very same spot where his thumb has been, imagining that I can taste him there. His eyes widen; he's looking at my tongue. This is the Twilight Zone. I stick my tongue back in my mouth and pretend that I'm not this close to grabbing the back of his head and French kissing him in a room full of federal agents.

Not that this should stop me. All the rest of them will be eaten by Josiah while Ezra and I hide under a table and make out. Now it's an X-rated B movie.

Only, now Ezra's giving me the oddest look. "You had chocolate -" He starts to explain, awkwardly.

I snap back to reality. "Oh, thanks," I reply stupidly, and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. "Better?"

"Yes, quite."

I fight a blush and turn away. He settles, straightening the creases down the front of his pant legs. I pretend that all is normal, that perhaps I really am that bored and what just happened was a figment of my stimulant-fried imagination. Although, I feel horribly like lighting a cigarette and asking if it was as good for him as it was for me.

Surprisingly enough, the next speaker is mildly funny and fairly interesting. He's talking about sharpshooting, so I listen up. I even take a few notes, notes like 'that's a dumbass idea' and 'yes, I know this 'cause I went to grade school' and 'I bet you've never had to lie on your belly for six hours in 90 degree weather and end up with a urinary tract infection cause you couldn't leave to take a piss'. But he's a better speaker than before, so I cut him some slack. And I make it to lunch without either dying of boredom or getting another erection.

Wonders never cease.

At lunch, Ezra doesn't sit next to me, and I feel oddly guilty. I am left to sit between Josiah and Chris, bookends of sparkling wit.

"So, how's everyone been enjoying the seminar?" Chris asks, tongue firmly in cheek.

"It is," Ezra searches for the right word, "Soporific." He smiles innocently at Chris and then hides his face behind his menu.

I don't know that word, but I can make a good guess. I can't help myself. "You know, Chris, they make those sticky strips you can put over your nose to open the airways."

This earns me a sharp elbow in the ribcage from Mr. Sleepyhead and a giggle from JD.

"They also make caskets with velvet lining," Josiah adds. No one can deadpan like Josiah.

"I hope Nathan is learning more than we are," JD offers, over-hopefully, though it would be impossible for him not to be learning more.

"I know this is mandatory, Chris, but ain't there a way you can get us out of it?"

"Mr. Wilmington, you need to refresh your definition of the word 'mandatory'." Drawled. Long-suffering.

"In other words, Ezra means 'no'," Chris clarifies, unnecessarily.

We don't talk anymore about it, which is good. There's no point bitching if we all have to suffer, and it's worse to spoil our lunch by talking about just how boring it is. Chris doesn't let us drink beer, though. The temptation is too great, and it sure wouldn't help him stay awake any. We stick to caffeinated things - like any of us need more caffeine - and I order a Monte Christo, the sandwich of the gods.

Ezra orders a salad, which he eats with knife and fork. Even his food is perfect.

The afternoon brings with it a new kind of coma - the food coma. Guess I should have stuck to salad myself. Sleepiness consumes me, despite the caffeine, and after I yawn for the eighteenth time, Ezra glares at me. His glare is almost as good as Chris'.

So I pick up my pencil and scribble real fast:

sketch of stick man hanging from tree branch

He nods sympathetically, and prints a caption beneath: "JUSTIFIABLE SUICIDE." He sets down the pen only to pick it back up and add: by Vin Tanner.

Another second's pause, and then: May, 2001.

I roll my eyes. Artwork it's not. Just when I think he's done, he snatches the paper toward him again and writes: Death is only the beginning.

Which means that Ezra was been watching The Mummy marathon showing on TNT. I think I love this man.

Then he gets an idea; it's obvious by the raised eyebrow and the sudden, wild smile in his eyes. He takes up a pencil, gives a quick look around, and scoots the paper closer to him. What he comes up with is brilliant.

start of game of hangman.   _ _   _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The game is on.

We nudge our chairs until we're shoulder to shoulder. Ezra does it with enough bluster to look like he's just real uncomfortable and trying to find a better position to see the speaker. Clever, very clever.

Doesn't look like Ezra has brought out the thesaurus for this game, so maybe I stand a chance. I take my first guess - there are 'N's, three of them. Good guess. I buy a vowel. There is one 'A', and then there is an 'R'. But I guess 'T' and Ezra draws the head of the hangman. I guess 'S' and 'E' and the hangman gets a neck and an arm.

And has anyone else ever noticed that hanged men in this game are always hung by the top of the head and that they aren't more than half a foot off the ground? And that they have really long necks and short legs?

NO   _ORE   _A_N_N_

I am frustrated. I decide to try another vowel and I smile when two 'O's appear.

'P' gives me another arm. Then I have a sort of epi-, epith-, e-thing when the lightning strikes and you know something. The second word has to be the word 'MORE'.

No more what? Blank A blank N blank N blank. Has to end in -ing.

I grin.

sketch of half-hanged man.   NO   mORE   yAwNiNg

I am victorious. Ezra looks very proud of me, like this was something really difficult, this game of hangman. But I don't care; that look is worth anything. Besides, my guy would have been hung if I had to guess a 'Y' or 'W'. Sneaky Ezra.

We're grinning like idiots at one another, and I peek around to see if anyone else notices. Buck and JD have created a small army of paper creatures and are staging tactical assaults on one another's coffee-cup and sugar-packet fortresses. This is complete with muffled sound effects: people dying and begging for lives and explosions, naturally. All battles have explosions. None of the creatures really look like more than badly folded pieces of paper - things that wish they could be origami when they grow up - but it's the thought that counts.

Josiah and Chris are both reading, reading what I can't tell, but neither of them is giving the tiniest pretense of listening.

I breathe easier, and we draw our next game.

This is so great! Ezra has come out to play. He does play, of course, but he is usually so subtle about it, and his games normally involve betting against fools (like me) and separating them from their money.

We play five more rounds, the last one finally very elaborate, and I demand that Ezra allow for more than the normal amount of body parts on the hangman. It finally reads 'Beluga Caviar from the Ukraine.' I lost, but the hangman has eyes, a nose, two ears, and pants. Every condemned man should at least have pants.

We are having such a good time that I don't think about how close we're sitting, so that our thighs are touching, or how our heads are bent toward one another in silent laughter, so near I can smell the soap he uses. I don't think about it until the seminar is let out at 3:30 and everyone suddenly stands up.

I am totally alarmed by the sudden movement in the room. Ezra and I stand in unison, like we're joined at the hip. He bumps my head, I step on his foot and nearly fall over, but Ezra catches me, and we must look, we must look, like a southern gentleman aiding a swooning woman. There are chuckles; Buck whistles; and JD says, "Geez, guys, get a room."

If my face were any hotter, I would catch fire. Spontaneous Erotic Combustion.

Ezra rights me and makes sure I have my balance, but he doesn't immediately let go. I have to blink because what I see in his face is nothing I've ever seen before. Open and longing and just as flustered as I am. His eyes are so beautiful.

It's a reflex, I can't stop myself - I look down. I look down at his crotch.

He knows what I see, and I know what I see, but I can't believe it. I am no longer looking, I am staring, ogling the outline of his cock, tenting the front of his crisp, ironed trousers. When I tear my eyes away, his expression is no longer open or longing. He looks horrified. And angry.

This whole thing probably only took five seconds, but it felt like eons. It felt like there was a giant spotlight on his groin and everyone in the room had been staring. I break out in a sweat, and he breaks free of my grasp. Since when had I been hanging onto him?

He is fleeing; there is no other word for it.

"Ez! Ezra, wait up!"

My pulse is pounding and if what that was is what I think it meant -

I'm not going to stop until I find out, and apparently my cock is thrilled with the idea. It's pointing and leading the way.

What are those sticks that farmers used to find water? A divining rod. Yep, that's my dick - honed in on Ezra.

I almost lose sight of him in the crowd of guys, and a few gals, all wanting to get the hell out of here - but not before they've cleared off the buffet tables, and stood and shook hands, and kibitzed for a while. After waiting all day to get the hell out of here, suddenly my idea is not to leave. This is my opening, damnit, my window. My idea is to find Ezra and stay until we've hashed this out. Or something.

At least stay until he doesn't think I am a pervert. Well, I am a little, but what if he had been daycreaming, er, daydreaming about something, something other than our game of handman, fuck, hangman.

Up ahead I see the stairway door open and neat little chestnut head disappear around the corner. I push my way through the rest of these people, including Josiah and Chris, and I plow for the stairs. Flinging open the door, I listen for footsteps, and realize that he's being quiet on purpose.

"Ezra, Goddamnit, stop! Don't … just … will ya wait a minute?"

There is no sound - long enough that I start to wonder if he's even in the stairwell. He could have gotten out at the next floor.

"The minute it almost over, Mr. Tanner."

Spurred to action, I fly down the stairs toward the distant sound of his voice. One floor, two, three, four floors down I find him still standing on a step. I meet him there.

I must look half wild, perspiring and breathing hard. He looks his normal barely-tolerant, self-amused self, though I'd imagine his eyes are giving away more than he wants. There's hope in there; I cling to it like a drowning man.

"Look, can we just … I didn't mean to … you didn't -" I have no idea what I'm saying, but all of it sounds pathetic and needy. I'm trying to find the right words, after a lifetime of piss-poor grammar and always saying the wrong thing.

"Finish your thought, Vin. Incomplete sentences are the hallmark of a disorderly mind." There is no heat or accusation there, just the dry sarcasm that defines him.

Still, I can't make my mouth work, or at least - "Oh hell."

I skip the talking and go right for the kill shot, which is what I'm best at anyway. This will either kill us, dead many times over, or it will kill whatever resistance he has to my tongue in his mouth.

It was kind of like CPR, the way he gasped and I breathed into his open mouth, before taking full advantage and slicking my tongue against his. I was worried for a little while, 'cause he was just standing here, not fighting but not participating. But then something broke free - not just broke but completely shattered - because he exhaled into me, and now I'm up against the door with his tongue in my mouth. I always knew he had agile hands, but his tongue - Jesus.

His mouth is obscenely wet, and our kisses are no style and all need. His face is smooth, his body so hard against mine. And I mean all of it, not just that part of it, but that part too. It's so good; he's all over me, hands everywhere - in my hair and touching my temples and stroking my jaw and skimming my body. I'm breathing through my nose like a racehorse, dizzy with need of air and need of more kisses like these.

He wrenches his mouth away from mine and -

"Oh, God, Ez. God." Here, in a stairwell. Practically in public. Too dangerous, too stupid, too exciting. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

He hasn't even undone the button of my pants, just unzipped, reached in, and pulled me out. His hands are on me, on me, and then they're just holding me.

"What?" I'm staring at him staring at me, holding my twitching cock in the palm of his hand.

"You're uncut." His voice is very-far-away, except that he's right there. Right in front of me, eyes slowly lifting to meet mine and mine blur from being this close.

"Yeah, well," I force my brain to function, "I wasn't born in a hospital. And by the time mom could afford to go to a doc -" All words die. The brain dies. And who the hell cares when his tongue is in my mouth and his hand is moving on me.

I brace myself against the door and jerk into his touch. Harder, faster, anyone could try to open this door, anyone could catch us, faster, harder. I must be outta my mind. He sucks my tongue into his mouth and sucks and sucks until I wrench my face away.

"Oh, fuck, fuck, Ez - "

He moves aside, still jacking me, and I moan really loud, watching my cock erupt and shoot random white splatter on the floor. I think I might be freaking out. I don't know what's more amazing - the sight of my dick in his hand, or the fact that we just did this - or that we just did it here.

Or the fact that we just did this. But I said that already.

"Shit." My exclamation of amazement turns into one of terror as I hear the squeak of the door from the floor just above us and several voices in mid-conversation. "Shit." He pulls out a handkerchief, I zip up, and we exit into the hall as quietly as ghosts.

So. Here we are. In a hallway. And we're trying to act normal - something infinitely easier for him than me. My legs are all wobbly and my hands tingle. I don't even know what floor we're on or where we're going. Out of the corner of my eye I see him lick his lips. Swollen lips. And he's wiping off fingers that taste like me. If I were a teenager, that would be enough to get me hard again.

But what now? Now what? What did that mean? Who does that in stairwells? Where are we -

He stops us. "Wait right here."

Here, where? Right here? I don't argue, and he disappears around a corner, appearing a moment later with a cleaning lady. He's addressing her in Spanish, smiling meekly, looking very apologetic. She's all reassuring and chattering, and she takes out her pass key.

Room 489.

We walk right in like we belong here, which obviously Ezra has told her that we do. He yanks me - stupid, slow me - into the room beside him. Then 'muchas gracias' to the little woman as he passes her a folded $10 bill. She is very thankful right back.

Before I can speak, or wrap my brain around anything more complicated than breathing, Ezra takes out his phone.

"Good afternoon, I would like to reserve a room for the evening. If I could request Room 489? Standish." He spells it. "Ezra." He spells it too and gives them his credit card number. "I'll be checking in at," he glances at his watch and then at me, and it feels so much like he's sizing up my stamina that I want to object, "6:30. Yes. Yes. No. Thank you."

He flips his phone closed and a snowplow couldn't scrape the grin off of me. Two and a half hours is a lot of time. Fifteen minutes tops til I'm ready again.

His face is so hard to read, even at the best of times, but right now I'd put my money on nervous. He just masturbated me in the stairwell, and he's nervous, like if I wanted to, we could put that screaming cat back in the bag and never speak of it again. Which, well, we haven't technically spoken about it at all.

I have no frame of reference for this.

He turns away from me, retreating all four or five feet to the nearest chair and begins to undress - movements so efficient and precise, hanging his suit jacket, making sure his tie is neatly folded on the table. It's nothing like the wild, frenzied, must-have-cock-now behavior of a few minutes ago. This concerns me.

"I hope I wasn't being overly presumptuous, Mr. Tanner, but I supposed that, if nothing else, you could avail yourself of the washroom." He says 'nothing else' like it isn't everything else we're talking about. Would he do that? Just jerk me off and forget it ever happened? "I, however, plan on spending the rest of the evening and would be pleased if you would join me."

I may be off kilter but I need to put a stop to this act right quick. I want Ezra and not Mr. Standish. We left our professional selves somewhere behind a door back there.

"Pleased, yeah," I answer, "Yeah, I'd be pleased to stay. I, uh, would like that." Would like that a whole lot.

This calms Ezra's annoyingly efficient hands at the waist of his slacks, his shirt unbuttoned and hanging open. He relaxes visibly as he turns to face me. His chest is beautiful, so perfectly beautiful. Way too much beauty he hides beneath all that expensive clothing. The light outside is late afternoon and slanted, giving him this otherworldly, full body halo.

I'm dumbstruck, just standing here watching his freakin' eight-pack abs move in and out as he breathes. But he's looking at me too, a sad kind of joy coloring his face. Like this was more than he could have ever hoped for.

That scares me, scares me into wanting to do everything I can to reassure him that, yes, fuck yes, I'm more than pleased to be here.

Suddenly he's in my space, his palms pressed on my chest, and we're moving. Gently he pushes me until the bed hits the backs of my legs. His hands framing my face, he leans up for a kiss that is nothing like it was before. It's as if he's afraid to do it; now that we've taken a break from insanity and he's declared his intentions - as all good gentlemen should - he's afraid I'm gonna say no. His lips brush over mine and then press tenderly, eyes still open, like he needs to see me being pleased to be here.

"Ez," I mumble, lips sliding, "Ezra." He stops, hovers there, and I hold his arms as still as his eyes. "I meant more than pleased. This goes a lot further than just pleased. Okay?"

He says nothing. There is momentary relief, then laughter, then hunger - and at times I swear he's an emotional contortionist - followed by some very thorough kisses. Eyelids are too heavy, too weak; resistance is futile. He is Ezra of Borg.

My vision flutters closed as his tongue enters my mouth, dancing slowly around mine. Fingertips trace the contours of my jaw, feeling it work as I open further and moan into his mouth. I realize that I'm now the one just standing here, hardly responding, lost in whatever strange spell he's weaving. But when he cups his hands on my ass, I wake up. I jerk my hips into him 'cause I can't help it, and I take over.

Both my shirts are up and over my head in no time, and I toss them over him at the television set, not caring in the least if they get wrinkled, or even destroyed at this point. I need his skin, to mate his skin with mine. I press us together, getting under his shirt to introduce my hands to the muscles of his back. Smooth and compact and more smooth. Shoulders and ribs and down to his lower back and up to the nape of his neck.

I spin us and topple him, and he smiles huge and happy, really happy. You don't ever see smiles like that on Mr. Standish, so I smile right back, making sure he knows that it's okay to smile here. It's okay to do anything he damn well pleases. Me too, so I take this opportunity to mouth his chest; flat brown nipples popping up under my tongue. They like this, and so do I - I like making him react, making his body tremble.

Like it? I fucking love it.

I can tell that he's struggling not to make noise; each sound is half-choked, and I want to make him loud. I want his loudness to echo in here like mine did in the stairwell. My right hand finds his cock, and I suddenly wonder if he's been hard all this time. The torture. I'm already hard again, but I can wait. I may come just from this. I rub him through his pants, moving down his stomach with my mouth as my hand moves down to fondle his balls.

"Please - yes, I need - please, Vin."

It's strange to see him like this, strange in a good way, but still strange to see him as a just a regular, horny guy needing to come. He's as human as the next man, I guess, but he does such a damn good job of pretending not to be that I wonder when's the last time he had a good lay. Or a good blowjob. Or someone do this to him who is as crazy about him as I am.

I open his pants and tug only enough to free his leaking cock. Jesus, he's beautiful, and so hard. He's sprawled on the bed, panting and flushed, shirt askew, hair messed, his dick out. He looks completely molested down there, and for a second all I can do is stare at him.

"So fucking gorgeous." I wrap my fingers around his cock. It's nice and heavy, and jumps in my hand like it's been waiting for me all its life. Ok, that's just over-romantic tripe, but I like to think it's true. I squeeze him, pretty hard, but he seems to want that - the way his whole body arches and his mouth hangs open on a gasp.

The need to feel and the need to taste are pretty much on equal footing here, so I start jacking him, steady and fast. "Okay? Like this?"

"Yes, yes, yeah - please."

Please what, he doesn't say, but I think at this point I can guess. Sexual brain meltdown is what I call it - when you babble incoherently because all blood has left your head and migrated south. I slow my stroke and lean over, putting the whole head of his cock in my mouth and sinking down until my lips kiss my fist. Then I pick up a rhythm again, not as fast as before, but steady and relentless. That's me, relentless. I can tell from the way he's gasping and clutching at my hair that he's already damn close.

I don't know if I want to watch it or taste it, so I settle for both when he grunts out, "Vin, I'm gonna -," and groans his release, a long and ragged sound that says it's been way, way too long since anyone has done this for him.

I let the first spurt hit the roof of my mouth, and then I back off, watching the milky stuff arc and splash on his belly. God, he comes and comes; it's everywhere, and he's whimpering like he's in pain. So I touch his hip, letting him know that it's okay and I've got him. I've got him. I keep touching him after he's spent and eventually settle his dick back down with a little kiss at the base of it, like I am telling it what a good job it's done.

He looks like a debauched choir boy, innocent and corrupted, arms out and palms up, head lolling against the floral bedspread, his skin still flushed and covered with a sheen of sweat.

I want a picture of this, to prove that Ezra Standish can, in fact, wrinkle. Except that I don't want anyone else to see him like this ever.

I slide my hand across his belly, slick with come and taut with panting breath. God, I don't know what we've just started here. Something good. Something wonderful. I don't think he can shut this one closed again, and I pray he doesn't try. When I bring my fingers to my mouth, his eyes open, and he watches me lick his come off my hand.

"What can I do for you?" he asks.

To my surprise, I say, "Nothin', Ez."

"But you need … You're -"

I shake my head. I must be out of my mind, but right now my dick is going to start taking orders from me. Crawling up next to him, I kiss him; I kiss him as sweetly as I know how and tell him to rest.

"Just rest. You needed that." His eyes smile - no, they glow - and I grin. "'Sides, I owed you one."

"Are we keeping score so soon?" The glow fades.

The way he asks isn't as sarcastic as it should be, making me wonder who in his past did keep score, and how I think I could be really happy to let him stay way ahead in that game. I could give him a head start today, all puns aside, and suck him off until he can't get it up anymore.

My silence seems to have done something to him, though, and I can see him disappearing on me; I can see him going away. There was a nice open window here and it's closing, closing fast.

"Hey," I put my hand on his cheek and kiss his nose, "get up here and sleep 'til you have to check in. Okay?" I let him see in my eyes just how funny I think that is. Until today, I'd never had sex in a hotel room before checking in.

"Okay," he whispers, then stands up long enough to get out of his pants and to let me turn down the bed.

He gets in and lies on his side to watch me undress. I can't help the blush, and I can't hide my erection either. It isn't as hard as it was, but it isn't letting me forget that I've got a naked Ezra, in bed, in the same room, and what the hell am I thinking!

Apparently Ezra and my dick are in full agreement - lucky me - because as soon as I shuck my pants, Ezra scoots back out of the covers and sits on the edge of the bed.

"Come here," he beckons in the world's best bedroom voice, holding out a hand.

Once again, my cock leads the way, right to his open mouth, and out pops the tip of his pink tongue. Taste; he tastes what's left over from earlier. There was an earlier, Jesus, and it's not even that much later.

"Vin," he exhales, dark and hungry, over the head of my cock, which is weeping tears of joy as he finally starts stroking me.

"Nnngggghh, ggahhh…." I've died.

He's wormed his tongue between my foreskin and the crown and it's like he's scouring me, stretching my foreskin out and away and down. One hand finds my balls, and nimble fingers roll them around as his tongue does this, this, this wicked, nasty thing to me. I've never had anyone - it's too much. It's not enough.

Moremoremore. I am working so hard not to thrust, but God, I need to. I look down at him, his red lips open around me, and he looks so -

Hot. Sexy. Dirty. Mine.

My hips snap of their own free will - body parts should not have their own free will, but they do - and he stills his head. He opens his jaw more and curls one hand around the back of my leg, and I put my hands on his shoulders. Permission. Okay, I can do this. My hips know this rhythm: warm, wet, in, out.

"Oh - shit - yes, oh fuck - God, Ez." This is what I jerk-off to, this is the fantasy that makes me come in my sleep. I'm living it, right here, and it's too much, I can't control myself. It feels so good, and he's doing things with his hands that my brain can't decipher. Too soon, too soon I feel my balls tighten, and I'm thrusting harder. My orgasm feels like it's ripped out of me, like my lungs and stomach and spleen have been churned up and are shooting out my dick, and he's slurping me up like it's the best thing in the world.

The room is blurry and I feel his hand tugging me down onto the bed. Sloppily we kiss, and I taste me, and I taste him, and I close my eyes.


When I wake up, I see Ezra getting dressed across the room, and for a second I panic.

"Wait, wait, don't go." I reach for him, realizing a second too late how clingy I must sound and look.

"I'm just going to check in downstairs," he reassures gently, and steps forward to quiet my reaching hand.

I smile stupidly and give myself permission to wallow in Ezra-smelling sheets until he returns. Just as the door closes, though, the phone rings, and I have to think quick to remember where the hell it is. On the floor, in the pants - I snag it on the fourth ring.


"Hey, where the hell are you? You and Ezra disappeared on us. Travis has invited the team to dinner. His way of apologizing for this mandatory seminar, I figure."

Great, dinner with Travis never happens without some sort of catch. "Um, okay Chris. Where and when?" I rub an eye and look at the clock. It's almost 6:30. I don't think I'll ever be able to see that number again and not get a deep-down warm and fuzzy feeling in my gut.

"At the Silver Flame in about a half hour. Me and Buck and JD are already here."

"Okay, yeah. See you there."

I sign off and toss the phone onto the bed. So much for staying the night. I should get dressed. Damn, I should shower off.

I start sorting through my clothes, and head on into the bathroom. It's got those miniature bottles of shampoo and wrapped soaps and some hand lotion all in a nifty little basket. And the toilet paper end is creased into a triangle. So is the tip end of the kleenex. It's something I'm sure Ezra would notice, so I make sure I fold everything back when I'm finished.

Damn again, but I look so obviously like I've gotten laid that it makes my face break into a wide grin. I've got it so bad, so very bad - I feel like a sappy country and western song, except that those songs always end in misery. I'll end up losing my house, my truck, and Ezra, and my dog too. If I had a dog.

Ezra's voice stops my daydreaming, and I stick my head around the doorframe. His expression changes so fast, I almost don't think I saw what I saw - but what I saw was heartbreaking. He really expected me not to be here, to have just up and left without a word. That pisses me off.

Not pissed off at him thinking that, but pissed off at whoever first put that look on his face, whoever the first person was who didn't know he was the luckiest guy on the planet - or girl, I guess - but whatever. That's not the point.

I break the awkward silence, trying for casual. "Hey, I'm still here. I've gotta shower, cause I smell like, well, and I had a phone call." I think that made sense. I don't want to say that it was Chris. That would be too weird, to bring him into the room while I'm naked.


"And we're supposed to have dinner at the Silver Flame at 7." I don't say with the team; that would be too much reality, or something. It would remind us that my dick is getting hard, and Ezra's booked us a room, and what the hell were we thinking two hours ago?

"I suppose there's no time to procure other attire." He looks down at his perfect clothing as if it wasn't perfect, but I think I know what he means. All dinner we're gonna be sitting there in clothes we just had sex in. It'll be a mite distracting.

"No time. I'm gonna - do you want to -" I jerk my thumb at the shower, cause why waste the water when we could share? But he shakes his head.

I frown at that, but his expression softens. "Not enough time," he says, rubbing a thumb across his lower lip. This has me grinning, 'cause I know what he means, but I should really be showering already, so I keep smiling and shut the bathroom door.

I am wondering if, when we get done with dinner, we could just come back here. We have all night, or did have. Possibly, I could appeal to his sound economic judgment and remind him that he did pay for the room, and we haven't even looked in the mini-bar. God, that would be a shitty thing to say.

Washed and rinsed, I wrap a towel around myself, grab my clothes and let him trade places with me. We do a funny dance by the bathroom door as I leave, like suddenly this room is too small for the two of us. He tries not to touch me or make eye contact, and it's probably a good idea that he's distancing himself right now, even if it bothers me. It does bother me - a lot. I know we have to behave ourselves, naturally -

To behave ourselves naturally.

I wish we could.

He showers as quickly as I did, and he gets dressed a lot faster than I would have ever thought. Somehow he gives the impression of someone who is nauseatingly high-maintenance, but really, it takes him no longer than it did me before he's ready and looking just as beautiful as always.

But now he's no longer Ezra. He isn't the man who came all over himself and brought me off twice in the span of an hour. He has been replaced by Mr. Suave, Mr. Versaci, the Undercover Agent I work with, and suddenly I don't know how to act.

He politely opens the door for me, "After you", and ushers me out.

We stand on opposite sides of the elevator, he doesn't look at me, and I feel like maybe we've just been in one of those episodes of Outer Limits where the main guy realizes he's been living in an alternate reality that only he can remember. I feel like - like if I tried to talk to Ezra about what just happened, or maybe suggest that it happen again, he would cock his head to one side and have no clue what I was saying.

Terribly innocent in our separate vehicles, we make it to the restaurant just in time to be seated. That Ezra chooses a seat across the entire table from me does not go unnoticed. No one else notices, but I do. It makes me twitchy 'cause he's way over there.

Conversation is predictable and professional and normal; maybe I have been living in an alternate universe. My fears are unfounded that Travis wanted to talk about anything more serious than the latest case and it's favorable resolution, he calls it. It makes the evening that much more surreal. I expected him to want to do more than just make conversation, and I expected Ezra to at least look at me. Once would have been nice.

I'm not normally the most insecure person in the world, or the opposite, but I can't keep from second-guessing everything. I've got a good handle on my life and what I want from it, but Ezra is, well, unique. I believe I know him well enough to know that he's not a total bastard, well, most of the time. But I don't know a damn thing about his love life, or his sex life. He and I have never been that close, not that close - except that now we are.

Closer than we were, at any rate, or at least than we were before noon. Closer than we were before coffee and doughnuts and hangman. I'd like to think we are, although, I'm smart enough to know that sex doesn't bring people together. It never does.

People may get together to have sex, but it doesn't bring them any closer than it necessary to do the job. You can be balls deep and miles apart. I wonder how close Ezra ever gets to anyone. He and Maude are only related by birth, and that sounds so stupid, except that she could be a total stranger; she could be anyone's mother for all the affection or connection between them. And that's his mother.

So what exactly does this make me?

Dinner ends with my stomach in knots, the food feeling like cement. Orrin picks up the tab and leaves us to ourselves. It's 8:30. We stay at the table for another half hour, sipping bourbon and scotch, and then Chris says that we better call it a night, seeing as we have an early morning.

Chairs shuffle, and finally Ezra risks a glance at me. My heart skips a beat - or twelve. In his eyes I see that he's asking, he's asking me about the room key in his pocket and the bed we didn't make. He's asking me about stealing some more towels from housekeeping and maybe cracking the seals on all those tiny bottles of shampoo.

I swallow and try not to float away from the table. Since when did I start thinking like a fifteen-year-old girl?

Drifting into the parking lot, everybody exchanges 'goodnights' and 'see you tomorrow's' and I feel like I'm wandering. I have a home to go to, and so does he, but I don't think I can ask him to come with me - I don't think my sheets are clean - and should I stop off at a drug store? Is that going too far?

I idle next to the jeep, fumbling with my keys, waiting as Ezra gets to the Jag, parked right beside. Streetlights shimmer on its surface, changing in sequence, green, gold, red; I can't meet his eyes.

Technically, it would make sense if we stayed at the hotel seeing as we wouldn't have to go anywhere in the morning except five floors up - except that it's nuts, and we'd need clothes, and I don't know that it's anywhere near a good idea to do this. Except that it feels like the best idea ever.

In my peripheral vision I can see his knees, and even that turns me on. Good idea or not, I want to kiss him so bad it hurts.

"I was thinking that," he begins, but lets it hover - green, red, gold. I finally have to look up and find his eyes cool and clear, and unreadable. "In all good sense, if I have paid for a room for the evening, then I should make the best use of it."

He pauses and searches my face for understanding, his eyes finally tweaking at the corners. I get it; we're reading from the same page and now all I can see is green. I want to jump him. Best use, indeed.

"Along those lines, I was also thinking that it will take me about an hour to gather my things - if this is acceptable to you, that is."

He hasn't come right out and asked, but then again, he has come right out, so I nod. "Yeah. I figure about an hour."

"Alright then." He mimes tipping his hat at me - and I've always wondered at what point in his life he ever wore a hat - and he rounds his car, sliding down into the diver's seat without looking back.

After his taillights disappear, I leap into the jeep and gun it to my place. It takes me less than an hour to do what I need to do, which includes a highly-optimistic stop at a drug store for condoms and lube. Can't hurt, right?

By the time I get to the hotel I realize three things: I don't have the key, I'm already rock hard and thrumming, and I'm so nervous I feel unglued. The key I can deal with; I just ask for another one from the front desk. Then I run up all four flights of stairs.

I switch on a light in our room - our room - then turn it off, then turn it back on again. The room is as we left it, bed rumpled, damp towels still on the chair by the little table, light still on in the bathroom. So what now? I start pacing. I put the stuff in the table by the bed. That's where stuff goes, right?

Christ, I don't know how to play this. Should I just strip down and climb in bed, or should I pour drinks like a civilized person and pretend that we're not shacking up for the weekend in the very hotel where we're having our conference. What the fuck are we doing?

Hopefully that's exactly what we're doing.

Shoes off, and shirt casually unbuttoned, I sit down in a pale green chair and pour myself a glass of Jack Daniels from the mini-bar. Maybe some music would help, except that I don't really need to do a whole seduction scene here, do I?

Funny how so much nervousness and so many questions can dissolve in the face of lust. The minute Ezra opens the door and sets down his duffel bag, his eyes go all hard and inviting, and he changes into that other guy. Not the one who speaks in complete sentences, but the one who can't form words cause he needs to come so bad. Not the one I work with, but the one who would give me a handjob in a stairwell.

He is across the room before I even say hello, and hauls me up out of my chair into a kiss that goes from intense to brutal in seconds. He manages to kiss me, pull me to the bed, and get me naked while all I can do is fumble and moan. He lays me down, and he's still dressed, but he doesn't let me do anything except lie there.

Hands swatting mine, mouth shushing me; I finally give in and let him have his way with me. Trust me, he didn't have to twist my arm any.

I know I'm kind of skinny and not much to look at, but he obviously disagrees. He's murmuring how beautiful I am and touching me like I was made of glass or porcelain. Fragile, Handle with Care. I know I'm not, and it's kinda embarrassing, but we really didn't take the time to do this earlier - this foreplay.

His hands never land anywhere for a long, just touching and finding, and his lips are humming on my skin. He strokes my cock gently, too gently, looking mesmerized by the play of all that extra skin, and for some reason, this is a lot more personal than it was earlier. Like blowjobs and handjobs can be impersonal, but I guess they can. I mean, I've had some pretty impersonal sex.

Maybe that's what he's used to; I don't know. But right now, the sweet, sweet look on his face hits me right where I live, and I can't help but tell him how long I've wanted this.

His hands still and he smiles, and it's like sunshine. "As have I, Vin."

Then he's kissing me and that's all the more we say for a long time, except for things like "yeah" and "yes" and "oh God." He has to undress himself; I can't do it because he's left me a panting, writhing animal, but then he doesn't do what I think he's gonna do. He slides down to my groin and takes me into his mouth.

Not that I have anything against having my cock sucked, not by him especially, but I want this to be mutual. Oh, but, oh God, I groan and close my eyes as he wets a finger in his mouth and starts circling behind my balls towards my hole. I spread my legs wider in silent permission, and he gets right on board that train, wetting the finger again and pressing inward. Oh God, oh yes.

Then his wonderful mouth is gone, and he's watching me. He is breathing so hard and groaning, like it turns him on every bit as much as it does me. His finger keeps breaching me and withdrawing and I can't spread my legs any wider. Fuckmefuckme.

"Oh yeah, there, do that again, more, more." I'm so close. He's humping against my leg, and I don't want him to come like that, or at least not now. I want, I want - oh God.

Inside and out, his hands finish me off, and I feel my come shoot all over me, just like his did earlier. Before I'm even done, he leans over and starts cleaning me off with that wicked tongue. I guess he's like me, wanting to touch and taste and do everything at once. Everything, we can do.

He's a little wild and a lot hard, and I tug on a handful of hair. "I brought - you can fuck me - if you want. I want. You - you can fuck me."

There is a dangerous and uncontrolled light in his eyes, something in his face I've never seen and don't have time to process it as he drags me up the bed and flips me over. Then he pulls my hips up and yanks my thighs apart and - holy shit.

That's his tongue back there.

No one has ever done this to me before, and I feel - I feel melted and puddled, and freakin' ruined. My experience with men has been about as much as with women, but no one has ever rimmed me. The expression "don't know what you're missing" is such an understatement. I guess I should be embarrassed or something, but I'm moaning and he's - he's tongue-fucking me, Jesus, and it feels so good, so right, and he's kissing me down there, actually kissing me.

Drunk, drunk reeling drunk.

"Vin - condom?"

"Drawer. Table." Thoughts are muzzy. Warm goodness. Warm.

His warmth is missed only briefly while I hear the rip of the condom and the smacking of the lube. Two slippery fingers circle and find their way into my overly-loosened self. I passed ready about five miles back; now I'm dying for him to do me. Domedomedome.

He asks me anyway. "Ready?"

"More than," I groan as I feel him line up.

A slow burn, agony and ecstasy; it feels like crying, like the crying you pretend you don't do at the end of really happy movies or when you're drunk and tell total strangers you love them. Yes.

Yes, I want him like this, and with me on my back, and with him on his. I want everything and more. His dry hand on my hip and his wet hand finding my cock - which can't possibly get hard again, but appreciates the attention anyway - and he's sliding all the way into me.

"Oh Vin, Vin, Vin, Vin, Vin," he whispers, chants, very small and shaky, and I know I've never in my life heard someone say my name like that. He's more exposed than I am.

Then he says nothing and starts really fucking me. He alternates his strokes, between long, slow ones and short, hard ones that set fire to my brain. As with everything else in his life, he has such control over this, over himself, even if his breathing is rough - nearly frantic.

"Oh. God. Vin. God -"

"Yes, fuck, yes, harder -"

We have our own porn soundtrack.

His strokes become jerky and uncontrolled, and I know I'm going to be sore, and then out of nowhere, I'm having another orgasm - again. I don't know if I'm actually coming. I didn't know you could have an orgasm without coming. But he's right with me, moaning long and helpless, squishing himself against me even though he can't get any deeper.

When he collapses, I collapse with him, kind of jarring him out of me, but I don't think either one of us cares. Some fuzzy minutes later, I feel him move enough to dispose of the condom somewhere on the floor, and then he rolls over and gathers me up.

"Are you alright?" He asks, as if I could be anything but.

"More than," I say again.

"I - I'm glad. I - goodnight, Vin."

A warm kiss to my temple, and I fade away.


Morning is strange. Morning is lots of not speaking, not showering together, and not leaving the room at the same time.

He's the other guy this morning, the guy I work with, not the guy I have sex with. He's closed and shuttered and in full lock down - which I guess is good, or we'd never make it to this morning's seminar.

I mean, what are we supposed to do? Kiss "goodbye, sweetie" and "see you tonight, dear"?

But this sucks, 'cause I want that. Call me old-fashioned, but I want to kiss him goodbye and hear him say that he'll see me later. I want that to think about the rest of the day.

He leaves first, and I don't see him again until we have to attend the damn seminar. I manage to get breakfast in the hotel which, thinking about it, is pretty damn stupid, but I just had the best fuck of my entire life, and I feel I'm entitled to some eggs benedict.

Much to my annoyance, Chris takes the seat next to me today. Ezra's seat. Normally, this would not annoy me at all, but I want Ezra next to me pretty much all the time, with or without the blushing memory of sex. Besides, there is an unspoken rule about everybody taking the same seats at things like this. You arrive the first day and you stake your claim. This is my seat, that is your seat, and you better not sit in my seat. It's that way from kindergarten.

Ezra shows up later than nearly everyone else, which is normal for him, and he looks as vaguely bored and amused as always. If he notices the change in seating, which I know he does, he doesn't act like it, and just sits down with a sigh.

I actually pay attention all morning, because I'm keyed-up. I'm not playing hangman, and I'm not doodling with Chris right next to me, and I have to do something other than think about how far away Ezra is sitting. It's not that far, but it feels like a different time zone. Sometime after the first break, Chris writes something and turns it my direction.

Are you OK?

I write back that I'm fine, but that's my standard response, so I don't know if he buys it.

Are you OK?  /  I'm fine  /  You seem tense...?

I decide to lie. Nothing else to do. Can't really tell him that I would like it if he traded places with Ezra, so him and me can hold hands under the table.

my back just hurts - all this sitting  /  you can stand for a while if you want  /  nah, it's ok  /  you sure?

Yeah, I'm sure. Standing would feel too weird and would give me nowhere to hide the fact that I am really tense. But it's okay, 'cause it gets better. I calm down some and go with the flow of things. Chris goes to lunch with some of the leaders of other teams, and so the six of us go for pizza. Ezra objects as we expect him to. We overrule him. Lunch is enjoyable.

He's as aloof as always, eats his pizza with a knife and fork, and makes witty remarks.

I'm almost thankful for how normal it is, as opposed to this morning or last night, even. I can do this. I can take undercover Ezra during the day as long as I get him under the covers at night, but I realize that I'm making plans that I haven't even discussed with him. Things longer term than a weekend conference. What if he doesn't want that?

Okay, so maybe I'm not all that calm, but if Ezra can fake it, so can I.

Christ - is this what he does every day? Like a perverse form of fake it 'til you make it? I wonder if he's ever made it before or if he only gets so close. So close and yet -

Back at the hotel, the afternoon breezes by. We actually learn some things about new weapons on the market, both legally and illegally, and that's always good. My brain can get in gear with this. I don't know why I'm so good with guns, like Buck is kick ass with things that go boom, and JD is good with anything that has circuits and microchips. But my mind understands guns. I don't know what that says about me, exactly, but I've never stopped to question it. I don't know why I question it now, except that I keep wondering what the hell is going to happen when this conference gets out.

It's as if I'm finally taking a look at the fact that me and Ezra come from different planets, but here, all of a sudden, there's a doorway - number 489 - to a place where he and I can be on the same planet, in the same zone. We get to strip away all the things we know and all the things we do, except one another. So, I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know what he knows, what his mind understands, because I know there's more to him than the characters he pretends to be. That's just work. It's like The Three Faces of Eve, sometimes, and I want to dig past all that. I want to know him like I know guns.

I trail behind him, sort of, when the day ends and we leave the room. My pulse speeds up violently when I see him take the stairs again, but this time, he's already waiting for me when I open the door. Humming tension in the air; we avoid eye contact at first.

"I realize how…unusual this is, but during our morning break, I took the liberty of securing our," he clears his throat, "the room until Sunday. I know we can't make a habit of this, but I was hoping," another pause, "It does save an hour of driving in the morning just to get here." His raised eyes aren't hopeful - they are challenging.

I stall. I don't know whether to be insulted or excited, but then I realize he's giving me an out. He's giving me an out. I still don't know how to respond. "Yeah, it's pretty convenient," I say, and realize how freakin' callous that sounds. Convenience is a long, long way from desire. And even further from hope.

Before I can retract it, he says, "Good," like that's all the more he could possibly stand to hear right now, and his face slams shut. He presses the key into my palm, fingers lingering for a fraction of a second, and informs me, "I'll be a few moments."

He's walking away and all I can think is -

Wait. Wait. "Wait," I finally get out, "Just … what I meant to say -"

He has stopped, but he's all professional and collected again. It's like those turn of the century gals who wore collars buttoned up to the chin and skirts down over their feet, and it was scandalous to show a bit of ankle or the inside of their wrists. Damnit, I want him to know that he's safe showing me more than an ankle.

"What I meant to say was that I was hoping too. You know that, right?"

Bingo. More than ankles. He rubs his lip with his thumb, and his eyes are dancing. "I had thought it safe to assume so. At this point."

Good. Safe. Safe is good. He understood me.

"It's, uh, safe to assume quite a bit, Ez. More than just hope."

Three things happen to him then: Surprise, Joy, Pain. So fast and so close together, but there in all their parts. "I'll wait up," I say with a wink, and for just a second longer, I get the joy all by itself.

Then he nods, trots down the stairs, and I do a small dance right there in the freakin' stairwell.

I make a post-dance call to Chris, telling him that I'm going to be seeing an old friend for dinner, and then I head to our room, the room. Our room.

Ezra joins me shortly, and at first, there is tension again, the same tension I had wrapped around me most of the morning, the same tension on the stairs. But after a "Hello" and a "Hi, Ezra," all the awkwardness is gone, and I'm wrapped up in a kiss.

He is kissing me urgently, hands clinging, like he's been waiting all day for this. He breaks away to whisper, "Tomorrow, we arrive together," and now I know he noticed how Chris usurped his seat. It makes me happy to know that he hated it as much as I did.

But that's all we say, all the acknowledgement we give the outside world. For a while, our world is this pastel room with flowers on the bedspread and a lot of heavy breathing. We end up in 69 because neither one of us wants to not have the other person's cock in our mouths. Funny, but we almost get into an argument over that, and I giggle when we're finally sideways and backwards, then I die a little when his hot mouth engulfs me.

I lose track of everything except Need and Want, and I'm almost sorry when I have to come because I don't want it to be over. I want to be in his mouth all the time, like I'm safe there - like the way he says my name when he comes. My name is safe in his mouth.

I lick his cock even after it's softened, and I hug his bare hip, which must feel weird to him, but it feels comforting to me. In a bit, we both creep up to the pillows, but neither one of us dozes. It's not even dark out, so we lie here, me on his chest, his arms softly surrounding me.

His fingers stroke my shoulders while mine find fascination with his scars. We've all got them, in our line of work, but I've never seen his like this, up this close and shiny with sweat. There's this thin jagged one by his right collar bone -

"A razor blade," Ezra says and it almost startles me, his voice so low and near. "A young man with a razor. I was a rookie in Atlanta, and the boy was high. Not a particularly good story," his voice drifts, and it's another window that I don't want to see him close. Not just yet.

"And this one?" I ask, touching what is obviously a bullet scar over his ribcage.

"Ah. That was, I was," he takes a deep breath, as if gathering resolve, "I was undercover and he was … I thought he was ... He thought I was a friend. I nearly drowned in my own blood."

I close my eyes and grip him tightly, kissing his chest beneath my cheek. It always worries me when he has to go in without a vest, and he does that a lot. Nothing breaks his cover faster than Kevlar, so there's just him, his skill, and his trust that we're out there somewhere - that I'm out there somewhere, watching out for him so that he doesn't have to worry about drowning in his own blood. How hard that has to be for him, how much trust must he place in us every single time he has to do what he does - which is betray everyone else.

God - I thought what I did for a living was crappy.

His other scars I don't question, and we lie in silence for a while.

"Would you care for something to eat, Vin?"

Obviously he can't sleep either. "Yeah."

"Room service?"


"Don't fret. I always trust you."

He kisses my head again, and I wonder how much of what I was thinking I said aloud.

We order grilled chicken sandwiches and fries and eat them propped up on pillows while watching TV. We feed each other fries and laugh at some new reality TV show, which has a much to do with reality as a hot dog and warm puppy. We hold each other and talk about who we wanted to be when we grew up, and whether or not the Stones will tour again this year, and how many of the Seven Wonders we'd like to see, and whether or not we really believe in Global Warming.

No discussion of work or consequences or what we're doing, 'cause I guess that's too much, too much of the world outside this room. We're going to enjoy this fantasy for as long as it lasts.

Later, he takes our plates, sets them aside, and gets a hungry look in his eyes before disappearing completely under the covers and letting my cock get hard in his mouth - which takes two point five seconds. I have to say that I can't complain about his foreskin fetish. He loves to play with it, and it drives me insane.

His face is sweaty when he tugs the covers off and looks up, stroking me slowly with one hand. "I want you to, that is," and it's so weird so see Ezra fumble for words, "If you want to, I -"

"Yes, I want to -" I cut him off.

"Okay, good."

"Okay." Yes. Good.

Crawling up and rolling over, he buries his face in the crook of his arms. So willing under my hands, his body so open, so impatient for me.

"Hurry, please."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Don't worry."

"But I - "

"Vin," he shushes me, and dark eyes find mine, "I need to feel you. Please."

That frightens me a little, the jagged desperation in his voice, in his eyes. Like he wants it to hurt enough that he'll feel it two weeks from now. Like he thinks this is all he's ever going to have of me.

This weekend doesn't have to be the end of it, the end of us. I want to tell him that. I want to tell him I think I've fallen for him. Instead, I drive myself into him and listen to his muffled cry. The cry of pain turns to cries of pleasure, but I can't help feeling a bit like a monster. I fuck him with absolutely everything I've got, and he asks for more. When he comes, he clenches around me like a vice, and I can't help but follow him over the edge.

He shakes for a long time, and I pull out of him gently. I start to say something, but be turns and places his fingers to my lips.

"Ssshhhh. Don't speak. Please." He replaces his fingers with his mouth, trying to tell me something very important with his lips that I'm too foggy to understand.

Sometime during the night, we stir. We stir and find one another, and he makes love to me. He makes long, slow, torturous love to me, and the difference between what I did to him and what he's doing to me is like night and day, winter and summer, polar opposites.

I don't know what to say or do, so I just let him love me. Like maybe that's what he was trying to say.


Morning comes too soon, and I find Ezra sleeping with a soft, happy smile on his face. So I spend a few lazy minutes kissing him awake.

Today is Saturday; today is our half-day. This means that we only have a morning of conference to deal with and then it's just us, just him and me, and we can spend 24 hours straight in our room if we want. Or we can go do something, anything we want. This is a great day.

Good to his word, Ezra finds me in the dining room before we have to go upstairs, and we head into the conference room together.

There are two things, though, that are completely different about today. First, Chris isn't here. Second, Ezra sits as far away from me as possible, for a man who's sitting next to me. So close and yet so far.

It is as if there is a giant, impenetrable, invisible wall between the two of us. He doesn't even look at my doodles, and his posture is so straight it hurts me to be next to it. Buck and JD are up to their usual hijinks, this time Rock-Paper-Scissors, and Josiah makes actual origami. Time crawls.

I wonder what would happen if my calf accidentally collided with Ezra's, or if I touched his foot with mine. I know this is how we'll have to act in the office if this thing we have going continues to go after this weekend - but right now, this exaggerated distance seems too exaggerated. Pretending too hard that nothing is wrong only makes things look worse.

Or maybe I'm over sensitive. Yeah, most people wouldn't guess that I am, but I am. I'm a needy fuck; I admit it. I do a whole lot to act like I'm not, but I guess that's just like pretending too hard. It does make things worse, 'cause then people don't think I need much at all. I end up very much alone, hating myself for feeling lonely, angry with myself for not having the guts to say so.

I need to tell him - I need to talk to him - to tell him that this isn't just about sex.

My hip buzzes, and I jump a foot, Ezra grabbing his hip at the same instant. I look around as I pull out my beeper; Buck, JD, and Josiah are also looking at theirs.

Eye contact all around. We leave quietly and bivouac by the stairs, Buck taking out his phone.

"Travis. Yeah, yes. Shit. Shit. Yes. We're fifteen minutes away. Got it. Yeah, we'll head there first. Yessir." Phone snaps shut. He rakes a hand through his hair and swears again. "Chris has got himself into a bit of trouble."

"What, without us?" I can't help but ask.

My humor is not appreciated this time; Buck's eyes harden. "Yeah, he decided to stop off at a convenient store for some cigarettes on his way in. Apparently, Travis just got the call that Chris is still in that convenient store, with two armed men and three other hostages. SWAT has been on the scene for a half hour, and so far no shots have been fired."

"So far," I echo.

We're thundering down the stairs, Buck deciding that no more conversation is necessary. To my surprise, Ezra leaps into my jeep when we get to the parking garage, but I don't ask why. The other three pile into Buck's SUV, and we break several major traffic laws getting across downtown.

The scene is mild chaos, the street blocked off by jagged rows of black and whites. They've set up a good perimeter, organized but hectic, and I look around and up for a location with a clear angle on the 7 Eleven. The glass front of the store is covered with ads for 12-packs of beer and 24-packs of coke making it damn difficult to get a good look inside. Add to this that they have barricaded the front door with one of the shelves and it looks like we're in for the long haul.

SWAT has their own sniper, and they have their own negotiator who's been trying to reach someone inside by phone, and the last thing on this earth they want to do is hand this mess over to us. They have their rulebook; we have ours. Buck and Josiah try to "reason" with them - while JD talks with somebody about hacking into the closed circuit camera feed in the store - while Ezra and I stand and think.

"I'm gonna get inside that building and set up," I tell him, pointing. "I can get a better angle from there than anywhere." And I've got a rifle in a lockbox hidden under the backseat cushions of the Jeep. "You think you could try to go around back, sneak in?"

"Yes, I certainly can." He gives a little smile, all menace and no humor.

Just then there is gunfire. Oh fuck, there is gunfire inside. One of the big windows shatters, destroying the Bud Light ad and sending glass flying. The cops duck and cover; Team 7 runs for the front of the store.

Buck and Josiah on one side, me and Ez on the other - there's no fucking time to think. We can hear screaming inside, and shouting, and my heart jackhammers in my chest. Buck runs out of sight, around back, and there's another gunshot, and Ezra makes a leap.

I can't stop him. He runs straight past the barricaded door and fucking dives in through the broken window.

And like a Goddamn lemming, I follow him.

Everything happens in real fast slow-motion, if that makes any sense. It's all over but the shouting in probably thirty seconds - and I swear to God, it's the longest thirty seconds of my life.

Bam, gunshot, from Chris - behind rack of bread and potato chips - at masked gunman - behind front counter. Bam, I shoot gunman and he flops backwards all over the cigarettes. Boom, rifle fire - somewhere I can't see - and then sounds of struggle. Struggle soon subdued by Buck - arriving from back storage and walloping something with the butt of his gun.

But I can't see Ezra. Shit, shit, I can't see Ezra.

My hands cramp around my gun as I weave through the aisles to find Ezra lying at an odd angle on a pile of Snicker's bars. He looks pissed off, and alive. Gunman Number 2 is unconscious and bleeding from the head. His rifle has been kicked out of reach and is being guarded by a very irate Buck Wilmington. Where the hell is JD?

I feel a swish of air and I spin, gun trained, and ready to kill. Chris stops dead and holds up his hands, staring at me, just staring, until I lower my gun. He nods at me, understanding and worry and relief all bundled up in one expression. He's sporting the beginnings of a black eye, licking blood from a split lip, and he's drenched in sweat.

Ezra stands, and even I can tell that his shoulder is out of socket again. I try to reach out to him, but he pulls back like I could burn him, and I know, I know that I can't comfort him the way I want to. I also know he wouldn't let any of the others comfort him, either. That's right, I'm forgetting which of him I'm dealing with here. I drop my hand but still can't tear my eyes away.

He's scuffed and covered in lots of shiny, glittery pieces of what must be glass. All that glass. I look down at myself and, funny that, I'm shiny too.

"Vin," Chris says, and I snap to, "go check on the guy behind the counter."

Josiah goes off to talk to the hostages, who have been crouched behind a giant barrel full of iced Pepsi. Buck is already cuffing the still-unconscious second guy, and I realize it's about time I holstered my weapon. My weapon in my shaking hand. I also realize that all of this has taken about another 180 seconds. Time enough for the cops to finally get with the program. A horde of them appears around the front of the store, and they're shouting words I can't quite make out over the rush of blood still in my ears.

I go check on the dead guy behind the counter, all the time looking over my shoulder for Ezra.

The rest of the morning - and then some - is taken up with defending our actions and making reports, knowing we'll have to do it all again later. Ezra and Chris are treated in the back of an ambulance. The hostages are interviewed, checked, and sent home. JD, who was held back by the police when the rest of us decided to play Kamakazi, is doing a hell of a job standing up for us, being a mouthpiece for the ATF and making what we did sound planned and strategic. Buck is mugging for the camera, talking to the media.

Travis arrives and looks surly.

Chris finally gets to smoke a cigarette - or ten.

I just lean on a solid object and try not to throw up.

"What did they want?" I ask Chris, when he joins me. We sit on the curb, and I bum a cigarette, him not reminding me that I don't smoke.

"Just a robbery gone wrong, Vin." He looks haggard and tired, every bit of his forty-one years.

"They were just kids. Teenagers."

"Yeah, I know, Vin. But if you're old enough to try to kill, you're old enough to die for it." His eyes are flinty, hard. "They were going to shoot the girl if I didn't get them a car out of there. Fuck." He takes a long drag, the tip of the cigarette burning angry red. "They were coked-out and panicky and wouldn't listen to me. They just wouldn't listen. Like some other idiots I know," he says, his voice lingering on the edge of fondness.

I take a drag and cough a little.

"Thanks," he says.

"Thank Ezra," I snap, feeling that cold electricity of fear again, "he's the suicidal maniac." I crush the cigarette with the heel of my boot. I really don't smoke.

"Yeah, well, in this I can't blame him. He ever tell you why he left the FBI?"


"A hostage situation gone wrong. Ask him sometime. When things settle down." Chris kills his cigarette, smoked clean to the filter, and we get up.

Police cars are driving away, the ambulance turns off its lights and pulls out; time for the clean-up crew. I find Ezra. He's in shirt-sleeves, his right arm in a sling, and his hands are a little cut. And it's only now that I notice the blood on his other arm.

"You're hurt. Were you hit?"

"Just a graze. Literally. Five stitches."

"Shit, Ezra."

He puts a stop to whatever else I was going to say - with just one look. "May we leave now? Please." His eyes bore holes clean through me, and I nod.

"Yeah. Jeep's this way."

We drive in silence. I'm not even aware of the temperature of the wind or the route I take to drive back to the hotel. I have to get his car, after all.

Again, Ezra is right beside me, and he's a thousand miles away looking pretty shaky. I want to ask him about the FBI, and what Chris said, and I want to know what he's thinking and feeling. I want him to know that he can tell me anything. I want to hold him and not let go. I guess he's not the only one shook up.

Someone's taken my space in the parking garage, so I pull up behind the Jag and screw up some nerve. "Ez, do you think we could, I mean - can we stay a while?"

He shuts his eyes and leans his head against the seat, exhaustion pouring off of him. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be of much use to you, Mr. Tanner. Not right now."

"I don't care," I snap at him. He needs to know this isn't just about sex.

This gets me both eyebrows raised and an fuming look that tells me -

"I'm afraid that I very much care," he drawls, "Even if you don't."

His hand is quickly on the door latch, and I stop him. "Look, you aren't a use to me, damnit. You aren't providing room service." I jerk on his arm to get his eyes to focus on me and not on the Chevy two rows over. "You were fucking shot today. Okay? I just - " Now it's my turn to look away, feeling the telltale prick in the corners of my eyes.

"I believe I could … endure the company, Vin." His voice is full of the softest smile, and when I turn back, I see that his eyes match the tone.

"Alright," I answer rather harshly, then sigh and shake my head. Nothing I ever say comes out right.

"Yes, I believe so." He squeezes my hand, still on his arm. He understands me anyway.

We park and go inside; and once behind locked doors, we can't get any closer. We undress and he lets me hold him. Curtains closed and covers pulled up around our shoulders, he lets me smother him. Tension is ingrained in his every muscle, and we keep shifting under the covers, bit by bit, snuggling closer, and I must have dozed off.

I wake up to find us face to face, his eyes shining when I look at him. I know three things: I am hungry, I am very warm, and I am in love.

"Hey." I stroke the side of his jaw, and he leans in, pressing his lips gently to mine.

"Hey," he says back, the tiniest of grins lifting the corner of his mouth. "I still have my appendix."

I lift my head, questioning. "Good for you." Did they give him happy pills when he got his arm looked at?

"Not that it does me any good," he continues, "but that's not where this scar is from." He swallows and rolls to his back with a wince.

My full attention is piqued in a half-second flat. He takes one of my hands and draws it to his waist, to one of the scars we didn't talk about the day before.

"Okay," I say, like it was a question.

"I was twenty-eight and already a legend." His voice is mocking, mocking himself, but his words are unguarded and unrehearsed. "I had been undercover for, God, felt like years, with an ultra-militant family in the backwoods of Georgia. Think Deliverance," he suggests, and I cringe at the mental image, "I was in too deep and I got too close to someone - as close as I am with Buck or Chris or Josiah, though from their points of view I am sure that isn't saying much."

He's mocking himself again, and I come to the conclusion that I hate that sound.

"He was just a kid, God, just a kid," he whispers brokenly at the ceiling, moisture leaking from one eye. "His crazy, fanatic, anarchist family - it wasn't his fault. They took a bank hostage and there was - it got ugly. Five minutes and I could have had them walking out alive. Just five minutes and everyone would have lived. But my team couldn't wait; SWAT couldn't wait. My beloved team swept the place and shot every last one of them. All of them."

He grows silent again, and I want to ask 'all of who?' If the bad guys die, that's a good thing - right?

"We lost two hostages, but that's acceptable under the circumstances. I hate that euphemism. I hated it then and I despise it now. It is one of the reasons I came to work here, Vin." He looks at me finally, and I am riveted; barely even breathing. "Chris leads this team with a justice, with an integrity the likes of which I have never seen. He would have trusted me; he would have waited. No one had to die, but instead it was twelve and two; twelve bad guys and two innocents. One semi-casualty in that I got shot by my own men while I tried to protect a seventeen year old kid who loved me more than his own father."

Ezra looks away swiftly, and I can feel a hand clenching the bedsheets as he fights to hold onto something intangible. I stroke my hand along his arm, his side, letting him know I've got him. I'm tangible.

"I won't even tell you what his father used to do to him. I had lived with that family for a year, having to sit by and pretend that I didn't know. Harley was his name. He was seventeen and didn't know anything else. But he didn't want to be there, didn't want to hold up that bank, and refused to shoot one of the hostages when ordered. And the mighty FBI shot him as I held him, his head exploding all over my chest. Bits of skull and brains, and I caught a stray bullet in the stomach. He was seventeen. After the bust, I broke my commander's jaw and resigned. Didn't take any of my accrued pension. Four months later, I found myself in Denver - and I met you."

His laugh sounds better now, and he kisses my head. Hot breath in my hair.

"I'm good at what I do, Vin. I do it because it needs to be done - and I do it damn well. Most of the time I don't regret it - not once since joining this team. But I won't lie to you and tell you that it isn't hard. I won't tell you that I always sleep well at night. I have to live with who I am, so I pretend that nothing phases me. Most of the time that is sufficient. It helps, actually, to distance myself," he gives me a small smile, "and contrary to my mother's opinion, I believe I've done well with my life thus far."

He falls silent, gazing off, absently rubbing my shoulder; and I can see the distance. This close, I can see the miles he puts between himself and the rest of the world. I don't think he's wanting my approval or forgiveness, just someone to tell his story to. But he needs to know he can do that, any time he wants, here, with me, 'cause I'm not going anywhere.

I thread my fingers with his on my shoulder, bringing him back to me. "I'd say you've done better then well, Ez. I'd be willing to lay bet on that."

"Oh really?" His voice warms. "Against whom?"

"Anybody who says different. Even you."

"Hmmmm." I can hear another smile in that hum, and he kisses me still humming. "I might let you win."

"You scared the shit out of me," I admit, whispering like it's too scary even now.

"I know, Vin. I'm sorry." Whispered in kind, against my forehead.

"I know. But I'm glad you told me why you did it. I - I'm real sorry I shot that kid - "

"But if you hadn't, Mr. Larabee would have," he finishes for me, and I can feel the tension draining out of him. Finally.

"I reckon so."

"Not all of them can be saved. I know this. Not all of them deserve to be. I suppose hostage situations bring out the worst in me."

He chuckles at himself, so I grin and nibble on some skin. We are naked and awake, after all. "I don't know 'bout the worst, but I can tell you, you do that again and I'll pull your shoulder out of socket myself. Next time you want to do something like that, just give me a head's up, okay? So I can come with you."

He has so many smiles, so many of them that are only in his eyes, or never reach his eyes at all. This one is sadness all the way around, and that scares me.

"You can't always come with me, Vin. You can't always be there."

"Why not?"

This smile is sympathy and tenderness, and something that looks a lot like love. "I'm almost always alone. You can't help that."

Yes I fucking can, I want to shout, but I can hear the regret in his voice. So I whisper it, "Yes, I can."

"No, Vin, not always." He's shaking his head and kissing me, softly, sadly, and suddenly it feels like he's letting go. Not just closing a window, but totally shutting the door. "My world is very small, Vin. So very, very small."

I do not want that to make sense, but it does, in a way, his small world. He's alone in what he does like I'm alone in what I do. I'm a lone gunman, only his is an isolation in the middle of a crowd. Most of the people he's going to meet socially are the people he's working to meet so he can help us bust them. And then he has to keep a low profile when he's not working, just in case he's needed to go deep under in Denver. It doesn't lend itself to a really active social life, especially a homosexual one.

And then there's us, the team, and I know we're the only family he has. What's the expression? Don't shit where you eat. Yeah. Trying to start a Friends with Benefits program at the office could get real ugly, real fast.

So his world consists of the team, then people on the force who would make his life miserable if they knew he fucked other men, and then people he meets when he's pretending to be someone else. If I thought my job was depressing - at least I know I'm me when I'm shooting someone. When he takes someone down, he's not him, and they're getting taken by someone they thought they could trust. A complete stranger.

"But you're not a stranger to me," I say aloud, and he obviously doesn't follow. "You don't have to pretend here, with me. We can have our own very, very small world. Population, two. I can help that. I can be that."

"Vin," he sighs, and maybe I hate that sound the most, "But can you live a lie? Can you lie to everyone you know? Can you lie to Chris? Deny me, if you have to? Listen to me deny you? I don't want you to end up hating me because I'm asking you to live in hiding. Hiding in plain sight."

Angered, spurred on by a sudden rush of outrage, I reel upward and over, planting my hands on either side of his face. "You think you're the first gay fed ever? Or bisexual fed? The first guy to fuck a partner and try to keep it secret?"

That's not what he's really saying, and I know it, but that's not what's making me so angry. I lean in.

"This," I kiss him, hard, "this is not a Goddamn lie."

"No, Vin, this is as close to the truth as I've ever been." So matter-of-fact, but still sad. He sighs, louder this time. "But with what I do, with who I am, it is far, far from easy to love me - "

"Too late."

His jaw snaps shut - audibly - and his face gets like someone who wants to cry. There is a forever kind of silence, one that would be more fitting with insects singing in the background. His hands slowly rise to frame the sides of my face.

"You know we can't continue this." His expression is sad for a moment more, then it goes cold.

I can't say that I wasn't expecting that, but the pain of it is horrendous. I get ready to rattle off a whole itemized list of reasons why we can when he speaks again.

"Or," he ponders for a minute, "It could continue if we only ever came here, never strayed to our own beds."

I lift my eyebrows, knowing that I shouldn't feel anything like the hope I'm feeling.

He nods, seriously. "But no more spending the night here. No more cuddling and pretending to be a real couple."

I think I'm dying, but I guess three days doesn't make us a real couple.

"And no more kissing on the mouth. It's too intimate."

I can't possibly stand for this, but I find myself nodding in his hands. In his fucking hands. I close my eyes and concentrate on that, on their warmth, not his cold words.

"And I want you to dress up as Peter Pan and dance for me."

My eyes snap open.

He's laughing at me, fucking laughing at - he's laughing at himself. He is cracking himself up. His face is flushed and full of it before it giggles out of his mouth.

"And do your hair in pig tails," he splutters, laughing so hard now, I think he's hurting himself.

I truly despise this man, with all my heart and soul. He knows that or he couldn't have done what he just did to me. I want to strangle him.

"And I want you to lather me with bread pudding and sprinkle me with raisins - "

"I fucking hate you," I say without anything that could be called sincerity, feeling my own laughter bubble up.

"That's a shame," he says, reining in laughter, "considering my feelings on the subject."

"Too late," I repeat, smiling huge, "Jesus, you had me, you had me - " And I try to kiss him.

"Yes, and I plan on having you again," he grins and drawls with that wicked mouth I love so much.

"You bastard," I growl over him, "You fucking actor."

He wraps his arms around me, pulling me down. "I'm not acting when I'm fucking." He wants me here, on top of him, he whispers when his lips are free. "I want you here and moaning into my mouth."

I moan, on cue.

"And I want you in my bed, Vin Tanner, in my home. And I want to kiss you until -

He snakes a hand between us, devouring my mouth, and taking inventory of my fillings. Touching me, holding us together, he strokes both of us until we are leaking and slick. All the while, his kisses get deeper and longer, and I feel completely consumed, lost, drowning in the nearness of him.

Legs spreading for me, he settles me between, and I rub against him like I don't know anything better. Funny thing is, it feels like I don't know anything better.

There is nothing better than this, right here and now. This is as close to the truth as I've ever been. I feel wetness flood over us, and I climax, surrendering my fear and love between our bellies.


Monday, Monday.

Work is work; back to work is totally normal in every possible way. Chris is bossy, Buck and JD are merry, Josiah is Buddha on the Mountain - and Nathan returns. He gives us what I am sure is a word for word retelling of his entire conference and listens to us bitch about ours. It's good. It's safe.

We have to fill out incident reports, requisite every time we discharge our weapons. Chris both admonishes us for our recklessness and praises us for our quick-thinking. He doesn't specifically say anything to Ezra, and it feels good to know why, to know that Chris understands.

Mr. Standish and I are colleagues again; he has his desk way over there, and I have mine way back here.

He's wearing his professional personality: sarcastic when it's called for, as haughty as is expected of him, and as distant as ever. He doesn't try to talk to me more than he should, and I try not to look at him more than I used to, except that I keep watching for him to give me that look - the one from the restaurant.

He's right - this is hard. I find myself paying attention to every nuance, like I'm microscope focused on him, dissecting him. Every time our eyes meet, I wait to see his change, but they don't. And they don't. It's for the best, I know, or we couldn't work together.

But it sucks. I suck. I'd like to.

An hour before we get to leave, an email pops up. I've got mail. It's from Ezra.

I look around to see if anyone else notices that the whole universe has shifted and that the temperature in here has upped by 80 degrees. Nope, no one.

I open the email:

start of game of hangman.   _   _ _ _ _   _ _ _

I grin helplessly, feeling like we're passing notes in fifth period Algebra. I start thinking of the best letters to start with, the ones most-used. This one looks easy, so I should start with - wait. I blink seven or thirty times. That middle word could be 'want' or 'love' or 'need', but any of them works for me.

I glance up at him all the way eight feet over there, and he's wearing that look - and a boy, can he pack a lot into just one look - and this is as seriously close as he's been yet to getting fucked in the office.

Then the look is gone. I write back - just one word: Yeah.

I send it, then think that maybe I should have said 'Me too', but somebody's probably watching this email, and not just JD.

I delete his email, empty the Deleted Items, and whistle my way through the rest of the day, knowing that I won't be going home to my apartment tonight.

I really love seminars.


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