Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: Starwinder's, You Want Fries With That?, and The All-Ezra FanFic Archive --- all others, please ask.
Summary: When Ezra's lover dumps him and the case at the last moment, Ezra takes Buck undercover with him in a biker gang.
Warnings: My stories usually end up with some violence, some angst, some h/c, some *male/male lovin'*, but no deathfic. This one has male rape, violence, and strong language, as well as happier tlc and lovin'.
Author's Note: Originally posted to Sihn's TheWildcardandTheRogue list where list sibs helped with technical knowledge of bikers' worlds :-) Winner of 2003 Diamond Ezzie for ATF Slash Fiction - Long Category
Completed: 29 May 2002
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes comments
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Ezra straightened and self-consciously ran a hand through his shaggy reddish-brown hair. The bangs were becoming a real hazard to visibility. He pressed the doorbell and stood back.
"What the---? Ezra? Is that you?" Buck Wilmington stood back in the open door, his body language clearly inviting the other man into his and JD's apartment. "What are you doing here?" The bewildered tone and confused look were not encouraging to the hesitant shorter man. When the southerner, looking a bit ragged, remained on the landing as if glued in the spot, Buck finally reached out a hand to grab a shoulder and tug the man over the threshold. "Come on, git in here."
Propelled by the big man's strength, Standish skidded into the hallway of the apartment. He still hadn't said a word. He stood silently, watching as Buck closed the door to the foyer and locked it before turning to face Team 7's undercover operative, who'd been under for the last month plus two days. Not that he counted. The surveillance expert, known as the ladies man of Team 7, sighed at the wordless man who hovered before him, looking like he was slightly lost. Shaking his head, he decided to try the obvious. If the man had wanted subtlety, he'd be at Josiah's door right now, not Buck's. Something must be wrong and Standish was a smart man, if he came here, he came because THIS is where he wanted to be. So, Buck swung one long arm over the smaller man's shoulders, feeling the tension, the almost brittle stress to the small frame, and urged him forward toward the living room.
"Sit down." The ex-Seal could be as commanding as their team leader, Chris Larabee, when the need called for it and he instinctively knew that right now, Ezra Standish needed someone to tell him what to do. There was resistance against the pressure on those shoulders for a moment, then like a marionette whose strings had been cut, the southerner dropped into the large lumpy sofa that occupied the center of the rather lived-in looking room. Buck came around the front of the sofa and crouched down in front of his friend. "Want some coffee?" Somehow he didn't think alcohol was gonna help right now.
Wilmington watched as the agent nodded slowly, eyes on the floor. One hand went up to drag at the unkept hair again. Buck patted a near shoulder and went out to the kitchen. For a moment, he thought about calling Chris on his cell phone. Ezra should be under right now and this was a real breach of security. On the other hand, Standish clearly needed something and if he'd wanted to talk to Larabee he wouldn't be here. Buck scratched at his chin speculatively as he watched the coffee drip. Probably better to wait with Ezra. He wandered quietly back out into the living room. The southerner hadn't moved. In fact, the man looked like he was barely there, holding himself in tensely, hunched forward on the squashy sofa as if caught in a trap. Well, with that particular piece of furniture, that wasn't far from the truth. Buck smiled.
The lanky man sank into the adjoining overstuffed armchair and stretched out his long legs. "Take a few minutes for the coffee." He looked over and studied the silent man. "You want to talk to me about this or should I start guessin'?"
The shoulders rose and stiffened, nearly level with his lowered head. Ezra looked ready to bolt. But then he seemed to relax all at once, leaning back in the sagging cushions, chin coming to rest on his chest. Without looking at Wilmington, he began to speak.
"I decided to talk to you before going to Mr. Larabee about this." Ezra snuck a look at Wilmington who was looking patiently puzzled. "The gang I'm riding with is getting rather insistent that I stay with the group 24/7 now." He shrugged. "Up until now, I've managed to run with them without staying, but I'm being admitted into upper circles now, and they want to know that they can trust me."
"Then you're doing good, Ez." This was getting stranger and stranger. Wilmington knew all about the assignment, hell, the whole team had been doing background and research since Ezra went under. They were tracking a new breed of arms dealer that dealt through motorcycle clubs. Not the Hell's Angels variety, instead, local biker groups that evolved from neighborhood gangs. The rallies had provided opportunities for contacts and then sales and shipments followed. Hard to track, hard to trace in the closed world of these biker clubs. That Standish had managed to fit in was nothing short of amazing, his skills at undercover work were absolutely brilliant. He was the best, and he was theirs. The whole team pivoted around his work and were, in their own turns, just as incredibly good at their jobs too. Made for one hell of a good team.
Buck raised an eyebrow when he didn't get an answer. "Ez? What's the problem?"
That bland, blank look closed over the southerner's face. What the team called his poker face. "I am in need of a companion, or one of my NEW companions will insist on an alliance that I am loathe to pursue."
"Not sure I follow you here, Ezra." Buck sat forward and drew his legs up so that he could rest his elbows on his knees, loosely clasping his hands.
Flashing green eyes met his for a moment, then lowered again to study the seemingly fascinating frayed edge of the scatter rug in front of the old sofa. "It was all set. Tony was going under with me. Chris had worked it out."
"You got a friend, Toni? Was going under with you?" At the nod, Buck wondered why he'd not heard of or met Toni before, then mentally shrugged. With his reputation, he could see why Ez might want to keep a special friend away. He didn't mind. He liked Ezra, was his friend. If he'd found someone, then Buck would never even think of cutting the man out and trying for the no-doubt delectable Toni. "So what's the problem?"
"Tony has had a change of heart and does not want to stay under indefinitely with me." Ezra didn't look up, but was moving uncomfortably in his seat.
They all knew that undercover cases were unpredictable and could last several months sometimes. Buck had to sympathize, especially if this Toni was a civilian. Though, Chris had bought into this, so ---? "So Toni backed out? You need someone else to go in, in place of her?"
There was silence again. This was getting damn scary. "Ez?"
"What ---? What 'him?' Toni is a guy?"
"Anthony Borgo, Team 4."
"Ah, Ez? Tony Borgo was going in as your ---?"
"My boyfriend." Standish stood suddenly and moved around the coffee table, away from Buck, to stand in the middle of the room, looking at nothing. Oh, god, this was not going well. He slid his hands into the back pockets of his patched faded jeans. Waited.
"You --- you and Tony?" Buck was shocked. Ezra was in a male/male relationship with the hulking sharpshooter from Team 4? He could see the southerner in a gay affair, the man was gorgeous, no question, if he looked neutrally at him. But Borgo? That fried turd was a Neanderthal. This just didn't make any sense.
"For about a year now," the smaller man paused, then continued, "Chris knows. I am very discrete."
"I'll say. I sure didn't have a clue. But, Pard, if you're happy, that's all that matters." Buck wasn't sure where this conversation was going but it was getting more Twilight Zone by the minute.
"Well, suffice it to say, we have each satisfied the needs of the other." Ezra's hands came out of his pockets and fisted at his sides. "But, it seems he has found someone else who does a better job." Dark shadowed eyes slowly raised and met deep blue ones, unflinchingly. "So, he is no longer interested in cooperating on this assignment. And there really isn't much time to find a replacement."
Buck sat back to better look up at the man standing so stiffly in the center of his living room. Suddenly the pieces clicked. He blinked. Me. He's either here for me or JD, and JD is too young. "You want me to go under with you?"
Ezra watched for signs of revulsion or anger, but the tall mustached agent, his friend, one of six, seemed only interested and supportive. Standish nodded. "Yes." He tried to think of how to say this next part without insulting his friend. "You have the looks, Buck, and the size."
Buck shook his head at that. "Don't follow you, Pard."
Standish sighed, coming back to sit on the sofa. Ran both hands nervously through his hair. The gesture was so un-Ezra-like that Buck stared. "Buck, I am not a big man. In order to make this work, my companion has to be large enough to defend us with brute strength, if necessary, part of the 'vocabulary' of the pack I am running with, look the part on a motorcycle, and preferably be an ATF agent."
"You. If you'll consider it?" Ezra clasped his hands so tightly that the knuckles looked white. "I wanted to talk with you first, before I talked to Chris. If you don't want to do this, he'll find someone for me. We wouldn't have to do anything you're uncomfortable with, just some acting for show, some --- some closeness." Ezra finished hesitantly.
Buck heard the lost sound in Ezra's voice. The man had just broken up with his lover, evidently, and from the sounds of it, not by choice, poor little shit. Now he had to come begging for this.
"Ez. If you think I can do this, I'm in." Buck watched Ezra blink once, then again rapidly, and he realized suddenly that his friend was fighting back tears. "Ez?" He rose and moved over to sit down beside the undercover agent and carefully wrapped one arm around the man's shoulders. "Ez, you need to let it out, Pard, iffn you're goin' to get past him." Somehow, it came out so naturally, that he realized it really hadn't mattered who, or what gender, had hurt his friend's heart. His friend was hurting. And Buck didn't like to see a friend hurting.
"Come 'ere, buddy." He pulled and the smaller man turned and buried his face in Buck's chest, shoulders shaking. Comforting folks was a natural Buck-skill. Usually it was those of the fairer sex, though come to think on it, Ez was pretty fair. With a mental shrug, he held on and soothed with wordless sounds of comfort, hands making soothing circles on the shaking back. He could feel the dampness on his shirtfront that told him Ezra was crying, silently. "He ain't worth it, Ez, you'll see. You're too good for the likes of Borgo, Pard. Just wait. Mr. Right will come along."
There was a pause and then a sound that was suspiciously somewhere between a snort and a wet chuckle. A muffled, "Mr. Right?"
Now it was Buck's turn to shift uncomfortably. Maybe he'd overstepped his boundaries on this, but damn, he was really wingin' it here. "Ah, just trying to ---"
Ezra raised his damp face to meet his friend's midnight blue eyes. "Buck. It's ok. Just struck me funny, you saying that." Ezra reached up and fisted his eyes, obviously trying to clear the tears that were drying up now. He looked remarkably like a little boy at that moment and Buck felt very protective. Damn, next time he saw Borgo, the man was going to feel his anger, preferably with a roundhouse to the jaw.
"How 'bout that coffee?" Buck gently disengaged from his hug as Ezra began to pull himself back together. Give the man some space and time, he thought, walking back into the kitchen. "'Bout time for the news if you want to turn on the TV," he tossed over his shoulder. A little normalcy probably wouldn't hurt either.
Ezra took in a jerky breath and swallowed a few times, the tears having made him feel like a damn waterworks. He never cried. This was utterly ridiculous. It wasn't as if he'd cared deeply for Tony but there had been something reassuring to know that someone wanted him enough to keep him around all this time.
The shortly worded note he'd found on his computer an hour ago, in the email inbox, had been devastating. Just a few clear unambiguous sentences. "Changed my mind about the case. Pick up your stuff tonight, Jerry is moving in and I don't want him to get the wrong idea. It was time to move on anyway. Tony" Ezra hadn't been over there yet. He wasn't at all sure how he was going to manage that either.
This little meeting with Buck had already reduced him to a wreck, and Buck was a friend. He bit his lower lip and raised an arm to wipe his face against the short sleeve of his simple red tee shirt. The cotton absorbed the remaining dampness and he rubbed his palms on his jeans as he sat there, trying to order his thoughts, focus on the case. Only, the damn case was a living nightmare, compounded by his lover's less than timely rejection. Thank god Buck had agreed to this farce. Ezra settled back, having keyed on the news with the remote he found on the coffee table. It washed over him, leaving no impression at all. It might as well have been white noise.
Buck set out two mugs. After nearly two years as part of the same team, he knew what each of his teammates' preferences were. Ezra, of course, would always prefer high-grade coffee, with cream and raw cane sugar, given the choice. Well, he couldn't produce that but the drip percolator churned out decent enough coffee, sure not Vin's brand of thick sin. He had some powdered creamer that JD had bought on their last grocery run. Dumped in some regular sugar and, on the spur of the moment, added a large dash of brandy. Wasn't anything special but might help. He took his own black, after years in the service, he was used to it that way. Picking up the mugs, still not really thinking about anything except helping, he walked back out into the living room. The national news was playing out, local would be up next. The sound wasn't loud, but it did fill the space. Watching his full cups as he maneuvered around the armchair, it wasn't until he'd put both down on the table in front of the sofa that he finally looked up at his guest.
The southerner was sprawled back, sunk into the lumpy couch, his head tipped to the side, fallen forward over his chest. He was snoring ever so lightly. A single tear track glistened in the artificial light of evening inside the room. Aw, Ez. Looks like you could use some decent rest. Buck shook his head and sat down in the armchair picking up his coffee. He wasn't due to pick up Cindy for at least another two hours, after her evening shift was over at the snack bar in the basement of the federal building. He watched the news for a few minutes, sipping his coffee. But it was hard to concentrate and he began to worry that Ezra was going to get a stiff neck if he slept like that for too long. Just as he decided to wake the southerner, maybe get him to bunk in the guestroom for the night, the front door's lock began to click over.
A moment later, before Buck could get to the hall and warn him, JD came sailing in, full charge, shouting. "Hey Buck, what you still doin' here? Thought you'd already be down hounding Cindy 'til her ---" JD Dunne wound down to silence as he got all the way into the living room and realized Buck wasn't alone.
Buck sat up and set down his coffee mug. Ezra was stirring, JD's loud arrival waking the man. Watching him closely and ignoring his roommate, Buck saw the confusion and dread clouding those soft green eyes as Ezra woke with a tiny jump, pulling back his head sharply. "Easy there, Pard, you just drifted off there for a minute or two." Buck placed one large hand on the nearest knee to help settle the startled man. This was definitely not like Ezra. Studying him, Buck realized that it was not just tears that were darkening the man's face, deep shadows of exhaustion and a hollowed look the agent got when he skipped too many meals all contributed to Ezra's pallor and wan appearance.
"JD? There's coffee on if you want some. Call Chris for me, tell him to come over. Tell him Ezra's here and I'll be going under with him once we get things set up." Dunne, who'd come to a stunned halt at the end of the couch, eyeing their friend worriedly, nodded now.
"Sure, Buck. Hey, Ez, good to see you."
By now Ezra was back fully and nodded to their youngest team member, their computer expert. "JD, good to see you too." Dunne hesitated, hearing the tentative sound in Ezra's voice.
"Pard, Chris'll be a while. Let's get you in the back, you can sack out on the guest bed 'til then. Looks like you could use some rest." Buck tried not to let his concern color his voice but Ezra's flush told him he'd not been that successful.
"I'm fine, gentleman," Standish sat up and waved off the suggestion, meeting each man's eyes briefly before settling on the coffee mug cooling in front of him.
"No, Ez, don't think so." Buck rose with determination. "Come on." He offered his hand to help his friend get out of the man-eating sofa. After the briefest hesitation, Ezra accepted the offered hand and clasped it as he was tugged to his feet only to stagger almost drunkenly with exhaustion and a sudden dip in his adrenaline, now that the case was back on track. "Whoa there, Pard." Buck caught the man and steadied him with hands to two strong, slender upper arms.
JD had started forward to help when he saw Ezra wobble, but his roommate got there first and there wasn't a lot of room between the couch and coffee table so he waited to see if he'd be needed. Cocking his head to the side, he suddenly said, "Buck, I don't think he's gonna make it to the bed on his own." He'd seen the flush drain away and a whiteness settle around Ezra's mouth.
Wilmington, standing now, bracing the southerner, saw what JD meant. "Hey, Ez?" When he got no answer, he made a quick decision and simply swept an arm under the jeans clad legs and lifted, the small man coming to rest easily in his arms, blinking in surprise.
"Buck?" Instead of the outrage he would have expected, the voice simply sounded tired and confused.
"Just gonna get you to bed, Pard. You relax and let old Buck handle things for a while." Buck met JD's eyes over Standish's nodding head as he shifted his hold, settling the man against his chest more completely, the dark auburn hair coming to rest against his shoulder. "JD, better call Nate, too."
Dunne nodded wordlessly, pulling out his cell phone as Buck walked slowly and carefully back towards their guest room, carrying their teammate in his arms.
Larabee was furious. His blood pressure was surely going to kill him soon at this rate. He chewed on a Tums as he drove over to Buck and JD's place. The call from Dunne wasn't as much of a surprise as Ezra would probably think. Tom Nelson, Team 4's leader had cornered the blond just an hour ago to tell him that Team 4's sharpshooter had requested he be taken off the loaner assignment to Team 7. Since both men knew there had to be more to it than had been said, and since both leaders also knew of the liaison between their two men, they were silently connecting dots.
JD's message that Buck would be going under had been a bit more of a surprise but he had quickly understood because he knew, more than Standish realized, just how his undercover agent's mind worked. The man was hurting but a professional, he'd still do the job, but would want to do it on his own terms. With someone he could trust. Chris couldn't fault him for picking Wilmington, he'd have suggested it if Ezra had given him a chance.
But even that really wasn't what bothered him at the moment. He was upset that JD said it looked like they needed Nathan. That meant Ezra was not in good shape. He never did well, physically, on undercover assignments, it was like the man burned both ends at once during those times he moved in alternate lives. Top that off with whatever lethal emotional cocktail was currently overloading their agent's system, and you had a real situation.
He wasn't mad at Ezra, though. Chris gripped the steering wheel harder. The leather-covered wheel groaned under the torturous pressure. No, what twisted his tights was that Borgo, that slug, had most likely not even bothered to cushion the blow. Knowing the man, he had never been able to figure out why Ezra had partnered with him, but chose not to interfere in the man's private life. Now, though, now it was affecting the job. The case they'd all worked hard to set up. Chris was nearly blind with rage at the way he could imagine Borgo had chosen to tell Standish his change of mind. There was probably more to it, too. Damn it all. Larabee shot ahead of the line of traffic, viciously punching the horn when another driver tried to move into his lane.
"Cindy, darlin', it's Buck."
"Uh-huh, listen, I was lookin' forward to tonight, too, only something's come up."
"Yeah, gotta work. Sorry, darlin'. Can I take a raincheck?" Buck smiled at the flirting response. "Sure 'nuff, Cindy, and you take care too. Thanks."
JD coming out with a large plastic glass full of soda, nodded toward the guest room. "You get him to sleep some?"
Buck sighed and sat back in his chair. "Yep. Wasn't rightly awake anyway, was sound asleep by the time I got him back there. Didn't even wake up when I put him down and covered him up." The tall surveillance expert stretched and slumped back in his chair, looking up at his roommate. "You get Chris?"
"He's on his way." JD perched on an arm of the sofa. "Nate'll be here in a few. Said he'd stop to pick up his bag back at work first." Their EMT was always ready for whatever ailed the team members and kept a medical bag with first aid supplies and other things the former nurse considered important. "Heard you on the phone, guess you took care of Cindy?"
Buck nodded, his mind on what he'd likely need to go under. His clothing didn't need much, if any, adjustment. His casual, grungy look would blend in well in the biker world. In fact, since he had been a biker in his wild and wooly youth, along with his long time friend Chris Larabee, he might just dig out his old black leather jacket. JD had never seen it. The boy would definitely be jealous. The thought lightened his heart and mood.
By the time Chris got to their place, JD and Buck had ordered out for pizza and were setting out some cold beers in expectation of their visitors. Since JD had planned on an on-line chat room gathering with some fellow hackers for the evening, he had been planning on staying home anyway. Buck greeted his old friend at the door with a signal to be quiet. "Nate's in with him now," was spoken softly.
"How bad was he?" Larabee needed information before he gave out any. He honored Standish too much as a colleague and a friend not to want to protect the man's privacy.
Buck led the way into the front room, looked over at his roommate. "JD? I gotta talk to Chris for a bit."
Dunne looked unsurprised. "I'll be upstairs in my computer room, holler when the pizza gets here." Buck nodded gratefully, seeing the look of understanding in the younger man's eyes. The boy was getting wise beyond his years, being a member of Team 7.
Larabee listened to the byplay and seated himself in the second of the two large armchairs in the room. Grabbing a beer and twisting off the cap, he took a swig and then settled back. "Ok, tell me."
Buck studied his friend carefully. "Ez told me you know about him and Borgo." He was feeling his way here, not too sure of what needed saying and what didn't. "Said Borgo backed out tonight of going under with him." He started picking at the label of the tall beer bottle, uncomfortable with what he was saying. "Seems that Borgo told him he was calling it quits, too."
Larabee sat up straight in his seat and set the beer bottle down with precision on the coffee table's end in front of him. "Good."
Chris ran a hand over the top of his head and mentally rechecked what he knew. Looked like Ezra had come clean with Buck, which surprised the hell out of Larabee. Well, why not, he chided himself, I've trusted my life and history to Buck forever. Ezra's smart enough to see he can do the same, probably. "Yeah." Chris met the dark blue eyes that watched so closely. "I didn't like that combo from the start but I don't interfere in my men's lives unless it affects the job, if I can help it." He picked up his beer again and rolled the bottle between two flat palms held vertically. "Borgo is a bully. Ezra just seems to gravitate to unhealthy relationships."
"Probably has something to do with it," Chris agreed. "So, Borgo's out. You told Dunne to tell me you'd go under. Can I assume you know that you go under as Ezra's boyfriend?"
Buck nodded, a smile quirking the corners of his mouth. "Yep. Be a new challenge for me, I figure." Then the levity left the big man, "He's my friend. I'll watch his back."
"And do it better than anyone else I know." Larabee took another deep drag on his bottle. "We can set up your cover tomorrow. Ezra can manage a delay of another day, we can even build that into the cover. Borgo was going in as a long time lover who'd been out of town. So, now that's you. Ezra will stay out of sight, later, we say it was a reunion with you, kept him indoors." Buck watched his friend and wondered at how the man was so casual about the whole thing. He was still very gingerly mentally tiptoeing around Ezra's gayness, himself.
Just then, the door to the guest room opened and Nathan came back out into the living room. He set his bag down on the floor near the kitchen table and wandered out to join his teammates, accepting a beer from Buck before sitting on one end of the sofa.
Chris raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Nathan took a healthy swig of beer and sighed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "I checked him over. Aside from his usual undercover malnourishment and sleeplessness, he's depressed but he doesn't have any recent bruising." The black man sat back and looked directly at Larabee. "What does Buck know?"
The team leader shrugged. "The main stuff. Borgo and Ez. The case and what Borgo was gonna do."
Nathan Jackson rubbed at his stomach and turned to face Wilmington. "He told you he was with Borgo?"
Buck nodded silently wondering where this was going now.
Jackson stole another glance at Larabee who nodded once, saying, "Go ahead. He should know."
Clearing his throat, their medic's liquid brown eyes looked heavenward for a moment, then came down to examine Wilmington as Nathan spoke. "This isn't the first time I've come out to take care of Ezra. It's happened more than I like to think about. Heavy bruising, some cuts, a broken small finger once, some internal bleeding a few times, cracked ribs ---" Jackson paused and looked down at the floor. "Borgo always left his face alone. And Ezra refused to press charges, always blames himself, like tonight. Says he only gets what he deserves." There was a deep sadness to Jackson's tone. "Chris and I, we been trying to get him to leave Tony, but it's like he's afraid to, though he never says."
"What a minute!" Buck thrust his chin out at them. "You tellin' me that Borgo's been hurtin' Ezra, regular?"
It was Jackson's turn to nod wordlessly.
Buck shot a look of anger and disappointment at his oldest friend. "Damn it, Chris, you didn't interfere with that?"
"Man wouldn't let me. Said if I tried, he'd claim the injuries were self-inflicted." Larabee grunted angrily. "If he did that he'd be out of a job the next day, you know that. I couldn't let him do that."
Restlessly, Wilmington stood up and strode across the room to lean against the breakfast bar between kitchen and the living room. "Okay, so Borgo's out of the picture anyway now. And tomorrow we meet to set up my cover and work out a scenario?"
Larabee rose to stand also. He tipped his bottle up toward the ceiling, letting the rest of the cold brew tumble down his throat. "Yeah." He set the empty on the table and put a hand on Nathan's shoulder, then hesitated. He owed it to Jackson to defend him. "Nate's known probably as long as I have, sometimes he's been the only thing that's kept Ezra functioning."
The healer sighed and shook his head regretfully. "Only'd get him back on his feet so he could get himself knocked down again."
"A year." Wilmington was swept with horror. "A whole fuckin' year. Jesus wept." He, in turn, finished his own beer.
There was a shrill ringing that had all three men tapping at their pockets for their cell phones. They quickly realized it was none of theirs. Three sets of eyes flicked toward the bedroom door. Larabee spoke first. "Shit, that must be Ezra's."
Moving in unison, the three men moved toward the door, Buck reaching it first and opening it carefully. They all walked in, to see Standish sitting up in the bed, the toss blanket pushed back away from his legs. He obviously saw them but did not acknowledge them. He was already speaking. "Yes, I got your message. Now?" Standish's voice was even and unemotional. "Yes, of course. No, I'll be there in about a half-hour. I'll bring a suitcase." The men watched as Ezra's pale face faded yet further and he closed his cell phone.
Larabee came to stand next to the bed and then sat down on the mattress next to his undercover agent. Damn, things had gotten bad when they had to worry about the calls Ezra received. "The case or private?"
Standish's green eyes came to rest on his boss. "Both, I suppose." He licked his lips, shaking minutely, his small twitches were tells to his teammates as to his state of defeat and agitation. "Tony wants me to come over and pick up my things."
Buck came to stand behind Larabee and look down at his friend over Chris' shoulder. Things seemed to be getting worse. "I hear you say 'now'?"
Ezra ducked his head to face his lap. "Yes. He's expecting company. Wants my things out of there." He fumbled with the coverlet under him, wondering why these men bothered with him. He really wasn't worth all this fuss. Just ask his mother.
Nate eyed the southerner from the far side of the bed, then glanced over at Larabee. There was no way Ezra should be anywhere near that damn bully. He'd already been subject to enough abuse. "Chris? Don't think he should go alone."
The blond reached out a hand to touch Standish's shoulder. The man jerked then blushed and looked up. "Why don't you let me go?" Chris asked.
No, he couldn't allow this, no one else could be hurt by his actions. He'd earned this. No! Shaking his head wildly, Ezra spoke nervously. "I can't. He'd be upset. He'd ---"
Buck felt his own anger growing as he watched his young friend and realized just how totally Standish had surrendered to that freak. "Let me go, Chris." He saw Ezra's face darken in resistance. "Ezra, I'll just drive you over. It'll be good practice, I'll just be your back up."
Chris looked up consideringly. It was a good idea. Buck could handle Tony Borgo with no difficulty and Ezra absolutely was NOT going over there alone. Whether he thought he was or not. "Good. It's settled then." He decided to make it a full route for his undercover operative. "And then, Ezra, you'll come back here and spend the night, ride in with Buck and JD in the morning." Not waiting for an answer, Larabee stood and nodded to Jackson. "Nate, thanks for tonight. I'll see you all in the morning."
JD chewed and swallowed a bite of the thick crust pizza slice. He sprawled back comfortably in the oversized lumpy sofa that was the centerpiece of his and Buck's living room. His attention was divided between an old movie playing on the classic movies channel, his laptop which was challenging him with a high level in his current favorite computer game, and the pizza which had arrived just minutes after Ezra had reluctantly left with Buck.
They'd found Buck's old sea bag, the Navy man's duffle bag. Buck had insisted that they were not going over to Ezra's apartment first, just to get an empty suitcase. The look of dismay on Standish's face at the sight of the stained, dark and sagging sack had been priceless as far as JD was concerned. He stifled another chuckle with another bite of the pizza. If those two didn't get back soon, they'd have to order another pizza --- after all, he was a growing boy. Licking his fingers and then smearing the greasy remains on his jeans, JD lost interest in the movie as a new character popped up on his screen and threatened his SuperAce.
Focused on maneuvering his icon through this latest challenge level maze and beating off threats, JD managed to slowly review what had gone down so far this evening. It was funny, but the computer expert found that playing the electronic games was both fun and brainless for him, rather a trial of natural reflexes than anything else, which left him free to tighten his concentration on perplexing problems whether on the job or in real life.
Right now, life had handed him an interesting problem in the form of his friend, Ezra. The southern charmer was a good friend, too, had helped JD through some rough times early in his career with the ATF Team 7. Somehow their undercover agent always seemed to know when JD was upset or confused or scared --- and knew what to do or say to make it better. JD owed him more than he'd ever be able to repay, including his very life twice. He gave a muted shout of triumph as he blasted a clear path to the exit to the next level. Ezra was hurting, that was pretty easy to see tonight. But the why wasn't. Buck, Chris and Nate had all been very closed mouthed and Ezra hadn't been alone with JD for him to ask directly.
Well, he was here and he'd make sure that Ez knew that before he headed off for bed tonight. If his friend needed to talk or just have someone nearby, he could do that and he would. He picked up the pizza and glanced up at the television. Oh, yeah, this was the good part. Computer game forgotten, pondering over - with decision made, JD took another bite of a new slice of pizza and glued his eyes to the glowing TV screen to watch as Gary Cooper strode down the center of the street of an old west town.
Buck turned off the engine and unstrapped his seatbelt. The old truck made a few little popping noises before becoming silent. Beside him on the front bench seat of the pickup truck, Ezra slowly unbuckled his own seatbelt and swiveled to face the sidewalk and the big apartment building beyond. Neither man spoke.
Buck simply waited to see what Ezra would do or say. Ezra simply stared at the building that had been half his life for the last year. Tony. Tony hugging him, yanking him close for a smothering, consuming kiss. Tony shoving him onto the big bed in there and then burying himself to the hilt in Ezra's ass. The southerner swallowed a lump so large he thought he'd choke on it for a minute. Tony and Ezra. Tony and Jerry? He figured it was Jerry Ortega from Team 4. The profiler was a neat, small man, same general shape as Ezra, but full of Latin passion for life. He always joked and laughed, shouted out dirty limericks at ATF barbeques and when his team was down at Inez's bar after a bust.
Buck lifted his right arm onto the back of the seat so he could get it out of Ezra's way. The southerner had been inching back toward him for several minutes, silently. Turning slightly in the drivers' place, Buck's body welcomed the smaller man's as it almost spooned back against his. With a sigh, Buck lowered his long arm across the front of Standish's chest and gently hugged him. "Ez? Pard, I can go in and get your stuff."
As if finally realizing what he'd unconsciously done, retreating within the truck as far as he could from the looming building in front of him, Ezra jerked slightly and pulled back away hastily. "Sorry. I --- I didn't realize ---" Ezra gave up and hung his head.
Buck, whose arm had slid free of the southerner's body until only one large hand remained in contact, resting on the man's shoulder, gripped tightly and then let go. "Let me."
"No," Ezra chanced a short meeting of eyes over his shoulder, then faced out the side window again, "I just need a moment." Hunched over, he inhaled deeply, his entire body rising a bit. Then he lifted his head, reached out and grabbed the door handle, shoving down and pushing to press the door open.
Buck watched as Standish stood free of the truck and let the door swing shut behind him, starting for the building. With sudden determination, Buck jumped out of the truck and followed. Won't do any good sitting down here, not even sure which floor Borgo's place is on, what if he needs me?
Reaching the elevator just steps behind Ezra, Buck made sure that he got inside with the quiet man. Standish was holding the limp sea bag in one hand, his other hand tucked inside a jeans' pocket but Buck could see it was fisted. At the fifth floor, they exited the small moving box and the surveillance expert followed his teammate down the wide, bright corridor, stopping in front of an anonymous door like any other in that hall. Ezra fidgeted for a moment, then spoke quietly. "Buck, will you please stay out here?"
"Only if you leave the door open." Buck was not about to let anything separate him from Standish while the man was near Borgo. That ain't EVER happenin' again, Wilmington vowed to himself.
Without acknowledging this, Ezra knocked on the door. Buck wasn't sure what he'd expected, but he didn't expect what he saw next.
The door jerked open fast, as if the man on the other side had been standing there waiting. Probably had. Borgo nearly filled the damn door. He was one big fucker. Ezra, who was not a big man, looked positively petite in front of his hulking form. The man reached out with both hands and dragged the small southerner into a rough hug, capturing his mouth in a brutal kiss. Standish struggled briefly then hung limply in the big man's grasp.
Buck saw red.
"What the hell you doin', Borgo? Let him go!" His growl was angry and low. Buck could infuse quite a bit of intimidation into his voice when he was so inclined and right now he was definitely so inclined. He had an arm snaking in between the two bodies and hooked around Ezra's torso in seconds, yanking back and tearing his friend from the big man's hold.
Borgo didn't even blink, just laughed good-naturedly as Ezra half-sagged in Buck's arms, rubbing at his lips with a shaking hand. "You got a new sweetie already, Ezra?" Shaking his head at the men in his doorway, he turned back toward his living room. Without looking back he called out, "Just go pack up your stuff, Ezra. Make sure you check under the bed and in the bathroom. Don't want none of your shit here when Jerry gets here, he don't know about you."
Buck lifted and held his friend until the man steadied on his feet. He spoke quietly into the nearest ear. "Ez, just ignore him. Go get what you need. I'll stay here." Standish was flushed a bright pink and wouldn't meet Buck's eyes.
Wilmington came further into the living room and watched as Tony picked up a beer can from an end table, attention wandering to a basketball game on the tube. Apparently his attention was not completely on the screen, however, because as Standish walked by toward the back bedroom, Borgo suddenly lunged toward the smaller man. Ezra yelped softly in surprise, jumping back defensively and hurrying on, head ducked down, face hidden. Borgo collapsed back onto an overstuffed recliner, laughing loudly. Buck wanted to wipe the floor with the obnoxious bastard but restrained himself for Ezra's sake.
Neither man moved or said anything while Ezra was gone. In a matter of minutes, the little conman was back, Buck's duffle slung over his shoulder, now partially full. "You check the bathroom too?" Tony sneered.
"Yes." It was the first and only word spoken by Standish so far. Buck waited as Ezra almost trotted by him and to the flat's door. Wilmington stayed where he was, he had a feeling that Tony wasn't done yet. Even as he thought it, the other agent was climbing to his feet and taking swift strides after Ezra. Buck simply stepped sideways into Borgo's path.
"Nyah-uh." Somehow the negative was more persuasive than some long-winded warning.
Borgo stopped dead and looked Wilmington up and down assessingly. "That mean you don't want me to say good bye?"
"That means you can drop dead for all I care." Buck stood relaxed and ready, without giving away anything. He wondered if Ezra was out the door yet but didn't turn to look.
Borgo, who'd been studying his opponent with a disparaging look, suddenly raised his eyes to look over Wilmington's shoulders. Smiled, a nasty shark-like sneer. "Was just gonna say good bye, Ezra." The mocking tone was delivered cuttingly. "Can't handle it anymore?"
"No reason he should." Buck stepped forward, directly into Borgo's space forcing the man to snap his attention back at Wilmington.
"Buck, please, let's just go." Ezra's defeated, tired voice was somewhere close behind him but Buck wasn't ready to listen just yet. He thrust his chest up against Borgo's. Watched as the humor left the dark brown eyes. Watched as anger and a tiny flicker of fear sparked to life.
"Back off, Wilmington, you heard the little 'lady.'" That was IT. Buck tightened his lips and both arms came up before he even thought about it. The insult was too deep and too wounding to his friend, it would not go unanswered. Never again, Ezra! Buck's fists crashed into Borgo's ears from both directions and the man dropped to the floor where he'd stood. The lanky ladies man leaned down over Borgo.
"You NEVER come near Ezra Standish again, you hear me, Borgo? You don't talk to him, you don't look at him." Buck swung one arm downward in a tight hard arc, the heel of his hand meeting the front of Borgo's forehead with a thumping sound. The agent fell over onto his back, eyes crossing, arms wind-milling vaguely. Buck stood there, adrenaline rushing, making his head buzz slightly.
"Buck?" A strong, small hand wrapped around one of Wilmington's wrists and pulled. "Let's go. Please?"
The sound of Ezra's voice half strangled, brought Buck out of his rage. He allowed himself to be tugged around and out of the room, out of the apartment, not even bothering to look back at the man lying on the floor cursing softly. As he pulled the door shut behind them, he heard the muffled sound of a beer can hit the other side of the wooden panel.
Ezra was curiously thrilled and upset at the same time. Someone had actually defended him, stood up to Tony. Protected him. Losing Tony didn't seem nearly as important anymore as deep green eyes looked up at the tall man at his side, walking protectively close as they moved toward the elevator. Then Buck was lifting the bag from his back and taking it to carry. Always the gentleman, our Buck, Ezra thought with a sigh, relaxing for the first time in what seemed like forever. He was safe. With Buck.
It was very late at night now and the apartment was finally quiet. JD had wandered off to bed first, saying a soft good night to Buck and Ezra who'd sat silently sharing cups of hot coffee at the kitchen table. Ezra hadn't been able to bring himself to discuss the evening's events. When they left the building and went back to the truck, Buck had shoved the bag in the space behind the bench seat, then held the door for Ezra. Standish had been too dismayed at the ugly scene just past to comment beyond a simple nod of his head. The taller man had reached across him and pulled over the seat belt, fastening it, all the while watching the southerner intently. Buck had said nothing though and firmly closed the truck door, going around to the driver's side, and heading them back to his place.
Ezra twisted his hands in agitation as he remembered the wordless drive back. He cringed internally at the picture he must have made. At the time, he was still reeling from the rejection and casually cruel dismissal by Tony. Now, he found himself becoming oddly angry, not on his own behalf, but for Buck who'd had to put up with his strange co-worker, his newly discovered gay co-worker. Ezra shoved down the blankets and sheets and sat upright in the full-sized bed. He ran a hand claw-like through his hair and slumped forward until his head rested on raised knees.
Tomorrow is going to come very soon now. I have no idea how I am going to deal with this. Ezra felt bone-weary from the emotional roller-coaster ride of the evening. He was outing tomorrow, too. THAT was going to be very interesting. Of course, Nathan and Chris already knew, and now Buck as well. He calculated that JD suspected something beyond the obvious but doubted he'd reached the truth --- yet. Then there were Vin and Josiah. Both good friends, as close as he'd allowed them to get. Both tended to be a bit protective of him at times, Mr. Sanchez's tendency to get down right paternal almost smothering. He wondered if they would be as accepting as Buck had been.
Well, he simply had to get a focus, get beyond his own personal hell because he still had a job to do and now Buck Wilmington was being dragged into it and so his safety was now an issue as well. The Hawks were the closest Ezra had ever come to leaving an undercover assignment and refusing to continue it. They were grunge and evil, wrapped in arrogance and defiance. Too young, most of them, to even really understand what they were doing --- to society, to people around them, and sadly to themselves.
But the leaders were a different story altogether, smart, mean, and invulnerable. They might mingle with the bikers but they closed ranks leaving most of the riders on the outside when it came to their ever increasingly powerful roles in the city-wide crime scenes. That they needed taking down, Ezra had no doubt. He'd spent the last month ingratiating himself with them - acting the part of a James Dean - style rebel with the skills in modern accounting and finance and computers to make him a tempting tool. He'd been riding one of the ATF pool of loaner bikes, a big Yamaha, beat up and loud, the muffler tampered with for extra volume. His jeans and tee shirts became greasy and dirty until they were like a skin he only wished he could peel away.
Into this mire of filth, he was taking Buck, taking Buck as HIS protection. The second in command, Ivan Portlach, a.k.a. Ivan the terrible, had definitely taken a fancy to Ezra. His sticky, assertive hands had found their way uninvited to the southerner's flesh on more than one occasion. Ezra had panicked at the sight of satisfaction on Ivan's face when the Hawks' number one pack leader, Gent Fisher, told Ezra that they were considering bringing the southerner into the ranks to do some specialty work. He'd be too close to Ivan for his own piece of mind, that's when he'd come up with the so-called brilliant idea of declaring that his 'partner' was returning from a long haul across country and that he could only come into the Hawks' inner circle if his friend could come with him.
Fisher had been surprised but said he'd consider it once he'd had a chance to meet Ezra's partner. Ivan had scowled and muttered something about missing partners not being much fun for anyone.
Now, as Ezra contemplated his ATF teammates in the darkest hours of the night, he began to see himself as something of a disappointment to the others. He hadn't been able to go it alone, had asked for help. Of course, he'd asked Chris to get him Tony. Figured the big man would be a perfect fit for the undercover assignment and tough enough to watch his back. Now that his personal life was in a shambles, he'd recruited poor Buck to step in. To act unnaturally. The ladies man might say he could do this, but the truth was that Ezra doubted the man could sustain a role with the main premise being his love for one weak-willed, sadly worthless, and cowardly 'conman'. No, this was not going to work, and in the morning, Ezra was going to tell Chris Larabee that. He'd simply have to tolerate Ivan's advances and make do. After all, he really didn't matter in the equation and he was NOT going to risk one of his friends, Buck or any other, to this matter.
Chris ground out his late night cigar and took a final swallow of the glass of bourbon he'd been sipping. Knowing his undercover agent as well as he did, he figured that tomorrow was not going to go well. Ezra was sure to screw things up in some lost sense of honor or contorted plan to duck out on the assignment. Well, Buck would do a good job, this Chris knew and Ezra needed some help, and not just for the undercover assignment. The disaster of last night was not going to vanish. Larabee slowly stood and shook his head again. Good thing his team was such a strong one, he had a feeling to it was going to be sorely tried tomorrow. And beyond.
Lying staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, Wilmington sighed. Sleep was not coming and if he got up, JD or Ezra was certain to hear him and things would not improve at that point because JD would ask questions that demanded answers too revealing. And Ezra? He'd assume that he was at fault and get that sad, lost look on his face again. Just the thought of his friend with that look was enough for Buck to want to shout out against the fates and shake his fist at the gods. Poor little bastard did not deserve to be treated that way. Buck's mind seemed locked on an endlessly repeating loop of the small scene at Tony Borgo's place. Ezra hadn't deserved to be treated like that --- and Buck was going to see to it that he was never treated that way again. Buck did not stop to question why he felt that way, just knew that his friend was too precious and good to be so hurt and discarded with such disregard. Ezra was something special and respected accordingly. Buck would be there from now on, to see that that happened. Buck frowned. I mean, until the case is over, don't I?
The voices began to get louder behind Team 7 Supervisor Chris Larabee's closed door. At first it had been just a swell of sound but now individual words could be understood.
"NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT!"
"---AND THAT'S FINAL! YOU WILL DO WHAT I SAY ---"
"--- COLD DAY IN HELL---" [A loud thud punctuated this. The inner wall of fiberglass and wall separator shook.]
"---AN ORDER, STANDISH --- SIT DOWN! [a VERY loud crash --- Buck looked over at Vin who mouthed: 'rolodex'] DID I SAY LEAVE? NO, I DIDN'T SAY ---"
"---I CAN'T DO THIS ANYmore---" the rest faded into a confused, muffled conversation.
The rest of the team had been very silent since their undercover operative had arrived with Buck and JD, both subdued themselves, and Standish had proceeded directly into Larabee's office, shutting the door behind him.
The door swung open abruptly and Chris stood there, facing the rest of his team, all hovering nearby as he'd expected. "Get in here, all of you." He looked back over his shoulder and then back at the team. "It would be MORE COMFORTABLE," his raised voice was directed over his shoulder, "if we met in the conference room, BUT SOMEONE IS REFUSING TO MEET WITH YOU." Last said, mostly aimed back into his office, Larabee stepped to the side and motioned his team inwards.
Gotcha now, you sonavabitch, Larabee thought with satisfaction as he closed the door to his office. He was careful to keep his face blank and calm as he turned and watched his team find spots in the small office. They left his chair to him. Ezra was hunched over in a defensive ball in one corner of the room's narrow bench style couch. Nathan sat down directly beside him, face cast in a worried frown. He was already attempting to check for body temperature, his hand being batted aside irritably, as JD took the remaining spot on the couch and leaned back to better see Ezra over Nathan's bulk.
Vin had gravitated to the window and stood leaning there, half-turned toward the open air beyond, but swiveling his head to face their unhappy teammate. Josiah, eyes glued to the top of the undercover agent's head, sank into one of the two guest chairs that usually faced Chris' desk. Sanchez had turned it around to face Ezra.
Buck simply picked up the other chair and toted it over, plopping it down with a thump next to Standish's elbow at the end of the couch. Ezra jumped at the sudden, close sound and Buck put a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry, Ez, didn't mean to be so loud, just wanted to be close for you." The regret and concern in his voice was an easy read for the conman who only closed his eyes tighter at the sight of the man he might be leading to an early grave.
Larabee nodded to himself. He'd tried it on his own. Now he'd let the team work on Ezra. Probably shouldn't have let him try to corner me alone first anyway, I knew what was coming. Chris stalked back to his desk chair and rolled it out from behind his desk to complete the circle of men that surrounded Ezra Standish.
"Ezra here has decided that he doesn't want help on his undercover. Yesterday, he did. That was before he knew that Buck would be going under with him." Chris gave a nasty, provocative smile. He had left out a hell of a lot and knew it but you had to play dirty with Standish or you didn't stand a chance.
Ezra had been trying to retreat inside his skin, pretend these men were not suddenly crowding him. Now, he flushed with outrage at Larabee's words. "You bastard!" Ezra's cry of rage and his sudden upward lunge toward their team leader took everyone but Chris by surprise. Nathan actually fell off the couch in stunned silence as the small, hard body propelled upward shrugging him off without thought. Buck was instantly on his feet and darting a hand forward to catch one stiff shoulder and yank backwards.
That yank deflected Ezra's forward motion and caused his feet to tangle. He plummeted to him knees, grunting in pain. Vin had started forward, not sure if he was protecting Larabee or helping Ezra but needing to do something. At the sight of Ezra on his knees in the center of the room, with Buck gripping both shoulders now, he stopped and waited. Josiah had moved forward on the edge of his chair but sat back again now, watching closely. He knew that Ezra would feel overwhelmed enough without all of them on top of him, and Buck had him.
JD's eyes were saucer-wide and he half-stood, reaching down one arm to pull Nathan back to his seat on the couch beside him. Silently, his dark eyes asked Nate if he was alright and the dark man nodded his thanks and assurances without speaking. Both of them turned back to look at the two men now in the center of the circle.
Chris smiled again, but this time it held no edge. Buck had jumped in to help and that was the best possible solution. He let the scene play out now, deciding not to speak unless things started going off track. He leaned back, crossed his legs, an ankle over a knee, and folded his arms over his chest.
Buck had swiftly added a second hand so that he could hold on to both shoulders. He caught his friend's weight as he sagged back. Buck dropped to his knees behind Standish and wrapped his arms around the trembling body, pulling the man up against his chest. "Easy, Ez." He lowered his chin so that he could speak directly into one ear. "I know what Chris is trying to do. And, face it pard, he's right. You can't go back under without backup and I can do it. Honest."
Disregarding the riveted audience, Standish twisted around in the big man's arms and looked up into midnight blue eyes that shone with concern and friendship. "Buck --- I can't. I can't take you under, not that way. You know what it means. I can't do that to you. It wouldn't be right." Ezra hung his head, the crown of soft chestnut curls coming to rest on Buck's broad chest. Muffled, his voice continued. "And I'd have to tell everyone. What I am. I can't, I just can't." The last was little more than a whisper. In the dead silence of the room, though, all six men heard it.
"Aw, Ez." Buck's heart hurt for his friend. He tightened his long arms around the man and tugged him in tight against him. "This ain't any hardship, Pard. You're a good man, you're my friend."
Holding his friend as they knelt there facing each other in Larabee's office, Buck decided to take the next step out of Ezra's hands. He'd heard enough to realize what had to happen now and that Ezra really wasn't up to doing it. He raised his head and looked around to meet each set of eyes. His other friends. Teammates. He'd trust any one of them with his life, now he was going to trust them with a friend's heart. "Ezra," Buck cleared his throat, addressing the team, and snaking one hand up to clasp the back of Ezra's head, force it tight against him so he couldn't interrupt. "He's going in deeper on the gang case. Turns out he's gotta come out of the closet to do that."
This met with silence and confused exchanges of glances between the uninformed members of the team. Nathan sighed and looked down at the carpet. Chris stared unblinkingly at Wilmington, his very stillness a sign that he wanted Buck to continue.
Wilmington felt Standish sag further in his arms, he was bearing nearly all his weight now. He gently stroked the man's back, feeling the defeat in the other's posture. Buck met Vin's eyes, then Josiah's. Some how he didn't think he needed to seek out JD's. "Ezra is gay." He paused, seeing Josiah's shoulders slump. Vin's eyebrows went up, then comprehension seemed to light those bright blue orbs and his brows dropped while a small, secretive smile lit his face. Vin edged closer around behind Larabee's desk to where the team leader sat. He stopped behind Chris and one hand came down over Larabee's nearest shoulder. Without comment, Chris brought up one hand to cover Vin's. They stayed that way and suddenly Buck understood that the two were even closer than he'd ever suspected.
With a nod of acknowledgement at the quiet declaration and support from two of his teammates, knowing that Nathan had been aware of the situation even before he was, he looked back over his shoulder at JD. The youngest agent of the team was sitting with his mouth open, face wiped clean of any thought. When he felt Buck's eyes on him, JD finally blinked and sat up, closing his mouth slowly. He swallowed and his hands clawed at his jean covered knees. When Buck continued to gaze at him, he ducked his head, then looked up and met his closest friend's eyes. The dark brown eyes were warm and accepting. Yup, Buck thought, that's my boy, may be new to the idea but he stands by his friends.
That left Josiah. This would be hard. He rubbed at Ezra's back, his other hand gently running back and forth through the man's soft hair, trying to provide comfort. "Josiah?" Buck had somehow assumed control of the meeting and now was issuing a challenge. Sanchez had always been close to Standish within the team, but obviously not close enough to know his true nature. The former man of cloth sat slouching down in the office chair, watching with slitted eyes as Buck held Ezra.
"Just taking time to assimilate, brother," Josiah's deep rumble was a basso profundo note in the small room. Then the profiler sat up and leaned forward over his knees, "Figure you let this cat out of the bag for a reason?"
"I'm going in with Ez, as his partner, his 'boyfriend.'" Buck looked straight at Josiah as he said this. He felt Ezra jerk in his arms and begin to fight. "Stop that, Ezra!" He squeezed hard until the smaller man gasped suddenly and stopped moving. Buck looked back up at Josiah. "Got any problems with that, Josiah?"
But Sanchez was already shaking his head and smiling, "No, no problems, Buck, if you can go in and keep him safe, that's all that matters."
As if these final words somehow were a muttered incantation, the spell of silence and stillness broke and all five other men converged on the huddled twosome. JD was down on his knees, one hand reaching over Buck's to stroke Ezra's nearest shoulder. "It's gonna be alright, Ezra, you'll see."
Nathan stood over them, bending down to check Ezra for fever. He had to force his hand in between the two men until Buck realized what he was doing and loosed his hold slightly to allow some space between the two men.
Josiah went down on one knee beside the two, beside the man who had somehow crept into his heart, a son he'd never had. You did not put away a 'son' because he chose a different life path. Love, caring remained strong and true. Ezra was a fragile spirit, well loved by his friends and so, now protected.
Vin and Chris approached until Vin squatted beside them. "Ez? You in there, buddy?" Vin's Texas accent stronger than ever. When a flushed, damp face turned out of Buck's chest towards Vin's voice, Tanner continued. "Ezra, we're good. It's gonna be okay, you listen to the kid." Tanner reached out one hand to delicately touch a wet cheek, at the same time reaching up with his other hand to have it quickly clasped again by his own lover's. With a tug, he had Chris down beside him so they crouched together in front of Ezra, ignoring the rest of the team. "You ain't alone, Ez."
Green eyes went round in disbelief and then gratitude as understanding filled them. Ezra understood, Vin was sure, that he and Chris were lovers now and that they were outing for Ezra so that he would not feel alone. One slender, small hand came untangled from Buck's embrace and touched wonderingly at the knotted hands of Chris and Vin. A smile of incredible magnitude broke across the handsome face and then those shining green eyes closed and the head tilted back down again.
Buck felt Ezra relax against him. He'd watched the various approaches of the others and was grateful that they all accepted this. No way this team could continue to function if any of them had not. The final revelation, of Chris and Vin's private partnership, had been a surprise to Buck. He felt sad that he'd never been told before, but understood. And, right now was definitely not about him. He tucked his chin so he could look down. Ezra was a warm, wet bundle in his arms, totally relaxed now, sound asleep. Must have been up most of the night and he was exhausted when they'd parted company at the guest room door last night. Poor little shit.
The others gradually realized what had happened and began to drift away quietly. They all had some thinking to do, needed some time to come to grips with all the revelations that had occurred just now. Within seconds, only Buck and Ezra remained. Stiff from maintaining his position on the floor on his knees, Buck awkwardly clambered to his feet, dragging the slumbering undercover agent up with him. Ezra barely stirred, a limp form that was easier to carry than assist walking. Without a comment, Buck lifted the man into his arms and smiled down at the trusting, sleeping face, flushed and tear-streaked. Shaking his head slightly, he walked over to the couch and lowered his friend on to the padded bench. The door reopened and Vin stepped in. "Here." He handed over a small first aid pillow and fire blanket. Buck accepted the items with a grateful nod and proceeded to make Ezra more comfortable, then followed Vin back out, turning off the lights in the small office on his way.
The meeting that afternoon in the conference room was very subdued at first. Ezra wouldn't meet anyone's eyes. The others were still carefully picking their ways through the minefields strewn out that morning. Ezra gay. Chris and Vin lovers. Everyone spoke with caution and uncertainty about the plan to insert Buck into the undercover role as Ezra's significant other. That is, until Chris stood up abruptly and slammed both fists down on the conference table.
"Goddammit! Where is my fuckin' team? Who let you pansies in here, for chrissakes?"
Vin immediately flashed a wide grin, a soft chortle sounding from his direction. "Think we surprised 'em, cowboy."
Larabee didn't even look at his lover. "Shut up, Vin." He looked fiercely around the circle of faces and sneered. "What's the matter? Can't deal with real fuckin' life?" He dropped back in his seat and took a deep breath.
"Brother, you mistake our quiet for lack of support." Josiah Sanchez spoke with a twang and an edge of humor in his tone. He leaned back and shrugged. "You and Vin and Ezra have given us much food for thought. But, we can digest it later, my friend. As the fox said to the rabbit, we will be friends after we deal with a few issues."
"So, deal with them!" Chris had no patience for Josiah's wit and wisdom today. He still had a case to make and a team to lead. And an undercover agent to rehabilitate from the looks of it. Ezra was sitting very still, hands in his lap, staring down at the empty conference table's shiny wood surface in front of him. Chris decided that a bit of shock therapy might be needed about now. "EZRA!" When the southerner jumped and looked up to meet his eyes, he continued more evenly, "We have got to work out the cover for Buck and get surveillance and drops worked out. You gotta get with the program here."
Standish blinked owlishly at his team leader. He'd been wallowing in self-pity, he realized with embarrassment. "Mr. Larabee, I am sorry. I shall be more attentive." Ezra sat up and flicked imaginary dust off the table in front of him. His jeans and tee shirt did not provide him with his normal armor and he was as uncomfortable in this dressed down state as he was about finally outing to his teammates, even if Buck had actually made the announcement.
From that point on, Buck decided later, the meeting had become business-like and concentrated. Assignments made and roles hashed out. The drop zones and procedures now that Ezra and he were going deep were set up. There would be no direct contact with the team for a while, maybe quite a while, though Ezra seemed to think that once he was admitted into the inner circle of the Hawks that he could set up the sting and bust in short order. Apparently Buck's role was as much bodyguard as body-pleaser. He really hadn't dwelled yet on the implications of being Ezra's boyfriend. But damn, let any man try to put a hand on his friend, and they'd be introduced to Mr. Pain. Buck grinned at the thought as he dove deeper into his bedroom closet. His jacket was in here, he was sure of it.
With a delighted 'yes!' Buck pulled out the ancient black leather coat. It was cut in bomber jacket style, the close fit to waist leaving his hips free. He plucked out some of his most worn jeans, mostly a stone-washed denim color, but two black ones as well. His favorite riding boots and he was nearly ready.
"Damn, Buck, you look like you could be one of them, alright!" JD declared with enthusiasm, looking over his good friend who was parading in the kitchen in patched jeans, a black leather jacket with some strange insignia on the back of a lightning bolt and a wave, a gray tee shirt and scuffed riding boots. "Wait! I know the perfect touch!" Dunne scrambled up the stairs only to return a few minutes later with something cupped in one hand. "Here."
Buck stared at the small circlet of gold in his palm. "What?"
"It's a clip on earring. Just snap it over the edge of your ear lobe and it looks like you got a pierced ear." JD's smile was teasing. "You want to look the part? Then that ought to be the icing on the cake!"
Buck walked over to the downstairs bathroom and studied his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. His big fingers were clumsy but he managed to get the gold ring attached to his ear. No doubt about it, with his dark hair raked loosely and that ring gleaming at his jaw line, he looked like a damn pirate. Well, biker then. He grinned, the devil-may-care flash in those dark blue eyes set off his dark good looks. Ladies, look out! Wait 'til you see the Bucklin in full glory. He shook his head and went back out to wait for Ezra with JD.
Downstairs was a bike that he thought he'd have wet dreams about in years to come. The long street bike was a big Harley, low slung and powerful. High handlebars and forward reaching pedals meant you sat back as you straddled the hawg and then --- relaxed into the easy gliding motion of the big bike. About four or five years old, it was obviously well cared for and the rear seat, high behind the rider's meant that he and Ezra would be on one bike. Two side-saddle hard case equipment containers gave the bike a broad, heavy look. Standish had not objected to trading out the Yamaha, though he'd warned Buck to tell the ATF motor pool supervisor that the smaller bike needed to be kept on call in case they needed two rides at any time.
Hot damn, Buck the biker was ready to be on a roll. A twinkle in his eyes, Wilmington settled down with a beer to regale his young roommate with tales of his long ago biker days. When he was young and --- well, not gay, though evidently Chris had been. Mood dimmed with a tinge of confusion, Buck sucked on the bottle and answered JD's questions about the past.
Ezra adjusted the chain belt on his jeans. He felt slightly ridiculous with that on, but it did add the right touch to his outfit of off-white tee shirt and gravel gray jeans. The fringed vest of greasy dark tan leather was an interesting touch, though he wasn't sure he wanted to know where Vin had procured it from for him. He stopped on the sidewalk to stare at 'their' new bike. Buck had said he'd take care of getting one from the motor pool that they could ride together. This wasn't a bike, this was a sex object, he thought with chagrin. Buck was really getting into his role. Ezra groaned silently. This was not good. A Buck who was enthusiastic was a Buck who was potentially dangerous. No going back, he'd given his word to Chris.
With a look at the lethal machine resting on a single kickstand at an aggressive angle, Ezra turned away and walked up to the building where JD and Buck lived.
After the day at the office, Ezra was almost ready to flee back into his undercover assignment, just to get away from all the eyes on him. Perhaps he was imagining it but it seemed like his friends kept looking at him with strange, calculating looks all the rest of that interminable day. Now, in the midmorning light of a new day, he felt more in control again. He'd slept in his own bed, though he'd had to fight for that right, both Chris and Nathan concerned about his safety. But Tony really was through with him, even if he'd acted, well, weird, when he and Buck went up for him to get his personal affects out of Tony's apartment. There was no reason to think that he had anyone to fear and he had, in fact, had a good night's sleep. His first in a long time. He strolled up the walk, slipping hands into back pockets, feeling good.
Buck was, after all, waiting. It didn't even occur to Ezra to wonder why he'd think of that and smile.
Since Colorado had no helmet laws, neither Buck nor Ezra could afford to wear one. The Hawks would have laughed them off the road. Pulling out dark aviator style sunglasses, the two men stood and studied the big bike for a moment. Ezra finally tapped Buck on the shoulder, "It's your show, Mr. Wilmington."
Buck tipped his sunglasses down to peer over them at his partner. "Ez, undercover starts now, right?" At the nod, he continued, "So, best drop the 'Mr. Wilmington.'"
Ezra flashed a dimpled grin, complete with gold molar, and said, "Anything you say, Buck."
The taller man cocked his head and smiled down at his friend. "Then let's roll, Pard." He swung one leg over the big machine, settled back comfortably, and waited.
Ezra had ridden in the rear passenger seat before with other riders and was not unfamiliar with the step-up mount, leg through between the rider's back and the high roll bar behind the passenger seat. He stepped up on the peg and slipped in gracefully behind Buck, his slightly raised seat giving him a view over Wilmington's shoulder. Some riders' passengers would sit tall and keep their hands to themselves, but that would not do for Buck's and his new roles. So, without a word, Ezra rested his hands on Buck's hips.
The motor purred to life and Buck started it rolling forward, kicking back on the stand as they began to move. Within seconds, they were speeding down the side street and heading for the open road. Ezra had suggested they take a test run before meeting up with the Hawks at their roadside bar-café, the Hot Run Diesel Stop and Bar.
Buck was in heaven. He had enough power between his legs to hurl him toward the stars if he was so inclined, or so it felt. He definitely owed Bill Potter in the motor pool for this bad boy. The ladies man smiled without parting his lips, an old pro at avoiding bugs between his teeth. He moved the handle bar and foot pedal controls as if he'd last ridden a bike only yesterday instead of over ten years before. Guess it's kinda like learning how to ride a bike, um, well, it was a bike. His smile widened.
Wilmington felt Ezra's warm weight settle close against him as they banked into a turn, then the pressure on his hips increased slightly as Ez held on when he accelerated. Definitely a MOST excellent experience. Heading out on a highway towards the mountains at Denver's backdoor, Buck thrilled at the freedom this glorious day held.
Ezra was relieved that Buck did seem to know what he was doing, in fact, knew very well. He was handling the bike like a pro. There'd be no questions from the gang about his partner. Ezra relaxed behind Buck and let the man drive. This would be their last few moments of unwatched liberty before they joined up with the Hawks. Gent Fisher was the key from what Ezra could see and if he approved of Buck, they'd move into the inner circle tonight.
Midday was heating up as Buck swung the bike into the parking area of the Hot Run. The place was littered with road bikes, a few dirt bikes among them. There was no particular order to the way the vehicles had been abandoned, but there was space around each, making a get-away fast and easy. There was a dumpy overhang supported by pipes that acted as the roof of a plank porch in front of the bar. Off to the side, several fuel pumps operated in front of a simple gas station, motor shop. Sitting or leaning on the single rail of the porch, or on the steps, were about eight or nine young men, looking like older teens or even adults up through their thirties. All had an unkept look, scruffy seemed to be the dress code, jeans, tee shirts, some shirtless with chains and tattoos. Most were smoking and many had beer bottles or cans in their hands.
When Buck turned off the motor, a few of the men eased to their feet and strolled forward, clearly ready to inspect the newcomer. While Buck still balanced the bike, Ezra stepped up and clear, leaving his partner to drop the kickstand and tip the bike into a standing position. Feeling uncomfortable in Vin's vest, however much it might fit the part, Standish casually dropped it off his shoulders and slung it on the rear seat. By the time he turned around, Buck was facing off the three men who had come out to check out the newcomer.
Buck, I hope you're ready for this, Ezra thought as he stepped up beside the bigger man, to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. The three bikers stopped and all seemed to relax slightly. One, 'Tommy' if Ezra remembered correctly, spoke.
"Hey Ezra! Who's this guy?"
"Tommy, Buck. Buck's my ride now that he's back in town." Ezra didn't volunteer anymore. He'd quickly learned that the group didn't spend much time talking. He watched as Tommy nodded a greeting to Buck. The other two had already swung around and were drifting back toward the porch.
"Gent wants to see you, Ez. Said to tell you when you showed up."
Ezra started forward, Buck following like a shadow. As they made to pass the remaining biker, Tommy stuck out an arm. "Ah, Gent wants to see Ez, not you, man."
Wilmington kept his expression neutral and waited, seeing that Ezra had stopped just beyond him. "Tommy," Ezra said with finality, "Buck's with me."
"Don't know, man. Not what Gent said ---" The young biker scowled.
Buck decided it was time to act. "Ezra, get your butt back here. If this guy wants to see you, he can see you with me or not at all." There, how was that for 'topping' their partnership? Buck kept his expression cool but allowed a little anger to show as he held out a hand, demandingly.
My, my. Mr. Wilmington, you get into your role with gusto. Ezra smirked at the nonplussed Tommy. He walked back to Buck and looked up at him.
Wilmington smiled down and wrapped both arms around Ezra and pulled him in for a kiss. What had started out as a simple ploy to show their relationship to the gang, quickly got out of hand. Ezra was delightfully pliant and his lips were soft and parted beneath Buck's pressure. Everything lost focus as Wilmington bent deeper into the kiss, their first, he thought with hazy pleasure. One of his arms was holding Ezra tightly to him around the waist, and his other came up of its own volition to wrap around the slender neck, completing his capture. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Buck licked the sweet tasting lips and opened his mouth wider to cover the smaller mouth totally. This was familiar and comfortable, this was what he did to please others and himself. This was --- this was EZRA! Oh, shit. Trying not to be too obvious, Buck eased back and slowly released his captive.
Ezra felt dizzy and helpless in Buck's sudden devouring embrace, the man's technique was certainly forceful and masterful. He was already standing on his toes, just to stay balanced in the bigger man's arms. When Buck's mouth came down on his, Ezra wanted to melt. Tony had never kissed him like this. Previous partners had been good, sometimes even superb, but none ever made him dizzy. Lost in the vortex of confused responses to their first kiss --- oh, yes, this was their first and unlikely to be their last on this case, Ezra began to float. A very talented tongue was mapping his lips and a mustached mouth scratched at him as the lips covered and seemed to swallow his mouth. Just as suddenly as it started, it was over and Ezra felt only disappointment at first as he was dropped back onto his feet.
Blinking big green eyes looked up vaguely at Buck. Wilmington wanted only to take the man back in his arms but instead glanced over at Tommy. The biker was grinning.
"Guess Gent won't mind ya, Buck. Go on, head on in, and take Ezra there with you. Gent wants to talk to him, if it's ok with you."
Ok with Buck? Ezra was flabbergasted, then angry, and then resigned. Of course, he was now simply pussy-bait and his top would speak for him. How demeaning. But, it was what he'd asked for. With a sudden insight and relief, he thought, thank god it's Buck with me and not Tony.
Wilmington flung one arm over his friend's shoulders and steered the dazed man around to face the bar, giving him a slight push. "'S ok with me, Tom." Tilting his head down toward his southerner, he said, "Hey, in there? Anybody home?" And when those green eyes flashed at him, clearing and sharpening with irritation, he grinned. "Man wants to see you, Ez, so let's go see what's up." Damn, he looks cute all ruffled up and tongue-mussed. Buck licked the corner of his mustache and guided his partner forward, enjoying the feel of the smaller man inside the curve of his arm. Felt just right. Think I'm gonna like this, Buck thought with curious surprise. His grin got bigger for a moment, yeah, gonna like it a lot.
One of the loiterers vanished inside at a nod from Tommy, a quiet interaction that Buck caught out of the corner of his eye. Just as well, he thought, walking toward the Hot Run's porch with Ezra to his side. Better that this Gent Fisher be warned 'bout me ahead of time, will save explanations. Glancing down he saw that Ezra had also caught the silent exchange and was generally looking alert again. Funny, never seen Ezra look that whacked before. Buck's mustache twitched. Well, he is gay, the tall man chastised himself; probably read all this different than --- no, Ezra knew it was all a 'con.' Was nice, though, he mused, letting Ezra mount the steps ahead of him while keeping one hand possessively on the man's buns. Don't feel the least bit strange about all this, guess Ez just makes it come easy. Wilmington dropped his train of thought to narrow his focus as he followed his partner into the gloom of the interior of the bar/café.
The room was sparsely furnished, a pool table at the far end of the large room, where a cluster of men were playing. There was a counter with stools, a few of which were occupied, and a scattering of plain round wood tables, with simple bentwood-backed wooden chairs. All the wood had once been stained, a dark reddish-brown color, but now showed age and use, the color fading unevenly, the surfaces marred with dents and scrapes. Several of the tables had men seated about them, a few women among the men, most looking thin and rather 'heavy-metal' with black leather and spandex, tattoos and bleached hair tied off in bunches or teased into strange shapes.
Ezra led the way toward the group at the pool table, stopping at the edge of the area and ignoring the rest of the room. Buck came up behind him but decided not to press his luck, settling for standing close and resting an elbow on Ezra's nearest shoulder. Ezra simply settled into his own frame solidly to support the additional weight without looking at Buck.
A narrow man who reminded Buck instantly of Chris Larabee was leaning over the table with a pool cue, squinting over the tip as he aimed, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. The men around him were mostly large, muscular types, though one smaller one was whipcord thin, slouching against the far wall with three others. Of the players, the other one with a cue was swarthy and brutish looking, but with calculating eyes that were boldly staring at the ATF agents. One of the onlookers from outside was speaking low into the ear of the shooter, then backing off and fading out of the area.
The man with the cue, the Larabee look-alike, took his shot, and stood, not bothering to see how his ball went. He faced the new men and looked them both over carefully. "Ezra."
"Gent. This is my partner, Buck."
Cold gray eyes rose to meet the dark blue ones. "How come we haven't seen him around before, Ezra?"
Standish stepped back up against Buck's broad chest, his move a deliberate signal. Buck let his arm drop from resting on Ezra's shoulder to curling down over his chest. "He was coming in from the East Coast, Gent, I told you that." Ezra's tone was neutral, not challenging. The undercover agent rubbed his shoulders back against Buck's front suggestively, enjoying the growing heat at his back. Oh, god, later for that! Wound up tighter than a clock, he mentally shook himself. Not EVER for that! What was I thinking, just 'cause the man's a good actor doesn't mean he'd ever swing that way. My way. Focus. "We got back together again yesterday." His stray thoughts lent a slightly husky, almost erotic tone to his voice. Unintended but, from the look of his audience, effective. The nearby men behind Fisher were looking interested and several were licking their lips or shifting their stances to relieve sudden pressures.
"Took all day?" The gravel voiced question came from the darkish man with the flat top bristles who held the other cue. He'd moved around the table, at first as if he was surveying his shot, but then turning to survey instead the new man.
"My way it does," Buck spoke with a mellow satisfaction that brought smiles to the faces of several of the men gathered here in the back. He stroked Ezra's upper belly, letting the tee shirt ride up so that he could draw his fingers across smoothly muscular flesh. "Like to keep my bitch satisfied." He dipped his head to lick at Ezra's neck, never letting his eyes break contact with the rutty bully in front of him.
"My way, takes only a few minutes and I get my rocks off, don't matter none about satisfying the bitch." The burly man moved aggressively forward, letting his free hand move to cover his zippered manhood, showing it was already full and hard as he cupped it. He sneered openly at the two agents. "Think you coulda done better, Ezra, if you'd let me have you."
Buck narrowed his eyes. So. This was probably the reason Ezra had wanted a partner. His other arm automatically came up to wrap around Ezra's waist, guarding his property. He sneered back at the rooster in front of him. He let his voice lower further. "This bitch is mine. Back off."
The man's eyes shone reddish as he dropped his cue and started forward, only to be blocked by a swift moving Fisher. "I-Man. This ain't the time. You know I got a use for Ezra. If his lead man wants to stay close, it's not a problem." The sharply spoken words acted like cold water to the other who raised his lips further in an open sneer at Buck before bending to pick up his pool cue and turn away from the confrontation to study the balls left on the table. Or atleast pretend to, Buck decided wryly. Whew. That was close. Gotta remember to play it rough around here. He continued to thoughtfully lick at Ezra's sweetly slender neck, tongue curling up under the line of the jaw, all the while watching Fisher and this 'I-Man' whoever he was.
Ezra wanted to wriggle out of Wilmington's arms and away from the wicked tongue that was driving him to near distraction, but he knew any sign of discomfort or uneasiness was death, so he forced himself to stay melted back against Buck, praying the man would just stop.
Fisher gestured to a nearby table. Two men sat slumped at it, but both rose quickly and moved away, leaving it to their leader and the men he wanted to speak with. "Sit down." He waited until the two separated enough to sit, then went on. "Name's Fisher, the boys call me Gent." He threw a nod toward his still disgruntled second, over at the pool table and now pointedly ignoring them. "That's Ivan, my second in command."
"Buck Wilson." Buck didn't offer his hand, just slouched back in his seat, keeping one hand on the nape of his partner's neck. "Been with Ezra a long time. Was back East for some personal business, just got in yesterday and Ez told me he'd been hanging with your club."
"Club?" Fisher smiled, no humor in it. "Guess you could call the Hawks a club." He dragged out a wrinkled bit of folded paper from a jean's pocket. "Here."
Ezra accepted the offering and seeing the nod to look more closely, opened it. It was a list of weapons, it read like a shopping list if guns and ammo were groceries. The numbers were big as were the caliber of the weapons. He looked up at Fisher.
"We been getting short-changed, last few times we were dealin'. We need someone smart with numbers, who can read a spreadsheet." At the sight of Ezra's lifted eyebrows, he actually chuckled ruefully. "Folks we deal with always seem to snow us with paperwork that don't tally when all is said and done. Can never pin anything on 'em before its over and they're gone."
He leaned forward over the table, accepting a beer offered by a passing biker without comment. "From what you've been saying, Ezra, I think you might be able to help us out. Gotta know that we don't get caught or cheated. You in?" Gray eyes stared into Ezra's green ones, pinning him to his seat. Ezra nodded, trying not to appear too eager at finally getting what he'd been angling for for over a month.
"Yes, I can do that." He decided to play up with Buck to cement that relationship in Fisher's eyes. "Buck? That ok?" He looked up and back at his partner.
"Reckon so, if you wanna do it, Ez." Buck smiled at Fisher benignly. "Reckon I could help some too, if you want. Used to be a weapons specialist, in the Seals."
Fisher's eyes widened with respect and new assessment at this piece of information. "Yeah? Maybe you could."
Vin was struggling with the long-winded report on gang movements in the area, trying to wade through the jargon to get to the actual information on numbers and locations. At first his concentration was so complete that he missed the subtle shiftings and murmurings in the bullpen area of Team 7's workspace. His small side office, shared with Ezra, had seemed a haven after yesterday's meeting. He knew in his gut that he'd done the right thing, exposing his and Chris' relationship. He'd done it to support Ezra. Man was his friend. Chris had said nothing then, nor had he objected. In fact, he'd silently shown his full partnership with Vin. Late last night, Vin had tried to get Chris to talk about things, but the man just turned over, saying he needed to sleep, that Vin should relax, it would be okay. Then Larabee had turned back and dragged Tanner into his arms, kissed him messily and nodded off in mid-smooch. Guess the man really was tired, Vin smiled to himself, feeling calmer.
But, now, his instincts told him that something wasn't right. His first thought was for Ezra and Buck undercover. He released the mouse and rose, moving gracefully and silently out into the pen. Sanchez was sitting alone at one of the open workstations, staring at his folded hands. Nathan's office door was closed. That was trouble, right there. JD was pacing. That must be what spooked me, Vin thought, wondering what was going on.
The youngest Team 7 member stopped and turned to look at Vin. "How long you been together?" The question was blurted out so anxiously that Vin realized young JD was having difficulty with this.
"'Bout a year and a half." Vin hitched himself up on to another worktable and glanced over at their profiler but didn't say anything.
Josiah looked up and met Vin's eyes. "Did you know about Ezra all that time?"
Vin shook his head. "Some things are private. Found out yesterday, same as you."
"But Chris knew!" JD was trying to worry this through.
"Don't mean I did."
"But, if you are really a 'couple' ---"
Vin sighed and folded his arms with a silent look toward Chris' closed office door. "JD, we don't spend all our time talkin'." He watched the boy flush and drop into a chair, to spin it back and forth, clearly uncomfortable. "JD. You got a problem with Chris and me?"
Shocked eyes rose to meet his. "NO!" Dunne hesitated then sat back and fully faced their sharpshooter. "You two have always been close, we all knew that. Ain't that hard to think of you together, not really."
"It's just that Ezra --- well, I never believed any of the stuff that goes around, you know, like down in the cafeteria? 'bout him being a fairy for wearing such nice stuff, dressin' sharp all the time." JD seemed frustrated. He wasn't good at talking about this sort of thing but it was driving him crazy. These men were his friends. He thought he knew them. Now it turned out, he hadn't really known them at all. Surprisingly, as he'd said, Chris and Vin as lovers wasn't really all that hard a jump to make. It was the thought of Ezra that way, a --- a fairy, that JD was having to swallow with such difficulty.
"JD," Josiah spoke up for the first time, his voice soft and sad, "we none of us really ever know anyone else, and often don't even really know ourselves."
JD cast an impatient glance at the profiler whose pronouncements tended to muddy clear water as far as he was concerned. "Uh - huh. But, Josiah, Ezra is GAY."
JD turned to look at Vin. "Have you been gay all this time, too?" It was more of an accusation than a question.
Vin wondered if they really needed to say all this, but one look at Sanchez had him deciding to continue. The big man looked defeated and worried and just plain sad. "Don't think so, but it isn't real important. What Chris and me have is between us. We just kinda clicked when we met, and what happened just seemed to happen naturally." Vin shrugged. "Was never with a man before Chris."
Sanchez rose abruptly to his feet. Before he could speak again, Nathan's door opened and the EMT stood in the doorway looking over the teammates gathered in the work pit. "You all having some trouble dealing with everything?" He looked knowingly at Sanchez as he spoke.
Josiah's mouth tightened and he slipped his large hands into trouser pockets. He didn't speak but he did look at the carpet.
"Just so you all know," Nathan spoke clearly and almost defiantly, "Ezra has been through some real bad times last few years. Just broke up day before from a year-long relationship with a real bully. Man hurt him, a lot."
Sanchez's eyes turned frosty as he stared over at Jackson. "You knew and you didn't ---?"
Much like Wilmington, Nathan thought with an internal smile, they're protective even if they are confused. "Nothing is ever that clear, Josiah and you know that better than anyone else." He turned to face JD. "JD? These are still the same men they were a few days ago. Only thing different is now you know more about them."
Sanchez slowly nodded, acknowledging the dark man's wisdom. "Brother, I am sorry. Just taking me a bit to assimilate all this." Josiah sank back into his chair and rubbed at his eyes.
JD Dunne thought about what Nate had just said, what Vin had said, even what Josiah had said. They WERE all still his friends and still a weird bunch of the greatest guys he'd ever hung out with. Even Ezra. Hell, especially Ezra. He'd never thrown a pass at JD or anything funny like that. Just was a pal. He had to smile, Ezra might not appreciate that word, just a real solid friend. Yep. And, that had not changed. Not at all. He looked up to meet the sharpshooter's bright blue eyes. Eyes that were calm and friendly. And Vin's a good friend too. Ain't never paraded his special friendship with Larabee in front of the rest of us. Hell, more than a friendship, he now knew, but still. JD suddenly grinned and spun all the way around in his chair. "Ya know what?" His eyes were merry and relieved as he slowed the chair, letting them meet each of the others' in turn. "This is way cool, really. Like digging through layers of a chocolate sundae, lots of nuts inside, but they're great!"
The other three men stared at their youngest, digesting this comment for a moment, then Vin's mouth curled into a small knowing smile, Nathan's cracked into a grin, and Josiah began to laugh. A full, belly laugh. He hit the nearest table with the flat of his hand, his laughter rolling around the room and drawing them all in contagiously. The other three men began to laugh as well, until the room was full of mirth, tears streaming down JD's and Josiah's faces, Vin's soft chuckles and Nathan's full bodied, melodic laughter adding to the general relief. It really was okay. Team 7 might be a tad stranger than some of its members had thought, but it was still Team 7.
Larabee opened the door to his office and stood staring at his men. They appeared to have lost it big time. The level of hilarity was a drastic change from the earlier pensive moods. He cocked an eyebrow at Vin in question. The sharpshooter simply waved a hand helplessly, lost in another round of almost-giggles.
"So, what's the joke?" Chris began to wonder if Josiah had made good on his long time threat to bring in some of his 'famous' brownies.
It was Josiah who answered, stopping to hoot twice as he spoke. "Nuts! We're all nuts! In a good old fashioned chocolate sundae --- thus spake our young brother, JD."
"Hell, I could have told you that." Chris shrugged. Whatever had happened had helped all of them. Vin would explain it to him later, or not. It would be okay. Sometimes the best way to lead was to let it happen. Looked like this was one of those times. "Think this might be a good time to go out for some lunch." Get them out of here and get things back on track.
It was Nathan who reminded the others, as they slowly sobered from their bouts of good humor, "Don't forget cell phones." The last chuckles died and the men nodded. Two of their number were out, undercover and in jeopardy. They'd not risk losing any potential contact through carelessness. Chris nodded approvingly and ducked back into his office to grab his phone.
Coming out, he said, "If we go to Inez's place, the sandwiches are on me."
"How about the drinks, cowboy?"
Larabee shot his partner a look. "Don't push, Tanner. This crowd can drink like fish at the drop of a hat. I need you all back in here this afternoon, to do some actual WORK." Larabee let some of his own now good humor twinkle in his eyes. "We'll save that for when Buck and Ez are back."
With renewed camaraderie, the five men left the team offices and headed out for lunch.
The rest of the day had so far been anticlimactic for Buck and Ezra. Toad Guffy, a google-eyed banty had led the way through the back of the bar and out into a dusty parking area surrounded by old motel cabins, all looking slummy and in disrepair. Buck realized the road stop had once been much more popular. Since he hadn't seen any motel sign out front, that meant these were no longer rented out. He didn't dare ask Ezra yet but figured the southerner had known about these cabins. He was not looking surprised anyway. Guffy led them to one of the far western cabins of the six in a semi-circle. Inside, it was set up like a simple office, complete with, to Buck's surprise, a rather complete display of modern technology. His quick look inventoried three computers, printers, a scanner and fax machine and several grounded telephones. Impressed, Buck began to realize just how sophisticated these supposedly dumb biker gangs were. It wasn't muscle between the ears that set up something like this or sold the kind of armament he'd seen on that 'shopping list' that Fisher had given to Ezra.
Guffy came to a stop inside the room, nodding toward a woman who for all appearances could be a secretary in any city office. No biker bitch here. "Kelly, you know Ezra Schiller, right?" At her nod, he continued in his high-pitched voice, "This here is Buck Wilson, his partner." Guffy turned to the men. "Ezra? Kelly will show you what we got on inventory and what's been pulled, what we need to get before the next meet."
Buck shook his head. Damn, this was too normal. Like being in a bank or something. If it wasn't for Guffy's biker leathers and generally grungy appearance, he would have thought he was listening to some small time sales manager at a distribution center. Well, hell, in a way, he probably was.
Standish had moved forward and around the desks to sit next to the secretary, Kelly. Buck's first, most natural inclination was to circle around to the other side of the young woman and hit on her. He had to consciously pull himself back. What the hell am I thinking? He looked up and saw the awareness in Ezra's bright green eyes. For a moment, they seemed almost TOO bright, and then Ezra lowered them to the papers that Kelly was showing him and Buck felt his heart drop clear down to his knees. Shit.
Guffy stood watching by the door for a moment. When it was clear that Ezra was immersed in business details with the secretary, he looked over at Wilson. "You want, I can show you some of the inventory?" Toady waited. He'd been told that Wilson knew weapons, was a former Seal.
Buck nodded, his eyes straying back to Standish. No problems here. Ezra didn't need backup. Just a little secretary, after all. "Sure." Wilmington spoke more loudly, "Hey, Ez? I'm going with Toad to see some of the inventory."
Ezra waved him off without even looking up, clearly concentrating on what Kelly was saying to him as she pointed at some lists. Wilmington headed out after Guffy. Ezra watched quietly as the tall man strolled out in Toad Guffy's wake. He'd caught enough of what the young woman had said to get the picture, didn't really need to fasten on every word. Why was he so surprised? That Buck would start to behave as usual? And, the man had caught himself in time, dropped back away from the girl. Not given away where his real, natural interest lay - with the lovely young lady. So, no surprise and, Buck had done well, he'd suppressed his instincts, kept focus on the job. So --- why do I feel like shit? Damn, why does my chest hurt so much. Unconsciously, Ezra rubbed at his solar plexus as if that might relieve this new pain, like a sore hollow space inside. He gritted his back teeth and leaned forward, picking up the papers and leafing through them under Kelly's careful scrutiny.
Buck was stunned at the pay dirt they'd hit already. Ezra had really laid the groundwork this past month for them to be able to waltz right in to the center of the gang's operations. And the inventory of stock on hand was incredible. He recognized missing armament from a US Army arsenal and Saturday night specials, all randomly stacked together. Stinger missiles and police stun guns. It was a hodge-podge of stuff, stashed in a huge warehouse behind the cabins. Looked like it had once been a private airplane hanger for smaller craft. There was still an old piper cub in one corner, looking rather forlorn.
He looked at his watch, they'd been out here close to an hour. Time to get back to Ez. He thanked Guffy noncommittally. Waved off his company and headed back to the end cabin as he retraced his steps. Went in without knocking, somehow he didn't figure that was part of this particular culture. Kelly was standing with her back to the door, putting some folders into an open file drawer of a tall four-drawer file cabinet.
Ezra was gone.
"Ah, Gent? I was out back in your warehouse with Toad, but now I can't find Ezra. Kelly says you sent for him." Buck looked around the bar but couldn't see Ezra anywhere. Gent Fisher had been talking quietly on a cell phone when Wilmington entered, and now pocketed the small phone and stared up at the tall man speculatively. Buck forced himself not to fidget under the Larabee-style stare.
Fisher let his eyes wander slowly around the room, noting who was present and who was not. "Didn't send for him." He faced Ezra's partner again, wondering about this unknown man. They had only Ezra's word for him. "And he hasn't been back in here."
Buck's lower face seemed to swell as he ground his teeth and flexed his taut jawbone. Before he could speak, though, Fisher suddenly stood up and headed toward the back way out of the bar. "Ivan's gone missing too."
Silently, because anything he might say could only hurt the case, Buck followed, trying to remain calm as he remembered the big, aggressive biker of that name. Fisher's second in command.
As the two men stepped down into the dirt parking area behind the bar, a group of men were emerging from one of the other small cabins. Portlach was in the lead, grinning and buckling his belt. Two of the other men were likewise fastening their pants. The door behind them stood open and dark.
"Damn it, I-Man, I thought I told you to leave Ezra alone," Fisher grit out.
Portlach's grin dimmed slightly and he held out his hands, skyward as he shrugged, trying for an innocent look and not succeeding. "Hey, he'll only be a little sore. He ain't drivin' a bike no more, so that won't matter."
Buck had listened to the exchange with slowly growing horror as it dawned on him exactly what these two men were saying and not saying. He started forward, aimed for Portlach's still smirking face. He started slowly, walking. He started speaking at the same time, ignoring Fisher at his side. "Why you slimy son-oF-A-BITCH!" By the time the last word was uttered, his normal speaking voice had risen to a shout of anger, and his walk had moved into a full-fledged charging run.
Before anyone could stop him, Buck had slammed into the other man, his right roundhouse punch nearly lifting the other big man off his feet. Ivan wasn't about to let this newbie show him up. He hadn't let Wilson get away with trying to mark off Ezra as private turf, and now he wouldn't let Wilson show him up in a fight. He staggered back and pulled a shiv from his boot. The narrow stiletto style blade glittered in the sunlight as he waved it in front of this upstart oaf.
Wilmington jumped back, pulling in his stomach to protect himself from the flashing steel. His outrage and sheer fury remained unabated but he wasn't about to let this cretin get the better of him. He yanked a hip knife free of its sheath on the belt of one of the growing circle of onlookers. The knife was not as long as Ivan's deadly weapon, but it would help balance the scales. Buck dove forward onto one shoulder and rolled under Ivan's next swing attack, then he was up and driving his blade in toward the other man's unprotected belly. At the last moment, Buck managed to shift his aim and merely tear a burning strip from the man's waist, beneath the ribcage. Ivan was now jumping back and slashing down at the same time. He missed his primary target, Wilson's heart, but managed to nick the inside of his upper arm. Both men were now blooded and circling each other, knives held out to the sides, each looking for a weakness.
In his mind, Buck kept seeing that damn open door, so dark and empty. He kept seeing Portlach's grin as he strolled away from that door, fastening his pants. He kept seeing Ivan in the bar earlier, fondling his balls and stick, posturing and heckling. Each image added to his fury. Somewhere in the cold, dark center of that rage were his fears for his friend. Ezra was still unseen.
Each man shifted and drove a knife towards unprotected flesh. Then Ivan stumbled over a group of stones and fell onto his back. Buck was on him in an instant, putting his knife to the man's throat and pressing. With his other hand, he held the wrist of Ivan's knife-bearing hand. He watched with satisfaction as his sharp blade broke through the throat skin and began to leave a trail of bright red blood across the underside of the man's chin. Ivan's reddish eyes narrowed as he panted under Buck's knife. He gave no indication of pain despite this second cut.
The shouts and whistles of the circling men died down until it was silent. All the men stared at the two on the ground. Into this well of silence, the harsh sound of the two fighters' breathing sawed.
"Buck, let him up. It's okay. I'm okay."
Ezra's rasping voice was like a pebble falling into the water, causing ripples to form and move outward from the source. The men around the combatants opened a path to the porch of the cabin. Ivan's grin started to grow larger again, his eyes daring the other man to act. Buck looked up to see Ezra standing in the doorway, the dark doorway. His shirt was missing. His hair stood on end in strange patches. His pale skin showed dark marks, visible even in the shade where he stood. He was still wearing his jeans but they were dirty at the knees. He was clearly shaking and trying not to.
Buck let the knife drop from his hand and shoved one knee into Portlach's chest to give himself leverage to stand. He ignored the choking grunt from his opponent and bent down to capture one large hand. With a viciousness and ferocity seldom seen, Wilmington twisted the man's arm and wrist with torque until the man moaned and tried to writhe on the ground to relieve some of the pain in the over-stressed joints. Then, there was a cracking, popping sound and Ivan screamed.
Buck dropped Portlach's limp arm, that now sported three broken fingers, and walked away without looking back. Walked up to where Ezra stood leaning on the doorjamb of the dark cabin. When he reached the small porch, he mounted the steps in one large one, coming to a halt directly in front of the smaller man. Ezra didn't attempt to look up, instead he was watching the scene behind Wilmington. Ivan was up on his knees, his eyes daggers of hate aimed at Buck's back. The other men were already dispersing.
Speaking softly so the other men would not hear, Ezra murmured haltingly, "Come on inside, Buck. Let's claim some privacy for a while."
Wilmington nodded and followed his friend's lead. But, as he stepped over the threshold, he turned back to face the men behind him. Fisher stood there, arms folded, glaring at Ivan Portlach. No one else stood too close and most were no longer in sight.
"Yo, Fisher." When the leader looked up, Buck growled, "Keep your man away from mine. I mean it. Next time, I won't stop." He paused to see if there were any questions. Better damn well not be. "For now, this cabin is mine and Ezra's. We'll be out later." Then Wilmington stepped inside and shut the door. Shutting out the ugliness of this assignment. He turned to face Ezra.
Ezra had pitched face down on one of the two filthy looking twin beds. He wasn't moving.
Buck stood there with his back to the door he'd just shut. Flush with the blood lust of the fight, heavy with the emotional fury and fear he'd been juggling, he simply stood. Ezra still wasn't moving, but he could see the man's back rising and falling slightly with his breathing. In the dim interior light, hand-shaped bruises stood out on his shoulders and arms, parts of others showed above his belt at his waist.
Buck closed his eyes and let his head fall back with a thud against the cheap wooden door. The room seemed unnaturally silent but he was really not sure what to say to break that emptiness. He hadn't been there when he was needed. No excuse was enough. No excuse was acceptable. And --- Ezra had been hurt because he hadn't done his job. His Ezra was hurt, violated by those dirty bastards. He had to clench his body to prevent himself from charging back outside and finishing what he'd started. Ezra was right, dammit. He rolled his head from side to side as a wave of deep sadness overwhelmed him. Fists tight, he stood there in an agony of regret for how very wrong things had gone. For Ezra who had had to pay the price of that wrongness. Undercover sucked.
Ezra lay on the narrow bed, just breathing. It seemed to be all he was capable of doing just now. He'd dragged himself to the door earlier, to stop Buck's foolishly vengeful act. It was sheer bloody-mindedness that had got him off the floor where he'd been left and to that door when he heard Buck's shout and then the sounds of other men yelling. Now, safely back inside this small cabin, with Buck to guard the door, he just wanted to breathe. Not feel. Not think. Not anything except breathe. That was enough. Just breathe.
Three gunshots sounded just outside the cabin. So close that they were shockingly loud. Instantly Buck sprang away from the door and ripped it open, ducking low to the side, pulling his ankle gun free and looking out. Behind him, he heard Ezra hit the floor and scramble to the other side of the doorframe, and then Buck saw that Ezra had his own small boot derringer in his hand as he also peered out.
Three men lay in the dust. Gent Fisher stood over them with a gun in his hand. He looked up and faced Wilmington and Standish as he tucked the automatic into the back of his waistband. Some of his men shuffled closer and began to drag the bodies away. Buck and Ezra both dropped their gun hands down out of sight behind their bodies. No one was talking. Fisher waited until he had a clear path, then walked up to the foot of the small cabin's porch steps.
"I don't need people who can't follow my orders. No one goes against my word." He turned partly away from the porch so that he was no longer looking at the two men who had now risen to their feet. "Ezra. It won't happen again."
With that, the leader of the pack turned away completely and headed for the backdoor to the bar. By now the bodies were gone and no other bikers were in sight. Buck had seen enough to know that Ivan and the two bikers who'd followed his lead were now all dead. He didn't even feel guilty for the satisfaction that rose inside him. He owed Fisher for that. Another problem to be faced. With dark eyes of pain, he turned toward Ezra Standish. Ezra still didn't look at him, just went back inside without a word. Ezra hadn't looked at him since --- since when they'd been in the office cabin with Kelly. Rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, Wilmington slowly followed his fellow agent back into the cabin, closing the door with a soft click.
Buck stood there, looking sightlessly at the door less than six inches from his face as he snicked home the simple locking bolt. Somehow he couldn't bear to get further into the room than this damn door. He leaned forward to rest his forehead on the door. Make this a dream that didn't happen.
Ezra had retreated once again to the bed, but instead of simply falling on it, he sat on the end, and gripped the edges of the mattress with his hands. He stared at his feet where they rested on the floor and, after several moments of continued silence, dared to look up, only to see Buck standing just inside the room with his back to Ezra, head against the door. He can't stand the sight of me. Ezra dropped his head back down on to his chest. He really didn't even want to think about the implications of the three dead men outside, the men who had taken him only minutes ago. Minutes? Lifetimes. It wasn't Buck's fault though he probably blamed himself. Neither of them had thought there was any danger when Buck left Ezra in the small office and went off to check on the inventory. It was a breakthrough in the case. It was a good thing.
Ezra sat up a bit straighter, grimacing at the stickiness on his ass that made his jeans and underpants feel clammy now and rough. He needed to get cleaned up. He shifted slightly. Not too much pain, but then he was no virgin and after a year of Tony, he wasn't unused to rough handling either. Still, it hadn't been fun, no, not fun at all. He didn't have the luxury of feeling anything right now, not rage, not anything. He couldn't allow himself that. He licked his lips and wondered what Buck's hands would feel like on his skin. Not like those others, he was sure. Gentle, they'd be gentle and sensitive and --- and he needed to get a grip. He was undercover and another's life depended on him. Buck was depending on him. He could fall apart later, after the case. Just like always. After the case was closed.
Ezra pushed himself awkwardly to his feet and stood a moment, getting his balance. Without an adrenaline rush, such as the earlier shout and later gunshots had produced, he was feeling dizzy and tired and just plain bad. Time to take yourself to task, Ezra P., starting with getting Buck back in the game.
Wilmington squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them and lifted his head, turning to face his partner. Ezra was standing, though he didn't look that steady on his feet. "How ya doin', Pard?" he managed to ask, keeping his voice steady.
"It's part of the case, Buck. We thought it might happen. It did. Time to get on with it." Ezra maintained a steady tone as he spoke, trying to project calm and assurance. Like this happened every fuckin' day. Right. "Buck? I could use some help."
Instantly, Wilmington sprang forward, contrition in his very movements, "Aw, Ez, I'm so sorry! Damn, what was I thinking? What do you need? What can I do?"
By now Wilmington was towering over the smaller man, too close for Ezra's comfort, but at this point Ezra knew that Buck needed to do something and he could give him this. Even if it meant inflicting torture on himself as he now realized that he was seeing Buck differently, as more than a work partner. More than a safe harbor, more like an anchor for his heart. Damn it, Ezra P., there's no time for this, and look who you picked? The ladies man in our merry little band, for goodness sake! Foolish, foolish. Alright, to task. "I need to clean up. Can you get the first aid kit from our packs? I think I'm going to need it."
"Ezra, I don't want to leave you again." Buck hesitated. "Let me help you clean up. See what's what. If it's bad, I'll yell for help. If not, we go get the kit together. Okay?" Buck stood there, wanting desperately to haul the smaller man into his arms and comfort him, but worried that that might be just the wrong thing to do just now. The man had just been assaulted and even though Buck was his friend, any hands might be too much for him yet. He waited.
Ezra thought about it. Buck was right. He stared at the man's tee shirt, now adorned with deep sweat marks. The black leather jacket had a cut through the inside of the upper arm and a light trickle of blood was dripping from Buck's fingers. I suspect he hasn't noticed that yet. Help me clean up? Ezra examined the idea as he stood there swaying slightly. This man's touch was welcome, this one man's. Could he say that? No, but Buck wouldn't ever have to know. And, if he thought that Ezra just took being raped in his stride and let men touch him freely, well, so be it. But only Buck. "Okay." He looked up into deep blue seas and was lost.
Buck watched Ezra finally look up and meet his eyes, the emerald pools instantly losing focus and the lids beginning to lower. "Ez?" With extreme care, the tall man touched his friend's shoulders, barely letting any pressure hold the man still. There was a tiny shiver of the bare flesh under his fingertips that quickly stopped. "Okay, let's get you turned around and into the bathroom." Suiting actions to words, he delicately steered the small southerner around and into the bathroom. Sat him down on the closed toilet lid and took down a towel.
Running water in the sink, Buck checked out the tub. It looked pretty clean, actually. He leaned over Ezra, freezing when he heard a quick inhale. Backing away quickly, he tried to apologize. "I'm sorry, Ez, just wanted to turn on the tub water, wasn't thinking."
But Ezra was already leaning back and waving a hand. "No problem, I'm sorry, Buck, just jumpy still, I guess."
"Understandable," Buck muttered as he twisted the knobs of hot and cold water, pulling the plug in the bottom of the tub into position. "We'll just let that run while I give you a little wipe down." Buck dipped the hand towel into the sink and then lifted the damp corner. "I'm gonna wipe your face now, Ezra."
Standish nodded, trying to keep himself from reacting to this man's touch too obviously. He relaxed as the towel was soothingly applied, gently wiping at dirt and sweat and dried tear tracks. Moving with trancelike delicacy over the bruises on shoulders and arms, sliding down each arm to wipe each finger with slow, sweet care. Oh, god, this is wonderful, this is exquisite, this is unlooked for and to be remembered on future cold and lonely nights, Ezra decided, letting himself sink into the hands of this man who'd snuck up on him unawares.
Buck swallowed hard, keeping his hands gentle and slow as he wiped the damp hand towel over Ezra's bruises and down his arms. Somehow, Buck found himself bewitched by Ezra's long delicate fingers, the small hands like precious offerings in his larger, workmanlike hands. He cleaned each digit with precision and care, letting his own fingers toy with the finished ones as he diligently pursued the rest. Sitting on the edge of the tub in the dingy old motel room, with Ezra perched on the closed toilet seat lid in front of him, he lost himself in the fine feel of the small hands. His original purpose seemed to escape him until the rising steam of the bath behind him began to make him sweat in his black leather jacket. As if waking from a daze, he looked up at Ezra.
The southerner was leaning forward, almost but not quite touching him. His glowing green eyes were hooded again, and a small half-smile was making his face look like that of an angel. His angel, Buck decided protectively. Possessively. Tentatively, he reached up with one hand and wiped back Ezra's too long reddish brown hair, the curls wrapping around his fingers insistently. Green eyes lifted to meet his and Buck was thoroughly lost in their mossy depths. With a catch in his breathing, Buck spoke so softly, it was barely a whisper of sound, but both heard the plaintive, "Ez?"
Ezra met the deep blue eyes and heard the hesitant, questioning, almost pleading tone. He felt so vulnerable just now. He'd had his dignity ripped from him only a short time ago, his body violated crudely and brutally. And now, this wonderful sweet man was here to protect him, to care for him, and was touching him in ways that friends didn't touch, but lovers did. I am simply not prepared for this. How can I be? How can I tell Buck that this is not right for him, that I am not right for him? When I want so much for it to be true, for me to be right for him. Ezra lowered his gaze, tears suddenly flooding his vision, blurring the already fuzzy sight. What can I say? Nothing. So he did not speak.
Well, he hasn't yelled at me to stop or pushed me aside. Buck tried to find something reassuring about Ezra's silence. Okay, this is not about me right now, he reminded himself heartlessly. If you have it that bad for the man, you can damn well wait and do it right, later. Just now, he needs tending, not --- well, not anything else to mess with his head. Buck released the hands he'd held so carefully, setting them to rest in Ezra's lap. He stood slowly so as not to scare his friend and shrugged out of his jacket. Too damn hot in here now for this. He tossed it out on to the nearest bed past the door. Just as he was turning to reach for Ezra again there was a loud knock at the door to the cabin. Instantly, Ezra was up, clutching the small damp hand towel to his chest, a look of sheer panic on his face. "Easy, Ez, I'll go see to it, you just stay here."
Buck closed the door to the bathroom after trying and failing to meet Ezra's eyes, eyes that were flashing around the bathroom with a look of trapped fear. With that last glimpse burned in his thoughts, he was angry as he jerked open the front door of the cabin, not even thinking to be prepared for an attack. Damn stupid, he chastised himself as he stared down at Toad Guffy who looked, fortunately, quite innocuous.
"Ah, Wilson? Gent said for me to get the key to your bike, bring it around back here for you so you could get to your packs and Ezra's."
Wilmington thought about it for a moment, staring at the shifting figure in front of him without comment. Well, it would solve the first aid kit problem and give them some other clothing for Ezra. "Sure." He fished the key out of his jeans and tossed it to the other man. "Just leave the key in it when you get back, I'll come out for the stuff."
Toad nodded and hurried away. Buck looked over his shoulder, back into the empty room and on to the closed door. Should let Ezra know, so he can stop worrying. Leaving the outside door open so he could hear his bike, he walked over to the bathroom door and tapped on it, slow and soft. "Ezra? It's me, Buck. Everything's fine. Guffy came to get the key to our bike, he's bringing it around back so we can get out our stuff." No answer except for a light scuffling sound. "Um, Ez? I'm gonna stay out here and wait for the bike. Soon's I get our stuff off it, I'll lock up again and come back in with you."
Still no answer. Buck eyed the door with compassion. The man was a mess, had been before they'd even gotten here today and now this all came on top of it. He wanted to scream that it wasn't fair. He wanted to curse. He just wanted the world to go away and let him get to know this Ezra, this treasure that he'd just discovered, like an unlooked for gold nugget in a stream bed. He didn't yet question how he could be having these feelings and thoughts for a man. For his friend. But he couldn't deny them either. Felt right somehow. He'd always respected the man, the skills and talents and professionalism. He had grown to like their little conman, think of him with affectionate tolerance for his foibles, just as Ezra no doubt thought of him. And, just how did Ezra think of him now? Another question to be shelved for later, after this damn case was closed. Well, they'd been let in on the business itself, the gunrunning. He'd actually seen current inventory of guns. They could get the Hawks now on possession, but it would do more if they could bust an actual sale. Could they wait that long? Could Ezra last that long? Buck hadn't been much help so far. Buck closed his eyes in painful recollection of his discovery of what the bikers had done to Ezra. The sound of his bike purring close by brought him out of his downward spiral of thoughts. Pulling back his shoulders, Buck stepped out on the small porch and watched as Toad parked the big bike.
"Nice ride." Guffy ran an appreciative hand over the seat.
"Just leave it."
Guffy looked up at the harshly spoken words. Buck wasn't ready to forgive any one of the damn bikers, even though Ezra's attackers were now dead, housecleaned out of existence by the pack leader, Gent Fisher. Message received, Toad backed away and then turned and walked off, casting nervous glances over his shoulder.
Buck ignored the gang's gopher and stepped down onto the dirt parking area. Taking the key from the ignition, he made sure the bike was locked and then opened and removed his and Ezra's packs from the side-saddle hard cases. He looked around speculatively, there was no one in sight, it was almost unnatural. Guess old Gent Fisher's method of keeping the boys in line took, this time. He grinned ferally. Wishing he'd been able to take care of those shits himself, but grateful to the pack leader for his decisive discipline. We'd a' been in all sorts of trouble with the ATF if I had done it.
These thoughts were ticking over as he mounted the steps again and went through the door, dumping the packs on the same bed as his jacket. He swung the door shut and locked it, again. For the first time, he noticed he was bleeding. Doesn't even hurt yet. Too much going on for me to feel it. He shook his head and sorted through the packs to pull out the first aid kit. Looks like Ez and me will be doing each other.
Reaching the bathroom door, he put the kit down on the floor and took a deep breath. Knocked lightly. "Ez? Just me. I'm alone. Can I come in?" Not waiting for a possible response, Buck opened the door and looked inside. Ezra was on the floor, next to the toilet, halfway under the sink basin, huddled there with eyes staring unblinkingly toward the door. He held a metal comb in his hands as if it was a weapon. Thank god he didn't pull his derringer again. Said something about his state of mind that he hadn't thought of that. In the background, the tub continued to fill, unabated, the steam rising in clouds now and the water level nearly even with the rim of the tub.
Buck decided to deal with the water first or they'd both drown. Putting a small smile on his face he edged around the undercover agent and over to the tub. "Just gonna turn off the water, Pard." He tried to convey reassurance in his tone.
Once the water was halted, Buck faced into the room again and looked down at Ezra who had swiveled and was looking up at him. Suddenly realizing just how his towering frame must look to the crouched figure, Buck slowly squatted down, keeping his distance. Ezra's head followed his moves.
"Pard? Ez, old buddy? I'm gonna need your help now too." He lifted one arm up to the side to display the shallow scratch left by Ivan's knife as it cut through the jacket and skimmed across his bicep. A thin curtain of blood discolored the flesh, dropping down from the cut.
One tentative hand came free of the huddle, the other still clutching the metal comb defensively. The shaking hand lightly touched the bloody skin, pulling back to rub thumb and fingers in the sticky red substance. Slowly, the comb was lowered to the floor and that arm joined the first, both now reaching out toward Buck. Groping and asking silently for something. Buck dropped forward onto his knees, resting on his heels and extended his own arms. "Ez? This what you need, Pard?" Offering his arms.
For a few heartbeats the tableaux held. And then with a wordless cry, the southerner scrambled out from under the sink and into the waiting arms, his own wrapping ferociously around Buck's neck as he buried his head hard against the bigger man's neck.
Chris was leaning back on the bench of the Seven's table at Inez's saloon. Vin was next to him, pressed warmly but unobtrusively so. Each held a beer mug as they listened to Nathan try to explain sexuality to JD, so far unsuccessfully. Josiah, who thought he was helping, kept making obscure comments that tended to drag the discussion into endless byways --- without making JD any more enlightened.
JD kept shooting uncomfortable looks over at the silent, observing couple. Funny, now that he knew, they did look like a couple, they way they moved, their closeness, physical as well as mental. And he was fine with it. In fact, it was so natural looking, that he wondered that he'd ever been naïve enough to think it was anything less. Now Nathan was trying to get him to believe that everyone was a little bit straight and a little bit gay, just some were more one way and some were more the other.
JD interrupted yet another of Nathan's measured logics, "Nate, I just don't buy that. It would be like --- well, like saying BUCK could be with a man! Ya know who I mean, right? OUR Buck? Our 'ladies man' who's never without a date on Saturday night." JD sat back with a smug look on his face, arms crossed triumphantly. No one could top that he was certain.
Josiah, though, easily took up the argument. "He is undercover as Ezra's boyfriend even as we speak. And he did not seem to be unduly upset at the prospect."
JD shook his head knowingly, "Naw, but that's 'cause it's Ez. He'd do anything for any of us, and Ez is one of us." JD squirmed in his seat and picked up his own beer. "And if that ain't enough of an example, why look at me! I been with Casey now for nearly a year. We'll probably get married some day, too. And I ain't the least bit interested in any man, not even in my closest friend, not even in Buck!" That surely clinched the argument.
Nathan sat back and sighed. JD was nearly as stubborn as the rest of them, but the boy did have a point. Buck was a ladies man to the bone, and went out of his way to show it constantly. He blinked. Unless. Unless, it was a case of 'the lady doth protest too much?' Did Buck go publicly hunting for ladies while privately pursuing men? No, that wasn't Buck. He just didn't have that kind of subtlety in him. If he was gay, why, then they'd all know that too. Probably running for cover, too, Nate thought with a small grin.
Josiah decided that it was not in anyone's best interest to persist with this particular discussion topic. Chris and Vin had not, so far, been offended by anything said, but it seemed to Josiah that eventually even they would begin to get edgy at JD's blundering thoughts.
Eyes meeting across JD's head, the EMT and the profiler smiled in warm agreement, let this die out, now. Together they raised their hands in surrender to their youngest. JD missed the silent dialogue but neither Chris nor Vin missed it. The team leader and the sharpshooter simply hid their twin grins in beer foam with raised mugs as JD preened, "See? Told you you were wrong!"
No one argued. Nothing to be gained. They all settled back comfortably to speculate on the first day undercover for Buck as he joined Ezra on assignment. Soon they were laughingly imagining the man's discomfort at the act he was having to put on in front of the bikers' gang. Though, Chris and Vin both responded with subdued comments and only small smiles. Neither wanted to guess what this might all be doing to Ezra. Nathan, who'd been on the same wavelength this time, also withdrew slightly, almost unnoticed as he became pensive at thoughts of how Ezra might be dealing with things just now, life had not dealt their undercover agent a winning hand lately.
Like a limpet, Ezra's small body was twined around Buck as he knelt on the old linoleum floor of the cabin's bathroom. His legs were wrapped around Buck's waist, arms nearly strangling him, head pressed into the muscles and flesh of his neck. Buck held on for all he was worth, trying to convey with his strength and his warmth that he was here for his friend, would always be here for him. A safe place.
They stayed that way until Buck's knee joints began to complain and he knew he'd go lame if he didn't move soon. "Ezra?" Buck spoke softly. "Ezra, baby? I gotta move or your friend here is gonna be a cripple." He let humor infuse his voice.
At first there was no response, then Ezra gradually let go, sliding toward the floor as he released the bigger man. Only Buck's arms prevented the southerner from ending up sitting on the floor itself. "Okay, Pard, now, let's us get up." Buck climbed back up to his feet, pulling Ezra with him, rocking on his boot heels to try to get some circulation back in his feet. He didn't let the smaller man go and Ezra made no attempt to leave the circle of Buck's arms. "Hey, baby?" Buck tipped Ezra's head up with a hand cupping the smaller man's chin. "How about that bath now? We'll get you cleaned up, get all the filth of today off of you."
A flash of shame came and went in the southerner's eyes but he only nodded and looked down when his chin was released. Buck petted the dark head, his large hand stroking down over the soft hair, again and again. "I'm so proud of you, baby."
Eyes came up startled, questioning.
"Yep, proud." Buck smiled and touched his lips ever so gently to the other's forehead, a chaste loving touch. "It takes guts to go out nearly every day and do it undercover, without any back up nearby. Ez, you're the bravest man I know." Another small kiss, this time on that darlin' little nose. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you today when you needed me."
The eyes changed to denial and indignation. "No, you couldn't have known." The voice was choked, tense.
"No, 'cause if I had, it wouldna happened." Buck planted a sweet kiss on one high cheekbone, then the other, tilting the head from side to side with his hand cupping that delectable chin. He hoped that these kisses conveyed his caring and admiration without scaring his friend. "But you survived it and you're still a'going. Ezra, it takes a lot to beat that kind of experience. I seen it before, when I was young and with my momma. Seen women so hurt, so battered, that they just plain gave up. Seen some, not a scratch to be seen, and they give up too. Others done like you, they didn't let it eat them alive. Kept on going, getting done what needed doing. Yep, you're a survivor, baby, and I'm so proud ta be your friend." One last kiss landed neatly back on the forehead.
Mesmerized by Buck's even, calm tone and deeply felt words, Ezra absorbed it all. He drank in the courage that Buck was returning to him with words and touch. He soaked in the loving touch and the sweet moniker that had appeared from nowhere. Baby. His baby. Ezra wanted to be anywhere else right now, as long as it was with Buck. A frisson of desolation stung him. Anywhere else, Buck wouldn't have the time of day to spare me. He's just doing this because he is a good friend and he knows I need it. Need him. Ezra swallowed and closed his eyes. Oh, god, how do I deal with all this? I just can't. I --- I just can't. Tears came then, soundless and flowing.
Buck watched the calming effect he was having on Ezra and then, something happened, and the man stiffened and a look of forlorn despair appeared. And tears. Tugging the man close again, he stood there and held his friend, letting his large hands talk now, big thumbs rubbing away the tears, then palms stroking and comforting as they moved up and down the tender body. He rested his face against Ezra's and could feel when the tears finally eased.
"Time to get you in the bath, Ez." He didn't attempt to find out what had so struck his friend that comfort had been insufficient to balance it. Instead he used his hands to encourage Ezra to unbutton his pants and push them down and away. Looking down at the clothing puddled around Ezra's ankles, he didn't see any blood and was thankful. He guided the man to step free of the entangling clothing. Buck kicked the stuff away savagely; it still smelt of sex, of that nightmarish assault that Ezra had endured. With a swift movement he bent down and hooked the rumpled mess, throwing it out into the front room, away from them. He'd deal with it later.
"Okay, now Ezra, can you climb into the tub?" He leaned over, not relinquishing his hold and tested the water. "It's nice and warm but not too hot." The slender body, nude now, was so precious that Buck had to forcibly restrain himself from acting on quickly rising desire. NOT what Ezra needed right now. He helped the southerner by providing an arm to hold as the smaller man slowly stepped over the deep porcelain wall of the tub and stood inside. "Now, let's get you down in this nice warm water." Together, Buck guiding and providing support, Ezra clumsily, stiffly settling into the water, they got rearranged, ending with a very wet Buck still fully clothed, and a very wet Ezra, equally unclothed. Neither commented on that.
"Is there any soap?" Ezra knew he sounded like a child but he couldn't seem to get himself back to normal yet. Washing away the invasive touches and the appalling assaults would go a long way toward regaining his sense of self, he knew this. He gratefully took the bar of white soap that Buck retrieved from the edge of the sink basin. Rubbed the slick lump between his hands and then began to soap himself. Buck helped, soaping his back and scrubbing it with the hand towel. Ezra reached out and grabbed a face towel hanging by the water handles and began to scrub as well. The more he scrubbed, the more he needed to scrub, until he was rubbing furiously at his skin, turning it red and raw. A hand came down and stilled his nearly hysterical movements.
"EZRA! STOP IT!"
Buck was nearly frantic. They'd started slowly, just lathering up Ezra's front and back, washing away the memories, he hoped. He'd become enchanted with the smooth, curved line of Ezra's spine and so didn't immediately notice when the no nonsense movement became frenetic. By the time he did, Ezra was close to abrading his skin on his stomach and mons, the groin looking nearly swollen from this new attack. He'd tried to stop the southerner's motions but words were not getting through. He'd had to start shouting as he finally captured the pawing hands and stopped their rough treatment.
Cautiously, Buck released Ezra's hands and then tugged them to the sides of the tub, molding them to the rims with his own hands. "Now you just lie back and let old Buck clean you. I promise, when I get done, there won't be one tiny speck left of what happened. Not one. Only, baby, we don't want to hurt you as we do it, so that's why you're gonna let me do it now."
As he explained his intention, Buck let his hands trail up from hands tensely clinging to the edges of the tub until his own hands had traced routes up and down shoulders to follow the ripple of ribs soft with fuzz, and then the concave curve of belly, ending at the nest of curling hair at the groin, framing a retreating shrunken shaft and loose balls slack in their flesh bag. Soap in one hand, he calmly and competently washed Ezra, at first with a clinical detachment that quickly dissolved into a more caring touch as he lathered and rinsed the genitals presented and finally moved southward, toward the abused flesh. Ezra tensed but didn't move or speak. When Buck's large hand moved the bar of soap over the man's pucker, Ezra began to whimper softly and shake. "Easy, baby. Just getting rid of those touches you don't want. Getting all that trash out and cleaned away. You're gonna be all new and clean and free of those slimes that did this to you. I promise, Ezra, I promise." As he chanted his reassurances, Buck worked at gently cleaning and soothing the insulted flesh. He cleaned up into the channel with one well-soaped finger, keeping his other hand firmly on Ezra's shoulder, to keep him settled.
Sliding his hand down Ezra's shoulder blade, he gradually worked his way down to the ass crack at the base of the spine. Passing the soap from front to back, he again thoroughly lathered and laved at the tender flesh, making sure that Ezra felt the soap rim his pucker, so he'd know that it was being cleaned. In front, Buck's other hand had withdrawn from the anus and was smearing lather into the nest of curls, then sifting it free of the bubbles with the tub water washing them away. "Okay, baby, now we're gonna set you up back up against the tub so I can do your legs." Buck practically lifted the waterborne body and eased it back against the back wall of the tub, encouraging the sturdy legs to stretch out in front. "That's right, that's good, now you just lie there and let old Buck do the rest. You're feeling so much cleaner already, soon, won't even be a bit of you that was ever touched by anyone you didn't want to touch you." Buck soaped up his hands and let them drift down the insides of Ezra's thighs, lathering and wiping, gently rubbing and massaging the long muscles that spasmed then relaxed beneath his touch.
He continued moving down, finally spending time massaging the small, perfect feet, his monologue never faltering as he moved. When he finally looked up the length of Ezra's sweetly pink, glowing body, he smiled. Ezra was sound asleep. The smile lost its joy, though as he noted that Ezra's hands still held on tightly to the tub, even in sleep. "Aw, Ez." Clambering to his feet again, he looked down at his own sodden pants, the knees soppy from overflow from the tub. At least the cut on his arm had gotten cleaned out during all that soaping and washing. Wasn't bleeding anymore either, so Buck decided not to even bandage it.
Watching, Buck waited to see if his friend would be alright for a moment in the tub without Buck's hands to hold him. Ezra seemed to stay without help, even as he softly snored. Okay then. Buck took up one of the two big bath towels and went out into the front room. Turned down the unburdened twin bed and laid out the towel. The other one, he left folded to the side.
Going back in, he studied Ezra for a moment. The man was so beautiful, why hadn't he ever noticed it before. He stepped forward carefully, a bit bowlegged from a raging hard-on that he was trying very hard to ignore. "Here we go, Ez." He slipped his arms beneath the smaller man and lifted him easily. Seems to get lighter with practice, Buck thought whimsically, thinking that this was the third time he'd carried the man in less than three days. Asleep or nearly so, ever' time, he smiled.
With newly practiced ease, he carried Ezra out into the main room of the cabin and placed him on the towel. Ezra didn't even open his eyes, nor did his softly heard snoring miss a beat. With affection and care, Buck toweled his sweet friend dry with the second bath towel, then pulled up the covers and proceeded to straighten the room.
A plastic laundry bag from Ezra's pack was the answer to the smelly, offensive clothing he'd removed from Ezra's body. Buck had also found the torn tee shirt that had been flung off in a corner of the room earlier in the day when --- when it happened. Buck picked up the shirt with distaste and added it to the plastic bag. Then he tucked the whole thing in the bottom of his own pack so that Ezra wouldn't accidentally run across it.
The room finally straightened, Wilmington went back into the bathroom and cleaned up in there, tossing his pants over the shower curtain rod above the tub, so they could begin to dry. A new pair, fished from his pack, went on. There was nothing he wanted more at that moment than to crawl into the other bed with Ezra and cuddle him close. It took a lot of resolve to simply sit beside him instead and run a hand comfortingly through that shining chestnut hair. Silken strands of reddish light seemed to flow between his fingers as he sat beside the man that he was beginning to think he loved. Buck watched over his friend. He hadn't lied when he said he was proud of Ezra. He was. Damn proud.
The shadows began to lengthen as the afternoon marched on into evening. Fisher had been back with the secretary Kelly and his new second in command, Tyler Diggins. Diggins had actually been riding with Gent longer than Ivan but wasn't nearly as pushy. Ivan had come in handy on more than one occasion, to intimidate or harass, only this time, he'd gotten off the leash. A wild dog wasn't worth keeping, likely bite you next. So, now Ty was Gent's second. It wasn't a stretch for the close-mouthed man from North Dakota. Part Lakota, he had high cheekbones and jet-black hair worn long. He listened as Fisher spoke on the telephone with their buyer. The meet was set for tomorrow afternoon at an old airstrip north of the city.
"Go see if Wilson thinks Ezra can do some work tonight." Fisher rubbed his brow with one hand, fingering the rumpled paper with the armaments order in his other. It was the same paper that he'd shown to Schiller earlier in the day, before things had gone to shit. "Tell him that I want Ezra to do some work on the list I showed him. That we meet the buyers tomorrow and this time I want to be ready for them."
Diggins rose with an animal grace and started for the door. Holding the doorknob, he hesitated briefly. "And if Wilson says Ezra ain't ready?"
Gent sighed. Damn fool. That damn, dick-dragging fool. Good thing Portlach was dead or he'd have to kill him all over again. "Tell Wilson, if he needs it, Ezra can have until morning, but then, if they want to play with us, they gotta produce." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Tell him that even if Ezra can't come now, I'd like to talk with Wilson for a bit."
Diggins nodded understanding and departed, closing the door behind him. Fisher turned to the young woman who acted as secretary for his operation. "Kelly, go home. You've done enough for today."
The young woman who was carefully unopinionated and quiet, simply packed up her bag. She looked towards her boss. "Should I leave the computers on or off?"
She finished straightening up quickly and shouldering her bag, went out the back way to her car. She had passed scared and even petrified long ago. Now she just shut it all out. A job found by a long since dumped boyfriend, she had realistically decided to treat it as just a job. The fact that she helped get guns on the streets illegally and knew about murders such as the three that had occurred only a few hours ago was just life. Her life. And she knew that there was no way out.
She'd once considered going to the police --- until she saw what happened to a biker who'd turned state's evidence on a minor crime by two of the gang. The witness had been strangled with wire and left decorating his bike in the middle of a mall parking lot at midnight, to be found by security patrols the next morning. It had made the papers. Kelly kept quiet and did as she was told. Fisher was decent to her and no one touched her. She winced at that thought as she set the key in the ignition of her Dodge Shadow. They might not touch her, but they had touched poor Ezra Schiller today. From what she'd inadvertently heard, it had been bad. And now Ivan was dead and two more. She shook her head and pulled the car out from behind the end cabin and headed for the highway and home.
Ezra felt warm and rested, clean and comfortable. He stretched luxuriously and yawned without opening his eyes. Sniffing softly, he began to turn, wanting to bury his head deeper into the pillow beneath him. A dark jolt shot through him. Memories came slapping at him, confusing and scaring him. The gang, he was still with the gang. Ivan and some others, they'd tricked him into a cabin. Threw him on the floor. They had --- they had --- Ezra bit his lower lip and shuddered. He still hadn't opened his eyes but was pushing back the blanket covering him and trying to sit up. Buck had been there. After. Gent had been there, too. Buck. Buck had taken care of him. With that last thought, Ezra opened his eyes and stared around the dim room.
Buck Wilmington was sitting on the floor between the bed Ezra lay on and one other twin bed. The big man was slumped over, one long arm extended along the top of Ezra's bed. Buck's head rested there and he was asleep. The lush thatch of dark brown hair, almost black, shone in the poor lighting. Standish looked down at himself. Naked under the blanket. Then he remembered the bath, the care that Buck had taken, the softly spoken words of comfort and reassurance and --- love? Ezra leaned over and daringly drew his narrow fingers through the rich dark strands of hair. Like silk. He looks so tough, but his hair is so soft. Ezra smiled. He ever so cautiously touched a cheek. Rough stubble scraped his fingertip. He shrugged. Well, that was to be expected. Exploring further, he let his fingertip trace a line down the man's throat to his clavicle. Smooth skin there.
Buck was holding his breath and praying that he could hold it forever, not daring to breathe for fear of breaking the spell he felt encircled them. Ezra was awake and touching him. Sweetly, softly, tentatively. It was lovely and he wanted it to last forever.
The small southerner let his gaze drift from the man at his side to the room. This is where it happened. Harsh sounds, flashes of surreal images, ugly, grinning faces, grasping hands, close too close bodies, big powerful crude bodies. Pain and loathing. Flash. Grunting. Flash. Cloth tearing with a ripping sound. Flash. Hard pressure in his most private place. Heat unwanted, uninvited. Flash. Rage. Disgust. Shame. Ezra shuddered again, his questing fingers pulling back as he cringed against himself in the bed, becoming smaller still.
Wilmington sensed the retreat and took a breath. Pretending to just be waking, he ignored his friend and gave a mighty yawn, scratching at his chest and grimacing as he blinked his eyes open with exaggerated movements and groans. No surprises. Ezra wasn't ready for any surprises. Turning as if just now aware of Standish's proximity, Buck spoke with slurred sleepiness. It might be false but he had a feeling that Ezra wasn't up for noticing. Or would gratefully accept the lie. "Hey, Pard, that was a good nap. I feel better." He pushed himself up on to the other bed. "Woulda slept better though, if I'd kept myself on the bed instead of falling on the dang floor." He grinned good-naturedly at himself. There, Buck the fool back in action. Let normalcy reign!
By now Ezra had himself under control. He wasn't entirely sure whether Wilmington's waking was a fact or an act, but he was appreciative of the man's manner. It felt like being back with the team to see Buck so behave. Something seemed to snap back into place for him and Standish took a few short, hard breaths and looked at Buck. "Mr. Wilmington, have you seen my apparel by any chance?"
Buck twisted on the bed and lifted Ezra's pack, turning to place it on the southerner's bed across from him. "Here ya go. Toad brought our bike around earlier, so I brought in our packs."
Ezra was already delving into the pack and pulling out clean underwear and an almost clean tee shirt and jeans. Couldn't afford to look too good but this would feel so nice after --- Ezra let the soft cotton of the shirt slide through his hands. That's right, focus. "I shall be dressed momentarily." He pulled the shirt over his head, his shaggy hair popping through the neck as he continued, "Then we should see what's what. I can't imagine Fisher letting us stay here forever."
Too bad. Would like that. Buck didn't let himself dwell on those traitorous thoughts. "Sure, Pard. Figure it's ---" he looked at his wristwatch, "'bout 4:30 now, likely we should show our faces again."
Ezra had quickly yanked up under shorts, almost ripping them in his haste to be covered. Buck made no comment. Shimmying, the smaller agent had his jeans up and zipped by the time Buck had come to his feet and started wandering toward the bathroom. "Buck? We can go check together." It was a statement but Buck could hear the question in it.
"We are doing everything together from now on, Ezra. I ain't letting you out of my sight again, Pard." Wilmington paused at the bathroom door, looking back and down at the other man. "I am truly sorry for what happened today, Ezra, I consider it my fault and I'll do whatever I can to see it doesn't happen ever again."
Standish came to his feet now and faced his friend and fellow agent. "Buck. It was NOT your fault, so just stop blaming yourself. We still have a job to do." Ezra buckled his belt and then looked up to meet his friend's eyes. "Regrets are a luxury that neither of us can afford. And, so you know, I shall keep you to your word. We do this together." Ezra felt his confidence return and flow with those final words. Yes, they could get this done. No looking back. That's all, no looking back.
Wilmington listened to the growing strength in Standish's voice. He could tell that Ezra was feeling better, more balanced, more in control again. A very fragile thing that control. Well, he'd guard it with his life. Ezra deserved that and so much more.
Buck wiped his hands on a towel and tossed it into the sink as he left the bathroom, noticing that Ezra had tidied away their things and was making a rather strange looking pile of what looked like clothing over by the door. "Ez?"
"This cabin belonged to Ivan. Since he will no longer need it, I just thought I'd get rid of the things that belonged to that ---" Ezra stopped, then started again, "That belonged to that man." He dropped a leather satchel on top of the small heap. Wiped his hands on his jeans as if ridding them of vermin. In a way, he was.
"We'll toss that trash out, when we're ready to go." Buck strolled over to stand beside Ezra, not too close. "Figure we better ---"
A knock at the door interrupted him. "Hey, Wilson, you in there?"
Ezra recognized Tyler Diggins' voice. He nodded to Buck. Wilmington pulled the bolt back and opened the door. "Yeah?"
A tall, dark haired man, looking very Native American, stood in the dirt in front of the small cabin. "Gent said he'd like Ezra to come over and do some work, if he's up for it. We got a meet set for tomorrow."
Buck glanced over his shoulder at Ezra, quirking one eyebrow in question. Received an affirmative nod.
Diggins pointed toward the end cabin. "At the office. Said to tell you that he wanted to talk to you, too."
Wilmington didn't answer, just nodded, waiting for his partner to emerge from their cabin into the light of the setting sun. Ezra stepped out of the doorway and the rays of a dying sun caught his hair and turned it to a molten reddish gold, shining like precious metal. His eyes gleamed a deep forest green, reflecting the darker colors of evening, even as the skin of his face and exposed arms seemed to burnish in the warm pinky-orange light. Buck caught his breath and once again was lost to the beauty of this petite, slender being. How had he ever thought a woman could compete? Grace? Style? Sheer charisma? All Ezra. Oh, my, yes. His Ezra was beauty walking.
They worked for almost three hours. Ezra went over the lists of inventory, pointing out lack of manufacturer's dates, making the lists less useful to would-be buyers. They did have serial numbers though, and Buck watched as Ezra's nimble fingers demonstrated just how computer-literate he was. Damn, JD don't know this Ezra. Think he hides it on purpose, ta give the kid a boost in the office. Buck mentally shook his head as Ezra skillfully sought out Internet resources and hidden troves of information, hacking through layers of federal and state firewalls with ease. By the time the southerner sat back, he had the source of every piece on the inventory and locations for ammunition that would be required for these pieces. Hell, Ezra'd even printed out a top-secret instruction manual for the Stinger missiles.
Gent had watched for a short time, then Diggins had shown up. Fisher left Ty with the others. He knew that anything that happened, he'd know through Diggins, no need to hang around. Diggins had with him two younger bikers, both serious and intent on watching Schiller. Introduced as Parfey and McCoy, the two were clearly familiar with computers. Buck enjoyed watching their eyes widen as Ezra's fingers danced over the keys of two computers.
Ezra was perched on a swivel stool between the machines, running two different searches at once, orchestrating his movements without missing a beat --- until Buck stood up to stretch. Wilmington thought to move to the other side of the office and share a coffee from the drip-maker there with Ty Diggins who was silently observing everything without intrusion. Only, the moment Buck rose, Ezra's even paced and meticulous actions began to slow to a jerky, almost panicked stop. He'd laid his hands in his lap, folded them, and sat back. "Buck?" Big green eyes flashed in momentary fear. Wilmington sat down again. Coffee could wait. "Right here, Ez, just stretching is all. I'm right here."
Neither Parfey nor McCoy seemed to notice the short little scene, both trying to take notes without success as Ezra had blasted yet another firewall into shards of electronic mumbo-jumbo. They were standing, shoulder to shoulder behind the undercover agent, one facing each of Ezra's two running screens. The momentary hesitation simply gave them a chance to try to catch up, no time to notice. Ezra straightened on the stool, staring hard at Wilmington for a second as if fixing the man in his memory, then averted his gaze to his screens again. Hands came up and fingers once more danced.
Buck, now calmly sitting stretched out on the other side of the central desk, put his feet up on the surface, planting himself even more firmly in Ezra's field of vision. If you need me here, then that's where I aim to be. He started a bit when a cup of coffee appeared in front of his face. Looked up and met dark brown eyes that were shuttered and blank. The coffee that Ty Diggins was proffering though, was a godsend. Buck accepted it with a small smile, his attention turning back to Standish almost instantly.
Diggins watched it all. He could see that their two young biker hackers were enthralled by Schiller's skills. Looks like Fisher found a good'un there. He was also convinced of the pairing with Wilson, there was a lot of emotional support going on just now. The big man was projecting safety and protection. Not a bad partnership. He'd heard what happened, had been out on the road at the time. Wouldn't miss Ivan. Damn blackguard had been too quick off the mark, too much a low-life.
Ty and Gent went back a ways. Far enough so he knew that Fisher and he could work this, without Portlach. Especially if Wilson turned out to be as valuable as Toad said. The little man had reported that Wilson was able to ID all the stuff they had cached in the old hangar and had even made some suggestions for safer storage of one item. Ty wondered why he was still nervous about Ezra's friend. Moving closer after seeing Wilson's aborted attempt to get coffee, he brought the man a cup, hoping to get some conversation going. Not that he was any great shakes at that, but after a simple acknowledgement, Wilson had turned his attention back totally to Schiller. And, Schiller was clearly dependent on Wilson now, so maybe they owed Ivan something after all. The two seemed to have bonded closer because of Portlach's attack. Were almost linked somehow. Likely if Gent needed one to do something, all they'd have to do was threaten the other. Hostages for each other. Useful knowledge. Ty went back to his corner and sipped at a new cup of coffee.
"That's it." Standish sat back and raised his eyes to meet the dark brown ones of Ty Diggins. "That's all I can do until we meet the buyers and see exactly what they want and how much they're willing to pay for it."
Ty nodded, putting down his coffee mug and walking over to accept the sheaf of printouts that Ezra was offering. Both men ignored the young bikers behind Schiller. Diggins thumbed through the stuff, impressed in spite of himself. Yeah, this guy was gonna be gold for them. "You want to give these to Gent?" he offered.
But Ezra was already shaking his head, flicking switches that turned off the gallery of computers and rising to his feet, edging toward Wilson. "No, you go ahead."
"Okay, then," Ty said slowly, "How about coming back to the bar and getting some dinner? Gent can look these over, he have any questions, he'll know who to ask."
Buck dropped his feet to the floor and stood in that loose, fluid movement that was one of his hallmarks. He was circling the desk and slipping behind Schiller as the two men spoke to each other. When the dinner offer was made, he was ready. "Sounds good, Ezra. You gotta be tired now, ready for some grub."
Standish, who'd pushed away the stool as he stood, now leaned back against Buck who'd come up behind him. This is so nice. To be able to touch like this, to know it was not only understood but expected, it was so very nice. He cricked his neck up and around to look up into Buck's face, only to find two warm blue eyes crinkling back down at him. Buck's hands were already holding his arms in a familiar fashion that warmed Ezra's whole being. He smiled at the smile in Buck's eyes. "I could eat," he admitted. Somehow the words took on an intimate and hidden meaning that had Buck's eyes glazing over hotly and Ezra immediately turning bright red as he seemed to realize what he'd just said, done. He whipped his head around to face a knowing look on Ty's face. Damn it, what does he think he knows? If only it was really true. Ezra wiggled his butt experimentally against the tall man pressed so closely behind him. There was a definite jump in the bigger man. Then hot moist air was brushing one of Ezra's ears as Buck leaned down to caution, "Ez, behave now." The fingers gently massaging his arms let him know that Buck wasn't rejecting him, just keeping him grounded. Probably a good thing. Probably.
Chris was still reading the paper when Vin arrived late after coaching a pick up basketball game with his street kids. They'd had their normal, quiet low-key evening after that, getting chores done around the ranch, fixing, eating and cleaning up dinner. Discussing the current case and some cases pending court dates. One had Vin up for testimony. There was a seminar on leadership, Chris had cringed at that one, that he'd have to attend. Neither liked to be away from the other for too long, but they were adjusting as any couple would, once a long-term commitment was made.
Vin was the one who brought up the drop for tomorrow. Figuring that with Ezra going in deep now, with Buck in tow, that they might be closely watched, the team had come up with a simple plan. Vin would start taking a route past the Hot Run each day, morning and night, in his old jeep. He'd 'adjust' it for maximum noise from the muffler and engine. Be noticeable that way, remembered. He'd start pulling in for gas. Make a fuss about loosing oil and constantly needing more. It meant he'd have to drain oil once or twice a day, but it gave them a convincing story line for Vin to keep showing up. Ezra and Buck would know that Vin would stop at the diesel stop each morning early and again in late afternoon. He'd be standing around for a bit, going into the bar for coffee, too. Plenty of opportunities for a handoff, or if it got too difficult, they could leave a drop in the men's room off the mechanic's building next to the pumps. So, Vin was due for his first run in the morning.
"All set with the jeep?" Chris' tone let Vin know that he was worried about the two missing men.
"Yep. I'll drain off the oil just before I leave, no point in doing it to soon, not good for my machine." Vin sat down on the couch next to Chris, leaned into the other man's body, accepting the encircling arms as his right. "You got any special reason to be worried this time?" Vin asked as he rested his head on the blond's shoulder. No point beating around the bush, Chris knew Vin too well, and vice-versa.
Chris bent his head down to plant a kiss on the crown of soft, shining brown hair. "Not really. Just that Ezra didn't go under at a hundred percent."
Vin closed his eyes in memory of what he had learned in the conference room the day before, and then privately from Chris that night. There had been no emergency calls, no signals for help today. Have to hope all went well. Both Buck and Ez are big boys. But. "Got a feelin'?"
Chris sighed. "Yeah." He ran one hand up and down the arm he was encircling, nuzzled into that mass of wonderful tangles. Murmured against a hidden ear, "Yeah. Not a good one. So you be careful tomorrow, too. Watch yourself."
"Um. Pay attention to Ezra and Buck if you see them. To the rest, if you don't. Look for their bike, too."
Vin nodded against Larabee's chin. "Intended to."
"Sorry." Chris let his chagrin be heard. "Didn't mean to tell you your job, it's just that ---"
"You're worried." Vin turned in Chris' arms and pulled the man down on top of him. "Now you got me worried too, so I'll be extra, extra careful. Promise."
"Um." Conversation stopped at that point, though sounds continued for sometime.
More bikers had arrived as the evening gathered darkness, filling the bar and the café tables, drinking, playing cards and pool, eating from baskets of fried chicken or fried potatoes or ribs dripping in barbeque sauce. No one seemed to be worried about lack of tablecloths or silverware. Bottles and cans of beer littered the tables.
Ezra and Buck followed Ty into the bar from the back. Their entrance seemed to go unremarked but a back table cleared when Ty approached and then offered it to the agents. One of the bar maids appeared within seconds to take their orders. Ezra had shaken his head, but Buck ordered the fries and chicken for both of them, asking for imported beer and a bottle of bourbon. He covered Ezra's smaller hands with one of his on the tabletop and shifted his chair around so that they sat side by side.
Ezra wasn't sure whether he was glad that Buck was being so assertive or not. He was doing the right things for their undercover roles, but since Ezra was beginning to want this for real, it was hard to take it knowing it was all an act. He sat stiffly and tried to relax, knowing if he didn't he'd call attention to them and not in a good way.
Buck felt the tension in his partner. Figured Ezra was feeling a bit claustrophobic at the moment, surrounded as they were by bikers of the same ilk as had hurt Ezra earlier that day. He lifted his hand from Ezra's, saw the southerner's questioning look, but simply raised his arm up and around the gentleman's shoulders, tugging him even closer. He carefully placed his lips on Ezra's forehead and kissed him softly, letting his lips linger to taste the sweet salty skin they were pressed against.
A tingle of anticipation ran through him. They'd have tonight together in that cabin. Just the two of them. If he was going to go anywhere at all with Ezra, he was going to start tonight. If he waited for the end of the case, Ezra would be able to retreat too easily. Buck gave a sigh of his own. Things had changed. Really, profoundly changed for him. He wanted Ezra in a way he'd never even thought about wanting before. He wanted Ezra like he'd never thought he'd ever want any man, like he had always figured he'd someday want some special woman when he found her. Well, he'd found his someone special. Who knew it would be a man? Or that it would be a friend and not someone new at all? That it would be Ezra P. Standish?
He let his tongue poke out between his lips to lick a tiny patch of skin on Ezra's forehead, never moving his head from his position against the smaller man. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ezra's hands begin to fidget again. With his free hand, he captured those and pulled them off the table and down onto Ezra's thigh.
"Buuuck." It was an almost painful sigh, a plea.
Good, getting through to him. Buck smiled against Ezra's temple and licked again, squeezing the shoulders of the man and rubbing up against them with his own. Ezra capitulated with another sigh that was almost a moan, melting against Buck, losing all tension in the process. "That's my boy." Buck trailed kisses down the wrinkled brow and along the finely bridged nose. With a lick at the tip, he pulled back and smiled at his prize.
Ezra couldn't fight it, couldn't fight Buck. He's going too far. He knows what he's doing, but does he mean it? Ezra wondered helplessly, lost in those strong arms, those proprietal lips. He risked a glance around the room from under hooded lids. No one was paying special attention to them. He spotted Gent Fisher and Ty Diggins at the far corner table, some other men standing nearby with their backs to the leader and his second. Like bodyguards. Ezra could see they were going over the paperwork he'd just produced. He knew it was faultless. They'll figure it out. He looked around again, curiously, his head tilted up against Buck's warm chest, nestled there in sweet surrender. He'd never been at the Hot Run at night, made it a point to disappear before sunset. So this was a first. He was seeing a lot more gang members, many he knew but seldom saw.
Buck recognized Ezra's softened position and relaxation. He stopped trying to push and just held on, providing an anchor and a secure port. He could see that Ezra was back in agent mode, assessing the room and its occupants. It didn't take long to figure out that they were under the protection of Fisher. It showed in the subtle ripples of movement around them, never challenging them. The stolen glances that conveyed nothing but set his antenna on alert. Nope, not a real safe place this. He'd be glad when the bust went down and he could get Ezra away from here, from these men, and to himself. They had a lot of issues to settle between them and Buck intended to see that it happened. He was glad to know that Chris and Vin already had such a partnership, it made it much easier to look ahead to forming a similar one with Ezra. Buck pulled himself up short mentally. Whoa, Pard, got to factor Ez into this equation too. Haven't even made sure this is something he wants. Think he likes it. Already know he likes men. He likes me. I know he likes me. Could he like me that way? Buck worried at his lip, resting his head on the coppery hair under his chin. Well, if he doesn't yet, I'll just have to work hard to make him change his mind until he does. Buck let his lip go, resolution reached and relaxed himself.
Ezra watched wide-eyed as an enormous basket of fries and a similar one of fried chicken were dropped on to the table in front of them. This was followed by the thump of beer bottles, a liquor bottle and some shot glasses. Two small paper napkins fluttered down among the array of food and drink. He shuddered and tried to withdraw only to find the arm holding him tighten and prevent his retreat. "You are going to eat some of this, Ezra, or," Buck paused as surprised green eyes sought his. Meeting them, he finished, "Or, I'll feed you myself."
A flame of rebellion flickered to life in the green glare. Even better. Man is feeling himself if he's ready to argue. Before the argument could get underway, however, Ty was standing over them. "Just got your food, I see." He pulled out a chair and sat. "Gent will be over in a minute. Has some questions for both of you."
Buck watched Ezra's eyes cool and darken into uncommunicative shutters, his poker face sliding into place. "We will do what we can to answer them," he responded without posturing.
Ezra had already read Ty Diggins and knew how to play him, Buck realized comfortably. He'd follow Ezra's lead. Man was a master. "Sure, that's why we're here."
Rather than wait for Ezra to start on the food, Buck picked up a thigh and peeled back the greasy skin, revealing the moist dark meat beneath. Picking free a morsel, he brought it to Ezra's lips and tickled with it. The dusky lips parted and accepted the offering with a canted eyebrow. Buck let his fingers follow the bit of muscle and flesh into the cavern, felt Ezra's teeth delicately nibble at his fingertips, his tongue lick them clean as Ezra pulled the bit of meat free and chewed it slowly, swallowing with a show of extra effort. Buck grinned as he slowly withdrew his fingers.
Ty watched in almost fascination as Wilson hand fed Schiller with select bits of skinless chicken and single French fried potato strips. He shifted in his seat. His damn pants were growing too tight he acknowledged as Ezra's tongue emerged to curl around one of Buck's fingers and lap it clean. By the time Gent finally lowered himself onto the fourth chair at the table, Schiller had consumed nearly two full pieces of chicken, minus the skin, and a handful of fries. Wilson had been feeding himself, almost automatically, with his other hand, so he too had eaten. Ty had stopped watching them after the first piece of chicken. It was simply raising the temperature too much in here. Man, they had it bad for each other.
Fisher had observed from a distance as he spoke with several of his wing commanders. They were going to organize a full Hawk appearance for tomorrow's run and the meet. The buyers would be there and sample merchandize would be secreted in the trailers pulled by two trikes owned by gang members. Now, he needed to organize the negotiating team. A team he was just forming to try to counter the buyers' onslaught of conniving and chiseling tactics. A team that would include Ezra Schiller and Buck Wilson, his two newest recruits to the command center of the Hawks. They just didn't know it yet. Time to tell them.
Fisher sat down, nudging Ty with a foot to a chair leg, as he sat. Ty seemed a bit preoccupied, Gent thought with a private, knowing smile. These two were really hot stuff. 'Course the I-Man may have had something to do with the blatancy with which they were now acting. Didn't matter to Gent, long as he got what he wanted.
Buck let Ezra push away the food baskets. Wilmington poured a shot of Bourbon for each of them and offered soundlessly to Ty and Gent. Both accepted shot glasses full. With a nod to Ezra, Buck raised his glass in a toast. "To good times."
Gent raised his. "To tomorrow."
Ezra raised an eyebrow and his glass. "Tomorrow would be ---?"
"Our meet with the buyers. Try to settle on price and delivery." Fisher downed his drink, the others at the table doing likewise. "Want you two to be there, with me and Ty." Gent pushed his empty glass around on the greasy table. "Ezra, you're going to help me pin them down to prices we can live with, and your papers are our ammo." He turned toward Buck. "Wilson, I want you to be with Ty. Want you ready to show the samples, answer questions. From what Toad tells me, you can do that. We tell them you were a Seal and we got it made." He leaned forward, elbows resting on the table. "You two good with that?"
Ezra spoke for both of them. "That'll work. You won't regret this, Gent."
Fisher cocked his head at the smaller man. "See that I don't."
Buck stood up and pulled out Ezra's chair so he could stand as well. Ty and Gent were already moving away, back toward their obviously regular table near the bar. They'd probably hold court for a while yet, but Buck figured that he and Ezra could safely slip out for the night now. Once Standish was standing, Buck nodded toward the back door. They'd been given to understand that they could keep the cabin until the deal was finalized and the deliveries made. Heading there now was the best bet for getting out of the eye of the gang.
Ezra led the way, weaving between tables and staggering men, the few women mostly wrapped in their men or huddled at a table near the back door. As Ezra approached he saw one of the women, a peroxide blonde with diamond studs in her nose waylay Buck, who was just behind him. Ezra wasn't too happy about this but was not ready to make a scene here. It was too public and too uncertain. The woman put a hand on Buck's arm and began talking to him, her body language seemed to be offering something. He could see her in three-quarter's view, and she was a beauty, curvaceous and smiling. Young and pretty. Buck's usual kind of find. Standish could not hear what she was saying in a light undertone, but he stiffened angrily when she pulled back her leather jacket to show off her undershirt to Wilmington. Buck, unaware of Ezra's scrutiny, smiled down at her appreciatively and nodded, leaned in close and spoke seriously to her. She seemed a bit surprised but shrugged and nodded. Buck repeated something, his mouth close to her ear as the sound swelled in the room and Ezra's heart plummeted. How could I ever have thought it was anything but an act? Stupid with my feelings, stupid with my heart. Buck is a ladies man, I know that, I've always known that. Head down, Ezra turned back toward the door and the way out, only to run directly into a human wall.
"Hey short-stuff, lookin' for a good time?" the inebriated drawl of the huge biker with an enormous beer belly and shaven head had Ezra bicycling backwards, holding on to his poker face and nerves with effort.
"No, thank you." Ezra knew what he'd normally do in a gay bar to someone who pushed unwelcome advances, but he did not want to stir the waters any further today. Too much depended on staying on the good side of Gent and now Ty. He craned his head up toward the giant. "I came with someone else."
"And he's goin' to leave with the same person." Buck's firm voice came from behind Ezra. Hands came down on Ezra's shoulders and he felt relief that warred with betrayal, almost hidden beneath the fear that had surged up at this latest accosting. Wilmington did not challenge this time, nothing too harsh, just making it clear that the small southerner was private property.
The huge man facing them laughed and threw an arm around one of the shrewish looking women standing near him. "Fine, you got your meat, I'll go find me some other." He swung away from them, already pawing at the wriggling woman who seemed more amused than upset.
Ezra hated himself. He was shaking again. He wiped a hand across his face and then nearly stumbled when Buck pushed him lightly from behind. "Ezra, let's get out of here." His sentiments exactly. Standish moved on to the door and through it, very conscious of the two large hands that never left his shoulders.
Buck was very aware of the trembling man in front of him and he wanted Ezra away from any more confrontations, now. He guided his friend out into the cool night air and across the empty parking lot, save for his bike, to the small cabin. They climbed the steps silently, Ezra pulling free from Buck's hold as they went up to the small porch. Inside, Standish hit the room light switch and Buck started to close the door. He eyed the pile of things belonging to Ivan by the door. It was a moment's work to heave them out onto the side of the porch. That done, Buck closed and locked the door.
When he turned to face the room it was to see Ezra standing there, facing him, face cold and closed, as he unfastened his jeans and let them drop. What's wrong? What did I do? Buck shifted from foot to foot, watching his partner pull back the covers on one twin bed and slip inside, already turning so that only the back of one tee-shirt clad shoulder and a head of reddish brown hair showed above those covers.
"Good night, Buck." The words sounded stilted. Buck closed his eyes. Something had happened. What? Think dammit! Ezra wasn't acting like this before. Even out there at the table in the bar, he'd finally relaxed, seemed comfortable with their touching, closeness. Now what?
Wilmington walked slowly over to the other bed and sat down, the springs creaking slightly under his weight. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, wrists dangling as he studied the reclining back of his friend. He tried to replay the last few minutes. That big ugly biker had cut into their path. Clearly Ezra was upset about that, but Buck had backed the man off and hustled Ezra out. He might still be shaking about that but this behavior was more an angry Ezra than a scared one.
Why was he angry? Well, they'd gotten up, started for the rear exit, Ezra leading. Jeanie had stopped Buck to introduce herself and make an offer. He was actually rather tickled by the offer. He --- wait a minute. The girl, Jeanie. Oh yeah. Shit, what had Ezra seen and heard and what had he just figured out? What dots did he connect? Buck had a feeling, the wrong ones.
"Ezra P. Standish." Buck was pleased at the way the southerner's body jumped at the sharp tone. "You turn over right now, we have some talking to do and I ain't putting up with any pouting!" Yep, that ought to do it. He waited as the small blanket covered lump stiffened and then rolled over angrily, two light, almost white, green eyes slicing through him coldly.
"What did you wish to discuss, Mr. Wilmington?" Oh, boy we got a far piece to cover Buck thought with amusement.
"Ezra, I have a surprise for you." Both eyebrows rose but no comment was forthcoming. "Jeanie, the girl who stopped me when we were leavin'?" At Ezra's jerky nod, Buck continued as if blithely unaware of the effect all this was having on his conflicted friend. "She made me an offer."
The coldness left the green eyes. Drained out of them and the color changed, from almost white to soft, moist moss. The eyebrows came back down and a defeated slump seemed to envelop the small man. Ezra tugged the blanket up tight under his chin with two fists, trying to protect himself, cover himself, force the tears to stay inside. Why is Buck doing this to me? What an act he has been putting on, he really conned the con man this time. Is he really so oblivious? The firm line of Ezra's mouth trembled and the lower lip was sucked in, to be chewed slowly.
Buck saw what his words had done. He'd meant to tease, forgetting that Ezra probably was not yet aware of how much Buck himself had changed, his attitude and his desires. Remorsefully, Buck dropped to his knees on the floor between the beds, capturing the blanket-covered fists in his own large hands, holding them tightly so there'd be no escape before he was done. "She offered to make us some patches."
Confusion. Ezra realized he'd been holding his breath and let it out in a woof of bewilderment. This was all about 'patches?' What? He tried to pull back, distance himself from Buck's sudden proximity but the big man would have none of it, holding on firmly.
"Property patches." Buck tilted his head to the side, figuring even after a month undercover, Ezra might not be fully conversant with all the biker idioms and slang. As an old biker himself, he'd known what the girl meant right away. "If a woman belongs to a biker, then she's his bitch. If they want to be exclusive, one way to show it is for the woman to wear a property patch. Just a patch sewn on her clothing, says she's the property of whoever she's hanging with. Some even get it tattooed."
"I don't understand. She wants to wear yours?" Ezra's voice was soft and low, the words small.
"No, Ezra, she wanted to make you one to wear for me. She'd heard about what happened today."
Buck smiled at the blush now rising on the pale features of the southerner. "Yeah, Ez, for you. Sayin' you're my property. Buck's Property."
"What did you tell her?"
"Well, after she showed me hers, she's the property of someone named Jimbo, I said I'd pay her for two."
"Yeah. The other one is gonna say Ezra's Property."
The fisted hands relaxed and dropped to the smaller man's lap as he struggled to sit up in the narrow bed. "Really?" Ezra knew he sounded like a little kid but he couldn't help himself.
"Really." Buck gently squeezed the limp hands under his and smiled a bit more. "She'll have them ready tomorrow. Seems to be pretty easy thing to do."
"And, you'll wear one?"
"Yeah," Buck pulled himself up onto Ezra's bed and sat facing the smaller man. "If you'll wear the other."
A white face, with eyes so green they shown like stars, blazed up at Buck, taking his breath away with the intensity revealed. "Yes." The whispered answer touched someplace deep inside of Buck and he knew that another question was being answered, a deeper more basic question. Time stood still for them then as their eyes burned into each other. Then Buck moved slowly, infinitesimally slowly closer to Ezra, watching to see if he should stop.
John Dunne was thinking. Nestled in bed with his sweetheart, Casey Wells, who was sleeping soundly, he lay staring at the ceiling of his bedroom. It wasn't often that he and Casey got to spend a night together, much as they loved it. They were planning on marrying after she graduated from college and she was in her senior year now. They hadn't told anyone yet. Not Casey's aunt Nettie, not Buck, JD's best friend. That was one of the reasons they didn't often get to do this. It raised questions they just didn't want to answer.
Besides, JD felt very private and protective about Casey, and much as he loved Buck as a friend and almost brother, to sleep together in the same apartment as Buck just didn't seem right. At least, not until it was official with nuptials. He kissed Casey's brow and she sighed and curled closer inside his arms, not waking. While Buck was undercover, Casey came over to stay.
He'd have to tell Buck soon. Tell him that he was moving out, going to find his own place, well, actually a place for him and Casey. He smiled at that thought. Then frowned, he didn't want to hurt Buck's feelings and he had begun to think that Buck depended on him. It hadn't started out that way. He'd been a green recruit, a rookie stolen out of a think tank in Massachusetts. He'd loved his new life with the ATF but it took some getting used to and he'd still been grieving the long and painful loss of his mother. Buck had taken him in under his wing, put him up on the sofa of Buck's small apartment. When they saw that they got along well, they had pooled resources for a bigger shared apartment with four bedrooms. One became a guest room, one JD's computer room, and they each had their own bedroom. It had worked well for over a year and a half now. But things were changing.
Funny, when he thought about it, even though he couldn't bring himself to have Casey over for a night, Buck had no qualms on subjecting JD to a long stream of one night female guests. The man picked all sorts, all sweet and all looking for fun with the tall, sexy man. None ever stayed, and if any were looking for a commitment, they soon gave up. Buck loved women, not a woman. That thought led to another. Chris was a widower. And, now it seemed, in a gay relationship of long standing, though very private, with Vin Tanner another team member. JD had always looked up to Chris Larabee, he was like a hero to the younger man. This new aspect of Larabee hadn't tarnished the hero's image at all. Not sure why not, except I like Vin so much and admire him so much, too. Maybe that's why.
JD used his free hand to scratch his nose, then started stroking Casey's closest arm gently and his thoughts continued to wander freely. And Vin? Well, he said it was a first time for him with Chris, but he was such a loner that whatever his preferences, it was a wonder he'd finally opened up enough for anyone, even Chris, to get inside and make a connection. JD was happy for him, for them.
Josiah was a widower too, who now found his simple pleasures in helping others and in his own strange conglomeration of faith and religions. Nathan had had a long time affair with Rain and now they were engaged and telling the world about it. He and Casey might even see them privately to discuss a double wedding. You never knew, it might work. Nate, Josiah, Vin, Chris.
Ezra was always an enigma to JD. Their undercover agent tended to be very private indeed. The revelation of his gayness had been a bit of a shock to the unknowing members of the team. We all like and respect Ez, though, so it was alright, JD thought. But Ezra really was gay, not just a one-shot, one-time love of his life like Chris and Vin whose friendship had mutated into a love pairing. No, Ezra liked men. JD moved uncomfortably for a moment. Ezra had never in any way given any sign in the office or out on the job, until this last one, when it became part of the job. He 'shopped' elsewhere. Well, JD was okay with that. He rubbed his nose again and then returned to his repetitive stroking of Casey's arm. She sighed again but didn't wake. He gathered from the looks and hints from Nathan and Chris that life hadn't been easy for Ezra in his own private world lately. He hadn't looked good and he hadn't acted normally at the conference or before in the confrontation in Chris' office.
Nate, Josiah, Vin, Chris, Ezra. Buck. JD arched his back a bit and turned toward Casey's warm body, letting his lips come to rest on her shoulder. Buck. Never married. Never intended as far as JD knew. Never in love, just in lust. Always flirting, always having fun, enjoying the fairer sex as he referred to women. Was he hiding something? Naw, not Buck. But, he'd never found someone special. Hope he'll be okay when I leave to be with Casey. JD found himself worrying about this. Buck's a big boy. But, somehow, JD had over time seen the underside of Buck's worldly bonhomie and realized the man was very hollow within, lonely and without self-confidence, always in need of reassurance and friendships to bolster his self-image. Buck helped others to define himself, JD decided sadly. Poor Buck. Maybe I should make it my mission to find the right lady for Buck. I think once he's got someone, he'll be fine. With that hopeful thought, JD snuggled closer to Casey who finally began to stir. "JD?" came the soft questioning sleep-slurred voice.
"Yeah, Case, I'm here. Love you."
Buck leaned closer. He moved very, very slowly. Like stalking a butterfly, want to touch it, not crush it or cause it to flit off. He let his breath wash over Ezra's face but still didn't touch. The misty green eyes that held his were deep and open, daring to reveal a hesitant heart, a questioning, unsure spirit. Oh, Ez, I love you, Buck thought and smiled, his smile slow too.
He brought up one hand and delicately caressed the tiny crow's-feet lines by the corner of one of those mystic eyes. Neither spoke. Buck tilted his head and let his eyes roam down to soft, dark lips, small and half-parted, with just the tiniest glimpse of white teeth within. As he studied the lips with such fascination, the tip of Ezra's tongue emerged to moisten the lower lip. Pink and curling, it was endearing. With his other hand, Buck touched Ezra's temple on the other side. He began a tender massage with just the tips of the first two fingers of each hand, no pressure, just feather-weight touches skimming the smooth skin, brushing back into the so soft, glossy chestnut hair, curls of which separated and clung to his fingers.
Ezra's chin lifted and those fascinating lips drew closer still. Buck continued to breath across Ezra's face, warm and moist, touching him with his essence. Two small hands came up to begin exploring, mapping Buck's face in turn. Finger combing the lush dark mustache, nails currying the bristles that were heavier, coarser than the scalp hair, except at the ends of the mustache where longer hairs curled down almost into his mouth leaving with a softer feel.
Buck opened his mouth in invitation but the fingers were moving upward, tracing creases and folds in the texture of his skin, finding the worry lines near his mouth, the pouches that sometimes thickened under his eyes, the deeper crows-feet from years out of doors, and the deep lines that lay in wait above the dark wings of eyebrow. Buck had closed his eyes by now and reduced his world to the touches of his fingers on Ezra's temples and Ezra's touches wafting across his face.
Buck was lost and he knew it. This is real. This is the forever kind of love. He'd seen it between Chris and Sarah. Even between Chris and Vin, Nate and Rain, JD and Casey. Envied them all. Now it was his. And it was wonderful. He could feel himself grow hard and hot but that was something separate from this incredibly intense intimacy that he was sharing with Ezra. The body's desires, needs, could wait. They were tending their souls just now. The garden of the soul needs much nourishment and he instinctively knew that both he and Ezra had had droughts in their gardens for far too long. They didn't need any sudden rainstorm, they needed slow, steady drenching, burrowing rains that would penetrate deeply and give rebirth to hope within. Let the seeds of love be planted now. We'll tend them with care and patience. Buck smiled again at his whimsical, almost poetic thoughts. They were truer, though, than any baser 'natural' inclinations. He and Ezra needed each other at a level so deep and so core to the bone that it was painful. He just knew it was mutual, nothing that rang this true could be one-sided.
Ezra was studying Buck's face as if it were unchartered territory in need of careful mapping. He paced its surface with the faintest touch of fingertip to skin and hair. He marveled in the variety of textures he discovered on his voyage, he reveled in the freedom to do this and to bury his yearnings for someone to love in this man. From far away, he felt Buck's fingers rubbing light circles at his temples, a soothing counterpoint to his own light touches on Buck. He was touching Buck. He felt light-headed with an effervescent joy. He couldn't quite believe that it was so. As if drawn to them by magnets, finally his eyes came to rest in the dark blue circles that were Buck's. He found peace there, he found affection and concern, he found friendship, and he found something more. Something he'd never really hoped to find anywhere. He found love. That he recognized it at a soul-deep level told him that it was real and to trust it, to trust Buck. Lost in those eyes, Ezra let out a tiny moan of need.
Buck was held in the emerald gaze, trapped for a lifetime in that sweet soul searching. He felt Ezra's hands still finally. He mirrored the pause with his own. For a timeless instant, they two were poised over a peak neither had ever hoped to climb but now soared above. Hands dropped away and they were moving toward each other as if drawn by the connections of souls binding.
Then they kissed.
At first, it was a simple, tentative pressing of lips together, but Buck found himself irresistibly drawn to deepening the kiss. Like their first kiss only that morning, oh god, was it only that morning? It took on a life of its own, moving both men to surge towards each other as if once the fire was lit it burned too brightly to simply be banked by human control. With reverence, his long arms came up to surround and cocoon this precious man within his embrace, his head tipping as his mouth opened and consumed the smaller one. When those lips opened against his, Buck's tongue snaked within to charm and explore, meeting a welcoming muscular twin that lapped eagerly at his.
Inhaling deeply through his nose, Buck pulled Ezra even tighter. The small southerner's hands were gripping Buck's tee shirt and twisting the material in tight fists, drawing Wilmington yet closer still. Short panting sounds from Ezra seemed to only make Buck intent on securing the man tightly against him. With a swift, twisting motion of his long, limber body, Wilmington took both of them from facing each other to a position half-lying, half-sitting against the headboard of the narrow bed, with Ezra cuddled sweetly against his chest, shoulder buried in the hollow between Buck's chest and arm. Never did their lips separate, as if they had somehow become one.
Ezra savored the taste of Buck's mouth, feeling the scratch and tickle of the mustache, which seemed to only make him feel more welcome, more protected by the very maleness of his companion. He wasn't ready to call Buck lover yet. His heart cried out that this was love, but his brain was stubbornly dragging behind, keeping him silent. He wanted, no, needed to let go and let Buck take over, but he was scared. This had happened so suddenly, when he was so vulnerable. Yet Buck was his friend. He had saved Ezra's life in the past. He was here now, protecting him and comforting him. Was that what this was? Comfort for the damn rape earlier in the day? Ezra tried to break free of the big man's hold. A moment ago he thought he'd never want to be anywhere but in the man's strong arms, held tenderly in the bed, lying beside his friend. But now, doubts arose and Ezra began to fight. No, no, he couldn't afford to be hurt again, not so soon, not after Tony and then Ivan and his goons, no, please, no. "Please, no."
Buck felt the unexpected struggles of his friend and then as he tried to calm the little man with soothing hands, he heard the plaintive cry, so whisper soft against his lips, so hopeless. "Please, no."
Buck could not ignore the plea and pulled back, not releasing Ezra, but ending the kiss and loosening his hold on his sweet armful. Ezra tried to slip free, but Buck knew that if he let Ezra leave now, if only from the bed, he'd lose him completely. "Ezra, please, don't." Buck's own voice was a pained plea that stopped the other's desperate movements. Petting and stroking the bare arms, letting his hands slide under the wrinkled tee shirt, Buck rubbed Ezra's belly and moved his hand in circles of calming reassurance. "I'm so sorry. I took this too fast. Damn, didn't mean to do that, Ez. Sweetheart?" Buck tucked his head down beside the now listless copper haired one. With a coaxing nuzzle, Buck added a quiet, non-threatening peck to one dear cheek.
"Ezra? I know this is sudden." Buck cleared his throat, finding himself unexpectedly fighting back betraying tears. "You've been my friend for a long time now. Must be hard to believe that I could jump tracks so fast, huh?" The self-depreciating amusement seemed to restore some calmness to Standish who lifted and turned his head slightly, to study Buck with slanted green eyes. "Um. Well, was a surprise to me, too." Buck rubbed his forehead against the other's, then moved back enough to make eye contact again. "You've seen me with all my ladies. Never found one, though, that could touch me inside, that could make my innards melt." He was not handling this very well and Ezra was listening but not giving him any encouragement.
Ezra blinked sleepily, calm again now. He'd had a harrowing few days, emotionally and physically draining. Now that Buck wasn't pushing, he felt comfortable and safe in the big man's arms and could feel waves of black sleep lapping at the shore of his mind. He fought them off. No, I need to hear this. This is important. He stretched his eyes wide, forcing himself to stay awake and listen.
Buck noted the tiny struggle. He's fading fast, but he's trying. Gallant sweet man. Tenderly, Buck brushed Ezra's too long, shaggy hair back from his high, clear forehead and placed another soft kiss there. "Ezra, I love you. I know it may not make much sense the way it happened, but I do. You can fill all my empty places, I feel entire with you, like never in my whole life. Finding out that you liked men, that you were open to such a thing, was like taking the lid off a box I didn't even know that I had. Didn't know that I'd shut." Buck pressed a soft, non-demanding kiss on the pouty lips. "I discovered a new Ezra, or, maybe just uncovered more of you, don't know. Only know that you resonate with me." He quirked his lips in a small smile as the southerner raised an eyebrow at the fancy word. "You fill me up. Ezra," serious, Buck stared into those deep green eyes that had never left his own, "Ezra, I love you. And Ezra? I have never said that to anyone, man, woman, or child, before. Never. Well," he smiled teasingly, to soften the moment, "If you don't count my mother."
He captured Ezra's lips again in another gentle kiss, just a brushing of lips on lips. "Love only you, Ez."
Finally Standish seemed to rouse enough to speak, his voice hoarse and thin. "You're the team's 'ladies man.' I don't understand."
"Enjoy playing with the ladies, no doubt, but never more than that. Just ask JD sometime, I don't do repeats very often and the ladies all know they'll have a good time but won't get to keep old Buck." Serious deep blue eyes met the green ones unflinchingly. "That's gonna change now."
"You'd not ---? You'd," Ezra took a deeper breath to steady his voice, "You'd stop 'playing with the ladies?'"
"Pard, you are the only one I want and I want you forever."
"And the women?"
"Nevermore, Ez." Buck tugged the drowsy man back more securely into his arms. "Nevermore." He settled the drooping head against his chest and rested his chin on the soft crown of waves. "Love only you." Buck began to rock them slowly, feeling Ezra's battle to stay awake finally end in a weary sigh and the softest of tiny snores. Buck smiled and curled them together, stretching out an arm to pull up the blankets. He wasn't sure he'd won the day yet, maybe not even the heart, but this campaign was one he would wage until the day that Ezra agreed to be his. Lifting his broad shoulders higher and pulling them forward to make a shelter for his sweetheart, Buck was content and let sleep take him as well. "Love you, Ez," was a quiet inhalation, not even a conscious thought, just an expression that drifted out on the breath as his eyes drooped shut.
"Love you, Buck." Wilmington's fuzzy near sleep was abruptly gone and he was wide awake again, tense and listening but heard only the soft sounds of sleep coming from his partner. The quiet murmur had been a sleepy sigh, like his own. Waiting as his heart began to slow again, Buck combed his fingers through the soft russet hair, enjoying the texture. Oh, yes, he'd win this one, and had, in fact, already won, just had to convince the waking, street-smart Ezra P. Standish of what his unconscious already knew. Yep, it was gonna be fine.
Sometime during the night, Buck woke and found Ezra had literally crawled on top of him, clinging in a sweaty nightmare of grunts and whimpering cries. "Easy, there, baby, Buck's here. No one's gonna hurt you. You're safe, baby, sleep, sleep." Buck lowered them so that they could lie flat on the narrow mattress, and turned so that Ezra's body fell onto the bed again and off his chest. He held on and kept the small man close gently guiding the restless sleeper to rotate so that they could spoon together. Buck had never even taken off his clothes, so he knew his erection would not be too obvious to his friend. He crossed his arms over Ezra's chest and hugged, savoring the warmth and the way they fit together so perfectly. Ezra's head had fallen onto his left bicep and rubbed now, back and forth against it.
Never waking, Standish gradually sank back down to a deeper sleep within Buck's arms. Keep my treasure safe, here against my heart, Buck thought groggily as he too succumbed to sleep again, nose buried in tousled hair that smelled of spice and some lightly floral scent. They slept through the rest of the night without waking.
It was the rumbles and popping of bike motors that woke Buck at some indeterminate hour. Morning, he decided and snuffled at the curling hairs beneath his nose. Ezra. Shifting slightly, he stretched without releasing his friend. The noises outside were building, increasing with more growling multi-cylinder throats.
Gotta get up, get Ez up too. "Hey. Sleepy?" he licked the closest ear and breathed into it as he spoke again. "Ezra, we have to get up, baby."
"Umm, no, too soon." Came the grumbling, slightly irritated response.
"Come on, Ez." Buck gave a gentle shake to the body in his arms, felt the form curl back closer against him. "Darlin,' you gotta wake up, we got a date with the gang."
There was a knock on the door and Buck backed off the bed, letting Standish's limp body collapse into the nest of blankets without him. Half falling, half staggering, Wilmington made it stiffly to his feet and shuffled toward the door, automatically scooping up his gun from the table near the entrance. "Who's there?"
"Jeanie." The feminine voice brought back the evening sharply.
Buck cautiously opened the door, gun behind his back. When he saw that the thin, busty woman was alone, he shoved the weapon in to the back of his waistband, out of sight. Jeanie stood there, leaning against the porch post, arms folded across her chest, a lit cigarette dangling from her orange glossed lips.
"Hey yourself, Buck." Jeanie stepped forward to peer over Buck's shoulder into the darkened room, grinning as she spotted the single mussed bed, still occupied by the other biker. Before she could see more, Wilson had shifted to block her view.
"So, Jeanie, what can I do for you this morning?"
"Kinda me for you," she arched an eyebrow and unfolded her arms, bringing her hands forward to display to cloth patches, both oval and steel blue with silver bound edges. Each had bold letters sewn on, in simple style, easy to read. One said Buck's Property. The other said Ezra's property.
"Not often we get a two-dick couple riding with us, even if the boys do have fun once and awhile." She let her hands rock to display the way the metallic threads that formed the letters glittered in the light. "Us girls usually sew on our own." She looked him over doubtfully. "Thought, if you want, you give me the clothes, I'd sewn 'em on for you?"
Buck had to admit, he was charmed. The patches were a visual, very concrete reminder of what he and Ezra were becoming. 'Course, here and now, it was part of the undercover scheme, but in a larger sense, it was like a love token, he decided. "Why, Jeanie, if your man don't mind, I'd sure appreciate it." He looked back over his shoulder at the unmoving lump in the bed. "Can you wait a moment?"
At her nod, he disappeared back into the room and then strode back out, closing the door almost completely behind him. "Here." He held two pairs of pants, the size difference enough to identify whose was whose.
Jeanie leaned forward, hands dropping to her sides as she examined the clothing being displayed. Looking up in confusion, she said, "Um, maybe you didn't understand last night where they go?"
"Nope, understood just fine, only for me and Ez, want it a bit different." Buck held out the smaller jeans. "You put it right here," he gestured to the cloth. Holding out the larger pair, he smiled and added, "And on this one, think you can fit it here?" He gestured to a different location.
With a giggle that was childishly at odds with her hard appearance, the young woman nodded as she accepted the pants. "Can have 'em done for you in about fifteen minutes."
"Thanks, Jeanie. Somethin' I can give you for all this work?"
She looked up, one eyebrow raised in appraisement. "Maybe a piece of the action, later today?" When the man looked skeptical, she continued, "I don't mean put me in the middle, just, if you get a bonus, ya know, share it."
Buck nodded solemnly. "Seems fair. Sure thing. And thanks, think Ezra's gonna like them." He watched as she walked back over to the back of the café / bar and went inside. Stretching again, he looked around. His bike remained untouched, canted on its kickstand by the bottom step of the porch to the small cabin. Edging around the sides of the Hot Run, there were dozens of bikes of varying makes and models, sitting in the early morning sun. He saw two trikes with low flat camping trailers on hitches behind them. Both were parked at an angle to the office porch out back. No people though, the area was deserted. Shrugging, he pushed the door back open and walked into the cabin, shutting the door. Fingering his chin, he decided a shave would keep him diverted from climbing back into bed. Let Ez sleep until his pants get back. Buck smiled. Hope he likes the patch and where it's gonna be.
Gent Fisher finished breakfast with Ty and the two trike riders. Both were regulars who usually rode regular bikes but brought in their heavy-duty three-wheelers for these meets. The trailers could carry a lot and the big motors meant there was no way to tell that the trailers were weighted down. There hadn't been any sign of Wilson and Schiller but he figured that they'd show soon, the incoming bikers swelling the tables now and lining the bar, had all rumbled into the parking area, creating a heavy, almost continuous roar. Ty had informed him of Jeanie's little project. He'd found it amusing and was slightly interested when she showed back up at the back exit, carrying two pairs of jeans over her arm. She plumped down at a table with other chicks and the laughing exchange made him think something was up, something had amused the women.
Distracted by Coon's question on the road conditions, Gent turned back to the conversation. Coon and Ragger were his trike riders, they were the transport for the merchandise samples soon to be used for bargaining at the meet with these new buyers. Neither he, nor Coon, nor Ragger noticed when Jeanie popped back up after about ten minutes or so and walked back out, still carrying the two pairs of jeans. Ty watched her leave and wondered. Know soon enough, he thought. If those boys don't show in about twenty minutes, we'll send Toad to roust them.
Buck wiped the last of the shaving soap from his scraped chin, rubbing to test the smoothness. Smooth as a baby's bottom, he smiled, waggling his eyebrows at himself in the small mirror over the sink. Smooth as Ezra's? He licked his lips and began to look forward to when this case was over and he could find out.
He was coming out of the bathroom when another knock at the door had him speeding his steps past the sleeping Standish. Peering out the partially opened door, he saw Jeanie had returned. He stepped outside, once more drawing the door nearly closed behind him in an automatically protective gesture.
"Yeah," the thin woman smirked up at him and handed over the jeans. "He's gonna look wicked." She coughed on a laugh. "And you, geesh, Buck, you're gonna look so hot." She shook her head, smiling still. "Have fun and see you soon." She jerked her head back toward the roadhouse. "By the way, the fellers are gatherin' so you two better not be too much longer or they'll send someone after you."
Buck who was holding up the jeans to check them out, smiled widely up at her. "These are perfect! Can't wait ta see Ez in his." He folded the jeans over his arm. "Thanks and I'll remember you when the bonuses come out, Jeanie."
"Sounds good, see ya around, Buck." With that the woman turned on her heel and headed once again into the back of the café / bar.
Vin's jeep sounded almost like a machinegun as it churned and coughed down the road. He sat tall, his torn sleeveless sweatshirt and patched jeans a universal uniform. He'd put on an old John Deere bill cap, tugged low to protect his eyes from the sun. He spun the wheel and the jeep nearly jumped into the area in front of the gas pumps, facing an army of motorcycles left in scattered array around the neighboring roadhouse. The still arriving bikes nearly drowned his own motor until he switched it off and the nearby silence was a relief. A grease monkey wandered out from the maw of the garage, wiping oil from blackened fingers.
"Help you mister?"
"Yeah, need gas. Fill 'er up. Need oil. Damn thing's taken to leaking like a sieve."
Still an old-fashioned service station, the place didn't expect anyone to pump their own gas. Probably safer that way, cheaper too, Vin thought as he watched the man fill the jeep's tank. As for the oil, the character, whose name badge, embroidered on his overalls, said he was 'Chuck' went in the back to get some. While he waited Vin scanned the area. No sign of our boys. Don't mean anything, but then, don't see their bike neither. Vin knew what the big hawg looked like, he'd checked it out when it was issued to Buck. Well, guess I'll see if there's a drop. Borrowing the restroom key, on a long wooden wand, Vin strolled around behind the station. Just before reaching the door to the men's room, he finally spotted their bike, sitting in front of a tiny former motel cabin, one of six in a half circle out back of the roadhouse. Damn, didn't know those were there and Ezra didn't mention them in the briefing. As he hesitated, the cabin door opened and the two men emerged. Vin knew better than to signal his presence, but he was fascinated by the way they left the cabin. Ezra led, looking ahead toward the back of the roadhouse, and Buck followed, one hand on the small of Standish's back. No one lookin' just now, 'cept me, and they haven't seen me. Could be just practicing, but it didn't look contrived, just affectionate. Maybe a bit possessive. Once in a while Chris would do that to him, so Vin knew the intimate gesture and the weight of meaning it carried.
Not finding a drop in the men's room, Vin headed out to his jeep. No sign of Buck or Ezra, he decided they didn't have anything to pass on yet. Paying Chuck, Vin jumped back into the rusty old jeep and gunned the engine, then with a wave, was off.
"You have got to be kidding!"
Buck puffed out his chest and crossed his muscular forearms on his chest. He tilted his pelvis slightly so that he knew (he'd practiced in the bathroom) that the patch showed to effect. "Nope."
"And you are going to wear that?" Ezra shook his head in bewilderment, really not fully awake and stunned at Buck's altered jeans. The palm-sized oval patch had been sewn over the bulge of his button-closed fly. It nearly popped out when the man gyrated like that. Ezra blushed a crimson red.
Buck took pity on his partner and ambled over, grabbing a hand and tugging the man to his feet from the bed. "Come on, now, they're waiting for us." He handed over the other jeans. "Get dressed."
Ezra accepted the pants with suspicion, turning them to examine the zippered fly and found it looking the same as normal, no patch flagging its position. It was with relief that he squirmed into the tight fitting worn old jeans. Zipping up, he flexed his legs and alternated raising up on one foot, then the other, as he settled himself into the glove tight arrangement, making sure he dressed left as usual. That tweaking adjustment made, he stooped over and worked on his boots, unaware of the picture he presented to his partner.
Buck gazed with rapt attention at the sweetly rounded ass that curved up at him as Ezra bent over to get into his boots, fix his boot holster and hideaway. Slap in the curved center of one faded blue ass cheek was a brand new patch. The light flicked on and off on the metallic threads declaring that the merchandise within was Buck's Property. Wilmington unconsciously stroked his own patch on his thickening crotch, feeling the heat and the heaviness through the old denim. He took in a ragged breath and swallowed, licking his lips without even realizing it as Ezra shifted to his other leg, that beautiful ass twitching as the muscles within bunched and relaxed. Oh, boy. Um, um. Oh, boy, oh boy. Buck rubbed harder at his now straining erection, not sure if he was trying to kill it or bring it on all the way. He shivered as Ezra straightened and the most perfect ass he'd ever seen, now bearing his property mark, curved deliciously in front of him. Then Ezra turned and stared at Buck who snatched his hand away from his groin guiltily. Both eyebrows went up in silent interrogation.
It was Buck's turn to blush violently, the hue more a pink than red, warming his tan. "Sorry, Ez, just takin' in the sights." Buck's stutter did not help.
"That looks rather painful," Ezra remarked neutrally. He managed to keep from bursting out laughing at the sight of his big friend squirming like an adolescent in front of him. And he did seem to have a rather massive hard on. Ezra felt himself respond and turned slightly so that his rising heat was not too obvious. They had a job to do and this was not going to help it. He sighed. The night before was a blur and a dizzying dream that he still wasn't sure was real, even though Buck had kissed him awake and reminded him that they were real buddies now, not just friends, but more. "Buck, if you can make it, we should go." He let just a hint of question enter his voice. Then waited.
Wilmington stood up straighter and spread his legs a bit. Bow-legged, he could manage. Might be walking like a cowboy from now on, he thought in resignation. Small price to pay, he decided as his friend headed out the door in front of him, providing him with another breathtaking view of perfectly rounded buttocks that moved in separate, muscular circles as the sturdy legs beneath moved the compact form forward. The velvet-soft denim seemed to be painted on. This is mine, Buck thought aggressively and stalked toward Ezra's retreating form. He caught up on the porch and put his hand on the small of Ezra's back. The southerner did not react, just kept going but did move a bit slower, so he wouldn't pull free from the possessive touch. Together, they headed for the Hot Run and their undercover.
There was a rolling rumble of voices that broke into individual sounds as Buck and Ezra entered the roadhouse from the back. Buck glanced over at Jeanie's table where the woman waved and giggling leaned over to point out the men to her girl friends. He sniffed, letting his mustache flutter but turned his eyes back to Ezra, just in front of him. The man was unhurriedly making his way to the corner table by the bar, the undisputed command center of the gang, where Gent Fisher was sipping coffee and watching their approach.
Ty Diggins and two other burly men sat with Fisher, all looking at the nearing agents. Diggins shoved a chair out with one foot, a nod to Ezra, then Buck. His face went carefully blank when he saw Buck's patch. Guess no one's gonna make another mistake there, even if Gent hadn't cleaned the floor with Ivan.
Buck kept a hand on Ezra's shoulder as the southerner sat in the proffered chair, then pulled out the remaining empty chair and sat, dragging it close to Standish but leaning back and stretching out his long legs. Both men accepted the black steaming mugs of coffee that appeared in front of them in the wake of a passing waitress.
Gent pushed a sheaf of papers towards Standish. "Went over your work again last night. Still looks good. You ready for this?"
Ezra met the hard flat gray eyes and nodded, his own green ones muted and silent. He did not fidget or give any other tells. Instead, he projected a sense of tranquility that really wasn't too challenging with Buck at his side.
Fisher's eyes shifted to Wilmington. "Wilson? These are Coon," Gent nodded toward the red-faced, bearded man sitting squatly at his left, and then nodded toward a large bony man with an Iroquois brush haircut, the exposed scalp completely covered in intricate and colorful tattoos, "and this is Ragger." At the blank look, he added, "They drive the trikes for us. They'll have our samples in their trailers. Once we get to the meet, you let Ezra off, he'll go with me, then circle over to Coon and Ragger and help them put out the samples for show."
Gent's voice left no room for argument but Buck bristled nonetheless. "Don't think so, Gent." He tried to be polite but saw the pale face harden. "I don't leave Ezra."
Gent relaxed. He understood, especially after yesterday. But things were going to go the way he'd planned. He tapped his mug with one finger to the rim. "Buck, Ezra will be with me. I guarantee his safety. And, we won't be out of your sight. Ty will be with me too, and he knows to protect Ez here." With a nod to the smaller man, he sat back and waited.
Ezra didn't wait. He flashed Buck a look of stern discipline that said Buck was out of line. This was his case and he'd handle it his way. "Buck, I trust Gent. You can too. I'll be fine. You go with Coon and Ragger." Underlying the quietly spoken statements was the unmistakable sound, to Buck anyway, of a direct order by the senior agent in the field.
Buck crossed his arms on his chest and lowered his chin, angry but compliant for now. "Sure, Ez. Long as you feel that way." He made sure that it was because of what Ezra said that he was agreeing.
Standish tightened his lips but covered with his coffee cup, thinking with fond exasperation that a protective Wilmington was plenty hard enough to deal with under ordinary circumstances, but once the man decided he loved you, watch out. He drank some of the brew and suppressed the face that wanted to be made at the strong swill.
Ty studied Wilson. The man could be dangerous to them if Ezra got hurt. Wasn't likely to happen but they'd best keep that in mind.
Gent stood up and instantly the room became silent. As if every damn eye in the place had been on him all along, Buck thought resentfully. He was prepared to give his alpha male over to Larabee's and play beta but Fisher was another matter. Then there was Ez. He caught his breath and forced the vivid panic back down inside at the thought of separating from his partner, even if it was only a matter of a few meters.
Fisher didn't speak, just looked once around the large open room, taking in the heavy, potent force at his disposal, then pulled dark sunglasses from a pocket and put them on, his eyes hidden as he tapped Ragger on the shoulder and spoke in a conversational tone. "See you on the road." The others rose and the sound of multiple chairs scraping the old linoleum floor became loud as the rest of the men in the room followed suit.
Buck found himself acting as a shield for his partner as Ezra followed Ragger and Coon's wake toward the back of the room. Fighting the current, as the rest of the men flowed toward the front and the bikes parked outside. They finally got past the wave of men and out the back door into the relatively open and empty space of the rear parking lot.
Buck grabbed his black leather jacket from where he'd left it dangling on one handlebar of his bike. He'd told Ezra before they left that he wanted him to wear a jacket as well. The southerner had looked rebellious for a moment, then sighed and fished a jeans jacket out of his pack and left it, too draped on the bike as they had gone to see the gang in the roadhouse. Now both men shrugged into their jackets before Buck straddled the big machine and rocked it slightly, finding a balance.
Ezra waited until signaled, then nimbly stepped up the mounting peg and onto the king-queen seat behind Buck. He drew a pair of slim, single width sunglasses out of a pocket and on. Buck had already put on his old aviator sunshades and had the motor purring to life. With a smooth, gliding motion, they were off, the kickstand knocked back by Buck's booted foot as they went. He circled the bike and then stabilized it with his feet on the ground as he waited for the trikes to move.
They could hear the heavy roar of the many bikes out front coming to life, then the trikes started moving slowly, in a processional, around the side of the Hot Run and out on to the road, single file. In front of them, Buck could make out Fisher and Diggins on their bikes, riding side by side. He swung his big boy into line and found another biker, thought he recognized Parfey - one of the hackers that had watched Ezra in the office yesterday, moving up beside him. They nodded remotely and then concentrated on staying in position. Two abreast, except for the trike riders, the bikers rolled down the highway, a seemingly unending cavalcade of menace. Black leather, fringes flying, red bandanas and baseball caps, sunglasses and tall black boots, flashy women clinging to the backs of some of the bikes, most of the riders sitting low to the ground, arms and legs akimbo as they stretched comfortably forward to reach pedals and handlebars, the Hawks were on the roll.
The ride lasted nearly an hour, with several switchbacks and secondary roads. Their final approach to the old airfield had the entire gang sprawling out as they left the highway for the runways. Like enraged ants whose anthill had been kicked, they moved in seemingly unplanned chaos, but no collisions resulted and the main players ended up at the hanger as the rest of the gang formed a dark half circle behind them at a distance of nearly 50 meters. It was enough to make anyone nervous Buck thought as the men remained on their bikes, revving engines periodically so that the dark line sounded like a purring, growling, coughing panther coiled to strike. Not far from the truth he decided as he noticed chains, baseball bats, and long batons. No guns were in sight, but that didn't mean they weren't there.
He turned his attention to the waiting cars. Three long limousines, all with tinted windows, were parked in a line beside the open hanger doors. Several men in dark suits stood in the doorway, each had a hand inside his lapel. Armed and dangerous, Buck thought. A table had been set up in front of the hanger and two men sat in folding chairs at the table, comfortably sipping amber liquid from short cut glass tumblers. A stubby bottle of undeniable age sat on the table. There were several other chairs arranged by the table, unoccupied.
Gent dismounted and set his bike on its stand. He didn't remove his shades as he strolled toward the waiting men. Ty looked back and jerked his chin at Ezra. Standish, already off their bike, was standing next to Wilmington, thrumming with subdued excitement. This is what he lived for. He leaned against Buck for just a second before walking away, but never looked at him. Buck stared after Ezra, wishing he was going with him. He knew he couldn't delay his own move or he'd likely provoke something. With a firm grip on his temper and a deadly look around his eyes, he moved over to the trike riders and helped them open the trailer lids. Inside was an array of the weapons from the list he'd seen briefly the day before. He worked with the other two men to set up the display on top of the open trailers, arranging the weapons for viewing.
From a distance, he saw Ez and the others shake hands with the strangers, then sit. Ezra produced his papers and began to speak though Buck couldn't hear it from where he was. He knew, though, that the undercover agent was once more in his element, pushing the barriers as he took control of that meeting, his voice would be like honey, smooth and sweet, he'd be practically purring with those expensive words slipping in sometimes to impress or put down his opponents. He'd be dazzling them but doing it subtly so that he was convincing without being overriding. He'd sit back all humble-like and leave it to them to decide, which they would, exactly the way he'd manipulated them with his skillful conning words. Their little con man was the best in the business. Buck just wished he was closer, to keep the man safe, to cover his back.
The conversation at the isolated table grew intense and Gent leaned in to face off the man in charge on the other side at one point. He held out a hand imperiously and Ezra instantly filled it with a document. A few moments later, he did it again, obviously making his points because the others were sitting back now, shrugging and raising hands in polite signals of surrender. After a few more moments, they all rose and there was a shaking of hands, then they started to walk as a group toward where Buck waited with Coon and Ragger.
Ty and Ezra brought up the rear and stepped to the side, once the group reached the temporary 'gun show' display. The customers, seen up close, looked central European, one even looked like a mix of Asian and gypsy. Damn, they're Chechens, Buck thought unnerved despite himself as he recognized the generalized features and characteristics of that dangerous people. Renegades from the Russian oppression of their former Soviet state. He'd heard that they were as bad as the Sicilians, maybe worse because the Italians had some sense of grace and honor, these men bred from a race of savage, brutal tribes that used force for persuasion. Yet these men dressed well, were clean-shaven and reserved. But Buck eyed them cautiously. He could tell that Ezra was strung up tight, nearly walking on his toes, even if his face was perfectly blank and passive. Not good.
"Alright, now, tell me, what was wrong today?" Buck sat on what had become their narrow bed, holding Ezra against his chest as the man sat between his legs, their legs stretched out in front of then down the length of the bed. Ezra had been very quiet since their return. It was time to get him to open up. They had the bust to face tomorrow and it wouldn't be a good idea to go in with one of the team worried. And, Buck seemed to be able to read Ezra now like never in the past, or maybe Ezra just wasn't hiding from him anymore, hard to tell. When the southerner shifted within his arms but didn't immediately answer, Buck kissed the soft, newly cleaned curly head and hugged. "Was a long day," he offered.
They'd eaten in the Hot Run with the members of the gang that were staying. Many had gone on to a longer ride and a rally with several gangs in the next county. Gent and Ty were coming back to the Hot Run and Buck and Ezra stayed tight with them. There had been a short meeting at Fisher's table and then Ezra, accompanied by Buck, had gone to the little office cabin to work, Kelly the secretary already there. Between the two of them, they'd set up the transfer of weapons, made tentative assignments and organized the transport - two old diesel trucks with big flat beds and tarp covered box tops. The gang had used the trucks before, on loan from one of the members' families, a rundown shipping company.
Gent had been pleased with the negotiations, having the research that Ezra Schiller had done as his lever, he'd forced up the price on the sales. Buck Wilson, the ex-Seal had also impressed his buyers who were speaking chopped and sometimes garbled English, with what sounded like heavy Slavic accents. He didn't particularly care about the buyers, so long as the money came in. And it would be nearly double what they'd made on the last sale. Yeah, Schiller and Wilson were turning out to be well worth losing Ivan. And Ty was a good second.
Buck had stayed out of the way at the office, but taken charge when he and Ezra accompanied Ty to the old converted hanger out back. There, with Ezra's documents and bills of lading prepared, he'd organized the bikers that were doing the work and gotten the payloads onto the central floor for inspection and packing. With Ezra holding a clipboard, Ty and Buck had done a final inventory, calling out to Ezra who'd written down everything without comment. The packing took a little longer and then, they were free for the evening. The deal would go down the next day, noon, at the same old airstrip. This time they'd use the abandoned hanger there to do the trade. The buyers would have their own transport and once money changed hands, some of the Hawks bikers would assist off loading from their trucks and packing the buyers.'
Both men had felt the need to retreat and take a breather. They knew that Vin had probably been by that morning though they hadn't seen him. Wilmington worried as he watched Ezra diligently prepare the drop packet with the information about the deal going down the next day. The man was as complete as he could be, using onionskin paper and indelible ink, folding the entire message into a tiny compressed wad that was then wrapped in plastic and covered in duct tape. A bit of blue toothpick stuck out from under the tape. Something about his quiet intensity kept Buck alert, though Ezra had yet to say anything about his concerns. Buck, who'd been dutifully chewing a huge wad of gum, accepted the packet and left, while Ezra went into their bathroom for a much needed and desired shower.
Ezra waited until the bathroom door closed before finally letting himself give in to the shakes. The meet had gone well but he did not like the buyers. The men were evil, he'd felt it. That they couldn't be trusted was a given as far as he was concerned but Fisher and Diggins didn't seem to pick up the same vibes as Standish. Ezra stepped into the tub shower and scrubbed vigorously, getting out the dust and sweat of the day. Maybe he was just anxious to get the bust over with. He didn't think he could face too many more days among these savages. The one saving grace was Buck Wilmington's companionship. The man had showed a whole new side as the day had progressed yesterday. And he'd been there before, for Ezra when he'd had the break up with Tony Borgo of Team 4. Ezra had always been very careful not to look in his own backyard for an off-duty partner, and the seven were his backyard. So, even though he'd found several of his friends attractive, Buck among them, he'd not looked that way. Now, Buck had come to him. Ezra scrubbed at his face and then ducked under the showerhead to wash his hair. Buck had been supportive and protective. But, he'd crossed the line and apparently intended to stay on the other side now. He wants me. Ezra smiled. He loves me. Ezra shook his head, then dug his fingers into his scalp as he massaged it deeply. And, I love him. It was so easy, he's easy to love. Big, beautiful man, intelligent, courageous, talented, loyal, protective, and possessive (Ezra shivered delightedly at that thought), and he loves ME.
Wandering about near the mechanic's garage, Buck had struck up a conversation with Chuck who quickly began to like the lanky garrulous biker. They'd started talking Navy, since it turned out Chuck had served in the engine room of a destroyer, while Buck had been on some as a Seal. After a bit, Buck shifted uncomfortably and asked to use the restroom. Chuck tossed him the key on a long wooden stick and Buck left to make the drop. With the gum he'd been chewing, he made a sticky wad to clump with their package, and the whole thing stuck to the underside of the sink pipe, the bit of blue toothpick barely visible as it stuck out as a signal arm. Buck rearmed himself with another stick of gum, distastefully swallowing the sweet taste of the initial bites, and returned to his new chum, Chuck. They shot the breeze for another half-hour, Buck helping to change sparkplugs on an old Chevy pickup. Vin's jeep showed up as Buck was wiping his hands on one of Chuck's rags. No missing that stuttering chop of that muffler and then Vin's colorful curses. Chuck grinned at Wilmington and told him about the high country cowboy with the beat-up jeep. Together they strolled out to find Vin already had the hood up on the jeep and was pulling the oil dipstick out.
Buck increased the pressure lightly on the hug. "Vin will take back the message. He picked it up, he gave me the high sign. Chris will have everyone in position tomorrow. The bust will go down and we'll be outta here."
Ezra sighed. Buck felt it more than heard it. "Come on, Pard, tell me."
Ezra twisted around and lay on top of Buck's chest. Buck cooperatively slid down a bit on the pillows supporting him against the bed. Folding his hands under his chin on Buck's chest, Ezra peered into deep dark blue eyes. Even though they were both fully clothed, it felt so good to lie like this. So good. Buck's long arms were comfortably surrounding him and the warmth in those blue eyes was for him, but so was the concern. "Just a feeling." Ezra rubbed his pelvis against Buck's, feeling the answering heat and hardness. His lips quirked in a self-mocking smile, "Not that one, though that does feel good."
Buck remained quiet. Ez was finally talking to him. 'Bout time. He waited as Ezra's face smoothed out again and he relaxed completely on top of the bigger man, clearly trusting Buck to keep him from falling.
Lazy green eyes blinked slowly and then hardened. "I sensed evil, Buck. Those men, the Chechens. They went through the motions of bargaining. Seemed to convince Gent and Ty but I could feel it, the total lack of morals. More than any group we've ever taken down. Those men don't care about life. Tomorrow," he paused and rubbed his chin against the hard sternum of Buck's heavy chest, "Tomorrow won't go the way the Hawks are expecting. I just know it."
"Did you say anything in the message to Chris?" Buck spoke slowly now, taking his cue from Ezra and feeling a cold knot begin to form in his belly, dowsing the fire that had been building further south.
Ezra nodded, face still serious. "Yes. I told him that he better be ready for a firefight because I think that's what's going to happen."
Buck suddenly crushed Ezra against him. "You won't be wearing a vest."
"We won't." Ezra corrected him, green eyes glowing with a protectiveness all his own.
"So, we drop and roll when the shit hits. Get out of the way, fast. This time, Gent is not gonna get me to leave your side, that's final Ez." Buck knew he sounded grim, almost angry. Defiant.
"No, I don't want you far from me. We'll have to watch each other's back. Be ready."
With another change in expression, Ezra went from foreboding undercover agent to purposefully playful partner. A small smile bloomed and he hooked his hands over Buck's wide shoulders and pulled himself bodily up Buck's body until his face hovered over Wilmington's. "Hi."
Buck squirmed further down the mattress so that he lay flat, only his head still propped up slightly on the pillows. He recognized what Ezra was doing. They'd talked out their fears, made what plans they could. Now, like gladiators of old, they'd celebrate life tonight, for tomorrow they might die. He shuddered and clenched at the thought of Ezra bloody and lifeless at his feet on that dusty ground. No, not gonna think about it, Ezra's right. This is for now. For us. He smiled up into the green eyes that had started to revert to serious when Buck did not immediately respond. "Hi yourself."
Laughter warmed those green eyes and Buck's smile widened as the answering one grew broad enough to produce dimples and a gold tooth. Damn, Ezra was down right adorable when he flashed that patented smile of his full wattage. Buck licked his lips.
Ezra just gripped those wonderful shoulders tighter and lowered his mouth to Buck's welcoming one. Lips met and power surged through them, incredible heat and passion. One of Buck's hands came swiftly up to capture the back of Ezra's head and hold him there in the mind-numbing kiss, while his other slid down to grasp one perfect ass cheek and massage it with deep pressure from long muscular fingers. Ezra moaned into the big man's mouth, his own hands now ruthlessly shoving slender fingers, claw like, through Buck's dark mass of shiny silk hair.
Buck grunted and began to rub his hard-on against the nearest thigh, feeling Ezra do the same against his belly. Both men began to thrust, fast and hard, all the while chewing on each other's mouths, tongues battling for entrance, teeth clashing as lips were pushed back by the ferocity of their sudden heat. Facing death on the morrow, they clung to each other's lives with an intensity that numbed the mind and scraped raw the nerves. Crying out a keening sound, Ezra hunched up, his shaft pumping his thick cream into his shorts inside his jeans. Buck's answering roar as he pulsed mightily upward against that sweet pressure of thigh was nearly deafening. Each man's cry had been the other's name.
Ezra woke up still snuggled tightly in Buck's arms. He'd slipped off the bigger man and was lying close against him. He took a deep, peaceful breath and smiled into the other's face, blowing lightly across that mustache that Ezra was beginning to think of as HIS mustache. Private property. His smile broadened and he tucked his head in close to Buck's so he could lick and tickle his lover -- yes! lover! -- with his tongue. Heaven is here on earth, I just found it. The southerner blew again and licked at those generous lips that had been so consuming just a while ago. Well, actually, he wasn't sure how long ago. It was dark outside, he could tell even with the cabin windows' drapes drawn. He remembered coming explosively with Buck following right behind, then collapsing on Buck's chest and closing his eyes as those lovely long arms returned to wrap comfortingly around him. Buck's nose twitched and his mustached upper lip quirked.
Ezra settled back down to watch, like a predator waiting for his prey to leave the safety of a warren. Eyelids trembled. Ezra stared unblinkingly at those covers over his sweetheart's lovely blue eyes. Then, said lovely blue eyes opened and stared straight up at the ceiling. "Hot damn!" Buck's quiet words were clearly heartfelt. Then the midnight blues were slanting over to see Ezra lying beside him and those delicious arms were pulling tighter and hugging him nearly breathless. "Ezra, baby, I ain't ever come like that and I didn't even get my pants off!" Ezra smiled seductively and batted his eyes, knowing the greens were glowing with erotic pleasure at that moment. "SHIT!" Buck was up, kneeling on the bed, dragging Ezra beneath him in an instant. Then the big man dropped to all fours above the southerner and hung over him, face suspended mere inches from Ezra's. "You, Ezra P. Standish, are intoxicating. Addictive. Wicked, baby, pure-D wicked." Buck lowered his head and caught the smiling lips, kissing them thoroughly. He raised his head again and released Ezra's lips briefly. "God help me when I get you home."
Green eyes turned sultry, lids half-lowered so a dark fringe of lashes added lace to the effect. "Why wait?" Buck sighed and stole another, gentler kiss, then toppled to the side and pulled Ezra close, never losing eye contact. "Ez, this is not the place where I want to make love to you for the first time."
"Ezra. We kinda exploded there, I'll give you that, but I mean the slow, sweet kind of loving that lasts for hours and will have you begging for more. That first time kind of loving."
Ezra melted inside. Dear, sweet, gentle, kind Buck. HIS Buck. Wanted to make love, not have sex. Oh, god, what happened that I got this gift? I've never been good enough to deserve someone like this. What's the catch? How do I keep him? Can I keep him?
Panic began to flare in the soft green eyes as Buck watched with affection. Oh, oh. Now what? He was beginning to get a feel for Ezra P. The man couldn't enjoy anything without looking for the trap, the price, the con. He's worried about us. "Ezra. This isn't going away. I'm not going away. I've never felt like this before, but I recognize the signs. This is the forever kind of love. You hear me? No questions, no worries. We face the world together and if it don't like it, it can take a damn hike."
The panic had seeped away, leaving amusement and love behind. "Buck, if the world takes 'a hike,' where will we be?"
"You, Ezra P., will be right here, in my arms where you belong. From now on, consider that the ONLY place to be."
"Might get a bit awkward at times." Ezra brought up a hand to toy with the mustache hairs, his new fascination.
"Never you fear, we'll just make it look natural." Buck stuck out his tongue and licked the fingers playing with his lip hairs.
"I can just see us in your truck or my Jag, you in the seat, me in your lap, as we try to drive like a double scoop of ice cream in a single scoop cup."
"Add a little heat, baby, and the ice cream will melt into the new shape." Buck was playing and loving it. He loved that Ezra was so smart, that they could tease each other like this and not stumble. This is what I been missin' my whole life. This is what Chris has with Vin, had with Sarah. Oh, my god, this is -- is -- his mind blanked out, unable to think of anything good enough to compare the feeling to.
Ezra leaned in for another kiss and then murmured into Buck's opening mouth, "Buck? Please, let's make love tonight?"
Buck kissed the moving lips and then pushed up, holding Ezra as he tugged them up to a sitting position on the twin bed. "Ezra." He held the man close, tucking Ezra's head down against his chest so that Ezra would be able to hear his heart beating. "Bad things happened in this room." He felt the smaller man stiffen and begin to pull away. He held on tightly. "I love you too much to make this our special place. Tonight, I just want to hold you close, listen to the beating of your heart, know that you are alive and that I am in love with you and that you love me too." He felt the other relax again and loosened his hold.
Ezra looked up and sighed with resignation. "Okay. But, Buck, you have to understand, you've already erased all the bad memories and replaced them with our time together. That is what I will walk away remembering, Mr. Wilmington."
Buck grabbed Ezra's head and pulled it close to plant a kiss on top. "Damn, Ezra, you make me so happy. We are going to have a great life!"
Settling in for a cuddle, since that was all that Buck was going to allow tonight, Ezra smiled and replied. "A most excellent life."
Chris looked around the conference table grimly. "Doesn't sound good. Ezra has a feeling."
"A feeling?" JD looked surprised. "He told you that?"
"Yeah. He did. And, to answer your question before you ask it, he never has feelings, or if he does, he doesn't tell me about them."
"So, brothers, this is very serious."
"And they won't have vests on." Vin's cool voice was distant, worried.
Nathan sat forward. "What back up do we have?"
Chris nodded. "Team 6 and Team 4 will go in with us."
Jackson frowned. "Team 4?" He looked seriously at Larabee. "Chris, Borgo is still on that team."
Larabee sat back and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I know. I already had a word with Tom. We'll make sure they stay apart."
Everyone knew Tom Nelson, Team 4's team leader, but JD and Josiah were mystified by the exchange. "Is there something more we need to know, brother Chris?"
Frowning, Larabee shook his head slowly. "Ezra and Tony Borgo, the Team 4 sharpshooter have a history. Not a good one."
"We will see that they don't renew it then," Josiah concluded placidly, firmly.
Chris nodded. "Now, we have point on this. We'll be there early, 5 am tomorrow." He waited but there were no complaints. "Vin will be high, but I need you, Nate, and you, Josiah to be low and close. You are going to carry teflar dropcloths with you. I want those boys covered at the first sound of a gunshot." The men nodded, one of those heavy bulletproof 'dropcloths' would work even better than a vest since it effectively covered everything, not just a torso. Getting it over the endangered duo might not be easy though. They were probably going to be in the center of things. The two big agents looked at each other, silent promises of commitment were exchanged. They would protect their brothers.
Borgo settled into his spot, up in the second tier of rafters, not high under the roof like 7's Tanner, but a good spot. He settled his scope and began making adjustments for where they'd all decided the main players would be setting up. At the moment, the huge empty hanger was just that, empty, except for ATF agents who were quickly becoming invisible. Borgo was good, probably one of the best sharpshooters in the ATF, not just the Denver office. Unfortunately for Tony Borgo, Vin Tanner was better. A lot better. Tanner always walked away from competitions in first place. Never even anyone close. Borgo usually snared second, or third in the nationals, but Tanner damn near walked on water.
Just Tony's luck that Tanner and he would work out of the same office and so Tony was always second banana. He fiddled with his extra ammo case and adjusted his nightscope and nightvision goggles. It was so dark in the old building that even though it would be brilliant daylight outside, to guarantee success, the distance shooters were using night equipment, it was standard operating procedure. He cricked his neck to look up. There was Tanner, backing into position on a crossbeam, his back must be scraping the damn roof. Any shots from up there were gonna be damn near impossible - for anyone else. Tanner would make them seem like a cake-walk.
Larabee made a final visual in the old hanger. He was hunkering down near a pile of immoveable old junk from long forgotten aircraft. Propellers, engine parts and complete wheels, with rotting rubber tires still in place. Yep, everyone was hidden. He knew that Josiah and Nathan were lying under their teflar blankets, which acted like camouflage on this grungy floor, as close to the center of the room as they could get and not get run over by one of the trucks they were expecting. Both men would switch to the trucks for better cover, once the vehicles were inside.
JD was tucked in a side corner beyond the huge hanging, doors that had long since rusted into a permanently slid open position. He had his scanning gear up and ready, had planted tiny cameras throughout to catch all the action and was barricaded behind some old sheet metal with Carter from Team 6. The two hackers would keep everything under surveillance and make sure all evidence was untampered for later hearings. Chris was itching to get this over. He just wanted his men back and this bust history.
The Chechens were already there, their truck, a huge semi, parked nose pointing outward, in the middle of the hanger. About ten men in dark clothing, all carrying weapons, stood around waiting when the bikers arrived with their two old transports. Ty was in one of the cabs with that truck's driver. Gent drove right in on his cycle, with Ezra and Buck beside him. Several others followed, all parking their bikes haphazardly in a half-circle facing the buyers. A table was again set up, a lone briefcase occupied the top. Outside, Buck spotted three closed, dark limousines parked. Each had a man, likely the driver, standing beside it, all wearing darkglasses and holding what looked like automatics. Though he couldn't see them, Buck knew that ATF agents, likely in desert camouflage, were dug in around the perimeter, ready to emerge like rabbits from their holes.
The big trucks' motors filled the empty building with echo and roar, making it hard to think, the bikes' rumbles adding to the cacophony. Then Gent stepped from his, turning off his engine. The other bikers followed suit. Guns blossomed in hands everywhere, but more for show than anything. They wouldn't look unarmed in the face of their buyers' weaponry. The fact that this was quickly looking to turn into a face-off made Ezra's sense of dread increase as he clung momentarily to the warm back of Buck Wilmington, then they too were dismounting. Ezra moved forward to stand by Gent, holding the bills of lading documents ready to offer him when the trade began. Buck had walked up close behind Ezra and stood there, not touching, just being a protective wall. He eyed the moving men in dark clothing and felt that cold knot in his stomach return.
The two men who had done the talking the day before now stood closer to the table, waiting. Gent turned and gave a sign to his drivers and both trucks fell silent. The lack of noise was suddenly deafening after the continuous roar of sound. The click of Fisher's steel-toed boots on the old cement floor was loud. The men facing him watched Fisher approach the table, Ezra at his elbow. Ezra could see that they were planning something, something not good. He could read their faces and body language though he doubted that Gent Fisher had caught on yet. Both men took deliberate steps back from the table and Ezra knew what was going to happen. "Gent!" His scream and leap were nearly buried in the sudden explosion of the briefcase. He'd already tackled the gang leader to the ground, though and the shrapnel whizzed overhead. "BUCK!" Oh, god, Buck! Ezra released the shocked man beneath him and careless of harm to himself, half-rose to turn and check on Wilmington. With the explosion, the rest of the Chechens had begun firing, mowing down most of the unprepared bikers. The truck drivers and Ty Diggins ducked and slid from their cabs, returning fire.
In nearly slow motion, Buck saw Ezra tense and then leap towards Fisher, screaming. He dropped straight down, not sure what was wrong but trusting Ezra. The explosion blasted over his head too, the epicenter only a meter over the closest men's heads as the case on the table disintegrated. He lifted his head as the rattle and bang and phutting of small arms fire began to fill the air. Staying low he turned in time to see Ezra raise up, calling his name and looking panicked. "Ezra, get down, damn it!" His yell went unheard as the ATF agents began to pour their own fire into the mix. And then Ezra jerked forward and fell beside Fisher. Buck, who'd been mere feet from his partner, tried to get to his feet, go to him. But as he pushed up, a stray bullet shoved him hard in the back and then two huge forms were atop him, smothering him in a heavy, cold blanket. "Ezra!" His cry of despair was muffled by the hand forcing his head down and under the blanket. The pain now radiating from his back keeping him still even though he fought with all his might to keep conscious, to try to move, to get to Ezra. Oh, baby, hold on. The team will get to you. Things went gray for Buck Wilmington.
Ezra stumbled back down as a bullet nicked his shoulder, throwing it out and leaving a crease filling with blood up high near the ball of the socket. Buck, where is Buck? He tried to twist around to see behind himself. Then Gent was beside him, grabbing him and yanking hard. "Stay down, Schiller! I've got you. Come on!" Fisher, kept an arm under Ezra's, unknowing that he was dragging at a dislocated shoulder, only seeing the blood. Gent knew they had to get out of here now or they never would. He could see Ty snaking over towards them, belly to the ground, his smooth black hair tied back and shining in the light of the gun explosions going on over their heads. Ty held an automatic in one fist, slightly raised off the ground. Fisher dragged Schiller with him, the man seemed to resist but Gent didn't have time for that, and despite everything, he'd given his word to Wilson, who was probably dead by now, that he'd protect Ezra. Fisher didn't give his word easily. "Stop fighting me, shit, Ezra, come on!" He viciously jerked at the arm beneath his hands and the struggling body went limp. He climbed up over it, checking for a pulse. Still alive. There's blood, but he's alive, so he's coming with us.
Ty had pushed other bodies aside and was leading the way out, under one of the trucks and through a hidey hole that they'd long ago discovered and kept secret. It was good to know other ways out of a place. The old roadster that was parked under a tarp, behind heaps of refuse, was untouched. Fisher tossed the limp form of Schiller in the narrow back seat and dropped in to the passenger seat as Ty slid up and into the driver's side. Gent dragged his hand under the dash and opened a hidden compartment, removing the key and tossing it to Diggins. With a roar, the fleet little speedster flared to life and took off, zero to eighty in less than a minute, leaving the disaster behind. A few bikers swung in behind, making an escort. Not as many as Fisher would have liked. Well, that went well, he thought angrily. Lost the goods. Lost the money, if there ever was any. Lost a lot of men. Lost bikes. Lost my bike. Damn, I liked that bike.
Ezra was shaken awake by the vibration of the vehicle he rode in as it passed over badly cracked and potholed secondary highway. The roar of bikes close by only added to his confusion. What had happened? He remembered the hanger, the Chechen, the exploding briefcase. He remembered touching Buck as he got off their bike, feeling him at his back as they walked toward the meet. He remembered the gunshots and the hit on his shoulder shoving it out of alignment. Fisher, dragging him away from Buck. Buck? Where was Buck? "Buck!" His hoarse cry was heard in the front seat and Ty and Gent exchanged glances before Gent turned and leaned over the seat to put a hand on Ezra who was coming around and looked pretty ragged. "Take it easy, Ezra. We got away. Going to go lay low for a bit. We got our own doc on call, we'll see you get fixed up. Just lay quiet."
But Ezra looked up, green eyes hollow and full of impending grief. "Buck? Where's Buck?"
Gent shook his head. "He didn't make it, sorry Ezra."
"Get me outta here!" Buck's muffled yell had Nathan and Josiah peeling back the teflar blanket from their charge. Wilmington emerged fighting mad, bleeding badly from his left shoulder blade area, eyes rolling wildly as he took in the area, looking for his partner. "Ezra!" He spun on his knees to confront Nathan Jackson. The EMT was just trying to get a closer look at Wilmington's wound and fell back on his rear at the sudden movements. "Where's Ezra?" Buck was trying and failing to climb to his feet, slipping in his own blood on the old cement. "NATHAN! Ezra was hit! WHERE THE HELL IS HE?" By now, Buck had surged across the short distance between them and had a two-fisted throttle grip on the EMT, shaking him just under the chin as he roared.
Heavy hands clamped down on Buck's arms from behind and dragged him away from Jackson. "Easy, Buck. We don't know where Ezra went. We're checking right now." Josiah's words didn't help.
Buck twisted his neck, trying to see 360 and his body jerkily responded, following his head around awkwardly as he cried out, "EZRA!!!!" The name sounded like a howl of pain from Wilmington, drawing out on the last vowel in hopeless fear.
Tony's hands were shaking. He hadn't meant to hit him. He'd been aiming at the gang leader who was coming off the floor after Ezra. Standish hadn't seen his danger, seemed to be searching for his partner, Wilmington. Tony was covering for him. That's all. Everything had been so quiet, then Ezra started acting crazy, leaping on the leader and shoving him on the ground. The explosion was almost an anticlimax to Borgo who'd been desperately trying to keep the bad guy in his sights. The flash, the other man rising, Ezra pushing free and twisting, Tony had fired, sure of his shot. And missed. Missed the gang leader and hit Ezra Standish. His recently discarded lover. Oh shit, no one would ever believe it was an accident.
He packed up as he prepared to descend from the rafters. His only chance was that Ezra had left with the bad guys. Two of the bikers, the leader and an Native American - looking man, had snatched up Standish and dragged him away through a narrow, nearly invisible opening in a side wall while the gun battle still raged. From his perch, he'd seen them do it. He doubted anyone else had. And, he wasn't gonna help them find Standish's body with his bullet in it. No way. Borgo sat back on the I-beam for a moment, thinking hard. In fact, if Standish was never found, or only found after the bullet was out and lost, then he'd never have to answer questions about the shot that failed. 'Cause some might think it hadn't, failed that is. Pressing his lips together firmly, his mind was already racing on how he could get clear and begin to search, on his own. No way to tell Jerry about this, he'd squeal.
Ezra collapsed back in the tiny rear seat and closed his eyes, his heart racing and his mind shutting down in sheer pain, an emotional storm such as he hadn't faced since early childhood, before he'd learned to deal with the life the fates had handed him. Buck was gone. His Buck was gone. They'd barely become an 'us' and now it was over and that dear, sweet man was gone. Dropping his head to his knees, ignoring the dislocated shoulder and blood still running freely down his arm, he began to cry quietly, his hands gripping his shins, fingers digging into his calves, bruising, drawing blood through the denim as he tried to contain himself. A hand came down on his head, a gentle, understanding one. Nothing was said, but Ezra drew strength from the touch. He couldn't stop the gnawing pain in his chest, gouging into his soul, eviscerating him. He fought for one breath, then another, sucking in air that was mostly water from his tears that streamed down his face now, faster than the blood down his arm. Unaware, he rubbed furiously at his face with a blood-drenched jacket sleeve, the scarlet smears left behind mixing with the salty tears. His teeth hurt from gritting them, from biting down on screams of denial that wanted to fight clear of this throat, a throat that felt scraped raw by the mere intention. Vaguely, he knew this was grief.
The area of the gun battle was slowly becoming organized, lit by the red and blue flashing lights of multiple ambulances and police cars, an ATF van and a variety of unmarked cars. The small explosion of the brief case had mowed a swath of men down among the bikers, now all being treated for shrapnel wounds, some for bullet wounds as well, and one for an unexplained knife wound. The Chechen were mostly dead, not giving in until downed for a final time. The sheer murderous intent of those foreign gangsters was giving Larabee goose bumps. He didn't want to think that he was having to deal with such moral turpitude. It was nearly beyond comprehension, like dealing with rabid dogs.
He caught a glimpse of Buck sitting on the floor of an open emergency vehicle, framed by the truck's open back doors, his feet flat on the ground as he balanced on the bumper and retracted ramp. He was shaking his head angrily, but letting two medics work on his shoulder. Chris had checked earlier. Buck had been lucky, the bullet went through with minimal bone damage, just a nicked shoulder blade and rib on the way out, missing, by miracle, any major internal damage. Nathan and Josiah had lost sight of Ezra as the gun battle pitched to higher intensity, just as they got to Wilmington and got him protected with one of the teflar dropcloths. He'd fought them distracting them enough that they now couldn't say what became of their undercover agent. Everyone agreed they'd seen him take a hit, even Buck who'd been closest.
Larabee took a careful look around. Teams 4 and 6 were doing mop up now, dragging the dead to one side, in the shade, until mortuary trucks could arrive. The living, prisoners and wounded, were being treated or shackled. Two county jail trucks pulled up as he completed his circle. It just didn't feel right. And, the deal had never gone down. Because the Chechen had done a pre-emptive strike, they could only pin the bikers with weapons possession, not sales. The paper work that Ezra had mentioned in his message was no where to be found, nor was the gang leader, Gent Fisher. The Hawks were a closed mouthed unholy crew, refusing even to give their names, openly defiant, demanding lawyers. Chris wanted to punch a wall just now. Instead he lowered his head, bull-like and inhaled deeply, putting himself into control again. He had a missing man, wounded, and another wounded man who looked to be tipping over into psycho for some unknown reason. Nathan and Josiah would have to be reined in soon, they were prowling tigers, pouncing on bikers and rattling their brains, demanding information and then dropping them like empties and moving on. So far, as an interrogation technique it was not successful, but they probably felt real good. Someone needed to, so Chris decided to let them keep on going for now. At least until someone noticed and mentioned those hateful words, police brutality.
He knew JD was gathering back up his equipment and would be putting it in their own now delivered van, helped by Carter of Team 6. Once he was packed, he could start checking over the tapes, maybe give them something to go on, for Ezra.
Just as Larabee was about to join the other two team leaders and some police officials, Vin appeared quietly at his elbow. "Something not right, cowboy."
"Just one thing?" The bitterness in Chris' voice wasn't lost on Tanner.
"Tony Borgo's gone missing."
Chris looked up sharply into the knowing blue eyes of his lover. "SHIT. FUCK. DAMNATION!" Larabee ran a few steps and delivered a running drop kick to a Chechen corpse that had not yet been removed. The body rolled up slightly then sagged back down. Breathing out raggedly, his head back down between his shoulders, he thrust his hands like twin spades, into his back pockets. Turning back to look at Vin, he asked harshly, in a grating whisper, "You think --?"
"Don't know, Chris, only know, Tony is gone." Tanner looked on in sympathy, he'd learned from Larabee a bit about what Ezra had put up with while a companion to Borgo. The split was by far the best thing that could have happened to Ezra apparently, but Chris knew a lot he hadn't said. Vin hadn't pushed, figured it was Ezra's privacy at stake and he respected that, and Chris for protecting it. Now, though, something was wrong and Chris might know something that might help. Or, he might not. But he trusted Larabee to do the right thing. He always did. Once he got his temper under control.
Gent had kept his hand on Ezra's head the rest of the ride, providing awkward comfort to the smaller man. The short time he'd seen them together, it was clear that they were a real couple, not just fooling around, they were life partners. He might not swing that way, but he knew some who did and knew how rare that could be. This man was grieving just as a man who lost his wife might.
Ty sawed the wheel over as the roadster roared in through the open double doors of the old barn. The ramshackle horse farm was long since abandoned and when the Hawks found it on an excursion, they marked it as an emergency hide out. The bikers still with them, drove in as well, two running back to drag the doors shut. Then they all waited, listening. Police helicopters were common for bikers to deal with and these men knew that the sooner they were undercover the better their chances of remaining hidden.
Pulling his arm back around front, Gent stepped free of the cockpit of the roadster on the passenger side and looked over his men, the mantle of leadership falling back over his shoulders naturally. Before he broke away from the small vehicle, he met his second's eyes and conveyed an order silently, with a glance toward the back seat and the form huddled, shaking, there. Ty nodded somberly and climbed out, walking the few steps back to stand beside Schiller's seat. Gent turned away then, and moved to stand where his men could gather around.
Ty looked down at the shattered heap and felt a twinge of sympathy. He'd had a young wife once. The woman had been killed in a hit and run collision when they'd been out biking up north, before he'd left the Dakotas. Since she was tribal, the police had done little. Ty still carried his anger and grief deep inside. He leaned over and simply slid arms under the small man's legs and around his back and lifted, finding the sodden bundle lighter than he'd expected. Real little guy, he thought wondering why he'd never really thought that about Schiller, until now. Lifting higher, he got the man tipped back against his chest and made his way toward the stables in the back of the barn. Walking into a box stall, he lowered Schiller on to a pile of mildewing straw. Ezra instantly curled back up into a ball, face hidden, shaking with soundless, endless tears, uncaring of who witnessed them. Squatting next to the broken soul, Ty gripped the uninjured shoulder. "Ezra. You gotta stop. This ain't gonna bring him back. Nothing will. He'd want you to be strong for him, wouldn't he?" Somehow, the words came out easily, the same ones the medicine woman had said to him those years ago. The crying slowed and Ty stroked the arm. "I'm gonna leave you for a few minutes. I'll get you something for the blood, help you get cleaned up some. You just wait here."
Ezra sagged against the ground. He really didn't care. Not about anything. Or, he hadn't. Until Ty spoke. The wisdom of the sparse words flicked at his conscience. He couldn't give up, Buck would kick his ass. He still had a job to do. At least, he thought he did. Somehow, Gent and Ty had gotten away from that debacle, along with at least some of the bikers. Was it possible that they actually had gotten away scot-free? His flickering intelligence came flowing back, pointing out that he himself still held the incriminating papers that had never passed from Fisher to the Chechen. The deal had never been completed, hell the deal had never been inaugurated, because those crazy Russians had ambushed the sellers, the Hawks. Could even consider the Hawks victims, oh my god, this bust is really bust.
He hoped the rest of the team had come through safely. He'd not seen any of them, but then there'd been no time from when he'd spotted the trick briefcase and the buyers' real intentions and the explosion and his own injury, then Buck was hit and then things just went dark. He rubbed at his eyes with the heel and back of his right hand, unable to use his left just now, the shoulder separation preventing him from doing anything with that arm. He struggled to sit up and took in great, sucking breaths, sniffling up his still latent tears unshed. Right. He had a job to do. Then, when it was over, he would go away. That seemed to soothe him. He'd find Buck in the next world if not in this one. But, before he left, he'd do his job, because Buck would expect him to. Ezra leaned back against the uneven planking and ignored his reddened cheeks and eyes, running nose, and gory shoulder, and waited.
The flickering computer screens that JD had hauled into the conference room were all running at once, each one showing a different view of the bust, from ATF arrival 'til the mop up operations were completed. The team members were taking turns watching the different screens with remote controls in hand, taking notes, looking for something, anything to tell them what had gone wrong, where Ezra was, and even, why Borgo had disappeared.
Buck had been dragged off to a hospital, cursing and protesting, with Nathan Jackson along to keep him from hurting one of the paramedics. Larabee's last words were, "Knock him out if you have to, that's an order, Nate."
The emergency room doctor had cleaned and dressed the wound entry and exit and put Buck on antibiotics and a few other assorted drugs to assist healing and fight pain, and assigned him a room. Buck had simply stared at the man, nodded slowly and stood. Granted he'd swayed a bit, but he'd grabbed hold of the gurney and held on. Jackson, who made the mistake of getting too close, became Buck's ticket out. He'd latched onto the EMT and hissed in his ear. Jackson had sighed and nodded and apologized to the doctor and nurses, then put an arm under Buck's shoulder and around his back and helped him walk out of the hospital. They'd taken a cab to the offices.
"What did he say to you?" Larabee wanted to know as he studied his pale friend across the conference table. Buck was staring with fixed attention at the screen JD had set up for him.
Jackson scrubbed a hand down his face and half-lowered his eyelids as he answered, humor in his voice. "Said he'd throw a hissy fit if I didn't help him get out right then. Said only thing that'd stop him would be a straight jacket and men in white suits, and if he saw any of those, he'd shoot first and ask questions later. Figured it was safer to just bring him back." Nathan shook his head as he too turned to study their friend and teammate. "Something going on there, Chris. Never remember seeing Buck this way before, not even that time that JD went missing for half a day."
Chris nodded. Buck was acting strange. He couldn't quite identify what it reminded him of but the desperation was coming off the man in waves, that and fear.
"This is Doc Mason, Ezra." Ty was squatting next to the injured man again in the back box stall. "He's ready to take a look at your arm."
"Shoulder." Ezra didn't have time for more words than it took to say a thing in plain short syllables. "Dislocated again. Happens. Bullet crease, too."
He'd stopped rocking at the entrance of the other men, but started up again now. Staring straight ahead, not making any further remarks. The medic looked over at Diggins with questions clear in his eyes, but Ty simply shrugged and moved over to give the doctor room to work.
Tony had hitched a ride with one of the ambulances, convincing the paramedics that the victims they were transporting had to be watched for violence. Since he still had his black ATF windbreaker on, they believed him. Once at the hospital, he simply faded away.
Tony had some private snitches from his days on the police force. He had never turned them or shared them. Mostly he didn't use them anymore but he still held some interesting items over their heads. He'd always believed blackmail worked better than bribes, cheaper too.
He hit paydirt on his third call. Skinny Roger knew the Hawks and could probably find out where they'd slunk off to, to hide out. He promised to call back and did, within the hour. Now Borgo, armed with an assault rife from the evidence lock up and his own rifle, plus several hand guns, was driving a bike he'd hotwired from in front of a Seven-Eleven. He really didn't care and he had on leather gloves and a full shield helmet. He was any-man. He was invisible. He followed the narrow bridle trail on his dirt bike, up through several scenic valleys as the trail circled back to arrive at the old ranch by a back door in the wilderness that bordered the property.
The place looked deserted, but at ground level, he could see that the soil was churned up with tire tracks, mostly single inline tracks. That meant bikes. Big bikes. The tracks ended abruptly at closed double doors. Borgo hid his bike at the edge of the property then found a good spot to set up surveillance and his shot. He really only needed one. Then, he'd 'lose' the evidence. And, goodbye Ezra.
Buck watched again as Ezra was hit and fell, saw himself pulled down by Sanchez and Jackson, who, struggling with him, didn't see as Fisher and Diggins grabbed Ezra's arms and hauled him bodily away. He switched to the third tape. There. He could see them slip through an overlooked exit, nothing more than some missing pieces of siding near the ground. He switched to the fifth tape and watched Tony Borgo slither to the ground and fast talk his way onto an ambulance. And apparently disappear. Tom Nelson, Team 4 leader was furious. Borgo hadn't said a thing, just vanished. Chris had had a few private words with Jerry Ortega, 4's profiler, and Ezra's replacement in Borgo's 'affections.' But Ortega was shocked and confused by his partner's behavior and could offer no explanation. Chris had believed him.
The screen went blank. End tape. Buck reached for the remote, but two firm hands came down on his shoulders and pulled him away, turning him in the swivel chair to face his oldest friend. "Buck. Talk to me." Larabee sat back on top of the conference table, and let his legs swing, trying to look non-threatening. He knew his old friend too well to try that route. Whatever was going on inside Wilmington, Buck would have to decide freely to tell him or it wouldn't get said.
Buck looked around the room. It was empty except for the two of them. He vaguely remembered the rest of the team finishing up and leaving, heading for their telephones or the streets, out to dig up where the remnants of the Hawks could be hiding. By now they all knew about Tony Borgo's relationship with Ezra and the fact that Borgo had slipped away from the scene of the bust, right after Ezra had been dragged out by the gang leaders.
He looked back up into neutral hazel eyes and wrung his hands as he slumped in his chair, hunched over like an old man. "Ezra and me, we came to an understanding."
One eyebrow went up. Curiosity entered the greeny-brown eyes of his friend who remained quiet, listening. Buck looked at the floor. "Know this is hard to believe, was hard for me too, but I fell. Like a ton of bricks."
The other eyebrow joined the first one. Enlightenment colored the eyes greener, making Buck, who'd looked up, even lonelier for a different set of soft, clear green eyes. "You and Ez?"
Buck nodded wordlessly. His butt slid forward as he let his long legs droop and his back hit the chair-back, eliciting a small grunt of pain for the offended shoulder. Now it was his turn to wait.
"Awful fast, wasn't it? Only been a few days since you even knew he was gay. And you've never --"
Buck held up one hand wearily. "Chris. This ain't like that. This isn't me, not Buck the romancer, this is ME, Buck. In love. And you know me. This is the first time for me."
Chris slid off the table and sank into the chair beside Buck, laying one hand on the nearest leg. "Love, huh?" Buck nodded. "Well," Chris said patting the leg beneath his hand, "That does change things a bit. Explains you going near crazy out there."
Buck tried to look up but suddenly his eyes were swimming in unshed tears. "Chris, I promised him I'd look out for him, stay close. You don't know all that happened. And, even with all of the shit, Ezra, he loves me back. It was fast, I know it. But always heard there could be that kind of love. You know, love at first sight?"
Chris wasn't sure that either of the men really knew themselves and each other well enough for what Buck was describing but right now was not the time to debate it. At least it explained Buck the Berserker. "So, you want to tell me all that happened that I don't know about?"
Buck bit his lip and chewed on it. "First day there. We separated. Seemed to have a lead on the case worth following. Everything seemed fine. One hour." Buck looked up at his oldest friend, tears now openly streaming down his face, ignored. "He was gang-banged."
"SHIT." Larabee shot to his feet. "And you're just now telling me this?"
Wilmington hung his head. "No way to tell you sooner. Ezra wrote the only message we got out, didn't want to put it on paper." He rubbed his kneecaps and shifted his chair slightly back, away from the now stalking Larabee.
"Was he hurt?"
"Not badly. No blood. Said he was used to rough handling, was okay." Buck sounded nervous. Had he really pushed Ezra, checked him enough. He'd become so enamored with the man that he lost track of what was important. Oh, no.
"Did you two --?"
"No." Buck sat up. "I told him no, not until we got home. Wanted him safe first, outta there, that place." The revulsion in his voice carried clearly.
"You know he's gonna need blood tests after that? A doctor needs to look at him, too. Dammit, Buck, you know our Ezra! He'd hide a missing leg, say he'd picked up a pebble in his shoe that made him limp."
Buck nodded slowly. "Yeah. Just everything happened so fast. Chris, we have to get him back. I need him. I don't think I can live if he --"
Chris looked sharply at his old friend. The sincerity and the despair in those words, in that tone, told him the man was dead serious. They'd lose two, not one, if they lost Ezra.
Both men looked up at a knock on the door. Vin stood in the frame, knuckles still poised above the doorjamb. "Think we found them."
When Team Seven went into action, it was time to get out of their way. And when one of their own was missing and they were on a rescue mission, it was best to flee the area. JD was hauling his notebook PC and various bits of surveillance equipment into a pile on his desk as everyone buckled into their vests. Buck had swooped down on him, hastily making sure the nearly oblivious hacker was protected, strapping tight the Velcro fastenings. Seeing the amount of stuff JD was organizing, he silently took up several heavier things and headed out to the elevators. The rest caught up with him, just as the elevator arrived.
Josiah passed out miniature mikes and earpieces and Nathan began fitting them on Buck and JD who both had their arms full. Vin was shoving an extra automatic into his waistband at the back, his rifle and scope on his shoulder hanging by a chest strap. Chris was fidgeting with his keys and watching Buck, worried that the man might go off on them and get Standish hurt in the process. Wilmington's dark blue eyes met his with a crackle of tension and understanding. No, the deadly flat look of Buck's smoothed out face and the determination in his eyes would see him through. Buck at his worst - and best - was deadly. This case had awaked that Buck.
Chris had his Ram up and moving with Tanner and Jackson jammed in the cab within moments of hitting the garage. Josiah had grabbed the driver's seat of their surveillance van, leaving JD and Buck to sort through the equipment they'd brought in the back. The van dipped out onto the highway with a jounce, right behind the big black king-cab pickup.
Having already activated their communications equipment, the men didn't have to bother with their cell phones just now. Mostly it was silent, but everyone was listening as Vin explained what they'd found out. A gang as big as the Hawks simply couldn't keep secrets as well as they thought. The backcountry abandoned ranch was pinpointed and a terrain map was being spread on Tanner's knees and he and Jackson peered over the routes and discussed options. It would be nearly an hour before they were close enough to worry about approaches and a lot was to be said for getting the lay of the land before charging in. They'd just have to be as prepared as they could be, and then see what they found.
Larabee flipped shut his cell phone and glanced over at his passengers. They'd had to have heard every word, but no one was commenting, nor had he heard anything from the rest of the team in the van. He'd just finished talking with Nelson of Team 4 and McGuire of Team 6. They'd need back up and it made sense to use the same two teams. Both men had heard the urgency and would have their teams on the way in minutes, but they'd still be nearly 30 minutes behind Larabee's Team 7.
JD sighed and settled into one of the two captain's chairs in the back of the van, his array of equipment hooked into the existing modules permanently fixed in the vehicle. There was something he'd seen, in one of the tapes, it was bugging him and he was very much afraid of what he'd thought he was seeing. Blithely unaware of Buck's new alliance with Standish, he nudged his friend who was sitting in the other seat, brooding over his long barrel Magnum. "Buck, take a look at this tape, will ya."
Wilmington looked up and leaned forward. He'd been watching JD's tapes of the bust almost continuously for hours now, but he immediately recognized that he hadn't seen this particular one. "What angle is that anyway?"
"I put a couple up high, to get the angles of the sharpshooters, wanted to make sure we got everything." JD fussed with controls, bringing the resolution into sharper focus. They were looking over an ATF agent's shoulder, identified by the black windbreaker with bold yellow reflective letters. Below, on the ground at a middle distance, Buck could see himself, Ezra, and the gang leaders walking towards that damn briefcase on the folding table. He was looking right into Ezra's face. Gent was at his side, moving slightly ahead, reaching out.
Then Ezra clearly saw or heard something. Alarm painted his face and his mouth came open in a shout as he leapt forward to drop Fisher to the ground. Buck saw himself duplicate the action within a heartbeat. And a white flash filled the screen. It quickly cleared and the agent just below the camera was seen bringing his long gun up to his shoulder, a beefy, heavy shoulder, the dark hair a give away. "Borgo." Buck whispered as he felt as if he was peering down the scope with the man. There was a slight twitch in reaction in the shoulder as the shot was made and Ezra was jerking and falling to the ground. Gunfire was breaking out everywhere as evidenced by the flashes popping on screen and off, he saw himself take a hit, saw Josiah and Nate running forward, low and flinging him down, covering him with the tarp. Ignoring the struggle that he'd seen from so many angles already, his eyes remained glued on his partner who was trying to rise again. Gent was there and out of nowhere, Ty appeared, slithering along the ground. The two men took Ezra by the arms and dragged him toward the sidewall. From here, Buck could see them shake Standish and saw him collapse, unconscious. They hauled him through an opening in the wall and were gone. Just as Buck was about to tell JD to rewind, there was more action in the foreground as the sharpshooter turned into the camera, blocking the view to the ground. He evidently didn't see the camera. Tony's face was drained of color and his hands were trembling as he broke down his weapon, kept glancing over his shoulder, his face a picture of guilt. He knows what he did. Not sure he did it on purpose but he knows what he did. He shot Ezra. A new decision clearly reached, Borgo's face was revealing as he lumbered out of sight of the camera, ignoring the dying gun battle.
"There. Did I imagine that, or did --?" JD was too caught up in his discovery to realize just what he was doing to his friend.
"Tony shot him." Buck gripped his weapon and hate began to fill his very essence. A terrible, vengeful anger swelled and blacked out reason. The man was going to die. He'll never hurt my Ezra again. Then a shaft of pure terror cut through his dark ramblings. Oh, god, what if he's found them too? If we could, he could. He'll want to finish it now, figure a way to get rid of the incriminating bullets or he was a dead man. Oh, he WAS a dead man, just didn't know it yet. "CHRIS!"
Larabee flinched at the shout in his earphone. "Buck, calm down. What is it?"
"JD's last tape. We just watched it. Shows Tony Borgo shooting Ezra."
Larabee hissed in dismay. They didn't need this. They did NOT need this. "You sure."
JD's voice came over, before Buck could answer. "Yeah, it's real clear in the angle of this tape."
"Alright." Chris' mind was whirling. "That means he's likely to turn up at the ranch too. So, we watch our backs as well as our targets."
Vin looked up and met Larabee's eyes. They both remembered their earlier conversation. Tanner had said then that something was not right, just couldn't put a finger on it. Both nodded and returned to their tasks. Tanner would take care of Borgo. Unless Buck got to him first.
The shoulder had been reduced and the shallow bullet path cleaned and patched, didn't even need stitches. Ezra was back in control at last. He hadn't been able to get past the thought of Buck's death, so now he simply put it aside and blindly ignored it. He would take it out and examine it later, after he helped get this mess straightened out. He wasn't quite sure why Gent and Ty were being so solicitous but he didn't fight them. He had to get out of here. Back to Team 7, report out, close the case. The shambles of a case. His fingers worried at the sheaf of wrinkled, blood and sweat soaked papers that had been shoved in his denim jacket during the chaos of the deal gone sour, even before the bust. He could almost hear the cries of "ATF!" in his memories. The team had been there. They would be taking care of Buck. He froze and shut that door again. Not now. NOT NOW. He hitched himself up to a standing position and found that while a bit wobbly, he could move.
Gent stared at the glowing Coleman lantern that lit the center of the barn, then looked around at the faces of his remaining men. Time to move on. He'd seen the feds crawling out of the woodworks at that catastrophe he'd thought was a deal in the making. Too many dead or caught for the Hawks to fly here anymore. Those with family ties would be left behind, the rest of them were for the road. Ty came to sit beside him. "South?"
Fisher nodded. "Arizona highways always sounded nice to me."
"Got cousins." Ty offered ambiguously.
"Set it up when we get there."
Ty looked back over his shoulder towards the back of the barn. Ezra Schiller was slowly walking up the narrow aisle between the stalls there. "What about Ezra?" Diggins scratched his chin. "Not sure he really belongs."
Gent shook his head slowly. "Made a promise to Wilson." He too turned to watch the smaller man approach.
Ezra carefully lowered himself down on to a convenient bale of straw near Fisher. "Gent." He cleared his throat and looked down at his free hand, the other bound to his chest to support his injured shoulder. "I guess I owe you some thanks for getting me out of there, getting me fixed up."
Swimming green eyes looked up, but within the emeralds emotion was dead. They were like twin ponds of opaqueness, telling nothing. He continued. "The deal was never made." He looked away and then back. "You didn't sell anything. Only get you on possession, and they'll have a hard time proving it." With steady hands, he withdrew the packet of papers, the bills of lading. "Destroy these. They are the only evidence of intent that could hurt you."
Fisher accepted the papers and handed them on to Ty with a nod. The Lakotan rose to his feet and headed for the front of the barn, where on bare concrete the bikers had a small campfire started, many huddled there for warmth in the dank interior of the empty shell of a building. Gent turned back to Ezra. "Thanks, Ezra. That's a help." He paused. "You want to come with us? We're gonna head south. No way we can stay here now."
Standish shook his head and did something he'd never before done in his life. He told the absolute truth and didn't care. "Gent, I'm not a biker. Never was. Buck and I, we were partners. Undercover."
Fisher stiffened. "Undercover?" he whispered in disbelief.
Standish, not even looking at the man he'd grown to respect, nodded. "ATF."
"Oh, Christ's blood!" Fisher sat back looking stunned. Then he took in the defeated look of the man in front of him, the utter despair and flat tone of voice, giving nothing away. "But, you're giving me stuff that could put us away for a long time."
"You tried to help us, you kept a promise." Ezra shrugged. "In this world, nothing else really matters, does it?" His eyes, still blank, rose to meet the flat gray ones of the gang leader.
"No, guess it doesn't." Gent answered in a whisper.
Ezra straightened on his bale of straw, and wheeled his focus to the front of the barn, then back to Fisher. "Gent, you, Ty, and the others, you need to get out now. If you know about this place, then it is known to others that you do. You have little time left, maybe none." Ezra ran a hand through his hair, shoving it back impatiently with his free hand. "Hell, it may already be too late." He tried to stand and swayed dangerously, then Fisher was up too and holding his arm in support. "Did you think to put out pickets?"
At the look of surprise and awareness in those gray eyes, Ezra shook his head. "I do my homework, Gent. I know you're former Green Beret. But lately, you haven't really been applying your skills too carefully." He sighed. "No pickets?"
Gent shook his head wordlessly. This man in front of him was a world of surprises just now and he was reeling still from the shock of having his gang infiltrated by the ATF, by two agents no less. He'd been so completely taken in that he still had trouble believing it. He looked sharply at Ezra, needing to know. "You and Buck?"
"You would have busted me and the Hawks?"
"But not now?"
"Now I don't give a rat's ass for anything." Ezra lifted his head slightly. "You could start over. Take a different path."
Gent tilted his head to one side, studying the man in front of him. He paid a heavy price for being undercover, shit, he hadn't even said anything about what happened with Ivan. Like it didn't matter. Gent closed his eyes and stood silently for one beat, then two. He opened his eyes again and met Ezra's without speaking. Then he turned away and was walking fast and raising his voice to be heard without shouting.
"We mount up now. Rye, Poker, Solly, Scutz, Bixby. I want to know if anyone is waiting for us outside. Go out low and find them. Ty, make sure all the bikes are ready. I need one. Someone's gonna have to ride double or be willing to take the car. Same for Ty."
There was a shuffling among the remaining bikers and they worked out who would do what. The five that Fisher sent out were already gone, sliding out side and back doors and a broken window. Ty had finished burning the papers and was kicking over the fire, stomping on it, as the two bikes for the leaders were rolled forward.
Fisher was still giving orders. "Everyone is armed and ready. Don't fire unless you need to. Nothing crazy. We are going south. Getting out of this state now. What we don't have with us is gone. We'll figure out where we're going when we get there. As of now, the Hawks are no more." He stopped and swung in a circle, meeting each man's eyes. "We are the Cowboys from now on. Ain't fancy but will do."
Ty stood up from his task at the now smoldering fire. "Speak for yourself, 'cowboy,' ain't so sure I like that moniker." The Native American grinned, his blue-black eyes flashing with mocking humor.
"It'll get us outta this state. We can negotiate a new 'moniker' in the next one." Gent grinned back, suddenly feeling reckless and happy like he hadn't in years. They'd be on the road again, easy riders with no strings. A life he'd wanted when he first got out and started on a bike, and now, after years of being mired down in the sub-culture of the biker gangs, would try for again. "Let's get ready. We wait for the others to get back, Frank, Jipson, cover the doors."
Those two men sidled up to the big barn doors and peered out the wide cracks between the rough planks of the huge doors, looking alert.
Everything now in motion, Gent turned and walked back over to where Ezra still stood, silent and alone, his free hand hooked in an empty belt loop of his low-slung blue jeans. Damn, the man is sexy, Gent thought suddenly, wondering if Ezra might be interested in riding with him, a stray thought that startled him since he'd never been with a man in his life. Maybe, though, since Wilson was gone? "Ezra, we'll be going now, soon's we know we got a clear way out." Standish nodded remotely, not commenting. Gent got closer, into Ezra's personal space, but still not touching. "I know you miss Wilson, but he's gone." The look of utter devastation that instantly converted Ezra's face into a mask of tragedy was more revealing than anything he might have said. "Ezra, come with us." Gent saw the lack of reaction. "Come with me."
Green eyes blinked in open surprise and warmed, the sadness softened and Ezra looked at Gent consideringly. "Gent. That is quite an offer."
"No. But, thank you." Ezra leaned into the tall, spare man and quietly kissed his cheek. "If I had it in me to be with someone else now, you would be a good choice. If I had it in me to love anyone after Buck, it might even be you. But, I don't have anything left, Gent. When you go, I'll return to my team for a little while."
There really was no time, but Gent swallowed and stepped still closer, carefully putting his arms around Ezra and pulling him into a loose hug. He bent his head and spoke against one ear. "If you're only going for a while, find us afterwards. We'll be going to Arizona. Ty has cousins he says. You could find us."
"No. No, I'm going to go find Buck."
Gent's eyes opened in confusion and then fear. "Ezra, Buck is dead."
"You need to go." Ezra tried to pull away.
Gent was having none of it. "Ezra, what are you saying?" He dragged the man close and held on tightly, one hand forcing Schiller's head up to face his. "He's dead. The only way to find him is to --"
"Yes. Good bye Gent." Ezra kissed Fisher softly on the lips, a friendly, unprovocative sign of affection and enduring friendship. "Good bye. Now go."
The man who'd been a gang leader for most of his life looked down on the petite figure still in his arms. "Ezra, your Buck wouldn't want you to take that way out." He spoke seriously. For some reason, this man mattered very much now. Maybe it was the trust. Maybe the vulnerability and hopelessness. Maybe it was the sweetness. Gent wanted to have a chance to find out and was finding it hard to believe that no such opportunity could ever exist. "Stay here. Wait. Let me get things rolling." He hazarded a kiss of promises, a bare touch of lips to lips with no pressure, just the subtle dry scratching of parchment skins coming together momentarily. "Don't go."
Spinning on his heel, Gent moved purposefully back towards the remainder of his men. He noticed they all seemed to find fascinating things to watch that didn't involve that part of the barn. He released a tiny smile, more a quirk of the lips with an upward tilt. He needed to keep their momentum going.
Tony Borgo was disintegrating. He clung to the thick bough of the fir tree he'd picked as a sniper post and felt himself vanishing, leaving only a fearful, confused animal behind. He recognized what was happening and was helpless to stop it, like a runaway train, his whole life led to this moment of self-realization and despair. He'd always been big for his age, easy to fall into the role of bully. Add to that the skills he'd picked up in the service, both armed and unarmed combat, and his natural abilities with a long gun, and he was a dangerous guy. The move into police work, the offer to move on to the ATF, had all been easy, each one feeding his increasing need for power and control, a transmutation of his young bully status.
Now, though, his world had been threatened by a clumsy mistake of his own doing, compounded by a panic-attack and incredibly stupid move to runaway, to try to fix it, cover it up, make his world whole again. Like Humpty-Dumpty, his world was forever broken. Hopeless and angry at himself, he turned the anger outward, unable to deal with self-abnegation, and focused it on Ezra Standish. The churlish sharpshooter could not cope with self-hate so it was so much easier to blame someone else. What had started out as the simplistic idea of recreating events by removing evidence, showing that it wasn't he who shot Standish, now became a vengeful act. Killing Standish would make things better. He no longer knew how, but he clung to that thought even as he clung to the large branch.
Below him and in front, to the side, he saw several men emerge secretively from the barn, using side exits. They seemed to be searching the area. They'd not find him, he was a professional, he'd left no tracks behind. He watched and waited, sooner or later, Standish would come out. Then he'd extract his revenge. He didn't even stop to think about what Ezra could have done that would require revenge. He was beyond that.
Solly and Bixby were the first two back, the other three right on their heels. "No one out there that we could find, but there's a dirt bike hidden in the woods not more than 200 meters from here." Solly looked at Bixby, then back at where Fisher and Diggins were conferring. "The motor was still warm."
"Just the one?"
The other men nodded.
Fisher couldn't afford to wait, Ezra was right about one thing, if they'd been found, they needed to get out now. Right now. They'd have to risk it. He faced his men, seeing Ezra standing at the back, then looked back at the group that still listened to his leadership. "We go out fast, and I mean full speed, the car breaks open the doors, and we're outta here. Everyone stays low on their bikes, make small targets. One man means one gun. Likely a sniper. Might get one or two of us, if he's lucky but we go out fast and low, he won't expect it. Should be out of range in a few seconds. Then, we get to the highway and split up. Meet in Flagstaff in five days. Good luck."
Everyone went to their bikes, the two men giving up their rides for the car climbed in and the driver got it going, revving the motor so that he could use the vehicle as a ram. The old barn doors were rickety at best, opened outward, and were unlocked, it wouldn't take much to shove them open and lead the way down the back road and on off the property. The rest of the gang were mounting their bikes, starting motors, twisting handles or pressing pedals as they revved up their engines too. Ty was on and ready, waiting for Gent. Fisher ignored his men and walked back over to Ezra. "Ezra, you ride with me."
The man shook his head. "We already talked about this."
Gent grabbed Schiller's good arm impatiently. "We can't leave you here. Too dangerous to us and to you. Once we're clear, on a main highway, we can drop you off at a service station or food joint," he paused and looked deeply into silent green eyes, "if that's what you want. But, we are NOT leaving you here."
Ezra nodded resignedly. He could see that Fisher was determined and it really didn't make that much difference to Ezra. Nothing did anymore. A kind of lassitude had invaded his system, leaving him relaxed, almost sleepy, rather vague. At least he wasn't feeling the pain anymore, the hurt of losing Buck. Oh, god, he shifted as a sharp pain returned, deep in his gut at that thought. Best not to think anymore. He began to walk beside the tall angular man in biker black.
"Someday," he murmured, "you really should meet Mr. Larabee, I do think you and he might be twins, parted at birth."
Gent chuckled. He had no idea who this Larabee might be, but the way Ezra spoke, he was probably someone else who told the man what to do. Getting on to his borrowed bike, he straightened the front wheel and turned on the ignition. As the motor roared with a muted sound, he held out an arm for Schiller, to help with the mount. The bike was not really customized for two riders, but it was a long, banana seat, so there was room for the two slender men. Ezra swung a leg over, gripping the offered arm with his free one. He slid down the swaybacked seat and up against Fisher's body. He wrapped his free arm around the bigger man and carefully leaned into his body, with his other arm trapped on his chest, up against Gent's back. "READY!" he called over Gent's shoulder.
Gent nodded that he'd heard. Swung his head to check that all his men were ready, gave a decisive wave to the men in the roadster. And then they were moving inside the barn, fast and picking up speed. The doors smashed open with a loud cracking sound as they bounced and broke against the sides of the barn. And brown earth and greenery flashed by.
Nathan spoke up as Chris turned the Ram onto a secondary road, Widow's Hill. "This is the last bit. Only about four miles now."
Chris grunted and hunched over the steering wheel, mind still racing on all the possible scenarios they might face in a matter of minutes. Vin sat forward suddenly and leaned over to grab Chris' nearest wrist. Tanner's body stretched over the big medic to reach Larabee. "Slow down!" Nate ducked back to let Vin get closer to Chris. "Listen!"
The men in the second vehicle heard Tanner's order and did the same. Now six men sat listening, truck and van barely ticking over, windows opened. There! Vin nodded sharply and cocked an eyebrow toward Chris who slowly nodded too. The sounds of a long gun cracking, once, twice. The stuttering sound of semi-automatic gunfire and the poom-poom of something big. And a low, droning noise that was growing steadily louder, like a swarm of angry bees arrowing towards them, the drone becoming a rumble, and a roar. "The bikers." It was Nathan who whispered the identification, then they all heard Buck's yell. "Goddammit, let me outta here NOW, Josiah!"
Bursting out of the barn at full speed, the sheer numbers and sound were overwhelming Tony's senses at first, but he quickly collected himself, already tracking the car, then turning his sights back to track the first bikes passing him as he looked. There he was! Standish! You're mine now. He fired.
Gent caught the reflective glint moving high in a tree ahead and to the left, just past the abandoned ranch house. In a moment of blinding clarity, a lot of things came together for him. Ezra, the ATF agent, shot at the scene of the bust. Not by them, by one of his own. Ezra's warning that they'd soon be found. The expected sniper. But not in wait for them, no, for Ezra! Hauling the bike into a sliding turn, Fisher had them skidding to the left, so that they faced the source of that glint of light, so that Ezra was hidden by his body. "Hold on, Ezra! Stay down!" His sharp orders left no room for argument.
Ty saw the unexpected move of his leader and friend and followed suit automatically, keeping watch on Gent's back and side. He could hear Fisher's bark to Ezra and looked up to see a dark shape looming in the lower branches of a huge old fir tree only meters away. He applied brakes and drew his weapon, already trying to take aim and also keep control of the wobbling street bike on the loose, sandy yard dirt. Fishtailing he loosed a shot.
The rifle fired from the hidden sniper post, once, twice, as Ty fired again. Other bikers took up the attack, one with a shotgun that boomed twice as well. The dark shape flowed back down out of the tree and vanished, with none of the bikers in any shape to follow in open, broken terrain. Theirs were street bikes, not trail bikes.
Ezra ducked his head down and pressed close to the broad shoulders in front of him at Fisher's shout. He had to cling with both thighs as well as his one free hand as the bike began to gyrate and shake, then slide to the side. Just as he was about to bail, he felt a heavy jerk within Gent's body and a slight sagging, before the man sat up again and started dragging both feet to help stabilize the slowing, sliding bike. "Gent! Gent, are you alright?" Ezra held on trying to add support now to the slumping form.
When he got no answer, but felt the tentativeness of the movements of the bigger man, he lifted his head enough to yell over to Ty on the escorting bike, "He's hit! Gent's hit!"
Coming to a racketing halt, both bikes threw up storms of loose sandy loam and dirt, leaving a cut up yard in their wakes. The rest of the bikers managed to stop further back, or on down the road a bit. Everyone was keeping motors going as they waited to hear the word. The sniper had left behind organized chaos.
Ty was off his bike, bracing it quickly and over to their sides. "Gent?" He looked back at Ezra when there was no immediate answer. "Ezra? Get off, let me see to him."
Standish slid off the back of the seat and stepped back out of the way, one hand going to his lips, shaking slightly. What had happened? Why had Gent changed directions? What did he know?
"Easy, Gent." Ty was pushing the man upright on his bike. "Hey? You hurt bad?"
Fisher seemed to shake himself and come back into the present. "I'm okay." He touched one arm, the outside of the bicep and Ezra and Ty could see the tear in the jacket, like a cut about an inch long. "Just grazed me. Shock more than anything." He lifted his hand clear of the arm, blood dripping from the tear, looking vivid and red against the skin as it fell from his fingers.
Diggins tore the bottom out of his tee shirt and quickly, efficiently created a tight pressure band around the arm, covering the wound. "Should hold you." He glanced around. "Sniper's gone, but likely more on the way."
Gent nodded. "We gotta go. Ezra, get back on." He sat up straighter, thanks in his eyes to his second as he restarted his bike. When Schiller remained standing, looking doubtfully at him, Fisher sighed with patience and spoke clearly. "Ezra, I'm fine. Now get on the bike. We gotta go." He'd tell him about what he figured was going on later, now they had to get going.
With another look of hesitation, Ezra touched Gent's arm carefully, and then put his weight on the shoulder and hauled himself back into place behind the gang leader. Ty dragged his bike around as his motor roared to life, and then they were off.
In a swirl of exhaust the entire entourage reconfigured, with Gent and Ty in the lead now, the others pairing off and the roadster bringing up the rear guard. They roared down the narrow road.
"We block the road!" Larabee's directive was quickly done, as he sawed the wheel on the pickup, slewing it across the highway. Josiah, evidently ignoring Buck's now nearly incoherent shouts, did the same with the van, placing it slightly back but covering the area left open by the truck. Everyone piled out, Buck striding away from his teammates, shrugging JD off almost violently as he ran up to where Chris stood with Vin, Nate already hunkered down behind the truck. Larabee could see Josiah haul JD behind the van, both were drawing weapons as they disappeared from view.
"Chris! Ezra might be with them! We can't just --"
"We'll wait. See. Now shut up, Buck and get under cover." Chris spoke sharply, cutting across the other man's frantic shouts. Even knowing what was going on now, Chris still couldn't afford to let Buck just go off like he evidently wanted to, that wouldn't help anyone and it could get someone killed.
The rumbling roar was getting louder, and suddenly, just as the six members of the team all got behind their vehicles, the sound changed from a hum to a loud, clear gout of noise. The bikers shot down the road, around a rising curve into sight.
Buck who was wedged between Chris and Vin, sprang free and leaped, feet first on a straight arm boost over the hood of the big truck, to land on his feet facing the fast approaching convoy. By now the bikers had seen the roadblock and weapons were appearing in hands. Buck remained standing, unarmed, arms akimbo, waiting, watching anxiously, straining with his whole being, on his toes as his body urged him forward, but his brain told him to stand his ground.
The rest of the team cautiously began to rise as the bikes slowed. Then, from behind the lead biker a passenger on his bike was standing, waving an arm and half-crawling up over the man, crying out, screaming, "BUUUUUUUUUCCCK!"
Ezra had tucked his head in behind Gent's shoulder blade, to protect himself from the wind of passage as the big bike ripped down the road, then it was slowing unexpectedly, all the motors around them shifting to lower gears. He peeked up and over Gent's shoulder. There, blocking the road ahead of them, were a black Ram pickup and an off-white unmarked van. Chris' truck, the team's van - the thoughts barely registered though, because, standing in front of them was a walking dead man. Buck Wilmington. There was no mistaking that tall, rangy form with the deceptively loose stance and bleak look. He's alive! Ezra's mind went absolutely blank, sound ceased to exist, movement stilled, he was floating somewhere high up and looking down on his lover. His living lover, not dead, he's not dead! "BUUUUCKKK!" He started screaming, uncaring of what the world thought, desperate to get to the living body, to feel warmth where he thought there was a cold corpse, to touch responsive flesh, to taste, to hear, to feel, to smell. "BUUCK!" He cried again, struggling over the obstacle in his path, pushing, shoving, unheeding of anything except his goal. He didn't even feel himself fall to the ground when Gent finally shrugged him off where he was attempting to climb bodily over the top of the man in front of him. Rolling once, ignoring the pain in his shoulder and arm as he did it, he was up on his knees, then scuffing to his feet and dashing ahead, ducking around men who were dismounting from big bikes all around him. One arm reached out for him but he ducked under it and took off at a dead run.
Chris stood up now and watched as Buck seemed to unfreeze and began to run. He lowered his weapon and stood, leaning against the hood of his truck, Vin companionably close. Nathan stood nervously shifting feet to their side, behind the cover of the cab. Josiah had stepped calmly into view beyond the van, his weapon in his hand but hanging down at his side. JD moved out behind him, attention shifting from man to man, but, like the rest, mainly unable to look anywhere except at the dramatic reunion taking place in front of them.
"EZRA!" Buck's life began again. He reached out with both arms and ran, long legs eating up the distance. Ezra was making a beeline for him, still screaming out his name. He'd never heard the almost shrill, soul searing cries come from the smaller man before. His heart healed still more at the truth in the cries, laid bare for all to see. This man loved him, body and soul. Oh, and he did love him too, oh, yes he did. "Oh,YES!" He cried with a grunt as the compact body drove in to his, winding him, and then Ezra was practically climbing into his arms, desperately trying to connect in a kiss, the one-armed clench remarkably effective as Standish clamped both legs around Wilmington's waist. The jump into his arms had Buck staggering back a few paces, but then he had him, was holding him tight. Oblivious to their audience, the two men snuffled hard against each other, snagging lips and pressing relentlessly, grinding themselves together as if by sheer force, they could create a new single composite body from the two. "oh, yes," Buck repeated, over, and over again, as he broke the kiss and began to plant smaller ones all over Ezra's face, while Ezra was still attempting to capture his mouth and suck the innards out of him. Their struggle was a fierce need to affirm their existences to each other.
Gradually, the bikers began to lower their weapons too as Gent and Ty both stuck their own guns back into boots or waistbands. One by one, the bikers turned off their engines, until the only sound was the soft sobbing from the small man held in the taller ATF agent's arms, in a kind of no man's land between the two forces. As if breaking free from a trance, Chris Larabee snapped out his cell phone. In the quiet, the team could hear every word Buck spoke, trying to calm his friend and clearly hysterical lover. Standish just kept repeating Buck's name, occasionally adding an irrational, "you're alive!" into the chant.
"Tom? False alarm. No. No one here. Thanks for the back up, we'll check the area but we don't need you coming out after all." Silence. "Yep. Right, and you'll let McGuire and team 6 know?" A pause. "Thanks. Yeah, if we learn anything, we'll keep you posted." Chris snapped shut the cell phone and raised his eyes up past his two clearly dysfunctional agents to the bikers who stood like statues just beyond.
With a small shrug, he walked away from his truck and team, circumvented the oblivious couple and faced the man who'd been riding the bike with Ezra. "You Fisher?"
"Yeah." Gray eyes evaluated and the color clarified. "You Larabee by any chance?"
"Yeah." Chris flipped open his wallet badge. "ATF."
"Ezra told me."
"He told you I was ATF?"
"Not exactly. Told me he was." Larabee's eyebrows rose in astonishment. "Said you were my twin."
Chris stuck his wallet back in his hip pocket and turned sideways to view the still clutching couple. "Well, this was a major screw up."
Gent stepped closer and put a hand on Larabee's shoulder, felt the small flinch, then the relaxing muscles. Trust. Gotta start somewhere. "We told Ezra that Buck was dead. Thought he was. Glad he's not." Any feelings he might have had for the little man were dissolving in the face of the intense flame of love that burned so brightly in front of them. "He wasn't doing too well after that. Don't blame him too much."
Chris sighed. This had to be a first. The bad guy was consoling him on the behavior of one of his agents. He turned back to face Fisher again. "We don't have much of a case against you or your men. The ones we took into custody are already out on bail. Seems to me," he looked back over at Ezra's small form, nearly enveloped in Buck's tight bear hug, "Seems to me we owe you a favor."
"Maybe two." Ty Diggins stepped forward now. "Gent just took a bullet we think was meant for your man."
Fisher nodded. "There was a sniper, back at the place we were using as a hideout. When we took off, he was waiting for us. For Ezra. He'd have had him too, if I hadn't figured it out."
"Figured what out?" Chris wasn't prepared to air dirty laundry in public, but something about what they were saying made him think it might already be public.
"Someone in your ATF has it in for Ezra." Gent looked over at the rest of the feds. Odd-looking bunch. "Not one of these, since the sniper is behind us somewheres, but none of us shot Ezra at the hangar, so it had to be one of you - who then came hunting him." Gent's gray eyes met Larabee's hard hazel ones. "You best be protecting him. The guy got away." Gent turned to look back at the wooded hills behind him. "He's still out there somewhere."
Buck just wanted to hold Ezra forever. But gradually the emotional storm began to ease and he felt the sturdy figure in his arms begin to fade, sag against him, the tears going from sobs to soft whimpers. The chant had become a whisper in his ear, as Ezra buried his head in the crook of Buck's neck. Buck eased back enough so that Ezra automatically lowered his legs back to the earth and stood, leaning against the taller man. At this point, Buck was finally thinking enough that he realized that Ezra's arm was bound to his chest. "Dislocated it again?" he touched it gently.
Ezra nodded against Buck's neck.
"We need a doctor to look at you, Ez."
"Did." The word was hard to understand, muffled by Buck's shoulder now.
"Well, we're gonna go see another one." He nearly wept with happiness at the familiar, indignant snort that provoked. "Oh, god, Ez, it's good to have you back. Don't ever want to go through that again."
Buck smiled and pushed back the damp, teary face with a big hand, wiping the tears down and then brushing the clumps of hair away from the broad forehead. "Come on, Pard, let's go let Nate get a start on you, okay?"
But Ezra was pushing back against Buck's chest, then turning in the circle of his arms to face the other way, back toward the bikers. Buck raised his head and realized a lot had happened in the last few minutes. All the engines were silent. Everyone was standing, not one weapon in sight on either side. Chris was standing next to Gent Fisher, and both men were watching Buck and Ezra with a mix of amusement and compassion. Buck took a breath, ready to speak, but Ezra beat him to it.
"He's alive, Gent."
"Can see that Ezra."
"You going to be alright?"
"Think so, your Mr. Larabee here thinks we should just ride on out, like we planned. Leave the state."
Ezra leaned back comfortably against Buck feeling those long strong arms wrap more firmly around him. He reached out his free arm toward Gent. "Gent?"
After a moment, Fisher nodded quietly to Larabee and walked over to the reunited couple, finally reaching out to take Ezra's offered hand.
"Gent, we could never have made it, but I want to thank you."
Fisher crushed the hand in his for a second, then slowly released it, only to find it caught up again. Ezra looked sincerely into those cautious gray eyes, eyes of a hunter. "Gent, you don't have to look too far to find someone, just over your shoulder." The bright green eyes drifted over to where Ty stood leaning against his bike, casually alert, his coal black hair shining in the daylight, pulled back in a tight ponytail. Gray ones followed and widened thoughtfully, then returned to meet those now happy green ones.
An understanding passed unspoken between the two men, then Gent stepped closer still, and ignoring Buck, wrapped a large hand around Ezra's neck and pulled forward slightly, cupping Ezra's head in his hand. He tipped his own head and pressed a kiss to those oh, so soft lips that smiled under his. His own smiled back as he broke free again. "Good bye, Ezra."
Buck snagged one arm tighter around Ezra's chest in response to Gent's invasion of their space, the kiss - but Ezra hadn't objected and was still leaning back heavily against Buck. Choice made, Buck realized. The dawning understanding, of what had almost occurred between his lover and the gang leader, had Buck offering his own hand to Fisher.
Gent accepted the second hand and met Buck's deep blue eyes. "You're a lucky man, Buck."
Wilmington nodded. Then he pulled Gent slightly closer to them and leaned over the top of Ezra's head to speak directly and quietly to Fisher. "Gent. Lose the gun and make sure it's clean when you do."
Gray eyes narrowed in sudden calculation, then agreement. "Thanks. Guess we're even then."
Buck shook his head in denial, "Never be that. You kept Ez safe, brought him back to me. I'll owe you into our next lifetimes."
Gent looked back down at the smaller man comfortably sandwiched between them. "I'll keep that in mind. And," a mischievous look crinkled the crows' feet at the corners of his eyes, "If you ever feel like sharing?"
Instantly, Buck's extended arm curled back possessively around Ezra's waist, joining the one already holding him across the chest.
Gent flashed a smile that was white teeth against a leathery tan. "Guess not." He reached out and touched one finger tip to the side of Ezra's face, tracing it down lightly, Ezra lifting his face up to that touch like a flower to the sun. "Take care of him, Buck. And, Ezra? You take care of Buck. Don't need you getting those crazy ideas again, bud."
Then Gent turned and, with a nod to Larabee, walked back toward his bike. He and Ty each mounted their machines in identical moves, the other men becoming more alert. Buck's arms still encircled Ezra, but a stiffness was now setting into Wilmington's healing shoulder and he moved with a tiny jerk, causing instant concern to flood Ezra's face. Together the two men turned away from the bikers, not looking back as they seemed to support each other, moving toward Jackson who now stood on the shoulder of the highway, his emergency medical bag having appeared in his hands at some point in the excitement.
Chris tossed his keys to Vin who caught them with a nod and trotted toward the driver's side of the king cab. Josiah was already climbing into the van, JD standing at the roadside looking uncertain. Like fireflies blinking on in a shadowy evening, the engines of the field of vehicles began to haphazardly ignite, the sounds of motors growing as more and more joined in. Vin gunned the Ram and swiftly brought it around and to the side of the road, neatly avoiding the small group of Nate, Buck and Ezra, slowly moving further to the side of the road. The white van backed and eased onto the other verge, and the road was clear.
JD stepped back to lean against the van's grill, eyes wide as he took in the cadre of bikers sitting up on their bikes, shades lowering into position, engines purring or grumbling. Josiah dropped out of the van and took up position beside their youngest agent. Larabee followed his truck to the side of the highway and stood there, foursquare, watching the bikers begin to move forward. The machines rolled slowly by the ATF vehicles, the riders looking neither left nor right, as they headed out toward the highway beyond. About 300 meters down the road, the sound rose abruptly and the bikes roared away, speed increasing to push them on their way. A speedy looking little roadster brought up the rear.
The remaining men stood or leaned in silence, the tableau broken abruptly by Nathan's curses as he began to argue strenuously with something Ezra had quietly said. Everyone grinned and headed for their long lost brother, JD trailing behind, still looking confused and slightly lost himself. He just didn't understand. Sure, they were all glad to have Ezra back and safe, but they knew from the tapes that he wasn't hurt too bad. Ezra's reaction to Buck had the youngest of the team looking worried. He liked Ezra, but he didn't want Buck to feel like he had to be something he wasn't, just because the other man seemed so needy all of a sudden. But Buck hadn't seemed the least bit uncomfortable with Ezra's overwhelming greeting. Seemed to even encourage it from what JD had been able to tell.
But, Buck was a ladies man, wasn't he? That was one of the certainties in JD's young life. He knew his friends and who and what they were. Things seemed to be changing now, and, he wasn't at all sure he liked it. Just wait and see. Probably, once Ezra gets calmed down, now the case is over, he'll start acting normal again and Buck will be able to get away from him, back to his ladies. And, JD would find Buck a special lady, like he'd planned, so he and Casey could start house hunting and not feel guilty with moving out on Buck. Yeah, just give it a little time. Feeling more settled, JD began to perk up and move closer to the reforming team.
"Ezra, stay still. Let Nate see." Buck was fussing, holding onto Ezra's waist and trying to keep the man's body aligned for Jackson so the EMT could peel back the bandage on the small arm wound. But Ezra kept fidgeting, trying to twist so he could see Buck, his free hand digging back to fumble at Buck's jeans, hooking into a pocket, then with worried frustration, slipping out because of the awkward angle.
Nathan, who'd stood back in his own frustration after speaking sharply to Ezra to try to bring him out of his obvious shocky funk, watched the smaller man's behavior and suddenly realized what was wrong. "Here, Buck, turn him around toward you a bit." Big competent hands helped guide the two men so the Ezra was swung about enough to be facing Buck again. Instantly, he calmed down, his hand now sliding easily into Buck's front jean's pocket.
Buck's eyes sharpened as he, too, realized what had been the problem. "I'm sorry, Pard, wasn't thinking." Buck ran a large hand through the reddish brown hair and then held on to the bowed neck, bringing Ezra to rest against him. "Now just stand easy while Nate here checks you out, okay?"
A muttered, "Love you, Buck," was the only answer he got, but he figured he could work with that. He smiled, tears running unbidden down his cheeks as he kissed the top of Ezra's head. "Aw, Ez, I love you so much. Was so worried about you."
Jackson, with a stationary patient now, was able to quickly look under Ezra's dressing and see the competent job someone had done on the small wound, just a deep crease really. His knowing fingers assessed the relocated shoulder, noting a slight heat and swelling - that explained the strapping, keeping the arm tight against Ezra's chest and thus the shoulder immobile while it settled back into place.
Gently, Nathan ran a hand over Ezra's forehead. No temperature, but a slight chill. Shock. Not too bad and now that the emotions were stabilizing, he'd bounce back. Nate knew his patient, had seen him in much worse straits than this, but he was strong and always fought back. He'd be fine. Unless there was anything else? "Ezra?" Nate's hand slid down the side of the cool flesh and guided the face towards him. "Ezra?"
Huge green eyes opened and looked blankly at Jackson. "Ezra, can you tell me? Is there anything else I need to check out? Besides your shoulder and your arm?"
Standish didn't respond, but tried to pull away from the medic's hand and return to his resting place against Buck's chest. Buck eased his own hand under Nathan's and helped Ezra relax back against him. When Jackson looked up in surprise and the beginnings of anger, Buck shook his head minutely. "Nathan, Ezra got hurt real bad, a couple of days ago, our first day undercover." Jackson realized that Buck was talking in a very low voice that didn't carry. He edged closer, listening, eyes on the small man leaning against Buck's tall form. "Some of the bikers, they caught him and ---" Buck swallowed and hugged the small man tightly, "---and they raped him." Buck's eyes met Nathan's over the top of the curly chestnut hair. Buck's hands were rubbing up and down Ezra's back now, but he didn't seem to be listening to the other men's conversation.
"How bad was it?" All business, Jackson would let himself feel and react later, now was for caring for a victim.
"No blood. He was in shock, depressed. Said he didn't really hurt, said Tony had done worse to him." Buck's sad commentary was not reassuring to Nathan who knew exactly how badly Borgo had treated Ezra over the past year. Buck added slowly, "I told Chris earlier." He released Ezra with one arm so that he could wipe his own face, but quickly returned the arm to its comforting position at a light whimper from Ezra. "He said we should probably do some blood tests."
Nathan hated to do it but there was no easy way, and from the looks of these two men, the sooner he said it, the better. "Buck, have you two had intercourse yet?"
Shocked blue eyes met understanding brown ones. "No. Nathan, I couldn't do that to him, not with everything else that was going on. No. We just cuddled some."
Nathan nodded his understanding. He could hear the other members of the team approach and laid one big hand on Ezra's good shoulder while keeping eye contact with Buck. "Then only Ezra will need testing. Unless we could get the ones who ---" he hesitated, then continued ambiguously, "--- who did him, to submit to blood tests? You and Ezra seemed pretty tight with those guys."
"The ones who hurt Ezra are dead."
Jackson's fingers involuntarily tightened on Ezra's shoulder eliciting a grunt and sigh. Apologetically, Nate's hand turned from a grip to a petting contact. His eyes, though, took on a hopeful look as he continued to meet Buck's eyes. "Then we just got lucky, if we can find their bodies?"
Buck nodded slowly. "Figure they won't be hard to find, I know about where to look."
"Alright. I'll talk to Chris, then set it up with County General to do autopsies, soon as we find them." Both men sealed the deal with a steady look, broken only as first Vin, then Chris, Josiah, and finally, JD arrived to form a close circle around the threesome. Somehow, at that moment, instinctively, all four of the arriving men reached out to touch Ezra lightly, joining Nate's hand on the smaller man's good shoulder or back or even head, while Buck still held him securely. In silence, the seven renewed their connection.
The drive back toward Denver was a quiet one. Everyone had removed their radio mikes and earpieces except for Chris and Josiah, the two drivers. Buck, Ezra and Nathan were in the back of the team's van, where the two larger men were settling Ezra. Nathan, assured that Ezra was doing as well as could be expected at that moment, left them in the back and climbed into the cab with Josiah who shot him a look of inquiry.
In a low voice, Nathan answered the unspoken questions. "He'll be alright. The bikers told him that Buck was dead and he was blaming himself. Top that off with being wounded, dislocated shoulder, a beating that he really didn't need," at this point, Nate hesitated, then continued more slowly, "and, Josiah, he was raped, gang-banged, a couple of days ago ---"
Sanchez's knuckles whitened as his grip on the steering wheel went from firm to strangling, the front wheels slewed to the side of the road and back, fish-tailing the van as he fought for control on the vehicle he had involuntarily braked. After a few moments of brief struggle and some filthy curses that had Jackson rolling his eyes as he braced on the dashboard, Josiah brought the van to a ragged stop. Ahead of them the black Ram had slowed, stopped and was now backing abruptly along the shoulder. In Josiah's ear, he could hear Chris' worried voice.
"Josiah! What's wrong?"
Sanchez lowered his head to the steering wheel and softly grunted, "No, no, no," in denial, ignoring the radioed question.
Larabee, who was the only one still linked with Sanchez, got the simple words over his radio link. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he savagely twisted the key in the Ram's ignition and dragged it free as the motor died. Vin was staring at him in mute question and JD hung over the front seats from the back, looking scared. "Chris? What's wrong?"
Jackson turned to look over his shoulder. Buck looked back at him from the floor of the van where he'd been settled with Ezra curled in his lap, still tightly clutching the big man's ATF jacket. Buck had heard what Jackson told Sanchez and understood what was going on. "Nathan, you'll probably have to tell the others too, but Ezra doesn't need to hear this. We'll just stay inside here."
The EMT grimaced sadly and nodded, turning forward to face the still hunched over Sanchez. "Josiah, let's get out. Take a little walk."
Abruptly, the profiler nodded and lurched out of his side of the van and on to the roadside, closing his door ever so gently, as if anything else would be a slam that would needlessly scare Ezra, still within the vehicle. Nathan slipped out on his side and joined Sanchez who was already moving back down the road, away from the van and the now stopped Ram beyond. With another violent movement, he tore the mike and earplug apparatus off and threw it to the ground. Ignoring it, he walked on, Nathan pacing him at his side, silent.
Chris got out of the truck and looked back, could see Josiah, then Nathan emerge from the van and start walking away. No urgency, just walking. He felt the radio link go dead as he saw Sanchez make an abrupt movement with his hands towards his head. Sighing, he removed his own, and pocketed them. Probably best to let Nathan handle the big profiler. They'd wait by the van, in case the former medic needed any help. Check on Buck and Ezra, too.
Vin's sharp blue eyes had followed all the unusual movements and gestures of his teammates. Something troublesome was going on, but there wasn't any immediate danger. If Josiah was upset, and it seemed he was, likely that Ezra was the reason. In the shape that he was, Vin doubted that Ezra himself had done anything so that meant something had been done to him. Vin began to feel sick.
JD had fallen silent when Chris did not answer his panicked question. Whatever was going on, everyone else seemed to know about it except him but he was afraid to push for answers, had a feeling that he really didn't want to know them. He trailed again behind the other men as they made their way to the abandoned van.
"What do you know, Nathan?" Josiah's voice was steady which surprised Jackson.
"Only what I told you. That and that the men who did it are dead. When I was checking over Ezra's wound, I asked what else I should check. That's when Buck told me."
"He told you THEN? Why not before?" Sanchez's eyes glowed dangerously as he turned to face his friend. "We could have been ready for him, if we'd known."
Jackson took a deep breath. He knew, they all knew, how Josiah had developed an unusually deep affection for their undercover agent. He suspected that Ezra somehow reminded the bigger man of a long lost soul that had once been in his keeping, whether son or nephew, or simply younger, dependent person. Josiah really didn't share his past. His paternal attitude towards the younger agent was merely tolerated by Ezra, and, for the most part, respected and left untouched by the rest of the team. But, they all knew, hurt Ezra and you might have to deal with Josiah, quietly, alone, later. So, now that protective streak was kicking in and Jackson needed to deflect it before Buck became its target. "Buck told Chris. But, Josiah, there really wasn't anything we could do until we got Ezra back. Now, we'll have him checked by doctors, get his blood tested." He looked at Sanchez, watching as the man seemed to subside back into himself, his rage quieting to a terrible and quiet anger. "Buck told me that the men that did it are dead, and he thinks we can find the bodies."
Sanchez closed his washed out blue eyes, muttering a heartfelt, "Dear god."
Nathan risked a comforting hand now on one large angular shoulder. "If we can have the bodies examined, tested, we'll know if Ezra is in any risk from disease."
"Risk?" Josiah, who'd been full of outrage and unchanneled anger, now sank into a well of fear as the implications of that statement penetrated. "Oh, sweet jesus, I didn't even think of that!"
Nathan dropped his hand and turned to face back toward the cars as Sanchez put both his hands on his face and shuddered. Back at the van, he could make out Chris and Vin leaning against the back doors, side by side, seemingly interested in the bright blue sky. JD paced beside the van, like a shaggy terrier, alert and worried, ready to defend his own but not sure what the threat was. Nathan let another small sigh find its way from his tight chest. Chris knew, that meant if Vin didn't, he would soon. That left JD. Somehow, he didn't think that Larabee had told the youngster, some things, not even the team leader would do. That meant he'd have to speak with their hacker. He wasn't at all sure how their youngest was going to take this new information. Right now he had to finish dealing with Josiah.
Turning back, he spoke directly to the quiet man in front of him. "Josiah? It wasn't Ezra's fault, such things never are. He was the victim."
Sanchez interrupted him bitterly. "Did you think I blamed him?"
"No, no," Jackson stepped daringly closer, meeting those pale blue eyes with his deeply compassionate brown ones. "But you need to think. You need to think and not simply react emotionally, even if that is what has to come first. Ezra is going to need all of us and he is going to need to know that he is still very much a part of us, and not in any way condemned."
"But Nathan, we would never do that."
At least Josiah was thinking now, reasoning. Nathan actually smiled. "Good. That will help with the healing. Now, we are going to have to locate the scum who did this, dig up their bodies and get them to a Medical Examiner for testing. If they have any dirty germs, Ezra has a tough road ahead, so Josiah, start praying."
It was as if Nathan had given the older man a new chance at life at that moment. He now had a new goal and a reason, a way to help his son of the heart, a way to be there for the boy. Josiah straightened and began to shed his passion for purpose.
Cautiously, because it might be better to do it all now rather than go through this twice, Nathan spoke. "There's something else."
Sanchez, who'd begun to reconstruct himself mentally and emotionally, froze and faced his long time friend. With dread in his voice, he responded with an effort. "What?"
"Buck. Buck and Ezra." Nathan began to wonder if he was paid enough for this job. No, of course not, but that really wasn't the issue here. He wasn't doing his job right now, he was being a friend, helping his friends. You just did that, no matter how hard. That was what friendship was about. Bracing himself for any possible reaction to his next bit of news, he watched closely as he continued. "They are a couple now. Like Chris and Vin. Happened while they were under." There might be more to say, but first he'd wait for Josiah.
Sanchez absorbed this new information and realized it didn't surprise him in the least, it seemed quite natural somehow. It didn't disturb him either. He'd seen that reunion, they all had. Ezra had literally flung himself into Wilmington's arms and the tall man had been accepting and protective, caring and gentle. Loving. And, before they had found Ezra, Buck had been a crazy man, wild even, totally unlike himself. The ladies man had fallen for their con man. Josiah searched himself for how he felt about that. He discovered that he was actually pleased for both men, for the wandering, searching soul that was brother Buck and the lost, hurting soul that was Ezra. Those souls would heal each other. Two sweet-natured men, though Ezra tried to hide his nature, they would do well. Josiah felt the rightness of it and actually smiled. "Good." He expanded his ribs as he inhaled deeply, stretching and letting his smile grow. They would face this adversity and triumph over it, good men all.
Nathan, relieved and vaguely surprised at how well Josiah took this second revelation, patted his friend on the shoulder and headed back toward the van, checking to see that Josiah was indeed following. The big man was right behind him, looking settled now and determined. Now, Nathan thought with rising despair, he'd probably have to deal with JD.
"Ez?" Buck concentrated on cradling the smaller man against him, secure in his lap as he sat in the floor of the team van, in the back. With his legs straight out in front of him and his shoulders supported by the wall separator between the weapons lockdown in the back and the surveillance equipment and chairs in the mid-body of the van, he was able to relax his body, and give all his attention to his friend.
At first, he got no answer and had about decided that Ezra was still in his shocked state, on finding Buck still alive and relatively unscathed. But then the southerner heaved a sigh that seemed to go through his entire body and leak out his fingers and toes. Nudging Ezra's head with his chin, not quite daring to release his arms from their positions offering safety and comfort, he murmured again, "Ez?"
This time Ezra responded, pulling back a bit to look up into Buck's eyes. "I'm sorry." The quiet words were apologetic in tone as well. He let go of his tight hold on Buck's tee shirt, stars of wrinkles left behind, radiating from where two desperate hands had clutched and twisted the fabric. He smiled tentatively up at Buck, "They told me you were dead. Buck, I just didn't want to live after that. If Gent hadn't forced me to come with them, I would have ---"
Buck listened with growing alarm, his eyes darkening to nearly black with his fear as his friend left unsaid what so clearly could be read, that he had intended to kill himself. Buck swallowed and leaned down to capture trembling lips. Kissing softly, sweetly, tenderly, then releasing to nip and lick at those moist, small sensitive bits of flesh. "I'm here," he whispered between the tiny kisses he was now raining down on Ezra's upturned face, "I'm here. I'm fine. We're together again, Ez. Thank god that Gent had enough sense to keep you safe."
Ezra began to respond to the loving touches, his spirit rising, the dread and grief dissolving in this rare peace that Buck graced his soul with. "You meant it, didn't you?" Ezra couldn't help himself, he needed reassurance that Buck really did mean what he'd said back in that little cabin such a short time ago.
For a moment, Buck was confused, then seeing the hope and fear both vying for supremacy in those green, green eyes, he understood. "Oh, Ezra, I love you. Don't know exactly how everything changed, still can't explain it. But, when I found out you were missing, it was like a part of me died. I was so scared and so angry." He tugged the smaller man up higher in his lap, enjoying the feel of Ezra so close. He brought his lips to Ezra's once more, and as those sweet gates opened, he continued to speak, his words dropping into Ezra's mouth, like pearls off a string. "I - love - you - Ezra. Forever. Darling - I - love - you." Then he let his tongue trail inside as if to secure those words deep within Ezra, make sure he felt them as well as heard them.
A greedy mouth twisted and chewed at Buck's. Ezra's hands came up to clasp Buck's neck and hold him close. They consumed each other for several heartbeats, each taking comfort in the other's passionate touch and the firm words Buck spoke declaring his feelings clearly.
Ezra finally found his own voice as he licked his way along Buck's jaw and back toward one ear. "Buck, I love you. With everything that I am."
"Guess we got ourselves a commitment, then, huh, Ez?"
"Yes, so it seems." The last was said with breathless humor as Ezra rose up, somehow curling his legs so that he sat up on his knees in Buck's lap and was able to pull the taller man's dark head against his breast. "Buck, sweet, loving Bucklin, how did we miss each other for so long?"
Buck savored Ezra's possessive embrace, half-buried against the other's chest, taut, strong arms holding him close, one firm hand supporting his head, fingers playing in his dark wings of hair. He carefully supported Ezra against him, his arms holding the southerner behind the now upright thighs and the lean, sweetly curved spine. "Don't know, Ez, but I'm glad we found each other now. Got a lot of lost time to make up for."
Ezra nodded where his head rested on the top of Buck's, then he tucked his chin and placed a kiss in the silky soft nearly black hair. "But we'll do it carefully, until Nathan finds out if it's safe for us."
Buck stiffened. "You heard all that?"
Ezra smiled and sat back down, letting Buck's head slide up his chest until they were once again facing each other. "I may have been showing a regrettable lack of self control lately, and," he blushed a rose pink from his neck up until the roots of his hairline were flushed as well, "--- and, I may have become a trifle hysterical at the sight of your living body ---"
An amused and loving snort from Wilmington had Ezra chuckling at himself. "But," he finished, "that did not mean that I was unaware of what transpired about me." He met Buck's eyes tranquilly. "I just chose to give in to my baser needs, to wallow in the joy of finding you alive, of being once more in your arms, able to touch you." With these final words, he kissed Buck again and drew back before the other could do more than begin to respond. "I've been gay all my cognizant life, Buck. I know the risks. I've had friends die of AIDS. I'm sorry, love, but it has always been a fact of my life."
"We're gonna change that Ezra." Buck cuddled the man closer, then helped him sit back down on his lap, guiding the folded legs out from under a dear derriere that he fully intended to explore in the near future, Nathan's tests be damned.
"Buck." Ezra's face became serious. "I will NOT risk you."
Buck saw the sincerity in those deep green eyes and knew that Ezra needed to understand that he, too, took all this seriously. "Don't worry, Pard, we'll take it slow, when you're ready, not before. This sweet loving we're doing now is just up my alley. Can do this forever and be a happy feller." He stole a kiss from worried tight lips. "It's gonna be fine, Pard. Honest. If Nate finds anything to worry about, then we'll deal with it together, but you aren't ever gonna be alone again, Ezra. It's us now, no more 'me' or 'you.'"
Ezra sat there on Buck's lap, studying Wilmington's face as if searching for answers. Finally, he nodded and smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Wilmington, you are a true friend."
"More than a friend now, Ez."
"Yes, much more, Buck. Much more." Ezra's eyes were beginning to fill again and Buck simply pulled him close again, kissing away the tears and rocking them slightly together.
Tony snapped shut his monocular with a vicious anger. Shit. He'd missed at the barn, that damn biker had spotted something, turned the bike he and Standish were on at the last moment. Then all the rest of those crud had started towards his tree. He'd had to make a hasty retreat, finding his stolen dirt bike disabled when he circled round and got to it. Someone, maybe two someones by the looks of the tracks, had found it and removed the sparkplugs. So he'd jogged along the bridle path back out to the treeline at the edge of the wooded hills. From there he could watch the road and had seen the tail end of the face off between the bikers and Team 7. He'd seen Ezra in Buck's arms. The anger that had grown larger inside, now veiled his eyes with a film of red as he snorted and spat. So Ezra thought he could dump Tony for Wilmington? He thought irrationally, all memories of doing the dumping himself having vanished along with whatever morals or controls he'd once had. He'd gone beyond normal thought. His nerves hissed and popped in his veins, making him feel like a hop-head on drugs, even though he'd not taken a thing. Maybe he should.
He watched as the bikers mounted, as Tanner and Sanchez moved the ATF vehicles, as the wing of bikers departed. He stared hatefully at Buck holding Ezra, while Jackson looked him over. He looked on as the rest of the team assembled around the two.
He saw them depart only to stop about a half-mile down the road, Sanchez and Jackson erupting from the van, the others from the truck, only Buck and Ezra still hidden within the van. He could tell that something was going on, but not what. His gaze traveled resentfully among the visible team members. Settled on the clearly distraught youngest, the computer specialist, Dunne. Wasn't he roomies with Wilmington? Best friends? Borgo smiled slowly, lecherously. He opened back up his spyglass and focused on the young man, standing there impatiently, sweeping dark hair from his eyes and tucking it behind his ears. Not too bad looking. Wonder if he's jealous, now that Buck has a new toy? Borgo's dark, maddened eye remained fixed on Team 7's youngest as the boy began to pace beside Larabee's black truck. Might be more than one way to get to Ezra. Might do it through his new lover. His new lover's friend. Boy toy. Borgo's teeth bared in a hungry grin.
"JD?" Nathan ignored Chris and Vin and walked up to the younger man, to stand blocking his path beside the big Ram.
Josiah wandered over to where the team leader and sharpshooter stood. He eyed his good friend on a mission, confronting their computer specialist, before leaning against the nearest fender of the truck. Together with Vin and Chris, he watched Nathan turn away from them and begin walking JD back toward the van. The two walked together quietly, the big man and their youngest side by side.
Sanchez raised an eyebrow at Chris. "Have you told Vin yet?" Tanner stiffened slightly. Looked sharply at Larabee, then Sanchez. "Nope, can see you haven't." He ran a large hand over his face, suddenly exhausted. Looked their immediate boss in the eye and spoke again. "Nathan just told me about Buck and Ezra being together now, though that wasn't really such a surprise, after seeing how they acted when they saw each other." He chuckled and looked down, away from those angry burning hazel eyes. Why was Chris so angry? Looking back up at the blond, he asked, "Have you told Vin yet about what happened to Ezra?"
Tanner was losing patience with this weird game. "Josiah, what ever the hell this is, just say it! I'm standing right here."
"So you are. Just thought maybe Chris might want to tell you, seeing as how he knew from Buck before Nate did, and Nate's the one just told me."
Larabee jerked a cigarillo from his shirt pocket and jammed it between his teeth, eyes moving to the white van only meters away, staring blankly at it. He savagely lit a match and puffed angrily at his smoke. Between clenched teeth he finally answered Sanchez. "You want to talk? Talk."
Sanchez nodded sadly. "No, don't want to, but it is best if the whole team knows. Better for Ezra, easier on Buck." He stood and folded his arms over his chest, looking across the tall hood of the truck at their sharpshooter. "Ezra was raped by several men, when he went back under with Buck, their first day under. Buck was not there to stop it."
"Shit." Vin's low curse was all he could manage, the sick feeling he'd felt earlier coming back with a vengeance. He tried to straighten, but the sickness rose in his throat. Chris had turned to watch the two men and saw his lover's color turn greenish and pale.
"Vin!" With a grunt, Chris was there just in time to catch the falling man and support him as he lost his breakfast on the gravel at the side of the road. "Josiah," Chris looked over his shoulder, spitting out his words, "get me the bottle of water on the front seat."
Sanchez hurried to comply, bringing it and offering his own handkerchief to Larabee quickly. Chris was holding Vin upright now and accepted first the bit of linen, wiping the lean, smaller man's face, then the bottle which he offered Vin. Tanner shakily grabbed the bottle with both hands and sipped slowly, blinking away sudden tears. "Shit, shit, shit." His mumble was caustic and barely intelligible.
Chris simply turned him into his arms and held him close, not saying anything. Vin relaxed in his lover's arms and handed the bottle back to Josiah hooking around Chris' body. Sanchez took back the bottle with a sad grimace and waited.
"Sorry," Vin finally muttered, stepping back out of Larabee's embrace. "It was the shock, that's all." He looked toward the van, following Chris' gaze. The man's eyes kept returning there as if tracked by a magnet. "How's Ezra?"
Sanchez leaned back against the truck again. "Nathan is going to get him checked out at the hospital, but doesn't think there's any immediate concern." He paused, then dropped the other shoe. "The problem is more likely if any of the attackers was carrying anything."
"Oh, shit." Vin spun and punched the grill of the truck, only to step back with a cry of pain and shake his errant hand. Chris materialized back at his side instantly. "I'm okay, didn't hit that hard." He tried to reassure Larabee who already had the bruised hand in his own and was gently inspecting it. Agreeing silently that the hand would bruise but was not broken, Chris patted Vin and turned back again to face the van.
"Nathan have a plan?" Speaking in a low growl, it was the first real contribution Larabee made to the conversation.
Sanchez nodded. "Yeah. Seems Buck thinks he knows where the bodies are buried."
"Seems the perpetrators are no longer living."
"Good." Chris flexed his hands, fisting and unfisting them. He stayed by Vin, but his mind was on his other friends within that white van. "Then we dig them up, get them tested."
"Yeah, that's Nathan's plan."
"JD, you remember that talk we had at the saloon the other night? About human sexuality?"
Dunne looked sharply at Nathan. He'd come along with the man, when Jackson asked if they could talk for a few minutes. Now he wasn't at all sure he wanted to hear this. "Yes."
"Buck and ---"
JD jumped backwards and clamped his hands on his ears, shaking his head violently. "NO! Nathan, no!"
Two large dark hands captured the boy's and lowered them, holding the wrists to keep the young man facing him. "JD, they are you're friends. Remember, you said we were all nuts? Remember?" Dunne nodded but stared at the ground between their feet. "JD. Ezra and Buck love each other." He paused and held on when Dunne tried to fight free, a brief struggle since neither man really wanted to hurt the other, and Dunne already knew in his heart that his denial was pointless, useless, hopeless.
"Don't know how it went down, but there it is." Nathan paused again, then continued slowly. "I listened to them. Saw them up close. This isn't Buck bein' king of the hill, nor his animal 'magnetism' at work. This is real and it's them, and, they are our friends, JD. Buck is your best friend and he'll need you something terrible now. Because, JD, Ezra was hurt badly."
For the first time, Dunne looked up, his own brown eyes meeting Jackson's. "Ezra was hurt? We all saw that. His arm ---" But even as he spoke, he saw Jackson shaking his head gently and knew it was something much worse. He quaked. "What?"
"Raped." Jackson spoke bluntly, no euphemisms for JD, the boy needed to hear hard truths, so he could rebuild his world on those truths. "Gang bang."
Jackson nodded seeing the honest pain in the youth's eyes, pain for a friend. "He wasn't hurt too bad physically, at least not yet."
"Not yet? But ---" Then JD's eyes widened in sudden awareness. "Shit. AIDS."
Nathan nodded again. "We're going to have to find the ones who did it, Buck tells me they're dead, dig them up, have their bodies examined. If they're negative, then we go from there. If even one of them tests HIV positive, then --- then we go from there."
"Oh, Ez." JD seemed to fold into himself, his arms wrapping around his narrow chest. "Oh, Buck." The sorrowful tone told Nathan that JD was past the anger and denial of Buck's new alignment and was now focused on the possible tragedy still awaiting Team 7.
"Come on, JD, let's get back to the others. I told Josiah, and he's talking it over with Chris and Vin while we talked." Putting a brotherly arm over Dunne's shoulders, the older man steered them back towards the truck and van and their waiting friends.
The two-vehicle caravan headed back into the city. The first stop for them was the medical center where Ezra was quickly and thoroughly examined, much to his disgust. Blood samples and urine specimens followed. Then the southerner was escorted back out to the waiting room where his friends all sat. Waiting. Buck was on his feet and at Ezra's side the moment he stepped through the double doors. The doctor accompanying Ezra eyed the team. "You are all part of Mr. Standish's ATF unit?"
Larabee came forward. "Yes, I'm Chris Larabee, team leader."
"Well, Mr. Standish said any news I had to tell should be said to you all. So, if you'd all like to sit down again?" The doctor led them to a corner of the empty room and sat. The others quickly joined him, Buck leading Ezra to a double bench seat.
Once he saw he had their attention, the doctor continued. "My name is Larson Crane. I examined Mr. Standish thoroughly. Whoever treated his shoulder dislocation did a fine job. He should keep it braced for another 48 hours, but then, if he's careful, it should be fine. The wound is little better than a scrape, a crease about a half inch deep, only about three inches long. It was fixed with butterfly bandages and seems to be already healing. I don't see the need for stitches." By now his audience was getting restless, nervous. He knew why. "As to the nonconsensual sexual intrusions, the rapes, the area of the anus is bruised, but not torn nor damaged. There are no tears anywhere outside or inside, and no blood. Because of the time since the attack, it was not possible to retrieve any semen specimens. I understand from Mr. Standish that testing of the attackers will be conducted. This will certainly save time and give you knowledge of just what must be faced, if anything." He carefully looked from face to face. All the men were watching Standish even as they listened to Crane. He could tell by the caring and concern in their faces, their eyes, even their body language, that these men would not walk away from their friend. Lucky man. "There is nothing more I can do at this time. When the test results from Mr. Standish's samples come in, I'll contact you. Until then, he can go home."
Crane stood. No one asked anything. He had a feeling they already knew everything he was going to say before he said it. Rather an anticlimax, he shrugged, better reception than some he'd had to face. He nodded collectively to the group and went back into the innards of the hospital, back to his own never-ending battles for life.
Chris spoke first. "No surprises. Nathan, you take Ezra home and stay with him until Buck can join him." Before Buck or Ezra could speak, he continued, "Buck, you're going to lead us to the bodies. Once you ID them, you can go to Ezra. Send Nate out to us and he'll supervise recovery and delivery to the Medical Examiner's office."
Reluctantly Buck had to agree. He looked down at Ezra who met his eyes reassuringly. The time alone with the doctor had calmed him, let him put his poker face back on. He wore it now. "I'll be fine. Nathan will be there with me."
Vin spoke up for the first time since he'd been told about Ezra's rape. "Tony. Tony Borgo." He looked around at the others grimly. "You're all forgettin' that ape."
Larabee shook his head. "No, Vin, we haven't forgotten him, just put him a bit lower in priority. But, you're right. He seems to have gone rabid. Josiah, why don't you keep Nate and Ez company? An extra set of eyes won't hurt. And, Nate? Make sure Ezra sets the alarms in that fancy apartment of his. We'll call when we're heading in." He looked around at the others. "Okay, we got a plan. Let's do it."
Ezra felt Buck's arms squeeze him tight from behind. He leaned back for a moment, gathering strength from the love in those supports. "Be careful, Buck," he murmured, turning to look up into those midnight blue eyes.
"Always, Ez." Buck ignored the rest of the team and kissed Ezra gently. "Love you, Ezra. You listen to Nate, do what he says. 'Siah, too. And I'll be back with you in no time at all."
"I'll be waiting." Ezra stood up on tiptoes and returned the kiss, then looked back over to smile at his teammates. "As Mr. Larabee said, 'Let's go.'"
Ezra pretended to sleep. It was easier than trying to fend off the ever solicitous Mr. Jackson or the hovering Mr. Sanchez. They had been in his apartment for over three hours now. He could not imagine what the delay was but he was beginning to fight off worry now. For the past half hour, his two guardian angels had left him alone. If he showed signs of wakefulness, no doubt they'd be in, inquiring pointlessly about his health, their concern and care smothering him unintentionally.
It amazed Ezra that after all this time with these men that they knew him so poorly still. Oh, they claimed to know him, and in fact, could predict his reactions to a given set of circumstances, but that was largely because that was the image he'd created. He had begun to finally let them in a bit, to the real E.P. Standish but it was a rather scary thing to do and he only revealed tiny harmless bits, waiting to see if these vulnerable points would be trampled as history had taught him would be the case. To his amazement, the others had not done that. Instead, they had given more of themselves in return and deepened the growing bonds of friendship with their ne'er-do-well agent. Ezra was astounded, truly dumbfounded at the acceptance that he'd been graced with when Buck and Chris had practically dragged him out of the closet, back in Chris' office that day. To declare that you are gay is often to say good-bye to friends, even relatives. But these men had accepted this 'him' and even shown their affection and friendship with touch and words.
But now he'd trespassed. He had gone after one of them. He squeezed his eyes shut even tighter and tensed. He knew that Buck had been open with everyone, and certainly his own behavior upon discovering that Buck was in fact alive after believing him to be dead, well, that was rather revealing. But still. He knew that Nathan knew. Buck had told the man while still clutching Ezra, right out there on the road. He wasn't so sure about anyone else. He was afraid that when they found out, all that friendship would freeze and crack, fall away like dust. He desperately wanted to keep them all his dear friends, but he could NOT give up Bucklin Wilmington, not now. Nor, did he think, would Buck give him up. This might create a rift in the team, an irreparable one. He let his head drop to the side on the pillow. A single tear trickled down his cheek, unknowingly.
Josiah and Nathan shared some of Ezra's imported coffee, from beans they'd had to grind, having discovered both beans and grinder. It was a nice change from the office break room coffee. They'd both said all there was to say some time ago, so sat in companionable silence.
The tapping at the front door had them springing to their feet, hands going to weapons in underarm holsters. An exchange of looks had Nathan heading down the hall to Ezra's room while Josiah headed for the front door cautiously. Peering through the peephole, he was reassured to see JD standing impatiently on the stoop. Within moments he'd disarmed the alarm, removed the bolts and opened the door. "JD, why are you here?"
Dunne looked a bit disgruntled. "Chris sent me. Said I didn't need to see them dig up those bodies." He ran a hand through his hair, sweat making it stringy.
Josiah, who could easily understand such reasoning, calmly led the boy inside, silently concluding that the bodies had in fact been found and the distasteful job of identifying them was now in Buck Wilmington's hands. He knew the rangy surveillance and weapons expert would not fail and would also be protective of his younger protégé and little brother, it had probably been he who got Larabee to issue that order. "Come in, then. You can tell us what has happened so far."
JD shrugged unhappily and wandered on into the townhouse, toward the kitchen, while Josiah secured the door and alarm once more. He took a look at the street before closing up, seeing JD's fast motorbike sitting at the curb. He didn't have that with him, they must have gotten him a ride as far as his and Buck's place. Josiah finished locking up and followed the young man into the kitchen. Nathan was already back, having heard enough from the hallway to relax his guard and return to his coffee.
Ezra sat up and swung his legs off the bed, stood up only to cling to the nightstand, swaying dangerously at the lightheadedness. He knew it was just fatigue, sleeplessness and lack of food, but it scared him nonetheless. He definitely did not like feeling helpless.
After a moment, things settled and he was able to release his grasp on the furniture. Walking with care, he slowly made his way around the bed and to the door. The low murmur of voices, JD's rising above the rumble of Nathan and Josiah, alerted him to the presence of another member of the team. Buck? Maybe Buck was back? But no, he'd come see me right away. Wouldn't he? Ezra sighed. He would. I have got to stop questioning the man. He's an open book and he's signed my name on all the pages, for everyone to see, including me. But it's hard to change one's nature, and mine is to question motives, to be always suspicious. To trust only with difficulty. Ezra sighed again. I have my work cut out for me, if I am to be worthy of Buck's love.
By now he was in the hallway and nearly to the corner where it opened into the main room and adjacent kitchen. The voices were suddenly clear as JD's rose in irritation. "I know what you said, Nathan, but I still can't believe it."
Soft voices answered unintelligibly.
"No. No, Buck likes Ezra. So do I, damn it! Hell, I don't care if he's a flaming fag! He's still my friend. But Buck only likes ladies. ONLY LADIES!"
Ezra cringed. More words in that softer rumble that Ezra identified as Josiah's. The man would try to reason with a charging bull elephant, convinced he could deter the brute. Only, he was arguing with JD who sounded like a runaway train. Good luck, Josiah.
JD again. "You wait! Buck's just confused, he wants to help. He'll do anything for any of us. We're all family. He just wants to give Ezra what he thinks the man needs. That's all there is to it!"
Silence. Ezra fell back against the wall of the hallway, his shoulder blades aching from the sudden pressure on the points as he collided with wallboard. He felt a tremendous pain inside, filling the hollow of his chest. A great burning feeling, heating his skin, causing him to burn, his cheeks flaming with the internal upheaval caused by the youth's aggressive defense of the man Ezra thought loved him. JD should know. They've been best friends forever since I've known them. Why should Buck suddenly abandon his ladies for the likes of me? JD must be right. A flaming fag. Ezra paled. Felt his knees start to wobble. Then he was sinking, sliding down the wall, to land hard, his buttocks tight against the angle of floor and wall, his knees pressed against his chest. He let his arms fall where they might and rested his head on his knees. He'd never let the words hurt before, or, at least, not for a very long time. Not since he was a teen. But, hearing them now, from the lips of a colleague, a friend, he was crushed. Pulverized. Dust. Too dry to even cry, too empty to even feel. An abandoned building, no one home anymore. He rolled his head and wondered what could possibly happen next.
The two older men watched as JD stormed out on to Ezra's back patio, fuming. Nothing they'd said had penetrated the younger man's obstinacy. He was hurting from being sent away from where he'd thought he could help, offer support to Buck. Sent away, sent to help care for someone who was now Buck's lover, or so he was being told by others. Buck had yet to say anything to him and so he chose to deny it. Too much was happening, everyone was worried, confused, emotional. Even him.
Josiah looked sadly at Nathan over their mugs of coffee. The one that had held JD's lay on its side, a pool of spilt brown liquid mute testimony to the boy's final violent gesture. "Looks like your little talk with JD didn't do as much good as you thought."
Jackson got up slowly, feeling like an old man. He took up the sponge from the sink and mopped up the mess on the table, taking his time before answering. "No, guess it didn't." He picked up the mug and placed it in the sink with the sponge. Used a dishtowel to dry the surface of the table. "He's gonna go on denying that until Buck sits him down for a serious talk, even then, it's gonna take time. Just hope he comes around. I'd hate to have the team fall apart over this."
Both men looked up at another rap at the front door, firmer and more aggressive. This time, they both approached the door, knowing JD was behind them somewhere and could step in to protect Ezra if need be. It was Buck, looking ravaged. He sagged against the doorjamb. Together the two men made quick work of unlocking and opening the door, pulling Buck inside and securing the entry again.
"JD made it alright, I see." Buck's comment seemed at odds with his look of fatigue.
"Yes, he's here." Josiah decided that more could wait for later. "You found the bodies, he told us."
"Yeah. Looked mighty ugly for being in the ground for a few days, but it was them alright. All three of them, hell I only ever even knew the name of one of them," Buck wiped the back of his dirt smeared hand across his mouth. "but it was them, knew 'em right off. Chris and Vin are waiting there now for the meat wagon. You want to head out, Nate? They are 'spectin' you to be there soon's you can."
Nathan was already gathering his things from the hallway coat rack and taking the Ram's keys from Buck. "Josiah?" There was a wealth of unspoken question in that single word.
"I'll take care of everyone, Brother Nathan, never fear." Sanchez smiled reassuringly, they needed their EMT to be on his way without distraction, even though both knew that things might not go well now in this small townhouse. Forces beyond their control might soon collide.
Nathan's lips compressed but he nodded and gave the men the team's two-fingered salute, and left through the barricade of the front door. Josiah busied himself re-securing once more the door. Buck looked around, then headed further into the house. Over his shoulder he asked, "Ez in his room?"
"Yes, brother, been there for a while, sleeping last we checked about a half hour ago." Sanchez followed Wilmington into the kitchen. He wondered if a prayer might help at this moment. "JD is out on the back patio, getting some air."
Buck seemed oblivious to the heavy meaning in that last statement, anxious to get back to Ezra. He knew the southerner was still shaken and would need a lot of time as well as care to return to their own witty con man. His own. He smiled and took a sip of Nathan's abandoned coffee. "Just let me check on him." And Buck was already heading out through the opening between kitchen and living room, toward the hall that led to the bedrooms.
"Oh, my god! Ezra!" Buck's surprised and panicked cry had Sanchez practically running after him.
He found Buck on the floor in the hall, on his knees, facing a collapsed Ezra. The undercover agent was curled up in a ball against the wall, head hidden against his knees. Sanchez closed his eyes in pain, knowing instantly what had happened. He heard us.
"Ezra?" Buck was gently petting the man, touching him and stroking him, coaxing a response. "Please, Ez, it's Buck. I'm here. Answer me, look at me at least, please?"
Finally, a chalk white face rose to stare blankly straight ahead. "Fag."
"Ezra? What?" Buck was totally confused. Josiah was heartbroken for them all.
"A flaming fag." Ezra enunciated the words carefully, as if crossing a raging river on tiny, slippery stepping stones.
Buck huddled closer and forced his hands behind the other man, prying him free from the wall and pulling him into a tight embrace. "Ezra, what the hell are you talking about?"
Finally Ezra seemed to snap out of his daze and looked up at Buck. "Buck." He whispered the name as if it was precious treasure. With one finger, he touched Wilmington's cheek and then withdrew. "I'm so sorry."
Frustrated and fearful of this new strange behavior, Buck wanted to explode, but he could see that would only harm the southerner even more. "Ezra, please, you're scaring me here." He kissed the man gently on the lips. "You haven't got anything to be sorry for."
"I'm so sorry, Buck. I promise, I'll leave as soon as I can." He seemed unwilling to answer Wilmington, intent on conveying his hard-fought decision to flee Denver, his job, his friends, and his new love.
"No! Ezra, you are NOT going anywhere, unless you plan on taking me with you. You hear me, Ezra P.?" Buck gave up on pleading and began to bluster, hoping to break through the man's frozen attitude.
Eyes filled with shame rose to meet Buck's. The green was almost white with pain and humiliation. "A flaming fag." The litany seemed endless and Buck was getting desperate.
A big hand on his shoulder had him twisting to look up into Josiah's sad blue eyes. "Brother, we need JD, I'll get him."
Sanchez walked away, leaving Buck still trying to coax some sense out of Standish. The pain radiating off the pair was piercing his own heart, and he knew that what he was about to do would only spread the pain further. But, sometimes the only way to treat a wound was to cauterize. To burn it out. In this case, bring the cause in and let the men confront the essence of the problem, and hope, oh god be merciful, hope that they would be able to burn out the problem but leave enough behind to heal them all.
Gritting his teeth in anger at the thoughtlessness of youth, Josiah slid open the patio door hard, so that the panes of glass rattled, startling the young man slumped in a chair on the miniscule little terrace. "JD," Josiah's tone was sharp, flat. "JD, come in and see Buck. He's back."
Instantly, Dunne was on his feet, a grin fading as he took in the sight of Josiah Sanchez standing in the entrance, towering there like some biblical prophet. He half expected the man to throw a bolt of lightning at his feet. "Josiah?"
"Listen to me John Dunne." Sanchez spoke firmly. "When you go in there, you think carefully of each word that leaves your mouth. Just remember this, once out, they can never be retracted."
Dunne nodded hesitantly, only half certain he knew what the older man was speaking about. At least Buck was back. That would help straighten things out. He squared his shoulders almost defiantly and marched towards the man still blocking the doorway. Just before his nose would have rammed Josiah's chest, the big man swung aside grimly, looking as if he already regretted asking for JD's presence.
"In the hallway," Josiah directed from behind JD's back. Grimly, he followed the defiant youth into the townhouse, hoping he was doing the right thing in forcing this now. But Ezra was hurting and Buck was ignorant of the cause. And now, the cause was heading back there to confront them, if he only knew.
Both men came to a halt at the sight of the two on the floor. Buck was still frantically petting Ezra who had roused himself enough by now to push the bigger man away, or at least try to. The resultant struggle had gotten Buck off his knees and seated on the floor, back to the wall, and wrestling with the southerner who seemed convinced he had to apologize for something, then leave forever. "Ezra, will you for chrissakes stop and listen to me?" Buck took a new hold on the squirming man and finally dragged Ezra into his lap. Wrapping his arms around the smaller man, he sighed when Ezra stopped fighting him and melted back into him, sagging against him.
"I'm sorry, Buck."
"Dammit, Ez, you got nothing to be sorry for!" Kicking himself for letting his anger leak into his voice, he softened it and continued, hoping that Ezra was finally really listening. "Baby, whatever it was, we'll make it better, honest."
My cue, thought Josiah, who hunkered down in front of the pair, ignoring JD who stood frozen in front of them, frowning. Josiah reached out a hand to cup Ezra's face. "Take it easy, brother, we'll get this solved now." He looked up into Wilmington's face regretfully, not releasing his comforting hand from the southerner's face. "He overheard part of a 'discussion' out in the kitchen, just before you got here."
"A discussion?" Buck's face reflected his bewilderment. "I don't understand. What discussion?"
Sanchez sighed and patted Ezra's face gently, then leaned back and pushed himself back up onto his feet. "John Dunne, your words did this."
JD flashed a look of irritation at their profiler. Then looked back at his friends, Buck returned his look with one of trust and puzzlement. "Kid?"
Shifting uncomfortably, from foot to foot, JD sighed. He ran a hand through his hair, angry at the way Josiah had forced this now. He didn't want to hurt Ezra, but looked like he'd have to. "Buck, I know you're just playing here. Playing a part for Ezra's sake, but you gotta tell him the truth."
Buck felt the small man on his lap start to tremble and begin to struggle again. "Ezra! Stop! It's okay." He focused first on Ezra, then turned to look up again at the kid who still stood there, beginning to look angry. He didn't understand any of this. "Kid, what playing? What are you talking about?"
Impatiently, JD waved a hand down at the pair. "This, Buck, this! Look at you! I know Ezra's your friend, he's my friend too!" JD shook his head in frustration, his hair flying wilding. "But that don't mean you have to become one of them, like him."
"What are you talking about?" Buck's voice was getting calmer and into a lower range as he began to get an uneasy glimmer of what this was about.
JD ignored the danger signals that had Josiah backing up and leaning hopelessly against the opposite wall. "You're actin' like a --- a ---" he hesitated, faced with finishing that thought in front of Ezra.
Ezra had no hesitation, however, "A fag. A flaming fag," he muttered into Buck's shirt.
Instantly Buck's hands were even tighter around the small man, tugging him even closer, burying his head against Ezra's neck. "Ezra! Is that what you heard?"
Standish didn't answer, just ducked his head lower still, his tremors increasing. He'd folded his free hand over his strapped arm, and both hands were in tight fists as if he was trying to prevent himself from reaching out. "Oh, Ez." Buck rocked him up and nuzzled downward until he could trap those tender lips. Kissing the man, he felt him relax in his arms. "Ez, you ain't that, never were. You are Ezra P. Standish, the bravest, smartest, bestest secret agent in the world." He smiled at the tiny grin that began to break through on Standish's face at the sweeping comment. "And, Ezra P., I love you so much it damn near hurts!" He finished that with another kiss.
"Buck!" JD couldn't believe what he was seeing, hearing. There had to be a mistake. This was not his friend Buck. No one changed that much!
"JD." Wilmington looked up and his face smoothed out dangerously. "He heard you say that, didn't he?" Not waiting for an answer, Buck continued. "Not sure what hair got across your ass, kid, but you don't hurt Ezra. He's done nothing to deserve that. He's your friend too, kid."
"I know that, Buck!" JD was suddenly desperate, finally sensing that he might lose two friends this day. "But you!"
"ME!" Buck would have surged to his feet and shaken the young man if not for the bundle of misery in his arms. As it was, he lowered his voice still more, the intensity carrying a message of truth that not even JD could deny. "I have just found something I been looking for all my life, JD. I found someone to love. Someone who loves me, too. JD, you're supposed to be happy for me!" The final words took on an almost bewildered plea, changing the anger to something easier for JD to face.
"But Buck, this just isn't who you are!"
"JD, don't insult me. Or Ez. This IS who I am!" Buck let his head drop back against the wall behind him, never relinquishing his hold on his dear love. "Accept it. Accept us."
"I --- I can't, Buck!" JD was tearful now, backing up, shaking his head in dismay.
"Then, leave us alone, JD, or by god, I'll whup your ass. You aren't hurting Ezra anymore with your words, boy."
"No, Buck!" Ezra's interruption was unexpected as the two friends faced off across his body. Ezra reached up to grab a handful of Buck's collar and tug. "Please, I don't want to come between you and JD!"
Buck looked down into unhappy green eyes, sad beyond belief. "You aren't doing this Ezra, it's not your fault! I love you. When JD is ready, he'll understand, he'll realize it's just another change and life is full o'them." Buck kissed Ezra again, liking the taste of it more and more, wanting to take them off somewhere where they could just hug and kiss without interruptions.
JD groaned and clenched his fists at his sides. Even seeing it, hearing the love in Buck's voice, he still fought to keep his old friend, his old comfortable, reliable Buck. "Buck, please, just think for a moment?"
"JD. Get out." Buck's words were flat and calm. "Come back when you are thinking straight, 'cause you're thinking with your butt right now."
JD whirled and practically ran past a sad and tired Sanchez, who slowly followed the boy into the front hall where he was fumbling with the door bolts. "JD? Give yourself some time. They love each other and we should be celebrating that, not fighting it."
"Leave me alone, Josiah!" JD had finally worked his way through all the security, even shutting off the alarm. He slammed open the door and strode outside, never looking back, heading for his bike at the curb. With a final catch of his breath, not really a sob, he leapt onto the machine and kick started it. As Sanchez stood silently in the doorway, the young agent gunned his engine and roared down the street and out of sight.
Sanchez shook his head and sent another of a long line of prayers heavenward. He didn't notice the dark compact, a rental car, ease away from the opposite curb and start to accelerate down the street. Closing the door, he slowly re-fixed the locks and alarms and went into the kitchen. Another cup of coffee would be nice, he thought. He'd stay here for now. Let Buck and Ezra have some space and time together, try to heal each other. He hoped.
Nathan stood back and watched as the last of the three body bags was loaded on the morgue truck. He'd follow in the team surveillance van. Chris and Vin had left a few minutes ago to go to the local sheriff's office. The roadside tavern, the Hot Run, was outside the city limits but within the county sheriff's purview. Larabee planned on giving very little information about the dead men. He wasn't even going to mention all the blood tests that Nathan was going to get done. Nathan was pulling in quite a few favors. None of the testing would be official, because, officially, the rape never happened.
He and Chris, with a quiet Vin listening, had made some arbitrary decisions about what would be told. Since they only had second and even third hand information, and that largely incomplete, they were not really covering any evidence. Certainly the bullet holes in the dead men made it a triple homicide, but beyond 'accidentally' uncovering them while checking out a crime scene, they had little to contribute.
Now, he would go talk to the M.E. in charge, and be persuasive. He wasn't worried, the man owed him a couple of very big favors and for this he'd call it even. He could call in some favors at the lab, too. They'd know soon. Starting the van, he pulled out on to the highway behind the meat wagon. I hope these bastards are clean. Ezra doesn't need that on top of everything else. He moved the van into position behind the truck and they moved away.
Larabee was silent as he and Vin left the sheriff's office later that afternoon. There really wasn't much they could, or would, tell. Somehow, Ezra Standish's name and undercover assignment never even got mentioned. He knew it was too soon to hear from Nathan. But that didn't stop him from wondering, worrying. He turned as he felt Vin's hands slide up his spine under his coat. Facing the shorter man, he smiled down into crystal blue eyes. Neither spoke, but volumes were said as they stared at each other, then Vin moved back with a tiny smile and they got in the truck.
The plan was to meet at Ezra's townhouse, though Chris was beginning to regret he hadn't suggested his ranch house. But the important thing was to help the undercover agent get his balance back. As usual, he was coming off assignment looking battered and wan, thinner and tired. Only, this time, there was more to it, more personal, than ever before. Chris was worried. Thank god for Buck. And, thank you god that he and Ez 'found' each other. It would be the silver lining to this black cloudy future.
The highway patrol found the abandoned motorbike, the rear wheel still spinning, on it's side in a ditch near downtown Denver. There was no sign of a body and the registration alerted them that there might be more to this than met the eye. The bike was registered to a John D. Dunne, a federal agent of the ATF. None of the officers could figure out the significance of the piece of bulletproof vest tied to one handle bar but they duly wrapped it for evidence.
Buck had finally persuaded Ezra to come into the bedroom and cuddle with him on Ezra's big bed. It had taken some very sincere and persistent talking to finally sway Ezra, though Buck suspected that from the moment he sent JD away, he'd won his case. Nothing could convince Ezra as well as Buck's rejection of his long time best friend and little brother. Standish slept almost from the moment his head hit the pillow and Buck stayed with him for over an hour. When it was clear that his friend was going to sleep for quite a while, Buck carefully extricated himself from their tangled pile of limbs and made his way to Josiah out in the kitchen. The gentle giant was still sipping coffee at the kitchen table.
"You drink too much more of that and you'll sink."
Josiah looked up at the tired, dark blue eyes. "How is he?"
Sanchez nodded and smiled slowly. "He needs to do that."
"Yep." Josiah sat up more and wiped at his face with one large paw. "He needs time, Buck. You're his family, his touchstone. He didn't take kindly to having that become unstable, change. He craves stability, he's young, wants to go explore but know that home is always there, always the same, dependable. He resents this change in you. He resents Ezra for it."
"But Josiah ---"
Sanchez held up a silencing hand. "I know, Buck. But he doesn't. He'll learn, but in the meantime his learning may prove a bit painful to the rest of us." The big profiler shook his head sadly. "Right now, keep your energies on Ezra. Once he's back on track again, then we can worry about that young man. Work on healing Ezra, Buck. JD will be back. He's a good kid and smart. He'll figure it out.
Wilmington picked up the mug Sanchez had filled for him and took a large gulp of the steaming brew. "Thanks, Josiah."
"Not too soon, brother, let's let this play out first." Sanchez worn features looked especially heavily etched with lines this evening.
With a final draw on his coffee, Buck stood again and slapped the other man on a shoulder. "Gonna head back in to Ez. We'll be in Ezra's room until you hear from Nate or Chris. Let us know what you hear."
Both men smiled at their plan and Buck walked back out of the kitchen and headed down the hall. He wondered how JD was.
Ezra slept the sleep of a Rip Van Winkle, lost to the world, he slept on and on, his body and mind in desperate need of the rest. Sometimes he was drawn close to the surface of his sleep, when he sensed the nearness of Buck Wilmington, lying at his side, touching him, petting him, murmuring little endearments and encouragements. Other times he dove so deeply that he was in the cradle of rest that was his own dark interior, devoid of everything and somehow renewing for that. He did not dream but his mind was not still. It examined all that had befallen him, it held up each experience to the magnifying glass of his psyche and studied it minutely, turning it to see all the facets, interconnections and divisions. Ezra was not reliving his experiences so much as pulling from them all possible knowledge and any possible interpretations. These ruminations of an unconscious mind ordered his emotions and his thoughts, gave them meaningful and constructive dimensions. When he would finally awake, things would feel clearer, more understandable somehow. Insights that he'd not had before sleeping would emerge with surprising penetration from the ether. The mind is an awesome thing and even in repose, it never really sleeps.
Finally rested enough to face the world again, he arose through layers of thinner and thinner gauzes, until he blinked. Opened his eyes on his bedroom, a nightlight glowing in one corner. An empty room. With a rush, his before-sleep world came back to him. Where's Buck? JD? The others? Why am I here, alone? He sat up slowly, testing himself and finding himself in good condition. A residual ache in his shoulder and arm did not surprise him but it was very minor, an irritant really, nothing more. He looked down at the strapping holding his arm in place across his chest. I don't need this anymore, he thought with certitude. With great dexterity, he undid the bindings one-handed and had soon freed himself. He dropped the straps and bandages to the floor. With a yawn and a stretch, he stood, feeling as if he could fly. He held his arms wide, testing his weak shoulder and it held. He was fine. No, better. He was really good.
He smiled and wriggled, feeling the half-opened zipper of his jeans' fly scratch at his mons and lower belly, catching on pubic hairs. He reached down and comfortably scratched himself there, readjusting his sacks and dick within the small jockey shorts that hung low at his hips, then pulled the jeans closed and zipped and snapped them shut. His tee shirt was hopelessly wrinkled but it did not matter. He used his fingertips like hard claws to scrape across the fuzzy hairs of his belly. One hand wandered up, inside the tee, to play almost automatically with first one, then the other small, hard nub there. He wondered again about Buck, remembering his friend's hands on him there and there and there. His fingers retraced his memories, filling him and hardening him as they traveled. With a last sigh of regret, he dropped his hands and arched back, putting pressure on his self-induced hard on and flexing his spine. He could ignore that minor discomfort until he found his friend. Not quite ready to call Buck my lover yet. And of course, we have yet to do anything really. With that thought came the next. They found the bodies, has Nathan had time to get the testing done? What has he found out?
Questions without answers finally drove Ezra from his retreat back out into the apartment and the world beyond. He started out with a shuffle, but by the time he'd reached his bedroom door, he was walking with his natural, athletic grace, a feline in human form. Just beyond his closed door, he sensed activity, people, a disturbed atmosphere. He tensed, wondering what had happened now and was he at fault? Cautious, he pried the door slowly open and peered out and down the hall. Not much to be seen from his position, he caught sight of Josiah crossing the room beyond, cell phone to ear. His demeanor tense and unhappy. Then a flash of Buck, who strode by also with cell phone to ear. The flickering of half-seen images was like some old-fashioned lantern show.
Ezra walked barefoot down the hall and stood at the end of it, taking in the scene. Five of his teammates were engaged in anxious activities, almost all on cell phones, though Nate and Vin were hunched over some sort of map. Chris stood almost directly across from him, back to the room, his black silhouette slumped against the patio doorframe as he, too, spoke on a cell phone.
Ezra stepped out into the room. "What happened?"
Everything stopped, like a bad version of musical chairs, the players froze for a second, then five heads came around to look at him. Five faces transformed for a moment from tense, unhappy visages into smiles. Buck spoke first. "Ez!" He strode up to Standish, muttering some last words into his phone before terminating the connection and dropping the phone in a pocket. He reached out and grabbed the smaller man, pulling him into a comfortable embrace, kissing him easily in front of the others. Ezra responded just as naturally, arms finding homes around the bigger man's waist as he raised his face to meet that kiss, smiling as he was released. For a moment, it was just the two of them. And both smiled, warmly basking in each other's presence.
Then Ezra remembered the scene he'd interrupted. "Buck? What's going on?"
Wilmington's face seemed to crumple in front of his eyes, the warmth and love replaced by worry and fear, tension. "JD is missing, Ez. We think Tony Borgo has him."
With that, the world started again and Ezra released his hold on Buck to turn and face the rest of the team. Like Buck, their smiles of welcome were short-lived as they all gathered around the large coffee table, Ezra now among them. Vin nodded once to Ezra, before pointing at several wilder areas on the edges of the city. "He could have gone to ground in any of these spots, they're all near where JD's bike was found."
Ezra, sitting on the edge of one of the chairs, squeezed in with Buck who was casually encircling him with one long arm, listened alertly. Josiah shook his head and settled more deeply in the other armchair. "No, he may be over the edge, brother Vin, but he is a smart man. A former police officer, now an ATF agent - and one of the best sharpshooters after you in the agency. He won't be close to where the evidence was found."
Nathan, seated next to Vin on the couch, nodded his agreement. "He may be crazy now, but he's crazy like a fox. He left that piece of vest there on purpose. It not only had his prints, it had the code number on that piece. He had to know we'd ID it almost immediately."
Larabee spoke now, still standing, though he'd dragged in a kitchen chair, he was too restless to sit. "Just finished talking with Tom Nelson, Team 4. He says Jerry Ortega heard from Tony earlier in the day. Since 4 had already seen JD's tape, even Jerry knew that Tony had gone renegade, shot Ez, tried to cover it. So, Jerry tried to talk Tony into coming in, but the man just started boasting about Ezra." Chris looked apologetically over at their undercover agent. "About how he belonged to Borgo and that Buck couldn't have him. That he'd teach Wilmington a lesson, use his own 'boy toy' against him."
A deadly silence followed as the men digested this latest information. Crazy Tony Borgo was out there with JD, ready to harm him for imagined slights. Ezra stood up abruptly, bringing all eyes to him. "NO!" He turned and looked down at the still seated Wilmington. "NO!" He fought clear of his friend's arms and stood almost face to face with Larabee. "He's doing this because of me?"
Chris wished he had a different answer. But, he would not lie to his agent. "Yes, Ezra. Because he accidentally shot you, then tried to cover his ass. When he failed, so did his mind, from what we can figure." Larabee reached out and gripped one slender muscular arm firmly. "Yes, it's because of you, BUT, it's NOT your fault, Ezra." Mutters of agreement and reassurance rose behind the two men from the rest. Green eyes probed hazel ones, seeking out the truth and finding it there, trusting it. Ezra relaxed slightly. Not his fault.
With that self-absolution, Ezra's mind began to work. He sat back down beside Buck who hooked an arm back around him, drawing him close as if the proximity would provide the tall man with needed comfort. Ezra held onto the top of one hand, rubbing it with his thumb, sending calm reassurance. Inside, though, Ezra was getting angry. Tony had treated him like dirt for a year. Used him. Abused him, hitting him, hurting him during intercourse turning sex into near rapes, talking trash to him, degrading him at every opportunity. And Ezra had let him. Just for the comfort of knowing that someone cared, even negatively, about him, that he had someone to go home to at night, to crawl into bed with, and not have to cruise the bars to find an evening's companion. Only he'd paid for this, with his body and his mind. Crushingly so.
This, though, this was different. Tony was hurting others now. His friends. Hurting JD and through him, Buck and the rest, even himself. Tony had to be stopped. Tony was a cruel bully, a physically brutish being. And now, apparently, with a doubly disturbed mind. A combination beyond a word as simple as 'dangerous.' Tony was a disaster. And he had to be stopped. Rationally, Ezra listened as the others continued their discussions, some reporting what they'd found with street connections and informants. Ezra no longer listened because he knew Tony better than anyone. Knew him and now, hated him. The anger he'd felt when he first heard the horrifying news was growing now, coating his insides and burying his gentler feelings. It was quietly growing into a deep-seated rage at the audacity of the man. A terrible hate rose within Ezra. He would NOT allow this man to harm his friends, his family. Not JD, and not any of the rest of these men. Ultimately, this was between him and Tony. It had started there and it would end there. He found his feet again, a coldness having settled over him.
"Ezra?" Buck's quiet question drew the others' attention back to their undercover agent.
"I think I'll get some water." He kept his voice pleasant, neutral. "Can I get anyone anything?" At the shaking heads, he ambled out into the kitchen, his head swinging toward the front door, checking the alarm light. It was off. As he'd thought. With nearly the entire team here, and agitated on top of everything else, someone had forgotten to reset the alarm, or simply decided it wasn't necessary with so many here. Either way, he knew he'd be able to leave undetected. He drank a glass of water realizing he was thirsty, then returned to the living room slowly.
He yawned just inside the room. Buck looked up and met his eyes, sending a question. "Just tired still." Ezra forced a yawn that became the real thing with no effort. "Tell me when there's something I can do?"
Buck rose and went to him, catching one of Ezra's cold hands and rubbing it between his. "Sure. You go back and get some more rest, Ez. We'll wake you when there's anything to be done."
Standish nodded and squeezed Buck's hands with his own, then nodded to the rest and padded back out of the room. Vin followed his departure with thoughtful eyes. Turned back to meet equally cynical eyes of his own lover, Chris Larabee. But what could the southerner do, back in his bedroom? Two sets of eyes blinked and two sets of shoulders made small shrugs, then the two turned back to the group.
Buck looked down the hallway as far as he could, watching Ezra's retreating form. Loving Ezra was a full time job. And he was so lucky to land it. Land him. Even in the midst of the crisis of JD's disappearance, Buck took comfort from his new alliance with the southerner, that sexy, sweet little demon of his heart. Somehow, he knew they would prevail. He just had faith. He, too, turned back to the rest.
Ezra re-entered his bedroom and closed the door softly. Once it was closed, his movements took on purpose and speed. He dragged off his clothing and pulled out other things, dressing quickly, neatly, in black chinos, a black turtle neck, black canvas shoes with rubber soles. He began to arm himself. Knives strapped to each calf, an ankle holster for his smallest revolver, not quite a derringer. His waist gun had a holster at the small of his back, the flat automatic fitting there like a glove. Another knife in a spring snap device, went on one forearm, a weighted flat baton on the other. A garrote slipped into another waistband belt pocket, woven in with subtle and secret menace. His final underarm holster was the only obvious place he carried a weapon. It was his Sig. A deadly gun for a shootist of his level of expertise. Few outside his own team knew that Ezra was second only to Vin as a fire arms expert, his accuracy uncanny in its precision.
He pulled on a simple teflar vest of his own design. Not really bulletproof, since it was so thin and light, but the woven mesh was so dense that it would slow penetration to safety levels for all but the most powerful, most direct, short range hits. The vest protected while not doing so obviously since it was stylish and thin. It also had the advantage of at least partially concealing his Sig and underarm holster. He tucked a few simple items, also of his own creation, into pockets, some normal, some concealed.
The activities of dressing and arming himself took only about five minutes since he was working fast, but now that he was done, he took time to go into the small master bathroom and there also drink a full glass of water. He knew his anger and energy would dehydrate him quickly. He drank a second glass. Looking at his reflection in the sink mirror, he saw his face reflect back placidly, a calmness devoid of emotion, the eyes blank and mute. Yes, he was ready. Controlled rage was his ultimate weapon. Tony was a dead man, this he vowed. He would rescue JD and then, dispose of this blot on humanity. And, he would do it alone, only his hands dirty. Only he to garner any blame. His friends would be safe, Buck would be safe. He would not think beyond that. With a last, lost look towards the front of the house, good bye Buck, he pushed up the window sash and slipped out into the gathering dark.
Ezra stealthily opened the garage doors and walked inside. From a shelf on one side of the garage he retrieved packing materials and removed a sheet of brown paper and a large black marker. It was a moment's work to scrawl a message boldly on to the big sheet of paper. He started up the Jag, its usual whisper quiet engine cooperating. Backing it out part way, he climbed out and placed the newly written message on the center of the floor and anchored it with a can of motor oil. To make sure it would be spotted, he placed one white jogging shoe on top of that, from a pair he kept in the garage. He eyed his small monument, they'd all see it right away. He figured with luck he had about a half hour before his disappearance would be noticed, then his team would follow quickly. With JD's life at stake, he could not afford to simply go on his own with no back up. But, he could go first.
Message left, Ezra dropped back into the black Jag and slowly backed out onto the quiet street. The Ram was sitting at the curb, as was Josiah's old station wagon. Changing gears quietly, he let the car drift up the street before accelerating. When he hit the corner, the car flew around it and he was off. He knew he was right. Tony had been fascinated by the old abandoned hippodrome at the south edge of the city. The Hawks and other biker clubs used it for rallies and for mock races, so he'd found out about it early in his month of undercover work with the biker gangs before he'd had to go in deep. He'd told Tony about it one night, kind of pillow talk. Borgo had insisted they go see it. Even late at night, the place had been lit with a scattering of high security lamps. No doubt the city maintained those to prevent homeless taking over the place. Tony had begun boasting about the shots he could make from the rims of the stands, the announcer's tower, and other long shot locations. Yes, Tony would go there because he would know that Ezra would remember.
Abandoning the Jag near the front entrance, Ezra faded into the shadows and found the broken chain fence gate easily. Even though by now the full moon was shining down brightly, he couldn't tell if the entrance had been disturbed. He was not a tracker like Vin Tanner. But, he was a good agent and he could do this. He kept to the shadows and gradually worked his way further inside, through the bowels of the grand stands, past the first of many stables and parking areas, out on to the track. Standing at the place where horses were once led with great hope and excitement from their temporary stables to the opening gates of the flat track, Ezra looked out over the great expanse of open space. The large oval was essentially unchanged, though the greens that once were manicured to a perfect lawn at the center of the giant oval, now scraggled with weeds and ragged dried grass, debris. He let his eyes adjust to the dim moonlight, no stadium lights here to help.
There. Out on the track, not far from the judges' stand. A huddle of something in the middle of that section of the large sweeping track. It had to be JD. He just knew it. That meant Tony wanted to play. He rubbed his nose in contemplation. Pulled a long wicked looking knife from one calf strap. Hunching over, Ezra ran swiftly and straight to the boy's side.
JD was bound, ankles and wrists, and all were secured like a rodeo calf's, in front of him. A gag cut viciously across his face. Ezra squatted over his young friend and carefully turned him partly on to his back, brushing back dark hair from a bruised face. "JD?" He kept his voice low.
JD Dunne had been dreaming. The simple brutal beating he'd had to endure at the hands of that crazy giant, Tony Borgo, left him feeling numb, pulverized. Too limp to even feel pain yet. The man had ranted something about JD being Wilmington's toy and now his, that Standish would pay for leaving him for Wilmington and that Buck would pay for taking up with the southerner. It was too confusing to make much sense to the young hacker but it did deflate his anger at Ezra and Buck. If they were the targets of this madman, then JD would do what he could to protect them. Turned out, there hadn't been anything he could do. He'd never felt so helpless in his life. From the moment his bike had been rear-ended on the road, sending him flying into the street, he'd been at a disadvantage. That he had let that happen he had to attribute to his own temper, so upset that he'd been lax. Only himself to blame.
Punched in the face until he was half-blinded with swelling flesh and blood from open cuts, JD had been thrown into the trunk of a small car, handcuffed. Dragged back out an indeterminate time later at some weird old open stadium, like a racetrack, he'd never even been given a chance to regain his feet. Simply hauled along the ground like a bag of feed that Chris used out at the ranch for their horses. Dumped on the track, Tony had kicked him repeatedly. JD was sore all over. The cuffs were removed and he was tied with rope. Then the man had started playing sick games with him. Telling him what he'd be doing with the youngster once he'd finished with Wilmington. And what he'd do to Ezra when he had him back again. JD had listened to this and been sick. And realized that THIS was something evil, not what his friends had found, no, this was the bad thing to fight. The love between Buck and Ezra made a lot more sense out here, alone and hurt, scared and helpless. Truths had a way of appearing when one was reduced to the basic needs of life, like survival. JD had been gagged from the time he'd regained consciousness after being tossed from his bike. He'd had no chance to argue his case, to try to reach the mad glare and change it.
When Borgo had begun stroking his face and neck with the cut off broom handle, JD had simply been confused. Was he going to beat him with that next? But then the sick words had begun to register and JD had tried to squirm away, even tied as tightly as he was. To no avail, the big man only grabbed a handful of hair and dragged the young man back to the ground at his feet. Hunkered down beside JD, Tony had sweated and alternately grinned and scowled as he described the way he'd take Ezra when he got him back. Then he'd describe how he would leave JD to be found by Wilmington, teach that bastard a lesson. JD's horror mounted when Borgo forced the rounded, smooth end of the broom handle into the boy's waistband at the rear. With a forceful tug, JD's jeans were ripped open in the front, zipper half-torn from its seams. The loosened pants readily accepted the invading stick that was forced down against JD's spine, down between his ass cheeks. The angle was wrong, of course, for penetration, but for the moment, that didn't seem to be Tony's intent. He was leaving his 'calling card,' he said. Ezra would know, he said. JD trembled and fought back tears of sheer terror. Then Tony was gone. He'd lain there for only a few minutes and then Ezra was there.
Oh, god! NO! Ezra shouldn't be there. Tony was using JD for bait. He couldn't be the cause of a friend's being hurt, maybe killed. He struggled to spit out the gag, but it was too tight. Ezra was not looking at his face now anyway, but JD saw the devastation on the southerner's as he felt the broom handle pulled free. He shuddered and relaxed, feeling safe with Ezra here now. Like any of the others, Ezra was a big brother who could make things right. He was speaking now, a low, sad tone. "JD, I'm so sorry. I'll get you out of here, I promise." He threw the piece of wood away from them angrily. He'd gotten the message. Now Tony was going to hear from HIM. As soon as JD was safe.
JD watched, blinking to keep his eyes clear, as Ezra cut through the ropes that had held him prisoner. Suddenly Standish lurched forward, almost landing on him. At the same time, JD heard the crack of a rifle. Shit, Borgo was firing at them, had hit Ezra. JD couldn't help the whimper that leaked out. Helpless and scared, he stared up owl-eyed at his friend who was pushing himself back onto his heels. "Easy, JD. I'm almost through." Couldn't have been hurt too bad, he was looking at ease again, the momentary look of pain only a fleeting memory on Ezra's face. Finally, Ezra slipped the blade beneath the gag and cut it away. JD lay there, unable to do more than gasp and flop about, the cut off circulation returning slowly and painfully to hands and feet, the dry, cottony feel of his mouth preventing him from speaking. Just dry coughs.
Ezra put a hand to JD's face. "Relax a moment. I'll help you, just get your breath back." Another crack of rifle fire and again Ezra flinched, knocked sideways to one knee. But his face remained blank, then he flicked a look of pure disgust over his shoulder. It almost made JD laugh. You didn't mess with Ezra. No, Ezra was the team's secret weapon in a lot of ways, not the least as a fighting machine. The smallest of the team, he could be lethal with hands and feet or a weapon, practically any weapon. Vin had once confided to JD that if he and Ez had ever had to compete openly for sharp shooting, that he wasn't all that sure who'd win. JD had been impressed. Now, he watched in awe, as Standish, apparently hit again, ignored the second injury much as he had the first.
Catching the youth's eyes, Ezra shook his head. "He's mad. He's toying with us, with me. I'm not hurt, really. Just nicks. He doesn't want this over soon. And wants to prove how good he is." Ezra looked regretfully at JD. "This isn't about you or Buck. I am going to finish this. Now, let's get you undercover." He slipped a shoulder under one of JD's arms and helped support the other man to his feet. Another crack. Ezra's body jerked in response but he made no comment and began to walk the boy slowly toward the exits to the stands.
"Ez-ra." JD had to take a breath before continuing, lick his lips to ease the cracking and dryness there. "Run. Leave me." He coughed. "Please."
"No, Mr. Dunne. I do not abandon friends, and despite everything, I do hope I can still count you a friend?"
"Of course." JD struggled to speak again as he stumbled beside the other man. "About Buck ---"
"JD, Buck is an adult. You must let him do what he wants."
"I know, Ez. I'm sorry." JD tripped on his own feet and nearly dragged them downward just as the vicious rifle cracked yet again.
This time Ezra grunted. The sudden movement had altered his shape, the bullet, meant to simply clip, dug deeper this time, into the back of one thigh. He couldn't let JD know, the boy would fight him and there was no time. He pulled them both back up and continued to doggedly guide the weakened boy toward the safety of the exit's shelter.
They were getting close now. With only thirty feet to go, small gouts of earth began to explode at their feet, in front of them, marching toward them. Ezra stopped and looked back up again. Message received. You want to play and you don't want me to go. He gently released JD's arm and steadied the young man. JD was growing stronger, seemed almost able to stand on his own now. "JD." Ezra came around in front and cupped the boy's face between two hands. "I want you to walk slowly on to that exit. Get undercover. If you can, go on through to the front of the grounds, my Jag is there. There's a cell phone in the glove compartment." He slipped a small object in one of JD's pockets. "Here's the key." He stepped to the side and gave JD a push. "Go."
"But Ez, I can't just leave you ---"
Another crack, another burst of dirt between their feet. "Yes, you can. You must. Go, JD, get help. For me, please?"
JD could only nod and begin to shuffle on toward the gate. No more shots. Ezra had guessed correctly, Tony wanted him in plain sight. Well, Tony, not for long, only until JD is safe, lover, then you and I are going to dance. He jerked again as a bullet tore at the top edge of his bad shoulder. Ignoring the latest hit, he stared up into the dark stands on the far side of the track. Just wait, Tony, I'm coming.
"Ezra's gone!" Buck ran back into the living room where the rest of the team had converted the space into a temporary emergency command center. More maps littered the kitchen table and coffee table. A laptop had appeared in front of Nathan, another in front of Josiah. Chris was on his cell phone again as was Vin, who was hunched over a map, one finger tracing a route as he spoke low-voiced into his cell.
Everyone looked up. Josiah swung towards the front door. "The alarm?"
Nathan rose, shaking his head. "I didn't reactivate it when I brought in the laptops from the van a while back. Figured with all of us here ---" he trailed off, shrugging apologetically. Both Chris and Vin were closing their conversations and snapping shut their phones.
Vin spoke next. "The Jag."
They all headed for the garage, going out the front door en masse. The garage was open and lit. And empty. Except for a rather strange arrangement in the center of the floor. One white running shoe sat atop a can of engine oil. Vin walked closer cautiously, then stopped to study the floor. "Well, leastways he left us a message."
The others walked over and stared down. There on a large sheet of brown wrapping paper, in Ezra's elegant scrawl, was a black markered message.
Nathan was still breathless from running down the short street and around the corner to where he'd stashed the team's surveillance van. They'd need it now, it had the weapons lock down in the rear. He pulled into the wake of Chris' Ram, Buck's pickup, and Josiah's station wagon. They made quite a caravan. Only missing Vin's jeep, JD's bike, and Ezra's Jag to make it complete.
Buck closed his eyes for a moment when he got to the stop sign, then pushed the truck through and followed the black Ram. They had to be in time. It hadn't been more than thirty minutes since Ezra'd gone back into the bedroom. He shook his head. He would have to work on instilling more of a sense of family in their wayward agent, his soon to be lover. He smiled despite the tension. Then, leaning forward, he urged them to faster speeds with his body, even though the old truck was pushing the limit already, keeping the speeding Ram in sight.
Four vehicles came to slithering, sliding stops in the largely empty parking area in front of the old hippodrome. Empty except for a black Jag and a young man clinging to the door handle of it.
Throwing open his door, Buck was running dead out before the others managed to fight free from seat belts and doors. "JD!" He skidded to a halt beside the younger man, hugging him close. "Boy, you okay?" Already anxiously examining the raw face that squinted back up at him.
"Here's Ezra's car key," JD mumbled as he half-heartedly raised one hand toward Buck who'd now released him. Buck caught it as JD leaned back against the low sports car. "He's inside. With that crazy guy, Borgo." JD coughed. By now the others were surrounding him, Nathan crouched in front of him, carefully tugging at clothes and feeling for injuries. "Borgo's playing with him. Some shit game of bullet tag. Fuck, Chris," JD looked up, as enraged and disgusted as any of them had ever seen him, "he's hit Ez at least four times that I know of --- just nicks him, draws blood."
Nathan was standing now, gently examining JD's pulverized face. JD ignored him and continued. "Ezra got me out. Borgo used me for bait. Now he's got Ez." Dark brown eyes flashed over to Wilmington. "I'm sorry about before, Buck. You got a right to love the man, hell, I gotta love the man, he just saved my life --- again."
Buck reached out one hand to gently touch one of JD's shoulders. "Thanks, JD. He's worth it." Wilmington shot a worried glance at his oldest friend. "Chris? I gotta get in there."
Larabee was already breaking open the weapons box at the back of the van, mere feet from the Jag. "Take what you want, Buck. And, be careful. No point going in there and giving him two hostages. We'll be right behind you."
Buck tapped JD reassuringly, one last time and strode over to the weapons locker. He was armed and moving before the others had finished picking their own and slinging on vests.
Chris stared at what was left of his team. "Nathan, stay out here with JD. Cover the exits and take care of him."
Jackson wanted to argue but knew Larabee was right, so he settled for a single nod, guiding their hacker to a seat in the back of the van and already pulling out his medical kit.
Chris looked over at Josiah and Vin. "Vin, make your way in the back, go high. Josiah, you and I will hit left and right, figure Buck went in the middle."
Sanchez hefted an automatic rifle. "We will prevail, brothers, this I know. Evil will not win this time."
No one else said anything, and they were off and running.
As soon as JD faded into the shadows of the exit, Ezra turned his mind from the boy and concentrated on his adversary. "TONY!"
"EZRA - come to play?" The cold, hard voice still carried just an edge of sanity, enough to be dangerous.
"YES. Come out so I can."
"No, no, Ezra, you come up to me, sweetass. Come on to daddy." Borgo's voice took on that sickeningly dulcet tone he'd sometimes used in the bedroom, when playing out some mean-natured fantasy.
Refusing to acknowledge his multiple grazes now, or the deeper gouge in his leg, Ezra drew his Sig and stalked across the open oval. Tony shot again and again, neatly bracketing the southerner's feet, but never touching him. The shots were almost like a staccato of hail. Just as he reached the gate to the owners' compound, at the foot of the grand stands, Tony's aim sharpened, and Ezra jerked at another skimming shot that creased his side painfully. The flimsy vest he'd donned was turning out to be useless.
"I'm coming for you Tony."
"You can try, Ezra."
Another shot, this time spinning the small man around, knocking him down momentarily as he grabbed at his good shoulder - good no more. This bullet had clipped the outer edge of the ball, a painful groove. Ezra grit his teeth and lowered his hand, having never let go of his gun. He ducked behind some benches and sidled over to the left, then began to climb. Wait for me, Tony. Stay there. Be arrogant and crazy enough to simply stay there. Ezra flowed up the narrow aisles of stairs, changing course occasionally. There were no more shots, no more hectoring. Only the stillness of the night and the false light of the few security lamps high overhead competing with the more natural light of the very full moon.
Far below now, Ezra heard a clattering and then a door somewhere slammed open and bounced against a wall. He looked out over the track and saw, to his horror, Buck Wilmington running straight across the open course, straight for him and death. "BUCK!" His scream was lost in the sound of another cracking shot.
Buck hesitated mid-run as he heard Ezra's cry. That hesitation saved his life. The bullet burned along one temple instead of penetrating his skull. Nonetheless, he dropped like a pole-axed bull. Dazed, he lay still, everything fading to black.
"GOT HIM! Now you're mine again, Ezra!" Borgo's crow of triumph met with silence.
Ezra stared down at the dark, collapsed shape on the empty track, unmoving. He and the shape didn't move. He edged closer to the front of the guard rail on his level of the viewing stand, hung there, staring down in despair. The rifle, so close now, burned another trail along the top of his shoulder, nearly at the joint with his neck this time. He toppled against the railing and sagged to his knees, eyes never leaving Buck. He'd thought he'd suffered before, when Gent had told him that Buck was dead, but now he discovered that it was nothing compared to actually seeing Buck hit, fall, and lay as if dead. Was he? No way to tell. Borgo was hitting his targets with precision. How could he not be dead? Ezra closed his eyes and let the anguish within feed the flames of his rage. After a heartbeat, two, he sprung to his feet, staggered and turned, staring up the remaining distance to where he could now see Borgo. The man was only two more flights of stairs up from him, at the top edge of the stands, an open observation deck area.
Ezra took a steadying breath and began to move, to climb. Eyes glued now to his adversary. He shook with so great an anger that he knew he was no longer really thinking at all. And, it didn't matter, nothing did now that Buck was gone. Licking his lips, the little con man half-dragged his body onward, upward, watching as Tony dropped his sniper's rifle and pulled out an automatic. Watched as the huge man grinned and lifted his arm, pointing directly at Standish, squinting down the sight, arm straight out.
"Come to play, pretty boy?" Tony crooned.
"Come to kill," Ezra hissed, not caring if Tony could hear him or not. Sig dropped as he was winged on his climb earlier, Ezra smoothly pulled his waist gun free from his back holster. "Wait for me, Tony," he whispered.
Chris and Josiah were already in the tunnels that funneled crowds into the seating when they heard Ezra's cry and the sound of a rifle shot. They shared a horrified glance, then ran toward the moonlight. Bursting from beneath the stands the two tall men stopped to look out on the open expanse of the track, both seeing Wilmington's unmoving body at the same moment. "Buck!" Chris' soft cry of pain was echoed by Josiah's "Oh, dear god, no." The two edged out into the open, ducking back into shadow as the rifle spoke again, only this time there was no sign that it was aimed downward. Josiah spotted the unfolding drama first. "Up there, Chris, near the top of the stands!" One long arm pointed unerringly to where Ezra was facing off Tony, like two titans of ancient mythology, it all came down to this.
Larabee spared one glance to the dueling pair and ran out to his downed friend. The blond knelt beside his oldest friend and felt for a pulse. "Got it! Josiah," he called in a low voice, "He's alive. Looks like a head shot, just creased him. Probably concussed."
Sanchez spared his own last look upward before loping swiftly to Larabee's side. "Let's move him while we can." Together the two big men grabbed ankles and shoulders and moved Buck back into the shelter of the entrance that they'd appeared at themselves moments ago. They didn't know that they were repeating Ezra's own actions of taking a wounded friend to safety, in that very same spot, only a short time earlier.
Larabee propped up the unconscious Wilmington, patting one shoulder. "Hold on, Pard." He nodded to Josiah, "Let's go!" Looking back once at Buck's sagging profile, he spoke as penetratingly as he could. "Hold on, Buck, we'll be back, with Ezra."
Each heading to the side, the two men ran in dodging lines to reach the other side of the huge track, and land with their backs against the bottom enclosure walls. It occurred to both simultaneously that Tony and Ezra no longer had eyes for anyone other than each other. Both stood and looked up. Ezra was nearly to Borgo. They leapt over the low barrier, and headed for two bracketing exits, with staircases beyond.
Vin had melted away from the team at Larabee's nod. He'd run with easy, deceptive grace into the main track area, spotted the duo in confrontation even as he heard the shot and Ezra's cry to Buck. Cursing under his breath, Tanner headed for the far stands, keeping to the edge of the track until he was out of direct line of sight between Borgo's gun and Buck's body, figuring the man probably was working on limited focus at this point. Safely reaching the far side just as Borgo fired again, he looked up in time to see that Ezra had been hit, but was rallying. Heading up toward Tony's perch on the observation deck.
Shouldering his long gun, Vin climbed the stair cases, two and even three steps at a once, intent on getting up to where he could provide Ezra with back up in time.
Ezra tucked his gun into the front of his waistband and grabbed hold of the pipe railings and pulled himself up the final steps to the top deck, leaving damp red smears of blood on the rails where his hands had rested. Stumbling out onto the open deck he whirled to face Tony who stood, still as a sentinel, about 30 meters away, holding his own gun aimed at Ezra's body. "Hello, Ezra." He fired.
Standish had already started to move when the shot was fired, this time evading a hit. He dove and rolled, coming up partly behind a small concession stand counter that stood abandoned at the back edge of the deck. Ezra took the opportunity to take the automatic back into his hand and to drag air back into starved lungs. I can do this. For you, Buck, for JD, and for me. Ezra sat, gasping softly, back against the stand for another moment, then he inhaled sharply and sprung from the protection of the wooden counter and closer to Tony at an angle, keeping low. I am coming for you, Tony. Rage had given way to cold, flat vengeful savagery. Ezra would not be stayed.
"Come to me, Ezra." Tony's voice had a singsong quality now that was terrifying in its mindless quality.
"NEVER!" Ezra growled as he staggered erect and started across the remaining distance. Tony fired again, nipping at the cloth along one lower leg. Ezra kept coming. Tony fired lower, hitting the scuffed side of the heel of one shoe. Standish jumped slightly and limped on.
Finally, Tony seemed to begin to panic. He braced himself with both arms straight, clamping the pistol between the large hands and aimed for Ezra. "That's far enough!"
Ezra's eyes were weeping blood by now from a nick to his crown that was bleeding into his eye cavities. His head had struck a sharp metal step tred when one of Tony's earlier strikes had thrown him off his feet during his climb up the stands. Now he blinked away the thickening screen of blood that clouded his vision. Swaying slightly, still limping, he moved on hate and determination and vengeance. With only ten feet to go, Ezra went airborne, using his own body as a weapon, he soared up and toward Borgo. He was operating on a very basic level now, kill or be killed.
Tony aimed in startlement at the suddenly hurling body, heading his way. Firing once before Ezra's body collided with his own, he managed to miss completely. Then he was flying backwards to the deck, to land on his back with the smaller man on top, already shoving a gun under his chin. "Move and you're a dead man, Tony."
But Borgo had no intention of letting his little lover take control. With a surge of adrenaline and a fierce thrust, he was halfway to his feet, pushing Standish back off of him. "This is all your fault, Ezra, you fucked up again!" Tony charged back onto the smaller man who jumped to the side with effort.
"No, Tony, not mine. You did this to yourself." Ezra grunted as he circled, the two men now shuffling in a tight circle each man looking for an advantage. As if realizing the futility of their guns in such a battle, or perhaps, desiring something more intimate, both dropped their guns and drew knives from their persons.
Blades out to the sides, they faced each other, quick eyes assessing and shifting focus, looking for weaknesses.
Vin was on the deck now, his own rifle raised, looking for a shot, but the two men were so close together now, he daren't risk Ezra getting hit. He stalked closer, never lowering his weapon.
Chris and Josiah reached the deck just as Ezra screamed what had to be a Rebel yell from the Deep South. It stopped his scattered teammates cold, even as he ran directly at the behemoth in front of him. His charge pushed both men perilously close to the back edge of the deck where the railing was broken and hanging loosely. The two figures, one large, one small, pounded furiously at each other, knives swiping and catching in clothing, being equally discarded for knuckles and fists.
Madness drove Tony Borgo, a lost soul whose mind was gone. He punched and kicked and grappled with the little weasel who'd done this to him, driven him to his fall, to his own private hell. Ezra's adrenaline and anger kept him upright, his slender, compact body a David's to Goliath. He fought with everything he had, he fought without regard to any rules of combat. This was going to end soon because he was going to collapse, he could feel it. He had to end things now. Surging up inside the bear hug that Tony was trying to tighten around the smaller man, he drove both fists into Tony's neck just under the chin. The big man staggered.
Gagging and choking Borgo fell back, but didn't lose his footing. He wiped sweat from his brow and balled his fists, and tried to land a full body blow, only to once more find it deflected by talented, strong hands and arms.
By now Chris, Josiah, and Vin were all circling closer, cautious lest they interrupt Ezra's concentration, but ready to pull Borgo off when the chance might arise.
Ezra suddenly broke free and took a mincing step back, spinning his body weight low on one heel, the other leg thrown straight out as he rose in the spin, the whole leg becoming a deadly weapon as he spun to face Tony. The cocked foot's heel struck Borgo full in the face. He grunted and fell back but not down. Ezra dropped the leg only to execute a full body flip, avoiding Tony's flailing arms with sheer athletic precision, cutting through the air with an almost whistling speed, both feet crashing into the bigger man's chest, smashing ribs and solar plexus, driving bone into organs. Like a collapsed doll, Tony fell. The thrusting double kick shoved him back into air. With nothing to stop him, Borgo fell off the edge of the grand stand. Plummeted to the ground, 40 feet below, landing with a dull thud on cracked concrete.
Ezra's forward momentum and weakening state didn't allow for braking. His body continued to follow Tony's over the edge.
Larabee could see the end and predict Ezra's moves, he'd worked out with the agent upon occasion, knew what a risk taker he could be. Saw the spinning kick, the beginning of the flip, and knew in his heart what would happen. What couldn't be allowed to happen. He ran forward, then jumped, arms stretched even as Tony disappeared from sight and Ezra's body flew after. Chris' desperate leap and reach caught the flying con man and snagged him to the deck with a mighty crash. Ezra landed on his back, arm twisted painfully over his head, held by one wrist in Larabee's grasp. Ezra's legs dangled beyond view off the edge of the deck. Their motion and Ezra's falling body began to drag both men toward the edge.
Sanchez had seen what Chris was doing and was right behind him, his own long arms grappling at Larabee's waist, pulling him to the deck, then starting to draw the other two men back to safety. Vin had arrived by now and peered over the edge to see the rag doll that had been Tony Borgo splayed out on the ground, broken and still. He turned away, placing his weapon on the deck and joining Sanchez in pulling their teammates away from the edge of the building.
Larabee twisted and drew his legs back so that he could sit up, then pulled Ezra's body into his arms. "Ez?" Chris' chest hurt from the hard landing and his breathlessness. He wanted to go kick Borgo but a look at Vin told him Borgo was gone. "Hey? Ez?" His panting eased as he gently turned the man into his lap and carefully moved Ezra's head toward him. Standish looked like he'd been fighting forever, his entire body seemed to be bleeding from numerous wounds, none deep from the looks of it, thank god. "Ezra?" Finally green eyes blinked open and stared into hazel ones.
"Alive. Concussed. We left him on the ground to come help you. Only, you didn't seem to need any." Chris' tone carried affectionate respect.
"Always need my friends, my team." Ezra smiled tiredly and leaned in to rest against his boss who was also his good friend. He smiled and squeezed back as Josiah gripped one of his hands and held tight. Looking up, he met Vin's bright blue eyes that gleamed down at him. Buck's alive. I am. Tony Borgo will not hurt anyone ever again. My world has been righted, for now at least. His smile dimpled wider and he tolerated Vin's hand mussing his cap of longish chestnut hair.
"Pard, think you're gonna need a haircut soon." Everyone grinned at that, the pronouncement by the team's most notoriously long-haired agent.
Ezra sank deeper into Larabee's arms. "Chris?" He sighed. "I just want to go home now, with Buck."
Chris gave his undercover agent a gentle hug. "We'll see what we can do, Ez, we'll see what we can do."
In the end, Chris and Josiah gently supported their undercover agent as they led the way back down out of the stands. Ezra had staunchly refused to be carried. "I can navigate on my own, gentlemen, thank you very much."
Vin had called some police detectives, who had worked with the ATF team in the past, for Tony Borgo's body. Then headed down the stairs, passing the slow moving trio, to check on Buck and let Nathan and JD know that all was well. Vin reached Buck as the other man was coming around. He knelt beside the surveillance expert and held on to one shoulder as Buck blinked up at him. "Vin?"
"Yep. How you doing, Bucklin?" Vin helped Wilmington rise from the cement floor of the exit tunnel. The taller man staggered slightly, bringing one hand to his head, then pulling it away to examine the blood on it as he wove in place.
"Not sure." Wilmington straightened and leaned against the cold wall. His uneven pupils were a give away that the man was concussed. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, then suddenly jerked upright, eyes opening wildly. "Ezra!"
"Easy, Buck, easy. Ezra's okay. Got a few scrapes but he'll be fine. He's coming with Chris and Josiah, they're right behind me." Vin tried to be reassuring as Buck started to shuffle back towards the track.
At that moment the exit darkened against the faint light of the high security lights and the light of the moon. A triple silhouette moved awkwardly towards them. Then Buck spied Ezra in the center of the group.
"Ez!" Buck was off and stumbling.
Standish looked up and shrugged free of his friends' supporting hands at the sound of his name. He'd been watching the ground, watching where he placed his feet, his entire body shaking in shock by now. Seeing Buck coming towards him, he simply opened his arms wide and waited.
In a rush, Wilmington was upon him swooping him up in a huge body hug, and swirling them around only to stagger again as his center of gravity failed him with the concussion.
"Whoa, there Buck!" Josiah was on one side of the clinging couple and Chris on the other, both lending hands and arms to help keep their two injured friends upright.
Ezra and Buck, though, ignored their bolstering teammates and clung together, heads buried against each other's necks, fisting each other's shirts. Their silence was more eloquent than any disclaimers of love or devotion, they simply existed because each had the other once more. It was enough.
Chris met Josiah's eyes, then looked over at Vin and nodded towards the vehicles beyond the short tunnel. Vin headed off to find Nathan, and Chris and Josiah gently turned and herded the oblivious duo with them, following after Vin.
Buck had been relegated to the carpeted floor of the van, with Ezra sitting propped up beside him, swathed in temporary bandages care of their very own medic. JD continued to sit, albeit groggily, in one of the two captain's chairs in the back of the van. Nathan, at the wheel, headed for the nearest emergency room.
Vin was driving Buck's pickup and following. Chris stayed behind at the scene with Josiah, they'd talk to the police and ID the body, then head out with Josiah's wagon and Chris' truck, meet the rest at the hospital.
"Eh, Ez?" Buck turned his head painfully to look up at Ezra who was leaning back against the van's interior wall, with Wilmington's head in his lap.
"Um?" Ezra tenderly stroked Buck's unmarked temple, content to just 'be' with Buck beside him.
"How bad are you hurt, anyway?" Buck craned his head a bit to see more of the southerner. "You look like a damn mummy."
"Yeah, like in 'Night of the Living Dead.'" JD contributed from his perch.
Buck shot the youngster an annoyed look. "Those were zombies, not mummies, kid."
JD grinned unrepentantly. "Whatever." It felt good to be bickering with Buck again, not trying to change him or fight the changes he'd been making. And, with newly opened eyes, JD could see the deep love that had sprung up nearly overnight between the two men in front of him. Two of his good friends.
Ezra listened with a half-smile on his face. He could tell that JD was now alright with them, with Buck and him. It was as if the final blessing had been given. He let his fingers stray into Buck's soft blackish wing of hair, sifted it through his fingers with textural pleasure.
"Ez? You haven't answered me yet." Buck's eyes were crossing and he knew he needed to rest, his head was pounding, but he could also see the pain in Ezra's eyes. His friend was hurting too and he wanted to know how bad. Did he need to worry?
"Only scrapes and bruises, Buck. Tony was a true sharpshooter, he aimed to brush me with his shots and he did."
"Christ, Ezra, you were damn near covered in blood."
"Just grazes, my love, nothing endangering." Ezra leaned down and planted a kiss on the wrinkled forehead, smoothing it out again. "Rest easy."
But Buck was not through. Reassured about Ezra, at least for the moment, he turned his head toward JD. "How about you, kid? How bad you hurt?"
Dunne blushed. He really didn't deserve the concern he heard in Buck's voice, not after the way he'd treated him. But, he was damn glad that Buck's big heart still had room for a little brother. "I'll be okay. Mostly just sore. Borgo beat on me for a while." He gingerly touched one finger to his currently misshapen face. "Bit of a concussion, too, and then my hands and feet were numb from being tied up, but that's getting better now." JD looked over at Ezra. "Thank you again, Ezra."
"My pleasure, Mr. Dunne." Ezra looked pleased, too. JD was happy to believe the southerner and feel the comfort of a return to their earlier relationship, friendship. Challenged and surviving, the friendship was only stronger for the test, JD decided with relief.
Nathan, driving the van, had been quietly listening to his three friends mending fences in the back. He smiled to himself, thinking that the team would be that much tighter for this strange and scary case. And, Ezra was now free of Tony Borgo and safely in the arms of the inimitable Wilmington, a more kind and caring man Nathan could not name. Yes, all was right with his world again - or soon would be, once he got these men patched up at the ER. He shook his head in good humor. That in itself was going to be interesting. Especially since Chris had sent Vin of all people to help him herd the injured at the health facility. Oh, well, he already knew that all three were battered but essentially fine and in no danger from their wounds and bruises.
Nathan turned the wheel over and pulled into the covered portico of the ER at St. Mary's. A doctor and some nurses were clustered at the entrance, waiting for them. Chris must have called ahead, Nate thought with a grin. Like most of the medical facilities in the greater Denver area, this one had had more than a passing acquaintance with Team Seven. No wonder they waited at the curb. Nathan's grin grew wider as he turned off the motor and announced to his friends in the back, "We're here."
By the time that Chris and Josiah arrived at St. Mary's, Vin was sitting beside a tired JD in the waiting area. The kid had a mottled appearance from the medicated paste that had been applied to his battered face in splotches. Between the pinkish-white spots of cream, his skin was darkening with a rainbow of colors from the bruising. He sported a white bandage around his head for the two head injuries, one from the motorcycle crash, when Tony Borgo had rear-ended him, and one from Borgo himself. JD sat slumped in his seat next to a small brown bag of his medications for pain.
Vin greeted the new arrivals in a relaxed manner that clearly signaled all three of the team's wounded were alright. Chris moved to the nurse's station for more information while Josiah came to sit beside JD and across from Vin.
"How do you feel, JD?"
"Not too bad, Josiah, got me a few stitches," he pointed unnecessarily to cut and mended cheekbones and along one jaw. "The doctor said they won't leave scars, though." He tried to open his still swelling eyes wider. "You and Chris get everything done back there?"
Josiah nodded peacefully. "Team Four arrived before we left." He met Vin's eyes sadly. "They were okay with it, not angry, just sorry. Tony had always been a bit rough, and his calls to Tom Nelson and Jerry Ortega, there at the end, had evidently severed the few remaining ties." Josiah sadly shook his head at the tragedy of that sick man's life and death. "They don't blame Ezra or Buck. In fact, Jerry said to tell Ezra that he understands."
JD, to Josiah's side, spoke again. "That's good 'cause Ez and Buck need to put this behind them."
Vin raised an eyebrow, then lowered it as a small smile lit his face. He realized at that moment that JD had finally come around and was gonna be okay with Ez and Buck, with him and Chris. He silently agreed with the kid, his eyes already wandering back over to where Chris was leaning on the counter by the on-duty nurse. She had just returned with a doctor.
"If you lads will excuse me," Josiah rose and walked over to stand solidly behind his boss. Listening, he learned that Ezra was still undergoing treatment and that Buck, who'd been patched up and was simply being observed for a bit, had refused to leave the ER cubicle where Ezra was getting cleaned up and stitched up.
Chris shook hands with the ER doctor and nodded to the nurse, then turned to face the rest of the team. Josiah had been beside him to hear the news and he figured that JD and Vin already knew from their relaxed slumping forms. At that moment, Nathan appeared around the barrier of the nurse's station.
"Hey Chris," he said quietly in greeting, looking weary as well.
"Nate." Larabee studied the team medic. "You okay?"
"Yes. Just tired. Had to do a little fast shuffling to keep Buck and Ezra together in there." He gestured mildly back over his shoulder. "Once the folks here understood that it wouldn't do them any good to try to separate those two, things went a lot smoother." He grinned slowly. "Actually, with Buck in there hovering, Ezra is being a model patient."
That earned chuckles from the rest of the team who knew that, like Vin Tanner, Ezra Standish was never a good patient. In fact, that very term - patient, NEVER applied to their undercover agent when it came to medical treatment, especially in a hospital.
Nathan walked over to sit beside JD, giving him a visual once over but saying nothing, clearly recognizing that the boy was fine, just needed time to heal. He looked approvingly at the medications already picked up, Vin must have done that. He nodded his thanks to their sharpshooter who returned it was a small grin.
He leaned in and spoke directly to JD. "Tonight, JD, you're coming home with me." He waited for an explosion, a protest, but the boy simply nodded tiredly.
"Thanks, Nathan." JD clearly knew that Buck would be otherwise engaged and not able to look after him. Despite what he'd said, he did feel wobbly and wouldn't mind someone looking after things for a bit. He could be independent tomorrow.
That settled, Jackson looked up and smiled as Josiah and Chris walked over to join them. Josiah sat down on JD's other side while Chris sank into a chair beside Vin who promptly tipped a bit to the side, so that his shoulder rested against the blond's. Nothing too obvious to strangers, but the other team members now recognized the quiet comfort the two men were giving each other.
Now all they had to do was wait.
Buck rubbed unthinkingly at his head, trying to scratch at the stitches that rose over one temple. The large pad of bandage and the swath around his head, securing it, prevented his wandering fingers from doing any damage.
Then Ezra's sharp command stilled his hand. "Buck, leave that alone!"
Guiltily, Wilmington ducked his head, then smiled at the southerner. "Just wasn't thinking, Ez."
"Then, my friend, it's time you started once more to do that." Ezra sounded tired, but relaxed, all tension gone.
Buck, who was perched on a shiny, silvered steel stool, ducked back as the nurse and doctor shifted to a new spot on Ezra's body where he lay on the gurney. He managed to maintain his white-knuckled grip on Ezra's hand, their physical connection as necessary as breathing. So far, the medical personnel had cleaned all the places they could reach on Ezra's front side, putting in stitches in several locations and giving the smaller man some medication to fight infection and pain through an IV currently attached to one hand.
"Mr. Standish, we're going to help you turn over now."
Ezra sighed and silently complied with the strong, guiding hands. He would not fight this. It simply wasn't worth it, especially since when he had started to fuss, early on, Buck had become very agitated. He wanted to keep Wilmington calm.
The back of Ezra revealed several more bullet grazes and one deeper, still bleeding gouge in one upper back thigh. Both the doctor and the nurse had refrained from unnecessary comments but their wide eyes and indrawn breaths of surprise and dismay went a long way to convincing both Ezra and Buck that the treatment was needed.
It was nearly an hour later that Doctor Barnes and Nurse Fuentes finally stepped back, peeling off their surgical rubber gloves. Barnes met Wilmington's eyes. "He'll be fine, nothing was endangering, though it would have been serious if untreated. Mr. Standish should be fine in about two weeks. Right now he needs bed rest, fluids, and have him follow the medication directions, keep him as stress-free as possible."
Buck nodded, trying to ignore the irritated grimace on Ezra's face at the doctor's words. "I am still in the room, Doctor," Standish reminded acerbically.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Standish, but I just thought since Mr. Wilmington is here that it might be best to share the information. You will need a caregiver for a few days, to change dressings and assist you." Barnes spotted the rebellion on the closed face. "Mr. Standish. I could have you admitted, keep you here for observation and treatment." Before Standish could interrupt with defiance, he delivered his final blow, "I'd just speak to Mr. Larabee, your boss, I believe? Who is sitting out in the waiting area even as we speak."
Ezra closed his mouth, his comments silenced by the threat. Chris could make him stay here. He did NOT want to stay here, he wanted to go home with Buck and simply heal in his lover's arms. Rethinking his response, he said, "Doctor, I apologize. Thank you for sharing your directions with Mr. Wilmington."
Buck hid a grin behind a hand that scratched his mustache. That was old Ez, alright, ever ready to worm his way out of a hole he'd dug for himself. He looked up as the doctor now addressed him again.
"Mr. Wilmington? Do you want to help Mr. Standish get dressed or shall I have a nurse do it?"
Buck met flashing green eyes and smiled reassuringly. "I can handle it, Doc."
Barnes nodded and left, the nurse trailing after him.
Buck stood up and helped Ezra to a sitting position on the gurney, his legs dangling off the side. With a hop and the help of his arms, Buck was up on the gurney at Ezra's side. "Hey, Pard, you 'bout ready to blow this joint?"
Ezra smiled secretively. He'd have Buck to himself again soon and no case to interfere, no crazy ex-lover out to get them. He leaned into the bigger man at his side. "Yes."
Buck swung one long arm up and around Ezra's shoulders and drew him even closer, turning them slightly so that he could kiss him. "Good 'cause I want to get you somewheres private where I can take real good care of you." He kissed the compliant man at his side again, enjoying the answering warmth in their kiss.
When they left the cubicle some time later, Ezra now dressed in his black, torn clothing once more, they made their way out to their waiting friends.
Nathan had already retrieved the prescriptions each man would need and had them filled at the pharmacy counter. He was waiting with two more small brown bags. Everyone stood up when their last two team mates appeared from the back of the ER. Ezra was nestled in the guiding arm of his taller companion, both walking slowly, carefully. Both smiling.
Chris sighed. He hated to do it, but there was no way they could be left to their own devices for the next few days. The doctor had explained in sufficient detail that he knew, despite anything they might say, that both men needed to be watched and would need some assistance. Stepping forward, he cut through the greetings of the other team members. "Ready?"
Ezra looked up at Wilmington who looked down at him. Both turned to stare at Larabee in silent question.
"You two are coming out to the ranch with Vin and me." Before protests could begin, he continued. "It's that or stay here. I already spoke to Doctor Barnes." He noted with satisfaction that both men now appeared subdued. He'd have to ask the good doctor later what threat he'd used to get such a cowed reaction from his stubborn men. Oh, and he better make sure that Buck didn't worry. "JD's gonna go home with Nate for at least overnight."
"Or, until Casey can come by and stay with me." JD added with a smile. If the rest of the team's raised eyebrows penetrated, he was not giving that away. "You just keep an eye on Ez, Buck."
Wilmington nodded. Looked like Chris and the others were already on the job, taking care of them. He hugged Ezra to him, gently, careful of all the treated injuries. His eyes had been like saucers as he'd watched the wounds revealed and dressed in back in the ER. Ezra was literally covered with small scary bullet grazes. He didn't know whether to be grateful or not that Borgo had been such a good shot. Now, all he wanted was to get out of here and somewhere where he could cuddle with his Ezra. "Okay, Pard, then let's get this here show on the road. Let's get out of here!"
The rest of Team Seven grinned, taking the time to pat or touch both men, and JD. Reassuring themselves that all was well again. Then the team headed out. JD, Ezra, and Buck among them, watchful, caring brothers flanking them.
With Vin and Chris in the front, Buck had cradled Ezra in his arms in the small backseat of the king cab of the Ram. They'd made it up to the ranch in slow, easy time, Vin reading out loud the directions on all of Buck's and Ezra's medications. Chris listened as he drove, suspecting that the silence from the back seat didn't necessarily mean that his other two friends were also listening with glued attention. Far from it. He smirked.
Once the truck was parked in front of the ranch house, the two injured men were eased out of the back and into the house, down the hall to the guest room. Before either could make much comment, they were stripped of everything except boxers, in Buck's case, and jockey shorts, in Ezra's, and tucked into the queen-size bed. Vin quietly closed the door on the tired men, already cuddling close and drowsing.
Chris was out in the living room, stoking a fire in the fireplace. "Drink, cowboy?" Vin asked, stopping beside his partner to stroke the curve of spine exposed at the moment.
Larabee looked up over his shoulder at the rangy Texan, "Yeah, a beer would be nice." He turned back to finish coaxing a blaze from the starter twigs and small kindling. He had a couple of larger pine logs ready to go in as soon as the fire was firmly going.
Rising to his feet, he accepted the bottle of cold beer from Vin and wandered out on to the back porch, knowing that Vin would follow. Together they sat on one of the comfortable padded benches, staring up at the early dawn sky, stars fading now, full moon having drifted from sight. Rows of the Rocky Mountain ranges marched away toward the horizon, looking pale and pastel colored in the just flaring morning sunlight from somewhere in front of the ranch house.
Chris put a comfortable arm over and around Vin, snagging him closer. The younger man leaned in to the hug, resting his head in his normal position on Chris' shoulder. They sipped their beers in silence, enjoying the sight and the sounds of morning in the high foothills.
When Chris spoke, it was almost hesitantly. "I could have asked Josiah to keep them at his place, or even at Ezra's."
Vin listened, hearing both what was said and what wasn't. He rubbed his chin against Chris' chest and resettled on the shoulder, smiling gently. "Nope. This was best. They don't have to pretend or anything with us. And," Vin's smile grew wider, "they can explore each other without fear of offending anyone."
Larabee shifted back further into the bench pillows, putting down his bottle to bring his other arm up around Tanner and hug him tighter. "Yep, that's what I thought. Just wanted to make sure you were okay with it."
"I'm fine, Chris."
Chris nodded against the soft, golden brown hair. "Should be interesting few days." That got a chuckle from his companion. "Josiah's gonna bring up some clothes for each of them tomorrow."
Buck listened as Vin and Chris faded out of the room, heard the soft click of the door close. He turned to pull Ezra into his arms and settle the southerner against his chest. He felt the warm, small body relax in his arms and a soft kiss touch his chest.
"Sorry, Buck, but I'm so tired." Ezra's confession charmed the tall ATF agent.
"'s alright, Pard, you jest sleep for a bit, think I need some too after the last few days." He planted a kiss on Ezra's forehead and closed his eyes.
It was several hours later, with brilliant morning sunshine streaming into the bedroom, that Buck finally woke. He was lying on his back, arms and legs spread widely. It felt warm and comfortable, there was no reason to rush off and do something. Only needed to stay right where he was. The warmth on his chest and hips was particularly heartwarming at the moment as he realized that Ezra had crawled up completely on top of him and was sprawled on there in sleeping abandon, snoring ever so softly. Buck smiled with satisfaction. This was how he wanted to wake up for the rest of his life. With Ezra on top of him, around him, beside him. He laid a large hand squarely on the smaller man's back, and pressed lightly, rubbing in small circles. With his other hand, he captured the dear face of his companion and eased it towards his own. Seeing the sleep conquered face, he was careful not to startle his prize as he guided the man's lips up to his own. With pleasure beyond any he'd ever known, he put little butterfly kisses on those tender lips, still sleep-parted.
Ezra huffed and grunted softly. Then blinked open those amazingly green, green eyes. Buck was entranced once more. He continued nipping and kissing the small mouth, eliciting a groan of pleasure now. Ezra's eyes suddenly took on life, intelligence, love and humor. The spark was undeniable and it was clearly directed at Buck who grinned back in delight.
"Morning, sleepy head." Buck didn't allow for an immediate response as he captured those moist lips and pressed in more firmly with a wake-up kiss that had Ezra smiling when he withdrew enough to check.
"Good morning, sweet Buck." Ezra raised up a bit on top of his friend and placed folded arms on Buck's chest, elbows pressing into Buck's flat brown tits. Ezra blinked again to clear his eyes and then began to rotate his hips on top of Buck's pelvic region.
Buck's eyes widened in surprise and then appreciation. "Whoa, Pard, don't go too fast!" He put a big hand down on top of the slowly wriggling ass and held tight. "You got some healing to do before we get too active, baby."
Ezra managed a lovely little pout just for Buck. He unfolded his arms and slid them down and under Buck's neck so that he could bring the big man's head up closer to his own. "Oh, very well," he murmured against the mustached lips beneath his own. "I'll just have to settle for some cuddling, hum?" Then he lowered his lips on to Buck's and forced his tongue inside, sweeping over the welcoming tongue within, curling back to wipe at teeth and inner cheeks. Buck didn't remain impassive, starting to suck on the invader and pulling it tightly within his mouth. Ezra moaned again with enjoyment.
Buck's free hand speared through the chestnut curls on Ezra's head and he wallowed in the feeling of love that surrounded them. When Ezra finally raised his head to take a deep breath, Buck licked at the sweet, firm chin and grinned at the questioning eyes. "Can't get enough of you, baby. Gonna die happy with you in my arms."
A cloud passed over the green eyes, then dissipated. "Just don't die soon, Buck, I need you." Ezra paused, then added daringly, "I love you."
"Oh, god, baby, I love you too! I love you so damn much it hurts." Buck abandoned his strategy of gentle touches to grab fiercely and hug Ezra to him so tightly that the smaller man gave a squeak of surprise. Instantly, remorsefully, Buck loosened his hold but didn't relinquish his captive. "Sorry, Ez, just so happy that I could go shout it out to the world. Want to hold on so tight that I squeeze you inside o' me."
Buck wished he knew the words to convey just how deeply and how thoroughly he loved this man. He had never ever felt like this before and it was liberating to feel so completely bound to his baby. The strange conflicting senses of this didn't faze the exuberant man, he just relished the feeling of completeness, wholeness that his new relationship with Ezra P. provided. He sighed deeply and opened his mouth for Ezra's returning, probing tongue, loving the security that allowed the other man to take control and have no fear. He'd seen the light of joy in those wondrous green eyes. I want to keep them like that always.
Ezra had never had this feeling of surety and confidence before in a relationship. Never had he felt bold enough to take over during a session of loving, always he'd been the passive receiver, or the obedient leman. Now he basked in the assurance that he was loved for just being himself. He didn't have to perform or obey to try to win a moment's caress or closeness. No, it was freely granted and he reveled in the love that Buck graced him with. "Never be sorry for loving me, Bucklin Wilmington." Ezra smeared another kiss sloppily across the smiling face below his own. "I give my heart to you freely. I trust you to keep it and me safe."
"Oh, god, Ez, always! Always you'll be safe with me." The promise was breathed on hitched breath as Buck felt a huge bubble of joy press on his ribs, lungs and heart from the inside, the pressure intense and incredible. Joy, he was sure of it. He was filled with joy! He tensed his neck muscles to raise his head enough to return the kisses being indiscriminately smooshed all over his face. He brought up both arms and snagged Ezra's neck, pulling his head down as Buck relaxed back against the pillow again. "Gotcha!" he muttered and started munching on those lovely lips.
It was some time later before the initial euphoria wore off enough that the two men settled into a comfortable embrace, Ezra still on top of his Buck. Both sets of eyes opened in surprise when a joint rumbling sounded from their stomach areas.
Buck flashed a grin as he met Ezra's eyes. "Guess it's time we got up, faced the world, huh, baby?"
Ezra let himself slide to the side of his friend's body and traced small circles on Buck's chest. "Are you going to call me that in front of the others?"
Buck pushed himself up on one elbow to better face his sweet Ezra. "Hadn't given it any thought." He cocked his head, licking his lips and smiling at the small southerner lying out like Goya's Maja. One stray finger found it's way to the delicate dip at the base of Ezra's throat. "Does it bother you?"
Ezra blushed and ducked his head, only to have it gently raised as Buck's finger traced up the line of Ezra's throat and pushed lightly under the firm chin. In a husky tone, he answered, "No, I like it." Then Ezra lowered his eyelids slightly as he added, "No one's ever called me that before. In fact, no one's ever called me any special names before," he confessed in a very small voice.
Buck's heart broke and was mended in the moments it took to pull Ezra close in a comforting, loving embrace. "Oh, Ez, you are my baby, my love, my sweetness, my light. Sweetheart, I'll always be finding new names for you, and they'll all mean the same thing - that you are the most precious thing in my life." He hugged the small southerner to him and prayed that Ezra believed him because he only spoke the truth but he knew his friend, knew how the southerner was a real skeptic at all times. Trust me, believe in me, Buck silently urged.
Ezra lay in Buck's arms, absorbing the words of love, listening to the big man breath around him and felt as if chains that had snarled around his heart broke and crumbled, leaving him stronger, tougher, and more confident than ever. He was loved by this marvelous, strong man. He was cherished, that was clear, and conveyed with charming sincerity with the small endearments as well as the words and touches that Buck was using. His joy burst through his tense, untrusting nature and he felt free for the first time in his life. "Oh, my," he muttered into Buck's neck, where his head had been tucked by the embrace. "Oh, Buck, thank you." He began to cry without even knowing it. The tears flowing freely down his face and dampening Buck's chest.
Wilmington felt the changes in Ezra there in his arms. Felt the tension, then the sudden relaxation and the slight slumping release as the man gave himself up into the embrace. Then, to his dismay, Buck felt moisture on his chest. Tears! Ezra's crying. Buck was suddenly scared, no terrified. What had he done? He pulled back and forced one hand in to catch and lift Ezra's wet face so he could see him. "Ezra? Why are you crying, baby?"
Red-rimmed eyes, awash in tears that showed no signs of slowing, looked into Buck's dark blue worried ones. Ezra swallowed with obvious difficulty. "I just feel so free. I feel," Ezra tried to find the perfect word and failed miserably, realizing such words existed only for those who were familiar with the sensations that were so new to him, "I feel as if you have opened a prison gate inside of me and let me out." He couldn't begin to convey the true depth of that feeling, only hope that Buck would understand enough to know that it was a good feeling.
The bigger man studied his friend's face anxiously. With a insight that few had ever given him credit for, Buck realized just how tight Ezra's control had been. How completely the man had held himself in, never allowing any real feelings to express themselves. He had done this - given Ezra this freedom from that. Given him love that was deep enough, big enough, sure enough, to free him. Aw, Ez, he thought with sad conviction, you ain't ever gonna have to go back inside that prison, cause I have the key. Aloud, he said only, "I love you, Ezra P. and I always will, this is forever."
Ezra sank back against Buck's shoulder and held tight even as Buck held him. Together they waited out Ezra's tears.
Chris and Vin traded off time away from the ranch house, doing chores. Feeding stock, working with the horses belonging to the seven team members, doing repairs. There was always plenty to be done and being home on a weekday made this a good time to get ahead on what was usually reserved for weekends. Both had agreed, however, that until they knew how Buck and Ezra were doing that it was unwise to leave them alone in the house.
So, it was Chris who sat working on files at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, who first saw Buck and Ezra wander out into the main part of the house. Ezra looked a bit peaked and had tear reddened eyes, but neither man seemed upset. Larabee remained silent as the two men pulled out chairs at the table and joined him.
Buck had managed to get Ezra's chair out before he could and guided him to his seat, earning a look of exasperation. "Buck, I can do that myself."
"I know, sweet pea, but I wanted to." Buck grinned happily and kissed Ezra on the top of his head before dragging out the neighboring chair and plopping down on it. His grin broadened as Ezra blushed at the newest endearment.
Chris decided it was time he intervened. "How you two feelin'?"
"I'm feeling good," Buck answered, leaning back in his chair and casually gathering Ezra close with a sweep of one arm, adding, "And old Ez here, he feels great!"
"Buck!" Clearly scandalized, their undercover agent straightened a bit in his seat and eyed his friend with raised eyebrows. "You know perfectly well that is NOT what Mr. Larabee meant."
"Maybe, maybe not." Buck winked at Larabee, blithely ignoring a low growl from the man now tucked in at his side. "You do, though." He clarified magnanimously, "feel great, that is."
Ezra sighed and turned to face his boss. His face told Larabee that the smaller man was very happy and trying without much success to control the emotion. He positively glowed. Chris decided it was a very good thing that he and Vin were a settled couple or he'd be fighting the urge to compete with Buck right now. He shifted slightly in his seat, nonetheless, shaking his head helplessly at the smiling men facing him.
"Okay, how 'bout we try this. You two hungry?"
Buck smiled brightly and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Ezra answered quickly. "Yes, Mr. Larabee, we are both starving. Our intestinal tracks have already so informed us."
"Hungry for you, too, Ez." Buck said more softly, directly into one small ear. Then he licked it. Eliciting a sharp groan and tiny jump from his victim. "Later, baby." Buck kissed the ear and turned to face Chris, his happiness bubbling over.
"Yep, Pard, some grub would go down well right now."
Ezra shuddered for effect and said with distaste, "I do hope you have something that is more fitting of consumption than mere 'grub.'"
Larabee leaned back and smiled at his friends, relieved that they were so relaxed, playful, clearly putting the trauma of the last few days behind. It was almost manic, though, he thought privately. Best keep an eye on both of them. Almost too easy, how they let go of all that mess so fast. "Got some steaks thawed out. Potatoes in the oven. Vin's setting up the grill on the porch."
"Manna from heaven!" Ezra declared, rubbing his stomach, then batting away Buck's hand that tried to join his in the tummy rub. "Buck!"
"What?" Buck winked again at Chris, then turned in his chair and enveloped the smaller man in a giant hug, slurpily kissing him and rising, pulling the other up with him. "Think I'll just start with a little old appetizer."
Larabee choked on his coffee, a spurt of laughter at the gurgling growl from his undercover agent having him stand abruptly and flee for the porch and Vin. Time for a strategic - and fast - exit, he thought with amusement.
Vin looked up from the red coals he'd just finished heating. "They up?"
Larabee, still red-faced with contained laughter, nodded, smiling. "I'll say." He grinned, striding over to pull his lover into his arms. Looking down at Vin's smiling, slightly puzzled face, he stole a kiss before adding, "And old Buck is horny as a toad in the spring."
Vin shook his head. "They best wait, afore they do anything stupid." Chris stiffened, stared into Vin's sky blue eyes and suddenly reality crashed down on him.
"Best hope they haven't."
"I better go back in there. Cool them off some." Regretfully, Larabee freed his lover and stalked back to the sliding door and on in to the living room. He could see Buck still in a clench with Ezra in the kitchen, as if they'd never noticed he'd left.
"Buck?" Larabee cleared his throat and tried again, louder. "Wilmington!!"
The tall man stiffened and released Standish, turning on one heel to face his old friend, shoving Ezra behind him protectively. He had not liked Larabee's tone. "Something wrong, Pard?"
Chris hated to do it but better now. "Hope you and Ezra ain't done anything foolish yet?" He paused and when the dark blue eyes staring into his remained confused with anger beginning to bloom, he continued, "Best wait for Nate, hear the blood test results."
"Oh, god!" It was Ezra, suddenly staggering to one side of Buck, hand to his mouth. He rushed from the room, heading for the back of the house and the nearest bathroom.
Buck flashed a look of comprehension and pain at Larabee, pausing only long enough to say, "We ain't stupid, Chris. Just foolin' around some, that's all." Then he, too was gone, running after Ezra.
Larabee leaned against the room divider, lightly tapping the doorframe with the back of his head, eyes closed. Damn, he hadn't wanted to do that. Then Vin was there. "Easy, Chris. You did right."
"I know." The blond opened his eyes to gaze into the understanding eyes of his friend and lover. "Damn, why does life have to be so damn complicated?" He pulled Vin close and held him. Neither spoke as they waited for their friends to re-emerge.
Jackson had settled JD into the guest room bed of his apartment before heading for the phone to call Rain, tell her he couldn't see her tonight. The answering machine light was blinking. Three calls. The first was some telephone solicitor for some insurance scheme. He deleted it with an impatient finger. The second was Rain. He smiled as he listened to her voice. She was canceling tonight. Her father had called and needed her for a community event. Nathan decided he'd still call her later, talk for a while. His smile grew at that thought. The third call was from the Medical Examiner, his personal friend, Terrance Bolten. Bolten spoke briefly, only saying he hadn't been able to get through to Nate's cell phone. Please call when he could.
Nathan Jackson went from dreamy lover to concerned friend in a heartbeat. This had to be about those corpses, those bikers who had assaulted Ezra Standish. The blood tests. He quickly dialed Bolten's number.
Hanging up the telephone with a shaking hand, Nathan sat slowly down on the sofa. He wiped his face, finding an errant tear there. Damn, he'd been more strung out about all this than he'd even realized. It had been preying on the back of his mind, and now it was out, in the open. He breathed deeply. Better call Chris. He can tell them. Nathan thought about driving out to deliver the news himself but he had JD to worry about too. No, he'd call. They deserved to know, soon as possible.
Ezra hung over the toilet, on his knees, retching bodily. Everything that he had inside him seemed to peel loose and end up in the toilet bowl. What a mess. He stared hard at the blue tiled wall behind the porcelain bowl and swallowed. Then Buck was there, wiping his mouth with a damp cloth, rubbing his back, offering a glass of water. Silently supportive.
Ezra took the glass in two shaking hands and brought it to his mouth, trembling so hard that the glass rattled against his teeth. A large hand settled over his, steadying them, allowing him to take controlled sips of the water. "Easy, baby."
Ezra grimaced at the taste in his mouth. Then the glass went away and returned with some greenish liquid. Mouthwash. Bless Buck. He took a sip from the offered glass, gladly rinsing his mouth and spitting. The cloth was back to wipe away any drips, then Buck was pulling him back, into the big man's lap, there on the bathroom floor. One long arm reached up and flushed the toilet, whisking away the smell and sight of his sickness. Ezra relaxed into the comfort of his companion. His eyes remained open, though, staring into a possibly dead-end future.
"We wait and see." Buck's normal tones were calm, sure. "Face it together, whatever it is."
Somehow, Ezra knew that Buck still blamed himself for not being there to stop those men from taking him, from hurting him, raping him. Ezra shuddered again. The whole sordid scene coming vividly to life in his memory again. God, please, let me rest from this torment, he pleaded silently. Or so he thought. For then Buck was answering.
"Oh, Ezra. I'm so sorry. You don't deserve that 'torment,' it weren't your fault!" He held the smaller man tightly, rubbing his own forehead against the back of Ezra's head.
"Buck, it wasn't your fault either." Ezra twisted on Buck's lap and raised a hand to cup the sorrowful face. "Please, Buck, forgive yourself, please. I don't even have to because I've never blamed you."
"Ezra, baby, I love you so much. I'm so sorry for what happened."
"Buck," Ezra's voice took on a firmer tone as he sharply patted his friend's face, "Stop this." He eased his pats to strokes, continuing, "Stop this now. I'm sorry I reacted so badly to Chris' reminder. It was just that I'd not thought about it for a while and that brought it all back." Ezra hung his head in shame at his self-pity.
Wilmington crawled out of his own mire of guilt and saw, really saw, the panic and fear and sadness in Ezra's face. Sweet Jesus, this dear man does NOT deserve this. "Ezra, you had every right to react and we'll make it all right somehow, I promise."
Ezra nodded, willing to let Buck's statement stand, though in his heart he knew that it was not a promise that Buck had the power to keep. Everything rested on fate now, or as Josiah might say, in god's hands. He rested against Buck and closed his eyes.
The telephone rang out in the living room. Chris released Vin and walked slowly into the larger room, picking up on the fourth ring. "Larabee."
He listened, slowly straightening, shoulders stiffening and squaring back, then slumping. He nodded a few times as if the person on the other end of the telephone could see him. He swallowed bile and nodded again, finally finding his voice. "Thanks, Nate. Yeah. You do that." He listened. "No, you did right. I'll tell them. They need to know."
Vin was by now standing behind Chris, arms tight around his waist, trying to be supportive as his own heart froze in fear. Then Chris hung up. "Chris?"
"Just a minute, Vin, I gotta go speak with Buck and Ezra."
Vin nodded silently and padded down the hallway after Larabee, a silent shadow. Wanting to hear but not get in the way.
Chris found them in the bathroom, Buck with his back to the bathtub, not far from the toilet. A damp face cloth lay on the floor near Buck's leg. Ezra was cuddled close in Wilmington's lap, looking like he belonged there always. Chris smiled a bit at the sight, then cleared his throat.
"Buck? Ez?" He waited. Wilmington looked up at his oldest friend without a word. Ezra lifted his head from the crook of Buck's neck and faced his boss and friend.
"I got a call just now from Nathan." Comprehension lit both sets of eyes. Fear and hope vied for supremacy. Chris spoke quickly, not wanting to prolong the torture of another moment. "The tests came back. Those men? The bikers were messed up health-wise, but none had anything you need to worry about. You're clean, Ezra."
Two sets of eyes closed, two sets of hands tightened their grips and two sets of throats swallowed back tears of relief. "Thanks, Pard," Buck spoke hoarsely.
Chris nodded, then withdrew, closing the door behind him. Turned only to find Vin standing there looking at him. "They're safe, Vin. It's gonna be alright." He walked into Vin's arms and held on, relaxing in the comfort offered. Somehow, he'd figured they'd be celebrating, but maybe that would come later. Right now, all he felt was relief, just like the relief he'd seen in those two sets of eyes, just before they'd closed, green and dark blue, tranquility replacing fear.
He gripped Vin Tanner tighter to him, grateful they'd never had to face that particular fear. "Best bank those coals, may be a while before they come out," he murmured into his partner's ear.
Vin pulled back a bit and nodded, understanding. "Good news can be just as hard to take sometimes, cowboy." Chris smiled at his lover's wisdom and kissed him.
Josiah got the first call. JD and Nathan got the second one. All three men were on their way out to Larabee's ranch shortly thereafter. Nathan packed JD into the back of his SUV and, after talking with Josiah, swung by to pick up the profiler. The three men made it to the ranch by early evening, Nathan sharing the good news with his teammates.
Vin greeted them at the front porch with a smile and cold beers. Tramping through the house, the newest arrivals wandered out on to the back porch where Chris was presiding over the grill, poking the coals with a professional élan. He nodded greetings graciously, a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth.
Josiah and Nathan wandered back into the kitchen, quickly discovering the baked potatoes getting a bit ragged. The men made quick work of scooping the innards out and mashing them with cheddar cheese and garlic powder before returning them to their skin shells for a final re-heating in the microwave at the last minute. JD poked his head in as Nathan started dicing tomatoes for a salad, Josiah tearing greens. The youngest of the Seven quickly faded back out of sight with raised eyebrows. He wasn't ready to become kitchen help.
Vin had joined Chris on the porch, smiling at the man with the cheroot clenched in gritted teeth. "Hey, Cowboy, think I should go check on them?"
Larabee nodded, eyes on the distant mountain peaks, relaxed and happy. Hoping that his two men were too.
Vin tapped on the guest room door. "Hey, Buck? Ez? You guys decent?"
Buck opened the door, yawning and squinting. "Vin?"
"The rest of the guys are here. Chris and I decided a celebration was in order."
"Yep. 'cept you and Ezra. Think you can come out for a spell?"
Buck looked back over his shoulder, his expression softening. "Ezra?" He called softly.
There was an indeterminate sound from within the room, then Buck moved back to face Vin. "We'll be out in a few minutes." He met Vin's eyes. "Took a bit out of us, everything, then the news." He shrugged. "We've just been sleeping, if you can believe it."
Vin nodded, believing it. He had sensed the waves of exhaustion from the two men earlier. Buck looked better now, more rested, the lines of stress melting away. Hope Ez looks that way, Vin thought, wondering though, since the southerner had a lot more to cope with.
"Let us know when to put on the steaks."
Chris sat back on the porch bench, boot heels resting on the railing, ankles crossed. He had a longneck in one hand, another cheroot smoldered in the other. He smiled benignly at his team. The men were relaxed and surfeit, having feasted on plenty of freshly grilled steak, the 'twice baked' potatoes and the hearty salads that Josiah and Nathan had thrown together. Everyone was digesting now, chatting in desultory fashion, or gazing out at the twilit sky, watching the stars emerge like a lace embroidered edging to the sharp teeth of the high peaks beyond. The faintest traces of pink lingered along the edges where the last remnants of the dying sunset back lit those mountains.
Vin had raked out the coals a while back and now was working Peso in the large corral ring below the porch. He'd be taking the horse back into the barn in a few minutes, it was getting dangerously dark for such work, for both horse and rider. Nathan was on the other porch bench, chatting quietly into his cell phone, unable to resist a few moments with Rain, even long distance. He kept one eye on JD Dunne who was huddled with Buck Wilmington. The two had had their heads together for the past twenty minutes. Now that was curious, Chris thought idly, sparing a glance over at where Ezra sat, cross-legged on the porch planks, next to Josiah Sanchez. The big profiler was sitting on a lower step leading from the porch to the yard beyond. Both had been watching Vin, but Chris had noted the way their heads often strayed from the view in front of them to each other, as they spoke quietly.
Larabee found the dynamics of his team to be fascinating. The team had accommodated his and Vin's unique friendship, bond, long before they'd known that the twosome were really a couple. Neither he nor Vin had any desire to change their actions in front of others. They were both private men and their love was their own affair, not for voyeuristic consumption, not even the tolerant and no doubt affectionate attention of their own teammates. Chris puffed on the cheroot, blowing out a smoke ring and then watching it drift over Ezra's head.
Now that was surely a cosmic jest, he thought wryly, watching the smoke ring become for a short instant, a halo over the smallest's crown. The man was many things, but he was no angel. Though, with what he'd suffered most of his life, and what Chris himself had seen the last year, and finally this terrible time during the last case and with the rabid agent gone bad, with all of that, Ezra had most certainly earned the right to title of a martyr or saint, he decided. So, maybe the halo wasn't so funny after all. He wondered what Josiah and Ezra had found to chat so quietly about, so intently, and so seriously, for so long.
"And the stocks should mature in about forty days." Ezra cleared his throat, smiling fondly at the big man staring up at him so earnestly. "Don't worry, my friend will not steer your mission committee wrong. Their funds will grow at a steady and slow rate, very conservatively."
Josiah sighed in satisfaction, tucking the small notepad back into his hip pocket, a new name and telephone number now added. "Ezra, thank you, the sisters will be relieved. They were very worried about the performance of their current portfolio, and the three neighborhood centers depend on that income."
"Do not fear, my friend. I'll personally guarantee their investments myself, if you want."
Sanchez shook his head. "You just gave me a mini-lesson in economics and investment, plus the name of a reliable broker, I really can't ask for anything more."
Chris figured Josiah was probably giving Ezra a little fatherly advice on his future with Buck. Larabee quirked a small amused smile. Good thing he knew his team so well, it was part of what kept it functioning with such a great mesh of strengths. He turned his head slightly, now what was that about? Buck was clapping JD on the shoulder, grinning and speaking into the younger man's ear. JD was blushing furiously and shrugging. Don't tell me he's going on about the merits of same sex bedding? He knew that Buck never seemed to stop talking about his female conquests in the past, and now that he'd crossed over, so to speak to a male/male relationship, Chris wondered if his old friend was trying the same trick with that. Naw. He shook his head. Not even Buck would do that, especially after what he told me about how he felt about Ezra and him. So, must be he's still up to his old tricks, giving JD pointers for success with his girl.
"That settles it, then, kid, Casey moves in as soon as she settles up her account at her dorm. I'll stay with Ezra until we figure out what we want to do. Once you and Case are married," here Buck paused as JD blushed bright red and shrugged, clearly not comfortable announcing the plan to the world yet. Buck nodded and lowered his voice, "Once you and Case are married," he repeated, "you can use our apartment until you find your own place. Then Ez and I will decide about it, not sure we need two places in town, but might want something out this way, up in the hills for ourselves. Sure is peaceful out here." He turned away from JD, staring into the growing darkness. He stole a glance over at where Ezra had been talking deeply with Sanchez for some time. Not a problem, he decided, having studied the southerner's calm posture and smiling face. He felt a warmth grow inside him, just watching Ezra. He had to ask JD to repeat himself when the kid's words were lost in his warm buzz.
"Just think it's time you got over there and kept your man company, is all," JD chided with a smile of his own.
Buck raised both eyebrows in surprise and then smiled with gratitude at his young friend, seeing the caring in JD's eyes. "Yeah, sounds like a mighty fine idea, kid." Tipping his half-empty bottle toward JD, Buck rose to his feet with that dancer's grace that always attracted women, and in two long steps was standing behind the small southerner.
"Hey Ez, Josiah. Mind if I join you?" He didn't wait, sinking down on to his heels behind Ezra, then straddling the seated man, he brought his long legs out and around the smaller, seated form.
"You're welcome, Brother Buck," Josiah said, rising to stretch and then rub his buttocks, numb from the prolonged seating on the wooden steps. "Think I could use another beer. You two?"
Both Buck and Ezra shook their heads no, even as Ezra leaned back against the solid wall of Buck's chest and drew comfort from the loving arms that came around to hold him close. That's how Vin found them when he strode up the shallow incline from the barn. He simply smiled at the lovers and moved on, suddenly tempted to break his and Chris' silent vow of no exhibitions in front of the troops. Why not? They all know. It would feel good to snuggle up to the cowboy just now anyway. With new lightness, Vin walked boldly up to where his partner sat and joined him, sitting snuggly beside the man, snaking an arm around the blond's waist. "Vin?" Chris' startled question was worth the price of admission, Vin decided with delight.
"Just asked myself, why not?" Vin's pithy remark elicited a snort from Larabee and then after a contemplative moment, a long arm drew Vin in even closer and the taller man's head came to rest on Vin's soft golden hair.
"Guess we got a thing or two to learn from them, hum?" Chris sounded pleased and mildly surprised.
Nate clicked off his cell phone and saw that Josiah was coming back out on the porch with extra beers. He joined him, side-stepping the two couples with a tolerant smile. Tipping beers to clink them, he and Josiah each drank with contentment. JD joined them, sipping at a giant Pepsi, having switched off beer now. "Think it might be time for us to head home?"
The bigger men exchanged looks of agreement, their youngest had the way of it. "Yes, little brother, I think that might be wisest." Josiah spoke with amusement as his eyes swept the porch once more.
Nathan patted both friends on the back, "Come on, let's go and let the love birds nest a while."
Both Josiah and JD looked at the usually quiet, somber medic in surprise, then laughed outright. Josiah calling to Larabee, "Brother Chris? We'll be heading down to the city now. See you tomorrow."
Larabee raised his head to check his men. Saw the smiles on the three men standing by the kitchen door, realized that he and Vin, and Ezra and Buck had drifted away from the 'party.' "That okay with all of you?" he asked, making certain there was no discord.
Three heads nodded, smiling and clearly happy. "Okay, then, see you tomorrow," he added as he tucked his head back down on to Vin's. This was not bad at all. Rather nice, actually. Normal. Right. Chris smiled into Vin's hair as he listened to the other team members move into his house on their way out and home. Buck and Ezra made a single shape near the steps of the back porch and showed no signs of moving. He was ready to move into bed, though, and a look at Vin confirmed his lover felt the same.
"Buck? Ezra?" A slight movement in the dark shape indicated he had their attention. "Vin and I are going to bed. See you in the morning."
"Good night, Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner."
"Night, Pard, Vin."
The sound of Nathan's SUV motor gunning into life out front was partnered by the door to the kitchen closing behind Chris and Vin.
"Alone, at last." Buck spoke in a stage whisper into Ezra's ear. Then licked at it.
Ezra shivered in pleasure and arousal, letting himself feel the second for the first time with Buck. Feel it and enjoy it, not try to suppress it or control it. He wriggled his body back against the big man, feeling the hardened erection pressing against his back through their clothing. "Maybe we should follow the same course of action? Go to bed?"
Buck kissed the face now turned in profile to him. "Let's."
Buck climbed to his feet, still entwined with Ezra, the night sounds like a concert as they stood, swaying on the top step of Chris' back porch. Buck hunched over the smaller Standish, crossing his arms over Ezra's chest, tucking his hands into the man's waistband, his long fingers playing with the soft skin above hipbones. He rubbed his chin against Ezra's cheek, savoring his freedom to do this, to show his love to this very special man. "Shall we, then?"
Ezra craned his neck so that he could look back and up at Buck. "Buck? This is all new for you." He wasn't asking, he'd learned enough about the older man to know he'd never before swung this way. It still amazed him that the man was so willing to do it now. "What do you want to do?"
Wilmington thought about that. He knew what he'd do if Ezra was a woman. Would it really be so very different? He felt for Ezra everything he'd felt for the most attractive of his women friends --- and a whole lot more. He loved Ezra and he'd never used that word with any of his lady friends. He was totally committed to making this work for both of them, but Ezra had evidently always been gay, probably knew exactly what he wanted. Buck sighed. Hope I can manage to please him. Let him know how much I love him. Want to love him.
Ezra sensed the thoughtfulness in the quiet. Buck wasn't not responding so much as taking his time, thinking things through. For some reason, that just made Ezra even happier. Buck really, really cared. Ezra smiled. The rest would take care of itself. "It will take care of itself." He extended his slender neck so that he could peck a small kiss on Buck's lips. "We'll just let things happen and it will be fine, love."
Buck hugged his armful tightly for a moment. Ezra had finally called him 'love' --- a real endearment, a nickname! Never had he heard the smaller agent use such a term. Nudging with one shoulder, he led the way quietly back into the house and on into the guest bedroom.
Clothing melted away.
Bedclothes levitated free.
The air became warmer, almost balmy.
Skin glistened, shone with sweat, reflecting tones varying from light tan to deep mahogany where sun had visited it, golden highlights gleamed in the soft nightlights.
White teeth glistened as smiles parted lips.
Eyes sparkled and danced with affection, laughter, love, and adventure.
Naked, Ezra and Buck came together for the very first time, standing at the foot of the nearly stripped bed, fitting themselves against each other like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Open palms drifted along the surface of hypersensitive skin, barely brushing it, leaving tingles of sensation behind. Ezra shivered and a tiny moan escaped. It had never been this gentle, this tender for him. He wanted to live in this moment forever.
Buck watched as the dark areoles hardened and nub out in high relief as he burnished Ezra's chest with his finger pads. He angled his head to lean in and down, fasten his lips to Ezra's shoulder and suck, hard. He let the edges of his front teeth scrape the skin beneath them, then withdrew. His eyes darkened and grew serious, the blue deepening to nearly black. Ezra was his now. It was both a joy and an incredible responsibility for Buck who knew he was still learning 'Ezra,' still discovering the multi-layered, richly faceted personality that glowed like a diamond within the reserved façade. Ezra had laid aside his reserves, opened himself trustingly to Buck. I'll never betray this trust, Ez, he silently promised, face now equally sincere, serious with the honor that this sweet, gentle, ever so fragile spirit had given him.
Ezra exulted in the clean, beautiful lines of his new lover. No, he stopped himself. Not new lover. His love. His dear, wonderful, and courageous love. I will protect you always, Bucklin Wilmington, this I vow. Ezra let his eyes speak as he lifted his head from where he'd been laving Buck's smoothly muscled chest. "Come with me, Buck." He caught up a large yet gentle hand, tugging lightly, he pulled the other man on to the bed, and on down, beside him.
They lay there facing each other, each sure the other was the most beautiful creature in the world. Tentative touches left trails of fire behind, stirring deeper responses that warmed muscles and hardened their poles. Ezra moved closer, letting his wand bump and rub, almost playfully, against Buck's. Buck let out a groan of sheer pleasure. He grabbed at the southerner's upper arms, holding the teasing body still for a moment while he caught his breath, then Buck pulled Ezra closer, enfolding him in his arms, treasuring the feel of the sleek, smaller body sliding easily against his.
A rhythm as old as time itself began to strengthen and move through them, as Buck started chanting softly, "love you, love you, love you," against Ezra's ear. Ezra licked and lapped at Buck's clavicle, along the top edges of his shoulders, and down his chest, broad and solid, muscles well developed and reassuring. Ezra's hands found Buck's growing manhood, hands smaller than his own trusty ones, they squeezed and pulled, stoking his fires, then began to move with the rhythm of their bodies, only in counterpoint, stretching the supple, sensitive skin, then compressing it, the movements making Buck harder than he ever remembered being. His member began to throb with the pressure of blood and expanded, filling cells. He began to leak and Ezra's greedy fingers scooped up the gelatinous drips and strings and ferreted them away, god knows where. Buck felt Ezra's body torque against him, obviously straining, but Buck was so lost in the moment that he didn't have anything left to question with. He simply felt.
Ezra scraped sweaty skin and captured leaking pre-cum from both their shafts and groins, making sure that Buck's pole was slick and moist, then twisting enough to slip one of his hands in his own pucker, forcing it open, pushing and stretching muscle that was familiar with this touch. He relaxed his muscles as much as he could and made sure he was as lubricated as he could be with just natural fluids at hand. He wanted this more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life. He wanted to hold Buck within him, feel the man enter and become part of him. He yearned for the joining, for once doing the choosing himself.
Just when Buck was certain that he would explode from the wonderful sensations of Ezra's skin against his, suede-like shaft caressing his, hands moving over him with magical touches, Ezra slid down and twisted in his grasp, returning but now facing away from Buck. Wilmington was confused but grateful to have Ezra return to the circle of his arms. "Ez? What?"
"Just relax and 'be,' Buck. Let it happen." Ezra's soft voice was blurred with a sexy cadence now, almost erotic in its rough edges. He let himself slide up Buck's torso, his spine aligned with the center of the tall man's chest. He managed to get one hand behind himself and grasp Buck's heat, hard and swollen, slick and smooth. He pulled his legs up slightly as they lay there on their sides, spooned together, then he released a pent up breath and pushed, hard, down, his aim true. With a gasp and a sigh, he had Buck broaching his entrance, then in and penetrating. Buck gave a breathless, feral scream that was nearly outside of human range, not loud, but absolutely primal. Ezra hooked his ankles behind Buck's calves, keeping them tight together as Buck rocked and shook with surprise and fear. "EZRA!" The tight, harsh groan nearly destroyed Ezra's conviction that this was right. He waited it out. Buck, taut as a violin string, gradually relaxed, his erection, which had begun to fade, hardening now within that delicious warm, moist containment. "ezra," now a whisper, Buck wrapped his arms around the body in front of him, unable to think or move. Ezra is right, all I can do is 'be.'
Ezra felt the changes and knew that it would be alright. He slowly, carefully, began to rock them, using the strength of his thigh muscles and his pelvic cage to increase the movement. He knew the moment he'd found the right angle, touched the sweet spot within Buck, because the taller man let out another groan and began to move with him, jerkily at first and then more smoothly, faster and --- "Harder, Buck!" Ezra savagely thrust downward, then yanked himself almost free, then down again, "I won't break! Please, please, Buck, do it!"
Buck was nearly whimpering now with a profound pleasure unlike any he'd ever experienced before. He was burning from within, explosions of light blinded him, his skin was radiating heat, his nerves tingled throughout his body as wave after wave of shivering ecstasy washed over him. "Please, Ezra, tell me what to do for you, baby! I want to share thisss ---" the words ended in a hiss as he gasped through another wave of incredible heat. His hands groped downward instinctively, finally capturing Ezra's own erection, waving painfully in the air in front of them, nearly bent up and back against his flat belly. Holding tightly, Buck began to beat the organ to the internal rhythm that Ezra had set up for them.
Lasting hours, days, minutes, eons, seconds, years, heartbeats, they spiraled into a hot, wet place of animalistic joy, spasming in orgasms, Buck followed Ezra as he arched and came, his clenching muscles pushing Buck over the edge into equal spurts of cum, buried deep within his little baby.
Ezra woke slowly, feeling subdued and cautious, even as he woke, instantly recalling their love-making and wondering how Buck was doing. He felt those comforting arms, those large reassuring hands, surrounding him, holding him safe. He raised his hands to hold on to two strong, flexing forearms. "Buck?" he murmured not wanting to wake the man if his senses misled him into thinking a sleeping man awake.
Buck sighed and kissed Ezra behind one ear. "Here, Pard."
"Is everything," Ezra paused, not certain how to phrase it. He tried again. "Is everything alright?" Not very original, but Buck would understand. He hoped.
"Baby, I am fine. I am absolutely the finest." Buck's mustache was tickling the nape of Ezra's neck. A kiss told Ezra that Buck meant what he said. "What was that?"
Ezra was speechless. Firstly because Buck was okay with what they'd done, secondly because Buck was fine with what they'd done, very fine, in fact, and thirdly because Buck apparently didn't really know what they'd just done. Or, rather, what Ezra had done to Buck. "That, darlin', was a sample of the love-makin' that two men can experience, that two ---"
Buck whispered, interrupting, "---lovers can find." He kissed anything near his lips, liking the way Ezra arched up against him yet again, a soft sound of contentment sighing in a growly sound from deep within.
"Baby, I like your style." Buck licked along the collar bone. "Next time, I want to feel you inside me."
Ezra chilled, freezing in Buck's arms. "You want ME to ---?" He was astounded. Touched. Excited.
"Sure, Ez. You love me's much as I love you, figger we're pardners in this here lovin' business." Buck turned the smaller man around and drew him close, capturing soft parting lips with his own, feeling two firm arms raise up and wrap around his neck. He smiled into shining, wet green eyes. So green, so full of love. "It's gonna take me a lifetime or two, Ezra P. Standish, to love you proper, like you deserve."
"Me?" Ezra was still astonished and thrilled, trying to find a spot to stand his spinning, off-kilter psyche. He was loved! Buck loved him so dearly and completely that it was overwhelming him. He smiled widely and hummed against the mouth consuming him now. When freed again, he answered, "Darlin' ---" then shook his head helplessly, at a loss for words to say how loved he felt, how possessed and treasured, and, how he in turn, loved Buck, with an intensity that he'd never even suspected himself capable of. "I would not only die for you, Buck, I will live for you, my love."
"Ah, Ez, thank god, 'cause I want us to do a whole heap of living and loving for a powerful long time to come." Buck tenderly caressed Ezra's face, tracing a finger down his temple to cheek to jaw, claiming the man in his heart.
"Oh, yes." Ezra thought back to that night, such a short time ago, a lifetime ago in its own way, when he'd knocked on Buck's door, thinking 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' It's the gambler in me, he thought as he cuddled contentedly in Buck's strong arms. I just took that chance, ventured my soul, my spirit, my bruised heart on the kindness and courage of this man, and won, gaining not only all of that, but unforeseen, Buck gave me his love. Ezra kissed the precious column of throat so close to his lips, then nuzzled against it, smiling drowsily. Everything ventured, even more gained.
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