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Author's Voice of Warning (aka Author's Note): English is not my first language; it's German. This is the best I can do. Any mistakes you find in here, collect them and you might win a prize. The spell-checker said everything's okay, but you know how trustworthy those thingies are.....
Background: Chris and Ezra are shape shifters, and a bond forms between them. Ezra becomes the last member of Chris' team in law enforcement.
Link to the official Boarderlines site: http://home.arcor.de/larabee/mag7/m7slfic.html
Buck Wilmington hummed to himself as he walked through the corridor, thinking about the past hours he had spent with a lovely little red-head from Accounting. He had decided not to stay the night. He had an early day tomorrow, and with Harriet, there would be no early mornings. He chuckled to himself. Well, another time.
The smile on his lips died as he rounded a corner that would take him past Ezra's quarters. He stopped dead in his tracks, back-pedaled even, as he saw his best friend and the thief. Ezra was resting against the wall, close to his door, Chris leaning over him, arms around the smaller man's waist. They were kissing. Buck didn't believe his eyes. But it was real. Chris was kissing the other man, and not just a chaste kiss either. It was a full, deep kiss, Ezra's hands clenched into Chris's shirt, pulling him closer. The two men separated, both breathing hard, and Ezra almost dragged Larabee toward his quarters. Chris followed without hesitation. Buck felt his world tilt, going upside down. Chris. And Ezra. No way! No! It wasn't. Hadn't been. Couldn't be! No!
"Chris. We need to talk."
The flat tone of Buck's voice let Chris frown and he logged out of the AgencyNet, giving his full attention to his friend.
"Sure. About what."
"I saw you. You and Ezra." Buck's eyes were as flat as his voice, but there seemed to be something burning underneath that exterior.
At the words, Chris felt a momentary flash of panic, then control was back. "You saw what?"
Slight anger rose on the expressionless features and a muscle in Buck's face twitched. "I saw the two of you making out in the corridor. The day you came back from that mission."
Ah hell, Chris thought, checking his shields. Since Ezra was busy, it wasn't too hard to ward himself against possible leaks. His partner wouldn't feel it.
"Chris, what the hell was that?" Buck demanded.
"You tell me. What did it look like?"
Fury now dominated his best friend's eyes. "I don't want to think about what it looked like!"
"But apparently you did because you are here, in my office," Chris said calmly. More calm than he felt.
"Yes, because I want to know how... Chris! That's not you! You don't.... sleep with men!" Buck looked almost panicky at the last statement. "How do you know?" Chris challenged.
"Because I know you! You are my best, hell, my oldest friend! You never were wrapped that way!"
"Yes, I'm not. I still ain't."
Buck opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again. "You slept with Standish!"
"I'm not denying that."
"You wanna tell me it's just a fling? You wanted to try out what it's like?"
"No. It wasn't just for one night, Buck." Chris met the incredulous gaze. "It also wasn't the first time."
For a moment he thought the other man would collapse. Outrage and disbelief warred on the features.
"How long?" Buck demanded.
"Not that it is any of your business," Chris replied. "Months." Silence reigned between them.
"Why? Chris, how can you....?" Suddenly the expression changed. "What does he have on you?"
Chris didn't believe his ears. "What?"
"What does the little weasel have on you? What's he blackmailing you with? Chris, this isn't you! You wouldn't voluntarily do this!"
Chris exploded from behind his desk, glad that the piece of furniture was between them. "Ezra doesn't have anything one me, Agent Wilmington, and you better watch you tongue!" he snapped.
"You are not gay!" Buck yelled.
"No, I'm not!"
"But you're bedding a man!"
"And his name is Ezra Standish, yes. My soul mate!"
"Don't give me that crap! I don't care if he is your missing piece! It's no reason to fuck him!"
Chris clenched his teeth. "You were the last person I was expecting lectures from, Buck. You always told me I needed to leave the past behind, make my peace with Sarah and move on. Be happy."
"I didn't mean..... *that*!" Buck shot back. "Not with a man!" "So I found happiness, I made my peace, but you don't approve of my companion. Is that it, Buck? You want to check my dates? Who are you? My mother?"
"No, I thought I was the man who knew you! And the Chris Larabee I know isn't sleeping with men!"
Chris placed his hands on his desk, leaning forward. "Then maybe you don't know me all that well, Buck," he said, voice low.
Buck shot him a dark look, then turned on his heels and left. Chris sank back into his chair, mind whirling.
Buck stalked through the corridors, ignoring whoever passed him. This couldn't be. This wasn't real. Chris Larabee didn't sleep with men. He wasn't gay. He wasn't even bi! Whatever was going on, this had to do with Ezra Standish, him and only him alone. The man had something on Chris, used something to make him behave like this. Maybe it was this mind-link. Buck didn't understand what it was, only that it connected his best friend with a stranger, with a former criminal, a thief and con man. Con man. Buck stopped and almost nodded to himself. A con. Ezra had to be using Chris, it was the only explanation. He was running him, had chosen him as a mark.
Of course.... Of course, it made sense now. How else could he have made his way into the folds of the Agency? Where he could use his skills to do whatnot, Buck added. He was a criminal, had been involved in quite some scams, and now he had wormed his way into Four Corners, the very heart of the Agency. Through Chris.
Well, that was going to end. Now.
Ezra was in his office when Buck walked in, throwing the door shut after him.
"Buck," he greeted the other Agent. "What can I do for you?"
The last two words almost died on his lips as he looked at the expression the older man wore. A shiver ran down his spine. He had seen that expression before and it scared the living daylights out of lesser men. Buck used it when threatening reluctant criminal elements, and it almost always worked. It was that expression, with the low, dangerous voice and the total lack of physical brutality, that made many talk.
"I know about you and Chris," Wilmington said, using just that voice.
Ezra felt like someone had just punched him in the gut. His poker face was in place and he was fighting hard to maintain a cool façade.
"Don't say a word," Buck whispered. "I don't know how you made him sleep with you. I don't know what you are using to keep him with you. But this stops now, Standish. If I ever see you near Chris again, you'll get to know me real personal, understand? And you don't want that, pard. You don't want that at all!"
Buck leaned forward, invading Ezra's personal space as his eyes bore into the steady green ones.
"I can make you life hell, Standish. A few careless remarks to the right people and you'll be out of here. Keep your hands away from Chris! Do I make myself clear?"
Buck gave him another hard, icy cold look, then turned and left. When the door shut after him, Ezra's whole body was shaken by tremors. He buried his face in his hands.
The next days were hell. Ezra saw the friction between Chris and Buck, the ever-widening chasm. He watched them from afar, Buck's words haunting him. He didn't dare reach out for Chris, tell him what Wilmington had threatened him with. It would only get worse. Buck completely ignored him anyway and his relationship with Chris was strained. No more jokes, jibes or laughter. Chris was struggling with this change already and it was weighing him down. Because of it, he didn't pick up on Ezra's every-strengthening shields, or his lover's absence.
Ezra shivered and curled into a ball on the couch. He stared at the TV screen without seeing anything. Buck's threats had been clear, and he knew the older man would make true on them. He would show Ezra how serious he was about keeping his hands away from Chris.
Nothing comes without a price.
He had found this one.
Ezra swallowed hard. It was over. It had been nice while it lasted.
Hell, who was he kidding?
It had been the best that had ever happened to him. He had found a missing piece of himself, a warm, generous human being, someone who shared so much with him. His soul. His body. His life.
Ezra bit his lower lip.
His worst fear had come true. Buck Wilmington had found out and he hadn't appreciated the discovery. He saw it as a violation of his oldest friend, he saw the enemy in Ezra, and he was driving him away. Ezra didn't have the wish to fight him. Anyone else, yes. Nathan or Josiah or JD. But not Buck. Buck was Chris's past, a huge part of his lover's life prior to their Bond, and Ezra wouldn't be the reason why this unique friendship broke apart.
He sat up, realizing he had only one option. He had to remove himself from Chris's life. Completely. Not by taking his life. No, he was a coward when it came to that. He had tried it before and shied away. Back then it had brought him Chris, had affirmed the connection between them. Now... it would destroy his partner. He wouldn't push him into that abyss. If he killed himself, the bond would be severed, the other half flailing without anything to balance it, and it would mean killing Chris, too. So he would simply remove Ezra Standish. There was a way and, Ezra smiled wryly, it wouldn't even hurt. Much.
"He left the station."
Vin turned to where his commanding officer stood in the middle of Ezra's quarters, a disbelieving look on his face. Vin clicked off his com unit. "He signed off on all his accounts, too."
Chris sounded lost. There was a desolate expression in his eyes and Vin noticed fine tremors racing through the slender frame.
"I don't know, Chris. Can you contact him?"
A shake of the blond head. "Walls. Lots of shields." He ran a trembling hand through his hair.
"Did something happen between the two of you?" Vin asked practically.
Another negative. "We didn't see much of each other lately, but... no. I mean, when I came back from the last trip it was... everything was okay, Vin. Everything."
"Any idea where he would go?"
"No," Chris murmured.
Vin frowned. "Okay, give me some time. I'll see what I can scare up for you. And, Chris?"
"Sit down before you keel over."
The older man complied, movements almost automatic. Vin squeezed his shoulder and left.
Cool eyes regarded him silently and Vin returned the level gaze with one of his own. The gray-haired man leaned back in his chair and folded his hands.
"Care to explain, Agent Tanner?" Judge Orrin Travis asked.
"I don't know if I can to your satisfaction, sir," Vin replied. "You come here, requesting an unscheduled launch of the Chimera, for no reasons at all, and you expect me to simply sign the necessary papers?" "Something like it."
"Does it have anything to do with Agent Standish?"
Vin had no idea what the Judge knew and how he had come to the information. Travis had his eyes and ears everywhere, but Tanner was pretty sure that their superior didn't know about the relationship, the new twist to the relationship, between Chris and Ezra.
"Yes," he simply said.
"And Agent Larabee, I suppose."
"But Agent Larabee is unavailable to sign the appropriate forms or even talk to me in person?"
The Judge nodded slowly. "I'm quite aware that Agent Standish has left the station, Agent Tanner. I also know that there has been some tension in the team. Would this action release the tension?"
Vin's face stayed neutral. "I hope so, sir."
"I cannot justify the emergency launch of an Agency ship, with only half its crew, one Agent missing, and the commander in charge unable to even talk to me, Agent Tanner." The Judge leaned forward. "But I can send you on an errand. I think you have already received the coordinates and the permission to use trans space for the way to those coordinates."
"Yes, sir." Vin bit down his smile. "I'll see to it that we return from that errand successfully."
"I sure hope so, too, Agent. Good luck."
"Thank you, sir."
Two hours later the Chimera left Four Corners at top speed. Vin was at the controls, since JD wasn't back from his assignment yet. Neither were Nathan or Josiah. They had taken over a bodyguarding job. Buck was the only other available agent. While he was reluctant, he followed his superior's order.
Buck turned and looked up, discovering Vin entering the bridge. He was currently alone, keeping an eye on the automatic pilot as the Chimera raced through trans space to the next jump point.
"Got a minute?"
"Sure. What's up?"
"I should ask you that."
"Ezra," Vin gave him a hint.
Buck stiffened involuntarily. "What about him?" he asked.
"What happened, Buck? I know something did because otherwise you and Chris wouldn't suddenly be worst enemies instead of best friends. I noticed the strained relationship; it's hard not to miss it. And we wouldn't be blazing across space, trying to find our missing comrade."
"He can stay lost," Buck growled.
"I'll repeat myself: what happened?" When Buck stayed silent, Vin walked over to the empty pilot's chair and slouched in it. "If I have to hazard a guess, then you found out about them two."
Buck's eyes widened. "You know?"
"And nothing. They are together, they need each other, and Ezra would never hurt Chris, nor Chris Ezra."
"Ezra is a man!"
Vin smiled. "Keen observation, Mr. Wilmington."
Buck sputtered. "Chris is... not interested in men!"
"No, he isn't. He is interested in Ezra. He needs him. They are soul mates."
"It doesn't mean they have to... sleep with each other!"
"No, not necessarily, but they found each other. Buck, it did Chris good. Haven't you noticed?"
Yes, he had noticed the changes. Chris had started to smile more, was easier, was no longer as moody, and he had stopped crawling into bottles when he felt blue. Buck had chalked it up to the experience on BP-379. And with it to the Bond.
"And have you seen what Ezra's flight has done to him?" Vin added.
Buck swallowed. He had witnessed the frantic preparations, had seen the panic in his oldest friend's eyes. Chris was suddenly a pale, haggard looking shadow of his former self. But he had blamed Standish for it. Ezra had probably taken something along with him.
"Buck, Ezra isn't conning anyone. Not Chris. Soul bonds don't work like that," Vin explained carefully. "There is no way partners can lie to each other, can hide truths, or con their other half. It's complete and total honesty. Complete openness."
Buck stared at the screen where coordinates were flashing by. "I can't believe Chris would.... Why, Vin? What would change a straight man?"
Tanner sighed. "Buck, this isn't about straight or bi or gay. You can never understand it because you were never bonded. This isn't just sex or physical attraction. It's more, down to the very basic level of the soul they share. They are one, my friend, and how they express this is up to them. That they added a physical level isn't so surprising, but it doesn't mean either of them fits your image of a gay man. Like I said, they need each other. Chris will slowly go insane if we don't find Ezra."
"And you think he's on BP-379?" Buck asked quietly.
Vin nodded. "He mentioned something like this." At Buck's questioning gaze, Tanner smiled. "Remember when Chris was kidnapped?" A nod. "Ezra had times when he was close to losing it. He told me that if he ever lost Chris, he wouldn't want to go on without him. Losing the Bond would be like falling into a cold, dark pit. He said he'd release the Kiowata, be free."
Buck swallowed. He had never given the loss of the Bond much thought. What it would do to the other man. "But if he becomes a Kiowata... he'll still be connected to Chris."
Vin smiled, but there was no humor there. "He didn't mean change form. He meant become the animal."
Wilmington blinked. "Become.... How?"
"From what I know of what people did to those proud animals, I can think of a few ways. When Ezra's personality dies, the Bond will still exist. Chris wouldn't feel the darkness, only the loss....."
Buck ran a hand through his dark hair. "Oh god... Vin, I didn't... know."
Tanner gave him a long, hard look. "You have eyes, Buck. You just chose not to see."
The silence stretched. Finally Buck met the calm, blue gaze. "I can't see it, Vin. It's too much."
"No one asks you to sanction it, Buck. It is their life, their relationship. I only ask you to give them freedom. No judgment, no interference."
"I just can't picture Chris..."
Vin chuckled. "Neither can I see you with Elizabeth McRoy, but that hasn't dented my friendship with you."
Buck snorted, eyes twinkling. "That's different."
"In your eyes. Buck, Chris and Ezra are lovers, plain and simple. Accept it or shut up about it," Vin said bluntly.
Buck flinched at the word 'lovers', but he didn't argue. A soft hum announced the jump point coming up. As if Chris had heard it, he appeared on the bridge. He was silent, his face drawn, and there was a haunted expression in his eyes. The loneliness the man radiated was almost palpable.
"Reaching the last point," Vin announced, voice calm and professional. "Engaging jump engines."
The Chimera entered the assigned point and shuddered briefly. Not much longer and they would reach the small backwater planet. For the first time, Buck prayed they would find Ezra.
Buck didn't really know where to start. The Chimera had landed at the old Gateway station, which was by now turning into a small city. A division of Regulators had been permanently stationed here, to keep an eye on things, especially since there were so many Kiowata roaming the plains. A first inquiry with the commander in charge of the Regulators yielded no information.
The three Agents had then separated, covering a wider area, and each was trying to follow any leads they could dig up. Buck had talked to Handlers, then some of the locals, but no one had either seen a man fitting Ezra's description or a Kiowata that looked like Ezra did when he changed. Neither Chris nor Vin had any better luck and frustration rose. Especially in Chris. The last contact over the coms had told Buck more than anything. Chris's voice was under such tight control, it was almost emotionless. His friend was nearing his breaking point.
Wilmington slumped against a wall and ran a hand through his hair. Damnit! His fault. All his fault!
"The one you look for... he's hard to find?"
The voice startled him and Buck pushed away from the wall, reflexively reaching for his gun. A man stood in front of him, dressed in dusty old pants, a dark blue vest, a beige shirt and work boots. His hair was gray with age and there were lines in his weathered face. Still, it was hard to really judge his age.
"Who are you?" Buck demanded.
"My name is Kojay." He smiled. "I know the one you're looking for."
"Ezra? You know him? Where is he?" Buck blurted.
Kojay kept smiling that strange little smile. "Your young friend has come back to the place where he was born. To die."
Buck felt like strangling the old man. "Where is he?" he repeated through clenched teeth.
Ezra wouldn't die. Not if he could help it. He wouldn't let him pay for his mistake.
Kojay studied him carefully. "Why have you come for him?"
"Because he's about to committ suicide! Now where is he, old man?"
"Every man has the right to choose his own path. He has chosen his. Freely."
No, he hasn't! part of Buck screamed. I forced him! "Where!"
Kojay gave a little nod. "He has paid a man to claim his self. It is a work shop in the Lower Alley. Tell me, if you save him... will he be safe?"
Buck stared at him, then just whirled around and raced off. His com unit had a small map of the Gateway station and would lead him to the alley. Hopefully in time.
Still, Kojay's words echoed in his mind. If you save him, will he be safe?
The small back building looked like it was about to collapse in on itself. The large doors to the shack next to it were closed, but there were noises coming from it. Buck drew his weapon, hurrying stealthily over to it, pressing himself against the rough wall. He heard the snort of an animal and the murmur of a human voice. Sounds, like metal scraping over wood. There was a sudden clanging, followed by a harsh whinny.
It was enough.
Buck threw open the door, gun coming up, and for a second he was frozen to the spot. In the middle of the room was a strange contraption that consisted mainly of thick metal bars, like a partly finished cage, and strong leather straps. Trapped in this cage was a reddish brown Kiowata, its head held immobile. In front of the familiar looking animal stood a meaty, unwashed man, a hammer in one hand. Buck's horrified gaze rested on the metal bolt protruding out of the bony base of the left horn.
"Agency!" he yelled. "Keep your hands where I can see 'em!"
The Kiowata's eyes rolled wildly and it tried to move, but was held in place by the leather straps. It whinnied again. The man whirled around, mouth opening to say something, but Buck didn't give him a chance. Without thinking, he grabbed the hammer and threw it away, not even looking where it landed.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he hissed at the shocked looking man.
"I... I... he paid me for it!"
Buck didn't believe his ears. Ezra had paid this man to... to... impale him? Vin's words came back to him and he remembered that clipping wasn't necessarily the only way to tame a Kiowata, to purge the human from the animal mind.
"Kiowata are under the protection of the Joined Governments," he snarled.
"But he asked me to do it!" the man tried to defend his highly illegal actions.
Buck grabbed two fistfuls of the greasy shirt and catapulted him back against his work bench. "Get out of here," he said softly, voice dangerously low.
The man, eyes wide with fear, scrambled away, running out of his work shop. Buck didn't even watch him go. He turned, taking in the Kiowata caught in the contraption, part of a nail sticking out of his head. He grabbed the piece of metal and yanked it out, praying he didn't do much more damage. The green eyes of the animal watched him, nostrils opening wide as the Kiowata panted in terror. Buck fought to free it from the binding leather straps. The equine shied away as it was able to move again, rearing, trying to get out of the cage.
"Ezra?" Buck asked carefully. "Ezra, listen, please. Calm down. I'm not here to hurt you. We were looking for you. Chris is frantic."
The Kiowata gazed at him, confusion visible in the expressive eyes. Buck grabbed his com unit, never leaving Ezra out of his sight..
"Chris? This is Buck. I found him." He gave the coordinates and address, then turned back to the Kiowata. "Change, please?"
Ezra snorted loudly, prancing, unable to get past Buck without bowling him over, or move further away.
"Ezra, I won't hurt you. Please. I... can't talk to you if you look like that."
There was a moment of hesitation, then the animal shimmered, coalescing into the well-known, though naked form, of Ezra Standish. Who promptly collapsed.
"Shit," Buck cursed, grabbing a blanket and covering the smaller man.
Ezra was trembling, hands clenching into the coarse material. Blood was running from a cut above the left eye.
"Ezra? Why?" Buck tried to get a look at the wound, but the thief was evading his hesitant moves. "You... you were about to... get ...." The magnitude of what Standish had wanted to do, what he had paid this man to do, hit him. "You were ready to die?"
Green eyes met his and Buck winced at the raw pain he saw in there. Ezra had been willing to get his personality, his whole being, erased. Exist only as a Kiowata. He had been ready to die; Ezra Standish would have ceased to exist. Buck couldn't grasp the idea.
The arrival of Chris shook him out of his frozen shock.
The blond rushed past Buck and fell to his knees next to his partner, his soul mate, his..... Buck swallowed. Lover. Chris's arms came around the smaller, shivering form, drawing him against his dust-covered uniform.
"Ezra," he repeated again, softer this time. "What... what happened?" Chris asked as he discovered the bleeding wound.
Buck opened the fist where the still held the nail. Larabee's eyes went wide in complete horror.
Ezra closed his eyes and buried his head against Chris's chest. Buck felt something inside of him clench, knowing that whatever he saw displayed on the outside, it was even worse on the inside. The Bond. He watched Chris gently run a hand over the brown head, soothing the shaking man, holding him close.
"Why?" he murmured. "Why, why, why?"
Ezra looked up, liquid green eyes gazing at Buck. He was holding on to the blanket as if it was his lifeline. "I didn't want to destroy this," was the hoarse whisper.
Buck felt his throat constrict and curled his hand around the nail again, feeling it bite into his palm. Chris's arms tightened around his partner and he looked at his friend, horror clearly written in his eyes.
"Didn't want to be the reason," Ezra murmured.
Chris pressed a kiss onto one temple, tears gathering in his eyes. He wrapped his fingers around one clenched hand. The famous control was slipping and the tough Agency commander was reduced to a mere human being who was suddenly confronted with his worst nightmare.
Buck felt sick to the core. Ezra had done this because of his friendship with Chris? Because he had driven them apart? He would have killed himself for it? Wilmington rose and grabbed one of the work overalls close by. He walked to the pair on the ground, holding the article of clothing out to Chris.
"Thanks," Larabee murmured, nodding once. His hands were shaking.
Buck turned as Ezra was helped to his feet by Chris and dressed. When Buck looked again, he felt like throwing up. Ezra's pale face was covered in dirt and blood, his eyes holding a hollow expression of pain, and there were dark circles under the normally lively emeralds. Chris had his arm around the shaking shoulders and he guided the smaller man out of the shack. Vin had just arrived and he gazed at the pair with pained eyes. Buck evaded the gaze, following his best friend, steps heavy.
What had he done?
Chris had the insane wish to strangle his partner, which was immediately replaced by the simple need to just hold him, while the anger transformed into a brief bout of rage against the world in general and Buck in particular. Then the wish to strangle Ezra as back. The thief lay on Chris's bed in his quarters aboard the Chimera. He had showered, the wound on his forehead had been taken care of by Vin, and the drone of the ship's engines told Chris they were back in trans space. Buck was on the bridge with Vin. His second-in-command had assured him that he could take care of matters. Chris had all the time in the world for Ezra.
The 'why' still echoed in his head, but the answer was just as clear. Ezra had been willing to give the ultimate sacrifice: his self. Because of Buck. Because Chris had been pushed to decide who to choose.
Chris walked over to the bed and sat down, the mattress dipping under his weight. He placed a hand on Ezra's back and rubbed it gently. "Ezra?"
Green eyes opened and Chris winced at the pain in there.
"Let me in," he requested. "Please?"
"Won't make it better," the thief mumbled. "It will only get worse when we're back... when he had time to think."
No answer, but it was enough.
"I don't care what Buck thinks, Ezra," Chris told him firmly.
"He's your best friend. Your oldest friend. Part of your past, Chris."
"And you're part of me." Chris placed his hands left and right of Ezra's head. "You are my future."
Ezra bit his lower lip. "I don't want to force you to choose."
"You wouldn't and my choice is clear to me."
The expressive eyes widened. "No!"
"Ezra. Buck is a grown man. He is my oldest friend, yes. He is part of this team, true. But he's no child. He can decide what he wants to do or not. If he decided to leave this team, he can find another one in a heartbeat. If he left the Agency, there are plenty of jobs for a man with his training."
Ezra's hands clenched into fists. "He wouldn't leave without destroying you, Chris."
"I think I can suffer his absence."
"No, that's not what I meant. He... he said he'd tell the right people, he'd...."
Chris felt insane fury rise inside of him. "He threatened you?" he growled.
Ezra made a grab for his arm as Chris tried to get up, intent on confronting the man in question. He missed and scrambled off the bed, blocking his friend's way. "Chris, please, wait! Don't.... please. I understand him. He wants to protect you." At Chris's expression he pressed on. "What did you expect? He's your friend."
"Protect me from what? Real life?" Chris snapped, anger coloring his voice. "I don't need a chaperone, Ezra! I can decide just fine what I want to do! I don't need Buck mother-henning me, trying to protect me from - you of all people, for heaven's sake. You're my lover."
"Yes, I am, but Buck doesn't know that."
"Of course he does. I told him, damnit."
Ezra sighed deeply and hung his head. "Chris. Imagine Buck would come to you with the news, he is in love, then reveals that this person of his affection is a thief, gambler and con-man. Someone who has never done anything that wasn't entirely selfish. Someone whom you'd never expect to be honest. What would YOU do? Being his best friend I mean?"
That hit home. Hard. Chris stared at the pale, drawn features, took in the angry cut on Ezra's forehead, the intense expression in his eyes. Understanding dawned inside of him as he tried to change his view to see it Buck's way. What would he have done if it had been Buck?
"You would have done the same," Ezra answered the unspoken question. "You would have tried to see the con behind it, what I'm gaining from this relationship, doubt my motives. I never tried to hide my past, Chris. I flash my colors brightly. It's only natural that Buck wouldn't trust me with his oldest friend."
Chris inhaled deeply. "He should have trusted me so far to know whether or not you are conning me, Ezra," he argued quietly.
"Would you have trusted Buck? Chris, he knows my file. He knows I was, and still am, good at what I do. Now I do it for the Agency."
Yes, now Ezra used his considerable talents of subterfuge for law enforcement, and watching him work had given Chris quite a respect for the other man. No wonder he had never been caught, except on that last job. He was damn good.
"And he doesn't know about the Bond as such. He doesn't know I couldn't lie to you." Ezra hesitantly added the last part, suddenly dropping his gaze.
Chris closed the distance between them and touched one pale cheek, rubbing his thumb over the skin. "No, you never could."
Complete honesty. Whatever Ezra had been able to do in the past, lie, cheat and con his way in and out of every situation, he had lost that particular talent when it came to Chris Larabee.
"You didn't cheat your way into this relationship," Chris pressed on. "And the only one who is selfish is me. You are mine, Ezra Standish." He held the wide eyes. "I won't give you up."
"Chris, promise me -- please? It's over."
"No, it isn't."
"I can't let it go, Ezra. What Buck did..."
"He did it out of friendship. Please? Talk to Buck?"
"I will. Just not now." <Let me in>
Ezra hesitated, then lowered his last walls, feeling Chris's warmth envelop him. Lips touched his, the tip of a tongue licking over the outline, requesting entrance. He gave in only too willingly.
<Need you> Chris whispered as he sank into the slow, sensual kiss. <Don't do that again, Ezra. Promise>
<Promise> Ezra answered, lost in the sensation of his lover's warmth and touch.
Chris rested his forehead against Ezra's, inhaling deeply. "I won't lose you, Ezra Standish. Never."
"I promise," he repeated.
"You need rest. Sleep," Larabee ordered gently, noticing the exhaustion in his lover's face.
"Stay?" Ezra requested as they walked back to the bed.
Chris smiled and lay next to him, arms around his lover as Ezra buried his head against his chest.
Buck hesitated in front of the door, then inhaled deeply and announced his presence. Chris was the one to open the door and the expression in his friend's eyes let Buck know that whatever happened here tonight, it would be the decision on whether he, Buck Wilmington, had a future with the Chimera team or not.
"Hey, Chris," he said calmly.
He walked into the quarters, apprehension rising as he discovered Ezra. The thief's expression was shuttered and he refused to meet Buck's eyes directly.
Chris had closed the door and walked over to where Ezra now sat down. Buck had expected them to hold hands, show their affection, anything, but looking at them now, he wouldn't be able to tell that there was more. It had gone for months now and he had never seen a sign. If not for the kiss, he would still be totally oblivious to it. Two men. Two of his friends. Well, maybe not much longer. He sighed and gazed at his clasped hands.
"I came to apologize," he said, choosing the straight-forward approach. "I... overreacted." Buck looked up and saw no change in either man's expression. "I saw you... kissing. I.... something just blew inside me and I couldn't think straight. All I knew was that my best friend was kissing another man."
Ezra lowered his eyes. "A man you didn't really know," he supplied, voice low. "Someone you don't place much trust in."
"No! I trust you..... Ez, listen.... I'm still not really sure of this, but I know you didn't con Chris. I realize that what I said was a load of crap, that I unloaded it on you. I had no right... I had no right to threaten you."
Damn right, Chris's expression said.
"You'd have every right to file charges against me, Ezra," Buck went on. "I'd understand if you wanted me off this team; both of you."
"And you're damn close to it, too," Chris growled.
Ezra shot his soul partner a look, then turned to Buck. "I accept your apology," he said quietly. "I understand your reactions. You acted on what you thought was a threat to a friend. I just wish you would have given us the benefit of a doubt."
"I know," Buck whispered.
"As for removing you from the team," Chris picked up the line and Buck felt his heart sink, "I'm not going to be the one to kick you out. If you want to resign, that's your decision. If you stay, my relationship with Ezra won't come up again, understood?"
Buck blinked. "So the others don't know either?"
"Only Vin does and it'll stay that way." Hazel eyes bore into his. Chris was dead serious about it. "You keep your big mouth shut."
"Sure. Are you ever going to tell them?"
There was a brief panicky look in Ezra's eyes, which was quickly smothered.
"Not if I don't have to," Chris replied levelly.
Buck nodded slowly. "I don't want to leave the Chimera," he then told the two men.
"Neither of us wants you to," Ezra said calmly.
"I just need some time to get used to... you two." Buck lifted one corner of his mouth into a smile. "Kinda sudden."
Chris gave him the same half smile. "It always is."
"But you're happy." It wasn't really a question. He had seen the proof.
Chris's smile grew. Buck nodded to himself. Somehow he still expected those two to hold hands, exchange little looks, but nothing like it happened.
"Okay," he said softly. "I'll keep my mouth shut." He looked straight at Ezra. "Thanks."
Ezra raised both eyebrows. "What for?"
"Letting me stay."
"Buck, it was never my decision," the thief told him seriously. "I can't make your decisions for you, neither can I influence Chris, and I'd never do it."
Buck smiled slightly. Yes, he had realized that. He finally rose. "See you, guys," he said as he walked to the door.
Chris accompanied him. "Buck?"
"I don't want to lose you as my friend."
"You won't, pard."
A nod. "Thank you."
Ezra looked up as Chris walked back into the living room, noticing the tension draining out of him with every step. The meeting with Buck had strained both of them, but for different reasons. Ezra didn't want to see the other Agent leave the group and he had spoken the truth when he had said that he wouldn't make that decision for him; neither could he ask Chris to throw him out. Buck's fight was only with himself.
Chris sat down on the couch again, closer this time, leaning into Ezra's arms. He accepted the silent request for comfort and pulled Chris against him, resting the blond head against his shoulder as one arm was snaked around his waist. Ezra rested his chin on his lover's head as he entwined his left hand with Chris's right, his own right hand running gently through the fair hair. Chris sighed softly, content, snuggling closer.
"Y'know, I think he expected us to kiss or hold hands," Ezra said after a moment, the smile audible in his voice.
Chris turned a bit, looking at his grinning lover. "If we had, he would have fainted," he chuckled.
"Might have been fun."
"You are bad, Ezra Standish."
Ezra leaned down and brushed his lips over Chris's. The kiss lasted. Deepened. Ezra moved so he was on top of Chris on the couch, assaulting the man underneath him. Chris dug his fingers into the shirt's fabric, holding him close, then transferring his grip to his head.
Almost panting, skin flushed, Ezra came up for air, looking at Chris. His lover was just as breathless, eyes dark and full of desire.
"I love to kiss you," Ezra purred. Those lips were a sin.
Chris slid his hands under his shirt, pulling him close in the process. "What's keeping you then?" was the husky reply.
The thief followed the unspoken demand only too gladly.
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