I awoke to the new day with a feeling of anticipation, not something that I ever remember doing before. But then, I'd never been so well loved before. Vin had spooned up behind me and his arms held me close to keep me from getting away. Of course, how was he to know that I never wanted to get away, never wanted him to let me go? Hope warred with common sense and for the first time, I wanted hope to win out.
"Morning, Ezra." Vin's voice was sleep roughened and when he nuzzled the back of my neck, it tickled. "I could get real used to waking up like this, my friend. Did you sleep all right?"
I turned in his arms so I could see him. "I've never slept so well. I too, would like to do this again. Perhaps you would oblige me by coming back here after work?"
His smile could charm the birds from the trees. "Sure enough, Ez', I'd like that. 'Course I need to detour by my place and pick up some clothes."
"Good, did you ever figure out why Betsy didn't start?" I could still feel the relief when he'd explained that it wasn't a woman but a car he was worried about.
"Now there you go, it was the damnedest thing, Ezra. She started up right away the next day when Buck came with me to see what was wrong." He grinned ruefully. "He like to teased me about that for a week. And she's started every day since. I guess there's just no accounting for cars."
Something was trying to get through to me about that whole episode but I was distracted by Vin leaning in to kiss me. All of my higher brain functions went away when he did that and all I could feel was his warmth. I hoped that I never became blasé about his kisses or indeed, about him. Once again, I was hoping rather than thinking, something he'd brought into my life and the cold stone that had been my heart.
"Ezra, what you thinking about so hard?" His warm fingers were caressing my cheek and his eyes looked a little concerned.
So I tried to smile and give him the truth that he deserved. "I'm a little worried that I can't love you the way you deserve. I've had no practice in considering another before myself."
"Well, I don't have much experience myself, Ezra." He kissed me gently before pulling back a little. "Guess we should learn together how to take care of each other. I'm willing if you are."
"Oh, I'm willing, Vin, just not sure how to go about it." I confessed and he kissed me again.
"We'll learn as we go, Ez'. Now, how about we take a shower together so's we can get ready for work. There's a stack of paperwork with our names on it back at the office." He let me go and rolled out of bed, stretching that magnificent body so hard that I heard joints pop. "C'mon, Ezra, out of bed so's I can wash that beautiful body of yours."
Well, who was I to say him nay? I rolled out and took his outstretched hand. He was a very tactile lover and I was enjoying the freedom of touching him too. The shower unit in my bathroom was large enough for two and I was looking forward to sharing it with Vin. He's like a sleek seal when he's wet and I still wanted to lick his body from his toes up to his elven-like ears.
If I was lucky, I'd have the time to do so. He was like a large child with the soap under the hot water and he gave me a little of my childhood back to me with his antics. We emerged squeaky clean and he dressed in the jeans he'd worn the day before. I loaned him a blue shirt that had never looked that good on me. A black leather vest completed his ensemble and made him look a little dangerous.
He asked me to wear my green cotton sweater and pouted when I told him that it was too casual for work. So I gave in and wore it with a navy blue turtleneck underneath for some added heat. For some reason, I couldn't seem to stay warm. I know that it worried Vin but I was sure that it would pass sooner rather than later. A navy silk blazer with matching pants and I looked like myself again.
I hadn't been up this early in years and when he enthusiastically recommended breakfast on the way to work, I agreed. But then I would have agreed to almost anything he wanted, for I found that pleasing him pleased me too. Besotted was the very least of what I was at the moment. But I had been for a year and now I could finally show it to him. That was incredibly freeing and I pondered that while shrugging into my camel hair coat and wrapping my green scarf around my neck.
Vin watched me while I drove into the heart of downtown Denver. Every time I looked over, he was gazing at me with such a longing look that it was all I could do not to stop the car and pull him into my arms. I'd never been the object of such open affection before and I found that I liked it. When we parked in my usual spot, I let him lead me to a little café two buildings over from ours. It had a bit of a greasy spoon ambiance but the waitress knew Vin by name so I resigned myself to a new tradition.
Once we'd ordered, Vin went back to looking at me. "Ezra, I'm a mite worried about how we're going to act together. I got this urge to touch you all the time like if I don't hang onto you, you'll disappear on me."
"But I won't, Vin. If you continue to want me then I shall be here. I can't conceive of being anywhere else." I owed him my honesty even though part of my mind told me that it was dangerous to trust him so much.
"I reckon I'll always want you, Ez'. But I don't want you to think that I'm taking all your time." He turned the coffee cup around and around in his strong, capable hands. "We both are used to being alone and I don't want to bore you."
I shook my head ruefully at how alike we'd begun to think. "I was just thinking that I wouldn't want to smother you with my unwanted attention. There's nothing you could possibly bore me with unless ..." I dared to tease him, "it was country music."
"Hey, now!" He sat up indignantly. "Don't go dissin' my music. And if by smothering, you mean holding on real tight, then you've got nothing to worry about. I like it when you hold me close like you don't ever want to let go."
Dorie delivered our breakfasts just then and I watched in consternation while he poured half the container of syrup over his stack of blueberry pancakes. His sweet tooth was legendary among the team but this was the first time I'd met up with it at breakfast. My omelet was surprising light and fluffy and I revised my opinion of the café. The wheat toast was crisp, not soggy and they had a little pot of some of the best strawberry jam that I'd ever tasted.
The next few moments were spent in eating while things were hot and I enjoyed watching him eat. He concentrated on it the way he did everything else, with single-minded fervor. And I was the lucky man who had all that attention focused on me when we made love. I was thrice blessed with his love and I made myself a solemn vow that I would prove myself worthy of him.
"Ezra, you're thinking deep thoughts again." His voice broke into my musings and I realized that he was watching me instead of his pancakes.
"Sorry, I was just thinking about how lucky I am that you want me." I blushed and dropped my eyes to my omelet.
"Shoot, Ezra, I'm the lucky one." He chuckled and I felt his foot touch mine beneath the table. "You are so far above me that I never dared hope that you'd look twice at me."
"You must be joking, Vin?" I shook my head. "I'm the one who never dreamed that you'd ever want me. I fell in love with you the day we met. You were wearing that blue chambray shirt that matches the color of your eyes and all I could think was 'how beautiful he is'."
It was his turn to blush. "Way back then? Why didn't you say something before this?"
"Vin, I have no history of successful relationships. I'm no prize and you were so completely heterosexual that I knew I had no chance." I sighed a little, thinking about those lonely days. "I shall be forever grateful to my secret admirer for making Buck say something to you."
"Hey, that's right." He sat up straight from his usual slouch. "We still don't know who he or she is. But I guess you're right, Ez'. If'n Buck and Chris hadn't explained what kind of love two men could make, I'd have never realized what I was really feeling for you. That was kind of a surprise for me but I'm right glad that you felt the same way."
"I always will, Vin." I vowed myself to him and felt nothing but satisfaction that I finally could. What other changes would come to me, I wondered? Good or bad, I was determined to see this through.
"Me too, Ezra." He smiled at me and went back to devouring his pancakes while I ate some more toast and wondered why the food wasn't warming me up. I was certainly glad that I'd worn several layers.
We finished breakfast and paid Dorie, leaving her a slightly larger tip than was my usual want. She'd been attentive but not obtrusive and with our conversation, that was worth its weight in gold. Walking briskly back to the Federal Building, we were whisked up to the seventh floor via the elevator and I girded myself for greeting the rest of the team. I had a vague memory of them at the bust and in the hospital but this would be the first time that Vin and I greeted them as lovers.
And I admit to being rather frightened at what they would say or do. I didn't want Vin to be hurt by loving me and I valued my place on the team more than I'd ever valued anything else. But when we walked through the door, all we got was a chorus of hello's and a bellowed order to come into Larabee's office after we'd hung up our coats.
Normality is a wonderful thing.
The DEA agent-in-charge, Mr. Winter, was sitting in our leader's office and to call him impatient was a gross misnomer. He was practically vibrating with the urge to go over every little detail of my three weeks with Mr. Munson. I'd known this was coming and I agreed to go over it all but only if one of the team was with me and the tape player was running.
He didn't like the idea of his questions being on tape but if I'd learned anything in my undercover career, it was to have backup at all times. Anything less was too dangerous. Mr. Larabee already had the conference room set up and Josiah joined us immediately. I relaxed with him there and prepared to go back over my time as Edward Stanton. I've perfected a recall of events and conversations, which can spook the casual observer.
But when Mr. Winter questioned my recollections, Josiah explained to him that I first needed to go through the days in order before entertaining questions. He guided me through the first two weeks quickly but then as the links in the investigation grew stronger, each day had more detail to get down until we were going through that last day almost minute by minute.
We broke for a late lunch, eating in Mr. Larabee's office without the DEA. Josiah was quiet and restful while I finished my soup and ate a few crackers. My appetite still wasn't back to normal and probably wouldn't be until I'd washed myself clean of the case. I'd already drunk a gallon of water but I was still thirsty. Just before going back to the conference room, Vin came in. He was like a breath of spring air to me and Josiah hastily left us alone, closing the door behind him.
The blinds were thankfully closed when Vin and I met in the middle of the office. His arms were strong around me and his lips took mine hard as if determined to imprint his very essence on me. I was only too glad to let him. When we finally had to breathe, I laid my head on his shoulder and took a deep gulp of Vin-flavored air.
"Seems like a week since I last held you. Didn't think I could last much longer." He murmured into my ear before licking behind my ear and making me shiver.
"I know exactly what you mean. Reliving the last three weeks makes me feel unclean and you're the only one who can make the bad taste go away." The honesty-urge seemed to be growing on me.
"None of that garbage can touch you, Ezra, because you're better than Munson is ... way better." He insisted and pulled far enough away to look into my eyes. "Just remember I love you and we're going home together."
"I love you, too. Perhaps another scented bath will be in order once we leave work?"
"You got yourself a deal, partner." He grinned at me and kissed me again. This one was sweet and almost chaste in its tenderness.
I was growing addicted to his kisses, an addiction to which I would gladly succumb. We parted reluctantly when a knock came at the office door. He tidied my hair with his fingers and it was all I could do, not to lean into the soft caress. But the knock came again and it appeared that Mr. Larabee wanted his office back.
So, I left Vin and our leader together, rejoining Josiah and Mr. Winter in the conference room. The questions came thick and fast from the DEA and also Judge Travis' lawyers who joined us about 3:00. It was well after six when we finally finished for the day. My energy was at rock bottom and my extremities felt frozen. In the office, the others were waiting, well past quitting time and their concern was palpable in their handling of me.
J. D. held my coat for me while Buck took my briefcase. Nathan checked my pulse and frowned a bit when I admitted that I was cold and had a headache. The team wanted to celebrate our victory but they agreed to postpone it until I was feeling better. He told Vin to make sure I stayed warm and took some Tylenol with my evening tea. We all walked down together to the car park and I handed Vin my keys to the Jag. I really didn't feel up to driving in the latter end of rush hour traffic. He was worried about me, I could tell but he also loved the feel of all that power under his fingertips.
I settled back in the soft leather seat and turned my head so I could watch him drive. He looked like a race car driver with his leather clad hands caressing the steering wheel and his long hair spilling over his shoulder. I wanted to feel those silky strands against my skin again, almost as much as I wanted to rest in his arms.
We drove the whole distance without saying a word but the silence was a contented one and I reveled in his closeness. The whole car smelled of him and I breathed him in over and over. He parked in my assigned garage and gave me a quick look that nonetheless seemed better than an x-ray.
"We're going to go upstairs, take a bath and have some soup for dinner. Then I'm going to take you to bed and hold you until we fall asleep. What do you think?"
I sighed in relief. "It sounds absolutely perfect, Vin. All my energy seems to have left."
He nodded and got out, circling the car to open my door and help me from the low slung seat. I hated to admit it but I needed his strong arm when the garage seemed to swirl around me. I would have stumbled if he hadn't kept hold of me. My reaction to this case seemed excessive but I decided that I could blame it on the drug cocktail that Munson had fed me.
I hate drugs of all kinds and these seemed to still be affecting me. I hoped that Nathan would soon have the blood tests back so we'd know what the hell was in that beer. I could feel myself leaning towards Vin and he gave me support while we journeyed up in the elevator to my floor. He got the door open and the blast of hot air was most welcome.
"Oops, I forgot to turn down the heat when we left this morning." Vin headed for the thermostat then looked at me and hesitated. "It feels good to you, doesn't it?"
Nodding, I took off my coat. "It's the first time today that I've felt warm. But you're right, we should probably turn it down. I dislike wasting energy."
"It's not wasting if you're cold, Ezra. I'll wait and turn it down once we've gone to bed." He smiled at me and that warmed me more than any heated air. "Why don't you get the bath started while I heat up some soup?"
I nodded again and headed for the bathroom to turn on the hot water. I undressed slowly, loathe to remove my clothing and feel the air against my skin. Moving back to the bedroom, I hung everything up then hurried back to the warmer bathroom. Pouring in the magnolia scented oil, I got in the tub and submerged myself with a sigh of relief. My skin was tingling all over and I wondered if that was a side effect of the drug. The headache was like a spike driven in above my right eye and I pressed my fingers against the spot as if that would relieve the tension.
"Ezra?" Vin's worried voice reached me and I opened my eyes to momentarily see two of him. I blinked and shook my head but the halos around the lights were back. That hadn't happened since the night I was drugged and I wondered what that meant.
"Vin, I'm seeing double." I closed my eyes tight and pressed my fingers into them.
The sound of a cell phone being dialed caught my attention. "Nathan, Ezra is seeing double and his headache is a lot worse. Un-huh . . . yes ... okay, I'll expect you in a few minutes."
I leaned my head against the cushioned backrest. "My skin is tingling all over and you're right, the headache is much worse."
His fingers stroked my temples and that felt so good that I hummed my appreciation to him. He kept it up with slow strokes and I could feel a little of the tension dissipate under his gentle handling. I was warming up too and the tingling was a minor nuisance that I soon forgot.
"Just relax, Ezra, relax and let me take care of you." His soft murmur made me smile and I did indeed start to let go.
The doorbell ringing startled me back to the here and now. Vin got up and left to answer it, leaving me to wonder if I should get out of the tub or even if I could get out on my own. Kneeling up, I managed to slip over the side and onto the bath mat but the weakness had spread to my legs and all I could do was sit there and pull down a towel to cover myself.
"Ezra?" Vin's voice was frightened and for once, I was glad to see Nathan pull out his medical equipment.
"Okay, Ezra, now just relax and let me take a listen." His hands were warm when he wrapped the blood pressure equipment around my upper arm. He was quick and I wondered what he thought of Vin's hovering at my other side. "Well, that's not very healthy for a man of your age. 90 over 60, no wonder you're feeling a little weak. And your pulse is much too fast. Still cold?"
I nodded and Vin passed on the rest of my symptoms to him while I kept my eyes closed. The healer's hands cradled my head and asked me to open them so he could check my pupils. I did so and I could see a worried expression on his face. Vin was practically vibrating with suppressed energy and I wanted to reassure him but didn't have any energy of my own. The tingling was getting worse like a thousand ants crawling over my skin and the shivers were back.
"Vin, get him back in the tub so he'll stay warm. I'm going to call the lab and see if they've finished analyzing his blood. Is there any tea ready?" Nathan helped Vin get me up and back in the blessedly hot water.
"Yeah, it's brewing. Watch him so he doesn't slide down and drown himself." Vin's tightly controlled voice broke through my enjoyment of the heat.
"Vin, I'll be f-f-fine." I cursed the stutter, knowing that instead of reassuring him I had just made the tension worse.
"Of course you will, Ezra." Nathan's voice was professionally soothing then he was talking to the hospital and I gave up listening.
Vin was back quickly and I soon had a steaming cup of mango tea to warm me up further. He held my free hand between both of his and I could feel his worry through his tight hold. The stabbing pain was getting worse and I suddenly had the urge to throw up.
"Vin, get the waste basket, please." I said through gritted teeth and he barely had time to get it positioned before I was vomiting into it. There wasn't much left inside of me but the mango tea definitely tasted bad coming back up. It would be a while before I'd be able to drink it again.
I was trembling all over and Vin was stroking the back of my neck while he asked Nathan to hurry up. I hated being such a burden to him but part of me was glad that I could lean on his strength. Then Nathan returned and he helped Vin get me back out of the hot water.
"We're going to take you into the Wasserman Clinic, Ezra. You need an IV drip to replenish your electrolytes and counteract the lingering drugs. An overnight stay and you'll be back to normal." His tones were brisk while he toweled me off and Vin went to get my clothes. Calling to my lover, "Vin, something soft that won't chafe his skin."
He brought back an old pair of sweats that I hadn't worn in a long time but they were warm and soft. I don't remember too much of the trip to the clinic, just Vin holding me tight in the back of Nathan's old Chevy. He stayed close while the staff settled me in and got the IV going. They didn't even blink an eye when he said he was staying. I went to sleep holding his hand and hearing his voice softly telling me a story from his youth.
When I awoke, he was still there holding my hand. His eyes were tired but his smile when I told him that I felt better was bright. He kissed me gently and rubbed little circles on my hand with his thumb. The nurse who performed my early morning medical checks was a quiet woman with kind eyes who assured me that breakfast would be right there.
And this breakfast was a sight for sore eyes. Creamy oatmeal with brown sugar and whole wheat toast with just a little butter all went down and stayed down. The headache was gone and my skin felt normal again. When I told Vin that, he smiled happily and stole the last slice of toast out from under my nose.
Nathan and the doctor from the night before showed up soon after and we held a little conference on what was wrong and how to keep it from coming back. The blood test results were so much gobbledygook to me but I grasped enough to realize that it would be several days before I was completely back to normal. The migraine would probably come back if I didn't take it easy so I was told to go home and sleep.
After making an appointment to return to the clinic in three days, I was released with a set of pills to help me stay relaxed. Nathan drove us back to my apartment and after dropping us off, went to the grocery store to get some soft foods that wouldn't strain my system while I was healing. Vin put me to bed still in my sweat suit and thick socks. I only let go of his hand when Nathan came back. Not even the sounds of conversation outside the bedroom door could keep me awake after swallowing one of those pills.
I floated above the bed in a daze and only when Vin stripped down to his boxers and slid in beside me did I let go. If he was there, then I was safe. His gentle kiss sent me to sleep with a smile on my face. And all my dreams were bright.
End part nine