Ash '03: New Perspectives

Ezra Standish sat comfortably in his recliner. He leaned back and let the soothing sounds of the classical CD currently playing to wash over him. He sipped his drink, idly appreciating the smooth, smoky flavor of the well-aged single malt he'd selected. Ezra held it up, allowing the light to play amid the amber color and highlight the slowly dissolving ice cubes. He nodded to himself and made a mental note to buy another bottle.

With concerted effort, Ezra ignored the ringing doorbell. He also ignored the pounding on his door and the shouting of his name. He knew it could only come from Chris Larabee. Larabee…his boss, his lover.

The undercover agent smiled sadly. Lover…no. Never that. Not really. The term implies far more depth of emotion than ever really passed between us. All we ever really shared was our bodies. And no amount of wishful thinking on my part will make it any different.

He sighed heavily, feeling more weary than he had in some time, feeling regrets and missed opportunities as almost tangible things resting on his shoulders. Ezra sipped his drink as he tried to think of a word that would accurately describe his relationship with Chris without being reduced to something crude or vulgar. Even his extensive vocabulary failed. Somehow things never seemed to progress between them beyond an earthy, physical sensuality.

It was like their lust and desire superseded everything else. They skipped over the interactions that were the usual foundation for building a durable relationship. Ezra had never considered himself a romantic, but he was honest enough to admit that he wouldn't have minded a little wining and dining. A chance to really explore all the options available rather than be constantly restricted to just sweating up the sheets, to never really share anything more substantial. Nothing deeper or more important ever seemed to pass between them.

Ezra's thoughts were interrupted by Chris storming in. Anger radiated off the lean blond in waves as he stalked to where Ezra still calmly sat. He'd anticipated the team leader showing up as soon as he realized what is was that Ezra had left on his desk. The undercover agent glanced at the clock and congratulated himself on timing his boss' level of patience. Or impatience as the case may be. Chris had been outside his door demanding entrance for just over five minutes.

The black-clad man scowled at him, the vein in his forehead throbbing. "Why the hell didn't you answer the door?"

Ezra arched one eyebrow, unperturbed by the angry invasion of his space. "I didn't need to answer the door." Voice dry as desert sand he pointed out the obvious, "You have a key."

Blue-gray eyes narrowed dangerously. Chris thrust out his hand. In it he clenched a single sheet of paper. "Just what the hell is this?" Chris demanded harshly.

Ezra coolly sipped his drink. "From this distance and judging by your countenance, I'd say it was my resignation."

"Resignation??!" Chris snarled, emphasizing each syllable, lips pulling back to all but bare his teeth in anger. "All it says is 'I quit'."

"Well, I know how much you dislike my being verbose, so I did my best to be succinct." Ezra saluted him with his glass tumbler. He couldn't count the number of times Chris had cut him off on the job demanding he get to the point. Even during their private time the man simply told him he spoke too much or outright ordered him to shut up since words were apparently an unnecessary distraction between them.

He had taken a perverse pleasure in making his resignation to Chris as short as he could. However, Chris wasn't the only one to receive an official termination of employment letter. Ezra was smart enough to realize that what he had laid on Chris' desk would not meet the agency's expectations or satisfy the regulations. He didn't want there to be any question of his intent, or further demands to explain himself to those further up the ladder and to that end submitted a more detailed letter to Orrin Travis.

"I was a bit more, shall we say, forthcoming with AD Travis when I tendered similar documentation to him." Ezra tipped his head slightly to Chris in an almost abbreviated bow. "He would not find what I gave to you to be sufficient."

Chris snorted. "I don't find it sufficient either, Ezra."

Ezra shrugged one shoulder, unconcerned. "You are free to read what I gave Travis." He expected that Travis would discuss it with Chris anyway, so no confidence was being betrayed by his offer.

"Dammit, Ezra." Chris bit out between clenched teeth, waving his empty hand in frustration. "I don't want to read it. I want you to tell me why. I want answers. And I want them from you."

Ezra shook his head slightly. He'd worked for Chris for over two years, of that time some seven months involved what Ezra could only politely describe as casual intimacy, and this was the first time Chris had ever asked him to say more. Ezra idly contemplated that this might well be the first time they had a genuine conversation, work related or otherwise. Truly a red letter day. I must remember to mark the calendar.

The undercover agent sipped his drink again and studied the irate man before him. Chris had good reason to be angry. Ezra knew he could have handled this better, had tried too many times, but also knew Chris would be pissed no matter what. He opted to give the man a real reason to be angry. It gave Ezra more control over the situation so he forced the issue. A controlled confrontation was preferable to the alternative.

"Did you know that my birthday was last Friday?" He kept his voice nonchalantly conversational, as if the answer didn't really matter. In a lot of ways the answer really didn't matter, but Chris wanted him to explain and Ezra was contrary enough to do so in his own manner.

Chris opened his mouth, and then shut it with a snap. He stared at Ezra for a moment, incredulous. The faint flush that rose to dust his cheeks confirmed what Ezra already knew and he nodded to himself, more certain than ever that he'd made the right decision. The thing I can truly thank Mother for is making sure I knew when to fold. Leave the game before you lose it all, not after. Damn shame I never learned to simply not sit down at the table. Would have made this all much easier.

Chris pursed his lips, expression vacillating between guilt and disbelief. "Are you telling me that you're quitting because I forgot your birthday?"

"No." Ezra smiled sadly, disheartened but hardly surprised that even now Chris would think him so petty and shallow. Despite their intimate relations Ezra firmly believed the man never really 'saw' him. He was pragmatic enough to realize that by now it was highly unlikely Chris ever would. The blond saw only what he wanted or needed to see.

"I never expected you to remember." Ezra sighed softly. I seriously doubt Chris forgot since it is hard to forget what one never really knew. He shook his head slightly. None of the others on the team remembered either. But he wasn't sleeping with them. "It was that expectation, or lack thereof, that precipitated my decision to quit."

Chris frowned, small lines appearing between his brows. The taller man went still, head cocked to one side. "I don't understand."

Ezra snorted, finding ironic humor in that statement. "Now that is hardly surprising."

"Meaning what?" Chris demanded rather than asked.

Ezra arched an eyebrow. He stood to face Chris setting his glass down on the nearby end table. "You never bothered to learn much of anything about me, so failing to understand what I do and why is far from shocking." Ezra's tone was sharp, his words clipped and precise, some of his disappointment and disillusionment leaking into his voice.

The Southerner took a deep breath, forcibly regaining control of his emotions. He was not going to become some sort of drama queen about this. You are an adult, Ezra, remember to act like it. It's not his fault that he doesn't love you. It's your fault for letting your emotions get involved in the first place.

Meeting Chris' eyes, Ezra continued speaking, voice not as natural as he would have liked but certainly smoother than a moment ago. "I really am not that much of an enigma, Chris. All that was required was for you to take a moment to really look, to honestly listen. No mystic moment of enlightenment or in-depth, long-term study was needed. I tried to explain things to you for some time but you couldn't be bothered, were plainly not interested." Ezra pointed toward the piece of paper still clenched in Chris' hand. "So I choose to be blunt and forced the issue."

Chris' lips tightened into a hard line. Ezra could see the wheels in his head turning, recounting all the times Ezra had tried to talk to him recently and been brushed off with a brusque 'Not now', or 'Later, Ezra.' Chris' fist clenched even tighter around Ezra's resignation.

"What about us?" He finally bit out.

"Us?" Ezra chuckled but the sound had no humor. He shook his head. "There was never an 'us'." The undercover agent's eyes again squarely met Chris'. "At our worst we were little more than nodding acquaintances, comrades in arms perhaps. At our best we were fuck buddies." Ezra shrugged. "Although that term hardly applies since 'buddies' would indicate that we were friends and that is something you and I have never been."

"That's not true." Chris argued hotly. He was clearly insulted by way Ezra had described their relationship, eyes flashing fire. "We are friends."

"Really?" Ezra arched his eyebrow sardonically, deliberately choosing to overlook that Chris hadn't objected to his harsh characterization of their relationship, thinking the other man likely agreed with it. "You say we are friends. Prove it."

"Excuse me?" Chris raised both eyebrows.

"Prove it." Ezra repeated. He waved one hand in an elegantly inviting gesture. "Tell me…how old was I when my father was killed? What high school did I graduate from? The degree I earned in college? How about the nature of my first assignment with the FBI or perhaps the last one would be easier to recall since you hired me shortly thereafter?"

The southerner waited a beat, giving Chris a chance to think, to answer. He shook his head when silence reigned. "I realize there are some details one shares only with intimate confidantes, Chris. But the questions I just asked do not fall under that purview. If you were the friend you claim to be such simple questions should have been easy to answer."

"You never told me any of that." Chris finally spoke in his own defense.

"I didn't need to tell you. All that information is in my file." Ezra smirked slightly, ignoring the dull ache in his chest this conversation was causing. "As my supervisor you had access to it at any time." The undercover agent gave his boss a sharp look. "As my friend, I would have thought you might take the time to actually read and remember the content. As a lover interested in more than just my body, you might have even taken it upon yourself to ask, to show some degree of interest in me."

He shook his head, trying to shake off the melancholy he felt, knowing it was pointless. He had hoped at some point Chris might have cared for him, even a little. That he might have actually meant the endearments he whispered in the dark. His silence in the face of Ezra's questions spoke far more eloquently.

Ezra's voice was carefully neutral betraying nothing of what he felt as he pointed out, "You know how old Vin was when his mother died. JD's major in college. The whereabouts of Josiah's sister. Buck's blood type. Nathan's status as summa cum laude."

Ezra sighed, raising a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "And I'm fairly certain they never told you those things. They were simply things you took note of as team leader. And if they were mentioned, they were details you chose to remember because they are your friends. But about me," Ezra grimaced, "you seem to know little more than my name."

Chris winced and looked away. He took a deep breath and then another. Hazel eyes rose to meet Ezra's. The taller man had the good grace to appear embarrassed, perhaps even ashamed of himself.

"Ezra…you're right."

Ezra blinked in surprise and wondered just what such an admission had cost Chris. But then saying I'm right isn't the same thing as admitting he was wrong. A fine distinction Mother took great pains to make me cognizant of. So saying I'm right likely cost him nothing.

"Look…I'm sorry. Really. I mean that." Chris moved to step closer, but Ezra neatly avoided him. The blond's expression tightened when Ezra sidestepped his touch, but his voice was soft when he spoke again. "I am sorry, Ezra. I never meant to…It was just that--"

Chris tried again to move closer. And again Ezra avoided his touch. The taller man held out one hand in a beseeching gesture. "I'll make it up to you."

He knew better than to expect the moment of contrition to last. Past experience had taught him well. It was that past experience he drew on now to remain committed to the course of action he'd chosen. Courage, Ezra. The right course is before you not behind.

Icy green eyes raked Chris from head to toe. "You'll forgive me if I seriously doubt your resolve to 'make it up to me.' We've only ever fucked, Chris. You've hardly proven yourself as a man wanting more. Fuck buddies by definition don't share anything but their bodies."

It was a hard assessment, but Ezra didn't feel like pulling his punches. He needed Chris to understand and somehow the only thing that ever seemed to work was blunt and brutal honesty. He forced himself to ignore the way Chris flinched at his words. He didn't want to read more into that reaction than it warranted.

The southerner waved one hand in a gesture of dismissal. "Forgetting my birthday is not the main issue. It is only part of a much larger picture."

Chris frowned. He looked…lost, and Ezra almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"Only part?" Chris watched him the same way he might as suspect in an interrogation room. Ezra could almost see the next question forming.

He took a deep breath. A full disclosure was necessary for Chris to understand. More so the pity. We never learned to really confide in each other. And it is now too late. Still, he asked for an explanation and I should give it to him.

"Did you know there are days when I hesitate to answer the phone because I've momentarily forgotten just what name I'm supposed to answer to? That I occasionally forget if I've actually been to St. Thomas or if that was just one my many aliases?" Ezra unintentionally began raising his voice, volume adding emphasis. He wasn't shouting, but he wasn't far from it. "When I pick up a pen, I have to think about whether I'm right handed or left. I have to think, really think, about what it is Ezra P. Standish likes. What his hobbies and interests are. What my favorite color is, which music I prefer, how I like my eggs for breakfast. If I even like eggs, for God's sake."

Ezra rubbed tiredly at his eyes and forced himself to take a deep breath and then another. He was exhausted. He should have postponed this conversation. But he knew delaying the inevitable doesn't prevent its occurrence.

Ezra was so tired of trying to keep all the different identities he'd assumed over the years straight in his head. He lost track of the number of different names he'd used. He was tired of having to be in control all the time lest he say the wrong thing at the wrong moment. And even when not on the job he couldn't seem to relinquish that control, relax the way he wanted to. He wanted to be able to answer to his given name without feeling that nearly instinctive flash of fear that his cover might have been blown.

He was tired of needing to prove he was competent, a good cop, able to get the job done no matter what. The allegations of being on the take from his stint with the FBI had followed him, old ghosts determined to haunt his present, making him feel like every action was under intense, undeserved scrutiny. His own team might have accepted him but no one else within the organization seemed to.

Ezra didn't want to lie to people anymore, even for the sake of doing the right thing. He wanted to come home to someone and cuddle up on the couch the way 'normal' people did. Wanted to just work a nine-to-five job for a change and experience the liberating feeling of being like everyone else. He didn't want to carry a gun any more. Or find that he reached for it more often than he did his cell phone.

He had led a double life for too long and he was ready to be done with it. Ezra had nearly forgotten what it was like to be himself. And it scared him.

"The main reason I'm quitting is because I can't continue to work undercover." He stared at Chris, eyes open and honest. Ezra's voice was gentle, but firm. This had not been an easy decision for him, but it was the right one. He woke up one morning too many not sure who the hell he was for him to risk any more.

"I keep losing bits and pieces of myself with every job. I can't continue to do that if I'm not around someone who can answer those fundamental questions about myself when I can't. Someone who can fill in the pieces I've lost. Who would notice what was out of place and take the time to fix it."

He smiled gently, trying to relay that he wasn't finding fault with Chris. "The rest of the team might be able to help out…and they have without even realizing it many times. But as I said before, there are details that one shares only with intimate confidantes. And it is those little things make me who I am and they are what I will need help with if I continue in this line of work." Ezra was simply stating the situation as he saw it. "It is painfully obvious that you aren't the person to fill that role."

He held up hand when Chris would have spoken. "Please don't misunderstand me…I knew what I was getting into when we got together." Or at least I thought I did. But then I got stupid and started wanting more, needing more than you are willing to give.

"I enjoyed our time together, Chris. I liked having sex with you. I liked the way you made me feel. We are both consenting adults so there is no blame to be assigned."

He waved his hand in a meaningless, graceful gesture that encompassed the both of them. "But even you have to admit that our relationship was never about more than simple physical gratification." Ezra shook his head and lifted one shoulder in a move far too elegant to be considered a shrug. Without really thinking about it, Ezra honestly told Chris, "It's not enough anymore. In a lot of ways, no matter how good it might have felt at the time, it was never really enough. Not for me."

Chris stared at him. He opened his mouth, shut it and then tried again. "So you are just going to quit the team and walk away from them?" He swallowed hard. "From me?"

"Yes." Ezra answered simply. "I am."

"You can't do that." Chris stated, clearly striving for confidence but falling short.

"I already did." Ezra stepped closer and raised one hand to lightly caress Chris' cheek. His voice was whisper soft when he spoke. "I can't do this any more. The job…or," Ezra sighed quietly, "you. We both deserve better. More." Ezra's lips quirked upward in a small smile. "And even if I don't deserve it, I want it. Need it."

Green eyes searched gree-gray. "I don't expect you to understand, or even agree. The simple fact is you have no choice but to accept it."

"You don't have to quit." Chris argued quietly, expression earnest, sincere, initial anger fading as it gave way to comprehension. "Couldn't you just stop going undercover if that's the real problem?"

"What else would I do on your team?" Ezra asked, honestly curious to see what Chris might offer. He considered many options, trying to find a way to remain, but Ezra was not so egotistical as to believe he'd thought of everything. Ezra waited patiently, letting Chris think it over. He nodded when Chris was unable to meet his eyes or voice a realistic option.

"I would prefer to continue working with the others, but we all play our roles. It is what makes us effective as a team. And I can no longer fulfill the duties of mine." That admission didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. He was getting more comfortable with it, finding the honesty refreshing. Should have had the courage to admit this months ago and been done with it.

Ezra had known that once he decided to quit the team that what little he shared with Chris was also forfeit. That knowledge was part of the reason he'd hung in as long as he had, reluctant to let go of the fantasy that there might be more between them than just sex. Ezra reminded himself again that his choice was the right one. Ezra, you know it was about convenience and temporary comfort. Once it stopped being convenient, you knew he would call it off. And in this case, I think it better for you to be the dumper rather than the dumpee.

Chris reached out to pull him closer. Ezra chose not to resist. He allowed Chris to encircle him in a warm, gentle embrace. This was one thing he'd miss more than anything else…the feeling that he was safe within Chris' hold, that the rest of the world couldn't touch him. It was a nice illusion, one he wished more than anything had real substance.

"Awful sudden you just up and quitting like this." Chris rubbed his back, the gesture comforting, soothing. Ezra sighed, enjoying the moment. For such an abrasive and aggressive man he can be so gentle at times. A study in contrasts, Chris Larabee. I will regret not having gotten to understand you better.

"Ez, are you sure you thought this through?"

Ezra smiled softly at the use of the abbreviated form of his name. Vin had started it, but the others now regularly made use of it. The nickname spoke of friendship that Ezra valued a great deal. Will miss that too. Amazing how much they have all come to mean to me.

"It's not as sudden as you think." He pulled out of Chris' embrace. "I've been trying to tell you this for months. It proved to be decidedly difficult to find the right way or the right time to express it." Couldn't get you to listen either, which necessitated my rather drastic action of simply submitting a brusque resignation, but there isn't any reason to rehash that again.

Chris nodded slowly. He frowned slightly, his expression not quite anxious, but definitely troubled. "You know what you are going to do?"


Chris glared at him and made a 'gimme' motion with one hand. Ezra mentally grinned. He knew his one word answer would not suffice but hadn't been certain Chris would actually accept it or not. Twice in one day he's asked for more. Definitely need to mark the calendar.

"I have an MBA that has been languishing unused since I accepted a position with the federal government." Ezra shrugged. "It is about time I put that education to use. I've had a standing job offer for a number of years."

Ezra's work with his own financial advisor had so impressed her that she never failed to offer the undercover agent a job if he should ever leave government service. It had been a simple matter of letting her know that he wanted to accept her offer. He was looking forward to the chance to see if he really could do as well for other people as he'd done for himself.


"That's not really important." Ezra had already decided that making a clean break was the way to go. He didn't want the others to know his whereabouts, at least not right away, especially when he could do much of his new job via the computer, and hadn't yet decided if he was leaving Denver. Leaving Denver wasn't a requirement of the job, but the undercover agent thought it would probably be better if the others thought it was, at least initially. It might be far too easy for them to talk him out of this and if they knew he was still in town they would likely try. That was a temptation Ezra would rather avoid, knowing his decision was the right one.

"What are you going to tell the others?" The question was one of honest concern.

That was something Ezra had given a lot of thought to, more so the how and when than the what. "I will tell them the truth." I may hedge a bit on whether I'm leaving town, but with regards to why I'm leaving the team I can do no less than give them complete honesty. Somber green eyes regarded him calmly. "I owe them that."

"And what did you owe me?" The muscles in Chris' jaw flexed. "You could have said something to me. I would have-"

Ezra held up a hand, placing one finger against Chris' lips. "Yes, I could have. Maybe I should have. But I didn't. You could have also said something. I hoped you would take it upon yourself but you didn't. And could have, would have, should have count for nothing. We both know this."

Chris puckered his lips slightly, placing a soft kiss against the tip of Ezra's finger. He raised a hand to wrap it around Ezra's. "I understand about wanting to quit doing undercover work. I get that. I do. And I'm sorry I never thought to talk to you about it. Never realized what it cost you to be so damn good at it. I let you down."

Ezra's breath caught. He never thought for a minute Chris would say that. He was still reeling from that when Chris, his expression sober and earnest, continued speaking. "Your quitting doesn't mean we couldn't still spend time together."

The taller man leaned in closer, but Ezra pulled back suddenly uncomfortable, knowing Chris wanted to kiss him. He couldn't allow that. He'd give in and it would only serve to emphasize his earlier point. The sex was good between them. Maybe too good. But they didn't have anything else. And it was the 'anything else' that Ezra wanted.

"Don't." Ezra whispered. "That won't change anything."

Chris sighed and his countenance shifted to apologetic. He stepped back, but didn't relinquish his hold on Ezra's hand. "We could try starting over." Chris offered seriously.

Ezra frowned. He must have misunderstood. "Start over?"

Chris nodded. "From the beginning. Maybe get to be friends for real this time. Take the time to do it right. Do it the way we should have."

Ezra blinked, absolutely stunned. He figured Chris would welcome the chance to walk away once he'd gotten over the initial anger. That the blond would realize he could get from any warm body what he got from Ezra. As good looking and charismatic a man as Chris was, Ezra knew it wouldn't take him long to find a willing and eager replacement. That he'd consider Ezra something of a passing fancy, a momentary distraction from a 'normal' relationship. He hadn't expected Chris to consider any other option. Hadn't expected him to make a genuine offer to correct what was wrong with the way things were now. The suggestion left him speechless.

Chris copied his earlier gesture, placing one finger against his lips, halting words that were not even formed. "I suck at words, Ezra. I just figured you got what I was trying to say with my actions."

He smiled sadly. "But I didn't realize how much I was missing through the silence either. Or how despite things in the bedroom being so good, we were leaving out so much." Chris expression became rueful as he admitted, "I can be dense sometimes."

He lightly caressed Ezra's lower lip. "I may not know your favorite color, but I do know that you only sleep on you left side. I know you like butterscotch candy. You prefer to stay in shape by swimming. That you drink single malt scotch and hate bourbon."

Ezra managed to maintain sufficient control over his expression to not display the blatant surprise he felt as Chris listed the things he knew. He hadn't expected the taller man to know even that much. If he'd been asked to list character traits, likes and dislikes Chris might have known, all would have involved personal erogenous zones or favorite sexual positions. While decidedly intimate in nature those details were not nearly as reflective of who he was as what Chris had just listed.

Chris withdrew his finger. "I know it isn't much. Just tell me that counts for something."

Ezra bit his lower lip. He took a deep breath, trying to calm the whirling thoughts in his head. Chris had offered him a second chance after the fallout with the FBI. Maybe, just maybe, he owed the blond the same opportunity. And maybe Mother really did drop me on my head. Honestly, Ezra, you know better…act like it. Hope may spring forth eternal…but you are a damn fool to even consider this.

Ezra shook his head. "It won't work." His voice lacked the conviction he intended.

"Why not?" Chris asked. "It's not like we've tried it before."

Hard to argue that point. Ezra's eyes narrowed, suddenly suspicious of Chris' motives. It isn't like Chris to be duplicitous, but that doesn't mean he can't be should he see a need for it. "Is this offer to start anew about my resignation? Some ploy to make me stay with the team?"

"No." Chris was quick to answer. "Not just no, hell no." The taller man sighed and raked fingers through his hair. "Look…I'd be lying if I said I didn't want you to stay on the team. We won't be the same without you. But if you really think it best for you to leave, to do something else, I wouldn't lie to you to try and force you to stay."

Chris shook his head. "I may never have told you but as your supervisor, I have always been impressed by how well you do your job. So is the rest of the team. But damn it Ezra, none of us are so cold blooded to want you to endanger your mental health and from what you just told me that's what going undercover is doing. I know it doesn't often seem like it…but when it comes to the job, we all trust your judgment. If you don't think you can do it anymore, we're not going to second-guess you. I'm not trying to make you stay because of the job."

Chris waved a hand in frustration as he sought out the right words. He took a deep breath. "I'm not playing games with you. Even though I'm an idiot about these things…"Chris snorted looking annoyed with himself, "Hell, I suck at it, I know that. So does nearly everyone who's ever met me."

The dark clad man raised a hand, palm up, in a beseeching gesture. "But please, please you have to believe me when I tell you that you do mean more to me than just a roll in the hay. I never would have kept coming back to be with you if that's all there was. I should have said something sooner…I just didn't realize that you needed to hear it. I do care about you and about what is right for you. If that means quitting…well, I might not like it, but I'll do my best to understand. The rest of the team will just have to find a way to get along without you. You know they will understand. They'll back your decision."

The blond's eyes met Ezra's squarely. "My offer wasn't about the job or the team. My offer to start over was about us. We are more than fuck buddies, Ezra. A lot more."

Ezra's gaze drifted to the far wall as he silently weighed what Chris said. He tamped down hard on the inner joy he felt at hearing he was valued for himself and not just his skills. Even his own mother didn't seem to find much of interest in Ezra unless he was useful in some way.

He could feel the weight of Chris' stare, but avoided meeting that steady gaze, wary of revealing too much. Ezra couldn't ignore it when Chris reached out to lightly caress his cheek. "Ez, we just did things in the wrong order."

Green eyes shifted their stare to meet hazel, seeking clarification of that last statement. Chris smiled slightly. "I forgot that working together isn't the same as actually dating. That it doesn't make up for taking time to get to know you. Really know you."

"Are you sure you want to?" Ezra had never felt more off balance than he did at this moment.

"Yes." Chris answered firmly, without hesitation. "Please, Ez?"

The southerner weighed the options carefully. Chris had said please…had asked him for more information…had acted totally different from what Ezra expected. "Knowing I like single malt is a start," Ezra offered finally. He hoped Chris failed to notice the faint tremor in his voice.

"You willing to give me a chance to get it right this time?"

Ezra took a deep breath and held it. He closed his eyes, and nodded. "Yes." He worried his lower lip. "I am still going to leave the ATF." Ezra couldn't be sure if he added that as a test of Chris' resolve or not.

"Okay." Chris agreed quietly. "If that's what you think is best."

Ezra sighed, eyes still closed. "I do." Staring at himself in the mirror uncertain of his own name had scared Ezra deeply. He knew of other undercover agents who'd burned out, who'd lost sight of which side they were on, couldn't tell faux friend from the real McCoy. He never wanted to be one of them.

No matter what happened between him and Chris, Ezra was savvy enough to know his time as an undercover agent was over. There were other things he could do as an agent, but that would still mean leaving the team. Working for the ATF without the others would be the same as not working for ATF at all in Ezra's opinion.

If he chose to stay in Denver it would mean a bit more traveling, but that was a minor consideration really. He could remain near his friends, stay in touch more easily, still be a part of their lives. Perhaps not as big a part, but still enough to maintain the friendship he'd come to appreciate and rely on. He wanted to continue being involved with the teenagers Vin worked with at the youth center. He wanted to be around for when JD and Casey finally tied the knot. He wanted to continue being able to discuss obscure literature with Josiah. He wanted to keep hearing Buck's outrageous stories and be there for when Nathan and Rain finally began the family they were always talking about. Ezra seriously hoped that by staying in the area those things would not be out of reach simply because he was no longer on the team, hoped Chris was right when he'd said they would understand why he couldn't keep doing undercover work and wouldn't shun him completely.

"About the others-" Ezra began without opening his eyes, but stopped, unable to finish.

Feeling the warmth of Chris' hand as he cupped Ezra's face made the smaller man open his eyes again. "You don't need to worry about the others. It'll be enough for them for you to tell them what you told me about the job. And as for us…if we're committed to making it work, they'll understand that too."

Chris's thumb lightly caressed Ezra's cheekbone. "How about I pick you up for dinner?" The blond was quick to assure him, "Just dinner, Ezra. Think of it as a first date, maybe. What do you say?"

"Pick me up at eight." Ezra's eyes narrowed slightly. He wanted something that was out of the ordinary for them…a truly new beginning. They'd never really gone out on a date, at least one that included just the two of them as a couple. More often than not their previous outings involved including the rest of the team. And as much as Ezra enjoyed the company of the others, this was not about team.

"Come dressed to go somewhere other than the Saloon. And do not be late."

Chris saluted him with two fingers. "Will do."

"Don't make me regret this." Ezra had meant for it to come out as an order, but realized he sounded more like he was pleading with Chris.

"I won't." The team leader didn't look away, eyes clear and easy to read. "I promise you, Ez, you will not regret this."

Ezra took heart in that. Chris rarely made promises and when he did the man took them seriously. Really, Ezra what have you to lose? The man already has you heart and has for some time. You have much to gain here. It is a gamble...but to win much, you must risk much.

"Eight." Ezra nodded slowly. "Just dinner." He found himself looking forward to it.

Chris took a breath and for the first time Ezra realized just how tense the other man had been. He didn't think Chris would have been so tense or fought so hard if this had just been about sex. He hoped so.

"I think I should probably leave now."

"That would be best." Ezra agreed reluctantly. He would rather have Chris stay, but understood the necessity of his leaving. This 'new beginning' was about not making the same mistakes.

In a rare moment of humor and gallantry, Chris took Ezra's hand and raised it to place a kiss on the back of his knuckles. "Until tomorrow then."

Ezra tipped his head in agreement. He smiled as Chris let himself out. Tomorrow was starting to seem like something worth getting up for.

He'd have to work out the details of how to stay in Denver…at least for now. Ezra sighed. Habit of a lifetime kept him from being more than cautiously optimistic. He'd wait and see how this starting over worked out before he made long term plans.

As he turned out the lights and headed for his bedroom, Ezra contemplated a poem he read years ago about the promise of a new day. For the first time in his life he was beginning to think that was more than just meaningless drivel.