Holly '03: Disclosures

Chris Larabee sighed softly and forced himself not to look at the clock again. There was nothing quite like being stranded in an airport. He'd almost rather suffer through a root canal. God. Chris consoled himself with the thought that even if they weren't leaving as planned, at least the job had gone smoothly…more or less.

A month ago Vin, Buck and JD had delivered a package for a wealthy client who preferred to see his packages personally escorted to their destination. Given that what they'd delivered was an original painting by Degas worth millions, Chris couldn't fault the man for not trusting it to the postal service or wanting to ensure it was protected in transit. Having the job turn out just as simple and straightforward as the man promised certainly hadn't hurt. So when Mr. Andrew Reynolds asked if they might be interested in doing business again, Chris had readily agreed. Cake walk jobs didn't come along all that often and he wasn't about to turn down another one.

He shook his head. Should have known better than to think it would be so easy every time. Not with the kind of luck we have.

All they had to do was make sure several rare dinosaur fossils made it to the Museum of Natural History in Denver. It sounded innocent enough. And in his ignorance Chris couldn't fathom why anyone would think a bunch of rocks needed guarding. Outside of a museum he hadn't thought anyone else would even be interested in the damn things.

Of course Ezra Standish had seen fit to point out that the T-Rex dubbed 'Sue' currently on display in the Field Museum in Chicago had sold for several million dollars. He also sited several private collectors who routinely paid large sums for items to add to their collections. Not to mention national museums worldwide that constantly engaged in on-going battles to lay claim to having the best, most extensive, most complete, the rarest…whatever would add to the prestige of their institution. Most of the time those battles were simply waged with words and money, but every once in awhile they did employ what Ezra called 'straightforward means to negotiating the desired end'. Chris took that to explain why Reynolds had wanted them to safe guard his crates of rocks.

Babysitting a bunch of crates from Houston to Denver should not have been a problem. And for the most part it hadn't been. The crates were loaded on to a cargo plane without a hitch. The flight to Denver had been smooth enough given the time of year and correspondingly lousy weather.

Vin Tanner hated to fly under even the best of circumstances. At times it seemed the only person he truly trusted to keep them in the air was Buck Wilmington. Buck was a damn fine pilot and no matter how hairy the situation, the former Marine always seemed calm and in control in the cockpit. With Buck at the helm, Vin would get into a rusting piece of shit machine held together by bubble gum and baling wire without even blinking an eye. But a commercial charter plane, serviced regularly and well maintained, with a stranger in control, just made the sharpshooter decidedly edgy.

Chris was damn glad Ezra was along on the trip. For whatever reason, the linguist could keep Vin calm. Chris couldn't quite figure it out, but he didn't really care as long as whatever the hell Ezra did kept Vin from climbing the walls.

Josiah Sanchez bitched about the lack of legroom for most of the trip. Well, as much as the man ever bitched. Chris had yet to figure out how anyone could say so much without saying a word.

He preferred that to Buck and JD Dunne's nearly constant chatter though. Good lord but that kid can talk. Just wish to hell I understood even half of what he said.

Saying JD was bright was like comparing the sun to a light bulb. The youngest member of the team understood more about electronics and computers than Chris knew he could ever really hope to comprehend. It was why he hired him in the first place.

Nathan Jackson had been his usual professional self. On the job, the man was calm and collected, about as excitable as a hibernating bear. It was a character trait that stood him in good stead when bullets were flying and team members were bleeding. It worked just as well when his teammates were reduced to the antics of two year olds.

Chris glanced toward the windows. The snow that had earlier been just a few random flakes was no coming down in earnest. He didn't need to look at the flight board to know their flight had likely been delayed again.

It was small consolation but at least JD, Buck and Nathan were on their way home. The flight they were all supposed to be on was overbooked. When volunteers were asked for to give up their seats, Vin and Josiah had opted to wait for the next flight.

Josiah was easily swayed the offered up grade to first class. The big man wanted the leg room and cushy seats. Given Vin's dislike for crowds and distrust of commercial airline pilots, Chris wasn't surprised when the sharpshooter elected to delay the experience. Ezra had traded a look with Vin, volunteering a second later. Chris had no idea why, but he rarely understood why Ezra did anything. He was just grateful Ezra was willing to take on the job of keeping Vin calm on a later flight.

Chris was never comfortable with the idea of leaving any of his men behind. Even though the job was finished and by all rights they should be perfectly safe lounging around the airport waiting for the next flight to leave in two hours, he just couldn't bring himself to head for home knowing three of his men weren't with him. With a resigned sigh, Chris gave up his seat, hoping it wasn't going to regret the decision.

They all would have stayed, reluctant to split up, but Chris refused to let them. JD had incurred a minor concussion and cracked a few ribs when one of the packing crates had slipped during transport, pinning him against the wall. Buck had gotten a sprained wrist trying to prevent the crate from moving and then shoving it away from JD with sheer brute force before the others could even react. Chris thought it better that the two wounded, albeit their wounds were minor, headed for Camp AWOL as soon as possible.

He'd sent Nathan a long to keep an eye on them both and too keep Buck from nagging JD too much. The man cared a great deal about all his friends, but JD was like a little brother, and was often singled out for a special brand of Buck's 'mother hen' treatment. Nathan would make sure he didn't drive the kid nuts before they made it home. Or at least Chris hoped he would.

What should have been a two-hour wait was rapidly looking like it was going to turn into something far longer. Chris had sent Vin and Ezra off to get something to eat. Vin's pacing was getting on his nerves. Given how long they'd been gone, Chris wondered if Ezra had turned the 'milk run' into more of a quest to find one place in the airport that served something he deemed edible.

Chris wished him luck. He had yet to determine if food in the airport was unilaterally awful by accident or design. Not that it mattered. The long walk would probably do Vin good, work off that tension and relax him some. Can't understand how the man can sit in one place for DAYS when on the job, eyeball all but glued to the scope, and he can't wait off the job for more than ten minutes without fidgeting.

Josiah was off scooping out the bookstore for another book to read. Chris couldn't figure out why the man didn't just read the book Ezra offered him. It was obvious he wanted to. The team leader snickered. Big man just doesn't want the rest of us to know he's a Harry Potter fan. Have no idea how Ezra found out, but then I have no idea how that man finds out most of the shit he knows.

He wasn't at all surprised to know Ezra had read all the books. The man was voracious in his consumption of literature. He seemed as eclectic in his reading as he was in his music.

Unable to sit still any longer, Chris got up and stretched. He wandered over to the windows. The view wasn't going to improve just by being closer, he knew that, but from this vantage point he could see just how much snow was accumulating. He frowned seeing what looked like a foot of snow. The plows were running and the de-icing truck was hosing down a plane that had backed away from a neighboring gate about half an hour ago. Chris smiled sourly, not sure which would be worse, stranded in the airport or on the tarmac.

Chris' thoughts were interrupted by two more passengers taking seats nearby. Ordinarily he would not have even noticed them, but the conversation between the two drew his attention. A bored curiosity making anything seem more interesting than what he was currently doing.

"Never thought we'd get through security."

Chris glanced over to see the speaker. A dark haired man who had to be at least Buck's height, but with a more solid build indicative of hours spent in a gym lifting weights, spoke with a trace of a Midwest accent. The frustration and animosity in his tone blurred his accent slightly, but Chris would bet he was from Chicago. He was wearing a suit that easily rivaled the more expensive once Chris had seen come out of Ezra's closet from time to time. The shoes had to be Italian leather.

"Well, it's your own damn fault." A soft chuckle punctuated the comment. "Ya could have sent the arsenal home with one o' the boys, ya know. Then it wouldn't have taken so damn long ta clear the stupid metal detector."

The other man's accent was reminiscent of Vin's. It was definitely the same soft Texas drawl, but stronger, more pronounced. Chris smiled slightly taking in the boots, jeans and hat. Honey blond hair was readily visible, escaping his hat to fall in soft waves to reach the lanky man's shoulders. Not as long as Vin's but close. It should have been odd seeing a cowboy seated next to a GQ fashion plate, but other than their coloring and difference in builds, the two could have easily passed for his teammates.

The word 'arsenal' registered. Chris' ears perked up as he went from accidentally eavesdropping to deliberately focusing on their conversation. The two didn't look like trouble, but Chris hadn't lived as long as he had by believing people were as innocent as they appeared.

The dark haired man gave his companion a vicious glare, turquoise eyes just as flat and hard as the stone they resembled. "I am not going around without-"

"Paranoid." The blond interrupted, golden brown eyes sparkling with obvious amusement, not the least bit intimidated by the glare. "Admit it. You are paranoid."

"I am not."

"Uh-hunh. Right." The blond was openly grinning now. "Jus' admit it. You'll feel better. First step an' all that."

Something about him struck Chris as familiar. He fully expected, given the man's attire and accent, to be reminded of Vin. Oddly enough it wasn't Vin that came to mind, but Ezra. Chris couldn't quite pin down why though. Something about his smile, the look in his eyes as he teased his companion, the way he made a gesture with one hand as he spoke.

"I do not have a problem." The taller man insisted.

"I'm sure there's a program o' some kind out there." The cowboy continued ignoring his friend's comment. "Ya could be anonymous, I'm sure. Would sort o' have to be, what with y'all thinking someone is out ta get you."

Blue eyes warmed slightly as he pointed a finger at the blond, a smile twitching at the corners of his generous mouth as he spoke. "If I were paranoid, no one would really be out to get me. And we both know better."

"Well, there is that." Brown eyes narrowed slightly as one long fingered, elegant hand rose to rub his chin. "Does sort o' throw a monkey wrench in the whole thing."

Chris focused on the ring finger. The man was wearing a gold ring set with a square cut ruby. He'd seen that ring before, or at the very least one that bore a strong resemblance to it. It took him a second to place it. Ezra had one he wore that was just like it. Odd.

"Course, you coulda got through security sooner if you weren't so ornery, Joe-"

"Ornery?" Joe, obviously the dark haired man, snorted. "I am not ornery."

"I'm thinkin' the guy at the metal detector would disagree with you there."

"He started it."

"By doing his job?" The blond laughed outright. "Gotta admire the boy's persistence. Think he's the only one who ever came close to findin' 'em all."

"Oh shut up, Levon." Joe shot back without any real anger. A small, smug smile appeared. "He missed two."

"Don't matter. I win." Levon held out his hand and made a 'gimme motion'. "Only way he'd have found 'em all woulda been to strip search you." Eyebrows waggled. "And while I don't think too many would have objected ta the view, I jus' couldn't see you doing that without mood music. Was the reason I only bet he'd find most o' what you're packin' not all."

Joe chuckled and handed his friend two quarters. Fifty cents didn't seem like much of a bet to Chris, but he shrugged it off. To each his own, I guess. Levon glanced toward the window and for just a second Chris thought he'd been busted, but brown eyes barely acknowledged him, focusing on the view outside.

"Betcha a dollar we ain't leavin' tonight."

"No bet." Joe sighed. "Got a feeling you're right. Besides I'm out of quarters."

"We could up the ante, ya know."

Joe gave Levon a dark look. "I already lose too much to you as it is."

Chris was struck by how familiar the conversation he was hearing sounded. He'd heard members of his team saying the same thing to Ezra more than once. The mystery there was why in the hell they continued to bet against him.

"You want something to drink?" Joe offered after a moment, leg bouncing restlessly. Doesn't look like the sort who likes to wait patiently either.

"A beer."

"How about a bottle of water instead?" Joe countered firmly.

Levon sighed and slouched further into his seat, stretching his legs out in front of him, closing his eyes. "Yeah sure."

"You want anything to eat?"


Joe rolled his eyes as he stood up. "I suppose something good for you is out of the question?"

"Chocolate is good for me." One brown eye opened. "Keeps me all upbeat and easy to get along with. Think you oughta eat more of it."

Joe shook his head as he walked away, muttering something Chris couldn't hear. He got the distinct impression it was an old argument between the two. One they routinely engaged in out of habit, but it no longer had any real heat, if it ever did.

Chris stretched again and returned to his seat. He still couldn't shake off the feeling that the blond cowboy was familiar in some way. He was equally sure he'd never seen the man before.

Frustrated, Chris glanced up the concourse looking for his wayward teammates. He spotted Josiah coming toward him, empty handed, just as he suspected he might. He knew the big man would claim there was nothing of interest or that the books were all over priced. Whatever excuse he offered it would be nice and logical, and would easily allow him to take up Ezra's offer of the latest Harry Potter novel.

He resisted the urge to smirk as Josiah took his seat next to him. "Couldn't find anything?"

Josiah started to answer but Chris only half listened, handing over the book Ezra had left, eyes scanning the concourse for the two team members still missing. He spotted them a moment later. Vin was moving with a loose limbed stride that appeared deceptively slow and still managed to cover a lot of ground in very little time. He certainly looked more relaxed than he had when they left.

Despite the small difference in their heights, Ezra has no trouble keeping up with Vin. The man moved with a grace that always made Chris wonder if he'd taken dancing lessons at some point. He raised an eyebrow at the satisfied expression Ezra wore. Wonder what the hell he's looking so smug about? Maybe he managed to find the only joint in this place that serves edible food.

"Dinner is served, gentlemen." Ezra made a small flourishing gesture with one hand indicating the bags that Vin carried.

"What'd you manage to find?" Chris asked.

"For you, Mon Captain, I managed to locate a BLT, oil and vinegar chips and a Coke." Ezra took one bag from Vin and handed the stated items to Chris. "How you can possibly like those horrid chips is beyond me."

"It's an acquired taste." Chris grinned. He loved them, but hadn't realized Ezra knew that. "Thanks, Ez."

Ezra waved a hand. "De nada, Senor." He tipped his head to Josiah offering him a bag of his own. "For you, I procured a chicken salad sandwich on a whole wheat bagel, carrot sticks and a bottle of water."

"Bless you." Josiah took his food eagerly.

Chris frowned when Ezra's cell phone rang. He saw Vin tense and Josiah went still beside him. It wasn't the team phone. Shit. Shit. Why the hell can't he just throw the son of a bitch away?

Chris instinctively set aside his food, rising to his feet, getting ready to do battle. He knew it was pointless, but couldn't stop from doing it anyway. He saw Josiah doing the same thing.

"Yes." Ezra answered, voice neutral, lively green eyes taking on a shuttered look.

"Don't s'pose y'all got somethin' in that bag for one more?"

Chris could hear a soft drawl asking, the tone playful. There was no way he could hear that over the phone. The voice was coming from behind Ezra. The linguist spun around, a smile blossoming on his face.

"Lundy!" Ezra was suddenly hugging the blond cowboy Chris had been watching before. The hug was returned with equal enthusiasm.

"Damn, boy, it's good to see you." The cowboy was slapping Ezra on the back.

Ezra stepped back, hands curled around the blond's biceps. "What are you doing here? Your last letter said something about Florida. Where's Joe? He's with you, yes?"

The cowboy laughed. "One question at a time, kid. One question at a time."

Kid? Lundy? Thought is name was Levon? Least that's what his buddy called him. Chris felt his eyebrows rising. Vin looked wary but no longer tense. Josiah looked just as confused as Chris felt.

"Joe's here. He should be back in a minute. As for what we're doin' here…had a job. Just finished up this mornin'."

"Job?" Ezra's eyes search Lundy's. Chris frowned wondering about the significance of Ezra's question.

"Jus' puttin' the security system at the new Wachovia Bank through its paces." The blond waved a hand. "Finished up two days ago with the test. Sent the rest o' the boys home in the truck. But me an' Joe stayed ta make the final recommendation ta the board o' directors."

The blond made a one shoulder shrug Chris recognized as being a gesture similar to one Ezra often made. It was almost too graceful and precise to be considered something as casual as a shrug, but Chris didn't know what else to call it. Watching them, Chris couldn't see any strong physical resemblance to one another, certainly nothing that triggered the feeling of familiarity, but Lundy's mannerisms were almost an uncanny echo of Ezra's.

"Had planned ta fly out tonight, but if the view out the window is anythin' to go by, I'm thinkin' we might be stuck here a bit longer." Lundy grinned. "Real damn glad we got delayed now."

"So am I." Ezra responded with a grin of his own, dimples flashing. Chris noticed Ezra seemed to remember the rest of them were there. "Oh, forgive my poor manners. Levon Lundy, allow me to introduce you to my coworkers."

He made a simple had gesture toward Chris. "Chris Larabee, team leader and owner of Seven for Hire." Ezra tipped his head toward Josiah. "Josiah Sanchez, our tactician."

"And Vin Tanner," Ezra smiled warmly, one hand reaching out to pat Vin's shoulder, "our resident sharpshooter." Chris wondered about the speculative look Lundy gave Vin. It was like he was measuring the younger man in some fashion. Vin responded with a look of his own, making the blond cowboy smile.

"Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce you to an old friend of mine, Levon Lundy."

Chris nodded and smiled, but it didn't reach is eyes. This was the first and only time Ezra had ever mentioned an old friend. The man was rather tight lipped about his past. Still, if the greeting he'd given the lean blond was anything to go by, he genuinely liked the man. Ez is as standoffish as they come. Can't see him hugging anyone in public he didn't actually like.

Levon chuckled. "Friend? Hell, we're more than friends, we're family."

"Family?" Josiah's rumbling baritone was filled with interest.

Before either one could answer, Joe was back. Turquoise eyes did a rapid fire assessment of the situation, ending up on Levon for a moment. Something passed between them, and Chris could almost see tension draining out of him. He could have sworn both Levon and Ezra made some sort of 'all clear' gesture.

Joe's shoulders relaxed and he all but pushed a small bag with Godiva emblazoned on it into Levon's hands as he pulled Ezra into another hug. He was saying something in a language Chris couldn't hope to identify, but Ezra responded in the same tongue. Levon looked amused as he riffled through the bag Joe handed him.

"Don't mind those two." Levon grinned as he withdrew was looked like a dark chocolate truffle. "Joe likes ta practice. Only one he knows who knows all the languages he does is Ezra."

Levon bit into the candy with obvious delight. Chris remembered Sarah saying something about how much she liked Godiva chocolate. From the looks of it Levon likes it as much as she did.

"Hey, let the kid breathe for a bit." Levon bumped Joe with his shoulder. "Got friends o' his you need ta meet."

Another round of introductions was made. Joe LaFiamma gave Vin the same once over Levon had. Chris couldn't figure out what the hell that was about, but bit his tongue to keep from asking. He was fairly certain he wouldn't get an answer anyway.

Chris resumed his seat. Josiah also sat down again. Vin looked hesitant, still wary, perching on the arm of the chair Ezra had selected. Chris could understand his unease. He kept a watchful eye on Joe and Levon as well.

"You said you and Ezra are family?" Chris asked thinking more information was definitely in order.

"Yep." Levon responded, taking the bottle of water Joe offered him. The seats across the aisle were positioned too far away for easy conversation, and those next to them would have meant turning sideways to speak. Evidently not liking either option, Levon shrugged and sank to the floor, adopting a cross-legged posture Chris' grade school teacher called 'Indian style'. Joe rolled his eyes, but to Chris' surprise he joined his friend on the floor, evidently not as fussy about his cloths as appearance would indicate.

"Cousins." Vin stated with calm certainty.

"Yep." Levon popped the remainder of the piece of chocolate in his mouth. He didn't look at all perturbed by Vin's statement. Nor did he seem surprised that Vin knew.

Chris, on the other hand, found himself wondering what sort of secrets the roommates shared that he wasn't privy too. He hated being left in the dark. The only family he knew about was Maude. It was reassuring that from what he'd seen so far Levon wasn't anything like Ezra' mother.

Joe took the bag from Levon and pulled out a truffle. "You ask either of them anything," he tipped his head toward Ezra and pointed at Levon, "and one word answers is about all you're going to get." He gave both men a fondly exasperated look. "I don't think they do it deliberately to piss people off. Think it's a habit more than anything else."

"One you really should to talk to is Levon's grandmother. Feisty one she is even at the ripe old age of eighty. That lady knows the family history like the back of her hand and doesn't mind sharing it." His tone made it clear he was fond of the lady. And the look that passed between Levon and Ezra made it clear they shared the feeling.

Joe's vision got a little distant. "If I remember it correctly, Levon's grandfather and Ezra's were brothers. Identical twins. Elmer and Elijah Standish." Joe bit into his piece of candy. From the comment he'd made earlier Chris was surprised to see him even consider eating any.

"Elmer had two girls, Ellie and Eva. Elijah had three boys, Eli, Malcolm and Martin. Levon's mother, Ellie, and Malcolm, Ezra's father, were first cousins. Which makes Levon and Ezra second cousins."

"Quite a family tree." Josiah commented glancing toward Ezra. Chris couldn't decide if the man was disappointed Ezra hadn't seen fit to tell him about his family sooner or simply surprised to learn there was more to Ezra's family than Maude. Family tree? More like a creeping vine.

"Very few of us spring whole cloth from the earth." Ezra responded quietly, eyes betraying a trace of amusement.

"Weren't any of us hatched from an egg." Levon seconded with a sly smile. "Although, was pretty sure I coulda convinced you o' that at one time."

"I was never that gullible." Ezra snorted.

"Sure ya were." Levon chuckled. "You jus' grew out of it real quick. 'Bout the time ya turned four or so."

Green eyes twinkled. "I believe you might have had a hand in that."

"Jus' getting you ready for the world was all." Levon responded not sounding the least bit repentant. There was definitely a story there.

"You knew each other as children?" Josiah asked beating Chris to it. He'd thought Ezra had spent all his time in boarding schools overseas.

"Sure." Levon sipped his water. "Bunch o' us played together when we were young 'uns. Hell, used to all get together regularly."

"Used to?" Vin asked, one hand resting lightly on Ezra's shoulder in a gesture of comfort. Chris was curious about the trace of sadness he could hear in Levon's voice. A quick glance confirmed it was mirrored in Ezra's eyes, although nothing was apparent in his expression.

"Story for 'nother time." Levon effectively shut down that avenue of conversation. Even only just meeting the man, Chris knew immediately he wasn't going to get answers if Levon didn't want to give them. Forcing the issue was out of the question if the look Joe gave him was anything to go by. Although he was confused by the vaguely apologetic look Levon gave Vin.

"What are you doin' in Denver, Ezra?" Joe picked up the conversational thread and neatly redirecting it.

"Finishing a job, same as you."

"Doin' what?" Levon interjected, reaching for the bag of chocolates Joe still held.

"Deliverin' dinosaur fossils to the museum." Vin answered before Ezra could. "Can I have one of those?" He gestured toward the bag.

"Sure." Levon lightly tossed the bag to him. "Any but the dark chocolate. Those are my favorites."

Vin nodded and selected one that looked to be white chocolate. Chris momentarily disconcerted that Vin had felt comfortable enough to ask a veritable stranger for candy. But then Vin's sweet tooth was notorious. And if Levon hadn't wanted to share, Chris had no doubt he wouldn't have, friend of his cousin or not. He couldn't shake the feeling there was something more going on.

"Dinosaur fossils?" Both Joe's eyebrows rose. He chuckled, sending a wry look toward Levon. "And you thought what we did for a living was weird."

"It is weird." Levon caught the bag as Vin tossed it back to him, digging out another dark chocolate truffle.

Weird? Chris looked from one to the other. "I thought you said you were testing a security system?"

"Well, yeah." Levon did another of those one shoulder shrugs. "We do that by robbin' the place."

Josiah cocked his head, brows pulling together. "You mean you attempt to steal?"

"Hell no, we don't ATTEMPT to." Golden brown eyes relayed indignation easily. "We rob 'em blind. That's the whole point."

"We don't keep it." Joe lightly slapped Levon's arm in reprimand. "A live test means we genuinely remove merchandise. Test includes just how long it takes them to notice something valuable is missing. The whole point is to evaluate the quality of the security in keeping undesirables out and just how quickly an alarm would be sounded, mechanical or human, that would announce a crime had taken place. Likelihood of retrieving stolen items and catching the thief is directly correlated to how much time lapses between escape and discovery of the crime."

"Always sounds like some sort o' college professor when he gets to lecturin'." Levon shook his head. "Weird part is going ta all that trouble to rob 'em jus' to give it all back."

Josiah chuckled. "But a job well done is its own reward."

Joe gave Levon a triumphant look. "That's what I tell him. All the time."

"Yeah, yeah. Still think it would make more sense to just let 'em suffer for their ineptitude." A grin appeared and was shared with Ezra. "Payoff would be better too."

"Yes, but then there is the whole fugitive thing to consider." Ezra stated quietly, mischief in his eyes easy to see.

"Good point." Levon sighed, rising smoothly to his feet. "Always hated havin' to look over my shoulder all the time."

He cocked his head to one side, eyes moving from Vin to Ezra and back again. Something in the set of his expression suggested a decision had been made. Chris couldn't figure out what the hell the man might have decided on.

"C'mon Tanner, I want me a cup o' coffee. Goes better with the dark chocolate than water."

Vin looked startled. Ezra's eyes narrowed. "Lundy." There was a wealth of warning in that one word.

Levon looked back at Ezra mildly. "He's family, Ezra. Jus' want the chance to get to know him."

"This is not the best time or place." Ezra argued. Best time or place for what, Chris wondered, eyes darting from Levon to Ezra. He could see Vin doing the same.

"Seldom is a 'best' time or place. Jus' some are better than others." Levon shrugged. "I won't hurt him, Ezra."

"Your word." Jade green eyes were unwavering.

"My word." Levon nodded solemnly.

"I don't get a say?" Vin ground out, eyes wary. Chris tensed. No one ordered his men anywhere.

"Nope." Levon smiled easily. "An' 'fore you go getting your knickers in a twist, it won't be all one sided. 'Less I'm mistaken I'm bettin' you got a few questions o' your own you'd like ta ask."

"You gonna answer them?" The challenge was blatant in Vin's question.

"As best I am able." Levon met the challenge squarely, brown eyes meeting sky blue effortlessly.

"Family?" Vin hesitated, one hand still on Ezra's shoulder. One of Ezra's hands rested on Vin's thigh.

"Family." Levon confirmed. "Until Ezra tells me otherwise."

"Okay. Coffee it is." Vin stood, patting Ezra's shoulder as he moved to follow Levon. "Be back in a few minutes."

Chris bit his tongue to keep from ordering Vin to stand fast. He had no doubts about Vin being able to handle himself. For the life of him he couldn't explain it but he trusted Levon to keep his word to Ezra about not hurting Vin. God. I must have slipped down a damn rabbit hole.

"What the hell did he mean about Vin being family until you tell him otherwise?" Chris glared at Ezra. He didn't like surprises. Shit for all I know Vin's another long lost cousin!

"Levon's definition of family is a bit broader than most." Joe interjected. Chris got the feeling he was deliberately redirecting his attention from Ezra to himself. "Family is everything to him and it's more than just blood ties." He rose easily to his feet, and Chris got the distinct impression Joe did so in order to be able to act more freely if he needed to, putting himself in a better position to move. Why he thought he might need to was just one more question to add to all the others.

Chris' eyes narrowed. He could tell the bit about family was true, so far as it went, but he knew that wasn't the whole truth. There was something more. "Why Vin? Why not me or Josiah?"

Joe glanced toward Ezra. Something passed between them, and Ezra shook his head. Joe sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He muttered something in another language. Chris didn't recognize this one either except to note it was not the same one he'd greeted Ezra in. Ezra responded in kind.

"Your call, kid." Joe offered in English, but he might as well be speaking another language for all the more sense that statement made.

"If it was my call it wouldn't have come up." Ezra retorted, expression tight.

Joe looked away and sighed. "You've known Lundy longer than I have. You really think he wouldn't make the most of an opportunity? Especially one this important to him, to you?"

"No." Ezra pursed his lips. "I should have expected something like this." He assessed Joe with a resigned expression. "Worst case?"

Joe smiled. "Can always come work for us. Both of you."

"That's the worst case?" Ezra's lips twitched.

Joe chuckled. "Could be the best case. Jus' depends on your point of view really."

"Would the two of you please stop talking in riddles." Chris growled through clenched teeth. No one is going anywhere. Finally got this damn team working the way I like it. Not breaking in new staff.


The linguist sat up a little straight, a blandly neutral countenance hiding whatever he was thinking. Chris hated it when Ezra adopted that look. He had enough trouble reading the man when he was open. And he still didn't understand why it was up to Ezra or just what was going on. I want some answers people. So you better start talking here.

"Tell him." Ezra ordered softly.

Joe nodded. He faced Chris directly, including Josiah in his gaze. "Levon considers Vin to be family because when he and Ezra last spoke, Ezra mentioned they had been together for more than six months."

Josiah frowned. "Six months? Ezra's been on the team over a year."

"Not the team." Joe shook his head. "Vin and Ezra."

Chris felt his mouth drop open. "Excuse me?"

"Together. As in a couple." Joe waited a beat, his voice soft. "As in lovers."

Josiah sat forward and leaned around Chris to look at Ezra. "That true?"


"Well, that certainly clears up a few things." Josiah nodded, looking remarkably unperturbed by Ezra's admission. The big man had a tendency to take a lot of things in stride.

Christ on a crutch. Clears up things??? What things? Chris shook his head. He glared at Ezra, hazel eyes spitting fire. "You didn't think to say something to us sooner?"

"Obviously not." Ezra returned sardonically.

Chris snorted, pissed that he'd overlooked something if Josiah's comment was anything to go by and that he'd been deliberately left out. "Why the hell not?"

"A number of reasons."

"Which were?" Chris growled. He hated it when Ezra hedged.

"We are both consenting adults, Mr. Larabee, it's not as if we needed your permission."

"Ez, that's not what I meant." Chris huffed out a breath in frustration. He waved a hand toward Joe. "Hell, he knew before I did."

"Of course he knew." Ezra made a graceful meaningless gesture with one hand. "Lundy told him."

"Cousin of yours sucks at keeping secrets." Chris shot back not even sure why they were arguing or exactly what point he was trying to make.

"Little hard to keep secrets from a guy you've been sleeping with for eight years." Ezra commented dryly, green eyes warning Chris to watch his step.

Chris stared at him. "What?" Eyes darted toward Joe seeking confirmation. Somehow neither man was what he pictured when the word 'gay' came to mind. But then neither did Vin or Ezra.

Joe shrugged, looking not the least bit offended or embarrassed. "Not quite eight years, Ezra. Anniversary isn't for another two weeks."

"What does one give for the eighth anniversary?" Josiah asked suddenly.

"Bronze." Joe answered him with a smile.

"I'm not even going to ask why you want to know that." Chris jabbed Josiah hard with an elbow. "Can we focus here?"

"Sure, Chris." Josiah responded with a jab of his own reminding Chris why it was a bad idea to do that to the big man in the first place.

"Why didn't you say something?" Chris again looked to Ezra.

Ezra sighed. "At first it was simply a desire to indulge ourselves in a little privacy. To explore without," the linguist hesitated for a moment, "the added pressure of the expectations of others."

Chris could understand that. Living at Camp AWOL privacy was a rare commodity. He fully appreciated the benefit of rank in having his own quarters. And if the others knew, he could see where they might pry into things better left alone. Buck in particular. The pilot had a tendency to give JD and Nathan unwanted advice with regard to their relationships. Chris had no trouble picturing his old friend trying to do the same for Vin and Ezra. Assuming, of course, he wasn't shocked, appalled or offended first.

"At first?" Chris made a go on motion with his hand. "What about after?"

Ezra bit his lip. Chris almost flinched when he did it. That little tell only came up when Ezra was attempting to pick his words with care, thinking through what he was going to say before he said it. Chris had come to think of Ezra watching his words as a bad thing. The normally sharp tongue being allowed free rein indicated a level of confidence and certainty Chris welcomed.

"Contemplation of the consequences."

"Come again?"

Ezra cleared his throat. "After…the reason nothing was said was due to contemplation of the consequences." He held up both hands, palms up. "Weighed the odds and bet accordingly."

Chris scowled remembering Joe's 'worst case' scenario. "You thought I'd fire you?"

Ezra bit his lip again and sighed. "I considered that possibility, yes."

How the hell could he think that? I mean I know I'm a rat bastard at times, but that's no reason to think I'd fire them for…for…no good reason. Chris' lips curled into a snarl. He wasn't so angry that he didn't register when Joe's stance shifted. His balance altered subtly, hands held open ready to attack or defend. The conversation he'd overheard earlier immediately came to mind and he was fairly certain Joe was considering fingering a weapon of some kind.

Josiah laid a hand on his arm, long fingers wrapping around his forearm easily trapping it at against the armrest. Light blue eyes regarded Ezra with measured understanding. "Ezra, I get the feeling your worst case scenario included more than just being fired."

Ezra didn't answer; he simply looked away. Realizing just how much worse Ezra's worst case could be, Chris wondered if it were possible for a man to actually feel himself get pale. He took a deep breath and then another.

"You really thought-"

"It is always best to weigh every possible outcome." Green eyes reluctantly met hazel. "Let's just say I've had this conversation before and it took place with fewer words and more fists. While I know you and the others are different, past experience has a way of coloring present perceptions."

Chris swallowed hard. It was hard to fault the man for not trusting them to accept this new development. His reaction a second ago was easily misconstrued. Joe is acting like he's pretty sure he's gonna need that damn gun he's probably packing and he only just met me. And Josiah's grip is going to leave a bruise on my arm if he doesn't let up soon. Buck's right when he says I need to work on my communication skills.

"Six months?" Chris arched an eyebrow.

"Seven now." Ezra corrected with a faint smile.

He sighed. "Hasn't affected your job performance."

"Nor will it." There was a clear promise in that statement.

Chris nodded accepting that. The most professional member of the team when on the job was Nathan, but Vin and Ezra ran a close second. Chris couldn't see either of them letting their relationship get in the way of getting the job done. He sighed when Josiah finally let go of his arm and rubbed a hand over his face. "Just once, I would really like a job to go according to plan. No muss, no fuss, no information that adds a whole new dimension to my life."

"I'm sorry." Ezra shifted in his seat, a move that was a close to fidgeting nervously as Chris had ever witnessed in the younger man.

Chris' head snapped up, eyes pining Ezra in place. "You have nothing to be sorry for. For crying out loud," Chris ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, "I'm your boss not your mother."

"Thank God for small favors." Joe muttered.

"The point is," Chris continued is if Joe hadn't spoken, "It isn't any of my business who you sleep with. I mean, yeah, I'm a little pissed that you thought you couldn't trust me enough to tell me until you had to, but I'll get over that."

"Will you?" Joe asked quietly, turquoise eyes weighing him carefully. He could almost feel the weight of Ezra's gaze doing likewise.

"Yes. Hell, yes." Chris spat back torn between being outright angry and simply annoyed. He didn't mind being judged by Ezra, as a teammate and friend it was Ezra's right. But he didn't like the idea of Joe questioning him. The only thing that made it acceptable was he knew Joe was doing it out of concern for Ezra. Someone else looking out for one of his men, someone who obviously liked and cared for Ezra, Chris figured Joe deserved at least that much.

"I can be a real son of a bitch, but I'm not vindictive nor am I that petty. I don't mess with the personal lives of my men unless it starts interfering with the job. Hired them for the skills they had to offer. Skills the team needed. Still needs. Would have hired them even if I knew they were gay. The fact that they are sleeping together doesn't change anything."

Chris felt a moment of satisfaction that he wasn't singled out when Joe looked toward Josiah and asked, "What about you?"

"I have no problem with amitie particuliere." Josiah smiled, getting an answering smile from both Joe and Ezra at his use of French to describe same sex love. "Have considered the topic on more than one occasion, and the truth is it's never bothered me."

Why am I not surprised by that? Chris' jaw clenched to keep from sarcastically voicing the thought. Josiah's philosophical nature allowed the man to take a myriad of views on an endless array of topics, some in apparent contradiction to other beliefs the man professed to hold. Chris had yet to fully understand Josiah and strongly suspected he might never do so.

The big man settled into his chair again, looking relaxed and as comfortable as any one was ever able to do in the torture devices airports claimed were chairs. "I didn't need them to say a word, Joe. Sort of suspected there was something going on…this was just confirmation."

"You suspected? Why?" Chris gave the 'Preacher' a dark look. He didn't like the idea that he'd overlooked something that was evidently obvious to others.

Josiah just looked smug. "Now how are you ever going to learn anything if I tell you the answers?"

Chris really wanted to slap the older man silly. He told himself he refrained because he didn't want to deal with having to kick security's ass when they showed up to keep him from hurting Josiah and not because he wasn't sure he could take the other man. He wished Ezra had brought him a stiff drink when he got dinner.

Ezra handed him a small bottle. Chris chuckled reading the label. Johnny Walker. If I weren't grateful for how often it works in my favor I'd find his ability to read my mind down right freaky.

"You planning to tell the others when we get home?" Chris asked, twisting the top off the tiny liquor bottle.

"I suppose." Ezra made one of those graceful one shoulder shrugs. He looked more relaxed. Not as at ease as he had before this conversation started but certainly no longer as tense as he had been. "Nathan already knows so that really only leaves Buck and JD."

Chris nearly chocked when Ezra said 'Nathan knows'. He coughed. "You told Nathan?"

"Not exactly."

Chris' curiosity was piqued more by the slightly blush dusting Ezra's cheeks than the non-committal answer. "So what exactly?"

"He, uh, walked in on Vin and me."

Chris shook his head. "Guess I'm not the only one with a door that never gets knocked on."

Josiah chuckled. "You are never the only one, brother."

Is that supposed to be some sort of consolation? Chris resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He caught the look of amusement on Joe's face and he had a feeling Joe was thinking the same thing he was. Against his better judgement, Chris found himself liking the younger man.

The former marine studied Ezra for a moment. Chris didn't mind that Ezra kept secrets about his past but it bothered him more than he could really articulate that his men hadn't trusted him to give them a fair shake. He didn't fault Ezra. Chris was honest enough with himself to admit his behavior wasn't always the sort that fostered the degree of faith necessary to make the sort of admission Lundy had forced Ezra into.

Chris wanted to be very certain they were back on solid ground, moving forward and establishing a better rapport. "We okay here?"

Ezra smiled slightly. "It seems so."

"Good." Chris nodded. It was a start. He promised himself it would be allowed to grow into more. "We'll deal with Buck and JD when we get home."

"We?" Ezra arched an eyebrow.

"Yes, we, Ezra." Chris stated firmly. "We're a team. Remember?"

Ezra nodded slowly. "I remember."

Good. Chris intended to make sure neither Vin nor Ezra forgot that in the future.

"Will the others be a problem?" Joe asked quietly, his posture once more relaxed and still.

Chris smiled easily. "It won't be a problem." His tone made it clear he'd see to it that it wasn't. He really couldn't picture Buck having any difficulty with Vin and Ezra as a couple. Hell, I'm pretty damn sure he's looked over men a time or two with the same appreciation he usually reserves for women. And if the rest of us are okay with it, I just can't see JD pitching a fit. Kid has seen and done more than we give him credit for.

"You're sure?"

Chris knew Joe wasn't asking to be difficult. He was just making certain. Chris found it unexpectedly reassuring to once more be reminded this man he barely knew was obviously concerned for Ezra. Nice to know not everyone in Ezra's past was selfish son of a bitch out to use him and throw him away.

"I'm sure." Chris made it sound like the promise he meant it to be.

Joe nodded, accepting what Chris offered without question. He glanced toward the concourse and Chris knew he was looking for Levon and Vin. He saw Ezra doing the same thing.

"He said he wouldn't hurt Vin." Chris reminded Ezra not sure why he felt the need to reassure Ezra his lover was safe with his cousin. He wasn't even sure why he trusted Levon to keep his word.

"I know." Ezra replied, eyes still scanning the crowd. "That doesn't mean the two of them won't get into trouble of some kind."

Chris looked toward Joe. The dark haired man sighed softly and looked rueful. "Based on what Ezra's said about Vin and what I know of my partner…the two of them will likely get on like a house a fire. Once they sort out a few things that is."

"Ten minutes." Chris opened the chips Ezra had handed him earlier. "Then we go get 'em and make sure they aren't doing something incredibly stupid."

Joe laughed lightly. "Might want to make that five."

"Agreed." Ezra answered. He held out a hand and Joe tossed him the bag of chocolates. "We'll need to get more candy for Levon anyway."

<:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:> ~ <:>

Vin wasn't even ten steps away from Ezra when he glanced back over his shoulder uncertain if he should leave or not. Levon's comment was bound to raise questions. The sort of questions Vin didn't think Ezra should have to handle alone.

"He'll be fine." Levon assured him, one hand resting on his arm not quite propelling him forward but certainly keeping him from going back.

Vin glared at the blond, but made no attempt to shrug off his hold. "You know you jus' 'outted' us."

"I know." Levon met his angry gaze without flinching. "If I'd left it up to Ezra, two of you would never come out of the closet."

"You don't think it should be left up to him, to us?" Vin's lip curled into a sneer. He didn't like this high handed approach. Too damn many people had ridden rough shod over him in his life already.

Levon cocked his head slightly, expression mild, brown eyes warm with an emotion Vin couldn't name. "If you were workin' a nine to five office job, or third shift at a factory somewhere, then I would have left it up to Ezra. In that case it wouldn't matter."

"But you don't work in an office or a factory." Levon sighed softly, dropping his hand from Vin's arm. "Who you sleep with is a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. In your line of work if you can't trust your teammates to handle the simple things, then you got no business trusting them with the complicated things. And you sure as hell shouldn't be putting your life in the hands of people you don't trust to recognize the fact that who you sleep with doesn't define who you are or your ability to do the job."

Vin grimaced recognizing the validity of Levon's argument. He'd wanted to share with the others their relationship but had respected Ezra's apprehension with coming clean. He knew Levon was right. Vin had argued in his own way the same point with Ezra less than a week ago, before they'd signed on for this job when it looked like Chris might opt to split up the team again. Vin wanted to make damn sure he and Ezra were together.

Agreeing with Levon about telling the others didn't mean he thought Ezra should have to face Chris and Josiah alone. If Chris got nasty or Josiah blew his top, Vin wanted to be there. He half turned to head back when Levon's next comment stopped him.

"He's not alone, Vin." Levon's lips quirked upward slightly. "Joe will make damn sure things don't get out of hand."

"It's all fine, well and good you trust yer buddy, but I don't know you." Vin snapped. "Or him."

"Then it's about time we rectify that." Levon returned, eyes wary, but looking otherwise unperturbed. "Don't ya think?"

"Anything happens to him-"

"Nothing is going to happen." Levon seemed very confident he was right.

Vin wished he could be equally blasé about the situation, but there was just too much at stake for him not to be nervous. Never should have agreed to go with him. Was a mistake.

"You might not know me or Joe, or have reason to trust us, but you know your friends, and you know Ezra. Have some faith in them."

Vin managed not to flinch. He did trust them. Had trusted them with his life on more than one occasion. Chris wouldn't do anything to hurt Ezra, at least not on purpose. And as long as he was sober, Josiah rarely lost his temper.

Vin took a deep breath. "You better be right."

Levon nodded. "Understood."

"You said I could ask some questions?" Vin reminded Levon. If he was going to feel like he'd just abandoned his lover he sure as hell was going to get something out of this.

"Ask away."

"First time I found out Ezra had a cousin was when you called to take him to some kind o' funeral." Vin's eyes narrowed. "You showed up in a black chopper." Levon's jaw tightened but he didn't comment. "So who died?"

"The man who recruited Ezra for the outfit he worked for before he worked with you."

"And that outfit was?"

Levon shook his head. "Have to ask a different question. I can't tell you any more about that than I already have."

Vin frowned. So damn many secrets. Just once I'd like a straight answer. Want to know who the hell it is that calls on his cell phone.

"I can tell you that with him being dead, Ezra's right of refusal went up."

Vin looked at Levon in surprise. Ezra being able to tell what he was thinking was still not something he was completely comfortable with. Ezra was at least a known commodity. Having a stranger do it was decidedly disconcerting. Vin shrugged it off to focus on what Levon had said. "That means what exactly?"

"He'll be able to say no more often." Levon looked as relieved and satisfied by that as Vin felt.

Vin was quick to realize that Levon hadn't said Ezra could decline every job. He silently cursed but decided being able to refuse more often was better than nothing. "You and Joe part of that outfit too?", he asked thinking maybe Ezra might not be totally alone on these mysterious jobs.

"Yeah." Levon answered with a small smile. Vin had no doubt the blond knew why he was asking. He sighed softly, smile vanishing. "Ain't always on the same job, Vin. Try ta be…but," Levon made a helpless gesture with one hand, "not always up to me."

Vin nodded and rubbed a hand over his face. Somehow he wasn't surprised. "How in the hell did Ezra get mixed up-"

Levon shook his head. "Ask me something else." It was not a request.

Vin glared. "Is there anything that isn't off limits?"

"Quite a bit." Levon chuckled. His expression was an odd blend of amusement and apology. "Just have to pick the right subject."

Vin's jaw tightened. The right one? Christ. The only one I really want to know about is off limits. "How old are you?" Vin asked with a hiss of frustration.

"Thirty-two." Levon returned mildly. The glow in his eyes reminded Vin of Ezra when the linguist was secretly amused by something, something he had no intention of sharing. "You?"

"Same as Ezra, twenty-eight."


"None to speak of. My mom died when I was little. Never met my father." Vin answered honestly. The mention of family brought to mind the earlier conversation.

Vin frowned. "Just how many are there when you said you all used to get together?"

Levon seemed to think for a moment. "Countin' jus' the second cousins…there'd be about six o' us. Sully, Eva's daughter is the oldest. And Martin's boy, Edward, was the youngest."

Vin was once more surprised to learn that Ezra had so many blood relatives. Since Maude was the only one they'd met and she'd indicated quite clearly that Ezra was her only child, the team had just assumed there wasn't any other family. He shook his head, disappointed with himself. Know better than to assume anythin' when it comes to Ez.

"You said Edward was the youngest?" Vin asked emphasizing the past tense.

"Died in a car accident when he was sixteen." Levon's tone was matter of fact but Vin got the feeling Edward's death was something that still bothered the other man. He wondered if it still bothered Ezra. Wondered if maybe Edward's death wasn't the reason for why they didn't all get together any more, but he couldn't bring himself to ask. Their forward progress down the concourse continued in silence for a few moments.

"You were in the army."

"Yeah." It wasn't a question but Vin answered him anyway.

"Why'd ya quit?"

"Didn't like what they had me doing."

Levon nodded. "You thought bounty huntin' was better?"

Vin stopped walking. "How'd you know about-"

"Checked out everyone on the team when Ezra told me who he was workin' with." Levon stopped, turning to face him.

"Then why the hell did you want to talk to me?" Vin was caught between being curious and pissed.

"Because what I found was just words on a page." Levon shrugged. "Always better to meet a man an' make your own opinion."

Levon rubbed tiredly at his eyes, and Vin noticed for the first time the other man looked exhausted. This job they just finished must have been a hell of a lot harder than they let on. Either that or he's like Ez and doesn't sleep worth a damn when on the job.

"It's like this…Ezra is sort o' my little brother. I do my best to watch out for him when I can. When he said he was joinin' up with y'all, I checked into who you were and what ya did. Wanted to make damn sure he wasn't gonna be left out to dry again. Know he's a grown man and can take care o' himself, but I still wanted ta make sure he wasn't jumpin' from the fryin' pan to the fire."

Vin could understand that. His teammates were the closest thing to family Vin had ever had. He watched out for them on and off the job.

Levon sighed softly. "What I found out was Chris Larabee and his crew are pretty good guys. Not always on the straight and narrow, but nothing outright illegal. And I was okay with that, until Ezra tells me you and him are more than jus' friends."

Vin's jaw tightened. Levon had said earlier that Vin was family until Ezra said otherwise, but that didn't mean he accepted their relationship unconditionally. "You got a problem with him being with a man?"

"Would be hypocritical if I did." Levon shook his head. "Been bumpin' boots with Joe for almost eight years now."

Vin blinked in surprise. Somehow that wasn't what he was expecting. "Eight years?"

"Yep." Levon laughed. "Kind o' surprises me too." He started walking again, heading for the Brewer's Café. "Given how often Joe and I went at each other hammer and tong when we first met, sort of amazed me we didn't kill each other."

Vin moved to follow. He vaguely wondered if he shouldn't worry people overhearing this conversation. Like it matters. Don't know any of these people and I'm not going to see any of them ever again. And the acoustics suck in here. Already know if I weren't standin' close to Levon, I could barely hear him.

The PA system droned off and on periodically, while an announcement from the moving sidewalk repeatedly informed people to beware of it coming to an end. The hum of hundreds of conversations going on at once and near constant foot traffic added to a din throughout the airport that made overhearing another conversation accidentally virtually impossible on the concourse. Vin tried not to think about how many people there were milling about. It made him nervous.

He cleared his throat. "So if you didn't have a problem with him being with a man…"

"Ezra isn't the sort to give his heart away often or easily." Levon sidestepped a woman with a baby stroller, raising a hand to the brim of his hat. "Ma'am." She smiled back at him.

Vin already knew his lover wasn't the sort to fall in and out of love quickly. Josiah said Ezra had trust issues. From what little Vin knew of his past he figured the man had every right to his issues.

"Wanted to see for myself what sort o' man you were." Levon moved to stand in line, eyes roaming over the menu board.

"And do I pass muster?" Vin asked, tone an odd mix of sincerity and sarcasm.

Levon grinned and winked at him. "So far."

Vin rolled his eyes. "So far? Hell, we've only known each other for less'n hour."

"True. But I like you."

Vin stared the blond. What the hell would this conversation be like if he didn't like me? On second thought, I'm not sure I want to know.

Levon regarded the board again. "You know what the others like? Might as well bring everyone a cup."

"Chris will just want his black with sugar. Josiah likes his light and sweet. And Ezra-"

"Will want some fancy concoction that is more at home in wine glass than a coffee mug." Levon wrinkled his nose. "Joe likes that stuff too."

"You don't?"

"Nope." Levon cocked his head, eyes still on the board. "Just like it hot, black and strong enough to float a brick."

"Me too." Vin suddenly felt better. Something so simple in common shouldn't matter, but it did.

"Ezra rags you about it, don't he?"

"Him and the rest of the team." Vin nodded. "Joe give you hell too?"

"Used to." Levon laughed. "Got us two pots. Made it easier than fightin' about it all the time."

They ordered and Levon paid for it. Vin offered to cover half, but Levon just waved him off before grabbing a tray to place the cups in. The blond breathed in the aroma and sighed when he took a sip of his coffee. "Not bad."

Vin sipped his own. It wasn't quite as strong as he'd like, but it would do. As they left, he asked, "So you grill all Ezra's boyfriends?"

"Just the ones he's serious about."

Vin blinked. Okay. "And you knew he was serious about me how?"

"We might only see each other sporadically, but we talk ta one another 'bout once a month, and write almost as often. He said you'd been together more than six months." Levon took another sip of his coffee as he walked. "For him, that's serious."

"Really?" Vin felt a rush of warmth. Glad we got to celebrate that anniversary then.

"Only one other made it any longer'n than a couple o' months." Levon told him.

"You have somethin' to do with that?" Vin's eyes narrowed, remembering Ezra's demand of a promise from Levon not to hurt him. He thought it a bit odd at the time, but if Levon had grilled previous lovers maybe Ezra had good reason to be so adamant.

"Job got in the way for most of them." Levon shrugged. He assessed Vin with a swift look. He clearly got what Vin's question implied and was not offended. "Most people ain't real understandin' when it comes to black choppers pickin' you up in the dead o' night. Or you disappearin' for a month at a time and not tellin' where you went, what you did, or why."

Levon stopped to face Vin directly, tray of coffee cups balanced easily in one hand. "Ezra always said knowing up front it might not last so it was better not to get too serious about it. Or even start."

The blond studied him, a question readily visible in his expression if not his voice. "Can't give you all the answers you want. Will probably never get all the answers. Need to know if that's gonna be a problem."

"I don't like it. Truth is, I hate it." Vin bit his lip. "Ain't really not knowin' what he does that bugs me or even his leavin'. It's just, well…would rather go with him, make sure he's got someone he can trust to watch is back. Just want to make sure he's okay, you know?" Vin realized he was probably talking to the one person who really could empathize with his feeling.

"Yeah." Levon's jaw tightened. "If I could get him out…" He shook his head. "Hell, if I could get Joe out…"

"What about getting me in?"

"No." Levon's tone brooked no argument. Golden brown eyes that had been lively and engaging hardened, reminding Vin of a topaz stone he'd seen once. "I know you want to help. Appreciate the offer. But Ezra would skin me alive if I agreed to that. And rightfully so."

Levon started walking again, effectively silencing any protest Vin might have voiced. Vin grimaced and moved to walk beside him. It had been a spur of the moment offer and he hadn't really expected the other man to agree, but Vin had hoped he would. He wondered if he'd lost points or earned them with this last exchange. He also wondered why Levon only mentioned getting Joe and Ezra out. He had a feeling the blond was putting their well-being before his own.

"Don't sweat it." Levon said after a moment. "I know ya meant well. Though you better be prepared for some fur ta fly if you make the same suggestion ta Ezra. And I wouldn't mention it to Joe if I were you."

Vin's lips twisted in a wry smile. "How do you do that?"

"Do what?" Levon glanced over at him, one eyebrow arched.

"Know what I'm thinking. Ez does it all the time, but he's known me for more'n a year."

"Never really thought about." Levon blinked. "Whole family sort o' does it." The blond made a dismissive noise as though the skill were not one of particular importance. "Jus' one o' them things."

Vin snorted. He had a feeling if he asked Ezra the same question he'd get the same answer. Ezra didn't think his skill with language was particularly noteworthy. Unique, unusual perhaps, but not anything special.

Since it seemed that Levon had a lot in common with his cousin, Vin asked, "You good with languages too?"

Levon laughed. "I barely mastered English. You?"

"Know enough Spanish to be dangerous."

Levon glanced down making note of the boots Vin wore. "You ride?"

"Every chance I get." It wasn't anywhere near as often as Vin would like. But there was no place to stable a horse at Camp AWOL and it was too expensive to board.

"Have to come to the ranch one o' these days. Next time you boys get some free time, tell Ezra ta bring you by. Got a dozen horses or so you can ride any time you feel the need."


"Yep. Got a place outside Houston." Levon sipped his coffee. "Home base of operation for us."

Houston wasn't that far away. Vin frowned. Ezra had never mentioned going to there.

"Ezra hasn't been up since you two got together." Levon answered him before he could even ask the question.

Vin scowled. "Could you wait for me to ask before you answer?"

"Could." Levon grinned. "Probably never will though."

Vin sighed. "You are a real pain in the ass."

"So I've been told." Levon chuckled. "Bet you a buck they are getting antsy. Another dollar says they are already lookin' for us."

Vin glanced checked his internal clock. They'd been gone for fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds. More than long enough for his lover and teammates to worry. "No bet."

"Spoil sport."

Vin grinned. "Ain't really sport if I know it's a losing bet."

"Well, there is that." Levon conceded easily with a smile.

Vin got the feeling gambling for Levon was less about making money and more about playing, challenging whoever he was with, proving he was right. Ezra was much the same way when he offered bets to the team. What he won off his teammates was a pittance in comparison to what he made through investments. And it isn't like he needs any more money.

Vin spotted Ezra and Joe heading toward them. The similarity in the quality of their clothes suddenly struck Vin. He found it secretly amusing that on the surface Ezra and Joe looked like they should have more in common than Levon and Ezra. Jus' more proof that Maude is wrong. Appearances are not everything.

Vin gave his lover a quick once over. No black eyes, no bruises, no split lip, no unease or tension. Ezra caught his look and smiled. Vin took a deep breath and let go of the worry he'd been carrying around ever since he'd left with Levon.

"Weren't gone that long, Ezra." The blond traded a look with his cousin when green eyes finally shifted from Vin to Levon. Vin had no trouble reading the reassurances being given and taken between them. Forgiveness offered and accepted. There was an easy understanding of long time association and affection between them that Vin found himself envying. He belatedly realized he had nothing to be jealous of. He'd shared the same sort of silent communication just a moment earlier.

"Everybody is still in one piece?" Levon asked quietly, although the question sounded more like a statement.

"Yes, and I want it to stay that way." Ezra retorted. "I know you."

"I'm harmless." Levon answered, waggling his eyebrows. "It's jus' people who've met me who say otherwise."

"You have a cup on that tray for me?" Joe asked before Ezra could respond.

"Yep." Levon passed his cup off to Vin and pulled one free from the cardboard carrier to give to Joe. "Something fancy jus' for you. Got one for you too, Ezra." He offered another cup to his cousin.

When Ezra took the cup Vin noticed the identical rings Levon and his lover wore. He reached out with one finger to touch Ezra's. "You two have those custom made?"

"Our grandfathers did. They wore them every day." Ezra answered. "My father bequeathed it to me. I have no idea why his father left it to him and not one his other sons."

"Got mine when granddaddy died." Levon took his cup back. "As the only grandson, Mother Minnie thought I should be the one to wear it."

"Mother Minnie?"

"My grandmother." Levon replied, sipping his coffee. Vin remembered her being mentioned earlier. It sounded as though she were still alive.

He opened mouth to confirm that but Levon spoke up before he could voice his question. "Best find your buddies and get 'em their coffee for it gets cold."

"Leaving them to wait is never a good idea." Ezra sighed heavily, more for affect than from any real feeling. "Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Larabee will likely be growing impatient."

Joe snorted. "What, like they aren't already?"

"Sort o' surprised they let the two o' you come to look for us." Levon moved to walk side by side with Joe. Vin noticed they walked in step. He hid a smile behind his coffee cup when he found himself walking in step with Ezra. The four of them fell into a natural rhythm as easily as if they'd practiced it. Sort of reminds me of marching on parade in the army.

"It took a bit of fast talking to get them to just wait for a bit and let us track you down." Joe admitted with a wink and a smile.

"Dollar says they will not wait the agreed upon five minutes." Ezra offered with a grin, gold premolar glinting in the florescent lighting.

Joe gave him a dirty look and muttered something about being robbed a nickel at a time. Levon cocked his head as though considering the offer. "Sucker bet." He stated looking decidedly amused, eyes focused in the distance.

Vin followed the line of Levon's gaze and grimaced. Chris and Josiah were headed toward them. "Couple o' mother hens."

He hadn't realized he said that aloud until Ezra seconded his comment. "Quite. But they mean well."

"What was that saying about the road to hell?" Joe asked. "Something about good intentions, I believe."

"Paving miles of it every day." Levon nodded sagely. He held out the cardboard carrier to Chris when the older man was a step away. "Your's would be the one on right. Josiah's is on the left."

Chris raised both eyebrows, but took the indicated cup without question. Josiah smiled as he sipped his, clearly pleased to have a hot cup of coffee supplied that was just the way he liked it. "Thank you, Levon."

"No problem." Levon stepped back and moved to throw the carrier away in a nearby garbage can. He yawned widely, covering his mouth with one hand. "Any word on our flight?" He asked raising his hand to rub at his eyes.

"Delayed for another hour, although, I think that's a bit optimistic on their part." Joe answered. The tall well-dressed man assessed his lover with a narrow eyed gaze. "You okay?" The question was soft, almost intimate, and Vin was honestly surprised to have even heard Joe ask it.

"M'fine, Joe." Levon smiled tiredly. "Nothin' a good night sleep won't cure."

Ezra frowned. Green eyes darted from Levon to Joe and back again. "Bad?"

"No worse'n usual." Levon answered the question. "And we ain't gonna talk about it."

Ezra's jaw set, his expression letting Vin know his lover was about to argue. Joe said something in what sounded like Italian. Even though Vin didn't understand the words, he clearly understood the tone. Funny how 'back off' sounds pretty much the same in any language.

Ezra took a deep breath, eyes still defiant. Joe said something else, and Ezra nodded slowly, albeit with obvious reluctance. Chris shook his head, looking faintly amazed.

"You have to tell me what you just said." Chris sounded more than just a bit impressed. "Usually when Ez looks like that, he doesn't listen worth a damn."

Joe arched an eyebrow, eyes betraying his amusement. "What I said will not work for you."

Vin's curiosity piqued. He made a note to get Ezra to confirm his suspicion when they were alone. Got a feelin' Joe told him to leave Levon alone. That he should trust him to handle it and now wasn't the time or place ta go into it. Would be what I'd tell Chris if he was about to interrogate Ez.

Further conversation was halted by a ringing cell phone. Joe and Levon both reached for where their phones were clipped to their belts. Ezra stiffened. Vin was grateful that his phone remained blessedly silent.



Vin couldn't make much of the one sided conversation he could hear. Whatever it was didn't sound much like when Ezra answered his cell phone. Levon sounded more annoyed than angry. Joe's speech pattern was more formal and Vin got the impression he wasn't talking to a friend, but whoever it was certainly wasn't someone he disliked either. He addressed the caller as 'Mr. Sands', but if Ezra's expression was anything to go by, the name meant nothing to him. The fact that Joe even addressed his caller felt significant to Vin. Ezra had always seemed to make a point of not using names.

Levon sipped his coffee and nodded even though the caller couldn't possibly see him. He sighed. "Yeah, yeah. Probably….Let the others know will ya? Okay. See ya soon." He disconnected snapping the phone closed and securing it back on his belt.

Joe disconnected a second later. He shot the phone a dirty look before clipping it back to his belt. He looked askance as his lover.

"That was Carol. Said the bank would be calling about doing another presentation on the security system."

"I got the bank. They want another review of the specifics on the upgrades we recommended. Apparently some of the upper echelon want cheaper alternatives." Joe rolled his eyes. "Wanted to know if we could stay in town another day."

"Damn lucky for them we ain't left already." Levon snorted. "We better be charging them double."

"Oh there will be a tolerance tax, rest assured." Joe smiled darkly.

"Tolerance tax?" Josiah inquired, beating Vin to it.

"I gotta put up with a client calling last minute or askin' for extra, then they are damn sure gonna pay for it." Levon answered, his tone easily relaying his irritation with their customer.

Chris grinned. "Tolerance tax. I like that."

"Okay, if were stayin' we better go rebook us a flight for tomorrow." Levon was already headed for their gate and the ticket counter. Somehow Vin was not at all surprised by the blond's decisive nature. Ezra could be the same way. Once his mind was made up he wanted to put things in motion not sit around and wait for everyone else to agree. Joe was already moving with his lover, no hesitation at all.

Vin chuckled silently at the way the rest of them simply tagged along. Wonder if that would work when we get home. Just start moving. They either follow or they don't. No listening to Buck and JD argue about it. Or putting up with Chris glaring. Or having to listen to Nathan and Josiah debate the logical course of action.

"Think we can get the airline to spring for a night in a hotel?" Levon glanced toward Joe. "Not like they were gonna get us out tonight anyway. An' us volunteerin' for a later flight has got to count for somethin' right?"

Joe shrugged. "Won't know for certain until we ask. And if the airline won't cover it, I'll make sure Wachovia Bank does."

"Good." Levon smirked. "Had to tolerate a lot on this job."

"And we are due sufficient compensation, not only for our expertise, but the willing commitment of additional time."

Even though the accent was different, Joe sounded a lot like Ezra. Vin had a sneaking suspicion that Levon could be equally erudite but chose not to be. The blond seemed to prefer being plain spoken, but there was no mistaking the fact that he was an intelligent man.

Levon casually leaned against the ticket counter as Joe spoke to the airline attendant. The woman was clearly smitten with Joe, readily responding to his good looks and polite demeanor. Joe seemed to be flirting with her slightly. His own relationship with Ezra was still so new that if it were Ezra flirting with her, even just slightly, Vin would have been offended, hurt even. He noticed Levon looked more amused than concerned or insulted by his lover's behavior. He said they'd been together for eight years. Must know Joe don't mean anythin' by flirting with her. Wonder if me and Ez will ever get to the point where we trust each other that much, know each other that well. Sure hope so.

Brown eyes met his before moving on to look at the others. "You boys want to rebook yer flight too?"

"Not just yet." Chris answered for all of them. He nodded toward the window. "Snow looks like it's starting to taper off so we might actually get out of here tonight."

"Wishful thinking." Levon snorted.

"Hope is not something to be abandoned lightly." Josiah chastised Levon with a smile.

Vin found himself wondering if there was some hidden meaning in the big man's statement. Josiah rarely said anything that didn't leave him wondering that. It was one of the reasons he found it best to ignore a lot of what Josiah had to say unless they were on a job or a clear reference point had been established.

Levon rolled his eyes. "Okay, whatever." Vin was reminded of JD's reaction to cryptic or philosophical comments made by Josiah. The youngest member of their team wasn't as quick to ignore them as Vin.

The others should have landed in Corpus Christi by now. They were supposed to call once they were headed for home. They'd taken two vehicles at the airport leaving them both in long term parking. Even though Chris' land rover did have enough room for all of them, so long as no breathed too deeply, using Nathan's Subaru as well made sense.

Joe managed to secure a hotel room, even convincing the attendant to call and confirm a reservation for them. Vin figured that was a benefit of flirting with the attendant. He also managed to secure a rental vehicle, something with four wheel drive. Four wheel drive would needed to get them back to town. There were plans to construct a hotel at the new Denver International Airport, but as yet there was no word on when or if that would even happen. So the only option was to head back into Denver proper.

"You want us to wait around with you?" Levon covered another yawn, barely managing to finish the question and sound intelligible.

"I think your time would be better spent getting some sleep, cousin." Ezra smiled slightly, but green eyes betrayed a glimmer of concern.

"Yeah,yeah." Levon made a dismissive motion with one hand, yawning again. His gaze narrowed as he regarded Ezra. "You ate all my candy, didn't ya?"

"Not all." Ezra responded with a grin, dimples appearing. "Just your favorites."

"Ya little shit." Levon's eyes twinkled belying his tone. "Well, yer jus' going to have to bring me some more." His lips twitched. "Say in a week or so." He pointed at Vin with his chin. "Bring yer buddy."

Ezra's eyes took on that glow that signaled he was very pleased. The invitation, despite being guised as a casual order, was clearly a mark of acceptance. "I shall endeavor to be there."

"Fair enough." Levon sounded agreeable, but Vin got the feeling Ezra better come up with a damn good reason if they failed to turn up in the requisite amount of time. From the look on Chris' face he got the same impression. He knew Chris might not like the idea of someone else applying pressure to one of his men, but he also knew the former marine wouldn't interfere. They shared an understanding look. The team was family, but by no means was it their only family. Chris made allowances for Josiah to visit his sister, for Nathan to be with Rain, JD to have time for Casey. He would be equally permissive when it came to Ezra's newly discovered relation.

"We ready?" Joe asked, tucking new tickets into his jacket pocket.

"Seem ta be." Levon answered with a shrug. There was an undertone of regret in his voice. Vin could tell his lover was about to rescind his earlier statement about his cousin getting some sleep in favor of having more time with him. He might have made the offer if Levon hadn't raised a hand to rub at his eyes again and stretch in a way that suggested he was trying to rejuvenate himself without having to actually move much. Ezra's eyes relayed the same regret heard in Levon's voice but he stayed quiet.

"We need ta do anythin' else here?" Levon looked toward Joe, still leaning casually against the counter. Vin suspected the blond had no intention of moving until he had to.

"Just have to go pick up our ride at the rental counter."

"Okay." Levon answered with a soft sigh, straightening to stand upright, once again ready to move.

Joe pulled Ezra into another hug, releasing him with a quick pat on the back and a smile. Levon hugged him as well, with this one lasting longer than the one he gave when they first met. Ezra was obviously just as hesitant to let go as Levon. They broke apart reluctantly, looking vaguely embarrassed to have their physical parting witnessed by so many. Vin seriously doubted anyone else even noticed. Airports and bus stations goodbyes were the norm, not the exception.

A quick round of handshakes, and a 'nice to met you, have a safe trip' bit followed. It was oddly friendly for a group that had really only met recently. Vin was caught off guard when instead of merely shaking his hand Joe pulled him into a hug.

"You hurt him and they won't need anything bigger than a shoe box to bury you." Joe spoke quietly, not quite a whisper, but definitely not loud enough to carry to anyone else. Vin had enough experience in recognizing dangerous men to know Joe meant every word. It was no idle threat being made. He settled for nodding his understanding which earned him a paternal pat on the cheek and a smile.

Levon smiled at him and Vin half expected another warning. He was surprised when all Levon said was, "See ya soon."

He shook his head thinking Ezra's cousin would likely prove to be just as confusing as Ezra was from time to time. Vin found himself looking forward to seeing him again. The first time he'd heard of Ezra having blood kin had raised all sorts of questions. This actual introduction had brought up as many questions as it answered. Vin vaguely hoped that would not be true of every single encounter. Although, it would certainly keep things interesting.

Chris shook his head, watching Joe and Levon head off to find the rental counter. "I'm beginning to think we are never going to have a boring trip."

"I'm not certain that is a bad thing, Chris." Josiah looked thoughtful as he moved to head back toward their seats. "This has been a most enlightening trip."

"And Ezra will continue to enlighten us, I'm sure," Chris responded, his tone as dry as the desert sand.

Ezra shot a dirty look at the older man's back, one that bespoke more of irritation than anger. Vin reached out and discretely laid a hand on the small of Ezra's back, letting him know he was there and offering tacit support. He received a warm smile that made his knees weak.

As he and Ezra again took their seats settling in to wait, Vin gave Chris a warning look. Hazel eyes met his easily and signaled his acquiescence. The team leader would not push the issue just yet. When they got home it would likely be another story. If they got home, he amended glancing toward the window.

The snow had tapered off to little more than the flurries it has started with. Vin sighed softly and heard Ezra do the same next to him. His lover slouched slightly in his chair, subtly positioning himself closer to Vin. The former sniper dropped his hand between them making it easy for Ezra's long, elegant fingers to intertwine with his.

Maybe Chris was right and they would be flying out soon. Vin hoped so. He was ready to go home. He might be going back with more questions than he had before, but so long as Ezra was with him, none of that really mattered. There would always be questions, he could wait for the answers.