A Comfortable Place
The Magnificent Seven characters belong to MGM, Trilogy and Mirisch, No copyright infringement is intended with their use.
Ezra glanced at his restless passenger and smoothly steered his Roadster into the turning lane. "This it?" he asked.
Vin nodded, winced and then voiced his affirmation. "Yeah, two buildings down from the turn." He sighed heavily and tried again to find a comfortable position. "Thanks for the ride," he said, hoping to distract himself from the constant ache in his right shoulder.
"Not a problem, Mr. Tanner." Ezra frowned and turned into the mostly empty parking lot that Vin indicated with his left hand. A large sign heralded the battered storefront as Wells' Antiques.
"I still can't believe I let Mason get me. Take that side alley round back," he directed.
Ezra mentally shrugged and followed Tanner's direction. "Agent Mason and his entire team showed a blatant disregard for the rules of the skirmish," he stated emphatically, waving his recently splinted fingers.
"He cheated." Vin sounded doubtful.
"He sucker punched you after the signal to stand down," Ezra responded. "This it?"
"Yeah, then there was that ass-hole Cochran, breaking your fingers like that. The drill was over when he stripped your gun." Vin struggled first with his seatbelt and then with the door until finally he managed to get the latch released. The sound of the door opening pulled Standish out of his momentary shock as he stared in disbelief at the sight that greeted him.
"Thanks again, Ez." Vin climbed carefully out of the car and closed the door gently but firmly behind him.
Quickly, Ezra shut off the engine and fumbling with the door, growling his frustration as he jarred his broken fingers. "You live here?" He tried to keep the surprise from his tone as he slammed the car door and hurried after his fellow agent.
Vin paused. "Yeah, so."
Ezra stammered a moment before following Tanner. "It's a VW van," he pointed out.
Vin chuckled, "It's a classic Westfalia… and you live in a casino." He watched as Standish's gaze swept over the midnight-blue pop-up and smiled in spite of himself when his friend frowned at the tent extending from the camper to the back of the Antiques building.
"I have running water," Ezra said quietly.
"So do I, come on in. I'll give you the grand tour." Vin turned and walked to the Antique shop's back door.
Ezra followed, still trying to wrap his mind around the idea of living in a camper. The door led to a small entryway; a windowed door to his right appeared to lead into a storeroom of some sort. Vin turned toward another door to the left.
"Nettie lets me hook up for water and electric and in exchange for being her on site security I can use the bathroom in her storeroom. Even has a shower," he explained as he led Ezra into the all-weather tent the made up half of his small home. The canvas attached at the top of the van and extended like a canopy forming the roof and three walls of what Ezra guessed was a 'living room' of sorts. Vin had used wooden boards to seal off the space around the van's undercarriage and keep out both animals and weather.
"A shower is nice," Ezra murmured wondering if he'd stepped into the twilight zone. "Who's Nettie?"
"Lady who owns the store." Vin's eyes danced with humor, appreciating the effect his home was having on his friend. Ezra turned slowly, taking in everything in the tent from the indoor/ outdoor carpet flooring and lawn chairs to the crate end tables and battered television. An electric heater sat next to the passenger door of the van.
"Got a kitchen and table inside." Vin stepped aside so Ezra could peek into the van itself but the Southerner just put his hands up and shook his head.
"Mr. Tanner, You can't stay here." The tone of Standish's voice caught Vin off guard and angered him slightly.
"Look, Ezra, I don't judge where you live, so don't start with me. This suits me just fine." He sank heavily into a padded lawn chair that took up one whole corner of the tented living room and winced as the action jarred his injury. It was the first time he'd ever dislocated his shoulder, though he'd seen it happen to Ezra at least once. He couldn't believe how much the joint still ached after it was back in place, and he loathed the doctor prescribed sling.
Ezra sighed and ran his good hand through his hair. "Vin, I'm not judging your home." He held up his other hand to stop any interruptions. "No, it's not what I would ever choose but that's neither here nor there. Fact is you're hurt and need to take care of yourself. You can't stay here."
Vin relaxed slightly but still protested. "Sure I can. There's nothing anywhere else that I ain't got here."
"A phone?" Ezra asked.
"Got my cell…" Vin frowned realizing he'd left his phone back at headquarters.
Ezra nodded knowingly. "How about a bed?"
"My bed works just fine." Vin waved toward the pop-up.
"And how are you going to get into it?"
Vin started to answer and stopped. Usually he just hauled himself up into the small bed but with his injury he knew that option was out and he was way too tired to change the camper's table into a bed. "I can manage," he answered stubbornly. He could sleep in the chair he was in now.
"I'm sure you can." Ezra smiled. "But Mr. Larabee will not be appreciative of me if I leave you here on your own and you end up injuring yourself further."
"Ezra, I'll be fine." Vin pushed himself up quickly but lost his balance thanks to his bound arm and stumbled. Ezra caught him by his good arm to keep him from falling.
"Ah hell," he muttered resignedly realizing he wasn't about to win any further arguments with Standish. Besides, if he got lucky, they'd end up at Ezra's. The man had the most comfortable recliners he'd ever experienced.
Ezra smiled at Chris' harsh, "Larabee," and adjusted his precarious grip on the cell phone. "Greetings, Mr. Larabee."
"You two alright?" Chris' voice immediately changed, his concern for his Team members obvious.
"Quite. Mr. Jackson was quite right in both of his diagnosis. Mr. Tanner's shoulder has been realigned and my fingers set." Ezra bit his lip as he took a corner faster than he should of when steering one handed and juggled the phone a moment when it slid off his shoulder. Finally he got the device back to his ear and pressed his palm against it, trying to hold it in place.
"Where are you now?" Chris was asking.
"On the way to my place." Ezra glanced at Vin, sleeping in the passenger's seat. It didn't surprise him that the Texan had fallen asleep during the short drive. He knew his friend had been fighting against the effects of the pain medication the doctor had made him take since they'd left the emergency room. "It took some persuasion but Vin finally conceded that his home wasn't a suitable place to recover from a shoulder injury."
There was a minute of pause. "Damn, I never thought about that."
Obviously Chris had been to Vin's humble abode before, Ezra thought as he stopped at a red light. He could hear Larabee shuffling some papers around and thought he heard Josiah saying something in the background.
"We've got a meeting with Travis in a half hour, why don't I come over and pick Vin up after that? I got a spare room."
Ezra nodded instinctively, "Do you need us for the meeting?"
"No, it's not that important." From his tone, Ezra figured the meeting was about what had happened earlier with Team 2. "I'll stop by and get Nettie to let me into Vin's, pack a bag for him and come get him."
"That'd be fine. See you then." Ezra smiled again at Chris' abrupt goodbye and tossed the phone onto the dash so he could pull into his parking space.
"Vin, wake up," he said gently.
Vin stirred and mumbled a slurred apology. He blinked rapidly and looked at Ezra. "We at your place?"
"Yes," Ezra answered. "Chris will be by to pick you up this evening. They've been called into a meeting with Travis."
"We don't have to be there?" Vin questioned.
"Injured reserved list." Ezra waved his splints at Vin's shoulder. "Besides I think they're getting a dressing down." Ezra helped Vin from the car and steered him towards the back entrance of the hotel.
"Probably because as mad as Chris was when Cochran jumped me after the signal to stand down… he was pushed even further by Mason's inappropriate actions toward you."
"What does that team have against us anyway?" Vin asked, oblivious to the fact that they had just stepped onto an elevator. He swayed when the small car lurched into motion but stayed on his feet.
"I have no idea, Mr. Tanner," Standish lied and sighed heavily. Both men were well aware that rumors about their pasts had to do with the recent targeting from a few FAM agents, Team Two in particular. Mason's references to 'The commie spy and kid killer' hadn't gone unnoticed by either of them. "I'll have to remember their disregard for the rules in the future."
Vin grinned, catching the full meaning behind Ezra's words. "Just don't get yourself in more trouble than it's worth."
Ezra chuckled and put out a hand to steady Vin again as the elevator settled into place. "I wouldn't dream of breaking any agency rules." The glint in his green eyes was obvious as the doors opened and they started moving down the hallway.
"This seems different than before," Vin commented as he looked around.
"We came in through the back entrance," Ezra explained pulling his key card from his pocket. "I don't normally park out front; Ralph likes to leave those spaces for customers."
Tanner leaned heavily against the wall while Ezra opened the door. "Still have those recliners in there don't you?" he asked with his eyes closed.
"One has your name on it about now." Ezra pushed the door open and held it so Vin could get by. He looked up in surprise when Vin stopped suddenly.
"You sure this is the right room, Ez?" the room was lit by the mid-afternoon sun and appeared to Ezra to be just as he left it save for the feminine figure standing in the center of the small suite.
Vin looked from the elegantly dressed blonde to his friend and back again with confusion. "That ain't no housekeeper," he mumbled under his breath.
"Hello, Mother." Ezra recovered from his initial surprise and gave Vin a light push so he could fully enter the room and close the door.
Vin noticed that both voices lacked any real warmth he would have expected when greeting family and if he was guessing, he'd say he'd actually detected a sudden sense of uncertainty and fear in Ezra.
"Mr. Tanner, this is my mother, Maude Faulkner…"
"Its Mrs. Jacob Preston now, Darling," Maude interrupted. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tanner." Her words were smooth as she nodded to him but Vin didn't miss the fact that her smile was forced.
"Pleasure's mine, Ma'am," he managed to say, adding a silent 'I think' and noting that his words were slurring again.
"You need to sit down, Vin." Ezra pointed toward the aforementioned recliners and moved into the tiny kitchenette. "I'll bring you some water."
"Thanks, Ez," Vin said, moving slowly past an impatient looking Maude and settling awkwardly into the recliner closest to the windows. He couldn't pop the footrest up since the lever was on his right so he slid into a slouched but comfortable position. He was aware of the subtle sinking feeling as he relaxed into the chair, of Ezra placing an open bottle of water on the table to his left and warning him that he was adjusting the chair. The next thing he knew, he was lying back with his feet up and a light blanket covering him.
He heard the bedroom door open and close and absently wondered if Ezra was the kind of man who always kept his room clean enough to show to his mother.
Closing the door behind him, Ezra took a deep breath and steeled himself for the upcoming confrontation. He only hoped that the medications Vin had taken were enough to keep him from over hearing anything.
"Nice to see you again, Mother," he said as he turned around.
Maude had settled in the large armchair just outside the bathroom so he moved and sat on the corner of his bed.
"Who is he?" Maude asked disdainfully and motioned towards the closed door.
"He's a friend and co-worker of mine." He ignored her audible scoff at the term 'friend'.
"He's on drugs," she accused sharply.
"He was injured today at work," Ezra pointed out strongly; knowing his mother had no problem with the occasional recreational use of illegal substances and was purposely goading him. "He's on pain medication."
Maude nodded regally; letting further references to Vin go. "As were you, I assume." She glanced at his injured hand.
"A slight mishap."
"I see." She paused, looking down at her own hands then up again at him. "Darling, why do you waste your time on such a dangerous, thankless job when you could be…"
"We've been through this," Ezra cut her off, standing abruptly.
"But you have real talent." Maude stood as well, her voice rising. "You could be making enough money at the tables to have anything you ever wanted and yet you insist on throwing it away so you can work for a living! Do you honestly thing that in ten years you're going to able to deal a game as well as you do now if you keep breaking your fingers?"
"Contrary to your belief, there is more to life than dealing from the bottom of the deck," Ezra retorted.
"Where'd you learn that gem? Your hippie friend? Certainly not from Ralph." Maude's eyes were bright with anger. "How long are you going to turn your back on everything I taught you? I raised you…"
Ezra's harsh laugh cut her off mid-sentence. "You didn't raise me," he pointed out loudly. "Your relatives and friends did."
"And you won't let it go either, will you? You take every opportunity to throw it in my face." She threw her hands into the air with disgust. "Poor maligned little Ezra, you had everything you needed. You always had a roof over your head. You went to the best schools, stayed with some very wealthy families and were always well provided for. I did my best and still you're ungrateful. You even live in this hovel of Ralph's just to spite me."
"Enough!" Ezra's loud command surprised them both and he took a moment to quiet his raging emotions and find his voice again. There was so much he wanted to tell her, so much he wanted to reveal. The things she didn't know about his life, those years bouncing from one home to another, from one school to another, and yet he knew, even if he told her the secrets he harbored deep within- she wouldn't understand. She couldn't see beyond her own world, she'd never been able to.
"I apologize, Mother. I told you I wouldn't argue these matters with you again. I am an adult, I make my own choices, including where I live and work."
"And you've done so well with that so far," She retorted sarcastically, not ready to let him end the fight with the upper hand. "You're illustrious NSA career almost ended in prison. Heaven only knows how you got this job after that fiasco or where you'll end up when you screw up here."
Ezra swallowed back his anger and hurt at her barb and shook his head. "Why are you here?" he asked softly.
Maude paused. Gearing up to lash out at him again, his question caught her off guard. Her green eyes met his. "I can't stay." She glanced at her watch, "I happened to be in the area on business," she admitted. "I wanted to see how you were and tell you about Jacob."
Ezra nodded slowly. "You could have invited me to the wedding." He looked down at the beige carpet, "whenever it was," he whispered.
The hurt in her son's voice would have been evident if she was paying any real attention. Instead she sighed wearily and adjusted her designer pantsuit. She stepped closer and touched Ezra's cheek in a confusing display of affection before moving across the room and pausing as she opened the door. "You have to understand, dear, Jacob is an extremely particular man. He doesn't know I have a son and I see no reason to have you be the disappointment to him that you are to me."
Ezra tried his best not to visibly react to her words but at her small smile he knew he'd failed.
"I know you better than you think, son," she said gently. "When you're tired of trying to live your silly dreams and through playing hero…you know where to find me."
Vin watched Maude Preston stride confidently across the room and exit the suite without so much as a glance toward him or the room she'd just left. As the heavy door clicked closed, Vin turned and focused on the darkening afternoon sky. He felt half ashamed for listening in on Ezra's exchange with his mother and yet there was really no way he could have avoided it. He was surprised and angered by the words Maude had thrown at her son, and wondered at her claim of knowing him so well. If she really knew her son, she'd know that the career he'd chosen was more than just a meaningless dream, and that her biting references towards his past with the NSA would have hurt him. Didn't she know what he'd gone through? What he was still going through? Vin thought of Mason and Cochran's taunting. It would have been so easy for Standish to just walk away from it all like Maude wanted. Hell, if he had a choice like that…he might have even choose to walk away himself. She really didn't know her son at all.
Ezra's hesitancy to befriend the men of his team made even more sense now to Vin and the fact that Standish was gradually opening his trust up to them said more about the man's character than anything else. How many people in Ezra's life had accepted him with out conditions or unrealistic expectations? He knew what it was like to move into a home of strangers and never really feel like you belonged. He'd spent most of his young years in foster care. Now he realized Ezra had pretty much been in the same types of situations. He shivered, wondering what else his friend shared in common experience with him.
Vin's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a sliding glass door opening. Having never been further into Ezra's home than the main room he hadn't realized that the balcony was accessible from both rooms. Laboriously, he began to struggle out of the comfortable chair.
Ezra inhaled deeply, savoring the warm flavor of the cheroot as he rolled it across his lips. He jumped, startled, when the glass door that led to his living room opened and Vin stepped out onto the balcony. He didn't even want to imagine how the sharpshooter had managed to get out of the recliner on his own.
"Hey." Tanner greeted him awkwardly, his eyes widening when he caught sight of the cigar now in Ezra's good hand. "Stressed?"
Ezra smiled somewhat sheepishly. "Would you care for a Ramrod?" he asked, knowing instinctively that Vin was aware of the conversation he'd had with Maude.
"No thanks. Those the kind they soak in something special?"
"Blended with a blast of bourbon." Ezra nodded as he quoted the brand's catch phrase. "One of my many vices," he admitted.
Vin leaned against the iron railing and gazed out over the skyline. "Your mother's something ain't she?"
Ezra chuckled under his breath and looked down as he rested his forearms on the rail. "She certainly is," he said softly. His fingers were beginning to ache intensely and he tentatively tried to flex them. He frowned at the resulting pain and turned his attention back to the cheroot. Part of him felt mortified knowing that Vin had heard Maude's comments. Insecurity flared briefly at the thought that maybe Tanner shared her opinion. Was his spotted past a constant disappointment to the members of Team 7? Then Vin shifted beside him and Ezra smiled self deprecatingly. If Vin felt the same disappointment, he wouldn't have dragged himself out onto the cold balcony just to watch his friend smoke a cigar. It was both unsettling and comforting for Ezra as he recognized the friendship and loyalty in Tanner's gesture.
"Your Ma will come around, Ez," Vin said softly, wishing there was something more he could say, something he felt more confidently about. He caught the brief moment of unguarded sadness in Ezra's eyes before his friend snorted and shook his head.
"I highly doubt that, Mr. Tanner. But I appreciate the sentiment."
As evening approached the two stood in companionable silence until Vin tried to adjust his arm and winced.
"You should be resting," Ezra said guiltily, moving toward the living room door.
"I'm a big boy now, Ez," Vin protested but allowed himself to be led inside anyway.
No sooner had Vin gotten settled into the recliner again, then he drifted off. Ezra moved into his tiny kitchenette and quietly tried to fill the coffeepot, cursing as his splinted fingers hindered his progress. Finally he got the machine filled and turned on and sat wearily at the table. He stared at his wrapped fingers a moment and then looked up at Vin while he mulled over the encounter with his mother, wondering how it was that after years of pushing potential friends away…he'd been drawn in so easily by the unusual group that made up Team 7. He almost felt like he belonged with them and though it frightened him at times, he was realizing that it was a rather comfortable place to be.
A solid knock on his door startled him from his thoughts and he hurried to answer it before Vin woke up.
"He just dozed off," Ezra whispered as he ushered Chris into his home.
"Just now?" Chris questioned, following Ezra's lead and keeping his voice down.
"We had a visitor."
"That why Andrew and Ralph are fuming at each other downstairs?" Chris asked, taking a seat at the small dining table. When he'd entered the lobby he'd found the owner and desk clerk arguing with each other about something and thought he'd heard Ezra's name. Then when Ralph saw him, he shushed Andrew quickly and tried to act normal but Chris could see that the hotel owner was obviously flustered about something.
Ezra laughed softly. "Probably. My mother has a way of stirring things up no matter where she goes. Do you want some coffee?"
"Your mother?" Chris nodded. He could see the underlying weariness in Ezra's features and knew without question that the man had yet to take care of himself.
"She was here briefly."
For a moment Ezra looked like a lost child, the obvious wounds left by his mother's visit, visible only long enough for Larabee to recognize them before Standish had his mask back in place again.
Chris accepted the mug of steaming coffee and set it on the table. "You take your pain meds yet?"
Ezra looked up sharply, surprised by the inquiry and shook his head. "It's not bad," he lied, glancing down at his hand as he sat in the chair opposite Chris.
"Nathan called the ER."
"Damn." Ezra rolled his eyes and leaned back in the chair, knowing he was busted.
Chris grinned. "Better take them. Tomorrow they'll hurt like a bitch."
"Already do." Ezra finally admitted as he pulled a small prescription bottle from his pants pocket. "You'll be taking Vin home with you now?"
Looking over his shoulder at his sleeping friend Chris made a quick decision. "We'll stay on here awhile if that's okay."
"That's fine." Ezra's eyes widening was the only sign of his surprise and he quickly looked down again intent on trying to open the pill bottle.
"No sense disturbing him now that he's finally resting." Chris sipped his coffee and then casually reached across the table. He gently took the bottle of medication from Ezra and popped open the lid. Pouring out a couple of pain relievers he handed them without comment to Ezra, and sat back in his chair as Standish reluctantly took them. It was obvious to him that at the moment the Southerner could use some company he could trust, and it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on both men for awhile. Maybe later he'd be able to persuade Ez to come over to his place for the night but for now they were fine where they were.
Besides, Ezra had the most comfortable damn recliners he'd ever sat in and he was positive the empty one was calling his name.