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Far From Home

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 Ezra didn't even have to try not to stare anymore, hurrying up the street with his coffee. Not at the young woman unceremoniously tugged over her companion's knee at the bus stop, his hand laying down a rapid staccato of swats on the seat of her jeans. Or at the man who must have been at least forty turning from an argument with a woman who was old enough to be his mother, and from the look of her may well have been, sliding his belt from his jeans and handing it to her, then bracing himself against the side of a building as she first tugged his jeans down in the back and then laid six healthy smacks on his backside. When you saw something upwards of ten times a day it rapidly lost its novelty.

A week and a day ago, when he woke up in what he had first thought was a world gone mad, and had quickly become convinced was some sort of separate world all together (or that he had been the one to go mad, but that implied his subconscious had dreamt all this up, and he wasn't even going there), he had noticed. He had gawked and stared, and actually gotten himself threatened with a “good hiding” from a gentleman who had not appreciated his gaze. Since said gentleman had just been over a lap himself it had been even more confusing than it might have been.

A week and a day ago, when he'd walked into Team Seven's office and seen JD bare bottomed and wailing over Buck's knee, Ezra had been shocked and furious, even after what he'd seen on the news that morning, and in his walk to and from Starbucks after he parked the Jag. He hadn't known what was going on, had been half convinced he was still asleep, both before and after entering the office, but he'd been certain there was no need for young Mr. Dunne to be treated like that. He'd opened his mouth to demand Buck release him when Josiah's heavy hand had fallen on his shoulder, voice clearly meant to be soothing as he said, “It ain't anything to do with the prank war, if that's what you were thinking, I wouldn't let him be punished for something we've all been involved with. Even if that itching powder was a bit too far. Boy rode to work on that death machine of his without a helmet again.” Mr. Sanchez had squeezed his shoulder then, clearly thinking he had known what Ezra was upset about and fixed it, moving off to his desk serenely. Ezra, still severely confused, had retreated to his own desk and the familiarity of his paperwork.

Lord knew he'd heard Buck threaten JD -“I'll tan your hide right off, and I mean it!” when the boy had pulled that stunt before, but he'd never actually done it, had never actually meant it. At the most JD would receive a tongue lashing and perhaps a harder than usual smack upside the head. Once, when he'd done it twice in one week, Ezra had noticed he'd ridden into work with Buck for the rest of that week, and the next as well, and though no one had made mention of it, it was obviously a punishment. Honestly, if Buck had decided to apply that single smack to a lower portion of the young man's anatomy, in an effort to make him understand the seriousness of his actions, Ezra would not have objected, might have applauded if it had gotten JD to stop his foolish behavior. This was not that. He cringed as one final resounding slap was applied, Buck tugging back up JD's garments and flipping the boy over in his lap, cuddling him to his chest, all forgiven, as he stroked his hair and talked quietly to him. A strange tugging feeling invaded Ezra's own chest and with a frown he'd turned back to his paperwork. At least it seemed the job itself had been the same, Ezra having gone undercover with the same group of local drug runners, local but big time, and the bust had gone down perfectly.

His Chris-he'd already started to separate the two realities in his head, it was all simply too strange-had not entirely agreed, had had a few choice words for Ezra about 'not risking his fool neck' and 'no need to be a hero' and a few other things, all liberally sprinkled with expletives. It had been only last Thursday it had gone down, less than a week, and Mr. Larabee was still growling when he saw him. As he read over his report an addition on the bottom had him wrinkling his brow, a simple line, “Senior Agent Larabee felt it necessary to administer discipline at the conclusion to this case. Description on addendum D.” His heart sinking, praying his face wasn't as red as it felt, but unable to stifle his curiosity Ezra flipped to addendum D, horror growing as he read it.

Apparently the other Chris had felt the need to take his Ezra-he, he reminded himself had not been spanked since he was about twelve, and hopefully it would stay that way-over his knee in much the same way Buck had JD. Only, after seeing his subordinate nearly shot right in front of him he had not waited until they were back in the relative privacy of the office, instead, as soon as the scene was clear and Nathan had given him a once over, he'd taken his undercover agent's pants down and proceeded to blister his hide thoroughly, complete with a few stripes from his belt at the end. Even though it hadn't been him it had happened to as he read the description the humiliation burned through Ezra like there was fire and ice in his veins at the same time.

It was obvious that in whatever weird alternative universe he had landed in-and never would he have thought JD's rambles about sci-fi and comic book worlds would actually have given him useful information-this was perfectly normal treatment, but a lifetime of being singled out, ridiculed, and made an example of made it hard for Ezra to truly swallow that idea. Though seeing Vin getting pushed out of Chris's office with a swat to his behind, both men laughing, did do a certain amount to normalize it.

Ezra made a hasty flight to the bathroom, pulling out his smartphone once he was safely ensconced in a stall and doing a google search he certainly never would have imagined doing before-“Adult Spanking”. It proved fruitful, the porn he would have expected to dominate hardly appearing at all, instead a variety of historical and scientific articles on spanking taking up the majority of the results. Somehow, in this world spanking had not developed as a punishment for children, or at least it hadn't stayed that way for long. In fact, it appeared that in most of the world, including the U.S, it was highly illegal to spank anyone under the age of eighteen, though in some places it was sixteen or seventeen. This was rather relieving to Ezra, he didn't know how he would have reacted to something like that-it had been hard enough with JD, an actual child did not bear thinking about. Once someone turned eighteen however, spanking became rather the norm. The idea seemed to be that before that one was still learning right from wrong, and should be guided gently. When you became at least close to an adult, yet still broke the rules or behaved foolishly, swifter, harsher justice was required, and it appeared that this practice went back to antiquity.

Except for a few groups clearly against the custom it was just such a normal thing no one really seemed to be discussing the ramifications of it. There also did appear to be a government organization dedicated to the prevention of the abuse of this practice, with harsh penalties being applied to those who went too far, and he wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. If they were trying to prevent something that meant it was happening, an entire organization dedicated to it meant it was happening often, or at least often enough. A listing of varying laws and practices in different countries relaxed him a little-except for those in positions of authority, such as the police, a stranger could not just decide to punish someone, that was considered assault in the U.S, though he imagined the lines were very blurry, as where did the line between stranger and acquaintance, or acquaintance and friend, land? The general rule seemed to be just that you had to know the person, if not family, to at least work with or otherwise be a part of their daily life. Better than it could have been, he supposed, but it was still ripe with the possibility of abuse.

Wondering why society couldn't have chosen literally anything else, Ezra was planning on looking up crime statistics and seeing if there was any change that could potentially be correlated to this vast social difference, when there was a knock on his stall door and Nathan's voice carrying in after him, “Ezra, you sick?” Startled, not because Nathan was asking after his health, that was one strand of normal in the pile of straws he was trying to grasp, but because he hadn't heard him enter the room, and slipping like that was just unacceptable, he took a moment to answer.

“Ah'm fine Nathan.”

A disgruntled hmm, then a slightly suspicious voice saying, “Are you sure? You've been in here a long time, Ez, and you've been pale all morning.” It was so normal, so something his Nathan would say, that he almost wanted to cry. Ezra was not one to share his problems or feelings unless forced, something that he knew frustrated Josiah endlessly, but he ordinarily had the option. He would never have done it, but he could have talked to his Nathan, and he could not talk to this man, this stranger who he didn't even know. He thrust a fist to his mouth, physically trying to push back the sob that was threatening to escape, finally able to swallow it down and drag out an answer.

“Mah morning bagel isn't sitting quite right, but it's nothing.”

“Well, alright. Anything changes,” Nathan speak for 'when you want to tell me the truth', and Ezra flinched, “you just let me know, you hear?”

“Of course, Mistah Jackson.” Nathan had left then, and Ezra had sagged, not sure how he was going to do this. It likely would have been far easier if he had gone crazy. After a minute or two of just breathing, he left the bathroom, settling back down at his desk. A quick check of first local and then national crime statistics left him disappointed. While it seemed that relatively minor crimes were showing at a lower average across the board, things like vandalism, disturbing the peace, even auto theft, major crimes, particularly violent ones, looked to be largely the same.

One would think that something good could have come out of this...strange custom, but no, that would have been too good to be true.

Going back to his report, Ezra finished proof-reading it, ignoring addendum D entirely, printed it out, and got up to collect it, wondering if he dared take it to Chris in his office. His version of Mr. Larabee could be intimidating enough, considering this other version was apparently willing to hit him Ezra would much rather stay quite far away, and decision made, he sat himself down at his desk. Mr. Tanner discreetly nudged Ezra's ankle with his foot, hissing, “Ya done with your report?” at him, and another little piece of normal fell into place as Ezra moved to help Vin finish up.

He could do this. It would be hard, and quite likely painful, in a literal sense, but what other choice did he have? He was Ezra P. Standish, and he did not give up, and he did not admit defeat. Once he was done helping Vin, Ezra picked his own report up and went to knock on Chris's office door, entering with his best casual poker face on at his barked, “Come in.”

“Ah have mah report finished for you, Mr. Larabee,” His voice sounded almost too casual, too purposefully laid back, even to his own ears, and Chris grunted, tossing him a ghost of a smile, but Ezra noticed that his eyes flicked upwards as well, even as the rest of him didn't move, and he was furious with himself for that loss of control, that he'd let him realize he wasn't at his best. He knew better, and didn't even want to think about what his mother would have said if she'd seen him. Ezra stepped forward and laid the report in the inbox tray, but before he could pull his hand back Chris's hand had closed around his wrist stopping him. “Mr. Larabee?”

It's over, Ezra. You screwed up, we dealt with it, it's over. Got it?” Ezra wasn't sure if the matter of fact words of forgiveness were more shocking, or the gentle squeeze on his wrist, Chris not letting go until Ezra had nodded. Chris had gone back to his paperwork then, Ezra going to leave, when Chris's usual gruff tone stopped him for a moment, “Oh, and today was the second time you've been late this week. It's Tuesday. Happens again and we'll deal with that, got it?” Ezra had stammered out a yes and fled at top speed, sure Mr. Larabee was smirking behind him.

Sitting at his desk, Ezra thought about the possibility of his Chris forgiving him for such an act in less than a week. There would be some measure of it, after the inevitable blistering lecture, Chris wouldn't shun him or ignore him the way Mo-well, the way others had, but there would have been a stiffness there, his anger and disappointment still evident. He had no doubt that his Mr. Larabee considered Ezra on thin ice, and would for at least another few days, maybe longer. Here he had been forgiven, even been reassured that it was so.

Perhaps that was the point, the benefit of this.

That had been a week and a day ago, and until today he'd managed to avoid more than the odd handful of swats(Nathan had not appreciated Ezra skipping lunch last Thursday, not after he'd stupidly admitted he hadn't eaten breakfast either, but the knots that kept forming in his stomach made it hard to eat. It would have been much smarter just to choke down the sandwich he'd dumped on his desk with a glare, rather than waiting until Nathan wasn't looking and secreting it in one of his desk drawers. Until he thought Nathan wasn't looking. A joke he'd made, which Ezra had found quite humorous, had earned him a swat from Josiah, who had thought it self-disparaging), though Ezra imagined he'd seen just about everyone he knew spanked, Buck twice. The man had a real knack in whatever world he was in for pushing Chris just a bit too far.

Even Josiah had earned a few swats from Nettie, when Vin had somehow managed to talk both Josiah and him into helping out with repairs around her farm and stables. The small barn, that Miz Nettie used only for 'family' horses (Ezra had been as relieved to see Chaucer residing there in this universe, as he'd been delighted to find him moved there when it happened in his), had acquired some roof damage in a recent storm, and Josiah was, of course, the man for the job. The shingles and roofing nails, and whatever else he might need for repairs had been moved out there by Casey earlier on, and as Josiah started to sort through and organize supplies, Nettie had told Vin and Ezra to come with her to get the ladder. Josiah had, Ezra had assumed jokingly, called after them, “Don't be surprised if I'm on the roof already when you get back!”

Nettie had chuckled, called back an, “Don't even think about it!”, but obviously had been taking it as seriously as Ezra had. Only then they got back with the ladder and neither Mr. Sanchez or the tools had been visible, and the sound of hammering had been coming from up above. Nettie had stalked away from them, bristling visibly as she entered the barn, and Vin and Ezra had exchanged a look, set the ladder up against the side of the barn and quickly followed after. As they entered Ezra had realized to his surprise that the roof seemed to have a trapdoor in it, now hanging open to the sky, and, with a frown, noticed that while it wasn't too far away from the hayloft it was decidedly not above it. Josiah must have had to climb the rope that was hanging from an iron ring beside the trapdoor to get through it, must have had to climb the rope in order to get the trapdoor open in the first place. Good lord, had he-had he done that while carrying all those tools and the shingles? How was that possible, even with the multiple trips he must have taken?

Vin, shaking his head in seeming disbelief, muttered to Ezra, “If either a us did somethin' like that, 'Siah would skin us alive.” Ezra had nodded with fervent conviction, no doubt of that in his mind. He rather thought a stunt like that might have gotten his Josiah to hand out a swat or two, and couldn't imagine what the man had been thinking. Nettie had whirled around, stalking back outside, Vin and Ezra barely getting out of her way, and marched to where they'd put the ladder, standing at the base of it with her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed.

“Ah rather think Mr. Sanchez is about to have his own hide skinned.” Ezra had remarked sotto voce, Vin snorting appreciatively next to him.

“Josiah Sanchez! You get your behind down here, and this time, you use this ladder, you hear me?” Then she'd cut her eyes to the two of them standing there, “Don't the two of you have some wood to chop?” Not about to tempt fate, they'd quickly made their way over to the wood pile and the small lean-to behind it, trying to act like they weren't watching while doing little else. They'd been too far away to hear, but as a sheepish faced Josiah had climbed down the ladder and promptly had his ear grabbed, bent over so that Nettie could rapidly apply about seven or eight smacks with the wooden spoon she'd terrifyingly had in her apron pocket the whole time, Ezra had been certain his brain had finally had too much, as it had suddenly seemed rather normal.

Nettie cared about all of them, and while he doubted at Josiah's age he saw her as either a surrogate aunt, like Ezra-not that he would admit it under pain of death-, or a mother, like Vin, she did fill certain matriarchal roles in the strange little clan they'd built for themselves (not yours, remember, not yours-he would get home, somehow, he would), and he had both blatantly disobeyed her and been reckless. Why shouldn't Miz Nettie feel entitled to correct him?

Lord, Ezra had known then that if he didn't get back to the normal world soon he wouldn't be fit for it. Now, here he was, hurrying down the street with the coffee he'd just had to have, about to be late for the third time this week, knowing that he was in for a spanking, and rather than making plans to resign or running for the hills, he just kept hurrying towards the building, head bent against the wind, almost past the parking garage, and was simply hoping the fact that he wasn't very late, only about twenty minutes, would be cause for leniency. It helped his nerves that from what he'd observed this past week an infraction of this type would only get him a relatively mild spanking, and he would not be required to divest himself of any clothing.

Ezra had really been trying this morning, and if the barista hadn't spilled a drink everywhere, her boss annoyed enough that she willingly delayed the line further as she grabbed the young lady by the arm and proceeded to warm the back of her skirt with her standing there, facing the customers, he would have been on time. It had seemed far too harsh for such a simple mistake, something that really shouldn't have been punished at all, and Ezra had been consoled by the fact that the murmurs around him seemed to agree. By the time he'd left the customers still in the shop had been muttering that it was the boss who really needed some discipline, and perhaps they should give it to her. For once, he had understood the temptation and-

SCREEECCCHHH! The startling sound of brakes harshly applied, rubber sticking to pavement, brought Ezra out of his reverie, and he scrambled back, almost falling as the grill of a SUV was suddenly far too close to his chest. The car came to a complete stop, and panting, fear having stolen his breath, Ezra looked up through the windshield, into the pale and increasingly furious face of A.D Travis. An A.D Travis who slammed his vehicle into park, switched off the engine and climbed out, all but roaring at him, “Ezra Standish! Didn't you hear the buzzer? Don't you have any sense at all? I could have killed you!” A distant part of Ezra knew that the vehicle hadn't been traveling nearly fast enough for that when leaving the parking garage, not unless he hit his head in a very unfortunate way upon impacting the ground, but saying so did not seem to be a wise choice. Injury would have been inevitable anyway, and thoroughly unpleasant.

Ezra opened his mouth, to dash off some sort of explanation or excuse, knowing it wouldn't help, but before he could get out more than a syllable Travis had a hold of his ear and was using it to tuck Ezra rather unceremoniously under his arm. He'd known the man was in good shape, but surely someone in their late sixties wasn't entitled to such a swing. Five blistering swats to each of his cheeks, and, as undignified as it was, yelps were escaping him by the end, making him not want to look the A.D in the eye as he pulled him back to his feet, but not really given a choice about it. “I shouldn't have to tell a grown and capable man to pay attention to traffic signals, Agent Standish. If I see anything like this again I'll have you up to my office for a strapping, and that is not an idle threat. Understand?”

“Yes sah.” Ezra was sure his face was on fire, something like this much too much for his poker face, too far out of his experience.

Good.” To his utter astonishment, surprising him far more than the brief spanking had, the man gently squeezed the arm he had yet to let go of, then moved it to his shoulder and did so again. “I don't like having to do that, but I will when it's necessary.” Ezra just nodded at him, face still on fire and now utterly uncertain what to do. He'd rather thought, had rather known, that the A.D didn't think much of him. It was better than it had been when he was first hired, when it had been subtly made clear to him that if he hadn't promised Mr. Larabee carte blanche on picking out his team Ezra would never have made it through the door. Those days were long over, Ezra had proven his loyalty, but he'd plain and simple thought the man didn't like him.

That, he reminded himself sharply is because, your A.D. Travis doesn't.

The thought stung more than he had expected it to.

“Alright, go on, get to work. And, Standish?”

“Yes sah?”

“I'll be letting Agent Larabee know shortly.”

“Sah!” Ezra's best pleading look had no effect, the A.D merely pointing down the sidewalk to the ATF's main entrance, and disgruntled but trying not to show it, he nodded at the director, moving that way as the older man climbed back into his vehicle. Ezra hissed just once as he walked, the fabric of his trousers rubbing against his sore hindquarters, wondering just what Travis had meant by shortly. Would Chris already know by the time he was in the office? Or would A.D Travis wait until he was done with whatever business he'd been leaving to conduct and had arrived back himself?

Most importantly, if Chris didn't know by the time he got upstairs, would it be in his best interest to tell him first? If he didn't tell him would he consider it lying when he found out?

Ezra had gone into the hall bathroom Monday(Buck had announced, right after making the elevator a must unpleasant place to be, that he would be occupying theirs for awhile, grinning as the others groaned and fanned their hands in front of their faces), on his way back from a late lunch with the rest of Team Seven, and seen Kelley thoroughly lathering one of his agent's mouths with a soap covered cloth. He'd gone to retreat, and must have made a noise, because the man had looked up, chuckled, Ezra assumed at the look on his face and said, “Don't mind us, just taking care of some dishonesty.” Ezra could not have fled faster if he'd tried. He didn't know if Mr. Larabee had a similar policy on falsehoods, but he had no desire to find out anytime soon.

Entering the building, Ezra headed for the nearest elevator, having to skirt around Team 10's rookie getting it from one of the security guards, and was quickly inside it and pressing the door close button before anyone could appear to join him. Once he was sure he was in complete privacy Ezra took a moment to try and rub the last of the sting out of his sore rump. He shifted a bit as the realization that that effort would be rendered completely futile once he reached the office popped into his head, wondering again if he should come clean or wait and see what befell him.

After all, there was a chance the A.D would not be returning to the office today, and might contact Chris over the phone about it, this evening. If he had the whole night to cool down, perhaps it would not be so bad...

As the elevator doors opened Ezra's face paled, Chris standing in front of him with his arms crossed over his chest, feet set wide, and if he'd had anywhere to run to he would have run. He only kept himself from leaping for the close door button by an effort of will, no doubt that if he attempted to do so, let alone succeeded in closing the elevator, Chris would make him regret it immensely. “Hello, Mr. Larabee.” His voice had not wavered, Ezra was sure of it, it hadn't.

It's hard enough to know I might have to deal with you being killed on the job, I'm not going to put up with you dying because you can't look both ways!” It was more of a snarl than anything, and Ezra was frozen, part of his thoughts insisting that death had not been a possibility and he should make sure Mr. Larabee knew that, but mostly he was just frozen. Then the team leader moved, yanking him out of the elevator by the scruff of his neck and dragging him down the hall, keeping up a lecture that Ezra hoped he wasn't expected to remember, because all he could think about was that his ability to sit comfortably was about to be removed for the foreseeable future and how was any of this happening. As Mr. Larabee opened the door to Team Seven's office, pushing Ezra in front of him to his private office, he chanced a peek at the bullpen, seeing that everyone but Josiah was very busy with whatever they were doing, not looking up at all. Josiah was looking right at him, face stern, and as Ezra caught his eye he shook his head censoriously and Ezra felt himself slump against Chris's hold even as he did his best to force his face to be impassive. Josiah being upset with him just made this whole thing much worse. “Inside.” Mr. Larabee was pointing in in a manner that told Ezra not to even think of arguing with him, and he hurried into the room, sucking in a breath, but not surprised at the smarting smack that seemed to be telling him to go even faster. He stood in the center of the room, not sure what to do with himself when Mr. Larabee took hold of his elbow and tugged him towards the couch along the far wall, apparently done with words for now. He settled himself in the middle of the sofa, his grip on Ezra pulling him to the man's side. Lord, somehow he'd been expecting to lay over the desk, or the arm of the sofa, not over Mr. Larabee's lap, and Ezra's face was so flushed it felt like it had flames licking at it, almost.

Then his humiliation became complete as Chris's hands made their way to the waist band of his suit pants, and he couldn't help it, he pushed them away. “ Ezra Patrick .” Ezra froze, the shock of Mr. Larabee calling him by his first and middle name making it easy for him to bat Ezra's hands away and finish what he had started, then pull his pants down to his knees, tipping Ezra over his lap in almost the same moment. His underwear hadn't been pulled down, and Ezra felt a brief moment of hope, but then he felt them being grasped and tugged down to join his pants, and at this point his entire head should probably have been on fire from the heat he could feel.

Chris wasted no time, and began bringing his hand down with precision, first swat falling with a resounding smack right in the center of his left buttock, Ezra having to bite back a curse, and the next all fell in a line below it, each just overlapping the one before it, not stopping until he reached the top of his thighs, and Ezra suddenly had a new found respect for Vin's pain tolerance, as after a particularly poor choice in rebellious moments, he'd seen him take three hearty whacks to the thigh from an annoyed Mr. Larabee without a sound or a grimace.

Then again, he supposed Mr. Tanner, and his own counterpart from this world, would be much more used to such treatment than he could really understand.

Mr. Larabee repeated the treatment on his other side, and it wasn't like it hurt that bad really, he'd been beaten up far worse in the past, both on the job and in life in general. It certainly didn't hurt as bad as being shot, not at all. Yet, it stung, and it wasn't stopping, and there was nothing Ezra could do about it. How was he expected to just lay here and take it? Ezra didn't even realize he'd flung his hand back to shield himself until it was caught up, and tucked into the small of his back. “Enough of that.” Chris's voice was calmer than it had been, sure and steady, not exactly gentle, but far from rough, and Ezra didn't know why out of all that he was experiencing, the stinging, prickling, pain, the embarrassment at his exposure, it was that, that of all things, that would draw the first hot tears from him. He didn't sob, wouldn't let himself, but could hear that his breathing had grown rougher, that it wouldn't calm no matter what he did. He wasn't sure if Mr. Larabee had noticed or if it was just a coincidence of timing, but he pulled Ezra forward then, the swats falling both lower and faster, and to his horror he was suddenly sobbing, not loud, not hard, but sobbing all the same. Two more hard smacks, right where he sat, and just as Ezra was becoming convinced it truly was never going to end, the hand that had been holding his released it, patting at his back instead.

After a minute, his sobs slowly dying out, his clothing was righted, Chris lifting him slightly so he could pull his pants all the way up, the fabric rubbing against his backside and making him catch his breath. Mr. Larabee did not pull him onto his lap to cuddle as Buck had to JD, something Ezra wasn't sure if he was grateful for or not in that moment, instead he shifted forward, snagging the pillow from the back of the couch and as he slid out from underneath Ezra to the edge of the cushions, turning so his back was to the arm, slid it underneath his head in almost the same moment. Then the afghan that Miz Nettie had gifted Chris with two years ago was ghosting down over him, settling comfortably around his shoulders, and part of him wanted to protest that he wasn't tired, but it was certainly a more appealing idea than venturing out into the rest of the office. Leaps and bounds better than attempting to sit in his chair. He'd expected Chris to go back to his desk, but instead he stayed perched on the edge of the couch and to Ezra's amazement began carding his fingers through his hair, not saying a word. It was decidedly strange, but in a strangely nice way, and he felt himself start to slump farther into the pillow, a yawn escaping him.

Yes, this was rather pleasant, though admittedly it would be better if his arse wasn't burning. It reminded him of when he'd been recuperating at the ranch from that shot to his thigh. Ezra had developed first an infection, then a fever, and had a day there where he was wasn't quite sure where or when he was. He didn't remember most of it, which he assumed was a good thing, but he had a vague recollection of Mr. Larabee smoothing his hair back from his sweaty forehead. Yes, this was nice, even if his backside was sore, and he hadn't even had to nearly die this time-

No. There was no this time, it was the first time, he had no history with this Chris, and he was not the Ezra the man thought he was comforting. He was the wrong Ezra.

He wanted to go home.

He wanted his Mr. Larabee.

He turned his head away, burying it in the gap between the pillow and the back of the couch, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. The carding of his hair continued for another moment, then a soft, “Alright Ez, you sleep for a bit.”, followed by the quiet sounds of the man standing and padding back across the carpet to his desk.

He just wanted to go home.

He was beginning to think it would never happen.