To Learn the Difference
by Chris J. Ueberall
Pairing: Ezra/Vin, Buck/J.D. implied
Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm sharing them with a lot of other girls -grin- and somebody else owns them.
Summary: Experience isn't always the best teacher.
Notes: Thanks to Tehomet for a quick beta. The original idea was to "Garrison's Gorillas", but then it was Vin's voice I heard ...
'Hell, what's goin' on here?' His eyes slitted almost like a cat's, his hand gripping his knife hard, Vin frowned. 'That's not what I expected.' The scene in front of him was just not what he had imagined. 'He's not beggin', not even just taking it ... He's laughing!' There could be no mistake. 'There's no rape goin' on. They're having fun. They're enjoying it. Both!' This possibility had never occurred to him before.
Consciously he slowed his breathing; the last thing he wanted now was to be discovered. The knife slid back into its sheath and, carefully, he crawled back from the window. The cold night air chilled him suddenly, as did the realization of what might have happened, what he had been about to do ...
Jumping from the balcony, his feet had barely touched the ground when he began to run. Not bothering with a saddle, he mounted his horse and left Four Corners in a hurry. He needed to get away, to be alone. This had always been his way. Feeling the wind on his face, listening to the night, was how he cleared his head.
Two hours later, as he opened the door to the boarding house, his mind was still in turmoil. He walked through the main room towards the stairs, then stopped on the first step. Uncertain, he stared into the twilight.
'Damn! I still don't get it. I feel like I'm missing something. Something small, but important.' He knew instinctively that he needed to talk to someone. Maybe then his thoughts would stop running in circles and make sense.
'Damn!' He hit the banisters before he realized what he was doing. 'I've to get myself under control!' He closed his eyes briefly. 'You tried that for two hours -- not very successfully!' a mocking voice inside his head told him. He grimaced. "Damn, I don't understand!" The sound of his own voice startled him and immediately he looked up to see if anybody had heard him. No door opened; no steps sounded on the second floor. He sighed in relief, glad that not everybody had his hearing.
Slowly he walked through the main room, which was barely illuminated by the light coming from the street. He seldom slept in the house, since he preferred to stay in his wagon, but like most of the seven ate breakfast here now and then. So he knew where the tables stood, knew how to find his way to one of the windows without tripping over something. He had almost reached it when he realized that one of the shadows was alive and watching him.
'Ezra!' He nearly lost his footing. 'He's been sitting there all along and I didn't notice! God, I'm really off my game!'
"Something must really be bothering you, if you didn't notice me before," Ezra's words echoed his thoughts. "Maybe I can help you?"
Vin didn't answer.
Ezra sighed, cards were put aside and a lamp was lit. "Vin, I've watched you for some time now; you're troubled and I'd like to help. Give me a chance, please."
'I wish I could. But I dunno how.' Frustrated, Vin looked away, seeking refuge in the dark outside.
"It is because of Buck and J.D., am I right? You think what they're doing is wrong?" The Southerner's ability to read people was sometimes almost scary, but right now Vin was thankful for it, and thankful that Ezra wouldn't let the matter rest.
"I don't understand," Vin said quietly. "They were having fun. J.D. was laughing." He turned around. "I thought Buck forced him to ... you know."
"But he didn't." The gambler smiled fondly at him. "And that confuses you."
"How can they -- It's brutal, only bastards do that!" Seeing Ezra's worried look, he calmed down a little. "It hurts a lot," he ended, his throat suddenly dry, his eyes burning with unshed tears and buried memories.
For some time there was silence, then Ezra stood and moved to Vin's side. He didn't quite touch him, but his eyes were filled with caring and understanding. "I know," he said, a sad smile on his handsome features, "but that is rape. Buck is not raping J.D.."
Vin accepted that with a nod; it was, after all, what he had seen with his own eyes. "But I thought ..." He stopped. 'Hell, he knows what I thought. Don't need to tell him how I figured out I was wrong.'
"You watched them from the balcony?" It sounded more like a statement than a question.
'Damn!' "How'd you know?"
"Come on, Vin, I saw your face when they disappeared into Buck's room after Buck threatened J.D. that he would pay for the trick with the love potion! You were ready to kill him." A frown crossed the Ezra's face. "I considered telling Chris, but then I decided against it."
Ezra shook his head before picking up his train of thought again. "As I said, you were out to kill him, and now you've not only not done that but also changed your mind without a big scene. So what remains is that you watched them from the window, since you didn't go through the door."
'You'd make a great tracker, Ez, I give you that.' Vin nodded. "Wanted to get in at the right spot." A thought struck. "How did you know I didn't take the door? They coulda been too busy to notice."
The other man didn't answer, but Vin was already drawing conclusions on his own. 'You were here when I walked in. How long before that? You didn't tell Chris, but you were worried.' He looked from the chair on which the gambler had sat to the stairs. "You stood guard," he concluded.
Ezra shrugged. "I wouldn't say that. I was just sitting here, reading and keeping an eye open."
"You think you'd a' stopped me?"
"I hoped to slow you down, so that J.D. could put himself in front of Buck. I had an idea that would stop you, at least long enough for J.D. and I to think of something else." The smile was obvious in the words and Vin reacted to it with a grin.
"You could have told me," he suggested.
"No." Ezra shook his head. "I knew that you had to see it for yourself or you would never believe it."
"Why are you so sure?" 'I'd've listened to you. I could've killed Buck.'
"Oh my wild friend, can't you see it yourself? Did J.D. ever act as though he was afraid of Buck or hated his guts? Did he behave like he was being raped? No, he didn't. Still, after all our time together, all it took was the realization that they slept together and you decided that J.D. was forced into it. Tell me, Vin, would anything I could have said to you really have made a difference?" His green eyes held Vin's gaze, seeming to look straight into his soul.
"No." 'You're right, man, as always. Damn it, I still don't believe it.' "I don't understand, Ezra. I went away and tried to figure it out, but it don't make sense." 'I sound like a twelve-year old.'
Ezra leaned against the wall and sighed deeply. "You can't understand why what Buck and J.D. are doing is not the same as what happened to you?"
Vin's eyes narrowed to slits. 'I never said ...'
"I'm not a fool, Vin, and I know that such things happen. As do J.D. and Buck, by the way. And you gave yourself away earlier on. So relax, I'm not your enemy."
"Whatever, I take that as a 'yes'. Let's see if we can work this out from another angle. I may assume that you have made love to a girl?"
"'Course!" 'Jo Ann, wonder how she is today. Shouldn't have left her, she ... but that's none of your business, Ezra!'
Ezra smiled, ignoring Vin's frown. "Did you enjoy it? Did she enjoy it?"
"Not your business!" He stopped himself before he hit his friend.
"Calm down, Vin. I'm trying to explain something to you, not pry into your private life."
"Then don't!" 'You're so clever, pal, find another way.'
Ezra looked heavenwards and rolled his eyes. "If I grow white-haired before my time it'll be because of you and the others. All right, I will just assume she enjoyed it because I think that you are a good man, who wouldn't hurt a girl, and I'm sure you liked her and that she liked you too. So it was a mutual decision to be together, to make love, and because of that, there wasn't any pain, or at least not much."
'I hate that I-know-everything-and-have-seen-everything look, Ezra, but you're right. I was a little clumsy, I guess. Shit, I was nervous as Hell. She was too ... but she smiled afterwards -- yeah, she liked it.'
"But you know that women get raped, don't you?"
'Of course, I know! By damned bastards who think they can do whatever they want, that girls are just toys. Especially Indian and Negro women: they call them whores and treat them even worse!'
"Vin? Are you listening to me?" Ezra sounded worried.
"Yes. I know that girls get raped."
"But you don't wonder why they still sleep with men?"
"That's different. Not every man rapes them."
"But it's the same act ..."
Ezra waved him into silence before he could voice his protest.
"... technically anyway. If a man takes a woman against her will then he will hurt her and that makes it rape. But when she wants him and he makes sure that she enjoys it, then they are making love. It's the free will that makes the difference."
"'Kay." 'You look as if you're waiting for me to say something. What's that to do with Buck and J.D.?'
"Come on, Vin, you're not stupid. Think it through. We have established that a sexual encounter becomes making love when the desire is mutual. We have agreed that J.D. wasn't forced into it and I doubt that Buck was, so what does that make their sexual encounters?"
'Wrong. Okay, I know what you wanna hear.' "Making love." 'I'm not sure this was a good idea. I'm still confused.'
"You don't sound too sure. Why is it so hard to accept? Sex can be good between men, just as it can be good between a man and a woman. It's a matter of the affection and caring that is involved. I don't know what you've gone through, but very likely it was mostly about domination and humiliation and had nothing to do with caring and affection. Don't judge by your experience. Try to overcome the memory and the pain and the shame that goes with it. That is the only advice I can give you." Something close to sadness filled Ezra's eyes.
"Don't need pity." 'I can't stand that look, as if you really care for me. As if it mattered to you that I understand. Why should I like two of my buddies screwing each other?'
He replayed the scene with Buck and J.D. in his head, trying not to compare what he had seen with what had happened to him, but his memories changed and twisted the picture around until only ugliness remained.
'I can't! I don't get it. Where's the difference? Why should I see one? What do you want from me, Ezra? What ...' "You want me!?" It was an accusation rather than a question.
He felt his muscles tense, preparing for a fight, but the anger in Ezra's eyes stopped him cold.
A hand clamped down over his wrist, stopping him from reaching for his weapon.
"Have you learned nothing, Vin, understood nothing?" Ezra's voice burned through him like hot iron. "Do you want to know if I find you attractive? Yes, I do. Do I want to screw you? Yes. Could you stop me from taking you? No. Don't be too sure of yourself, Vin, because I learned to get my way and survive long before you killed your first man."
Vin could feel how Ezra calmed himself down, breathing deeply.
"Will I take you? No. Because I care for you. I care a great deal for you. And I try not to hurt people I like and care about." Ezra let go of him and walked briskly to the stairs.
"Besides," he added, halting midways, "I've never needed to force anyone into my bed. There are enough people who want to be there. And some of them are men."
"Ezra!" 'Damn it, I really screwed that up. I didn't think, I ...' "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
Ezra turned back again. "The problem is that you do mean it. You are scared because of your bad experience. You haven't come to terms with it. I would say you normally don't think about it, do you? You just pushed it aside, never faced it."
"But you said I should overcome it."
"To do so you have to face it and accept what has happened to you. You're just pushing it out of your mind until something reminds you of it and then it comes back, pushing you into doing something as stupid as going for a man's throat just because he likes men and finds you attractive." There was no room for arguing in Ezra's tone.
'All right, man, you tell me I should think, I'll think.' "I try."
"That's all I ask for and all you can do. If you need help, I'll be there." The invitation was genuine in his voice.
"Thanks. You're not mad at me?"
"No. But if we ever again have a discussion like this, I'd prefer that you take your weapon off beforehand, all right?"
"I thought you could handle it easy?"
To that Ezra just smiled. "Good night, Vin. Try to rest. Mister Larabee wants us at our best tomorrow." He nodded and ascended the stairs without another look back.
'You conned me, man! Dangerous. But I did believe you.' Vin laughed silently. 'I think I still do. Okay, to bed then. My head feels as if it got kicked by a horse. I've really had enough to think about for one night. Let's save it for another night.' He grinned ironically as he left the house and walked to his wagon. 'Maybe I'll get killed, then I don't have to think about anything anymore. Sounds almost good ...'
Vin sat on a chair facing the window, and rubbed his arms as if trying to warm up. He knew though that the cold came mostly from within him, it was the realization of what had almost happened, of what they had nearly lost. In his mind he could still see J.D.'s lifeless eyes, saw the blood on the boy's chest. 'We almost lost him.' He sighed.
The fear and pain on Buck's face had cut him like a knife. 'How'd I ever think he'd hurt the kid? Buck was taking care of J.D. real gentle, almost worshipping him. Wonder if that's the way he is in bed ...'
He recoiled from the thought but then hung on. 'Ezra says being with a man can be like being with a woman. I was gentle with Jo Ann, trying to do anything right, not hurrying her. And she was just the same.' He smiled. 'Yeah, I can imagine Buck being gentle with J.D. now, probably like he's handling a woman.' The thought amused him, because he was certain that their youngest would not have liked the comparison.
He easily recalled the image of J.D. and Buck together in bed. He let them kiss and stroke each other, and this time it didn't seem wrong or disgusting, but when he tried to put himself into the picture the scene vanished. 'Damn it.' He looked out of the window. 'I don't find them attractive, do I? Don't wanna be with one of them.'
The idea of him together with J.D. or Buck was hilarious. 'J.D.'s almost like a kid brother; and Buck ... he always behaves like life's a big joke. Hell, he's more a kid than J.D..' He closed his eyes. 'I have never seen him like this before. The look on his face was frightening.'
It had hurt to see his usually carefree friend in so much pain and anger, but it had also surprised him. The idea that Buck was in love with J.D. just hadn't occurred to him. Never before had he realized how much alike Buck and Ezra were. They both seemed to take everything in stride, taking the good things in life while avoiding getting burdened with responsibility. He had some time ago realized that it was just a mask with Ezra, that the gambler's feelings actually ran much deeper than those of Chris or Josiah for example, but he hadn't known that Buck was hiding just as much. Almost losing J.D. had shown them all a new side of their friend.
'He hurt bad. Hell, Ez wasn't much better, though I doubt anyone saw that. But I know how much he likes the kid. And he cares for Buck. Hell, for all of us. Wonder if Chris realizes how much Ez would do to stay with us -- doubt it. Probably for the best. Might use it to get his way.' It was very easy to hurt Ezra -- Vin knew -- a fact that Ezra tried desperately to hide. Not that Vin could fault him for that.
A rueful grin crept over Vin's face. 'I'm skirting around the real issue. Do I wanna sleep with a man?' He hugged himself. 'Not really, no. But then I'd like to be with somebody again. Jo Ann would be nice.' But his first lover was far away and the local women just didn't seem right.
'They all think I'm such a nice guy, but I bet they'd run away screaming if they knew some of the things I've done. I don't want no trouble. Just relaxing, just holding somebody.' That was the main point, he decided, to be close to another person again.
Seeing J.D. relax in Buck's arms had reminded him that he liked to be held. 'Liked it when Jo Ann held me, but it always seemed wrong. The man's supposed to hold the girl, right? So she can feel secure, like a kid in its mom's arms.' There was no way he could feel secure in J.D.'s embrace and even though Buck was older and taller he couldn't imagine himself in the gunslinger's arms.
Strangely enough, he could see himself with Ezra. Although the gambler was slightly smaller and only a few years older than Vin, he just felt that with Ezra it could be different. 'He's so self-assured, as if he always knows what to do. He knows how to deal with responsibility, even if he tries to hide it. He makes me laugh. I trust him. And he's been with men before.' The last point scared him a little. 'He could hurt me, but he said he don't hurt people he cares for, and I believe him.' He hugged himself tighter.
'I really wanna be together with somebody, anybody, even a man. Great!' He looked out into the dark again. 'All this soul-searching, all this circling around the issue and it comes down to the fact that I'm lonely. Ez would have figured that out just looking at me.' He sighed and rearranged himself to face the room.
"Did you come to a decision?"
Startled, he had to grab for the window frame to keep his balance. 'One day I'm gonna kill him!' He shot Ezra an angry glare which was ignored.
"I'm lonely," he said off-handedly.
Ezra raised his brows in surprise but his words didn't show it. "And did you decide to do something about that? Maybe with somebody I know?"
'Don't play games, man, it's hard enough already!'
Ezra's eyes softened as if he'd heard his thoughts. "I know that it isn't easy to admit that you need somebody. Life tells you that you must face your fate alone, that it is easier not to rely on anybody but yourself. But humans are not made that way. We all need somebody to share our life with or at least some of it, some joys, some fears."
Sad laughter. "Of course. Do you think I'm any different? Oh yes, Maude's rule is to always think of yourself first, to never get attached. She taught me that you can't really trust anyone. I've learned that lesson well. And because of that, sex for me has never been more than the passing joy of one night's good loving. It's not something that can get you through bad or lonely times." A faraway look crept into green eyes. "I want to have somebody with whom I can share more of myself, someone I trust. Someone who trusts me."
His gaze met Vin's and the genuine offer in it warmed Vin's soul.
"You think I could be that someone?" Vin asked hoarsely.
"The question is, do you want to be that someone?"
'I dunno -- Yes. But it's a little frightening. Never thought you'd feel that way. I'm not sure I can be that way.' "I'm scared shitless." 'Damn, don't be angry, I didn't mean ...'
"I know." Ezra gifted him with a smile. "But you don't need to be. I wouldn't do anything you weren't ready for or you don't want. It is your decision, Vin, yours alone."
'Great. Help me, man! I don't wanna disappoint you, but what if I say yes and then can't ...' "I don't know if I can. Not after what happened when ... to me."
His words were met with an understanding nod and Ezra looking at him as if he searched for an answer in his face.
'You can really read me like a book, can't you, Ez? I'm not sure I like it, but it makes things easier.'
"Close your eyes, Vin."
"Please just do as I say." Ezra's smooth voice had lowered almost to a whisper.
'Okay. Man, I hope none of the others comes in, but then who cares. Chris might, but he and Nathan are gone for two days.'
"Keep your eyes shut, no matter what I do. I promise I won't hurt you."
'I know that. Now come on.'
Strong hands settled on his shoulders and his eyes opened in reflex -- "Vin!" -- only to close again.
"Cross your arms and touch my hands with yours. Just so that you can feel my hands with your fingertips."
'What are you doing?'
"Good. Now, try to relax. Try not to think, just to feel." Ezra's tone was smooth and gentle, and his touch was just the same as his hands slid down Vin's arms and then up his chest, Vin's fingers following their every movement, until they came to rest on his neck. "Are you okay?"
'Yes.' He nodded. He had goose bumps all over him but the feeling wasn't bad, he liked that special tingling on his skin.
"Now put your hands down." He obeyed.
Again strong hands slid down his arms, but this time, when they reached his chest, one slid into his shirt and lightly stroked the bare skin underneath. He leaned into the touch without fully realizing it. Suddenly the other hand was at the nape of his neck and only an instant later warm lips covered his. He didn't think, just reacted and opened his mouth to the skillful invader, lost in the moment.
He was flushed and breathing hard when Ezra let go of him.
'Man, you know how to score. I'm half-hard already.'
He started to say something, but the Southerner shook his head. "You have to make a decision, Vin. And you must make it on your own. I'll wait, as long as it takes."
'What? Hey, I thought it was clear -- Are you playing with me?' He looked at Ezra in disbelief. 'What -- No, wait. I was afraid I couldn't do it with a man; now you showed me I can. But I never really said I wanted to, did I? My decision. Tough thing.'
"But there's one condition."
'I knew there would be.'
"If you come to me, then it will be as the caring and gentle friend I know you to be. Do you understand? Not the tough, dangerous bounty hunter, who doesn't care if his bounty is alive or not. I want the caring young man who writes poetry and listens to the stars." Ezra looked fondly at him.
'You don't ask for much, do you?'
"That's the condition. It's your decision, but when you come, leave the bounty hunter behind, all right?"
'God, do I have a choice?'
"You know where you'll find me. Good night." And with that Ezra left.
'Great, is there really a question? I wanna be with someone who cares, and you care. You want me and damn it, but you turn me on. So why'm I still not sure?'
As always he looked for an answer in the dark but all he found was his loneliness mirrored in the window. 'Didn't know I was a coward. Didn't know I was stupid, either.'
His hand met the glass. 'If you could touch loneliness, it would be as cold as this window. I wanna be warm again.' He stood up and sighed deeply.
Closing his eyes, he listened to the silence, but it was a Southern voice he heard in his mind. And it was green eyes, sparkling like stars, which beckoned him to take a chance.
Suddenly the decision seemed easy, though it still took some courage to follow through with it. 'I've been handed my chance on a silver plate, only a fool wouldn't take it. And I'm no fool.'
Taking a deep breath he walked to the stairs. His steps were hesitant at first, but then his steps became faster and more certain. He didn't want Ezra having to wait more than necessary. They had both been alone much too long. It was time to change that. It was time to learn the difference.
© 11 April 2003