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A Dying Rain|
He was going to die.
Ezra Standish acknowledged that fact as he struggled against the pain that shot through him with every breath he took. He could feel the rain pelting his bruised flesh and sending stabs of red hot pain through broken bones. His fingers dug into the mud and his teeth cut into his lower lip as he tried to hold back the pain just long enough to focus, to try to think.
There had to be a way out of this. There was always a way out. If there was nothing else that Maude had taught him all those years ago it was that fact. Of course Maude's escapes had always involved leaving Ezra behind time and time again. Ezra closed his eyes, he wasn't going to spend the last few minutes of his life rehashing a childhood he wanted desperately to forget.
Green eyes stared into the darkness, the rain falling in sheets obscured the cliff that he knew was there.
The cliff he had just fallen down.
He reached out with the one hand he could move without screaming and swore loudly when he could feel the crumbling edge of the ledge that had stopped him from falling the rest of the way down the ravine into the river below.
The ground was saturated and Ezra could hear the small rocks and the cascading dirt as the ledge continued to disintegrate. It wouldn't be much longer before the ledge crumbled underneath him.
He was going to die. In this damned rain that he had always hated, he was going to die. There was no way that he could get off this ledge. Even if he could climb back up the cliff, the dirt was too saturated from the storm that had lasted all week for it to hold his weight. And he had left Four Corners in a hurry, too hurt from his lover's actions to stop and tell anyone where he had gone, so no one would know he was missing. No one would be looking for him.
Maude had been wrong. Sometimes there was no way out. No way off a ledge that was about to give way beneath him. No way to stop himself from falling in love. No way of knowing that that love was going to hurt him more than anything else in his life. Funny how the one person he trusted with his life was going to be responsible for it ending.
Ezra stopped, closing his eyes as another wave of pain passed through him. That wasn't fair. Vin couldn't be blamed for not returning his love. There wasn't after all much about Ezra Standish that was lovable. It only made sense that Vin would find someone with more integrity, more honor than Ezra had. Someone like Chris.
Ezra slowly opened his eyes, staring out into the darkness and began to remember...
The rain had woken him only a few hours after he had called it a night and turned in. The driving storm that had hit Four Corners had kept most of the ranch hands out of town resulting in a quiet night in the saloon. After a few low key games with some of the men in town, Ezra had called it a night. He was the only one of the seven in the saloon. Josiah and Nathan were helping out at the reservation. Buck and JD were taking a prisoner to Eagle Bend. Chris was watching over the local drunk who was sleeping it off in the jail. And Vin...a smile crossed his face as he thought of his lover, Vin had taken a quick ride to some of the local farms to make sure they were all secured as the storm looked to get worse instead of better.
It had been a reluctant Ezra who had climbed into his bed, he'd debated waiting in the saloon for Vin to return. A quick glance at the worsening weather had squelched that idea as he found himself hoping that Vin would seek shelter with a farmer rather than try to make it home in the storm. Not that Ezra fooled himself into thinking that Vin considered his bed home. Hell Ezra still wasn't sure how the two of them had slipped from a barely acknowledged friendship into a physical relationship that had somehow become the center of his world.
He knew when it had started. Four months ago the two of them had been sent to transport a prisoner to a federal prison near Tuscon. A warm Summer night, a campfire, and a bottle of whiskey on the way home had all added up to a tentative kiss, followed by a night of sex that had been far from tentative.
At first it had all been about the physical pleasure, the intense release that they both found with each other, in each other. At first. Then slowly, somehow, Ezra had found himself looking forward to the times he and Vin could steal together, needing Vin's touch to make things, anything, bearable. And when they weren't intimate, he'd watch Vin from across the saloon or down the street and he'd find himself smiling more and more.
Until he realized that he had fallen for his lover.
He'd worked hard to keep his secret. In all the times they'd been together, no matter how good it was, they'd never talked about feelings. Never used those words. Never even hinted at them.
So he'd held those feelings tight unto himself and told himself that he was content with the relationship they had.
Everyday realizing that he could never be content with less than Vin's entire soul and wondering when the breaking point would come. Knowing that it had to.
The rain had woken him and quietly, stealthily, he slipped out of bed and moved to the window. The night was dark, darker still in the rain.
Until the flash of lightening had illuminated the town and Ezra felt his heart shatter at what was revealed in that split second.
Two figures entwined in an embrace in the alley below.
One was Chris.
The other was Vin.
As Ezra slowly collapsed to the floor he knew that a part of him, maybe all of him, was dying.
The next day Vin had taken him aside and given him a halting, stumbling speech about how he had always wanted Chris, always loved Chris, never believed that he could have Chris until recently. Ezra had merely nodded, his expression unreadable. He'd spent most of the night practicing his reaction until he had it perfected, determined not to give away the pain that ripped through him.
It was an act that he managed to keep up throughout the day, throughout the secret glances and the not so casual touches the new lovers sent each other. He hadn't managed to keep down any food that day and he hadn't needed to act when someone had commented on his paleness sending Nathan into overdrive. He'd given into Nathan's urges and made it an early night, the first time he had gone to bed before midnight that he could remember. At least the earliest he had gone to bed alone.
Sometime during the night he had realized that another day like the one he had just endured was not something he was capable. And that thought had led to the only decision it could lead to, he had to leave Four Corners. Leave behind the friends he had made here. The life he had built here. It was the hardest decision he would ever have to make.
Or maybe it was the easiest. He wasn't quite sure.
He had left before sunrise, before he could encounter anyone who would make him want to stay. His own voice inside his head, screaming at him that he was giving up, that he was running away, was loud enough. He didn't need to add other voices to the chorus he was trying desperately to ignore.
He just wanted out.
And as he rode out of town as dawn struggled to break around him, he told himself it didn't matter where he went because in truth nothing mattered anymore.
The sharp crack of lightening brought Ezra back to the moment and he found himself almost smirking. Maybe Maude had been right after all. Death was a way out after all.
At least death would end his pain. Both kinds.
Vin stirred as he woke up, careful not to wake up the man sleeping next to him. Pulling on his clothes, Vin couldn't fight the disquiet he felt, unable to figure out why he was feeling so strange, so restless. He stared at Chris, his eyes roaming the body that he had wanted so long, ever since that day he had looked across the street and met those eyes, he had been lost.
So now that his dream was found why did he still feel lost?
Vin shrugged as he stood at the porch watching the sun rise. He knew what was wrong, he just wasn't sure if he had the courage to admit it even to himself.
His affair with Ezra had started out as a matter of convenience, two lonely people reaching out to offer each other a little bit of physical understanding. It wasn't supposed to be about love or any feelings beyond friendship. And lust. Lots of lust.
His affair with Ezra was supposed to be separate from his long buried feelings for Chris. It was simple in its brilliance- he'd give his body to Ezra and keep his heart for Chris.
Only it had been a whole lot messier in real life as he had felt himself drift closer and closer to Ezra; learning to appreciate the real Ezra even as he had started to let go of his fantasy of Chris.
Then Chris had approached him, approached him, and Vin had seized the chance to live his fantasy, to finally have Chris as a lover as well as a friend. It had been all he had ever wanted, or thought he wanted, delivered to him on a silver platter.
It had been paradise.
Until he had been forced to look Ezra in the eye to tell him it was over and the first pangs of doubt had hit. He'd quieted the voices by telling himself that their relationship had meant little to the southern con man, that Ezra was too self-contained to have actually felt something for someone else, especially someone like him.
And he'd actually managed to make himself believe it for a while.
He worked hard to ignore Ezra's unusual quietness as the day had dragged on, deliberately making himself focus his attention on his new lover- seeking out Chris's touch to reassure himself that he had done the right thing, made the right choice. He'd had to work equally hard at keeping himself from going to Ezra and holding him, comforting him. Instead he had focused his attention on Chris, leaving Ezra alone.
Then Ezra had left him. Vin shook his head, that statement wasn't fair. Ezra hadn't left so much as Vin had pushed him away. He knew that if the situation was reversed, he wouldn't have been able to hang around and watch Ezra with someone else.
Vin sighed as he watched the rain come down. Two days. Ez had been gone two days and it already seemed like a lifetime.
It was the bitterest of ironies- all the time he was with Ezra physically he had thought himself in love with Chris. Now that he was with Chris physically, he knew that he was in love with Ezra.
Only he had no idea what to do about it. He'd told Chris that he loved him and Chris had believed him. Hell, he had believed it himself. So what was he going to do- tell Chris that it had been a mistake? And then what? Go after Ezra. Sure finding him wouldn't be a problem but convincing Ezra to give him a second chance? He didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell that he could convince Ezra that he had been wrong. He'd just end up making a messy situation worse.
So why did he feel like he had to try?
"Vin?" He felt a pair of strong hands wrap around his waist and unconsciously he tensed, The hands lowered, the warmth behind him receded. "This isn't going to work is it?" Chris murmured softly.
Blue eyes looked into hazel ones. Chris raised a hand up and gently pushed a strand of hair back from Vin's face. "I waited too long."
"Don't. You have nothing to apologize for. I wanted you from the moment I saw you Vin, only I was scared. I couldn't accept the fact that I wanted someone like that after losing Sarah, much less that the person I wanted was a man. It took me a while to admit my feelings to myself and when I did, I knew you and Ezra were together. I watched the two of you for a while and it seemed to me that even if the two of you were lovers, it wasn't seriousness. So I made my move. Then Ezra left and I knew, I knew that I had misjudged things. Ezra would never have left Four Corners, left the family he found here, unless seeing you with me was tearing him up inside. And when you found out that he had left, I could see what it was doing to you. Only I pretended that everything was okay because I finally had you and I thought that having you made everything okay. Or maybe more than okay. Perfect." He breathed deeply. "But as good as its been its been wrong at the same time." Chris paused softly. "I waited too long."
"Chris..." Vin wasn't sure what he could say or even if there was anything he could say.
"It's okay." Chris took a further step back. "Just tell me one thing."
"If I hadn't waited....."
Vin didn't say a word, but the look in his eyes spoke volumes.
The next day the rain was still falling as Vin made his way on Peso, carefully retracing Ezra's path. He wasn't sure the gambler would talk to him, but he was determined to cross that bridge when he came to it.
The rain was starting to come down harder as Ezra's trail climbed further along the ravine. He could hear the rush of the water as it sped along the bottom. Funny Ezra coming this way, he would have figured the other man would have headed towards Eagle Bend or one of the other towns neighboring Four Corners instead of up into the mountains like this.
What had Ezra been thinking coming up here with the weather like this? The water soaked ground made the path too treacherous, even Peso had balked at points along the trail.
Vin's unease was sharply turning into worry with every step Peso took. He tried to tell himself that he was overreacting, that Ezra was probably ensconced in some fancy hotel sipping a brandy and dealing the next hand. A grin played across his face as his mind took a specific direction that left Ezra sipping brandy all right but not in the saloon but in his bed, waiting for Vin to join him.
The crack of lightening breaking from the sky turned his attention outward and Vin pulled on Peso's reins to keep the horse under control. His gaze narrowed and his breath caught as he saw that the trail ahead of him was washed out where the ground had slid down the ravine.
His heart stopped as he saw the piece of red velvet snagged onto a branch.
Oh God please no. Not Ezra.
In a flash Vin was off his horse and carefully scrambling towards the edge of the ravine. Frantic, he lowered himself to the ground and began to carefully crawl along the edge. He could hear the rocks underneath him loosen and fall off into the ravine.
Not that he heard them hit the bottom or anything.
The rain streamed down his face as he began to yell, his desperation clear in her voice.
"Ezra! Ezra! Can you hear me?"
Vin almost gave up when he realized that he could barely hear himself over the rain and thunder, but he kept yelling even as his eyes scanned the cliff below him.
The prayers he remembered from his child raced through his head with a fervent burning.
Tears mingled with the rain until he wasn't sure where one stopped and the other began.
The angels were calling his name and Ezra used some of his quickly fading strength to raise his head so he could listen.
Funny how the angels sounded a lot like Vin.
A cough racked his body and Ezra felt the pain stabbing him with each convulsion.
He closed his eyes again and let his mind wander where it had wandered over the last few hours. To Vin. In his mind he could see Vin and Chris together and he felt a sense of peace drift over him. All he really wanted was for Vin to be happy and if being with Chris made Vin happy... Ezra opened his eyes as he realized that not even knowing he was dying could he give up Vin. He wasn't that altruistic. He was glad that Chris would keep Vin safe and happy, but he hated the fact that someone else was with the man he loved.
Then again he had never said he wasn't a selfish bastard at heart. It was just that knowing Vin and the others had made spurred him to try not to be.
The angels were calling him again and Ezra wondered what he was supposed to do? Did they expect him to respond? Were they waiting for him to say something? Or just waiting for him to die so that his soul could join them?
And if it took too long would they leave him behind just like Maude had left him behind time after time.
He forced himself to think of someone other than his mother. Vin. Chris. JD. Buck. Nathan. Josiah. Hell even Judge Travis. If these were his last few minutes than he wasn't about to waste them rehashing his childhood.
He forced himself to open his eyes again even as his mind worked to form a coherent thought. Or even half a thought. He wasn't dead yet. He dug his fingers into the mud and felt it squish underneath the tips. He didn't think dead people could squish feel squished mud. And as best as he could remember from Josiah's sermons, you weren't supposed to hear angels before you actually died. Which meant that he was either hallucinating or someone was actually out there yelling his name.
Someone who sounded a lot like Vin, which must mean that he really was losing it because Vin was back in Four Corners with Chris.
He coughed again and stared at the blood splayed on his good hand as it automatically went up to cover his mouth.
Ezra's heart stilled as heard his name above the rain and wind. He could hear the raw need and the utter desperation in that one word.
In Vin's voice.
He stared at the pouring rain for a long moment as the voice echoed again. And somewhere inside him Ezra knew that, hallucination or not, he had to respond.
So ignoring the dizzying blackness on the edge of his awareness, he took the very last of his strength to yell a response, not words cause he couldn't manage those but some kind of guttural sounds that would at least carry on the wind.
It was the last thing he was aware of as the blackness claimed him.
Vin's heart leaped as he heard Ezra's voice. Peering as far over the edge as he could, he saw him. He lay sprawled on a ledge that was barely big enough to hold him and even from where he was Vin could see that the ground beneath Ezra was giving away. If he tried to climb down to Ezra, then his weight would make the whole ledge give way and they would both fall into the ravine.
He briefly considered going back to Four Corners but there wasn't enough time. Moving quickly but carefully, he headed back to Peso and grabbed the rope from the saddle. His lips moving in prayer, he threw the rope down the cliff towards Ezra.
Watching as it stopped just above where Ezra lay.
"Ezra. Ez! Can you hear me? It's Vin. I'm going to get you out of there but I need your help. You need to grab the rope Ez. Grab the rope Ez and I'll pull you up. Please Ez."
He waited but the figure below didn't move. He couldn't even be sure that Ezra was still alive, except for the fact that Vin was sure his heart would stop beating when Ezra's did.
"Come on Ezra! Stand up and grab the rope."
"Please Ezra." Vin made no attempt to hide the pleading desperation in his voice. "Please." The last word was barely a whisper as he dropped to his knees, his gaze fixated on the man below. There was nothing he could do and he realized that he had never felt so helpless before.
He hated the feeling.
Ezra fought his way out of the blackness, dimly aware that rain was lessening as his fingers dug into the mud.
He tried to move and had to bite back the scream that tore through him as he did so.
He barely heard Vin's voice above the rain or the thundering in his own head. What was Vin doing out here? Didn't Vin know that he was supposed to be back in Four Corners, back in Larrabee's bed where the tracker belonged, had always belonged?
As much as Ezra might wish otherwise. As much as Ezra might give to make it otherwise.
He listed as Vin's voice continued to wash over him, the words barely understandable but the emotion in them, the utter desperation in them, crystal clear.
God, didn't Vin know it was helpless? Didn't Vin know that Ezra wasn't going to get out of this one alive? Didn't Vin know there was nothing that he could do?
A sharp breath stabbed into him as he suddenly realized that if he didn't make it off this ledge the tracker would spend his life remembering the other man's death.
He didn't want that for Vin. He loved Vin too much. Okay Ezra, here's the question. You love Vin enough to die for him, do you love him enough to live for him?
He could feel the broken bones throughout his body and he knew that in many ways, maybe in almost all ways, it would be easier to die. Easier to give up. Hadn't that been his reason for leaving Four Corners in the first place? Because it was easier to leave than to watch Vin with someone else?
Ezra shook his head. He was a con artist.. A gambler. And sometimes a rogue. What he wasn't was a coward. When had he forgotten that?
Somehow, he could never quite remember actually moving his body, but somehow he managed to slowly maneuver himself into an upright position.
He looked up and realized that he had fallen about forty feet down the cliff, a cliff that was obviously unstable if the tiny streams of dirt, mud, and water cascading from it were any indications.
A cliff that Vin stood on top of.
His eyes went to the figure leaning over the edge to the broken arm that dangled at his side back to the rope that lurked inches above his head.
There was no way he was going to make it. He didn't have the strength to hold onto that rope and even if he could the ground wasn't stable enough for Vin to be able to pull him up.
He couldn't let Vin die.
"Go away Vin."
"No way Ezra. I'm not leaving you again."
"I won't make it and you'll just end up getting yourself killed."
"I'm not leaving Ez." Vin's voice was firm and determined. "Grab the damn rope Standish."
He tried to move and flinched at the pain. "I can't."
"Yes you can Ez. You can do anything you put your mind to."
Except make you love me.
"Ezra. Please." When he didn't respond, there was silence from above before he heard Vin let loose a string of curses. "Okay I'm coming down to get you."
"No!" Shocked Ezra looked up swiftly.
"Then get your ass up here."
"Get out of here Vin. Go back to Four Corners." Ezra's voice broke as much as he fought to not let it.
"Can't. Not without you. You're the best thing in my life Ez and I'm not walking away from you a second time."
Ezra closed his eyes, it was getting harder to breath, harder to stay awake.
"Ez. Did you hear me? I love you."
"You love Chris."
"I thought I did. I don't think I knew what love really was until I learned you had left Four Corners and I knew that it wasn't ever going to be okay again until I got you back." The panic was returning to Vin's voice. "Ez. Come on Ez don't pass out on me. Just grab the rope. I'll do everything else. Just trust me, okay."
Vin flinched like he had been struck. "Okay. I know I deserved that. You don't have to give me a second chance, but you do have grab that rope so I can get you the hell out of here and back to town. Then you can curse and scream and yell at me all you want."
"I didn't mean..." Ezra coughed and he took his hand away from his mouth, he noted vaguely the blood on his palm. "I can't do this Vin."
"Yes you can. Please Ez. Please."
"It hurts." He wasn't even sure if he was referring to the physical pain racking his body or the emotional pain of their break up. Maybe both? Maybe neither?
"Please Ezra. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't know earlier how I felt. I wish... I'd give just about anything to have not hurt you like that."
"Knows how I feel. He knows I love you."
"God Ez...Just one more chance. Please."
"Damn it Standish grab the rope."
"Don't what? Don't love you? Don't need you? Too late Ez. Maybe it was too late the minute I saw you that first time in the salon but I was too stupid to know it." Vin's voice cracked with frustration and fear. "Please Ez. Take a chance for me." His voice lowered. "Grab the rope please."
Would he always be susceptible to that tone of voice, the soft pleading?
He didn't know, but still he found himself ignoring his body's protests and reaching with his one good hand to grab onto what was in front of him and this time he wasn't going to let go.
No matter what.
Vin would never actually to be able to remember what happened on that cliff on that rainy night after Ezra grabbed the rope. Not awake anyway. In his nightmares, he could remember every second. And although the nightmares of what really happened were hard to take, it was the nightmares about what might have happened that left him shaking and cold. Nightmares where Ezra couldn't hold on to the coarse fibers and fell down the ravine. Nightmares where the cliff slid out from under him and Ezra disappeared in a flood of dirt and debris. Nightmares where he pulled the other man up only to realize that Ezra was dead.
Or the worse by far, the nightmares where he didn't get there in time and Ezra died alone on that cliff believing that Vin didn't love him.
Like the one he had just woken up from that left him staring out the door of the small ranch house he had built for himself and Ezra last summer.
He turned and found himself the subject of his lover's concerned gaze.
"Are you okay?" Vin spoke softly, a habit held over from the nights they had spent in Ezra's room above the saloon where the need to be quiet was necessitated by the need to keep their relationship discrete in the small town.
"I'm fine." Carefully he slid over and made room for his lover to sit by him on the bed.
"Are you sure? I still have that medicine Nathan left..."
"Vin...It's been almost a year. Let it go. I'm getting better. The exercises Nathan is doing are helping me walk without the crutches and soon I'll be walking without the cane."
"You know I will never hurt you like that again."
"Vin my fall wasn't your fault."
"You left Four Corners because of me."
"It was my decision to leave Vin. Mine. You saved my life that night. Why can't you forgive yourself."
Vin stared at him with anguish. "I hurt you Ezra. I turned my back on you and I almost lost you as a result."
"But you didn't and you won't." Ezra opened his arms and gathered his lover close. "You think of that day as the day I almost died. I think of it as the day I learned to live again. The day I learned you loved me and everything in my life got better."
Vin closed his eyes as pressed against his lover's warmth. He wasn't sure he would ever view that day in the same way Ezra did, but he would never forget what it felt like to realize that he could have lost this special man next to him. It was a mistake he was never going to make again.
Vin listened to his lover's heartbeat for a moment. Then he realized that it wasn't all he heard in the quiet night.
"It's started to rain."
"I know." He heard the peace in Ezra's voice as he was pulled tighter. "I've learned to like the rain."
And holding onto each other, the two men drifted off to sleep.
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Story posted to The Magnificent Two