The town of River Bend approximately a days ride from Four Corners
Ezra Standish tossed his saddlebags on the bed of the hotel room he was sharing with Vin Tanner and shrugged out of his favorite red jacket. Hanging it on the valet he dug into his bags and produced a clothes brush and began to try and get some of the trail dust off of the fine woolen garment.
Vin Tanner flopped down on the bed, dusty clothes and all, making Ezra wince.
"Must you get the bed filthy, Mistah Tannah?" Ezra snapped crossly, brushing vigorously at the coat. "The least ya could do would be ta take off that dead animal you call a coat."
Vin obligingly got up and took off the buffalo hide coat, tossing it over a chair before flopping back down on the bed.
"Your boots, Mistah Tanner!" Ezra said with an exasperated sigh.
"Going over ta the saloon in a minute. Ain't we?"
"I'm not going anywhere until I've had a bath." The southern gentleman informed him.
"Reckon I might as well mosey on over there then." Vin said, getting up and heading for the door. He turned back as he opened the door and smiled, "See ya."
As he closed the door he could hear Ezra mutter. "It wouldn't kill you to take a bath, Mistah Tannah."
Vin grinned to himself as he pulled the door closed. He had every intention of bathing but he didn't tell Ezra that. There'd be plenty of time to get cleaned up while Ezra played poker. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that the gambler would spend most of the night at the poker table.
When Vin was gone, Ezra sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled his poker stake out of his vest pocket and stared down at it.
He slid his hand into his pants pocket and pulled out the change that he had there and counted it.
And forty-three cents.
[Great. Just great.]
The fact that he was down to his last ten dollars had played a major role in the fact that he was now sharing a hotel room with Vin Tanner. [And since *I* paid for the livery for both our horses, (with an extra feeding of grain), both our suppers, (where Mister Tanner made a pig of himself... where does he put it? It's not like he ever gains weight!) ...and now this hotel room... I have exactly six dollars and forty-three cents left.]
Well actually he wasn't down to his last, last ten dollars.
He did have the century note coiled up in the empty chamber of his Remington... but that was getaway money and he would *not* gamble with *that*... and of course he had almost fifteen hundred dollars in the bank in Four Corners. Well not actually deposited in the bank. He'd asked Mr. Wilson, the new bank manager, to allow him to place his lock box in the bank's vault with the understanding that he could come and get it any time he wanted and that no one else had a key, not even the bank manager. Sort of like a safe deposit box that some of the larger banks in the larger cities had.
[Just when did I decide that the bank in Four Corners was safe enough to put *my* money in it?]
But this, six dollars and forty-three cents, was all he had left of his designated poker stake. He might be a gambler but he was far from foolish with his money. He'd begun building his fortune, in Four Corners, with the first thirty-dollars he had been paid as a peacekeeper. When he had reached a hundred dollars he had begun to put everything over that into safekeeping. At first it had resided in his boot. Then he had started keeping it in a lock box under a loose floorboard in his room. Now he was putting it in the bank. If he lost the hundred, he did not dip into the money he had in the bank. He just bided his time until the judge paid him his next month's wages and started over with that thirty dollars.
Now a run of bad luck at the tables had reduced him to this.
Six-dollars and forty-three cents.
Well, River Bend was not a big town. It should be enough of a stake to get him into a game and he had a feeling that his luck was about to change. There was a tingle of anticipation running through him.
A knock on the door informed him that the bath he had ordered was being delivered and he rose to let the bellboy in.
An hour later, freshly bathed and dressed in clean pants, shirt and vest, with his boots neatly polished and his lucky red jacket, as clear of dust as he could get it, he headed over to the saloon.
He stepped into the dusty saloon and let his eyes adjust to the dim light. He quickly and efficiently read the room. Vin was sitting at a table off to the left of the bar, his back to the wall, turned slightly to the side with his right leg angled out a bit so that should he need to draw his mare's leg he would not be hindered by the table. A bottle of whiskey sat on the table in front of him and he held a shot glass in his hand. He would nurse a couple of drinks for the entire night and the bottle would go with them when they headed back out on the trail. With a bounty on his head, Vin couldn't afford to get drunk.
To the right of the bar was a raised platform with a poker game going around the lone table there. Several other tables were occupied as well, a couple of cowhands at one, several townspeople at another. Three working girls in brightly colored and immodest dresses wove their way through the crowd carrying drinks and flirting with the patrons.
He smiled, meeting Vin's eyes for just a second, then strolled towards the poker table.
Vin gave an almost imperceptible nod and watched Ezra as he made his way to the poker table. He frowned as Ezra spoke to the dealer a moment then turned and made his way over to Vin's table.
"Something the matter?" Vin asked as Ezra dropped into the
"Table stakes are ten dollars." The gambler glumly replied.
"So, Mistah Tannah, I have exactly six dollars and forty-three cents in mah pocket."
Vin motioned the barkeeper for another glass and raised an eyebrow at Ezra, "What happened ta all that money ya been winnin'."
"It's in Four Corners."
"Oh. Wouldn'ta thought that ya'd let it outta yer sight."
"Yes, well apparently I have become complacent. It's in the bank."
"The Four Corner's bank?" Vin began to laugh. "You put your money in the Four Corners bank?"
"What is so bloody funny?"
"Hell, somebody tries ta rob it at least once a week, Ez!"
"Tries is the operative word, Mistah Tannah. No one has succeeded in months."
"Only cause we're there."
Vin regarded him over the top of his glass for a while, "So, what yer saying is, that ya trust us ta keep your money safe."
Ezra turned his glass around in his hand regarding the liquid contemplatively. "Ah suppose that one could say that."
Vin chuckled again then sobered as Ezra eyed him speculatively.
"Tell me something, Mister Tanner. How much money do you have on you right now?"
"'Nough, I reckon."
"Do you 'reckon' you might have five dollars?"
"Loan it to me."
"So that I can join the poker game, sir."
"What if you lose it?"
"I won't lose it."
"Can't be sure."
"Very well, I'll bet you five dollars that I can double your money in that game."
"What'd I get if ya lose it?"
"If I lose it I'll pay you ten dollars when we return to Four Corners."
"And if you double it?"
"I'll give you your five dollars back out of the winnings."
"That is perfectly fair, Mister Tanner. You can't lose. If I win you get the five dollars back and if I lose you get double that back. How can you say 'no'? It isn't everyday that one finds a bet one can not lose."
"If ya lose you pay me the ten dollars when we get back to Four Corners. If ya win I get half of your winnings."
"What?! Absolutely not!"
"Then ya ain't getting the five bucks." Vin smirked at him. "I put up half the stake I get half the winnings *that's* fair."
"Fine! Give me the money!"
"Tell me we got a deal."
"We have a bargain, Mister Tanner. Half the stake equals half the winnings."
Vin grinned as he pulled the folded five-dollar bill out of his shirt pocket and started to hand it to Ezra. Just before Ezra could snatch it out of his hand he pulled it back and kissed it.
"For luck," Vin grinned as the gambler rolled his eyes at him then snatched the bill out of his hand, pushing his chair back and marching over to the poker table.
A moment later Ezra pulled out a chair and joined the game.
Vin watched for a while then got up and left the saloon. He stopped off at the bathhouse and took a long leisurely bath before heading to the hotel.
He wasn't surprised when he reached the room to find that Ezra had hung his jacket over the back of the chair Vin had tossed it on or that the gambler had taken it upon himself to brush the coat. He could just see the fastidious man holding the coat at arms length as he draped it over the chair back then unable to look at the dusty thing taking his clothes brush and beating some of the dust off it.
Fastidious. He grinned at the word. He had learned it from Ezra. He had learned a lot from Ezra in the last year. After learning about the bounty on Vin, the gambler had taught the tracker to pick locks. He'd also been helping Vin with learning to read and write. Mary Travis had begun Vin's lessons but Chris Larabee had soon become jealous of all the time that the quiet tracker was spending with Mary and Vin had decided that he should find another teacher. Ezra had volunteered, stating a need to apologize for laughing at Vin when the younger man had asked him to write out a poem for him.
Ezra had turned out to be an excellent teacher. Not only did the books he chose for Vin to read help his reading they also helped to close the other gaps in Vin's education, filling him in on history and literature. He had also taught Vin math. While Vin had known how to *count* money and make change he had known nothing about addition and subtraction let alone multiplication and division.
Vin hung his mare's leg on the bedpost, where it would be close to hand then tucked his colt under the pillow and sat down on the edge of the bed to pull off his boots. He reached over to turn the lamp on the bedside table down and grinned. A small tin of grease sat next to it.
"Looks like old Ez is plannin' on us havin' a bit a'fun when he gets in." Vin muttered to himself. He and the gambler had been sleeping together occasionally for the last few months and the grease was what they normally used for lube.
While Vin liked women well enough he had shied away from them, for the most part, not wanting to endanger a woman because of the bounty on his head. Then after the mess with Charlotte he had sworn off them entirely. Then one evening on the trail after Ezra had spent the entire day complaining, he'd dumped the gambler off Chaucer in mid-stream. Ezra had retaliated by pulling him off of Peso and they had ended up, wrestling in the water. One thing had led to another and they had begun having sex on an irregular basis. Ezra had never actually said that he didn't have any sexual interest in women but Vin got the impression that he preferred men. He was certainly damned good in bed.
Vin turned the lamp down then laid back on the bed and smiled. It wasn't just that Ezra was good in bed, they had become good friends over the last year.
Gradually he had discovered that the two of them had more in common than most people would think. They had both spent most of their lives alone. Vin was an orphan and had spent most of his childhood in an orphanage before running away and ending up living with the Indians. Although Ezra still had his mother, she had dropped him off with every relative they had, only returning for him when she needed him for a con she was running. Because of that both men had had lonely childhoods. They had both learned to be self sufficient, to take care of themselves and depend on... and trust no one.
While their backgrounds were different they were both very intelligent and had become proficient at what they did for a living. Vin was one of the finest trackers and marksmen in the territory and Ezra was one of the best gamblers that Vin had ever run across not to mention a damn good con man. Vin figured Ezra could sell ice in a blizzard... and he wouldn't mind a bit sitting back and watching him do it.
He smiled as he turned over and closed his eyes. He liked Ezra. He liked him a lot and he was looking forward to the fun when Ezra came to bed. But that would be a while he knew. He might as well get some sleep.
Several hours later, he heard the soft knock on the door and Ezra's honeyed drawl, "Vin? Ezra coming in."
Vin rolled over but didn't shove the pistol back under the pillow, keeping it aligned on the door. "Com'on."
The key rattled in the door then Ezra pushed it open. He flashed a smile at Vin as the tracker uncocked the gun and sat up against the headboard letting it fall to his side.
"What time is it?" Vin asked with a yawn. He didn't feel like he had been asleep very long.
"Just after midnight."
"Early fer ya to be comin' ta bed. Ya lose my money?"
Ezra laughed as he came to sit on the side of the bed facing the headboard and Vin. He reached into his vest pocket and tossed a wad of bills on the bed between them.
"Nope. Three hundred and twenty dollars, Mistah Tannah. Ah could have won more but ah kept gettin' distracted." He gave Vin a predatory look, then he slipped the tip of his tongue out and slowly licked his upper lip.
"Distracted? By what?" Vin teased.
Ezra crawled across the bed on his knees, ignoring the money and the fact he was still dressed, until he could sit across Vin's legs and scoot up onto his lap. "By an itch, Mistah Tannah. An itch way up inside a'me that can only be scratched by that big cock of yours." He leaned in and claimed a kiss.
Vin moaned into the kiss, and let one arm circle Ezra's waist tugging him close.
Ezra sighed as he broke the kiss and leaned his forehead against Vin's for a moment.
Vin let his hand run up and down Ezra's back under the red jacket for a long moment, then moved his head to let Ezra know that he wanted him to move back a bit. "Well then, ya better get outta them clothes if ya want it scratched."
Ezra stroked his hand down the front of Vin's soft cotton shirt, smiling at the fact that it was the same red as his jacket. He wondered if anyone else had noticed that Vin's favorite shirt was the same color as Ezra's favorite jacket. He settled back on Vin's lap, a wicked gleam lighting his eyes as he felt the distinctive bulge he was sitting on. "Feels like you're ready to do some scratching." He purred.
Reaching down he held out his hand for Vin's pistol and Vin let him take it and lay it on the bedside table. Reluctantly Ezra moved off his lover and began to undress, while Vin gathered up the scattered money and shuffled it together, holding it out to Ezra to put up.
Ezra raised an eyebrow at him as he took it and Vin smiled, "We can divvy it up in the morning, Ez. Got more important things ta do now." He grinned at the pleased look on Ezra's face at the comment, delighted that it pleased Ezra that Vin considered sex with him more important than dividing the money.
Ezra dropped the money into his hat along with his cuff links, cravat pin and watch before returning to the removal of his clothes.
Vin watched with appreciative eyes, as the pale, ivory skin of his lover was revealed to him. As the last of Ezra's clothing was laid aside and he padded cat like to the bedside, Vin held out his hand to him, smiling in welcome, his eyes lit with what looked surprisingly like love... with what was certainly affection.
Ezra looked at him hungrily, sly, cat-green eyes sliding along the long lean length of him laid out beneath the quilt that covered the bed, stopping momentarily at the bulge that clearly showed at Vin's crotch. Ezra's own cock lay flat against his belly, already hard and beginning to weep precum. The tip of his tongue flicked out and slid along the curve of his upper lip, reminding Vin again of a cat licking cream.
Then with a chuckle he reached for the corner of the quilt and swept it down and off to reveal Vin to his greedy gaze. He moved onto the bed with the elegant easy grace of a cat and settled himself across Vin's thighs before slowly sliding up to straddle Vin's hips, rubbing himself against the soft warm texture of the buckskin pants Vin wore.
He placed his hands on the front of Vin's shirt, stroking gently, feeling the softness and the slight coarseness of fabric under his fingertips. He was struck again by the color and again for some reason he could not quite comprehend, was inordinately pleased that it was a perfect match for his favorite jacket. Eyes darkening with desire, he began to slowly unbutton the shirt. Nimble fingers stroked the skin beneath as it was revealed and Vin reached for his hips steadying Ezra as he arched up pressing his hardness against Ezra's firm buttocks.
Ezra moaned softly as Vin's hand began to stroke gently. Callused fingertips glided across his skin with a whisper of touch, barely there, yet leaving ribbons of fire behind them. He shivered at the ghost like caress, amazed as always that a man who seemed so coarse and rough, so much a creature of the wild could be so very gentle.
Vin grinned. God! How he loved to see Ezra like this, naked and needy, reduced to soft moans and sighs by Vin's touch. He felt a sudden, inexplicable stab of jealousy. Had anyone else ever seen Ezra like this? For the first time since he'd begun sleeping with the other man he wondered where Ezra had learned how to please a man the way he did and felt a rush of anger at whoever had taught the gambler. Ezra was his, dammit! Nobody else had any right to touch him! Nobody else had any right to hear those sighs and moans, to see the gambler's skin flushed with heat, his eyes dilated with desire.
An urgent need to claim Ezra as his alone swept through him. With a growl he moved, twisting to flip them over, pinning Ezra beneath him. His mouth clamped down on Ezra's, hungry and demanding.
Ezra's eyes went wide at Vin's sudden movement, they locked on the tracker's face, confusion filling them as he saw the look in Vin's eyes. The man looked angry and... jealous? Then Vin's mouth descended on his and he forgot everything as he was overwhelmed by the tracker's uncharacteristic urgency.
Vin devoured Ezra's mouth, his tongue thrusting deep within it. He sucked on Ezra's tongue, nibbled on the gambler's lips then trailed kisses and little nips down Ezra's throat. With another growl he bit into the spot where Ezra's neck and shoulder met, and sucked on it, marking the gambler.
Ezra's eyes closed and he moaned loudly. Good Lord! He'd always known that Vin could be aggressive and demanding but the tracker had never shown that side of himself in bed before. He'd always been gentle, sometimes too gentle for Ezra's tastes, leaving the gambler to wonder if Vin truly desired him or if he was merely a convenience.
That doubt was quickly being washed away as the tracker made his way down Ezra's body, licking, nipping and sucking. Vin lavished his attention on Ezra's nipples. He nipped at one then dove across to the other then back to swirl his tongue around the first and suck it up into a hard nub before returning to the other to give it the same treatment. He licked a line down the center of Ezra's chest then dipped his tongue into Ezra's navel, chuckling as the gambler arched up and cried out his name.
Ezra's hands clutched at Vin's head, tangling in the long hair. He loved Vin's hair. It was soft and silky. The curls clung to his fingers, as if they were alive.
Vin thrust his tongue in and out of Ezra's navel half a dozen times then licked his way across to the point of the gambler's hipbone. He marked him there, nipping hard then laving it with his tongue and sucking hard on it to leave a large red passion mark behind as he trailed his kisses down the curve of the bone and along the top of Ezra's thigh, ignoring the gambler's straining cock.
Ezra felt Vin's hair sliding through his hands as the tracker moved away from him.
Sitting up abruptly, Vin knelt between Ezra's thighs, staring down at the other man, a look of satisfaction on his face, his eyes dark with desire. He yanked off his shirt and tossed it across the room, heedless of where it landed.
Ezra whimpered at the loss of contact and writhed on the bed, drawing his legs up, bending his knees and spreading his thighs wantonly. He clutched at the covers beneath them and thrust his hips up, his rampart cock bobbing, precum splattering across his belly.
Vin savored the sight for a moment. He had done this. He had reduced the sophisticated, educated, articulate conman to this, to this mass of wanton need, begging helplessly, wordlessly for Vin to take him, whimpering like an animal in heat.
He reached out and caressed the inside of Ezra's thigh and smiled with pleasure as the gambler's hips bounced off the bed, thrusting up, trying to reach Vin's hand, get it to touch his dripping cock.
Ezra's eyes blinked open revealing pupils so dilated with need that only a thin rim of emerald ringed them. He blinked at Vin and whimpered, writhing under the tracker's caress.
With a growl, Vin grabbed Ezra's thighs and pushed his legs up against his chest, curling the gambler into a ball then he buried his face between Ezra's nether cheeks and drove his tongue into the tender puckered hole there.
Ezra shrieked. His whole body shook as he began to chant, "Ohgodohgodohgod! Pleasepleaseplease!"
Vin gave one final thrust of his tongue into the quivering hole then sat back on his haunches and ripped open his pants, his cock springing out.
Ezra gave another whimpering moan at the loss of Vin's touch then as his legs flopped back down his eyes opened and he saw Vin tearing at his pants and his cock popping out. Ezra flipped over on his belly and slapped a hand out to the bedside table, knowing that it was time for the grease he had left there. It took three tries before his hand closed on the tin but then he dropped back, lying half-twisted on the bed to shove it into Vin's hand before turning back on his belly and coming up on his knees. Vin seldom took him from behind but he wanted it like that, needed it like that, needed to be claimed and possessed and he knew instinctively that Vin wanted it that way too, this time.
He heard the top of the tin hit the floor then a slick finger was thrust into him. He thrust back to meet it and almost immediately another finger joined the first.
Vin quickly scissored them inside Ezra opening him up then added a third finger. Vin didn't take long preparing Ezra. They were both too desperate to be joined to take much time. A moment later, Ezra felt the head of Vin's cock pressing at his entrance and pushed back to hasten the penetration.
Feeling Ezra push back and knowing that the gambler was as eager as he was Vin thrust forward and buried his shaft to the balls in his lover. He bent over Ezra's back a moment letting him adjust to being filled as he kissed and nipped his way across the gambler's shoulders, leaving a myriad of small passion marks in his wake.
After a moment Vin began to thrust, slow and easy to begin with but soon he was pounding into Ezra and Ezra was slamming back to meet him. The gambler was making mewling sounds of pleasure muffled by the pillow he had buried his face in, knowing that he couldn't keep quiet and not wanting to make too much noise. Always aware that the walls of the hotel were thin and there was no way to tell who might hear if he cried out too loudly.
Vin couldn't last long and he came with a loud grunt, biting off the shout he wanted to let out. He felt Ezra's muscles tighten around him and realized that Ezra had come with him even though neither of them had touched Ezra's cock.
He collapsed over Ezra's back then pulled them over to lie on their sides, his cock still buried in Ezra as it slowly went limp. Both his arms were still around the gambler's waist, holding him tightly.
They both lay panting for a long moment.
Then Vin nuzzled Ezra's neck, kissing him gently, his urgency sated for now. "Oh, God, Ez!" He murmured. "Yer so good, baby."
Ezra barely heard the words, floating on a cloud of satiation and contentment, he vaguely registered that Vin had called him, 'baby'. For a second he wondered at the term of endearment. Neither of them was wont to use such but he drifted off to sleep before he could think anymore about it.
Ezra awoke in Vin's arms. Held quite tightly in Vin's arms in fact. Sometime during the night they had turned to face each other. His face was buried in Vin's chest. His head rested on one of Vin's arms and the tracker's other arm was wrapped tightly around him. One of Ezra's arms was folded between them and the other was wrapped around Vin. He was surprised at how right it felt to wake up like this, snuggled against the tracker.
He knew that something had changed in their relationship the night before but he wasn't certain exactly what had happened and he didn't feel secure enough to ask... not just yet.
More surprising than the position he found himself in was the fact that he was awake before Vin. Normally the tracker was up before daylight while Ezra would sleep until noon unless forced to get up.
He moved just a bit and Vin was instantly awake. Blue eyes looked down at him with concern, "Ya okay, Ez?" Vin asked softly.
Ezra smiled, "Very."
"Ya sure. I..." He hesitated and blushed a bit, "I was a little rough last night. I didn't hurt ya did I? Yer okay to ride today ain't ya?"
Ezra's smile widened and he chuckled softly, "No, Mister Tannah, you didn't hurt me... and yes Ah can ride. Ah shall be reminded of you and the pleasure we shared last night with every stride Chaucer takes but that is not entirely a bad thing." He let his hand stroke down Vin's chest and felt the tracker's cock stir where it lay pressed against his leg. His eyes sparked with desire.
Vin chuckled, "I'd love to, Ez... but we gotta get that prisoner and get back to Four Corners. Chris'll be breathin' fire iffn we ain't back by nightfall.
Ezra sighed and nodded. Rolling over he slipped out of the bed, turning back he smiled coyly at Vin, "Sure?"
"No... but can't be helped. Get dressed." Vin ordered, sitting up on the other side of the bed facing away from Ezra. Looking down at his half erect cock he muttered, "Ya stay out this. I got work ta do."
He heard Ezra chuckle and blushed as he realized that the other man had heard his remark.
Ezra couldn't hold back the laugh. "No need to be embarrassed, Mister Tanner. I fear I shall be chastising a certain rebellious part of my own anatomy quite a bit today on our return journey to our humble abode."
The trip back to Four Corners was uneventful. The prisoner was rather docile and no one made an attempt to break him loose from the peacekeepers.
This gave Ezra time to think about the night before. He had known for quite some time, even before he had broached the possibility of the two of them having sex to Vin, that he was attracted to the handsome tracker. Despite the rough way that Vin dressed and his obvious lack of an education, Vin Tanner was a very attractive man. He was kind and gentle, generous and thoughtful. While he could and had killed, he had no love for killing and did so only when pushed into it.
Then had come the incident with the poem and Ezra had discovered that beneath the rough exterior lay a sensitive soul, a natural poet, who could turn simple words into beautiful images. He had begun to record Vin's poems for him, writing them down in a journal for the tracker and the physical desire he felt for Vin had begun to deepen into a more emotional connection.
One thing he had never done was try to con himself. He was in love with Vin Tanner. That was the reason he remained in Four Corners. As long as Vin was there he would stay. [What if Vin leaves... what then?]
He shifted uneasily in the saddle. [And what happened last night?] There had been anger in Vin's eyes and jealousy. [Does Vin think that I might have been unfaithful? Why was he angry? Who was he jealous of?]
He sighed. One thing he knew for sure. Last night Vin had wanted him. Of this he was sure, for the first time in all the months that they had been sleeping together he was absolutely certain that Vin had wanted him, that the tracker hadn't been thinking about any one else.
'Oh God, Ez! Yer so good, baby!' Vin's words from the night before echoed in his mind. [Baby? Where did that come from? ...And what does it mean?]
He drew up, pulling Chaucer to a stop. [Could it be? Could Vin have *feelings* for him?] He felt his heart begin to race. [Oh, Lord!] Did he dare to hope....
"Ez! Ya okay?"
Vin's voice cut through his musings and Ezra looked up with a jerk. He was sitting still on the trail with Vin and the prisoner several yards ahead of him.
Vin had turned Peso around to face back down the trail towards Ezra. He had a worried look on his face. He threw a glare at the prisoner that made the man shy to the side out of Vin's line of sight so that Vin had a clear view of Ezra.
"I'm Fine, Mister Tanner." Ezra reassured the other man.
"Ya wanna stop for a bit? Take a rest? We could have a bite of lunch." Vin offered.
Ezra looked around. This didn't seem to be a good spot to stop.
Vin seemed to know what he was thinking, "We'll be at the river in 'bout half an hour. We can camp there."
Ezra nodded, "Thank you, Mister Tanner. I would appreciate a short break."
At the river Vin helped the prisoner down, shoved a bit of hard tack and jerky in his hands and dropped a canteen beside him, while Ezra slowly dismounted and walked around a bit, stretching.
Ezra dug in his saddlebags coming up with a couple of apples and biscuits that he had gotten from the restaurant in town before they had left. He walked over to where Vin was, with the food in his hands.
Vin had taken his bedroll off Peso and had folded it to make a padded seat on a fallen tree. He smiled at Ezra as the gambler offered him one of the apples and a biscuit. Dropping down into a cross-legged position on the ground beside the fallen tree he nodded towards the folded bedroll indicating that Ezra should sit there.
They ate in companionable silence but Ezra could feel Vin's eyes on him. They finished up and Ezra stood to head down to the river to wash his hands. Vin followed him.
When he stood up to go back to the campsite he found himself face to face with the tracker. "Ya sure yer okay, Ez? Yer awful stiff."
Ezra chuckled softly, "Stiff is a good choice of words." He smiled at Vin, "Your concern is touching, but unnecessary. I am fine... and we would not wish to irritate Mister Larabee by being late."
"If yer hurtin', Ez, Chris can go to hell!" Vin reached out to grasp Ezra's upper arms. "Ya tell me, dammit! Are ya hurtin'?"
Ezra looked up at him, seeing the genuine worry in the blue eyes. He smiled and leaned into Vin's arms. He was grateful, that they were blocked from the prisoner's sight by the bushes around them. "I'm a bit sore, Vin. It's not serious." He and smiled, "Certainly not worth having Mister Larabee chew me out for our being late."
Vin swallowed hard and reached a hand up to caress Ezra's face, "If yer sure..."
"I'm sure." He paused sensing what was really worrying the other man, "You did *not* hurt me, Vin. I enjoyed last night. It was wonderful. I..." he ducked his head almost shyly, "I... liked your... aggressiveness. It... it made me feel... desired."
Vin pulled him close, crushing Ezra to him, and kissed him hard. "Yer always desired, Ez. Always! Sometimes... sometimes I want ya so bad that it's all I can do not ta just grab ya, kiss ya, wrap myself 'round ya and never let ya go!" He was planting kisses all over Ezra's face and neck, nibbling on Ezra's ears, his hands were roaming, touching, caressing, groping all over Ezra's body.
With a strangled cry, Ezra wrenched himself out of the grasping hands. He was panting, his eyes dilated with need, his cock hard as a rock in his pants. Vin was the same. The tracker surged back toward him and Ezra put a restraining hand on the other man's chest. "Vin... Mister Tanner... stop... stop... we... we have to go. We have... a job... to do. Please...."
Vin stared at him a moment, struggling with his need, his blue eyes were dark with desire, his pants tented where his hard cock was trapped within them. He was panting, too. He took a couple of deep breaths then nodded. "Yeah. Yeah. Yer right. Sorry." He turned and strode away before he lost control again.
"I am sorry too, Mister Tanner." Ezra whispered to his retreating back.
Their return to Four Corners was greeted with gunshots as some 'damned fools' attempted to rob the bank. Vin found himself chuckling at the outraged look on Ezra's face. He couldn't help himself. Now that Ezra's money was residing in the bank it seemed he was going to take every attempted robbery personally. He quit laughing though when Ezra darted out in the middle of the street, bullets kicking up dust all around him as he cut off one of the escaping outlaws, shooting him out of the saddle.
When the smoke cleared, Larabee stalked over to where the gambler stood, as Ezra calmly reloaded his gun, intent on giving him a tongue-lashing for putting himself in the line of fire. He clamped his mouth shut as he realized that he was too late.
Vin was already laying into the gambler. "Just what in Hell did ya think ya were doing?" The tracker snarled, giving Standish a good impression of the Larabee killer glare. He had grabbed Ezra's arm and was shaking him. "Ya coulda got yer fool self killed! Don'tcha ever lemme see ya do something so stupid again! Ya hear me?" He shook the gambler again, hard. "Answer me dammit! Ya hear me?"
"I heard you, Mister Tanner!" Ezra snapped back at him. He jerked his arm free of the tracker's hand, "Really!" he muttered as he turned away and stalked off, passing Larabee on his way towards the bank. "One would think, Mister Tanner, that you thought you were Mister Larabee!"
Vin stood in the center of the street a moment staring down at the ground. He looked up as Larabee joined him.
"You lit into him pretty hard, Cowboy. What was that about?"
"What was that about?" Vin snarled, turning on Chris, "You saw what he did! He coulda been killed running out here like that! Didn't say nothin' ya wouldn'ta said!" Vin pushed past Chris and headed for the saloon, mumbling under his breath.
"Maybe not, cowboy... but you don't usually light into anybody like that." Larabee shook his head. Something wasn't right here. Vin, who would normally be headed for the bank to check on everyone and make sure they were all right was headed for the saloon, while Ezra, who normally headed straight for the saloon after a shootout was in the bank.
Nathan and Josiah who had also witnessed Vin's unusual outburst walked over to join Chris.
Nathan watched the tracker's retreating back then looked up the street to where Ezra was calming the bank customers. "Reckon something happened in River Bend?" He turned worried eyes on Chris.
The gunslinger shook his head. Usually he could tell what was bothering the quiet tracker. They had some sort of connection that let them communicate almost without words. Now, though, he wasn't sure what was going on. Vin was acting out of character... then again so was Ezra. "Reckon they'll tell us when they're ready."
"May be... may be not." Josiah intoned softly.
"You know something, Josiah?" Nathan asked.
"Nothing I can talk about." The big preacher sighed. Ezra had gotten drunk one night a couple of months before and confessed to him that he and the tracker were having sex... and that he wanted more than just sex from the man. It looked like the relationship was coming to a head. Josiah just hoped that the two men could work it out without destroying the seven.
Vin stomped into the saloon grabbed a bottle and a glass off the bar and headed for a back table, putting his back to the wall, he poured himself a drink and threw it back, immediately pouring another.
[Damn!] He felt like he was shaking all over. He stared at his hand holding the shot glass and dared it to shake. It looked steady but that did nothing to alleviate the feeling that he was shaking.
Ezra had scared him half to death. The gambler could have been killed then... [What would I do? I don't know. Don't think I could live with seeing him killed.] He took a swallow of the whiskey. God! He'd never felt such gut wrenching terror in his life as when he'd looked up to see Ezra, standing up and walking out into that street. He'd felt as if he could feel every bullet that kicked up dirt around Ezra, as if the bullets had torn into the tracker's heart.
That was it. Wasn't it? His heart. Ezra was his heart... and just seeing the man walk right out into a hail of bullets had damn near killed him. He couldn't handle this. He had to back off. Maybe if he stayed away from the other man the feelings would fade. He couldn't do his job if he got this shook up every time Ezra was in danger.
Ezra finished helping the bank manager make sure that all the money had been recovered. He checked to make sure that his box was safe. It hadn't been bothered. Then he headed across to the saloon.
Buck and JD had seen to the clean up of the outlaws, Buck getting the undertaker to deal with the three dead ones, while JD hauled the one that had given up and the one that Vin and Ezra had brought back with them over to the jail. Nathan and Josiah were dealing with the two wounded outlaws and would deliver them to the jail when they had been patched up.
Chris had settled in the chair in front of the saloon. He looked up as Ezra stepped up on the boardwalk. "That was a damn fool stunt, Ezra. You could have gotten yourself killed. Don't do it again."
"Someone had to stop him, Mister Larabee. Besides I believe that I have already had this conversation with Mister Tanner."
Chris nodded, "Want ta tell me why he was yelling at you?"
"I'm not entirely certain that I know, Mister Larabee." Ezra replied easily. He touched two fingers to fingers to his hat and stepped inside the saloon. He stepped to the side and stood a moment letting his eyes adjust to the dim light. His gaze went immediately to the back table, spotting Vin sitting there.
The tracker glanced up then pointedly looked down at the table.
Ezra's heart fell. Vin was ignoring him. He knew that Vin didn't like for them to sleep together in town but he had hoped the tracker might make an exception tonight. After the long ride with the constant reminder of Vin's possessive and demanding lovemaking of the previous night he was seriously aroused and he didn't want anyone but the tracker taking care of his 'need'.
He casually made his way to his usual table and sat down, taking out a deck of cards and beginning to shuffle.
Normally Vin would have looked up and watched Ezra manipulate the cards, loving the sight of Ezra's nimble fingers caressing the cards. He ignored the soft whisper of the cards and resolutely stared down at the table.
Ezra shifted in the chair, his backside ached. His eyes flicked back to Vin's still silent figure, then away again. The ache turned into an itch, an impossibly deep itch, way up inside him where there was no way for him to scratch it. He shifted again. His cock was hard. Good Lord! What was wrong with him?
He stopped shuffling the cards and stared down at them. He needed Vin. He needed to be held and loved... loved like Vin had loved him last night... but Vin wouldn't even look at him.
He took a deep, steadying breath then rose and forced himself to walk calmly across the room and up the stairs to his room. He kept his poker face firmly in place, not giving a hint that his heart was breaking.
Chris strolled into the saloon and looked around. Ezra was nowhere to be seen. He must have gone on up to his room.
Vin? Vin was at the far back table, the one tucked in the corner at the end of the bar, his back to the wall, looking remarkably like a cornered animal.
He had a bottle in front of him and it was already half empty. That made Chris frown. Vin was not a heavy drinker. He couldn't be, with a bounty on his head. It was just too dangerous.
Chris stalked over to the table and sat down. "You planning ta get drunk?" he demanded.
"What if I am?" Vin snarled back at him.
"Then I reckon I'll just sit here and watch your back, cowboy." Chris said easily.
When Vin looked up at him he added softly, "You've done it enough times for me. I reckon everybody needs to get drunk now and then. You go ahead. I won't let anything happen to you."
After a long moment of silence Vin nodded and muttered, "Thanks." He poured himself another drink and sipped at it.
Chris sat at the table with Vin the rest of the night. The tracker drank slowly but steadily. The night passed slowly.
Chris wouldn't help but notice that Ezra never put in an appearance. A bunch of hands from one of the nearby ranches came in with money in their pockets, looking for a game and ended up playing with JD, Buck and Josiah when they couldn't find Ezra.
As the night grew later, most everyone else turned in, leaving Chris and Vin sitting alone at the back table. Inez nodded to Chris and he nodded back, agreeing to lock up when he dragged Vin out.
After a long silence Vin suddenly turned to Chris and asked, "She ever scare ya?"
"What?" Chris blinked, "Who?" He hadn't expected the question and had no reference to figure out what Vin was talking about.
"Yer wife. Sarah. She ever scare ya? Do something so damn fool stupid that ya thought sure she's gonna get kilt. Somethin' that scared ya plumb blind and shitless. Scared ya worse'n getting' kilt yerself. Froze ya solid, so's ya couldn't move or speak or do nothin' till it was over. She ever scare ya like that?"
Chris stared at the tracker.
Vin's eyes were filled with anguish. Before Chris could answer him he went on, "I's scared. Oh god! I's scared. He walked right out there. Bullets ever where. I couldn't move... or say nothin'... I thought he's gonna die. Gonna die... an' I ain't told him. Ain't told'm that I love him." The last came out in a broken sob. For a second longer Vin stared blindly out across the dimly lit saloon then his head fell forward and he passed out on the table.
For a moment Chris sat staring at the tracker in shock before his mind could quite wrap itself around what his friend had said. His mind flashed back to the scene in the street that afternoon. Ezra walking out into the street with bullets flying all around him. [Ezra. Vin's in love with Ezra.] Vin yelling at Ezra. He hadn't been angry. [Scared. He was scared. Scared blind and shitless.] How could they have missed something that serious going on between the two men... unless it had just gotten serious....
'Reckon something happened in River Bend?' Nathan's words echoed in his mind.
He reached out and pushed the younger man's hair away from his face so that he could see it better. [God! He looks so young!]
Chris frowned, "So," he muttered, "something happened in River Bend. What?"
He thought back to the afternoon. Ezra walking towards the bank, walking stiffly, limping a bit? Saddle sore? Or *something else*...? He focused on Vin walking towards the saloon. Vin hadn't been stiff. He'd walked as loose and easy as ever.
So, if it was *something else* then Ezra had been on the receiving end. What should he do? Was there anything he could do?
He looked up at the sound of boots on the boardwalk outside the saloon.
Josiah stepped up to the batwing doors. "Everything okay in there, Brother Chris?" The preacher asked quietly, not raising his voice, knowing that the sound would carry easily across the empty saloon.
"I'm not sure." He looked at the older man for a long moment. "I need to ask Ezra something. Could you sit with Vin till I get back?"
"Sure, Brother." Josiah smiled and stepped into the saloon and walked over to the table. He pulled out a chair and sat down. He grinned, "Go in low, he shoots high."
It was a running joke among the peacekeepers. Ezra did not appreciate being awakened before he was ready to be awake and had been known to take a shot at whoever disturbed him.
Chris just grinned as he headed up the stairs. Hell, he didn't have a clue what he was going to say to the man. How do you ask someone, if they let your best friend fuck them?
He tapped lightly on the door, not a hundred percent certain that he wanted to wake Standish up.
"Who's there?" A muffled voice demanded.
"Larabee." It figured that when he didn't know, if he wanted the man to answer the door he'd be awake.
There was a muffled curse then the sounds of someone stumbling around in the dark. After a few more swear words and thumps and bumps Chris saw light shining from under the door and figured that Standish had managed to get the lamp lit. A few more mumbled words and the door was yanked open.
Ezra stood there glaring at him. He wore his shirt, pants and boots. His derringer rig was strapped to his arm and the little gun was in his hand. His hair was disheveled and his eyes red rimmed. He pointed the peashooter at Larabee. "What do you want."
Larabee understood every word. There wasn't one word with more than one syllable. Apparently Standish's dictionary didn't function at three in the morning.
"Need to talk to you."
About had two syllables. Standish's brain was starting to warm up. Best to get to it before he became fully awake.
"I have nothing to say to you on the subject of Mister Tanner." The gun never wavered and the door started to close.
Shit! He hadn't wanted to do it this way but there was no hope for it now. With a snarl he grabbed the derringer, forcing his thumb between the cocked back hammer and the frame of the weapon, preventing it from firing. He swore as the hammer fell on his thumb. Damn! That hurt!
He drove his shoulder into the door forcing it back, knocking Ezra back into the room. The gambler stumbled and fell. He ended up sitting back against the bed, head lowered, his arms crossed across his chest hugging himself, his legs doubled under him. He looked small, scared and vulnerable.
Chris felt the sudden urge to gather him up his arms and cradle him there like a child, to soothe and comfort him. He almost did it but drew up short just before he made that mistake. [Damn conman!] Ezra Standish was about as vulnerable as a wounded wolverine... Hell! He was probably *more* dangerous.
He stepped back and said, "Ezra, I need to know what's going on. Vin's passed out drunk downstairs--" He broke off abruptly as Ezra came up off the floor in a rage.
"Alone?" he snarled, charging at Larabee. "You left him alone!"
"No!" Chris caught the enraged man. "Hell, no! I wouldn't do that! Josiah's with him. Dammit Ezra! Calm down!" He shook the smaller man then let him go as Standish jerked away from him, moving to stand at the foot of the bed.
Ezra hung on to the bedpost as he tried to get himself under control. He was shaking again and he could feel tears welling up. He hadn't cried as much in the last fifteen years as he had today. After he'd left Vin sitting in the saloon he'd come up to his room and tried to sort through his feelings and ended up crying himself to sleep. Now Larabee was here demanding to know what had happened. How could he tell him what had happened when he didn't know himself?
Chris watched him in silence for a moment then stepped closer, "Ezra," he said softly, "I'm not your enemy. I didn't come here to hurt you. I just want to help. Try and believe that, and just tell me what happened."
Ezra turned to look at him and Chris could see the despair in his eyes, "I don't know what happened." He whispered, "I just don't know!"
Tears welled in the green eyes and Chris couldn't help himself, he stepped closer and drew the smaller man into his arms, letting him bury his face against his chest as he wept silently.
Chris was amazed at that. The gambler's shoulders shook, his body was racked with sobs but he didn't make a sound. Chris held him until the shaking stopped and Ezra drew back and slowly pulled himself from the gunfighter's embrace.
Ezra stepped away and Chris let him go, let him gather up his dignity and distance himself from the gunfighter. After a moment he moved around the bed and sat down in the rocking chair there, gesturing for Larabee to take the straight back chair nearby. He wiped his face and cleared his throat.
"Vin and I... we've been having sex for several months. It was... a convenience... at least for him. I... knew from the beginning that I was playing with fire that I would only get hurt but I could not... resist him... deny him... I... I love him but I never dared to tell him."
"Is that what happened in River Bend? Did you tell him?"
"No... I'm not certain what happened. He... we had sex but it was... different than before. He was very aggressive, demanding... po... possessive." He hesitated then went on his voice barely more than a whisper, "He marked me... again and again." He gave a mirthless laugh. "I guess it's a good thing that I didn't get hurt in the shoot out. I would never have been able to explain the marks to Mister Jackson's satisfaction."
"I reckon Nathan's seen passion bites before."
"Perhaps but how would I explain them being all over my back without having to admit to being a 'pervert' who has sex with other men?"
"Reckon Nathan's seen that, too, Ezra. Out here there aren't a lot of women. Man takes his pleasure and his comfort where he can."
"Yes, well. Everything seemed fine, then we got back to town and the shoot out occurred and I don't know what went wrong. Suddenly he was yelling at me and then in the saloon he wouldn't even... wouldn't even look at me and I... I needed him... needed him to hold me... like last night. It was the first time he ever stayed the whole night with me when we weren't on the trail.... Now it's like... he doesn't want me at all.... I... I don't understand."
Chris found himself smiling, "Ezra," he leaned forward and caught the gambler's hands, "Did it ever occur to you that you might have scared him?"
"What?" confused green eyes looked up at him,
"You broke cover, Ezra. You walked out in the middle of the street in the middle of a shootout with bullets flying every where. If Vin had done that, what would you have done? You'd have given him hell, ripped him up one side and down the other for putting himself in danger, now, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, of course... but I...I love him...." he trailed off as realization hit. His eyes went wide. "V-Vin loves me?"
"Yeah." Chris grinned, "He asked me if Sarah ever did anything that scared me plumb blind and shitless. Then just before he passed out he said that he thought you were gonna die and he hadn't ever told you that he loved you." Chris bowed his head and looked down at the gambler's hands that he still held. "I don't know what he's going to do, but he does love you."
"Thank you, Mister Larabee. I can't tell you how much it means to know that he loves me... even if he never tells me himself, at least I know... and knowing, I can give him all the time he needs to decide what he wants."
Chris stood up, releasing Ezra hands as he asked, "And if he decides he wants something else?"
Ezra sat back in the rocker and looked up at Chris. "I never expected him to love me, Mister Larabee. I have always been prepared to let him go."
Chris Larabee stood a moment longer looking down at the gambler then he nodded and walked out, closing the door behind him. He looked back at the door, "He's a damned fool if *he* lets *you* go, Ezra."
He went down the stairs and hauled Vin's sorry ass over to the hotel and dumped him on the bed in his room. Dropping into a chair beside the bed with a sigh he settled into to keep watch until his friend was once again able to look out for himself.