Vin Tanner stood on the balcony of the hotel room he was sharing with his lover Ezra Standish and gazed out over the ocean that surged and ebbed just a few hundred yards from the hotel.
San Francisco Bay.
The smell of salt water and fish, carried on the wind bringing with it the creak and groan of ships floating in the bay, the calls and whistles of dock workers and deck hands beginning their day
Dawn was just beginning to break, the first pale golden beams of sunlight streaming through the jumble of buildings behind him to sparkle on the water in front of him.
Swirling the cognac in the glass in his hand he thought back over the last year and the changes that it had brought.
A year ago today.
A year ago today, he had been sitting in one of his favorite places, a high lonesome rock outcropping a few miles from their home in Four Corners, intensely missing his lover who was supposed to be in St. Louis visiting his mother. Then Ezra had surprised him, returning home more than two weeks before he had planned and bringing with him a present for Vin, a present intended to show Vin how much he was loved and valued.
Vin slipped his free hand into the open neck of his shirt and rubbed his fingers across the rough surface of that gift, a rough, uncut diamond which he had wrapped with silver wire and wore on a leather thong around his neck, hanging low over his heart.
Through all the changes the year had brought, the one thing that hadn't changed was his love for Ezra and Ezra's love for him. If anything that love had only grown deeper, stronger, truer, more solid and real.
A year ago he had been wondering if the trip to St. Louis had been Ezra way of leaving him, wondering if his lover meant to return at all. Now, he knew with a soul deep certainty that Ezra would never leave him, not as long as they both drew breath.
In the last year they had given up their place as peacekeepers in Four Corners. When Judge Travis had suggested that the town no longer needed seven peacekeepers he and Ezra had been the first to volunteer to step away. Oh, they still joined the others when need be, when Vin's tracking skills were needed or a posse formed up and his and Ezra's guns were a welcomed addition.
JD was official sheriff now with Buck as his deputy. Chris had married Mary Travis and retired to ranching but kept a close eye on things in town. Josiah and Nathan had moved out to the reservation, Nathan marrying Rain and Josiah studying with Kojay to learn the ways of the shaman.
He and Ezra had bought a small valley he knew of up in the mountains about a day's ride from Four Corners. It was sheltered and hidden. If you didn't know it was there you'd never find it. A perfect place for a man wanted for a crime he didn't commit and his lover to live out their lives in peace.
Of course Ezra still had business interests in Four Corners. Even Vin wasn't certain exactly what all he had bought into but they had a good income from Ezra's investments making it unnecessary for them to seriously work at ranching although they did raise a few horses and run a few head of cattle.
The only thing that had bothered Vin this last year was the desire to find something to convey to Ezra what Ezra meant to him, something to match the raw diamond that Ezra had given him.
Thankfully this trip to San Francisco had finally brought him the perfect gift.
Smiling to himself he turned and strolled back into their room. He leaned against the door frame and watched his lover.
Ezra sat cross-legged on the big feather bed, money strewn around him as he counted and stacked it.
Vin no longer boggled at the sheer amount of money Ezra seemed capable of winning in a night of poker at the tables in San Francisco's many gambling halls. There was probably twenty or thirty thousand dollars lying on the bed.
He was more interested in Ezra's bare feet, the toes peeking out from under Ezra's legs where they were tucked. He wasn't sure what it was about Ezra's bare feet but just the sight of them was enough to get him going.
He grinned and took another sip of his cognac.
Without looking up Ezra asked, "Enjoying your cognac, Mister Tanner."
Vin smiled again. In the beginning it had irked him that Ezra called him 'Mister Tanner' but now, he had come to recognize it as a term of endearment as Ezra called it. One that Ezra could use anytime, anywhere without any fear that anyone would recognize what it meant to the two of them.
"Oughta be, Mister Standish, considering ya said it cost nigh onta a hundred dollars for that little bitty bottle."
"Yes, well, I'm sure we can afford it." Ezra flashed him that cocky grin that had lured him in from the beginning.
"Speaking of affording things. I got ya a present."
"You did?" delight lit up Ezra's green eyes, he bounced a bit on the bed, ignoring the way the bounce disarrayed his neat stacks of money.
Vin set down his glass of cognac and strolled over to sit on the edge of the bed, then slid up to sit with his back to the head board, spreading his legs slightly. "Com'ere." He held out his arms and Ezra scrambled to fit himself into the v formed by Vin's legs, wiggling back until his back was against Vin's chest and his head rested on Vin's shoulder.
When he was settled Vin asked, "You know what day today is?"
"September six, eighteen-seventy-seven." Ezra answered without hesitation.
"Yeah, reckon it is that but it's something else to." He slipped his hand into his shirt and pulled the leather thong over his head holding the rough diamond that Ezra had given him out to show Ezra. "Was a year ago today that ya give me this."
Ezra curled his hand around Vin's closing the other man's hand on the stone. "Indeed, it has been."
"Ever since then, I've been looking for something to give you, that would show you what you mean to me, the way this showed me what I mean to you." He took a deep breath. "Think I finally found it."
"Really?" Ezra wiggled around to look up at him, bright green eyes shining.
"Eager ain't you?"
"A gift from you is something very special and therefore something to be excited about." Ezra answered him.
"Reckon I don't give ya many gifts."
"Oh, Vin your love is the only gift I need and you give me that every single day." Ezra quickly reassured him.
"Still, I like giving you *things* and since I like buying those things with my own money rather than the money that you put in our joint account, I can't buy you all that much."
"That only makes the things you do buy me more precious to me."
"Good. 'Cause you're the most precious thing in my world. Your love, loyalty and trust are the things that I value most and I wanted to give you something that would remind you every time you see it that I love you, just the way you are, including the flaws that you see in yourself."
He pulled his hand free of Ezra's and reached into his pocket, dropping the diamond in and pulling out a small box. He handed it to Ezra.
"Open it, baby."
Ezra eagerly pulled the top off and looked it the box. A small gasp escaped him. "God, Vin! It's beautiful!"
He lifted the cravat pin out and held it up to the light. It was made of plain gold with a large pear cut emerald topping it.
"It's flawed." Vin said, "If you look you'll see it easy enough. It's a big flaw. Reckon that's the only reason I could afford it."
"Actually flawed emeralds are actually more beautiful than unflawed ones. The French call the flaws in emeralds 'gardans' which means gardens because they refract light and resemble sunlight shining through leaves."
"Exactly. That's what the jeweler told me. It's beautiful and, considering what I did pay for it, valuable, too, in spite of being flawed. Just like you are, Ez. Beautiful and valued." He stroked his lover's cheek gently and placed a kiss on his forehead. "If you think about it, Ez, we wouldn't be together, if we wasn't what most folks think of as flawed. After all, a man loving and wanting another man the way we love and want each other is considered a really big flaw by most folks."
Ezra blinked back tears and swallowed past the lump in his throat until he could speak. "You are right, Darling. I love it and the sentiment behind it. Thank you. I shall wear it or keep it with me always."
"Long as you understand what it means."
"I do, Vin. I do. We were made for each other and I thank God every day that we found each other."
"Me, too, Ez. Me, too."
Ezra turned in his arms and tilted his head back for a kiss.
Vin eagerly obliged him.
"Our train doesn't leave until noon... and we can sleep on the train. I've arranged for a private car."
"Reckon that leaves us plenty of time to remind each other of just how much we love each other, don't it?" Vin grinned.
"Oh, yes!" Ezra sighed as Vin's hands began working their way under his shirt. "Oh, yes, indeed!"