"You're up awful early." Arms came around him from behind, one holding a coffee cup filled with steaming liquid. The chin resting on his shoulder brought an old, familiar feeling of safety and love.
He snaked one hand out from under the blanket he was wrapped in and took the cup, sighing at the wonderful aroma before chuckling softly. "Ah have been an early riser for nigh upon a quarter of a century now, Mistah Tannah. You have contaminated me."
"Still, earlier than usual." Vin Tanner said, his breath warm against the fur-lined hat that covered Ezra's ears.
Ezra smiled. "'Tis the first sunrise of the twentieth century, my love. How could I not be up to watch it? I certainly never expected to have the pleasure of doing so."
"Know whatcha mean." Vin sighed, then asked, "You gonna share that blanket or what?"
Ezra chuckled again and raised one arm, holding the blanket that he had wrapped around him up and out.
Vin ducked under the arm and slid in behind Ezra taking the corner of the blanket from his lover and wrapping it back around the two of them. "Kinda cold out here for you, ain't it?"
"I'm quite toasty, even more so now that you are here."
"Your feet warm enough?"
"Fur-lined boots, Mistah Tannah." Ezra reminded him softly. "And we're out of the wind here."
After a moment he added, "I'm glad that you came out. This is something that I wanted to share with you."
"Reckon we've shared a lot of sunrises over the years."
"Indeed... and sunsets as well, but there is just something about watching the sun rise over one's own land, spreading the light of a new day across one's own home."
"An' this'n is a special one."
"Did ya ever think that we'd be the last ones left?" Vin asked softly.
"I always thought JD would be."
"Me too. He wuz the youngest. Seems strange to think of him as gone. Kinda expected the others to go on ahead, but always figured JD'd be the last of us to go."
"Yes. Well, law enforcement has ever been a dangerous job... and he simply would not give it up. He could have retired years ago. He and Casey had the ranch...." Ezra let it trail off. Then after taking a deep breath added, "At least he lived to see his first grandchild born. He will live on forever in them."
Vin's arm's tightened slightly, "Do ya regret that?"
"Never having any children." Vin's voice had tightened.
Ezra turned in the circle of his arms, letting Vin hold the blanket wrapped around them. He tucked his hands, still wrapped around the coffee cup, between them and lay his head against Vin's chest. "Nevah."
He lifted his head to look into Vin's eyes. "To have fathered children I would have had to give you up and that has never been an option."
Vin gazed down into his lover's face, lit now by the glow of the dawning day. "God! I love you, Ez."
"As I love you, Vin Tanner." Ezra replied, as he had each time Vin said those words for more than a quarter of a century.
Ezra chuckled softly, "Besides, we had an entire train load of children." His voice vibrated with laughter.
Vin laughed out loud. "I still can't believe you hijacked a orphan train!"
"Neither could Josiah. The look on his face when we pulled up at the church with two wagons filled with children was absolutely priceless.... But really, did you expect me to let that so called priest abuse that poor child? And when I saw how they were jammed into that boxcar... like cattle. Poor things."
"We didn't really have them all. 'Siah helped us find homes for most of them."
"Indeed. We only raised five out of the twenty-seven but we always kept an eye on the others and they still write... and know that if they need anything they have only to ask."
"You miss 'Siah." It was a statement.
"Always." Ezra sighed. "Truthfully, I miss them all. Where did all the years go? I don't feel fifty-six, almost fifty-seven. Oh, my bones ache when the weather is damp or cold and I need my cane from time to time, but I don't feel old. I can still ride, still shoot, still shuffle my cards...."
"Know what you mean 'bout that, too. Don't feel like I got half a century of living under my belt. Still get up and work the ranch, tend the horses ever day."
"Even though we have plenty of help to do that now." Ezra gazed out across their land. Snow graced the edges of the slow running river that swept by a thousand or so yards from their doorstep, but the courtyard of their ranch was clear of snow, protected by the overhang of the cave that the ranch house was built within.
It was a beautiful location and an incredibly secure and fortified one as well. They couldn't lay claim to having designed or built it. Vin had come upon it in his wandering. Then when he and Ezra had decided to make their relationship a permanent one, he had brought Ezra to see it and they had laid claim to it.
They still didn't know for certain who had built it, but Ezra suspected that it had been a lost company of Conquistadors. They had found old armor consistent with that theory and some old Spanish coins.
The cavern faced south, the overhang sheltering the main house, bunkhouse and stables from the winter snows. All the buildings were made of logs and faced with stone. The thick walls of the house combined with the fact that it was sheltered by the mountain itself make it cool in summer and warm in winter.
A stone wall had been built across the mouth of the cave. It broke into two walls near the middle, the ends bypassing each other with a space just wide enough to drive a wagon through between them, making an easily defensible bottleneck. Trees had been felled along the riverbank making a second bottleneck farther out.
There were two box canyons behind them, but the only way into the main ranch was up the riverbed. Fortunately the only time that the riverbed was impassable was when it was swollen by the spring thaw.
After several minutes of silence Ezra said, "Perhaps it is this valley that keeps us young...."
"You think so?"
Ezra laughed and pointed with his chin to the teepee standing in the sheltered courtyard. "Milady Ashanti doesn't seem to have aged any. She came here what? ...nearly fifteen years ago? ...saying that she had returned to the land of her ancestors to die and she's still here, still alive."
"Strange, old woman," Vin said quietly.
Ezra chuckled, "Don't let her hear you say that."
"That she's strange?"
"That she's old!" Ezra laughed.
Vin pressed a kiss to Ezra's forehead. "Love that sound, you laughing. You sound so happy and content."
"That is because I am happy and content just being with you. Your love has made my life one of wonder and joy."
"Same with me. I'm happy and content being with you. You've filled up all the empty places inside of me with the wonder and joy of your love." He pressed another kiss against Ezra's hair then hugged him gently.
Ezra smiled. "Tell me."
"How'd you know?"
"That you were thinking on a poem? I'm not certain. It's just that sometimes I can feel when you are."
Vin nodded, his chin rubbing against Ezra's hair.
"Well...?" Ezra prompted.
Vin hugged him to let him know that he was going to tell him but just needed a moment to get it finished in his head before he spoke.
Finally he began, "If I should stand at Heaven's Gate and you from Hell should call, gladly would I turn away, freely would I fall. Angel wings and haloes, both would be denied. Heaven would not Heaven be without you at my side."
Ezra blinked back tears, swallowing hard. "Oh, Lord Vin! That is beautiful."
Vin shrugged. "Just how I feel. Rather spend eternity in hell with you than in heaven without."
Ezra snuggled deeper into his embrace. "Likewise, my love, likewise."