Disclaimer: Not mine (sob) you know the rest.
Author's Notes: I have read so much fanfic over the last year or so I know I'm borrowing. But since I'm only killing my inventions I hope it's alright. References to several episodes of the original show.
Midnight in Four Corners
The Saloon was empty except the two men playing poker. The rest of the crowd had long since left to get a good night's sleep before starting a new workday in the morning.
Bob Willis smiled, he had finally beat Standish at his own game. Not that he had won back all of the 50.00 he had lost but 10.00 was a good start. Besides the money didn't really matter, Bob's father was one of the wealthy ranches area ranchers. What really mattered was that he won. He noticed the gambler cover his mouth to cover a yawn. If Standish was tired maybe he could win again Bob thought.
Ezra regarded the man at his table. He knew that the man played for the thrill of the win. Ezra had let him win. He had better things to occupy his time than playing games for such small stakes with such a poor player. Much better things. Ezra faked another yawn
"Well, well it looks like lady luck is finally smiling upon you. You finally won, but I'm afraid, Mr Willis, I must call it a night. Tomorrow and a new day's watch come all too soon. Perhaps I could give you a rematch some other night."
"But I have just started to win, I think my luck is changing."
"Yes, and while I would enjoy the challenge I really do have to get to bed. I have a job in this town as you know. And you also know how impatient Mr Larabee can be. I'm afraid that staying up all night playing poker will be no excuse tomorrow if I am late for my shift." Ezra stood and gathered his cards, tucking them in his vest pocket. He picked up his hat in one hand and with the other took Bob's arms and, assisting him to stand, he walked him to the door. "Goodnight Mr Willis, perhaps we can continue this game tomorrow evening."
"That would be fine, Mr Standish. I look forward to it." Bob was almost surprised to find himself outside the saloon.
Ezra glanced up and down the street. Being satisfied that all was right with the town, he locked the doors and started up the steps.
Entering the room as quietly as possible, Ezra glanced at the bed and smiled. Careful not to make noise and wake the occupant, he slipped off his clothes and approached.
Suddenly the covers were thrown back, and a naked Vin Tanner grinned back at him.
"'Bout time you came to bed, Ace."
JD Dunne sat at the desk of the jail and shuffled the cards that Ezra always kept in the drawer. The jail was empty but it had been decided that someone should always be near, just in case someone came looking for help. He laid out a round of solitaire but his mind drifted back to the afternoon and his time with Casey. He loved her, he knew that but at 21 was he ready for that kind of a commitment? He still wanted to go to Texas to be a Ranger. He still wanted to see San Francisco. He wasn't sure Casey had any interest beyond Four Corners. Then there was Nettie. She wasn't getting any younger and might need Casey to look after her. Also someday the farm would belong to Casey, she had responsibilities here.
At his cabin outside of Four Corners Chris Larabee rolled over in his sleep. He dreamed of Sarah. What it was like to hold her. To feel her against him, the feeling of being with her, in her, but her memory was fading. He was having trouble remembering her eyes, her hair and the touch of her hand. She was moving away from him, out if his heart. Chris sobbed in his sleep
"Sarah come back, I need you."
Lucy Palmer was in pain. She had never known there could be such pain. They had told her it would hurt but this was more than she had ever expected.
Nathan tried to hide his concern. Lucy's labor had been going on a long time, maybe too long, and nothing seem to progress.
"Just relax Lucy. I'll see you through this. It's gonna be okay." Nathan hoped he wasn't lying to her.
Buck Wilmington paused in his thrusts while he watched the woman beneath him, felt her pleasure, then he withdrew. As his hand moved lower to finish himself off, Blossom smiled. "Let me, Honey," she said as she grasped his cock. With a few strokes he came. He kissed her as she drifted off to sleep.
There was a time when Buck would not have cared, but the scare with Lucy had made him more cautious and never again would he leave a woman with the potential of ending up like his mother. He wondered again about the possibility of there being children out there who were his. Women having to do whatever to survive. Children who would never know their father.
Across town in the Church, Josiah Sanchez rolled out of bed and got dressed. He was due to relieve JD at the jail at 1:00. As he strolled through town he reflected about how good his life was here. He had a roof over his head, three meals a day and 6 men who had become brothers. He regarded the saloon and smiled. Well maybe a little more than brothers in some cases. He wondered just who Ezra and Vin were trying to fool. He had known for some time that the two were in love. Ever since the night after Chris had killed Eli Joe and Maude had stolen Ezra's dream of being a saloon owner. The two of them had disappeared. Josiah had been concerned that maybe Vin was in trouble again. Maybe Ezra had left for good, running away from the betrayal of his so-called friends. He was ready to go look for them but Chris had told him to let it be, they would come back when they were ready. It was then that Josiah knew what was going on and that Chris not only knew, but seemed to approve. He had been around enough so that there was nothing wrong with the relationship. If Chris approved, he trusted that no one was being hurt or forced into something they didn't want, that was good enough for him.
Somewhere outside of Four Corners, 5 men rode toward the sleeping town. They would be there at dawn. They had important business to take care of.
Above the saloon Ezra was in ecstasy. Not only was Vin filling him, hitting his sweet spot with every thrust, but his mouth was at his left ear whispering words of love while his right hand stroked his cock. Ezra could feel himself getting close as Vin's thrusts started getting harder and faster.
"Oh lord, Blue," he moaned as he felt Vin come in him and felt his own release.
"Love you, Ace," Vin told him as his mouth rained kisses across Ezra's neck and shoulders. Then letting his cock slip out, Vin fell to his side pulling Ezra against in him a tight embrace.
"Now, you can't undo what's already done. But you can put an end to it now. They torment you. They haunt you, those women. You see them when you close your eyes. There's no rest. Pay your penance."
The words were the ones Josiah spoke to Cyrus Poplar just before the man plunged the knife into his own gut, but in his dream the words were spoken to Buck, and the knife was in his hand. He woke with a gasp.
Josiah had explained it to them. Poplar had killed those women because he had witnessed his mother taking money for sex. He was a sick man.
Buck didn't know why he kept dreaming of that moment, putting himself in Poplar's place. He wasn't like that. He would never hurt a woman that way. But maybe he hurt them in other ways. He had always taken his pleasure and left. There was never any real feelings. No woman had ever made him want to stay.
At his cabin Chris drifted once again into a fitful sleep. Once again he was with Sarah but this time it was different. Dark eyes changed to ice blue, dark hair changed to blonde.
"Mary," the name was almost a sob in his sleep.
JD was ready to draw his gun as the door to the jail opened and Josiah stepped in with his hands raised in a non-threatening gesture. Josiah grinned, the boy had spent too much time around the gambler and the bounty hunter.
"Everything quiet?" he asked.
Josiah could tell something was troubling the boy. "Want to talk about it?"
JD hesitated, then asked, "Have you ever been in love, Josiah?"
"I thought I was once, you remember Emma Dubonnet?"
"But you left her. Why?"
"I meant to go back. At first I missed her something awful. But the longer I was gone the easier it became until loving Emma was just a habit. I never gave my heart to anyone else but I could never bring myself to go find her. After some of the things I did during the war, I felt myself unworthy of anyone's love. JD, if you really love Casey don't risk it. I know you had plans before you came here. You never intended to stay in this place, but think long and hard about the possibility of spending your life without Casey. Even if you do come back, she might not wait."
"Looks like I've got a lot to think on. Thanks Josiah," JD said as he got up to leave.
Nathan could finally see the baby's head start to come out. Lucy screamed and she pushed. Nathan guided the head as he eased the baby from the mother's body. Once it came free, he took it by its feet and gently slapped its bottom.
"It's a boy."
Outside of Four Corners, 5 men rested their horses. They were not in a hurry, the man they were after would still be there tomorrow.
As Nathan turned to hand the baby to its father and get the mother cleaned up, Lucy suddenly screamed again. "Now what?" he thought.
"It feels like I'm still having the baby!"
"What's wrong?" Luther asked, taking his son.
Nathan smiled. "Twins," he said.
Above the saloon Vin regarded the man sleeping in his arms. He had known both men and women in his life but never anyone like Ezra. He had wanted the gambler the first time he had seen him. Holding off a mob of angry cowboys in the saloon with just one bullet in his derringer. The man's bravado had excited Vin. When he left the saloon, Vin was sure he had left town. It was all he could do not to get on his horse and track him down. But he didn't know if the gambler was even interested in a man and Vin wasn't sure how to go about seducing him. All the men he had ever been with had pursued him. How did one approach a man without getting his head blown off?
Vin was surprised and pleased the next morning when Ezra showed up. Even more so, later, when he accepted the judge's job offer. He had managed to keep his feelings to himself for a while. They had Lydia to thank for them finally getting together. After they had rescued Mary from Wickstown, Lydia had decided to show her gratitude by luring the two of them up to Ezra's room for a threesome. But she left as soon as she realized that they didn't need her to enjoy the night, in fact they didn't really want her with them. They enjoyed other times together after that but no words of love had been spoken until after they had almost lost everything, Vin to Eli Joe and Ezra to Maude. That night Vin had found Ezra in the stable preparing to leave. It broke his heart
"Don't leave me," Vin had asked. That was all he needed to say and Ezra was in his arms. They rode out double on Chaucer. Chris was in the street. He had nodded to them in approval as they passed. They camped out that night, making love under the stars and pledging their lives to each other. They had been together almost every night since. Either here in Ezra's room or out under the stars. Sometimes they just slept in each other's arms but every night it felt right. They still hadn't told the others. There was no telling how they would react.
Buck turned from the bed and looked out the window, he didn't know what he was looking for but he wasn't going to find it here in this room. Maybe not in this town. Perhaps it was time to move on. Buck dressed and left. He needed to think.
In JD's dream he was coming back to Four Corners, he knew he had been gone for a long time. He was looking for Casey to tell her he was sorry, that he should never have left. To beg her to take him back. When he found her, she was just as beautiful as ever. He moved forward but there was a man by her side. They kissed.
"JD, I want you to meet my husband."
"No," JD cried as he woke up. "I can't leave her. I can't lose her," he thought.
At the jail, Josiah considered his unusual family. He felt guilty that he cared more for these men than he did his real family. He didn't really remember his mother, she had died giving birth to Hannah when he was two. His long-dead father was a cruel SOB who terrorized his children with visions of hell's fire. His sister Hannah was no longer the sister he had known and loved. That woman was gone and would never come back.
Chris couldn't get back to sleep. Why was he starting to forget Sarah? Was Mary really replacing her in his heart or was she just close by? Was it loneliness or love? Maybe a visit with Maria in Purgatory would help clear his mind.
Outside of Four Corners, 5 men had settled down to get some rest. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
Above the saloon Ezra turned in his sleep. He was now facing his lover. Vin shifted to accommodate him and they both settled back into a deeper sleep.
Chris got out of bed and dressed. He wanted a drink but he didn't have anything out here with him. If he left now he could be in Purgatory by tomorrow night. He needed to occupy his mind. He needed to stop thinking.
Josiah considered putting another pot of coffee on to boil but decided to wait for a while. If he made it now it would be too strong and not any good by morning. He smiled and considered that it would probably be perfect for Vin. He fixed a new pot, then sat down to continue reading the book he had brought with him. It was the newest book by Mark Twain about a boy named Tom Sawyer. He laughed out loud as he read about Tom conning the neighborhood children into whitewashing his Aunt's fence. He wondered if Mister Twain had known Ezra.
Nathan stretched out on the hay in the barn. He needed to rest before heading back to town. Luther and Lucy were so happy with their babies and each other. He would check on them one more time in the morning before going home
Buck got his things from his room and headed to the stable. He considered stopping by the jail and saying goodbye to whoever was on duty. But then he'd have to explain why he was going. No, it was best just to leave. No long goodbyes that way. He'd miss Chris and JD. Hell, he'd miss them all, but at least he knew where to find them if he wanted to. He looked at the saloon and laughed. He would miss watching Vin and Ezra trying to hide their growing love from everyone. He and Chris had discussed them on the way home from the Seminole village. They could both tell right from the start that the tracker lusted for the conman in the saloon. To be honest, if Buck were inclined along those lines he might have tried something after seeing his performance in the saloon. The man was either the most brave or most foolish person he had ever seen. After getting to know the man he decided that he was both. He wished them luck. He saddled his horse and headed south.
JD got out of bed to get a drink from the water jug. From his window he watched Buck ride out of town. He wondered where he was headed this time of night and considered joining him. Maybe he could shed some light on JD's problem. He started to leave, but with Chris and Nathan already out of town and Buck leaving, that just left Josiah at the jail and Ezra and Vin asleep at the saloon to watch the town. He needed to stay in case there was trouble.
Outside of Four Corners, one man kept watch while four others slept.
"Soon," he thought to himself. "It had been too long."
At the jail Josiah dozed in his chair, book forgotten, coffee half drunk.
In the Palmers' barn, Nathan dreamed of Rain and their children in a home of their own. With his friends all around, sharing their joy. Maybe he was ready to settle down.
In his bed at the boarding house, JD tried to get back to sleep but he couldn't. What if Casey didn't love him? Sure, she had gotten Mary to offer him a job when the seven had been forced out of town by Marshall Bryce, but was that love or did she feel sorry for him because he had nowhere else to go?
Buck had been on the trail for about an hour when he saw someone up ahead. The man stopped and looked back to wait. Buck started to draw his gun then recognized the other rider. He grinned and urged his horse faster to catch up with his friend
"Nice night for a ride," he said.
"Yep," Chris replied. "Thought I'd go south for a while."
"Sounds good to me."
They rode on.
Above the saloon Vin tried to move his right arm but it had fallen asleep underneath Ezra. As he attempted to pull it out, Ezra woke.
"Hello," he said sleepily.
"M' arm's asleep," Vin complained as Ezra shifted so he could move it. Vin cradled the deadweight with his left arm as he tried to regain feeling in it.
"Let me help," Ezra said as he sat up and took Vin's hand, pressing it to his mouth and kissing it. He gently massaged the fingers. Kissing and massaging his way up Vin's arm.
"Much," then Vin groaned as Ezra first kissed then bit and sucked on Vin's shoulder, leaving a mark where no one would see it. His mouth reached for and found Vin's.
"Yes," Vin moaned and pulled Ezra on top of him. "Love me," he begged as his thighs parted and Ezra settled between them. Their cocks hard and eager, they began to move against each other, thrusting, mouths joining, tongues hungrily tasting each other. Ezra couldn't get close enough to his lover, he wanted to be in him, but he knew that now there would not be enough time, the need to come was starting to overwhelm him. Their thrusts became more disparate as Vin smothered the cry of completion, biting Ezra on the left shoulder then moving on to his mouth and swallowing Ezra's own cry. They collapsed against one another for the moment, too tired to move. Then Ezra rolled off and reached to the night stand for the lotion that they had used earlier to prepare Ezra for their love. He glanced at Vin who nodded eagerly. Ezra gently began to prepare him for their joining.
Outside of Four Corners, one man checked the fire while four others slept. He went over and woke one of his companions.
"Your turn," he said, and they traded place on watch.
JD finally slept and this time he dreamed that Casey was with him. In his bed, loving him the way he wanted to love her, promising to be with him always.
In the jail, Josiah's book fell to the floor with a thump. He jumped from the chair, drew his gun and looked around. There was no one there. He chuckled to himself as he realized what had woken him.
"Lucky I didn't shoot it," he said as he picked up his book and laughed at the thought of trying to explain to the others his sudden urge to kill works of literature.
Nathan checked on Lucy and her babies. Everything was looking good. Lucy was suckling Randolph at her breast, while Eudora slept in the crib beside the bed.
"Thank you, Mr Jackson. Thank you for everything," Lucy said taking Nathan's hand.
"You're welcome, Ma'am. I'm just glad everything is all right. I need to get back to town now. You send for me if you need anything."
On the trail Chris and Buck rode in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
Above the saloon Ezra breached Vin's opening, gently pushing forward until his cock, now hard again, was all the way in. He stopped to allow Vin time to adjust, then he began moving slowly and gently, wanting to make this moment last, knowing that soon they would have to be up to start the new day, never knowing what would happen and if they would ever have another moment like this again.
Outside of Four Corners, one man started a pot of coffee while 4 others continued to sleep. Soon it would be time to wake and leave. Soon it would be time.
6:00 am (as the sun starts to rise)
Chris and Buck stopped to fix some breakfast. Neither were very hungry but the coffee would help with the weariness of the sleepless night before.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Chris asked his oldest friend.
"Not really. Do you?"
They were quiet for a while and sipped the coffee. Finally Buck spoke. "That Poplar fellow was one sick bastard. Wasn't he?"
Chris was surprised by the subject. "Yeah."
"I'm not like that."
"Hell no!" Chris was shocked by the statement.
"I don't mean that I would do that to a woman. I mean, I don't hate 'em like that."
"Of course not."
"Then why can't I find one? One to settle down with and be happy. Like what you had with Sarah." Buck noticed the change in his friend at the mention of his late wife. "Tell me."
"I'm beginning to forget what it was like with her. I mean the memories will always be there, but the feelings are starting to fade." Chris was close to tears as he mourned this newest loss of his family.
"It's alright, Pard. Three years is a long time to mourn. It's long past time to move on."
"But I don't want to lose them."
"They will always be in your heart, Chris, they'll just make room for someone else."
Chris thought about what Buck had said. He knew his friend was right, had known it all along. He just had to get used to the idea. Once he did, maybe then he could move on. Maybe with Mary.
"Did you ever think," Chris asked, "that if you would stay in one place longer than 5 minutes and really get to know the people there that maybe you could find that love?"
"I've been in Four Corners for over a year."
"But have you tried to get to know anyone? You've been trying to bed Inez ever since she came to town. But have you ever tried to know her?"
"I think we have some work cut out for us, Pard, and we aren't going to get it done by running away."
"Let's go home."
They both knew the little talk wasn't going to solve everything. The bad times would still come. But at least they had a place to start and a friend to talk to.
Josiah looked up from his book as Nathan came into the jail.
"Everything alright, Brother Nathan?"
"Mother and son and daughter are doing fine," Nathan replied with a grin.
"Yep." Nathan smelled the coffee in the pot and decided against it. He needed food and sleep, not coffee
"I reckon I'll head over to the restaurant for some breakfast. Want to join me?"
"That sounds fine to me, Brother."
JD dressed slowly. He hadn't gotten a lot of sleep but there was no reason the lay around in bed when he had things to take care of. He had made his decision and today he would start to see it through. He only hoped that Casey would see it his way.
Above the saloon, Ezra slept again. Vin eased himself from the bed and went to the washstand to clean up. Ezra turned over, one hand seeking the spot still warm from Vin's heat.
"Go back to sleep."
"What time is it?"
"Time for me to be up, but you've got time."
"Come back to bed." The request was not at all suggestive. Ezra just didn't want to sleep alone.
"Wish I could, Ace," Vin chuckled. "But you know I can't."
"Okay," Ezra said and went back to sleep.
Vin wondered if he was ever really awake. Vin dressed and went to the jail. He figured Josiah had gone for breakfast. He poured himself a cup of coffee and looked around. He was hungry, so he left to find his friends and some food.
On a hill overlooking Four Corners, 5 men on horseback regarded the town. It was almost time.
Casey Wells woke and hurried out of bed. She needed to finish her chores and get into town. Today was the day she would finally tell JD her feelings. She was tired of waiting for him to act.
As Chris and Buck entered the restaurant, Nathan, Josiah, Vin and JD were just finishing their meals.
Nathan looked up at their approach. "Congratulations, Buck, you're not the father of twins."
"Yeah. A boy and a girl." He noticed Buck almost looked sad.
"Where's Ezra?" Chris asked the group in general but subtly directed the question to Vin.
"Still in bed I reckon. He had a rather late night last night." The others pretended not to notice his blush.
"I hope he won," Chris attempted to redirect attention away from the tracker. "Everything else quiet?"
"Not a peep," came Josiah's reply. "Just heading off for a little sleep. I should see you around lunch time."
"Same for me. I managed a few hours in the Palmers' barn but not near enough," Nathan stated.
"Sleep well," Chris said with a nod.
As the two reached the door, 5 men with various pieces of confederate uniform garb rode into town and stopped in front of the saloon. They were joined by a sixth man.
"Chris," Josiah called out. "Maybe you should check this out." The other 4 rose and went to the door. Vin cursed as the 6 men entered the saloon.
Above the saloon Ezra clutched Vin's pillow close to him and continued to sleep, unaware that his past was about to come crashing through his door.
Joe Hanson was mopping the saloon floor. It would open again at 11:00 for lunch, and Inez insisted that it be cleaned every morning. So Joe came in at 7:00 and worked until 3:00. After the lunch crowd dwindled, Joe cleaned again and left for the day. Joe looked up as 6 men entered the saloon.
"Where's Standish?" an older man and obviously the leader demanded.
Joe started to deny knowing the man. After all, Ezra was his friend and former employer who had talked Inez into giving him a job, even after he had helped the gambler's mother sabotage the saloon. But the denial died on his lips as 6 guns were suddenly pointed at him. "Where's Standish?" the man asked again.
"Upstairs, first door." Joe hoped these men didn't kill Ezra right away, giving the other peacekeepers a chance to take action. But more importantly, he prayed they would not kill him when they were done.
The leader nodded at 3 of his men and they quietly went upstairs.
Chris grabbed Vin's arm, preventing him from rushing across the street and into the saloon.
"Wait, we don't know what we are rushing into. They may just be looking for an early morning drink."
"And they might be looking for trouble. Ezra's over there, asleep."
"We'll look after Ezra, but we can't rush in there blind."
"Okay," Vin agreed reluctantly.
Above the saloon, Ezra was not quite fast enough to grab his guns as three men suddenly burst through the door, one firing a shot into the wall over his head to deter him from trying for his guns. They dragged him from the bed and tossed him toward the dresser. "Get dressed," he was ordered. He only had time to put on pants and a shirt before he was dragged out of the door.
Ezra's mind raced as he was taken down the stairs. Were these bounty hunters looking for Vin? How did they know where he slept? How could Ezra delay them long enough for Vin to get away? Could he trust Chris to make sure Vin ran while Ezra was still in trouble? That was doubtful. All thought left him as he saw the man in the bar below.
"Hello Lieutenant Stanton, or is it Standish now?"
The former Confederate officer nodded to the man beside him, who pulled out a piece of paper and read, "Ezra Stanton, also known as Standish. Former Lieutenant of the Confederate Army. You have been tried in absentia and found guilty of the following crimes. Desertion, Dereliction of duty, Abandoning your post during a hostile engagement, Treason and Murder. You are hereby sentenced to death."
"Murder? The only people I killed were Yankees. Who did I murder?"
"Every soldier in gray who died because you abandoned your post," Reed answered.
"I didn't abandon my post. I was wounded."
"You did not come back."
"The war was over."
"No, we fought on. It was 8 more months until Lee betrayed us at Appomattox. We could have still fought on and beat that Yankee scum if not for men like you. I have made it my mission to hunt down you traitors and make an example of you. Then, when it's obvious we mean business, we can get new recruits and take the war to the northern bastards."
"You're mad." He looked at the other men in the room "And you follow him?"
"He's our Captain," one man answered. "We've followed him most of our lives. We'll follow him until death."
It was then that Ezra realized that, with the exception of the Captain, these men were as young if not younger than him. They hadn't been more than the boy he was at 17 when they went to war. He remembered some of them from his time serving under Reed. They had been recruited by the Captain and had served under him throughout the war. Unlike Ezra, who had been sentenced to serve in the army by a judge in Louisiana. They had followed him their entire adult lives. They were probably as mad as he was.
"Let's get out of here," Reed ordered his men. "We've already wasted too much time talking."
"What about this one?" One of the men motioned to Joe.
"Tie him up and leave him behind the bar. By the time someone finds him we'll be long gone," Ezra suggested.
Reed nodded to his men. "Do it. Tie his hands too while you're at it." Reed nodded toward Ezra. Once that was taken care of they dragged Ezra out the door.
The first thing Reed noticed as he left the saloon was that their horses were no longer tied to the rail.
"What the hell?" he exclaimed as he noticed three men standing in the street. The first was a blond man dressed in black. Right hand on the butt of his gun. The second man had a mustache and a gun in his right hand. The third was older and carried a rifle. Down the street, two other men led their horses away.
"Let that man go and we'll let you live," the blond informed Reed.
"This isn't any of your business, Mister," came the reply. "We are here on Government business."
"We are employed by the Federal judge. If there was a problem, he would have let us know about it."
"We don't give a damn about your Yankee judge. I am Captain Howard Reed, a representative of the Confederate States of America. Just let us leave with this deserter and there won't be any trouble."
"That's not going to happen. Just give it up and no one has to get hurt."
One of Reed's men went for his gun, only to be taken out by a rifle shot from the roof of the Hotel.
"Abe!" one of the men yelled as guns were drawn, shots were fired and the three peacekeepers scrambled for cover. Ezra looked up for a brief glimpse of Vin as he was dragged back into the saloon.
Once in the saloon they were further surprised by a dark haired woman untying Joe.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?" one of Reed's men practically drooled. "A pretty señorita."
As he moved forward, Ezra lunged. "Leave her alone, you bastard." He was knocked to the floor, landing hard on his left shoulder.
Reed kicked Ezra in the ribs even as he reassured Ezra, "Is that your woman, Stanton? Don't worry, we won't hurt her, at least not now. We have other things to worry about."
"Is everyone alright?" Chris yelled.
"I'm fine," Buck yelled back.
"Josiah? Josiah?" Chris yelled, looking over to where the big man had taken cover.
Josiah let out a groan as Buck scrabbled over to him. "He's hit," he confirmed as he checked out the bullet wound in his left side and the head wound that probably came from when Josiah fell.
"Nathan," he yelled as the healer and JD rejoined them, guns in hand.
"Easy, big guy," Nathan soothed as he examined Josiah's side. "Not too bad. Little bit more than a graze, but we need to get to the jail for some stitches and that head wound needs to be looked after."
"No, needed here," Josiah protested.
"Now, Chris don't need to be worrying about you keeling over at a crucial moment."
Josiah started to protest, but he knew Nathan was right. With Buck's help they got the ex-preacher to his feet and Nathan helped him off to the clinic as Buck rejoined Chris and JD.
"What are we going to do now?" he asked.
Mary Travis had looked out the window of the newspaper office. Seeing Chris in the street had terrified her. She was just glad Billy was visiting his Grandparents because if it got bad she didn't want him to see it. She fought the desire to run into the street and drag him to safety. To save him like she couldn't save Stephen. But she knew she couldn't do that, Chris would never allow it. Then the shooting had started. Once it was over Mary had sat at her desk and cried.
In the saloon Ezra, Inez and Joe sat at a table being watched over by one of Reed's men, Ezra's hands bound in front of him. While the rest of them watched out of the windows, Reed paced back and forth.
He turned to Ezra and yelled, "This wasn't supposed to happen. We were just going to ride in here, arrest a traitor, a gambler, no one would care if we took you. We would take you out of town and hang you. Who are these men and why do they care what happens to you?"
"He is one of Los Magnificos," Inez answered. "One of the seven hired to protect this town. They have never been defeated."
"You are a lawman, Stanton? That's the funniest thing I have ever heard. You were quite the con artist in the Army. I remember all I had to do was mention a need and you would acquire it for me. I never asked where they came from but they were always there. You were also serving in the Army as part of an agreement to stay out of prison. Now you are a lawman. That's really funny."
Ezra shrugged. "I am a man of many talents."
Reed struck him across the mouth. "Shut your smart ass mouth. I need to think of a way out of this." He turned to one of the men guarding the prisoners. "Mr. Richardson, you could not have found out about this while you were here scouting for me. Because of you, Abe is dead. You stupid son of a bitch. You are useless."
"Alright, don't let me down again."
Josiah winced as Nathan put the last stitch in his side. The wound on his head had already been cleaned and bandaged.
"We need to get back," Josiah said.
"You need to stay here. With that head wound you're just as likely to fall over as anything."
"Nathan. I need to get back down there. To make sure he's going to be okay. He's my brother, my family. You know how I feel, you feel the same way. I can't just sit here and do nothing."
"Now why don't you just stay here unless Chris sends for you?"
"This isn't necessary Nathan. I'm capable of holding my own out there."
"Josiah, I know you have a hard head but you took a pretty good knock. I don't need you passing out on me. Now stop arguing with me. Stay here and I'll go see what's happening with Ezra. Stay here or I'll drag you back and lock you up, understand?"
Josiah blew out a deep breath and said, "Yes Nathan. I'll stay here."
Nathan left to join the others in the street.
The sound of a horse entering town got the attention of the men in the street. JD swore when he realized it was Casey
"JD. Get her away from here," Chris said.
JD took off down the street to intercept her.
Vin watched as Casey rode into town and JD moved to meet her. Deciding that there was no threat coming from that direction, he turned his attention back to the saloon. Willing the whole thing to be over and Ezra to be returned to his arms where he belonged, safe and in one piece. He wondered what these men wanted with his lover. What crime was he supposed to have committed. Vin knew from his own experience that appearances are not everything and he wouldn't believe Ezra to be guilty of anything until he heard it from him for himself.
Chris swore as he saw Mr Conklin come out of the bank and wave his arm for Chris to come to him. "Stay here and keep an eye on things." Swearing again, Chris carefully made his way to the bank.
"You've got to end this, Larabee. No one can conduct business with bullets flying around."
"Conklin, I'm doing my best but there are hostages to consider."
"Who, Standish? You heard the man. He's an army deserter. I always knew he was a no good con man, but the man is a coward as well. Let them take him and good riddance."
"Conklin, I'd shoot you now but I don't think firing my gun is a good idea under the circumstances, so I'll just forget we had this conversation and get back to work." Then, in an imitation of the gambler, he tipped his hat and said, "Good day sir," and went back to join Buck across from the saloon.
JD took Casey into the newspaper office.
"Stay here with Mary," he ordered and left, not giving her time to reply.
"Take care," she said to the door as it closed behind JD. "I love you."
"It's not easy, is it?" Mary asked. "Loving someone so much and knowing that any day he could be gone."
Mary nodded. "I'm not sure I could go through that again, I'm not sure Billy can."
"But if you love him, isn't it worth it?"
"Maybe for me, but not for my son. Watching his father die almost destroyed Billy. I will not put him through anything like that again."
"I think I love JD so much that I'm willing to take the risk."
"And if you have children?"
"Maybe he will settle down and farm with me."
"Casey, men like Chris and JD don't change. They have a sense of right and wrong. That won't allow them to back down. If you push JD to change he might, but he would die inside little by little."
"Was Stephen like that?"
"Not to the extent that he would grab a gun and chase down the bad guys. But it was his insistence in reporting an injustice that got him killed. If he had backed off after he had been warned he would still be alive."
In the saloon Reed was getting restless. He had to get his men and prisoner out of here. He spotted Richardson over by the bar looking at the bottle on the wall. "Go out the back," Reed ordered. "See if you can get the horses."
Richardson nodded and left.
"You know, Mr Reed, if you kill me you will not be allowed to leave here. You'll either be dead or in prison. If you give up now I can still put in a good word for you and your men. Don't throw away these young men to some deluded sense of duty."
"Shut up Stanton, or I will kill you here and now."
"Do it, and I guarantee you won't live to see the end of this day. Make no mistake, those men out there are killers. They won't hesitate to take out you and your boys. End this now before anyone else has to die."
"The only other person dying today will be you."
JD left the newspaper office, heading back to where Chris and Buck waited. A movement caught his attention as he spotted a man move across the end of the alley beside the saloon. He moved back down the street to where he and Nathan had left the horses. Keeping his back to the buildings and drawing his guns, JD approached the horses where now there was a man attempting to gather up the reins, his back to JD.
"Hold it right there," JD commanded.
From his vantage point on top of the hotel, Vin saw JD cross the street further down. Vin was curious as their youngest member stealthily moved toward the horses that he and Nate had moved earlier. He stopped at the corner of a building while a man stepped out from between the buildings. Vin tried to take aim at him but with the distance and JD's close proximity he couldn't risk a shot. The man started to gather the reins of the horses and JD raised his gun. Words were exchanged then the man spun around, drawing his gun. Shots were fired and the man fell. Vin let out a sigh of relief when he saw that JD was still standing. Then gunfire from the saloon got his attention.
Below Vin on the street Chris, Buck and Nathan jumped at the sound of gunfire down the street. They relaxed as they saw JD standing and a man on the ground. Then they noticed JD stagger and lean against the building beside him. Buck stood to go to him but shots from the saloon stopped him. He and Chris returned to their cover as a single rifle shot rang out.
Having seen a man at the window and realizing that it wasn't his lover, Vin calmly took aim and fired, hitting the man in the chest. He watched as the man fell and knew that he was dead as someone inside the building cried "Jimmy!" then everything was quiet again.
Down the street JD waved to the others, indicated his left arm and pointed his gun toward the man laying on the ground in front of him. Nathan sighed and said, "This day just keeps getting worse," and left to join JD, while Josiah crossed the street to join him as well. Nathan approached JD as he kept his gun trained on the man at his feet, blood coming out of the wound in the man's right shoulder. Josiah joined them and took the man's gun.
"God damn. It hurts," the man complained.
"Shut up," JD ordered and considered kicking the man for good measure.
"Let's get him to the jail," Nathan suggested, and he and Josiah hauled the man up and led him to the jail while JD kept an eye on his hands so he didn't try anything stupid. Once at the jail they put him in a cell then turned to JD.
"How bad?" Nathan asked.
"Just a scratch really."
"I swear I don't know who's the worst patient, you, Vin or..."
"Ezra," the other two voted.
Nathan just smiled and nodded. Ezra was indeed the worst. Then everyone sobered at the thought of what their friend was going through and what still might happen. "Take off your coat," Nathan ordered.
"But I gotta..."
"You got to get patched up."
"You'd best get to it, JD," Josiah cautioned. "Nate ain't in no mood to fool around."
"What about me?" the prisoner complained. "I'm shot worse than he is. I want to see a real Doctor."
"Ain't no real doctor in this town. I'm the closest thing there is."
"I don't want no N..."
"You'd best not continue," Josiah said, gun now in hand. "He's all you'll get unless you want to bleed to death."
"Okay," the man finally agreed.
Josiah went back to watch out the window and Nathan sat JD on the cot in the other cell and began to clean his wound.
Chris yelled toward the saloon, "Reed, you just lost two more men. By my count that only leaves you two. Give it up now."
"Go to hell," a southern voice yelled back. "We still have Stanton."
Chris turned to his friend. "Buck, with only two men he can't watch us out here and the back door effectively. Go around back and see what you can do."
Reed stood over Ezra, forcing him to look up if he wanted to see his face. Ezra didn't, and kept his attention on his bound hands.
"You know, Stanton, of all the deserters I've tracked down since the war, you are the one I most look forward to hanging."
"To what do I owe the honor?"
"First of all you ran out on me, that alone was unforgivable. Then there's the fact that you've been so damned elusive. For the first year or so you simply disappeared. Even your family in New Orleans didn't know where you were. I thought you were dead. Then I got word you were in Kansas City, but by the time I got there you were gone. With the constant moving and all the name changes, I was starting to think I'd never catch you. I almost had you in Fort Laramie. Then that judge granted you bail and you disappeared again."
"But you managed to find me."
"Pure luck. I ran into Phillip Hart. Do you remember Phil? No, well no matter. He ran with Anderson and his ghosts. He told me about a brash southern boy who was deadly accurate with a cannon. Who helped to defeat Anderson. I sent my man Richardson to the closest town to check out this man and he reports back on a gambler here in Four Corners. I figured the man he described as Ezra Standish just had to be my former Lieutenant. So here I am."
"You are bordering on insubordination, Mr Stanton."
"So hang me."
"I will so enjoy watching you swing," Reed laughed, moving away as he looked at Inez and said to one of his men, "Leo, take the señorita to the kitchen and have her fix some food."
"And Leo, just have her cook for now. Nothing else."
Buck made his way to the rear of the saloon. He was surprised to find the back door open. He went inside then hid in the storeroom as he heard Inez come in, followed by a man.
"Cook something plain," the man ordered Inez. "Not that spicy Mexican shit."
She walked to the storeroom to get some flour for biscuits and almost cried out to find Buck there. She turned back to Leo. "I need water," she said, closing the door suddenly.
"Alright, let's get it."
He grabbed the bucket and dragged Inez out the back door. When they came back inside she put a pot of water on to boil and started to cut some bread.
"Just watch it with that knife," Leo warned. "I've still got a gun on you."
"Si, señor," she said and waited for Buck to make his move.
From his perch on the roof of the hotel, Vin watched as Buck made his way across the street and into the alley beside the saloon. "Covering the back door," he thought to himself.
Vin watched the window of the saloon and willed Ezra to come into his view. "Better yet," he thought to himself, "let this be over soon." He wanted nothing more than to take his lover in his arms to be assured that he was unharmed. Vin forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand as he took a sip from his canteen, took his gun back in hand and went back to watching.
JD and Nathan eased out of the jail door. Nathan had reservations about allowing JD to return to the street with a wounded arm, but he had had a hard time convincing Josiah to stay behind and was in no mood to argue with JD as well. He'd keep an eye on him and pick him up if he collapsed. Hell, if it came to it, he could always turn him over to Casey and she would see that he stayed still. He admitted to himself that the wound wasn't more than a scratch and that very little blood had been lost, still he could tell that JD was in pain and he hoped he could keep his mind on the job at hand.
They signaled to Chris that they were back and took positions on the sidewalk across from the saloon. "Let's end this," Nathan heard JD say.
"This needs to end," Chris thought to himself. "It needs to end with no one getting killed. Well, Reed and his men can die. But our people need to be safe." He thought about Ezra, held prisoner. Conklin was wrong. Ezra wasn't a coward. Greedy yes. He had gone off looking for gold instead of keeping watch at the Seminole village, but he had come back and had proven his loyalty time and again since then. Chris wondered what had finally driven the man to leave behind his compatriots and desert the army, if in fact that's what he had done. He would believe it when Ezra told him. "I'm going to check on Vin," he told the others.
Josiah was alone in the jail with the prisoner now.
"What's your name, son."
"Eddy, Eddy Richardson."
"Well, son, you got yourself in some big trouble."
"Why?" Josiah asked.
"Why come to this town, after this man? What did he ever do to you?"
"He abandoned the Captain and the Confederacy. Captain says that's wrong. We must continue to fight until we free our country of foreign invaders and restore our way of life."
"The war is over, son, a long time ago."
"War ain't over 'til the Captain says so."
"But General Lee was his superior and General Lee surrendered. You don't even have a government. There's nothing left to fight for."
"I fight for the Captain. He's my commanding officer. I go where he says go and fight who he says fight. If he says Ezra Stanton must die, then Ezra Stanton will die. Simple as that."
"But at what cost? Your lives? The lives of an innocent man and woman in that saloon?"
"It's the price of victory. Solders die, sometimes civilians too."
Josiah just shook his head and went back over to look out the window.
"Please God, let this be over. Let Ezra be alive."
"Chris coming up."
"Come on then."
As Chris joined Vin on the roof he brought him a fresh canteen along with some bread and cheese from Potter's store. "Thought you might like something."
"Thanks," Vin replied as he drank from the canteen and set the food aside. He then turned his attention back to the saloon.
"He's still alive."
"Yeah, but for how long? Those men can kill him. What's to keep them from doing just that?"
"They need him now if they want to get away. He's the only hostage they have left."
"This needs to end."
"I know this is difficult for you. I know how I would feel if it were..." Chris stopped, not sure whose name he wanted to say. Sarah was gone and Mary was a dream. Chris suddenly felt empty. If Vin noticed that Chris didn't finish his sentence he didn't comment, he just turned his attention back to the saloon.
Inside the saloon, Ezra looked for anything that could be used to his advantage. He was worried about Inez, alone with the man in the saloon. He was worried about Vin, with all of the shooting going on. He knew that from the top of the hotel he would be a hard target to hit, still something might have gone wrong. He prayed that Vin would come out of this alive, no matter what happened to him Vin had to live through this. Going back to his survey of the saloon, he noticed that the man Reed had stationed near the broken window was crying as he looked at the dead man on the floor.
"Pull yourself together, Tom," Reed ordered the man.
"Those sons of bitches killed my brother, Captain, why? Why did we have to come here? Why did Jimmy have to die?"
"This is war. Men die in war. It's a sad fact. We have to bury the dead and move on."
"I'm so tired of the God damn fighting, I just want to go home."
"You know there is no home to go back to. Those Yankee took everything that was ours. Our homes, our women, our way of life. The way to make things right is to fight for what you believe in."
"I don't know what to believe any more. I quit."
"You can't quit." He held his gun up to aim at his own man. "That would be desertion and I would be forced to hang you along with Stanton here."
Ezra prepared to make his move, with the two men distracted now was his chance. If only Joe wasn't between him and the other two men, all he would have to do was rush them and be out the window. The others could take care of the rest. While Ezra hesitated, Joe acted, but he made the mistake of shouting first as he rushed toward the door and freedom. Tom, mistakenly thinking he was being attacked, raised his arm and shot. Joe dropped, and Ezra knew he was dead.
Then there was noise from the kitchen. Ezra nearly sobbed at the thought of something happening to Inez. He shook his head. He should have ended this a long time ago, and would have tried something if it hadn't been for trying to keep Inez and Joe alive. Now Joe was dead, and probably Inez too. Suddenly someone ran into the room from the kitchen. Reed knocked Ezra from his chair, holding him down and pointing a gun at his head. He said, "Drop your guns sir, or he dies. Now!" Ezra tried to turn his head to see who the words were directed at.
Leo watched as the Mexican woman moved about the kitchen. His mouth filled with saliva and he licked his lips. It wasn't just the anticipation of food that had him going. It had been a few months since the Captain had allowed his men to enjoy the company of women. Defying the Captain's orders, he came up behind the woman, wrapped his arms around her and pressed himself against her.
"How about a little kiss? A taste of what you're going to get later."
Inez started to refuse when the sound of gunfire and shouting came from the other room, distracting the man. She wrenched herself away. Grabbing the pot of boiling water from the stove, she threw it in his face as Buck came out of the storeroom.
When the pot of hot water hit his face, Leo let the woman go and clutched at his face. When he opened his eyes he was surprised to find himself face to face with a man holding a gun. As the man started toward him, he moved his hand moved toward his gun.
"Don't do anything stupid, Boy," Buck warned. So of course he went for his gun. Buck's bullet found him squarely between the eyes. "Get out," he yelled to Inez, grabbing her and shoving her to the door, then running to the front room. He stopped short at the scene it front of him. Joe was lying on the floor. Lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling, blood coming from a hole in his chest. Ezra was also on the floor. The older man's foot was on his chest holding him down, his gun pointed at his head. The younger man had his gun trained on Buck.
"Drop your guns sir, or he dies. Now!"
Cursing, Buck laid his guns on the bar, and with his hands raised he approached the gunmen.
Movement from the alley caught JD's and Nathan's attention. As they prepared to deal with some new threat, Inez appeared at the entrance. JD rushed forward to meet her.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Buck's inside the saloon now. He made me leave, I don't know what happened to him or Ezra."
"Come on, let's get you off the street." He led her to the newspaper office while Nathan covered them and Chris continued to watch the saloon.
Once JD had Inez safely inside Nathan joined Chris. "She says that Buck is inside. Doesn't know what happened after the shooting started."
The sound of gunfire brought Josiah back into the street. Everything was quiet, then he saw JD and Nathan heading for the alley beside the saloon. He started forward to lend assistance. Then realizing it was Inez, he stopped. He looked to Chris, who nodded that he should go back inside. Once inside, Eddie asked him, "What happened? Are they dead?"
"I don't know, son. They are still in the saloon."
"Oh God, why? The Captain said this would be an easy job like all of the others, all we had to do was take the prisoner and hang him. Then maybe head down to Mexico for a while. Take a rest. We've been traveling so long."
"Well, you'll have a long time to rest now." Josiah's patience and sympathy was about at an end. If Ezra didn't come out of this unharmed, he knew the consequences for the young man in the cell would be dire. Josiah really didn't care, he figured he would deserve whatever happened.
"Tie him up," Reed ordered Tom, nodding toward Buck. Once this was accomplished Reed dragged Ezra from his chair and to the door.
"Call to your friend. Tell him we are coming out to talk."
"Mr Reed and I are coming out for a parley."
"Come on out then." Chris walked to the center of the street, hand held out away from his guns.
"Mr Larabee, I know you want to end this as much as I do, now what will it take for you to let me ride out of here with my prisoner?"
"You aren't leaving here with one of my men."
"This isn't a man, he's a coward and a deserter. When we evacuated Atlanta, Stanton here was wounded by a Yankee sharpshooter. He went to a field hospital and I never saw him again. He is a deserter, a dog who deserves to die. Now we've killed one man and we have another one hostage inside. You are going to bring our horses back and we are going to leave this town with Stanton, or we will hurt our other hostage."
"They have Buck," Ezra told them. "Please, Mr Larabee. Just bring the horses back. I'll go with them and they'll set Buck free."
"Ezra, I can't let you..."
"We don't have a choice. Mr Reed intends to kill me. It's up to you to decide who else has to die."
Chris bowed his head and nodded. "JD, get three horses up here."
JD took off down the street. Ezra glanced up to see that Vin was no longer on the roof of the hotel. He knew that he was planning something and he only hoped that it would get them all out of this alive.
Once JD brought the horses to the front of the saloon, Reed called out, "Tom, let's go." A younger man joined them from inside, they put Ezra on a horse and rode south out of town. A moment later Vin Tanner rode out of the stable after them. "Let's go," Chris ordered JD and Nathan. Chris and Nathan went into the saloon after Buck while JD went to get the rest of the horses that were left behind.
Inside the saloon they found Buck tied to a chair.
"Damn Chris, how could you just let them take Ezra like that?"
"Vin's gone after him. Nothing will happen."
They left the saloon and mounted the horses JD had outside. Nodding to Josiah on the porch of the jail, they rode out of town after Vin and Ezra.
Josiah watched as the people of Four Corners returned to business as if nothing had happened. "It's about time," Conklin had commented as he had walked by Josiah on the porch of the jail.
Then Josiah saw Casey come from the newspaper office with a basket in hand.
"Hello Josiah, we thought maybe you'd like something to eat." He nodded and led Casey into the jail.
Vin kept his distance as he followed his lover. The trail was clear, three men on horses not trying to cover their tracks. Going instead for speed. They were headed for the river. Vin knew that once they got to the water it would be easier to hide their passage. He could keep close enough to keep anything from happening, but far enough away that he wouldn't be seen. He trusted that Chris and the others were following behind and would be there when he needed them.
Ezra rode flanked by Reed on one side and Tom on the other. His hands were still tied in front of him but he had a plan. They stopped when they came to a large tree with low branches.
"This is a good spot," Reed announced.
"Am I really worth it, Mr Reed?"
"Your revenge on me? Is it worth the life of me over your men? In a little while I suppose you will be hanging me. But your men will still be dead. Was it worth it? Your dream of renewing the confederacy is over. It's over, Reed, everything you have lived for and fought for has come to an end. I will be dead but you have nothing to live for."
"What's the matter Mr Reed, you can't handle the truth? The truth is that four young lives are over because of your obsession. I find that sad."
"I said shut up." Reed's hand swung out as he attempted to backhand his prisoner. Ezra ducked, then using his saddle horn to steady himself he threw himself at Reed, knocking him off his horse while kicking out at Tom as he swung off his own horse, knocking the gun from his hands. Ezra hit the ground, rolled, gained his feet and ran into the woods.
Reed got to his feet and yelled to Tom, "After him you fool, don't let him get away!"
Tom ran into the woods, he could see the traitor ahead of him. "Find him," he heard his Captain call. "He's over here," he called back as he brought his gun up to fire.
As he ran through the woods, Ezra cursed the bound hands and bare feet, stumbling over rocks and fallen limbs, face being hit by low hanging branches. He could hear Reed and Tom following him. Coming to the top of a bank he paused, below him was the river, behind him was death.
Swearing, he bounded down the hill into the water, as the sound of gunfire echoed behind him.
In the jail at Four Corners, Josiah finished the meal that Casey had brought him. "That was a fine meal," he said. "JD will be sorry he missed it."
"You think so?"
"Sure. I'm sure he would appreciate anything that you do for him."
"Sure. Not too long ago he was asking advice on courting you, Casey. I think his intentions are honorable. I think he wants a future with you. He's just not sure about your feelings about him."
"I love him, Josiah. I can't imagine not being with him the rest of my life."
"Then let him know."
"I can't, Josiah. It's not my place to make the first move."
"Casey, with some men you just have to be subtle about it and others, like JD, you have to hit over the head to make them see what's right in front of them."
Casey laughed. "Sometimes I'd like to hit JD over the head."
Vin raced up to the three abandoned horses, dismounted and headed into the woods. He could hear two men shouting to each other. "Find him," and "He's over here." Then gunfire. "Damn, missed," was cried out.
"I'm coming for you, Ace," Vin thought to himself and followed the voices. A noise behind him caught his attention. He turned to see Chris, Buck, JD and Nathan dismounting from their horses and following him into the wood. He turned back and moved toward the riverbank. "Hold it right there," he told the man pointing his gun down the hill, who turned, dropped his gun to the ground and raised his hands. Keeping his gun on his prisoner, Vin moved to the top of the bank. "You down there, Ezra?"
"I'm here, Vin," came the answer.
"I find myself somewhat encumbered."
"My hands are tied Vin, I can't climb back up the hill."
"Just hold on, I'll be back for you."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Reed!" Chris shouted. "Give it up. You can't win this."
"Go to hell."
"I see him," Buck whispered to Chris, moving around to Reed's left and signaling JD to move to the right. Nathan stood by Chris.
"Reed, let's end this now. No one else needs to die. Give it up."
"The traitor needs to die. All traitors to the confederacy need to die. We must continue the fight until Victory is ours," Reed continued to mumble to himself. "All Yankees must die." He brought his gun up as Chris, Buck, JD and Nathan all fired at once.
"Damn Cowboy, I think he's dead," Vin said, leading his prisoner to the others. "Take care of this one, I need to get Ezra."
"He okay?" Nathan asked.
"He finds himself somewhat encumbered," Vin said in a perfect imitation of his lover's drawl.
"Huh?" the others asked.
"His hand are tied and he's fallen down a hill. I'll call you if he needs fixing up." Vin walked to his horse and grabbed a rope. The others followed him with the prisoner.
"Buck, you and JD take this one," Chris indicated Tom, "back to town while we collect Ezra." Vin had already walked back into the woods.
Buck nodded. "We'll see you back in town," he said as Chris headed back into the woods and Nathan searched the bags for anything he could use if Ezra needed medical attention.
Vin tied off one end of the rope and rappelled down the bank. When Vin reached the bottom he found Ezra sitting half in the water. Kneeling beside him, he took the man in his arms and started to kiss him.
"Vin. My hands." Ezra held up his arms for Vin to see the bindings.
"Oh yeah. Right." He took out his knife and cut through the ropes. Ezra's arms immediately found their way around him and their lips joined. "Thank God you're alright," Vin said against his lips, then they kissed desperately for a few moments until a voice from above interrupted them.
"Everything alright down there?" Chris asked.
"Everything's just fine," Vin answered.
"I'm fine, Mr Larabee," Ezra assured.
"Good. Because if Ezra isn't up here soon, Nathan's going to come down there."
"We'll be right up."
Vin stood, then helped Ezra to his feet. He noticed his lover's grimace.
"My feet are a little sore. Nothing to worry about."
"Yes, let's get out of here."
Using the rope, the two men climbed the bank. Vin bit back a protest as Ezra was taken from his arms by Nathan and laid on the ground.
"I'm fine, Nathan. I just need to get home."
Vin looked at the bottom of Ezra's feet, they were raw and bleeding. "Damn Ezra, your feet."
"Damn," Nathan repeated, examining first one then the other of Ezra's feet. "What were you doing running around barefoot?"
"Well Mr Jackson, I was dragged from my bed this morning. I was hardly given time to dress. It seems shoes were not that important to my captors."
"Let's just get back to town before it gets too dark," Chris decided.
Once they returned to town, Nathan immediately took Ezra to the clinic to clean and dress his sore feet and examine his other bruises. Vin followed silently, now that he had his lover back he wasn't about to let him out of his sight.
Chris went to the jail where Josiah, Buck and JD waited.
"He appears to be fine," he assured them before they had a chance to ask. "Nathan's just checking him over, but except for sore feet he appears to be in one piece."
"Sore feet?" Josiah asked.
"He was running around in the woods barefoot. A few cuts and bruises. Nothing serious."
"What are we going to do with them?" JD asked, indicating the two men occupying the cells.
"That one," Josiah pointed to Eddie, "has admitted that they tracked down and hung other southern deserters. But didn't give any specifics."
"JD, go wire the Judge. I guess this would be a case for murder and not something that falls under the authority of the Army."
JD nodded and left as Mary came in.
"Chris, gentlemen. I just want you to know that Inez, Casey and I have dinner ready at the saloon when you are hungry."
"Thank you, Mary. Buck, see that the prisoners are fed, then join us."
He held out his arm and escorted Mary out, followed by Josiah.
They walked across to the saloon and settled into their regular chairs. A few moments later, Ezra came in supported by Vin on one side and Nathan on the other. His feet were both bandaged.
"Thank you, Gentlemen, but as I said I am perfectly capable of walking by myself. I don't need your assistance."
Nathan let go. "Fine," he said, "fall on your face."
Vin continued to support him until he was seated in a chair then he sat beside him, keeping one hand resting on his forearm under the table. He didn't care about being seen, the need to touch his lover was too great.
They were joined a short time later by JD and Buck, who made sure there was enough room at the table for the ladies who had done all of the cooking. As the smell of food being brought from the kitchen caught their attention, someone's stomach growled loudly. Everyone looked around except Ezra who looked down, embarrassed.
"He hasn't eaten since last night," Vin pointed out.
The food was brought out. The ladies sat down and Ezra began to fill his plate. Someone gasped as the pile began to grow and they all stared at him in silence.
"What?" Ezra asked. "Haven't you ever seen someone eat before?"
Then Vin laughed and repeated, "He hasn't eaten since last night." Everyone but Ezra joined him in laughter and they all set in to eat.
After the meal the ladies took the empty dishes to the kitchen.
"I guess I owe you some sort of an explanation," Ezra said to his fellow peacekeepers.
"You don't need to explain anything," Vin assured him, but the look on the others faces told him otherwise.
Ezra looked down, took a deep breath, then looked back up at his friends. He felt Vin's hand, reassuring on his arm.
"I was just seventeen when the war began. I..." he hesitated, "I was persuaded to join the army. I saw action at Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chickamauga, among other places. Then we fled before Sherman. When Hood abandoned Atlanta, he ordered us to burn everything before we followed. I was wounded by a Yankee sharpshooter and taken to a field hospital. The wound was minor as it turned out, but for me the war was over. It was obvious to me that our cause was lost. I may be a shallow man, but after nearly 4 years I had had enough. I left the field hospital and headed for home." Ezra looked down at his hand, now entwined with Vin's under the table.
The others knew there was more to the story but Ezra wasn't going to share.
Chris looked at Vin, who shook his head. He didn't know anything more. Silently they agreed not to push for more.
Once dinner was over and the ladies had rejoined them, Ezra had Inez bring out a bottle of Brandy and gave everyone a glass.
"To the successful ending of another day," Ezra toasted.
There were answers of, "Hear, hear," as Ezra sat back down and JD stood up. He cleared his throat and held up his glass and said, "Gentlemen, raise a glass to Casey Wells. The woman I'm going to marry."
Everyone in the room was quiet for a minute. Then Casey stood up and threw down her napkin. "With a proposal like that I wouldn't marry you if you were...." She stormed out of the room.
"What just happened here?" JD ask.ed.
Buck threw his arm around JD's shoulders. "Let Ol' Buck explain women to you, again." And led the young man to the bar and ordered two beers from Inez.
"Son, no woman likes to be taken for granted."
"Let me finish. You just assume that Casey wants to marry you. And she probably does, she just wants you to respect her enough to ask her first. Now, go practice saying you're sorry and what you're going to say when you ASK the girl to marry you."
As JD walked off, Buck noticed Inez smiling at him. He hadn't seen her smile like that since he fought Don Paulo for her and gave her his best smile and moved down the bar to stand before her.
With a yawn, Mary wished everyone goodnight as she stood to leave.
"I'll see you home," Chris offered as he stood.
"There's no need."
Chris smiled at Ezra then Mary as he said, "It's the gentlemanly thing to do."
Everyone laughed as Mary reluctantly took Chris' arm and left the saloon.
Arriving at her door Chris was suddenly awkward. "Mary," he whispered, then leaned in for a kiss. She put her hand on his chest to stop him.
"We can't. It would not be fair."
"Not fair? To who."
"Chris," she looked in his eyes and he could see desire. "I could very easily give myself to you. If I let myself, I could love you. But today just proved to me that the life you lead is not one I want my son to be exposed to. Billy has already lost his father to violence, that's what you and the others were hired to protect this town from. While things are somewhat better for you being here, the fact remains you lead a life, Chris, that invites danger. I have to protect my son from that."
Chris looked away. "I understand," he said. "I was a father once. I know I would have done anything, sacrificed everything if it would have kept my son safe. Goodnight Mary." He turned and walked back toward the saloon. Then, thinking about the celebration taking place, he went instead to the jail.
In the saloon, Ezra turned to Vin and smiled. It was all he could do not to run his fingers through the other man's hair, but they were in public.
"Later," Vin mouthed silently, then frowned as he noticed Ezra's eyes drift shut and his head start to nod.
Ezra yawned. Lord, he was tired. He wanted nothing more than to go upstairs, wrap himself around Vin and sleep for a week. He jumped when a hand tapped him on the shoulder. It was Bob Willis.
"Mr Standish, you ready for that rematch? I still have money to win back."
Ezra started to speak but it was Nathan who answered. "I'm afraid Ezra isn't quite up to a game tonight. He's on his way to bed." He looked at Ezra. "Doctor's orders."
"Well, who am I to argue with our esteemed medicine man. I'm afraid that rematch will have to wait at least one more night."
"Of course." He looked disappointed, but he moved off.
"Ezra, I wasn't kidding. You need to go to bed now before you fall asleep in that chair."
"I have every intention of going to bed presently."
"I said sleep, not just bed," Nathan insisted, looking pointedly at Vin.
"What?" Vin asked.
"You need to make sure he gets some rest tonight."
"Yes, you," Josiah said.
"Now wait a minute," Ezra protested. "What does Vin have to do with my getting a good night's sleep?"
Nathan and Josiah just grinned. Vin groaned and looked down.
"What... you... how?" Ezra sputtered, then his mouth fell open.
"How long have you known?" Vin asked.
"Ever since that unfortunate incident with Maude and the saloon. You two disappeared after that and Chris didn't want to look for you," Josiah said.
"And you?" Ezra asked the healer.
"When my Daddy was in jail. Maude and I had a long talk. She kept asking me questions about Vin. I wondered why. I thought maybe you," he nodded towards Ezra, "and your Ma were up to something. I thought that maybe that $500 bounty had finally become too much of a temptation. Imagine my surprise when I went to confront you, only to find Vin with you in your room. I still wasn't convinced that you weren't up to something, but Josiah talked me into waiting before I confronted you. So I kept my eye on you and soon I knew. It wasn't the bounty on Vin's head that you wanted. It was Vin, and he wanted you."
"And you're okay with that?"
"Yes," both men replied.
"We just want you to be happy, brothers," Josiah said.
"And you to get some sleep," Nathan added and they all laughed. But when Ezra's laughter turned into a yawn, Nathan pointed to the steps and said, "Go."
Ezra stood and, with a tip of his hat, he said, "I bid you goodnight then, gentlemen." With a wink at Vin, he went upstairs.
At the bar, Buck smiled at Inez.
"I'm in no mood for your games tonight, Buck."
"I'm not playing, Inez. I'd like to take you to dinner some night and we can have a nice long talk. Just talk, get to know one another better. See what happens from there. No pressure."
Inez looked unsure. "Just dinner?"
"Quizá," she replied.
"Is that anything like nunca?"
"Maybe." She smiled and turned away.
He returned to the table where Nathan, Josiah and Vin still sat.
"Means maybe," Nathan translated.
"Maybe." Buck smiled, then looked at Vin. "What you doing still here, saw Ezra head off to bed a while back."
"Hell, does everybody but JD know?" He looked at the faces around him and then came to a realization. "JD knows?"
"Yep," Buck said as everyone laughed except Vin.
"Shit, I'm going to bed." He headed out back to relieve himself before heading up the back stairs.
"Kiss him goodnight for me," Buck said, still laughing, he was in a good mood. "Think I'll head over to the jail. It's my shift." Goodnights were said as Nathan and Josiah followed Buck out the door on the way to their own beds.
With a yawn, JD opened the door to his darkened room. It had been a month since he had lost the key and the ability to lock up when he was out. Not that he was really worried about it, there was nothing worth taking in his room. As he approached the bed a noise behind the door startled him, drawing his gun he spun around. Casey stood before him.
"Christ, Casey, I could have shot you."
"I knew you wouldn't. We need to talk."
"JD," she said, moving toward him. "If you were to ask proper, I might just say yes."
Casey sat on the bed as JD came forward and knelt in front of her. Taking Casey's hand, JD asked, "Casey Wells, will you...." That was all he had time to say.
"Yes," she replied and kissed him. "And I'll marry you, too."
Casey kissed him again. Lips still joined, they rose to their feet. JD was surprised as Casey's hands pushed his jacket off his shoulders. He let it fall to the floor, as hands started unbuttoning his shirt.
"Don't talk, JD, just know that I love you and this is what I want."
Josiah got ready for bed. His side hurt and his head ached but he didn't care, another day was over and everyone was alive. It had been a good day.
Nathan turned down the covers and undressed. Tomorrow he would talk to Chris about taking some time off and riding out to the Seminole Village. It was time to talk about the future with Rain. They would marry soon, he knew that. Maybe get a small farm near town where Rain wouldn't feel trapped but he would be close to his friends and work. Maybe he would talk to Mary about her old place. The house would need to be rebuilt, but the location was perfect. Having made the decision, Nathan climbed into bed and was soon asleep.
Vin climbed the back stairs of the saloon and let himself into Ezra's room. It had surprised him that the others knew about him and Ezra. It surprised him even more that they approved. Not that their approval was necessary, he would be with Ezra without it, but it was nice that he didn't have to give up his friends to have his love. Life was definitely good. As he entered the room a single lamp greeted him. Approaching the bed, he could tell that Ezra was asleep. He smiled and he stripped and joined him. Just being close to his love after all they had been through today was enough. In his sleep, Ezra snuggled into him. He took his lover in his arms and settled in.
Buck was surprised when he entered the jail only to find Chris already there.
"What you doing here, Stud. I thought you took Mary home."
"And nothing. She told me that she didn't think I would be good husband or father material."
"But you've been a husband and a father."
"And a killer."
There was no arguing with that.
"She said that Billy watched his father die a violent death and she didn't want that to happen again. I couldn't tell her that it wouldn't happen that way."
"There's no guarantees in life, Chris. You got to take happiness where you can and if that means Mary and Billy, then you need to make it happen."
"And what about you. What would make you happy?"
"I'm not sure yet, but I took your advice. I'm going to get to know Inez better."
"Buck, that's not what I said. I said you should..."
"I know what you said and what you meant. And what I mean is I'm going to court Inez. I'm going to take walks around town, hold her hand, talk to her, find out what it is she likes, what she don't like. Maybe steal a few kisses, but that's all for now. If something happens between us, it's because we want a future together, not just something right now."
"You sure you can do that?"
"Hell, I don't know. But I swear, I don't want to hurt her."
"I expect you'll have Ezra and Vin to answer to if you do. You saw how Vin looked after her when Don Paulo was here. He would have protected her, no matter how your fight turned out."
"Yes, and what's important to Vin is important to Ezra."
They both smiled at the thought of that couple.
"They ain't such a secret any more," Buck informed Chris quietly, glancing at the cells where their prisoners were sound asleep. "Seems Josiah and Nate have known about them for a while, and you already know that JD figured it out."
"They okay with it?" The last thing Chris wanted was tension between the peacekeepers.
"They seem to be. Time will tell." Buck got up to fix coffee and Chris fell silent.
JD crawled into bed beside a naked Casey, their lips joining in a hungry kiss. JD pulled away from her for a moment. He was painfully hard but this would be Casey's first time and he didn't want to hurt her. He needed to be gentle. He looked in her eyes. "Are you sure about this?"
Casey nodded. She had known what she wanted when you woke up that morning. She drew JD in for another kiss. Instinct took over then, JD rolled them until he was laying between Casey's thighs. Their mouths joined in a hungry dance as JD used one hand to guide his hard length to her soft entrance. She cried out as he broke through her barrier. He paused and once more looked into her eyes but instead of pain, he saw passion.
"I'm okay." It was hardly a whisper. "JD, please."
Once more JD began to thrust, he knew he couldn't last long, Casey felt too good. They both cried out as JD released deep within her.
Afterward, Casey lay on her stomach, her face buried in JD's shoulder, his arms tight around her. She was shaking. He rolled them over until she was on her back and he was propped on one elbow above her. He gently stroked her face.
"Are you alright?"
Casey smiled and nodded, then took a deep breath and sighed, "Yes," as her eyes closed for just a moment. When they opened again her smile got bigger as she said, "JD, that was incredible. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more."
JD couldn't help his pleased grin. "Oh Casey, I love you so much. I can't wait until we begin our life together. You will marry me, won't you?"
"Yes, JD, I will marry you."
In his room at the boarding house, Nathan was deep in a dream. He and Rain were sitting on the porch of their home, holding hands, then she stood up and led him into the house. Nathan woke and reached for her, cursing that she wasn't really there.
Chris finished his cup of coffee and regarded Buck, who sat in the chair opposite him. They had both been quiet for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.
"Why don't you go get some sleep? I told Ezra I would cover his shift later. Why don't I take yours now and you can relieve me at 3:00."
"Sure thing, Chris. I'll see you later."
Josiah found himself unable to sleep. He kept reliving the day and how useless he had felt, unable to keep his family safe. The family he had found who was everything to him. He had been alone for much of his life. It was one of the reasons he had left the priesthood. While working with Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and teaching children had been good work, it couldn't fill the hole of loneliness and hurt that the war in Texas had left him with. He had joined the priesthood to try and find God again but he had wondered if God had given up on him. It him wasn't until he had met Nathan Jackson and then the other five peacekeepers that he started to come up out of the darkness that had settled on his soul. Today he had almost lost it again, and it worried him that tomorrow or the next day they wouldn't be so lucky. Josiah swore once more that he would do everything in his power to protect his new family.
Vin held tight to the man sleeping in his arms. Today they could have lost everything. Being peacekeepers was danger enough, but when your past finally catches up with you there is a loss of control that Vin found to be even more dangerous. Today was just another example. Vin had already faced his past once, when Eli Joe had shown up in Four Corners looking for him. Vin knew that it was only a matter of time before his past came looking for him again, and he resolved to meet it head on. He and Ezra had talked about the bounty on his head Maybe the time was right finally to take some action.
Suddenly Ezra was moving and moaning as a dark dream took hold. Vin stroked his hair to try and quiet him, as he began to mutter about reloading and cannons.
Buck slept alone that night, but in his dreams he was with Inez. Not in bed, but outside. Inez was in a garden surrounded by flowers. Their children ran around the yard, playing a game of tag. Buck took Inez's hand and together they joined the children in their game. Buck smiled, clutched his pillow to him and slept on.
In his room at the boarding house JD held Casey in his arms as she slept. In the morning he would take her home to Nettie's and formally ask for her hand in marriage. He knew that her aunt would say yes. He was a little afraid that the old woman would be waiting with her Spencer when they arrived. He was a little surprised that she hadn't come to town hours ago looking for her niece, but figured Casey must have given her a good reason why she wasn't coming home tonight. Right now JD didn't care, Casey was here with him and that was all that mattered. Maybe he could get Vin to ride out with them. Nettie liked the young man and maybe he could smooth the way for JD. With this plan in mind, the young man allowed sleep to claim him.
In the church, Josiah finally slept. If asked tomorrow about his dreams, he would swear that he had none. He had found his peace in the love of his friends and tonight there was nothing to worry about any more. Tomorrow would take care of itself.
At the jail, Chris picked up the book Josiah had left behind and tried to read, but he couldn't concentrate on the words. He put the book down and thought about what Mary had said. Could he change his life again to become once more that type of man who was a good husband and father? He had done it before, or had he? If he was that kind of man, would he have left his family alone to ride off to Mexico with Buck? He should have been at home when the men came for him. He should have been able to save his family. Maybe Mary was right. His life invited danger. His past would always be there to haunt him. If he hung up his guns tomorrow, was it inevitable that someone would come to look for him? After all, if Reed had hunted Ezra all these years then surely there were people out there hunting for him. Was it only a matter of time before they found him?
Vin had seen this nightmare before, the night before they had left the Seminole village. He had not been able to hold Ezra then, they had been strangers, but not now. Now Vin held him tight as Ezra's face moved against Vin's shoulder, his mouth opening, his tongue moving from collarbone up throat to jaw, then mouths joined in a devouring kiss. Vin moved their bodies until Ezra was under him, hard cocks coming into contact. As legs started to wrap around him and hips started to surge, Vin pulled away slightly.
"No, you lay still, let me do this," he commanded as his mouth moved down Ezra's body, kissing, biting, leaving a wet trail of marks behind until he came to his rock hard shaft.
"Vin," Ezra moaned and as Vin took him in his mouth. Ezra's hips started to move until Vin held him down. Ezra's arms were moving and Vin felt something tap against his head. He stopped what he was doing and looked up to see his love handing him the tin of lotion they used when they loved each other. Vin put some lotion in his hand, then his mouth returned to what he had been doing and his hand began to prepare Ezra's entrance. Using three fingers, his longest reached out and stroked Ezra's sweet spot. Vin could feel his own cock begin to throb as Ezra writhed beneath him.
"Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, Blue," Ezra cried as he came and Vin swallowed all he had to give.
Vin moved back up his lover's body to capture his mouth in a deep, passionate kiss. Ezra moved so that his legs and hips came up. "Now, Vin, please," Ezra begged and Vin thrust forward, making them one. Careful of his bandaged feet, Ezra still managed to wrap his legs around Vin's waist. Vin paused, giving Ezra time to adjust. When Ezra's hips started moving, so did Vin, slowly at first but picking up speed. Ezra bit his lip to keep from crying out but still made little sounds with every thrust. Vin looked deep into green eyes for a moment, then bent to briefly crush his lips against those beneath him. He then raised himself up on his elbows as his thrusts became harder and faster. His right hand reached between them to grasp the hardness he found there. Hand moving with the thrust of his hips, Vin could tell that Ezra was as close as he was. With a series of hard thrusts, Vin filled his love and could feel the answering warmth as it shot across his hand and their bodies. As he collapsed upon the body below him, Ezra's arms grabbed him, keeping him from moving away from him.
"Stay a moment. I need to feel you with me. I need to know we are still here together."
Vim swore to himself that he would fight anyone to make sure that happened. The life they led was hard, maybe they wouldn't be able to grow old together, but they would die trying.
Midnight in Four Corners
Chris Larabee sat in the jail. The prisoners were asleep. Another day was over and his men were all alive. Not a bad way to end a day. Chris was thankful for the men who were like brothers to him. It was good to have a second chance at family. He missed Sarah and Adam so much it hurt. He missed Mary, Billy and the family he was not going to start with them. He felt so alone.
Outside, the town slept. Another day in Four Corners was over.
Tom Sawyer was published in 1876. My story, while not date specific, takes place earlier than that, only a few years after the end of the war. But I have always wanted to compare Ezra to Tom.
Buck's dream at 1:00 am is in part a direct quote from the episode Penance.
Finally, I know I played fast and loose with time, but do you know how hard it is to write seven characters hour by hour for 24 hours?
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that GoneToTheDogs would love to hear from you.
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