The Biggest Gamble
Sequel to the episode "Vendetta"
Vin paused on the edge of entering the saloon. He looked into the darkened, smoky room and took a deep breath. The broken swingdoors had been removed and would need to be replaced as they were beyond repair, having taken the brunt of the Nichols brother's attack.
Nathan was still tending the many injured, both his friends and the Nichols brothers who had survived the battle. Buck, after having his own injury treated, had refused to rest, insisting on sitting with JD who had collapsed at the end of the fighting and had yet to regain consciousness. While Nathan was worried, he was unwilling to share his concerns for the boy with his friends and would wait until morning before he started to panic.
Josiah had had his wounds treated and had gone to the small church to sit a silent vigil with Ma Nichols. She sat silently between the three coffins of her dead sons, her rosary beads clutched tightly in her hands as she mumbled her prayers for the lives she had caused to be lost.
Chris Larabee had accompanied Hank's body to the undertakers and then had collared Vin and begun a patrol of the town which was badly shaken after witnessing the bitter battle of earlier.
Nathan had cornered Ezra an hour earlier and had forcibly checked his left hand which he had used to lift up the top of the smoke tack on the wagon. His fingers were raw and blistered, and obviously painful, but he had tried to re-direct Nathan's attention to the other wounded. The healer, however, had just brushed aside his words and applied some salve and wrapped the hand up to stop infection.
Vin looked up and down the street once more. Evening had fallen on the small town and the fire stacks that gave light to the main street had been lit. Larabee had moodily taken up residence in the sheriff's office and would no doubt spend the night awake, watching over the town he now considered to be home.
Tanner on the other hand had gone in search of a stiff drink. He felt that after the last two days he needed it. With that thought in mind he finally entered the saloon and strolled up to the bar, his gun hanging easily at his side, a heavy reassuring weight.
He tapped the bar and motioned towards the whiskey bottles that sat on the shelves. The barman, who had only crawled from his hiding place a short while ago, gladly poured the bounty hunter a drink.
Vin looked at the amber liquid for a few moments before swiftly putting it to his lips and swallowing it in one gulp. He grimaced and then motioned for his glass to be filled again. The barman was quick to comply and when he would have removed the bottle, Tanner reached out and grabbed his hand. The barman, seeing the look in Vin's eyes, released the bottle and scurried back along the bar towards safer ground.
The bounty hunter felt tired. Bone tired. It had been a hard couple of days and he never found it easy to settle after the type of fight that they had lived through that day. He was also concerned for his friends. JD, Buck and Josiah had all been injured; Chris who was now brooding over the death of his father-in-law, no doubt feeling guilty that he had not handled the situation better; Nathan who was spending the night tending the injured, and would stay by their side through the long hours. And finally Ezra. The gambler who had began to intrude into the tracker's dreams. The thought of those long steady hands made Vin swallow hard as he imagined the talented fingers travelling with growing knowledge over his body. Drawing from a strength that he was always surprised he possessed, he pushed thoughts of Ezra Standish from his mind.
Vin sighed again letting his weariness overtake him. Turning back to that afternoon he let his mind drift. He had been shocked at the sight of JD's features as the youngest member of the team had slipped to the ground after being brutally beaten by the Nichols brothers as a lesson for the Seven. The swelling around the boy's face had made the ex-bounty hunter shudder in fear. He had known people go blind from such an attack on the face. Yet the youngster had been conscious enough to save Ezra's life by shooting one of the Nichols gang when he would have fired on the gambler perched on the roof of the wagon.
As the gambler once again came to mind Tanner looked about the room. Ezra had been noticeable in his absence that afternoon. He had assisted with moving the injured Nichols brothers to the hotel where Nathan had treated the worst of the injured first. Then Standish had slipped away to check on JD, returning in a hurry to report that Casey was in near hysterics as the boy had collapsed shortly after firing the shot that saved Ezra's life and was now laying unconscious.
Nathan had calmly finished removing the bullets from the Nichols son who had been shot twice and bandaged the young man up before he had followed the gambler to check on the youngest member of the Seven. Once it had been established that JD had just succumbed to his injuries and should recover by morning, the gambler had again slipped from the room and disappeared.
Now Tanner looked about the saloon and saw him sitting at a table at the back of the room. Almost hidden from view.
Lifting the bottle of whisky, Tanner moved in the direction of his friend and made to sit down.
"I'd rather be alone if you don't mind, Mr Tanner." Came the quiet voice of the gambler. Vin looked up in some surprise. Ezra was sat in such away that the bounty hunter could not make contact with his eyes.
"Well I'd appreciate some company," Tanner shot back, surprised at himself. Normally he would have respected the gambler's need to be alone but this time there was something in the other man's tone that told him that to do so now would not be in Ezra's best interest. The bounty hunter was also shaken by the fact that he had nearly lost the man who sat before him. He needed to be near his friend. He knew that he would never tell the gambler what he really felt for him, how his body would react whenever the other man said his name, how his breath would shorten when he glanced up and saw Ezra slowly descend the stairs from the upper level of the saloon where his bedroom lay.
The gambler did not replied, but a bandaged hand did slip across the table and snatch up the bottle of whisky that Tanner had deposited beside his own glass. A drink was poured and swallowed without comment.
Vin sat silent for several moments before he asked, his tone harsher then he intended because of his own anguish at the sight that he remembered, "Why... why did you place yourself in such danger...." Not being able to see Ezra eyes on him he finished, "you could have been killed when you climbed onto that wagon."
Silence greeted his words, but he looked up and glared in the general direction of where he knew the gamblers face to be. Finally a sigh answered him before Ezra said.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time." The gambler was tired, his voice was dripping with weariness.
"Well it was a stupid thing to do," snapped Vin, unable to stop himself as he downed another full glass.
"Mr Tanner..." Ezra began, his voice slow and measured as if trying to make a child understand. "I didn't see that I had much choice..."
"Vin..." Tanner suddenly burst out, snatching up the bottle again and pouring another healthy slug into his glass and tossing it back. "My name is Vin, damn it... not Mr Tanner... call me Vin..."
Dead silence greeted his little outburst, then another sigh which was followed by the gambler's soft tone. "Vin... we were in a very dangerous position... it was only a matter of time before they managed to hit one of us... and they had the advantage with that contraption of a wagon... I did what I had to, to save our lives."
Tanner didn't see it that way and he exploded. Pushing up and moving swiftly around the table he yanked the gambler out of his chair and up close to his own face. Now he could see the other man's eyes, they were green, and wide in shock and disbelief. "Nathan and I were closing in on them... we'd gotten behind them... you didn't need to risk your damn life." He emphasised the last words with a rough shake of the smaller man.
"Mr Tann... Vin." Ezra gasped, struggling to get out of the other's grasp. "I did what I felt was necessary..." he began, seriously worried by the gleam in the other's eyes and the fact that he had laid such rough hands on him. "Beside, it's my life... my risk...." Whatever else he had been about to say was lost as the bounty hunter began to drag him towards the back entrance of the saloon, and out into the alleyway at the back.
Nobody moved to assist the gambler, as the man had a reputation of being able to look after himself and the hunter's face warned off anyone fool hardy enough to try.
As they burst out into the darkened alleyway, Ezra caught his breath and demanded. "What the hell do you think you are doing?" He opened his mouth to take another breath to protest, but was prevented as the other man tossed him up against the wall, and followed him, holding him in position with his own strong limbed body. Then his head was grasped and his mouth was taken.
It was not a gentle kiss, a lover's brushing of lips. It was hard, desperate and controlled. There was so much anger behind the joining of lips. It was almost brutal, and it was the most sensational attack that Ezra had ever suffered. His mouth was forced open and a tongue attacked his mouth, seeking and finding and conquering it's partner in his own mouth.
The body pressed against him, moved and a leg was pushed between his own, and he felt the hard throb of manhood from the other man. His eyes widened, as he took in the shadowed face before him. Tanner's own eyes were closed as he put every ounce of his anger, concern, worry and love into the joining of their mouths. His hands slowly slipped down Ezra's head, to his neck, one still holding him in position there, while its mate sought to get under the clothes that he was wearing, to burrow under the shirt, until he could gently caress Standish's skin, from his hip to his chest, slipping across his nipple that peaked to meet the invader.
Finally after what seemed like ages, but was in fact only a few scant minutes, Tanner lifted his head, and met the other's look. "Not only your life Ezra... not just yours... you risk mine as well... damn you." Then the lips were back, seeking and demanding entry, and for the first time in his life the gambler knew when his hand had been beaten. His own body betrayed him, as he groaned into the kiss, his lips opened under this second attack and his own tongue slipped out to duel for dominance with the other.
Vin growled at this sign of acquiescence and pushed harder against the smaller body, rubbing, almost humping himself against the smaller man he held captive against the wall. Finding and squeezing the taut nipple under the crisp white shirt. The stimulation was too much, had been held in check for too longer. Tanner pulled back his head, gasping in fresh air as he came, his body pumping his life force again and again against the body that he held.
Finally Vin stood, weak kneed and almost swooning so great had his release been, held upright only by Ezra's steadying grasp. Vin leaned into the body he had desired above all else and gently pressing his forehead against that of Ezra's he gasped, "I'm sorry... so sorry... I can't... I just..." Finally, knowing that nothing but the truth would suffice he confessed, "I thought that I had lost you today... when I saw you... jump... onto... that wagon... saw how near... that bullet was to you when it smashed that bottle..."
The gambler licked at his ravaged and swollen lips, his own body had spilled forth it's seed when he'd felt the hot spurt from Tanner's body. The release had been just as devestating as the bounty hunters, but this had been quickly followed by disbelief and shock. Finally he found his voice and pulling himself together he gently but firmly pushed the now steady bounty hunter away and offered, "your... er... admiration had caught me somewhat at a disadvantage Mr Tanner... I had no idea that you...." He paused, not sure what words to use. "that you... viewed me... with such... desire." He finished lamely, his own tone peaking with the last word.
"Ezra..." Vin interrupted, reaching up and gently, of so gently, running a finger about the other's mouth, outlining the lush passion swollen lips. "I've... desired..." he spoke the words as if for the first time, "you from the first day I saw you..."
Again Ezra gently pushed the other's hand away, and this time slipped from under the body that was still pressing him into the wall. He held up a hand to prevent Tanner from speaking further as he said, "Mr Tanner... This has come, as I am sure you are aware, as somewhat of a shock to myself... I have to be honest and say that you have never, ever exhibited the slightest interest in me... in that manner before... I was not aware you'd even noticed me except for that time that you demanded money from me to pay for Mrs Welles' farm." The gambler's voice had risen with each word, his tone laced with growing hysteria.
Vin started towards the other man, intent on capturing him again and holding him close, wanting to caress all his worry and panic away but Ezra slipped backwards again, and this time his little deringer appeared in his hand. "I am not in the mood to be manhandled again." The gambler snapped his eyes flashing as he continued, "I want this matter settled... and now."
"What do you want me to say Ezra... that I desire you." He again spoke the words as if testing it for the first time, "that seeing you makes my heart beat faster, hearing your voice shortness my breath... that I would wait until you were in the bathhouse before I went to have my bath?"
"This is not right." Ezra snarled, his green eyes flashing, his hand shaking as he insisted, "you and Larabee... that I could see... you hang about the man like a lovelorn puppy as it is... you agree with his every plan, you swallow his every order... you obey his every command..."
Tanner smiled leisurely, not at all concerned by the small gun pointing at him as he offered, "You sounding a mite jealous there Ezra?"
"I am not jealous..." the gambler snapped, angered all over again, but lowering his gun as he spoke, "I am...." He glanced about searching for the right words, finally he slumped his shoulders and offered, "I am confused." He tilted green eyes up to meet those of his enforced lover.
Tanner felt his breath catch, and licking at his lips he swallowed hard before he offered, "To be honest... Chris isn't my type..." he signed and continued, "I admire the man... greatly... and I would follow him into hell and back.... But I could never... love him..."
"LOVE!!!" Ezra exclaimed, his voice horrified, "love... who mentioned love... we were talking about desire... your lust for my body..." the gambler stammered to a stop as he suddenly heard what he was saying. His mouth snapped shut and his eyes flashed again as he hissed, his gun back up and waving at the man standing before him, "it's one thing to lust after another man's body." His voice shook as he spoke, "to desire his flesh... I've done that myself in the past." He again waved aside the look of hope that had entered the other's expression at his words, but he continued harshly, "but love... now that isn't what we are talking about." He said it firmly as if the mere words would convince the other man of what he was saying.
Tanner slowly shook his head, his expression pitying the other man. "I'm sorry Ezra... I thought you understood... I mean... I don't..." he paused, this time it was he searching for the right words. "I don't do one night stands... I don't lust... it's not just your body I want, it's your mind, the way you play cards, the way hold yourself, walk... that smile you get when you win a hand, or con someone, or when they flatly refuse to play by your rules, so you have to make up new ones... the way you wear a table cloth..." he put in with a sneaky smile, "your voice...."
"That's it... that's it." Standish was almost quivering with outrage as he stammered, "this is not the Vin Tanner I know speaking... not the bounty hunter who won't say ten words to me from one day's end to the next... who spends days riding patrol outside of town because you can't stand to be settled in one place to long... you don't LOVE ME!" he spat the words out as if it's very sound offended him, "this is a joke, right." He span about looking into the shadows as if expecting the others to leap out of it. "You're in this with Wilmington... you know this isn't very funny..."
Tanner now looked concerned and worried as he offered, reaching out a hand, that was slapped away, "this isn't a joke Ezra... I'm sorry if this upsets you... I can't explain why I feel the way I do... I just know that when I saw you on that wagon today, I nearly died... my heart was in my mouth, I wanted to rush across the street and throw you off that damn wagon. I wanted to keep you safe." Vin swallowed and slumping down in defeat he stated, "I knew then what I felt... I'd been denying it for months... trying to stay out of your way... not talking to you... I thought... I thought it would go away..." he sighed he really had tried, "I've only every loved one other person, and he...." He stopped and looked up his eyes wet with remembrance, "he was killed.... In a cavalry raid on the village."
Ezra took a step forward, drawn by the other's obvious pain, "he was an Indian?" The gambler knew that the Indians took a softer view of men loving men, and if he was honest he was not opposed to a male lover... had found himself eyeing the slimly, strongly built bounty hunter on occasion. No it was not the lust that frightened him, it was just the aspect of love that scared him. He had never been loved, not just for himself, even his mother had not been able to offer that. Her love had always carried a label or a price. The thought that someone could care about him that deeply, just because of who he was alarmed him more then he liked to admit.
"Yes... Running Swift River... I knew him since we were children... we fooled about some, then it got serious... until... one day I returned to the camp to find that he had been killed.... He had been injured the week before... was unable to hunt with us that day..." Tanner closed his eyes and swallowed his pain. Long moments passed before he offered, "I'm sorry Ezra... I didn't mean to..." he paused and waved his hand about, indicating the wall where he had ravaged the other man. "It was just... after today... I swore... swore that I would not tell you how I felt... but I guess... my anger just got away with me."
Ezra watched the other man closely, could see the pain that the other man's confession had cost him, "I don't think that I have every loved anyone." He began honestly, "I had a dog once... ginger..." he smiled at the look that Vin threw him and he shrugged, it wasn't' the same as Tanner's story but it was the closest to it that he could explain. "I guess I loved that dog... he was a constant companion..." his tone then turned cold and bitter. "Until he became too much of a burden... he got in the way of one of mothers cons... he was gone the next day... when I awoke... mother said he'd run away...." He stopped angry at how choked he'd got and over a damn dog.
Suddenly arms reached for him and he slipped into the welcoming embrace. They stood silently for several minutes, Vin just holding the man he had come to love, Ezra with his head tucked under the taller man's chin. He felt warm and nurtured, a feeling he had never really felt and he decided that he liked it.
"I guess if you wanted to give it a go... we could try." Ezra finally ventured, his own arms slipping about the slim waist. Tanner gently pushed him away, not enough to break the contact, just to look down into his eyes and stated.
"You're not opposed to having er... sex with a man?"
"In case you didn't notice... I er... enjoyed our encounter as well..." he motioned to the wet patch in his own trousers. The he grew serious, "I haven't been with many men..." seeing the questioning look he offered, "there was one... in my youth... more experimentation really."
"If we do this... you have to mean it... there will be rules... commitment."
The gambler paled slightly and offered with sincerity, "I'm not really interested in women... they tend to rob me any ways." He confided with a slightly disheartening look. "and this... this love aspect fascinates me..."
"So you're willing to take a gamble then?" Vin asked, his lips curling as he spoke.
"If you are honest when you say that you love me, then I can't refuse... the odds already seem to be in my favour." Standish said, a slight smile curving his own lips before he added, "besides if I'm honest I've checked out your er... body a time or two myself."
The bounty hunter laughed and commented, "I always wondered why I could never get behind you when we rode."
The gambler laughed and offered warmly, "I always thought you were interested in Mr Larabee, that I didn't think I stood a chance."
Tanner pulled Standish back into a tight embrace and gently rubbed his hands down until he cupped the others backside, pulling him closer until he could not help but feel the growing erection. "Chris has never done this to me..."
Ezra laughed nervously and offered, "Why Mr Tanner... I really do think we ought to move this somewhere more private... like my room."
"Ezra..." the bounty hunter spoke his lips a mare whisper away from those of the other man. "I told you before it's Vin... VIN... not Mr Tanner...." Then he lowered his lips and crushed the other man to him, words were forgotten, places and bedrooms for several long minutes. Finally lifting his head Tanner whispered, "my wagon's closer."
The gambler gasped several breaths before he answered firmly, "but my bedroom has a big... BIG bed and besides, I think I've worn out my luck in wagons today." With that he gently disengaged himself and taking the other's hand he lead him back into the saloon, dropping his hand just before they entered the lively building.
As they made their way to the stairs that lead to the upper rooms, Vin snatched up the whiskey bottle they had left and moving up the stairs he gently laid a hand on Ezra's backside. It was an action that went unnoticed by the other patrons, but it informed the gambler in no uncertain terms that the biggest game and gamble of his life was about to begin. He knew that it was not going to be easy. He was sure that Tanner would not let him stray - the hand on his backside was too possessive for that.
He shivered at the thought of the night to come, unable to keep the smile off his face.
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