The Biggest Gamble Part 2
Back to: The Biggest Gamble Part 1
Ezra woke with a start. He lay blinking for a few seconds while the events of the last night caught up with him. He carefully pulled the sheets down and peeked over them. He was alone in the bedroom and he realised that it was the door closing that had awoken him.
He settled back and let out a sigh. He felt content and terrified at the same time. Content because he had spend a wonderful night of loving with Vin Tanner, and terrified because he had spent a wonderful night of loving, and not sex, with Vin Tanner.
Ezra had to admit that he had been nervous the night before when they had first entered the bedroom but the other man had sensed this and they had not progressed beyond what the gambler had been comfortable with. So they had used their hands and in Tanner's case his very capable mouth to bring them both to completion. Ezra was honest enough to admit that he was not sure if he was really ready to give himself to another man, and the tracker had been swift to assure him that if it happened, it would be when they were both ready for it.
A smile slipped across Ezra's face as he remembered the touch of the other man and, taking a deep breath, he snuggled back under the blankets and allowed his mind to drift, playing over the events of the night before.
He lay there for several moments before he realised that he didn't want to waste his time in bed when his lover... this gave him pause and he said the word out loud, allowing it to roll about the room, "Lover." While his lover waited for him downstairs. With a sudden rush of energy he swept the blankets back and leapt from the bed.
He spent the barest of time getting washed and dressed and was soon leaving the room that still smelled of the sex... No, loving. He smiled again, he was starting to enjoying using the love word. It had not been one that he had considered using before in connection with his affairs.
He stopped, his hand resting on the door handle in sudden uncertainty. Was he being a fool? Was it possible that a man like Tanner could really have such feelings for him, and that the bounty hunter could use the word love so freely in connection with himself? And was Ezra sure that he really loved... wanted him back?
A well of self doubt rose in the gambler and he considered the events of the night before again, this time slowly going over the images one by one. At each reflection he tested his own emotions. He had to admit that although he had watched the tracker from a distance, had admired his sleek form and his easy manner of walking, talking and living, he had never considered him as a lover because Ezra had always thought that Tanner's affection was directed towards Larabee. The two men seemed to have an unshakeable faith in each other.
Yet last night Tanner had nearly attacked him, roughly throwing him up against the wall outside the bar, kissing him in such a manner that the gambler was left in no doubt exactly what the other man's feelings for him were.
Remembering that kiss, Ezra reached out and touched his lips. It had felt good to be held all night in the loving embrace of Vin. The tracker had not left him after they had finished, like so many of his previous lovers. Had not even asked if Ezra wanted to be left. He had just assumed that it was now his place to stay, and while it shook the gambler to admit it, he also felt the same way.
Firmly pushing his doubts aside, the gambler opened the door and stepped into the narrow hallway. He was not sure if what he felt for the tracker was love or not, but what he did feel was enough for him to be going on with.
As he approached the stairs he glanced over the banister and paused. It was still early enough that the bar below was nearly empty. Just two people sat at a table, Chris and Vin. A pot of coffee sat between them and two empty plates had been pushed aside and both men now sat nursing their coffee. As Ezra stood there, hidden in the shadow he heard them talking.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Chris asked, his tone tinged with concern.
Tanner looked across at the other man and fought to suppress the sigh that wanted to escape his chest. "That's between Ezra and me, Chris." He finally said, his tone indicating that it was not a matter open for discussion, but the other man ignored his words saying instead.
"Have you forgotten that he run out on us?"
"No." Vin sighed again before he pointed out, "but he came back."
"Yes.... But how man people in that village died because he choose to go after the gold instead of watching their backs?"
"He admitted his mistake, Chris... I know he's not perfect, but then are any of us?"
Larabee gave a hiss of annoyance and took a deep swallow of his coffee before he spoke again, this time his voice was bitter and his tone harsh as he informed his friend, "he will hurt you, Vin... it's his nature... he won't be able to help himself... damn it... it's in his blood, you've seen his mother... how she uses men to get what she wants... her son is cut from the same cloth."
Tanner stood up, roughly pushing back his chair, his face twisted with anger as he spat back, "damn it, Chris, this has got nothing to do with you... it's between me and Ezra."
"No.. this is between the seven of us... out of all of you, Ezra is the one I can't swear will be at my back when I need him."
"He was at your back yesterday... with the Nichols brothers... he nearly got shot out there or have you forgotten that?" Tanner fired back. Reaching to pick up the chair that had crashed to the floor, he righted it and slowly slipped back into it.
"This could tear the group apart.... Is that what you want?"
Silence ruled for several moments as Chris' words sunk in and finally Vin answered, "I can't help the way I feel... I love him... I don't know why.... But I do... God help me." He turned pleading eyes on the man who sat before him. Larabee said nothing, just sat watching the pain in his friend's face and felt a twinge of sorrow that he was the one to dull the light in the tracker's eyes.
Meanwhile, upstairs Ezra stood as still as a statue not even daring to breath in case the men below heard him. Slowly reaching out a hand to guide him he staggered blindly back towards his room. After ensuring that the door was closed he slumped against the hard wood.
His face was pale, his expression shattered and he felt sick. He could feel his stomach turning as he recalled the harsh words that Larabee had spoken. And what made them hurt even more was the fact that the gunslinger had been correct. How many people at the Seminole village had died because of him? And his mother was a con artist, who had brought her son up to survive in that manner, to him it was second nature to see a person, and automatically judge their worth by what he could get off them. He swallowed and slowly slipped down the door until he was sitting, his knees drawn up, head listlessly resting on them.
Larabee was right. He would hurt Tanner. It was as undeniable as the sun that would rise to herald the dawn. No matter how much he might believe that he loved the man, no matter that he felt his own heart twist with the realisation that to hurt Vin was to rip into his own flash, he would hurt the tracker. If not tomorrow then next week or in the months that followed. He would cause that dear gentle, considerate lover of the night before to suffer.
He gasped when he felt the warm trickle of tears escape. He so hated it when he cried, it was such a sign of weakness and his mother had never allowed him to show weakness. Reaching up he roughly scrubbed at his eyes, his mind slowly forming a plan. Yes, he was a conman and he now knew what he had to do. It would hurt, Lord it would hurt, he would not deny that. He smiled bitterly, yes, he had known that last night. He had been sure that to fall in love would hurt but he had done it anyway.
He gasped at the pain in his chest and forced it back. No, it was better to hurt Vin Tanner now, today, shatter his illusions rather than allow them to fall into a relationship which would end up causing more pain. Better that he, Ezra, suffer the agony alone than allow his lover to feel it's burning torment as well.
Slowly, unsteadily, he clambered to his feet and made his way to the water pitcher and bowl that stood on the dressing table and, pouring some water, he carefully washed his face. It was important that an artist look his best before a performance. Appearance was everything.
He took a few deep breaths and again wiped his face. Once he was satisfied with the image that returned his trembling smile in the mirror he headed towards the door, this time noisily announcing his presence, as he slammed the door and strolled towards the staircase, a jaunty tune whistling from his lips
As he reached the top he looked down and saw the two men looking up at him, Vin with a gentle smile and Chris with a hard look. He drew himself up straighter, forcibly pushing back the nagging thought that this was not right, and moved down towards the other two men.
"Why good morning Mr Larabee..." Ezra greeted, his voice bright and over cheerful. "I didn't expect to find anyone about at this ungodly hour."
"I couldn't sleep." Chris offered, his tone indicating that he had not got any further with his conversation with Tanner.
"How are you feeling, Ezra?" Vin asked, his tone showing just a hint of concern and a frown at the other man's bright cheerfulness.
"Me... Me?" The gambler repeated before winking broadly at the other man, "why Mr Tanner, I feel just fine... I have to admit that you certainly know who to make a man wake up with a smile on his face."
Tanner smiled shyly back and offered, his tone still edged with uncertainly and hint of a frown, "I was glad to be of service."
"Yes indeed, of service you certainly were..." Ezra continued gathering himself and looking about the room, showing just the right amount of waning disinterest as he added, "I will certainly make a point of letting you know the next time I fancy your er... services."
"My services!!!" Tanner repeated, the meaning of Ezra's words finally hitting him. He sat up straighter in the chair, his face draining of colour, as the gambler continued, having turned his attention towards the gunslinger.
"Mr Larabee, I have to tell you that Mr Tanner has some incredible talents that have nothing to do with his, er, ability to track. In fact, I can image that quite a few bounties would have allowed themselves to be caught a damn sight quicker, if they had known what kind of services he can offer."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Chris demanded, seeing the hurt that slipped across Vin's face, and not liking the way the conversation seemed to be going. He also didn't like the way Ezra was talking, it was almost hyper, as if he could not get the words out fast enough. 'What the hell was Standish up to now,' he wondered.
"Oh come now, Mr Larabee... don't tell me that you're not aware of what a talented mouth our young tracker has." The gambler laugh out loud as he added, "While Mr Tanner might not say a lot he certainly knows how to use his mouth... if you get my drift." He winked at Larabee, then staggered back a step as Vin jumped up and swept into Ezra's personal space.
"What the hell are you talking about, Ezra?"
Standish stood back and blinking owlish he said with just the right amount of uncertainly in his tone, "I'm sorry, Mr tanner, I mean... last night you said you didn't give a damn who knew.... I just assumed that Mr Larabee would know? I thought..." Then as if seeing the hurt expression on the other's face for the first time he opened his mouth, snapped it shut then asked, his tone filled this time with just the right amount of disbelief, "Mr Tanner, surely you didn't mean all that dribble about being in love with me?" He laughed out loud in disbelief, before he continued as if talking to a very young immature youth, "Oh Vin, we're not children... Sure it was nice to hear the words, and it had the right effect, I mean you got what you wanted... and well," Ezra smiled that sickening smile again as he continued, "I certainly got what I wanted... but really... in the cold light of day, Mr Tanner, the reality of the situation has got to be better than mooning over a relationship that I for one, don't have any intention of pursuing...."
He never got any further as he was sent spiralling towards the floor. He landed hard, his upper back crashing into the bottom steps and his head striking the wood with a sickening thud. The world shattered for several long seconds before he came back to himself and tried to regain his breath. Finally reality came sharply back into focus just in time for Ezra to see Vin snatching himself out of the tight grip that Larabee had on him, and stooping in close to the fallen man. "You bastard... I meant it last night... every word..." he snarled.
Standish watched in genuine horror as Tanner took a step back, and he honestly thought that Vin was going to kick him, but instead the man drew himself up to his full height and spat, contempt colouring every word. "You know... you were right Chris, he isn't worth the effort." With that he was gone.
Silence filled the room. It was oppressive and suddenly deadly. Larabee slowly turned back from watching Tanner leave the saloon and, looking down at the fallen man in disgust, he hissed, "I'd kill you... but he's right, you're not worth the effort... but I hope, I sincerely hope, that one day someone hurts you as much as you have just hurt that man." Larabee paused a moment before he added, his tone dripping contempt, "and I hope I'm there to witness it." With that he to span about and strolled from the saloon.
Ezra lay where he had fallen for several long moments, stunned, bitterly remembering the tormented expression on his lover's face. He could feel his face swelling, the pain throbbing as it warned him about the damage done. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes again fighting the tears of pity that threatened as he offered painfully in reply, "You were Mr Larabee.... You were." With that the man staggered to his feet, gasping as his back and side informed him of further injury from the attack. Pushing aside the pain he lurched to the bar where he slowly, painfully reached over and pulled two bottles up. Carrying them both securely under his arms, he made his way back to his room, suddenly unable to face the empty day ahead sober.
The day passed in a haze of alcohol for Ezra Standish. Once back in his room he'd slumped onto the bed after removing his tie and loosening his shirt. Opening a bottle, he had taken a deep, long swallow, and while the burning liquid did little to ease his pain, after a few more swallows it did make it easier to face.
By the time the first bottle was empty he was laying on the bed. By the end of the second he was unconscious in a drunken stupor, the wet track of bitterly shed tears showing clearly on his pale face.
Tanner fled from the bar and headed towards the stable. With shaking hands he saddled his horse and rode out of Four Corners. He needed to put as much space as possible between himself and the gambler. He wanted to hurt the man, wanted to cause him as much pain as Ezra had caused him. But he knew that to do that, he would have to kill the handsome man he had spent time loving the night before.
As the land raced by under his horse's hooves, he mindlessly allowed the animal free rein and soon had placed many miles between him and the town. Finally the horse slowed to a canter and then a walk. Tanner never paid any mind to the scene that passed by, instead he was remembering the night before. The gentle kisses that had passed between Ezra and himself. The lips that had blazoned a trail down his body, hesitating just above his straining cock. Obviously what he had thought to be shyness and inexperience had in fact been Ezra's unwillingness to lower himself to the level of a whore.
And for the first time in his life Vin Tanner felt like a whore. He had honestly believed that Ezra Standish was a man that he could love, and who would love him back. He was so sure that he had seen the longing in the other's eyes. Had known that Ezra carried scars from his childhood just like Vin himself did. Tanner had never really known the meaning of love in his young life, until he had been taken in by the Indians and fallen in love with Running Swift River. He closed his eyes, bitterness again washing over him. How could he have told the gambler about his first love? He felt as if he had somehow cheapened his love for the Indian by even mentioning Running Swift River to Ezra.
He felt anger rise afresh and fought the urge to return to Four Corners and beat the memory of the night before from the gambler who had ripped out his heart and stamped on it. He suddenly leant back and let out a yell of pure agony. The horse under him jumped nervously and broke into a trot. The tracker jerked on the reins and roughly re-gained control. His pain would not fade quickly but now at least he had anger to temper against it.
Chris Larabee sat outside the jail, his chair slanted back against the wall on two legs, and contemplated the scene that he had witnessed that morning. He shifted uneasily and sighed deeply as it played again and again in his mind. Something was not right, of that he was certain but he was unable to put his finger on what exactly was disturbing him.
"Chris." Nathan greeted the seated man as he approached.
"How's JD?" the blond haired man asked, straightening in his seat and pushing his concerns for Tanner and Standish aside.
"Awake and moaning... mostly about Buck... those two are worse than an old married couple." Nathan smiled back as he remembered the reason why he had fled from his small bedroom-cum-clinic. "I had to escape..."
Larabee smiled back at him, "I know what you mean... Buck can be a pain in the arse when he gets into mother hen mode."
Nathan looked slightly surprised, then sceptical before he asked, "and you would know that because?"
Larabee laughed and offered in quiet confidence, "'cause ever since I've known him, he's been the same... I'm just glad he's fixed it all on JD... 'cause I was coming damn close to shooting him."
"Amen to that brother," Josiah commented coming up just in time to hear the last part of the conversation. His arm was resting comfortably in a sling and he still looked pale but not enough for Nathan to comment on. The healer knew that the preacher knew how to pace himself after an injury and he respected him for that. Looking about, Josiah stated his tone concerned, "I've not seen brother Tanner today... I take it he did come back last night from his patrol?"
Chris fell silent for a few moments before he answered slowly, "Yes... he came back late last night.... But... he went out again this morning, right early."
"Out... again?" Nathan asked raising his eyebrow.
"Yeah.... He wanted to check something out... left early... daybreak... should be back either late tonight or tomorrow." He didn't add the 'I hope' though he thought it.
"Well, with Buck, JD and Josiah out of commission for the day, we'd better drag Ezra out of his warm bed to keep watch with us." Nathan stated, not really liking the idea of spending the whole day in the company of the gambler.
"No." Chris replied, a little too sharply for it not to be noticed.
"No?" Josiah asked, tilting his head and rasing an eyebrow in question.
Larabee suddenly looked uncomfortable at his slip, before he sighed and stated, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the others found out and deciding that it was better to come from him than anyone else, "Vin and Ezra... they, er... had words last night... and this morning..."
"Words?" Nathan asked, his tone filling with concern, then his face tightened as he demanded "What the hell did Ezra say to get Vin upset and drive him out of town?" The healer knew Tanner was the most easy going of the group, and for the gambler to have upset him, it must have been pretty bad.
"It wasn't quite like...." Chris stumbled to a stop. Then rubbing a tired hand at his forehead, trying to ward off the growing headache, he wondered how he could tell them exactly what had happened.
"I take it that Brother Vin finally informed Ezra about how he felt?" Josiah questioned wisely. Then seeing the surprised look that Chris shot his way he offered, "I've noticed things, and well... Vin isn't the best one at hiding his emotions, and he was er... quite upset with our resident gambler after Ezra's stunt yesterday..." Seeing that Larabee was still looking at him with suspicion he shrugged and offered, "well... let's just say it was pretty obvious to me."
Nathan was looking from one man to the other, trying to understand what was being said without words, then his eyes widened and his mouth fell open as realisation finally dawned. He stammered, "You mean... Vin... Ezra... I mean.... They... together!!!" he snapped his mouth shut in shock.
Chris realising that to deny it was worthless agreed with a nod before finally saying bitterly, "It didn't work out quite like Vin intended."
"Really." Josiah asking in some surprised, as he'd seen the wistful looks that the gambler had sent the tracker's ways, and he had secretly believed that once they admitted their feeling for each other, there would be no stopping them. "What happened?"
Chris suddenly looked uncomfortable as he stated, "it's not my place to say."
"Not your place... hell Chris," Nathan shot back his annoyance clearly showing on his face, "I think you've already passed beyond that. If something has happened between Vin and Ezra that has Vin riding out of town and Ezra holed up in his room... Then I think we have a right to know."
Chris looked out across the street and considered the other man's words before he finally offered diplomatically, "let's just say that Ezra's commitment to the situation wasn't as lasting as Vin's."
"Meaning?" Nathan questioned his tone going icy as he followed that thought to it's only logical conclusion. Waving a hand to ward off any further words from Chris he snarled instead, "No... no you don't have to tell me... I bet that bastard used Vin and then just tossed him out of his bed, didn't he?"
The fact that Larabee didn't deny it spoke volumes, and both men watching him felt their tempers rise. "Why the hell do you put up with Ezra, Chris? He's nothing but the lowest form of life, he just uses people... The first day we saw him, I asked you why you felt we needed a cheat... Now I'm asking you again," Nathan demanded.
"I think that Ezra has proved himself to us on more the one occasion, Nathan," Josiah put in angrily, surpassing the darker man with his tone. "And yesterday is another example of that ... if not for him risking his life by climbing on the Nichols' steel plated wagon... then we might all very well be dead."
"Well it's a mute point now... Ezra left Vin in no doubt of exactly how he felt about him, and well..." Chris continued, wiping a hand across his tired eyes again, and sighed with frustration "it's not really any of our business.... But I don't think we can expected to see either Vin or Ezra today... so let's just leave it at that... I can patrol the town, you two rest up."
"Chris you've not had any sleep at all... have you?" Nathan asked, his attention suddenly turning towards the exhausted man who sat before him. The man looked pale, worn and just plain tired. "Look, I've had a few hours, I can rest here for a while... why don't you go and get some shut eye..."
Larabee was about to refuse, but then he saw the sense of what the other man was saying, so he slowly nodded admitting his defeat and exhaustion. Standing he confessed, "I do feel a bit tired... if you're sure." Receiving confirming nods in return he said, "I'll catch you guys later." With that he turned and made his way back to the boarding house, towards his bed.
As Nathan and Josiah watched him go, the darker man repeated his staggered thoughts out loud, "Vin and Ezra... together!!!" then shaking his head he commented bitterly, "Christ, how could Vin be so stupid... I mean Ezra of all men."
Josiah looked back from watching Larabee and offered mildly, "we don't always get to chose who we love Nathan... you should know that."
The man in question waved the preacher's words aside saying instead, "Ezra cares about only one person, Josiah and that's Ezra... you know that..."
"No..." the preacher suddenly snapped, eyes blazing as he continued, "no I don't know that, and I'm surprised that you are so quick to judge him. Considering your own past I would have thought that you would be a little bit more tolerant and gather all the facts before you condemn a man so easily." With that Josiah nodded once and walked away.
Nathan stood for several moments chewing over what Josiah had said, then sitting in the chair that Chris had recently vacated he mumbled in defence of himself, "yeah, well, I know Ezra Standish and that man was born guilty."
Ezra's second waking was totally unlike his earlier one. He groaned weakly and lifted a heavy hand up to rest feebly on his forehead which throbbed in anger at being moved. After two bottles of whiskey he felt ill... desperately sick to his stomach. The room moved, swirling about, even though his eyes were closed he knew that it was moving and he also knew that if he even attempted to open them to peek his fragile world would come crashing down. So he wisely kept them closed and swallowed convulsively, frantically trying to keep the contents of his stomach just where it was.
Once his stomach settled slightly he lay letting his mind drift, desperately trying not to think about the night before and the events of the morning. It was just too painful. Slowly he curled onto his side. A mistake as his stomach rebelled again and it was only by his will alone that he managed to keep the contents of his stomach from coming back up.
Finally he slipped back into an uneasy fevered sleep, his face slightly buried in the pillow, his breathing uneven and hitchy. The large blood stain on the other pillow went unnoticed, as did the warm trickle of fresh blood that ran slowly down his neck and started to soak into the pillow he now rested on.
The sun was just setting as Vin Tanner rode back into Four Corners. He had spent the majority of the day at a small fishing hole that he had found a few miles outside of town. He'd sat on the edge of the water and let his mind drift free. Wincing as it wandered over the events of the previous night, until finally he had paused and really looked at what had happened that morning.
The more he thought about it, the more Ezra's attitude and actions of that morning didn't make sense. Vin was a hunter of animals and men, and being able to judge his prey was what had kept him alive for so many years, and he could not believe that he had been so wrong about the gambler. The kisses they had shared had been hesitant, the gambler's hands trembling as they freely explored his willing body, as if Vin was a illusion that would disappear if pressed too hard. There was no way that Ezra was that good a conman, even for a sexual tumble. Tanner knew that Standish was not short on offered bed partners, and knew that he didn't have to grasp at the first offer that passed his way.
No, something was wrong with this morning and he had spend the day shifting over the events that had taken place in the saloon, trying to discover just why Ezra had changed so suddenly and so completely in the few hours since they had fallen asleep and he had risen.
After his fifth attempt to recreate the night before, Tanner had admitted defeat and come to the conclusion that there was nothing there that could have caused the change in Ezra. They had both fallen asleep whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears, Vin slowly stroking his hand longingly up and down the other's back. No, it was not the night that had altered Ezra. So finally Vin had turned his mind to the events that had taken place after he himself had risen.
It was there that he had gained the first glimmer of discontentment. Tanner had been annoyed and even angry at Larabee's harsh words of warning about his lover. Yes, Standish had made a mistake at the Seminole village when he had left them to go looking for the fabled gold mine, but he had returned, and placed his own life at risk to save theirs.
Everyone made mistakes, hell even Vin was guilty of that, but the gambler had proven himself again and again to the other six men. How long was he expected to carry the cross of that one mistake, how many times of risking his life was it going to take for Chris to forgive him that one breach of faith?
It was then that the suspicion that maybe Ezra had overhead that conversation slipped into his mind. Once it was there it had begun to form and grow until it was the only reasonable explanation of why the gambler had reacted the way he had. And while in one instant it infuriated the tracker to believe that Ezra would push him away because of Chris' words, it also warmed him to know that the gambler's feelings for him were such that he would risk both Vin's and Larabee's raw anger to do it.
As Tanner unsaddled and rubbed down his horse he winced as he remembered the punch he had laid on the smaller man. He had meant to hurt Ezra and had put his full weight behind the fist, his own hand still ached from the attack. Now he only hoped that he had not actually hurt his lover too badly.
He quickly fed and bedded the horse down. Tanner knew that the only way to get to the truth of the matter was to confront the gambler, to demand an explanation and this time not allow the vicious words that he knew Ezra would throw at him to side-track him from his search for the truth. If the gambler loved him, then Vin would know... just by looking in his eyes. He had been sure the night before as he'd loved him that the eyes were opened to his soul and Ezra was not that good of a conman that he would portray such an emotion there unless he really felt it.
"Vin." A voice suddenly sounded behind him and he span about to come face to face with a very tired looking Chris Larabee.
"He heard us... this morning... Ezra heard what you... what we said." Vin blurted out, surprised at how angry he felt towards the friend who stood in front of him.
Larabee looked down guiltily, suddenly unwilling to meet his friend's look, before finally he agreed, "I know... it's been bothering me all day... just the way he was acting..." he looked up, desperate to show that he was truly sorry for his harsh words and actions of that morning. " It was an act... I can see that now... he's good, but not that good..." Larabee had spent the day going over the events much as Tanner had and he had come to the same conclusion and with it had come the knowledge that Standish must really love the tracker if he was prepared to suffer such loss to release him.
"Damn it... why.... Why would he push me away? Why?" Vin spat out, his anger rising again at the gambler who had hurt them both so badly.
Chris slowly shook his head before he offered, "I'm not sure, Vin, maybe he's just frightened. I get the feeling that Ezra's not had a lot of love in his life and it's a terrifying emotion to him."
"One part of me wants to beat the shit out of him, while another wants to just hold him and never let him go... even if he doesn't want this... I can't... I can't just turn off what I feel for him... I just can't." Tanner finished and looked up with desperate eyes at his friend as if the man before him could understand his confusion and pain.
"When I first realised... that I loved Sarah..." Chris stopped, the thought of his dead wife still hurt, more than words could ever express, but he pushed that pain aside and forced himself to continue, "I ... I picked an argument with her... it was over something so stupid... I can't even remember what... but I... it was almost like I was testing her... seeing if she loved me as much as I loved her... I guess my thinking was that if she left me because of what I said, then she could not have really loved me... could she." He stopped again, feeling his throat tighten at the memory.
"What happened?" Tanner finally asked, feeling the pain radiating from his friend but knowing that Larabee needed to finish what he had started otherwise every memory of his wife would become too hard to bear and Chris had promised Hank, Sarah's father that he would never forget.
Chris met his friend's look and retorted, his voice stronger, gathering strength from the very memory that was hurting him, and the sight of his friend who was willing to listen to his pain and understand. "She just crossed her arms and informed me that I was a stupid jackass, but she loved me anyway... " Larabee paused as if still shocked that such simple words could so effectively scale the walls that he had been trying to build about his love for the woman who was to become his wife.
"I love him, Chris." Vin stated again, this time with a certainty that came from having nearly lost that which was most precious to him.
"I know..." Larabee admitted, and then with growing confidence he added, "and I think he loves you, too."
"Why do you think that?" The hunter had to ask, although his heart was already beating faster with the confirmation of what he hoped.
"If he did hear what we said... what I said... and he found the courage to push you away like that... then he must love you a lot. He didn't have to do that..." Chris closed his eyes and not for the first time wished that he was able to pull back the words that he had spoken. "I'm not so sure that I could have had the strength to push Sarah away... if our positions had been similar..."
"I need to speak to him." Vin said, the urgency to see his lover overtaking him as a feeling of dread seeped into his soul. "What if I've blown it, Chris... what if I hurt him and he can't forgive me?"
It was almost frightening for Larabee to see such uncertainty in the man who stood before him. Reaching out he gripped the shoulder before him and said firmly, "no... don't make trouble until you know it's there.... Now... He's in his room..." Chris said, then seeing the look this earned him he shrugged guiltily and offered, "I checked earlier on... It's locked and he's not been out all day... the barman told me. He also told me that a couple of bottles of whiskey are missing."
"Damn." Tanner swore as he span about and began to trot towards the saloon. He burst into the noisy, crowed room and made his way across the floor intently, heading towards the stairs. He knew that Chris had followed him but he ignored the greetings that JD, Buck and the others threw his way. He was glad to see that JD was up and about, Nathan sitting beside the younger man, no doubt to ensure that he didn't over tax himself.
He stopped outside the gambler's room, suddenly unsure of himself. What if he was wrong, what if everything that Ezra had said to him that morning was true... what if ...? He forcibly pushed his doubts aside and tried the door. As Chris had said, it was locked. He banged on the wood, determined to gain entrance. A muffled groan greeted his action and he knocked again, this time the door shook under his pounding.
"...'Way..." came back the weak reply through the door. Without another thought Vin took a step back and kicked open the door. He was hit by the smell of stale air and whiskey, but he pushed that aside as he fixed his look on the crumpled, desolate figure on the bed.
With suddenly sure hands Tanner struck a match and lit the lamp that he knew was in the room. Feeble light spread across the darkness, relegating it to the corners of the room and the figure on the bed groaned again pitifully, this time weakly waving a hand to ward off the disturbance.
"Damn it, Ezra, how much did you drink?" Vin demanded as he moved towards the bed, kicking aside an empty whisky bottle.
"Vin...?" The man on the bed groaned and then he gasped. Struggling up and leaning on one arm he feebly threw up, just managing to tilt his head over the side of the bed.
Tanner was by his side in an instant, holding and supporting the shaking man, until he was finished. Afterwards Vin gently helped him lay back down, gently supporting his head, not happy with the heat that he found radiating there, but his fear grew a hundred-fold as he removed the hand that had supported the gambler's head and he saw with horror that his hand was wet with fresh blood. "Ezra?" he gasped, then carefully tilting the trembling body forward, he got a quick look at the bloody ragged wound at the back of the gambler's head. "EZRA!!!!" Tanner's voice rose with true fear when Ezra failed to responded to him. He gasped before he raised his voice and yelled out, "Nathan.... NATHAN!!!"
"What's wrong?" Chris suddenly asked from the doorway, his face creased with concern.
Vin held up his shaking bloody hand. It glittered wetly in the light. "Get Nathan.... NOW" He demanded. Chris was gone as soon as he saw the blood.
Within seconds the dark man came running into the room. "What!!" he asked, then stopped when he saw the scene before him. Ezra was laying slumped in Vin's embrace, the other man was gently rocking him and whispering words of apology and encouragement to him. Nathan was all professional as he asked, "What happened?"
"This morning." Vin stammered allowing Nathan to gently push him out of the way so that he could get a closer look at Ezra. "I hit him... he must have hit his head... when he fell... on the stairs... I didn't... know." He ended feebly, his handsome face twisted with guilt and anguish at his actions of that morning.
"It's going to be alright, Vin." Nathan assured before he asked, "Get me some water and some more light." Then carefully he shifted Ezra so that he was laying on his side, the light shinning on the back of the gambler's head, revealing the nasty looking cut that was still slowly seeping blood. "How long ago was his sick?"
"Just now... when I came in... he groaned, leant over the bed and threw up..." Vin stated, moving out of the way as Josiah and Chris moved to obey Nathan's request for extra light and water.
"How is he?" JD asked nervously from the door, Buck standing by his side, supporting the kid who seemed to have paled at the concern he could feel from the other men in the room.
"I don't know JD." Nathan answered honestly. "Ezra.... EZRA..." he spoke clearly and precisely, "Can you hear me?" The dark man gently lifted an eyelid and was rewarded by the gambler trying to tilt his head away from the annoyance.
"That's it, Ezra... come on wake up... now..."
"Leave... me.... Alone." Came the slurred, gasping reply from the gambler as he feebly attempted to bat the other man's hands away.
"How much has he had to drink?" Nathan questioned as he accepted the clean wash cloth and water. He wrung the cloth out and gently began to wipe at the jagged wound at the back of the gambler's head. The light that Josiah held gave him enough to see that while it was fairly long, it was not too deep. He let out a sigh, and stated, "it's not that bad...." He felt the release of concerned breath about he and explained, "Head wounds always bleed a lot... I should think that he's suffering more pain from the hangover then from the actual injury."
Vin moved around the bed and came up on the other side, being careful not to step or kneel in the vomit that lay there. He leant over and spoke to the injured man, his tone soft and loving as he reached out and wiped a stray lock of dark hair away from the sweating brow. "Ezra... Ezra... can you hear me?"
Slowly the green eyes opened to mere slits and the gambler squinted up at his lover of such a short time. He opened his mouth to fire off some sharp retort at the other man, but suddenly realised that he didn't have the strength, so instead he just admitted weakly, "Yes, I... can hear... you.... Please," he continued pitifully, "don't... speak... so loud."
"Ezra..." Vin continued, watching the face before him wince as Nathan continued to clean the wound, "I know what you did this morning..." Not getting a response to his words Vin went on, his tone stronger, "I know you heard what Chris said..."
The gambler froze on the bed and Ezra's eyes opened again and he met Tanner's look for one incredible heartbeat before he mumbled almost imperceptibly, "I don't know what yo...."
Vin stopped him before he could finish by gently resting two of his long fingers across the gambler's lips, "Don't... Ezra... don't lie to me..." There was a threat in the tone and the steely eyes that watched him, and the gambler swallowed hard before he offered weakly,
"Vin... Chris was right..."
"No.... NO..." Vin snapped, his anger flashing back, but he stopped and pushed it down before he gently reached out and wiped aside a lock of hair from the other man's forehead again, whispering softly, "This can wait... when you're feeling better... we're going to have a talk... a long talk..."
Ezra looked pale, worn and sick, and while he didn't reply his body did relax slightly at Tanner's gentle touch as the other man continued to pet him. Finally Ezra let out a soft sigh and slipped back into a healing sleep, his body exhausted from the attack and abuse that it had suffered during the day.
Nathan met Vin's look and slowly nodded before he confirmed, "He's alright... just let him sleep, I'm going to mix up some herbs that will help him... just keep him comfortable and quiet... and be careful of his back.." the healer pointed to the open shirt and indicated the nasty bruise that could be seen sneaking about the other man's stomach, "I'll be back in a minute." So saying he slipped from the bed, pausing a second before he held out the wet cloth. Vin hesitated for barely a instant before he took it. Moving back round the bed he lay down beside Ezra and gathering him close, he moved him gently about so that he could rest the other's head on his chest, carefully positioning the cloth over the wound.
"Come on," Chris said, waving the others from the room, "let's give them some room."
"What's going on?" Vin heard JD ask, his tone one of pure confusion. Buck answered him.
"Boy, don't you know nothing..." Whatever JD answered was lost as the door slipped shut, then Chris returned to the bed, moving about he quietly began to clear up the mess on the floor.
"Chris you don't have to..." Vin began in a whisper, but the other man shook his head.
"Yes I do... it's my fault he got hurt, and this is mainly on the mat anyway." So saying he scooped up the soiled matting and opening the window he tossed it out.
Vin winced and hoped that no-one was passing underneath. The fresh air was welcome and Chris left the window slightly up as he finished, placed the empty water jug within reach saying, "just in case he needs it again." Vin nodded, he knew what Chris was saying, and if Ezra was sick again, it would not be suitable for it to soil the now clean floor. Larabee inspected his handy work before nodding and turning he said, "I'll just go and see what's keeping Nathan."
Several seconds of silence followed before Vin leant in near to Ezra's ear and whispered, "there is nothing that you could say or do that would drive me away... nothing."
Slowly the eyes pried opened again, and the gambler looked intently up at the tracker before he questioned. "Nothing?"
Vin gently leant over and kissed the dry lips of his lover. "Nothing." Ezra tried to shy away, ashamed that his mouth still tasted of sickness, but he was pulled up short as a wave of pain washed over him and he groaned.
"Hush now, lie still... Nathan will be back soon with some medicine to help you."
"Oh goody," the gambler murmured discontentedly, "Mr Jackson's medicines are usually worse then the actual illness."
Vin smiled at the belligerent tone that Ezra used, and wrapped his arm more securely about the injured man, "I'm sorry that I hit you." He finally offered, unable to hide his own self hate at his action.
Silence ruled for several moments and Tanner wondered if Standish had fallen asleep when the gambler carefully asked, "It didn't work... did it?"
Tanner considered the question before he answered honestly, "nearly."
"What did... I do wrong?" Ezra asked, his curiosity over the con gone wrong greater then the pain of his roiling stomach and his headache.
Vin leaned down and carefully placed a kiss on Ezra's ear that was nearest to him saying, "Your eyes.... You can't lie with your eyes Ezra... leastways, not to me... it just took me a while to figure it out."
Ezra sighed. "Mr Larabee is right... I will end up betraying you.. hurting you... I can't...." he stopped and swallowed hard, "I don't want to do that, Vin... you deserve better than me..."
"Ezra," Tanner interrupted tartly. "I've got exactly what I deserve right here." He moved his arms to indicate the man held snugly within his grasp. "I don't care what tomorrow brings... we could both die in a shootout or I could be shot for the bounty on my head."
"No..." the gambler started to jerk up, but whimpered instead and relaxed back on the broad chest that supported him.
"Hell, Ezra, I didn't say that I was goin' to allow that to happen... not now... now I've got something to fight for..." Tanner finished with a wide smile and another kiss, "and I will fight anyone who says that you can't be mine... Including you," he finished with a warning in his tone.
Whatever Standish had been about to say was cut short when there was a knock at the door and Nathan stuck his head about the broken door. "Can I come in?"
"Sure, Nathan." Vin said, looking back over his shoulder and smiling brightly at the other man.
The next few minutes were spent with Nathan sorting Ezra out. Vin held the cup while the gambler drank the concoction that the healer had made up. The injured man griped with every sip until Vin decided to reward each swallow with a kiss. Ezra stopped groaning and soon the cup was empty and a smile played across the sleepy gambler's lips. When he was finished Vin shot Nathan a hard look, daring him to say something, but the healer surprised him by just smiling before the dark man added, "There just might be hope for Ezra yet."
"I'm still in the room." Came the sour tone of the gambler who hated having people talk about him as if he was not there.
"Well that's good to know, Ezra, as I now need to bandage that hard head of yours," Nathan told him, accepting Vin's help as he deftly wrapped a clean white bandage about the other's injured head. Once done the healer checked the bruise at Ezra's side before he stated, "No permanent damage done, but you will be sore for a few days, so I'd take it easy if I was you..." then seeing that the herbal drink was having it's effect and that the gambler was nearly asleep he offered, "I'll drop by in the morning and check on him." With that he quietly gathered his stuff and left.
"Has he gone?" Ezra asked, his tone sleepy, barely able to open his eyes as he settled more comfortably into the embrace of the other man, smiling as he felt Vin adjust the blanket over the pair of them. They were both still fully dressed but it didn't seem to matter to either of them as they lay wrapped in each other's embrace. To Ezra there was no other place he would rather be, he had at least learned that during the day as he lay in the darkened room. Tanner had said that he would fight anyone who tried to part them, and for now that was enough for the gambler.
"Yeah... for now." Vin offered, before he added, "are you alright now?" There was still a whisper of uncertainly in his tone, and it made the gambler open his eyes and look, really look, at the man who held him. He could see the tiredness that surrounded his eyes, the concern that pulled his lips tight.
Moving carefully, Ezra leant up and pressed his lips to those of his lover, which gently opened up under his and allowed him to explore the depths of his lover's mouth before he whispered back, breathless from the effort and the effects of kissing the man he loved. "Why Mr Tanner, we're more then all right... didn't you know... we're in love."
Vin smiled as Ezra settled himself once more, as if the words had righted all the wrongs. Tanner knew that they still had some issues to settle but now he knew that they would be settling them together. "You're right on that point, Ezra," he confided quietly before he admonished, "and it's Vin.... Not Mr Tanner."
His only reply was a soft snore for the man he held snugly in his arms.
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