December 21st
(Old West)

by MAC

Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: Starwinder's, You Want Fries With That?, and The All-Ezra FanFic Archive -- all others, please ask.
Summary: Just a little word poem of love in action at Christmas time.
Author's Note: Companion piece - The Gift.
Completed: 14 December 2002
Feedback: welcomes comments

Ezra hummed softly to himself as he lifted the latch on the gate. Ahead of him, the vastness of the open grazing land was dotted with cattle, individually moving at a leisurely pace as they grazed. He led his steed through the wooden barrier and then re-latched the plank and wire barricade. Mounting Chaucer with a light bounce, he settled into the saddle and raised his eyes to the hills and low mountains looming beyond them.

For a short moment, he had misgivings. No one was expecting him to do this. But this year, this first year among a host of friends, he wanted to do it. Friends. He smiled and savored the thought of those six men he measured all life against now. It felt so good to know he was no longer alone. The image of one man in particular shimmered in his mind's eye. Blond and lean, strong of body and spirit, Chris Larabee was a formidable man. His man. Ezra's shoulders lifted as he sat up taller in the saddle and signaled for his mount to move a trifle more rapidly. He really didn't want to be out here too much longer and his self-appointed task would take nearly a full day.

Soft touches stroking his back, kisses grazing his neck, his skin shivered in remembrance of those slow movements and tender ministrations from his lover. He wanted this to be so very good for Chris, too. A celebration of their private partnership and the circle of friends that protected them from the larger, more savage world around them. Funny, he'd never really contemplated the savagery of others versus the civility of his almost-brothers, but it was true. They might be a tad rough and wild at times, but each glowed with a chivalrous soul that Ezra honored with his love. Not the love he had with Chris, but love none-the-less. He was doing this for all of them.

The distance diminished as he cantered Chaucer across Guy Royale's grazing lands and up into the hilly country beyond. He knew just where to go. There was a stand of tall fir trees, some spruce among them, in a high valley above where now he rode.

The freshening breeze brought sign of snow coming soon, but he'd learned from the best. Vin Tanner's lessons told him that the snow would not be heavy nor quick, he had time. He breathed deeply of the scents of the raw earth and mixture of late autumn leaves mulching into the loess and musk spray from scent-marking bear and wolf. The savory smells of a forested plateau lingered on his palette, nutty and sour. The chilling air causing his breath to coalesce into a white cloud that whipped from his nostrils even as similar wings of fog streamed from Chaucer's muzzle. Rocking in his seat, he twisted for a moment to look back down the upward-climbing valley, down toward the faint speck that was Four Corners out there on the flats. He tugged his black flat-crowned hat low over his eyes and urged Chaucer onward.

A quail burst from cover and flapped noisily away, rising against the gray cloud-mottled sky. He ignored it and patted his friend's now damp neck, letting the smoothly surging muscles beneath his saddle give him reassurance as well.

Then, they passed by a toss of boulders and ahead was the grouping of trees he'd sought. Tall and majestic, most were almost black against the early afternoon light. Now came the challenge, finding a perfect, but small, specimen.

Blue. He wanted blue. It would match the blue-green color of his lover's eyes. Walking now, with Chaucer on a lead, Ezra wended his way among the taller trees, in search of a younger one, no more than six or seven feet in height. There, near the far edge of the stand, seedlings had taken root and shot up into newer growth. Three, no four blue spruce among the longer needled pine. And, yes, that one there. Perfect. Ezra smiled.

Ax in hand, Standish carefully chopped the base of the trunk free from the rooted ground. The small, full spruce toppled, the springy branches causing it to bounce. The smell of the freshly cut timber, bright orange in the first cutting, was sharp in the air. Ezra pulled one of his leather gloves off to rub his fingers on the short, bristly needles and then bring those fingers to his nose. He sniffed in the clean fragrance, then caught at a tiny bit of a smaller branchlet and plucked a sprig free. Tucking it into the buttonhole of his black wool suit jacket, he then tugged his outer work jacket, lined in shearing wool back into place - yes, better than cologne, he thought.

It was the work of a moment to secure his especially brought rope around the lower branches and secure it. The other end he tied tightly to the horn of his saddle. No help for it, he'd have to drag this beauty back, it was a little too large to bundle on to Chaucer's rump. Well, drawing it along, base first, would at least keep the branches and needles aligned and unchallenged. He stood a moment in contemplation, and then a smile blossomed into full dimples. With quick and sure hands, he unpacked his bedroll and removed the ground cloth made of sturdy oiled canvas. He wrapped it tightly around his treasure, roping it into place. There, no injuries likely now, he nodded with satisfaction.

The ride back was eminently fine. He found himself blessed with a sweeping and grand view of the dying of the sun. The sky flew streamers of bold color across the widening horizon as he left the hills behind and Chaucer picked his way with sure steps. Twilight was releasing the first of its captive stars to the night as he drew rein in front of the saloon. JD Dunne ran across from the sheriff's office to bounce on his toes beside the returned gambler.

"What you got there, Ezra?"

Standish found himself at a loss for words. The day of tranquil stillness, uninterrupted by human voice, was torn apart and he had to force words from his own lips. "Mr. Dunne, it was rather unceremoniously called to my attention yesterday evening that a time of celebration is nearly upon us and we were bereft of any of its most honored symbols."

"He means I said we still hadn't got a Christmas tree." Buck had arrived at the edge of the sidewalk and stood grinning down at the two smallest members of the seven in the gloaming. "Looks like you decided to rectify that oversight, huh, Pard?"

Eyebrow raised at his taller friend's choice of words, Standish nodded silently and turned to release the rope from Chaucer's saddle. It was time to give his steed a well-earned rest, a warm stall, and some special treats. "Just so. Perhaps you and Mr. Dunne would care to remove my trophy to the confines of the tavern?"

"Sure, Ez!" JD was already leaning over the long canvas-bundled tree. "Hey, this is blue spruce! My favorite kinda Christmas tree." Dark eyes flashed up with gratitude to meet warmly smiling green ones. "Thanks, Ezra."

Before he could answer, Ezra sensed his partner behind him. Chris had arrived unheralded during the others' conversation. Hands rested on his shoulders and for just one stolen moment, Ezra leaned back into the gunslinger's warmth before straightening and turning. Chris dropped one hand, the other remaining to slide down and gently grip Ezra's arm.

"You're home."

"Home." Ezra's lips tasted the word with a familiar sense of surprise and delight. Home was in the blue-green eyes that glowed down into his own green ones. "Yes." His smile grew and he gestured toward where Buck and JD had just finished unrolling the little tree. "For us. All of us. It seemed the right thing to do."

Chris cocked an eyebrow and looked past Ezra for a moment, studying the beautiful little tree that now trembled erect in Buck's admiring grasp. He didn't speak, just nodded and plucked Chaucer's reins from Ezra's hand.

"Let's go take care of your beast." A twinkle accompanied the comment.

"No, no, Mr. Larabee, never call my dear companion by such a wearisome title." Ezra corrected with gentlemanly aplomb, heart beginning to beat more rapidly.

"Then, let's go stable your dear companion." Definitely a bit of ginger in those words, but warm and inviting too. Another dear companion awaiting his turn.

Ezra simply turned with the gunman and the two walked away from the saloon, over toward the livery, the chestnut gelding stepping easily along behind. The chink of spurs from the gunslinger's boots marked their otherwise silent progress.

"Means a lot to the boys, Ezra. To me." Chris didn't look down at the gambler strolling at his side. Just as they entered the livery, Chris let his gloved hand rub against Ezra's likewise leather-clad hand, then he ducked his head and murmured, "Thanks, Ezra, now it feels like Christmas."

"Yes." Ezra inhaled deeply. This time he drew in a different wild scent, that of the man at his side, all leather, gun oil, horse, whiskey, tobacco and maleness. "Merry Christmas, my dear companion," Ezra replied. And he wasn't talking to his horse.


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