Author's Notes: This is the same reality as my story 24/Seven but retells the first five episodes from a V/E perspective. Italic words are direct quotes from the original show transcripts.
Why I do disclaim... everything not invented by myself.
Ghosts Of The Confederacy
"Well, then... you'd best discuss amongst yourselves which one of you is going to die."
"Hot damn," Vin thought to himself. "He's got some spirit. Holding off a mob of drunk cowboys with just one shot in that little gun of his."
"Nice shot pard," he said because he felt he needed to say something and didn't feel that "nice ass" would be appropriate. When Larabee invited the man to join them on the trip to the Seminole village, Vin's pulse quickened at the thought of spending time with this man.
"Reckon you should be leaving town anyway," Vin said to him.
"I'll sleep on it," was the reply and then the man made his way out of the saloon, making sure that no one was pulling a gun on his back.
"Oh God," Vin thought to himself and turned to the bar to hide the slight bulge in the crotch, but it was all he could do not to race after the red coated gambler and beg him just to let him touch him although that wouldn't be near enough. He wanted to know the man, every inch of him. Vin took a swallow of the drink now in front of him and tried to join in the conversation. If anyone noticed he was distracted they didn't say anything.
"My name is JD Dunne, and I can ride. Whoa. And I can shoot..."
"And he can fly," Ezra laughed as the boy got himself out of the water trough and took off after his runaway horse. Then he watched in amusement as Chris Larabee went to confront the newspaper lady about the article she had written about him. As the dark gunslinger walked away, Ezra turned to the other three men.
"Ezra P. Standish at your service," he introduced himself with a tip of his hat.
"Nathan Jackson," and finally "Vin Tanner."
Ezra got his first real look at the man he had only been able to get a glimpse of the day before. It wasn't very often that he had such an immediate reaction to anyone but when he heard that sweet Texas drawl in the saloon he almost lost his much needed concentration. A quick glance was all he needed to fill his dreams last night. Now in the light of day his mind confirmed what his heart already knew. Here was perfection. Oh he might have been a little rough looking but that didn't bother Ezra. What he saw were blue eyes sparkling with humor, soft brown curls falling around his shoulders, and a body that Ezra could tell was strong and firm beneath buckskin layers. Ezra realized he was staring and turned to look down the street. The four men waited in uncomfortable silence until Larabee returned and they rode out.
As they rode into the village Ezra noticed the damage already inflicted on the buildings. He had seen it before. Hell, he had caused it before. As he leaned down to take the reins of Mr Tanner's horse, the word escaped from him.
"You never told us they had a cannon," Vin said to the villagers.
"You didn't ask," their leader replied.
Ezra felt a moment of panic as years of hell came crashing down upon him. He wanted so badly to snatch up the man whose horse he held and run as if their very lives depended upon it. He wanted to scream at the men with whom he had ridden into this place that this was a fight they could not win. Their lives would be forfeit if they chose to go up against those men with that cannon. Then he looked into a pair of blue eyes and he knew that he would stay. He couldn't appear to be a coward in those eyes.
Vin watched in horror as the bullet from Ebon's rifle ricocheted off a rock and put a hole in the card that Ezra had been holding. A few inches one way and it would have hit the gambler. He felt a little weak in the knees as he realized that a stupid accident could have cost him... what? They weren't friends, hell they barely knew one another, but he had felt an immediate connection with the con man. Not like the one he felt with Chris. Chris was like the twin to his soul. A brother. Chris was Family. Ezra was like finding the thing he had been missing for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to have it.
It seemed as if Vin had been alone most of his life. There was a time when he had had a home but that had been so very long ago. The Tanner family had settled in West Texas not far from a Comanche village. One of Vin's only memories of his father was of him returning from a hunt with some of the young braves. They had sat at the table and laughed long into the night.
After his father's death young warriors would come once a week, bringing the young widow and her son meat and other necessities.
When his mother had become ill, one of the women had come to care for her. When the end had come Vin had been taken back to the village and raised with the other young men. He had been taught the same skills of hunting, tracking, riding and fighting. But as he approached manhood the village elders decided he needed to be returned to the white man's world and he was sent to work with a buffalo hunter named Harry Beal.
Being a buffalo skinner was hard work. Harry could kill anywhere from 50 to 150 buffalo a day and all of them had to be skinned and the hides prepared. Once the wagon was full they headed to the nearest town.
Vin had never seen anything like El Paso; the number of people and the buildings were almost overwhelming as he followed Harry into the loudest building on the street. Inside the swinging doors Vin found drunk men and women who were barely dressed. The smell almost made him ill and he turned to leave, but Harry grabbed him by the arm and led him over to the bar.
"Two gut warmers," he called to the bartender and the bartender sat two glasses in front of the pair. Harry turned his up and drank it in one gulp; Vin did the same, nearly choking as the liquid burned his throat. A hand pounded on his back and Vin turned to thank the person for the assistance. The words died on his lips. The woman there was small, probably not over 5 feet, her hair was red and her eyes green. When she smiled at him Vin thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Harry stepped forward, whispered something in her ear and slipped a coin into her hand. She nodded and took one of Vin's hands in hers
"Come with me," she said and led him down a hall to a tiny room that only contained a small bed. She had helped him out of most of his clothes and into bed. Vin wasn't a complete innocent, he knew what to do even if he had never actually done it before. So he fumbled frustratingly through it but Caroline had been patient and in the end he had been satisfied as he drifted off to sleep. He woke later alone, dressed and went back out to the saloon. Caroline was nowhere to be seen and neither was Harry. In fact almost everyone had cleared out of the saloon, just a few steadfast gamblers were left. Vin had no interest in them. He left the saloon and went to the stable to bed down for the rest of the night.
The next few years were pretty much the same. Months on the trail, selling their goods in town. Occasionally he visited with Caroline again, other times it was some other woman. It really hadn't mattered to Vin.
When the war started in the east, Harry decided to go fight for Texas. Vin, on the other hand, knew no such loyalty and was forced to find other work. After taking a series of jobs he found himself work as a guide and hunter for a group of anti-secessionists leaving Texas and heading west to California. The group was led by a man named Hugo Carson who was traveling with his son Trent.
Trent Carson was a tall, thin young man just out of his teens and the first man Vin ever thought of as beautiful. His hair was blond, almost white, and eyes were that palest blue. And he was so quiet that most of the time people never even noticed he was there. But Vin had noticed him and he had noticed Vin as well. They would often ride together or share a meal in the evening. After more than a month on the trail the wagon train came to a small trading settlement. Vin had left the wagons to see to his personal business, he looked for Trent before he left but the young man and his father were nowhere to be found. Eventually Vin found himself at Miss Miranda's place, the only saloon in town. As he was led down the hall by one of the ladies of the house he heard a woman's laugh coming from one of the rooms and not the laughter of someone enjoying themselves, but a taunting laugh. Then a door flew open and Trent rushed from the room and fled down the hall, tears streaking his angry red cheeks. Vin followed him as he ran down the street. Vin finally caught up to him in the stable, kneeling in the hayloft with a gun in his hand.
"I couldn't do it," he cried. "She lay there laughing at me cause I couldn't do it."
Vin walked forward and took the gun from his hands and Trent embraced his legs, his forehead pressed into Vin's groin. For a long time they remained that way while Trent sobbed. Vin felt momentary confusion as his body started to respond. After a while the sobbing stopped and Trent looked up at him. Vin could see the desire in his eyes. He dropped to his knees. As Trent's mouth found his, he froze for a moment stunned at what he was doing, what he was about to do.
"I want you to take me," his friend had asked and Vin obliged. Trent had done this before and talked Vin through it until they lay in the hay afterward, Trent sleeping contentedly in his arms. Vin lay there for a long time confused. He had known that there were men like that. Men who did it with other men. The thought had not revolted him. He had been more curious than anything else, but until tonight he had never felt that particular urge. To his surprise he had enjoyed the experience and looked forward to it happening again.
And it did happen again and again. Vin had stayed with the wagon train until it got to Tucson. He and Trent had found time to be together almost every day, but he knew he wasn't in love with Trent and Trent wasn't in love with him. In the end he rode away and never looked back. He had been with other men since then and other women too, but no one had ever touched his soul. That all changed when he saw Ezra. He knew he wanted the man he had dreamed about every night, but it was more than that, he wanted to know everything about him too.
"Colonel Emmett Riley Anderson of the Army of the Confederate States of America."
Ezra had only met the man once but he knew the name. He had fought at Shiloh under the man and his Captain had sent him to the Colonel for orders. The man was impressive, with such charisma that Ezra knew why his men still followed him after all of these years. Ezra had served under officers like that, ones he would have followed past the very gates of hell if he had been asked. Ezra was almost sorry to find himself in opposition to such a man. But he also knew that there was no way he would be joining the Colonel. He was a part of the six men he fought beside. They had formed, in a very short time, a brotherhood even stronger than the ones he had not known during his time in the army. Then there was Vin Tanner. He had watched the buffalo hunter for the last few days as he had moved around the village with a cat like grace. Ezra had tried to engage him in conversation but the man was reserved and not open to talking about himself. He had found out that the man had been raised by Comanche in west Texas and had hunted both buffalo and men. Why he had left Texas and come west was still a mystery to Ezra.
Ezra had also noticed the bond between Vin and their unofficial leader. Vin and Chris seemed to be able to have whole conversations without ever saying one word. Ezra felt a twinge of jealousy over the easy relationship the two had formed. He thought maybe they were brothers or old friends but Buck had told him otherwise. Buck had known Chris for 12 years and they had met Vin the same day they had met Ezra.
Once the shooting started, Ezra tried his best to watch Vin and that's why he was leaning out so far when that bullet almost found him. As he jerked away from where it had hit the rock, he stumbled. Pitching backward his shoulder hit the rocks and he felt it slip out of joint. It had happened several times before and he knew that once the fighting was over it was just a matter of hitting it hard enough to put it back. It would be sore but no permanent damage had been done.
Vin couldn't help but worry. He had seen Ezra disappear behind the rocks after seeing the bullet hit the rocks near his position. He watched tensely until the gambler made an appearance, then returned his attention to the fight in time to see that young fool who had followed them run toward the soldiers, guns blazing.
"Aw Hell," he cursed, sure the young man was going to get himself killed when Buck stepped in to rescue him.
Once the shooting was over and he determined that Ezra was okay, he volunteered to take the first watch. Once out of sight he allowed himself to relax. They were okay, Ezra was okay. Everything would be fine now.
"Gold!" The very thought if it had burned his soul. His entire life had been channeled into the acquiring of wealth. Money COULD buy love. Or so his Mother had always taught, but he knew that the soul of the man who had invaded his dreams every night could not be bought.
As he had investigated the old mine he found that there was no gold. He knew he should go back to the village but instead he kept riding away. As the sound of cannon erupted, he thought back to the words he had spoken to the children.
There are two kinds of people in this life, my friend: those who seek battle and seem not to fear death -- like them -- and those who avoid battle but will stand and fight to the death if their loved ones are threatened -- like them. That is true courage.
Then there's the third kind.
Never in his life had he encountered such integrity. He knew he could never live up to Vin's ideal. It was better he go rather than have Vin see him for the mercenary that he was, so instead he would play the coward and run. But he didn't get very far before he realized he couldn't leave Vin and the others to their fate. Suddenly he had a plan to take out that cannon and even if what he had planned didn't work at least he would give the others time to act and save the village.
"Nobody move, or he's dead. I leave you boys alone for five minutes and look what happens."
Vin's head shot up at the sound of that sweet southern voice. Ezra was back. He had been worried that maybe the gambler had been caught by Anderson's men while on patrol. He would have laughed when he pulled the same "which one of you is going to die" game from the saloon except that these men, battle hardened during the war, were not impressed by the con man's bravado.
Vin held his breath when Ezra pointed his gun at the powder keg; surely he wouldn't.... Then guns were firing, the old sergeant was dead and somehow Chris was free. And in the end they were all free once more. Vin wanted to run up to the southerner and express his gratitude. Somehow he felt it would not be appreciated if he was to bury his tongue down the other man's throat. So he went about the business of preparing to run Anderson and his ghosts out of the village. With the cannon now in their procession they definitely had the advantage.
He watched as Ezra and Josiah forced some of the prisoners to roll the cannon over to the cliff's edge. Then, while the big man secured the prisoners once more, the gambler preceded to adjust the aim on the cannon. It was obvious to those watching that this was as familiar to the man as the card tricks he had used to entertain the children. Ezra turned to Chris and nodded, he was ready. They made their way back down the cliff and entered the village. With the firing of the cannon they made their move. Once Anderson was dead the fight seemed to go out of the others and Chris allowed them to leave. Vin thought this was rather generous, he probably would have just slit their throats.
That night after taking care of Imala and the other dead, the seven settled down to sleep in one of the adobe huts still left standing. Sometime in the night Vin was awoken by the sound of someone whimpering. Thinking that maybe Buck or Josiah were in pain he got up to check on them. He was startled when the disturbance came from another source. He could hear the con man muttering about cannons and reloading, tossing in his bedroll. Vin started moving toward him then stopped as Ezra sat up.
"My Captain," Ezra gasped. Vin stepped into the shadows and watched as Ezra crawled out of his bedroll, got something out of his saddlebag and went outside. Silently he followed. Ezra sat on a rock at the edge of the village half hidden in the shadows of the hillside. Ezra glanced up to see the long haired man watching him. He held up his silver flask and motioned Vin to join him.
As he crossed to the gambler, he took the flask and asked, "You alright?"
"Just a few personal ghosts."
Vin nodded, he had a few of his own that visited some nights.
Now he sat on a rock beside his new friend. Handing back the flask, their hands brushed in one brief moment and Vin was left tingling. He could tell that Ezra had been affected as well and Vin began to wonder if perhaps.... He quickly moved his mind to another place. Although they had gotten to know each other somewhat over the last few days, this man was still very much a stranger.
Ezra looked away quickly, uncomfortable with this intimacy. It was a bad idea to allow this man to get too close. On the other hand, tomorrow they would ride out of this place. Once they got back to Four Corners they would go their separate ways. He would never see this man again, what would it hurt to indulge himself when he was certain Vin wanted it as much as he did. He took a swig of his flask for courage then started to plunge ahead.
"Mr Tanner, do you think... ah... perhaps you would like to..." He was interrupted by a dark figure stepping out of the hut.
"Evening boys," Chris said to them.
"Chris." "Mr Larabee," they greeted
"Nice night," Chris commented.
"Yep," Vin replied.
Ezra didn't respond, he just stared at his feet.
"You boys doing ok?"
"Yep," Vin answered for both of them.
"Going to get an early start in the morning. Best get some sleep."
Ezra started to protest, he wasn't a child needing to be told when to go to bed. But one look at the blond gunslinger told him it wasn't worth arguing. The three of them returned to the dirt floor hut. Ezra noticed Vin moving his bedroll closer to his.
"I think there's a rock or something there." He indicated the spot where he had been. "It's okay," Vin's breath whispered warm in his ear. "No ghosts gonna get ya tonight. I'll make sure."
"Thank you Mister Tanner," Ezra whispered back.
"You shoot a cannon pretty well, pard."
"Dreadful. I was trying to hit Anderson."
As he fell in beside Ezra, Vin knew he should avoid the con man but he couldn't help himself as the seven men rode out of the Seminole village back into their own lives he wanted to spend as much time with this amazing man as he could. Even if nothing was going to come of it. He had been alone for a long time and spending the last year looking over his shoulder had made him even more lonely. He decided then to return to Tascosa to finally find a way to prove his innocence. He wasn't fooling himself. He probably didn't have a future with the handsome gambler but someday maybe there would be someone who wanted him to stay for a while and maybe, just maybe that person would be Ezra.
It was less than a day's ride from the village back to Four Corners, but with two wounded men Chris decided to set a slower pace.
The traveling party had separated itself into smaller groups. He and Buck took the lead, with Nathan and Josiah taking the middle and Vin and Ezra bringing up the rear. JD, full of energy and enthusiasm, migrated between the three groups and was now at the back. Laughter drifted forward. Chris decided that JD must be telling another joke, the kid seemed to know a million of them.
In the late afternoon Chris decided to stop for the night near a spring Vin had found on the trip out.
While Chris helped Buck from his horse, Ezra came forward to assist Nathan with Josiah. Chris noticed Ezra wince as the big man leaned too heavily on the recently dislocated shoulder. Once Josiah was settled Ezra joined Vin and JD in taking care of the horses while Chris made Buck comfortable.
Chris and Buck watched in amusement as Ezra moved around the horses loosening girths and checking for damage. He had to move quickly to avoid the hoof of Vin's horse as it suddenly struck out at the horse beside it.
As Ezra stumbled to regain his balance Vin was there to lend assistance. They stood there for a long time Vin's hands on Ezra's arms. Finally the gambler broke away and returned to the job of seeing to the horses. Vin watched intently while he returned to his work.
Buck laughed. "Whew, if that boy were any more obvious we'd have to pry him off Ezra." He noticed Chris's look of disapproval. "I know, a relationship between two men…."
"It's not that Buck. You know that doesn't bother me, my own brother...." Chris still felt the grief of losing a brother who had taken own life because he could not come to terms with what he was, what society had deemed to be wrong. Chris would never force a man to endure what his brother had.
"Then what is it?"
"He a con man, Buck, a gambler and a con man. He ran out on us."
"Is that all?"
"Is that all! It's enough. Vin trusted me with a secret, he trusted me with his very life. If Ezra were to learn the truth how long would it be before he used it?"
"That must be one hell of a secret."
"You have no idea. It's just the type of thing a man like Ezra could exploit."
"I have more faith in Vin than you seem to."
"If this secret is that big then I'm sure Vin will be very careful before he shares it with anyone else. Just because he wants to bang boots with the man doesn't mean he's ready the share his whole life with him. I mean, he's probably just looking to scratch an itch not settle down for life. Neither of them look to be the settling type. So let Vin get this out of his system and move on. He probably wouldn't appreciate the interference anyway."
Chris nodded in agreement and chuckled, "When did you get to be so wise?"
"Hell, I always have been, you just never noticed. When it comes to sex you know I've been around more than most. I've never had to deal with that particular urge but I have seen enough to understand it. If Vin can deal with those urges without the guilt that usually accompanies them, then I'd say he's probably been around too. I'm not so sure about Ezra though, he doesn't seem to mind the attention, but we might want to keep an eye out to make certain he don't shoot the boy."
The conversation ended as Ezra approached with food supplied by the ladies of the village for the trip back, while JD headed toward the spring with their canteens and Vin set off in search of firewood. Soon watches were set and they settled in for the night.
Ezra had taken the first watch but had been relieved an hour early by Chris Larabee. Ezra could tell that the gunslinger had not yet slept.
"I suppose he doesn't trust me not to run off," Ezra thought to himself. "Well, it's no more than I deserve."
As he settled into his bedroll he took a moment to study the man sleeping by his side. Vin Tanner was even more beautiful asleep, if that was possible. Awake he always seemed watchful of his surroundings, as if he were constantly on the lookout for trouble, but asleep he achieved a sense of peace that Ezra found to be very alluring.
Tomorrow they would arrive back in Four Corners and he had heard Vin and Chris talking about going to Tascosa to take care of some unfinished business that the bounty hunter had there. Ezra hoped that Vin would want to take at least one night before leaving, and if he was lucky Vin would want to spend that one night with him.
ONE DAY OUT WEST
As the seven rode into the town of Four Corners two single gun shots alerted them to potential trouble. What they found was an older man standing in the street, Mary Travis beside him. They were facing three gunmen outside of the general store. Without a word they all went to assist the man Mrs. Travis seemed to be concerned with. Spreading themselves out they quickly forced the men to back down and the leader was taken to jail. The seven trail weary men made their way to the saloon.
"What are the women like in Tascosa?"
"Don't come much livelier."
"See you in the morning."
Vin watched as Chris left the saloon then his attention was turned to the bar where Ezra was having a drink with JD. Their eyes met and Vin started to join them when Judge Travis walked into the saloon. Vin stayed where he was pulling his hat lower over his face. It was one thing to help out this morning. The Judge was distracted enough not to pay much attention to him, but being a man wanted for murder, it wouldn't be smart to draw any more attention to himself.
As Josiah walked by the bar he grabbed a bottle of whisky and instructed the bartender to but it on Ezra's tab. Ezra was feeling in a generous mood and nodded his agreement. As he watched the big man being helped from the saloon his attention was caught by a pair of blue eyes watching him. They regarded one another trying to determine the other's interest.
"So, everyone's going their own way," JD said to him.
"As well they should," he replied distracted, wondering if he should approach the tracker. He knew from conversations on the trail that Vin planned to go to Texas with Chris to take care of some mysterious business. It didn't look like they would be leaving today. Maybe they could have the night together that Ezra desired. As he started to move toward the man he saw Judge Travis enter the saloon.
"Good Lord," he muttered as he recognized the man from his trouble in Ft Laramie. He turned back to the bar and hoped that the man would go before he recognized Ezra, but lady luck chose that moment to abandon her favorite son. Not only did JD bring Ezra to the judge's attention but the Judge recognized the con man and soon he found himself once more behind bars. Ezra really couldn't believe JD had actually locked him up after he had been the first to welcome him into their company back in the Seminole village. Granted they didn't have time to form a friendship but hadn't he come back and saved the lives of him and the others? This was the thanks he got. To be locked up with a murderer with equally murderous friends, well it was too much and once more Ezra was left to fend for himself. He should be used to it by now, his mother had done it to him often enough.
Vin had spent the night torn between wanting to make sure Ezra was alright in jail and the need to avoid that building. He was afraid that JD or the Judge would see his wanted poster and have him arrested too. No it would be best if he left town now. Vin had brought his and Chris's horses out onto the street while he waited for Chris to return from buying supplies. He heard noises come from down the street and looked to see a mob confronting JD in front of the jail. Since no other help seemed to be coming, Vin stepped forward to help. One shot into the air was all it took for the crowd to disperse. Now that he was at the jail he couldn't resist going inside to see Ezra one last time. He followed JD inside. Ezra was pacing back and forth nervously but upon seeing the two men he stood still.
The sound of an angry mob, then gunfire had alerted him to trouble and Ezra looked for some way to defend himself in case trouble came through the door but locked in a cell he was helpless.
Trouble did come through the door but not the lethal kind. The kind that was embodied by a thin body all covered in buckskin, curly brown hair and the most amazing blue eyes.
"You doing okay?"
"Aside from the fact I'm incarcerated?"
"I'll be fine Mr Tanner and yourself?"
"Heading out for Texas, thought I'd come by to say goodbye."
"I see." Ezra didn't know what to say except don't go and he doubted that asking would grant him that wish.
"Got some important business to take care of."
"Well have a pleasant trip Mr Tanner." He turned from Vin and walked over to look out the window. "I hope your business will be profitable."
"Thank you, but it ain't that kind of business. I just hate leaving you here in jail."
"Don't concern yourself. I doubt I'll be residing here for very long."
"They gonna take you back to Fort Laramie then?"
"Yes I believe that is the plan." Ezra had other plans but he wasn't ready to disclose them, especially not here in the jail in front of the sheriff.
"Well good luck to you."
Ezra turned and their eyes met. "And you Mr Tanner. The very best of luck to you." And he watched while his heart walked out the door.
"You can't break him out of jail." Chris couldn't understand what had gotten into Vin or he did understand but he just thought it was a bad idea for his new friend to get too involved with a con man and a gambler. "He ran out on us."
"He came back for us. Hell Chris, we'd be dead now if he hadn't come back. The least we could do is make sure he's okay before we go."
"He can't come with us to Tascosa. He doesn't know about the bounty and I'm not sure you should tell him. After all $500.00 is an awful big temptation."
"Bullshit Larabee. I trusted him with my life back there and he didn't let me down."
"He broke the law, you don't even know what's he's been accused of."
"And you just assume that he's guilty. Did you go over there and ask him what he's supposed to have done? You believed me soon enough when I told you I was innocent but you can't even bother to walk across the street and get his story."
Chris was trying to come up with a good argument when they heard the sound of gunfire coming from the saloon. Chris ran to the saloon with Vin right behind him. Chris broke a window and jumped through while Vin remained on the street firing at the men holding the horses. He tried to shoot Lucas James as he and his men ran from the saloon but he was left cursing as JD ran out of the saloon after the fleeing murderer blocking his shot at them.
As soon as the boy sheriff had taken the prisoner from the jail Ezra jumped from the cot and pulled a wire from the seam of his pants. He walked over to the door and with very little effort had it open.
He went to the desk to look for his guns. He had seen JD put them in one of the drawers, he just couldn't see which one. Once he found them he sat them on the desk top and started to put on the arm rig, knocking a stack of papers over in the process.
"Great," he muttered and would have let them lay on the floor but one caught his attention.
"Wanted Dead or Alive. Vin Tanner, $500.00 reward." The picture was a very good likeness of the handsome tracker.
Ezra started to set it back on the desk. If the young sheriff saw this it might distract him from looking for Ezra, but Ezra knew he couldn't let himself do that to the man he considered more than a friend. He folded the paper up and put it in his pocket. Opening the door carefully he looked out before exiting and swore as a group of rough men rode into town and dismounted in front of the saloon. Soon there was the sound of gunfire and he saw Vin and Chris making their way down the street, moving toward the building that Ezra knew was hosting Lucas James' trial.
"Shit," Ezra said to himself as he realized that the saloon was between him and the livery. He refused to go without his horse. He watched as Lucas James and his men rode out of town. Now was his chance. He started for the livery only to come face to face with Chris Larabee. He and Vin were carrying a wounded Judge Travis from the saloon. Followed by JD. The glare Chris gave him made him cringe.
"JD, take THAT prisoner back to the jail," Chris ordered as they were joined by Nathan and Josiah, who had also been alerted by the sound of gunfire.
As they walked back to the jail, JD asked his prisoner, "So Ezra, how'd you get out?"
Ezra just glared at the young man. "As if I'll give up my secrets," he thought to himself.
Once JD had him secured back in his cell with both doors locked he left again. Ezra was contemplating making another attempt when Josiah came in.
"JD said you might be lonely in here all by yourself."
Ezra cursed under his breath, damning JD, Josiah, Judge Travis and the whole damn town to hell. Then he settled back on the bed and waited for his next chance.
That chance came the next day when he persuaded Chris to let him accompany them to the James ranch to recapture Lucas. The plan was a simple one but it almost didn't work. If not for the timely arrival of Buck Wilmington they might have all been killed. Once they arrived back in town with their prisoner, Ezra was trying to decide if he could ride away from the town without anyone noticing when the Judge made them an offer of 30 days as a peacekeeper in exchange for a dollar a day plus room and board.
"It's a pity that I, as a convicted felon will be unable to lend my services," Ezra refused. He needed to get away, avoiding a return to jail. Then the judge offered his a pardon.
"What the hell," he thought and agreed. Then one by one the others agreed to stay.
His held breath turned to a smile as Vin answered, "I got some things need taking care of. But I guess they'll keep."
"I have a feeling I'm going to regret this," was Chris' answer.
Glancing at Vin, Ezra couldn't help but wonder if he shouldn't feel the same way.
Ezra had awoken early and hadn't been able to get back to sleep. He was wondering what new trouble the day would bring. He had been in the saloon the night before when JD had come in to get Nathan. He had listened while JD explained how he had helped Chris and Buck rescue one of the girls from Wicks Town. Ezra had never met Wicks himself, but he knew that men like that could be very possessive when it came to their "property". He figured that sooner or later Wicks or one of his men would come looking for her.
He got out of bed and went to open the window. The sun had only been up a few hours. He saw Chris, Mary and Vin coming from Nathan's room above the livery. He assumed that they were checking on the girl. Chris and Mary seemed to be having a confrontation but Ezra's attention was on the long haired man following them. The beauty of the man never failed to thrill him and he allowed himself to become lost in the fantasy of being with Vin. In the weeks since he had agreed to the job of peacekeeper, he had spent time with Vin in the saloon as well as at the jail. They had talked about a variety of things and Ezra had been surprised by the quick wit and intelligence of the man, despite his obvious lack of education. When Vin, Chris and Mary all turned to look down the street, Ezra also looked to see what had caught their attention. It was a covered wagon driven by two women. As the three went to meet the new arrivals, Ezra decided that maybe this was the trouble that he had been expecting. He rushed to dress so he could go and assess the situation himself.
As he exited the saloon he watched for a moment as Vin walked to the stable, once Vin had disappeared inside he forced his attention to the group of women gathered around the wagon. He was stopped cold by the appearance of an all too familiar face.
"Lydia, what is she doing here." He turned to go back into the saloon but realized his absence would be noticed. He quickly came up with a plan to get these women off the street and out of the public view. As Ezra led the ladies to the bathhouse he avoided looking at Lydia, afraid that someone would notice a familiarity between the two of them and start asking questions.
Vin watched as Wicks' men rode out of town, then went in search of Chris.
Finding the gunslinger on the boardwalk outside the jail, Vin asked, "So, what now?"
"Now I find Lydia and make arrangements for the ladies to leave town. It won't take long for Wicks to figure out who Buck and I are. The next time he will come himself and won't leave until he either finds the ladies or is sure they aren't here."
Vin nodded in agreement as Chris headed to the bathhouse in search of Lydia.
The sound of women's laughter drifted across the street and Vin's attention was brought to the porch in front of the hotel where Ezra had gathered the other ladies.
Another wave of feminine laughter came across the street, obviously Ezra was being his natural charming self. Vin felt a twinge of jealousy at the thought of Ezra taking up with one of those women. In the days since they had accepted the judge's job offer, Vin had watched the gambler. He had been polite and respectful to the women of the town and hadn't shown any particular interest in any of them. Still it would be only natural for the gambler to seek female companionship. Vin pulled out his harmonica and began to blow tunelessly. While most people would find the sound annoying Vin found comfort in it. He had picked up the instrument while fur trading and had always intended to learn how to play it but somehow never got around to it.
Vin's feeling of contentment was ripped away by another wave of laughter from across the street and Vin found himself fighting the urge to go and drag Ezra was from "those who..."
His thoughts were interrupted by Chris' return.
"We need another plan."
Vin glanced regretfully once more across the street, then went to join Chris in the saloon.
Once "Charm School" was finished Josiah and Buck accompanied the ladies to the restaurant for lunch while Ezra stayed behind at the church. Nathan's words had cut deep and he wished he could explain that he was trying to help the ladies the only way he knew. Prostitution was a cruel way of life. The fact that Nora had been beaten by both one of her clients and by Wicks, the man who employed her, was evidence of that. And there weren't that many other opportunities open to them. They didn't have the money or the skills to start their own businesses. Marriage was the only way Ezra could see for them to escape. His contemplations were interrupted by the arrival of Lydia.
"Hello E Z," she greeted.
"It's been a while."
"You disappeared so suddenly I was sure that you were dead."
"Not quite, but it was a near thing."
"It's Ezra now. In fact it always has been."
Lydia nodded in understanding. After all, Lydia wasn't the name she had been born with either. She came forward, caught hold of his face and looked into his eyes.
"Good," she said with a nod, liking what she saw there or rather what she didn't see.
"I have made a few changes in my life since last you saw me."
"Changes for the better, I think. But a lawman, that's one I never would have expected."
"I just want you to know that all your secrets are safe. I can understand if you don't want these people to know that we are acquainted and just how we know one another."
"Thank you, my dear." But he couldn't help but wonder what she would want from him in return, everybody wanted something.
"Ezra," she forced herself to use the unfamiliar name. "You don't need to worry. I'm just glad you were able to turn your life around and find something better. You looked out for me often enough back then. The least I can do is look out for you now. I owe you that much."
"Thank you." He sank down onto one of the pews, overwhelmed with relief. "Thank you so very much."
"No, thank you for looking out for me again. Me and the girls."
"You know I...."
"I know, I overheard what Nathan said and I know you wouldn't do anything to hurt us." With that she left while Ezra took a few more moments to collect himself before leaving.
"Walks awful graceful, don't he?"
Vin had looked up to see Ezra walking down the steps with a book on his head. If the situation hadn't been so serious Vin would have laughed.
"Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?"
"Wicks has taken Mary and says he'll kill her if the ladies aren't back by the end of the day," Chris informed him.
"Then what are we standing around for, let's go after her." He turned toward the livery with the intention of getting on his horse and riding off to the rescue. When no one followed him he turned back to his fellow peacekeepers. "Surely you don't intend to send the ladies back?"
"No, just one very special lady." Ezra couldn't tell what Vin had in mind but, by the look on his face, he could tell he wasn't going to like it.
Soon he found himself in his room while Lydia helped him to change into the most God-awful purple dress he had ever seen.
It was there in his room that Vin found him, standing at the foot of his bed grasping the post while Lydia tightened the strings of a corset around his waist. His chest beneath a protective camisole showed just a hint of nipples. His lower body was covered in a pair of silk drawers similar to ones Vin had once see two boxers wear back in Texas. Below that he had on silk socks and some sort of slippers. At the sight of the near naked gambler, Vin felt his groin begin to stir, he took off his hat, held it in front of him and tried not to stare.
"Is there something I can do for you Mr Tanner?" Ezra asked.
"No, I just wanted to make sure you were okay with the plan."
"I go to the saloon and cause a distraction by starting a fight or 'something'. I believe your instructions were simple enough."
"No, I mean are you okay doing it."
"I'll be fine, Mr Tanner, thank you for your concern," Ezra said as Lydia helped him put on the dress.
"I don't see why I couldn't do this," Lydia insisted, like she had when the plan was first brought up. "It wouldn't be difficult to distract Wicks. I can guarantee that if I went into that camp Wicks would stop whatever he was doing to welcome me home."
"NO!" both men said at once.
"It's too dangerous. Wicks would probably shoot you on sight," Ezra argued.
Vin nodded his head in agreement. "You shouldn't go anywhere near there."
Lydia looked down for a moment then, making a decision she turned to the dresser, indicating that Ezra sit in the rocking chair while she got the wig ready for him.
"Well I guess I need to go see about a buggy for you. You can't exactly be riding a horse out there."
"Of course," Ezra agreed as he watched Vin leave.
"It's not easy, is it." Lydia asked.
Ezra looked at her, knowing she was talking about his attraction to Vin but not wanting to deal with it right now, so he pretended she was taking about something else. "Nonsense. This will be the easiest con I've ever pulled. It's not as if I have to live as a woman for any length of time, I just have to pull it off for a few minutes at the most. You know as well as I do how easy fights are started in places like that."
Lydia just nodded and fitted the wig on her old friend's head. If he didn't want to deal with the handsome young man who had just left, Lydia wasn't going to force it for now but later, once this was all over....
Wicks was dead, Mary was safe and the ladies were now free. Once they had arrived back in Four Corners they had separated. Chris and Nathan were seeing to Mary. Buck, JD and Josiah were on watch in case any remnants of Wicks' men had followed them back. Ezra headed to the saloon for a much-needed drink, not caring at this point that he was still wearing a dress. As he downed the first shot his mind went into action. He already had a few husbands lined up and was sure he could find a few more. Maybe not the prosperous ranchers he had hoped for, but he would make sure they were good men. Despite what Nathan and Josiah might think, this wasn't about the money. He knew better than most the kind of things they had to put up with, the choices they had to make and the fact that more often than not they had no choice. People didn't become whores because they wanted to. Sometimes you just had to do what was necessary to survive. Ezra knew that better than he wanted to, although his circumstances had been a bit different. Addiction could drive a man to make choices a sane man would never contemplate. None of these women seemed to be that far gone. No, they sold themselves from economic necessity not weakness. During the war, as the southern forces found themselves abandoning Atlanta, Ezra had been shot by a Yankee sharpshooter. He had found himself at the mercy of so-called field doctors whose method of treatment usually included amputation and laudanum. Fortunately he had been spared the first option but not the second. When he walked away, he took all the laudanum with him he could carry and never looked back. Soon he couldn't win enough at poker to satisfy his needs. He had to resort to other methods to pay for his supply. As he traveled west with the railroad, he was able to find men desperate enough to pay for what he could offer. $3.00 for a blow job, more if he swallowed. For greater satisfaction the cost was more. It was during this time he teamed with Lydia for a while. Mostly her customers would pay him just to watch. Occasionally they wanted to watch he and Lydia together, sometimes they wanted him to join in. As long as he got paid, Ezra hadn't cared.
Laudanum had given way to opium. More expensive but more satisfying. He didn't remember when he and Lydia had parted ways, in fact everything was pretty much a blur. He finally regained his sanity more than a year after Atlanta. He had awoken in an alley in Kansas City beaten, bloody and broken, with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. He made his way to a mission where the good fathers nursed him until he was free of his addiction. Six weeks after entering the mission, Maude had come for him. He went back to New Orleans with her and together they worked cons up and down the Mississippi. But there were too many bad memories there. Memories of the war and of his reasons for going to war in the first place. So he and Maude worked their way west again. Most recently they had parted company after a botched con in Fort Laramie. Maude had retreated to familiar ground. She had always enjoyed St Louis and maintained a house there, the spoils of one of her marriages. Ezra had decided to continue his exploration of the west. In the territories he could start over. Once he arrived in Four Corners, Ezra Standish was reborn and he swore that no man would ever buy a piece of his soul again. What he had to offer, he would give to whomever he chose. Ezra's attention was brought back to the present by the arrival of Vin and Lydia.
Vin laid his money on the bar. "One gut-warmer and another for my friend." He turned to Lydia. "What'll you have?"
She looked Vin up and down. A smile spread across her face. "I'll have what you're having."
Ezra recognized her tone, it was the same one she had used when approaching prospective customers. He turned his attention to his new drink.
"I just want to thank the two of you for everything you did for me and the girls."
"That's not necessary," Vin protested.
"Oh, but it is. If it wasn't for you doing that trick with the wagon yesterday and Ezra's distraction today, Wicks would have found us out for sure."
"You're quite welcome," Ezra assured her.
"Now go away," he added silently. The longer she stayed, the more of a chance their past might be revealed.
"I was wondering if you'd consider letting me show you both how grateful I am," she purred.
Vin nearly choked on his drink. "Both of us?"
"Sure. Don't tell me men of the world such as yourselves have never shared?"
Vin just shook his head.
"Never with a friend." Ezra couldn't lie and now Vin turned to stare at him.
"This is such a bad idea!" Ezra thought to himself. He prayed that Vin would turn her down, but Vin turned a hopeful look on the gambler. "I'm game if Ezra is."
"Aw hell," Ezra muttered to himself but knew he could not deny the tracker if this was what he wanted. "Well then, by all means, let us adjourn to my room," and indicated they should follow him up the steps.
Vin entered the room last, removing his coat, hat, gun belt and letting them fall to the floor. He watched as Ezra had moved over to the dresser and was removing the wig and feathers from his head. His movements mesmerized Vin and he thought, "I can't believe I'm here in his room, getting ready to go to his bed. Course it'd be perfect if it was just the two of us but can't see him doing this without Lydia as well. Still here we are."
"Why don't you help him," Lydia whispered in his ear then moved away. Vin practically ran to the gambler's side.
"Need some help?" he asked and Ezra nodded.
As Vin unbuttoned the dress, he couldn't help but let his fingers brush the bare skin of Ezra's upper back. As he went lower, the corset and camisole impeded his touch so he leaned closer and inhaled the scent. Though dressed as a woman, Ezra hadn't been persuaded to wear feminine perfume so his smell was all his own, familiar yet strange and exciting. And Vin was getting more excited by the moment. With the buttons finished he withdrew his hand but Ezra pulled the dress from his arms, let it fall to the floor and leaned back against him.
"Ezra?" he asked permission.
"Yes," permission was granted.
He wrapped his arms around the gambler, pulling him against him. Ezra shuffled as he removed the slippers he had been wearing then leaned into the tracker's embrace and tilted his head to one side. Vin didn't hesitate to take Ezra up on his invitation, lowering his mouth to kiss and lick the soft skin of his neck. One hand moving up Ezra's body to rub his nipples through the corset, the other moving down to slide across the gambler's stomach, moving in circles lower and lower and he began to rub his now erect cock against one of Ezra's buttocks. The sound of the door closing caused them to jump apart and turn around. Lydia was gone.
Lydia had moved about the room, pulling the curtains closed and turning down the bed so that nothing was left on it but the sheet, everything else was folded at the bottom. Lighting one lamp, she turned to the two men with her and smiled. They were pressed tightly against each other and Vin was kissing Ezra's neck. Trying to be quiet she went to the door, she looked back and, deciding that they wouldn't miss her, she went downstairs to the saloon. She would find the other girls and get them ready to leave in the morning. Now that they were free of Wicks she had a plan for their future.
Upstairs Ezra turned toward Vin uncertainly.
"You don't have to stay if you'd rather not, but I think you do and I want you to."
"I DO want to," came the husky reply.
"Good." Ezra took Vin by the hand and walked him to the bed. Sitting him on the bed, Ezra knelt in front of him. Vin leaned back on his hands and watched as his boots and socks were removed. Then his hands moved up Vin's legs in slow circles, mimicking Vin earlier movements. They rubbed up and down the outside of his thighs a moment. Then he looked up into Vin's eyes to be sure. Seeing the desire there as well as the bulge in his crotch, Ezra undid the buttons of Vin's pants and gently pulled his cock free of his union suit. With a sly smile he placed his tongue against the tip and was pleased to hear Vin moan with pleasure. Vin found he couldn't sit up any longer as his tip was taken into a warm wet mouth. He laid back on his elbows, closing his eyes and allowed the sensations to take him as a warn wet mouth began to suckle him.
Ezra had grasped his cock with his right hand while his left caressed his still clad inner thighs, brushing against his crotch as he moved from one side to the other. After a while the hand came to a stop at his crotch and started rubbing between his legs. As the sucking and rubbing became more intense Vin suddenly sat up.
"Oh God Ezra, I'm gonna come NOW!" Vin tried not to shout his warning and Ezra did something he never expected, something no one had done since Trent. Instead of removing his mouth and finishing him with his hand, Ezra began to suck harder, taking him deeper into his mouth and Vin exploded as Ezra eagerly swallowed all he had to give. Vin collapsed back on the bed for a moment then reached out his left hand to touch the man who had just given the greatest pleasure he had ever known. But his hand came up empty as Ezra rose from the floor and went to the dresser to get a drink from his silver flask. As he moved away Vin could see his fully engorged cock though the thin fabric of the silk drawers he was still wearing. Vin got up and followed him back to the dresser. Wrapping himself around the gambler he returned to his earlier position, this time his right hand slipping into his drawers to take a firm grasp of Ezra's cock. Then as his mouth once again started on Ezra's neck and shoulder, his hand began to gently stroke his cock.
"Good Lord," Ezra moaned as his hips began to thrust against Vin's hand, his backside rubbing against Vin still exposed cock.
It didn't take long before Ezra was shooting his seed into his drawers and Vin's hand. Vin held the smaller man with his left arm while he regained his bearings. Vin's right hand came to his mouth as he licked away Ezra's seed. The gambler watched him in the mirror through half-closed eyes while slowly his breathing returned to normal. Ezra pulled away and turned to face him.
"Come to bed with me."
Vin nodded, unable to speak coherently for the moment. Once more Ezra took his hand and led him back to the bed.
"Could you help me?" Ezra asked, nodding to indicate the corset still binding his chest. Vin studied the bindings a moment then stumbled to his clothes and retrieved the knife still sheathed there. Returning to Ezra's side he cut through the corset's ties, then set the knife on the bedside table. Ezra let the corset fall to the floor and turned once more to face Vin. He pulled the protective camisole over his head revealing firm chest muscles and soft pale flesh. Unthinking, Vin reached his hands out to touch soft skin, one hand coming to rest at the gambler's waist, the other stroking slowly downward from shoulder to chest, coming to rest on the other side of his waist. When Vin would have leaned in for a kiss, Ezra pulled away. Sitting on the bed, he removed the stockings from his legs then lifted himself up enough to slip his semen stained silk undergarment off. Now naked, Ezra smiled at Vin as he laid back and nodded for Vin to proceed with his own clothing. Vin was suddenly self-conscious as he reached up to begin unbuttoning his shirt.
"Now Mr Tanner, no need to be shy. It's not like I haven't seen the more interesting parts already." He nodded to Vin's half hard cock still protruding from his open fly. Vin blushed and turned away from the naked man in the bed. Walking over to the rocking chair by the window, he sat and removed his boots and socks. Then, standing and turning his back to the bed, he took off his shirt and pants laying them over the back the chair. He could hear breathing behind him growing loud and rough as Ezra started to become aroused.
Next the union suit came off and he too was naked. The sight that met him when he turned back to the bed caused him to lose his breath for a moment. Ezra was propped up on one side, leaning on his right arm as his left hand slowly stroked his still lax cock as it started to come back to attention.
"Come to bed," he entreated again and Vin couldn't resist. He slipped into bed and into the gambler's embrace.
Once more Ezra avoided Vin's mouth. Instead he laid on his back and pulled Vin's head to his chest while he guided one of Vin's hands to his groin. He could feel Vin's hardening cock against his leg as Vin's tongue began to lave his chest and nipples.
While Vin's mouth was busy, his hand was once more caressing Ezra's cock, bringing it back to full hardness as Ezra's hips began to flex and he moaned. Vin moved lower, nipping at pale flesh along the way and watching in fascination as red spots appeared in the wake of his attentions. Finally coming to Ezra's cock he prepared to take it in his mouth, but a glance at the man's face and Vin saw something he wanted even more. He made his way back up Ezra's body as Ezra spread his legs wider, encouraging Vin to settle between them. Vin found himself propped up, staring down into the face of the handsome gambler. His lips tingled with the anticipation of a kiss and he leaned in but once more Ezra turned his head.
"Please," he begged but Ezra shook his head.
"I can't. I'm sorry."
Vin wasn't sure he understood the gambler's reluctance and he started to move away from the man, but a foot slowly sliding up his left leg stopped him as thought left and need took over. He thrust his groin forward and Ezra moved to meet him. Now it didn't matter if Ezra didn't love him, it only mattered that Ezra wanted him and he wanted Ezra... badly.
Grunts and small cries accompanied their movements as two hands slowly slipped down his back to grasp his buttocks, pulling him closer. Feet rubbed up and down his legs before bracing themselves against the mattress. They lunged against each other again and again. Slick cocks rubbing together. Vin could feel himself getting close. He threw his head back and rutted hard into the man below him. Each thrust was met with equal force and suddenly Vin could feel warmth shooting across his belly then he was coming again and he collapsed, burying his face into the chest below him.
When he finally came back to himself he realized that Ezra was gently pushing against him and that the man was almost gasping for air. He reluctantly moved away, rolling over onto his back then reaching out for his lover only to find him gone again.
"Where..." he started, but Ezra leaned over and put one finger against his lips.
"I'll be right back."
Vin sleepily closed his eyes. The last thing he remembered was the feel of a cool wet cloth washing his skin as he drifted off to sleep.
The next time Vin was aware, he was laying on his back looking at a ceiling and he was covered in a quilt. The light of a new day was just starting to show around the edges of the closed curtains but there was enough light for Vin to see. For a moment he was confused.
Then he saw Ezra. He was laying on his side, facing away from Vin. His own hand was tangled in Ezra's hair, he stroked the chestnut curls, enjoying the silk-like feeling against his fingers. Then remembering Ezra's earlier denial of a kiss, he pulled away. Vin slipped from the bed and dressed silently, careful not to wake the sleeping man. Carrying his coat and boots he started for the door, then cursed silently as Ezra started to stir.
"Mr Tanner. What are you doing? Come back to bed," Ezra said, sitting up.
"I think it would be best if I left."
"I suppose you are right," Ezra said, rubbing his face then letting his hands drag through his hair before leaning back to prop himself up with them, the covers falling around his waist exposing his chest.
Vin stared a moment, forgetting that he was leaving. Instead he was focusing on pale flesh glowing in the soft lamplight and the trail of red passion marks that went from Ezra's chest downward, disappearing beneath the covers. Vin thought about what lay at the end of that trail and had to fight the desire to undress and return to the gambler's bed. Finally he forced himself back to the current situation. He said, "It's just that it wouldn't look right for anyone to see me sneaking out of here."
"Of course," Ezra agreed, but his tone and expression showed his disappointment.
"It ain't like that, Ez. It's just that people wouldn't understand." He dropped his boots and coat on the floor as he crossed over to the bed and caressed Ezra's face with both hands. "I don't regret what happened here. I've wanted you ever since that first day in the saloon." He bent down to brush the top of Ezra's head with his lips. "I DO have to go before someone starts looking for one of us."
Ezra couldn't stop grinning as he watched Vin gather his things and leave. Vin had wanted him. Maybe this wasn't a one time thing. Of course, a future together was out of the question, but they still had some time left on their 30-day commitment. After that maybe Vin would be interested in traveling with him for a while.
Ezra had never had the luxury of a long-term relationship. He had been close only twice. The first time was the 3 months he was married, before Victoria had been killed. Ezra put thoughts of her away, it was still too painful after all this time.
The other time was with Captain Hunter during the war, but that really didn't qualify as a relationship. It had been totally at the captain's convenience and Ezra had not even been allowed to call him by his first name, Brady. Even in bed he was 'My Captain'. If he hadn't been killed, he would have returned to his wife and children after the war. Ezra had been a convenience and nothing more. Captain Hunter had been a means to get ahead in the world that he had reluctantly found himself a part of. If feelings had become a part of it, Ezra had quickly put them aside. And he was prepared to do that again if it would keep Vin returning to his bed.
After leaving Ezra's room Vin had some breakfast before making his way to the stable to get Peso and ride out for a bit. He needed time to think. His body and his heart were telling him to turn around and go back to the bed above the saloon and the man he had left there. His mind was telling him that this would be a bad idea, that he might say something foolish like how he wanted to stay with the gambler forever. Ezra had never indicated that he wanted forever. Until last night Vin hadn't even been certain Ezra wanted him at all. But while Vin was struggling to define his feelings for the gambler he was sure that, whatever they were, they were not returned. If Ezra did have feelings for him, he would have let Vin kiss him.
"Hell," Vin said, disgusted with himself for letting him get into this situation.
"Talking to yourself Vin?" a voice came out of the darkness of the stable.
Vin's hand automatically went for his mare's leg as he stepped from the outdoor light and tried to make his eyes adjust to the shadows.
"Easy boy, it's just Buck and Nathan," Buck said.
Vin noticed that their horses were saddled. "Where you headed?"
"We're escorting the ladies out to the Whitley pass and meeting the prison wagon with that parolee Mrs Travis is helping out."
"Lydia and the ladies are leaving?"
"Yeah, they want to get a new start in Frisco. Open their own house."
"At least this puts a stop to Ezra's plan to sell 'em," Nathan added.
Vin found Nathan's attitude to be annoying. "At least he was trying to give them a better life."
"Trying to line his own pockets, more like."
Vin opened his mouth to answer, but Buck beat him to it. "Now Nathan, you know a woman all alone out here don't have many options, being a wife or whorin' are about it without money or connections. No, I figure ol' Ez was trying to look out for the ladies best he could. If he made a profit along the way well, good for him."
Nathan looked like he wanted to say something more but changed his mind as he led his horse from the stable and down the street to where that ladies were already waiting, Buck followed. "See you later."
"See ya," Vin replied, but his attention had already been caught by the appearance of Ezra coming down the street followed by 3 men. He led them over to the ladies and, after a few minutes he walked away, taking the men with him as they seemed to argue.
Knowing that no trouble would come from this, Vin entered the stable to saddle Peso and ride out of town.
Chris watched as Lydia and the girls left town. He had also seen Vin riding out moments before. He had looked for the tracker the night before and had not been able to find him. Lydia had indicated that she knew where he was and that he shouldn't be disturbed. When Ezra didn't show up for his regular game in the saloon, Chris figured he knew where his friend was.
Chris had heard from Nathan and Josiah all about Ezra's plan to sell the women off as mail order brides, but now he watched as Ezra reluctantly returned the money he had taken.
He waited a few minutes, then followed Ezra into the saloon where he found him sitting alone, practicing his card manipulations. Chris stood in front of him and waited until he looked up.
"Is there something I can help you with Mr Larabee?"
Chris waited a long moment, forcing Ezra to look up at him before he replied, "I don't trust you."
Ezra's mouth fell open but he had no reply, so Chris continued, "People died back in the Seminole Village because you couldn't be relied on to keep watch. How do I know that when it comes down to it you will be there, watching our backs? How do I know you won't betray us at the first opportunity to make some money?"
Ezra looked down and studied the tabletop while Chris spoke. Once Chris was finished he looked Chris in the eye and said, "I regret my actions that day, more than I can say. I came back. Too late, but in the end I was there and I have been here for you ever since. I know I have to prove myself to you. All I'm asking is that you give me that chance."
"I'll give you that chance," Chris replied. "But know this. If ANY ONE of us is hurt in ANY WAY by your actions, Hell isn't big enough to hide you. I will track you down and make you pay."
Chris didn't wait for a reply but turned and left the saloon. Ezra tried to calm his nerves by returning to his cards but his thoughts raced. Did Chris really not trust him to back them up? He thought he had proven himself by now. Hadn't he helped to recapture Lucas James? Hadn't he dressed as a women to distract Wicks so that they could rescue Mary? What more did Chris want from him? Then another thought struck him: maybe Chris was aware of the nature of his feelings for Vin. Did he disapprove because they were both men? Was he warning Ezra against pursuing the other man? Well, it was too late for that. They would have to be more careful in the future and he fully intended for there to be a future, if only until the end of their 30-day commitment.
As Vin rode he relived in his mind the night before. Every detail came back to him, how Ezra felt, how he tasted, the sounds he had made. Vin's only regret was that he had been denied a taste of the warm, wet mouth that had given his body so much pleasure. That the man wouldn't kiss was a sign to Vin that he lacked feeling for the tracker. Vin knew that, despite everything, Ezra was the only one he wanted, that the feelings were deep and lasting. Was it love? Vin couldn't say, that emotion was a stranger to him. But maybe at last here it was, and Vin worried that maybe the feeling wasn't returned. Maybe this was all Ezra wanted from him: a bout of pleasure and see you later. Well, Vin could take that for now but it saddened him to think that his emotions could end something that could be so wonderful. Well, he'd just have to try and keep his real feelings to himself, because he knew he would not be able to resist the lure of the gambler. If Ezra was willing, he would find his way to his bed again. As he rode, he thought about what he would say to Ezra once he returned to town. He just needed to convince the man that they could continue what they had started last night. If that meant denying his feelings, he would do that. All he knew was that he wanted Ezra again. This he couldn't deny, not to himself, not to Ezra. He rode on, trying to decide in his mind what he would say to the gambler when he returned to town.
Vin returned to town several hours later, determined to talk with Ezra. After seeing to Peso he went to the saloon. Ezra was playing cards with some men and Vin knew he would have to wait. He nodded to Chris and went to the bar to get a drink. Sliding up beside JD he started to engage the younger man in conversation when he noticed a little girl wander into the bar. He and JD were about to see to the girl when Buck and Nathan came in to take charge of her.
Ezra was aware the moment Vin entered the saloon but could not allow himself to be distracted. One of the players was cheating, cheating badly. If he wasn't careful this game could go very badly. If it had just been him at the table with the cheater, Ezra could have just ended the game with only a small loss, but there were other players and Ezra couldn't judge how they would react to the revelation of a cheater in their midst. Ezra cursed when a little girl wandered into the saloon followed by Buck and Nathan. As she came over to watch his game and no one came over to claim her, he decided to end the game now, before things got out of hand. Once more the cheater took the hand.
"Well, my, my. Fortune is indeed smiling upon you today," he congratulated the winner.
"Nope. He's palming cards," the little girl said.
"I know," Ezra replied, while his mind raced to find a way out of this without endangering the child standing by the cheater's elbow.
"You saying I cheated?"
"Oh, not at all. I'm saying you cheated badly." Ezra's gun came out in a pre-emptive move, followed by the guns of his friends at the bar. "The queen I dealt you is tucked neatly in your right boot. I detest an amateur."
"Well, I'll be... taking my leave now."
"That, I think, would be best."
"Tell me," the cheater hesitated, "uh... how'd you know?"
"Lessons will cost you extra. Good day." Ezra breathed a sigh of relief that everyone had escaped the situation unharmed.
Finally Buck came over to get the girl, handing her to Nathan and leaving the bar. A short time later JD took the girl and left with a promise of finding her mother. Ezra joined Vin and Nathan at the bar. He listened while Nathan explained who the little girl was and how they had been recruited to look after her. Nathan had just suggested they find Josiah and go to the restaurant for some lunch when JD came rushing back into the bar with the girl.
"We got trouble," he declared, and it wasn't long before Ezra found himself babysitting along with Nathan and Josiah, while Vin rode out of town with Chris after the men who had taken Buck.
They traveled in silence for a long time, careful not to get too close to the party ahead of them. Finally Chris spoke.
"I looked for you last night."
"Had some personal business to take care of."
"That's what I thought when I saw you heading to the saloon with Lydia. But after I left Mary, I found her over at the hotel making plans with the other ladies. Obviously she wasn't with you."
"Funny thing is, Ezra disappeared too."
Vin turned to Chris, his hand going to his gun, his eyes almost challenging Chris to make another comment.
"I'm not a child, Chris. What I do and who I do it with is not your concern."
"I know you're not a child Vin, but you're a friend. If that's what you do for fun it's not my business. Hell, I've been around enough to know that what a man does in private is his own concern. But Vin, by his own admission Ezra's a con man."
"And you think he's after what? My fortune?" Vin gave a short laugh. "All the money I have is what the Judge paid us last week. Hell, Ezra could just as easily win that off me playing poker."
"There is the $500.00 reward."
"Which Ezra don't know about. 'Sides, what do you think he's going to do? Seduce me into turning myself in so he can collect the reward?"
"I don't know what he's after," Chris finally admitted.
"Maybe he just needs a little company at night."
"And you, Vin, what do you need?"
"I need Ezra."
"That simple. Look, I'm not some lovesick kid. I'm not going to have forever. I know that eventually he'll go, there's nothing here for a man like Ezra. Four Corners isn't going to keep him and neither am I."
"But you want to keep him?"
Vin didn't answer. How could he admit to Chris feelings he wasn't sure of himself. He just shrugged and rode ahead of Chris, not wanting to continue the conversation.
Back in Four Corners, Ezra was busy helping Josiah babysit Olivia. He couldn't help but worry about his friends. He and Buck had become close in the past few weeks playing cards and sharing many laughs with JD over little things. It was the first time he had allowed himself to call someone friend, but Buck and JD were that for him. Now he didn't even know if Buck was still alive and, if the worst did happen, could he be enough of a friend to help JD get over the loss of the man who had become his brother.
His heart had sunk even further when Chris and Vin had ridden out after Buck. The admiration and respect he felt for Chris Larabee was something he had never given to any man, not even his commanding officers in the army.
Then there was Vin. If he had thought he loved the man before last night, he knew now that he HAD never and WOULD never feel such belonging to another person. Vin was everything to him, and to watch him ride away where he couldn't look after him was the hardest thing he had ever done. He sat in the church and prayed that if there was a God that he would look after these three men. In the meantime, he tried to keep his and Olivia's minds off their missing loved ones with card tricks and games.
As night fell it was decided that Josiah would take first watch at the church, with Ezra sleeping there as back up. JD would patrol the town while Nathan got some sleep at the jail in order to relieve JD later. No one knew when to expect the others back or what the men who had taken Buck and Terry wanted. They had to be prepared for anything.
As he slept he dreamt of Vin. Vin riding out in the wild, free, his long hair flying and he was riding beside his lover as they raced across a meadow. They laughed and just enjoyed their time together. Suddenly Vin was gone and Ezra didn't know where to look for him....
A sudden noise woke Ezra from his dream. By instinct he drew his gun, ready to fight off any threat, and there in front of him at last was Vin.
He lowered his gun and breathed a sigh of relief, when Josiah said, "Where's Olivia?"
The three of them went off, looking for the missing girl. They found instead a wounded JD. When Nathan pronounced that he would be alright, Ezra's mind turned back to the matter at hand, finding the girl. Buck's arrival and his announcement that Chris was with the gang on its way to rob the bank only made their situation more dire. They had to find Olivia before Chris and Terry were forced to rob the bank, or else they would either be forced to let the gang go free or risk getting the girl killed.
Once the gang rode into town, Ezra was able to see where Olivia was being held. He and Buck quickly moved across the street to the saloon. Upstairs Ezra lit the fire in the hall while Buck climbed the walls. Once the kidnapper came out to check the fire, it wasn't hard for Buck to knock him down and get the drop on the other kidnapper while Ezra stamped out the fire and subdued the man in the hall with a well-placed kick.
Once the two outlaws were secured, Ezra took Olivia over to the window and waited. Eventually Chris and Terry came out of the bank. Once Ezra was sure that Chris had seen them he took Olivia away from the window out of harm's way.
"I want my Mama," Olivia whined and tried to break free, but Ezra held on to her as she struggled.
"Take it easy, child," he said, holding on, all the time listening to the fight in the street below. He recognized the sound of Chris' six shooters and JD's rifle. But the sound he was waiting for never came. Where was the sound of Vin's shotgun? Ezra began to worry for his lover's safety while he struggled with the struggling child who was almost hysterical on her attempts to get away, all the while calling for her mother. Then there was the sound of Chris's guns again being answered by a strange weapon, then all was quiet. Ezra sent a silent prayer that Vin was alright as Olivia broke away from him and he chased after her.
"Olivia, it might not be safe yet," he called out, but she was gone. He ran outside, gun drawn, and was just in time the witness the reunion of mother and daughter. Chris nodded to him, letting him know everything was under control and he turned to look for Vin. He smiled as he watched his lover taking a rope from off one of the bank robbers and moved to help take the bandits to the jail, where Josiah volunteered to take first watch. Once everyone was accounted for and it was determined that the only wound that any of the seven incurred was the knife wound that JD had received earlier, the seven began to relax as they wished each other good night and went their separate ways. Buck and Nathan were determined to tuck JD in for the night, all the while the young man complained that he did not need a babysitter. Chris walked toward the saloon, Ezra moved to follow him. Vin fell behind the others and grabbed Ezra's arm to hold him back.
"We need to talk," Vin whispered.
"Indeed, Mr Tanner, can you come to my room? We can talk undisturbed." Ezra then joined Chris to try and explain how four grown men couldn't keep track of one little girl.
Vin nodded and watched in appreciation as the gambler walked away. When he made his way into the saloon he didn't see Ezra, so he figured he had already gone upstairs. Nodding to Chris, who sat with a bottle and a glass in front of him, Vin headed upstairs A few minutes later he found himself in the gambler's room. They stood for a few awkward moments.
"Vin, last night..."
"You don't need to say..."
"Just saying what I feel, Ezra." He stepped closer and put a hand on one of the gambler's shoulders, but instead of saying what he REALLY felt in his heart, he said, "I was with you last night 'cause it was what I wanted . You didn't take advantage. I was the one to start things. Remember?"
Ezra nodded, the words of love he longed to say would not cross his lips, not until he was sure the feelings were returned.
"Now," Vin went on. "What we have to figure out is what happens now."
"I ain't gonna lie. Ezra, I had a great time last night and I think you enjoyed yourself too. Am I right?"
"So maybe we could do it again sometime." Vin smiled hopefully.
Ezra nearly went weak at the knees and he couldn't help the smile that spread across his face. "I think that is a distinct possibility."
They stepped into one another and embraced. Vin buried his face into the side of Ezra's neck and Ezra whispered into his ear, "Now would be a good time don't you agree Mr Tanner?"
Vin sighed and fought off a yawn. "I'd love to Ezra, but it's been a long day. I've been to Purgatory and back, as well as a gunfight. I need to get some sleep. Sorry."
"No need to apologize. It has been a long day and I have this big feather bed here just waiting to provide you with the comfort of a good night's sleep."
"You saying we should SLEEP together, Ezra, just sleep?"
Vin nodded and watched as Ezra sat on the bed and pulled off his boots. One slipped from his hand and fell to the floor, revealing a large wad of money.
Vin stared in surprise. There must have been several hundred dollars tucked away there.
Ezra picked up the money and put it away in the bedside table.
"Some day," he said with a wistful smile, "I will own my own saloon. An establishment of class and sophistication, where gentlemen will retire to drink and gamble and relax at the end of the work day."
"Sounds like a nice dream, Ezra. I hope it comes true for you."
"Thank you, Mr Tanner. I hope you achieve your heart's desire as well."
Vin had no real dream of a future. Not with a bounty on his head. Right now he only had a simple desire, and that was to spend as much time as he could with Ezra.
Once more he undressed, leaving his clothing on the rocking chair. He had gotten down to his union suit and was wondering if he should remove it when the light in the room dimmed. He turned to see a naked Ezra extinguishing the lamp by the bed. He then turned down the covers and got into bed, never taking his eyes off Vin. Vin finished undressing and joined his friend in the bed. He pulled Ezra into an embrace, resting the con man's head on his chest, Ezra's arm laid across his stomach. His last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were of how right this all felt.
Ezra lay there for the longest time listening to Vin's heartbeat. His breath slowed as he drifted deeper into sleep, but Ezra couldn't sleep. Being this close to Vin, breathing in his scent, Ezra was becoming aroused despite himself. He raised himself up and regarded the man sleeping by his side. He reached up to brush the hair from his beautiful face. He gently caressed forehead, eyes, nose, mouth and let his fingers come to rest on soft lips. Lips Ezra longed to taste, but knew that if he were to kiss Vin then his secret would be revealed. He was in love with Vin, he had been since that night in the Seminole village when Vin had offered to protect him from his nightmares. No one had ever offered to look out for him, no one that hadn't wanted something in return. Vin had made no demands on him, even last night Ezra knew that if he had said no at any point, Vin would have left and this would never have been spoken of again.
Ezra decided to take a chance, just this once while Vin was asleep. He leaned forward and brushed his lips ever so gently against Vin's.
"I love you," he whispered, then settled back onto Vin's chest and let sleep take him.
Vin woke later that night, he was once again facing the ceiling of Ezra's room.
"I could get used to this," he thought to himself. Ezra was pressed against his side, his head resting on Vin's chest, his left hand entwined with Vin's right one. He could he feel the gold ring that Ezra always wore pressed against his fingers and he started to rub it with his thumb as he wondered, not for the first time, about the woman who had put it there. What kind of woman had captured the con man's heart and where was she? That Ezra had returned to them in the Indian village told Vin that the man took his obligations seriously. If he ran out on her, why would he still be wearing her ring? If he loved her, then what was Vin doing in his bed?
"What happened to her, Ez?" he thought out loud.
"My wife died." Vin was startled. He was so deep in thought, he hadn't realized that Ezra was awake. Bodies shifted so that the two men faced one another. Vin still held on to Ezra's hand.
"You don't have to tell me, if you'd rather not."
"No Mr Tanner. I want you to know about Victoria." He was quiet for a full minute and Vin thought maybe he had fallen back to sleep. But finally he spoke: "When I was 15, my mother married a New Orleans attorney named Gerald Stanton and, for the first time since I was 7, she seemed to be happy to stay in one place. I worked for Gerald and at the time was considering a career in the law.
"With the inevitability of the coming war, Gerald became very busy. Clients were trying to get their affairs in order while they prepared to either serve or flee.
"I was 17 by this time and already used to traveling by myself. I was sent to St Louis to deliver some important papers. When I got on the boat for home I met Mr. Peter Clark and his daughter. Victoria was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I'm not ashamed to admit that marriage was not the first thing on my mind when I saw her. I was, after all, a young man with quite a bit of... shall we say... experience."
"You'd already got laid," Vin said with a knowing smile.
"So crude, Mr Tanner, but yes. By the time we got to Memphis she was sharing my bed. We married in Baton Rouge, but not before she had turned me down several times."
"She turned you down?" Vin could not imagine anyone saying no to Ezra. "Was it because you were just a kid? I mean, 17 is kinda young."
"No, I wasn't the problem. She was." There was another long pause. "Society considered her a Negro. Oh, you couldn't tell by looking at her since she was an octoroon and light skinned enough to pass. But her mother was born into slavery and the fact that there was even a small amount of Negro blood made it a problem."
"But you convinced her."
Ezra smiled. "Of course. I can be quite persuasive. After all, in New Orleans no one would know her and her father was already claiming her as a legitimate daughter. His wife was dead and so was Victoria's mother. There would be no one to reveal our secret, or so we thought."
"Someone found out?"
"Unfortunately yes. New Orleans was full of people from all over the south fleeing the coming war. Someone recognized Victoria and her father."
"While it's not uncommon for white men in New Orleans to take black mistresses and even have children with them, a marriage between the races is not recognized to be legal. We were arrested. I was brought before a judge who was a friend of my stepfather's. Despite my protests otherwise, the attitude was that I had been seduced. I was given a choice of 5 years in prison or service in the army. I chose the army. My plan was to desert the first chance I got and run off with Victoria, I had family connections in Martinique and I figured we could live there without any problems. I didn't count on Victoria not coming out of jail alive. They wouldn't let me see her, but I knew by the way her father blamed me it wasn't pretty."
Vin knew without Ezra saying it that Victoria had been raped.
"I'm sorry, Ezra. That must have been…." Words failed him, he was going to say terrible but somehow that didn't begin to describe how Ezra must have felt. Instead he pulled Ezra close and held him.
"Thank you." The reply was no more than a whisper. Vin could feel Ezra's breath against his chest and it warmed him all over.
After a while Ezra pulled back to look into his face and said, "Well, enough of this melancholy. I could use a drink now, how about you?"
"My flask is in the bureau." He started to move but Vin stopped him.
"Stay here. I'll get it. I need to get up anyway."
"It's in the top right hand drawer," Ezra said.
After relieving himself in the chamber pot, Vin walked over to the bureau, opened the drawer and reached inside to retrieve the flask. As he did, a piece of paper demanded his attention. He picked it up to look at it in a better light. He might not be able to read, but the bounty hunter recognized the wanted poster, his wanted poster.
"What the Hell," he said, grabbing Ezra's Colt from off the top of the bureau.
Ezra had watched with increasing interest as a naked Vin moved about the room. Studying the muscles of his back and buttocks. Allowing himself to be aroused and hoping that when Vin came back to bed they might act on his arousal. The sound of his own revolver being cocked drew him out of his reverie.
"Bastard," Vin growled.
Ezra's hands went up instinctively. "Mr Tanner?"
"Chris was right."
"Chris?" His earlier conversation with the gunslinger came back to him. What had he said to Vin?
"He thought you were after the bounty."
"Then what are you doing with this?"
"Do you remember when I escaped from jail…"
"I found that on the desk and took it."
"Because, if JD arrested me on the Judge's word, what do you think he would have done if he had seen that. What would the Judge have done?"
Vin relaxed, lowered the gun and nodded in understanding. "I didn't do it."
"You don't have to explain." Ezra relaxed as he heard the hammer of the gun easing back to rest.
"I want to." He came and sat on the edge of the bed. "When I was bounty hunting, one of the men I was after framed me for the murder of a farmer. I was able to get away but not before I was identified and that bounty placed on my head. I was going to go back and try to prove my innocence."
"Is that where you and Chris were heading the day Lucas James escaped?"
"But you decided to stay."
"Yeah. As important as my business in Tascosa is, there were other things here that needed taking care of. This town needed me. The six of you needed me and I needed you. The six of you," he added quickly, not wanting to give too much away, but here he was naked in Ezra's room with Ezra naked in bed and he was finding it harder and harder to deny what he needed from the other man. His cock was already hardening as he walked back to the bureau to replace the gun and the wanted poster.
He heard Ezra moving on the bed. "There's a bottle of hand lotion there, why don't you bring it with you when you come back to bed."
Vin looked back over his shoulder and saw that Ezra had thrown off his covers and was laying face down in the bed. He grabbed the lotion, walked back around and knelt on the bed, putting the bottle in Ezra's left hand. The two men grinned at each other while Vin reached over with his right hand to stroke Ezra's hair and then wander down to his neck and shoulder. Now using both hands, Vin stroked and caressed Ezra's back. He bent over and let his lips follow his hands until he came to Ezra's buttocks. Ezra spread his legs and Vin maneuvered himself until he was kneeling between them. He resumed massaging the firm cheeks in front of him, relishing the soft groans and sighs the gambler was making.
He bent once more to kiss the flesh his hands were exploring as he reached to retrieve the lotion. He poured some onto the gambler's back at the base of his spine, then gave Ezra the bottle to set on the bedside table. With his right hand he spread the lotion down the gambler's body, between his buttocks, finding his entrance.
Ezra cried out as the first of Vin's slick fingers slipped into him. Vin stopped his movement.
"I'm alright. Please don't stop."
Vin continued, sliding in a second finger. Now Ezra was moving toward the intruding digits and Vin could hear him gasping breathlessly, "Yes. Oh yes."
Now Vin added a third slick finger into the opening, stretching it wider and he reached for and found the sweet spot within the gambler that would bring him the ultimate pleasure.
Ezra began to babble as he was stroked again and again. "Oh lord. Yes. Now. Pleeeease. Vin."
Vin grinned at the use of his first name, he couldn't remember a time that the gambler had ever used it. His reverie didn't last long as Ezra came up on his hands and knees, pushing his bottom toward Vin's groin. Vin let his fingers slip free of his lover's body and used his left hand to hold apart Ezra's cheeks while his right hand guided his cock to the now relaxed opening, stopping with the head resting just inside and checking to make sure he wasn't causing any pain.
"Oh God Vin, yes please," Ezra begged incoherently and pushed back, taking in more of Vin's length.
Now both of Vin's hands grasped Ezra's hips as he pushed forward into the tight channel. Once he was completely inside, he stopped again to give the other man time to adjust. It wasn't until Ezra started moving that he started his own thrusts. When Ezra shifted beneath him and cried out, Vin knew he had hit the sweet spot again and made sure he kept his thrusts at that angle. Soon the men established a rhythm that ensured that they both felt pleasure. While they had started slow and tentative, soon they were pounding against each other. Ezra buried his face into his pillow to muffle the cries that he could no longer control, while Vin was forced to bite his lower lip with no thought to the pain he might be feeling. Vin could feel his orgasm starting and knew by his erratic movements that Ezra was close as well. He bent over the body before him, burying himself deep, biting back his shout as he came deep within the gambler. One hand went to the gambler's cock. He only had to stroke it a few times before Ezra was joining him in release.
They stayed that way for a long time, both shuddering with pleasure, harsh breathing slowly returning to normal. Vin felt Ezra's body relax and his cock slide free. Vin fell to his side and onto his back as Ezra collapsed beside him. Green eyes met blue with matching grins.
"Vin," Ezra panted, but he quickly bit back the words of love that were forming on his lips. Instead he reached out to caress Vin's chest.
"Hummm," Vin sighed contentedly, his eyes starting to close, only to open again as he felt the mattress shift and Ezra move away from him to stand beside the bed.
"It's alright. We just need to clean up a bit." And for the second night in a row, Vin fell asleep to the feeling of a cool wet cloth against his hot skin.
When Vin woke in the early morning hours he was alone. He knew that Ezra had left sometime in the night to relieve Josiah at the jail, but he missed him. Ezra had told him to stay as long as he wanted, but the loneliness was too much. He got up, dressed, and went in search of breakfast and Ezra. Maybe they could play cards and just talk. He wanted to hear all about Ezra's saloon and any other dreams he might have. But, more than anything, he just wanted to hear the sound of the other man's voice, to enjoy his company.
Vin stepped out of the Jail after being relieved from duty by Buck. He was restless, and considered for a moment taking Peso out for a ride. But that wasn't what he really wanted. He looked across the street to the porch saloon. There, sitting on a chair sipping a cup of coffee, was the thing he truly desired. It had been two weeks since he and Ezra had talked and come to their arrangement. A busy time when the trail hands from their earlier drive to market had returned home, pockets full of hard earned wages and no Wicks Town to spend them in. Two weeks of bar fights over the few working girls still in town. Two weeks of drunken shooting contests and other ugly games. The peacekeepers had been kept busy, except for one wild night when Ezra had surprised him just as he was completing his patrol of the town. The night they had spent in the room above the saloon surpassed anything Vin had ever experienced. Since then there never seemed to be enough time for he and Ezra to do much more than nod to each other in passing. They were either on duty, breaking up fights, or one of them was already asleep. Well, things had quieted down. There was only one drunk left in jail and he would be leaving soon, the rest had departed for home. Vin crossed the street and slid into the chair beside Ezra, coffee cup in hand. He stared at the southerner, trying to find the right words to ask want he wanted.
"Is there something I can do for you Mr Tanner?"
"Was wondering if you could do me a favor..." he hesitated.
"Mr Tanner, I can't help you if you don't tell me what you want."
"Well, Ezra, it's been a while since we... you know."
"Since we what?" Ezra pretended to be oblivious.
"You're going to make me say it aren't you?"
Ezra's grin was so big that the gold tooth showed. "Yes Mr Tanner, I want you to say it." He leaned closer. "I want you to tell me what you want to do. How you want to take me upstairs and how you want to fu..."
"Morning boys," Josiah interrupted as he approached from the direction of the restaurant.
The sound of the stage pulling into town and Mary Travis's cry of "Billy!" brought all of their attentions to the street.
"How sweet, a mother and son reunion," Ezra thought. Mary had talked about nothing but Billy's visit for over a week. Ezra noticed how truly happy they were to see one another and suddenly felt sad that his own mother would never be so undignified as to run shouting down the street to greet him. HIS mother was too caught up in appearances. HIS mother would be too busy trying to con her fellow passengers out of what wealth they might have on them at the time. HIS mother was getting off the stage. HIS MOTHER WAS GETTING OFF THE STAGE. He rushed to her side to stop her before she had a chance to rob the town blind, somehow blame him and take off again. She had done it before.
"Mother?" he gasped and took off to intercept her.
"Mother? I always thought Ezra was raised by wolves," Josiah commented.
Vin smirked. He didn't know about wolves but he certainly was a wild one.
"He takes his little skirt, and he puts it on the poor dog and makes her dance the cancan -"
Maude studied the men at the table with her. As she told her story about Ezra and his little dog, she wondered which of these men was the reason her son had stayed in this dusty little backwater. She couldn't imagine any other reason for him to remain. The story about wanting to earn a pardon was a ruse she has seen through, even in his letters. She knew he could care less about his legal status. That he had been caught in the first place was unusual, that he had gotten away, expected. No, if Ezra was determined to remain, there was a more personal reason. She had known about his preferences ever since his return from that damned war.
He had broke her heart, the empty shell of a man who had returned from the war. But it hadn't taken her long to figure out what was causing the dull look in his eyes, Laudanum.
Maude had pleaded with her son to stop taking the stuff. She had begged, then threatened. Finally she had cut him off financially. When he sought alternate ways to pay for his addiction, Maude had been shocked at the depths to which he had sunk. She knew a man who ran an institution and had made arrangements to have him locked up until he was free of the drug's influence.
Her friend had insisted that he could cure him but the treatment was brutal. Maude had not been allowed to see her son.
After a week they sent for her and she was hopeful as she made her way there. She was sure that once Ezra was healthy again he would forgive her.
Upon arrival she was given the shocking news. Ezra had escaped. She had spent almost a year searching for him with no luck. She grieved, fearing that he was dead. Then she got word, he was at a mission in Kansas City.
The man she retrieved was nothing like the one she had locked up in that awful place and the best part was that he did forgive her. They had traveled together after that. Back to the Mississippi River to resume a life of gambling and running cons. It had surprised Maude to find out that, even without the influence of opium, her son still occasionally sought the company of men. She had long given up trying to choose her son's companions but she had hoped for another marriage for her son. One with some wealthy mark, like most of her own marriages.
If Ezra had found a paramour among his fellow peacekeepers, the sooner she nipped it in the bud and got him on his way, the better. While she did not object to him keeping a male lover, she would have preferred if he waited until they were financially set. He wouldn't be the first married man to keep a lover. After all, she had played both sides of that game, having been both a decoy wife and a mistress.
She thought about the six men she had been introduced to this afternoon. The leader of the group was obviously Chris Larabee. She immediately discounted him. First of all, he was too sullen and serious. Not really her son's type. She also knew Ezra preferred partners and she could tell that Mr Larabee was an in-control type. Someone her son might sleep with, but not one who would make him want to stay around.
Buck Wilmington was just too much of a ladies' man. Maude could tell that by the way he looked at every other woman who came near the group of friends as they had dinner at the restaurant.
While she had never known Ezra to be attracted to a Negro, that was not the reason she discounted Nathan Jackson. She had seen the distrust the healer had shown both her and her son, muttering about no good con artists after she had told a very humorous story about one of their adventures. She knew that there was no way this man would be interested in a relationship with her son.
Josiah Sanchez had spent the afternoon and evening flirting with her. Besides, she knew Ezra's tastes didn't usually extend to father figures.
That left the two young men at the table, JD Dunne and Vin Tanner. Ezra would find either one to be of interest.
While Mr Dunne certainly had good looks, he was too young and innocent in the ways of the world. Ezra might con someone like that out of their life savings, but he would never take advantage of him like that.
That left Vin Tanner. Of all the group, he was definitely the best candidate. She had noticed that while Ezra liked his women gentle and sophisticated, he was attracted to men who were strong free spirits. While she hoped that eventually he would marry for money, she also knew that no swooning debutante would capture his heart.
She was trying to find a way to get the man alone for some subtle questioning when they were interrupted but the arrival of her son. Soon she was spirited away and escorted to her hotel room. Ezra was definitely trying to keep her from spending too much time with one of the men at that table.
The next morning Ezra was woken by the sound of Vin's voice calling to him: "Ezra."
When he reached out for his lover, his hand came up empty. He opened his eyes, confused. Where was Vin? He sat up and looked around. Obviously Vin wasn't there and hadn't been. With a frown Ezra started to lay back down when a knock on the door startled him.
"Ezra, wake up," Vin called to him again. A glance at the window told Ezra it was morning. He struggled out of the bedclothes and went to the door, admitting his lover.
"Mr Tanner. Good morning. I'm afraid now isn't a very good time. My Mother could come by any time."
Vin blushed. "Not here for that... Mrs Travis' little boy has run off. Chris wants us to go look for him."
Ezra nodded and turned to dress when he noticed that Vin was still standing in the doorway, watching him. He said, "Come in or go out, but modesty demands that you close the door while I dress."
"Might be better if I leave then. If I were to stay we might not ever get to looking for the boy." The grin he gave his lover was full of suggestion.
It was Ezra's turn to blush this time. "It might be best if you do."
Ezra watched sadly as Vin closed the door behind him. Once his mother was gone, he would have to have to have a long talk with the tracker. Ezra grinned. A long, long talk, one that might just take all night. He took a deep breath and willed his body to calm down.
He needed to get dressed and find the Travis boy; once that crisis was resolved, he could concentrate on finding out what his mother wanted. Once he foiled her scheme, she would leave and he could once more focus his attention on the handsome man who had just left.
As Vin and Chris followed the signs that young Billy Travis had left while he ran from town, Vin's mind went back to a room above the saloon and the man who resided there. Seeing Ezra this morning wearing nothing but a night shirt put Vin's mind to the last time he was in that room.
Vin had been making a late night patrol of the town. The saloons were just closed and everyone had headed off to bed. Vin had checked in with Nathan who was on duty in the jail, then headed out to make one last circuit around town before settling down in his wagon for the night. Approaching the saloon, a movement in the alley caught his attention.
As he went to investigate, he found Ezra leaning against the wall. He was beautiful, bathed in the moonlight, and he wasn't dressed in his usual layers. Instead, he simply had on a white shirt and black pants. A finger to his mouth indicated a need for quiet. Then he turned to go up the back stairs with a glance over his shoulder and a tilt of the head motioning Vin to follow. Vin didn't need to be told twice as he practically ran to catch up. They had snuck silently down the hall of the upper floor of the saloon, laughter barely contained. Vin clutched at Ezra, unable to keep his hands to himself, pressing himself against his lover while he unlocked the door.
Upon entering the room, Ezra had turned and pushed him against the door, all the while attacking the buttons on the clothes and working his way down his body with his mouth. Before Vin was able to organize his thoughts, Ezra was on his knees in front of him, sucking his erection into his mouth. Vin had been given many blow jobs in his life by both men and women, no one had quite the talent for it as Ezra had and soon Vin was shooting deep into his throat. Once he was done, Ezra paused a moment, his forehead resting against Vin's spent groin, his body shaking. For a moment Vin was afraid that perhaps he had hurt his friend's throat, but soon Ezra stood up with a grin and Vin could see the truth. There was a dark stain on the crotch of Ezra's pants where he had come too.
They helped each other undress then, taking the time to taste each other's body, but as before Ezra avoided making contact with his mouth. Vin thought vaguely about questioning Ezra's reluctance to share a kiss, but when his lover started pulling him toward the bed all thoughts left him to be replaced by renewed lust as Ezra knelt on the bed, indicating his desire to have Vin take him. There wasn't much conversation the next few hours as the two men delighted in the pleasure of each other's company.
Morning had found Ezra with jail duty. As he left Vin in his big soft bed, he told the bounty hunter to stay and sleep as long as he wanted, then he was gone. Vin tried to get comfortable and go back to sleep but the loneliness was too much this time, he got dressed and left.
The sound of Chris clearing his throat brought Vin's attention back to the job at hand. They were getting closer to the lost Travis boy.
"R-raised me? Did you say raised me? Come on, now, mother. You didn't raise me as well as, uh... as a stray cat raises a litter. You-you dumped me. Remember? At every aunt and uncle's house you could find. Unless, of course, you needed me... for a con."
Ezra cursed out loud after Maude left. She really had tried to do her best to give him a good life as a child. But a young woman, unmarried, with an illegitimate child, didn't have a lot of options. They had spent the first years of Ezra's life with his grandparents, or rather with his grandmother since his grandfather was away at sea most of the time. During this time Maude had been forced to pretend that Ezra was her very special younger brother, even Ezra hadn't known the truth. Then when he was five, Maude ran off taking her son with her.
They had traveled up and down the Mississippi on the river boats, Maude learning her trade from various gamblers. Maude's first husband, Phillip Standish, had been the captain on one of the boats and had given Ezra his name. After his tragic death two years later, they were on their own again.
Over the years they had known both good times and bad, as well as things so horrible that Ezra didn't like to think of them. But through it all he had never questioned Maude's love of him. Flawed as she was, she was his mother.
Chris was dead, he was sure of it. After all, the ruffian had aimed directly at him. But not only had he not been shot, he was also unharmed. Then the ruffian fell, revealing Vin Tanner, his gun still smoking. Then the rest of the boys arrived and the fight was over.
As Nathan tended to his wound, he explained how Ezra and his mother tricked Mr Wheeler into revealing who his partner was and what he was up to. Once Nathan finished with Chris, he turned his attention to the killers. Chris walked over to where Vin and Ezra were organizing the living for transport to jail. He clasped Ezra on the shoulder.
"You did good, Ezra. Thank you."
Ezra nodded his head with the knowledge that Chris had finally accepted him as part of the group. He turned to Vin, who smiled at him not only with pride but also desire. Ezra blushed and smiled back. Then they returned to the task at hand.
Ezra watched the stage pull away. He contemplated that, as much as he loved his mother, there was a reason he no longer traveled with her.
He said goodbye to Josiah as the older man headed back toward the church. As he walked back toward the saloon, he watched as Chris and Billy headed out of town, fishing pole sticking out of the back of the saddle. He turned toward the saloon where he had seen Vin go with Buck and JD.
Entering the saloon he found Vin sitting with Buck and JD having a drink. Walking to the table he greeted the others, sat for a moment and listened to Buck and JD argue whether or not Buck had something called animal magnetism. After a while he grew tired of the argument.
He turned to Vin and said in a low voice, "Mr Tanner. The other day, before my mother arrived, you were asking me for a favor. Do you remember?"
"Yeah." Vin couldn't help grinning.
"Upon considerable thought, I find what you ask to be of mutual benefit. And I am willing to grant your request if you still desire it."
It was all Vin could do not to jump up and drag the gambler off to bed, instead he said with a steady voice, "I'd appreciate it, Ez."
"Good, we'll get together later to discuss terms." Then with a grin and a nod of his head he went up the stairs to his room. Laying his hat on the bureau he began to strip out of his coat, vest and guns. He hoped that Vin wouldn't be long in joining him.
In the saloon Vin leaned back, trying to figure out how to make an exit without arousing suspicion in his companions. It was Buck who gave him his out.
"JD, what say you and me head over to the restaurant for some lunch?"
"Sure. How about you, Vin?"
"Naw. Had a big breakfast this morning. Think I'll wait a while."
"Okay," and he followed his older friend out the door.
Vin made his way out the back door, stopping by the outhouse to relieve himself, then went up the back stairs, in the door and down the hall to Ezra's room.
Ezra sat in his rocking chair and looked at a book while he waited. He couldn't really say that he was reading because the words had no meaning, he was too distracted by the thought of being with Vin again. He was so lost in the fantasy that he jumped when the knock finally came on his door.
"Ez, it's me."
Ezra practically ran across the room, then took a moment to compose himself before opening the door. It wouldn't do for him to appear too anxious.
"Come in." He gestured into the room, closing and locking the door behind them. "Please make yourself at home, Mr Tanner."
"It's okay to call me Vin, you have before you know."
"When did I ever...?"
Vin just smiled and raised his eyebrows. Ezra blushed, he really blushed and said, "Maybe you can make me do that again."
"I'll do my best." And they both grinned foolishly at each other.
Vin knew better than to try and kiss the gambler, as much as he wanted to. Instead he went to the chair by the window while Ezra turned down the bed. Vin closed the curtains and started to undress, laying his clothes in the rocking chair while he listened to Ezra moving round the room behind him. The creak of wood signaled him that Ezra had gotten into bed. Now naked, he turned to find Ezra laying on his stomach, head propped up on his right hand and a small bottle in his left. As Vin approached the bed, Ezra handed him the bottle. It was the hand lotion. Vin grinned and shook his head.
"You keep it," he said, laying down on his stomach. When Ezra didn't move, Vin looked at him. "What's wrong?"
"Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Yeah. Don't you want too?"
"Of course I do, it's just that... I've always been... that is... I've never...." The expression on Ezra's face told Vin everything.
No man had ever trusted Ezra with this most intimate of acts. He reached out to caress that face. "It's okay Ezra, I trust you not to hurt me."
His relief was visible and he leaned over and brushed Vin's shoulder with his lips. "I'd never hurt you, Vin."
He let his left hand run down Vin' back, while his mouth led the rest of his body there. He took the lotion and poured some between Vin's cheeks and set the bottle aside on the bedside table, then returned to Vin's body. Kneeling beside Vin he began to massage Vin's cheek and let his fingers slide between them to Vin's entrance. Ezra's skilled hands were gentle as they prepared him. He may have never done this before, but he knew what he was doing.
When he felt he was ready, Vin pulled away and turned over onto his back. Ezra look confused.
"I want to watch you," Vin whispered and helped Ezra get into position. With Ezra kneeling between his legs, Vin wrapped his legs around Ezra's waist. He reached between them, grasped Ezra's cock and together they guided it in.
"Oh good lord," Ezra gasped. Never in his life had anything felt so right as this. He felt he could stay like this forever, joined with Vin. He closed his eyes and began thrusting slowly and gently into his lover.
As Vin watched Ezra thrust into him, the look of pure joy on his face was the most fascinating thing he had ever seen and he was caught up by the beauty of Ezra's pleasure. Then Ezra shifted his angle and hit Vin's sweet spot, it was like lightning running through Vin's body and he cried out.
When Vin cried out, Ezra stopped his movement. Most of his past encounters with men had left him with some pain and he had promised not the hurt the other man. He started to pull out.
"I'm so sorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean to hurt...."
"You didn't hurt me, Ez." He tightened his legs around Ezra's waist, started rocking his hips and gasped, "You feel so good. Please Ezra, don't stop."
With the movement of his body and the pleading of his voice, Vin managed to drive all thought from Ezra, the only thing he knew was Vin. Thrusting forward again, Vin's body moved to meet his.
"Yes, yes, YES," Vin chanted as he fought to keep his eyes open. His hands grabbed Ezra, forcing him deeper.
Slowly and gently they moved together, each feeling pleasure with every thrust. It seemed to last for ever and yet it was over too soon. They found their completion together and it was all Ezra could do not to collapse on top of the other man. So he held himself up as long as he could, until he was able to ease out and fall to Vin's side.
Ezra knew he should get up, they needed to clean before they went to sleep, but he was completely exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. He felt Vin moving. He forced his eyes to open and watched as Vin walked over to the washstand and retrieved a damp cloth, that was all he knew as sleep took him.
While Vin washed himself and Ezra, he watched the other man fight briefly with sleep then give in. He got back into bed and snuggled up against his lover, who moved around in his sleep until they were wrapped around each other.
They couldn't stay very long - it was the middle of the day - but Vin felt that a short nap would be okay. Maybe Ezra would let him come back tonight, after all they only had a short time left on their 30 days, they should make the most of it before it was time for him to move on. He was determined to return to Tascosa and finally be rid of the bounty. If that didn't work out, it would be back on the run for him and the places he would have to go were places the gambler wouldn't want to follow. He couldn't imagine the fancy gentleman sleeping in his arms being very happy on the run. So they would part company.
The other night Ezra had spoken of his heart's desire. Vin could never tell the other man what his heart's desire was: To stay for ever right where he was, in Ezra's arms. For the first time since he was a boy, Vin Tanner had found love and, if only for a short time, he was home.
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