Vin Tanner moved slowly down the boardwalk. It had been over a week since they had arrived back in Four Corners after the Wagon Train. After Charlotte.
He wasn’t sure why he had fallen for her, and he couldn’t say for sure what had made him long to be with her. His blue eyes swept the dusty street, eyes falling on the gambler who was entering the saloon, Buck by his side.
That hurt. He felt like a knife had twisted in his gut. He paused waiting for the nausea to pass. Taking a deep breath, he fought to keep his emotions under control.
He had no claim on the man. He hadn’t for a long time. Not that he could blame the gambler for choosing the other man. He had always known that the con man was too good for him. He had fallen for the man the minute he had stepped into the saloon and seen him take on the room full of drunks.
Then when the green eyes had looked at him, he had almost believed his heart had stopped, thudding hard and painfully in his chest. Knowing in that instant, a gambler whose name he didn’t even know had won his heart.
The relationship had been brief interludes, neither willing to push the other man. They spoke in half-truths, never honest with each other. He remembered going to Jericho, and even though Chris was missing, it was the first time they had ever been so in sync with each other.
But Maude had come to town along with Eli Joe, and in less than a week, their relationship had crumbled. He couldn’t force Ezra into a life with a man that spent each day walking a tightrope. He loved the man too much for that. He had ended it. They had parted amicably, but things were harder now. Standish seemed to be faltering, and he longed to be the one that the man would turn too.
But now Ezra had found Buck. Wilmington had swooped in and swept the man off his feet. Leastwise that was how it seemed to him.
It was over. So he had taken all his hope and fear and put it on Charlotte, knowing that it would end badly, but, at the time, he had honestly believed that maybe if he got away from the con man he would be able to be free.
Sighing deeply, he stared up at the blue sky. He needed to get out of this town; he felt like he was suffocating. It was hurting too badly to be so near the gambler and so far away. He would go to Tascosa, maybe find some sort of peace. Turning, he made his way towards the livery. It was his turn for patrol, but just as soon as he could he would leave.
Ezra paused, staring out the windows at the tracker as he stood on the boardwalk lost in thought. He felt his heart turn at the pain he saw there as he thought of Charlotte and the pain that she had caused that man. That man, the man who had left him. He didn’t want him. He had to find a way to get past him.
He heard the familiar drawl of the scoundrel and turned, pasting a smile on his face. He certainly cared for the man, but did he love him? No, his heart belonged to Tanner. Why had the man ended it? No reason, just ‘It's over’. A friend was all the man wanted from him, but now he couldn’t even stand that.
“Mr. Wilmington,” he replied, turning on his heel and raising an eyebrow at the other man.
Buck caught his breath. The sunlight caught the man, backlighting him, making his green eyes darker and mirroring his jacket. He was beautiful.
Ezra smiled trying to understand why the man had suddenly gone silent. He took a step closer to him resting a hand on the other man’s arm.
“Buck?” he drawled softly, unaware of the effect this had on the other man.
The tall man swallowed visibly, stepping back, aware of the other patrons in the saloon. He caught Chris' eyes, and saw something akin to worry. He briefly wondered why. It wasn’t as if the gambler was involved with anyone. As far as he could tell, the man had only been involved with Li Pong.
“Huh? What?” Wilmington muttered, shaking his head, trying to understand the sudden fear that laced through him. It was still new his relationship with this man, and even now he knew the gambler was holding something back. Hiding something.
Standish sighed, looking away in exasperation his eyes flickering slightly as he caught sight of the tracker riding out of the town. Ignoring the other man, he turned, nodding at the other men. He quickly made his way to the back of the saloon. He had promised to help Inez with the accounts.
Wilmington frowned. He had sensed the change in the man’s demeanour. Looking at where the gambler had been, he could just see the distant figure of Vin. His blue eyes swung to his old friend's. It couldn’t be true.
Grabbing his jacket, he stormed out of the saloon, not seeing Ezra stare after him puzzled even as Chris hurried after him.
Larabee caught his friend as he stormed into the sheriff’s office, door banging against the wall.
“Tell me it ain’t Vin who caused that in him,” Buck asked desperately, jacket thrown onto the desk with his hat.
Larabee went to speak, unsure of whether to confirm it or not, his duster floating in the breeze that came in from the street making him aware the door was still open. Turning he knocked it shut, giving JD a negative shake of the head. Now was not the time to be bothering Buck.
“Caused what Buck?” he asked quietly, leaning back against the door watching the erratic pacing of his friend.
“That pain in his eyes. He thinks I don’t see it. I thought it was Li Pong that caused it….” He looked away, hand running over his moustache.
“Then yeah, it's Vin,” Chris replied softly. He was about to say more when the door flew open, and Standish was standing there, a worried frown on his face. He tried to hide it when he noticed the man in black, but Larabee just sighed. He would talk to Buck later. Nodding at Ezra, he exited the office hearing the click of the lock as the door was shut behind him.
“Buck…” But the other man held up his hand and, looking away, he saw the hurt flash in the green eyes. And suddenly, he didn’t want to think anymore. Grabbing the man, he pulled him against him kissing him hard and brutally. He just wanted to make the man forget all about a certain blue-eyed bounty hunter.
Ezra surrendered into the touch as his clothes were stripped from him along with the older man's. They would talk later.
Vin tiredly brushed down Peso. He heard the sound of footsteps. Raising his head, he watched the southerner approach his horse. The man hadn’t seen him, that was obvious for he was wearing a pensive, melancholy face.
"Hey there girl,” Ezra drawled softly, gently patting the bridge of his horse's nose.
“You want some sugar?” he asked ever so tiredly, resting his forehead on his arms. His shoulders shook ever so briefly.
He was afraid to move, afraid of what was causing this man pain. But then his horse nickered, and he watched as Ezra's head shot up, watery green eyes meeting his sky blue.
“Mr. Tanner,” he coughed clearing his throat as he brushed his hands on his green jacket, the proper gentlemen. “I was unaware that you were there,” he said, turning as if to go.
“You okay, Ez?” he asked quietly, moving around the horse so he could see the man’s expression closer.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Ezra smiled, licking his lips nervously. The smile didn’t reach his eyes, and Vin stared intently at the other man. The silence suddenly became fraught with meaning, neither wishing to depart, but not knowing what to say.
“Eh, Ezra,” Wilmington called. Entering the livery, he stopped, seeing the bounty hunter. He hadn’t been able to talk with Standish yet, and he was surprised at the pain that suddenly washed over him.
Tanner looked back and forth between the two. Nodding silently, he exited, his heart pounding furiously.
“Stupid,” he muttered to himself. He had almost given himself away. A shadow fell into step beside him.
“Stop running Vin,” Chris drawled quietly, his eyes meeting the other man’s, seeing the desperate anguish there.
“Just talk to him. If nothing else at least you’ve been honest because right now you're nothing but a coward,” Larabee stated. Patting the man on the arm, he walked away leaving the bounty hunter staring after him down the street, anger stealing over him. The gambler didn’t love him. If he had, he would have fought for them. He wouldn’t have let him walk away.
He would tell the gambler exactly where he stood before he left this godforsaken place. What gave Larabee the right to stick his nose in his business? What gave any of them the right?
“Because I still love Vin, Buck,” Ezra shouted, anger at the situation rising.
“Why? You think he feels the same way?” Buck retorted, stepping nearer to the smaller man. He saw the flash of pain.
“You think that he wants you? He wants you the same reason I do,” Buck drawled, pausing to see if the gambler was listening.
"The only reason he wants you again is because I’ve got you.” Buck saw the wince and he regretted it, but he had to stop the man from going back to Vin. He didn’t want to lose this man. He was sure that the con man could love him given time.
“Then he isn’t the same as you Buck,” Ezra stated, pleased his voice was remaining steady.
“No, he's not because I don’t play with your feelings." He saw the objection from Ezra. "He’s always going to choose a woman over you."
"Just like you," Ezra stated despondently. He was tired of this conversation.
“Yeah, maybe, I don’t know,” Buck answered honestly.
“I love him, Buck,” he said helplessly.
Neither had heard the silent trek of footsteps as the tracker heard the last words.
Tanner snorted in disbelief. “You love me, but you’ll go sleep with him! You didn’t even fight for us, and you proclaim to love me!”
Ezra spun around, seeing the tracker standing in the doorway, the sunlight from the street backlighting him. He glowed with anger. 'Hell,' he thought dejectedly, 'Buck was right.' He didn’t stand a chance.
“You stay out of this, Vin,” Buck fumed, angry at the hunter, seeing the devastating effect he had on the gambler.
“Why? Because you don’t want to lose your little playmate?” Vin retorted, blue eyes catching the flinch.
Ezra shook his head about to speak, but the gunfire from the street prevented it.
Each man cocked their guns as they headed to the street. Ezra glanced at Vin who was focussed on locating the gunmen.
“I’ll head them off at the back," he muttered, determined to help even if his own life was falling apart.
All was quiet. The bank robbers were dead. Slowly each lawman moved out onto the street. Vin’s eyes sought the gambler's green coat. Where was he?
'I’ll head them off around the back.'
Suddenly, he was running, being flanked by Buck. They ran into the back alley.
“Oh no,” he moaned, kneeling beside the man who lay sprawled on his side, a pool of blood underneath him. He pulled him up and rocked him as he muttered, “What have I done?”
He felt Nathan next to him and was gently pulled away. He felt the ladies' man’s presence beside him, and he stared at him seeing the concern and worry in his eyes.
“Buck,” he whispered longing to explain, but he didn’t have the words.
“Don’t!" Buck snapped furiously, his heart in his throat, his own mind remembering the words he had said to the southerner.
“Damn he’s lost a lot of blood,” Nathan remarked as he gestured for Josiah to help with the man. Tanner knelt alone in the alley next to the pool of blood.
“Oh god what have I done?” he moaned softly. He didn’t see Buck standing at the corner watching him.
Vin remained on his knees, arms wrapped around his middle. His heart burned and tears cascaded down his cheeks. He had pushed the man away in fear, fear of what? "Oh god, don’t let him die! I love him," he whispered in between his sobs.
Wilmington froze, eyes widening as he watched the heartbreaking scene. That’s what Larabee had been about to tell him. Tanner loved Ezra, and the gambler loved the tracker. God what a mess! No matter how much it hurt, he wouldn’t stand in their way. He cared a great deal for the gambler; it maybe would have developed into something more. But now that he stood in the light of this revelation, he realised he would do everything in his power to make sure the gambler knew the truth. And he would drag Vin kicking and screaming to make him admit it.
Decision made, he walked forward, footsteps heavy on the ground as he rested a hand on the rocking form. Vin raised his head.
“You tell him that. Don’t waste your next chance with him,” he said heavily, voice tight with his own worry and grief over the situation.
Tanner bit his lip as he rose to his feet. A hand scrubbed at his face, trying to remove the tears that just kept falling. Wilmington saw the pain and pulled the man into a gentle hug feeling the sobs that wracked the other man. Finally Vin pulled away. “I need…” he said hoarsely. Buck nodded, gently leading the man towards the clinic to find out the news on the gambler.
Tanner looked down at the pale face of the man he loved. His features were slack, but he leaned in gently as he felt the gentle touch as Vin caressed his cheek. Jackson wisely didn’t comment on the two distraught men. It wasn’t his place.
“He’ll be fine, bit sore, weak, but he will be fine,” he reassured the men. Neither man acknowledged him, each taking a hand as they settled in to wait.
Buck watched the injured man as he shifted restlessly. He was waking up.
“Vin,” Ezra breathed softly, green eyes blinking slowly as he tried to register what had happened.
Buck felt his gut tighten, but forced himself to remain calm, gently turning the man to see the man that lay next to him on the bed, arm thrown across his belly.
If Wilmington had had any doubts, they dissolved there seeing the expression of bewilderment and rapture and tenderness that crossed Standish’s face as he gazed at the bounty hunter. Vin awoke as if sensing the other man, and he looked sorrowfully into the green eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” Vin murmured, resting on his elbow so he could gaze at the other man’s face neither noticing as Buck discreetly left.
Standish gave a timid, watery smile. “I love you, Vin,” he whispered softly as he felt the gentle hand caress his cheek.
“I love you, Ezra. I was a fool. I thought I was doing you a favour,” he shook his head regretfully.
“No,” Standish murmured raising an arm painfully to rest on the other man's so their hands could be linked. “It doesn’t matter now. You’re here,” he stated as if that solved everything.
Vin smiled then, one of such gentleness and tenderness it took Ezra’s breath away as Vin nodded before leaning down and brushing his lips ever so gently against the southerner's. It was over too soon, but the southerner was weakening and the heavy footsteps outside alerted them that the healer was approaching.
“I love you,” Vin whispered softly again, pressing another sweet, chaste kiss to the man’s soft, velvet lips.
Standish's mouth curved into a delighted smile as he stared into the eyes he loved.
“Did I ever tell you your eyes are like indigo….” he drawled in amazement, and Tanner smiled tolerantly knowing that the man was fighting a losing battle with exhaustion.
“Not for a very long time,” he replied remembering that that had been one of the first things Standish had said before they had kissed for the very first time. And he saw what Standish was attempting, a new beginning, so he replied with what he had said, letting him know that remembered.
“Did I ever tell you that your eyes are the colour of emeralds?” he whispered seeing the green eyes light with joy as he realised the man remembered.
“Not for a very long time,” Ezra replied, accent thickening as the door creaked open. Out of the corners of his eyes, he saw Chris and Nathan enter with the ladies' man, but he wasn’t going to move for the world for he had everything right where he wanted it, in his arms.
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