In A New Light
by The Neon Gang
Rating: NC-17 for the graphic description of male-male sex.
Vin Tanner stared across the poker table, studying the bowed head of his friend and fellow peacekeeper, Ezra Standish. Something was simmering at a low boil inside the handsome gambler. The tracker had tried to find out what, but nothing he'd tried had convinced the man to explain the problem. At first Vin thought it was something he'd done that had upset Ezra, but as the days passed and the man's mood grew darker, he realized it had to be something else - Ezra didn't hold a grudge that long without exploding and yelling about it to anyone who'd listen.
It had all started Monday morning. And now it was Wednesday afternoon. He's got t' talk about it sooner or later, Vin decided. Or I'm gonna kill him.
The saloon was dimly lit, a concession to the general dull mood that had settled over the town of Four Corners with yet another dreary winter's day. The sparse sunlight that drifted in from behind the gray-black clouds glistened off the half-empty glasses of beer that sat in front of the poker players. Vin lobbed another chip into the pot, but Ezra remained oblivious.
Standish was a very handsome man, Vin concluded after intently watching the gambler for nearly an hour. There was something compelling about the man that Vin couldn't put his finger on. The whores he'd been with had told him it was his long, curly hair and boyish features that made him so attractive, not to mention - although he hated to think about it, much less admit it - the little boy vulnerability he couldn't keep off his face.
That "little boy" quality wasn't entirely missing from Ezra's face. Angular, with a sharp nose and broad forehead, the dark-haired man had a vulnerable, open smile few people ever saw. The expression hinted at the pain Ezra carried buried within him. Yes, the "little boy" might be well hidden, but the gambler couldn't get rid of him completely. Occasionally glimpses sneaked out, like when he was sleeping, or when he was caught up in the spell of a good poker game.
But right now Ezra was closed up and hard-looking.
Whatever was bothering him, Vin knew it was high time Ezra talked about it, whether or not he wanted to.
"Hey, Ez, what do y' say we call it a day an' head over t' the restaurant fer some dinner?"
The gambler's head rose, green eyes regarding the tracker thoughtfully. "Pardon?"
"'M hungry," Vin replied. "Y' wanna get somethin' t' eat?"
Ezra thought for a moment and then checked the pile of money setting in front of him. He couldn't remember winning that much, but he obviously had. He looked up and nodded. "Yes, that sounds delightful, Mr. Tanner. I find that I am suddenly feeling quite famished myself." He flashed a brief smile at the other men sitting around the table. "Gentlemen, my friend and I are calling it a day."
There were a few soft mutters and grumbles, but no one objected too strenuously.
Ezra stood and pocketed his winnings before heading for the bat-wing doors, Vin following the gambler out onto the boardwalk.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Almost an hour later, Ezra's plate was still nearly full, a sure sign something was wrong. Vin watched as the gambler continued to poke at the mashed potatoes that had grown cold on his plate.
"Y' gonna eat those, or just chase 'em all over yer plate?"
The dark-haired man smiled thinly. "My mother used to say things like that when I was a boy."
Vin hesitated. None of the peacekeepers talked much about their childhoods, and he didn't want to add to whatever was bothering Ezra by dragging his up. "Guess she saw y' in a lot 'a moods," he finally concluded.
"Moods, Mr. Tanner?"
"Moods," Vin repeated. "Y' been walkin' 'round like a boy that lost his best dog the last three days. What's eatin' at y', Ezra?"
Standish scowled defiantly, but he didn't speak. After the flare of anger subsided, he begrudgingly acknowledged to himself that it wasn't the tracker he was mad at. He was mad at himself.
"I can assure you, Mr. Tanner, it's nothing; nothing at all."
"Got t' be somethin'."
Ezra sighed heavily and glanced around to make sure no one was listening. "It's this poor excuse for civilization."
"What about it?"
"I should have left long before now," Ezra said softly. "But here I am, saving to buy a saloon in this godforsaken place when I should be in St. Louis, or Kansa City, or new Orleans, earning my fortune."
Vin watched several conflicting emotions play themselves out on the gambler's face. There was much more going on inside Ezra's head than his lack of visible success. "Y' could head out anytime. Nothin' holdin' y' here."
"No, nothing is holding me here," Ezra replied, the hurt in his voice not completely concealed. "I suppose, when you come right down to it, I'm just tired."
Vin nodded. "C'n appreciate that."
Ezra dropped his voice, the alcohol liberating feelings festering inside him for several days. "We've both almost been killed or injured several times over the last few months, Mr. Tanner. And for what? The absent gratitude of our fellow townsfolk?"
Vin's gaze flickered over the patrons in the dining room. No one was paying any attention to them. No one ever did, with the exception of Mrs. Travis, Mrs. Potter and Nettie Wells.
"There was a time when I felt I wasn't growing any younger," Ezra continued. "I mistakenly assumed I needed to find a place to settle down, but this cannot be the best I can do, Mr. Tanner. I refuse to believe that."
Vin nodded. "Hell, Ezra, figure y' could go wherever y' wanted - St. Louie, Frisco, New Orleans - but I have t' tell y', the idea of settlin' down, it holds a powerful attraction fer folks."
The gambler cocked his head to one side, taken back by the comment. "Pardon me, but did I just hear you say that you wanted to settle down, Mr. Tanner? You?"
"Been a few times I wished I could find a place t' put down some roots. Guess I put down a few here, or I wouldn't still be here when there's still a price on m' head."
Ezra nodded. "I apologize. Obviously I'm feeling a little sorry for myself."
Vin grinned. "Let's go get some sleep. You'll feel better in the mornin'."
The gambler stood and tossed some money down to cover their meals, then followed Vin outside. He stopped and shivered, the cold, damp air immediately seeping into his bones. Whoever would have imagined the desert could get so cold? He glanced over at the tracker, realizing for the first time that Vin slept in his wagon, regardless of the weather. Surely he must nearly freeze to death on nights like this.
"Mr. Tanner," he said, his voice slightly slurred, "I must insist you spend the night in my room. I will not be the one Mr. Larabee and the others blame when they return and find you frozen to death in that flea-infested wagon."
"Ain't got fleas," Vin grouched. "It's warm as a mother's breast under m' buffalo hide."
"Be that as it may," the gambler said, draping his arm around Vin's shoulder and steering him toward the saloon, "I do believe I will need an escort to see me to my room."
"Y' are near fallin' down drunk," Vin admitted.
Ezra just chuckled.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Damn, Ez, it's colder in here than in m' wagon," Vin complained as they entered the gambler's suite of rooms.
"It'll be warm under the covers," Ezra replied, trying unsuccessfully to unbutton his red velvet jacket.
The tracker grinned slightly and shook his head. "Y' got an answer fer everythin', don't ya."
Ezra nodded. "Absolutely."
Vin lightly slapped the gambler's hands out of the way and unbuttoned his jacket and shirt for him.
"I thank you, Mr. Tanner. You are most gracious."
"And yer the drunkest I ever saw ya."
"I do believe you're right, sir."
The two men quickly prepared for bed, then climbed in under the thick covers, each grateful for the other's body warmth in the icy room.
Vin lay in the darkness for a moment, then asked, "Y' sure y' don't want t' tell me what's really eatin' on ya?"
The soft sound of a snore was the only reply he received.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin blinked awake and lay still under the heavy blankets, listening for the source of the adrenaline rush pumping him out of the quiet of sleep.
Ezra was still asleep, but he was moving slightly under the covers. Even in the dim light, the tracker could see the sweat that covered the man's face and the horror that folded his expression into a mask of despair.
The gambler whimpered again, his hands groping in small arcs like a blind man searching for a handhold.
Without thinking, Vin reached out for those seeking hands.
When Ezra felt the reassuring presence, he grabbed hold, strong with the desperate need to anchor himself. He sobbed softly.
Vin's eyes widened but he instinctively pulled the frightened man into the safe haven of his arms, rocking him from side to side without realizing it. He gently rubbed Ezra's shaking, sweat-dampened back.
The gambler tried to take a deep breath, but it caught in a half-sob.
"Easy," Vin said quietly, tightening his grip slightly. "It's fine now. Jist a bad dream, but it's all over now."
He felt Ezra nod against his chest and then the man's entire body went rigid. Ezra pulled back, breaking the contact. "Mr. Tanner, what on earth are you doing?"
Vin shrugged and replied, "Y' woke me up."
"I see. Well, for that, please except my sincere apology, but, as you can see, I'm perfectly fine. Please, go back to sleep."
"Used t' have m' share 'a nightmares, too."
"Oh, really?" Ezra asked more sarcastically than he'd intended.
"Never mind," the tracker said, turning over.
The tracker paused, his back still to Ezra. "What?"
"I am so very sorry; that was most cruel."
"No harm done."
"Yes, I believe there was," Ezra replied. He reached out and gently squeezed Vin's shoulder. "To be honest, Mr. Tanner, I cannot imagine surviving a life such as yours."
Vin rolled back over and looked up at the gambler, who was propped up on his elbow in the bed. "Y' want t' tell me 'bout the nightmare?"
Ezra considered the man's words. Confiding in him would be a big step, bigger than any he'd taken with his newfound friends. "I'm not at all sure it would do either of us any good..." he replied, his gaze dropping, "but perhaps what they say about a burden shared is true."
"Don't know what they say," Vin replied, "but talkin' out yer ghosts c'n help, that much I know."
"I am sorry I snapped at you like that."
Vin stared up at him through long eyelashes and Ezra felt a rush of desire set his lower belly to tingling. Then the tracker moved, leaning back against the headboard and extending his legs out in front of him. Ezra did the same, his legs next to Tanner's.
The gambler looked across the still semi-dark room, knowing that he was opening himself to a world of hurt if Vin ever decided to take advantage of the situation, but there was something about the tracker's expression that said he could trust him not to do that. He had always trusted Vin.
After a deep breath, Ezra said, "I dreamed I was trapped on a ledge, high up in the mountains, and it was slowly crumbling away, the pieces falling down into a dark, bottomless abyss..." He chuckled nervously. "The ledge was growing steadily smaller and smaller, and I was kneeling in the center of it-" He stopped abruptly and wiped a trembling hand across his face to remove the beads of sweat that had broken out there.
"What happened?" Vin prompted him.
"Then I heard you, Mr. Tanner."
"I was on the ledge, too?"
"Yes," Ezra said in a whisper, "you and the others as well. I watched each of you struggling to remain on the ledge, but the ground was crumbling under your feet and you were falling into the abyss. I tried to help you, I truly did, but I couldn't hold on tightly enough... I was all alone."
"Y' ain't alone, Ez," Vin said softly.
"You were the last to fall and I crawled over to where I saw you slip over... I hung off the edge, reaching for you... but I couldn't reach you. I couldn't reach any of you. I felt the ground start to crumble under me. I fell." He took a deep breath and then continued. "It was as if I had landed in a lake. I found you, floating just off the bottom. I grabbed you and dragged you back up to the surface, but it was too late. I was holding you, but there was no place to go. The bodies of the others were floating there. I knew you were dying..."
Ezra started to shake and the tracker moved his hands move over to grip the dark-haired man's leg. "It's jist a dream, Ez."
"Yes, Mr. Tanner, I am well aware of that," he snapped, immediately sorry for the harsh tone and the flash of pain it sent racing over the younger man's face. "I am sorry, Vin. But you were dying, and something was down there, under the water, grabbing at my legs, trying to pull me under as well." He started to shake.
"Ezra," Vin said with enough force to make the gambler jump. "It was jist a dream."
"Yes, I know," he whispered. "But I know, sooner or later, you'll see me for who I truly am... and I will be all alone again, just like I was there."
Vin frowned. "Hell, Ez, I already seen ya. We all got our flaws, yer's ain't no worse or no better 'n the rest 'a us."
"I do wish I could believe that, Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied.
"Get some sleep," Vin said. "I'll be here if the dreams get bad again."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Twice more Ezra awoke out of nightmares, and twice more Vin was there to ease his fears away. The second time the gambler felt an almost palatable desire to reach out and touch Vin's face, but he closed his eyes and forced it away.
Where are these feelings coming from? They're wrong! He roughly shoved the thoughts farther away. And if Vin discovers I think he's attractive?
What am I doing? I must be getting a fever. Perhaps I'm ill.
He listened to Vin's steady breathing and it suddenly felt very strange to be lying so close to the tracker. It was as if Vin were a magnet, drawing him nearer and nearer, sending his desire to touch the man almost spiraling out of his control.
He gritted his teeth and willed himself not to allow his hands to stray.
But then he heard Vin gasp softly in his sleep, the sound followed by an almost silent whimper.
Ezra reached out and felt the tracker's muscles, corded with tension. He reached up, resting his hand on Vin's shoulder. Softly, tenderly, he began to work on the tautness, rubbing with slow, strong strokes across the top of the younger man's shoulders and along his collarbones.
After a few minutes he felt Vin shiver. "Cold?"
"Reckon it's a mite chilly," the tracker agreed, refusing to admit that it was the man's touch that had made his body tremble.
Their gazes met, both questioning and uncertain. It was Vin who reached up and gently pulled Ezra into a tentative hug.
At first the gambler didn't respond, enduring the embrace with a stiff stubbornness, but after a few moments he relaxed slightly, then completely. His arms pushed behind Vin's shoulders to return the embrace with equal fervor.
Their grips tightened until they were clinging to each other, desperate for the desired affection they had both denied for too long.
Looking up, Vin found himself nose to nose with Ezra. Throwing caution to the winds, he leaned forward, letting his lips brush the gambler's.
Ezra jerked back like he'd been stung by a hornet. Their gazes locked, silent questions and needs passing across the space like telegraph signals.
Vin didn't move and Ezra finally reached out, touching the tracker's face gently. Easing his fingers around the back of tracker's neck, he tugged up softly, the invitation clear.
Vin moved, hesitantly at first, then with more confidence. Their lips met for a second time, their kiss tentative, testing and quick.
The two men parted again. Neither spoke, but nor did they move far. It was Ezra who responded next, reaching out to draw Vin into a tight hug, rocking him as the tracker had rocked him earlier when he had been caught in the fog of his own nightmares.
Vin's arms came up, encircling the gambler. They moved together, lying down, fitting themselves against each other in the comfortable warmth under the blankets. The soft cotton of the tracker's long johns tickled Ezra's nose as he pressed his face against Vin's shoulder and felt the tracker rest his cheek against his hair.
"What're we doin', Ez?" Vin whispered.
"I cannot say for sure myself, Mr. Tanner, but I can tell you this much, I would prefer that we not stop," he said, punctuating the comment by nuzzling the tracker's neck.
Vin's fingers combed through the gambler's hair and rubbed along the back of his neck. He shivered again.
"Are you certain you're not cold?" Ezra asked, his voice soft and thick.
"A little," Vin admitted.
Ezra pulled the heavy quilt at the foot of the bed up to cover both of them, then nestled back against Vin's side, resting his head on the tracker's shoulder and draping an arm over the man's chest. "Better?"
"Yeah," Vin said, his voice a little thick as well.
They lay quietly, both afraid to move, but enjoying the closeness. Ezra, unable to stop himself, finally allowed his free hand to begin to move over Vin's sleeve and felt the tracker's hand come up to rub over his back in response.
"Mmm, that feels wonderful," Ezra moaned softly.
"Shh," Vin whispered, rolling slightly toward the gambler so he could reach all of the man's back.
Ezra's hand moved from Vin's arm to his chest. He slipped a button out of its hole, his fingers reaching past the long johns to the bare skin beneath the material.
It was the tracker's turn to moan softly when Ezra's hand glided over his collarbone.
The gambler shifted to free his other hand, allowing it to join the first in an exploration of Vin's chest.
Meanwhile, the tracker rolled onto his side so he was facing Ezra, his own hands roaming over the gambler's back, shoulder and arm. Acting on impulse, he kissed the man's forehead and Ezra tilted his head back. Their lips met again, this time more curious and less fearful. Tongues met, pulled back, and met again. They each explored lips and teeth.
They parted, each breathing heavily, pulling in lungful after lungful of the warm, moist air that rose from under the covers.
Vin pushed the quilts down a little, then reached up to cup the back of Ezra's head and draw him back into another kiss that lasted even longer than the last. They moved closer, each man's body pressing against the other's, two pairs of hands roaming freely.
Then Vin found himself being pushed onto his back, and he wove his fingers through the gambler's soft brown hair.
Ezra's hands moved to open Vin's long johns all the way, then he shoved the material away, his fingers moving over the man's warm, bare skin, kneading, tickling and pressing.
Vin shifted under the manipulation, his body twisting and jerking in reply to the touches. He forced himself to concentrate long enough to finish opening Ezra's fancy bedclothes, then picked up where he'd left off.
Ezra moved the quilts back to Vin's thighs.
Vague concerns over what they were doing rose and fell in both men, quickly overwhelmed by stronger feelings and needs.
Ezra let his fingers trace circles around Vin's nipples, drawing them into hard beads. The tracker's back arched and he sucked in a sharp, broken breath. The gambler took advantage of the moment, pulling Vin forward.
Tanner he landed across Ezra's chest, his hands trapped between them.
They shifted again, Vin tracing his tongue across the gambler's exposed shoulder, causing the man's hips to buck. Ezra hissed with pleasure and Vin chuckled evilly, one hand reaching down to rake up the man's thigh. The hiss turned into a gurgling moan.
But the gambler turned his hips and rolled toward Vin, forcing the tracker over onto his back. In semi-control for the moment, Standish reached for the long johns and started pulling them off completely.
Vin shrugged out of the sleeves and lifted his hips so the material could pass, unimpeded. A moment later, he was completely undressed and lying under the smoldering gaze of the gambler. It was frightening and exciting at the same time.
Ezra stripped off his own bedclothes, tossing them to the floor next to Vin's, then leaned forward, catching one of the tracker's still hard nipples between his teeth. He felt Vin's already erect cock throb where it pressed against his leg. His hands roamed down over Vin's abdomen. He brushed the first strands of light brown pubic hair, and then came to rest on the man's hip bones.
Vin pressed up against the gambler's hands.
They paused, both aware of how far they had come, and where the path they were on was quickly leading. Vin's blue eyes shone brightly in the dim predawn light. A rumble of thunder shook the saloon, vibrating through the floor and the bed. The tracker grinned and rested one hand on Ezra's hip, his fingers gripping the bare skin while his other hand reached up to grab the man's shoulder, pulling him down.
"Are you quite sure, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra whispered.
"'M sure," Vin moaned.
Ezra leaned forward, his mouth capturing the tracker's while his hands reached for the younger man's body. They touched, fingers quaking with half-uncontrolled excitement, driving them toward an abandonment that surprised both men.
Their hips pressed against each other's. Vin shook with anticipation when he felt Ezra's cock sliding along his, both colliding in the tangle of the other's groin.
He gripped Ezra's back, pulling him in tighter, his hands rubbing down to dig into the gambler's ass.
Ezra's lips curled off his teeth and he moaned deeply in his throat and thrust forward. The tracker matched his move, one hand slipping between them to grab at his friend's cock. It filled his hand and he rubbed it in long, slow strokes that matched the rhythm they set.
Their climax was quick and frantic.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Ezra woke first. He looked at the dull sunlight filtering through the clouds to spill across the floor. It must be nearly noon, he realized. Vin was still sleeping, curled up and facing away from the gambler. He reached out and traced a finger down the tracker's exposed shoulder.
"Mmm," Vin sighed as he uncurled, stretching under the covers and looking over at the window.
Both men were suddenly very afraid of the other's reaction to their earlier lovemaking.
"M' belly's startin' t' sound like I swallowed a bear," Vin mumbled.
"Due no doubt to all of that hard work," Ezra teased lightly.
Vin grinned. "Could be. Y' hungry?"
The gambler nodded.
"Some flapjacks at the restaurant, I think. Maybe some bacon, eggs an' fried taters, too."
"Coffee," Ezra added.
Vin tossed back the covers.
"Uh, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra said hesitantly.
Vin looked back over his shoulder. "Ain't sorry."
"Good. Neither am I."
"Good. So, let's get somethin' t' eat."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The rest of the day passed slowly and comfortably, the rest of the peacekeepers still out on their latest assignment for the Judge. The two men ate breakfast, wandered through the small town, and then entered the saloon to play poker.
Vin disappeared for a few minutes after he folded one worthless hand, but returned before Ezra started to worry. When they grew hungry again, they called it quits and headed to the restaurant again. After the late afternoon meal they sat in front of the saloon and watched the townsfolk going about their business.
When it was finally growing dark again, they walked back to eat dinner and returned to the saloon where Ezra said, "I do believe I will call it an early night and retire. Would you care to join me again, Mr. Tanner?"
Vin nodded, adding, "But only on one condition."
"And what, pray tell, would that be?"
"Y' stop callin' me 'Mr. Tanner.'"
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Inside Ezra's suite, both men undressed, pausing when they were standing in just their underwear.
Vin nodded at the gambler, asking, "Should we take these off?"
Ezra nodded and they each finished undressing.
Vin snuggled into the feather mattress while Ezra climbed into the bed. He waited until the dark-haired man was settled before he moved closer.
"What are we doing, Mr.- Vin?" the gambler asked him.
"Don't rightly know."
"It is, quite possibly, completely irrational. Crazy even."
"So, do we intend to stop?"
"Y' want t' stop?" Vin asked, afraid the gambler would say yes.
"No, I most certainly do not want to stop."
"Me neither." Vin let his hand snake across Ezra's chest until it rested on the man's shoulder. He squeezed. The gambler turned toward him and they kissed.
Knowing he was nude, Vin reached for and found the gambler's half-erect cock and rolled it between his palms. Ezra bucked forward, his own hands finding plenty to keep him occupied.
They went slower, more carefully with their explorations this time.
Ezra kissed a path down Vin's throat and across his chest, outdistancing the tracker's hands, which tried to hold him in place.
When the gambler's lips brushed over his fully erect cock, Vin abandoned his attempts to control the dark-haired man, his fingers curling into the sheets instead. His hips pressed up off the bed when Ezra worked his way down the pulsing shaft, leaving behind a trail of soft kisses that left the tracker's head rolling from side to side.
Slipping as much of the shaft into his mouth as he could, Ezra set a steady, slow pace to their lovemaking. Vin matched it, reaching down to run his hand from the tip of Ezra's cock to the desire-tightened balls. When the gambler paused to nibble at the head of Vin's cock, the tracker let his hand run up over the man's firm ass, his finger accidentally poking at the tight sphincter hidden there.
Ezra jumped slightly forward with a soft grunt, then immediately pressed back against Vin's finger as he increased his speed, bobbing ever faster over the tracker's cock.
Vin used one hand on his friend's cock, the other occupied with pressing just barely in and out of that tight opening, tickling his ass. Then he was coming before he felt the final barriers fall and his seed was filling the gambler's mouth. He felt Ezra's running over his fingers before he was done.
They collapsed next to each other, satisfied and comfortable. Vin curled around the gambler and slipped off to sleep.
Ezra, however, lay awake, hoping he hadn't made the biggest mistake of his life by letting the tracker see a side of his life that he had denied for over twelve years. Not since he was a young man had he allowed himself to be attracted to another man. Now, here was one of the few men he trusted completely, and he was falling in love with him.
He hastily pushed the thought away. He would deal with the situation one day at a time. The longer Vin went along, the longer he would have what he'd been wanting for months now. It was, he knew, the best that he could possibly hope for.
Ezra finally drifted off to sleep, his arms wrapped protectively around the sleeping tracker.
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that The Neon Gang would love to hear from you.
Author's Note: This story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Seven Card Stud #2, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Seven Card Stud that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Kasey Tucker is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang - Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Erica Michaels, Kasey Tucker, and Lorin and Fallon Zane. Story last edited 12-22-2004.
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