Chapter 2 added 13 March 2008
Chapter 3 added 17 March 2008
Chapter 4 added 24 March 2008
Chapter 5 added 2 April 2008
Chapter 6 added 6 May 2008
Chapter 7 added 18 May 2008
Back to: Moving On
THREE MONTHS LATER
LUCK OF THE DRAW CASINO
Ezra gave a bittersweet smile as he stood at the bar in the casino he owned. When he had gotten back to New Orleans he had wasted no time in getting his casino underway. Between the money that he had managed to save and the money that Brad had left him, he hadn't had any problems getting the casino started.
It was opening night and he was ecstatic seeing his dream come true. But, on the other hand, he was also saddened that his friends weren't there with him. He hadn't had many correspondences with them in the three months that he had been in New Orleans. He had gotten a couple of letters, one from Josiah and one from JD and that had been it.
Sighing, he picked up his shot glass and Bourbon and downed it in one swallow. Looking around his casino, he could see that everyone seemed to be having a good time. Most of the people that were there were from the upper-class of society. There were people playing at the poker tables, roulette wheels, and blackjack tables. There was also a private room in the back for the wealthy to play private poker games if they so desired. There were beautiful waitresses serving food and drinks. There was a male pianist playing as a beautiful woman sang.
The floor was hardwood as were the walls. The curtains were red velvet and the tables were all oak. The customers could get anything from a beer to the finest scotch. Anything from an enchilada to the finest Creole dishes. All in all the casino was everything that Ezra had hoped and imagined that it would be. But he couldn't help but be saddened that his friends weren't there to share his joy. Especially a long-haired tracker.
Vin sighed as he sat on the boardwalk, his chair tilted on the two back legs, looking out at the rain. The weather seemed to fit his mood perfectly. He kept thinking that he'd see a certain smooth-talkin' gambler riding into town, but he knew it wasn't going to happen.
"Mind some company?" Chris asked.
Vin just grunted. Taking that as an invitation, Chris sat down and handed Vin a mug of beer. "It seems weird, huh?"
Vin nodded his head in agreement. The past three months had seemed weird without Ezra, even more-so than the last time that the gambler had left town. The last time they had all been looking for Ezra. Determined to find him. They hadn't had time to miss the southerner. This time they did. He did.
Chris had noticed that Vin had been even more quiet than usual. "You okay?" he asked.
Vin sighed, not sure how to answer. He trusted Chris, all of them with his life, but he didn't know if he could trust them with his most private secret. That he was in love with one Ezra P. Standish.
ONE MONTH LATER
LUCK OF THE DRAW CASINO
It had been four months since Ezra had seen or heard from any of the peacekeepers. All he could assume was that they were pissed at him for leaving. Hurt, too, probably. Well, he was also hurt. Every once in a while he would question his decision to leave Four Corners and think about going back.
But the casino was his dream. Had always been his dream and he wasn't about to give that up. Sighing and trying to get the image of Vin out of his mind, he stood up and walked out of his room. He had a room above the casino. That way if there were any problems he'd be there twenty-four/seven. Walking down the stairs, he subtly gazed around his casino making sure that everything was going smoothly.
Seeing quite a few people gathered around one of the poker tables, he had a sudden feeling of déjà-vu. It couldn't be....
Walking closer, he saw what had everyone enthralled. Abandoning his large vocabulary of fancy words, he whispered, "You've got to be shitting me!" There, at the table, sat his mother raking in her recent winnings from three men.
As if feeling his stare, she looked up. Giving him a broad smile, she spoke. "Hey, darling boy!"
FOUR CORNERS, NEW MEXICO
The six peacekeepers were sitting in the saloon, eating their supper. All except for Vin. Every now and then he would take a bite, otherwise he just moved the food around on his plate. They all knew that something was wrong with him. He'd been as unpredictable as a twister. One minute, he could be happy and fine. Then, the next minute he was biting someone's head off. Which they all found unusual for the usually quiet tracker.
Seeing Vin move his potatoes around on his plate for the fifth time in twenty minutes, Nathan had finally had enough. Sitting his fork down with an exasperated sigh, he spoke to Vin. "That's it, Vin! What has you so mopey? If I didn't know better, I'd say that you miss that gambler."
Chris, JD, Josiah and Buck all rolled their eyes heavenward. They'd all had enough of Nathan's attitude about Ezra. No wonder the man had left!
"That gambler? His name's Ezra, Nathan," Vin said in a deadly calm voice, his blue eyes cold. "Do you even miss him?"
Nathan leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "We're better off," he replied stubbornly.
Vin stood up. Putting his hands on the table, he leaned close to Nathan so their faces were inches apart. "No, we're not. He was a part of this team and I l--" Vin stopped himself, leaving them all wondering what he had been about to say. Shaking his head, Vin continued, "I've had enough o' this. I miss Ez and I'm headin' to New Orleans at dawn." With that said, Vin walked to the saloon doors.
"Nathan," Chris growled.
Before Chris could say anything else, Josiah said, "There seems to be a problem with Brother Vin." The other four whipped their heads to look at Vin. He had stopped at the saloon doors, looking over them at the outside. He was unconsciously rubbing his side and seemed to have an almost feral look on his face.
Curious, they all walked over to him. They immediately saw what... who... had drawn Vin's attention and ire.
"You've got to be shittin' me!" exclaimed Buck. Standing in front of the newspaper office, talking to Mary Travis, was none other than Marshal Dopper.
LUCK OF THE DRAW CASINO
'Mother's here. Wonderful,' thought Ezra. He managed to give her a slight smile as she bid her farewell to the other players and walked over to him.
"Mother, what brings you here?" he asked after she had reached him.
"Let's go somewhere more private, dear."
Biting down a sigh, he led her up the stairs to his room. After closing the door and taking seats, she spoke. "This is quite the saloon you have, Ezra."
"Stop right there. You took the saloon out from under me. You sure as hell won't do the same with this casino!" Ezra growled.
Maude looked shocked, putting her right hand to her chest. "I'm shocked that you think I'm here to do that to you. I just wanted to visit my darlin' boy."
Ezra raised an eyebrow, looking doubtful. "How did you even find out where I was?" He and Maude hadn't talked in several months. Things were still strained between them because of the saloon that Maude had taken from him.
"Well, since you didn't see it fit to write to your dear mother and let her know of your departure from Four Corners, I wired Mary Travis."
Ezra nodded his head. The other six must have told her where he had gone. Mary always did have to know everyone's business.
"It must have slipped my mind," he drawled.
"I'm sure it did." After a pause, Maude continued, "I'm not here to try and undermine you and get this casino. Actually, I'm rather proud of you."
Ezra wasn't able to hide the brief flash of surprise on his face. "What's the con?"
"No con, Ezra. You left that miserable excuse for a town and achieved your dream. Don't worry I'm not here for a lesson in keeping you sharp. I just wanted to see the casino and visit you. I swear."
Looking into his mother's eyes, Ezra wasn't able to see any deceit in them. Actually, he saw sincerity. To say he was shocked would have been an understatement. His mother had never told him that she was proud of him. Everything with her had always had an ulterior motive.
Nodding slowly, he said, "Thank you, Mother. Will you be staying long?"
"A couple of days." Giving a dainty yawn, she said, "I'm quite tired. We'll meet for supper at seven. Want to show your darlin' mother to her room?"
"Of course." Holding out his right arm, crooked at the elbow, Maude put her hand through the small hole and they walked out of his room and across the hall.
"What's he doin' here?" growled Chris.
"I thought we had seen the last of him," said a worried JD.
"Maybe he's just passing through, Brothers," replied Josiah. Just then, they saw Mary pointing towards the saloon. Marshall Dopper nodded, tipped his hat at her and started walking their way.
"Let's head out the back," said Chris.
Buck stopped at the bar as the other five walked towards the back door. Catching Inez's attention, he waved her over. "Inez, darlin', there's a marshal headed this way. If he asks, you haven't seen any of us."
Giving him a look that meant he would explain things later, she nodded. "Of course, Señor Buck."
Buck had barely made it out of sight when Marshal Dopper entered the saloon. When he got to the bar, Inez greeted him. "Something I can get you, Señor?"
The marshal smiled. "A beer will be fine."
As he was handed his mug of beer, he asked, "Do you know where the peacekeepers of this town are?"
Shaking her head no, she answered, "No, Señor. Anything else?"
"You’re not hidin' nothin', are ya?"
Looking into his eyes, she lied, "No, Señor. Anything else?"
"Not right now." As Inez walked away, she heard the marshal sigh and curse. She knew that he was a lawman, but her loyalty did and would always lie with the seven peacekeepers. Well, six, now that Señor Standish was gone. But she would still always be loyal to him, too. She hoped that he was okay and that his casino was doing well. He deserved happiness.
She knew that the other men missed him terribly. Well, most of them. Señor Jackson was hard to figure out. Shaking her head, she went to wait on another customer.
BACK ALLEY OF THE SALOON
"What now?" demanded Nathan.
"We head to New Orleans," said Vin.
"Are you crazy? We need to find out why Dopper's here. Although, I have a pretty good idea. He still wants to arrest you and kill the rest of us," said Buck.
"I figure. But I want to see Ezra. Plus, he needs to be warned that Dopper's still around." They could all see that Vin was adamant about going to New Orleans. And once the tracker had his stubborn mind made up, it couldn't be changed.
Making a decision, Chris spoke. "Alright, we'll head to New Orleans. We need to leave immediately, though."
"Well, let's get ready to head out then," Nathan said with a sigh.
"You're goin', Nate?" asked Buck.
Nathan nodded. "Someone needs to be there for when one of you fools hurts yourself."
"Shouldn't that be if?" Buck asked with twinkling blue eyes.
Nate rolled his eyes and spoke in a serious deadpan tone. "With you all? No. It should be when."
All of them laughed. Even Vin cracked a smile. With the tension eased somewhat, the six men headed to get the bare essentials they would need before heading out.
A WEEK LATER--NEW ORLEANS
The six tired men rode up to a livery and stabled their horses. Buck wiped his hand across his forehead. "Whowee! I'm exhausted, sweaty and hungry. Which to take care of first..."
"I don't know about the rest of you but I'm gettin' a bath," said Chris.
"Me, too," said Vin. He didn't want to see Ezra for the first time in months looking like he did now. The other four men agreed and they all headed to the bathhouse.
AN HOUR LATER
Ezra walked into the livery and over to his horse. Giving the horse a pat, he walked to where the livery owner kept his saddle. Passing a stall, he stopped and backed up a few steps. It couldn't be...
Looking into the stall, he saw a horse looking angry, well as angry as a horse could look. He kept bucking. He'd know that horse anywhere. "Peso," he whispered.
Getting ready to walk past the livery, Vin looked inside and saw Ezra. His breath caught. The man looked as good as he had. He walked closer, knowing that the other five men were following him. He heard Ezra whisper, "Peso."
"Ya didn't forget him. What 'bout us?" said Vin
Ezra whirled around and saw his six former colleagues. "Of course not, Mister Tanner," replied Ezra his 'mask' dropping back into place. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Ezra spoke. "What brings you gentlemen to this fair city?"
"Lookin' for you, Ezra," said JD. "Marshal Dopper showed up in Four Corners."
"As much as I hate to hear that, what would you have me do about it?"
"I knew he wouldn't care," sneered Nathan. Ezra just raised an eyebrow.
"We wanted to come and warn you, Ezra," said Chris.
"Thank you, Mister Larabee... gentlemen. How long will you be staying?"
"We're not sure," answered Buck.
"Well, you gentlemen are welcome to rooms at my casino," Ezra offered.
"Thank you, Brother Ezra," said a smiling Josiah.
As the six men followed Ezra to his casino, Vin mentally sighed as he subtly tried to adjust his suddenly tight britches. Ezra had always had that effect on him, just by being close. But Vin had always been able to hide it. He was getting tired of hiding his feelings. Oh he knew that he'd always have to hide from society, but he was tired of hiding from Ezra. From his friends.
He had no idea if Ezra felt the same way about him. Hell, if Ezra was even into men. But he was determined to find out before any of them left New Orleans. And if his friends couldn't accept it... so be it.
After a short walk, the seven men reached the casino. Since it was afternoon the place was closed. It would open for business at dusk.
Ezra led the others up a flight of stairs and pointed out their rooms.
"Nobody else up here?" asked JD.
Ezra shook his head. "Just me. Now you. I have this floor of rooms for myself, friends and extremely wealthy patrons."
Before Ezra could walk away, after the other five men had entered their rooms, Vin lightly grabbed his arm.
"Ez, can you come into my room? I wanna talk to ya."
"Of course, Mister Tanner."
As Vin followed Ezra into his room and shut the door, he found himself hoping that everything worked out. That Ezra loved him and would accept him. That the others would accept him. Accept them.
Neither man spoke for a few minutes. Finally, it was Ezra that broke the silence. "You wanted to talk to me, Mister Tanner?"
Vin nodded his head, looking at the floor. After a moment, he raised his head and looked into Ezra's emerald eyes. "Ez, I--I." Vin couldn't think of how to start. Deciding to be blunt, he blurted out, "Aw, hell! Ez, I love you."
Ezra looked at him with wide eyes. It was the first time in, well ever, that someone had managed to make Ezra speechless. He didn't know what to say. He opted for, "Huh?"
"I love you, Ezra," Vin said as he walked a little closer. When Ezra backed up, Vin stopped walking and stood still. His heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest and his hands were sweating. After a long moment of absolute silence, Vin spoke. "Say somethin', Ez. Anything!"
"I'm at a loss of what to say, Mister Tanner. You don't love me. You can't love me."
Vin was happy that fists hadn't started flying. As of yet, anyway. "Why can't I?"
"We're both men," Ezra said, gesturing between them.
Vin gave a slight smile. "Yeah. I noticed that. Doesn't change my feelin's though." Vin sighed. "Look, Ez, if you're not... ya know... into men, I'm sorry. I don't mean to offend. I just had to tell you how I feel."
Ezra looked at the floor. Looking back up at Vin, he wore a small smile. "Oh, I enjoy men. Prefer them, actually. And, I must admit that I find you extremely attractive. Have since I first saw you. But I always assumed you were interested in Mister Larabee. Then, when the whole Charlotte fiasco happened," Ezra shrugged, "I figured that you were straight."
Vin took a chance and walked closer to Ezra. When Ezra didn't back away, Vin put his hands on Ezra's shoulders and spoke seriously. "I do love Chris, but it's as a brother. Nothin' more. Charlotte was a mistake. A big one that I made tryin' to forget you."
"Me?" Ezra asked, looking at Vin questioningly.
Vin nodded. "Yeah. I found you han'some when we met. As time went on, lust grew into love. But I didn't know what to do. So, I tried to forget ya, but that never happened. Over time, my feelin's have even gotten stronger. Just tell me, Ez, do you feel the same way? Or, have I made a fool of m'self?"
For a long moment Ezra said nothing and Vin felt like he was going to die from holding his breath. When Ezra smiled and spoke, Vin let out a big relieved breath. "You are certainly not a fool, Mister Tanner. I have feelings for you. If I were to wager, I would say that I... love you, too.
"Just, please tell me that you won't break my heart. Promise me."
"I promise, Ez. Just one thing. Call me Vin."
Ezra chuckled and tilted his head up as Vin bent his down. Their lips met, softly at first. Then with more force and passion as their mouths opened and their tongues entwined. They were lost in their own little world.
But they were brought back to reality when a voice harshly demanded, "What the HELL is this?!"
Vin and Ezra jerked apart and looked at the figure in the doorway. It was Josiah. When neither Vin nor Ezra answered, Josiah spoke again. "I asked what's going on? One of you care to answer me?"
Vin and Ezra looked at each other, then looked back at Josiah. It was Vin that spoke first. "I didn't mean for you to find out this way. I was gonna tell all of you, later. I'm in love with Ezra and he loves me."
Josiah's eyes widened. "What? You're both men. You can't be in love!"
"Would you kindly desist yelling, Mister Sanchez?" asked Ezra.
Josiah took a deep breath, but wasn't able to say anything as the other four men arrived.
"What's with all the yelling?" demanded Chris.
Pointing at Ezra and Vin, Josiah said through clenched teeth, "Those two. They actually think that they're in love with each other!"
"I was wondering when you two would get a clue," said a smiling Buck.
'You... you... knew?" sputtered Vin.
Buck nodded. "Of course. I can tell these things."
"You actually condone this?" asked a disgusted Nathan. "It's disgusting! An abomination!"
"I must agree with Brother Nathan." Josiah looked back at Vin and Ezra. "You two must stop this behavior at once."
"Excuse me?" said Ezra. He didn't take kindly to people telling him what he and could not do.
"Ezra... son... this is against the Bible. It's a sin!"
"No, it's not," chimed in JD. "It's not a sin for two people to love each other."
"Love? What those two have is not love. I don't know what it is," said Nathan.
"What about you, Cowboy? You haven't said anything."
Chris looked at Vin, then at Ezra. He spoke. "It's not my thing. I love women too much. But I'm not going to condemn you two for finding love. This world is so dangerous and life is so short, you take love where you can find it."
Chris could see the relief in Vin's eyes. Ezra's, too. He gave them both a slight smile.
Josiah angrily turned and stormed away. Nathan following. "Don't worry about them," said Buck. "They'll come around. If not on their own, with a little help."
"How come you gentlemen are so... relaxed about this?" asked a curious Ezra.
Buck shrugged. "I grew up in a cat house, with my mother. I learned early on about the different versions of love. Men and women, men and men, women and women. I try not to judge. Everyone's life is their own business."
JD nodded. "Back East, my mother's best friend preferred women. She was like an aunt to me. One of the nicest women you'd ever meet. When I was ten, some men raped and killed her. Strung her up as a warnin' in town. I vowed that day to never judge who someone loves." JD had tears in his eyes when he finished the story. He quickly left the room. Buck followed to make sure that his 'little brother' was alright.
"Wow," whispered Vin.
"The way I figure it, as long as nobody's gettin' hurt... who am I to judge. If you prefer men, you prefer men. Love is love." With that said, Chris walked out, closing the door behind him.
Ezra and Vin looked at each other, half surprised, half glad.
"That went better than I thought," said Ezra.
"All 'cept for Nate and Josiah."
Ezra nodded. "I didn't expect Mister Jackson to accept it. But I thought Mister Sanchez would understand."
"Well, at least Buck, JD and Chris are on our side. But even if they were all against us, I wouldn't give you up. It took me long enough to find the courage to admit my feelin's for ya. And, these months with you bein' gone were hell on me. I couldn't stand it. I wouldn't give you up for anything, especially not now that I've got ya."
Ezra couldn't hold in his smile. That was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to him. Looking into Vin's blue eyes, he spoke with sincerity. "I feel the same way... Vin." They sealed their promise with a kiss.
"There's something you should know," Ezra told Vin as they were heading to supper.
Ezra looked at the table where they would be sitting. "Mother is here."
Vin raised his eyebrows, looking at the table. "You plannin' to tell her 'bout us?" Vin whispered for Ezra's ears only.
Ezra took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes."
Vin smiled but he was worried. What if Maude didn't accept it? Would Ezra change his mind? Would Maude decide to cause trouble? Ezra and Vin walked to the table where Buck, Chris, JD and Maude were sitting.
When they reached the table, Ezra leaned down and gave his mother a chaste kiss on the right cheek. "Mother," he greeted.
She smiled. "Darlin'," she said as Ezra and Vin sat down. After a couple of seconds, she asked, "Where are Mister Sanchez and Mister Jackson?"
"They will most likely not be gracing us with their presence this evening, Mother," answered Ezra. At Maude's inquisitive look, Ezra continued, "We will talk about it after supper." For once, Maude accepted her son's answer as a waitress appeared.
Ezra turned out to be right. Josiah and Nathan didn't make one appearance during supper. Ezra figured they were somewhere together commiserating about their disgust at Ezra and Vin. Taking a quick glance at Vin out of the corner of his eye, Ezra decided that he didn't care what Josiah and Nathan thought. He loved Vin and, for once, he was going to follow his heart. No matter what anyone thought.
After everyone had eaten their fill, Ezra decided that it was time. "How about we sojourn to my room?" Ezra suggested to everyone at the table.
After everyone was in Ezra's room and the door was closed, Maude spoke. "What is this all about, Ezra?"
Vin and Ezra shared a look. Buck, JD, and Chris were staying quiet. They were just there for support.
"Okay, Ezra, what is going on?" demanded Maude. She wasn't known for her patience.
Vin was the first to speak. "I love your son, Miz Standish," he blurted out.
Maude raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow. "You love my son?"
Vin nodded. "I'm in love with him. And he loves me." Vin sighed. "That's why Nate and Josiah weren't at supper. They're disgusted."
Maude shook her head and tsked. "When will people quit being disgusted by love. Love is love. No matter where, or with whom, you find it."
Five sets of eyebrows rose in astonishment. It would have been comical if the discussion weren't so serious. "You are... okay with this, with Vin and myself, Mother?" Ezra couldn't quite believe it. He had never told his mother that he preferred men, afraid that he would lose her completely. She was never around a lot and he hadn't wanted her to quit having anything to do with him entirely.
She gave Ezra and Vin a soft smile. "I know that I come off as... cold... but I firmly believe that when you find love, you snatch it up." She paused for a moment. "I have had my suspicions for a while that you prefer the same sex, Ezra. I assumed you would tell me when you were ready. I am worried for you and Vin. People are not tolerant of anyone or anything that they perceive as different. You two will need to be extremely careful."
"We know, ma'am," replied Vin.
"And we'll be watchin' their backs," stated Buck.
"What about Misters Jackson and Sanchez? I do not want my darlin' boy hurt because of their ignorance."
"They won't be, Maude. You have my word on that," Chris said in a firm voice.
"I'm counting on that," said Maude. "I must be getting to bed. I've had a tirin' day." She tightly hugged Ezra. After she let him go, she gave Vin a hug that was just as tight. "Take care of him," she whispered in Vin's ear.
After she had left the room, everyone released a collective breath. "Wow," said JD. "You're lucky, Ez."
Ezra nodded. "I know. I thought... well it doesn't matter." But they all knew what he was thinking. He had thought, just like the rest of them, that Maude was going to throw one hell of a fit. But she had surprised them all.
"Well, we'll leave you two alone. Don't worry about Nate and Josiah. We'll talk with them tomorrow," said Chris. Chris, Buck and JD bid Ezra and Vin goodnight, then left.
After making sure that the door was closed and locked, Vin wrapped his arms around Ezra. "I didn't 'spect your mama to take it so well, but I'm glad she did."
Ezra nodded. "You're not the only one." After a slight pause, Ezra continued, "But, even if she hadn't, it wouldn't have mattered. I wouldn't given you up."
Vin smiled and leaned down to capture Ezra's plump lips with his own.
TO BE CONTINUED
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