The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp, or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings.

With thanks to MAC for her feedback and encouragement, and Antoinette for your beta reading, all errors are mine.

 

Lies and Truths.

OW AU

Pre-Magnificent Seven

C/V, C/E, E/V E/self

The Present 1875

Ezra Standish was sitting at the poker table, from the red coat and the black Mississippi river boat hat he was wearing there was no mistaking his profession, Ezra was a gambler, and a good one. He dealt quickly and smoothly the only noise was the slap of the cards onto a scared table top. For once his attention was not totally on the card game but at the men at the table near him. He had heard the name “Chris Larabee” and that had made him sit up and take notice.

A gambler didn’t do anything that didn’t give him an edge or a profit.

A gambler didn’t put his neck on the line for anyone or anything.

Those were the rules that his mother had pounded into him, the rules of survival.

So why was he now disregarding them and watching out for a black dressed, morose quick gun killer like Chris Larabee? Ezra reached out and took a sip of his whiskey, he gave a soft sigh.  

Two months earlier:

Ezra was getting that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, the two men opposite him were locals, their drinking had far outstripped their talent with the cards and their money was making a slow one way journey across the table and into his hands.

The bigger of the two men, Johnny Kilburn, was losing badly, and with each hand his mood was getting blacker. When he lost his temper Ezra wasn’t surprised, hell he even anticipated it, Ezra’s hand snapped up and the derringer was supposed to snap into his palm. There was only a sickening crack, and Ezra knew the mechanism was broken. He tried to grab for the gun in his shoulder holster but already he knew it was too late, he would never clear leather in time to save his own life, the gloating smile on Kilburn’s face told the story. Suddenly there was the sound of a chair crashing against the wall, and a figure came out of the darkened corner.  Whatever had caused Larabee, a notorious gun man, to step in and save him Ezra didn’t know and to be honest. That word caused a smile to tug at his lips; no one could ever call him honest. He didn’t know why, just that in his moment of need, Chris Larabee had stood up and been counted. Kilburn had rocked back on his heels as a bullet had taken him between his eyes, and then he crashed backwards onto the floor, the only sound was the ring of spurs as Larabee had walked past him, holstering his gun as he went, his eyes hidden by the low brim of his hat, and was gone.  A dead body and a hostile Sheriff was not a combination Ezra wanted. So he didn’t hesitate he scooped up his money and left following quickly behind Larabee. It was only when they were clear of town that Larabee pulled his horse to a halt, his hand resting on this gun, his long tapered fingers tapping the butt of the gun. Ezra favored Larabee with a smile, a confident, good old southern boy smile that flashed his gold tooth.  “No need for that Mr. Larabee, I merely wished to thank you for your fatuitous assistant back at the Saloon.”

“Didn’t look as if you were cheating Gambler.” It was a statement more that a question.

It caught Ezra out, he was expecting Larabee to accuse him, and most people thought that if there was trouble it had to be the gambler that was cheating. “I wasn’t those men were deplorable card player, drinking and gambling do not mix Mr. Larabee, and is a sure recipe for losing your money.”  Ezra paused “I am thankful for intervention, but I do not like to owe anyone, perhaps.” He put moved his hand towards his jacket pocket and then froze as in a heartbeat he was looking down the barrel of Larabee’s gun. Ezra knew that he was fast, but Larabee didn’t stop at being fast, some said he was the fastest gun in the territory, and from what he had just seen he could well believe it.

“I was merely getting my wallet.”

“Don’t want your money Gambler, but I will have your name.”

“Ezra Standish”

“Then Standish, one day I am going to want a favor,” Chris drawled, “and whatever it is you’re going to do it for me.” Larabee cocked his head slightly, “You agree to that Gambler.”

Ezra hesitated.

“Might never come, but if it does, you do want I say, when I say it. Standish, you run out on me what I come calling, you won’t like it.” Larabee’s voice had taken on an icy tone that was matched by a glare from his green eyes that seemed to freeze Ezra’s very soul.

“I agree Mr. Larabee, my word of honor as a Southern Gentlemen.” Ezra half expected Larabee to laugh at him, most people didn’t think that a Gambler had any honor.

But the gunman just nodded, a deal sealed. Then his gun pin wheeled on his finger and slapped back in his holster. Larabee,  a hand to the brim of his hat and then pulled his horse round and dug in the spurs and rode away. Leaving a very thoughtful Standish who sat watching him go and wondering just what he had let himself in for.

Since then he had bumped into the black dressed gunman, several times during his journeys from town to town to find a big money poker game. Each time he would feel those cold green eyes burning into him. Looking round he would see where Larabee sat drinking, the man would make no effort to join him, the only acknowledgement he would get would be a slight nod of the head.

 

In Clarksville, Ezra finally had enough, he threw in his cards gathered his money, slipping it into his pocket and got to his feet, “Gentlemen” then went over to Larabee’s table. The gunman was sat with his back to the wall, so that he could see both entrances to the Saloon.

“Standish,” the gambler look a steadying breath, understanding all too well the effect that Larabee’s voice had on him, it rolled over him like drinking a smooth bourbon.

“Mr. Larabee.”

Chris Larabee pushed a full glass of whiskey across to Ezra. The gambler took that as an invitation to sit down, and eased himself into a chair. Under the shadow of the brim of his hat Chris Larabee’s features were hidden, but Ezra was sure he saw Larabee’s mouth twitched into the shadow of a smile.

“Did you win?”

 “Mr. Larabee, I always win” Ezra said as he favored him with a cocky smile. He allowed his gaze to slide over the gunman, a look that could get him killed. “Do you gamble Mr. Larabee?”

“Only when I am sure of the odds Standish, I like them in my favor.”

Ezra reached for the whiskey glass and raised it in salute to the black dressed gunman, looking over the rim of it. “Odds can always be improved, if you know the rules of the game.”

“Do you know the rules?” Chris asked as he poured another shot of whiskey into his own glass.”

“I am a professional Mr. Larabee, I know all the rules.”  Ezra watched as Larabee lifted the glass and then took his drink at the same time. Knocking back the raw whiskey, suppressing a cough as it burned its way down his throat.

“Private lessons.”

“Of course.”

Chris Larabee put his glass down and got to his feet, he seemed to emerge from the darkness and Ezra couldn’t suppress a cold shudder, dark and dangerous, two words that burned themselves into the gambler’s mind. Of course Larabee might have been talking about cards, but as Larabee walked past him, the whiskey bottle in his left hand his right brushed his shoulder. “I want the best.”

“Then you won’t be disappointed Mr. Larabee, I am the best.”  Ezra got to his feet and crossed to the bar, as he watched Chris Larabee make his way out of the Saloon, he pushed three dollars across to the bartender and took a good bottle of whiskey, and then followed the gunman out. It was already dark, and for a moment he lost him as he melted into the darkness then by the light of one of the small fires lit to light the street he saw Larabee heading towards the livery stable. Casually Ezra paused and fished out one of the black expensive cigars from his pocket and lit it, inhaling the smoke and breathing it out it a plume, only then when he was sure that it was quiet, he followed Larabee to the stable.

0-0-0-0-0

Naked Ezra rolled onto his side on the blanket and looked up at the gunman, as he pulled up his pants and buckled on his gun belt, “I usually prefer more stylish accommodation, but rustic can have a certain charm Mr. Larabee.”

“Like the fancy whore house in Frisco.”

That brought Ezra up onto his knees, “You knew.”

“Woman called Ella Gaines ran it talked a lot about her Girls,” he nodded to Ezra “and Boys she ran, talked of an Ezra, who worked off a gambling debt there, real talented. She even had a picture of you.” He paused “a real fancy picture, French style.”

“If you expect me to be embarrassed or ashamed Mr. Larabee, you’re mistaken. I entered into a business agreement with Madam Ella, after my dear Ma’ma underestimated the situation we found ourselves in. Six months and I paid off the loan to the House.” Ezra got to his feet“$5000 dollars, paid in full.”  He paused and looked Chris Larabee straight in the face, “offer me money now and I’ll kill you Mr. Larabee that is a promise.”  For a moment a long silence stretched between them.

“Didn’t offer money, I only pay for the best Standish.” Chris drawled.

Ezra bristled, “Are you saying that you have had better.” There was righteous indignation in his voice. But all his anger seemed to do was bring a smile to the grim but handsome face of the gunman.

 

Chris held Ezra’s gaze as the sincerity shined in the green eyes. “My taste runs more for a scrawny assed Texan” Larabee broke off with a shrug then added “You’re real good Ezra, you could make a eunuch hard, a good fuck, enjoyed it enjoyed you.”

 

“This scrawny assed individual, you and he,” he raised an eyebrow, “I take it that it is a he,” Ezra suddenly understand, “you and he haven’t engaged in sexual congress yet.”

“If you’re asking if I have fucked him, the answer is no.”

“Unrequited love.”

At that four letter word Ezra saw Chris freeze up. Realizing he had made a serious error Ezra  reached down picking up the bottle he had brought and took a deep drink, and then handed it to Larabee, pleased when the gunman didn’t wipe the neck before  he took a drink.  Larabee’s body was still tense but seemed to relax slightly as he drank, then he reached out and pulled Ezra against him, as he kissed him along and hard, sharing the taste of the whiskey with him.  As quickly as it had happened Chris broke the kiss and contact with Ezra and stepped back let the bottle of whiskey fall into the hay, then turned towards the ladder that would take him down from the hayloft. His hand was just on the top of the ladder when Ezra asked.

“I take it that my account is clear with you Mr. Larabee.”

Chris Larabee paused, and gave him that half smile, “Didn’t ask to fuck you Ezra, you followed me remember, stripped off buck naked and offered up your ass to me so you still owe me, don’t worry I’ll let you know when I collect.”

Ezra stood there hands on hips in all his naked glory , for the moment lost for words, it seemed that he still owed Chris Larabee, and if there was one thing that Ezra P Standish hated was being in anyone debt

With Ezra’s curses ringing round his ears Chris Larabee climbed down, and walked out of the stable. He had enjoyed Ezra, and that was not a lie, but he had liked it too much, buried deep inside of the gambler he had felt some of the icy round his heart break. The connection had not been just physical it had been deeper, running his hands over the smooth skin, inhaling the clean scent of the man, hearing the throaty gasps and groans as he had nailed him to the blanket, taking him hard and fast, then slow and sweet. The feel of that compact body moving under him has been something; Ezra was experienced in giving pleasure, losing himself so much in the act that Ezra’s green eyes had opened wide with shock when he had brought the gambler pleasure. Milking his straining cock with touches of his hand, so that they climaxed together.  He was walking away from Ezra now, because this way he could kid himself that it had been a one off when in reality he knew that he was lying to himself. In his mind he pictured Ezra’s compact body intertwined with the lean body of his Texan. He forced the images away, and the somber mask that Chris Larabee hide behind slipped back in place, when he entered the hotel, all the man behind the counter saw was a soulless killer in black. 

 

Present.

 

Len Fowler came out of the Saloon, swore under his breath and gave a shudder against the cold chill of the night air, as he headed towards the privy. He pulled open the door and fumbled with the button of his pants when he felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed to the back of his neck. “Don’t have anything, down to my last dollar.” Fowler said.

“I don’t want your money,” Ezra said “You talked of Chris Larabee, I want to know your connection with him.”

“Can’t” He broke off with a gasp as the gun rapped on the back of his head, and he stumbled forward going down onto his knees. He felt a hand grab the back of his hair, and his face was pressed down over the hole of the privy, as he heard the gun being cocked.

 

“Larabee” Ezra prompted, grinding the gun harder into the man’s flesh.

Len was gagging on the stench from the privy, and suddenly he didn’t want to die with his head pushed down a privy behind a two bit saloon. The words tumbled out. “She wants him, she wants Larabee.”

“Dead”

“Hell no,” the Fowler said quickly, “She would kill us; she wants him, real bad. We have to get rid of a guy called Wilmington, Buck Wilmington.”

“Who is she and where would I find Wilmington,” Ezra asked.

“Over Blue Ridge way, don’t know for sure.”

“You expect me to believe that, you’re going to kill a man and you don’t know where to find him.” Ezra pushed his head down even further to make his point.

“Cletus hired us a sharpshooter,” Len gasped and then began to choke. “Bounty killer said he would track him down” he managed to grate out even as he tried to push back to keep his face up.

“His name” Ezra snapped, pressing down hard, “and the name of the bitch that hired you.” Ezra was wasting time he didn’t have, all too aware that any time soon another man could come out of the Saloon and find them.

“Cletus hired him, don’t know, honest,” Len bleated, “Wears a buckskin jacket, and a mare’s leg, bastard is wanted Cletus said so.”

“Cletus.”

“My brother and the man that is going to kill you.”

“He can try, who hired you.”

“Miz Ella”

Ezra swore under his breath as he brought the gun down hard and Len slumped forward, only the hold on his hair stopped him falling face down into the privy, Ezra pushed him to one side, and then was gone. He didn’t wait he always kept his bags ready, and he was out of town before, Len came round. He kept his horse at a steady pace, as it ate up the country side with its long strides, he had to get to this Buck Wilmington before the hired killer did. Wilmington must be Larabee’s reluctant lover, if he could get to him, and warn him, and then his debt to Larabee would be cleared.  Maybe then he could get Larabee out of his mind, and he wouldn’t lay awake at night, thinking about Larabee’s lean body pressing him down, his searing kisses, and hard hands, moving over him, as he used his own hand to bring himself off as he screamed Larabee’s name into his pillow as he climaxed.

0-0-0-0-0

Blue Ridge was a small town near the border, Ezra rode in taking the lay of the land, two Saloons, a couple of stores, and a church dominating the main street. The jail was opposite the small bank. An older man stood in the doorway with a star on his coat. Ezra raised a hand and touched his fingers to the brim of his hat in greeting. Two hours later seated at a table in the better of the two saloons, he wasn’t surprised to see the Sheriff stood there, a coach gun in his hand.

“Sheriff, how might I accommodate you?”

“Gambler.”

“You have amazing powers of deduction Sheriff.” Ezra couldn’t help the sarcasm in his voice, he knew what was coming.

“Smart mouth mister, you want to be careful, or I might just have to close it for you.”  The Sheriff took a steadying breath, “This is a quiet town Gambler, you want to play, you pay.  Five dollars a day gambling tax.”

Slowly Ezra put his hand in his pocket and pulled out five dollars, and pushed it across the table. It was then he looked past the Sheriff and saw another man stood there. Much taller with dark hair and a moustache, younger than the Sheriff but older than him, his hand was resting on the butt of his gun. The man was a gun hand, Ezra knew one when he saw one, and he also noted the Deputy badge on the man’s lapel.

The Sheriff scooped up the money, and walked out of the Saloon nodding to his Deputy. The man came over, Ezra looked him up and down, “If you want more, I am going to have to disappoint you Deputy.”

“I don’t want your money, a friendly suggestion mister; get out of town while you can. Old Burt don’t like gamblers, the last one left on a rail, when his money ran out, get my meaning.”

Ezra nodded, “My thanks for the warning,” he leaned back in his chair, “Ezra Standish.”

“Buck Wilmington,” the bigger man said then added “I know you from somewhere Standish” noticing the keen way the gambler was looking at him

“No Deputy,” Ezra put in quickly, the name had caught him by surprise, and somehow, he couldn’t imagine Wilmington engaging in congress with Larabee, but then just because he wished it different didn’t mean that it would not happen. “My apologies” he smiled flashing his gold tooth, pushing those bitter thoughts to the back of his mind.  “Can I interest you in a game of cards?”

“May be later Mr. Standish.”

Ezra noticed that Wilmington was looking past him to another man that  stood near the door, Ezra silently cursed himself, and he had been keeping his eye on Wilmington and the Sheriff and missed the other Deputy. His quick fire mind replayed what had just happened; he had assumed that Wilmington was backing up the Sheriff, with his gun. Now it appeared he was going to have to re-think it, Wilmington wasn’t facing off against him, but the man at the door.

“I think thanks are in order Deputy.” Ezra made a point of looking straight at Wilmington and then at the man at the door.

Wilmington didn’t answer straight away, and for a moment Ezra thought he was going to ignore him.  But finally he said, “My advice stands Mr. Standish, get out of here now, I am gone at the end of the week, and when I go.” He left the rest of the sentence unsaid.

0-0-0-0-0

The Saloon

Late Evening.

The Saloon was busy in the evening and it wasn’t long before Ezra has a card game going in full swing, he had agreed to pay the Saloon owner ten percent of his winnings for allowing him to work the table. Looking round the room he was the only professional gambler in the Saloon, which increased his chances of making a killing tonight. The slap of the pasteboard cards on the table was soothing to him, as they flew smoothly from his hands to land in front of each of the men round the table. Buck Wilmington came into the Saloon, and immediately two of the working girls came over, he pulled one into his lap while kissing the other girl, before giving her a pat on the backside which sent her off to bringing back two shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey. As the evening went on, and Buck disappeared upstairs an arm round both giggling girls, as he laughed and joked with them, it became clear to Ezra that Wilmington was very much a ladies’ man, and he couldn’t help a smile. It seemed that as long as he could keep Wilmington alive, Larabee would fall into his bed and he would be cleared of his debt to the gunman.

A muttered curse brought him back to the present, as the man opposite him threw in his cards, the tension at the table raised but then the man grinned, “Worth the price of the lesson Mr. Standish.” Getting to his feet he offered his hand across the table, Ezra shook it, and the man left, and Ezra turned back to the other men at his table and began to shuffle the cards for the next hand.

The door to the saloon opened and a newcomer walked in, he was wearing a filthy buckskin jacket, and a slouched cavalry hat pulled down shielding his eyes, his long hair hung round his shoulders. He leaned on the bar ordering a beer, slapping a coin down on the bar, and collected his drink it was as he turned to face the room that Ezra saw the Mare’s leg strapped to his thigh. A cut down Winchester was not a common weapon, so this had to be Ella Gaines’ killer. 

“Dealing Standish,” the words brought Ezra back to his game.

“My apologies gentlemen,” Ezra pulled himself back to the presence. It seemed that time was no longer on his side, the hired killer would have to be dealt with and quickly.

0-0-0-0-0

Buck Wilmington paused at the top of the stairs and looked down into the belly of the Saloon, he had felt the gambler’s eyes on him, his animal magnetism could be a curse sometimes, apart from the ladies and lord did he love the ladies, he got a few men take an interest as well. Growing up in whore houses the length and breadth of the state he had seen all kinds, and although he didn’t lift the linen, he understood some men did. If the gambler was one of them, he would just make sure the man knew he wasn’t interested in playing one handed poker with him and leave it at that. His attention fell on the newcomer to the Saloon, and an oath passed his lips this was just what he didn’t needed now. He started down the stairs only to see the newcomer drain his beer, pushing himself off the bar and head back out, but not before he had looked up and Buck had met the man’s eyes levelly. Buck was about to go down the stairs when one of the working girls caught his arm and on her tip toes whispered into Buck’s ear, the troubled expression on his face eased and turned and went back up stairs as she tugged his hand.

 

 

0-0-0-0-0

It was early morning when Ezra finally left the Saloon, it was bitterly cold and he shuddered at the blast of cold air and pulled the collar of his coat up round his throat, and started towards the hotel. A figure moved ahead of him, he recognized the distinct cut of the tracker’s old buckskin coat, if the man was out this late there was two reasons, one he was planning something, unlikely two he hadn’t got the money for a hotel room. Which Ezra mused meant that he was more than likely sleeping in the livery stable with his horse. It was then that Ezra heard a groan from the alleyway between two of the houses, his hand dropped to his gun, it was possible nothing more than a drunk he took a couple of steps past it and then turned back. The only light was from the small bonfires that lit the street. In the dark he could make out a crumpled body on the ground.

 “Sir are you in need of assistance.”  Ezra inched closer, something was very wrong, when the figure lunged at him from the darkness, pure reflexes kicked in and Ezra’s hand came up and the derringer snapped into his hand, and he fired, the gun’s flash blinded him for a second that nearly cost him his life. The breath was driven from his body as he was knocked backward as a weight slammed into him sending him flying into the street, his attacker was on top of him in a heartbeat, he only just managed to get his arm up to block the knife stabbed down at his chest. The blade hit the derringer rig strapped to his forearm, the blade snagged against it, giving Ezra that split second he needed to get his other hand up to try and grab at the knife hand.

“Head down”

Ezra flung his head backward, and a booted foot just cleared his head and took his attacker in the face, breaking his nose and sending him falling backward out cold. His rescuer dragged the body off him, looking up Ezra immediately recognized the buckskin jacket and slouch cavalry hat, it was the hired killer.

The man reached down and pulled him to his feet, before Ezra could thank him he heard a noise and looked towards the Sheriff’s office and saw the door begin to open, he quickly grabbed the trackers arm, he felt him flinch and pull away but Ezra kept his grip and dragged him into the alleyway, “come on believe me you don’t want to meet the local Sheriff.”  As they disappeared into the darkness they heard the Sheriff yelling back at this office as he found the man on the ground. 

0-0-0-0-0

Ezra turned to the tracker, “Ezra Standish, I want to thank you for your help back there. It seems that my card playing associates took offense after all, I do so detest a bad loser Mr.” he paused.


“Vin” 

“Well Mister Vin, thank you” Ezra put his hand out; there was a pause as if the tracker was considering it, and then he accepted his hand, in a firm handshake.  “I would buy you a drink but it seems that the saloon is now closed. Vin put his hand into one of the deep pockets of the buckskin jacket and pulled out a cheap bottle of whiskey, pulled the cork out and handed it to Ezra. The gambler’s smile became a little forced, if there was something he hated it was cheap whiskey, “allow me Vin,” he pulled his silver flask out, and offered it, the tracker accepted it and took a pull from the flask.

“Damn that’s good,” Vin said as he handed it back.

“You don’t look like a cowboy, drifting through Vin.”

“Could say that,” the tone was none committal.

“Well I think it’s time to turn in, I will walk with you to the hotel, I think that I have had enough excitement for the night.” His smile was warm and encouraging, but he could see the sudden tension in Vin’s body.

“The hotel is that way, Ezra, I am going this way” his accent got thicker when he answered, Vin jerked a thumb towards the livery to make his point.  “Good night,” and walked off and was soon swallowed up by the darkness. 

0-0-0-0-0-0

Laid on his bed, stripped down to his draws, his feet crossed at the ankles, Ezra smoked one of the thin black cigars that were his occasional vice. He exhaled the smoke and watched in rise upwards into the yellow light of the oil lamps. He knew that he had to come up with a plan, now the players, Wilmington and Vin were both in town.

He had to act and act soon, he couldn’t allow Tanner a chance to kill the Deputy. Thoughtful he mulled over what he knew which with disgust he knew was precious little. One thing was certain, Vin would not call Wilmington out, because of his badge and secondly and more important, unless Vin had another handgun, the only one he appeared to carry was Mare’s leg, and there was no way that he  could draw that fast enough to take out an experienced gun hand like Wilmington. So Ezra paused and took another pull on his cigar, it meant that Vin was going to have to take Wilmington another way, the man looked like a buffalo hunter, the way he dressed, which more than likely meant he was a sharpshooter. So he could lay off anywhere in town, hell any high ground outside of it, and just pick Wilmington off. So why was he in town? Answer he had to make sure that Wilmington was here. The man could have just upped and ridden out, just like he was planning to do.

Murdering Vin wasn’t something that Ezra was going to do, if he made a move on the Deputy he would kill him, but he couldn’t cold bloodedly kill someone, it wasn’t in his moral code, okay it was a very flexible moral code, but one that he could live by and murder wasn’t in it.

It seemed that he was going to have to talk to Wilmington, he had hoped to do his good deed, he snorted at that, his dear mother would turn in her grave if she heard that, if she had a grave to turn in that is.  Ezra reached down a hand and slid it inside his draws and began to stroke himself, closing his eyes, seeing only the face of a certain blond haired, green eyed gunman. His breath came in quick pants as he teased himself, quick and then slowly until his hips were  thrusting up into his own hand, his head went back against the pillow, his neck arching as his mouth opened and he began to  groan, when he climaxed he bit back a cry, as he turned his face into his pillow.  Ezra’s breathing slowed, and he returned to the present, his eyes opened and cold reality swept over him, he was alone and Chris Larabee was nothing more than a memory, and a tear beaded his eyelashes, quickly Ezra dashed it away with the back of his hand, even as he pushed himself up in a sitting position, his lips curling back at his ruined draws. Getting up, he had to cling onto the end of the bed as he knees weakened he stripped off the soiled draws, using them to wipe himself down, tossed them onto the flour and then crawled into bed and finally let sleep claim him.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

It was early morning when Ezra stepped out onto the boardwalk, and frowned it was 8.00 o’clock and indecently early for a gambler to be up. From the talkative waitress at the hotel he had learned that Wilmington, or Buck darling was on duty around 10.00 o’clock. Ezra headed to the stable to check on his horse, a couple of molasses treats in his pocket for his pampered horse. Walking past one of the stalls something caught his eyes, and he moved closer and then jumped back as the horse’s teeth missed his face by inches. The horse was snorting, ears flat to its skull, lips pulled back over large teeth. It was then he heard the unmistakable click of a Winchester being cocked as Vin stood up.

 

“You have a very faithful guard dog here Mr. Vin?” when he didn’t get a reply Ezra added “I was merely checking on my own faithful steed,” then added a touch of sarcasm in his voice “I am sure we will talk later,” Ezra slowly touched two fingers to his hat, and moved down the line of stalls to his own horse, that waited impatiently for his treat.

Ezra tried to ignore the itch between his shoulder blades; he spent some minutes fussing his own horse Black Jack, the itch slowly fading. Damn he had to do something; somehow he had to keep his eye on Vin.  When he turned to face Vin he did it slowly, he found the other man drinking from his canteen, a grease stained piece of paper in his hand, he took one more bit from whatever it was and then pushed what was left of it into the pocket of his buckskin jacket, and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“That is how you’re going to break your fast Mr. Vin.” Ezra paused, “I do feel that I owe you for last night, a breakfast is meager payment for that I grant you.” Seeing the puzzled look, on Vin’s face he added “let me buy you breakfast.”

“Don’t take charity.”

Ezra knew that he could have taken a bet on that reply, “Not Charity Mr. Vin, just a sincere expression of my thanks for your help.” He made sure that he held Vin’s gaze as he said it, wanting the other man to see that he was genuine in his offer. Finally Vin nodded, and Ezra beamed back, “very good I suggest we make our way there now.” At least he had Vin close to him, and it would buy him some time.

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Ezra pushed his plate way from him, and took another sip of his coffee; a bemused look on his face, Vin had inhaled two plates of eggs, bacon and biscuits, before he started to slow down. Not that Ezra begrudged him the food; he had been short of money himself a few times. Looking out the window he saw the Sheriff in the doorway of the jail, his actions were easy to read for a professional gambler, the stabbing finger, the tension in his body, like a coiled spring. He wasn’t surprised when the Sheriff turn and stalked off, pushing past some of the locals. It was then he saw Buck Wilmington appeared in the doorway, a insolent smile on his face, as he raised his hand to his hat in salute as to the Sheriff as he rode out of town, with a face like thunder. Then Wilmington turned and walked back inside the jail.

It soon became clear to Ezra that trying to get information from Vin was like pulling teeth, the Texan never said three words when he could make do with one, more and more Ezra was getting a funny feeling about this. He needed more information, suppressing a mental sigh, of exasperation Ezra took a sip of his cooling coffee. “Buffalo hunter, an interesting profession Mr. Vin.”

“Bounty hunter, tracker now.”  Vin’s hand hovered over the pot of coffee.

Ezra nodded for him to fill their cups, now it was making sense, Ella had hired a bounty killer to track Wilmington down. But even as he rationalized it Ezra couldn’t get rid of the idea that there was still something that he wasn’t seeing and it was making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. 

Suddenly he was pulled back to the present as Vin drained his cup, gave quick thanks and left the Cafe, leaving Ezra to press the money into the owner’s hand and hurry after him, but the tracker was already heading back towards the Livery Stable. For a moment Ezra hesitated and then headed towards the Jail. Tell Wilmington and let him puzzle it out, and then he could try and forget them all.

Ezra suppressed a shudder as he stepped through the door of the Jail House; he had spent more than a fair share of his time in places like that. It was to be expected most professional gamblers ended up in jail, the wrong bet or the wrong card game. A pissed off local and a Sheriff that was keener in collecting fines than justice. Wilmington was gone, but there was wanted posters scattered on the table, Ezra was about to turn and leave when a sliver of paper sticking out a jacket thrown around the back o f one of the chairs. Quickly looking around he drew it out, and a smile touched his lips, as he slide it back into the pocket, and then walked out. His solution had just been handed to him in four words WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE.

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Late Evening.

Ezra was sat at his table in the saloon, he had paid his fee for the privilege, the people in the Saloon came and went over the time, and Buck had arrived a little time ago, now off duty, and was sat with one of the Saloon girls.  Thoughtfully Ezra watched him it was puzzling that Larabee was that sure that Wilmington was going to be his lover, yet all he could see was Buck with the different working girls. The man usually had one even two of them fluttering around him, if ever there was a man that loved women it was Buck Wilmington. So why would the handsome gunfighter think that he stood a chance with him. It was a puzzle that kept returning to the gambler it would not go away; he wanted Larabee, so bad it was hurting. It was then the two men sat down at his table, Ezra looked them over, they might just suit his need.

The next morning

Ezra stepped out onto the street, and looked up at the sun, and suppressed a shudder it was just too early in the morning for him. While he had broken his fast he had seen Buck Wilmington walking towards the Livery Stable, it seemed that it was time to talk to him, but the look of the saddle bag thrown over his shoulder Wilmington was on the move.

“Morning Standish,” Buck greeted him as he entered the Livery Stable, it seemed they were the only people there, which was just what he wanted. He noted that Tanners horse was missing; it seemed his plan was working.  Ezra was jerked back to the present by Buck “Looks like your taking my advice and getting out of town.”

“Ezra shook his head, “I wanted to have a few words with you Mr. Wilmington, which I think will prove to be beneficial to you.” He paused from what he had observed of Wilmington’s very active love life, what he was about to say could very well get him shot.

“Mr. Larabee is I believe an old friend of yours Mr. Wilmington?”

Buck’s hand moved to rested on his gun. “Known Chris a parcel of years, what’s that to you Standish?”

“A certain person, a lady, although I would not wish to honor her with that title, has expressed an interest in having Mr. Larabee as her paramour. It appears that she see’s you as a rival in Mr. Larabee’s affections. Ezra tensed as he  saw Buck frown, thinking over what he had just told him.

“What the hell,” Buck exploded.

Ezra took half a step back from the fury on the bigger man’s face.

“Miss Gaines believes that Mr. Larabee has affection for you that err.”

“She believes that I am fucking Chris.” Buck took a step forward, closing the distance between them. “Where does that bitch fit in?”

“Miss Gaines has hired a man to kill you; she believes that by removing you from the picture, in his grief over the death of his dearest friend, he would turn to her.”

“Dearest friend,” Buck said the two words thoughtfully, “and you know this how.”

“I met Mr. Larabee, and conversed, when I heard of the threat over a game of poker, I came to warn you. Mr. Larabee is not aware of the threat. Mr. Larabee would not I fear take kindly to me inserting myself into his affairs.”

Buck suddenly grinned, “This conversation with Chris was it vertical or horizontal Standish.”

Ezra couldn’t prevent a quick intake of breath, as he tensed as if waiting for a blow.

“Don’t worry it Standish, I thank you for the warning, but I need to deliver it” Buck added Hell Standish, I’ve known Chris since the war, and I know more about him than most.”

“Then you’re not Mr. Larabee’s dearest friend,” Ezra wanted confirmation from Wilmington.

“Nope, I like my lovers with soft curves. Now this killer.”

“You don’t have to concern yourself, I have identified him, and last night alerted a few of our more disreputable members of society, that he the man had a bounty on his head.  By now Mr. Tanner should be more concerned with vacating this town himself that hunting you.”

Buck moved fast for a big man, he had Ezra round the throat before the gambler could react, pressing him up against one the posts.

“Vin is Chris’s friend, Standish.” Buck snarled at him, he punctuated each word with a bang against the post.

Suddenly three forgotten words came back to Ezra, words that Chris had said about his lover came back with clarity Larabee had said a scrawny assed Texan, shit why had he forgotten that. Tanner was a Texan, Wilmington was not.

“But you had his wanted poster.”

“Remembered it was in a pile in the jail, when I saw him in the Saloon, had to get it out of the way before the Sheriff saw it.  Vin got spooked by Chris in El Paso, and took off, he’ll ride into hell if Chris asked him, but he’s been alone too long, need a gentling hand.”

“Then we have to find him,” Ezra put in firmly, as he pushed against the hand Buck had pressed to his throat. “I need to put this right.” He met the big man’s eyes levelly, and suddenly the hand dropped away from him.

“I telegraphed Chris, he’s on his way.” It was almost with sadness that he added, “If anything had happened to Vin, all I can give you is 24 hours head start, because he will kill you Standish, even if he’s shared a bed with you.

“I would expect no less Mr. Wilmington”

Buck was thoughtful “If your hounds ran Vin to earth Ezra, then Doc Randall is the man we want

It took them a hour to find the Doctor, Ezra was used to the looks he got from the local people, so the Doctors attitude to him was the same as the mistrust the honest law abiding citizen always shows a  man they considered a cheating card sharp gambler, so making his excuses Ezra left the two men talking, Buck certainly had a way with people, his hail good fellow well met personality worked miracles on the Doctor and he was soon chatting away to Buck, about the excitement last night.

 It didn’t take Buck long to get the information he needed, and he found Ezra waiting patiently for him.  Buck didn’t waste time “The Doc said he patched up a couple of cowboys, who got carved up with a Bowie knife sounds like Vin’s work. That boy is one dangerous son of a bitch. Hell I tell Chris, he takes Vin to his bed that boy will have his balls off the first time he can’t satisfy him between the sheets. But Chris he just laughs.” Buck gave Ezra a pat on the arm, “come on let’s have a talk with some cowboys, there holed up in the Saloon licking their wounds.” 

The Saloon

Ezra came out of the Saloon and waited on the boardwalk for Buck to join him. “I have had better conversations with the recently deceased then those gentlemen.”

“Not exactly talkative” Buck drawled, then clapped the gambler on the shoulder, “Vin didn’t get away clean, we have to track him down, because if anything happens to him, Chris is going to be royally pissed.”

“Why didn’t Mr. Tanner go to you after he was attacked, those miscreants said that he was injured in the fight, surely he would ask for assistance?”

Buck rubbed his moustache thoughtfully, “Well Vin’s got a stubborn streak a mile wide, and the last time we met, it was ugly, and Ezra I sure hate ugly.”

Ezra sighed, “When we find Mr. Tanner is he liable to accept your help now.”

“Well Ez, knowing Vin he’ll put a bullet in me for old time’s sake and you, hell that boy can get creative when he wants.” Buck added “but look on the bright side Ez.”

“Bright side Mr. Wilmington.”

“Yeah, we have to find him first.”

Ezra suddenly got that feeling that he always got just before someone else put down a winning hand, “Mr. Wilmington whatever you thinking isn’t going to work.” He paused and seeing the smile on Buck’s face getting broader he said “It’s not going to work.”

But his protests were cut short when Ezra found himself pushed roughly out of the way, as the Sheriff came striding up, bellowing “Wilmington what the fuck are you doing, with that two bit card sharp. We’ve got us a murdering renegade to catch.” It seemed that they were not the only ones looking for Vin now.

Wilmington straightened up from his relaxed slouch, and looked down on his boss. “You want that bounty go after it.”

The Sheriff stabbed a finger into Buck’s chest, “You’re finished here Wilmington, and I want you gone when I return.”  He turned to go looked at Ezra, “and get this Reb filth off the street” and stalked off towards the group of men milling round outside of the jail.

“He’s not worth it Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra said levelly. Watching the Sheriff greeting his posse, the gambler added almost thoughtfully “Little men like that get comeuppance, but I transgress that is for another time, we have more pressing matter namely  we  have Mr. Tanner to locate before they do.”

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 Evening

Ezra came out of the hotel, and walked towards the Livery Stable to check on his horse, the same as he had done every night, Buck had said that he was going to watch his back for him. But even so, Ezra could feel the hair on the back of his neck rising, the Sheriff and his posse had arrived back in town a few hours ago, they had lost Tanner’s trail, after he had had them riding in circles all day, and were now drowning their sorrows in the Saloon. Buck’s plan was simple he got to play decoy for Tanner, but it looked like Wilmington had been mistaken, he had transversed the street from Saloon to Livery Stable to Hotel without being molested by the missing tracker, so finally they called it a night.

At the door to his room, Ezra turned on Buck, “Mr. Wilmington, it seems that we have overestimated Mr. Tanner, it looks as if he had left the area, and while it is not ideal because of his injuries and lack of funds, and he is unaware of the threat to his life, at least he had escaped the rope.”

Ezra unlocked the door and with a good night to Buck entered closing the door behind him as he made his way to the oil lamp. Suddenly he went down heavy, a weight pinning him to the threadbare carpet, an arm round his head pulling it back and up, forcing him to arch his neck, to the cold feel of steel against his throat. Ezra couldn’t move, he had to fight the fear that flooded his mind, “Mr. Tanner” he said the name in a whisper.

“Right that a man should know who’s going to kill him.” The voice against his ear hissed the soft Texan accent harsher, and thicker than he had ever heard it before.

“Mr. Tanner,” Ezra swallowed the blade scraping against his throat as he spoke, “This is just a misunderstanding.”

“You set those men on me.” The accusation was chilling.

“Not for the bounty.” Ezra had to make Vin understand.

“Don’t mind me why you did it, you did it.” The answer he got was, straight and to the point.

“Chris Larabee,” Ezra heard the slight intake of breath at the name. The knife eased slightly so that he could speak, that was good, as far as Ezra was concerned, Tanner was beginning to listen to him.

“What about Chris.”

“You let me go and we will talk Mr. Tanner.” Ezra felt the hand ease a little more and the knife move away, but before he could react there was the distinct click of a Winchester being cocked, the weight on his back came off him, and Ezra rolled slowly onto his side, and in the moonlight streaming in through the window he could see Vin stood over him, his mares leg in his hand.

“Lose the guns, nice and slowly.” Vin ordered him.

Carefully with just the thumb and forefinger Ezra pulled the Remington from its holster, and laid it on the floor by this side and then the Colt from his shoulder holster. A jerk of the mare’s leg and Ezra got slowly to his feet, and sat on the bed.

“So what about Chris” Vin demanded.

“Over a poker game I heard that Miss Gaines had sent a man to murder a friend of Mr. Larabee. By doing that she hopes to I am sure get Mr. Larabee as he lover, by helping him deal with the death of his close friend. Since I am under an obligation to him, I took it on myself to safe guard his friend. The evidence I had was that this particular friend was Mr. Wilmington, and the killer she had hired was you.”

Vin’s laugh caught Ezra off guard, “might not see eye to eye with Bucklin, but I sure as hell wouldn’t kill him.”

“Nice to know Vin.” Buck eased himself through the window, his gun trained of Vin Tanner. Even as the tracker spun towards him, in that moment both men could have dealt death, but neither one pulled the trigger, but neither did they lower their gun a standoff.

At that moment there was the snap and the derringer leaped into Ezra’s hand, the small gun was raised at head height at Vin, “Now Gentlemen I am going to light the lamps, and we are going to talk.” Moving slowly Ezra edged to the first lamp and taking the glass off it fished out a match from the box one handed and lit it, turning the wick up high at no time did his derringer waver from its target.

Knowing that it wouldn’t take much for the lead to start flying Buck said “Vin, now don’t get twitchy, I am holstering my gun” Buck warned, all the time keeping his eyes locked on Vin Tanner as he slowly replaced his gun, and moved his hand clear of it.

“Always was a fool Bucklin,” Vin drawled. Then he pushed the Mare’s leg back into its holster, and only then did Ezra pushed the derringer back into its mechanism, as he mused under his breath “it seems that trust is contagious, very distressing. Taking a deep breath and flashing them a gold tooth smile, he said “Now things are a little more civilized gentlemen, I will explain, I was not aware of your closeness to Mr. Larabee at that time, Mr. Tanner, it was Mr. Wilmington that enlightened me to your relationship with Mr. Larabee.” Even as the words were said Ezra knew he had said the wrong thing, by the reaction he got from Vin Tanner. 

“Friend that’s all.”  Vin snarled, his anger flaring up again, the blue eyes ice cold.

“As you say Mr. Tanner” Ezra put in smoothly, “So that is the reason that when I found the wanted poster, I believed that it was a way of getting you out of town, so that you wouldn’t kill Mr. Wilmington.”

Even as he was speaking Ezra saw the way the tracker swayed, and for the first time he saw the drops of blood on the floor, looking up he saw the color suddenly leach from Vin’s face, and only just had a chance to lunge forward as Vin’s legs folded, and he pitched forward.

Ezra suddenly found himself with Vin in his arms, holding that lean hard body held tightly against him, to prevent the tracker from hitting the floor. Those nights of wanting Chris Larabee had put him on a knife edge, and god that lean, wry, hand body felt so good, against him. Suddenly Buck was there, plucking Vin from him and sweeping the tracker into his arms, and carrying him over to the bed, leaving Ezra stood watching him not sure what to do.  Buck turned on him, “Standish, get your ass over here, we have to stop the bleeding.”

That had been a scant half an hour ago, and now Ezra found himself heading out of town, riding double with Vin, and trailing the tracker’s horse behind him. Vin was limp in his arms, unable to sit a horse by himself. They had stopped during the night to change horses, and then kept going trying to put as much distance between them and the town. Buck’s warning was still ringing in his ears as to what he would do if anything happened to Vin Tanner.  Ezra pulled the horse up as he felt Vin begin to wake, his arms flaying as he tried to pull free. “Take care Mr. Tanner, I would not like to drop you.”

But Vin was still struggling, “Mr. Tanner, desist, stop I am not going to hurt you.” Ezra tightened his grip on the tracker, finally Vin must have heard his words because he stilled, but it left the injured man breathing hard.

“Www hatt” the word was slurred.

“Mr. Wilmington and I concurred that it was best if you left that fair hamlet, the Sheriff and his posse where taking too much of an interest in your whereabouts Mr. Tanner.”

“Buck”

“Will be following us, he wants us to wait for him in Four Corners.”

“Not going there.”

“Now is not the time to be stubborn, Mr. Tanner,” as Vin continued to try to struggle free. Ezra brought his hand down hard against the wound; the guttural scream was cut off as Vin pitched forward, as he was close to blacking out.

Ezra hauled him back against him, and took a deep breath, he felt sick at what he had had to do, but he couldn’t let Vin go off on his own, the man wouldn’t get far, “You will behave Mr. Tanner, we will find a place to rest, and then we will go to Four Corners, even if it means having to tie you to your horse.”

The reply was snarled at him, but since Vin lacked the strength to free himself, Ezra ignored it and kicked the horse on. They rode in silence, it was later that Ezra finally decided to pull, up and rest. The gambler swung down off the back of the horse and then reached up, supporting Vin as he climbed down, and then got him sat down against a tree as he tended to both the horses, then got a fire going and started to boil some coffee.

As he worked he was aware of Vin watching him, “You sic those bounty killers on me.” Vin’s voice was edged with pain, “because of what you owed Chris.”

“As I said Mr. Tanner, a misunderstanding.”  He shifted uncomfortably, under the steady gaze of the tracker as he handed him a cup of coffee and settled back to enjoy his own, he had just taken a sip when.

“So did Chris fuck you?” 

The shock at the question caught him off balance and Ezra took a quick intake of breath, and he was suddenly choking on the coffee. 

“Mister” cough “Mister Tanner, I.” Ezra trailed off for once his keen brain betraying him. He was surprised to see that far from being angry, the pale faced Texan looked amused.

“If Chris fucked you, it wasn’t because he just had an itch he wanted to scratch.  Larabee don’t take ya to bed unless he means it.” Vin told him.

“Mr. Larabee, is your friend, I would never.” Even as Ezra said it he called himself a liar, who was he kidding, he would go to bed with Chris any time the blond gunslinger asked, he craved him, the man was like a fire in his blood, that he couldn’t extinguish.

“Like I said Standish, Chris is a friend that’s all,” but even as Vin said it Ezra could hear the slight hitch in the tracker’s voice, there was something going on between the two men. Buck’s words came back to him, “Chris spooked Vin in El Paso.”

“I better take a look at your wound, Mr. Tanner.” Ezra put his coffee down, and then moved to kneel by the tracker, and carefully peel the bandage back, it was wet with blood, pulling out a clean handkerchief, and Ezra wet it with a little water and wiped the blood from the wound. The edges of it where red and puffy, and he could feel a heat coming building under his hand. “I am going to have to clean it; it’s not going to be pleasant Mr. Tanner.”

“Do what you have to.”

Going to his saddle bag, Ezra took out a shirt, and then his flask of Whiskey, pressing against the wound he felt the pockets of pus breaking under his fingers, and the foul smelling liquid seeped from the wound, Vin’s body went rigid under his hand. A quick look at Vin’s face showed that the tracker was trying to fight against the pain.  Finally satisfied that the only blood from the wound was clean, Ezra sluiced water through the wound, then handed Vin the flask and let him take a heavy pull on it. “This will hurt Mr. Tanner,” Ezra warned, with one hand he held the tracker still, then poured the whiskey, on the wound, it was then Vin screamed his body arched and then went still. “Finally Mr. Tanner,” Ezra breathed, he quickly padded the wound, and got to his feet, suddenly he bolted towards the trees and threw up behind some of the bushes, his whole body heaving.  With a shaking hand Ezra wiped his mouth, and then with his whole body shaking he went back to the camp, took a drink of the water and spat. He clamped his hands round the flask, finding it hard to unscrew the top; finally he managed to take a sip of the whiskey, and then sat looking at Vin Tanner. Caring for the tracker had brought back memories of the War, the smell of rot and decay, as the gangrene had eaten away at his men in a stinking Yankee prisoner of war camp. When all he could do to help them was bury them. Ezra closed his eyes, and wrapped an arm round himself and just rocked against the inner cold that seemed to spread through his limbs.

How long he sat like that he  didn’t know, but when he came to himself, the fire was low, he checked on Vin, making sure that a blanket was pulled up over him, he hesitated and then pressed a hand to his forehead, the fever was building. He wouldn’t be able to ride until the fever had broken. Ezra settled himself by the side of the tracker; it was going to be a long night.

The next twenty four hours were the longest of Ezra’s life, as he fought to keep the fever at bay and keep Vin Tanner alive. Finally the fever broke, and he woke to find himself looking into the clear blue eyes of the tracker. Quickly he reached for the canteen and helped to ease Vin’s head up so that he could take a drink of water, “You will need to rest Mr. Tanner, but I think you are now on the road to recovery.”

Ezra could see that Vin’s eyes were closing even as he was speaking to him, but he felt the tracker squeeze his hand in thanks. Carefully he settled the blankets back round the injured man. For a long moment he sat and looked down at Vin Tanner, studying him carefully he could see the attraction that Tanner would have for Chris Larabee. . The irony of their situation was that he was saving Vin to take the place in Larabee’s bed that he coveted, but also knew that if he had allowed Vin to die, he would forever lost to Chris Larabee. Dammed if he did and damned if he didn’t.

It was another two days before Ezra could head out with Vin, the tracker was still weak, but pure stubbornness was keeping him in the saddle. Mostly the two men rode in silence, but instead of being forced the silence was relaxed, both men used to keeping their own council.

It was a little time later that Ezra pulled to halt and looked round, Vin had stopped, pulling his horse round, Ezra moved back to him, “Are you alright Mr. Tanner, if you would like to rest?”

“Part company here Ezra, got places to go.”

“Mr. Tanner you’re in no condition.” But before he could finish Ezra was cut off.

“Obliged for your help, but I kan look after myself.”

“Mr. Tanner.” Ezra started to protest then stopped, it seemed it was not his day to finish sentences as he saw the Mare’s leg that was laid across Vin’s arm.

Slowly, Ezra folded his hands over the saddle horn, “There is no need for this” he nodded towards the gun, “I have only your best interest at heart, Mr. Wilmington was .”

“Bucklin” Vin said the name as he shook his head, “Just tell him, I got plans.”

Slowly Vin backed his horse away from Ezra, “I owe you my life, for that I am thankful,” On that he hauled his horse round and kicked it into a run.

Swearing under his breath Ezra set off after the tracker, but soon lost him as the man seemed to just disappear into thin air, among the rocks, trees and scrub. This was just great, he had lost Mr. Tanner, now he would have Buck Wilmington gunning for him, after he particularly told him to take care of Vin and get him to Four Corners.  With a resigned air, he turned his horse away and headed towards the nearest town. Finally arriving late in the afternoon he walked to the telegraph office and sent a message to Wilmington. His duty done, he took his horse to the Livery Stable and then pushed through the door to the nearest saloon, and settled down at the poker table, greeting the other men with a warm smile.

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Four weeks later

Ezra had found his luck souring at the table, and moved on, but he was hemorrhaging money at each town, never winning back enough to create a large enough stake to buy into the big money games.  The town of Brownsville was as rough and ready as the next, and by then Ezra only had five dollars to his name, but even so he had made an attempt to look the successful gambler, knowing all too well, that image was everything, even if it did mean missing out on food to pay for his clothes to be cleaned. The evening’s poker game had been low stakes he had only won a scant three dollars all evening. The saloon was now empty and only a few of the lamps where still lit, the room was full of dark shadows, the bartender had gone into one of the back rooms no doubt to water down his whiskey leaving Ezra alone, seated at his table a cluster of shot glasses in the center with a bottle of rot gut whiskey.

Ezra was suddenly brought back to the present by the last man he expected to see Vin Tanner.  The tracker dropped into a chair opposite him, upturned one of the shot glasses and poured himself a whiskey from the bottle took a drink and savored it.

“Seem you never did tell me about you and Chris,” Vin said, making the gambler sit up a little straighter in his chair. “Seems like I am due an answer before Chris arrives.”

“He’s coming here.” Ezra saw the way that Vin looked at him; he got the feeling that the tracker was enjoying this.

“Chris is royally pissed off Ezra; you didn’t do like he said.”

“Nether did you Mr. Tanner” Ezra felt that he had to point out that fact to the tracker.

“Hell, Chris is used to me, I am special.” The last three words were said with an almost childlike pride.

“Then I think that I should leave you to your reunion Mr. Tanner, I’ll leave this fair community tomorrow, so as not to intrude on your friendship with Mr. Larabee.”

 “Not going to work Ez, you see well Chris is a mite on the slow side, see’s things in a certain way, me it’s different.” Ezra saw the way that Vin’s blue eyes went hard, “Don’t want anyone to touch me, take their hand off if they tried. But Chris, he’s real slow,” a shy smile lit Vin’s face “you would think I was a wild mustang that needed taming the way he treats me.”  Vin paused examining the glass he held as if he had never seen it before “Don’t know why he does it.”

“Perhaps Mr. Tanner, it’s because his feelings for you are that strong.”

Vin reached for the bottle and poured himself another shot of whiskey, as Ezra drained his drink and got to his feet, “You are a lucky man Mr. Tanner, it is the type of luck that comes once in a life time. Good night.” As he was going out the door Vin called after him “Never did give me an answer Ezra” The gambler turned back “I didn’t did I” Ezra gave him a smile flashing his gold tooth and  touched two fingers to his hat in salute and then left the tracker sitting alone in the saloon.  Ezra’s thoughts went back to the young tracker.  If he could find someone who loved him like that Ezra vowed he would never let them go, with a heavy heart he headed back to the hotel, and a restless night.

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Exhausted Ezra locked the door behind him, and sank down onto the bed, and reached out for the bottle of whiskey had had on the floor near the bed, not bothering with a glass he upended the bottle and took a deep drink, then another. Drink was the only way he could sleep at night and not get tortured by what he could never have.  Suddenly he laughed it was harsh and bitter, he knew he was on a downward spiral, and didn’t care anymore, anything to make the misery go away even for a short time. Ezra took another deep drink, the whiskey was cheap and raw burning its way down his throat but he didn’t care. Finally he fell asleep sprawled across his bed, but it was not a peaceful sleep and he was soon tossing and turning, clutching the bottle against him.

A small smile touch Ezra’s lips as he felt the hand touch his face, the long fingers the calluses on caused by his gun handling, brushing across his cheek and lips, then down his throat, as his shirt was pushed back, and he felt burring lips nip and kiss  him, marking him. Ezra moaned at those same hands moved down his body, his clothes opened to exposé more of his skin to those tantalizing lips.  A tongue licked across his nipple, swirling round it and then sucking, Ezra arched up, one rising to hold his lover, but it fell back down, the fingers hooking into the blankets, as even in his sleep as he embraced the dream, he knew that his hand would reach only for thin air. Then all was forgotten as those lips moved down his chest, hands were on his pants, and he lifted his hips as they were stripped off him, a hard hand stroking his belly, and his inner thighs, he let his legs part needing to feel more of those touches. Ezra reached down towards his cock, only to have it caught and held, he gave a loud groan as warm breath blew over his cock, then those lips were back tormenting him, with licks and nips. He lifted his hips needing more, begging for more, words spilling from his mouth then a finger reached under his body and brushed across his hole, and he threw back his head, and came hard and woke up, his eyes clutched tightly close, as he body sank back down onto the bed. If he kept his eyes closed he didn’t have to face the reality that vivid though the dream was, it was nothing more than a dream, and that when he opened his eyes, he would not be looking into the green eyes of Chris Larabee, but an empty dark room. Suddenly he froze as a hand stroked his face,

“Aren’t you going to look at me Ezra,”

Ezra’s heart was pounding in his chest, as he said “You're not here.”

The chuckle he heard was close to his ear, he could feel the warm breath against his skin. “If I am not I am one hell of a dream Standish.”  Then hands moved to cradle his face and lips brushed his before ravishing them into a kiss that seemed to steal Ezra’s breath away. His eyes flew open and his hands reached up to cling to the man kissing him, his fingers buried into the black shirt, with a sigh they broke the kiss and Ezra found himself looking up into the face of Chris Larabee. Ezra clung to him as if there was no tomorrow, if he had finally lost his senses, he didn’t care if it meant that he could have Chris.

Hands moved and then strong arms were holding him close, and he buried his face against the black shirt, and he drifted to sleep, exhaustion, drink finally taking their toll on him.

When Ezra woke, light was spilling through the window, and his head felt as if it was bursting, as he rolled onto his side, just managing to drag the chamber pot from under the bed, when he threw up. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and rolled onto his back, throwing an arm over his eyes. He was alone, what did he expect that Chris Larabee would be laying there next to him, it had been nothing more than a dream, a fucking dream, with his free hand he beat the bed with his fist in frustration, tears slid down his face under his closed eyes. Then slowly he rolled onto his side and pulled his legs up against his belly as he wrapped his arms round himself and cried his whole body shuddering with each sob.

0-0-0-0-0

Ezra was emotionally spent, and his eyes closed and he drifted into a troubled sleep. The hand on his shoulder brought him awake, he threw himself backwards trying to distance himself from the touch, it was then he saw who it was, confused he pulled back further and  he toppled off the edge of the bed and landed with a loud bang on the floor.

Slowly pulling himself up so that he was kneeling Ezra Standish found himself looking up into the amused face of Chris Larabee, the gunman was minus his coat, his black shirt was hanging open, “What the hell’s wrong with you Standish.”  Chris demanded.

Ezra pushed himself up, and reached out, his hand was shaking badly as he prodded Chris in the chest, once, twice, as he muttered “You’re alive.”

“Was the last time I looked” Chris drawled.

Ezra was surprised to see the concern on the gunman’s face as he caught his hand, and drew him back to the bed.

“I thought you were a dream.” Ezra threw his arms round Chris,  and kissed him, he started to pull back as he realized that Larabee was not responding, and a coldness settled in his chest, when strong arms suddenly wrapped round him and he was drawn back into a searing kiss that left him breathless. When Chris broke the kiss, Ezra’s head dropped forward to rest on the gunman’s shoulder, his hand clutching at the older man, he felt Chris move one hand to gently run it through his hair gentling him.

“Where did you go.?”

Chris chuckled “had to go to the privy Ez that was all.”

“I thought you were a dream, I thought,” Ezra trailed off, for a man that prided himself with his words, he couldn’t find them, all he did was tighten his grip on the man he loved. Then those same strong hands were firmly pushing him back, a step, and the look that Ezra has seen, that had softened the gunman’s face was gone, the eyes were cold and hard. It was then he realized that he had said aloud what he had thought the man I love. Hostility radiated off Larabee as he snarled.

“You’re a good fuck that’s all Standish; don’t read into more than that.”

Chris turned and stalked out of the room the door crashing shut behind him, as he did so Ezra’s legs buckled and he sank down onto the thread bare carpet, his head buried into his hands his body shaking.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Ezra sat on his bed, drinking, the knock on the door brought his head up,” Go away” he snarled but the knocking continued, angrily he went to the door and jerked it open. Stood there was Vin Tanner; the tracker looked him up and down “What you do, climb into a whiskey bottle.”  To Ezra’s disgust he brushed past him, plucking the whiskey bottle out of his hand as he went, and up ended it taking a drink.

The gambler didn’t move, “Get the hell out of here Mr. Tanner,” Ezra grated. But the tracker ignored him and took another pull on the bottle.

“Shit Ezra this stuff would take the varnish off a coffin,”

“Then desist from drinking my whiskey Mr. Tanner.” Ezra stalked across and grabbed it from Vin’s hand. “So what are you doing here.?”

“Chris came back, spitting glass, pissed off to hell, what happened.”

Ezra shook his head, “that Mr. Tanner is none of your business.”

“It is where Chris is concerned.”

As a gambler, Ezra prided himself on how he could read people, and could see that Tanner wanted answers, it wasn’t that the Texan had spoken louder, but it was all in the eyes, blue piercing eyes that went cold, just like Larabee. Vin just stood there meeting his eyes levelly.

Ezra took another drink of the whiskey, and sank down onto the bed, “Mr. Larabee” he took a deep breath. “Mr. Tanner, when I woke I thought that Mr. Larabee was a dream, my dream, but he was real. I was not prudent when I expressed my feelings, and.”

“You said you loved him.” Vin said, shaking his head.” “Yeah that would do it Ezra.”  The tracker lapsed into silence. Then with a sigh reached for the bottle, Ezra pushed it into his hand watching as the other drank.

“Chris lost his wife and son, when their ranch was burned down, it was murder, they waited until he was horse trading across the border. Sarah was the last person that said they loved him. He doesn’t take kindly to the word.”

“That Mr. Tanner is an understatement” Ezra was looking thoughtfully at Vin. 

“Chris is a good man,” Vin’s mouth twitched into a half smile, “Hell I know he’s a killer, ain’t we all,  and when he gets drunk he’s a mean as a pissed off rattler, but that don’t stop him being a good man in all the ways we judge a man.” Vin took another drink, “me and Chris it’s “he paused.

Ezra reached for the bottle, “Complicated Mr. Tanner.”

“Yeah that.” He lapsed into silence, and Ezra waited him out patiently and handed the bottle back to him.

“Not many men would want me around them, decent men that is,” he lapsed into silence again, and took another drink; he looked at the bottle turning it round and round in his hand.

“Mr. Tanner,” when Vin looked up at him, he saw pain in those blue eyes, in a heartbeat before the pain was shut away. “What happened?”

“Lived with the Kiowa and Comanche, found me a family there.”

Ezra was impressed, working the border towns he knew about the Comanche and for Vin to have survived long enough to be adopted into the tribe was something he respected, but it also enforced his view that he didn’t want this man as his enemy.  “I take it that these decent people” Ezra said the last two words with utter contempt “did not take kindly to that fact.”

“If you mean did they beat the crap out of me, yeah they did.” There was a long pause, “I was bounty hunting, brought in one, but caught a bullet, didn’t like my sort stinking up the town. Ran me out, didn’t go fast enough, and took a bull whip to me, when they found me.” Ezra saw the tracker shudder, from the memory.

Ezra was astute where people where concerned and Vin’s words earlier when he had said that Chris thought he was special, suddenly made sense.  Few people he guessed had offered Vin friendship, and the Texan he was sure was not the ease man when it came to trusting, yet Chris Larabee a man that most men avoid like the plague because of his cold blood reputation, offered this young tracker that safe haven that he needed.

Vin seemed to Ezra to pull himself out of whatever memory had hold of him, and he said with a half smile, as he slowly goes to his feet. “Just thought you needed to know Ez, wasn’t anything you did, don’t give up on Chris.”

“Mr. Larabee is your dearest friend; I would not want to take him away from you.” Ezra couldn’t believe what he was saying, his mother had always told him to take what he wanted and then hold on to it with both hands, okay she meant money, but Chris was a precious to him as any money.”

Vin shook his head, “Aint going to lose him to you Ez, you should know that, if I thought that you wouldn’t get within spitting distance of him .”

“Mr. Tanner, I will not be a substitute.”

The tracker’s head snapped round, “Shit, Ezra, Chris don’t think you’re a prostitute, for a smart man you can be real stupid” shaking his head Vin left the room.

Ezra was aware that his mouth was hanging open, as he mentally went over the Vin had said, and that the young Texan had miss heard him, suddenly he grinned for the first time, softly out aloud he said “You Mr. Tanner are priceless, as he dropped backward onto the bed, and let the laughter erupt.  

0-0-0-0-0

It was early evening when Ezra entered the Saloon, and paused just inside to tug at the cuff of his shirt into place, appearances for a gambler was all important. He looked round the Saloon taking in the customers, the Saloon was lit up with a yellow light from the lamps, but even as he did so, in a dark corner he saw movement, the flat brimmed hat and the clothes that made him one with the dark, Chris Larabee was already there, a bottle of whiskey stood on the table in front of him. Ezra touched the brim of his hat to him, and saw a nod of the head in reply, and then headed to the central poker table, a game was already in progress.

Ezra laid his hand of cards down and smiled flashing his gold tooth, as he reached out and pulled the money towards him, his luck had finally turned, even as he did so he saw  Vin come into the Saloon, and walk over to the bar, the tracker slapped his money down on the table and ordered a beer.

A movement caught his eyes and Ezra turned towards it, a man had gotten up from one of the tables and was heading towards the bar, nothing unusual in that, for a moment Ezra just looked at him, and then his face clicked it was one of the men from the Saloon, the ones who had inadvertently sent him on his mission to save Lara bee’s lover.

 “Tanner” the man yelled the name at the same time as his hand dipped towards this gun. Vin was spinning ground his hand pulling the Mare’s leg, but he was too slow, a gunshot rang out and then a second echoed it. The man’s body jerked forward and then backwards before it crashed to the ground, one bullet through his head another through his heart. The Saloon was in silence, as the customers fell back away from him. Chris Larabee sat at his table a smoking gun in his hand, Ezra by the poker table his Remington still pointed at the dead man, meeting Chris’s gaze levelly across the Saloon.

 “I fear gentlemen that I must leave our game rather prematurely,” Ezra said as he stuffed his winnings in his pocket and then edged round the table, his eyes scanning the other men looking for any other threats, but seeing none. 

He came up to Vin, “I would suggest you vacate this locality before the Sheriff arrives Mr. Tanner.”

“Ezra” Vin nodded and went out by the back door as the Sheriff came in. The man slowed down as he took in the dead body, “this work gambler,” the Sheriff hefted the shotgun in his hand as he looked down at the corpse.

“He was going to shot a friend; I merely stepped in to prevent him being killed.”

“And this friend of yours”

“Had other places to be Sheriff, but it was self defense?”

“Walt” the Sheriff addressed the bartender, “you see all this.”

Ezra had to hide a smile as he saw the   bartender send a worried look in the direction of Chris Larabee, “Happened as he said, this gent” he jerked a thumb at the dead man, “tried to back shoot the gambler’s friend, and he, they stopped him.”

“They”

“You got a friend gambler,” the Sheriff’s tone indicating that he didn’t believe it, it was then that Ezra saw that the lawman suddenly realized that everyone’s attention was turning to look at the corner table. The Sheriff Ezra guessed would have known that Larabee was in town, the gunman wasn’t easy to overlook. No doubt the Sheriff was hoping the Larabee would move on without causing any trouble. No one in their sane mind would want to take him on.

“This your handy work” the Sheriff said.

“Don’t like back shooters,” the words were softly said, but carried clearly in the silence of the Saloon.

Ezra saw the Sherriff turn back to him and demand.

“This friend where is he, gambler.”

Ezra shrugged, as he slowly holstered his gun, “I have no idea.”

“Walt you willing to swear to what happened,” the Sheriff looked round him, “Matt, Frank.”

The two other men, nodded, Ezra saw the nervous looks they shot towards Chris Larabee.

“Obliged to you,” Chris drawled.

The sheriff turned back to Ezra, “I want you out of town by noon tomorrow,” then ignoring Chris he walked out of the Saloon as the undertaker came hurrying in.

0-0-0-0-0

The poker game was over for the night, all anyone wanted to do was talk about the shooting, Ezra made his way back to his room; he unlocked the door and pushed it open to see Vin Tanner sat on his bed, the Mare’s leg laid across his body.

Ezra closed the door behind him, “Somehow I am not surprised Mr. Tanner,” he dropped his hat onto the stained dresser, and shrugged off his jacket, and swung it round the back of the chair.

“Thanks for back there in the Saloon.”

“My pleasure Mr. Tanner.” Ezra sank down on the bed, reached under it to snag the bottle of whiskey.

Only to have Vin offer it to him, Ezra took a drink and offered it back to him.

“Mr. Larabee” Ezra started to say only for Vin to cut across him.

“Is waiting for us.”

“Us”

“You want in with us, if you do, pack your bags we’re getting out of here.”

Ezra looked at the bottle was that what he wanted, did he want in with them. Vin didn’t seem to mind him joining them, even the idea of him sharing Larabee’s bed didn’t seem to bother him. But it bothered Ezra, he didn’t want to be used, bedded because Larabee had an itch that wanted scratching, only to be discarded when Larabee and Vin came together.  He looked at the tracker thoughtfully, there was a big lump of their history that he didn’t know about, was he prepared to risk what he had to be with them. Was it worth the price of the game to do it?

“You can’t win if you don’t play.” The softly spoken words brought Ezra back to the present. Ezra weighted up those simple words, he had  been a gambler all his life, maybe it was time to take a risk with something more precious than money.

 

0-0-0-0-0

It was three men that left town that night, and it was early morning when they finally called it a halt among a scattering of trees, enough to give them and the horses some shade from the sun, that was climbing to its peak.

Ezra was watching Vin and Chris carefully, intrigued to see how they interacted together, Chris had ridden close to the tracker and they had travelled into a relaxed silence, talking only when the mood took them, but communicating with looks that seemed to make the words redundant. He knew that he should feel an outsider, but when Chris or Vin had looked at him, it was as if he was drawn into their world. Sitting at their fire drinking a cup of coffee, he glanced at the other two; Chris was stood close to Vin, one hand resting on his hip just above gun belt the other hand was held to the side of the tracker’s face, the back of his hand brushing Vin’s jaw and cheek. Vin was leaning into the touch, Chris eased his hand to cup the back of the younger man’s head, and eased him closer, his lips brushing Vin’s in the most chaste kiss, then just as carefully he pulled back, allowing his hand to rest onto the tracker’s shoulder, his fingers lightly squeezing his shoulder reassuring the younger man.

 

Ezra had learned to read people, most gamblers could to some degree, but he had made it an art form. Now he understood, and it saddened Ezra, during the war he had seen women whose whole life had been destroyed by the bestial nature of man. Women raped and abused unable to allow another man near them, and in Vin he saw their shadow. Something had happened to Vin, and in the realization the pieces fell into place. Chris was treating Vin as if he was the most precious thing in the world, but a treasure that had been damaged almost beyond repair.

It was then Ezra caught the look that Chris gave him, as they locked eyes, and then the gunman nodded to him, putting his coffee cup down, Ezra got slowly to his feet, and moved over to Vin and  Chris, keeping his actions measured he raised one hand and laid into on Chris’s shoulder, and then laid his other hand over the top of Chris’s where it rested on Vin’s shoulder.

Ezra saw the way that Vin eyed him warily, and he felt Chris’s hand under his squeeze the tracker’s shoulder gently, to reassure him. Ezra leaned into Vin and kissed him, he felt the tracker tense, but he didn’t break the kiss, Ezra softened his kiss at the same time as his hand slide up into the tracker’s long hair that he had wanted to touch, since the first time he had seen him. As he did that Ezra deepened the kiss, now feeling Vin’s mouth open under his and then Vin  groaned as Chris began to nuzzle at his throat, Vin’s body began to relax the tension fading.  Ezra eased back allowing Chris to take his place, as the gunman trailed kissed up Vin’s throat then claimed his lips in a heated kiss. Vin’s knees seemed to buckle slightly as his hands came up to cling to Chris, no longer passive, Ezra saw the tracker was now kissing Chris back. Ezra slid his arm round Vin hugging him close. It was Vin that broke the kiss, he was breathing hard, he buried his face into Chris’s shoulder, the blush that colored  his face  made Ezra hard just to look at it, and looking at Chris he knew he was not the only one, turned on by that shy look  Ezra rubbed Vin’s back and shoulder, small acts of reassurance, as Chris hold him close, his whispered words said to softly for Ezra to hear, as he petted the long hair, and gave him a chased kiss on the side of his temple.  Looking at Chris over Vin’s head Ezra saw the look of gratitude and something more that sent his stomach into freefall.

Suddenly Ezra was pulled back to the presence when he felt Vin’s lips brush his neck, the contact was fleeting and then it was gone, and Vin was pulling away from them, his hand touched Chris’s and stroked down the gunman’s’ knuckles and long tapered fingers before reluctantly letting go.

“I’ll take the first watch,” then with a shy smile Vin was heading towards some rocks that would give him the view point he wanted.

Chris watched him go, Ezra waited patiently, when Chris spoke it was softly, “he was a prisoner of war, in the hell hole he was in the guards let the prisoners prey on each other,” the anger was made the gunman’s voice hard and bitter, “he was only 16 already a sharpshooter for Red Grant Brigade.” Ezra nodded he had been in the Confederate Artillery, and had heard of Red Grant, his sharpshooters were feared with good reason.

“Vin is a fine looking young man,” Ezra said knowingly, “and I can imagine at 16” he didn’t have to finish the sentence he saw confirmation in the green eyes of Chris Larabee, in that environment, the tracker would have had to have fought for every crust of bread, and slip of water, just as he had done. There would have been other fights that Vin would have lost, that could have destroyed Vin Tanner’s very soul and his self worth. The fact that Vin was still alive was testament to the strength of that soul. Ezra moved into Chris’s arms, his own hands resting behind the gunman’s head, his fingers sliding into the dirty blond hair as Chris leaned down to kiss him, this was not the light brush of lips, this was a searing kiss, as Ezra felt his very breath stolen away as his mouth was ravished. One of the hands that held him close dropped and he felt it caress and then squeeze his ass, the fingers pressing against the back seam of his pants, as a knee rubbed between Ezra’s legs, under the double assault, Ezra felt himself hardening and groaning as he tried to pushed forward needing more contact with the hard lean body of the gunman. Suddenly Chris broke the contact and a firm hand was pushing him back, Ezra stumbled and only the hand that snagged his wrist in a tight grip stopped him falling.

Chris bent grabbed one of the blankets, and then tugging Ezra by the hand, pulled him into the trees, throwing the blanket down on the ground, he turned to face him. Ezra could see the need radiating from the gunman; he could almost fill himself being devoured by those eyes. Then he was swept into another kiss at the same time as he was stripped his coat and gun belt falling onto the ground, his waist coat and shirt pulled open, a hot mouth leaving his, to fasten on his nipples sucking and nipping, as hand cupped him through his pants squeezing and rubbing him, as he moaned and ground himself against the lean hard body of Chris Larabee. Time seemed to stand still, he found himself on his back on the blanket, his pants gone, naked as a clothed Larabee loomed over him. Those long fingers opening him up, and then a hard cock breaching his body, as he cried out as he was taken, then Chris was kissing him, his calloused hands setting his body alive, as he was taken to the edge, and over.  

Ezra found himself held close, those same strong hands gentling him, as he came back down to earth, and the brush of lips on his forehead with tenderness that few partners had ever given him. Most men fucked and ran, that’s if they didn’t try to take your head off to prove their manhood.

“He didn’t try to run,” Chris’s voice was soft against his ear, and there was wonder in it.

Ezra didn’t have to guess who he was. “Mr. Tanner has to feel in control, he feels loved, he told me that, it is just giving him the confidence to go with his emotions, and know that it’s not going to go bad for him.” 

“You understand.”

“Mr. Larabee.”

“Ezra” there was a warning note to his voice.

“Chris, I have been where Mr. Tanner was, in a Yankee Prisoner of War camp.” Ezra couldn’t stop the bitterness creeping into his voice, and was surprised when he was pulled closer, and he buried his face into Chris’s shirt. Somehow it was easier to talk not looking at him, “There were men like that in the camp I was in.”  Ezra took a deep breath “ I was a Lieu ant in the Confederate Artillery, I was nineteen years old when I was taken prisoner with my men, I looked after them the best I could, and had to watch them die of disease and hunger. They looked after me, if they hadn’t I would have suffered as Mr. Tanner did.” Ezra lifted his head up and looked Chris square in the eyes, the gunman’s hand gently cupped his face, and then with his thumb he lightly wiped the tears that ran down Ezra’s face away. Chris didn’t look embarrassed by his uncharacteristic show of emotion, Ezra understood what Chris did all three of them were damaged, but together they could heal.

Chris pulled him into a hug, those strong arms round him, made Ezra feel that he was finally home, home was no longer a place it was a person Chris Larabee. Ezra let his head drop to rest on Chris’s shoulder, as those firm hands made small circles on his back, soothing him.

“Can you help Vin.?”

“I can try Mr. Larabee.” Ezra said as he lifted his head so that he could look into the intense green eyes. It was then that Chris lowered his head to rest his forehead against his, the act was to Ezra suddenly more intimate than the sex they had shared.

“Then I know that he is in good hands” Chris said softly.

It was later in the evening that Chris had taken over the watch from Vin; Ezra has seen the almost chaste kiss the Chris had given his young lover as they passed.

Ezra had been preparing things in the meantime, he had put their sleeping rolls together, so that they could share the blankets. He positioned himself near the fire, knowing from what Chris had said that Vin felt the cold,

Ezra  sat near the fire; he had pulled the two sleeping rolls together so that they could share the blankets. He offered up a cup of coffee to Vin, pleased when the Texan accepted it and took a seat next to him.

He took a sip of his own coffee; the silence between them was comfortable. Ezra put his coffee cup down, and decided that what he was going to do next was going to end in one of two ways, and he wasn’t really in the mood to have his head knocked off by a pissed off Texan, so he hoped that Vin was going to enjoy it.  Moving his hand slowly so not to spook Vin, he placed a hand on Vin’s thigh, feeling the rough homespun material under his fingers lightly he stroked the Texan’s legs. Ezra felt Vin flinch, but thankfully he didn’t pull away.  

“Ain’t no one’s whore, just cause I let you touch me before” Vin snarled his eyes flashing.

The words made Ezra’s heart sink, but all the same he met the tracker’s angry blue eyes levelly, making sure that Vin could see the sincerity in his eyes as he said “I have never thought that of you Vin, You are a fine looking man, and I would be honored if you would let me get to know you better.” Ezra paused then added “Vin I would never do anything that would cause you harm, if you want me to stop tell me and I will.”. It was when he saw the blue eyes open a little wider in surprise  Ezra realized that he was possible the only man other than Chris that had ever given Vin a choice in what was going to happened, and that saddened Ezra, that Vin should be surprised by such a simple courtesy.

Ezra removed his hand, then reached out and very gently caught Vin’s hand and tugged him closer.  He realized it would not take much to spook the Texan and for that reason Ezra worked slowly, finally he had Vin in his arms, he kept his grip loose so the tracker wouldn’t feel trapped. He could feel the tension that still resonated through the lean body , but he remembered how earlier Vin had slowly relaxed in their arms, but understood that it was due to his trust in Chris Larabee, lying with him here and now was a show of trust that Ezra treasured .  The first time he had held Vin, Ezra had felt a reaction to that lean body, he knew that he could give Vin pleasure building on what they had shared with Chris , he knew that he could make the tracker see that pleasure could be given without a price being paid for it in  pain.  He felt Vin shiver in his arms, and tugged him a little closer, brushing the slouched hat back from his face, so that he could tuck the trackers head under his chin, so that he was nestled against his chest. Ezra reached out with his other hand and pulled the blankets round them both, slowly he felt Vin begin to relax against him. Getting comfortable Ezra stared into the flickering flames of the fire.  He felt Vin getting heaver in his arms, and realized that the tracker was falling asleep.

It was early morning, Ezra woke to find Vin was sprawled on top of him, and the tracker was hard, he could feel him pressing into his hip, a smile lit up Ezra’s face, taking great care he slid his hand down the tracker’s body, and rubbed him lightly, Vin moan softly and pushed forward into his hand. Ezra worked him carefully all the time watching his face; “Chris” Vin moaned “Chris  pleeease” the word was drawn out. Vin’s head was thrashing against Ezra’s shoulder. Ezra quick took his hand away, and began to soothe and gentle Vin; bringing him back from the edge. But he had his answer, Vin wanted Chris, he dropped a soft kiss on Vin’s forehead. The need was there, it just had to be released. Ezra yawned and then buried his head against Vin, and followed the other man into sleep.

A touch to his shoulder brought Ezra awake his hand automatically reached for his gun, only to have it held in an iron grip, and he found himself looking up into the face of Chris Larabee. Carefully he slide out from under Vin, lowering the tracker onto the blanket, and went to take his place on watch, a last glance over his shoulder showed Larabee taking his place.

Pulling his coat round him Ezra began to think in the cold morning air  his attraction to Chris was the strongest he had ever known, he was addicted to the man, as some people were to opium. Vin Tanner, it hurt him to see a man that was so confident, and strong in his own right, so damaged, in the one area that should bring pleasure. But he believed that he could help him.

The next day the three of them continued on their way to Four Corners, they rode at an easy pace, but at the same time eating up the distance. Ezra was thoughtful, but an idea was already forming in his mind. When they stopped to make camp, he deliberately moved in on Chris, his hand brushing the gunman’s  back, his shoulder, at every opportunity he made contact with the man. He saw the look that Chris gave, and smiled back at him. When Ezra bedded down with Vin, he waited until he was fast asleep, and then slowly lightly began to rub against him, trailing soft light kisses along Vin’s jaw and pressed a kiss to his lips. The soft moan and Vin’s lips opened inviting Ezra to deepen the kiss. He again brought Vin to the edge and then gentled him down. The next morning Vin was quieter than normal, and all but snarling at them both. Ezra saw Chris raise an eyebrow at him in question, but Ezra just grinned at him, and helped break camp. Each night for the next three days Ezra did the same thing, and each morning Vin was getting more hot and bothered, as he was denied the release that he needed, he had taken to stalking off away from camp before returning his face flushed after he had brought himself some relief with his own hand. Ezra caught one of the intense looks that Vin gave Chris, as the blond gunmen bend to pick up his saddle unknowly giving the tracker a good look at his ass in those tight black pants, and saw the way Vin had to adjust himself as a result and Ezra had to stifle a chuckle, his plan was working better than he could have imagined.

The three of them avoided Eagle Bend, and Ezra knew that he had to push Vin and get a reaction, before they hit Four Corners. Vin took his habitual first watch, and Chris tugged a bottle from his saddle bag pulled the cork, and took a long drink, then handed it to Ezra. “Noticed Vin is getting a mit restless.”

“You could say that Mr. Larabee.”

“Do you know anything about that Ez?”

Ezra didn’t reply he just took a drink, if his plan worked right Chris would find out very soon.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Chris was taking the middle watch, and like the nights before, Ezra set about getting Vin hot and bothered, he leant over him, and kissed him  lightly on the lips, as his hand gently stroked him feeling him hardening under his talented fingers, when suddenly he found himself looking into Vin’s eyes, startled he pulled back. Only he was caught and pulled down against Vin, the tracker flipped him onto his back, and loomed over him, straddling him. Then Ezra found his mouth claimed in a searing kiss that left him breathless. “Not nice to tease Ez”, the Texan drawl was thicker than normal and the flush to his face showing Ezra how hot and flustered Vin was.

“It’s not what you think Mr. Tanner”.

“Ez you have your hand on another man’s cock, and there ain’t too many ways you can take that”.

For once in his life Ezra found himself momentarily speechless. He opened his mouth to finally protest when Vin moved it was a sensual grind that took the breath from the gamblers body. One thing Ezra knew for certain he wasn’t the only one that was hard.

“You really think I could sleep through that every night”

“Mr. Tanner if you knew then”.

“Why didn’t I blow your head off Ez”? Vin leaned forward and Ezra felt him nuzzling and nipping at his throat. “Was going to the first time, but felt real good, not like the other times, “ Vin’s voice seemed to drift for the moment, and Ezra lightly stroked his face to bring him back to him.  “But this time it was real good”. The last two words were almost purred.  “Knew you liked me back in the hotel”.

It was Ezra’s turn to look embarrassed, he could remember all too clearly catching the injured tracker, and the effect the lithe body had as it had pressed against him. “No harm done, and you and Buck looked after me real well. Didn’t mind you touching me, you and Chris, wanted to tell you”.

“But you couldn’t “Ezra added when he saw that Vin was having trouble continuing.

He saw the nod of the head, gently Ezra caressed Vin’s hip to encourage him to keep talking, and anchor him to the present “was raped in the Camp, to begin with, then sold me ass to get food for me and Dave, took on six of them for medicine, only they didn’t pay me, just kicked me out into the mud and let Dave die”. He paused “You still want me”.

“Mr. Tanner, of course, but I fear that Chris will take issue with me on that”.

“Ez is right on that “.

Ezra saw Vin’s head snap round as Chris walked up to the fire, and squatted down, the gun man reached out and then cupped Vin’s face in his hand and then leaned in and kissed him soundly, then eased back, as he said “The past is just that Vin, and nothing you say or do can stop us being together”, it was then Ezra realized that Chris was now looking at him as he added “all of us”. Then Chris leaned down and kissed him, before turning back to Vin.

Ezra understood that they had to keep Vin occupied, not give him a chance to think about it. He had gotten Vin to a pitch where all he could think about was release, the need to touch and be touched. That had swept away his fears for the moment if they left it too long, the fire burning in him would cool, and he would withdraw again.  Ezra rolled Vin over, and ravished his mouth as his hands roamed over the lean body. Then Chris was there, all the time touching and teasing until, Vin was reduced to writhing, under their duel loving assault. Vin threw his head back and screamed as Chris deep throated him, his fingers roaming at will over Vin’s body, a finger tip brushing the younger man’s center, but not dipping inside of him, but that most intimate touch had Vin crying out, at the sweet sensation. At the same time Ezra started to peel open Vin’s shirt, only to find other layers of  clothing  he muttered under his breath as he finally got to the pale skin, Ezra wasn’t complaining as he kissed and nipped his way down that tracker jaw and throat heading for the brown tight nipples. It didn’t take much to push Vin over the edge, with Chris’s attacking Vin’s cock as if it  was candy and Ezra’s mouth teasing his nipples , Vin was soon beyond caring, just riding on wave after wave of pleasure finally he slumped down on the bed, breathing hard, sweat beading his face and chest. Chris gathered him close, kissing Vin soundly before curling up round the younger man as Ezra tugged the blankets over the three of them as he curled round the other side of Vin, effectively sandwiching the Texan between the two of them. Ezra used his hands to gentle the younger Texan , they had only pleased each other with their hands and mouths, but it was enough for the moment. One thing Ezra knew was that this was only the start Vin still had a long way to go, but with him and Chris, they would make it. It was at that moment that he felt sleep begin to claim him that Chris lent over Vin and kiss him, the last words he heard before he slept was the sweetest words of all “thank you” and with a yawn Ezra went to sleep more content and happier that he had ever been with his life.   No matter what the future brought he was no longer alone.

The end.