Webmaster Note: This fic was formerly archived on another website and was moved to blackraptor in October 2008
Ezra gently shook his lover's shoulder as he had several times in recent weeks. He still could not believe that the fiercely independent loner had agreed to share his bed and gazed lovingly on the even features so peaceful in sleep. As he studied them, he wondered if they weren't a little too relaxed. He leaned close and listened. A shudder ran through him when he failed to detect breathing. He laid his head on the chest and listened again.
All he heard was the blood pounding in his own ears. Cold dread clamped his heart and turned his stomach. Suppose, just suppose, he'd made a mistake with the dose. He cast his mind back, trying to remember the minutes preceding his most recent release - could he have been so careless? Of course, the drug had been prepared for him, not for his lover.
He shook the shoulder harder but still there was no response. Should he get help? How in heaven's name was he to explain the scene before him? When another examination yielded nothing, he knew he had no choice. He dressed hastily and headed for Nathan's clinic.
When he got there, the room was empty. Damn! Why wasn't the man around when he was needed? Ezra stood uncertainly for a moment, expecting that Nathan - or an explanation of his whereabouts - was most likely to be found in the saloon but reluctant to go there. Again, he soon realized that he had no choice.
Ezra knew that his entry into the saloon was noted by many of the patrons. He was never seen in public without a vest and tie; today he had not even combed his hair. Spotting Nathan playing cards with Buck and JD, he approached the healer from one side, nodded absently to the other men and then spoke softly in his ear.
'I have need of your professional services.'
Nathan looked up at him in surprise but asked no questions, folding his hand and following without even bothering to pick up the cash in front of him. Ezra led his friend to the hotel, walking briskly a stride or so ahead and pondering how to explain the nature of the emergency.
'What's up, Ezra?' Nathan's tone was uneasy. He sensed the man's anxiety but had no clue to its cause.
'I find I am unable to offer a convincing explanation for the situation in which I find myself. I believe that everything will shortly become abundantly clear.'
Nathan said no more as he followed Ezra to his room on the second floor and waited while he unlocked the door. Ezra hurried to the bedside and repeated the checks he'd made before going for help, with the same results. Nathan took in the motionless form of Vin Tanner, the slackness of the features and their pallor against the mahogany tresses on the pillow. The covers were pulled up to his chest but his shoulders were bare.
'What the ?' Nathan left the question unasked, professional concern quickly swamping any other reaction.
Ezra watched the capable black hands run over Vin's pale skin, feeling for a pulse and then opening the eyelids to see the eyeballs rolled up into the skull. He didn't look at Ezra when he spoke.
'Okay, Ezra. Spill it. All of it.'
Ezra sat on the far side of the bed, out of the way, beside Vin's legs. 'We ' He faltered after the first word.
Nathan had no time for niceties. 'I can see that. But why's he out? You been drinkin'?' He sniffed at Vin's face and his expression became more perplexed. Then a glimmer of understanding dawned. 'That stuff you wanted off me a ways back when you couldn't sleep with the new boardin' house goin' up that wasn't for you?'
Ezra shook his head miserably. 'We knew you'd be suspicious if Vin asked. He he wouldn't normally '
'Want to be out of it? No, he sure as hell wouldn't. So?'
'Please, Nathan. We can go into this later if we must but now '
'All right. How much did he take?'
'Quarter of a measure.'
Nathan's brow furrowed. 'But that'd only '
'Put him out for half an hour or so? That's what usually happens.'
Usually? Nathan studied Ezra, still not understanding what he was witnessing.
'Did he drink with it?'
'Not since last night and then only his usual glass or two of beer.'
Ezra watched Nathan's face, growing impatient when the healer did nothing to help his patient.
'Why don't you do something? He isn't ?'
'Dead? No. No thanks to you, you damned fool.' Helplessness made Nathan angry and he vented it now. 'Have you got any idea how stupid it is to give medicine to somebody else?'
Ezra gave no reply. Yes, he knew now it had been stupid. It had seemed harmless enough at the time. He'd always been careful to lock the door and have his gun ready to defend Vin's prone form but he never expected this. The man was young, fit and strong as an ox - how could a tiny dose of an innocuous sleeping powder hurt him?
'Was he takin' anythin' else? Think, Ezra.'
Ezra did think, working his way slowly through the precious stock of memories he'd built up since he and Vin first made love, but he came up with nothing. He shook his head.
'He ever complain of not feelin' well? Anythin' at all?'
Ezra repeated the trawl of his recollections, hoping to find something that might help. 'No well, only '
'Only what?' There was a sharp edge to the question.
Ezra faltered again. Another secret he did not want to disclose, although this time for a quite different reason.
'Vin can't ' It pained him to reveal the shortcoming that Vin had so assiduously hidden. 'He can't read '
Nathan's own impatience was getting the better of him. 'Hell, Ezra. Don't you think I know that? I known him a year 'n' some and I never seen him so much as pick up a newspaper. What's that got to do with anythin'?'
'I've been helping him - Mrs Travis too - but it gives him headaches. It's the only thing he's ever mentioned.'
Regretting his outburst, Nathan considered that piece of information. In a softer voice, he asked, 'But you don't know of him takin' anythin' for it?'
'No, but he has some jars in his wagon. I don't know what's in them.'
'I'll go take a look.'
As Nathan made to leave, Ezra felt the panic rise inside him and got to his feet.
'Will he be all right? He can't '
Pity ousted Nathan's anger. 'He's stable, Ezra. Wait here with him. We need to figure out what put him under like this.' He turned back when he reached the door, one hand on the knob. 'Had he been reading today?'
Ezra nodded. 'We read the newspaper this morning.'
'Okay. Wait here.' Nathan's voice was gentle now, reassuring a patient's loved one as he'd done so often.
Ezra returned to Vin's side, resting a hand on his shoulder and then leaning forward to kiss his rough stubbled cheek. After a few seconds, he got up and went to the window. How many times had he stood on that spot? Nights too many to count, imagining Vin asleep, wishing they could be together, or drawing comfort from the empty wagon when Vin was out of town. Now he watched Nathan climb over the tailgate.
He was about to go back to the bed when he saw an unwelcome sight: Chris striding across the street. Why couldn't the man have been occupied elsewhere? Ezra watched as he talked to Nathan, out of sight inside the wagon. Chris's stance was aggressive, as it frequently was. Any hope of containing the situation ebbed out of him.
Chris was clearly dissatisfied with whatever Nathan told him. Ezra realized that, despite the healer's own irritation, he would go to considerable lengths to protect the privacy of his patients. No obstruction would help now though, as Chris's determined path to the hotel showed that his information extended at least to Ezra's involvement. Whatever else he suspected must have been deduced from Vin's unexplained absence and Nathan's presence in his wagon.
Ezra awaited the inevitable confrontation, knowing how little confidence their leader had in him and the fondness he bore for the man now lying catatonic in his bed. He'd known the relationship would not remain a secret forever but the current circumstances were more disastrous than his worst nightmare. Even as Chris disappeared under the stoop below, Nathan hopped out of the wagon and jogged off in the direction of the church. Reinforcements. Larabee's wrath wasn't something to be taken lightly.
Nathan had reemerged with Josiah when Ezra heard Chris outside his door. The man burst in without knocking, stopped in his tracks and stared at Vin. He walked over to the bed, studied the prostrate figure closely and then glared at Ezra. The gambler blanched at the naked fury in those eyes.
'What the fuck?'
Ezra stood his ground. 'This is a private matter, Mr Larabee, between Mr Tanner and his doctor.'
Suddenly Chris was only inches away.
'Oh yeah? And where do you fit in?'
'That is also a private matter.'
Ezra was afraid of Chris - literally afraid of his fast right hand but afraid in a more profound sense of a man whose anger and bitterness far exceeded anything he ever expected, or wanted, to understand. Nothing in his manner betrayed that fear. His cool jade eyes held Chris's stare, his hands steady and his stance firm.
'You have to drug him so you can fuck him?' The cruelty in Chris's tone was matched by the sneer on his face.
'As I said, that is a private matter.'
Chris had Ezra pinned to the wall by the time Nathan and Josiah came through the door. He was halfway to strangling him before Josiah's arms encompassed him in their viselike grip.
'Get the fuck off!' Chris turned his rage on Josiah, who ignored his protests.
'Back off, Chris,' Nathan said firmly. 'This ain't what you think.'
'Like hell it ain't.'
'Get him out of here, Josiah. I can't work with him around.'
Josiah manhandled Chris out of the door. Turning back to Ezra after locking it, Nathan produced a jar from his pocket, opened it and held it out.
'Ever smell this on Vin?'
Ezra took it and sniffed cautiously. The heady scent was indeed familiar. He nodded.
'That's our problem, I reckon. I'm guessin' but I'd say the two together brought on this reaction.'
'Will he recover?'
Nathan scratched his head. 'Truth be told, I don't know much about it and I ain't sure who would.' He went over to Vin and checked his faint vital signs again. 'He still seems stable. I'd say the best thing is for us to watch 'n' wait. I can step in if he takes a turn for the worse but, right now, I reckon I might do more harm than good.'
Ezra nodded slowly, wishing there was more they could do but respecting Nathan's professional judgement. He resumed his vigil at Vin's side, while Nathan pulled up a chair.
'Ezra? Give me your word on something?'
'If I am able.'
'Promise me Vin took the sleepin' powder willin'ly.'
'You have my word. He did it for me but he did it himself.'
Nathan nodded. 'You better hope he comes round and backs you up, Ezra. If he don't, it'll take more'an Josiah to stop Chris.'
Ezra gave a small, sad nod. If he was the death of Vin, Chris would be the death of him. If he was the death of Vin, he'd deserve it. For now, the trick was to stay alive long enough to give Vin a chance to back him up.
Nathan clearly had another question on his mind. Ezra raised an eyebrow in invitation.
'Have we been together? Thirteen weeks.' He smiled tenderly. 'Two days and ' he consulted his pocketwatch ' about eighteen hours.'
Nathan nodded. His expression confirmed that he did not doubt Ezra's sincerity. A smile chased some of the anxiety from his face. 'Promise me something else?'
Ezra raised the eyebrow again.
'When we get through this, you'll give up the amateur medicine.'
Appreciating his use of 'when' and not 'if', Ezra acquiesced. 'I suspect I can promise that for both of us.'
He lifted Vin's right arm on top of the counterpane and held the hand. It was rough against his own smoother skin, tanned against his paler complexion. The touch took him back to the first day he'd felt it. They'd been riding back from the reservation, a trip Ezra had made solely to be with Vin.
'Why d'ya hate Indians, Ezra?'
'I have never said that I hate them.'
'But ya do.'
Ezra considered his answer. He didn't so much hate them as feel a vague distaste, similar to the feelings he'd grown up with toward Negroes. He'd realized some time before that those feelings had abated over the time he'd known Nathan. He respected the healer, indeed he had come to like the man. He supposed the same might happen if he came to know an Indian well. Vin's intervention on Chanu's behalf, justified as it proved, had made him question his tendency to make snap judgements about savages.
Eventually, he brushed the question off with a smile.
'You are not so far from an Indian yourself, Mr Tanner, and I seem to have grown accustomed to you.'
Vin laughed. 'Accustomed to me? That the best ya can do, Ezra? Reckon I kinda like ya.'
Ezra's heart leapt at the words. His admiration for Vin went back months - the man's bravery, skill with a gun and concern for his fellow man saw to that. At some point, somewhere between the moment when their group separated after Marshal Bryce's arrival and the moment when Vin left with Charlotte Richmond, that esteem had deepened into love. Ezra had no difficulty in recognizing the transformation. It wasn't the first time he'd fallen in love with a man and admitting the feeling caused him no concern.
Afterwards, he maintained the distance between them, retaining the 'Mr Tanner' appellation when he addressed Vin directly long after he was on first name terms with their friends. Sometimes he knew that he went too far, being offhand or even cruel to Vin to hide the true nature of his feelings. He had no intention of acting on his desires because he had no doubt that he would be rebuffed. Now he felt a brief flash of hope but quickly pushed it from his mind. He'd never seen the slightest sign that Vin was interested in men and believed that, if he was, his choice would be Chris.
They rode on in friendly silence. That was one of the things Ezra liked about spending time with Vin. He felt no need to talk, no need to fend the man off with clever conversation, and no awkwardness in the calm quiet that surrounded him. When they made camp, Vin stoked up quite a fire.
'Cold, Mr Tanner?'
It was still early spring and the temperature fell swiftly after the sun went down. Vin nodded and smiled.
'Ain't Texas. What's it like in Georgia this time o' year?'
'Somewhat warmer,' Ezra admitted. 'It's the altitude here.'
He was wearing a cozy wool coat and found himself wondering, just for an instant, whether to offer it in place of Vin's ever-present buckskin jacket. He watched as Vin prized a blanket out of a bulging saddlebag. It was new, bright red tartan with a fringe.
Vin gave him that broad white smile he loved so well. 'Present from Netty. Keeps me pretty snug.' He wrapped himself tightly and then sat cocooned on the far side of the fire.
Ezra broke a long silence when he spoke.
'I am sorry that events did not work out better for you on the wagon train.'
It was an unusually personal remark and he wasn't sure what response he expected. It certainly wasn't the one he got.
'I of course Mrs Richmond was a charming young woman.'
Vin's eyes had been twinkling but now his expression became contemplative.
'Yeah. Another time who knows? Still, I reckon things gotta a way o' workin' out for the best in the end.'
'Perhaps.' Ezra did not believe in a divine master plan and found it difficult to share Vin's faith in providence. Still, it was comforting to be in the presence of such serenity.
'Tell me somethin', Ezra.' He paused. 'Y'ever want someone. Get tired o' jus' lookin' out for yaself?'
Ezra considered the question. He could give a simple yes or no and leave it at that. Or
'I have a talent for selecting people who do not reciprocate my affections.'
His words were chosen carefully, in the knowledge that Vin's sharp mind would note 'people' in place of 'women'. It was up to him whether he picked up on it or not.
Vin smiled. 'Ya sure they always know how things stand?'
'Perhaps not always.'
'How do things stand, Ez?'
When his heart had righted itself from the somersault it turned, Ezra answered with another question. 'How do things stand between you and Mr Larabee?'
'Chris?' Vin's expression was one of genuine surprise. 'We're a lot alike. That ain't a bad thing in a friend but it ain't what I'd look for in a lover.'
Ezra heard the hurt in his own voice when he asked, 'What would you look for in a lover then? A man who is more like a woman?'
Vin laughed affectionately. 'Wouldn't be talkin' t'ya if I was lookin' for that.' His expression grew serious again. 'Someone who's kinda civilized, I guess. All the things I ain't.'
That was the moment to which Ezra timed their relationship - the second he understood that Vin wanted the same thing as he himself did, someone to complement his strengths and weaknesses. Just as Vin valued his education and sophistication, he valued Vin's courage and integrity.
Vin extended his right arm, inviting Ezra to share the warmth of his blanket. Ezra's body pulsed with the excitement of moving close to the man he'd wanted for so long. He looked into the deep blue eyes, now flickering gold in the firelight, and saw not only desire but the same yearning that he felt in his own breast. To love and be loved - what human being did not hope for that one day?
He touched his lips to Vin's, finding first the dryness of the sun and then moist warmth as they parted to admit him. He had sometimes been intimidated by Vin's masculinity, wondering what kind of role he might be assigned if his dreams should ever come true. Now he knew that he needn't have worried: Vin was as self-possessed and generous in love as he was in all things. He welcomed Ezra's probing tongue before tenderly extending his own, giving wordless reassurance that their lovemaking would bring the same mutual exploration and satisfaction.
That first night, it was too cold to strip. Ezra opened Vin's jacket, slipped his hands inside, but then hesitated. He had no qualms about unbuttoning the pants but something stopped him from touching the gunbelt, so much a part of the man he knew. Vin smiled his understanding, unbuckled it and set it down. Ezra unfastened his coat and laid his own gunbelt beside Vin's.
Their eyes never once broke contact as they reached for each other. Ezra's heart swelled to see the love beneath the passion in that constant gaze. He felt relief as his crushed cock was freed and then anticipation as his hand found Vin's. His fingers closed lightly on it, drawing the foreskin up and down, his thumb brushing the smooth head now slick with its own tears. The shaft grew within his grip and then erupted over his knuckles. He clung to it as his own need built to its crescendo. They leaned close, heads rested on shoulders, drifters home at last.
A tap on the door dragged Ezra back to the present. Vin's hand was still in his own, his face still pale and motionless. Nathan went to the door.
Nathan unlocked the door to admit Buck. The tall man slowly surveyed the room, taking in the healer, the patient and his companion.
'So Chris hasn't got this *all* wrong?' he asked in a low voice.
'He jumped to some conclusions. Makin' a fuss now ain't gonna help Vin.'
'He gonna be okay?'
'I think so. He took a sleepin' powder on top of something he uses for headaches. Seems to have knocked him out but he's stable and I don't see why he shouldn't come out of it none the worse.'
'You see Vin takin' a sleepin' powder?' Buck asked sharply.
Nathan gave him a warning look. 'Not now, Buck. Let's wait 'n' hear Vin's side, shall we?'
'*If* he comes round.'
Nathan didn't argue. Buck looked past him to Ezra.
'If he don't come round - or he ain't gonna tell the same story as you - I'd get outta town, Ezra. Chris'll kill you.'
Ezra held his eye for a moment, understanding what Vin had meant that first evening about he and Chris being alike. It was like the bond that Ezra shared with Buck, understanding each other's vices and weaknesses as they did, and it was as his friend that Buck now warned him.
'If he doesn't come round, I may well take matters into my own hands.' Ezra would not want to live, knowing that he had cost Vin his life. After Buck left, he studied Nathan thoughtfully. 'Why do you trust me? I have not always treated you well and even Buck has his doubts now.'
There was a long pause before Nathan replied, so long that Ezra wondered if the man knew the reason himself. Finally, he shrugged. 'I seen a lotta wives 'n' husbands worryin' 'bout their loved ones. Reckon I know what it looks like. An' I seen things back on the plantations - folk get off on all kindsa stuff.'
Ezra was pleased to see his love recognized as something precious but humiliated to think of his predilections in those terms. Still, there was no escaping the fact that Vin lay in a coma now because he had tried to please his lover. To sacrifice one's life for a loved one might be noble but to throw it away on a thrill was only a waste. Ezra was in earnest when he alluded to suicide. The thought of never again hearing Vin's loving whispers in his ear, never again feeling Vin's tender touch on his body, was more than he could bear.
When Ezra and Vin got back from the reservation the day after they first declared their feelings for each other, Chris was waiting. Minutes later, he and Vin rode out on a job with Buck and JD, leaving Ezra trying to decide whether he was more worried that Vin might be hurt or that he might change his mind.
Three days later, a tap on his door in the early hours of the morning woke him from a sound sleep. He reached for his revolver and moved to one side of the door.
When Ezra opened the door, Vin was standing with his shirt unbuttoned and his hair wet.
Ezra shook his head and stood back. 'I hadn't realized it was raining.'
Vin grinned. 'Figured ya'd want me clean. Creek had to do - can't get a bath this time o' night.'
Ezra took the man in his arms, overwhelmed by his eagerness to return and his thoughtfulness in doing so. Lips locked and limbs entwined, they stumbled over to the bed. Vin was shivering, his whole body covered in goosebumps, so Ezra lost no time in stripping him and bundling him into the warm featherbed. Pausing only long enough to shed his nightshirt, he slipped in alongside.
A wave of faintness swept through him as their bodies met for the first time, pressed close down their entire lengths. With one hand resting on Vin's shoulder, he tentatively ran the other through the hair he had so often admired in secret. It was now a mass of damp tangles for him to tease into order. Vin submitted to his grooming, hands clasped to his butt, grinding their hips together.
His dreams finally coming true, Ezra was struck by a sudden doubt. Perhaps Vin's visit was only that - an illusion brought on by too much hope or perhaps simply the unsettled sleep that followed a rich meal.
'Tell me I'm not dreaming.'
Vin bit his shoulder, hard enough to make him wince.
'That real enough?'
Before Ezra could reply, Vin disappeared under the bedclothes. A second later, his lips closed around Ezra's cock and the tip of his tongue dipped deliciously into its slit. Ezra sighed as felt himself drawn into the warmth of Vin's throat, his whole length slowly engulfed and held for a second or two. All too soon, Vin pulled away and reappeared.
'How 'bout that?'
Ezra struggled to maintain his equanimity. 'I take it your mission wasn't too arduous, since you seem to have energy to spare.'
Vin grinned again. 'Hell, Ezra. I spent three days thinkin' 'bout this. Been havin' t'beat the meat when I take a piss t'keep my mind on the job.'
Ezra couldn't stop the smile that his lover's crude talk brought to his lips. He ran his hand down the long, slim cock, cupped the heavy balls in his palm and let his nimble fingertips glide over the root beyond. 'So what precisely have you been thinking? You should have some well-developed plans by now.'
With a shake of that shaggy mane, Vin kissed him. 'Nope. Couldn't get past my cock in your ass. I ain't hard t'please.'
Ezra reached for the nightstand and took out a small jar of handcream. 'Never let it be said that I denied a man his dreams.'
'You do it.' Vin laid back, hands behind his head, waiting for Ezra to minister to him. He sighed deeply. 'I been wantin' this ever since I saw ya in that damned tablecloth.'
Ezra smiled at the thought that he had Big Lester Banks to thank for his current good fortune. He'd gladly have lost any number of hands had he known the stakes were so high. He lingered over creaming Vin's cock, exploring the veins standing proud on its shaft and the deep flange around its head. His own shorter, sturdier shaft barely flared to meet its tip. When he was done, he studied Vin's face, needing to see again the love that was there just for him.
Vin reached out a hand to cradle his cheek in a touch more eloquent than words. When Ezra leaned wistfully into the contact, Vin's voice was almost too low to hear. 'Y'can trust me, Ez.'
No, Ezra thought, No, I can't yet. But one day I may learn.
The anticipation was almost unbearable for Ezra as they changed places. Kneeling behind him, Vin took the same delight in lubricating and stretching him. When he entered, it was with a slow and tantalizing thrust, burying himself a fraction of an inch at a time until his balls pressed against Ezra's root. He paused in satisfaction.
'Yer better'an anythin' I could dream, Ez.'
'I regret that duration may be a problem.'
'No problem here.'
Hearing the urgency in Vin's voice, Ezra relaxed. There'd be plenty of other times but, for now, their bodies were in control. The light touch of Vin's fingers running over his dorsal muscles made him quiver with pleasure. Just as one of the hands slid around his waist and closed on his cock, he felt the pressure inside him increase. Vin was close and the image of his cum sealing their intimacy took Ezra with him.
As he let go, Ezra's last thought was to wish he'd put a towel underneath himself. It seemed as if Vin was inside his head when the hand caressing his cock deftly caught the jets that shot from it.
They cuddled down together that night, making love twice more, until Vin stole back to his wagon at dawn.
Studying Vin's impassive features, Ezra wondered if he'd ever see those blue eyes twinkle again as they always did after they made love. Would he ever feel those strong arms around him, bringing a sense of security he'd never experienced before? He felt as if a heavy weight pressed on his chest when he realized that all those things could be past. He sighed and consulted his pocketwatch: seven o'clock in the evening.
'How long since he took it?' Nathan asked.
'About five hours.'
Nathan checked Vin again, taking his pulse twice.
'Is there any change?'
'Pulse is stronger. Faster too.'
Half an hour passed before there was another knock on the door.
'Yeah?' Nathan asked.
There was a pause before Josiah replied. 'Chris wants to see Vin.'
'Don't think that's such a good idea, right now,' Nathan ventured.
'I ain't askin'.' Chris's tone said clearly that he was coming in, one way or another.
Nathan reluctantly admitted him. Chris did not even look at Ezra, as he moved Nathan's chair to the head of the bed and sat staring into the sleeping face. Nathan and Josiah stood by the door.
'How's he doin'?' Chris asked after a while.
'Better,' Nathan replied. 'Seems to be comin' out of it.'
They resumed their uneasy watch, Ezra holding Vin's hand resolutely and Chris motionless at the bedside. Even Josiah was like a slab of granite at his post. Only Nathan shifted his weight from time to time.
Twenty minutes passed, each second dragging slower than the last.
Vin sighed softly.
Another few minutes and his eyelids fluttered feebly.
Ezra leaned forward, squeezed Vin's hand and whispered, 'I'm here, Vin.'
Vin opened his eyes, slowly took in Ezra sitting clothed on the bed, and frowned. He started when he saw Chris to his left and Josiah by the door. Nathan was already coming forward to check him again.
'You okay, Vin?' he asked.
The line between Vin's brows told of his confusion. 'Sure. What's goin' on?'
'Maybe you better tell us.' Chris's voice hovered between anxiety and anger.
Vin looked at Ezra, struggling to understand what had passed. Ezra ached to explain but knew the words had to come from Vin. Nathan intervened.
'You been out for a while, Vin. Ezra got worried and called me.'
''Bout six hours.'
The shock registered on Vin's face. 'Six hours? But I took the same as always.'
Chris leaned back, his expression now as confused as Vin's had been.
'You take anythin' else? For a headache, maybe?' Nathan prompted.
Vin nodded slowly. 'Yeah. It was real bad around noon. I took some stuff I keep for it.'
'You ever taken 'em together before?'
Vin thought for a minute. 'Not sure. Not as I recall.'
Nathan nodded in satisfaction at his diagnosis. 'I'd say that's what did it.'
When Vin licked his parched lips, Ezra helped him to sip from a glass of water. Vin smiled up at him, then finally turned to Chris.
'Reckon this all seems pretty strange.'
'You could say that. You seriously tellin' me you let him do this to you?' His words were filled with revulsion at the whole setup and contempt for Ezra.
'Hey!' Vin's voice was sharp. 'I'm sorry it got outta hand and ya been worried but there ain't no call for that. I don't go round tellin' ya 'n' Buck who to screw and how.'
Chris got to his feet angrily. 'How could you make yourself so helpless?'
There was a long pause before Vin said quietly, 'When ya love someone, ya trust 'em. Seems like I was right - Ezra's still here, ain't he? Don't reckon ya made that too easy for him. Called Nathan, didn't he?'
Ezra observed the dispute through a mist of tears. He'd enjoyed watching his lovers sleep since his first encounter, at the age of fifteen. He couldn't account for it - had no memory of any formative experience - he just liked it. During their first month, he'd watched Vin whenever he could but they rarely spent a whole night together for fear of discovery and, in any case, Vin was such a light sleeper. But then
It was shortly before dawn and Vin slept peacefully. Ezra lay beside him, propped on one elbow, gazing into the tranquil face and holding his own throbbing flesh. He rolled his foreskin slowly, relishing the illicit pleasure.
'Startin' without me?'
Vin had made no move so his words sent his bedmate through the ceiling.
'I I ' For once, Ezra was lost for words.
'Ya ya what?' Vin opened his eyes and smiled. 'Ya like watchin' me while I'm asleep - I caught y'at it afore. Why?'
'I I don't know.'
'Well,' Vin drawled lazily. 'Now there we gotta problem. Not that I mind, but I can't help it that I wake up as soon as ya move.'
'I know. It doesn't matter. It isn't important.'
'Maybe I could take somethin'. Y'know, like them ladies as take sleepin' powders.'
Tempted as he was by the idea, Ezra protested. 'I couldn't ask you to do that.'
'But you would be relying on me to protect you while you were unconscious.'
That had been the second turning point for Ezra: not only did Vin want him but he trusted him too. Totally. Utterly. On the pretext of the noisy building works, Ezra got the sleeping powder from Nathan and tested it on himself. After that, they experimented, starting with a tiny amount and finally settling on a quarter measure. Vin was out for about half an hour. Ezra made gentle love to his body, inert apart from the reflexive stiffening of his cock. Then Vin awoke, horny as hell at the thought of what his body had been doing in his absence, and took Ezra in far more vigorous style. They both loved it.
They only ever indulged themselves that way when the town was peaceful, and all their friends were around to handle an emergency but occupied and unlikely to interrupt. There had never been a problem. Until now.
Chris glared at Vin, responding to the situation with anger as he so often did.
'Do what you like. Ain't nothin' to me.'
'Don't be like that, Chris. I thought ya was my friend.'
Chris stood, undecided, only a slight vibration in his cheek giving away the battle raging inside him.
'You gonna keep this up?' he asked abruptly.
Ezra addressed Vin. 'I have already given Nathan my word that we won't be abusing his preparations in future.'
'Fair enough,' Vin conceded. 'But everythin' else stands. Best jus' say now if ya got a problem with that, Chris.' He glanced at Nathan and Josiah. 'Or the rest o' ya. If that's the way o' things, we'll be movin' on.'
Chris gave a curt nod and strode out of the room. He had no ready answer.
'Josiah?' Vin softly challenged the former preacher. 'I know this could be kinda tough for ya.'
The big man smiled. 'You're a friend, Vin, stood by me with Poplar when some folks had their doubts. You don't think this makes a difference, do you? Don't recall anythin' in the Bible makes it wrong to love my fellow sinners.'
Vin smiled. 'Thanks.'
Nathan nodded his agreement, then added, 'Chris'll come round. This jus' wasn't the best way o' lettin' your friends in on the secret.' He and Josiah let themselves out and shut the door behind them.
Vin reached for Ezra and pulled him close.
'Would you really go with me?' Ezra asked softly. 'It's me whom Chris would like to see leave.'
'Yeah, course I would,' Vin assured him. 'And no, it ain't. He don't wanna see either of us go. He jus' don't wanna think of us together but he'll get used to it.'
'How can you be so certain of that?'
'Like I told ya afore, we're a lot alike. Know him like I know myself. That's why I'd rather be with ya - for them littl' surprises in life. Like wakin' up t'find all yer friends know what ya do for kicks!' He laughed and wrestled Ezra onto his back.
'After today, we may be compelled to seek out a new diversion.'
They smiled at each other. Seeking could be fun too.
Postscript: Being aroused by people sleeping is known as hypnophilia.