Main characters: Ezra/Vin Chris/Buck - Slash but no graphic sex scenes.
I took the liberty in fixing some wrongs done in other episodes!
Disclaimer: I do not own Magnificent characters or profit from them. Mean people who took them off the air do!
Ramblings: I got inspired for this story from reading Calf Killer by Cobalt and another story I cannot remember the name, where Vin was showing Ezra how to track. I didnt think I would be able to do an OW story but here goes. I know nothing about tracking so I tried to use common sense. I got the information on the Schofield gun from the internet. All errors are mine as I dont have a Beta.
The only piece of good luck was that the men chasing him hadnt seen him fall and had passed him by. He hoped they kept going. He could see Peso at the top of the ravine looking down at him. He wondered if he could coax that ornery mule down here. Not that he saw an easy way. He felt sweat rolling down his forehead and raised his arm to wipe it away. Hell, not sweat, blood.
Ezra sat on the boardwalk in front of the saloon. He had his feet on the railing, his chair tipped back on two legs. He lazily shuffled a deck of cards. To the casual observer he was idly spending time. But he frequently checked the road leading into town. Where was Vin? He had been due back yesterday. Vin had sent a cable from Cedar Pass saying he was heading back the next day.
He turned his head as he heard spurs clicking down the boardwalk towards him.
Any word from Mr. Tanner?
Ezra paused in his shuffling and looked up at him.
I wouldnt worry Ezra. No need to concern yourself.
Vin woke a few hours later. He drug himself into the shade of some trees near the base of the ravine. He thought he could hear water but he wasnt sure, he felt lightheaded and his ears rang. He looked up but couldnt see Peso. He raised a hand to his head. It was still sticky and wet but wasnt bleeding like before. He groaned as he shifted into a sitting position. His shoulder was still bleeding some. He removed his bandanna and pressed it hard to the wound. He hissed in pain. He leaned back against the cliff face. He wasnt worried about being found. He knew Ezra would find him. It was just a matter if he could last till then or if the men hunting him found him first.
Night had fallen and still no sign of Vin. Ezra decided it was time for someone to do something. He wasnt going to wait until daylight. It was at least a days ride to Cedar Pass if he rode hard.
Sorry Gentlemen, last hand. The other four men at the table protested.
Now, now. All good things must come to an end.
Ezra gathered his money. He poured a last drink from the bottle of whiskey he had purchased earlier.
You gentlemen are welcome to finish this amongst yourself since I am departing early.
The other men exchanged looks but stopped their grumbling. Ezra stood and tipped his hat.
Chris was surprised to see Ezra call it a night so early, especially since he was winning. But who knew what to expect when it came to Ezra Standish.
Ezra entered his room and began to pack. He had an emergency bag of rations stored in his closet, in case a quick exit was needed. He grabbed that and a few clothes. He also had a kit of some medical supplies that came in handy on the trail. He was ready to leave in about ten minutes. He sat on the bed and wrote out a short note. He slipped out the door quietly; pinning the note to his door. He decided not to inform the others he was leaving. He wasnt sure why but knew they would argue with him. The note was merely to keep Chris Larabee from accusing him of running out again. Though technically he hadnt run out before. Running out implied leaving, where he had come back.
Vin woke shivering. It was dark now. No moon tonight, which was good for him in a way. Made being spotted harder for those men hunting him. He could hear the water better now. His head felt clearer. He decided to try and reach it. He stretched back to the wall behind him and pushed himself up with his good arm. Shit! He couldnt put any weight on his busted ankle. Luckily he had found a good size branch earlier. He leaned over and grabbed it, using it as a crutch. He didnt know if it was lucky or not that his wounded shoulder was opposite his injured leg. He wasnt sure he could say hed had any good luck yet. Though he guessed he could have broken his neck when he fell. He grimaced. Hed take any luck he could. He hobbled forward until he came to a small stream. He hadnt been able to see it in the daylight; it was down a gradual incline, which he navigated without too much trouble. He lowered himself painfully to the ground. The water was cool and refreshing going down his throat. Damn he wished he had his canteen. But that was on Peso. He still had his mares leg. That was one good thing.
Wonder when the others will come looking for me? He looked up at the stars, bright on this moonless night. Going on 2 am.
He thought about Ezra again. Funny how often Ezra had been on his mind since hed left Four Corners. He realized how much he enjoyed Ezras company since hed been gone. He missed the time they had spent out on patrol or out showing Ezra how to track. He laughed thinking how that had come about. Him and Ezra had been out on patrol together one evening. He often volunteered to go out with Ezra, though he didnt explain why to Chris, who raised an eyebrow every time he did. He liked the Southern. He enjoyed talking to him when the others werent around. Ezra didnt put up that front when they were alone. Ezra had asked him how he had gotten into bounty hunting and Vin had been telling him a story about a man hed been after for three months. That had led to questions about tracking. And that had led to their arrangement. Vin taught Ezra how to track and Ezra taught him how to read and write. Vin was sure he had gotten the better end of that deal. Sometimes though, if he played his cards right; he laughed at that, he could get Ezra to just read to him. Hed never admit it to Ezra, but he loved listening to him talk. And the way he read stories, damn he felt he was there in those pages, not sitting on the side of some trail or if he was fortunate, up in Ezras room sipping some of Ezras smooth whiskey.
He sighed. He wished he was in Ezras room right now. Listening to Ezra read some of that poetry book he had ordered. Ezra had apologized to Vin for making fun of him about writing a poem and to make it up to him, Ezra had ordered a book of poems and read them to him. He would also write Vins down in a special book hed made. Just thinkin on that made him feel warm inside. He shook himself and took another long drink then struggled back to his feet. He made it back to the ravine wall, mesquite grew there and he crawled under and pulled his body into a ball. Next time he took a tumble off his horse, he planned on grabbing a blanket on the way down.
Ezra rode hard through the night. He apologized to Royal Flush as he rode.
Sorry old friend but we must make haste. He knew the faster he got to Cedar Pass, the faster he could pick up Vins trail. Vin had told him the colder a trail got, the harder it was to follow. Fate had smiled on him, as it hadnt rained in the last few days. He thanked whatever gods there might be that Vin had been teaching him to track. He would have never guessed his first big test would be searching for Vin. Not that he hadnt tracked Vin before. Part of Vins instruction to him on tracking had him looking for Vin. They would be out on patrol and Vin would turn a sly smile to him.
Time for a lesson Ez.
Vin would make Ezra dismount and wait for a specific amount of time and then come look for him. In all different types of circumstances - rain, wind, hell during a thunderstorm once. At first it had taken him what seemed like days to find Vin. In fact they had been late returning from taking a prisoner to Eagle Bend once and Chris had berated Ezra as soon as they came back. Vin had been about to explain but Ezra had stopped him. He couldnt quite say why but he didnt want the others to know what went on between him and Vin when they were alone. Vin had still defended him though, saying it wasnt Ezras fault they were late. Chris couldnt hide the look of surprise at the harsh words from Vin or the way he stormed passed him after delivering them. Even thinking of it now made Ezra smile. No one had ever defended him before; no one took up for him. It was after that he had gotten the blank book for Vins poems.
Ezra slowed his horse down letting him rest some. He smiled again thinking of when he had given Vin that book.
Vin, I have something for you. Ezra had been sitting in his rocking chair; Vin was propped up on the bed. He knew Vin wouldnt admit how much he liked Ezras feather bed. He claimed he liked sleeping in that wagon of his.
Vin had gotten a child-like look of wonder on his face when Ezra handed him the wrapped present. And he had given Ezra a beautiful smile when he opened it and Ezra had explained what it was for. Ezra took secret pleasure in being the keeper of Vins poems. No one would suspect from looking at the dusty tracker that the man was a natural poet. He was always startled at the beauty of the words and visions the simple man evoked. Whenever Ezra tried to tell Vin how wonderful his poems were, Vin would just duck his head and blush.
Aint no poet Ez.
Ezra had read through the book every night since Vin had been gone. He was surprised to find how much he missed Vin. Ezra the loner, missing someone. He snorted. Wouldnt his mother love to hear that? But reading the poems, invoking Vins voice, helped ease that loneliness. He had also volunteered for more patrols, explaining at Chris wary look, that they were short handed with Vin gone. Which was partly true. All the truth Chris needed to know. Ezra felt closer to Vin out on the trail. He replayed all their talks. What was wrong with him? Youd think Vin had been gone months. It just felt that way.
Now he replayed every tracking lesson hed had. He wasnt about to let Vin down.
Vin woke again at first light. The morning was cool and misty. He made it down to the stream again and drank deeply. He sat back on the sandy bank. His foot felt numb. He knew better than to try and take the boot off. He thought about soaking it in the stream but didnt know if getting the leather boot wet would make it better or worse. He turned to look back up the rocky cliff, still no sign of Peso. Maybe he was on his way back to Four Corners. His stomach growled loudly. It was foggy here down by the creek. He thought he might risk a small fire. He hobbled to some rocks that were in the stream and leaned out across the water. A nice fish would make a good breakfast. Time to tickle him a trout.
Josiah came in through the bat wing doors of the saloon. Buck, JD and Nathan sat at their usual table having breakfast.
Little early for him dont cha think? Buck sipped his coffee.
Ezra hasnt been sleeping late for awhile. Guess you havent noticed. Josiah smiled as Inez brought him a cup.
Buck frowned. Now that Josiah mentioned it he had noticed Ezra up earlier lately.
Yeah Buck. Dont you notice nothing? JD gave him a playful punch, he moved his mug of mill as Buck took a swing at him.
Noticed he went upstairs early last night. Wondered what hes up to? Nathan frowned looking upstairs as if to see what Ezra might be doing up there.
Think Ill go see if he is okay. Josiah took a drink from his cup and gave his order to Inez and he headed up the steps.
He could see something tacked to Ezras door as he walked around the corner towards his room. It was his turn to frown as he removed the paper and headed downstairs.
Whatcha got there Josiah? JD looked curiously as Josiah came back down the steps a minute later, paper in hand.
Chris walked through the doors at that time. He nodded to Inez and he headed toward the table, Buck pushed a chair out for him with his foot.
Josiah finished reading the note for the second time as he sat down.
Ezras gone looking for Vin. Says here he left last night, headed for Cedar Pass.
Left? Whats Ezra think hes gonna be able to do? Nathans voice was full of doubt.
I told him it wasnt any of his concern. Chris glared at no one in particular, taking the note and reading it.
Obviously he thought it was. Josiah stated simply.
Damn mans gonna get his self lost and then were gonna have to go lookin for him. Why cant he stay out of trouble? Nathan grumbled.
I think Ezras is more resourceful than any of you give him credit. Josiah said knowingly. The others looked at him but he would say no more.
Josiah knew there was more going on between Ezra and Vin than the others were aware of. They only saw what they wanted to when it came to Ezra. Josiah himself didnt know how or why, but Ezra held a special place in his heart. Hed almost lost the trust he had built up with Ezra after that fiasco with the $10,000 and Long-range Lucius Stutz. He had tried to explain to Ezra later his own temptation for that money and the reason for his harsh treatment of him when Ezra had come to him seeking reassurance. It had taken awhile before Ezra had fully forgiven him. Josiah had still not forgiven himself.
Josiah ate his meal in silence. He sent out silent prayers that both Ezra and Vin were safe and would return home soon.
Ezra arrived in Cedar Pass not long after daylight. He and his horse were tired. He left the horse at the livery for some well-deserved food and rest while he headed for the sheriffs office. The sheriff had remembered Vin, he had stopped in to pick up some new wanted posters to take back to Four Corners. He recalled Vin saying he was headed out that day two days ago.
Ezra thanked him and headed for the saloon.
The Rapid Saloon as it was called was not busy at that time of morning. The town restaurant was not open until lunch but they served a passable breakfast. Ezra ate little but drank plenty of coffee. He didnt plan on taking time to sleep. He asked the waitress if she remembered Vin. She smiled as Ezra described Vin.
Oh yes, she said smiling widely. I remember seein him.
Ezra smiled to himself. Vin didnt acknowledge it but the ladies found him quite handsome with his long curly brown hair and deep blue eyes.
Did you see Mr. Tanner leave?
She frowned in thought. Come to think on it I did. He was at the bar and I noticed him heading out the back. I got the idea he was trying to avoid somebody.
Did you see who by chance?
She wrinkled her brow some more in thought. Nope. Cant say that I did. Just a feeling I had.
Thank you for your time Miss.
She smiled and left.
Well that gave him some clue as to what might have happened and a starting place. What Mr. Tanner have you gotten yourself into?
Vin had him a di-lemma, he thought that was the right word. Hed have to remember to ask Ezra. He couldnt make up his mind if he should stay put or try and make his way back to Cedar Pass. He knew he had told Ezra it was best to stay put if possible but he figured with two men huntin him it might be best if he made himself scarce. He didnt see any clear way up that crevasse but he figured if he moved up stream he might find a way. He leaned on his crutch and hobbled up stream, the opposite way he had been headed.
Going was slow. Between the pain in his ankle and pain in his head, pain in his shoulder and now the pain of the damn branch under his arm he could hardly concentrate. He didnt think there was one gawd damn spot on him that wasnt hurting. He kept near the stream even though the soil was soft and made walking difficult, he didnt want to be without water. He still had some of his fish from breakfast. He managed to catch a nice fat trout. He smiled. Hed have to teach that trick to Ezra next. He shook his head. There Ezra was again, creeping in his thoughts. He chuckled. Bet Chris would be a mite miffed to find he hadnt thought on him once. Well except to think that Chris would be pissed to find him in this situation. Chris wasnt too tolerant a man. That thought wiped the grin off his face. No, Chris wasnt tolerant of anyones mistakes. Hadnt he been quick to find fault with almost every one of them over something? He hadnt defended JD when he accidentally shot that woman at the bank. He still couldnt believe Chris had practically let that Pinkerton man railroad Josiah. But Ezra was blamed most of all. Yeah thinking on that pissed him off. If there was ever someone that all the others were quick to blame that was old Ez. Ezra couldnt do nothing right in Chris mind. Vin smiled. Well Ezra was gonna show them a thing or two. He had no doubt Ezra would find him. He was proud of the progress Ezra had made. He snickered thinking on the first time they had gone out tracking.
Okay Ez. You wait here about an hour and then come looking for me.
An hour? Dont you think that is a quite a long time?
No. You sit right here. Close your eyes.
Ezra rolled his eyes at him.
Close your eyes Ezra. No cheatin. Vin grinned as Ezra closed his eyes and placed his hands over them.
How is that Mr. Tanner? Shall I count to 100 also? Ezra said sarcastically.
Dont think countin will help. But if ya wanna thats fine by me.
Ezra shot him a dirty look.
It had taken Ezra two hours to find him and he was only a few miles away. He had made his trail as evident as possible. Ezra was mad at himself when he finally found Vin but Vin assured him he had done well. They had backtracked over Vins route and he had pointed out things to Ezra that he had missed. Ezra hadnt made a single mistake twice. Once Vin pointed out something to him, Ezra committed it to memory. He suspected that is what made Ezra so good at cards. Subtle things rarely escaped his attention once he was aware of them.
He looked up. Almost noon. He wondered where Ezra was? Had he become worried yet that he wasnt back? He knew the others were use to him being out on his own, he didnt like crowds and sometimes things got too close for him in town. But he had included a private message to Ezra in his cable. Something no one else would have understood, or would think it was a mistake from whoever took it down. But he had made the man repeat it and double-checked that hed included it in his wire. IBBS It stood for Ill be back soon It was a little code they had made, in case one of them got tied up before a lesson. If Ezra couldnt make it back to his room on time for Vins reading session or Vin was going to be late heading out, a note was tacked to either Ezras door or Pesos stall. Anyone else seeing it would have no clue what it meant. He had hesitated before including it in his cable. But he wanted to let Ezra know he was on his way and that he was thinking of him. He didnt know why. It was probably stupid. But it had made him feel better doing it.
Ezra ran across Peso later that morning. Pesos reins had become entangled in a shrub off the road. He wouldnt have noticed him if Royal hadnt nickered. He had picked up Vins sign a little ways out of town. He had moved slowly after that, afraid he would miss something important. Hed found Pesos hoof print where he had crossed a good size puddle. The puddle was considerably smaller now, which made the print easier to find. As he was heading through a small patch of trees Royal had thrown up his head and whinnied. An answering whinny had Ezra alert. He gave Royal his head and they found Vins horse a short distance away. He felt a stab in his heart at the sight of Peso alone. Then he saw the blood on the saddle. Aww Hell. Where was Vin?
Well pard think we should head towards Cedar Pass?
Buck sat out on the boardwalk with Chris. Chris scowled.
Damn it, why cant that man listen? Whyd he have to go off on his own?
Guess he was worried. Course like you said, Junior can take care of himself.
Since when does Ezra worry about anyone but Ezra?
Chris wasnt about to admit it but he was feeling, well jealous. Damn it Vin was his friend. He had noticed Ezra and Vin spending more time together. Now that he thought on it, they even made a point to sit together. Sometime they would laugh over something and Chris had no clue what it was they were laughing about. And why did Vin always volunteer to either go on patrol with Ezra or take Ezra with him if he had to make a trip? Hell he knew it sounded childish and he sure wouldnt admit that he was jealous but he and Vin had shared a silent understanding since they met. And now it seemed someone else was horning in. He threw a sidelong glance at Buck. He had just had a thought. Did Buck ever feel that way? He and Buck had been friends forever and then after Sarah had died hed pushed him away. Then when they had run across each other again, Vin had taken the best friend role that Buck had filled. He suddenly felt ashamed. Hed never told Buck how grateful he had been for Bucks friendship after Sarah died. No matter how much Chris had raged, how abusive hed been, Buck had always been there to pick up the pieces and help him heal. And when Chris had started to heal he had thrown Buck aside. He told himself that it hurt too much, that Buck reminded him of what hed lost. And that was partly true. And part of it was he was afraid of losing someone else he cared for so he made sure no one was close to him. Even if that meant losing his best friend. And now that he had healed some, he had found a new best friend. And once again Buck was pushed to the background, but Buck was a loyal friend and always there when he needed him. Like now.
What do you think Buck? Should we go looking?
Buck was quick to hide the surprise he felt. Chris wasnt one to ask his opinion anymore. He leaned back, tilting his chair up on its two back legs.
Guess it could wait to morning. Maybe send a telegram to Cedar Pass in the meantime?
Chris smiled. Good idea. Ill head over there now. And thanks Buck. I can always count on you.
Buck smiled widely, his brown eyes twinking. Anytime pard. You know I got your back.
Ezra came to the cliff where Vin had taken a tumble. He wasnt certain at that point what had happened. The edge was scattered with mesquite and he saw a bit of cloth stuck in one. He looked over, about a 30-foot drop he guessed. He didnt see any one down there. He got back on Royal, Pesos reins tied to the horn and headed further to see if he could find a way down. He had traveled about a mile when he found it. He moved slowly down the steep incline. He backtracked to the place hed spotted from above. He could see footprints near the water that led back to the ravine wall. There he found Vins bandana tied to a small tree. He felt a surge of relief. Vin was alive. But that was tempered by the blood he saw on it. Dont panic Ezra. You saw footprints. Wait, something about them was wrong. He went back to the waters edge. He saw one footprint. And something else, round, like a cane. So Vin was using some sort of crutch. He looked back up to the top of the ravine. That was one hell of a fall. He hoped nothing serious was wrong. Ezra stuffed Vins bandana into the jacket of his tan coat. He went back where he had found it and studied the area then smiled. Vin had left him something else. Fish bones, in the shape of an arrow. Smart-ass. He grabbed both reins and started to follow Vins trail along the streambed.
Vins luck had taken another turn for the worse. It had started to rain. And he had found no damn way up that wall, not any way a man with one leg and one arm could make. He looked around. The ground here was soft and sandy. He wasnt sure how long or hard it would rain, or when Ezra would come through here. He needed to leave some sign that would last. He saw plenty of small stones and rocks lying around. He grinned. Hed make a cairn. Ezra had told him the proper name for it. The Indians had taught him to make small pyramids of stones, to mark a trail. He doubted anyone else would know what it meant. Then he needed to find some shelter. It would be dark soon. He felt hot probably a damn fever. Just what he needed.
Chris, this cable just came back from Cedar Pass.
JD came hurrying into the saloon. Chris and Buck sat at their table. Nathan and Josiah were down at the church.
Vin Tanner here, three days ago. Stop
Ezra Standish here this morning. Stop
No word left. Stop
Chris rubbed a hand across his face. Shit. If Vin hadnt headed back like he had said he was gonna he would have left word. Hed refused to listen to Ezra because that would have meant he wasnt in charge and knew what was going on. After his time trapped in that prison camp, hed made sure each man left word if he wasnt coming back at a set time. Not that he kept tabs on them; he just didnt want what had happened to him to happen to anyone else.
If Ezra isnt back tonight well head out in the morning.
Buck nodded. He had a bad feeling but didnt want to make Chris feel worse. He knew his friend was kicking himself for not doing something sooner. But he knew Vin and Ezra could handle themselves.
Damn it, the rain was pouring now. Ezra looked up sourly at the dark sky. Hed seen the clouds rolling in but silently hoped they would pass on by. The trail he was following had disappeared. The water pooled on the ground making tracks impossible for him to see. He had no doubt Vin would have been able to read any as easy as he himself read cards. This reminded him of their thunderstorm tracking lesson.
Now Ez, if the tracks were made when the ground was dry and dusty its gonna be near impossible to make sense of them. Ya gotta look for other signs. Course if they dont wanna be found then its gonna be a mite harder. Then ya gotta go on instinct. Think what would you do?
So Ezra thought. What would he do if he were out here hoping Vin would find him? Did Vin know he was looking for him? He hoped so. He willed Vin to know that he was near. So what would he do? He looked around and then smiled, dimples showing. There he saw Vins cairn.
Vin tried to get warm. Hed found a small cave, back in some trees near the wall of this never-ending canyon. He was soaked to the bone. His hands were shaking and he was too tired to try and make a fire. Ill just lay here awhile and then try. He wondered again where Ezra was. He wished he was here to make a fire for him. He smiled thinking about the time he had taught Ezra to make a fire in the rain. During their famous thunderstorm lesson as Ezra liked to call it.
How the hell am I suppose to make a fire in this deluge?
Tell me what that is and Ill tell ya how to make a fire. Vin grinned at him. He had an idea what the word meant but wanted to make sure.
The Biblical rainfall of Noahs time. This, this. He looked up at the sky. This never ending rain!
Vin laughed. Dont think its gonna come to that Ez. Ya gotta dig down to find something dry or at least drier. He went closer to the trees they were under. Try some leaves or moss. Somethin that will start and then ya can dry out bigger stuff as the fire gets going.
Vin laughed out loud thinking about what had happened next.
Ez, he coughed, what the hell ya trying to do? Send up smoke signals? Vin coughed again as the wind shifted bring the billowing white smoke in his face.
Ah Mr. Tanner, Ezra drawled lazily. Ah am starting a fire in the rain. He grinned widely.
Well Vin would take that smoky fire right about now. He smiled thinking how proud Ezra had been to start a fire in the rain. Ezra always seemed to be surprised at the faith Vin had in him, that he could do something. No, Vin knew Ezra didnt think he was stupid, but he didnt think Ezra had had too many people believing in him. Vin tried to ball himself up tighter. Well he had faith in Ezra. He knew without a single doubt that Ezra would find him.
Ezra stopped. It was twilight, the light at that point where objects were hard to make out. Hed heard something. He could see the horses had heard it too, their ears were pricked forward and were looking towards the ravine wall. He waited, listening. His eyes strained to make out something. He closed them, shutting out that distraction. His eyes snapped open. There it was again! What was it, a groan? He quietly led the horses back towards the ravine wall. Trees blocked the way and he moved as silently as he could. He could see a darker area ahead, a cave? He tied the horses and approached the cave opening, gun drawn. He would really hate to disturb a sleeping mountain lion or bear about right now. He stood at the entrance. He breathed deeply. No animal smells. No fire. He thought a moment and then turned back to his horse. He rummaged in the saddlebags and then pulled out a small tin. He smiled to himself as he headed back to the cave.
He pulled out one of the wooden matches from the waterproof container. He had seen these advertised in Marys newspaper and ordered some for him and Vin. He struck one and slowly entered the cave. There he saw huddled in one corner was Vin Tanner, sound asleep.
Well Mr. Tanner, I believe you are it.
He laughed at the sound of Vins gun being cocked.
Ezra started a small fire in the cave with the few sticks he found scattered about. After doing that, he went out and unsaddled the horses and hobbled them closer to the cave entrance. He placed his saddle near the small fire and propped Vins leg up with the other. He placed a blanket over him.
No complaints until Im done. Ezra silenced him before he could start. He handed Vin his canteen.
Ezra went back out and searched for some more firewood. When he had gathered an armload he went back in. Vin had lain back down with his foot propped up. Ezra added some more wood to the fire and then opened his saddlebags.
Knew ya would come. Vin mumbled from under the blanket.
And I have, baring gifts. Ezra tried to keep the pleasure out of his voice. So Vin had known he was coming.
Is that coffee I smell? Vin sat up, groaning when his shoulder protested.
Yes, and I think its time I took a look at your injuries. Ezra opened the satchel of medical supplies he had brought.
Aint nothing, Ill live. That is after I have some of that hot coffee.
After I have attended to you. Ezra helped Vin take his wet coat off. Vin hissed as Ezra tried to gently pry his shirt off. Through and through Ezra muttered. Least I dont have to dig a bullet out.
Yeah thats a good thing. Vin said sarcastically. It hurts enough now!
Lucky for you Mr.Tanner I had a good teacher and am prepared. Ezra grinned as Vin groaned again as he cleaned the wound. Ezra had stopped at Vins wagon on the way out of town and brought some extra clothes for him and some ammunition for his gun.
Damn straight. Vin tried to smile.
Ezra helped him into a clean dry shirt and then frowned as he looked down at his leg. Vin opened his eyes and saw where Ezra was looking.
It has to come off Mr. Tanner.
Ezra flicked open his knife. I will be gentle. He smiled wickedly.
Ezra Standish you are NOT cutting my pants off!
Vin he said quietly. I have to take your boot off and check that leg. Im only going to cut one leg.
I like these pants! Vin protested weakly.
Ezra laughed. We will get you another pair Mr. Tanner and I did bring you extra clothes. I would not make you lie here naked.
Ezra pulled his flask out from his saddlebags.
You may self medicate Mr. Tanner.
Vin looked at him darkly. He knew the boot needed to come off. And he knew it was going to hurt like hell. He took several big swigs from the flask then smiled at Ezra. He had brought the good stuff.
You are welcome Vin. Ezra answered to his silent thanks.
Both Ezra and Vin were correct. Ezra tried to be gentle and it did hurt like hell. Ezra had made a slit up the outside of Vins pants, Vin muttering all the while. Ezra tried to ease the boot off but with the swelling it wasnt easy. The rain and cold had helped some but he finally had to yank.
SHIT! Vin yelled as the boot popped off. Ezra almost tumbled backwards with the release.
Vins ankle was black and blue. Ezra softly felt around the cold, wrinkled skin. He didnt think it was broken, more likely badly strained. He wrapped the ankle as best he could and then helped Vin out of the wet pants. His skin was cold and clammy. Ezra dried him off and helped him into dry clothes then bundled Vin under the blanket and brought him a hot cup of coffee.
Here drink this while I make something to eat.
Vin sighed and relaxed now that the worse was over. He felt warm again. He was still bone cold but the warm clothes and coffee helped. He had a nice fire going in his stomach.
They ate a quiet meal and then Ezra banked the fire. Vin started to shiver some under the blanket. Ezra felt his head and could tell a fever was starting.
Cold. Vin said shivering some more.
Ezra tried to get as close as he could without hurting Vin further. The only comfortable position Vin had been able to find was on his back. Ezra slid closer to Vins side, careful of his injured leg. He leaned over Vin, covering Vins chest with his, wrapping his arm around him, trying to give Vin some of his warmth. He pulled the blankets up over both of them. Vin sighed and buried his good arm under the covers, wrapping his arm around Ezras back and pulling him closer.
Waited fer ya. Vin said softly in Ezras ear.
Knew ya would find me, waited fer ya ta come. Knew Id be alright. He sighed. Made a poem fer ya. Wanna hear?
Vin rubbed his hand lazily up and down Ezras back. Lord, Ezra thought. How much did that man drank?
Yes Mr. Tanner. Ezra tried to make his voice steady, which was difficult since Vins hand was traveling further up and down his back and it was making hot shivers run through him. This is Vin Tanner you are laying on. He told his body.
The moon turned her back on me,
But I aint afraid.
Im waiting on you to find me
Here lost in the dark.
Ill hold on until then cause I know I aint alone
As long as youre out there.
Im waiting on you to find me
Here lost in the dark.
Thinking on you
I know I aint alone any more.
Ezra was silent as Vins voice trailed off.
Vin, that, he paused. That was beautiful.
He heard the smile in Vins voice.
Aint nothing but a poem. A love poem. he said so softly that Ezra almost didnt hear him as Vin fell asleep.
Five men were ready to leave at daybreak. Chris was kicking himself for waiting. Time for that later.
They rode towards Cedar Pass, each man lost in his own thoughts. Even JDs enthusiasm was dampened. What would they find once they got there? What had happened that had kept Vin from coming home? Nathan mentally went over everything he brought with him. He hoped he was prepared for any emergency. Josiah sent out more prayers to his God and Kojays. Buck worried. JD fidgeted. And Chris tried to stop his mind from wandering.
Ezra woke up snuggled up to Vins back. He must have turned on his side during the night and Ezra had plainly moved with him. Ezras arm was across Vins stomach, Vins good arm across his, their fingers clasped. Ezra sighed. Lord how natural and right this felt. He had been alone his entire life. Even when he was at the numerous places Maude had dumped him, he was always alone. He knew this and lived his live accordingly. Hed never had any friends until he met these other men. And he kept them all at a distance, waiting for the enviable time when he would be forced to leave either on his own or by others. Now this man had broken down that wall and made his life so much richer, he could hardly believe it. He never knew having a friend could be like this. He would do anything to keep Vin safe. He wasnt about to lose Vins friendship. And he knew the surest way to do that was to remain in this position. He knew some men werent too choosy on finding sexual release out in the wilds. He had never been so inclined and had had to make that clear during his travels. But last night, holding Vin as he recited his poem, he had felt things hed never felt for anyone. He tried to convince himself that it was hormones, loneliness, a natural reaction out of his control, but he knew deep down that none of those really applied. And he didnt want to hear that. He eased his arms slowly from around Vin so as not to awaken him. Vin mumbled in his sleep and tried to grab Ezras arm but Ezra managed to untangle himself. He tucked the blanket back behind Vin and hurried to the mouth of the cave. Air. He thought. Some fresh, mind clearing, cold, air. He was thankful to see it had stopped raining. There was a light mist and plenty of fog covering the surrounding area. He checked on the horses. He gave them some grain that he had brought and when he was sure they were settled and he thought he had his own emotions under control, he headed back inside.
Vin was still asleep. Ezra stoked the fire and went down to the stream to get some water for coffee. The clothes he had set near the fire the night before were dry. He sat back against his saddle and gazed at Vin. Not a good idea he told himself. But he knew this was probably the only time he would have to study Vin. He looked so innocent asleep. He had a slight smile on his face. Ezra smiled too. He wondered what Vin was dreaming about? Would Vin remember last night? He hoped Vin wouldnt be uneasy at the thought of them sleeping together. It was meant only to keep Vin warm. He hadnt had lubricious intents. Those thoughts had come later. Best not to dwell on them.
He got up and made poured a cup of coffee. He was just settling back down when Vin spoke.
Hope ya aint planning on drinking all that by yerself.
I thought you were going to sleep all day Mr. Tanner. Ezra smiled as he went to pour a cup for Vin. He helped him sit up and handed it to him.
Hell, since when have I slept all day? Not less Im knocked out. Not that I wont snug. He smiled quietly, not looking at Ezra.
And Ezra decided this was not the time to ask what that meant. He made pretenses of checking the food supplies.
Not much in the way of breakfast. He pulled some biscuits out of his pack that he had gotten in Cedar Pass. Vins eyes lit up.
Biscuits? Butter n jam?
Ezra smiled as he handed Vin several biscuits. Yes, I remembered you liked lots of butter and jam Vin.
They ate quietly, enjoying the hot coffee and biscuits. Vin leaned back and patted his stomach.
Good grub Ezra. Ya make a good cook. Vin winked at him.
Indeed. He grinned back and then looked seriously at Vin. How are you feeling this morning? Are you capable of riding?
Vin scowled. Feel fine Ez. Sure I can sit a horse.
Ezra noticed the flush to his skin. He got up and placed a hand to Vins forehead, which Vin tried to knock aside.
Said I was fine. He tried to sit up straighter and groaned slightly when he moved his injured shoulder.
Yes, I can see you are fine Mr. Tanner. He poured them some more coffee. I would prefer you did not have to ride at this time but I do not think this cave is the best place for you. Nor do I think we should wait around to see if those men following you come back.
Know about them?
Just that two men followed you out of town.
Vin smiled. Getting right good at tracking Ez. Told ya.
Ezra tried not to blush. As I said, I had an excellent teacher.
Noticed ya didnt smoke us out of this cave too. He laughed at the look of outrage that crossed Ezras face before he saw that Vin was kidding him.
Yes I think I have that lesson down. Now back to those men following you?
Vin filled him in on the two bounty hunters that had recognized him in town and their pursuit of him.
I have not seen any sign of them. Ezra said frowning in concentration. I went about a mile past the point where you took flight, he grinned at Vin, before I could find a way down the embankment. I was fortunate to find Peso before that.
Ya got Peso? Thats great Ez. I wondered if hed made it back to town.
He seemed to be on his way back to Cedar Pass and became ensnared in some brush. Royal found him actually.
Guess Royal learnt some trackin too. Vin leaned back smiling. His smile faded slightly. What about the others?
Ezra stood up and walked toward the cave entrance pretending to check the weather.
I dont know Vin. I approached Mr. Larabee a few days ago about your whereabouts but he told me it was none of my concern. I left that night to look for you. I am sorry I didnt wait for them. Ezra tried not to show the hurt he felt that Vin had hoped the others were on their way too.
That aint what I meant Ezra. Didnt mean ya needed to wait on them. Just wondered if they made a fuss about your leavin. Whatd Chris mean, aint your concern?
Ezra turned and gave him a twisted smile. Mr. Larabee meant that it was not my place to worry about you. I believe he reserves that right for himself.
He aint got no right ta say that. Vin decided he needed to have a talk with Chris when he got back.
It is of no matter Mr. Tanner.
Vin sighed softly. Ezra had that Mr. Tanner tone in his voice again. Not the playful one he usually had.
Ezra continued. We should be getting you back to town, your wounds need proper attention. Ezra started to pack up their things.
Vin shook his head. He knew Chris had hurt Ezras feelings, made him think his opinion didnt matter. Well they mattered to him. He could tell Ezra was feeling uncomfortable about last night. He had been a little drunk or he would have waited to tell Ezra his poem. It had come to him while he was lying in the cave waiting on Ezra. His feelings for Ezra had also become clear that night. He guessed they had been building for some time now. It just took him being away and then being hurt and alone for him to realize he felt more than friendship for him. He knew some men took their pleasure with other men, either just cause they were horny and no women were around or that was their natural way. The Indians he had lived with were more open and relaxed about it. Vin himself had never leaned that way. He was shy enough around women. Fucking Charlotte. He thought. She had about ruined it with him for women in general. But Ezra. He glanced up as him as he moved gracefully around the cave, packing their belongings. Ezra was different. When he had first met Ezra he never thought he would survive their fight at the Seminole village. He had been surprised at the resourcefulness of the man. The way he had gotten along with the kids and made them feel useful in protecting their village. And over time he had gotten to know Ezra better and saw they had quite a bit in common. No one would think so from looking at them. Vin smiled at the picture Ezra presented even now. Ezra had dressed down as he called it, to come look for him. He had his tan coat on, not one of his fancy gamblin ones. But the man still oozed class. The way he moved and handled himself. Not stomping around like he did, all dusty and tattered. No, he and Ezra were alike down deep, where it mattered. Vin knew he had been lucky to have the short time he did with his ma. He knew what love was. But he had been tossed around after she died, one orphanage after another until at 12 he had run away. But Ezra had it worse. He was surprised that Ezra hadnt turned out like his good for nothing mother. Ezra had told him a little on his childhood, how the woman had dumped him whenever possible. Even though Ezra tried to make it sound like it hadnt mattered. He couldnt understand how the others fawned all over her whenever she came to town. Hell they saw how she treated him right to their face! Stealing his saloon he had saved to buy and then selling it to someone else. And they had followed her around like lovesick calves. That woman wasnt fit to raise cotton in his mind. He shook his head. This line of thinking was only making him mad.
No he and Ezra were both lost and lonely. It had been chance or fate that had brought them together in that town. Hed gotten to know Ezra and knew they both needed someone to believe in em and love em just like they were. The good and the bad. Now he needed to see if Ezra felt the same. But there would be time for that when they were safely back in Four Corners.
Ezra could feel Vins eyes following his every move. He was afraid to look over at him. What was he thinking? Was he angry? Disgusted? Or worse wondering when Chris Larabee was going to ride in and save the day? That thought made him snort. He shot a quick look over at Vin and saw a very angry expression on his face. Shit. He is angry.
I believe I have everything packed Mr. Tanner. Ill saddle the horses and then come back to help you, if that is acceptable?
Its Vin and thats fine Ez. Im ready for us to get back some place civilized. He smiled over using Ezras words.
Yes, I think that is a fine idea Vin. Ezra smiled shyly at him and tipped his hat.
Well Vin, I think we can navigate this incline.
Ezra looked back at Vin. Vin was listing to one side of his horse. Ezra had noticed him leaning from side to side. He figured Vin was having difficulty finding his balance with an injured leg and arm. But he hadnt commented on Vins difficulties. He knew him well enough to know he would deny it.
Yeah, whatever ya say. Vin said distractedly. Gawd he hurt like hell. He was about to topple right off his blam horse.
Ezra looked up the slope. He thought if they went rather swiftly they could get up the cliff and then he would force Vin to ride with him. It was either that or tie the man to his horse.
All right Mr. Tanner. You first.
Vin glanced up. What was Ezra talking about? He looked up the incline that lead to the top of this gawd awful nightmare. What?
Hang on Mr. Tanner. And with that Ezra slapped Peso on the rump.
Vin instinctively gripped the saddle horn tighter. Peso gathered his legs under him and took off up the slope. In no time they were at the top and then Ezra followed them up. Vin swayed once Peso had stopped. Ezra dismounted and handed the reins to Vin.
Vin looked stupidly at the reins. Ezra removed Vins foot from the stirrup and then stepped up, settling himself behind Vin in the saddle. Vin looked back.
What the hell are ya doing Ez?
Ezra tied Royals reins to the horn and gathered up Pesos. He gave Peso a slight nudge in the side.
Trying to keep you from further harm Mr. Tanner.
Peso set off heading in the direction of Cedar Pass.
Whadda ya talkin about? Vin tried to turn to look at him, sliding to the left.
Ezra tightened his arms around Vins waist.
Vin please sit still. It is apparent you are unable to maintain your balance hindered as you are. I do not wish for you to be further injured.
Vins head was starting to pound again and he was having a hard time concentrating. Every piece of his body was throbbing.
Ezra sighed. Relax Vin. We will be back in Cedar Pass soon.
Vin gave up trying to get his brain to wrap around Ezras words. He sighed himself and leaned back against Ezra. Hell, this was right comfy. He settled himself a little more firmly against Ezra, shifting in the saddle.
Ezra stifled a groan. Vins ass was snuggly set against Ezras groin. And all that wiggling was NOT helping. It was going to be a long ride back to town.
The sun had set by the time the five men arrived in Cedar Pass. They had set a steady pace and had arrived ahead of schedule. Chris told the other men he would meet them at the saloon and headed for the sheriffs office. He hadnt expected any more news on Vin and Ezra, so he wasnt really disappointed when the sheriff had nothing to add. He wearily headed to the saloon.
The others had gotten a table and were nursing beers when Chris arrived.
Any news? Buck pushed out a chair for him and slid a beer over.
No. Lets ask around here, then get something to eat. I want to head out at first light.
Working on that. Buck smiled, his dark brown mustache outlining his wide smile. Our pretty little waitress says she can help.
Chris smiled. Leave it to Buck to be mixing business with pleasure.
Yes, Brother Buck has been hard at work looking for our lost compadres. Josiah laughed.
Just my .
Animal magnetism. Everyone finished for him and they all laughed.
Shelly said ya wanted ttalk tme? A young black haired girl approached their table shyly.
Yeah darlin Buck grinned at her. Were lookin for some friends of ours. Came through here a few days ago.
They came through separately. Chris added. One had long hair, wore a Cavalry hat, buckskins. The other has reddish hair, fancy dresser. Black hat.
Shelly blushed. Yeah I remember both of them. That man with long hair sure was handsome. She ducked her head.
Everyone shook their heads. Vin might look scruffy to them but his quiet shy ways and boyish looks turned quite a few heads.
That other man was here the other day, looking for the long haired one.
What did you tell him? Chris looked at her harshly.
But while the rest of them were use to Chris stern looks, the young girl became wary.
I, I dont remember. She didnt know what these men wanted but she did not want to get the other men she had met in trouble. They had seemed nice, where this one had a hard, mean look to him.
Nothing to worry about maam. Josiah said in his low gentle voice. We are looking for our two friends that have gone missing.
Shelly looked from Josiah to Chris, measuring his words. Theys friends of yours?
Yes darlin Buck spoke smiling up at her. We are trying to find em. He shot a triumphed look at Chris, just who was the ladies man after all?
Well, the second fella came in early this mornin. He was asking about the otherun. Told him I saw him head out the back way a few nights ago, thought someone might be after him.
She looked fearfully at Chris, as though she thought her words might anger him.
Thank you maam. Chris said, giving her a rare smile.
She smiled back bashfully. Is that all? I need ta get back ta work.
Thank you, you have been very helpful. Josiah gave her a nod.
She nodded back and left.
Seems Vin found some trouble. Nathan said, sipping his beer.
Think someone recognized him from his poster? JD was worried.
Dont know JD but it seems that way. Lets get something to eat and well leave first thing tomorrow.
Mr. Tanner, it seems we have traveled further past town than I anticipated. Ezra tried to get his bearings. He was not that familiar with the Cedar Pass area, and with traveling down by the stream, they seemed to have gone further away from the town. Vin, who could navigate in heavy fog, had been too worn out to pay much attention. His fever had risen and he dozed in the saddle.
What Ez? Vin looked blearily around. Where are we?
Ezra took a deep breath and let it out.
I am not sure Vin. I thing we are farther past the town. We need to make camp for the night.
He rode further off the trail they had been following. He found a heavily wooded rise about a half-mile off the road. He didnt want anyone stumbling across them in the night. He eased out of the saddle and then helped Vin down. Vin stumbled slightly, trying to get his balance.
Here Vin, let me help you.
Ezra put an arm around Vins waist, he placed himself on Vins right, taking care of his bad ankle. Together they made it to the top of the slight rise. He settled Vin down on the ground and went back to unsaddle the horses. As he had done the night before, he propped Vins leg up on his saddle. Once he had Vin comfortable, he quickly started a fire and put some water on for coffee. He rubbed down both horses, gave them grain and hobbled them near by. Vin had fallen asleep, the blanket pulled up to his chin. Ezra put a hand to his forehead, he was warm to the touch but not too hot. Ezra threw coffee in the pot and sat down for a moment. He was not helpless out in the wilderness. He was not as proficient as Vin, but he did know how to take care of himself, though he did not let on to the others. Vin had taught him quite a bit more about living off the land. And, he smiled, he had brought supplies. He fixed a small supper and woke Vin.
Vin smiled wickedly. Who is this Mr. Tanner?
Ezra shook his head. I do believe that is you.
Aint no Mr. Tanner here Ez. Just you and me. Vin tried to sit up using his bad arm.
Can I assist you?
Dont need no help. Im a grown man.
Ezra hid a smile and he helped Vin set up straighter. That you are Vin.
Damn straight. Vin let out a soft groan. Hell, whatever I got hurts. Got any more of that whiskey on ya?
Anything for you Mr. Tanner. He reached inside his coat and pulled out his flask and shook it. He got up and went to his saddlebags and refilled the flask.
Here you are. I have also made some coffee and something to eat, if you care for some? He handed Vin the flask.
Vin took several large drinks.
Do you think that is wise?
Why yes I do Mr. Standish. Vin laughed loudly and took another drink. He exhaled. I think that might do it, for now.
Ezra shook his head chuckling. Yes indeed I think so too. Care for something to eat?
I could eat. Vin said leaning back on the tree behind him.
They spent the next few minutes eating quietly, Ezra ducked his head and smiled. He had missed this while Vin was gone, quiet times together, just enjoying each others company. He didnt have this with anyone else. Each of the others required something from him when they were together, either a game of cards or entertainment of some sort. With Vin he could just be himself.
That was good Ez. Vin patted his stomach. Wish we had some more of those biscuits. He grinned at Ezra.
Next time we are stranded in the wilderness I will make sure I pack more.
He smiled back.
Hell, lets pack some steaks next time. Vin took another long pull from the flask.
How about some coffee? Ezra got up and poured himself another cup and handed one to Vin.
Yeah that sounds good Ez. Vin put the top back on the flask and sat it down by him. He took the cup Ezra handed him. AH. Ya make a good cup of coffee Ez. Nice and strong.
Why thank you.
Ezra felt his face flush. It felt good being recognized for something he did right. That wasnt something he heard much. He groaned inwardly. Hell. That made him think of Maude. Old bat. Or Mr. Larabee. That man couldnt give a compliment if his life depended on it. He glanced at Vin. Or rather Chris couldnt give a compliment to him. Hell, Chris was going to find some way to blame all of this on him. He knew it. Vin was special to Chris. Thinking that made Ezra suddenly furious. He stood up abruptly.
Gonna check the horses.
He stomped off to where the horses stood dozing. Where was this anger coming from? He knew Chris favored Vin. Knew that had a special relationship. He ran his fingers through his hair. Damn it, Vin was his.
Whoa! He thought. Where the hell had that come from? Vin wasnt his. Yes, they had become better friends but he knew Chris was Vins best friend. As JD was Bucks. Well, he guessed Chris really had two best friends, Vin and Buck. Then there was Nathan and Josiah. And then him.
Yes, you. Just you, he thought, alone as usual. For some reason this thought made his stomach feel hollow. I want to be two. I want to be an and.
Ezra? Everything okay?
Ezra took a deep steadying breath and turned back toward the fire.
Fine Mr. Tanner. He came and sat back down, grabbing his whiskey bottle from his saddlebags.
They sat silently by the fire, both men drinking. Ezra stared at the fire and Vin looked at him sidelong.
What was wrong with Ezra? Everything had been fine and then hed seen this look cross Ezras face, like he was angry about something. Then hed stalked off. Now he just looked sad. Vin sighed and took another drink. His aches were starting to feel a mite better. He laughed a little and Ezra looked at him quickly and then away. Vin guessed it seemed strange for him to be laughing but hell, he was happy. Hed missed Ezra something awful while he was away and now they were together. Plus he was feeling a mite drunk. He chuckled again.
Something funny Mr. Tanner? Ezra said sourly.
Yep. Im feelin purty good. Vin grinned broadly at him.
Ezra couldnt help grin back. I see you are. Ezra got up and checked his ankle. After removing Vins boot, he had replaced it with one of Vins moccasins that he carried in his saddlebags. The foot was still swollen badly but was warm to the touch. Vin jerked his foot.
Im sorry. I didnt mean to hurt you.
Ya didnt. Just tender. Vin stared into Ezras eyes until Ezra got up and walked away.
I, I suppose we should turn in. Ezra went to bank the fire.
Vin smiled. Yeah, think that is a fine plan. He tried to scoot away from the tree and yelped.
Are you alright?
Damn shoulder. Vin tried to move again.
Ezra helped him move further back from the tree. He took one of the bedrolls and gave it to Vin for a pillow. He tossed the blanket over Vin and then turned to make his own bed on the other side of the fire.
Where ya going?
Im going to sleep.
Way over there?
Ezra eyed him warily.
Vin patted the ground beside him. I feel a mite cold. Think my fever is kickin up. Cant ya sleep over here.
Ezra mentally sighed. This was not a good idea. This was a STUPID idea. Where Vin might have innocent intentions in mind, Ezra knew his libido did not.
I can give you an extra blanket.
Vin cursed. Dont want no damn extra blanket Ezra. Cant ya just get your ass over here?
Ezra blinked. Well. Just what the hell was going on here?
If you insist Mr. Tanner.
Ezra moved over and laid his bedroll beside Vin.
Yeah I damn well insist.
Vin grabbed Ezras blankets and pulled them up close to him. Ezra laid down on Vins left. Vin turned on his side and snuggled up behind Ezra. He put his arm around Ezras waist and pulled him in closer. He rested his bad ankle over Ezras leg.
There. Thats more like it. Vin nuzzled his face into Ezras neck and sighed.
Ezras heart was pounding. Just how in the hell was he suppose to sleep like this? Every part of Vins body that touched him had his skin on fire. Even through the many layers of clothes. Vins breath caressed the skin of his neck. Lord! He thought he just might spontaneously combust right there.
Vin reached over and grabbed Ezras hand. He clasped his fingers in his, snuggling a little closer.
Night Ez. He breathed into the nape of Ezras neck.
Good night Vin. It was Ezras turn to sigh.