Spoilers: emphasis on Lady Killers; references to Ghosts of the Confederacy; Sins of the Past, The Collector, Achilles, and a tiny reference to Wagon Train.
"Well done, Ezra!" A smirk and a quick bob of the head accompanies the sassy remark. Still stunned from my most recent encounter with the lovely Casey, I wipe the water from my face, wondering exactly what did just happen there?
And when *will* I learn to beware of that smirk? I should know by now. The last time I saw him smiling like that, he had just produced the truly abhorrent image of myself in an atrocious purple dress. . .as a distraction while Mary Travis was rescued. And of course, once more, his amusement is caused by a woman. Only this time, it is Casey Welles, former paramour of our young sheriff, JD Dunne. Former, that is, if she is to believed. Then again, the course of true love has never runs smoothly. Or so I've heard.
On the other hand, she just threw a glass of water in my face. When Mr Dunne returns from his task, I should congratulate him on. . .something. When I think of it, I shall congratulate him. Not that I should expect anything else from a young girl raised by Nettie Welles. A wizened crone she may be, but no one can deny her spirit or tenacity. I made the foolish mistake of saying so once, in front of that smirking Texan behind the door (and that was most foolish of you, Vin, to make such an obvious target out of yourself).
I told him that I would categorically deny such an allegation. He just smirked and responded, "Whatever ya say, Ezra." Of course he doesn't believe me. Why should he? He once conned me out of three hundred dollars, so Nettie Welles could pay Guy Royal. . .oh, he gave it back, but without the interest he promised me. Mother would be appalled, if she knew her darlin' baby boy was conned by a barely literate, ex-bounty hunter from Texas who lacked my opportunities while growin' up. If, indeed, you can call those years opportunities,' and I am not inclined to do so.
Damn him. Damn that smirk, which is still firmly in place, despite the pain which tightened his face when Casey hit his broken arm and ribs with the door. And damn him again, because of the fear I felt when I saw him go down. Mrs Potter, who saw everything from her window, has not stopped fuming about stupid ninnies who almost get run over by outlaws, then don't have the consideration to thank their rescuers. Foolish, foolish girl. I do believe she'll be hearing about that for several weeks, every time she goes into Mrs Potter's store.
Out of this strange group which has become. . .and you will not tell a soul, or I will deny it with my dying breath. . .so terribly important to me, I suppose I am closest to Buck. But I cannot deny that it was Vin Tanner who first showed me a gesture of friendship. From the corner of my eye in the saloon, on that first day, I caught sight of him drawing that dreadful coat back to reveal his weapon. Ready to defend a man whom he didn't even know.
But that's Vin Tanner. Our Robin Hood. Guardian angel for wizened old crones, stupid ninnies, and lonely young wives. Protector of even those who neither want nor need. . .nor deserve. . .his help. As he teases me about my singular ineptitude with Casey just now, another memory surfaces. One that makes me wince. An appeal of help to a friend. . .laughter. . .and a hurt look. I do not remember, exactly, what he said after I laughed at him. But I do remember that expression. Just as I remember the shame I have felt since that day, and since Mrs Travis has been publishing his poems as simply VT.'
He slowly saunters into the saloon, still cringing from the pain in his arm and ribs as he sits down at my table. As I said, that was very foolish of him, standing where Casey could hit him with the door. And I wish I didn't feel sympathy for him. I shouldn't. He didn't come to my rescue with Casey. Just stood there, with his eyebrows raised and smirking as I dug myself in even deeper. On the other hand. . .I smacked his bad arm. I suppose that's his subtle idea of revenge.
"I suppose you think that's funny," I say to him, still wiping away the moisture from my face. He observes me for a few minutes, then the smirk grows wider and he nods. I continue, "And I suppose that's your idea of revenge?" The smirk disappears as he gives me an innocent look. God help us all, he's as good at that as JD is. I couldn't do an innocent expression to save my life, not around these men.
"And why would I be wantin' to do that, Ezra?" Vin asks. The smirk is returning, and so is that oh-so dangerous gleam in his eyes. I wonder if Nathan knows he's out and about. Probably. Vin is independent and strong willed, but he's certainly not stupid (well, unless he believes someone needs him. . .at which point, anything can happen). I simply glare at him, knowing that my glare isn't even close to Mr Larabee's. And if Mr Larabee cannot frighten him with his glare, then I have no chance.
"For striking your injured arm and ribs earlier," I admit begrudgingly. That smile gets any bigger. I continue, "I do believe forcing me to handle Miss Casey on my own, was your own rather subtle form of revenge, Mr Tanner." That innocent look is back, and if I didn't see that unholy, impish gleam in his eyes, I might actually believe it. I add, "You cannot fool me, Vin."
"Ain't tryin' to, Ezra," comes the reply. Please. As if I'll believe that. But I don't become angry with the young man seated opposite me. Rather, what I feel is. . .warmth. Because I know Vin Tanner. He wouldn't tease me, or banter with me, I know, if he didn't consider me to be his friend. Mr Larabee doesn't escape Vin's wry sense of humor, so why should I? And he's not cruel in his teasing, not like some of the cousins I knew as a child. Even when he teases me about money, there's always a warmth in his eyes.
Which isn't to say he's incapable of cruelty. I believe we all are. I heard once, after he was taken from town by false US Marshals, that he had lived with two Indian tribes, and learned a few things about getting the truth out of a man. I shuddered when I heard Mr Larabee mention that, because of the images it created in my mind. At the same time, I knew that knowledge would never be used against me. Because Vin Tanner only uses that knowledge out of desperation, or when one of his has been hurt. And I'm one of his.
Which is why I accept his teasing, why I accept that knowing little smirk and the twinkling eyes. Why I swallow hard when Vin Tanner smiles in that certain way which bodes ill for someone. Usually me. Because I'm one of his. Because none of his teasing is meant to hurt, and rarely does. Which is why I can say, smiling back at him across the table, "Very funny, Mr Tanner. Very funny!"
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