Dedication: To Steel Knight, who gave me this idea months ago.
Thanks: To DC Priestess, who kindly betaed this at the speed of light
Ezra Standish sank into the waters of the bathtub with a sigh of sheer undiluted pleasure. He had secured the last bath of the day at their local bathhouse, and had carefully cleaned the tub out himself. It was not, as he had explained once to a curious Vin Tanner, that he was engaging in menial labor, but instead an act of sheer self-protection. Finding lice from a previous bathtub user had convinced him to start the practice and he didn't regret it one bit.
Because he cleaned the bathtub up when he finished (merely out of simple courtesy, of course), the attendant would frequently leave him alone in the bathhouse, trusting the gambler to close up after himself. This meant that after a hard day of patrolling the dusty wilderness in search of miscreants, Mr. Standish had the opportunity to take a long hot luxurious soak.
And tonight, following said long soak; he had an engagement in the saloon to play poker with several well-heeled travelers in town just asking to be separated from their funding. A perfect evening for a gentleman, if he did say so himself.
He flicked happily at the bubbles in the tub; courtesy of the foaming imported bath salts he had used and smiled as he took a nip from his silver flask. Life was good. In fact, it was the first time in Ezra's life he had ever had the desire to stay in any place more than a week or two.
Not only was he on the right side of the law, he was the law! It was a source of much private amusement and an odd sensation that he was coming to know as the beginnings of self-respect. Every mother's son in town knew he was a gambler of no small skill, and yet, he was still after many months and innumerable bank robbery attempts and other violent acts, still allowed to stay.
Part of it must be because of his six associates. If it had only been him, he was sure his acquaintance with this burg would have been measured in mere hours instead of months. But somehow, the seven of them together had become a team that efficiently protected the little town. And what a dissimilar group they were, each one having absolutely nothing in common with the others except for a great efficiency with weapons.
For instance, today he and Buck Wilmington had argued at length about the idea that clothing makes the man. Buck ascertained that clothing should fit the environment and Ezra felt that appearance was everything and no gentleman would allow mere climate to keep him from being appropriately attired.
He smiled to himself and leaned back amidst bubbles. How he enjoyed his companion with their widely varied viewpoints and modes of conversation. They had broken through his reservations about friendship and shown themselves to care about him. They watched his back and protected him when not driving him crazy with their antics. He was most fortunate.
Comfortable and eased, Ezra Standish fell asleep.
He woke a short time later and chided himself for his taking his ease when he had an important game waiting. He reached for a towel and found that the abundance of towels he had laid out for his use were gone. He sat up and looked and then got out of the tub, trailing bubbles and scented perfume and he determined that all his clothing and every scrap of toweling in the building was gone.
"God Damn you Buck Wilmington. You deserve a good thrashing." he muttered, his good mood having popped like one of the soap bubbles he was trailing.
He could see two avenues for action. One to wait till morning and to have the bath house attendant fetch him garments. It was a most logical course, and would mean a night of sitting around naked and dripping. Not to mention the loss of a profitable gaming session. Ezra scowled.
Or he could lock up the bathhouse and dash to the side of the saloon, and then climb the side of the building to his room. With care, he'd be dressed and only slightly late. The fact that no one would be on the street, with the possible exception of his fellow peacekeepers, helped him to make his decision.
Nettie Wells lay her sewing aside and smiled at her niece Casey.
"It's getting awfully late, child. We should get started."
Casey gave a sigh and put down the quilt piece she'd been working on.
Mary Travis looked across the table at her friends. Amelia Potter looked disappointed, and Inez, the newest member of their little sewing circle, looked disappointed as well. She rarely got a night off from her saloon keeping duties, but had found a substitute for this one evening and she obviously didn't want her rare entertainment to end.
They were all working on a quilt for their young Sheriff, J.D. Dunne. Their first project had been for Ezra Standish, whose genteel southern bones didn't stand the cold very well. Now they were making one for the young man, who had no living female relatives, yet was always ready with a helping hand and a friendly greeting. The fact that he seemed to have tender intentions towards Casey didn't hurt his popularity either.
Mary Travis had hosted tonight's sewing circle, providing a lovely dinner and ample desserts. They had chatted, laughed, sang and gossiped together and enjoyed each other's company. Billy, Mary's son, was already in bed, sleeping the sweet sleep of the innocent and Mary found herself reluctant to let everyone go.
"Let's take a walk," she decided, "The evenings are lovely right now, and it's safe since we have the boys watching over us."
Nettie looked thoughtful, "I don't see why not. I can always bring along my Spencer Carbine, just in case."
Casey sprang up and helped Nettie with her wrap and brought her aunt her old gun. Aunt Nettie was adept with a gun and had taught shooting to Casey, who felt she was the equal of any ordinary man.
The night air was pleasant. Smudge fires were still going on the streets and while they could hear the usual hilarity issuing forth from the distant saloon, the streets were deserted. They walked along, enjoying the full moon's silvery light and talked.
"I don't know why you dislike Buck so much," said Mary to Inez. "He is a rascal, but someone like you could take him in hand and domesticate him."
Inez chuckled, "When he stops falling in love with every woman who gets off the stage, I might consider that, Mary."
"He's a fine figure of a man," remarked Mrs. Potter.
"I think J.D. is the cutest," Casey sounded confident.
"He's a fine young man, Casey," said Inez, "as are they all very handsome men."
"Vin's too thin," said Nettie. "I swear that boy could take a bath in a shotgun barrel for all he eats enough for two."
"He has wonderful hair, though, and I think he's made all of muscle," said Mrs. Potter, "So is Mr. Larabee," she added, and cast a wise look at Mary. They all felt there was a romance in the making in that direction. Mary ignored the comment and the knowing looks of her friends, as was proper.
"Si, Mr. Larabee is lean but very strong. I've seen him throw men across the bar at the saloon," said Inez, "Mr. Sanchez is strong as a bear, but I was surprised to see Mr. Larabee do it with such ease."
"Now Josiah Sanchez is a big man, but I don't think he has an ounce of fat on him. He's just built like a mountain," said Mary Travis, deftly changing the subject, but smiling as she thought of Mr. Chris Larabee.
Mrs. Potter looked thoughtful. "I've seen Mr. Jackson with his shirt off helping Mr. Sanchez on the church roof. That young man is made of muscle. They all are."
"I'm not too sure about that fancy gambling man," said Nettie. "He's nice enough, but under all those fancy suits he could be getting fat."
Amelia Potter giggled, "I don't think so. I heard once he gambled in the altogether to prove he wasn't cheating and the ladies who saw him thought he was quite spare."
"Maybe back then, but I swear, he doesn't seem to do any kind of regular labor and we all feed the scamp. I wonder if he's wearing a corset under that girdle."
They all giggled at the thought of their dapper gambler struggling into a corset.
Then Nettie noticed something and abruptly jostled everyone into the darkness next to a building.
It appeared to be a man running naked from the bathhouse towards the saloon. His skin was pearly white and a strange effervescence appeared to cling to him as he ran.
Inez and Mrs. Potter immediately clapped their hands over Casey's innocent eyes, and Casey knocked their hands away and stared, delighted.
Mary Travis covered her mouth with her hand and Nettie Wells stood in awe.
Ezra Standish was running naked through the streets, an intent, angry expression on his face that did nothing to detract from the fact that he was well muscled and slim as a young godling with no spare fat to be seen. Indeed, he looked like a Greek statue come to life, with actual abdominal muscles in evidence, a hairless broad chest and well developed shoulders, arms and legs.
The moonlight played on the well-defined muscles as the man ran past, showing the power in his movements and hinting at other attributes that were difficult to see with any real accuracy, given the mans speed.
He didn't notice them as he ran past and proceeded to climb up the side of the saloon towards his room, bubbles from an apparent bath still frothing off his person and wafting in the evening breeze. All five women stared at the white globes of his back end and the defined columns of his legs as he climbed the side of the building as effortlessly and quickly as a monkey from the jungle. He opened a window and climbed in, and the vision was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
The women stood silent in the moonlight for a few moments.
Finally, Nettie cleared her voice. "On the other hand, I could be wrong."
Amelia Potter sounded a little breathless herself. "I don't think I'm going to worry about overfeeding him," she sounded thoughtful.
"My goodness." Casey put her hands up to her heated cheeks and wondered if J.D. looked anything like that in his birthday suit.
Mary Travis started to giggle. "I think we can pretty much agree, they are all well-muscled men."
Inez started to fan herself and make snorting noises. "Please, ladies, we cannot let him know we saw this. It would shame him greatly."
"Doesn't look like anything to be ashamed of," said Casey and was abruptly hushed by her Aunt, who then began to laugh.
A hilarious group of women made their way back to Mary Travis' home. Buck Wilmington was riding in from some errand and noticed the ladies giggling.
"Evening, Ladies." He tipped his hat politely to them; "You all seem in a happy mood."
"Yes," said Casey, who received several warning glances, but coolly went on anyway, "We're making a quilt for J.D. for this winter. We have almost all the pieces and should be able to have it for him by the end of the month. Don't tell him though. Its going to be a surprise."
Buck grinned at them pleasantly. "Is that why you lovely ladies were all laughing?" he asked, looking up and down the street. "You didn't see something that struck you as funny?"
"Why Buck Wilmington," said Inez boldly, "The funniest thing we've seen tonight is you. What are you doing with that bag?" she asked suspiciously, now.
Buck looked guilty, probably because he was.
"Just a little laundry," he muttered, "Well, I gotta go, Ladies. Unless you need me for something, I'm going to say goodnight."
The women all nodded at him and started back to Mary's.
"Enjoy the evening, ladies"
"Oh yes," replied Miss Nettie. "Especially the full moon."