Title: A Matter of Trust (Missing Scene)
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: Vin/Ezra
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~6500
Summary: Inspired by auburnnothenna’s wonderful fic The Tale of a Deed, she wrote: "Vin figured that maybe, if he got drunk enough, Ezra might sit the tub and finally let out some of the grief that he'd been carrying around since Virginia City – since the war really – either that or he'd just drink himself into passing out. Either way, Vin would be around to watch his back. Sometime during the night, he would get a promise out of Ezra; a promise to stay in Four Corners until Vin returned."
And I felt compelled to fill-in what might’ve happened in those hours between the entry into the bathhouse and Vin leaving to find Ezra’s horse. The original is not slash, although there are definitely overtones, and this piece should fall after the lines I’ve quoted above (from Part 3).
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven are not mine. I’ve tried to be loyal to the characterizations set out by Auburn in her original story, and I'm happy to say she seems to agree with my take on things. *g*

A Matter of Trust

The stairs to the bathhouse creaked with every step Vin and Ezra took. The owner’s face told them he’d already heard about Ezra’s horse and most likely the attack on J.D., and Vin could guess the man also knew about Ezra’s cousins and the mess in Virginia City. Nothing kept quiet very long in a small town.

Ezra just stared blankly ahead, even as he pushed aside the curtain to the back room where he could wash up with some privacy. Vin flipped the man a coin for extra hot water, another for a bottle of whiskey from Inez’s place. He hoped either the steam or the liquor would help ease some of the pain that was obviously eating away at Ezra slowly.

“You also wanting a bath, Mr. Tanner?” Mulligan asked, eyeing the pile of clothing that Vin was carrying. Ezra’s blue-gray jacket and his gold and ivory soap dish rested on top of the small stack.


“I see,” he said with a look that Vin didn’t entirely like.

“What you see is me watching out for my friend.”

Mulligan lowered his eyes and nodded. “I’ll send the boy to fetch the whiskey and more water.”

“Appreciate that,” Vin said with a slight tip of his hat. He turned and pushed through the curtain that screened the backroom off from the rest of the baths. Ezra was facing away from him, folding the last piece of clothing onto the wooden chair beside the tub. Vin looked away from the expanse of pale skin, reminded himself Ezra needed a friend, not more complications. He heard the sharp intake of breath as Ezra stepped into the steaming water, the small splashes as Vin imagined Ezra lowering himself into the tub, letting the hot water do its work.

“The boy’ll be up with more water in a few minutes,” Vin offered, turning to see Ezra’s pale shoulders settling against the edge of the tub.

“I heard. A curtain provides little protection from eavesdroppers.”

Vin knew this wouldn’t be the place for Ezra to let out all the hurt that’d been building up inside him. Truthfully, Vin wasn’t sure such a place existed, but he hoped like hell they could find one. He’d known Ezra long enough to know the controlled exterior was mostly an act. The gambler didn’t like to show his cards to anyone, didn’t trust people to understand his intentions, and so even in his grief, he was careful not to reveal too much. Vin knew something of that kind of survival, never giving someone the means to hurt you. But even though he understood it, it was hard to watch Ezra working so hard to remain above it all given the horrors that had happened during the past few weeks.

The creaking of the stairs and the sound of splashing water signalled the boy was on his way, and Vin went out to help with the heavy buckets. The boy poured one directly into the tub, steam and water rising as Ezra sank a little deeper into the depths.

“Thank you,” Ezra said softly, the boy nodding as he left. Vin poured another half bucket into the tub, then set the half-full pail on the floor.

“I figured you’d be happier with the hot water in the tub than on the floor.”

His eyes were closed, but Ezra gave a small two-fingered salute. He looked weary. Like he’d travelled a thousand miles without a rest. Vin pulled a rickety chair closer, and seated himself between Ezra and the curtain. He heard the boy saying goodnight in lightning quick Spanish, and then Mulligan fumbling around with the coins, likely heading out in search of Inez and the whiskey Vin had paid for.

Ezra shifted and took a breath. “Although I appreciate your continued diligence, I suspect with the death of Mr. Harrison there is no one left who will attempt to drown me in my bath, with the possible exception of Mr. Jackson, and I’m inclined to believe he’d prefer to berate me over a period of years rather than banish me in one fell swoop.”

At the mention of Nathan’s name, Vin felt his anger returning. “Ez—”

“What I mean to say is that you aren’t required to stay.” Ezra leaned forward and turned slightly so his eyes met Vin’s. “I will assure Mr. Larabee that—”

“You think Chris sent me? To keep an eye on you?”

Ezra had the good grace to look apologetic. “Well, the thought had—”

After all they’d been through, Vin wished Ezra could just accept that Vin was sticking by him. He wondered if there’d ever come a time when Ezra would feel worthy of their attentions. “No one told me to be here. But if you’d rather I go …” Vin started to get up, but Ezra waved a hand at him from the tub. A spatter of wet drops hit Vin in the chest.

“No, no, I only meant—” Ezra let out a sigh. “I only meant you didn’t have to stay if there was somewhere else you wanted to be. If perhaps you’d rather look in on Mr. Dunne, I’m perfectly capable of—”

“I know you’re capable, Ezra. And J.D.’s already got Buck and Nathan fussing over him like there’s no tomorrow. Last thing that boy needs is someone else cluttering up the corners.”


“I reckon he’s taking care of things. Mary. The Judge. Shooting people makes a heap of paperwork in this town.”

“And Josiah?”

“Down at the church, praying for our souls, I imagine.” Vin grinned. “Not sure it’ll do much good, but it can’t hurt none either.”

“Amen to that,” Ezra said, returning the grin. He closed his eyes and settled back into the water, steam making his damp hair curl at the ends. The silence washed over them both with a kind of soothing comfort.

Vin studied the pale slope of Ezra’s shoulders against the tub wall, the way they reminded him of hills he’d seen in the heart of Texas, hills that held too much history in their gentle curves. He watched a drop make its way from the back of Ezra’s hairline onto the nape of his neck—a drop tinged pink, and Vin remembered partly why he’d brought Ezra here: to wash away the remnants of the fight in the alley. The blood that had dried in his hair. The flecks of flesh and bone that had flown when Buck had shot Harrison to save Ezra and J.D.

“Ezra?” Vin said his name softly, not wanting to break the quiet moment, not wanting to remind Ezra of the afternoon’s horror.

“Yes, Vin?” Ezra’s sleepy whisper came back to him like a tendril of steam, warm and slow.

“Do you trust me?”

Vin didn’t know if it was the warm water or the silence surrounding them, but as the question sank into Ezra’s consciousness there was no tension in his shoulders, no hesitation as he answered with a swift and unfailing “yes.”

Vin pulled the chair closer until he was sitting directly behind Ezra’s head, the bucket of warm water at his feet. He reached across and snagged a towel off the low-hanging wall hook and draped it across his lap. With slow movements, he undid each of his cuffs and folded the material over itself until it touched his elbows, leaving his forearms bare. He knew Ezra was hearing these small readying gestures, and it was clear there was a question on the tip of his tongue—yet he didn’t ask.

“Trust me,” Vin said softly, and Ezra murmured an equally soft, “I do.”

Vin dipped his hands into the warm water of the bucket, shaking off the excess. He gently laid his hands on Ezra’s shoulders, giving him a nudge. “Shift forward a bit.” Ezra did as requested, and Vin marvelled again at how Ezra didn’t ask the obvious question, didn’t hesitate in his compliance. At that moment, Vin understood that Ezra had always been one of them, deep down where it mattered, knew instinctively how belonging to the Seven had given Ezra a kind of acceptance he’d never had anywhere else and that he’d craved with a need unlike any of the rest of them. Some of them had had a harder time trusting Ezra, trusting the conman, the cheater, and yet it was clear that to gain their trust, Ezra had taken the harder step, the more frightening one, and trusted them long before they’d learned to trust him. He’d put his faith in them from the moment he’d turn back to save them from the Confederate soldiers, trusting them to find forgiveness, to accept him back because he needed them far more than Vin had ever realized.

Vin found himself at a loss faced with that level of trust, and he did the only thing he could think to do, placing one hand gently on the back of Ezra’s head, leaving the other to rest on his bare shoulder. It was the same gesture he’d done back at the hotel room, the only clear recollection he had of his mother’s touch, and he wanted to give Ezra some of that comfort, something to assure him that trust would never, ever be betrayed. And like he’d done in the hotel, Ezra let his head drop forward, seemed to know what Vin was trying to convey without words. Vin could feel the slight rise and fall of Ezra’s shoulders as he took deeper breaths, and there was a lovely warmth beneath where Vin’s hands rested—a warmth that Ezra seemed to soak up eagerly.

It couldn’t have been more than a minute that they sat like that, Ezra tipped forward in the water, letting himself indulge in this small measure of comfort, when Vin heard the tell-tale sound of boots on the staircase, the belaboured breathing of Mr. Mulligan. Ezra’s shoulders stiffened at the approach, but Vin did nothing to change his position, didn’t withdraw his touch even as Mulligan opened the curtain and said, “I’ve got the whiskey you … wanted.”

“Thank you. Just set it on the floor,” Vin said, meeting the man’s eyes with a warning, but he didn’t remove his hands. It would’ve seemed too much like they’d been caught doing something wrong, and Vin knew there was no wrong in giving comfort to a friend. And if perhaps he liked the soft feel of Ezra’s skin against his fingertips, if for a moment he wondered about pressing his lips against the curve of his nape, he could pass that off as a momentary weakness brought on by the heat. By the trauma of almost losing both Ezra and J.D. that very afternoon. He knew it had been far too long since he’d touched someone he cared about, and it was giving him ideas, the kind he hadn’t had since he was old enough to know the risks involved.

The bottle and two glasses were set down, Mulligan shaking his head with disapproval at Vin. But he left the room without a word, tugging the curtain shut behind him, and retreated to the other side of the bathhouse.

Vin grabbed for the small cup hanging from the side of the pail, as he said to Ezra, “Okay, now lean your neck back.” He adjusted his hand so it cupped Ezra’s head at the back, his knuckles brushing the surface of the water. He dipped the cup into the pail, then evenly poured the water out over Ezra’s hair, letting the last reminders of the afternoon’s trauma drain away. He repeated the gesture until the bucket was empty, until Ezra’s hair was clean and shiny, his face pink from the rising steam.

Vin dropped the cup back into the bucket with a small metallic clunk. “Okay,” he said, and still keeping a hand on Ezra’s scalp, helped ease him back to a sitting position.

“Thank you,” Ezra whispered in a voice filled with something like awe, and Vin was glad Ezra was facing away because he feared his own face was pink as well. He’d never done anything like that for anyone in his life. Sure, he’d tended to sick folks, even to the dying, but this was a level of trust he just didn’t share with anyone else. He never could’ve imagined it would be Ezra he’d find this with.

“You’re welcome,” Vin said, knowing that it needed to be acknowledged how rare moments like this were. For both of them.

“I can’t possibly repay the kindness you’ve shown,” Ezra began, and Vin cut him off. “No one’s keeping track, Ezra. There’s nothing to repay. Besides, I know you’d do the same.”

Ezra took a breath as if to argue, but then seemed to think better of it. “You’re a far better friend than I fear I deserve, Vin Tanner,” Ezra said.

“Likewise, Ez.”

There was the distant sound of a door opening and the now familiar pounding of feet on the stairs. Vin shook his head and squeezed Ezra’s shoulder. “This place is busier than the church on Sundays. I’ll go see what it is this time.”

Vin had barely pulled the curtain aside when he was greeted with Nathan’s disapproving glare.

“J.D.’s half-concussed and he’s in here having his bath. Ain’t that a surprise.”

Vin put a hand to Nathan’s chest and pushed him back far enough so he could give Ezra the privacy of the curtain. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to shield him from anything that might come out of Nathan’s mouth, but short of knocking the man unconscious, Vin didn’t think there was any help for that.

“What do you want, Nathan? I know you ain’t here to check on Ezra.”

“As a matter of fact, I am. Mr. Larabee ordered me to come over and check on that no-good Southerner, and now I’m going straight back to my real patient.”

Nathan turned to go, but Vin caught him at the shoulder. “Ezra’s the one that came and got you when J.D. was hurt. He was covered in blood, and you didn’t care one lick whether any of that was his or not, did you? You didn’t even ask if he was hurt.”

“He tell you that?” Nathan asked, gesturing at the curtain behind Vin.

“He didn’t have to. I know you, Nathan, and I’ve seen the kind of man you are. Chris Larabee will give any man a second chance, but you—you’ve spent yours at least twice over, and there won’t be any more chances.”

“It was Judge Travis gave me this job. Nothing you or Chris can do to take it away. And Judge Travis knows what Ezra’s like. Skipped out on bail up Fort Laramie way. Oh, the judge won’t be so quick to cut me out.”

“Maybe not.” Vin leaned in close and dropped his voice to a deadly whisper. “But you just remember Ezra’s one of ours.”

Yours, you mean,” Nathan said with a disgusted shake of his head. “I doubt the others feel quite the same way that you do about him, Vin.”

Vin felt Ezra’s hand on his shoulder even as his fist started to rise towards Nathan’s face. The touch stopped him, but just barely. Nathan took a step back, raising his fists in response.

“Mr. Tanner, I swear, I can’t leave you alone for a moment,” Ezra said, his hand still firm on Vin’s shoulder. Vin could see he’d dressed in a hurry—hastily drawn on pants, bare feet, and a half-buttoned white shirt undone at the cuffs. His damp hair was barely finger-combed, and stuck out at the back in a curling cow’s lick. Vin was pretty sure Ezra’s half-dressed appearance wasn’t about to dispel whatever notions about them Nathan had, but then it was pretty clear that Nathan wasn’t willing or able to see anyone else’s perspective.

“Thank you for your concern, Mr. Jackson, but as you can see, I’m quite alright.”

“I can see that.” Nathan gave him a quick once over, and Vin knew Nathan had already assumed he understood whatever the two of them shared. He wondered if Ezra knew it too; if Ezra realized Nathan and the owner’s assessments had a kernel of truth in them, at least on Vin’s side of things.

“A hot bath does wonders to restore the constitution. And how is our young Mr. Dunne?” Ezra inquired, as if Nathan had said nothing at all.

“He’ll live.” It was only Vin’s glare that cut off the “no thanks to you” that nevertheless hung in the air unspoken.

“Well, we should all be glad of that.” Ezra buttoned his cuffs and glanced back towards the private bath. “Mr. Tanner, it will only take me a moment to secure the rest of my belongings.”

“Sure thing, Ez.” Vin’s eyes never left Nathan. “You probably want to get back to Chris and let him know Ezra’s doing alright, Nathan.”

“Oh, I’ll be sure to tell him.” There was such a sense of vitriol behind the words that Vin wondered if he should go straight to Chris when they got back to the hotel. God only knew what Nathan would tell him.

Ezra emerged from the back looking as neat and put-together as he always did, his small soap carrier in his hand. Vin had a moment to regret that whatever window he’d had into Ezra’s world had clearly closed for now. “Tell J.D. we’ll look in on him in the morning.”

Nathan just bobbed his head inconclusively, and set off down the creaking staircase.

“You should’ve let me hit him,” Vin mumbled under his breath as he reached back to grab the whiskey and glasses from beside the tub. He’d paid for it, and there was no way he was leaving it for Mulligan.

“Your knuckles will thank me in the morning,” Ezra returned mildly, and called a cheerful thank you and goodnight to the owner, who was still keeping his distance. They creaked down the stairs and over to the hotel where they’d taken rooms. There was a light on under the door where they were keeping J.D., and Vin could hear soft low voices on the other side. He pushed down the burst of anger he was feeling, and realized there was no point barging in and upsetting J.D.. He’d have to trust that Chris would see through any lies Nathan might feel inclined to tell.

“Come on,” Ezra said, tilting his head towards his room. Vin had the odd feeling that their roles had reversed, that Ezra was looking out for him now, and it was strange and touching all at the same time.

They settled inside Ezra’s room on a pair of chintz chairs, and Vin was grateful to the housekeeper, or maybe it had been Chris or Inez, but someone had come in, emptied the wash basin, and cleaned up all traces of blood. Ezra’s bloody jacket had disappeared as well, and Vin suspected they’d find it hanging back in his closet in a few days after every drop of blood had been scoured from its fine surface. Not for the first time, he was grateful to be part of something like this, a different kind of family who cared, who helped without being told, without expecting anything in return.

“I never thought I’d be grateful for Four Corners,” Ezra said, putting Vin’s thoughts into words, “and yet I find myself at a loss to express the attachment I’ve come to feel for this town and its people.” He opened the bottle of whiskey and poured two generous glasses, handing one to Vin. “Cheers, my friend.”

Vin clinked his glass against Ezra’s, then let the sweet sting of the liquor flame down his throat. Knowing it was for Ezra, Inez had sent the good stuff and Vin could tell the difference from the moment it touched his lips to the way it eased down his throat with a warm, wet burn of pleasure.

“Ah, sweet Ms. Recillos,” Ezra murmured over his raised glass. “I believe we owe her a toast as well.”

Half the bottle disappeared in almost no time at all. Vin and Ezra traded turns toasting the Seven (all except Nathan), Vin’s pardon, the beloved South, their horses—Ezra’s voice shaking as he spoke Hazard’s name—and their lost families.

Ezra’s eyes were blinking more than usual, and Vin wondered if they should’ve stopped before this point. “To Saville and Polly.” Ezra raised his glass shakily, the amber liquid spilling a little as he moved. “The best of my family. Too late found and too soon lost. I shall miss them dearly.”

Vin raised his glass and drank in silence, watching as Ezra stood up without his usual grace and wobbled towards the window. He faced out into the darkness, putting a hand on the window ledge to steady himself, and wiped at his eyes.

“I fear I am no longer good company, Mr. Tanner. I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest we cut our evening short lest I become even more maudlin.”

Vin stood up, feeling the rush of the whiskey in his veins, and stepped up behind Ezra. Without even thinking, he laid the palm of his hand gently against the back of Ezra’s head, settling into the curve at the base of his skull. Ezra made a kind of strangled sound and leaned forward, both hands clutching at the window ledge. Vin kept his hand exactly where he’d placed it, raising the other hand to rub a slow soothing circle across Ezra’s back.

“Mr. Tanner, I—” Ezra began, but there was no conviction in his voice.

“How many times do I have to tell you it’s Vin, Ezra? It’s been that way for awhile now. That ain’t gonna change.” Vin could feel Ezra nodding beneath his hand. “And I reckon you ain’t one to let people see you hurt, and I guess I understand something about that. You can put distance between us, step as far away as you have to, and it won’t change the fact that everyone here is going to stick with you.” Vin let his fingers reach up and sink into the first inch of Ezra’s hair, let the touch mean everything he couldn’t say. “You keep walking away if you need to, but I swear, I’ll just come an’ get you if you go too far. That’s a promise. And I’ve been told I’m pretty good at trackin’.”

Ezra laughed then, a genuine laugh, and when he turned around to face Vin the sadness had left his eyes. “That you are, Vin. And damned persistent too. I thank you. For everything.” He touched a hand to Vin’s arm, tentatively squeezed, and let go.

“I best let you get some rest,” Vin said. Ezra nodded. They’d both had too much to drink and emotions were running high on all sides. Vin didn’t want to take advantage of the situation to push through Ezra’s defenses; nor did he trust his own instincts anymore, the ones that were telling him that touching was okay. It was too easy to convince himself he was seeing the same questions in Ezra’s eyes, the same doubts and desires reflected back at him. He reluctantly took a step backwards and gestured to the door.

“I’m just down the hall. If you need me.” He couldn’t think of a good innocent reason Ezra might need him in the middle of the night, but the words were out before their intention had fully registered, and Ezra, a shade closer to drunk than Vin, simply nodded as if it was a perfectly usual offer.

“I know.”

“G’night, Ez.”

“’Night, Vin.”

Vin stumbled a little as he swung Ezra’s door shut and leaned against it for a moment. He could hear Ezra muttering to himself, reciting the names of the dead in a quiet litany that made something in Vin’s heart break a little. He heard the sound of shoes hitting the floor, the window dropping down to the sill, and a slightly muffled sob mixed with the shattering of glass. It took everything Vin had not to open the door and go back inside, pull Ezra into his arms and hold him until the world stopped hurting.

As quietly as he could, Vin slipped into his own room three doors down, and hoped Ezra would be alright. He’d made the offer, and it was all he could do. Anything else was going to be up to Ezra.


Vin didn’t entirely remember changing out of his clothes, stripping down to his underwear and crawling into bed, the whiskey warm and soothing in his veins. He knew he’d fallen asleep because when he opened his eyes the shadows had moved across his bed, and the lamp had burned out completely. It took him a minute to realize the quiet tapping was coming from his door.

He staggered to his feet, a gust of cold air sobering him up quite nicely, and he opened the door to find Ezra, wild-eyed and with his white shirt half-unbuttoned as it had been at the bathhouse earlier. For a moment, Vin wondered if he might be dreaming, until Ezra brushed past him into the room and nodded for Vin to close the door.

“What’s wrong, Ez?”

“I think it would be considered fair to say that you have a propensity for avoiding casual contact, and yet I have been the recipient and beneficiary of a number of touches of a most comforting nature, and I—well, I—I just don’t know—”

“Ezra.” Vin gripped him by the arms and held him still; he’d been starting to pace and Vin didn’t think he could deal with that and all the big words at the same time. “I don’t know what you’re askin’.”

“You put your hand on the back of my head, and I felt so …. what—what does that mean exactly?”

Vin could feel his face flush and he was grateful there wasn’t much light for Ezra to see by. “It’s something my ma did when I was little. I don’t have much memory of her, but I remember she’d put her hand there, on the back of my head, and for a moment … well, for a moment, I’d feel safe, loved, no matter how bad things were. That’s all.”

Even in the darkness, Vin could tell Ezra was staring at him. “I thought it might make you feel better,” Vin said by way of explanation. “I didn’t know no other way to make you see you’re not as alone as you think. You’ve got family here. Maybe not blood, but—”

“You wanted me to feel the way your mother made you feel.” Ezra said the words slowly as if he was having trouble making them make sense. Vin nodded. “Safe.”



Vin only hesitated a moment. “Yes.”

Ezra’s eyelids fluttered shut in the moonlight. “No one’s ever done that for me.”

“I know.” Somehow Vin had always known that. He might’ve only had his mother the first five years of his life, but he figured he’d had more love in those few years than Ezra’s ma had shown him all his life.

They stood in silence for what felt like a long time before Ezra asked, “Why?”

Vin didn’t know how to answer that, so he just shook his head helplessly. He’d never been good at words the way Ezra was. He wasn’t even very good at feelings, and his feelings about Ezra were more complicated than most. Maybe it came from living and fighting beside someone for so long, but what he felt for the others of the Seven had always been simpler. He had and Chris were just alike in so many ways. They had an understanding. Buck was someone he could always count on for a bit of fun or trouble, but most of all he could count on him when it mattered. There weren’t that many people Vin could say that about. J.D. was like that too—more serious than Buck, and more naïve too, but he had a good heart and a sense of right and wrong that Vin had liked immediately. Vin wanted to be part of what guided the boy to be a better man. Josiah wasn’t always the easiest to understand, but he had a kind of wisdom that Vin respected greatly, even if he didn’t always agree with Josiah’s take on things. And Nathan—well, he could respect him for his healing, but there wasn’t much else to like about the man.

Then there was Ezra, who was always so much more than he appeared to be. He surprised you, and yet Vin always got the feeling he shouldn’t have been surprised at all because Ezra was sometimes easier to read than the rest of them. He cared, probably more than he should, and it showed on his face, in his actions, in those fancy words he tried to cover things with. In some ways Ezra was the most honest of them all, and the most aware of his own shortcomings. Quickest to dismiss his accomplishments and diminish his role in anything good, but right there when the fight was hottest. He thought a lot about things, Vin knew. Maybe it came from reading all those books he had, but he had a quiet understanding of people and circumstances, a way with children and animals that most of them remained in awe of. Vin figured Ezra could talk a rattler out of biting him if it came to that.

“You aren’t going to answer my question, are you?” Ezra asked.

“I—I don’t rightly know, and that’s the God’s honest truth, Ez.” Vin shrugged. “I ain’t good with words.”

“Alright,” Ezra said, a note of frustration in his voice, but the sleepiness and the influence of the liquor were gone, his green eyes clear in the moonlight. “But there is something here—between us, I mean. Something—maybe I’ve misunderstood and if I have, forgive me, but I feel—I mean, there is something between us, isn’t there? Something more than—more than just friendship?”

Vin saw the questions clear on Ezra’s face, the shake in his voice that sounded like desire although it had been a long time since Vin had seen it so plainly on a man’s face, and Vin froze, unable to do more than stand there, staring and wishing he knew how to be the man who could speak his mind, his heart.

“Well,” Ezra said, and even in the dim light, Vin could see colour rising in his cheeks. “I assume your silence is my answer. I’m sorry I brought it up, and I can assure you, I will not speak of it again. My apologies if I’ve offended you in any way. That was not my intention.”

Ezra turned away, hand on the knob, and suddenly Vin realized he couldn’t let him leave like this, couldn’t do nothing when Ezra had risked so much to ask the question.

“Wait,” Vin said, but Ezra didn’t turn around, just stayed with his hand on the door, and Vin did the only thing he could think of and put his hand on the back of Ezra’s head. Ezra’s head dipped forward, banged gently against the door, and Vin could hear a groan of frustration. He stepped forward then, his bare chest barely an inch from the glowing white material of Ezra’s shirt, and this time he leaned close enough to press his mouth against the pale skin of Ezra’s nape. He trailed his fingers down Ezra’s right arm to where his hand rested on the knob, and covered Ezra’s hand with his own.

“Don’t go,” Vin whispered, and in the next moment Ezra had turned and seized Vin’s face in his hands, pulling him forward into a kiss. Vin gave into his impulses, kissing Ezra back with the kind of force he would never use to kiss a woman, and Ezra gave back with equal strength, a maddening kind of push and pull that made Vin aware of how long it had been since he’d let go like this. He pushed Ezra until his back was to the door and Vin’s hands were seeking out the buttons holding Ezra’s shirt on.

Ezra’s hands had tangled themselves in Vin’s long hair, his mouth continuing to deliver ever-deepening kisses, awakening in Vin a passion he hadn’t felt in years. Ezra’s tongue swiped at Vin’s bottom lip, and he opened his mouth willingly, captured Ezra’s groan with a kiss that left them both breathing hard and fast.

“So, are you trying to tell me there is something between us then?” Ezra asked impishly, his hands gripping hard at Vin’s bare shoulders, and Vin nodded helplessly and said, “God, yes,” even as he leaned in to kiss Ezra again.

They ended up on the bed, Ezra’s white shirt rolling back over his shoulders under the direction of Vin’s calloused hands, and he was amazed at how smooth and pale Ezra’s skin was. He worked his way down from Ezra’s mouth, licking and sucking at the crevices of his neck, laughing when Ezra squirmed beneath him, alternately shielding and exposing his sensitive neck and ears to Vin’s teasing. Vin could feel goose flesh rising along Ezra’s arms, and it delighted him that he was the reason for it.

He licked his way towards a nipple, kissed it to a rosy hardness, and was making his way over to attend to the second, when there was a sharp rap at the door, and both Vin and Ezra froze.

“Vin,” came Chris’s quiet voice. “Vin, wake up.”

“Hang on, cowboy,” Vin said softly, rolling off Ezra and pulling him to his feet. Ezra chose the corner least visible from the door, and nodded at Vin to go ahead.

When the door swung open, Chris leaned into the doorway, keeping his voice low. “Ezra ain’t in his room.”

“You doing bed checks now, Chris?” Vin asked with a grin that he hoped would buy him some time.

“I do when someone’s tried killing my people. Everyone else is tucked in safe and sound, but Ez isn’t at the saloon and no one’s seen him since you brought him back from the bathhouse.”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Vin said, not meeting Chris’s eyes, and the man in black looked at him carefully as he responded.

“You’re usually the first one to worry about him. Given everything that’s happened, I figured you’d be sticking to him like glue.”

“He’s probably just sleeping sound. Didn’t hear you knocking. He had a good bit of whiskey before he turned in.”

Chris nodded. “He ain’t there. I checked. You wouldn’t know where he is, I suppose?”

“Why would I know?”

“Well, earlier Nathan had a number of things to say about where Ezra might go if he needed some comforting.”

Vin felt his face grow hot, and he wished he’d thrown on something besides his underclothes. “Whatever Nathan told you—”

“I don’t care about that,” Chris said. “What you do or don’t do is your business. Always has been That goes for Ezra too. But I do care if you’re lying to me, so I’m asking you again. Do you know where Ezra’s got to?”

“I’m right here, Chris,” Ezra said, and stepped out so he was visible, standing beside Vin. He’d pulled his shirt back on, but it was still mostly undone, and combined with the rumpled bed and their guilty looks, Vin didn’t expect it took much to give Chris a nice clear picture of what they’d been doing.


“Mr. Larabee.”

“I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t run out on me.” Chris smiled as he said it, like it was an old joke, and Ezra grinned so his gold tooth showed.

“I promised you I wouldn’t, and I meant it. If I’m leaving, you’ll know.”

“Good. But maybe there’s one or two things that might keep you round here a little longer?”

“Perhaps,” Ezra replied non-committally , and Vin knew both of them were looking at him.

“Good. See you in the morning, then. Vin.” Chris nodded once more, and stepped back into the hallway, closing the door as he left.

“Chris is a man of surprising depths,” Ezra said, and Vin couldn’t help but agree. They both sat on the edge of the bed, but the moment had been broken, and Vin wondered what they were supposed to do now. Surprisingly, Ezra yawned loudly.

“It’s been a long day,” Vin said, stifling a yawn himself.

“Perhaps I’d best return to my room before anyone else decides to assure themselves of my well-being.”

Vin laid a hand on Ezra’s arm. “You don’t have to go.”

“I know, and rest assured I want to continue where we left off, but given the events of today, I am uncertain whether I will be able to remain awake for much longer.”

“You can still stay,” Vin offered.

Ezra touched a hand to Vin’s face. “I know, but you’re well aware of how dreadful a companion I am to spend the night with, and I would hate to disturb your rest further.”

“Ezra,” Vin said, this time leaning in and placing a kiss on his friend’s lips. “Just stay.”

“I acquiesce.”

“That mean you’re staying?” Vin asked, getting up to straighten the bedclothes.

“Yes, that’s what it means,” Ezra conceded, and proceeded to remove and hang his white shirt and his pants. He slipped into the bed beside Vin, both of them needing to curl on their sides to accommodate the small space. Vin wrapped his arms around Ezra’s chest the way he had when they’d been snowbound, and Ezra settled back against Vin with the kind of ease he rarely demonstrated.

“I have to ride out tomorrow,” Vin said into Ezra’s ear. “Be gone three or four days at most. Just something I have to do.”

Ezra nodded, kept his questions to himself. “Want company?”

Vin shook his head. “Not this time. You stay here and rest up. Get your strength back. Keep an eye on J.D..”

“Stay out of trouble, you mean.”

“That too.” Vin pressed a kiss to the side of Ezra’s head, pleased at the shiver that echoed through the other man. “And don’t even think of leaving until I get back. I mean it, Ezra.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“I’d track you down anyway.”

“I know.”

With that, Vin settled down, letting Ezra’s soft even breathing lull him into sleep. For the first night in a long time, they both slept straight through until the sun had crested the eastern horizon, and a new day dawned in Four Corners.


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