Alder '05: Ordinary Days

Ezra started cursing. Actually he'd never really stopped cursing since he'd gotten up that morning. It was just now out loud rather than his usual snide mental asides that his upbringing typically kept him from verbalizing. All he'd wanted was a quiet evening. Have a drink, play a little poker, and try not to miss Vin. "God. Damn. It." He snarled, angry with the world, and pissed at cowboys in general. "Miserable. Stupid. Rat fucking bastards." Why trail hands couldn't come to town without causing trouble was a mystery to him. Would it be too much to ask for them to just act even remotely civilized? Evidently. Or he wouldn't be caught in the midst of trying to deal with a barroom brawl. And he didn't really care to stop it. No. He much preferred to join in. It gave him a chance to vent his foul mood with abandon and Ezra wasn't one to pass up that opportunity. Not after the week he'd had.

Chris, Buck and Vin had left for Eagle Bend on Monday. Representatives from the Army were due to take custody of a deserter that had compounded his crime by also kill a homesteader in the area. Ezra could appreciate the logic of not having the army in Four Corners. Really, he could, if he tried hard enough. They tended to be almost as much trouble as the damn trail hands. Drunken debauchery, fighting and God only knew what else, but damn it, at least soldiers had money and liked to play poker. Ezra wouldn't have minded the chance to actually line his pockets for once---especially if it meant taking money for a few blue bellies.

Even though he could see the logic of the Army not coming to Four Corners, if he tried hard enough, Ezra still didn't see why he couldn't go to them. He resented like hell that he hadn't been one of the ones selected to transport the prisoner. He wasn't wet behind the ears like JD, needed in town like Nathan or uninterested in the assignment like Josiah.

Honestly, the army not coming or Ezra not going to them was the least of it. What he really resented was an entire week without Vin. That was by far the worst indignity.

The nearly unbearable heat was minor in comparison. As was the damn dust. The stench of livestock as trail drives passed near town. The constant harping of towns people to safe guard their interests and lives from the sudden influx of strangers. The petty squabbles between cowboys over loose women and booze. Those he could have endured so much easier if Vin had been around.

Ezra snarled at the ugly face of some unknown cowboy, dodging the wild roundhouse blow, slamming his fist into the other man's solar plexus. He grinned savagely as the man folded when he hit him again, this time aiming for his temple. He wanted him to stay down so Ezra kicked him for good measure. Ezra ducked when JD shouted a warning. He scooped up a chair leg while he was at it, hefting it experimentally. His uncle Sterling always said a man should know how to wield any weapon at his disposal.

He used the chair leg to block another drunken cowboy's swing. Ezra spun, using his momentum in his strike as the wood connected solidly with the cowboy's ribs. For a moment Ezra wasn't sure if the crack he heard was the breaking of bones or if the chair leg had splintered.

He dodged another strike, trying to move closer to JD and Josiah. They were holding their own, but being outnumbered wasn't helping their situation. He was grateful JD had the foresight to institute a no weapons policy in town, at least temporarily. It still seemed like a ridiculous policy, particularly given that there were only four of them to enforce it, but right now Ezra was damn glad they'd bothered. Somehow he didn't think this brawl would have stayed quite as 'friendly' as it had so far.

Ezra rocked back from the force of a blow he hadn't been quick enough to avoid. He spit blood, wiping his chin before striking back. He gasped for breath when his opponent managed to land a solid hit to his abdomen. Unwilling to give ground, Ezra lashed out to catch the other man below the belt. He didn't give a shit about honor, this was survival, pure and simple.

Ezra saw Josiah intervene on his right, taking out another cowboy. Their eyes met briefly, before once more turning their attention back to the fray. Ezra was glad that Inez had taken the day off. Maybe they'd have time to clean up the mess before she got back. More than likely she'd blame him for this destruction, and that just added to is irritation and ire.

In spite of his anger, and overall disregard for the 'rules of engagement' that governed much of the West, Ezra was hesitant to reach for his gun. Hesitant until JD went down, taking a blow on the chin from a man who was easily as big as Josiah. JD was a comrade in arms, and seeing him go down was the final straw. Ezra triggered his hidden derringer and fired a round into the nearest cowboy's shoulder, innately pleased when the man howled in pain.

His derringer lacked knock down power, and it wasn't loud. So Ezra emptied the second barrel, into another cowboy, this time aiming for a thigh, effectively bringing another man down with a cry of pain.

Ezra nodded in satisfaction, using the sudden pause in the chaos to draw his colt. "All right, you miserable bastards, this little soiree is over."

Josiah drew his weapon as well, although Ezra could tell he wasn't particularly happy about what he'd done. Ezra didn't care. As long as the big man backed his play, that was all that mattered. They couldn't hold out against superior numbers forever, and with JD down, it was best to end it now, before it got any further out of hand.

Wary eyes around the room studied him, and Ezra shifted his aim just enough so that they all felt threatened. "I don't give a damn who started this, I'm ending it now." When one of the cowboys made a move, Ezra pinned him with a glacial glare. "I can end it for you permanently if you prefer." He wasn't shouting, but the threat carried easily through the room.

"All of you that can ride... get on your damn horses and get the hell out of town." There wasn't room in the jail to hold all of them. And frankly Ezra simply wanted the gone.

"What about Jerry?" Someone asked nervously.

Ezra surmised Jerry was one of the men he'd shot. "Mr. Jackson, the town's healer, is due back in a few hours." Nathan had been called out to one of the homesteads to treat a farmer who'd managed to cut himself in some fashion or another--Ezra hadn't concerned himself with the particulars. "Mr. Jackson can treat your companion and send on his way in due time."

There was some mumbling and grumbling but most went about gathering up lost hats and helping up companions. Ezra kept a watchful eye on them nonetheless, not convinced they would leave peaceably. He cautiously glanced over his shoulder when he heard the batwing doors swing open.

"Hello, Mr. Larabee." He tipped his head to Chris. "Impeccable timing."

Chris took in the entire room in a sweeping glance, puffing on his slim cigar, hand resting on the butt of his gun. "Looks like the party got a little wild."

Ezra arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps just a bit."

Buck stepped in behind Chris, a whistle escaping from pursed lips. "Kind of sorry we missed it, pard."

Ezra looked past him. Vin was conspicuous in his absence. Narrowed green eyes moved back to Chris. The gunslinger raised an eyebrow, before nodding toward the back of the saloon.

Ezra shifted his focus, catching sight of Vin as he slipped in through the back door. Vin had his mare's leg drawn, sharp blue eyes assessing the room efficiently. Their eyes met briefly, exchanging silent reassurances.

"Mr. Wilmington, if you would be so kind as to see to your protégé." Ezra nodded toward where JD lay on the floor. The younger man was beginning to come around, one hand shakily moving to touch his face.

"JD!" Buck shouted, moving quickly to the sheriff. "Damn it, boy, I'm out of town for a few days and you forget everything I taught you."

"Shut up, Buck." JD groaned, struggling to sit up. Buck helped him up, holding the smaller man steady when he swayed for a moment before getting his balance. One eye was already swelling shut and the bruise forming on his chin made Ezra wince sympathetically.

His own jaw hurt, and so did his stomach, but Ezra had experience worse beatings in his life. Anger and frustration having been thoroughly vented, relieved to have Vin back in town, Ezra was more tired than anything else. He wanted these damn trail hands on their way and things back to normal. Or at least as normal as things ever got in Four Corners.

Josiah herded the trail hands toward the door, shadowing them as they made their way outside, making sure they actually left town. Chris followed him, lending the force and authority of his dark presence to hasten them on their way. Ezra was damn glad they had enough sense to go quietly. He had no reservations about shooting a few more if necessary.

Buck helped JD over to a chair and got the younger man to sit in it. Ezra made eye contact with Vin before he holstered his colt. His lover's small nod let Ezra know he could cover the emptying room. Although, the rapidly dwindling crowd didn't appear to be much cause for concern, Ezra's deeply ingrained cautious nature made him grateful for the presence of the others. Better safe than sorry. He reloaded this derringer before re-cocking the spring loaded mechanism.

He looked over the two bleeding cowboys, pursing his lips. If treated, neither wound was fatal, he'd made sure of that. But they were definitely painful and neither man would likely be at his best when their herds moved on. Ezra wondered if they'd learn to behave themselves in the future. He snorted, calculating the odds on that and knowing where he'd lay his bet.

He fixed a hard look at a few of the remaining trail hands. They were likely friends of the two wounded men. "Mr. Jackson's clinic is above the livery. You might want to assist your companions there to await his return."

They moved to help their friends, giving Ezra a dirty look. He ignored their hostility with practiced ease. He'd gotten similar looks every time he won a hand of poker.

Ezra stepped over to the bar and around it, reaching for an intact bottle. He'd likely be expected to help clean up the mess, and would no doubt bare the brunt of Inez's tongue, Ezra decided he'd earned a stiff drink. And since he hated to drink alone, Ezra lined up several glasses for his fellow peacekeepers.

"I trust the prisoner transport went well?" He asked, neatly pouring out a measure of whiskey into each glass.

Buck snorted, blue eyes rolling as he looked up from where was studying the bruises on JD's face. "You ever known one of those stupid, 'it'll be a piece of cake' jobs to go well?"

Ezra arched an eyebrow, looked toward Vin. Vin grimaced, sheathing his weapon as the last of the trail hands left the room. He walked over to lean against the bar.

"I hate the army," the long haired tracker muttered, reaching for one of the glasses. "Would have been home two days ago but for them and their bullshit."

"Oh?" Ezra knocked back one of the shots, setting the glass with delicate care back on the bar. He wanted more details before he started planning on exacting vengeance on the Army for prolonging Vin's absence.

Buck patted JD on the back, sauntering over to join them, claiming one of the drinks for himself. "Wanted us to stay for the guy's court martial." Buck downed his shot, thumping the empty glass on the bar. "Hell, I ain't in the army any more. Didn't need to stay for that crap."

Buck rolled his eyes. "Then they wanted Vin to do some scouting for them."

Green eyes met blue. "Scouting?" That sounded more permanent, and likely more lucrative than working as a peacekeeper for a dollar a day.

"Told 'em to go to hell." Vin's expression darkened. "I got me a job, don't need to be traipsing all over the countryside helpin' them round up people that ain't hurtin' anyone."

"Ah." Ezra nodded.

Vin smiled, blue eyes warming. "Couldn't offer me anythin' to rival what I got here anyway."

Ezra smiled, dipping his head in acknowledgment, pleased with the subtle compliment. It was nice to know his lover felt the same way. Not that he had any doubts on the subject. But it never hurt to have confirmation his feelings were returned in full measure.

He refilled their glasses. Looking around the room, Ezra shook his head. God. What a mess. Buck turned to rest his back against the bar, both elbows allowing him to slouch easily. "Damn. Inez is going to be pissed."

"You think?" Ezra offered drily.

"She's going to hurt you, Ez," Buck declared.

"No." Ezra countered, smiling. "I'll tell her it was your fault." He saluted Buck with his glass. "And I wish you good luck, Mr. Wilmington."

Buck glared at him over his shoulder. "She knows I was out of town."

"But she doesn't know when you got back." Vin pointed out, grinning.

"Face it, Buck," JD called out from where he still sat, with a smile as big as his fat lip would allow. "You're going to have to clean this place up."

"Not by myself I'm not." Buck straightened up. He pointed a finger at Vin and then Ezra. "You two better pony up." He shook his head. "No way she's gonna blame just me, and you know it. And Digger Dan's is a lousy place to drink."

Ezra traded a look with Vin. "Digger Dan's is a pit."

Vin nodded. "Seen cleaner outhouses." He wrinkled his nose. "And smell better too."

Ezra sighed. He never intended to force Buck to clean up alone, although, it wouldn't do for the other man to know that. It would ruin his reputation.

"Very well, gentlemen, let us commence to establishing order to this chaos." He wanted this taken care of. The sooner the better. He traded another look with Vin. There were better things to be doing.

JD moved to get up and help but Buck pointed a finger at him. "You just got your bell rung but good, Kid." Buck shook his head. "Stay put."

"I can-"

"Stay." Buck glared at him.

"Consider it an exercise in learning the fine art of supervision," Ezra offered with a wink.

"Supervision?" Vin laughed. "We don't need anyone watchin' over us."

"I think Inez would disagree, Mr. Tanner." Ezra sighed. The entire town needed watched over like an active two year old, or the saloon would not look like a twister had just blown through.

Vin looked around the room and grimaced. "Yeah. And I think she's gonna be loud about it, too."

"Well, at least she'll do most of it in Spainish." JD pointed out. When the fiery brunette lost her temper she usually resorted to her mother tongue.

"Might be best to hide her shotgun." Buck added with a wry grin.

"And her broom." Ezra snickered remembering the last time she'd used it. She wielded it as a weapon with a consummate skill his Uncle Sterling would have approved of. And Buck had good reason to be wary of.

They set to righting tables, all of which had survived the battle. Ezra had to commend who'd ever built them. They might not be terribly elegant or refined, but sturdy was a virtue that had stood them in good stead. Unfortunately the same could not be said for several chairs.

Vin shook his head, holding up several chair legs. "Don't think fixing these is an option."

"Well, at least we won't need to chop any kindling for a while." Buck pointed out, tossing several bits and pieces into the wood box near the potbellied stove.

Ezra located Inez's broom, putting it to use to sweep up the scattered bits of broken glass. At least this group of rowdies hadn't been inclined to throw much, ensuring the mirror behind the bar and the windows remained intact.

Vin and Buck gathered up the shot glasses and liquor bottles that managed to survive. There were more that came away unscathed than Ezra would have expected. The heavy glassware might not be as aesthetic as fine crystal but it certainly held up better.

He surveyed the room, nodding to himself. As much as possible, it was once more neat and organized. Ezra considered his duty done.

He looked up when Sam Taylor entered. The young man often tended bar when Inez took a day off, but he seldom hung around when trouble started. With his small stature, slight build, and abysmal skill with weapons of any kind, including his fist, Ezra considered Sam's discretion the better part of valor.

"Mr. Taylor." Ezra nodded to him. With Sam once more at his post, there was no reason Ezra had to remain.

He looked toward Vin, arching an eyebrow. Their reunion had been delayed far too long already. Vin smiled, and tipped his head slightly the back door. Vin often used the back stairs, slipping into Ezra's room unnoticed and unremarked. Neither man wanted to draw attention to their relationship.

"Gentlemen." Ezra raised two fingers to the brim of his hat. "I believe I have had enough excitement for the moment."

He headed toward the stairs at a leisurely pace after getting a nod from Buck and a wave from JD. Vin had already slipped out the back. It wasn't unusual for him to simply disappear.

Ezra lightly tapped on the door to his room. Vin had the only key, and while Ezra could easily pick the lock, entering unannounced would be unwise. He smiled when Vin opened the door.

Ezra slipped inside, closing the door behind him. He was immediately wrapped in Vin's warm embrace. He sighed, the tension in his neck and shoulders that had taken up residence since Vin's departure finally beginning to ease.

Vin pulled back, one hand cupping Ezra's face. Blue eyes narrowed in concern. "Your lip looks about as bad as JD's."

Ezra delicately licked his lower lip, wincing at the little bit of pain he felt. He shrugged, and leaned forward to very carefully place his lips against Vin's. The kiss was far from their usual passionate reunion, but no less honest or intense for its gentleness. It was more like the ones Vin gave him in the morning while preparing to leave.

Ezra pulled back, and studied Vin's face, eyes mapping those beloved features. "You look tired."

"Was a long week."

"Very." Ezra agreed.

Vin's thumb lightly caressed Ezra's cheek. "You been sleepin' okay?"

"It was too hot." Ezra shrugged. He didn't really want to admit to Vin that he had suffered a bout of insomnia. It happened from time to time, as his lover was aware. There was usually no real cause that Ezra could pinpoint, at least not most of the time.

Vin smiled softly. "Yeah, heat can be a bitch that way."

Ezra sighed hearing the doubt in his lover's statement. He should have known Vin wouldn't simply let it go. "With the trail drives coming through...being shorthanded, there wasn't as much time as I would have preferred to indulge myself in communing with my down pillow."

He turned his head, placing the lightest of kisses in Vin's palm. Ezra leaned in so they were once more chest to chest, his head on Vin's shoulder. "And then, of course, there was your absence."

"Yeah. Had me the same sort o' problems." Vin pulled him in closer, arms comfortable around him in spite of the heat of the day. Vin sighed. "Hotter than hell on the trail. No good prick we're hauling with us won't shut up. Chris finally gagged him."

Ezra chuckled. "Mr. Larabee has little tolerance for garrulousness."

Vin snorted. "If that means he can't stand someone yakking on and on, then yeah Chris has no tolerance for it." He lightly patted Ezra's back. "Least you can tell a story. Ya don't just run off at the mouth. And you know when ta leave Chris be."

Ezra had long since learned the warning signs of Chris about to lose his temper. He liked to needle the man, to push him, but knew when to draw the line. At least most of the time. And when he went too far....he knew how to stay out of reach.

"And then the damn Army." Vin sounded as disgusted as Ezra ever heard him.

"You are here now." Ezra pointed out.

"Yeah." Vin hugged him tighter before releasing him. "It's good ta be home."

"Very good to have you back." Ezra's grinned. "Very good." He winked, giving Vin a sly look. "Perhaps I should show you just how good?"

"Wouldn't say no ta that."

Ezra turned to make sure the door was locked, certain they would not be leaving the confines of his room. A small gasp escaped him as his stomach and ribs reminded him they hadn't escaped the brawl unscathed. Vin was immediately at his side.

"You okay?"

"It's nothing." Ezra tried to dismiss that small hesitation and pain. He had experienced far worse.

"Let me see." Vin insisted, hand already moving to undo the buttons of Ezra's vest. Ezra didn't stop him, knowing it would be futile to do so, and removing his clothing had been the goal anyway. Even though he would have preferred something a bit more erotic, there was nothing wrong with efficient.

"Damn, Ez," Vin whispered as he opened Ezra's shirt. Long fingers gently touched bruises beginning to appear. Ezra glanced down. He clearly remembered get hit a few times, but the others escaped his notice, lacking sufficient power to slow him down at the time.

"Mother always said I bruised far too easily." Vin's jaw tightened at the reference to Maude. She hadn't made a good impression on his lover during the two visits she'd made to Four Corners. Ezra thought it safe to surmise she hadn't really made a good impression on anyone, with the possible exception of Josiah--but his choice in women had been shown to be somewhat questionable. Vin's touch made Ezra flinch.

"Sorry, Ez."

"It's okay." Ezra smiled. "You weren't the one who hit me."

Vin frowned. "Didn't mean ta make it worse."

"You didn't." Ezra captured one of Vin's hands, entwining their fingers.

Vin raised their joined hands to place a kiss on Ezra's knuckles. "Should have been here sooner."

"You got here." Ezra smiled warmly. "That's all that matters." He would have said more, but a yawn suddenly overtook him. Lord, but he was tired.

Vin tugged him toward the bed. "Let's lay down for a bit, Ez."

"Somehow I don't think you are suggesting we go to bed for amorous reasons."

"We got time for that." Vin smiled, still backing toward the bed.

"Yer tired. I'm tired. Nothin' wrong with cuddling up for a bit."

No there was nothing wrong with that. Cuddling up with Vin, just being next to him, was something Ezra craved as much as sex with the man. There as something so reassuring about it, something indefinable that filled an empty place in him Ezra hadn't known existed until he'd met Vin.

Ezra smiled. "Cuddle?"

"Maybe a nap." Vin winked before a yawn overtook him as well.

Ezra nodded and made an inviting gesture toward the bed. "After you."

Vin rolled his eyes, grabbing Ezra's hand and lightly tugging him forward. They both toed out of their boots, leaving them lined up at the foot of the bed. Ezra shrugged gracefully out of his jacket, careful not to visibly wince when his abdomen protested the action. He hung his jacket neatly from the bedpost, ignoring the way Vin simply left his own lying on the floor.

Vin stepped to the other side of the bed. He undid his gunbelt and hung it from the headboard, where it would be within easy reach. Ezra undid his own gunbelt and laid it on the nightstand, but left his derringer rig in place. They probably would not have time until later to do more than sleep, and Ezra rarely removed his holdout gun unless he and Vin engaged in more passionate pursuits.

Vin stretched out on the bed, sighing deeply as he settled in. Ezra didn't hesitate to join him when his lover held out his hand. He curled into Vin, head resting on the other man's shoulder, arm wrapping around his waist.

He could feel himself relaxing like he hadn't done in days. "Missed you."

Ezra felt Vin place a kiss in his hair. "Missed you, too."

His breathing deepened, matching Vin's slowing respiration. He hadn't realized how much he'd grown used to hearing his lover's heartbeat, how much he'd come to rely on that steady rhythm to lull him to sleep. Ezra snuggled in closer, content to let Four Corners take care of itself for awhile.

"The others will be okay without us for a bit," Vin muttered, hand moving up and down Ezra's spine in a soothing caress.

"Uh-hunh." Ezra mumbled his agreement. The only one of their number now absent was Nathan and he was due to return soon. They would be fine. Not as fine as he was at the moment, but Ezra figured they were all big boys, they could find their own contentment.

He willingly gave in to the feeling of lassitude. He just wanted to bask in this feeling for as long as their chaotic, haphazard lives would allow. Their 'normal lives' could resume when they were damn good and ready to deal with them.

"Love you, Vin," Ezra whispered, nuzzling Vin's chest.

"Love you, Ez." Vin's hand stilled, but his arms remained wrapped around Ezra holding him close.

Ezra had no idea what he might have done to warrant this little bit of heaven, but he was glad he'd done whatever it was. If he'd known, he'd have done it sooner, and more often. Slipping off to sleep, he decided it didn't matter. He had this now, and he was going to enjoy it. The rest didn't matter. It never had.