Aces High, by The Neon Gang. Graphic by Shiloh

Aces High
(Old West)

by The Neon Gang[1]

Rating: NC-17 for the graphic description of male-male sex.

The sun had set, the air cooling after another hot afternoon and the saloon was busy, patrons crowded around poker tables and lined up at the bar. It was just the way Ezra Standish liked it. The handsome gambler had just finished a long poker game with three visitors on their way to Yuma, and his pockets were pleasantly full.

Deciding not to join one of the other ongoing games, Ezra leaned back in his chair, unconsciously shuffling the deck of cards in his hands as he watched Chris Larabee stand, nod a silent goodnight to the man he was leaving at the table, and then head for the batwing doors, exiting and disappearing into the night.

The man who now sat alone stared after Larabee, a wistful expression visible on his shadowed face. At least that expression was clear from where Ezra sat. To the rest of the patrons, the man's expression would have been hidden under the wide brim of the man's slouch hat, which was just how the tracker would want it.

The cards fanned methodically through Ezra's fingers as he contemplated what that expression meant, although he was already pretty confident he knew the answer and ached to help the man, but he had no idea how to go about it.

He snorted softly to himself. That wasn't entirely true. He knew what might help his friend, he just wasn't sure how to get the man to accept it without ending up dead, or worse.

Inez stopped by the tracker's table and the pair exchanged words. Ezra guessed that she also knew he was lonely, since she had made her interest as clear as she dared. At least, as far as the gambler was concerned it was clear, but Mr. Tanner seemed unaware of her overtures. With a smile for Vin she turned and walked back to the bar, pouring the man a drink and carrying to back to the table, along with the bottle.

Ezra frowned. Now that was unusual. Mr. Tanner wasn't a heavy drinker, not like Mr. Larabee, or even Mr. Sanchez or Mr. Wilmington. In fact, there had been many nights he had seen the tracker nurse a single drink for hours while he played poker, or sat silently in the shadows, watching and listening to the other members of their little band.

At first he had assumed it was because Mr. Tanner had no money, but after observing the men he had thrown his lot in with, Ezra had decided it was more likely an inbred sense of caution that kept the tracker sober. He was, after all, a wanted man. Getting drunk could be an invitation to disaster.

The gambler leaned back and sighed softly, his gaze caressing the man's profile. It was the tracker's innate silence, and stillness, that had first drawn the gambler's attention to him. He had never met anyone who could go as long as Vin Tanner could without uttering a single word, although Mr. Larabee could give him a run for his money on most days. And he had never met anyone who could become so still for so long. It was as if the man slowly became part of the shadows, or turned to into some dusty, tan desert stone.

Inactivity was an unfamiliar concept for the gambler, who was almost always in motion, and he wondered what Vin was thinking when the stillness had settled over him, but he wasn't sure the question would be well received, so he never ventured to ask it.

But, seeing Mr. Tanner with a full bottle of whiskey was nothing short of worrisome, so Ezra stood and crossed over to the man's table, sliding into a chair without a greeting.

"Ain't interested 'n a game," came the soft drawl, Vin's expression hidden under his hat.

"No need to worry, I have finished gambling for the evening," Ezra assured him, then patted his pocket and added, "I fear I have no more room for more winnings."

The man's stubbled chin came up, his blue eyes narrowed slightly and he snorted. "One 'a these days, someone's goin' t' break out the tar 'n' feathers y' keep that up."

Ezra shuddered dramatically. "Heaven spare me such a crude, humorless approach to inviting someone to leave a municipality."

Vin just grunted and Ezra wasn't sure if was because he didn't understand what he'd said, or just didn't feel like talking. "I saw Mr. Larabee leave," he continued, hoping to draw the tracker into conversation.

Vin nodded once. "Goin' t' grab some sleep 'fore his patrol."

"Ah, yes, that endless, odious task for which we are so often shot at and so poorly reimbursed… Will you be riding with him this evening?"

Tanner chin lifted again, just enough for him to meet the gambler's eyes. "Weren't invited."

"Ah," Standish replied, glancing away from the intense blue eyes. "I see. You do, of course, realize that if you imbibe the contents of that entire bottle, you'll be in no condition to accompany anyone, anywhere for quite a while."

Vin's chin came up again and he stared hard at the gambler. "Don't recall askin' fer yer advice."

Ezra cocked his head to the side and shrugged. "No, you did not ask, that's true."

Tanner's head dipped again and he sighed heavily. "Ah, hell, didn't mean t' bite yer head off, Ezra," he mumbled. "Y' want a drink?"

Ezra motioned to Inez, who brought over a glass for the gambler. The troubled look she gave Standish was met with a nod from Ezra. He had no intention of letting the tracker get himself into trouble - not if he could help it.

Reaching out, Ezra poured himself a shot and refilled Vin's glass at the same time. Then he took a sip, watching the hurting tracker and wondering what he might do to help, wishing he could do what he really wanted to.

Tanner took his glass and tossed back the drink in one swallow, the empty glass knocking loudly against the tabletop when he set it down. He immediately reached for the bottle and filled it again.

"Something you would like to talk about?" Ezra asked him.


The gambler nodded, pulling his cards out of his pocket and starting to shuffle them. The familiar sound seemed to sooth the tracker and Vin settled back in his chair, his legs stretched out in front of him, his arms folded over his chest as he watched the cards dancing in Ezra's hands.

After a few shuffles Ezra began to employ some of the more elaborate tricks from his favored profession, holding the silent tracker's attention with the intricate display of manual dexterity.

"Y' sure know some fancy moves there," Vin finally said softly.

"Why, thank you," Ezra replied evenly, "it's always nice to know one's talents are appreciated."

Vin snorted and reached for his drink, tossing that one back as well. This time Ezra leaned forward and poured the tracker another.

Vin jerked his chin, gesturing at the gambler's still half-full glass. "Ain't y' goin' t' join me?"

"Of course," Ezra replied, taking his drink and draining what was left.

And so it continued like that, Ezra nursing only a couple of glasses while Vin downed several more over the next hour. As it grew later, the saloon slowly began to clear. Finally, only a few diehards remained, and Inez was slowly shooing them out as well.

The whiskey bottle set empty on the table, and Vin sat slumped in his chair, as silent and as still as Ezra could ever remember seeing him.

"I am closing the doors now," Inez said softly as she passed by them, glancing at Vin with a worried frown.

"I shall take care of Mr. Tanner," the gambler replied quietly.

"Don't need no lookin' after," the tracker rasped softly, but he didn't move.

"Perhaps not," Ezra replied, "but you, my friend, are drunk, and I for one have no intention of allowing you out onto the streets where you might encounter a bounty hunter, or some other nefarious cretin looking to line his pockets with the reward on your pretty head."

Vin looked up and drawled, "Ah hell, Ez, y' know I can't understand half 'a what y' say on a good day… when 'm drunk I can't hardly understand y' at all."

Ezra fought back a smile as he stood and stepped around the table. He reached out and took the tracker's elbow, encouraging him to stand. "You don't need to understand," he assured the man, "just comply."

Vin pushed to his feet and swayed unsteadily as he blinked owlishly at the dancing walls. "Hell, the walls 're movin'. Why's that?"

"Come along," Ezra instructed him, guiding him toward the stairs at the back of the saloon.

"Ain't goin' up there," the tracker said, planting his heels and refusing to be budged from the foot of the staircase.

"And what dread fate do you think awaits you up these steps, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked teasingly. "I assure you, I am just going to put you to bed."

"Hate sleepin' in a bed," Vin muttered, trying to remember how to make his body work so he could turn around and head for his wagon.

"Yes, I am quite aware of your preference for finding Morpheous' arms upon the hard ground, or in that flea-invested wagon you call a home."

Vin turned his head, frowning at the gambler. "Ain't never slept in no Mor-fess arms."

Ezra sighed and shook his head, wondering again why he found the uneducated man so interesting. But he knew. Vin Tanner, while he might not have had any formal education still had a poet's heart, and what he did know were things that no one would ever learn from a book.

"Come along, Mr. Tanner," he said, starting up the stairs, half-pulling, half-carrying the tracker along with him.

Vin muttered softly to himself, but he followed along as best he could in his present state.

At the top of the stairs, Ezra paused for a moment, deciding that the tracker needed a bath before he allowed the man into his bed. He paused at the first door and knocked.

A young Mexican man opened the door. "Si, Señor?"

"I apologize for the late hour, Miguel, but I'm afraid Mr. Tanner is unable to leave and is in desperate need of a bath."

The teenager nodded and grinned slightly. "I will go."

"Oh, and Miguel, please bring us some coffee?"

"Si, Señor," he replied.

With Miguel hurrying off, Ezra helped Vin farther down the hall to the gambler's private living quarters. He guided him into a small room where a large, cooper bathtub stood.

Leaving Vin sitting on the chair in the room, Ezra knelt next to the small stone hearth and started a fire burning, the flames quickly warming the room. Next he turned his attention to helping the tracker out of his clothes.

"Whatcha doin'?" Vin slurred, batting the gambler's hands away as Ezra pulled the hide coat off his shoulders.

"Helping you prepare for a bath," was the matter-of-fact reply. "You didn't honestly think I would allow you between my clean sheets in your present state, did you?"

"I'll jus' sleep on the floor," Vin said, starting to lean forward so he could lay down.

"Oh no you don't," Ezra said stopping him from getting out of the chair.

The tracker moaned, "Ah, come on, Ez, 'm tired. Jus' want t' git some shuteye."

"After your bath," he said sternly, continuing to wrestle with the tracker to get more of his clothes off.

The door opened and Miguel entered, carrying two buckets of warm water, which he poured into the waiting tub. After several more trips, the copper tub was almost full of steaming water, to which Ezra added a few drops of scented oil.

Vin's head came up and he sniffed the air. "What's that?"

"One of Ming's concoctions," the gambler replied.

"'S nice."

"Yes, it is."

The door opened again and Miguel carried in a tray with a pot of coffee, two mugs, and a small cone of sugar on a plate. He set them down, smiled at the gambler, and left.

Ezra glanced down at Vin, who was now undressed, except for his pants and undergarments. "Now, if you will stand, we will get you out of those rags you call pants."

Tanner grunted and pushed sluggishly to his feet, his hands going to his waist to untie the leather thong that held his buckskins around his narrow hips. The soft pants puddled around his ankles and he stepped cautiously out of them. The long johns went last and Ezra found himself staring.

The tracker was even more handsome than he had expected, well proportioned and more muscular than he had guessed he would be. And his skin was a light brown that surprised the gambler. "Where, prey tell, do you cavort naked in this wilderness?"


"Never mind," the gambler said, shaking his head.

"Got me a private spot," Vin said in a whisper, glancing around to make sure no one else was listening. He shuffled over to the tub and climbed in, sinking into the warm water with a contented sigh. "Go up there 'n' take a bath 'n a spring… better 'n payin' extra t' get fresh water in the bathhouse… lay on the rocks t' get dry."

"I see," Ezra said, watching the man's eyes close as he sank lower into the water. He walked over to a small shelf and reached for a bar of soap, then stopped and picked one of the more expensive cakes he had ordered from San Francisco. He tapped the tracker on the arm, setting the soap in the man's palm when he lifted his hand.

Vin sighed and started rubbing up an lather, which he spread over his arms and chest. Ezra watched, his breath catching slightly as the tracker's hand passed over one of the hard nubs on his chest. A light dusting of light brown hair covered the man's skin, growing darker and thicker below his navel.

Ezra took a step back and turned to check the fire, but before long he was watching the tracker again, enjoying the way his muscles moved under his honey-brown skin. He noted the large collection of scars and wished that he could kiss each one of them out of existence.

The gambler looked away again when Vin put his feet up on the edge of the tub and began to lather his legs. To keep from staring, he busied himself pouring them both a cup of coffee. He shaved off some of the sugar and dropped it into Tanner's mug, using a spoon to stir until it had dissolved.

He heard a splash and turned, mug in hand, only to find the tracker standing up in the tub, soaping himself. The man's cock was half-erect, the promise of an impressive length and girth enough to steal Ezra's breath away.

Vin sat back down in the water, rinsing himself.

When he was done, Ezra handed him the coffee mug.

Vin scowled at it for a moment, then tried a sip and sighed contentedly. The rest followed in a few gulps. He smacked his lips as he handed back the empty mug.

Ezra shook his head. "Dip your head under the water and I will endeavor to clean that rat's nest of curls you call hair."

Vin slid down the back of the tub, his head disappearing beneath the water. He popped back up a moment later, rivulets running from his shoulder-length hair.

Ezra took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and accepted the soap cake from Vin. He worked up a good lather in his hands, then rubbed it into the man's hair, which was finer than he had imagined. When it was good and clean, he took one of the buckets Miguel had left sitting by the fire and poured it over Tanner's head, rinsing out the soap and making the tracker sputter like a wet cat.

"Stand up," the gambler instructed, his voice slightly thick.

Vin pushed to his feet again and Ezra used the other bucket to rinse his skin. Then, setting that bucket aside, he helped Vin out and over to the fire where he handed him a large, thick towel.

The tracker rubbed himself dry while Ezra fixed him a second cup of coffee.

When Vin reached for his clothes, the gambler stopped him, saying, "Oh no, not after we just managed to get you clean. Here." He reached for one of the robes hanging on pegs on the wall and handed it to Vin, who wrinkled his nose at the silk garment.

"What 'm I supposed t' do with this?"

Ezra shook his head as he took the robe from the tracker and then helped Vin into it. With that done, he escorted the tracker into his bedroom. Pulling back the covers on his feather bed he watched as Vin climbed in, carefully cradling his mug so he didn't spill the contents.

"Drink your coffee," Ezra told him. "I need to go take care of my own nightly ablutions."

Vin just shook his head and sipped on the sweetened drink.

Ezra returned to the bath and quickly undressed. He used the last two buckets of warm water to clean himself, then pulled on the second robe, poured himself his second cup of coffee and returned to the bedroom.

Vin had set his empty mug on the bedside table and was lying back against the feather pillows, his eyes closed, his mouth slightly open, and sound asleep.

Ezra pulled the covers up over the man, then dressed in his nightshirt and climbed onto the other side of the bed. Finding a comfortable position, he settled in, watching the sleeping tracker, who looked much younger than he actually was. Reaching out, he fingered a small lock of the man's still-damp hair, finding it soft under his touch.

"Mr. Larabee doesn't know what he is missing," he said softly.

Then, pulling his hand back, the gambler forced his eyes closed and willed himself to sleep.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ezra woke with a slight start, the soft moan coming again before he was fully awake. He rolled over, finding Vin curled up on his side, caught in the throes of a bad dream. The tracker whimpered softly, his body jerking slightly.

"Easy, Vin," Ezra whispered softly.

"Chris…" Tanner called softly.

The gambler sighed. Even in sleep Vin longed for the remote gunslinger. It wasn't fair.

The tracker groaned and uncurled, one of his hands slipping inside the robe to rub at his nipple.

Ezra gulped and felt his cock begin to fill with longing. He started to roll away again, but the soft moan from Vin stopped him. He looked back and saw the man reaching for himself, his hips jerking slowly.

Licking his lips, the gambler carefully pulled the blankets down a little farther so he could at least see Vin's hand on his chest.

One shoulder of the man's robe had been pushed back, and Ezra couldn't resist reaching out to lightly touch the man's skin, which was warm and smooth.

Tanner's head rolled to the side in response to the touch, his lips parted, and the gambler had to fight back the strong urge to scoot closer and kiss those inviting lips.

The blue eyes blinked open and Ezra quickly pulled his hand back as he watched the tracker blush furiously as he realized what it was he was doing. Then Tanner frowned and glanced around at the unfamiliar surroundings.

"Where the hell 'm I?"

"My room," the gambler replied.

"Yer room?" Vin echoed. "How'd-?" He stopped, frowning as the memories returned. "Got drunk, didn't I."

"You did," Ezra said, his heart beating so loudly he was sure the tracker must be able to hear it.

"Y' brung me up here… took a bath in yer copper tub."

"Yes," Ezra said.

Vin glanced around again, his face pinching.

"Head hurt?" the gambler ventured.

"Like some damned crow's tryin' t' pluck it out."

Ezra grimaced at the graphic description. "That bad?"

"Worse," Tanner admitted. He glanced down at himself and flushed again. Pulling the robe closed, he moved his hand off his erection, which was fully hard and aching.

"You were having a dream," Ezra said as he watched the man. "It looked and sounded… pleasurable."

"Ah hell," the tracker sighed softly. "Didn't mean t' bother ya."

"It was no bother," the green-eyed man replied in a whisper. When Vin looked over, meeting his eyes, he added, "I would be willing to assist you with that."

Vin's brow wrinkled slightly, then his eyes rounded with surprise. "Y'd do that?"

The gambler chuckled softly. "Please, don't look so surprised," he chastised Tanner. "Surely you know I find you enchanting. I have ever since we accepted the dubious distinction of safeguarding this excuse for civilization."

"What the hell 're y' sayin', Ezra?"

Standish sighed again and stated plainly, "I find you an attractive man, and I have had my own dreams about what it might be like if we were to share… mutual pleasures."

Vin thought for a moment, then closed his eyes, saying, "Ah, Ez, it ain't-"

"I realize that your heart is set upon another," he interrupted. "But seeing as how your affections are not presently returned, I would like to hope you might consider a… temporary arrangement that would be mutually benefiting."

The tracker's eyes opened again and he looked at Ezra, who trembled slightly under the intense blue gaze. "Ain't that yer not pretty t' look at," he said carefully, clearly trying not to hurt Ezra's feelings.

"But your heart would not be in it," the gambler finished for him.

Vin nodded and glanced away. "'M sorry, Ez."

"I understand, believe me, I do," the gambler said, looking down for a moment. Then his head came up and he added in a hungry whisper, "But would you at least allow me to help you this one time?" He nodded to the still-tented blankets over the tracker's groin.

Vin's expression was half-curious, half-frightened and more than a little confused. "I don't know…"

The gambler inched closer, reaching out a shaky hand to touch Vin's hair. "You can command me to stop at any time, and I give you my solemn word, I will. There's no reason for you to suffer…" Ezra's fingers slid into the tracker's long hair, rubbing lightly over his scalp before he reached out to cup Tanner's cheek. Vin's eyes dropped close and he trembled slightly under the intimate touch.

"I only want to give you a gift," Ezra added. "A gift of pleasure. You can keep your eyes closed if you'd like, imagine whomever you wish, touching you…" He touched the man's chest, rubbing lightly over a hard nub that poked against the silk of the robe.

The tracker whimpered and swallowed hard, his eyes coming open. "Wouldn't be fair," he said in a gasp, the gambler's fingers continuing to tease the sensitive bead hidden beneath the soft material.

"Fair?" Ezra echoed with a soft chuckle. "Life is seldom fair, Mr. Tanner. I've learned to make my own luck… and to take my pleasures when I can. Please, let me show you some of what I've learned…" His hand moved to the other nipple, beginning to tease at it like he had the first.

Vin gasped, his back arching into the touch without conscious thought. "Can't seem t' say no," he managed.

Ezra grinned wickedly. "Then say yes, Vin, it's so much easier."

"Yes," the tracker hissed softly, eyes closing, squirming under the gambler's touch.

Ezra rose up onto his elbow so he could look down at the man he was slowly seducing. Vin's eyes were closed, his were lips parted and he was panting lightly. Opening the folds of the robe, the gambler reached inside and continued his assault on the man's hard nubs. When the tracker began to grind his butt against the mattress, he leaned forward, brushing his lips against Tanner's.

The blue eyes shot open and the tracker's hips jerked violently.

Ezra smiled at the reaction and moved in, passionately kissing the tracker, determined to make him forget Larabee even existed, at least for a short while.

Vin's eyes closed and he surrendered to the passions dominating him. And when Ezra ran his tongue over the tracker's lips, they parted, allowing the gambler's tongue in to plunder his mouth.

Vin gasped, drawing the air from Ezra's lungs when the conman's hand slipped between the folds of the robe to close around his pulsing, aching member. The gambler's touch was light at first, Ezra exploring the length of the man's shaft, marveling at how large he was.

Standish pulled back slightly, allowing both of them time to catch their breaths. But his hand continued to explore beneath the covers, dipping down to cup the tracker's twin jewels, rolling them in his palm.

Vin groaned, his head jerking slightly from side to side.

"I want to see you," Ezra said softly. "May I?"

Vin's eyes cracked open. "Ain't much t' look at," he panted.

The gambler tossed his head back and laughed.

"What?" the tracker demanded, sounding hurt.

"I have no idea where you get some of your dubious notions," Ezra said, "but I can tell you this, Vin Tanner. You are a very attractive man. Why, ask any young woman in town if you doubt me."

The tracker flushed. "Hell, yer jus' spoutin' sweet pill'a talk."

"I swear it," Ezra said, pulling the covers down and then reaching for the knotted belt, untying it as he added, "Why you hide under those layers of animal skin and cotton, I have no earthly clue."

He pulled the belt open and folded the robe back to get his first look at the aroused tracker. He moaned with need and longing, the sound making Vin's cock jump in response.

"I find you utterly… intoxicating…" Ezra said, leaning forward to brush his lips against one of the man's nipples.

Vin sucked in a sharp breath, one hand coming up to cup the back of the gambler's head.

"Irresistible… enticing… fascinating…" he added as he lifted his head and moved to the other puckered nipple. He sucked and tongued the hard nub until he felt the first drops of fluid begin to leak from the tracker's cock.

His head came up again. "Will you allow me the satisfaction of pleasuring you?" he asked softly.

Vin's eyes cracked open, but they were glazed with the heady pleasure the gambler was visiting upon him. He nodded, unable to find any words with which to reply.

Ezra smiled and bent over the tracker's groin, his tongue brushing over the crown, which was just peaking out from behind the protective foreskin. Vin's hips bucked and his body quaked, fingers curling into the sheet.

"Ah yes," Ezra sighed, reaching out to pull the tracker's foreskin back so he could lick over the wine-red, flared head of the man's cock.

Tanner immediately tried to press himself into the moist heat of the gambler's mouth, but Ezra continued to tease him, tonguing, nibbling, and sucking on the head until he was afraid Tanner might explode.

Grabbing the base of Vin's cock, he squeezed, prompting a low, deep moan of pleasure from the tracker. Only then did he take as much of the long shaft into his mouth as he could manage, cramming the head against the back of his throat.

Tanner's hips began to pump, crushing his cockhead against the roof of Ezra's mouth. "Damn, Ez…" he breathed, "…feels s' good."

The gambler pressed his tongue against the sensitive underside of the tracker's cock and began laving back and forth as he sucked harder. Vin's hips shot up off the mattress, jerking wildly as he began to shoot his seed down the gambler's throat in burst after burst or pure pleasure.

Ezra drank the salty-sweet fluid down, savoring every precious drop.

Vin finally collapsed back, his muscles going limp, although his cock remained semi-hard as Ezra licked him clean. When the gambler finally flopped down next to him, Vin opened his eyes.

"I've never-" he started to say, then stopped when he saw Ezra's erection jutting hard against the fabric of his nightshirt.

The gambler looked down at himself. "I should take care of that," he said, reaching for a small cloth hanging over the headboard. He wrapped in around himself and began to pump, but Vin's hand closed over his, stopping him.

Blue eyes locked on green. "Y' trust me?" Vin asked him.

Wordlessly, Ezra nodded, afraid words might destroy the spell that had been woven between the two of them.

Vin pulled the gambler's hands away, then removed the soft cloth and stared down at Ezra's aching, leaking member. He leaned over, taking the gambler awkwardly into his mouth, and Ezra knew immediately that Vin had never done this with a man before. "Easy," he cautioned the tracker. "Don't try to take it all, you'll choke to death."

Vin rose slightly, his lips closing over Ezra's crown, his tongue slipping under the edge of his foreskin and making the conman choke with pleasure. His hips pressed up and he slid deeper into the tracker's mouth. He could feel the man, breathing though his nose as his tongue continued to work miracles on his swelling member. He closed his eyes, sighing, "Yes… oh yes…"

Vin began to suck in earnest, teeth gently teasing along Ezra's shaft, making the gambler's hips begin to pump. The conman felt himself slide farther down the tracker's throat and marveled at how quickly Vin learned and adapted.

Then Tanner was touching his balls and coherent thoughts shattered in Ezra's mind. He drove himself into the wet heat of Vin's mouth, once, twice, three times, and then he was coming, his seed bubbling up out of his cock in thick waves. And the tracker swallowed it all, then licked him clean, just as he had done for Tanner.

Before he could move, Vin was lying next to him, and he pulled the tracker into his arms, holding him close.

"I do it right?" he asked the conman.

"Perfection, I assure you," Ezra managed.

"Did a helluva job yerself."

Ezra chuckled. "Thank you."

They fell into a comfortable silence, holding and being held in equal measure. Then the gambler dared to ask, "Did you imagine it was him?"

Vin didn't answer immediately and Ezra felt his stomach clench.

"No," was the soft reply at last.


"Be a lie if I didn't say I tried," he admitted. "But I couldn't do it. I knew who it was."

Ezra pulled back just far enough to see the tracker's eyes. "I only wanted to show you what it could be like."

Vin nodded and then added, "Never knew y' felt like that."

"Neither did I," he said, his surprise clear in his tone. "Not really. Not the true depth of my affections for you. Not until I saw the despair on your face last evening."

"Can't help how m' heart feels," Vin said sadly.

"No, I know you can't. But surely you know your feelings will never be returned?"

Tanner nodded. "Been comin' t' that m'self."

"You must believe me, I would be the last person to seek to come between you and our infamous leader, but perhaps you might consider me a friend?"

"Always have," Vin replied honestly.

Ezra felt a surge of warmth at the man's words. "Thank you. But I was thinking we might share a deeper friendship… one that was more… intimate."

"Yer talkin' love."

"No, I am most certainly not asking you to love me, not the way you do Mr. Larabee, but perhaps we can build our own kind of friendship… of love."

Vin thought for a moment, then said, "Don't know, Ez, can't make no promises."

"I will never ask you for a promise," Ezra promised him. "Just an opportunity to share something special with you… if you would like to."

Another long silence, then, "Think I might at that."

Ezra smiled. He had played his hand as best he could, and he had won the biggest pot of his life. "Good," he said, reaching down to pull the covers up over them.

They settled down together again, Vin quickly dropping off to sleep. But Ezra remained awake, reveling in the fact that he was holding the man he loved. Today he had won Tanner's body. Now he would just have to play to win his heart as well.


If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that The Neon Gang would love to hear from you.

[1]Author's Note: This story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Seven Card Stud #3, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Seven Card Stud that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Sierra Pruitt (aka Mary Fallon Zane) is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang - Sierra Chaves, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 6-27-2005.


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