Vin ambled into the saloon and slumped back in his customary chair. Ezra settled across from him, brushing dirt off his jacket. When he finished with that, he turned his hat over and over in his restless hands. Vin ignored it, still searching for some calm himself.
There had been another attempt on the bank, and Vin knew he’d be glad when that gold finally was transported on to Tucson, because at least it’d mean that they wouldn’t have to be on the lookout for bank robbers every damn day.
But they’d stopped this robbery, mostly because of JD mentioning that the women in the bank were the ugliest he’d ever seen. Chris, Josiah and Buck were now hauling three of those “women” to the undertakers. The two survivors were already in the jail under JD’s eye, bawling to get out of the skirts they’d adopted as their disguises.
Soon enough, the rest of them would turn up here, share a glass of whiskey or two, then go about their daily ways again. It was something like a tradition, and Vin had to say he liked it. It was always good – calming – to see that none of the others had been hurt.
“… tellin’ you, Josiah,” Buck said, as he pushed the swinging doors open, “I was just about to thump the kid on the head for sayin’ that. Doesn’t matter what she looks like, a lady’s a lady!”
Josiah grinned as he and Nathan followed Buck inside. “I suppose it’s lucky for JD that they weren’t ladies, then.”
Buck laughed and sat down in the chair next to Ezra. “You sure got that right!”
“Pure genius,” Ezra said, smirking. His hands stopped their incessant motion. “Of course, it could only work with a more aesthetically pleasin’ class of criminals…”
“They would have to be a damn sight prettier than those fellers,” Buck agreed, and reached for one of the glasses Josiah had retrieved. Josiah was pouring out the whiskey when the doors creaked open again over the distinctive ching of Chris’s spurs. “C’mon, Chris,” Buck called when Chris didn’t join them, and glanced over his shoulder. “Whiskey ain’t gonna wait forever.”
“Ezra, I need to talk to you. Now.”
At Chris’s words, Vin studied his friend over his drink. In his voice, he’d heard something completely different than what he knew Chris had said. Chris’s face – stern and cold and unyielding – only reinforced what he’d already heard.
Ezra, I’m gonna yell at you now.
Slowly, Ezra rose from his seat. Vin caught his eye, just to let him know he’d distract Chris somehow, if needed, but Ezra made a little dismissive wave with one hand as he stepped away from the table – thanks, but no.
Setting his hat on his head, Ezra followed Chris onto the street. He didn’t move like he was wary of Chris, Vin decided, but it didn’t seem like he wanted to go, either.
As the saloon doors stopped swinging, Buck leaned back until his chair creaked in protest. “Chris sure is hard on ol’ Ezra,” he said thoughtfully, staring up at the ceiling.
“Maybe he deserves it,” Nathan said, his tone brusque. He hadn’t watched Ezra leave, just kept staring down at the old scarred table and his untouched drink.
Buck straightened enough to give Nathan a look of disbelief, without even a tinge of his usual amusement. “Nathan, ain’t nobody deserving of the abuse Chris can dish out when he’s of a mind.” For a second, lines appeared in his face that hadn’t been there before, then he washed them away with a swallow of whiskey.
Nathan just shrugged. “Man does a foolish thing, he needs to be called on it,” he replied in the same short tone. “You didn’t see how close Ezra came to gettin’ his fool self killed, but I did. So did Chris.” He tossed back his drink. “Like I say, he deserves what he’s got comin’.”
Vin glanced around the table – Josiah staring at his drink and looking distinctly unhappy, Buck’s good humor lost in a glower at Nathan, Nathan ignoring them both – and stood, his decision made.
“Don’t let Chris lay into him too much,” Buck said as Vin passed behind him. “He didn’t do nothin’ so wrong as to deserve that.”
Vin nodded and slipped out onto the boardwalk.
Once outside, he wondered wryly just how he was supposed to keep Chris in line when chances were that they’d already disappeared and he’d have a hell of a time finding them again. Then, glancing down the street, he saw two familiar forms – one wearing a long black duster, the other a brilliant red coat – down by the church. Chris was striding purposefully up the steps to the open door.
Chris don’t go into the church ‘less he’s lookin’ for Josiah, Vin thought, surprised at their destination. S’pose it’ll be quiet, though. He strolled slowly down the boardwalk toward the church, then started hurrying once both Ezra and Chris were inside. There wasn’t a place he could hide in the back of the church; the doors opened right into the nave. Gonna look suspicious as all hell, he thought, sighing, and resigned himself to peering through the door.
Hearing nothing through the still-open door – though he knew that didn’t mean Chris hadn’t already laid Ezra out – Vin peered around the doorframe.
It didn’t look like it had come to blows – yet. Ezra stood in the aisle between the rows of pews, about halfway down, his back to the door, head bare. He stood straight, back so rigid Vin had to wonder if it hurt.
Chris had his back to the door as well, hands braced against the rail flanking the altar on one side, head bowed. Whatever thoughts were running through his head, they didn’t seem like pleasant ones, if the tension in his back was anything to go by.
‘Least it looks like he’s tryin’ to control himself, Vin thought. If Ezra don’t say anythin’ to rile him up more, might get out of this…
Chris flinched at the sound of his name, and he lifted his head but didn’t turn around.
“You said you wanted to talk to me.” Ezra’s voice was quiet, but his accent lay heavy on the words, and that made them sound... pushier than was likely safe.
- Ezra, you ain’t helpin’ yourself here... If ya just stay quiet, it’ll be easier. Then it occurred to him that maybe Ezra was pushing, that he was looking for the danger that was so clearly looking for him.
He fully expected Chris to start shouting at Ezra then, to let loose of the anger that was so clearly roiling inside him. Even so, he was surprised when Chris spun to face Ezra, quick and violent, and he silently cursed that he was still outside and couldn’t get inside soon enough to end this without someone getting hurt.
Then in the next heartbeat, he noticed the expression on Chris’s face, and he stilled, his chest barely moving with each breath.
There was anger there, sure, but there was something else, too, something Vin had to work hard to recognize because he wasn’t sure he’d seen Chris show that particular emotion before.
“Do you know,” and Chris’s voice was low and slightly rough, “just how close you came to dyin’ today?”
The only reaction Vin could see was a brief tightening of Ezra’s shoulders. “I think I know better than you,” and Vin shook his head at the harshness of his tone. “Do you want me to say I heard the bullet call my name as it sped past?”
Chris took a step closer, until he was looming over Ezra, his hands clenched into fists. “No, damnit, I want you to tell me why you broke cover! I want to know why you made yourself into such a target!”
“Why do you? I didn’t do anything today that I haven’t seen you do dozens of times.”
The bitterness and anger sharp in Ezra’s words made Vin suck in a breath at the very same moment Chris did.
Ezra advanced, until he and Chris stood only a breath apart. “Why are you allowed to risk your life so heedlessly and I am not?”
Chris stared at Ezra, eyes intent, and slowly, the anger drained from his expression. To Vin, he looked worn and almost old without it. “I wish I could say it’s just because you’re not,” he replied, and the roughness was still there in his voice, “but I can’t.”
Ezra reached up to stroke Chris’s face, and Vin stopped breathing again. The long, fine fingers curved over one cheek, and Chris leaned into the touch, blowing out a soft breath.
“You didn’t break cover just to make my hair turn white, did you?”
Ezra chuckled at the faintly plaintive tone. “Hell, no. I was trying to get into a better position for covering fire. It didn’t go quite as I planned.”
When Chris’s arms banded around Ezra’s back, Vin eased away from the door, pulling it to and praying that the hinges wouldn’t squeal. Already seen what I needed and more, he thought, a tad ashamed at watching his friends at such a moment, though that moment was more than a bit shocking. He made his silent way down the church steps, then started back up the street.
He wasn’t surprised to see Buck outside the saloon, slouched into a chair, feet up on the railing. “Everything all right?” Buck asked as he drew near, almost too casual-like.
Vin leaned back against the railing next to Buck’s dusty boots. “Yep.”
The tension ran out of Buck all at once, and he grinned widely. “Good. Always get a twitchy feelin’ between my shoulders when Chris gets like that.” He unfolded himself from the chair and stretched. “Reckon Josiah can spell JD at the jail while the kid gets himself something to eat.” With that, he disappeared back into the saloon.
Vin sat down in the chair Buck had just left, watching the street. If his gaze often strayed thoughtfully toward the church’s closed door, no one was there to remark on it.
August 7, 2010