So Much fer Easy

by SueN.

Disclaimer: Not mine (damn it!) They belong to those people (and we all know who they are...)

Notes: Companion piece to Like Lickin' Butter Off A Knife. Follows "ODOW."

Nothin' in my life has ever come easy.

I don't know why that's so, I just know it is. I ain't complainin', mind. I reckon there's no use complainin' about what you can't change. Just like I ain't ever spent time -- hell, wasted time -- on wishin' fer things I know I ain't gonna get, wantin' things I know ain't ever gonna come my way. Ain't no sense in it. I've always figured if'n I don't let myself want somethin', then I won't be disappointed when I don't get it.

So I ain't a man who's ever wanted.

'Til I saw him.

Then, Lord God, the want came over me with all the force of a rain-swollen river, rose up through me so hard and hot it drove the breath from my body and damn near knocked me to my knees. All the want I've never allowed myself to have, to feel, to know, just came sweepin' through me like a damn spring flood, and I couldn't have stopped it if I'd tried.

But, God help me, I didn't try.

I can recollect so clearly ever' detail of that day, like they've been etched on my brain with a knife. The heat, the dust, the dry desert wind; the sound of them Texas trail hands hoorawin' in the street, shootin' at ever'thing they saw, bullets whizzin' and whinin' about like a passel of pissed-off bees; then the ugly, fearsome sight of them cowboys draggin' that black healer feller down the stairs of his clinic, his hands tied, his fear so sharp I could smell it.

I found out later his name is Nathan. Nathan Jackson. A good man. Doctors folks, though he says he ain't no doctor. But, doctor or no, he's got true healin' in them big, gentle hands of his, and the need in his heart to lift sufferin' from anybody in pain.

And them goddamn cowboys was gonna hang him.

They said he'd killed their boss. But, hell, I seen the man when they brought him into town, and I don't reckon God Himself could've saved him. Not when he was so eat up with gangrene it turned the air around him putrid. Nope. I took one look, and knew he was dead, just hadn't stopped breathin' yet.

Then he did die, and them cowboys was gonna hang Nathan fer it.

Worse still, it didn't seem like anybody in that town was gonna lend a hand, was even gonna try to stop what clearly wasn't right. Nathan spent his days helpin' these folks, mendin' their bodies and easin' their hurts, and they was just gonna let him hang.

Didn't seem right.

I recollect standin' in front of Virgil Watson's hardware store, watchin' it all unfold before me. I's supposed to be sweepin', but all's I could do was clutch that broomhandle 'til splinters gouged into my palms and wish to God it was my rifle.

Except, desperate fer cartridges and needin' food and havin' no money at all, I'd sold my rifle. Liked to kill me to do it, felt like I was cuttin' off my own arm, but sometimes a man's just got no choice.

Like I said, things in my life ain't ever come easy. And I reckon even I need food more'n I need a rifle.

But Virgil -- th feller I sold my rifle to and the feller that owns the hardware store -- seemed to take pity on me. He's a decent man, and when he seen what shape I's in, he offered me a deal. Give me money fer my rifle -- and a fair price, too -- then said I could buy it back by workin' fer him. Said he needed somebody to help out with the liftin' and the sweepin' and the stockin' and such, things his back's just a mite too touchy to allow. So I accepted, and was grateful.

Hell, I ain't proud. I done worse things in my life than sweep a floor. And an empty belly is an empty belly. I learned a long time ago a man can swallow a lot if he just minds one thing -- pride makes a piss-poor meal.

I shucked my hat and coat, took off my mare's leg, put on that apron, picked up that broom, and done my best fer Virgil. I figured I owed him that, seein's he done such a good turn fer me. Ain't many town folk who'd show kindness to a skinny, long-haired bounty hunter who's fallen so low he has to sell his rifle.

And he done it without ever once makin' me feel like I's crawlin'.

I noticed somethin' about folks, too -- appearances mean an awful lot to 'em. When I first come into town, wearin' my hide coat, my hat pulled low, rifle in my hand and mare's leg on my thigh, and my face a stranger to a razor for a week and more, folks give me one scared look, then stepped wide and soft around me. Seen more'n one ma pull her kids across the street so's they wouldn't get near me.

I gotta say, that hurt some.

But when I's in that apron, with no hat, no guns and my face shaved, them same women would smile as they passed, or bring their young'uns right by me as they went into Virgil's store, and the menfolk would gimme a "howdy" as they passed. And that puzzled the hell outta me, 'cause whether I'm holdin' a rifle or a broom, I'm the same man.

But folks has always been a puzzle to me. Ain't lived around 'em enough to understand 'em, I reckon. And Lord knows they ain't ever showed any inclination to understand me. So we just stay the hell away from each other, me and people.

It's easier on all of us that way.

But when I saw the cowboys draggin' Nathan off to hang him, I couldn't stay away. I reckon I know what it's like to be hounded fer somethin' you never did, and I sure as hell know what it's like to face a rope. So when I saw that nobody was gonna take a stand, I figured it was up to me. Didn't know that I could help, didn't know that I could stop 'em, but I knew I had to try.

And if'n I's killed doin' it... Well, I reckon it's better to die from a bullet tryin' to help somebody than swingin' from the end of a rope fer somethin' I never done. I knew it wouldn't be easy, me against all them cowboys, but, hell...

Ain't nothin' in my life ever been easy before, I sure as hell didn't expect it to start bein' easy now.

So I went into Virgil's store, shucked my broom and apron, went to the gun rack and took down the first rifle I saw. Then I grabbed me some cartridges, and headed out to do what had to be done. With Virgil on my heels like a dog.

"You go out there and you're fired!" he told me. It wasn't that he wanted to see Nathan lynched, he just didn't want to see me killed. Like I said, he's a decent man.

But I had to do it. "Hell," I said to him, loading shells into the rifle, "prob'ly gonna git myself killed, now I gotta worry 'bout findin' a new job, too." Then I looked up to see where they'd taken Nathan...

And saw him. Across the street, in front of the saloon, head covered by a black, low-crowned hat, body wrapped in a black duster with the ends whippin' around him like wings, his knife-slash of a mouth wrapped around a cheroot, and those eyes...

Lord God, those eyes! They went through me like a fire-heated knife, stabbin' so deep and so true it near tore my soul in half. And then put it back together, only more complete, more whole, than it ever was before. There was ice in those eyes, and fire, and wonderin' and knowin' and askin' and tellin'...

And I drank it all in like the dry desert does the rain.

Suddenly I felt like ever'thing I'd ever been and ever known and ever felt came pourin' out of me, drainin' me bone-dry. But as soon as I was emptied, I was bein' filled up again, with ever'thing he'd ever been and ever felt and ever known. I ain't ever had that before in my life, ain't ever known somebody so completely and had them know me. Never seen him before, couldn't tell you his name, but I knew him in that instant, knew him better than I knew myself, and knew I always had.

We locked eyes for just a minute, told each other ever'thing we had to say without speakin' one damn word, then headed off down that street to stop them cowboys from hangin' a man neither one of us knew. I fell into step beside him, and knew I was right where I belonged. He was so close to me I could feel him, smell him, and it was all I could do to breathe.

Lord God Almighty, for a man who'd never wanted a goddamn thing in his life, I was burnin' and achin' and near chokin' with it now, could feel him in every part of me, in my blood and in my breath and in every nerve, could feel my body throbbin' so with want and need that I thought sure I'd die from the pain.

I'd never wanted before, but I wanted now, and ever'thing I wanted was walkin' right next to me, so close I could reach out and touch him.

And in all likelihood, one or both of us was gonna die before I could, for just once in my life, get what I wanted.

Nope. Nothin' comes easy to me at all.

But we didn't die. And neither did Nathan. Some of them cowboys did, but, hell, they had it comin'. 'Sides, there's a whole shitload more of 'em back in Texas; these few won't be missed. I reckon it's about time the herd was thinned.

There was a hellacious gunfight at the cemetery -- one thing about us Texans, when we got bullets we ain't shy about usin' 'em -- and I spent my time shootin', tryin' not to get shot, gettin' Nathan down from that tree, and watchin' the man fightin' beside me.

Goddamn, I ain't ever seen anyone so beautiful in all my life! Long and lean, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, with narrow hips and legs that go on fer days. Hair a deep gold, like wheat ripenin' in the sun, and green eyes so clear and so deep I could fall into them and never stop. Hell, I didn't wanta stop. I been a stray all my life, wanderin' from one fire to another, never havin' a place of my own, never knowin' where I belonged.

'Til I saw him, and knew I'd found home. I fell into them eyes, and knew I wasn't a stray no more, wasn't alone no more, and could stop my wanderin'. I'd found my fire, and it was in him. This man was where I belonged.

We walked away from that fight, and he told me his name was Chris. He didn't give a last name, but I didn't need it. Hell, at that point, I didn't need his first name.

Then I did the goddamnedest thing -- I gave him my whole name. Vin Tanner, free and easy as you please, like that name ain't scattered all over the territory on posters with my face on 'em, like I ain't runnin' and hidin' from a bounty and a noose. But I wanted -- needed -- him to know me, and that name's about all I got to give. It's the only thing I ain't ever bartered or sold, it's the only part of me that ain't been bent and broken and used, it's the only thing that ain't ever been took from me and trampled in the mud.

It's all I got that's really mine, and so I gave it to him. I knew he'd keep it safe.

And up on them cliffs, when we were gettin' ready to fight fer the Seminoles, I gave him the rest of it. Told him about Eli Joe, about that dead farmer, about the bounty on my head. Five hundred dollars. I've seen fellers turn in a brother fer less. But Chris...

I needed him to know. I'd been staggerin' under that weight, that burden, fer so long, been runnin' and hidin' fer what seems like forever. Maybe it has been. I know I ain't old, but I'll be damned if I can ever remember bein' young. By the time we got to them cliffs, I's just tired. And, in Chris, I knew I'd found a place to rest.

Lord God, I'll never forget that sunset, if'n I live to be a hundred. I'd never seen its like before. All them colors, so deep, so vivid, so alive, dancin' across that endless sky and paintin' us in their glow. That evenin' was a gift, I know that now, the spirits givin' us their blessin'. In the light breeze that whispered about us I could hear the spirits tellin' me it was all right to want, because what I wanted was right there, and he wanted, too.

And I could see that in those eyes of his, in the fire that kindled in their depths, in the sparks that danced within 'em, in the lightnin' that flashed from them. He was so close, that powerful, beautiful body right there, relaxed, yet throwing off a heat that ignited an answerin' fire in me. Both of us felt it, knew what it was, and knew it was right. Ever' road we'd ever traveled separately before had brought us to this cliff, to this moment, and from this time on, we knew, we'd never be separate again.

We might be apart, but we'd never be separate. Hadn't ever really been at all, not since the dawn of time.

But we couldn't be together, either. Not yet. Not with them damn crazy Rebs still fightin' a war that was lost and over years ago. The Seminoles wasn't no part of that war. They just had the bad luck to be on land that gave a crazy man a false promise of gold. But Anderson didn't care. He was gonna slaughter 'em all -- men, women and kids -- fer his lost cause, fer the chance to bring back his "ghosts."

But the seven of us fought him, won, and went back to town, each of us thinkin' that was it. We'd found something among us, between us, in that village, somethin' the likes of which I'd never known before. There was power in it, strong medicine. But none of us reckoned it would last. So we made plans to go our separate ways.

Except me and Chris. In the village, after the fight, he'd mentioned goin' back to Tascosa with me, to help me clear my name. And my spirit had soared when he'd said it. I'd been alone most of my life, never had anybody fightin' with me, fightin' fer me, and I'd just always reckoned that's the way it was meant to be. But now I had somebody willin' to stand with me, who believed in me enough to join his steps with mine and do what it took to give me back the only thing of value I've ever had: my good name.

I shoulda known, though, it wouldn't be that easy. 'Cause in all my life, ain't nothin' ever come easy.

Back in town, we split up, and Chris went to the saloon. Hell, I reckon he's spent so much time in 'em he'd got to where he just considered 'em home. The man's been through hell, had him a life and seen it snatched away, seen it burned to ashes. Buried his wife and son; and, with 'em, his heart. Got so lost in rage and grief and guilt he turned to killin', and to drinkin'. And ain't neither of 'em good fer a man's soul. I knew from the beginnin' he had his scars. Lord, I could see 'em in his eyes, still bleedin' right there before me. I got scars, too, but somehow mine ain't so raw as his. I've learned how to heal the hurts of the past. And now I wanta show him. I wanta take away the awful pain he carries, I want to free him from the guilt, the rage, the grief...

Lord God, all I want to do is take him to me and hold him until all his hurt is gone!

So I went lookin' fer him, and found him, in the saloon. Told him I was leavin' for Tascosa in the mornin'. I figured he'd say yes, I figured we'd have a few drinks, finally say what needed to be said between us, finally do what needed to be done. It was so right, I reckoned it should be easy.

But, hell, so much fer easy.

Sonuvabitch wanted to wait a few days, take our time. Didn't seem to understand time ain't somethin' I've got.

Or maybe had spent too much of his own time really thinkin' about what comin' with me meant. There wasn't no guarantee I'd clear my name. What really waited for me in Tascosa was a noose, and a town full of folks just waitin' to put it around my neck. But anybody who knows me knows I'd never go down without a fight. Chris knew me, and knew he'd never be able to let me fight alone. We'd stopped Nathan from bein' lynched without either one of gettin' hurt. The odds weren't good we'd do it a second time.

We'd fought fer Nathan. We'd fought fer the Seminoles. I reckon even Chris Larabee only has so many fights in him. And Lord knew, this fight wasn't his.

Wouldn't blame ya if ya wanted ta stay.

Before I knew it, the words were out, tellin' him he didn't have to come, tellin' him I understood, tellin' him it was all right. And it was. Like I said, I never had nobody fightin' fer me before, so I didn't expect it now. A man's got a right not to get himself killed in somebody else's fight.

And I didn't allow myself to think on how much I wanted him to come. I'd been right; wantin' was more trouble than it was worth. You don't miss not havin' somethin' when you ain't ever wanted it in the first place.

Except that, God help me, I did want this and couldn't stop myself, wanted it so much it was twistin' my gut into knots and tearin' my heart in pieces, and mockin' me all the while for bein' such a goddamn fool. This is what wantin' gets you.

What are the women like in Tascosa?

His question hit me like a slug between the eyes, and fer a long damn minute I thought I was gonna be sick. Women? How the hell could the bastard ask me about women when I'd been wantin' him so long and so fierce I was damn near cryin' myself to sleep at night? He knew it, I knew he knew it, I'd seen it up on them cliffs!

Now, granted, I ain't the most experienced man on the trail. Hell, most of what I know about what two people do together ain't somethin' I like knowin', and it sure as hell hadn't been fun learnin'! I know lots of ways for one man to hurt another, mostly because they've all been done to me. I've also had some experiences that hadn't hurt, but they hadn't been exactly pleasurable, either. Mostly they was just rough, quick hands out on the trail or in some dark alley, doin' just enough so's me and whoever could walk without it hurtin'. In the Indian villages I's in, it was a little different; never hurtful, but just some of the braves wonderin' what it would be like to have a white man. And, hell, I've even had me a couple of women here and there, whores in one nameless town or another. Those times had been neither bad nor good, they'd just... been. Kinda like everything else in my life.

So, no, I ain't no Buck Wilmington when it comes to things like this, but I reckon even I know what's what! And I know I saw the want in them green eyes when we's up on that cliff, I know I felt the heat rollin' off his body in waves... Hell, fer a goddamn minute there, I coulda sworn he was gonna lean over and kiss me! And now that he's got me wantin' him so much, needin' him so much, that I can't hardly see straight, the goddamn sonuvabitch is askin' me about the fuckin' women in Tascosa?

Jesus, Tanner, could you possibly be a bigger fool?

Then, goddamn him, he smiled at me, just a wicked little grin that turned my heart and soul inside out, and I knew I hadn't been wrong. He didn't care about no women in Tascosa, didn't care about nobody but me. He wanted me as much as much as I wanted him, and I damn near came on the spot.

Evil bastard was toyin' with me, like a cat does with its prey, and I's about ready to jump his bones right there.

Well, hell, I decided, two can do this. I ain't nobody's whore, and I ain't nobody's toy, and the last man who tried to make me his prey died a slow and ugly death in the desert. If Chris Larabee wants to play with me, he'd best be ready to play rough!

So I sat back, gave him a smile of my own -- don't think I ain't noticed how he looks, hell, stares at my mouth -- and told that goddamn gunfighter with them black jeans that oughtta be illegal, "Don't come much livelier."

And I had him. I saw those green eyes widen and darken, saw the flush spread slowly across his cheeks, watched that lean body shift in that chair as he suddenly realized just how tight them jeans of his really were. He was mine, easy as that.

Fuck the women in Tascosa.

No, don't! Fuck me, instead, you grinnin' bastard.

But he didn't. Instead, he just grinned wider, nodded, and said, "See ya in the mornin'." And he'd gotten up and walked away, leavin' me stewin' in my own juices. Literally.

Aw, hell, so much fer easy!

And it wasn't gonna get any easier. Stuart James and his no-account nephew Lucas interrupted our plans. Lucas shot Mr. Potter -- like Virgil, a decent man -- in cold blood, right in front of Judge Orrin Travis. Which I reckon made Lucas James one of the stupidest sonsabitches ever to put on pants. One look at Judge Travis, and you know he ain't a man to be taken lightly. A fairer man you'll never meet, but, God Almighty, he's tough! And I can't help thinkin' he knows about me, knows he's seen my face, and knows where he's seen it.

Jesus, Tanner, ain't your life in enough of a mess?

I reckon not, because, along with the other six, I agreed to work for the Judge as a regulator in this town. Me, Vin Tanner, wanted dead or alive back in Texas, livin' in the shadow of a goddamn noose, workin' as a lawman. Folks say I have a strange sense of humor, but even I couldn't have thought this one up!

I could say I don't know why I agreed, but I ain't ever been much good at lyin'. I know why I stayed. It's them other six, ever' one of 'em a man to ride the river with. Even that damn fool kid JD. He's as green as they come, but he's got more sheer grit than most men twice his age and a heart as big as Texas. I reckon if he survives his first year out here, he'll grow into a real good man. Like Buck, Josiah, Nathan, Ezra...

I ain't ever been one fer havin' friends, ain't ever known what true friends were. But these six are teachin' me, and, for once, it's a lesson I like learnin'.

Of 'em all, though, it's Chris that's got the strongest hold on my heart, and the only hold on my soul. I'd die for the others, but I want to live for him. I want to mend the broken places in him, and have him fill up the empty places in me. I want...

Goddamn it, I want. And, just this once, I want to get what I want. And, God help me, I want it to be easy.

Well, hell, there ain't but one way to get it.

I'm a fair tracker, but it don't take a tracker to find Chris now. He's in the saloon, at the table he's made his, and, just for a moment, I stand inside the doorway and stare at him. And let myself want.

His hat's off, and that golden head of his is bent slightly forward, gleamin' in the light. I try to imagine how those strands will feel against my fingers, and find my hands itchin' to know. But I want to touch him all over, let my hands play over the planes of that strong, beautiful face, press my fingers to the pulse beating in his long throat. I want to know the feel of his body against me, the warmth of his skin, the steel of his muscles...

And, God, oh, God, I want to feel him inside me!

I've never wanted a thing in my life, and I'll never want another, if I can just have that!

I go to his table, sit down and we talk, sparrin' with each other and takin' delight in watchin' each other squirm. Gives as good as he gets, Larabee does, got a brain and a tongue as quick as his draw. But I didn't come here to dance, and I reckon we've wasted enough time as it is.

I want, and, goddamn it, I'm gonna get what I want!

"Reckon we might's well give 'er a whirl," I say at last, bringin' the dance to an end. "Been pussyfootin' 'round it long enough. Reckon it's time we shit 'r git off the pot."

He almost chokes on his whiskey. "You got a real way with words, Vin," he gasps. "Real romantic."

Shit, we're in a goddamn saloon! What's he want, poetry? "Well, I got me some nicer words, but I reckon I'll save 'em 'til we're alone. Cain't have nobody thinkin' yer goin' soft." I wink. "You bein' 'the bad element' 'n all."

I reckon some fellers just ain't used to bein' winked at. "I'm gonna shoot yer ass yet, Tanner!" he growls, again givin' me that glare.

Them eyes ain't what I want drillin' me right now. "That'd be a right shame," I breathe, hopin' my voice sounds steadier to him than it does to me. "'Cause I's thinkin' of a few other things I'd rather have ya do ta my ass."

And Chris Larabee, famed and feared gunfighter, spews whiskey all over himself and the table. I can think of lots of ways I'd like to clean him up, but we're still in this goddamn saloon, so I just give him my bandana.

"Terrible thing when a feller cain't hold his liquor," I tell him, watchin' those strong, sure hands wipe my bandana over places my tongue wants to go. "'Course," my eyes track a bead of whiskey slidin' down his throat, "if'n we's ta go ta yer room, I c'd mebbe help ya clean up some." Unable to help myself, I lick my lips, wishin' it was his throat instead.

"Seems... the least you could do," he croaks, starin' at my mouth like it's candy. Then he seems to come to his senses, and remembers which one of us is the cat, and which is the prey. "Could be a long, demandin' job. Needs somebody with stayin' power." Them green eyes sweep slowly over me, as if measurin' me for God only knows what. "You think you can handle it?"

Stayin' power? Hell, I'll give him stayin' power. I'll stay so damn close and so damn long he won't remember what it was like without me. "Like lickin' butter off a knife." Or whiskey off a gunfighter...

Then he smiles slowly at me, those green eyes burning with a flame that scorches my skin and sends a shaft of white heat through me. I'm gaspin' for breath and tryin' hard not to feel my cock almost bustin' through my pants, and that goddamn gunfighter's grinnin' at me and lickin' his lips like I'm about to be his main course.

It shoulda been easy.

It was supposed to be easy.

Aw, hell, so much fer easy!


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