September 20th, 2002

Carravaggio

He'll be back


Stargate: Now Daniel Free. So what else is new? Perhaps S4 and 5 were a cunning plan to wean me off Daniel? Hasn't worked - I miss him.I see they're trying to tie up all those loose Daniel threads, Thor, Osiris, et al. Sam is back to being the Sam I knew and loved, the only one openly mourning Daniel (everybody else is in never speak of him again mode), and she's being brave, cute and lippy and seems to have inherited Daniel's habit of Go'auld baiting. What, did they mind meld before he carked it? Best of all, the Sam/Jack is gone, baby, gone. Heh. Sotto Morrisey voice: Asgard in a coma, I know, I know it's serious...

Next week: Season 6. Judas. Oh joy. I must say I really loved Teryl as Heimdall. Asgard might not have doohickeys or hot sweaty spacemonkey love but by golly, they still come flaming.

24: So cute that they wrapped it all up by episode 13. Cofident, weren't they. So now the plot drags as they fumble for Plot B, which is even name checked Plot B. No matter, I'm staying with Keifer. Heh, Jim just used his Sentinel senses. Too little too late though, cause he's dead. Poopies.

Dark Angel: Zack's back. With a glowing red eye - uh huh, never seen that in a Cameron production before. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Next thing we know lil Zack will be going door to door enquiring as to the whereabouts of one Sarah Connor. Still, cheesy ripoffs aside, I don't care. Zack's back and he's just made my day. Oooh, look, Zack has indeed gone totally Terminator on us, hunting down Logan in the car park (this wouldn't be quite so bad if I hadn't watched both Terminators on Sunday). And Damn, if cyborg Zack ain't working for me. Go Zack. Kill the whiny Logan and his faux WB hair. Oh oh, Max just pulled a Sarah Connor on his arse. His little red light blinked and went out (again, ain't nothing I didn't see several times over on Sunday). Poor Zack. My dearest, darlingest Zack.

If only Zack and Alex could run away together. Like that'll happen. Dark Angel is the most unslashy show. My estranged friends could never fathom why I bothered to watch it. Well, aside from Zack hitting all my Kyle Reese/Cooper Hawkes buttons, I kinda liked the original premise, before it got silly and overrun by mutants ala Buffy. What TPTB never realise is that successful dramas more often than not feature two cute guys falling into each other's arms. Sure, they're just sheltering from an explosion, but if I said shut up, freeze and cover me, would you hold it against me? Heh, the sunstroke must be kicking in, but you get what I mean. Man From UNCLE, Star Trek, Starksky and Hutch, Professionals, Smallville, Stargate (1-3), Sentinel, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. There's a market for this stuff. Truly there is.

Ah, just what I need to make my night, ahem, morning, complete: Once a Thief. Speaking of cute guys faling into each other's arms under the pretence of ducking from gunfire. Nick and Ivan. Yay, drool. I am so not getting to sleep. Is Seven playing episodes they skipped or are they just doing this to make me happy?

My big day out? Fun. Not bookmark this day fun, but out of the office fun, though dumpy IT chicks have no business climbing up and down cliffs. I am no longer the mountain goat I used to be and there was much huffing, wheezing and funny red faces. Still, it was a solid office field trip and I managed to glean some of the scuttlebutt, issues and politics so it was entirely worthwhile that way. I now know why I was unceremoniously dumped from the Internet project: I proposed a design/structure to Sir Humphrey that would allow the general public to easily find out what the Department was up to. I know, I could slap myself. What the hell was I thinking? At least my sin binning seems to be in remission, fingers crossed.


excursion 19-09-02excursion 19-09-02
Crazy iron deposits!Mountains!
excursion 19-09-02excursion 19-09-02
Trees!</a>Three Sisters!

  • Alexis pics

  • Angel spoilers
  • An Uphill Effort for World Harmony
  • Filling in the Black Hole Blank
  • Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Diamonds
  • Icy dead people
  • Hollywood Balks at High-Tech Sanitizers
  • Sex Museum Says It Is Here to Educate
  • Hail Bush: A new Roman empire
  • Part 5 of the M7 fic, rated PG for minor wickedness. Yeah, I know, another freakin' x-over.


      Grudgingly released from the cell by Chris, with yet another muttered warning
      to Ezra, Amanda flounced out of the gaol with Ezra by her side, just like old
      times, watched with awe and suspicions by Ezra’s associates.

      Amanda linked her arm through his.


      "So, a businessman now. Is this respectability?"


      "No, not yet, but I'm still young."


      "Ezra, what are you planning?"


      "Great wealth, a large business stake and a reputation as a lawman."


      Amanda stopped, beaming widely at him, knowing exactly what he was up to now.


      "Politics! My dear, you'd be perfect."


      He tilted his head back towards the gaol. "They all still think I'm a
      small town flim flam man."


      "And what politician isn't. Don't listen to them, Ezra. You're well on
      your way."


      "I hope so. I never thought it would be so hard, working for a living,
      trying to amass my fortune by mostly legitimate means." He pressed her
      arm. "Please behave - I mean it - they don't trust me. Anything you do
      will be pinned on me."


      "So you're sacrificing me to your new respectability?"


      Ezra was torn. "No. I told you, I can defend you at trial. I know the
      judge."


      "And he knows you," she reminded.


      "Trust me," he urged, smiling again, projecting confidence.


      "So you’re a lawyer as well as a lawman now? Is this true? You've
      changed sides? Or are you trying to straddle both? You’d make a much better
      lawyer than a lawman."


      "Now don't you go starting on me, too," he sighed, irritated.


      Amanda smiled. "It's true then."


      "I'm trying. These men mean a lot to me."


      "You want to prove yourself worthy of their company."


      Ezra glanced away, not willing to admit anything.


      "Your mother doesn't approve," Amanda needled.


      "No, she doesn't," Ezra agreed. "But you know Mother, everything
      has to be fast and grand for her. She bores easily. She doesn't understand that
      little things can grow. She doesn't see the potential here." Ezra made
      a grand sweeping gesture, proud of his town.


      "Opportunities for you."


      "Well, yes. It might be slow and hard work but I'm building something
      here, something from the ground up, with a solid foundation. I'm a rich man,
      Amanda. Not obscenely rich, but by this town's standards, I'm a man of substance,
      and it's no trick of the light."


      "You have gone straight," she teased. "Sacrifice, hard work
      - can this be my Ezra?" She brushed his cheek. "But still the dreamer."


      "I will make something of myself. I want to be more than just a nuisance
      in people's lives."


      "You're not a nuisance, Ezra." Her eyes grew sad. "Never that.
      Didn't I teach you - you can never trick an honest man. People want to be cheated.
      You're teaching them a valuable lesson in greed."


      "I'm tired of being run out of town."


      Amanda sighed. "My little boy is growing up, growing serious," she
      teased. "Tell me, who has inspired this sudden streak of goodness."


      "No one," Ezra mumbled.


      "You can't con a con, Ezra. I can see it in your eyes. There is someone
      here, someone you want to impress. I'll find out, you know."


      "Amanda," he complained.


      "Don't spoil what little fun is available to a girl in this town. I intend
      to find out all the gossip to be had." And he knew that was no idle threat.
      Ezra was beginning to regret bailing her out already.



      "You're a friend of Ezra's?" Mary regarded her visitor curiously,
      and now with some suspicion. A woman who dressed so finely, this far west, and
      claimed friendship with Ezra. There had to be something wrong here.


      Amanda played absently with the handle of her folded parasol, surveying Mary's
      office with a practiced eye.


      "And why do I feel you don't take kindly to Ezra?" Amanda asked,
      her voice sweet but hiding a hardness that Mary caught.


      Mary straightened from her work, wiping her hands down the front of her apron.


      "Ezra's a liar and a thief, he's always playing some scheme or another."


      "But surely he's done a lot of good for this town."


      "You know what they say, once a thief," Mary dismissed the notion.
      "If he gave you a gift, you could never be sure he came by it honestly."


      "And that matters?"


      "Of course it matters."


      Amanda merely shrugged.


      "You don't think it's possible for someone to have a change of heart?"


      Mary shot off a look that doubted the existence of an actual beating heart
      in Ezra.


      Amanda shrugged again. "I was under the impression that Ezra had made
      friends here, that he wanted to do right by them, that there was someone here
      he wanted to impress."


      "You mean Mr Wilmington? He's hardly one to inspire greatness."


      "Wilmington, he's the one they call Buck, right?"


      "Yes, Buck Wilmington. He's as much a rogue as - well, no wonder they
      get on well together."


      Amanda noted the name and the character reference, and wondered if there were
      any of the seven Mary actually liked.


      "Why on earth did you hire them to protect this town if you think so poorly
      of them?" Amanda pressed.


      Mary stopped arranging the moveable type entirely. "Mr Larabee."
      And her eyes lit up at the name. Gotcha, Amanda smirked to herself.


      "By reputation he's a good man to have in a fight," Mary continued
      happily. Oh yes, so that was Mary's interest.


      "Both he and Mr Tanner," Oh yes, better and better, two of the men
      had caught Mary’s interest. "They've done a lot for this town."


      So, the rest were just the price Mary had to pay for her two heroes.


      Amanda placed her coin down carefully on Mary's desk and picked up her copy
      of the newspaper.


      "Thankyou," Amanda smiled her most feline smile. "You've been
      most helpful."


      Mary watched her go, not liking either Amanda or her attitude. There was just
      something about her that Mary didn't trust, even if she wasn’t a proclaimed
      friend of Ezra’s.



      Ezra pulled her corset in tight with expert hands and tied it off. He dropped
      a kiss on her bare shoulder before draping the string of pearls around her throat
      and fastening the fiddly clasp, watching the beads warm and begin to glow against
      her skin.


      "Why are you here, Amanda," he asked quietly, his arms encircling
      her waist in a loose embrace, watching their reflections in the mirror.


      "Just travelling through," she smiled.


      "No." His eyes never left hers in the mirror as his cheek stroked
      hers, and his fingers crept down slowly from her hip, making her exhale softly.


      "Why are you here, in my town?" he asked again.


      "Because I missed you?"


      "How nice," Ezra purred, making her gasp as he teased her, kissing
      her throat slowly before he returned his gaze to the mirror, silken menace in
      his tone.


      "This is my town, Amanda. Don't ruin it for me here. I won't forgive that."


      "Why, Ezra, are you warning me off?"


      "A very friendly warning." He kissed her throat just above the pulse
      point, trailing up to her earlobe.


      "Uh uh," she warned fondly before he could kiss away her earring.
      "I taught you that, remember."


      "I remember everything you taught me." Ezra smiled, a light yet wicked
      smile. "Now promise to be a good girl while you're here."


      "I promise," she vowed to their reflections.




      They came down the steps together, dressed for dinner, arms linked, looking
      very much more than brother and sister.


      Buck and Chris, both waiting below to escort Ezra and his old friend to dinner
      drew an involuntarily breath when they saw her. Buck particularly, and Amanda
      smiled when she saw that she’d set his pulse racing. She gently disengaged
      herself from Ezra and wafted over to Buck, all lace, silk, pearls and perfume,
      fluttering up against him and linking her arm through his.


      Chris caught Ezra’s souring and darking mood and knew a storm was brewing.
      This woman was trouble. Chris had known it the moment he’d set eyes on
      her, and he ought to, he’d known enough trouble in his time.


      Amanda and Buck swept up to their table, arranged especially for them in the
      better dining room of Ezra’s two hotels. Ezra trailed after them but Buck
      was already helping Amanda to her seat and she was cooing her thanks to him
      and old Buck, Buck was just lapping it up like the big dumb dog that he was.
      Ezra scowled further, relegated to sitting opposite Amanda and Chris leant back
      in his seat, watching the scene play out, as much amused as he was pricked by
      the growing aggravation of Ezra. Seems like there was no honour amongst thieves
      after all, as Amanda flirted and played with Buck, and Buck barely spared Ezra
      a glance.


     

    Carravaggio

    M7 fic part six rated MA for Mature Adults only


    Yes, I know it's not Saturday yet but tomorrow I will no doubt being doing something horribly boring and mundane (as it should be, you all chime) and not lolling about watching vids or writing. Here's another large chunk of fic to tide you over the weekend. M7, part 6, rated MA for m/f (yes, you read that right) scenes of a sexual nature. Why is she doing this? Because she can. I told you she was based on some wicked people I've known.

      Ezra tried his best to be churlish the next day, but Amanda knew how to tickle
      pieces of information out of him. Over the course of a very late breakfast,
      followed by an even later lunch she had managed to winkle the admission from
      Ezra that he did indeed have feelings for Buck.


      Amanda didn't really need to hear his confession, his glares and abruptness
      had been enough to confirm everything that had been whispered about Ezra, and
      more so. She just wanted to see him admit it, out loud, to her, to witness his
      heated embarrassment, to see the vulnerability in his eyes as he entrusted his
      most precious secret to her.


      "Is he rich?" she pressed.


      Ezra shook his head.


      "So it is love, then."


      She watched him wince.


      "Ezra," she reached over their table, caressing his cheek and making
      him look at her.


      "Don't ever be ashamed of falling in love. Life is too short to live it
      without joy. Is he good to you?"


      She could see in his eyes that Buck was. She'd never seen Ezra this secretive
      or protective of anyone before. Could it really be that Ezra had given his heart
      away at last?


      Fretting over his admission, Ezra was studying her intently, trying to guess
      as to how she was going to use this information when he saw her eyes narrow
      suddenly and a brief shake of her head at somebody behind him.


      Ezra stood and turned, catching only a glimpse of the man retreating quickly
      through the hotel doors. Just that fleeting glance was enough to trigger the
      briefest flash of forgotten memory.


      "Was that...?" Ezra murmured, dismissing the possibility before he
      could form the question properly, thrown by that memory. "Amanda,"
      he asked, beginning absently then growing more suspicious. "What's going
      on? What are you up?"


      "Nothing, Ezra," she flashed her smile at him. "I promised you
      I'd be a good girl. I would never -" but she never had to make good on
      her promise as Ezra fell to the floor shaking again.




      Ezra wasn't in the saloon, lounging behind his usual table, nor was he in his
      room. Conscience pricked, followed by a fast welling stream of rising jealousy,
      Buck headed down the street, determined to find his missing friend.


      Buck found Ezra at last, curled fast asleep on the chaise lounge in the foyer
      of his hotel, his head nestled in Amanda's lap. She was stroking his hair tenderly
      and Buck suddenly saw he wasn't the only person in the world who loved Ezra,
      and strangely, he didn't mind sharing all that much.


      She glanced up at his approach and gave a sweetly sad smile, pressing a finger
      to her lips.


      She kept stroking his hair softly, sadly.


      "He had some sort of fit. It was terrible, I had to hold him down,"
      she answered Buck's look of concern.


      "We were up all night talking," she explained quietly by way of explanation
      of where Ezra had vanished to.


      Buck nodded. He supposed they had a lot of catching up to do.


      "What happened to him?" She asked, tracing the rope burn that curved
      up from under Ezra's chin to his ears ear like a wicked smile. "You never
      mentioned this," she accused, her voice soft but her eyes hard, fiercely
      protective.


      "I didn't think it was my place to say. Did Ezra tell you?"


      She shook her head.


      Buck shifted on his feet nervously.


      "It wasn't for anything he did that Ezra got hung. You see, Vin was wanted
      for murder, sentenced to hang. Ezra contrived to get himself hung in Vin's place."


      "Why? Did he love this Vin?"


      "He imagined he did at the time, yes."


      She nodded. So typical of Ezra. She smiled down at him. "He always did
      have the soul of a poet, over fond of the grand gesture." She met Buck's
      eyes again.


      "Which one is Vin?"


      "I'll introduce you later. It wasn't Vin's fault. He didn't have an inkling
      what Ezra planned to do." Buck added, seeing that fierce protective streak
      burn up in her eyes.


      She saw the memory of it still bitter in Buck's eyes.


      Buck drew up the matching footstool and sat down, defeated. "I thought
      we'd lost him. He was poorly for a long time after. We thought he'd end up spending
      the rest of his life as a simpleton. When he came back to us - I thought all
      our prayers had been answered."


      It hadn't been just the hanging. Weakened, Ezra had succumbed to a fever, and
      they'd come very close to losing him. Nathan had long suspected the fever, not
      the hanging, was the source of Ezra's problems.


      "You've been looking after him?"


      "Somebody has to."


      They shared a smile over Ezra, sensing a common bond.



      Ezra was resting in Buck's bed, the top buttons of his shirt were undone, the
      blinds were down and Nathan was taking his pulse, listening to his heart and
      examining his eyes.


      "I'm sorry, Mr Wilmington. Looks like I am still in the unenviable position
      of being a millstone around your neck," Ezra drawled as Nathan gently held
      his wrist between his fingers.


      "No such thing, Ezra," Buck remarked softly, leaning against the
      wall. "I love you for better or worse, that's just the way it is."


      Nathan felt Ezra's heart leap. He stared up at Buck as Ezra twisted his head
      towards Buck on the pillow, frowning deeply.


      "Don't play with me, Buck. Please, don't play with me."


      "I'm not," Buck spoke softly, huskily, his eyes liquid. "You're
      my friend and I love you. It ain't perfect, we ain't perfect, but I love the
      way you make me happy when we're together, I love the way you make me laugh.
      I love the way you feel against me. I love the quickness of your mind. I love
      the good heart you try to keep hidden. I love the sound of your voice and the
      softness of your skin. I love the colour of your eyes and the way you can be
      so still at times, like a pool of water. I love you for the loyalty and friendship
      you've given me, because I know it's not an easy thing for you. I want you to
      know that you can trust me, and that I do care about you. Whatever's wrong with
      you, it's wrong because you were willing to give up your life for a friend.
      How can I hate you for that? What sort of a man would I be if I blamed you for
      that?"


      Ezra blinked away the tears, unable to speak or react as Buck pushed himself
      off the wall.


      "There now," Buck hushed. "You get some sleep and I'll see you
      for dinner."


      Buck drew the blinds closed, tucked the sheets up around Ezra, dropping a tender
      kiss upon his brow. He shooed Nathan out onto the landing where Amanda was waiting,
      closing the door of his room behind him.


      "Will he be alright?" he asked of Nathan, his eyes asking Nathan
      not to sugar coat it.


      "I honestly don't know. It sounds like he had a seizure. I don't know
      why but it's probably because of the hanging. He could get better or worse,
      he could be sickening for something though I found no sign of fever. We have
      to face the fact that Ezra might never be whole. He might never fully recover.
      I don't know if he'll have another fit or not, but I'll make sure I'm ready
      if he does. I'm real sorry, Buck."


      "Damn," Buck hissed, angry, looking for something to hit but not
      daring to take out his anger on Ezra's expensive Chinese vases.


      Nathan grabbed his arm, trying to calm him down.


      "He's alive, Buck. It's more than we ever dared to hope for."


      "I hate to see him like this. Ezra doesn't deserve this. He ain't perfect,
      but he's not a bad man."


      "I know," Nathan admitted quietly.


      "It's not your fault, Nathan. You saved him," Buck apologised.


      Nathan looked pained. "For what?"


      "For life." Amanda answered bluntly. "Ezra might be ill but
      he's more happy in his heart than I've ever seen him." She met Nathan's
      eyes. "Ezra has been lonely and unhappy all his life. You're all his family.
      Don't you see that? He might be a liar and a thief but he'd die for you, any
      of you, again, if he had to, without question." She shook her head. "You
      didn't know that? What does Ezra have to do to prove himself worthy? Think of
      that, Mr Jackson." Her eyes burned.


      "Nothing," Nathan answered quietly. "He doesn't need to prove
      himself to us, to me, not any more. I've been wrong, not to accept Ezra. He
      apologised to me for his prejudices but I never forgave him. That was selfish
      of me."


      "Maybe Ezra needs to hear that."


      Nathan nodded. He glanced at Buck again. "You really do care about him,
      don't you?" Nathan couldn't hide the incredulity in his voice.


      Buck shook his head, surprised at the turn his life had taken as well, still
      shocked by the intensity of his feelings towards the young man who lay behind
      the door he leant against.


      "Yeah, I do," Buck answered, unable to hide the warmth in his voice.


      "It's about time Ezra had someone to care about, other than himself,"
      Nathan agreed. "Let him sleep, I'll see him in the morning." He left
      Buck to keep watch over Ezra. Nathan's own mind was rolling over the revelations
      he'd seen played out before him. Buck Wilmington had fallen in love at last,
      and with the most unlikely of candidates.


      THE LAST SEDUCTION OF BUCK WILMINGTON


      Buck had sunk down on a chair outside his room, dozing, his long legs stretched
      out in front of him, a sleeping guard dog.


      The rustle of skirts snapped him awake by instinct.


      "He's still sleeping, doctor's orders," he warned, standing up and
      barring the door.


      Amanda smiled prettily.


      "My, such devotion to duty, or does he just pay you?"


      Buck's eyes grew hard and she knew she'd walked onto dangerous ground.


      "Ezra's lucky to have such a devoted friend in you, Mr Wilmington. Tell
      me, how did you meet?" She linked her arm in his, drawing him away from
      the door to Ezra's rooms.


      "A while back. Chris hired him as an extra shootist for this job he had.
      Ezra was very uppity and didn't go out of his way to be liked. In fact, I swear
      he went around deliberately rubbing everyone up the wrong way. I would have
      taken him aside and talked some sense to him then, but I had my hands full in
      trying to make sure JD didn't get his damn fool head shot off."


      "JD?"


      "Just a kid, you'll see him about town. He's a good kid, but green as
      all get out."


      "So you took him under your wing."


      "Somebody had to. Anyone could see JD wasn't going to last five minutes."


      "You're a good man, Mr Wilmington."


      Buck shrugged.


      "So now you look after Ezra."


      "JD doesn't want or need my advice much these days, and Ezra, Ezra needs
      somebody to give a damn about him."


      "You?" She turned to face him, sizing him up in a way that made Buck
      uncomfortable.


      "Somebody had to," Buck repeated. "Ezra got himself messed up
      pretty badly. He nearly died. Somebody had to save him."


      Amanda smiled, amused. "And I'd heard you were quite the ladies man."


      Buck stopped, confused. "It's been said."


      "And now you love Ezra."


      "What? Now wait a minute -"


      "You don't need to hide with me, I know Ezra's tastes." She gave
      him a very appraising stare which sent the heat rising up into his skin.


      "I thought you mentioned Ezra having had his heart set on this Vin."


      "He did, he probably always will." Buck answered her curious look.
      "Vin is too busy holding a candle for Chris."


      "Oh my. It is complicated, isn't it."


      "Not really." Not if she'd seen Chris, really seen him, the way Buck
      had, the way Vin did now.


      She saw the memory warm his eyes for a moment. So, not quite the ladies man
      as local legend would have it. She rested against her door, smiling at him.


      "We seem to arrived at my room. I'd love to hear more about what my dear
      friend Ezra has been up to these last few years. Won't you come in?"


      Buck hesitated for a moment, but the lure of her perfume, the light in her
      eye and the chance to discover something of Ezra's past, some insight from someone
      else who'd been close to him, it was more than Buck could resist.


      She caught his hand in hers and led him into her room, the fly willingly ensnared
      by the spider.


      Talking lead to drinking, and drinking led to Buck letting his guard down.
      Chris had always said Buck's brain went south whenever beautiful women were
      involved and this time was no different. He had tried, he truly had, but he
      was careless and warm from her brandy and the soft casual, accidental brushes
      of her skin against his became less accidental and less casual and before long
      she had drawn him into her bed. She'd shed his clothing like a second skin and
      kissed away the last cares he had. Buck was functioning solely on instinct,
      his senses overwhelmed, and she caressed his thick dark hair as he tasted her
      throat and breasts and throat and earlobes and then her mouth again like a man
      starved.


      Amanda rose up on the pillows as Buck left a trail of long languorous kisses
      all the way down from her throat to he inside of her thigh, flicking his tongue
      across the delicate skin. She arched up with a breaking sigh. Oh yes, Mr Wilmington
      knew his way around a woman, and his reputation was well deserved. Why he was
      with Ezra was a mystery she was curious to solve, but right now her mind was
      on other matters. Oh yes, Mr Wilmington certainly knew his way around a woman.


      Buck rolled back onto the pillows, sated and covered in sweat and her scent.
      He knew it was cheating but it had been so long since he'd had a woman in his
      bed. He missed the special smell and feel of them, and this one was better than
      most, a perfect jewel, and she'd practically thrown herself at him. Buck just
      wasn't a strong enough man to resist that sort of temptation. He regretted it,
      but a man couldn't change his nature, not overnight.


      She turned to face him, rubbing a hand across his chest possessively, tracing
      out the scar slashed down across it.


      "Somebody came close," she murmured.


      "Too close," Buck agreed, voice twitchy, not wanting to dwell on
      the memory. He watched her find the healed cuts on his arm. "Me and swords,
      we don't get along too well," he tried to joke.


      "I can see," she purred, winding a hand through his hair.


      "Hey," he murmured as she kissed him again. He tried to study her
      eyes but she was a mystery to him, hiding herself, the way Ezra used to.


      Ezra. The thought of Ezra's eyes being closed off to him spiked through him
      in a sharp twist of guilt, especially since he knew he would deserve the censure.
      He wasn't quite sure how Ezra would weather this dalliance. Usually Ezra just
      shrugged it off, but he'd been so irritable lately, as if the strain of staying
      in one place too long and trying to be good was wearing him down, like a horse
      too long in the harness. Ezra remembered his freedom and that's what Buck saw
      in Amanda's eyes now: freedom. Free of care, free of responsibility, free of
      the ties that bind. A part of him missed that callous disregard, that refusal
      to let any one closer than arm's reach that had so intrigued him about Ezra.
      Perhaps a part of him was panicking that Ezra actually needed him and relied
      on him, much the way Ezra had spurned their first overtures of friendship, hissing
      like a wild cat whenever anyone got to close.


      "You think you've domesticated him," Amanda remarked, startling Buck.


      She smiled, revealing in her smile that she could read him as easily as Ezra
      could.


      "What makes Ezra stay in this little town, I wonder?"


      "I don't rightly know," Buck answered honestly.


      "He's changed. He wear's my Ezra's face, but he's a different man inside.
      Did you change him?" The accusation was soft but sharp.


      "No, Ma'am," Buck was quick to disagree. "You give me too much
      credit. Life, life changed him. Friendship, people he could trust, some bad
      times, some good." Buck rested himself on his elbow. "You've seen
      the man he is now, I want to know what he was like then, when you knew him."


      "Ezra?" She smiled as memories danced in her eyes. "He was such
      a cocky young thing. Precocious, with the sort of shining pride only very young
      boys on the cusp of manhood have, when they think the world belongs to them."


      Buck grinned, he could remember his own misspent youth.


      "We met at a garden party, I think, or some sort of merrymaking. I do
      believe he was smitten. He introduced himself, so brash and young and handsome
      and asked me to dance and I indulged him and the little bastard stole my earrings
      while he held me close. So I paid him a visit to retrieve them."


      Buck could well imagine. "You tried to steal them back, to teach him a
      lesson against stealing from one of his own, didn't you."


      "He was better than I gave him credit. We played tag for a week before
      he managed to convince me to teach him what I knew, to further his trade. He
      was so sweetly sincere, and I thought having a willing student would be fun."


      "Was it?"


      "Oh yes, Ezra is a very quick study. He was a delight to tutor, a most
      promising pupil. There was nowhere we couldn't go, nothing we couldn't do. We
      were partners in...mischief," she smiled her cat like smile again.


      "What happened?"


      "It wasn't my fault. I ran into somebody I'd known and Ezra was left holding
      the bag. He escaped custody but I don't think he's ever forgiven me. He thinks
      I betrayed him, or let him down, at the very least. He has such a brittle heart,
      our dear Ezra. In our business, it doesn't do to let your guard down. Ezra isn't
      used to caring for people other than himself and he wounds so easily when people
      disappoint him. And they always do, Mr Wilmington."


      She sat up, gathering the sheet around herself. "You must be very sure
      of yourself, that Ezra won't mind your being here with me."


      Buck reacted as if slapped, gathering up his hat, gun, boots all in a bundle
      while trying to pull on his shirt and trousers. He shot her a furious look and
      stalked out, reminded of his own complicity and weakness.


      Amanda laughed softly to herself and fell back on her pillows. She knew now
      why Ezra stayed in this little town. All six feet of blue-eyed, black haired,
      tanned and muscular reasons to stay.


      +


      Buck was sitting with his friends for breakfast, playing with the trinket he'd
      won the night before in a poker game. Buck turned the medal over in his hands.


      JD saw it and asked: "St Jude?"


      "The patron saint of lost causes," Josiah mused, knowing of whom
      Buck was thinking, as always. a half smile on his lips.


      "Couldn't hurt," Buck muttered quietly, slipping the medal away.


      "You really that worried about Ezra?" JD asked, in between shovelling
      mouthfuls of mashed potatoes into his face. "Seems to me Ezra's always
      poorly these days," he shrugged.


      "I don't want him to be poorly," Buck explained patiently. "I
      want him to be just fine -" his gaze suddenly went straight over JD's head
      and he stood up, pushing his seat back.


      "Ma'am," he nodded, offering his chair.


      JD glanced up at Amanda, admired her and grinned at the way Buck was also admiring
      her. Some things never change. Buck was already sitting beside her and pouring
      her coffee.


      Josiah noticed too. Perhaps St Jude was working in his own mysterious ways.


      "Ezra?" she asked.


      "Still sleeping last I checked."


      "Do you mind if I go up and see him?"


      "I'd rather you didn't," Buck really didn't trust her. "Boy
      needs his sleep."


      "You know best," she agreed, though it could have also have been
      a challenge. So protective, both of them, of Ezra.


      She stood again, taking her leave, and Buck stood with her, always the gentleman.


      "Walk with me?" she offered her arm.


      "It'd be my pleasure," Buck returned her guarded smile, knowing he
      had a weakness for a pretty face but powerless to do anything about it. At least
      he'd be keeping her away from Ezra, he thought heroically.


      Ezra watched them leave the hotel together, his empty stomach twisting. Ezra
      didn't need to smell her perfume on Buck to know something had happened between
      them. Ezra knew Buck all to well and he knew what that light in his eyes and
      that bounce in his step meant. He saw the solicitous way Buck offered his arm
      to squire her around town, the way Buck leant in close to murmur some amusing
      line, the way they casually brushed together. Ezra knew these two people better
      than he knew himself and he just knew. He gripped the edge of the saloon door
      tightly as he watched them promenade openly down the opposite street, himself
      hidden by shadows, lurking inside the saloon like a creature of the night. The
      bitter spear of betrayal surprised him. He knew Buck's nature, and accepted
      it, and he knew Amanda was never to be trusted, but to see them flaunt it, revel
      in it, that boiled inside him.


      He pushed himself away from the doorway, feeling like a slapped child. Of course
      Buck would prefer Amanda's company to his. He slumped into his usual seat and
      knocked his cane angrily away, furious that he'd had to resort to it today.
      Inez hurried over with a glass of whisky, seeing his mood but saying nothing.
      He drank it in one swallow and pulled out his pack of cards, but found no comfort
      in them. His hand was shaking slightly and the more he willed it to stop the
      worse it got. He threw down the deck in annoyance, grabbed his cane and began
      to hobble upstairs, but stopped and turned back, unable to do anything but watch
      Buck and Amanda walk down the street together, completely oblivious to his existence.


      Buck paused in the window of the shop, admiring an engraved silver cigarette
      case.


      "You're thinking it would make a nice present for Ezra."


      "Yeah," Buck agreed. "He's been so unhappy - he hates feeling
      dependent. Just when we thought he was back to his old self. I'd do anything
      to cheer him up - he's not easy when he gets in these moods."


      "So you want to buy him a present."


      "Ezra likes nice things. Too rich for my blood, though." Buck sighed
      and turned away.


      "What if I bought it?" Amanda offered.


      Buck shook his head. He wanted the gift to come from him or not at all.


      "You're always thinking of him," she observed, and Buck wasn't sure
      if he was being praised or chastised.


      "He's my friend," Buck shrugged off his concern for Ezra. He glanced
      up at the hotel, believing most likely Ezra was holed up there, sulking. These
      fits were wearing on Buck and the rest of them almost as much as they were wearing
      on Ezra. Especially Vin - if he could take Ezra's pain, Buck knew Vin would.
      The guilt etched in Vin's face had aged him a little, his feelings for Ezra
      still evident. It prickled Buck but he truly felt sorry for Vin. He'd hate to
      have to carry the weight of what Ezra had done, knowing it could never be undone.


      "Are you going to keep to your promise to show me your town or not, Mr
      Wilmington," Amanda roused him from his brooding sharply.


      He managed a smile for her benefit and offered his arm again, a quick glance
      at the darkened saloon doors pricking his own conscience. Damn, he should have
      known better than to let a woman like this get her claws into him. An old friend
      of Ezra's and obviously not to be trusted. He knew she had him exactly where
      she wanted him, though what her game was, he had little idea.


      "Mr Wilmington," Amanda brushed his ear, sliding her arm through
      his and falling into step. "You ran off last night."


      "Didn't seem right."


      "It seemed right before," she teased. "Tell me you didn't enjoy
      it, because I know otherwise."


      Buck almost blushed at her directness. "Now look here, anything we might
      have shared..." He found he couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes. "It
      was just for one night."


      "Is that what you tell all your women, Mr Wilmington. What about Ezra?
      How long is he for?"


      "You leave Ezra out of this."


      "Rather difficult, don't you think, Ezra being a dear friend we both have
      in common."


      Buck stopped and turned to face her. "What are you playing at? Do you
      want to make Ezra jealous or to hurt him?"


      "Neither, and I'm shocked that you would make such accusations, Mr Wilmington."


      "So you just found yourself helpless to resist my charms, is that it?"


      "Didn't you, Mr Wilmington?" She tossed it back to him. "Didn't
      you find my charms just as alluring?"


      Buck fumed for a second, then leant close, smiling his own shit-eating grin.
      "If you're trying to recruit Ezra for whatever job you've got going, try
      somewhere else. Ezra already has a job here, with us."


      "Does he? You think he's so happy here, that he feels like he belongs
      here so much he couldn't be tempted away, or driven away?"


      "You think you could?" He challenged, but he saw it in her eyes.
      Yes, she could. She reminded Buck uncomfortably of Maude, and the thought gave
      him shudders.


      "Don't," Buck pleaded. "I know what your game is now and don't
      do this to him."


      "I'm not doing anything, Mr Wilmington. If you think you deserve him you'll
      be able to keep him. Just remember that men like Ezra, they don't like owing
      anyone anything, or being bound to someone. Good day, Mr Wilmington," she
      smiled and slipped her arm from his, crossing the road to greet an emerging
      Ezra cheerfully, remarking on his improved colour and what a charming companion
      Mr Wilmington had proven to be.


      Ezra shot a sharp questioning glance at Buck, caught Buck's hesitation to meet
      his eyes, and knew for certain. Ezra hid his reaction so smoothly Amanda wanted
      to applaud his finesse, kissing his cheek tenderly and steering him down the
      boarded walkway, away from Buck, watching as Ezra's mask slid effortlessly into
      place.


      Ezra linked his arm with hers.


      "There really isn't any honour among thieves," he murmured, smiling,
      but his words had a winter's chill to them.


      "Why, Ezra, whatever do you mean?'


      "Well, unless I am mistaken, it is still considered poor form to court
      your best friend's...paramour."


      "Mr Wilmington?"


      "Buck is not known for his resistance to temptation where the female form
      is concerned. He is a slave to the siren's song, as you knew very well."


      Amanda gave him an innocent look, as though she'd missed his meaning.


      "Don't tempt him," Ezra fell to being blunt.


      Amanda withdrew her arm from his.


      "It's not my fault you don't trust Buck."


      "I don't trust you. I don't mind if you let him fumble in your petticoats
      but I've seen the way he's been looking at you. Don't break his heart."


      "No, because that's your area of expertise, isn't it."


      Ezra stopped, horrified. "I would never -"


      "That's what they all say," Amanda snapped, walking off, leaving
      Ezra standing alone in the street, shocked.