Shhishh. Shish shish shish. Tap tap. PRRRRRP! Tap tap. Shish shish. Shhishh.
Vivian lay in the bed with her eyes closed, just listening. The familiar sounds of Ezra shuffling the deck of cards was now one of the most comforting, most normal sounds in her oddly altered world.
It had been scarcely six weeks since the transformation from Vin to Vivian, and she was still struggling with this most basic violation of her very self.
Falling in love with a man who'd been one of her best friends, one-third of the mysterious mental triad they found themselves part of, had never been part of the plan. But apparently, it had been in the cards.
That made the smile widen. In the cards. Considering what was going on a few feet from her bed, that was ironic.
"I know you're awake, Viv."
She chuckled and rolled over, smiling at the gambler who'd stolen her heart. "An' how'd you know that, huh? I didn't move."
He smiled broad enough to show the gold tooth and tapped the side of his head. I felt it.
Sliding into the warm intimacy of the link, she replied in kind. Why're you holdin' court today, hm? It's barely seven -- too early for you.
Couldn't sleep. I've been mulling this over for some time....
Instantly she was alarmed. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat there, concerned. Mullin' what over?
Ezra manipulated the deck and said calmly, "Our situation. How I find myself drawn irresistibly to your side. How you feel the same."
"I asked the cards today to show me what to do. You remember -- as a tarot reading of sort?"
"I remember. What happened?"
"I cast a card for myself. Normally it comes up the Ace of Spades." He met her eyes. "Today it was something very different."
"Wh...what was it?"
He manipulated the deck and drew out one card, handing it to her. She took it and gaped in astonishment.
The Two of Hearts.
"What....does it mean?" she asked in a breathless whisper.
"That's what I've been asking. I've had something to enquire of you for some time. The card clinched my decision."
He took her hand in both of his and looked into her eyes. "Vivian Jane Tanner.... would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
She slammed the link closed. Totally closed. The force of it made him blink. "...what...."
"Out!" she threw the card at him and hauled him to the feet by the lapels of his coat, propelling him toward the door. "Get! Out!"
As the door slammed behind him, he tried to reach her mentally -- only to run against that same black blank wall. I don't understand! he projected to Chris. I've been cut off!
What happened? came the answer and Ezra sensed part of Chris was reaching for Vivian at the same time. He told the leader what had happened.
You did WHAT?
Ezra flinched. I love her. I want to spend my life with her. I want her to become my wife.
To become Vivian Standish, Chris pointed out in a calm voice that belied his anger.
Yes, exact.....oh, SHIT. He banged his head once against the wall.
Yeah, Ez, you're in that, all right. Up to your neck, I'd wager.
The emerald eyes closed. Chris, I never EVER wanted to hurt her. EVER.
A sigh came through loud and clear. I know that, Ez, but ya did. BAD. I can't wait t'see how you're gonna sweet-talk your way outta THIS one.
Quite frankly, Chris? Neither can I.
Inez smiled as Vivian walked into the saloon. "We're not yet open, Senorita."
"I know," Vivian said, looking at the bartender. "I... I want to talk to you."
"Of course." She waved a hand at a table. Vivian sat, and Inez sat across from her. "What is it?"
"Ezra... Ezra asked me to marry him," she whispered.
Inez reached over and took both of her hands. ôVivian, that's wonderful!" She squeezed the hands and finished, "But why do you sound so sad?"
"How much do you know about me, Inez? About... my past?"
"Not too much. Why?"
She sighed. "Have I told you about my mother?"
"Tu mama? No, you've not."
"She died when I was five. One of the last things she said to me was 'You're a Tanner, boy'." She smiled and closed her eyes. "I'll never, ever forget that."
"A precious legacy, to be sure. But I am confused -- what has this to do with Senor Standish's proposal?"
"Everything." Vivian stood up and paced, waving her arms slightly for emphasis. "Don't you see? If I marry Ezra, I won't be a Tanner anymore! I'll be....betraying my mother." She clutched the back of a chair.
Inez lay a hand on the thin shoulder. "You should be talking to Senor Standish about this. Not me."
She turned to face Inez. "Because, God help me, I want to marry him!"
Inez nodded slowly. "Then, Senorita, it would appear to me your path is clear."
Ezra was walking down the boardwalk toward the saloon when Taylor -- or Tyler or whatever his name was; the Seven never could keep it straight -- ran up to him. "Telegraph for you, Mister Standish!"
"Thank you --- ah ---" Ezra stumbled.
He grinned. "You're very welcome!" and bounded off.
What the hell IS his name? Ezra asked Chris, whose mental bark of laughter was all the answer he got. You are a world of help, Chris. He slid open the paper and smiled.
*Ezra STOP Will be in FC in seven days STOP Will be delighted to perform wedding STOP About other matter STOP Not illegal STOP Very unusual but not illegal STOP Agree will be nice surprise STOP Judge Travis*
What have you got up your red jacketed sleeve? Chris asked with amusement.
Nothing, Ezra answered in total honesty. I'm wearing green today.
And that was the only answer he gave Chris. He'd had no luck at all removing the block Vivian had put on the link.
He only hoped she'd like what he had planned.
He opened his eyes and turned over, half-expecting her to be lying beside him. But, he was in his feather bed and she was elsewhere.
Ezra, are you awake?
I am now, he chuckled. I missed your touch.
A pause. I missed being here. I'm sorry about that.
A laugh. Yes, Ezra. I'll marry you.
He mentally hugged her tight. However, he kept his plans under tight lock and key. Soon enough, she'd find out what he had planned.
At last, it was time. Dressed in his best clothing -- which was quite impressive -- Ezra stood at the church altar. Josiah stood beside him, a hand on his shoulder. Behind the altar stood Judge Travis, ready to perform the ceremony.
The assembled townspeople smiled as Nathan entered, Inez on his arm. They separated and moved to the sides -- Nathan by Ezra, Inez standing alone. JD followed, Casey on his arm. Buck then swaggered in, escorting Mary. There was a very long pause. The tight knot of men grew closer to Ezra, the loose knot of women tightened up.
At last, Chris appeared in the doorway, his face solemn but his eyes twinkling. On his arm was Vivian. The women of the town and a man or two gasped at her attire.
It was the first time any of them -- excluding Inez, Casey and Mary --- had seen Vivian Tanner in a dress. Judge Travis's throat closed and he had to swallow hard to keep the tears inside. The dress had been Mary's on the day she wed Steven.
.....love, you're beautiful.....
Vivian smiled. ....and I didn't think you could get handsomer....
Chris discreetly drew his shields.
When they reached the front, Chris lay Vivian's hands in Ezra's. He kissed her cheek and 'whispered', My shields will stay closed until you 'knock' on them. My best to you -- and my gift is privacy. When it's needed, just holler. The door will shut. A second kiss to her cheek, and Chris stepped back and stood in the place of the father of the bride.
Both bride and groom smiled their thanks, then they turned to the judge. He led them through the traditional vows. JD produced the plain golden ring that went upon Vivian's finger, and Casey produced the plain golden one that went upon Ezra's.
Finally, came Judge Travis's soft, "You may now kiss the bride." With a smile of thanks to him, Ezra bent his head very slightly and kissed his new wife tenderly on the lips. Then he stepped back and took her hands. "I'm ready," he told the judge.
Vivian, thinking she knew what he was ready for, said, "So am I." She closed her eyes and waited to hear the final words of the ceremony. *I'm sorry, Mother. I'm not a Tanner anymore.*
Judge Travis's voice was soft, but it carried through the church. "Ladies and gentlemen.....I now give you..." He paused. Ezra looked at him and nodded.
"Mister and Mrs. ..... Ezra Tanner."
Gasps shot into the stunned silence that followed, the loudest one coming from Vivian herself. Her head snapped up and her wide blue eyes locked onto Ezra's tear-filled green ones.
Tenderly, he cupped her chin and used his thumbs to wipe away the tears that she was only dimly aware were falling from her eyes. Aloud, so all of Four Corners could hear, he said, "Your name is so very important to you, my love. There was no way in creation I could take it from you. It is my deepest honour and greatest privilege to share it with you in matrimony."
Vivian's reply was eloquent in its simplicity. "Oh...oh, Ezra!" She flung her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. The entire church heard her joyful cry. As Ezra's arms went around her and his face lowered to her shoulder, Chris began to clap. Mary, Inez, and Buck followed.
A moment later the entire church was filled with clapping, whistles, cheering and foot stomping. Nettie Wells stood up and whistled shrilly, bringing silence to the celebration. "Everyone to the square!" she ordered. "We've a party to throw!"
As the church emptied, people came up and congratulated the pair. Finally, it was merely the Seven that remained. One by one, they gave their heartfelt wishes and each of the remaining five kissed Vivian on the cheek and shook Ezra's hand. Chris followed it up by a three-way hug and forehead touch, in which he completely disengaged the Link. He knew when the honeymoon was over, one or both would track him down and re-establish it.
After he left, Vivian turned to Ezra. She then swatted him with the small bouquet of flowers she still held. "I can't believe you did that!"
Ezra grinned at her, his gold tooth catching the light. "I can't believe how difficult this link makes keeping a secret!"
"Ya did just fine," Vivian laughed. "I never suspected this."
A moment, then Ezra asked softly, "Are ya mad?"
"Mad?" she looked at him, her entire being shining. "I'm...I'm...." She flung her arms wide. "I'm ecstatic!"
He laughed and hugged her tight.
Over his shoulder, she giggled, "Of course, you know Maude is gonna kill ya for this."
Ezra broke the embrace and grinned down at her. "Maude can take a flying leap off Niagara Falls! I have absolutely no regrets as to what I've done."
"Me either, love." She kissed him tenderly before laying her head on his shoulder and sighing contentedly. "I'm still trying to accept this," she chuckled. "I'm married.... a married woman... and still a Tanner."
JD stuck his head inside the church then. "Ez, Viv, ya comin'?"
They both laughed, then Ezra held out his arm. "Shall we, Mrs. Tanner?"
With a nod, Vivian slid her hand in the crook of his elbow. "Of course, Mister Tanner!"
Together they walked from the church into the street --- and into their new lives.
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