Carpe Diem


by Macx





Author's Voice of Warning (aka Author's Note): English is not my first language; it's German. This is the best I can do. Any mistakes you find in here, collect them and you might win a prize. The spell-checker said everything's okay, but you know how trustworthy those thingies are.....

Link to the official Denuo site: http://home.arcor.de/larabee/mag7/denuo.html




He stretched leisurely, yawning. Morning had just broken and while it wasn't really his time to wake up on his own, he made an exception to the rule on those special days: like today. Not that the night hadn't been just as long and busy as if he had been at home in the saloon, playing cards with whoever was willing to donate some money. Oh yes, the night had been very long, full of activity, set at a slow pace that drew out the pleasure and sated both of them. Here, the reason he woke up with the sun was the warmth at his side, moving sleepily; a warmth he missed when he was in Four Corners. A warmth associated with just a single person who shared so much more than just a night's sleep and rest. If their activities could have been called rest at all, Ezra mused with a grin.

The gambler turned to look at the smoothed-out, relaxed features of the man next to him, the man who had an arm flung over his waist in a possessive gesture. Tanned, warm skin, against his own. Their lovemaking had been intense, Chris submitting to him as Ezra called the shots and brought the other man to a screaming release after torturing him with his lips, fingers and teeth as long as he dared and a bit beyond that. Retaliation had been swift and had found Ezra crying out hoarsely. They had fallen asleep after a while, in each other's arms, and this time Ezra wouldn't wake up to an empty bed.

In Four Corners, that was very different. Chris Larabee couldn't be seen coming out of Ezra Standish's room. Ever. And vice versa. So Chris snuck out in the wee hours of the morning or even after their encounter, both men aware of the growing reluctance to leave the other for the rest of the night. Ezra had always felt a pang of loss when he was suddenly alone in his room, with only the scent of his lover in the sheets. Sometimes he would curl up in the blankets, closing his eyes, imagining Chris was still there. There had been times when Chris had been too tired to leave and Ezra had cherished having him in the morning, waking up to the gunslinger caressing his skin, kissing him, and then watching him dress.

The gambler couldn't but lean down and brush his lips over the inviting mouth now. The night's growth brushed over his cheek and chin, but he ignored it. The lips beneath his reacted to the gentle prodding and the arm tightened. Amber eyes cracked open and a slow smile appeared on the sensual lips. "Morning," Chris murmured, rolling onto his back, pulling Ezra with him.

"Morning," he breathed.

Fingers slipped into his hair, pulling his head down and Ezra was only too willing to comply. He moaned softly as they separated and the blond man grinned. It was a rarely seen smile, open, full of happiness mixed with mischief, revealing a Chris Larabee not tormented by the ghosts of his past. In their private moments, Ezra got to see it. He treasured each one of them.

"Hold that thought," Chris now growled. "I'll be back."

Ezra chuckled, aware of his own morning needs. There was no need to rush anything. They had the whole day and tomorrow as well. No one expected him back in Four Corners since Chris had supposedly sent him on an errand which had led him straight here, into this little abode. Chris himself had announced he would spend the week at his cabin, needing the solitude. No one questioned him.

Their relationship was still a well-kept secret and both men did their best to keep it that way. They interacted around the others, but there were no tell-tale signs of anything but a normal friendship forged by being regulators in Four Corners. Ezra hung out with Buck, who shared his sometimes wicked sense of humor, as well as JD and Nathan. Chris spent a lot of time with either Vin or Buck, or both, and took care of his own business. Their 'official' interaction was on a level that would never arouse suspicion, down to the remarks Chris had made about Ezra's trustworthiness with money not so long ago.

Ezra watched the lean form leave the cabin, only dressed in the trademark black pants, smiling to himself. That ass was a sin, as were the almost skin-tight pants. He had told Chris so once, surprising him. Apparently the gunslinger had never been aware of his effect on women and Ezra.

Standish wondered when a sheer physical need, an appreciation for a handsome body, had turned into so much more. Because it had turned into a lot more than intended.

He got up and picked up the razor, shaving off the morning stubble, then proceeded to splash water into is face.

Their friendship hadn't started out well, with the incident at the Seminole village. He had run away, plain and simple. Scared, confused, feeling at the fringe of a group of men who were growing together, and because he had decided it might be healthier for his body and soul to be far away from Chris Larabee. Ezra didn't really know why he had come with the others, why he had followed them.

Of course, staying in town would have been a mite unhealthy. Several individuals had been out for his hide, his blood and his life. The gold had been a lure. Gold meant money, and money meant a lot in Ezra Standish's book of life. But all of that had paled against the man in black. Even today, the first time they had met, the way Chris had leaned against that bar, was imprinted on Ezra's mind. Chris had been a wild hope, a fantasy. The gambler couldn't explain it, but something in those eyes had ignited a spark inside him. Larabee had seemed like an unattainable objective, but Ezra hadn't been deterred. Until reaching the Seminole village, until realizing that this man carried a lot of pain that nothing seemed to penetrate. Until the moment he had run away.

He had come back, for some inexplicable reason. He had stayed and fought. Maybe he had hoped to gain Larabee's attention, show him what he was worth. Even the clear threat never to run out on him again hadn't shaken his determination much. He would show Chris he was worth it. He would prove himself. Because of JD's youthful exuberance and because a certain circuit judge had made his appearance at an untimely hour, he had been forced to stay in Four Corners for thirty days to get his pardon. As a peacekeeper, of all things. A lawman! But it had given him the opportunity to be close to Chris Larabee.

In those thirty days, Ezra had gotten to know the other men, had learned about them, and he had more than once found himself studying Chris Larabee more closely. He had seen many layers to the man, and all desirable. Ezra wasn't attracted to men by nature; he liked both genders and had shared his bed on an equal basis in the past. Chris Larabee was a ruggedly attractive man; not beautiful, but there was something about him that had drawn the younger man inexplicably closer. It was like an obsession. The man in black was dangerous, but not violent by nature. He had restraints on him that kept him from simply lashing out. Ezra came to appreciate the smile, the way Chris's eyes lit up, the movement of muscles under those tight pants. Within those thirty days, they had first come together. Ezra had wordlessly offered to Chris on several occasions and he had known that the older man understood. Looks had passed between them, some rather blatant and obvious as to what the man wanted. Somehow, Ezra had been surprised that Chris would so readily accept the offer. Ezra knew he was a handsome man, but he figured for Chris it had to be more than the looks; it also was the character. Which meant in turn that Chris Larabee's opinion of Ezra Standish wasn't as low as it seemed to the outside.

Their getting together had been simply for physical release, pent-up energy that drove them to take the other. Ezra had opted for his own room and Chris hadn't argued.




//Ezra was in a haze, feeling sated and pleased, the warmth and thrill of his breathtaking climax lingering in his system. Hands touched him, running over his sides, massaging him in such a careful and gentle manner, he wouldn't have believed this to be the same man who had just taken him in a whirl of desire and need. Lips descended on his neck, kissing him. As those wonderful hands went lower, touching his butt cheeks, Ezra tensed slightly.

Lord, he wouldn't again... would he? Not that Ezra wasn't unhappy to comply, but he was still aching in places he didn't want to feel much of anything, except maybe a gentle touch, any time soon.

How could Chris be ready for another round so soon? The man had to have more stamina than a mere mortal, Ezra mused, mentally preparing himself. Fingers caressed him, slipping into the still slippery cleft, and he stiffened, biting back a moan of pleasure and pain. They had used oil, but Chris had been so lost in his desire, Ezra had had little preparation. Oh, he had enjoyed it, but it had taken its toll. If Chris wanted him like this again...

"Ezra?"

The slightly rough voice made him start. When he didn't answer, forcing himself to relax under the strong hands, he was turned onto his back. He looked into the tanned features of his lover. Chris's hair was in disarray, his eyes still reflecting the passion with which he had gone about their encounter.

"Ezra?" he queried again.

The gambler swallowed. "I'm fine," he answered. "Just... sore," he added when he noticed the frown. "It's okay. But I'd prefer a little repose before we..." He broke off as he looked into those eyes.

Chris studied him silently, as if reading an open book. "I hurt you." It was a statement, not a question.

Ezra shook his head. "No..."

"Don't lie to me, Standish!" Chris hissed, anger flooding the formerly pleasant features. "Not now, not here!"

"You did not hurt me!" Ezra found himself snapping back, trying to disentangle himself from the taller gunslinger.

Chris held him down, piercing eyes looking at the gambler. "You said you were with men before."

"I was. It's just... been a while. I can handle it, Chris," he tried to reassure the angry man.

"Handle it?" Chris echoed, aghast. "What are you talking about? You don't have to handle anything!" Larabee suddenly rolled off him, slumping onto the mattress. "Shit!" he muttered, running one hand through his hair. "Shit! You should have told me. I wanted you so badly...." He inhaled deeply. "I lost control."

It had been a heat of the moment encounter. Electric, sending jolts of desire through their bodies, but also rough, demanding, fast and hard. Ezra had found himself surrendering to the sensual onslaught, driving his lover on, wanting more and more until Larabee had finally given it to him. Now that statement puzzled the gambler. Chris had wanted him; badly. Probably as badly as Ezra in turn. Would he have backed down if Ezra had denied him that? Would he have been content with just a mouth and a tongue, or hands?

"I wanted you, too," Ezra echoed softly. "I wanted your unrestrained passion."

"No reason to hurt you!" Chris growled. He pushed himself up into a sitting position, eyes alight with anger. "I might be a lot of things, but I don't abuse my partners!"

Ezra swallowed. "You didn't abuse me, Chris," he tried to calm down the irate man.

Amber eyes turned on him. "I took you. I know you wanted it, I know you offered, but that doesn't give me the right to injure you in the process. This was supposed to be pleasurable for both of us!"

The gambler turned to sit squarely next to Chris, stifling a groan as his backside protested. It had really been a while and he was very sore, but it was a pleasant reminder of the prior events. He would be fine again soon.

Now he carefully touched one tense shoulder and let his fingers run to the tightly coiled muscles of the neck.

"It was pleasurable for me," he insisted.

"You like hurtin'?" Chris snapped.

Ezra winced. "Not any more than you do. But this pain... it'll pass. I was a bit... rusty." He flashed the blond man a grin. "You didn't injure me," he repeated.

"Ezra..."

"Make it up to me next time," he only said, a smile lighting up his features.

Chris blinked at him. "Next time?"

"I was hoping there would be," Ezra answered softly. "I enjoyed you, Chris. I'd like to see you again."

Larabee's smile matched his and he leaned forward kissing him. Ezra opened under the kiss, pulling him closer, wanting to feel the warm, naked body against his again. He was pleased when Chris melted carefully against him.

"I won't break, Larabee," he murmured, nipping at a lower lip. "Hope not. Been wanting you ever since coming back from the village," Chris murmured.

Ezra's smile widened. "Then I think we have some catching up to do."

"I hope so." Chris grinned against his mouth. "Next time will be wonderful," he vowed.

"Who says it wasn't this time already?"

Calloused hands mapped his skin and a mouth left wet traces down his neck.

"Next time will be better," Chris breathed and disentangled himself. "But I gotta go now. Patrol."

Ezra lay back and smiled, watching the other man dress. Yes, next time. The days went by quickly and Ezra found himself missing the last of his appointed, forced thirty days in Four Corners, simply living the next week and then the next, and again the next as if the pardon hadn't been given yet. He made a home with these people, the men he worked with, and he found the physical addition to the relationship he had with Chris Larabee exciting and with a touch of danger.//


Ezra pulled on his pants, smiling to himself. Larabee wasn't the partner he had expected in the long run. After the initial, stormy encounter, the man had been very loving in bed, tender, gentle, caring, but also physically demanding. They had been rough and gentle, fast and slow, and in those passion-filled moments, Ezra found he was left breathless, able to do the same to Chris. It satisfied him immensely to hear the man voice his release in howls of pleasure, see him writhe, aware that he, Ezra Standish, was doing this; that he was allowed to touch Chris so intimately, to take him. They met in secret, played their daily roles, and grew ever closer. While both men had satisfied their needs with women in the beginning as well, Chris more so than Ezra, they had sought out the other man more and more. Lust had grown into more and it had become a need.

There had been times when the necessity to hide their relationship had become almost unbearable. Every time when Chris was shot, for one. Ezra had to hold back not to sound too worried -- because he was only a friend; not like Buck or Vin. Or when Chris had disappeared in that dreadful prison. He had secretly fretted, he had almost been afraid to never see him again, but he had kept a tight control on everything. Just holding Chris after they had returned had made it all right again.




//The lean body in his arms moved restlessly. Ezra stroked the stubbled cheek, planting a little kiss onto it. Chris moaned as if in pain and suddenly his eyes opened, the remnants of a nightmare still visible in the hazel depths. Despite the hours of sleep, Chris was exhausted.

"It's all right," Ezra murmured, never stopping his tender touches and strokes. "It's over." His finger tips ghosted over the slightly sweaty skin, cupping one cheek and holding Chris back from turning his tired eyes away.

For the last week, Chris had had nightmares about the time in the prison camp. They were short and he never woke screaming, but he rarely slept at all. Nathan had checked his wounds, had told him to eat hearty meals, take it easy and only do light stuff. Ezra had held back his concern, had watched his lover from afar, until everything had settled enough for them to meet. Chris had simply appeared at his doorstep one night, looking haggard, pale, and exhausted. Ezra had held him as the gunslinger fell asleep. Now he was awake again, after just a few hours.

"Go to sleep, Chris," he murmured, kissing him gently. "I'll be here."

And Chris did. He closed the last bit of distance between their bodies and pillowed his head on Ezra's shoulder.

Standish followed him not much later, arms wrapped around his lover. When he woke, it was already past sunrise and he found himself looking into much more awake eyes.

"Chris." He smiled and smothered a yawn. "Feeling better?"

"Much," was the soft whisper.

Larabee lay in his arms, content to just be held, feel the strokes of another hand on his back. Safe. And Ezra was just as content to give what his lover needed.//


Safety. Chris saw safety in him and it was a revelation to Ezra. No one in his life had ever made that connection before. With that realization, it was even harder to keep the neutral façade. And that façade started to seriously crack under the strain after the death of Cletus Fowler. Ezra would have to lie to say he wasn't scared by Chris's display in the saloon. The emotional pain had been an almost physical being, raging around the apparently drunk man. He had heard it in Chris's voice, had seen it in his eyes, and Ezra had been frightened for the first time in their relationship. Frightened of the depth of the pain his lover carried, frightened of the demon that had revealed itself, frightened of the amount of control Larabee still displayed. Ezra was no fool. He was rather clear on that Chris could have been much worse. He could have killed Blackfox, he could have shot Fowler, he could have lost control every moment of the day, but it hadn't happened. The man had a tight reign on it, always. And when it had all been over, Chris had turned to Buck and Vin. Ezra had felt a brief flare of an undefined emotion, but then reason had settled in. Buck was Chris's oldest friend, he told himself. He had been through the same pain with him before. He could handle it. Vin... well, Vin Tanner was something like a brother to the older man. They had this silent understanding and it had shown Ezra more than once that he apparently lacked in certain areas where Larabee was concerned. So it was only logical that his lover would turn to those two men.

Logical.

To hell with logic. He had been hurt by Chris's decision not to come to him.

//For the last week, Ezra had evaded his lover as best as possible without arousing too much suspicion from the others. Chris probably didn't see it either. He was rarely in town, spending his time patrolling with Buck or Vin, or he just rode out with either of the two men. Each and every time, Ezra felt pained and retreated somewhere else completely. He did his assigned shifts, he rode patrols, he even took over some of JD's when the younger man asked for someone to fill in for him because he and Casey had had something planned. Ezra would do anything not to be around Chris. It reminded him of his helplessness when it came to his lover's past and pain.

Helplessness. Ezra smiled wryly as he shuffled his cards and started another game of solitaire. He wasn't used to feeling helpless. But faced with the demons that had raged through Chris's mind, he didn't know how to deal with that side of his lover. And since Chris went to Buck and Vin to talk about it, it only added to Ezra's sense of being helpless in the face of a deep, emotional crisis. Emotions had never been his forte. He didn't want others to delve into his, so he had never encouraged them to come to him and talk about their problems either.

Here's to the end result, he thought wryly and sipped at his drink. The man he felt closest to, who shared his bed with him, didn't trust him with his emotions either. Ezra swallowed the lump in his throat and continued to play.

What do you expect? he asked himself. Our relationship is purely physical. We agreed on that. Simple.

The saloon was almost empty now. Only three more people occupied one table. They finally rose and two of them left the saloon. The third remained. The third walked over to his table and sat down in an empty chair, not even asking to be invited. Ezra looked up and forced himself to keep his façade as he looked into the familiar hazel eyes. Instead he studied the slightly pale features, the tired look around the eyes, and felt something inside of him yearn to wipe those remainders of the previous week away. He reigned in his emotions and continued to play.

"Ezra, are you okay?"

Always straight to the point, right?

Ezra sighed. His lover wasn't known for subtlety. Oh, he could be, but most of the time he was very much a man of clear words and he wanted answers.

"Perfectly fine," Ezra answered. "Thank you for inquiring into my physical well-being."

Larabee played with his own shot glass. "You don't look okay. Heard you've been working a lot lately."

"I merely did my assigned shifts and patrols," Ezra answered, keeping his voice level. "I did not partake in an extracurricular activities outside that."

"Not what I heard."

"You may have me confused with someone else then."

"You've been avoidin' me, Ezra," Chris said.

Ezra looked briefly up from his cards, then continued to play. "Our schedules have been a bit off lately," he only commented.

"I think you have been a bit off lately," Chris remarked.

"As I told you before, I'm fine, Mr. Larabee!" This time, he had put a bit more force behind his words. And then Ezra realized how he had addressed Chris. Mr. Larabee. Distance. He was creating distance. Oh gawd.... Chris gazed levelly at him, clearly aware of what had just happened. "Now I know you aren't 'fine', Ezra."

Ezra chose to ignore his lover, but a hand suddenly slapped the cards he was holding onto the table. He looked up, a warning clear in his eyes.

"Please take your hands off my cards."

Chris gave him that weird little smile he sometimes had. "No." "Excuse me?"

The smile stayed. "I said no."

Ezra steeled himself, briefly wondering whether to fight or not. In the end he relinquished his hold on the deck and pushed back his chair.

"Then you'll excuse me if I take my leave, Mr. Larabee."

He winced mentally. He had done it again. It was almost like an automatic defense against Chris's nearness. He was pushing, testing the limits, and so far, Larabee hadn't moved away.

Ezra turned and walked up the stairs to his room. He had slept little lately. He turned in late and still woke a lot earlier than usual, feeling like he hadn't slept at all. Tonight would be no different. Ezra sighed and wanted to push the door shut, but encountered resistance in form of a dark clad gunslinger.

"I thought I had made myself clear," Ezra said coldly.

"Oh, very," Chris answered, pushing the door open and walking into the room. "As did I. I want to know what's going on. What's your problem, Ezra?"

Chris shut the door and leaned against it, effectively trapping the gambler. Ezra swallowed a deep sigh. Part of him realized that he wouldn't get rid of Chris any time soon and his lover knew him too well by now. That second realization was a lot more frightening at the moment. "Ezra?"

He schooled his features and met the inquiring eyes. "I believe I'm rather ill-suited to be your lover."

Chris's face was a display of stunned surprise and confusion. "What?" he blurted.

"Oh, I'm very well-suited to pleasure your body whenever we are together," Ezra went on, his voice very level and cold. He felt proud of himself for his control. "But your mind and soul are another matter."

Chris still stared at him, then shook his head. "Ezra... I don't know where that came from, but if you think I only come to you for sex..."

Yes, I do, Ezra thought desperately. Not that I mind. I enjoy you, Chris Larabee. I want you. But when you hurt, you crawl to Buck and Vin. I was allowed to hold you after you came back from prison. I was allowed to soothe you. You never told me about the experience. And this time, with Fowler, I wasn't even given the privilege of a bed partner. Gawd, it hurt! Whatever emotions leaked through, it seemed to be enough for Chris to stop and frown.

"This is about last week. About Fowler."

Ezra refused to answer. Chris contemplated the silent man in front of him, then hung his head.

"And it's about talking to Vin and Buck, right?"

Standish clamped down on his rising emotions. "They are your friends," he heard himself say, his voice sounding unnatural in his own ears. "You are entitled to seek their counsel."

"You are my friend, too. More even. Much more. Didn't come to you."

Ezra felt his walls strain under the pressure of his emotions. "It was your decision."

Chris gazed at the other man. "Ezra, I purposefully didn't come to you," he explained and Ezra felt even worse. "I know what demons I carry inside me. You saw some of them... the ones on the surface. They are frightening enough. I didn't want to confront you with the rest. Buck knows them already. Intimately. He knows how to deal with them."

"And I don't?"

Do you think so little of me? Ezra asked silently.

"Maybe I wanted you to share," he added softly.

"And what if it had been too much?" Chris asked back. "I know myself. I'm dangerous, Ezra. More dangerous than what you saw. A lot more. Ask Buck."

Ezra met the turmoiled eyes. "Don't you think I can handle it?" "Yes, I do."

The clear cut answer stunned the gambler and he almost took a step back. The pain inside his mind and soul multiplied. Not only did he himself feel utterly helpless when confronted with an emotional pain, Chris wouldn't trust him to deal with it either.

"Ezra, I know you," Larabee went on, voice soft and gentle. "I trust you, you know that. I trust you deeply. But you have to trust me that it would be much worse on you than it already is."

"That doesn't make me feel much better," Ezra heard himself mumble, feeling dejected.

"Then what would?"

It was a valid question, one Standish couldn't answer. He had wanted to be there for Chris, like in the past, but for the first time his lover had denied him that right. Chris wanted to protect him, but Ezra didn't want to be protected. He wanted to ease Larabee's suffering, even if it meant pain for himself.

Unable to voice it, he shook his head. He didn't want to talk about it all anymore. Instead, Ezra started to hang up his clothes, losing himself in the meaningless task. He heard a soft sigh, but Chris didn't press on. He respected the silence and Ezra was glad he did.

"Would you at least let me stay the night?"

The softly-voiced question made him turn. Chris's earlier demeanor had made way to an almost bodily pleading. His eyes held the same plea, the same vulnerability, and something inside of Ezra melted at the sight. Damn those puppy dog eyes! The man could be just as bad as JD or even Buck! It was just that no one ever saw him like that.

Failing in a verbal response, Ezra simply stretched out his hand, relieved when Chris stepped forward and took it. The duster and hat were thrown to the floor, and Ezra pulled the taller man to the bed. They wordlessly pulled off their boots and settled onto the soft mattress. Chris pulled up close to Ezra, silently requesting the nearness, and Standish wrapped his arms around the slender man, happy to give it.

It was how they fell asleep, and how they woke up.//

Chris had been there in the morning, he had been there the next nights, and for the most time, they hadn't done any more than just hold each other. Hands and lips had sometimes aroused or given release, but for that while, Ezra had been immensely content to just have Chris near him.

Then there had been the Gaines woman. Ezra had felt little jealousy, just some kind of finality as he decided to accept Chris's decision. After all, they were only physical lovers, correct? And they were not in a monogamous relationship. But everything had quickly turned into chaos and Chris had been shot again. And once again, Ezra reigned in his worry and shared pain, holding Chris when he came to him, giving him what he wanted, be it physical contact or his body. Never outside a closed room, never in public. Somewhere throughout those ordeals, though, lust and need had finally become even more. The electricity that sparked between them was more, a lot more. It drew them to each other, it bound them together.




"Hungry?" a rough voice rumbled behind him and Ezra jumped, berating himself for being so lost in thought he hadn't heard his lover come back.

"Ravenous," he confessed.

It earned him a soft chuckle. Chris placed a kiss onto one, still bare shoulder and Ezra was pleasantly surprised to note that Larabee had shaved. A tongue traced last night's passion mark. He turned and caught the tempting lips. Chris grinned as he pulled back, but arms were still around the other man.

"Breakfast," he decided.

"Sounds good."

They had planned a ride to one of the fishing ponds today and while Ezra wasn't an outdoors person, he would follow Chris just about anywhere.




The hugest change in their relationship, the one that had set into motion a complete turnaround for Ezra, had probably been brought forth by the assassination attempt on Mary Travis. It had been a time filled with too many decisions, too many problems; a time where Ezra had discovered he wanted more from Chris than just a simple bed partner. Part of him had wanted to go and tell him that, but another part had balked. He didn't know if those feelings he had were true love or just a need to have something that was only his, something securely at his side that no one could take from him. Then the money had been discovered and the problems mounted. In the end he had taken the coward's way out.

Ezra traced the healing wound against his forearm. It would leave a scar and had bled copiously in the beginning, requiring stitches. He had been ready to give his life and while he wasn't sure what it was a wish to end it all or the need to prove to himself what he was ready to do it had changed a lot. It had brought him Chris in a way he had never thought possible.




//The knock on the door startled Ezra and he wished he could just ignore it. He wanted to see no one, talk to no one, just be alone. But the knock was insistent and when that voice called his name, he could only follow. Chris Larabee stepped into the room, a dark clad specter that demanded immediate attention. Ezra just walked back to his bed and sat down against the headboard, evading the hazel eyes. He knew what the expression in them would be.

Accusation. Anger. Disappointment.

He didn't need to hear it. He didn't want to hear it out of the mouth of a man he had grown to not only to deeply respect. A man whose bodily nearness he craved, whose touch made him shiver, whose simple smile could light up his day. And a man who he had come to appreciate in another form. A confidant of sorts, a man he had told more about himself in the hours they had spent together laying in bed than anyone else. More than probably his mother would ever know. Ezra had found himself approaching Chris Larabee on a level he hoped the other man would respond to. He trusted him so much, it scared him sometimes.

But then he had bailed out.

"Ezra."

His name. Spoken softly. He refused to look up. He wouldn't be able to take it.

"Ezra, please, look at me."

He swallowed, then schooled his features and followed the gentle order.

"Will you be honest with me?" Chris asked.

That surprised him. Ezra fought for composure. "What?"

"I want your honesty, Ezra. Nothing more, nothing less." The normally so cold eyes held an imploring expression.

Ezra found himself nodding wordlessly.

"Why?"

A single word, but it had Ezra at a loss. Chris wanted to know why and he couldn't tell him. He was afraid of what might happen.

"Lure of the money," he found himself saying.

A dark cloud crossed the chiseled features and Chris gave an angry growl. "Don't give me that crap, Standish!" he snapped.

Ezra flinched, but he held the glare. "You said it yourself... everyone knew it... I can't be trusted with money. I proved a point, didn't I?"

The glare intensified and Chris stepped closer to the bed, looming over the seated man.

"So you ran."

A nod.

"But you came back to warn us about the assassin."

Ezra sighed. "Yes."

"Okay, why?"

"You told me never to run out on you again," Ezra murmured, fingers playing with the bandages on his arm, leaning against the headboard. It was a weak excuse, but those words had played into his decision as well. That and him being such a coward.

Chris gazed at him in amazement. "I said those words a long time ago."

Ezra swallowed.

"And you... still remember them?"

Larabee sat down on the mattress.

"As if it had been yesterday," came the soft confession.

"You didn't run out on me last week," Chris told him with conviction.

Ezra shook his head. "Only because... I saw the assassin. Otherwise, I would have left."

"You didn't. You turned around, despite everything, and it nearly got you killed."

The gambler inhaled deeply, still massaging the bandage. Calloused hands grabbed them, stilling the nervous movement. He looked at the sinewy, tanned hand. A hand that had stroked his skin, had aroused and soothed him with its touches, had given him pleasure and something to hold onto in one. A hand that now enveloped his wrist, squeezing it ever so gently.

"Why?" Chris repeated the earlier question.

Green eyes met amber ones and Ezra clenched his jaw. "Because I'm a coward," he finally managed.

Chris's face showed nothing but surprise. "A coward? You? Ezra, you are just as much a coward as any of us."

He shook his head. "I ran because I'm a coward... and because of the money," he added as if in an afterthought.

"I doubt the money was the only reason." Chris smiled slightly. "I know Josiah gave it to you. I talked to him. He's beating himself up over his own weakness."

Ezra felt a muscle in his face twitch and Chris sighed sadly.

"He didn't mean the weakness was giving it to you, Ez," he explained carefully. "Josiah was just as tempted. You saved him from what he called a siren's call, and he happily gave the burden to you. He told me after this whole mess was cleaned up. It wasn't you alone who had felt the lure of the money either."

Ezra stared a him, dumbstruck.

"Don't think I wasn't tempted," Chris went on.

"You resisted," Ezra mumbled.

Chris snorted. "Sure. But it was hard. Real hard. And then there was Vin. He wasn't tempted by the money, but did you see him with that rifle?"

"That's just an object..."

"So is money. Just as bad." He gave the smaller man a penetrating look. "So wanna tell me why now? The truth?"

"I..." He hesitated, then Ezra decided on honoring Chris's prior request for honesty. "I couldn't face what had happened to me... us... Something had changed and I liked it and I wanted more, but I don't know... I mean, we agreed, in a way, to keep everything out of this... just for mutual beneficial pleasure...enjoyment... but... there was suddenly more than desire and lust. There was a need I couldn't... satisfy... any more...." He stumbled to a halt.

Chris stared at him and Ezra cringed under the scrutiny, aware that if Chris made any sense of his babbling, he might either end up with a fist in his face or Larabee would simply terminate their relationship. That would mean leaving the town either way. He wouldn't be able to stand to be around Chris and not have him, not touch him, not see those rare, precious smiles that relayed so much to him.

Ezra had done something he would never have thought possible; he had spilled his emotions out for someone else to see. He trusted Chris so much, he was ready to accept whatever judgment the man saw fit to pass. He would leave if his honesty meant the end of this wonderful time. He would accept physical violence, too.

He didn't count on the black clad man suddenly crawling onto the bed and settling over his stretched out legs. Chris's hands rested on the headboard, towering over the smaller man, who was shrinking back from the intense figure.

Oh Lord...

Did Chris know his effect on others like that? Not just because of his choice of clothing, preferably black or dark gray. But also because of his whole demeanor, the way his face relayed an intensity that had struck Ezra before. The way his eyes seemed to see straight into his soul. The way his fairer hair was in stark contrast to the darkness around him. The way his features demanded without speaking the words.

"You were afraid of me?" Chris clarified, voice low. "Or of yourself?"

Ezra tried to evade the clear, piercing gaze. The truth, he reminded himself. Honesty. "Both," he murmured.

"Why?"

He hesitated again. "Because... I wanted more from you than just... simple sex." There. He had said it. Now he waited.

Chris looked down at the bowed head. "How much more?"

Ezra closed his eyes, feeling fear knot in his stomach. "Everything," he heard himself whisper. "Your body, your soul.... all that is you."

"And you feared what? That I'd shoot you?"

"That was the best case scenario," the gambler confessed meekly. Chris laughed softly. "Worst case being...?" He grew suddenly serious as he finished the thought himself. "Worst case being you'd have to leave...."

Ezra sighed. The warm weight of Chris on his legs was distracting, as was the overpowering presence of the gunslinger so close to him. "I'm not easy to live with," Chris told him seriously.

"Neither am I," Ezra murmured.

"I can be mean, ill-tempered, one hell of a son-of-a-bitch..." Standish studied his hands. What was he to say? He wasn't perfect either, no saint. Still, he wanted the other man to be there, forever. For him. Hands grabbed his chin, tilting his head up. Lips descended on his, soft and tender, a tongue requesting entrance. He gave in, taking what he would get. There might never be more.

"I don't want you to leave, Ezra," Larabee murmured, running a thumb over the clean shaven cheek. Each touch left a fiery trail. "I want you here, for me, with me... at my side. For the rest of my life. Forever."

The gambler shivered. Hope flared inside him.

"I want more than just a quick roll now and again," Chris went on. "I've always been looking forward to the sex, Ezra. I enjoy your body immensely, but I want you as well. All of you, Ezra Standish."

"Despite... everything?"

Larabee chuckled softly. "Despite everything. I want you as you are."

"I might run out on you one day."

The blond head shook. "I doubt that. You cannot run from me, Standish," Chris said in a low rumble. "I'll just follow you."

Ezra's eyes met the hazel ones, running a hand over the clothed chest down to the ribs. "You have no idea what you're getting into."

"Oh, I knew from the day I first saw you. I knew when you came back in the village. And I knew when we first shared a bed. I'm willing to take the gamble. Are you?"

The gambler allowed himself a tentative smile. "You know I abhor gambling," he whispered. "I don't want to leave anything to chance."

He let his hand wander up and rubbed over the area the left nipple was hidden under, eliciting a groan.

"But I'm willing to take that gamble for once in my life. With you."

Chris turned the groan into a growl and started to strip out of his clothes. Ezra smiled, feeling the familiar rush of need and overpowering arousal as he touched the skin of his lover, kissing, nipping and licking along the muscular outlines and the assorted scars. Chris hissed as he turned his attention to the left nipple again, licking and teething it gently. Ezra felt hands tug at his shirt and he let go of the tempting nub to be stripped as well. His lover didn't give him a chance to renew his attack as he descended on him like a hungry demon, but still careful of the recent injury.

Ezra bit back a loud scream as Chris used his considerable skill to arouse him to the point where he was squirming in need, pleading and begging with the gunslinger to end it.

"Like I said, I love your body, Ezra," Chris growled softly in his ear as he nibbled at his neck. "And I'll take my time with it."

Lord!

Ezra's hands clenched into the covers as Chris finally descended upon his arousal. He threw back his head, panting hard, trying not to scream. Hands touched his slick skin, eliciting goose bumps and shivers, as Chris continued to send spikes of pleasure through him. Ezra knew he was getting closer and Chris felt it as well. Not wanting to draw attention to them, he crawled up the sweat-slickened body and kissed the gambler hard, swallowing the scream as Ezra climaxed into his hand.

They lay together, Ezra trying to get his breathing under control. Chris rubbed his side in a soothing pattern.

"You okay?" he murmured, fingers dancing over the bandages.

"Fine," was the exhausted reply. This time it was the truth.

"You've grown into more than just a warm body in a bed for me," the older man continued, kissing the gambler's neck. "I think we passed the state of simple physical need a long time ago."

Ezra gazed into the warm, amber eyes. "I didn't know you felt like that. I didn't know you wanted more, Chris," he confessed.

Larabee chuckled, rolling himself around so he was laying half on top of Ezra. "I always want more, Standish," he rumbled seductively.

He grinned roguishly. "That I know."

"So you gonna stay?"

"As long as I feel wanted," Ezra teased.

Larabee growled and kissed him hard. "I want you," he declared fiercely. "And if you go, I'll be there with you. You're mine."

Ezra couldn't swallow the surprised exclamation as he felt teeth sink into the juncture of neck and shoulder. Chris kissed the red mark he had placed there.

"Mine," he repeated.//




Ezra smiled. His. Just like Chris belonged to him alone. Yes, things had changed because of the assassin. They still hid their relationship, but Ezra felt more secure now. Whether the others would ever find out, he didn't know. Neither of the two thought much about the future, since it was an uncertain one in that. Their job made sure of that, but Ezra knew he wouldn't take senseless risks, and neither would Chris.

"Ezra?"

He turned away from the small corral he had been leaning onto, smiling at Chris as the black clad man approached. Ezra had foregone his usual style of clothing, wearing only a pair of simple but stylish black pants and a white shirt. His vest and coat lay in the cabin.

"You okay?"

The gambler nodded. "Very."

Arms encircled his waist, drawing him close. Chris kissed him, pushing him back against the wooden fence. He nipped at the inviting lips. "Owe you for last night," he murmured.

"Let me assure you, there is no debt," Ezra gasped, then felt himself lose a whimper as a hand possessively grabbed his awakening arousal.

"Oh, there is," Chris growled with just enough menace to make his lover shiver.

"If you say so," he answered weakly.

Chris only grinned.

END

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