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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
Chris looked up from where he had silently contemplated a shot of whiskey for the last... He frowned. He didn't even know. Now he raised his eyes to look at Vin, who unceremoniously dropped into the chair beside him.
"How long what?" he asked, feeling mentally tired. The pain in his jaw didn't help.
The tracker's eyes never wavered. "You and Ezra."
Chris refused to look shocked or give himself away in any other form. They had been so careful, but slips happened. And Vin was very perceptive, as well as a very close friend who seemed to understand him without asking sometimes. Just like Buck, but Buck's knowledge came from over twelve years of friendship. Vin had known him only a few days and had already disclosed the truth about himself, the bounty on his head, trusting him. And he had called Chris a friend then.
"For a while," he finally answered, playing with the shot glass. "When'd you find out?"
Vin shrugged. "Been piecin' things together. You two are good. Real good. Thought I might be wrong, but then Ezra got shot, and this time it was different."
Chris sighed softly. "Walk," he just said and rose from his chair. He didn't want to discuss things like that in the saloon where the walls had ears.
Both men walked down the street and Chris found his eyes straying to the clinic where Ezra still lay. It had been such a simple plan. They had known a notorious band of outlaws had planned to rob the bank. One of their group had been careless enough to drink too much and then talk his mouth off to Ezra, who had been playing a game with him. So the seven had prepared an ambush. Everything had gone as planned, except for the lucky shot one of those bastards had gotten off. Ezra had been in the line of fire and caught the bullet.
Chris forcefully drew his gaze away. "Got any problem with it?" he finally asked.
Vin shrugged. "You're a grown man, Chris. You make your own decisions." He grinned briefly. "And since you haven't shot him yet, I'd say he's good for ya."
Chris leaned against a post and surveyed the street. He kept his silence.
"Anybody else know?" the tracker asked.
Larabee shook his head. "No. Don't intend to say anythin' either."
"Could make things a mite easier. Like now. Wouldn't hurt you to be with the man."
He exhaled softly. "Maybe," Chris conceded.
He wanted to be with Ezra, check on him, but he had only asked Nathan once to get the information. He didn't sit with his lover and wait for him to wake.
The shot had gone straight through Ezra's lower side, leaving a severely bleeding wound, and the gambler had a concussion on top of it. Nathan had reported that it was merely a flesh wound, but the blood loss hadn't helped. Muscle damage to the left hip, no permanent damage, no serious infection yet. It would leave a scar and handicap the gambler for a while, especially riding. Ezra had been in and out of consciousness, delirious and feverish, and it was tearing Chris in two not to be there. What he had told Ezra just a month earlier was true; he was more than just a warm body and a way to fulfill his needs. He was a lot more and Chris was feeling the pressure of not being with him again.
"You are entitled to check on him, Chris," Vin reminded him, startling him out of his thoughts.
Another sigh. "Yeah."
"Would be your right as our boss."
He shot Vin a wry smile. "I know."
Vin gave him a pointed look. "Your choice, pard."
With that he pushed away and walked off across the street. Chris remained where he was. He wanted to see Ezra, but they had agreed never to do anything that revealed their relationship to others. Chris didn't know what he might do while at Nathan's. Something might spill their secret. Too risky.
With gritted teeth he walked over to the livery and saddled his horse. He needed to think.
Ezra woke slowly. It was like dragging himself out of a swamp.
Pain. It came through the haze. First in little stings, then in a burning sensation, then in an agonizing flare in his left hip.
Pain. A lightning bolt, bringing the world into sudden, bright focus.
Ezra groaned and felt tears spring into his eyes. He tried to curled up, tremors running through him. His head pounded with every beat of his heart and it was difficult to move. He was aware of Nathan close by. He recalled he had answered some questions earlier, but he hadn't been very coherent. His mind had been too woozy, everything fuzzy and without shape. He had drifted back into sleep. Now he had come to again, feeling no less pain, but his head was getting better. Someone held a cup to his lips and he drank, despite the pungent flavor of the tea. Ezra was way too weak to protest. He didn't want to spend his energy arguing a useless point. He would have to drink the tea anyway.
He blinked and the dark blob in front of his eyes coalesced into the familiar features of Nathan Jackson.
"Hey," the healer went on, smiling. "How do you feel?"
"You want.. an... honest answer?" Ezra whispered.
"Was hopin' for one."
"Dreadful. Hurts." He closed his eyes as a muscle twitch resulted in a wave of pain.
"The tea should help. And sleep. Go back to sleep, Ezra."
Good idea, he decided, then suddenly a thought hit him. "Chris?" he whispered, eyes snapping open once more.
"He's okay," Nathan answered. "He just got a few bruises."
"The same. Only you and Chris actually got into more than they could handle." Nathan grinned slightly. "You came out the worst."
Ezra relaxed again with a sigh, then drifted off.
The next time he woke he was more aware and everything around him became clearer. One thing that was immediately very clear was that he had a visitor. Ezra turned his head and to his surprise discovered Vin Tanner. The tracker sat slouched back in one of the chairs, his hat pulled over his eyes. Ezra blinked and searched the room for someone else, like Nathan, but they were alone. When he returned his gaze to Vin, he found it met by two blue eyes.
"Mornin'," Vin greeted him, smiling.
"If you say so," he answered slowly, trying to kick his mind into gear.
A cup was held out to him and Ezra found himself nodding. Vin held his head as he took a few sips, then Ezra lay back, feeling tired again. Looking at Vin, he found himself scrutinized.
"Something wrong?" he queried weakly.
"Nope. Just thought you might like some company when you wake. Nathan's left town because the Olsons had a little accident this mornin'."
"Nate's declared you out of danger as long as you don't move too much and listen to your body's needs."
"Sounds like him," Ezra mumbled. He studied the tracker. "Anything else preying on your mind?"
"Actually, yeah. Chris."
Something inside Ezra tensed. He kept his features carefully blank of anything. "What about our illustrious leader?"
"Rode out of here yesterday. Came back late last night and got hellishly drunk," Vin added when he saw the brief flash of alarm on Ezra's features.
"Indeed?" the gambler muttered. "So we are two men short at the moment?"
"Not a problem," Vin answered, shrugging. "The others can cover and I'll be on patrol tomorrow mornin' again." He pushed his hat further up. "And if Chris finally gets his head out of his ass and comes over, I might just relieve Buck from jail duty."
"You don't have to keep me company, Vin," Ezra told him. "I'm in no danger and I promise I won't leave the bed."
Vin grinned. "But I want to. Chris seems to be reluctant to show his face 'round the clinic."
The gambler fought down another wave of panic. He wished this conversation wouldn't happen with him on his back and injured. "Chris is needed to guard the town," he started, but Vin interrupted him.
"There's enough of us to cover till Nathan gets back," he snapped, anger flaring briefly. "All he does is drink himself into oblivion and puke his guts out the next day. He could be more useful here!"
Ezra opened his mouth to ask what in tarnation Vin was talking about, when those blue eyes silenced him.
"I know, Ezra. Don't deny it. I know about it and I know he wants to be here, but he thinks he can't."
"Mr. Tanner, I don't know what you're talking about, but ..."
Ezra winced and then flinched in pain.
"Chris tried it," the tracker went on. "Didn't believe him. He's a lousy liar, 'specially when he's worried sick. He told me about you two. I'm not goin' to shoot you for confessin'."
The green eyes evaded the piercing, demanding gaze. What could he say? What had Chris told his friend? Ezra had never wanted anyone else to know because he was afraid of the consequences. The worst case scenario he had once gone over was still valid with a few changes. Best case was that they only worked him over and kicked him out of town. Worst case was, Chris would stay here, where he had his friends.
Vin suddenly rose. "I'll see if he's already presentable and drag him here, kickin' and screamin', if I have to."
Was the other man accepting their relationship? "Vin..."
The anger softened. "Ezra, he's worried. Real worried. He needs to be there for you."
Ezra sighed deeply. Lately, he seemed to have a lot of truth and honesty moments. "Vin, you don't understand. We have an agreement.... As much as it hurts either of us, we... play our roles. To all of you out there...," he gestured weakly toward the window, "we are colleagues. "You and Buck are allowed to fret over him when he gets hurt. I keep in my role. Inquire, that's it. Same goes the other way around. If Chris ever starts reacting like Buck with JD, our cover is blown."
Vin shook his head. "Shit, Ezra, that's not right! He's making himself sick!"
"He knows I'm not going to die," the gambler explained calmly, voice level. "Everything else has to wait."
"Maybe, but not today. Nathan's not due back till tonight and I can keep the others busy."
Exhausted, Ezra briefly closed his eyes. "Do what you want. Don't blame me for the consequences."
"You mean a fist in my face?" A soft laugh. "Don't think so, Ezra. Or are you worried about me tellin' anyone else? No worries there either, pard. I can keep my mouth shut."
The gambler gave him a surprised look. "You accept it?"
Reeling, Ezra tried to catch a clear thought. "I thought..."
"Better not, Ezra," Vin interrupted him. "You two care for each other, which is enough in my book."
Standish was stunned.
"Need anything else?"
"No," he managed.
Having Chris would be enough, but Ezra wouldn't hope for his lover to come by until he saw him here in person.
Vin flashed him a lop-sided grin. "Okay. Get some rest, my friend."
With that he left the clinic.
Ezra stared at the door and sighed softly. As much as he wished for Chris to be here, just to see him, he knew it was too risky. Those were the thoughts before he fell asleep.
Ezra woke to someone touching his cheek, running gentle fingers over the stubble. He opened his eyes and blinked, trying to chase away the dream. It wouldn't budge. Chris Larabee was leaning over him, warm eyes full of worry, his fingers now brushing through Ezra's hair. The gambler leaned into the gentle caress, enjoying the rare close contact outside the safety of his room.
"Hey," the gunslinger murmured, sounding a bit tired, voice rough.
"Chris?" Ezra asked. "How...? Why?"
"Vin can be very convincing," came the mildly amused answer.
"I'm glad he is," Chris went on, smoothing some wrinkles out of the blanket.
"As am I. You told him."
"He knew," Larabee corrected, still touching Ezra in little, reassuring ways. "Man has eyes."
"I didn't know we were that... open," Ezra said softly.
A shrug. "We weren't, but as I said... man has eyes. Vin sees more than we want him to, more than we really show." Chris held a cup to his lips and Ezra drank some water, his mouth no longer so dry. "Nathan's still with the Olsons. Josiah has jail duty, JD's making his rounds with Vin, and Buck's... well, he's probably doing something we shouldn't think too deeply about."
Ezra laughed softly, wincing as the pain flared. "Damn," he cursed.
Chris smiled, the lines of worry and lack of sleep chased away by amusement. "How do you feel?"
Chris scowled. "Ez.... The truth, please?"
Ezra sighed. He didn't really lie to his lover; never had. He just omitted facts, like just how much the wound bothered him right now. How much he wanted to be away from here. How much he wanted to lay in Chris's arms.
"Tired. Bored," he answered, trying not to sound too plaintive. "I want to be back in my own bed."
Chris chuckled. "Not until Nathan declares you fit."
"That won't happen any time soon," Ezra grumbled. He gave his lover a closer look. "How are you?"
Chris ran a hand through his hair. "Didn't know how hard it was to just sit back and let the others take over," he answered after a moment. "It was bad when I saw the assassin hit you, but back then... you were still conscious, moving, Nathan was there. This time..." He inhaled deeply. "All I saw was the blood. I couldn't be there for you when Nathan took you up to the clinic. I could only wait. Never knew how hard that is."
Ezra grasped Chris's hand and the gunslinger shot him a weak smile.
"Never knew what it was like for you, Ezra," he confessed.
"You're here now. It's more than I had when you were shot."
Chris squeezed the slender hand. "Are you up to eating something? I've got some broth here."
It was a change of topic, plain and simple. Chris wasn't good at the emotional level talk and, he had to confess, neither was Ezra himself. He contemplated the offer of food, but couldn't make a decision.
"Let's try it," he finally decided.
He managed half a bowl before everything inside him revolted and he shook his head.
"Maybe more later," Chris decided and placed the bowl aside.
He wrapped his fingers around one hand and Ezra returned the gentle pressure. He was growing tired again, but he refused to give in to the call.
"Sleep," Chris said softly.
"Been doing that a lot lately," he sighed.
A chuckle. "You can catch up on everything later."
"Planning to," Ezra mumbled. He tugged at the hand. "Stay?"
Chris nodded, smiling. "As long as I can."
If Nathan came back and found him here, he could explain it as long as he wasn't caught sleeping in the same bed. He didn't plan on falling asleep anyway. Chris slipped in with the gambler, carefully letting the injured man position himself as comfortably as he could. Long fingers combed through the chestnut hair.
"Comfortable?" he asked, lips brushing against Ezra's ear.
"Very." Ezra gave a content sigh and then was asleep again.
Buck lounged in a chair outside the jail, feet up on the rail, eyes lazily scanning the street. Ever since the shoot out, everything in Four Corners had been quiet. He smiled as he discovered Julia Sawyers, a young lady who had recently come to town with her family. They were only passing through on their way to their homestead, but that didn't keep him from pursuing her with amorous intents.
Vin walked over to him, leaning against the post. "Buck," he greeted the other man.
"Vin." Wilmington looked over the street. "Chris with Ezra?"
"Thought you had to drag him up there with a team of horses."
Vin turned his head marginally, shooting Buck a hard to interpret look. Buck chuckled.
"Heck, don't'cha think I don't know about them two."
Tanner raised an eyebrow.
"Got the first whiff of it after Chris suddenly disappeared in that prison camp. Thought I was wrong. Then there was Ella. Hell, Ezra's good, but I saw something in his eyes and though he didn't rush after Chris, there was... something." He shrugged. "Now, when he got shot, heck, you should've seen Chris. Could've been the blow to the head for others, but I was watchin'. That fist was his excuse not to run over to check on Ez."
Vin nodded slowly.
"And I have no problems with it," Buck added, tilting back his chair. "Man finds his pleasure, maybe even his love." He grinned. "I've known men bein' with men, women choosing women... heck, Chris's been alone for too long. Not objectin' his choice either. I like Ez. He's good for him."
"So, you woulda shot me?"
Vin shot him a lop-sided grin. "Nah. Would've left that to Chris."
Buck laughed. "You got him to see Ezra?"
"Yeah. I think it's good for 'em both."
"Yep. Too bad they'll be back to treatin' each other as if nothin's wrong soon. Painful to see 'em hidin' it like that. The others don't know, hm?"
"No one heard it from me."
Buck nodded. "Didn't tell a soul either. It's up to Chris."
Vin nodded in agreement. The two men fell silent, watching the town.
Recovery took a while, especially since Ezra had lost a lot of blood. Chris didn't return, but Vin told him that the older man was easier now, didn't drown his worries in a bottle, and that made Ezra breathe easier as well. He was finally released from the clinic and allowed to sleep in his own bed, but Nathan would check the wound twice a week. Riding was out of the question, too.
Chris sneaked into the gambler's room more than once and they just lay together, trading kisses, exploring the other mouth, and running their hands over the smooth skin and warm body. Ezra's wound was a hindrance concerning a more active pursuit. Every time his muscles contracted, it pulled at the injury, and he would wince in pain. So just laying together had to be enough. And it was. Ezra slept deeply in the gunslinger's arms, happy to wake up in the same bed with him, looking into his eyes.
Three weeks after he had been released from the clinic, Ezra was finally allowed to ride for more than an hour and he felt well enough for small trips. One took him to the cabin, where Chris was already waiting. Smoldering, dark eyes watched the gambler dismount and slowly unsaddle his horse. When it was inside the corral, Ezra walked over to the waiting figure and found himself in a tight embrace, lips claiming his. The kiss left him breathless and he leaned against his taller lover.
"Miss me?" he murmured, running his thumb over the sensual lips.
"Kinda," was the rumbled reply.
Chris pulled him into the cabin and Ezra came only too willingly. Kissing and touching each other, movements became almost frenzied until Ezra felt warm skin under his palm. His own shirt hung open, Chris's hands over his stomach and back, running everywhere. They skipped over the still visible but scarring wound just above the hip bone, which didn't even really hurt much any more.
Ezra started to lavish some attention to his lover's lean chest, kissing and licking the hardening nubs. His hands ghosted over the firm stomach and found their target in the prominent bulge in the black pants. Chris arched into his feather light touch and Ezra smiled, pushing him gently back against the table as he fell to his knees.
Chris groaned out loud as nimble fingers freed his arousal and the gambler's lips kissed him sensuously. He looked down on his lover, eyes hooded and Ezra ran his tongue and mouth over him repeatedly.
"No," Chris breathed as he grabbed the chestnut hair, pulling him up to kiss him. "Not yet."
They kissed again, emotions rising, Ezra trying to possess the sensual mouth as Chris tried to do the same. The gambler fell onto the bed and Chris crawled onto him after he had discarded of their remaining clothes. He kissed his way toward one nipple, licking and gently teething it till Ezra writhed in pleasure, then turned his attention to the second nub. The gambler's fingers threaded through the dark blond hair and he tried to push Chris's head deeper. Finally his lover relented and marked a path of little bites and kiss down south.
"Chris..." Ezra begged as the gunslinger ignored his straining hardness.
A devilish smiled appeared on the tanned features as their eyes met and then Chris took him. Ezra gasped out loud, hips coming off the mattress.
"Lord!" he exclaimed.
He felt starved, in desperate need for his lover, and the wet heat was almost his undoing. His breathing quickened as Chris took his time, lips and tongue working slowly and patiently over him, teasing fingers making his muscles twitch. Ezra bent his legs, giving the blond gunslinger more access and he was rewarded with one of those fingers sliding into him. He cried out in pleasure.
"Chris... more.. please...." he begged, panting. "Please!"
A tongue dragged leisurely over him and then Chris crawled up to kiss him deeply.
"Oh, please," Ezra whimpered again.
"Mh-hm," Chris grunted, rubbing himself against his lover.
Ezra trembled against him. "Chriii-is?" he tried again.
Larabee grinned and grabbed the grease from the small table next to the bed. Ezra raised his hips, further spreading his leg, but Chris didn't proceed. Instead he plunged his mouth over the straining hardness and gave it his singular attention. Ezra cried out as he was brought to release, but he was given no time to recover as he felt fingers prepare him. Then Chris entered, thrusting deep, and the gambler gave a harsh sob of pleasure as liquid fire raised up and down his spine.
Chris cried out hoarsely as he climaxed several thrusts later, making sure he didn't collapse on his breathless lover. With trembling hands he cleaned them up and then lay down next to Ezra, who pulled him close. He pillowed his head on the warm shoulder, feeling Ezra kiss his head. He contentedly snuggled closer to the other body, enjoying the hands combing through his hair.
"I love you," Ezra whispered softly, for the first time voicing his emotions.
Chris pushed himself up and looked at the man in his arms. His eyes were reflecting the emotions and he kissed him gently. Ezra smiled as he read the answer in the hazel depth and pulled Chris back down. He wanted to enjoy every minute they had together, on their own, in the privacy of Chris's cabin.
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