The Fine Line


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




It was over.

Chris Larabee walked across the empty yard, stepping around a motionless body. He recognized the man as one of the three goons who had struck him down and carried his unconscious body to the abandoned farm. Someone had shot him twice, once in the shoulder and another shot in the chest. Not far from him lay his brother. Clear shot to the heart. Obviously Vin's work.

Looking around, Chris wondered where to start searching. His eyes fell on the small, battered looking barn. That was probably the best place.

He still had a hard time grasping what had happened in the last twenty-four hours. It had all started yesterday morning when he had thought he had seen a glimpse of someone he had hoped never to see again. Disbelief, curiosity and slowly mounting fear mixed with anger had taken a hold and Chris had gone after the ghost of his past. It had been a stupid move, real stupid. Now he couldn't believe how dumb he had acted. Like a greenhorn he had walked straight into a trap.

It had been her, in that alley, alone. Ella Gaines. Looking more haggard than the last time he had seen her, dressed in not so rich clothes, but it had been her. Her burning eyes had drilled into him, that strange smile had blossomed, and then someone had struck him down.

Chris sighed. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

When he had woken again, it had been close to evening and he had been bound to an old bed on an even older mattress. The farm had been abandoned years ago and no one had expressed any interest in the derelict building on a less than fertile piece of land.

//Chris looked around the dusty room, light filtering through the grimy windows. One was already broken and someone had nailed boards across it. Dust motes swirled in the air.

"I see you are awake, my love."

The sweet voice grated on his nerves and Chris felt his insides clench, his muscles tensed, and he sought out the dark-haired woman with an uncompromising, cold stare.

"You made a mistake," he growled.

She walked toward him, hips swaying, and again he saw that insane smile, the intense, burning eyes, and Chris shivered. Ella Gaines had lost weight since the last time he had seen her. She looked gaunt, very pale, and her clothes had seen better times.

"No, Chris. You made a mistake. You left me again. I wanted to give you all, share my riches with you, give you a new family. You turned me down."

"You killed my family!" he snapped.

Ella clucked and sat down on the mattress, one hand caressing his chest. Chris tried to twist away, but he had been very securely bound.

"I freed you of that burden, Chris. Don't you see? She wasn't the right one for you. I am."

"You are insane, Ella!" he told her coldly.

She ran teasing fingers over his cheek, smiling as he twisted away. Her fingers started to undo his shirt's buttons, caressing the skin underneath it.

"You are mine," she sang in an angelic voice. "I will bear you a child. I will be your wife."

Chris started to fight more, but the bonds just cut deeper into his wrist.//

Chris ran a hand through his hair. The memories of what had happened throughout the evening were nothing he wanted to recall. Ella had tried to arouse him, get him to sleep with her, but his own disgust toward the woman, the hatred, had made it impossible. He felt nothing even remotely romantic or erotic when it came to Ella Gaines. She was everything he hated; she was the murderer of his family. In the end she had left with a scream of frustration, threatening him, his men, everyone.

The night hadn't been any less torturous. After two hours of solitary confinement, Ella had been back, slipping onto the bed, curling up beside the bound gunslinger. She had slept with a possessive hold on his body and Chris had found little rest. His skin crawled under her touch and he felt dirty and in need of a good bath.

//Chris had finally managed to fall asleep in the early morning hours, but he was woken abruptly by gunfire from outside. Ella snapped out of her deep rest and jumped out of the bed, running over to the window. She gazed outside and a mask of hatred crossed her gaunt features. She reached under her skirts and Chris discovered a small gun in her hand. Ella walked over to him and stuffed a gag into his resisting mouth. He glared at her, but she just smiled that falsely sweet smile. She positioned herself next to the door, just as it was carefully opened.

Chris yelled into the gag as he discovered the well-known figure of Ezra Standish. His lover was dressed in his favorite, red jacket, holding a gun in his hand, cautiously sneaking into the room. His eyes fell on the partially undressed Larabee and his eyes narrowed. Chris jerked his head toward Ella, but before Ezra could react, she stepped behind him.

"Drop the weapon," she ordered coldly, aiming her peashooter at his head. At this distance it was a deadly weapon.

Ezra opened his fingers, the gun hanging by his index finger as he turned around. "Ms. Gaines," he said politely. "I should have known."

She smiled insanely. "Now you do." Ella turned to look at Chris. "And you can see one of your men die, Chris."

The small movement of her head was enough for Ezra. Something changed in his eyes, his demeanor. Chris could almost see it emerge, push Ezra back and take over. He watched in fear and slowly building horror as the gambler made his move and batted the gun aside, as if he wasn't even afraid if Ella triggering a shot. But she did. As her arm was pushed sideways, a shot cracked the silence of the room as she reflexively pulled the trigger. Chris gasped into the gag, straining against the ropes to no avail.

Ezra wrenched the gun out of her hand and threw it into one corner of the room. Ella staggered back and suddenly found herself facing the business end of Ezra's gun. His eyes were devoid of any emotions. No, wrong, Chris decided, shivering. There was something in there, something that had been roused the moment Ella Gaines had threatened Ezra. The gambler was a total stranger to his lover, not the Ezra Standish he knew and loved. It was something vicious that never came forth until threatened.

Ella started to giggle. "You wouldn't shoot a woman," she declared, ignoring all the warning signs blatantly obvious in Ezra's stance and eyes.

"I'm a gambling man, Ma'am," Ezra said coldly. "I know when to place a bet. In this case... no."

And with that he pulled the trigger.

Chris cried out through the gag as he watched Ella's eyes widen. She crumbled to the ground, a red stain quickly spreading over her heart. Ezra let his weapon's arm fall to his side. That was the moment Vin and Nathan stormed into the room, guns drawn.

"Chris!" Nathan exclaimed. "Ah hell!" he added as he discovered the lifeless body of Ella Gaines.

He quickly made his way over to the bed and pulled out a knife to cut Chris off. Vin briefly knelt down next to the body, then looked up at the motionless gambler. Ezra suddenly turned and left, replacing his gun in his holster he walked off, each step measured.

Chris felt a scream rise inside him that he couldn't voice. He couldn't call for Ezra to stay. Vin knew about them but Nathan didn't. Jackson held him back as Chris tried to rise and he gave him a frustrated look.

"I'm fine!" he snapped.

Nathan sighed. He pointedly looked at the chafed wrists and Chris shrugged it off. "You can take care of it later, okay? I just want to be out of here."

"Okay." Nathan understood, looking at the body again.

Chris left the farm building in a hurry, quickly looking around. No sign of his lover.

"Nathan and I'll take care of the bodies," Vin said quietly, coming up behind him.

Chris simply nodded his thanks.//

Now he stood inside the barn, looking for the bright red jacket in the gray twilight. He found it next to the old stall. Ezra sat hunched over, the gun laying not far away from him. His hat was nowhere to be found. Probably thrown carelessly aside. Sightless eyes stared at nothing in specific.

Chris approached him carefully. He clearly recalled the expression in Ezra's face - or lack thereof. He had been so cold, so distant, as if it hadn't been him holding that gun at Ella's chest. As if it hadn't been him pulling the trigger and ending the life of a woman who had destroyed half of Chris's soul. Even his eyes had been cold, lifeless, devoid of the hatred Chris had expected.

"Ezra?"

No reaction. Ezra just stared ahead, apparently not existing in this world at all. Chris sank down beside him, studying the waxen features.

"Ezra," he tried again.

Still nothing. Chris carefully, cautiously, touched one arm, establishing a contact. That was the moment he discovered the wound. Ezra might have pushed the weapon off center, but the bullet had grazed his shoulder. Blood stained the fine jacket, running down the arm.

"Shit! She hit you!"

Chris quickly searched through Ezra's pockets, knowing his lover always carried a handkerchief. He found it and pressed it onto the wound. Even though it had to be painful, Ezra didn't react.

"Ezra? You with me?"

Still, no reaction. His lover was staring straight ahead as if he wasn't even in this world.

Ah hell....

Chris felt dread rise inside him. He had seen something similar before. Back in the war. One of the guys in his unit had shot a Confederate soldier point blank, killing him instantly, splattering blood and gore all over himself. Then he had suddenly just stood there, staring straight ahead, unable to move or even talk to his comrades. They had pulled him out of the fighting, to one of the doctors.

"Ezra, don't do this to me!" Chris muttered desperately.

Shock; he was in shock. He still remembered what the field medic had told the others, how dangerous it was, how this could kill a man. And he remembered the treatment.

Chris bit his lower lip and shook his head, regretting what he had to do.

"Sorry," he murmured, then slapped the gambler. Hard.

Ezra's head snapped around. No reaction. Chris felt everything inside of him cringe, but he hit Standish again. Red marks appeared on the too-pale cheek, deepening with the third strike. The pain and the force of the blow seemed to startle the Southerner out of catatonic state. He blinked, turning his head, owlishly looking at Chris.

"Chris?" he whispered.

Chris smiled. "Yeah, it's me. Hold still. You were shot."

"Shot?"

"Yeah."

Ezra blinked again. "You just hit me," he stammered, sounding amazed.

"Yep."

"Oh."

Chris kept pressure on the wound, checking twice whether or not the bleeding had stopped. Finally he nodded and bound the handkerchief around Ezra's arm. It was a weak excuse for a bandage, but it would at least help a bit.

"I shot her," Ezra suddenly mumbled.

"I know," Chris answered softly, crouching down next to the shocked man again.

"In front of your eyes."

"No way around it."

"In front of your eyes....," Ezra repeated, voice ragged.

"Ezra..."

"Shouldn't have..."

"Ezra, it's okay...." Larabee tried.

Ezra started to shake. First there were minute tremors, but then the trembling began with more violence. His face was a pale mask, bloodless and frozen; shell-shocked. All the reactions Chris had seen with the shocked soldier.

"Ezra, it's okay," Chris tried again, touching his lover, rubbing the uninjured shoulder.

"Okay? Nothing's okay.. nothing at all." Green eyes gazed at him as he continued shaking. "Chris?" he murmured, as if realizing who was beside him for the very first time. "You are here.... You were gone."

"I'm here. I'm fine."

"You were gone. I was alone," he whispered. "It hurt. So much."

"I'm here," Chris repeated, grabbing the pale face between his hands. "I'm here and I'm fine. You're not alone."

Ezra screwed his eyes shut, his breathing growing harsher. "I had to do something. I couldn't let her do it... I didn't want to be alone. Need you. She took you away, she hurt you. She hurt me. I felt it deep inside. So alone..."

Chris wrapped his arms around the smaller man, pulling him closer. "You're not alone," he whispered fiercely. "I'm here. I'm here to stay. We're together." He pressed a kiss to Ezra's head. "Together," Chris repeated.

They stayed like that for a moment, then Ezra started to pull away. Chris looked into the familiar eyes and saw the powerful need to hold it all together. Ezra couldn't give in right now; he couldn't lose it. Larabee knew it would come later, in private, some time. Not out here, in public. Not with Nathan around.

"Ready to go home?" he asked softly.

Ezra nodded, a mask sliding over his features, presenting a person in complete control of himself to the world. Chris knew otherwise, but he would support his lover as long as it took to get back, to the saloon, into the room, and close the door.




Nathan briefly checked Ezra's wound. The Southerner told the healer that he was fine and quite able to ride back to Four Corners without falling off his horse. Nathan dragged him into the clinic when they finally arrived, cleaned and bandaged the wound, and told Ezra to rest. Chris had his wrists bandaged as well and the same advice was given. Vin just nodded at him as Larabee left the clinic, silently falling into step beside him.

"You'll be at the saloon tonight?" Tanner asked.

"Yep."

"He didn't look too good."

"He isn't."

Chris glanced at his friend. Vin understood. He would take care of the town and the others, Chris would deal with Ezra.




Chris snuck up the back stairs and into Ezra's room without seeing anyone or being seen.

"It's Chris," he announced softly as he entered.

Ezra was already there, undressing, placing his clothes methodically onto the rocking chair or hanging them up. When Chris came in, he was briefly startled, reaching for his weapon. Then he relaxed, shooting the gunslinger a shaky smile. The mask of control was still there, but it was slowly cracking under the pressure Ezra was under.

Chris locked the door and threw his hat onto the floor. He walked over to the gambler and gently caressed one cheek, smiling at the insecure green eyes. He leaned down and brushed his lips over Ezra's, then pulled back. He wasn't here for this; he was here for Ezra. The gambler made a soft noise of protest at the loss of contact. Larabee shushed him.

"You heard Nathan. We both need rest," he said softly. "C'mon."

Ezra shrugged out of his vest and placed his gun next to him. Chris followed his example, hanging his gun belt around one bedpost to have his weapon close by. He proceeded to get out of his boots and socks, then pulled his lover to the bed. They lay down together. Chris knew he was tired, he felt exhausted, but he was too worried about Ezra to simply go to sleep. With the pillows behind him, Chris was not laying completely flat, and he had Ezra in his arms.

The gambler hugged him tightly, drawing close to the lean body. For a while, they just lay like this, no words falling between them. Chris had found that, akin to his relationship with Vin, he and Ezra didn't always need words to express themselves. He could read the other man's body language, his eyes, his voice. It was an achievement since Ezra liked to hide behind walls.

The gambler buried his face in Larabee's side; the tremors started. This time, they were more pronounced than the last time. Fingers clenched into the black shirt and the shoulders shook, but no sound left Ezra's lips. Chris held the man close, soothingly running a hand over the shirt-clad back. Ezra was a strong man; he wasn't the person to break down easily, but this had hit him harder than anything else before.

Chris murmured soft reassurances, pulling the man up so he was laying half on him. Tears were soundlessly streaming down the pale face and the eyes were screwed shut. Chris ran his fingers through the soft hair, combing it, then placed a gentle kiss on the forehead.

He knew they were an unlikely pair. A hardened gunslinger who had lost his family, who carried his anger and pain like a cloak, who had wanted to die for so many years, who had turned into a ruthless, violent and feared man - or so it seemed. Appearances were everything. He had finally decided to live and he had made friends again, but he had never loved. He had never wanted to love again. And then there was a gambler, with a questionable past, a questionable moral, little scruples when it came to money - or so it seemed. Yes, indeed; appearances. Chris had been a violent man, quick with his gun, living his anger out in killing those who annoyed him, who tried to match their guns against his. Ezra had been a con man, taking the money off those who were unlucky enough to be his marks. Both had changed.

Chris continued to caress and soothe his lover, smiling at the word. Lover. He and Ezra had found each other without even looking for this relationship. He had found the other man attractive, he had wanted to bed him, and he had done so. Physical attraction; nothing more, nothing less. It had quickly turned into so much more. Playing their parts, meeting in secret, taking what they could - it had all brought them together. It had brought Chris someone new in his live, a partner, a lover; Ezra. He trusted the man with his life and his soul. Just like Ezra trusted him the same. Like now. At a most vulnerable moment. There was no logical explanation for it all, but Chris didn't regret a single decision, a single day.

Ezra finally quieted down, the tremors getting less and less, but Chris continued to hold him. He slid deeper down onto the bed and Ezra adjusted his position, never moving away from him.

"Sleep," Chris whispered into the tousled hair, kissing him again.

Ezra inhaled shakily.

"I'll be here."

The hands clenched into his shirt again and Chris reassured the smaller man with gentle touches.

"When you wake, I'm here," he promised.

Ezra relaxed more and after a while, his breathing pattern evened out. Chris smiled, studying the pale features. Today had been a revelation about Ezra Standish. Just looking into those cold eyes, the emotionless features, had shown Chris what this man was capable of; how dangerous he was if someone threatened him or someone close to him. To the world, the gambler appeared to be a pleasant man, conniving and sharp, witty and devious, hiding his emotions if need be, joking around when he felt at his most relaxed. But Chris had been privy to the dark side. He knew he had been like that for a lot longer than a mere few minutes; it had been the demon inside him. Everyone had it, in a stronger or lesser form. Ezra's demon had reared its head when faced with Ella Gaines and it had struck out. Now it had disappeared once more, leaving a shocked man in its wake, shaky, pale, and trying to understand what he had done.

"I'll be here," Chris renewed his promise.

Ezra needed him. The others be damned.




For the next days, Chris made sure he spent the nights with his slowly recovering lover. He planned his shifts so they could both have the free time together, which meant Chris's jail duty paralleled with Ezra's poker nights. He sneaked into the gambler's room through the back door and they would sleep together, Chris always waiting for Ezra to fall asleep first. Vin kept a close eye on the gambler and Chris was thankful for it. Buck did the same, in his own way, and Larabee was glad he had such good friends. It eased his own burden and it visibly helped Ezra come to terms with what he had done, what he had discovered about himself. He was capable of cold-bloodedly gunning down a woman. A murderess, granted. A woman who had kidnapped his lover. But in Ezra's mind he had killed a woman.

The problem was that Ezra was so adept at hiding his emotions, of shutting everyone out and pushing the demons of his mind away, he did it again. He was wearing his masks again, acting as if the whole thing didn't even touch him. But it had touched him. Deeply. It had rattled him down to his soul. Chris wasn't the man for emotional talk; far from it. He carried too much emotional garbage as well. He just hoped Ezra would talk to him if he felt the need to.

At least his appetite had improved. He had picked at his food, eaten very little, and generally looked pale for the first four days after the incident. Chris had sometimes wondered if he had to force-feed the man, but then Ezra had finally decided to listen to his friends and take better care of himself.

Chris looked up from his book as he heard horses approach and discovered Buck and Ezra riding back into town. Both had been on an errand in Eagle Bend, spending the night there, and they were actually right on time. Larabee studied his lover and to his silent surprise noticed that he looked a lot calmer and at ease than the whole last week. There was a ready smile on his features and he was amiably talking to Buck, who was chuckling. They stabled their horses and Ezra went into the saloon. Buck walked over to Chris, slouching down on the second chair.

"Got everything delivered," he told his best friend. "No problems."

"Good. Ezra looks a lot better."

"Yep. We talked."

Chris raised an eyebrow. "You talked?"

"It's a damn long way to be silent all the time," Buck replied with a smile.

Larabee shot him a curious look. Buck just shrugged.

"Ya havta ask Ezra," he only answered the unspoken question.

That meant they had talked about something substantial, not just chit-chat. And Buck thought it was delicate enough a matter not to tell everyone. He wouldn't lose a word about it to anyone. Despite his sometime very boisterous and devil-may-care attitude, Buck Wilmington was a deep man, Chris knew. He could be one hell of a good listener if he wanted to, he had some really solid advise, and Chris knew from years of experience that whatever emotional garbage he had dumped on Buck, his friend had never betrayed his confidence. He wouldn't try and extract information out of Buck now. He honored the man's word, despite the small wave of jealousy he felt.

"If you need me, I'll be over at the saloon. I need a beer. And afterwards.... some company." The grin was a dead giveaway as to what kind of company Buck was talking about.

Chris grinned as well and waved him off. He would talk to Ezra later.




Chris smiled down at his lover, kissing his forehead, his nose, his eyes, and Ezra gave little sighs of pleasure. His hands ran over Chris's sides, massaging the lean body, raking his nails over the skin without leaving more than a faint trail.

"Love you," Chris murmured.

Ezra's dimpled smile seemed to light up his whole face. He pulled Larabee down into a deep, soul-searching kiss. "I know," he murmured.

Chris rested his forehead against Ezra's. He inhaled the familiar fragrance of his lover, smiling as the teasing fingers ran over his back.

"Heard you talked to Buck," he finally said, hoping he wouldn't break the mood.

The fingers didn't still, but there was a brief hesitation. "Yes," Ezra finally confessed.

Chris looked into the open, green eyes, asking a silent question himself.

"I needed to talk...." he confessed softly. "Buck listened. It helped."

Chris felt jealousy flare once again. Why not come to him? "You could have come to me, you know that, don't you?"

Ezra smiled, lightly tracing an invisible line along Chris's cheek bone. "Yes, I know. But you were too close, Chris. I needed distance. I'm sorry," he added hesitantly.

Chris saw the insecurity and immediately felt protective instincts rise. "Don't apologize," he murmured. "You're probably right. Too close." He finger-combed the chestnut hair in a soothing pattern. "Buck's a good listener."

"I agree." He flashed a smile. "He had to listen to a lot of horse shit from me."

Ezra chuckled. "It helped."

"I hope so," Chris murmured.

"Chris..."

He put a finger on his lover's lips. "You don't have to tell me."

Ezra kissed the finger. "What happened... it scared me," he confessed. "I have never killed anyone... anyone at all like that. Self-defense, yes. Cold blood? No... But when I saw her, something I didn't know was inside me came forth."

Chris kept still, giving his lover an encouraging look.

"I just acted... didn't think.... and when it was over, I felt so empty," the gambler went on, his voice having a faraway tone to it. "I felt bad about it... having killed her... despite the things she did. Then there was the satisfaction... and that scared me as well. I was pleased to have ended her life, I had wanted to see the light die in her eyes, see the man who shot her. I couldn't understand it all. I felt like a monster and a saint in one."

"You are neither," Chris murmured. "You are a man."

A small smile blossomed on the slightly sad features. "Buck said the same."

"See?" Larabee flashed him a grin.

Ezra snorted. He was silent for a while. "Buck told me that if I felt the need to talk, I should. He'd listen. It would start healing my soul," he went on. He rested his head against Chris's shoulder. "I don't know if my soul can heal."

Chris held him tightly. "It will. I'll make sure of it. I'll always be here for you, whether you want to talk or just... hold on."

"Thank you," Ezra whispered.

The gambler drew him closer, kissing him deeply. He wrapped one leg around Chris's, holding him tighter to him. Chris moaned into the kiss. They hadn't been together for a week since Ezra had just wanted to have someone to hold onto at night, and Chris had been only too willing to be that person. Now was a different matter and Chris was very willing to give Ezra what he wanted.

END

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